The Tally Master, Chapter 7 (scene 34)

Martell was already present in the privy smithy when Keir arrived with Jemer. One scullion pumped the bellows at the forge, causing a shower of sparks to rise from the carefully layered charcoal. Others arranged various tongs and molds on a counter. In the neighboring smithies, the clatter of tools and the shouts of smiths punctuated the roar of the heating furnaces. A few long shafts of sunlight fell across the adjacent armor smithy. The smells of stone, metal, and fire permeated the dim and echoing space.

Martell pounced on Jemer’s carry sack the instant he saw the boy.

“Ha, ha! Now we are ready! Now we shall create greatness!”

The smith rummaged briefly in the suede receptacle, placing the ingot of tin he grabbed directly into a crucible, while his notary hastily uncapped his ink bottle, dipped his pen, and scribed the first tally mark on his parchment.

Keir intervened, touching Martell’s shoulder. “No, give your notary a chance.”

The smith looked surprised. “Keir! Why is it that you are here?”

Had he truly forgotten? If so, he recovered rapidly.

“Ha! I have it! You wish to count the ingots!”

Keir nodded. “I do. So if you’ll put that one back, please, we’ll begin.”

Martell’s brows rose. “In the carry sack?”

“In the carry sack,” she confirmed.

“Ha!” He waved Jemer to do the deed.

Keir checked to see that the notary was ready, perched on a stool at a counter, parchment spread before him, and pen poised. She pulled the tin ingot from the carry sack and set it on the counter. The notary tapped the tally mark he’d already made.

Keir nodded and continued to empty the sack, item by item, with time for the notary to record each: two more ingots of tin, twenty-seven ingots of copper, the broken scissors, the failed ladle, and the nugget of remnant bronze, still four ounces when weighed on the privy scales.

She didn’t even need her own parchments—temporarily abandoned in the locked vaults—to see that the privy smithy had already lost an ingot. But she couldn’t see how the loss—or theft—had occurred. She’d placed those four tin ingots in Jemer’s sack herself. She’d watched him every step of the way down the Regenen Stair to the forges. She’d watched Martell take one ingot out of the sack and watched Jemer replace it. Where in Cayim’s nine hells could the fourth tin ingot have got to?

She felt in the empty sack once more. It truly was empty.

She turned to Martell, hovering impatiently behind her.

“Well? Well?” he asked. “We may begin, yes?”

She repressed an urge to answer him immediately, contemplating her choices. She could require him to wait until she’d consulted Gael. But what would that gain? She’d already determined that the theft had occurred before the ingots arrived in the privy smithy. She could tell him that he was already missing an ingot. Which would merely spread the rumors she’d carefully avoided starting yesterday. Or she could tell him to go ahead.

“Yes. You may begin,” she said.

He seized her hands excitedly. “Today we make the ornaments for the regenen’s cape!” he told her. “I will be marvelous!”

Her smile must have been faint, but Martell gave her hands a satisfied shake and dove into directing his scullions. His notary rolled his parchments and tucked them into the leather tube hanging from his belt. He looked worried.

“They didn’t match, did they?” he murmured.

Keir made her face stay still. “You will not share that guess,” she said softly.

His eyes widened.

“Your inaccurate speculation could do much harm,” she continued.

The notary swallowed. “Notarius, I will do nothing to displease the tally chamber.”

Keir’s lips twisted. “See that you don’t.”

“I promise.”

“Good.” She nodded and strode away toward the tin smeltery, which lay beyond the armor smithy and on around the other side of the annealing smithy.

*     *     *

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The Tally Master, Chapter 7 (scene 35)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 7 (scene 33)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 1 (scene 1)