The Tally Master, Chapter 20 (scene 92)

Chapter 20

Gael emerged from sleep stunned and confused, still half under the influence of his dream.

Sunlight sifted through the inner shutters covering the glass-paned casements, sprinkling dots of gold across the deep sills, the flagstone floor with its hide rugs, and the backless chairs. The angle of the light was long and low. Dawn could not be too far past.

Gael sat up, swinging his legs around to rest his feet on the sheepskin beside his sleeping couch. He paused there, scrubbing a hand across his face and attempting to come more fully into the waking world.

His dream—it was a dream, was it not?—had made no sense.

Keir was no thief; that was Theron. And Arnoll, and Nathiar, and Barris, and Halko. Nor was she a boy. Nor had Gael delayed in the matter of the disguised ingots, withholding dangerous knowledge from those who needed it most. He’d been clueless with all the rest until last night. Nor had he given Keir up for execution.

Nearly every detail of his ‘confession’ failed to match the truth.

Save one thing. His guilt.

In his heart of hearts, he believed that his service to Carbraes, the ruler of Belzetarn’s troll-horde, was wrong. He wished no harm to the Ghriana foe they fought. And yet, at one and the same time, he believed that any failure of his to support the warlord who gave him and all the afflicted shelter and a home was wrong. He possessed no avenue toward a clear conscience.

Unable to heal the divide in his loyalty, he’d chosen the side that permitted him life. And so might he have continued to choose, had Keir never come to Belzetarn. Keir might be a traitor in deed, but Gael was one at heart. And today he would have to decide between Keir and Carbraes. There was no way to choose both.

Last night, before he slept, before he’d realized Keir’s treason, he’d planned to negotiate with Carbraes for her release. But she was guilty of exactly what Theron had accused her of. She’d disguised tin as copper and fed it to the blade smithy, making Belzetarn’s swords brittle. And she’d disguised copper as tin, so that the tallies would balance, feeding that disguised copper through the hands of the artistic privy smith.

Gael would not traduce her to Carbraes himself, of course. Not before he’d confronted her face to face. He still hoped, in some irrational backwater of his mind, that she was innocent. But he hadn’t the fortitude to petition on her behalf when he believed in her guilt.

It meant letting one opportunity to obtain Keir’s freedom go. Gael shook his head. So be it. He would just have to find another one. Or make one.

He rose. His body felt strong and rested, ready for action, ready for the day.

His mind and heart felt disquieted and vulnerable. He dreaded what might come.

But he had a lodestone to divide and a gong to quell. Hiding and quaking in his chambers would neither make his decisions nor fulfill his responsibilities. He must march upon his dilemma, for it would march upon him if he did not.

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The Tally Master, Chapter 20 (scene 93)

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The Tally Master, Interstice 2 (scene 91)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 1 (scene 1)