The Tally Master, Chapter 4 (scene 20)

Keir was absent from the tally chamber.

Gael grimaced. He’d lost count of the times he’d climbed the tower’s stairs today, but his ankles had registered every last riser and both of them ached, not just the one more prone to it.

This trip from the yard, he’d followed the route taken by the oxhide ingots and the tin pebbles, when they arrived at Belzetarn from the mines: first the straight shot through the kitchen annex tunnel, then two-and-a-half twists up the Charcoal Stair to the place of arms behind the melee gallery, then ten twists up the Lake Stair. There he’d left the oxhide route, crossing the lower great hall to the Regenen Stair and its landing where the door to the tally chamber stood, closed and locked, as was proper when the chamber went unoccupied.

Gael could wish he’d occupied that tally chamber a good deal more today than he had. Although . . . he supposed he’d sat before his desk all the morning as usual. It was just the afternoon that had evaporated in traipsing up, and down, and then up again. And, and, and. He snorted.

And now he faced a climb of another ten spirals around the newel post of the Regenen Stair, for he knew where Keir was. The evening check-in had gone long, and Keir was still in the vaults marking the finished and partially finished swords in, marking the armor scales and the completed armor hauberks in, marking the ingots in, and weighing the metal remnants in.

Keir should have been done by now. Or had Gael forgotten how much longer the process took with one, not two, getting it done?

C’mon, old troll, he told himself, Carbraes probably takes an extra lap at day’s end, up and down the Regenen Stair one more time whenever he thinks he’s not gotten sufficient exercise.

But Carbraes performed a daily ration of handstand push-ups.

And I’m not Carbraes.

But he did need to learn how Keir’s first solo had gone and whether the tin discrepancy had given any sign of increasing—or diminishing. Which meant he’d best start climbing.

He took it slow and found Keir locking the individual coffers in the tin vault, frowning the while.

The boy looked up from his task as Gael arrived. “Martell is late,” he said, irritation in his voice.

Gael’s own brows drew down. “He’s yet in his smithy?”

Keir shrugged. “Apparently so.”

Now that was strange. Martell was always the last of the smiths to check in his materials at the end of the day, but even Martell was not this late. There had been too many departures from usual lately. The question was: which anomalies stemmed from the theft of Gael’s tin and bronze, and which from mere chance?

“Shall I lock the vault door?” Keir asked. “Or did you wish to await me here?”

“Where—?” Gael directed a questioning glance at his notary.

Keir’s jaw muscles bunched. Grinding his teeth? “I’m going to fetch Martell. And when I get him—I’m going to have some words with him.”

“Ah,” said Gael. “I believe I shall have words with Martell, but you may certainly add your words to mine.” He smiled, tightly, like Medicus Piar. “But I’ll fetch him up for you.”

“But sir!” Keir forgot his exasperation in surprise. “I’m the one who does the running, not you!”

Gael’s smile grew more genuine. “But you are doing my tallying for me. I’ll go.”

Keir was still protesting as Gael headed to the Lake Stair, which debouched nearer the privy smithy than did the Regenen Stair. Some part of Gael joined Keir’s protest. Was he really making another full descent to the tower’s roots, followed by a full ascent back up to the ingot vaults?

His ankle answered that question, unhappily. Yes. Yes, he was. Cayim’s hells!

Traffic on the stair was heavy: servers readying all three great halls for the evening feast, officers headed for the war room to give a last report to the march, artisans making for their quarters to tidy themselves before eating. Gael even noted a hunter—in his leather boots and breeches, game bag hanging from the strap across his back—leaving the stairwell for the lower great hall.

Really? A hunter? What was he doing away from the hunters’ lodge?

He was a healthy fellow, almost untouched by troll-disease. His ears and nose looked human, and his skin was firm, with a good color. He didn’t look like a troll at all, but of course he was one. Carbraes insisted that every newcomer be checked.

What was a hunter doing in the tower proper at this time of the evening?

Then Gael remembered that Barris had mentioned the castellanum was scattering favors more generously than usual. That must be it. This hunter was being rewarded with a meal in the lowest of the great halls for some praiseworthy deed. Supplying Theron with a superlatively tender haunch of oxen or some such thing.

Gael shrugged.

If he didn’t hoist Martell out of his smithy with dispatch, neither the secretarius nor the privy smith would have time to visit their respective chambers before sitting at table. Hadn’t Barris said that Martell was bidden to dine in the upper great hall? Or was that honor granted him the previous evening? If it was tonight, he absolutely had to change his sooty smith’s garb for more fitting garments.

As Gael paused on a landing between the main place of arms and the entrance place of arms, letting an urgent posse of messengers have the right of way, Martell, his notary, and his scullions rounded the newel post from below.

The smith spotted Gael immediately.

“Ah, ha! My friend, look at this!” Martell exclaimed.

Gael was in no mood to admire another product of Martell’s genius, but the smith did not seize the stem of the candelabrum poking out of one scullion’s sack. Instead he grabbed the rolled parchment carried by his notary, allowed it to unroll, and brandished it under Gael’s nose.

