The Tally Master, Chapter 17 (scene 82)

The servery was clogged with scullions when Gael retraced his steps from Barris’ quarters. Boys pushed at the back of the crowd to get their turn at the hatch, boys jostled elbows at the hatch itself and scrambled to fill their trays, boys with loaded trays shouted and shoved their way through the mass to get to the Regenen Stair.

Gael dismissed a nascent idea of threading his way through the kitchens to access the deserted Lake Stair instead. He’d have every cook from the sauce master to the fruitery decanen yelling at him to get out, including even Barris, who was back at his command in the regenen’s kitchen. The evening feast was about to begin.

In any case he needed a messenger, and a clump of them waited by the door to the wood scullery, ready to run between the kitchens and the great halls as required by the cooks and the servers.

Gael tapped the nearest on the shoulder. “You! Boy!”

The lad’s eyes grew large when he realized who had accosted him. The press was too close about him to permit a bow, but he made one anyway, bumping into his annoyed cohorts with rump and head.

“My lord Secretarius!” he gasped.

Gael drew breath to give a message for the regenen, but then let it go without speaking.

Before his journey to Olluvarde, he might have sent this request by messenger. Even this noon, when he’d just returned, Carbraes would have welcomed Gael’s plea. But now, in the wake of Dreas’ death, Carbraes’ response . . . might lack the goodwill Gael required.

And Gael was late in waking Keir. Hells! He’d wanted to do that personally, but this messenger would have to go to Keir, not Carbraes. Gael must speak with Carbraes in person for the plan he was evolving to have any chance of success.

He gave the necessary instructions to the messenger, who provoked more complaint—from both his fellows and the kitchen scullions—when he followed his nod by ducking low enough to ram his way through the mob.

“Where does the regenen bide?” Gael asked the messenger cursing next to him. No doubt Carbraes would be making his way to one of the great halls, but there was no knowing which he had chosen.

“In Lord Dreas’ apartments, Secretarius.” This boy merely bobbed his head respectfully, more careful of his neighbors. “He dines in conference with the march.”

Apparently the march’s demise remained unknown as yet. That would not last, but he would not break the news.

“Thank you, lad,” Gael replied, turning to wade through the swarming boys.

Traffic on the Regenen Stair was as heavy as Gael had expected, and he dodged through the place of arms on the next level up, heading for the Lake Stair and collecting some curious glances from the warriors putting away their training mats and butts. Given that this time of the day normally saw him in the vaults, checking in the metals from the smithies, his presence elsewhere would occasion remark.

The Lake Stair was beautifully untrafficked, and the view from its arrowslits lovely. The angle of the evening sun—still fairly high in the sky, this being summer—made the blue of the water luminous and the green of the forested shores very rich.

This stairwell led to the castellanum’s quarters, making no connection with those of the march. Gael would need to ascend all the way to the battlements and cross back to the Regenen Stair in order to reach Dreas’ front door. Gael swallowed. No longer Dreas’ front door. But the deserted steps and the peace of the lake would pay for his detour.

Gael pondered as he climbed, mulling over Barris’ assertion that he had neither stolen copper ingots nor disguised them as tin. It seemed there must be a third malefactor under Theron’s thumb, one whom Gael had yet to identify. No matter. He had enough with which to confront the castellanum, provided the regenen was willing to play his part.

When Gael arrived in the foyer between the regenen’s apartments and those of the march, the march’s door was open, with two porters maneuvering a divan out through the portal. Another porter carrying a backless chair followed, and then a boy burdened with a chamberpot and a quilt rack.

Gael frowned and stopped the boy with the chamberpot.

“Is the regenen within?” he asked. He’d expected to find Carbraes alone and grieving. This parade of porters moving Dreas’ possessions disconcerted him.

“Yes, sir. You’re to go in to him, sir. He sent a messenger to fetch you, sir.” The boy craned his neck, apparently expecting to see said messenger conducting Gael into Carbraes’ presence.

“I’ve come on my own errand,” Gael reassured the boy. “I’m sure your friend will be along shortly.”

“Yes, sir!” The boy bowed, and his chamberpot wobbled.

Gael reached out a quick hand to steady it. “Get along with you now.”

The boy grinned and scampered toward the stairs in the wake of the porters. Gael passed through the two anterooms just inside the door—both strangely bare of furnishings—and on into the receiving room. This space still possessed its wall hangings, beautiful renditions of maps on leather, but nothing else. Carbraes stood next to an open casement overlooking the artisan yard’s rampart above the lake.

Beside the regenen stood a short, wiry troll with bowed legs. He wore a rust-colored tunic and a matching leather cap with a strap beneath his chin. His eyes glittered, very bright.


Dreben had organized a gladiatorial ring for his own pleasure. Dreben regularly beat his bastan to vent his own spleen. And Dreben had pounded Gael thoroughly in that stupid fight on the Cliff Stair.


“My lord Secretarius,” called Carbraes, his gaze stern, “come meet the new march of my legions. My magus has already had that pleasure. Now it is yours.”

Gael contained the string of curses boiling up to lift from his tongue, instead walking composedly—he hoped it was composedly—across the room to bow and murmur, “My lord March.”

Dreben returned his bow and his greeting, “My lord Secretarius,” but his eyes gleamed with malice.

“Lord Dreben will be invested with his office on the morrow’s afternoon,” said Carbraes, deadpan, “but must take up his duties immediately. My warriors must not go leaderless for even a day.” He turned to the new march. “Go down to the First Bellatarius, my dear Dreben, if all is in train to your satisfaction here. He is expecting you.”

Dreben bowed deeply to the regenen. “I am satisfied and more, Lord Carbraes. I thank you for this honor!” He nodded at Gael, his glance scornful, and tramped from the room.

*     *     *

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The Tally Master, Chapter 17 (scene 83)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 17 (scene 81)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 1 (scene 1)