The Tally Master, Chapter 16 (scene 78)

Keir had to question why she was hoping so hard for Dreas to convince Carbraes. Was it her healer’s oath to place her knowledge and skills in the service of the ill? But she no longer served as a healer in her community—she was a notary in Belzetarn—and she had sworn that oath to a human teacher regarding human patients. She owed no obligation of care and compassion to trolls. Indeed, the reverse.

And yet . . . if she could restore a troll’s nodes to their proper positions, was not that troll essentially human? And did she not owe a healer’s help—no matter her official status—to that ailing human?

No. She did not. Whether the nodes were in place or not, they were unmoored, making the individual a troll. She owed nothing to trolls. Save her enmity. The sick flash of it trembled within her for an instant, then passed.

And yet again . . . her enmity had become riddled with holes over the past two years, like a cheese nibbled by mice. Gael had earned—and received—her respect, her admiration, her liking. Even her affection. She flinched away from the admission, although Gael was not the only troll to earn her good opinion. She would save Dreas, if she could.

How did one maintain an enmity when it must include oneself? Her pater had said, “I love you. I’ll always love you. Never doubt me, in all the years to come.” And she had been heart-glad to hear him say so. If Pater could love her in her truldemagar, then could she make peace with it also? And if she made peace with her own disease, then how should she relate to that of others?

Despite her moral confusion—and despite Gael’s unease, which she noticed amidst her own turmoil—she felt glad when Dreas waved her forward.

Carbraes got to his feet slowly and stood, not like an old man, but like a massive tree just beginning to fall or a mountain shivering at the start of an earthquake. Like he’d taken a mortal wound, but did not know it yet. Or would not own it.

“My lord March is in your hands,” said the regenen, his tone somber. “Speak your needs in order that you may treat him well and draw him safely through the fire.”

Keir swallowed. Lord Carbraes in this dark mood was even more intimidating than when he emanated his usual authority.

“I need Lord Dreas to lie flat,” she said. “And then I will be able to arrange Uwen and Adarn so that the angles are right.”

Carbraes inclined his head. “Summon my messengers please.”

Keir glanced nervously back at the door through which they’d arrived on the terrace. Were the regenen’s messengers waiting there? And should she go get them? She certainly didn’t want to send Uwen or Adarn. And it didn’t seem right to send Gael.

“For pity’s sake!” exclaimed Dreas. “We’ve enough of us right here to manage things. No need to involve a passel of overexcited boys.”

Carbraes sniffed, but his eyes warmed.

Dreas hopped up, scuttered over to another cluster of bronze-forged terrace furniture, and started dragging a long, low bench into the clear. The metal legs grated on the stone. Keir’s momentary paralysis snapped and she rushed to his side to help. The sun felt warm on her back. Dreas grinned at her. “We’ve got this, lad! Cheer up!”

Keir felt abruptly better. She’d envisioned Dreas lying on the flagstones, the way Gael had lain on his sitting room floor, but she could make the bench work.

Gael’s voice came over her shoulder. “Please sit, my lord March. Keir and I can set this up.”

And it was simple, really. Since Dreas would be elevated above the terrace flagstones, Uwen and Adarn would need to be equally so. But there were plenty of furnishings to borrow for her purpose. She adjusted Dreas’ bench so that the sun would be in no one’s eyes. Then she set two chairs on one side of the bench, and instructed Adarn and Uwen to climb onto them while she and Gael held the gong. Adarn’s legs trembled slightly as he made the high step up. His hands trembled when she and Gael transferred the gong into his and Uwen’s grip. Small wonder he was nervous. This was the march. And they performed under the regenen’s observation.

Carbraes remained standing through the whole operation, looking down his nose at their efforts. “This all looks rather slipshod,” he complained.

Keir quelled her impatience. Once she allowed the regenen’s stature to fade from her awareness, his nerves were familiar. Just so had the brother or mother or dear friend of an injured patient back on Fiors criticized her preparations.

She went to him, smiling warmly.

“My lord regenen, the nature of the patient’s bed or room or blankets matters little. My skill as a healer will be the determining factor.” She carefully avoided mention of the energea that lay at the heart of the advanced techniques. That would not reassure the regenen. “My training was thorough, and Dreas will receive only my best.”

Carbraes grunted. “You did not train for this, surely. Or have I been misinformed about how Fiors treats its trolls?”

“Fiors banishes its trolls, of course,” she replied steadily. Now she must mention the element he hated, if she were to assuage his qualms. “But drawing energea through one’s nodes, and controlling its speed and direction, is the basis for every healing a healer performs. Using the gong’s lodestone to move Dreas’ nodes is a healing technique. I will not be doing anything foreign to my experience,” she concluded.

Carbraes’ tension eased. “May I watch?” he asked.

“With your inner sight?” she clarified. That was rather the whole point of this exercise, she’d thought.

“Yes.” Carbraes sounded oddly humble. “I wish to assure that—” he broke off.

