Tenlyres Chapter 49 – Scarred

Tim here everybody.

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Previous Chapter

 

Ilsa has been wounded badly, and returns to the camp by the village of Atalem.

 

 

 

 

 Each of us owes our lives to someone else, parents, friends, saviors of all kinds.

That does not mean we should not do what we can to protect ourselves.

 

 

The world spun and then stabilized. Ilsa heard voices fading away, accompanied by the pure and consistent agony of her wounds. Grazed head, burnt hand, torn side, wounded leg… they were all still there. Somehow she had survived. Again, she survived.

She lay on a cot in a tent, a large pale-colored one from the Chogrumian military, rather than the small homes of the Oshomi. She looked up at the ceiling. Her groan of pain joined the sounds of other wounded that filled the space.

The triage tent dimmed with the passing hours. Some screams silenced. New cries began.

Ilsa found a discarded rifle on the floor beside her cot. She lurched to stand up. She had to find Lemuel and tell him what had happened. She had to, though the feeling in her stomach that built when she thought of telling him about Tirica’s choice made her hesitate.

Eventually, she found a crutch to lean on and then left the rifle behind. She limped toward the exit of the tent. Her wounds were all wrapped to stop the blood flow, but her head still felt light. She hated waking up in a hospital alone. It had happened too often lately.

She made her way through the camp north of Atalem. Despite her lightheadedness, she reached out for Blue’s spirit. “Find me,” she murmured. “Please.”

She staggered past a dozen tents and was halfway to the trenches the Chogrumians had dug out for shelter from the bombardment before Blue and Lemuel found her.

Her eyes filled with tears when she saw them in the fading daylight. “You two,” she said. “You made it”

Lemuel threw himself over the side of his horse and ran to her. “Ilsa?” His voice broke. “Is that really you? I heard… Cass and Ferdinand told me you were dead.”

She looked at him and nodded. “I used a blast seal to escape the fall. Took a Chogrumian carrier back here, but I don’t know the rest.”

“I don’t care how it happened.” He threw his arms around her. They pressed themselves to each other, warm, and alive, despite everything.

Her crutch fell to the ground. She held onto Lemuel instead.

Blue’s gentle pressure in her mind made her look at her friend over Lemuel’s shoulder.

“What’s wrong?” asked Blue.

“Too much, Blue,” she said. “I’ll tell you everything. Both of you need to know. I just need to sit down first.”

She staggered along with them, Lemuel supporting her. He helped her onto his horse and then led it while she rode. She thought of her own horse. She hoped the animal had made it to safety.

At least Ferdinand and Cass had survived.

Blue told her through mental communication that the Uzan had fallen back from Atalem, but most of the village now lay in ruins, and the cost in lives to the Chogrumians and the Oshomi had been high.

“They’ll come back, you know,” said Ilsa softly. “First was out there today. And Black Powder won’t give up.”

“Neither will the Gray Lector or Asurdeva, I suspect,” said Lemuel. “We have to hold on.” He sighed. “I hope Tirica is alright.”

“She’s alive,” said Ilsa in a dry croak of a voice. “I—I saw her today.”

“You saw her? Where?”

“When the blast seal transported me out of the launcher I ended up at a medical center for the mercenaries. She was there.”

Lemuel turned to stare back at her where she sat on the horse, eyes wide. “You saw her?”

“Yeah.” Ilsa felt an urge to cry, but she channeled it into a single deep breath. “Lemuel, I don’t know how to say this—She—She has a weapon bonded to her spirit.”

“What? Why would they do that?”

“She agreed to fight for them.” Ilsa touched her side. “She shot me. Here.”

Lemuel dropped the reins he been using to lead the horse. He bent down to reach for them, but his big hand shook too much to pick them up.

He shook his head. “It can’t be—She wouldn’t.”

Ilsa lifted her wounded leg despite the pain that shot through her as she did. She climbed down and then supported herself on the horse’s side. Lemuel stared at her.

Blue’s mind withdrew. She brought her strider to a stop behind Ilsa and Lemuel. Yet, she said nothing.

Lemuel’s lips trembled. “I can’t believe it.”

“I don’t like it anymore than you do,” said Ilsa. “They forced her into it after First’s attack in Chogrum failed.”

