The Tally Master, Chapter 16 (scene 77)

They found Lord Carbraes on the stone terrace within the ring of elite apartments just below Belzetarn’s high battlements. The sun had moved westward enough to cast a crescent of shade outside the quarters of the magus. The flue column from the smithies—looming and massive—acted as a sundial, the finger of its shadow still blunt and stubby, but pointing northeast as the afternoon advanced. No smoke rose from its maw at this hour; the charcoal fuels in the forges would be well settled, emitting merely intense heat. The air quivered in a column above the flue.

Carbraes sat in one of the backless bronze chairs in the sunlight outside the march’s chambers, with Dreas in another chair next to him.

Gael almost hated to intrude. The regenen looked easy—even happy—laughing at something Dreas had said, his silver-blond head thrown back, his broad shoulders relaxed, his muscular legs stretched out before him. Dreas, too, conveyed an attitude of comfortable contentment. Despite the march’s thinning white hair, wizened face, and skinnier limbs, his truldemagar seemed less pronounced.

The regenen and the march lost some of their carefree demeanor when Gael and Keir emerged from Carbraes’ public rooms, conducted by a messenger boy. When Adarn and Uwen maneuvered the gong through the narrow doorway, the regenen resumed his normal taut alertness entirely.

The messenger announced the four petitioners—“The Secretarius Gael, the Secretarius Pro Tem Keir, the Peregrine Decanen Uwen, and the Notarius Pro Tem Adarn!”—and retreated.

Gael bowed and murmured, “Regenen.”

Keir, Uwen, and Adarn followed his example. “Regenen.” “Regenen.” “My lord Regenen.”

“There is a difficulty?” Carbraes’ tone was testy.

“There is . . . a complication,” Gael responded. He’d not been able to settle his mind enough during his climb to plan how he would present the new development.

Keir entered the brief pause after Gael’s statement. “The boss of this gong”—she gestured toward the artifact, held between Uwen and Adarn—“is formed of an ancient lodestone of Navellys. That lodestone retains many of its original properties, even in its present location, surrounded by energetic bronze. Without sounding the gong, the lodestone may be used to accomplish feats much more beneficial than the weakness produced by resonance. I used one of them just moments ago.”

“It heals trolls!” Adarn burst out. “Keir healed Gael!”

Dreas shifted in his seat, drew breath, but then subsided without saying anything.

Keir directed an exasperated glance at Adarn, but she did not correct him, waiting on Carbraes’ reaction.

Carbraes studied each of them in turn, taking his time. He gazed longest at Gael. “I see no change in him,” the regenen stated.

Keir nodded. “Over many months, the repositioned nodes will drag the physical structures toward health. Insufficient time has elapsed for that to have occurred yet.”

Carbraes’ nostrils flared. He scrutinized Keir’s sober face. “You are in earnest,” he concluded. “This is no chimera. And not trivial,” he added.

Keir dipped to one knee and bent her head. “No, my lord Regenen, not trivial in the least.”

Carbraes returned his attention to Gael. “Explain,” he said quietly.

Gael nodded. “Keir could best do that. He”—Gael narrowly missed saying ‘she’—“understood the energetic diagrams I brought back from Olluvarde and perceived their ramifications. He used his healer’s training to control the lodestone.”

“Very well.” Carbraes extended his hand toward Keir, allowing his fingers to open. “Tell me what I must know to understand your finding.”

Keir, still kneeling, bit her lip. “You know that when a mage attempts a magery too great for him, the riptide of energea roaring through his nodes tears them from their anchoring.”

Carbraes’ lips curved slightly. “I understand the root of the truldemagar, yes.”

“And do you also know,” continued Keir, “that no force of energea has been found adequate to re-anchor torn nodes. Nor, indeed, adequate to even return the drifted nodes to their correct positions without ripping the nodes of the healer who attempts it?”

“Ah, I confess I had not concerned myself with the technical details of the impossible,” replied Carbraes.

Keir swallowed. “It is a pertinent point, my lord Regenen.”

Gael understood Keir’s formality. She was about to upend Carbraes’ world. It was prudent to show respect in such an exercise.

“Used with the correct angles of force, the lodestone will supply a stream of energea fully equal to that the mage—or healer—pulls through his own nodes, thus doubling the power available without endangering the practitioner’s nodes,” said Keir.

Carbraes pursed his mouth. Given his disapproval of any manipulation of energea in Belzetarn, no doubt the contemplation of such a dynamic display as Keir described repulsed him.

Keir carried on, not acknowledging the regenen’s discomfort. “This doubling of the energea at my command allowed me to move the secretarius’ root node to its proper position and hold it there while I moved his abdominal node. I progressed upward through his nodes in a chain, holding the most recently repositioned node while moving the next malpositioned one. I urge you to open your inner sight, my lord Regenen, and observe the results within your secretarius.”

Carbraes’ lips pressed flat. He glanced at the march beside him. “Dreas? Will you?”

Dreas clearly did not share his friend’s disgust at Keir’s proposal. His eyes were alight, and he’d leaned slightly forward through all of Keir’s explanations, hanging on her words. At Carbraes’ request, the march nodded. He settled back in his chair, straightening his spine and lifting his crown. On a long, slow exhalation, he closed his eyes.

Gael wondered what he saw. Gael had not yet examined his own newly aligned nodes. He could feel their effect—still that subtle sense of rightness—but he had not seen with his inner sight.

When Dreas opened his eyes, some moments later, the march had let go his initial wonder, replacing it with a determination oddly similar to Keir’s when she realized what it all meant.

Dreas addressed Gael. “Your nodes yet float. They occupy their proper places, but will drift over time.”

“So I understand,” Gael answered.

“How does it feel?” asked Dreas, a wistful tone in his gravelly voice.

Gael groped again for words. “Like a swallow of water when you are thirsty. Like the folding of a cloak around your shoulders when you are chilled. Like sitting on a cushioned chair when your legs are weary. It feels . . . right, my lord March.”

Dreas turned to Carbraes, who was looking more sour than ever. “Carbraes! You must command Keir to perform this feat again.” Dreas glanced at Keir. “Are you able to repeat yourself at this time? Are your reserves too drawn down?”

“No, my lord March,” replied Keir. “I can oblige you with one more healing, although not two.”

Dreas continued to press the regenen. “While Keir does his deed, you shall observe it. You must. And I shall be Keir’s patient.”

Carbraes’ jaw pulsed with tension. Gael half expected the regenen to thunder his response, but he did not. Always Carbraes retained control of himself and those around him. The regenen spoke most mildly to Gael and his cohort. “Please give me privy conference with my lord march.” He waved a hand toward the crescent of shadow on the far side of the terrace.

Gael found his feet carrying him to obey Carbraes’ bidding almost without his own volition. Keir and Uwen and Adarn came with him, clustering in the shade and watching the interchange between the regenen and the march. They could hear nothing, but the emotion in the conversation was clear: Carbraes angry and vehement, Dreas pleading, but firm.

Keir stared, intent. Uwen—still gripping his side of the gong—studied his knees, but found his gaze drawn inexorably back to his arguing commanders. Adarn—also clutching his side of the gong—bounced on his toes, eager.

“Do you think he’ll say ‘yes’?” the boy whispered. “Oh, I hope he’ll say ‘yes’!”

Gael felt he was overlooking something, some important detail that would govern their success or their failure. This was all moving much too fast. Surely they should all sleep on it before coming to any decisions.

Across the terrace, Carbraes sat back, resignation in his posture. Dreas leaned forward and beckoned.

*     *     *

Next scene: coming March 3.

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The Tally Master, Chapter 16 (scene 76)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 1 (scene 1)