The Tally Master, Chapter 18 (scene 86)

Gael’s innards felt utterly chilled. Keir would be so vulnerable behind bars, guarded by troll warriors. So many awful things might happen to her there. He had to persuade the regenen to reverse his castellanum’s deed. Immediately.

Carbraes nodded. “Yes, that is well.”

“No, it is not well!” Gael exclaimed.

With effort, he brought his voice under control. “My lord Regenen, your castellanum—a self-confessed traitor and thief—is speculating and guessing. Permitting him to imprison an utterly innocent young woman is just . . . wrong. Please order her release immediately.”

Carbraes heard him impassively, but exhibited little sympathy. “Gael, this matter must be sifted. Someone used magery on those copper ingots and queued them to be distributed to my smithies as tin. Someone with the kind of access possessed only by you. And by Keir. If Keir is a traitor, she could do great damage left at large. It will do her no harm to spend a day or two in confinement.”

Theron said nothing, but his eyes gleamed.

Fine. Gael’s first argument had failed. He would try his second.

“But she suffered a head injury, my lord Regenen. It may well do her harm to bide in confinement, when she requires care in Belzetarn’s hospital under the oversight of a physician. Medicus Piar was attending her. Could you not consign her to him? A guard might be posted outside her chamber.”

One of his brows raised, Carbraes turned to Theron. “Were you aware that she was injured?” he asked.

“No, my Lord Carbraes,” answered the castellanum, veiling his gaze.

“Send a physician to the cells to treat her, along with a messenger to explain that the guards must grant him their full cooperation.” Carbraes glanced at Gael. “Will that do, my lord Secretarius?”

“Send Piar, please.” Gael trusted Piar.

“You hear?” said Carbraes to Theron.

“Yes, my lord Regenen.”

Hells. Gael was running out of persuasions.

“If the guards realize her sex, they will abuse her. I doubt the castellanum”—Gael glowered at Theron—“has been discrete. She may take great harm in this confinement.”

“Well, Theron?” said Carbraes. “To whom have you mentioned that Keir is a young woman?”

“To several trolls, my lord. It was necessary that they know.” He actually sounded prissy.

“And would you say that her guards know the truth?” Carbraes looked as though he agreed with Gael: of course Theron had told them.

“Yes, my lord Regenen,” answered Theron, not in the least shame-faced.

“You and Dreben will answer for the conduct of her guards,” Carbraes stated.

A hint of triumph passed over Theron’s countenance. “Yes, my lord Regenen.”

“Theron.” Carbraes’ voice held menace. “Whatever comes to her, shall come to you. Do. You. Understand.”

Theron stiffened. “Yes, my lord Regenen.” The utterance was sincere, where his others had been pro forma.

My messengers shall go to Dreben and to Keir’s guards, informing them of my decree.” Carbraes’ tone was pointed.

“Of course, my lord Regenen.”

Gael cudgeled his thoughts. What additional objection could he make? There had to be something. ‘It’s not fair.’ He’d tried that one. ‘It’s not safe. And there’s another alternative.’ That had been his second argument. ‘It’s really not safe.’ That hadn’t worked either.

‘You owe me’?

He shut Theron from his awareness to focus solely on his regenen. “Carbraes. I have served you faithfully for seven years. I have created accurate tallying methods for your tin and your copper and your bronze. Without my improvements, we would never have known that a thief peculated. We would never have known that copper was disguised as tin. I have shepherded your tin and copper in the process that makes them into the swords and the shields and the helms that arm and armor your legions. All my effort I have bent to your aims. Grant me a boon, Regenen.”

He’d have gone down on one knee, if it would have helped. But a troll-lord would not be moved by vulnerability. Gael must present strength, not weakness.

Carbraes looked Gael very steadily in the eye. “Gael. No.”

Gael drew breath to protest yet again. He would not take no.

Carbraes held up one hand. “Gael. No.”

Gael let his breath go. So. Carbraes would not even hear him. Not beyond the audience that the regenen had already extended.

Carbraes turned to his castellanum. “You will cease to meddle in my smithies and in the vaults and the tally chamber that supply them.”

“Yes, my lord.” Theron sounded diligent and reliable, as though thievery lay far below him.

“You will cease to trouble my Lord Gael in any way.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“You will attend solely and thoroughly to the regulation and the conduct of my citadel.”

“Of course, my lord.” Theron’s brows both rose in surprise.

“And if I detect any attempt by you to usurp my privilege—” Carbraes ceased speaking altogether, his face grim. “Your reach to pull the tally chamber and its offices under your control was usurpation, Theron. If you do so again, I will sever your head from your body. Personally.” The regenen’s grimness segued into a flat, emotionless expression that was even scarier. “Is. That. Clear.”

Theron’s complacency fled. His voice actually wobbled as he answered, “Yes, my Regenen.”

Carbraes nodded.

“M—may I go?” asked the castellanum.

“Go,” said Carbraes curtly. He stayed silent until Theron had disappeared, ascending around the newel post of the stair.

*     *     *

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The Tally Master, Chapter 18 (scene 87)

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