“She’s alive,” said Blue. “Get me close enough to her and I can stop her. We aren’t dealing with true belief. Once she’s free of them, she won’t keep fighting us.”

Lemuel nodded, but tears began to leak from his eyes.

Ilsa let go of the horse and staggered toward him. A jagged flare of pain shot through her calf and she stumbled. She fell forward but caught herself on Lemuel’s shoulder. He sank down slowly, and they sat on the trampled steppe grass.

His face close to hers, he sniffed, trying to fight his tears. She pressed her forehead to his.

“This doesn’t change anything,” she said, halfway to tears herself. “We will get her back, even if we have to fight her to do it.”

“She isn’t free,” said Blue.

“Right.” Ilsa brushed the tears from Lemuel’s cheeks. “We won’t give up.”

Lemuel’s small arm wrapped around Ilsa’s back. His little hand patted down her spine. “Thank you, Ilsa.” He breathed in deep. “And Blue. Thank you, both.” His big hand found Ilsa’s cheek and cupped her face. “I studied and studied, but I never could say I would trust anyone outside my family with my life before I met you two.”

“Lemuel.” Ilsa pulled him to her, one hand around the back of his head, the other around his waist. “You’ve got us. We won’t abandon Tirica.”

His little hand touched the freshly-dressed wound on her side. She let out a gasp of pain. He withdrew his fingers. “I’m sorry. She did this to you.”

“It’s not as bad as my leg. And she didn’t hit me there.”

“You’ve fought so long. I know you wish you could stop.”

“I won’t stop fighting until my father is defeated. Until the Uzan are beaten, none of us can stop.”

“Until peace is in sight,” said Blue.

“How can we see peace from the battlefield?” said Ilsa. “That’s what I worry about.”

“You’re both warriors. It’s what you do.”

“We have a cause.” Ilsa sighed. “I just don’t know if that’s enough.”

“It has to be,” said Blue.

“We have to hope it is because we don’t fight for a nation, we fight for the people, to protect them and save as many as we can.” Ilsa looked into Lemuel’s eyes. “And we’ll protect your sister too.”

“What if she doesn’t give you a choice?”

“I’ll die before I kill her.” Ilsa blinked back tears and hoped her brave words were true, though she doubted them. She gritted her teeth. “I swear—”

“Don’t. You can’t sacrifice yourself.” Lemuel’s hand moved down her face to her shoulder. “I would never ask you to do that.”

Ilsa held on to him in silence for a long moment, aching, pained. “Thank you. I’ll do everything I can to be worth your trust.”

“You already have,” he said.

The sound of hooves, four or five horses, and half a dozen goat runners, drew close through the camp.

“Priestess,” said Siuku as she and a group of other Oshomi leaders caught up with them. “You should have stayed in triage.” Behind her veil her eyes were tired. “You were seriously wounded.”

“I know,” said Ilsa. “I just couldn’t lie there.”

“Let me heal you.” Siuku climbed down from her horse. She approached Ilsa and Lemuel.

Ilsa’s eyes met his, and then they disentangled themselves. Behind Siuku, Ilsa saw Ganara, the Vogmem chieftain, and priestess of Vada who had wielded the True Blackwood staff at the battle of Howling Pass. The blond woman gave a curt nod to Ilsa.

Siuku knelt down beside Ilsa. Lemuel got to his feet nearby. The Keeper of Tenlyres unfastened the seal on her veil. Without the veil, she looked even more exhausted.

How many people has she saved today? Ilsa wondered. How many former enemies owe her their lives? This is how we can unify the people, by healing instead of killing.

The pain from her calf faded. Siuku sealed the cut in Ilsa’s head. Then, the keeper touched her side where Tirica had shot her. The pain there vanished with a touch of a weary hand.

Siuku replaced her veil. “You will have a few scars,” she said. “And I can’t help your hand.”

“Thank you,” said Ilsa. “I’ve been through the worst wounds of my life from the mountains to now, and I wouldn’t be alive without you.”

Siuku’s voice came out less monotone than usual. “I saw you in my visions, Ilsa Barrett. Since we first met you have become important to me.”

Ilsa bowed to the keeper. “I will protect you as long as I am able.”

“Let us both pray that you remain able.”

Siuku stood, and offered a hand to help Ilsa to her feet. She turned to Blue. “Has the prince of Chogrum arrived?”

