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)