The Tally Master, Chapter 6 (scene 26)

Chapter 6

Gael slipped away from Belzetarn’s main hall via the Lake Stair, the one most easily reached from his end of the high table. Night had fallen at last, and the torches illuminating the stairwell flared, casting golden light on the stone walls and making the embrasures of the arrowslits into seeming caves. Coolness poured through their dark openings, carrying the pure freshness of the night air.

Gael paused at the last embrasure before he had to exit the stairwell and cross the lower great hall via the curving balcony that led to his chambers. After the noise and brightness and smells of feasting, the solitude of the night called him.

He took the awkward step up to the embrasure’s floor and moved to the arrowslit at its far end. Leaning his elbows on the deep sill, he looked out.

The moon waning deichtain had just started today, so the moon shone large in the night sky, a gibbous lantern shedding silvery light across the landscape below. He could hear the lake lapping at the base of the cliff on which Belzetarn stood. Dark water spread toward the horizon and the silhouette of the mountains there, a wake of moonlight shivering across the broad expanse, pointing east.

The trolls who fished the lake drowned sometimes. Belzetarn’s hunters took their hounds when they chased dangerous game, but the fishers had no dogs to help them, unlike the fisherfolk of Hadorgol.

In Hadorgol’s rivers and bays, landseers brought fishing nets to shore, towed small dinghies, retrieved waterfowl for duck hunters, and rescued children who fell in the water or men tossed from capsized boats.

The king’s landseer, Morza, had rescued Gael in more ways than one.

The six guardsmen who had accompanied him to Hadorgol’s border carried his gear, steadied his faltering steps, cooked meals, and procured shelter so long as they were with him, but they departed all too soon. Without Morza, he would have perished. She carried his gear then, in a pack attached to a special harness. She guided him through the trackless wilderness. She hunted hares for his sustenance. And she lay close to him when he fell, keeping him warm in the cooling weather.

A lump rose in his throat when he thought of her: great hearted and generous, patient, steadfast.

Her sagacity preserved his afflicted body, but her love—dog-love though it was—preserved his soul. When he’d buried his face in his hands, despairing, she nudged her cold nose against his wrist until he looked up. When he stopped walking, wondering if there were any point to going on, she barked until he stepped forward again. And as summer changed to autumn, when he failed to build a fire in his evening’s camp, she fetched wood and stood over him until he arranged the sticks and lit them with his flint.

Through the long nights, she pillowed her head on his chest, where his searching hands could stroke her ears when he felt most alone. He was not alone—because of Morza.

On her last night, Morza met an ice panther’s charge, slowing it just enough for Gael to loose a bolt of energea before it reached him.

The beast fled snarling into the darkness, confused and defeated.

Morza bled to death in the snow, her noble head cradled in Gael’s arms. He’d wept then. Never had he wept for his truldemagar. Nor for Damalis’ dismissal. Not even for his king’s banishment.

But for Morza, Gael had cried.

A clatter on the stairs recalled him. Reluctantly, he returned to the stairwell, passed down the last steps to the landing, and exited onto the balcony above the lower great hall. Below him, scullions were carrying the table boards to adjacent storerooms, while others noisily stacked the trestles against the walls.

Gael hurried to his chambers, quickly changed into the scruffy knee-length tunic and trews he reserved for dirty work—a rarity—and hastened down the Regenen Stair toward the smithies.

Arnoll was no doubt wondering what was taking Gael so long.

Just as Gael wondered what mystery Arnoll sought Gael’s opinion on.

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The Tally Master, Chapter 6 (scene 27)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 5 (scene 25)

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