The Tally Master, Chapter 9 (scene 45)

Gael encountered the castellanum much sooner than he expected: on the landing outside his own tally chamber. Theron had just turned away after rapping on the door. He looked very regal, garbed in robes of deep blue suede embroidered with silver. His straight silver hair glinted in the sunlight, almost silken, and he stared down his narrow nose.

“Ah. Secretarius.” He seemed displeased, even though he’d obviously been seeking Gael. But then—when had Theron ever been pleased to see Gael?

“What is it, Theron?” Gael felt less patient than usual.

“Perhaps in private?” suggested Theron, all delicacy in his tone. He glanced at the padlocked door to the tally chamber.

Gael crossed his arms across his chest, standing pat.

Theron sniffed. “As you will, then. I want your notary.”

Gael’s chin jutted pugnaciously. “Feel free to do so,” he said.

Theron’s eyebrows rose. “What? You’ll let him go? Just like that?”

“Not at all.” Gael’s nostrils flared. “You may wish to employ Keir as much as it pleases you to so wish. I shall not gratify your desire.”

“You’ll find I can compel you,” stated Theron.

“I doubt it.”

“Oh, yes.” Theron smiled thinly. “Your friend—what is his name? Barris?—yes, Barris works within my jurisdiction. I think I have some leverage there, do I not?”

Gael’s belly felt abruptly cold. Where was Barris? Summoned on some necessary errand? Or sequestered in a locked cell? Placed there at the castellanum’s command?

“What have you done to him?” he demanded.

“Done to him?” repeated Theron lightly. “Why nothing. Yet.”

“Where is he? Where have you put him?” grated Gael.

“Really, Secretarius. You’re so abrupt. Are these the manners you learned in Hadorgol?” Theron snickered.

“Any courtier can learn to lie sweetly,” Gael reposted. “Only a man or a woman of honor dare be blunt.”

“And we are all trolls here,” said Theron, ever so sweetly. “Yet surely a troll may be mannerly, even if honor lies beyond him.”

Gael reined in his emotion. The castellanum might delight in the exchange of poisonous nothings, but Gael had better things to do. “You’re forgetting I have the regenen’s trust,” he said gently.

“Ah, the regenen.” Theron chuckled. “I think you’ll find that his trust is not infinite.”

“You plan to shatter it, I take it? How, may I ask?”

“You may ask, my dear Secretarius, you may. But I shall not answer you. I shall show you.” Theron’s mocking gaze chilled. Gael’s ire cooled with it. He was abruptly in full control of himself. If Theron’s plan involved stealing Gael’s tin, Gael was on to him. If not, Gael would discover soon enough where Theron saw weakness. It was not his friendship for Barris nor his guardianship of Keir, whatever the castellanum might think. And in either case, Gael’s power within Belzetarn was not inconsiderable. Theron was bold to declare his enmity so openly.

“I shall look forward to your revelations, Castellanum.”

“You’ll rue them!” Theron snapped, whirling toward the stairs up.

Before the discomposed troll took another step, a young messenger dashed onto the landing and skidded to a stop in front of Gael.

“Secretarius! Secretarius!” the boy cried. “My lord Carbraes needs you at once! In the melee gallery!”

Gael resisted the sinking sensation within. Just so had Carbraes’ summons—delivered through Keir—reached Gael yesterday, depositing the unpleasant matter of the gong upon his shoulders. What might this summons gift him with?

*     *     *

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The Tally Master, Chapter 9 (scene 46)

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