The Tally Master, Chapter 10 (scene 51)

Keir found her thoughts returning to Gael all through the afternoon as she ran the errands of the tally chamber, consulted with three quartermasters, and jotted notes to herself so that she wouldn’t forget important details. Was Gael resting as she’d bade him to do? Was his pain subsiding? Would his healing proceed apace, as she hoped, or would there be complications?

It had been two years since she’d inhabited the healer’s role, and it had felt like coming home to herself to perform healing again. Almost did she wish that she’d asked for a place in the hospital when Belzetarn had taken her in. Almost. For her own satisfaction, it would have been ideal. For the accomplishment of her ultimate goal, it wouldn’t have done at all.

As she prepared parchments to be used on the morrow, she wondered again why Gael had preferred her healing to that offered by the hospital physicians. It made sense that she would trust her skill; she knew her own history. But Gael did not. She didn’t think he’d even been aware that she was a healer. So why had his first words to the porters who’d pulled Dreben off of him been, ‘Get Keir’?

She’d ask him when he was more recovered.

In the meantime, she needed to focus on tallying, not healing. And not on her patient.

She smiled to herself. Life as a troll had not been quite as she’d imagined it.

Later, checking in all the work of the smithies and the lodges associated with the making of weaponry and armor, she had no difficulty keeping her mind on her work. She wanted to do it right, especially since doing it right was critical to finding the thief troubling the tally room.

Later still, when all the vaults were locked down, she found it very natural to turn toward the door to Gael’s chambers—just under two twists of the stair up from the tally room, instead of the three-and-a-bit twists to her own apartment.

With the sun over on the other side of the tower—the west—Gael’s sitting room was dim, the divans and tables mere concentrations of shadow within the warm, golden glow emanating from the casement embrasures.

The sleeping room, with its inner shutters closed, was dimmer still.

Keir paused just within the door, wanting neither to stumble over an unseen footstool nor to startle Gael.

“Keir?” came Gael’s voice.

He was no longer reclining on his couch, she saw as her eyes adjusted, but sitting in a chair near the windows, leaning against the wall with a cushion at his back.

“How are you feeling?” she asked.

“Quite well,” he replied.

“May I assess your healing,” she asked, “as a physician might?” She especially wanted to see how the internal injuries were faring. But would he respect her authority as a healer, now that he felt better? He was accustomed to telling her what to do, not to acquiescing to her orders for him.

His lips turned up, wryly. “Please,” he said.

Interesting. Apparently he was not going to be difficult.

“I’ll need you to disrobe,” she said.

“Ah . . .” Was he blushing? She had to admit it was a little awkward. When he was grievously injured and unconscious, she’d found it no problem to instruct the porters to lay him on his couch, strip him, and cover him with a light blanket.

But as the secretarius and his notary, they were modest with one another. And, perforce, she’d made it a point to visit the smallest of the saunas where she could be completely alone, if she timed it properly. Had she been male, she might have enjoyed the sauna in company with Gael. As it was . . . no.

“I will wait in your sitting room. Call when your clothing is off and you lie under the thistlesilk blanket on your couch,” she said.

Thank you.” His tone held utmost gratitude.

She nodded and went into the other room, well away from the doorway. And he was quick. Mere moments later, he called to her.

She’d learned to move the coverings of a patient quite adeptly in her training under her pater, revealing only the body part that she needed to examine, and she fell into the rhythm of it easily. The strangest thing was that her pater did not stand in the corner looking on, while she auscultated Gael’s chest and abdomen, listening carefully to what the sounds told her. She’d not performed so many examinations solo as to be accustomed to working without supervision.

Opening her inner sight, she received confirmation of what she’d perceived. Intricate spirals of silver and aqua energea intertwined as they should, but displayed a slight shiver in their pulsing. The spleen and liver had resumed their full integrity, but remained delicate. So long as no one pummeled them further, the organs would be entirely healed in a deichtain.

Gael’s surface bruises were already fading.

Keir pulled the thistlesilk up to recover Gael’s torso and let her inner vision lapse.

“Your injuries are healing well,” she told him, “but I think you already know that.”

He nodded. “I can move. Unlike before.”

She nodded. “I’ll let you dress, and then we’ll discuss how best to ensure your full and swift recovery.”

He was equally quick in donning his robe while she waited in the sitting room. And her subsequent instructions for him were simple and straight forward: rest, move slowly and carefully, seek his sleeping couch early, and avoid jolting blows to the body.

“May I resume my duties in the morning?” he asked, sitting forward from the wall at his back.

“Let me assess you when you wake,” she said, “but, most likely, yes.”

He looked relieved.

She reached up from where she sat to swing open the nearest inner shutter. Golden evening light flooded the chamber, illuminating the curious leather hangings, with their carved designs, and the small chests resting against the walls below.

