The Tally Master, Chapter 11 (scene 55)

Sauntering along the balcony overlooking the lower great hall was just as he’d envisioned it, relaxing and enjoyable. It felt good to move.

He’d brought a tallow dip, but didn’t need it, as the kitchen scullions were still at work—the torches lit—sweeping the floors after they’d stacked the trestles and benches in the adjacent storerooms. Perhaps it was not so late as he’d thought.

Descending the Lake Stair required more concentration. His legs were tired, even if his mind was not, and wanted to let him bump from tread to tread. He needed a more controlled progress to avoid jarring his innards.

Arnoll would definitely not approve of this excursion.

Supping with his friend had felt just as usual, casual and comfortable. He’d enjoyed Arnoll’s understated sense of humor, his sensible outlook, and his intelligent commentary. Yet underneath his ease had lurked the awareness that Arnoll had stolen from him. That deed had changed things between them. Not on the surface, but down in the foundations of their friendship.

And still . . . despite the change, they’d lingered companionably after eating. They’d not spoken of the worrisome things, the big things, after Arnoll had agreed to guard the prerogative of the tally room while Gael was gone. It was the little things—a scullion’s innocuous mistake in the armor smithy, Arnoll’s visit to a charcoal burner’s hut in the forest, Gael’s boat trip to the center of the lake in one of the fishing boats—with which they’d beguiled the evening.

Perhaps the bruise to Gael’s trust in Arnoll would heal in time.

Gael was glad of his rush light when he crossed the place of arms to the Cliff Stair. The legion’s warriors were done with the scrubbing their opteons required of them at the end of the day when the training sessions were over, and the torches were extinguished. The moon had yet to rise, so the vast space lay in darkness.

No practice butts or matts arrested Gael’s progress. He reached the Cliff Stair and started down.

The torch on the landing below the latrine was lit, as it was supposed to be, so Gael was not surprised to discover that his lattice of energea remained undisturbed. Disappointed, yes. He’d hoped to be able to search for a troll marked by it tomorrow morning. Or, better yet, to see that his friend Barris was not marked by it.

The clog also remained undisturbed, and Gael shut the door on the stench with some relief, retreating from the residual smell.

It was just here—a few steps above that clogged latrine—that he’d encountered Dreben. Fought Dreben. Been bested by Dreben.

What was it that Dreben had screeched when he caught sight of Gael? Something about keeping chambers that should go to the magus?

Gael stopped.

He’d been on his way to question the magus, when Dreben interrupted him. But maybe . . . what needed investigating were his own official chambers. Why would Dreben—a sycophant of the magus—be so angry about those empty chambers, unless . . . there was something to be angry about? Something more than thwarted pride and prestige.

Gael rubbed his chin, a bit bristly and in need of shaving.

He could visit the chambers in the morning, of course. But if he visited them now, with no witnesses, with no warning, what might he discover?

*     *     *

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The Tally Master, Chapter 11 (scene 56)

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