The Tally Master, Chapter 10 (scene 49)

Keir dipped the cloth in the pale green liquid, let a few drops fall back into the basin, and then gently stroked the infusion across the purpling flesh of Gael’s ribs. The bruises were mere surface hurts, but without attention they might fester. And she would spare Gael the long recovery time, in any case.

She’d already tended his inner hurts, dangerous contusions to the liver and the spleen, relieving their congestion with a flow of energea and repairing their broken boundaries. Medicus Piar had arrived in the midst of her energetic curative. Assessing that she had it well in hand, he’d simply closed the inner casement shutters to dim the brightness of the noontide daylight, set out the tinctures and infusions she’d need after the energetic treatment, and observed her technique.

“I could use you in my hospital,” he’d murmured before he left. Gael’s condition was stable by then, and Keir’s heart had quieted from its earlier panicked knocking.

She’d never forget the horrible moment when she first saw Gael on that stairwell landing, a bloody huddle of garments, like a gull smashed against the rocks, a welter of bedraggled feathers amidst the scent of death.

She’d leaped the last few steps in one bound and fallen on her knees beside him. Her relief, when she saw he still breathed, made her feel faint. But she initiated the rescue sequence of energea almost without thinking, exactly as she’d been trained by her pater, ignoring the burst of shocked chatter from the messenger boys who had fetched her.

She’d nearly wept when Gael roused enough to speak. Why did she care so much? He was a troll. She hated trolls. Surely no troll deserved such loyalty. And yet she did care. She’d been relieved again when he repudiated the hospital. The physicians there were good, she knew. But the regenen discouraged them from using energea in their healing rites as frequently as she believed they should. She’d wanted to tend Gael herself. Which she had done.

As she dipped her cloth again and moved on to the bruises on his throat, she realized his eyes were open and he was looking at her. His face held sense, in place of that dreadful bewilderment that had marked his first moments of returning consciousness. She blinked to prevent tears from escaping her own eyes. He was all right. He was himself. She needn’t fear for him any longer, thank Ionan!

Was this how Pater had felt when he’d returned to her on that awful day? When she’d hooked the orca with her energea and been hooked by it in turn. Pater had been so long about his errand, whatever it was, that she’d wondered if he would return.

She’d felt sick and dizzy, not herself, lying on the silky cold sand above the waterline of the cove, with the gray clouds hurrying overhead and the salt breeze blowing across her. She’d not been able to think clearly, had not understood what had happened. She only knew that something was grievously wrong. Had that been repudiation—repugnance—she’d seen in his face? Why had Pater left so abruptly? Where had he gone and why? When would he be back? Would he be back?

And then he was back, seated beside her, scooping her into his lap and wrapping her in a blanket. Holding her close and weeping.

“Pater,” she’d said. “Pater! What is it?”

“Do you not know?” he asked.

She shook her head. She hadn’t known, hadn’t understood, even then.

“Your nodes are unanchored,” he’d told her. “You are afflicted.”

Still she’d missed his meaning.

He couldn’t bring himself to say it straight out. “You bear the mark of Gaelan,” he evaded.

Then she understood, with a shock like the first breath after the wind had been knocked out of one. “I’m a troll,” she’d said, burying her face in Pater’s shoulder. She felt him sob.

“What will I do?” she’d asked.

“You must leave, make for the Hamish lands of old, to the west,” he’d answered.

“But how?” She could not swim so far. No one could, save the fishes.

“I’ve made provision,” he said. “Come.”

But once they were standing—difficult for him with his peg leg, difficult for her in the aftermath of the truldemagar—he’d delayed.

“I love you,” he said. “I’ll always love you. I’ll always remember you. I’ll always miss you. Never doubt me, in all the years to come.”

Then he’d led her over the western headland to the broad beach of the harbor where the village lay at a distance along the sweeping curve of the shore. A small sailing boat awaited them, drawn up on the sands, its sails fully reefed. Several wicker hampers sat in the cockpit against the gunnels.

“But this is Coinac’s Merrily Run,” she exclaimed.

“Not anymore,” said Pater.

“What can you mean?” she asked.

“He’s made her over to me in exchange for certain concessions,” Pater answered.

At last she comprehended that this was farewell, farewell to her pater, farewell to her home, farewell to everything she knew.

“You know how to sail a boat,” Pater reminded her.

Yes, she did, but she did not want to sail away from him.

“Here, eat something first. That will help.” He rummaged in one of the hampers, bringing out a packet of smoked eel and feeding it to her, bite by bite. The rich taste of it on her tongue revived her. She’d been allowing Pater to direct her, to guide her. Only now did she recognize that he was right. She could not stay on Fiors, to be hounded into exile or killed when she refused to go.

She hugged Pater one last time before checking the lines and rigging of the Merrily Run. Then she shoved the bow into the water, calm in the lea of the headland. Pater bade her climb aboard as he pushed the boat into deeper water. She obeyed, putting the rudder down and tightening the sheets.

And then she was underway, sailing toward the harbor mouth and glancing over her shoulder to where Pater stood waist deep in the salt sea, tears on his face as he waved to her.

*     *     *

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The Tally Master, Chapter 10 (scene 50)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 10 (scene 48)

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