“All of it!” announced Martell. “Every last ounce! Every last tally! All of it is written!”

“Good.” It meant nothing. Martell always had confidence in his notary’s records, no matter how the smith hurried him and no matter how many times those tallies proved wrong. “But you are very late, my friend.” Gael would reserve his more serious reprimand for a private moment. Or . . . better yet . . . allow Keir to deliver the one he longed to. Perhaps Martell would respond well to Keir’s less genial manner. “All the other smiths are long gone, and Keir awaits.”

“Ah, ha! My friend, I know it! But you would not have me forego the castellanum’s candelabra?”

Gaelan’s tears! Was Martell going to drag it out after all?

“Or the decorative hooks for the opteon of the annex? Or the rivets for the magus?”

Gael knit his brows. “How many more things did you create after I spoke with you, my friend? I thought there remained but one.”

“Ah, I forgot.” Martell looked crestfallen for only a moment, then brightened. “But I completed all, all! And they are beautiful! The castellanum will be pleased!”

“If you dine with the castellanum tonight, you’d best hasten, my friend.”

Martell looked surprised. “But, no, he honors me but the once. Last night contents me! The ordinary great hall—” he glanced sideways uneasily “—is more comfortable. And the castellanum pours too much wine. Again and again he filled my cup.”

Gael hid the smile that wanted to sneak onto his lips. No matter how irritated he might grow with Martell’s lack of organization, the smith’s ebullience made Gael want to laugh. No doubt Martell preferred his cronies—who admired him—for dinner partners over the elite of the citadel. Martell repressed his boasting in the presence of the castellanum.

“Don’t keep Keir waiting any longer,” he advised, stepping toward the upward stairs and gesturing Martell to come with him. If he allowed the smith to determine when their conversation ended, they might stand here yet at midnight. And then Keir would be as irritated with Gael as he was with Martell.

Gael suppressed a second smile.

*     *     *

Previous scene:
The Tally Master, Chapter 4 (scene 19)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 1 (scene 1)



The Tally Master, Chapter 4 (scene 19)

The physician addressed Hew. “I am Medicus Piar. Let me see your hand.”

Piar wore a crisp blue tunic of linen and presented an impression of controlled efficiency. The symptoms of his troll-disease were mild, save for his ears, which were large, with drooping lobes. Gael wondered that the medicus cropped his straight, dark hair so short. Many trolls preferred to hide their ears.

Hew, confronted with the request that he remove his arm from its sling, looked again at the bronze scissors and knives and calipers on the tray of tools, and shrank.

Piar, seemingly unfazed by his patient’s recalcitrance, turned to Gael.

“Secretarius, you’ve given him preliminary treatment?”

“I did nothing for the burn, I’m afraid,” answered Gael. “Merely for his pain.” Would Piar be jealous of his physician’s prerogative?

Apparently not, for he returned his attention to Hew, unperturbed.

“Did the ministrations of the secretarius hurt you?” the medicus asked.

Hew shook his head.

“Mine will not hurt either.” Piar’s smile was brief and tight, but it reassured Hew. He proffered his hand, sling and all.

Piar pushed the canvas back, took a swift glance at Hew’s oozing palm, and passed into manipulation of the energea without even an in-breath, merely closing his eyes. Were healing disciplines so different from other uses of magery? Or was Piar simply that practiced, that he needed no preliminaries?

Gael allowed his inner sight to open, curious about Piar’s methods.

Interestingly, Piar’s energea flowed from the tips of his fingers, not the palm, and it was violet, not blue. Was that why his troll-disease seemed so little advanced for his age, which Gael judged to be about thirty years? Gael noticed that Piar pulsed his energea, as well as giving it a buzzing vibration.

“Mm, mm,” mumbled Hew.

Gael closed his inner sight to check Hew’s wound with his outer sight. The red of the palm had faded to pink, and the broken skin no longer wept.

Someone rapped on the wooden frame of the open door.

Piar opened his eyes. “Come in,” he said, studying his patient’s hand.

A troll about Keir’s age entered the room.

“What is it?” asked Piar, touching each of Hew’s fingertips in turn and noting their response.

“Medicus, sir.” The young assistant shuffled his feet. “Rainar told me to deliver the sleeping draught now, but the herbalist says he’s not compounded it.” The boy’s voice rose with his distress.

Piar turned Hew’s hand, checking the motion of the wrist. Gael liked how thorough he was, not shorting his patient, despite the interruption.

“No. One night’s dose proved adequate. The order’s been canceled. Tell Rainar so, please,” instructed Piar.

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” The assistant stepped back through the doorway, and Gael heard him murmuring to someone else in the hallway, his voice growing fainter as they moved away. “The castellanum doesn’t want it anymore. Cancelled his order.”

Gael frowned. Theron had ordered a sleeping draught? How distinctly odd. The castellanum was autocratic, patronizing, jealous of his privilege, and patrician in his refinement, but never anxious. The idea of him suffering insomnia was . . . ludicrous.