“His force is setting up in the northern part of the camp,” said Blue. “They should be almost done by now.”

“The prince is here?” Ilsa asked.

“Scouts have sighted more of Black Powder’s forces approaching our position,” said Blue. “We don’t know the exact numbers, but from here we will defend Chogrum from both men and monsters.”

“What about Ayoch and Dal?” said Ilsa. “Their armies are still moving east.”

“Indeed.” Ganara tossed her head. “Allies or not, we can catch the Uzan and their human friends between our forces and theirs if we hold here.”

Ilsa nodded. “That could work. We can still win.”

Lemuel glanced at her with reddened eyes. His unspoken question was obvious.

She folded her hands together. “And we’ll get Tirica out of there before it’s over.”

Great hawks called to each other as they flew overhead. Ilsa looked up. Skyriders.

She brought her gaze down to level with Blue. “How did you destroy the artillery?”

Blues shrugged. “The raiders delayed them long enough for Chogrum’s weapons to find the range. After that, their crews started to run. Even Uzan won’t survive a hit from the big guns. Just too bad they got most of their weapons out of there when they went.”

Ilsa frowned. “How many were destroyed?”

“Two. They still have at least three left.”

“If we move fast enough, they can’t hit us,” said Ganara. “My warriors will deal with them next time.”

“We should meet with the prince,” Siuku said to Ganara. “We have plans to make, and you can tell him what you just said.”

“I’ve never seen so many soldiers in one place,” Ganara said. “Chogrum has a mighty army.”

“Ilsa,” the keeper said. “Will you, your scholar, and Blue accompany us? There is much to discuss for the coming battle.”

Ilsa glanced at Lemuel. He nodded to her.

“As you wish,” said Ilsa. And they set off toward the prince’s part of the allied camp.

#

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Tenlyres Chapter 33 – Visions from Room 216

Hello, everyone, Tim here.

2016 is almost over!

I really appreciate all the visitors reading through the story and listenng to the podcasts. It’s been a good year for me online.

In case you weren’t aware, at the top of the sidebar of my website there is an email list sign-up form. You can also sign up at this link.

Sign up, and you will receive my new short story in the Tenlyres world, Mount Higatha, for free!

 

Download Tenlyres I for free!

Buy Tenlyres II and read the rest of this story right away!

Previous Chapter

 

Ilsa and her comrades are in the northern mountains, allied with the Vogmem tribes there.

            In the midst of a bloody battle, a massive explosion rocks the mountain pass. Ilsa takes shelter.

Ilsa’s mother swam into view before her eyes.

“Ilsa,” she said, “I’m glad to see you.”

“Mother…” Ilsa gasped as she remembered the explosion. The world seemed far away, the pain, and the tears distant. Melinda had killed Hailek. She had forced Ilsa to kill her. “It’s all so terrible.”

“What’s terrible Ilsa?”

“War,” she said. “The battles I’ve been fighting. It’s all wrong. But I felt like I had the best reasons.”

“It’s war,” said her mother seemingly from far away. “And war is awful, no matter why someone fights.”

“You’re right. Of course, you are.” Ilsa’s heart felt ready to burst. “Is it strange? I’ve fought so many battles, but I never realized that before now.”

The world swam around her. The pass returned, cold, and painful, and filled with bitter smells. Lemuel lay beside her, his arm around her. They lay side by side within the curve of Hailek’s still bulk. Ilsa’s ears were ringing, yet she knew what her mother said next despite physical deafness from the explosion.

“It’s alright, Ilsa. Everyone keeps learning.”

“Mother,” she said and sat up. The bodies of mercenaries and Vogmem warriors were scattered across the stones before her. Further down the pass, she glimpsed the banners of the Red Lector, many of them torn and tattered from flying debris. Small fires burned in bodies and wreckage all around.

Lemuel groaned and looked at her. He said something, but she could not hear his words, and judging by the look on his face, neither could he. She shook her head and tapped one ear.

He nodded. She got up carefully, a pistol in her left hand, and her right locked tight from Melinda’s poison, the gun she had held in it dropped in the rush to find cover.

The girl’s body lay near Hailek’s head, completely still except for the spreading blood around her. Someone so young should have been given the chance to survive, Ilsa knew, but she had given Melinda every chance she could. Damn her, Ilsa thought with a flush of rage as she looked at Hailek. But there was no way left to punish her steed’s killer.

