The Tally Master, Chapter 5 (scene 21)

Chapter 5

In the cramped corridor outside the tin vault, Keir met them with pressed lips and a disgusted expression, but declined to give Martell the promised scolding. The scullions with the finished implements had peeled off toward kitchen storerooms and the stewards’ closet. Martell’s notary turned over his tally parchments to Gael, while Martell himself had only a few nuggets of leftover bronze, a failed bronze ladle, and a failed pair of scissors to hand in.

Keir frowned, padlocking the tin vault’s door. “No tin nuggets?” he queried.

“Today was all bronze,” answered Martell breezily. “Tomorrow I try the tin ornaments I plan for the edge of the regenen’s cape. I must start early, very early, to have time enough for such flourishes.”

Keir’s frown deepened. “Then shouldn’t you have a tin ingot left over?”

Gael was wondering the same thing.

Martell looked surprised. “I thought I did!” He rummaged in his sack, came up empty, scratched his head, then held up a finger. “Ha, ha! I have it! Foolish Martell! I made tin-lined sauce pots demanded by cook.”

Gael’s shoulders relaxed. Martell might be foolish—was foolish—but Gael was equally so, if he thought he could solve the mystery of his missing metals from anything Martell said. He’d need to go through his usual process of reconciling the tally sheets from the smithies with those of the tally chamber from this morning’s check-out. And that would have to be done tomorrow. Also as usual.

He’d hoped to get a quick look for discrepancies tonight, but Martell’s tardiness and his own appointment with Arnoll later in the evening meant it would have to wait.

Keir unlocked the bronze vault, right next door to the tin vault. The space occupied by Belzetarn’s bronze stores was equally constricted, but considerably more congested. A ledge along one wall held the coffers of bronze ingots and a balance. Bins for the broken swords and other weapons retrieved from the battlefields, as well as items that failed in their forging, lined the opposite wall, making the narrow aisle leading to the horn-paned window casement even narrower.

As Keir placed the privy smithy’s bronze remnants on the balance, Martell seized the scissors and brandished them under Gael’s nose, angrily.

“Look at these! The tracery of deer in the forest, so lovely! The warm sheen of the bronze, beautifully brushed in finish! But the metal failed to penetrate the mold fully!” Martell actually gnashed his teeth.

Gael took the scissors from the smith before he could do something extreme.

They possessed the usual design, two blades sharpened on one edge only and connected by a curving strap of bronze that acted as a spring. The mold for them had pour vents at the tip of each blade, funneling the molten metal down through the blade area to the spring strap at the very bottom.

In these scissors, the metal had failed to fill the spring strap completely, resulting in a circular occlusion right at the stress point.

Gael turned them over in his hands. The work was beautiful. He could understand Martell’s annoyance, but—

Gael’s brows knit, and he squeezed by both Martell and Keir to get into the dim light filtering through the window’s horn panes. He wrenched the casement open. The sun was on the opposite side of the tower and getting lower in the sky, but a good deal more light flooded through the unobstructed opening, along with a slight breeze and the scent of water off the lake.

Gael studied the bronze of the scissors, with its extraordinarily warm hue.

He turned abruptly.

“Surely the bronze in these scissors has fewer parts of tin than even you use, Martell?”

“Sometimes I forge in pure tin.” Martell sounded impressed with himself. “Sometimes I forge in pure copper.”

“But today, aside from the cooks’ tin-lined pots, you forged in bronze only.” Gael held the scissors out for Martell to look at them. “Surely this is a one-to-nineteen ratio bronze.”

Martell’s eyes widened. “You are right, my friend, you are right.” He tapped the flat of one blade edge, obtaining a dull ting from the metal. “I use but half the tin ingot for the lined sauce pans, which means this bronze should be one-to-twelve. Which it is not! Of course the pour went wrong!”

The smith brightened and his chest puffed out. “Ha ha! Am I not magnificent! The pour went right in all the rest! Even with barely any tin to calm viscosity!”

Martell’s excitement turned to bewilderment. “But Keir makes no mistake when he doles out copper and tin for Martell. And Martell makes no mistake when he compound his bronze. Wherefore does Martell’s one-twelve bronze transform to one-nineteen?”

Gael sighed. “That, I mean to find out.”

This could be his missing metals, right here in Martell’s apparently missing tin. According to the smith’s account, after he’d used half the ingot of tin to line the sauce pans, he’d melted one-and-a-half ingots of tin with eighteen ingots of copper to create his bronze. One-and-one-half to eighteen equaled three to thirty-six, which simplified into one to twelve.

Something had gone wrong, resulting in a bronze with one tin ingot and nineteen copper ingots. Or maybe even less tin than that.

Possibly someone had stolen tin right out of Martell’s smithy.

Possibly, but Gael didn’t think so. Probably Martell’s disorganization would just make it harder for Gael to pin down the real theft. Unfortunately.

Gael gestured for Martell to hand the scissors to a very thoughtful-looking Keir. Keir weighed them along with the ladle and the nuggets. Gael marked the tally of ounces on Keir’s parchments.

Gael sent Martell toward his dinner, while Keir locked the bronze vault’s door.

*     *     *

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The Tally Master, Chapter 5 (scene 22)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 4 (scene 20)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 1 (scene 1)