Piar reached for a small stone jar and a narrow bronze spatula resting on the sideboard. With a swift, light touch he spread ointment on Hew’s burn, and began wrapping it with linen bandage. “How did this happen?” he asked.

Hew fumbled in his sash with his uninjured hand and drew out . . . a nugget of tin.

Gael choked. Cayim’s hells! Was everyone stealing his tin? Even the sweeps?

Hew’s face fell. “Oh,” he wailed. “It was so pretty! Like a falling star, all bright and shining! I tried to catch it, and I did.” He stared, heartbroken, at the lump of silvery gray metal in his hand.

Gael was beginning to understand. “Had you never swept the smithies before?” he asked.

Hew shook his head. “Samo said I done such a good job on the stairs, I could. As a reward! And then I saw such pretty stars, wasted on the floor. I saved one! But it’s gone dull!” His mouth trembled.

Gael stifled the hilarity that rose through his weariness. “Hew, the metal glows when it is very hot. It’s beautiful, but you cannot touch it then without serious injury. Do you understand? The brightness fades as the metal cools.”

Hew handed the lump of tin to Gael. “I didn’t know,” he said humbly. “I thought it was a star, and stars belong to everyone who can see, don’t they? But metal belongs to you.” He ducked his head. “I’m sorry.”

Gael accepted the tin and sighed. “You’re a good boy, Hew.”

Hew’s face brightened. “I am?”

“You are. You don’t steal. And you’ll know not to touch hot metal the next time you sweep the smithies, won’t you.”

Hew brightened still more. “I’ll sweep the smithies again? I’ll see the stars of hot metal?”

“I’ll request you especially,” Gael promised. “When you’ve healed. You cannot push a broom until your hand is well.”

Hew looked at his bandages in surprise as Piar rearranged the sling, slipping it back under the boy’s arm and hand.

“I’ll keep him here overnight,” said Piar. “Samo gives you your work?” he asked Hew.

Hew nodded, still scrutinizing his bandages.

Piar smiled his quick, tight smile, looking at Gael. “I’ll send word to Samo of what’s happened, so the boy does not get in trouble.”

The physician rose. “I think you’re done here, Secretarius.”


He now knew that Theron needed to give a better briefing to the scullions who cleaned the smithies. He knew Hew to be honest. And he knew he must seek his thief elsewhere.

Which was probably just as well. How could Belzetarn prosper, if even its lowliest denizens proved untrustworthy?

On the other hand . . . if the lowly were innocent, then the guilty one lived among the powerful.

*     *     *

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The Tally Master, Chapter 4 (scene 20)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 4 (scene 18)

Need the beginning?
The Tally Master, Chapter 1 (scene 1)



The Tally Master, Chapter 4 (scene 18)

The tunnel through the kitchen annex—a long, straight shot toward the outdoors—flared with fresh torches in the brackets. The banging of pots, cooks’ yells, and savory aromas boiled from the two open doorways—one on each side—as Gael steered Hew forward.

Then they were outside.

The golden evening light glowed through the grass strands of the upper yard like green flame. The still air felt soft and clear, and the sunshine fell warm on Gael’s shoulders. He turned his face up to the sky, blue and cloudless—a benison forgotten indoors.

Gael’s sense of oppression—the worrisome implications of a thief in the forges, his wariness about the cursed gong—lifted.

Hew stumbled.

Gael twitched his gaze back to their footing.

No, Hew hadn’t stepped off the edge of the gentle ramp that led from the annex door down to the yard. He’d been looking up, like Gael, and simply tripped on his own ankle.

Gael steadied the boy onto the cobblestone walkway that skirted the grass, passing along the flint-and-mortar fronts of the artisan workshops—woodcarvers, leather workers, the feltery, the armorers’ lodge. The smellier offices were relegated to the bailey, so the yard air smelled sweet, of grass pollen and warm earth.

Gael looked out over a retaining wall to the lower yard. A messenger dashed from the doorway of the scalding house toward the stone steps to the upper yard. Both upper and lower yards would soon throng with trolls at their leisure before the evening feast, but not quite yet. Most of the artisans were still finishing their day’s work inside.

An inner curtain wall bounded the lower yard. Beyond it, the bailey spread out across the hill, sloping down toward the west and the forest beyond the outer curtain wall. Faint baaing drifted from the flock of goats grazing near the gate. Nearer sounded the shouted orders of opteons drilling several decani of warriors.

Hew’s steps slowed, and Gael slowed with him. The illusion of peace was beguiling.

Gael pondered how easily, how naturally he’d just performed magery. Without a second thought. Had he not made a personal vow never to do so again? Had he not sworn to Lord Carbraes that he would eschew magery, as did every other troll of Belzetarn, save the healers? Did he not fear the performance of magery in the matter of the evil gong?

And yet, the instant a boy’s pain confronted him, he forgot all that. He’d drawn energea through his nodes as smoothly as when he’d been magus to Heiroc. And the energea had been safe—blue—not dangerous. It had felt soothing.