Lemuel stood up and put his hand on Ilsa’s shoulder. She noticed the revolver still tucked into his waistband. He had yet to fire a shot.

Good.

Hopefully, he would never have to feel what she experienced in the heat of the fray.

A gun held in an angry hand. She scanned the battlefield as her hearing began to return little by little. The other Vogmem group had survived the blast of the exploding artillery shells unscathed, but Ganara’s lead troops had been devastated. Blue had fallen behind in the charge, so Ilsa could hope she was safe. Most of the other riders and goat runners were in the same state as Ilsa and Lemuel or lay bloody and torn, unmoving.

She wandered back the way they had come, looking this way and that, Lemuel at her side, carrying her still-unloaded shotgun in his big hand. The machine gun had returned to Ilsa, and if she tried to summon it now she would have a full magazine of ammunition. So that would be simple enough to remember.

She stumbled between two runners and glimpsed a black staff beyond one of them, lying close to pale, out-stretched fingertips. Ilsa circled the fallen goat. Ganara lay beside her steed, her fingers slack where she had been reaching for the staff. Bloody lines and holes cut through her coat, and red speckled her face from chin to closed eyelids.

But her breath still misted in the air above her.

“Lemuel,” said Ilsa, in a voice that sounded far away. “We need to get her help.”

Ilsa sank down beside Ganara.

Lemuel stayed standing and looked this way and that, but no one else moved nearby. Ganara’s wounds looked serious, life-threatening judging by the amount of blood on the shards of shrapnel beyond her. They had to move quickly.

Ilsa pressed her good hand to the largest wound, a gash across Ganara’s shoulder and nearly down to her chest. She applied what pressure she could with her one hand to hold back the blood-flow, and her fingers quickly turned red and sticky.

“Ilsa?” But it wasn’t Lemuel who spoke. It was Ilsa’s mother, standing by her side in a ghostly white hospital dress.

“Mother,” Ilsa said. “She’s dying.”

“The spirits can heal her.”

“Siuku,” said Ilsa. “Of course. We need to find her.”

She reached out, searching for Blue’s spirit. Two bright beacons in the other column of Vogmem, far from the front line, appeared in her vision. Blue rode near Ashnia Haram. She must have gone to make sure the Ayochian mind eater did not escape.

“Blue,” Ilsa said. “Get Siuku. I need your help on the other side of the pass.”

Blue answered her with a confused flurry of thoughts. Of them, only one stood out intelligibly. “Ilsa, you’re alive!”

“I am,” she said. “But Ganara is dying. Get Siuku now.”

Lemuel put a hand on her shoulder. His voice sounded small after the blast. “Who are you talking to?”

“Blue. I contacted her.”

“You can do that?”

Beside Lemuel, Ilsa’s mother nodded, and made a small smile.

“Yeah,” said Ilsa. “I-I think I’m like my mother.”

“Your mother?”

“She was never crazy. She saw things other people couldn’t.”

Mother folded her arms and her smile grew. “Ilsa, I have to tell you something. Your demons can be killed. If you separate them from their god.”

“She’s talking to me now.” Ilsa turned to Lemuel. “We can kill the Uzan if we separate them from their god.”

“The old gods… Asurdeva.” Lemuel circled Ganara and knelt down to press his hands to a wound on her side opposite Ilsa. He grimaced and turned pale as his hands became bloody. “Every Uzan has a name on its brow,” he said. “I’ve seen it, and they’re written in the old language.”

“Their god’s name?” said Ilsa.

“It’s worth a shot,” he said. “Literally.” He turned his head, averting his eyes from Ganara’s wounded form.

Ilsa nodded to him, but tears formed in her eyes. She leaned her face to Ganara’s ear. “You can’t die,” she said softly. “We’re all nomads today, and nomads keep moving, no matter what happens.”

Ganara’s eyes twitched open. She gave Ilsa a sideways glance but said nothing before she closed her eyes again. But she went on breathing. She went on living.

Ilsa did not know how she and Lemuel held Ganara before she heard the steps of striders and the hoof-beats of horses. The Oshomi arrived, Siuku in the lead, and Blue riding beside Tirica Chollush, who carried her long rifle across her saddle.  A group of Vogmem leading the prisoners including Ashnia Haram, and Ozleji Sammhar, followed behind the steppe nomads.