“I haven’t reconciled the morning tally sheets with the evening ones,” she said, changing the subject.

The worry left Gael’s face. “Of course you haven’t. That takes half the morning. There’s a reason we do the reconciling the day after.”

Keir smiled. “Fatigue leads to error,” she recited.

Gael’s eyes gleamed, sharing her amusement.

“But, Gael, maybe we should—I should—do the reconciling in the evenings while we’re tracking our thief. We didn’t need to know of any discrepancies so immediately when we were just managing the ordinary flow of metals. But now—”

Gael sighed. “Pushing your limits works when it’s only for a short time, and I see the temptation in the current situation. But we don’t know how long this will take us, Keir. I hope we’ll catch the thief in a day or two, but we might not. And doing the reconciling in the evenings regularly will lead to errors. Which will then require additional time and effort to find and correct, while potentially leading us astray, because we think the error is yet more evidence of theft, when it isn’t.”

Keir pressed her lips together. He was right, of course. But she wanted to get to the bottom of the missing metals now, even if it meant skipping sleep to do so.

“After I locked the vaults, I did a rough reconciling of the privy smithy only,” she confessed.

“And?” said Gael.

“Aside from the tin ingot that was stolen en route to the smithy, the morning and evening tallies matched perfectly, with only the normal wastage.” Keir snorted. “Martell was in a hurry, once he’d started the closing down of the forge, just as he’d been at the start of the day. He would have piled everything in the scullions’ carry sacks willy nilly, making his poor notary tally pure fiction.”

Gael nodded. “We’d assumed the discrepancies in the privy smithy were due to Martell’s lack of cooperation with his notary. And it would seem that your presence shut down the thief’s opportunity to take advantage of Martell’s sloppy record keeping, except”—Gael paused.

“Except we still had a theft,” finished Keir.

“Which likely means that your presence in the smithy, both morning and evening, shut down one thief, but didn’t stop the other,” said Gael.

“Are we making any progress?” asked Keir.

The corner of Gael’s mouth twitched. His eyes seemed to look off into some unseen distance, as though his thoughts went somewhere Keir could not follow. Then his gaze refocused. “Oh, yes,” he answered. “Not as swiftly as I would prefer, but we’ve certainly ruled out several possibilities.”

He leaned back against the cushion behind him. “Is the kitchen still prepared to serve a supper in my chambers?” he asked. “They didn’t cease their preparations when they heard of my injuries, did they?”

“I shouldn’t think so,” replied Keir. “No doubt rumors ran wild among the scullions, but the opteons know their business. Even did they pay any heed to the rumors, they’d check with real authority before they changed their orders.”

“Would you check to be sure? When you depart for your own meal?” asked Gael. “I’d hate for Arnoll to arrive at an empty table.”

“I’ll check,” said Keir. “What do you hope Arnoll will tell you about the gong anyway?”

“Did you see it? When the regenen asked you to fetch me?” asked Gael.

“Just a glimpse,” she said. “But one of the warriors tapped it with his scabbarded sword, when he moved incautiously, and I felt the peculiar weakness that its sounding produces. Not so strong as in the tally room.”

She could remember all too vividly that groaning echo in the stairwell, as though Belzetarn itself cried out in agony. Followed by the strength draining from her limbs, the nausea that had arisen in her belly, and the way her thoughts congealed in her mind. Had the regenen actually ordered that they test the effects of a solid blow to the gong? Or had they dropped it?

“Where did they find the dreadful thing anyway?” she asked. She rather wished they’d not found it, that it had remained buried and unfound—lost—forever.

“In the Hamish ruin of Olluvarde,” said Gael.

A jolt of shock rose through her. “Olluvarde!” she exclaimed.

Gael frowned. “Yes.”

“But that’s where—”

Gael touched her wrist, where it lay on her knee. “What’s wrong, Keir?” His voice was gentle.

“It was in Olluvarde that Carbraes’ scouts found me and brought me to Belzetarn. I—” She swallowed.

“You need not speak of it. I suspect it was not a pleasant encounter,” he said.

“No. No.” She drew in a deep breath. “But that’s not it. It’s what I saw there. I think it might be . . . relevant.”

“What do you mean?” asked Gael.

“The ruins are extensive,” she explained. “Not so much above ground. Above ground, they’re a jumble of fallen columns, collapsed walls, and broken paving. But in the tunnels and vaults below, the damage is less. And every surface there is covered with murals. In this one broad, curving passage, there’s a sequence of bas relief murals that seem to recount a legend or a history.”

Gael leaned forward. “Tell me,” he said.

*     *     *

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The Tally Master, Chapter 10 (scene 52)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 10 (scene 50)

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