Was Carbraes correct in believing that manipulation of energea advanced troll-disease? Or did the troll-disease of Belzetarn’s magus, Nathiar, worsen more rapidly because he dabbled in the dangerous energea—scorching orange? Did he so dabble? Gael didn’t know, even though he might suspect.

Not that it mattered.

Despite his lapse, despite how satisfying it had felt, he had no intention of returning to magery. Unless rendering the gong harmless required it. And—if it did—he would perform only enough to get the job done.

Three shallow steps led up to the hospital portico. Gael guided Hew up them and through the heavy, brass-bound door to the interior.

Two notaries sat at a large table in the entrance foyer, one flipping through a stack of parchments, the other copying notes onto a blank sheet. Always there were records in Belzetarn—in the forges, in the kitchens, everywhere. Gael approved, although he knew many complained.

Unlike the chambers within the tower, those of the hospital possessed large, glass-paned windows and were flooded with light. The smooth wood floors gleamed with polish. Gael might have been jealous of their spacious quality did he not crave the security of his tally chamber. But he did crave it. And he had no desire to exchange tallying for healing.

The notary sorting the stack of parchments looked up as Gael and Hew came through the front door. He wasted no time, getting up immediately and walking around the table to approach them, studying Hew’s sling.

“Broken? Sprained?” he asked.

“Burned,” Gael answered. “Badly. I risked an energea lavage, else he’d be screaming yet, and unable to walk.”

The notary’s eyebrows rose. “Indeed! This way, please.” He ushered them along a short hallway and into an examining room. “I’ll get a medicus right away.”

Hew made a beeline for the tray of alarming tools resting on a sideboard, his eyes staring and his jaw dropping. “Uh! Uh! Uh!”

“They won’t use those on you,” Gael reassured him, then towed him away to a chair set before a window onto the courtyard garden at the heart of the hospital. He had the boy sit facing the outdoors, looking at four neat squares of herbs and flowers centered on a sundial and bounded by a colonnade. A scullion gathered leaves from a low-growing plant, while bees hummed in the taller blooms behind him.

At the sound of footsteps in the hallway, Gael turned.

*     *     *

Next scene:
The Tally Master, Chapter 4 (scene 19)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 4 (scene 17)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 1 (scene 1)



The Tally Master, Chapter 4 (scene 17)

The injured troll was a sweep—not one of the smithy scullions. Gael dredged his memory for a name. He knew this one, didn’t he? Hilan? Hyan?

Hew. The boy Gael spared a kind word for whenever he encountered him, because Hew was simple, in addition to suffering troll-disease.

Hew lay curled around his own right arm, groaning and weeping. Gael knelt beside him.

“What has happened?” Gael asked, his voice gentle.

Hew looked up piteously and held out his hand. “Hurts,” he sobbed.

Gael hissed.

Hew’s palm sported a red, blistered blotch with an open wound seeping clear fluid at its center and crusted black at its edges.

“Hurts, hurts, hurts,” pleaded Hew.

Gael took the back of Hew’s hand gently in his own. He was no healer, but he could ease the boy’s pain a touch before they got him to the hospital in the artisans’ yard. First, he needed to be sure Hew wouldn’t startle at the touch of energea.

“I can help you, Hew,” he said. “It may feel a little strange.”

“Hurt more?” asked Hew fearfully.

“It will not hurt,” Gael explained, “but it will feel different from what you are used to.”

Hew thrust his injured hand nearer.

Gael steadied the boy’s elbow. “Keep still,” he said. Upon Hew’s timid nod, Gael closed his eyes and took a long, slow in-breath. On the out-breath, equally long and slow, he opened his inner sight.

The silvery arcs connecting to the lesser node in Hew’s palm shuddered, jangled by the injury. The node itself pulsed more quickly than it should.

Gael drew on his own nodes, sending energea cascading along his arcs and out his palms. It sparkled blue—safe—as it flowed into Hew’s energea. The shivering of Hew’s arcs calmed, and their curvature relaxed and lengthened. Hew’s node pulsed less wildly. Gael heard Hew sigh.

He opened his eyes.

The boy had stopped sobbing, although the tears still stood on his cheeks.

“Better?” asked Gael.

Hew nodded.

“Good.” He saw Hew preparing to shift. “Don’t move!”

The boy subsided.

Gael glanced up to see the scullions still gathered around them, standing silently.

“I need something to make a sling.”

While the scullions turned to one another, muttering and gesturing and coming up empty, Arnoll pulled a canvas sack from beneath one of the counters and started ripping its side seams. A moment later he handed the large rectangle to Gael. Gael placed the center of the canvas under Hew’s arm, passed both ends up the boy’s chest and behind Hew’s neck, where he tied them.

Arnoll joined Gael to help Hew to his feet.

“Can you walk?” Arnoll asked him.

Hew was staring at his own hand, apparently amazed. No doubt the swift diminishment of the pain had bewildered him.

Gael turned to the nearest privy scullion to ask sharply, “Where’s Martell?”

The scullion flushed and looked at the floor. “Latrine,” he mumbled, and then started to explain how Hew had been injured.

Gael cut him off. “Never mind.”