Ilsa looked up at Siuku. “Quickly, Keeper, she needs your help.”

Siuku leaped from her horse’s back and then ran the final meters. She unfastened her veil as she reached Ganara’s side. Her hands moved and touched and healed.

Ganara remained still for a long time. One eye opened. “I never thought an Oshomi would save my life. But you, you’re paler than me…” she said. Then her eyes rolled back and closed. She slept.

A cheer went up from the Ayochian line. The Vogmem who had pressured them on the western side of the pass had been forced to a stalemate. A few of the hawks from Megalli’s skyriders lay on the field where they had fallen. In a moment of fear, Ilsa realized she could not see Megalli herself among the riders still circling over the battlefield.

The Red Lector and his few remaining protectors stood at the front of the Ayochian line where the Vogmem had lost their momentum. Haram himself waved a red-streaked saber in his hand and shouted loud. “Which of you Four barbarians shall fall next?”

Siuku’s riders helped Ganara onto one of their horses along with her black staff. The Vogmem chieftain slumped in the saddle between two Oshomi, still unconscious. Ilsa and Blue exchanged glances.

“I’m losing my sense of Megalli,” Blue said softly.

Ilsa’s stomach turned.

War is terrible. War is always terrible, and Koor’s oracles were right that they would lose a leader.

To fight a battle is always to lose the peace, Ilsa thought, as tears ran down her cheeks.

The Keeper of Tenlyres turned to Ilsa. “Ride. We can still break through. His line is weak, no matter who he has killed.”

Ilsa and Lemuel climbed onto separate horses, behind different Oshomi riders. The Keeper of Tenlyres collected the survivors of Ganara’s column. She wheeled her forces, both Vogmem and Oshomi and pressed the attack on the broken side of the Ayochian line where Ilsa’s father had detonated the gun carriage.

Had he known it would explode? Could even he survive that blast? Ilsa doubted it, but she had no tears for him when so many others had died in this windy pass already. She rode through gaps of the enemy lines in the wake of Siuku’s fresh troops.

The Red Lector’s forces fell back to a rise in the center of the pass two or three kilometers back from where the Vogmem charge had begun. They could not stop the nomads fighting past them on either side.

For a few minutes of riding and fighting, Ilsa thought they could escape without much more resistance. Then, a roar went up from the column ahead of them. A typhoon of incredibly varied gunshots and the smell of ancient propellant, bleak on the wind, reached Ilsa. Huge semi-humanoid shapes waded into the fray, uncaring if they killed Ayochians or nomads.

With bursts of bullets and swinging hammer blows, they killed.

With furious blasts of shotguns grown from bloated bellies or yawning jaws they killed.

Screams and roars and cries of despair rang out from both sides.

The Uzan had arrived.

#

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Tenlyres Chapter 26

Before this week’s short chapter, let me have a brief moment to say thank you all for reading. I have a new book out! This is in a different world from Tenlyres, but it has a lot of action and story I think you will appreciate if you like Tenlyres.

Here’s the link: Rem’s Dream on Amazon, and on Other Booksellers.

Previously…
Ilsa’s lethal battle at Nurse Mountain has driven the scouts back.
But the larger war is just beginning.

Previous Chapter

 Tenlyres II - Chapter 26 White Feathers pt1 lq

The next morning, a runner with a flag of truce arrived at the Vogmem camp and requested parley with the four, and the Keeper of Tenlyres. Ilsa heard about it second-hand after she finally mustered the will to drag herself from her bedroll and its pain and nightmares. Siuku had healed her wounds, but the exhaustion of healing appeared to have gotten to her.

She lay curled on a bedroll in the tent near Ilsa, still asleep, her veil lying beside her thin pillow. Any pillow for the Keeper of Tenlyres, fearsome leader of the Oshomi. The sight looked strange to Ilsa. She lurched forward and realized she had been stripped for healing, except for her underclothes. A set of Vogmem garments, probably goat wool, sat folded beside her bedroll.

The new clothes looked scratchy, but she had endured worse for this mission. Ilsa put on the clothes and found them rough to the touch. They were warm, though, so that was something.

