The Tally Master, Chapter 8 (scene 42)

Keir looked around the oxhide vault, relieved to be tallying there instead of in the more cramped ingot vaults on the level above. The oxhide vault possessed two casements, and she’d opened both. Shouts from the artisan yard below arrowed in, along with the strengthening sunlight of the advancing morning, shining on the weighty copper oxhides leaning in stacks against the walls.

Keir sniffed the air. Before her sojourn at Belzetarn she wouldn’t have guessed that metal possessed any scent. Indeed, were she to hold one of Martell’s ladles up to her nose, she would smell nothing. But large stores of metal gathered together generated . . . something close to an aroma. Maybe it was the energea which produced it, but the tin vault and the pebble vault possessed that characteristic flat, dry odor which Keir found oppressive. This oxhide vault featured a much more pleasant, warm, and full flavor on the air.

She opened the flap of her portfolio to get out her tallying supplies of parchment, quill, and ink.

Gael had been apologetic that she must tally the oxhide vault and the pebble vault a full deichtain ahead of when they were due. She’d reassured him, saying, “No, we have to know if there’s another leak in the stream of metals besides in the privy smithy. I’m guessing we have more than one thief.”

Gael had looked down at that. She knew he hated the idea that someone (or more than one) within his acquaintance was stealing from him. She admired his fortitude in not shirking the idea. And she wondered how he felt about Arnoll taking that one ingot. He hadn’t really told her much about exactly what had happened.

She couldn’t forego disliking herself just a little for her own secrets, the obvious one of her sex, and the other one she had buried, not even letting herself think about it.

Gael had replied to her mention of the possibility of multiple thieves prosaically enough. “That’s it, of course. And if we have more than one thief, those thieves may pilfer from different sources. We have to know if we have more metal missing than we’re currently aware of.”

When she’d suggested tallying the bronze vault again, he’d agreed, although he obviously thought it less a priority. And then he’d hurried away without telling her where he was going, what he wanted her to do after she finished her tallies, or anything of his further plans for their day. Which was strange. Gael was ordinarily so punctilious about the work of the tally chamber.

Was he angry? Dismayed? Or just in a rush? It had something to do with her report of the tin ingot stolen from the privy scullion’s carry sack on the stairs, but it reminded her unnervingly of the last time her pater had hastened away from her.

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The Tally Master, Chapter 8 (scene 43)

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