Keir reminded herself again that he was more the anxious kin here than the ruling commander. Indeed, he’d probably agreed to this more because he could not bear to deny his friend—progressing fast in his truldemagar—than because he wished to understand what other marvels the gong might generate.

“Of course you may watch,” she said gently. “We would prefer that you do.”

She led him to the foot of the bench. The sun would be in his eyes, but that shouldn’t affect his inner vision.

“But,” continued Keir, speaking to Dreas, “my lord March, you must not open your inner sight. That would increase the resistance of your nodes, which would be counterproductive in what we wish to achieve.”

Dreas smiled at her. “Shall I lie down now?” he asked.

“Please,” she responded.

She helped him settle his arms comfortably at his sides. She noted that Gael came to stand beside Carbraes. Good. Carbraes could likely use a companion. She frowned at Adarn, whose hands and arms still trembled. The march might be higher in the regenen’s esteem than was Gael, but Gael was Belzetarn’s secretarius. Surely the boy should have accustomed himself to dealing with trolls of rank after running the tally room’s errands for two deichtains. He shouldn’t be that nervous.

She took her own place, standing opposite Uwen and Adarn. The gong was a touch low. She needed the boss to be heart high.

“Lift it just a little,” she directed.

Uwen and Adarn complied.

“Good.” She nodded. “Remember to be trees in the breeze, not rock on a mountain,” she admonished them. Then she closed her eyes, drawing in a long, easy breath.

The scent of sun-warmed stone surrounded her. The air was very still, any breeze shielded by the apartments ringing the space. Someone coughed. The terrace felt very hard under her feet. As she exhaled, her inner vision opened and the silvery arcs of Dreas’ energea sparkled in her sight, curling from and between his pulsing nodes.

The silver sphere of his root node had strayed far from its proper place, drifting almost to where the abdominal node should rest. Keir reached within herself, drawing power from deep within all her nodes through will alone, and channeled it out through her own heart node to splash on the living node of the gong’s lodestone. The cascade of sparking green raced through the lattices of the lodestone, turning corner after corner, before surging back toward Keir.

She raised her hands, using the demi-nodes in her palms to catch the stream and direct it onto Dreas’ root node. The green spate foamed against the pulsing silver, edging it back and back toward where it belonged. The curling arc connecting root to abdomen stretched in its wake.


Keir adjusted her palms to split the stream coursing from the lodestone, directing one stream to retain pressure on Dreas’ root node, aiming the other toward the softly pulsing white orb that formed his abdominal node, which was far too low.

Slowly, more slowly than the root node, the abdominal node eased toward its anchor point. When it arrived, Keir split the lodestone’s output into three streams. Two kept root and abdominal nodes in place. The third began the push against the pale green sphere of the plexial node.

The process felt smooth and natural, for all that she’d done it only once before. For Gael. But pulling energea, splitting it, directing it, healing with it was what a healer did. She’d been braiding streams of it for more than a decade. This was her calling, for all that she’d forsaken it when she came to Belzetarn.

Now for the heart node, vivid green like her own heart node, like the living node within the gong, but located above Dreas’ heart home.

Delicately, she lifted the energea splashing against Dreas’ root node. Would it stay where she’d placed it? Dreas was many decades further gone in his truldemagar than had been Gael.

Ah! Yes! The node quivered, but did not slip. She turned the freed stream of energea against the heart node, pushing it down and down to where it belonged.

She felt more confident lifting her energetic grip on the abdominal node in preparation for directing the stream to the aqua demi-node of the thymus. If the root node had stayed put—and it had—then the abdominal node should not slip either.

Deftly, she made the switch, holding the plexial and heart nodes steady with two gushing currents of energea, while using the third to push the thymus node. As the glowing aqua sphere glided slowly into place, the angle of the torrent spewing from the lodestone changed ever so slightly.

Keir raised her hands to compensate.

She had time to think damn it, Adarn! and then the angle skewed wildly.

The midst of an energetic working left the patient at his most vulnerable. Frantic, she reached high overhead, desperate to catch the moving stream. Her own heart’s fountain would not be enough. She had to have the lodestone multiplier.

Got it!

She folded the third stream into the one holding Dreas’ heart. Never mind the thymus. It could float. So long as his heart remained stable, all would be well.

But the lodestone stream was still moving.

She stretched higher still, catching it, catching it, and folding the plexial stream into the heart stream.

A deep booming sound roared in her ears. Her knees went weak, her arms felt like dead eels, and her stomach quivered. She felt every joint in her body failing.

I. Will. Not. Lose. Dreas.

Clamping onto her patient’s heart node, she fell.

And falling, she ripped his node right out of its energetic lattice.

Her knee, her right hip, her right elbow, and her shoulder hit hard stone with punishing force. Her head hit wrought bronze, and her vision went dark.

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Next scene:
The Tally Master, Chapter 17 (scene 79)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 16 (scene 77)

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