He turned back to Arnoll. “I’ll take this boy to the physicians. Will you send one of your scullions to Keir, explaining that I’ve been detained.” He’d intended Keir to perform the morning’s check-out routine alone. It would hurt nothing for him to start with this evening’s check-in routine instead.

“I’ll take care of it,” said Arnoll. “Go!”

Gael nodded, gripped Hew’s good arm, and aimed the boy toward the cramped spiral stair at the back of the charcoal cellar. A half turn down and out through the kitchen annex would be the most direct route to the hospital.

*     *     *

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The Tally Master, Chapter 4 (scene 18)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 4 (scene 16)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 1 (scene 1)



The Tally Master, Chapter 4 (scene 16)

Chapter 4

Climbing the Regenen Stair one more time, Gael’s thigh muscles burned, and his ankle protested. The flames of the half-burned torches flickered in the lower stairwell, creating moving patterns of light and shadow on the stone walls and treads.

In the higher reaches of the stairwell, the sunlight slanting in through the arrowslits would have acquired the golden tinge of early evening. Dark was yet a long way off—dusk came very late in the summer—but the day was winding to a close. So Gael pushed himself.

Preparation for the checking in of swords, armor, and ingots demanded his presence in the tally room, and then the vaults above. Soon. But he wanted to nail down one last detail, before performing his usual duties.

Emerging into the blade smithy, he saw the scullions wrapping the unmolded blades in soft suede.

Which meant it was later than he thought. Hells.

He slipped into the unlit storeroom to the right—that would be faster than dodging smiths and scullions in the smithy—and barked his shin on something. Had someone left a broken shovel loose, instead of placing it properly on a shelf or in a bin? He would tell one of the scullions to see to it.

The charcoal cellar beyond the storeroom presented no obstacles, and then he was in the armor smithy, its dim bays littered with anvils, forms, and work counters, limned but partially by the fraction of daylight filtering from the deep embrasures on the north tower wall. The smiths had lit tallow dips. Within their separate pools of light, they collected the myriad scales they’d poured and hammered that day—small rectangles of bronze measuring a finger in width, a palm in length—checking the edges for smoothness and the placement of the punched holes.

The scullions gathered at the forges, raking the coals apart for the night.

Gael spotted Arnoll laying out his work—platelet after bronze platelet—on a counter before his notary, who sat poised with parchment and quill. Gael hastened toward them. He could really only spare a moment here.

Arnoll looked up at his footfall. His eyes warmed when he saw who approached.

Gael suppressed a frown. That Arnoll should welcome his friend was unremarkable. But was that relief behind the welcome?

Arnoll spoke first as Gael halted beside him, his voice gravelly, but easy. Perhaps Gael had been mistaken about that hint of relief in the smith’s expression. “Gael! Excellent. I’ve something to consult you about, my friend. Though not this instant.”

Well, that was strange. Gael was here because he wanted to consult Arnoll. About the gong. Arnoll had been rolling around the north for many more years than Gael. He might know . . . something. Might have encountered some Ghriana magics—or ancient magics—that would shed light on the artifact.

“Meet me here in the smithy?” suggested the smith. “Immediately following the evening feast?”

Gael did frown at that. Why not in Arnoll’s quarters?

No matter. He could ask Arnoll to his own chambers from the smithy just as well as from Arnoll’s quarters. He nodded.

On his nod, shouting broke out in the privy smithy behind him.

“Ow! Ow! Ow!” someone howled. “It hurts! It hurts! Ow!”

Gael whipped around, and Arnoll surged forward.

As one, they strode to the knot of scullions gathered around a troll boy huddled on the smithy floor.

*     *     *

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The Tally Master, Chapter 4 (scene 17)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 3 (scene 15)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 1 (scene 1)



Am I Daring?

One lone idea sparked my short story, “To Haunt the Daring Place.” I wanted to tell about the founding of a monastery that will feature in the ninth book of my Gael & Keir series.

That was all I had.

There was a monastery. It had an unusual founding. Gael and Keir would visit the place a hundred years (or two) later.

My logical self informed me that this was a slim spot to start from.

My storyteller self felt serenely sanguine. There was a story already present, hiding in my subconscious and ready to be revealed. All I needed to do was trust in its existence and tell it.

I mused upon my protagonist. He was a scholar and a mage, possessed of great world-wonder. He felt curious about everything, but he’d taken a break from the scholarship he loved to rebuild his fortunes, which were decimated by the troll wars. Now he was reclaiming his curiosity.

His name was Coehlin, and he was an especial fan of ancient North-lands philosophers such as Kleomedes the Younger and Aglaia of Seleucis.

I envisioned the story appearing in my collection, Tales of Old Giralliya.

The time period seemed to fit, and I envisioned a sort of fairy tale style for its telling.

But after I wrote the first scene, it was clear that I wasn’t using a fairy tale style at all. It wasn’t right for the story I wanted to tell. Nor would the length be comparable to that of the other stories in Tales of Old Giralliya. They fell in a range between 700 and 4,500 words. “To Haunt the Daring Place” would be at least 6,000 words, maybe more.

