The Tally Master, Chapter 3 (scene 14)

Some moments later, Keir was again climbing toward the upper reaches of the Regenen Stair. Sunlight and warmth poured through the frequent arrowslits, and the torches in their brackets rested unlit. A porter carrying a stack of folded table linens tramped upwards, passing her. Another, heading downward at speed, smacked palms and exchanged a grin with his fellow. They were readying the three great halls for the evening feast.

Keir was headed for the regenen’s chambers. Gael wanted Carbraes notified that Gael could deliver a preliminary report on the gong, if Carbraes so desired. Keir guessed the regenen would decline. He tended to give Gael a wide berth in which to manage the metals and the smithies. He would trust Gael to do equally well with the gong. Why give the artifact to Gael, if Carbraes were to peer continuously over his shoulder? But Gael remained punctilious in his loyalty to Carbraes.

Three messenger boys hurtled around the newel post above and swung wide around her.

Good. That made it likely that the regenen was indeed in his chambers, dispatching his orders as usual via flocks of runners.

Her thoughts returned to the scullion boy she’d just rescued.

Weit had admitted he was on the verge of leaving Carbraes’ protection entirely, striking out into the wilderness to get away from the bullies tormenting him. No doubt this latest incident was one of a long string, and Weit had reason for such an extreme course.

But why had the boy believed he could survive?

Had he stolen the tin—and the bronze—envisioning the ingots buying his way into some other stronghold? That of a troll-queen in the icy reaches of the farthest north?

Keir shook her head and frowned, alarming a boy sweeping the treads of the stairwell with broom and pan.

Weit possessed more freedom than many of the kitchen scullions. The opteon in the fruitery didn’t need his assistant at all times, so Weit delivered “lunches” to various trolls throughout the tower who required a snack sometime between the morning meal and the evening feast. Some of those lunching trolls worked in the smithies. Weit certainly possessed the opportunity to swipe ingots lying about the privy smithy during the working day.

But that was ridiculous. The boy’s eyes had been clear and untroubled when he took his leave of her with Adarn in his wake. Weit was not a thief.

She considered his tormentors. They’d been an ugly lot when she stumbled upon them, doubly so in the way they’d reminded her that it was trolls—trolls, not men—who inhabited Belzetarn. And yet she’d never doubted her ability to quell their aggression. They’d turned from a nasty mob into a handful of bewildered boys readily enough under her handling. Just like the human boys back home in the village.

Troll boys were not so different from human boys, it seemed.

But what if she’d blundered in amongst a pack of troll men tormenting a scullion? It happened, she knew it did. Against the strict orders of their opteons. Against the firm policy of the march. Against even the fierce prohibition of the regenen. With punishing corrections on offer. But it happened.

Keir could not have dominated such a band.

Her pater had lost his leg to such a band.

* * *

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The Tally Master, Chapter 3 (scene 15)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 3 (scene 13)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 1 (scene 1)