My next plan was to submit the story to SFF magazines.

web imageI’d received a nice comment from a magazine editor when I submitted “Crossing the Naiad” to him. Recently I learned what a personal comment like that meant, aside from, ‘It’s good!’ It meant that he’d read the story all the way to its end. And editors don’t do that unless either: 1) they think they might buy the story for their magazine, or 2) they are enjoying the story so much that even though it is not right for their magazine, they can’t bear to stop.

That put my editor’s comment in a new perspective. Getting a story accepted seemed like it might truly be possible!

But as I wrote “To Haunt,” I began to worry that it would be too long for any magazine. Wasn’t 6,000 words the top limit for many? And it was becoming ever more certain that “To Haunt” was going to cross that 6K limit.

In fact, the first draft of “To Haunt” came in at 13,714 words. Yikes!

If 6,000 were the top edge, then my story was more than twice as long. Cutting it down a little to fit wouldn’t be feasible. But I could (and should) check that limit. Maybe my memory was wrong. Maybe, even if I remembered right, there might be a few magazines that would take a novelette. Or, if there weren’t any magazines that would, maybe there would be an anthology call permitting longer lengths.

What I really wanted was to get my story into a magazine with a circulation of thousands or an anthology with an editor possessing an established audience of thousands. The readers who read my work seem to love it. But their numbers are, as yet, few. I want readers who have never heard of me to have a chance at reading my stories.

So…is there a potential venue for “To Haunt the Daring Place”?


I checked the word limits for the top magazines, and many of them accept submissions up to 20K. A few specify 15K, and one 10K.

Obviously the 10K rag won’t work for “To Haunt,” but I have lots of options. Yay! I’m pretty thrilled about it.

So…did the monastery get founded?

W-e-l-l…not exactly.

The magical architectural element that leads to the founding of the monastery is indeed created in the events recounted in “To Haunt the Daring Place.” But the monastery itself? No. It’s never even mentioned.

But it will be a fun Easter egg for readers of both “To Haunt the Daring Place” and Book Nine of the Gael & Keir Adventures. I assure you that the architectural element is not something that can be missed!

Wish me luck in getting the story accepted. 😀

For more about Tales of Old Giralliya, see:
Rebirth of Four Fairy Tales
Two Giralliyan Folk Heroes
Caught Between Two Armies
Tales in a New Bundle



Sovereign Change

The sequel to The Tally Master has a new title!

I’m so excited about it, but I deserve none of the credit. Who does?

My first reader.

Actually she deserves credit for a lot more than the title. She read through my first draft, which turned out to be in much rougher shape than I’d realized, and not only flagged all of its problems, but made some excellent suggestions for how to fix them.

Then—with a generosity beyond any call of honor or duty—she read the whole thing again in its revised version.

I just received the commented manuscript back from her. This second draft is in much better shape than was the first. Thank goodness! She found it gripping and fun to read, but she also discovered a number of additional small issues that will be the better for fixing. I hope to dive into the revision work soon.

But what about that title?

It was while my first reader was racing through the exciting climax scene—just as tension-filled, she reports, even though she’d read it before—that inspiration visited her.

Sovereign Night.

The instant I saw it, there in the first comment on the manuscript, I loved it. It’s THE ONE. 😀

The Sovereign’s Labyrinth has now officially become Sovereign Night.



Hantidan Garb

Although I draw inspiration from the history and cultures of the real world for my stories, I don’t reproduce reality wholesale. Which means that when I seek out images to represent elements of my fiction, I rarely find any that exactly match the visions I entertain in my imagination. I must make due with photographs and artwork that are almost what I have in mind, or close.

Luckily, almost and close often convey quite a bit. 😀

One consistent feature of Hantidan garb is that it possesses an asymmetric closure, with fastenings that run down the front, along one side, from neck to hem.

The peasants who work in the rice paddies, fish the river, or cut reeds in the wetlands wear linen jackets over skirts or wide trousers. Their garb needs to be practical, permitting free movement of the limbs, durable, and comfortable in the hot, humid climate.

The portrait of Kan Gao (at right) does not have the Hantidan side closure, but the jacket, skirt, and trousers otherwise mimic the Hantidan garb of a country laborer quite well.

City dwellers with less physically demanding jobs tend to wear robes. Apprentices, messengers, journeymen, clerks, delivery men, and other workers sport robes of drab linen.

Master artisans, scribes, business owners, and well-to-do professionals chose well-dyed linens, often adorned by tassels on the sleeves and shoulders.

A sash worn over the shoulder secures a pouch for carrying coin, abacus, or other tools used often in their respective trades.

Senior servants and palace functionaries wear silk robes, but in subdued colors.

The garments worn by the hanfu promoters at right are secured by sashes, whereas my Hantidans would find a snug binding around the waist too hot. But aside from that detail, the dark green silk and monochrome edgings are very like some of the robes Gael and Keir see while sojourning in the Glorious Citadel.

Dark green, dark blue, and dark yellow are common colors, as is dark gray, the robes donned by Gael and Keir.

Wealthy merchants and lesser nobility flaunt silk robes in brilliant colors: crimson, orange, turquoise, leaf green, sky blue, and so on. The most privileged might possess tone-on-tone patterns woven into the fabric, but sumptuary laws prevent more elaborate designs.

The sokutai attire shown at right depicts the shimmering brilliance typical of garments worn by the rich and powerful of Hantida, but lacks the asymmetric neckline and side closure of their robes.

Only the elite among the nobility are permitted to wear elaborate, patterned brocades. Their luxurious robes are commonplace within their city palaces, on their country estates, and within the Glorious Citadel.

But they are rarely seen on the streets of Hantida. The elite take the air in secluded courtyards and gardens or hunt on broad private acreage. When they travel from one city residence to another, or from rural estate to urban mansion, they occupy curtained palanquins more often than not.

The first such robes encountered by Gael and Keir are fashioned of “an ornate brocade depicting herons lifting in flight.” The second feature “a tracery of green leaves and lizards upon a bronze ground.”

The traditional wedding dress (above at right), although beautiful, would be considered a simpler design among the high nobility of Hantida.

The robes worn by Emperor Qianlong (immediate right) are more typical garb for the highest of the high Hantidans.

The guards standing sentry duty on the walls of the Glorious Citadel wear bronze scale mail, but the silhouette of their armor is very similar to the ceremonial armor depicted in the portrait (right) of Emperor Qianlong.

For more about The Sovereign’s Labyrinth, see:
Timekeeping in Hantida
The Baths of the Glorious Citadel
A Townhouse in Hantida
Quarters in the Glorious Citadel
A Library in the Glorious Citadel
That Sudden Leap



Timekeeping in Hantida

The Sovereign’s Labyrinth is an adventure mystery with a good bit of action and fighting.

It’s not a brain-bender mystery like the clever Five Red Herrings by Dorothy Sayers, in which the time tables of trains prove integral to solving the plot.

Nor is it a mystery of manners like Georgette Heyer’s witty Detection Unlimited, in which the behavior of clocks plays an important role.

Nonetheless, as I wrote The Sovereign’s Labyrinth, I found myself thinking about timekeeping and how the Hantidans did it.

Since the story takes place in the Bronze Age of my North-lands, the Hantidans would not be telling time with clocks or watches or digital phones. So how did they do it?

The earliest timekeeping devices in our own history were sundials. In sunny climes, they worked well…by day. But what about the night time? And what about places with cloud cover?

Hantida has a wet season and a dry season, but even in the dry season, a storm comes through on many days. Which meant that even if they used sundials, they probably used something else to supplement them.

Drawing again from history, I had sandglasses (hourglasses), candle clocks, incense clocks, and water clocks as options.

Some historians speculate that the ancient Greeks and ancient Romans used sandglasses. They certainly had the technology necessary to make them. But the historical record does not contain actual mention of them as it does of water clocks. No one seems to be sure when sandglasses were invented and first used, but it may have been as late as the Middle Ages.

I am not absolutely strict about anachronisms in my North-lands—I write fantasy, after all—but I like to use real history as a guide. So I decided against sandglasses for my Hantidans.

The earliest mention of candle clocks comes earlier than those of sandglasses, in a Chinese poem written in 520 AD. That’s slightly better than the Middle Ages, but candle clocks have other disadvantages, namely that it’s hard to get the wicks and wax uniform enough to prevent inaccuracy in their timekeeping. Drafts were also a problem with the even burning of the candles.

Besides…520 AD still remains a lot later than 1500 BC!

(In the west, the candle clock bore regular markings on the column of wax. In the east, weights were attached to threads embedded in the wax. As the candle burned down, the threads were released, and the weights dropped into a plate below with a clatter.)

Before my research into timekeeping, I’d never heard of incense clocks. When I did— Wow! Just, wow! I fell in love!

Evidently incense can be calibrated more accurately than candle wax, so incense clocks are more accurate than candle clocks. And differently fragranced incense can be used in rotation, so that different hours are associated with different scents.

I had only one problem with bestowing incense clocks on my Hantidans. I absolutely knew that the Daoine Meras, the people in the next Gael & Keir Adventure, use incense clocks.

I didn’t want to repeat myself!

So my Hantidans received water clocks.

Actually, water clocks are pretty cool. And they appeared in Babylon around the 16th century BC, perhaps earlier still in ancient China (4000 BC). Water clocks and humans have been together for a very long time!

The earliest water clocks were outflow clocks. That is, the water flowed out from a hole in the bowl. As the water level fell, it passed markings on the inner surface that indicated the time. Often the dripping water was not caught by another vessel, but allowed to absorb into the sand or earth below.

Later water clocks were inflow clocks, in which water from an upper vessel flowed through a calibrated channel into a lower bowl. The inner surface of the lower bowl was marked, and as the water level rose, it indicated the time.

The Persians used yet another style to ensure that the water from their underground irrigation channels was distributed evenly among the farms sharing a given aquifer. They placed a small bowl with a calibrated hole in a larger bowl filled with water. The water flowed through the hole to fill the smaller bowl. When it sank, the clock manager would place a pebble in a container to count that iteration, pour the water back into the larger bowl, and then start the small bowl filling again.

I suspect my Hantidans use the inflow model of water clock.

But how did the Hantidans get started with timekeeping?

There’s plenty of water in Hantida: the river, the monsoons, the near-daily rain in the dry season, and a generous water table below ground. They wouldn’t have needed to divide water so carefully as did the Persians.

Here, real world history came to my rescue once again.

Some of the ancient cities were very populous, counting a hundred thousand people within their walls along with great wealth. They built walls to protect themselves and manned those walls with sentries who stood guard through both day and night.

The sentries needed to know when their watch was up and when the next one started. Timekeeping was required!

That made sense for Hantida.

I could just see the Keeper of the Watch sounding the drum in his tower on the city walls when the Keeper of the Clepsydra announced the first beat of the evening watch. And then, all over the city, itinerant time keepers would ring their chimes in echo of the drum beat.

I decided to model the Hantidan schedule of watches after those used by sailors.

Each day possesses seven watches. Five of them are 4 hours long. Two of them are but 2 hours long. This ensures that the sentries rotate through the watches, rather than staying with the same one indefinitely.

Each long watch has eight beats or chimes, each short watch, only four.

Midwatch     midnight – 4 am
Morning Watch     4 am – 8 am
Forenoon Watch     8 am – noon
Afternoon Watch     noon – 4 pm
Aja-watch the First     4 pm – 6 pm
Aja-watch the Second     6 pm – 8 pm
Evening Watch     8 pm – midnight

So…did Hantidan timekeeping come into The Sovereign’s Labyrinth at all? Or was it one of those fun bits of research that never make it onto the page?

I’m not telling! 😉

For more about The Sovereign’s Labyrinth, see:
The Baths of the Glorious Citadel
A Townhouse in Hantida
Quarters in the Glorious Citadel
A Library in the Glorious Citadel
That Sudden Leap



The Baths of the Glorious Citadel

“The Hantidans know how to draw a bath,” Gael agreed.

Although the real benefit of the palace baths might be that a quiet bather could overhear useful gossip.

I must side with Gael on this one. Hantidans do indeed know how to draw a bath. I envisioned the Hantidan bath as resembling those of the Japanese: very deep, very hot, and including a view through a sliding screen of a stylized garden.

If I could visit Hantida right now, their baths would definitely feature in my itinerary!

In the morning, Gael returned to his room from the baths pleasantly relaxed and smelling of herbal soap. Unusually for him, he’d kept thinking at bay during his soak, focusing instead on the physical sensations—the extreme heat of the water Hantidans favored, its depth—well over his shoulders—the scented steam, the beauty of the sunlight on the bamboos right outside the partially open screens.

In spite of their lure, however, I initially categorized the Hantidan baths as an appealing detail of the setting and little more.

But as I moved more deeply into The Sovereign’s Labyrinth, I realized they served as more than evocative window dressing.

“I heard two gentlemen talking in the baths, gossiping about last night’s accident. Interesting that they classified it as an accident, by the by,” he added.

In the baths, Gael and Keir would learn clues to the mystery they encountered in the Glorious Citadel. They would discover new suspects to question. And Gael would have an informative encounter there.

It was down around a corner of the tile passageway and bigger than the rest of the tubs Gael had seen in the palace, with room enough for four.

Zithilo lounged in one corner of the bath, lanky legs stretched out before him along the tub floor, gaze fixed on a close, engoldened slice of slope visible through the open screen—afternoon was giving way to evening—overgrown by ferns, mosses, and shrubs. He was tall, skinny, and muscular. He didn’t bother to look over his shoulder when Gael’s step sounded in the doorway.

“Get in!” he urged. “The water is fine!”

Gotta stop there to avoid spoilers!

So…what do the baths look like?

Well, the photo at the top of this post shows a bath similar to the one that Zithilo invites Gael to share. And the photo at right has the feeling of the corridor giving onto the individual baths.

The baths were arranged along a narrow side corridor of white tile, a tall and solid wall on Gael’s left, a shoulder-high wall punctuated by a dozen open doorways on his right. Each doorway connected to a small cubical with hooks and a wooden bench, and a farther doorway to a square, sunken tub with a view onto a moss garden.

Steam wreathed the air, along with the scent of herbal soap.

There are many bath houses within the Glorious Citadel, and the approach to each is the standard roofed walkway that runs along the edges of the courtyards and gardens and beside the walls of the pavilions that compose the palace.

The Sovereign’s Labyrinth has grown under revision. The first draft came in at 78,000 words. As I write this blog post, the novel stands at over 95,000 words. I’ve edited and revised the first 75,000 of those, so you can see that I am closing in on the end. I hope to send the manuscript out for its next beta read soon!

For more about the setting of The Sovereign’s Labyrinth, see:
A Townhouse in Hantida
Quarters in the Glorious Citadel
A Library in the Glorious Citadel
That Sudden Leap