Fully-dressed, Ilsa peered out the flap of the small tent. Hailek snorted at her from the shore of the lake, then turned and made his way in her direction. She smiled at the strider and motioned him closer. Loyal and devoted as always. She had spent her money well back in Dal.

She looked back into the tent. Siuku still slept soundly. Footsteps, one set heavy and clinking with armor, the other set careful and soft, told her Blue and Lemuel were approaching. She stepped back from the opening of the tent.

Blue led the way, Lemuel close behind her. When he saw Ilsa, his eyes brightened, though they still looked serious.

“You saved my sister again last night.”

Ilsa sighed with relief at the word Tirica was alright. “I’m trying to make a habit of that.”

He smiled. “Keep it up.”

“I’ll do my best.” Ilsa found the strength to smile back, despite her dry mouth and growling stomach.

Blue smirked at her from the side. “Not to bring things down, but General Shayi Haram sent a messenger this morning. She wants to parley with the Keeper and the Four today.”

“General Haram?” Ilsa frowned. “The Red Lector’s wife?”

“The same. And evidently she is also the one the Vogmem call the Summer Devil.”

“That fits what we’ve heard before. And it explains why she wasn’t leading her husband’s troops back on the steppe.”

Lemuel frowned at Ilsa. “So, the Red Lector has the path to the south. His wife is moving in from the mountains west of the lake. Where does that put us?”

“In a tight spot,” said Blue.

Ilsa grunted and nodded. She did not want to admit it, but Uzan or no Uzan, the Ayochian forces would be difficult to deal with, even in the narrow passes between mountains. She glanced at Siuku’s sleeping form.

“She wants to parley with the Keeper? That will have to wait until she wakes.”

“Have you tried shaking her?” asked Blue.

“Not yet. Didn’t seem fair, seeing as how she saved my life last night.”

Lemuel looked up from Siuku and turned to Ilsa. “The Four could meet them together.”

Ilsa frowned. “From what I’ve seen of Ganara, she’ll want to fight.”

“Good thing she isn’t the only one deciding, then. Hiragen and Akirette are firmly for negotiations, and Megalli is with them.” Blue scowled. “I don’t know how much good it will do. But we have a chance at deception here. If I can keep Ashnia from digging into our thoughts while we’re talking.”

“Are you sure she’ll be there?”

“She’s with her mother’s forces. And Shayi would have to be a fool not to bring a mind eater as skilled as Ashnia along for a moment like this.”

The Oshomi woman who had guarded the hermit the previous night poked her head through the tent flap. “Priestess,” she said. “How is the Keeper?”

“Still resting.” Ilsa stepped slightly to the side and motioned to Siuku’s form. “What is it?”

The woman averted her eyes from Siuku. “It’s your fellow priestess. She’s asking for you, says it’s urgent.”

“Cass?” Ilsa’s brow furrowed as she considered that Cass might finally be ready to talk. “Lead the way.”

 

Ilsa followed the Oshomi woman, Takudu, through the campsite to a tent close to the edge of the lake and the meeting lodge. When they drew close, Takudu stopped. Ilsa continued without her. Cass stood, staring out over the water, her arm still in a sling at her side. She breathed in deep as Ilsa approached.

“I don’t like feeling helpless,” she said.

Ilsa walked to her side and followed Cass’ gaze toward Nurse Mountain, far less ominous than the vast shadow it had seemed the previous night. “You wanted to talk.”

“It’s about the hermit.”

“What about him?”

“High Priestess Uopemm wanted me to meet with him. That was one reason she gave me permission to ride east.”

“Why?”

“She was worried he was a mind eater. The High Priestess fears something from them.”

“The Temple of Colors?”

“As much as I hate to be helpless, I hate saying ‘I don’t know’ even more.” Cass sighed. “I’m glad we’re here, but it seems Uopemm has been right so far. Except about you.”

“You’ve apologized to me before.”

“And I’ll keep asking for forgiveness. I don’t know if I can ever earn it.”

“You can’t earn forgiveness,” said Ilsa. “It has to be a gift.”

“You really should write those down. They’re good words.”

Ilsa nodded to her. “I will.” She motioned to Cass’s broken arm. “Are you ready to tell me how that happened?”

She took a deep breath. “It was Ferdinand. We were huddled together for warmth one night, when he grabbed my arm. I was almost asleep, but when he twisted I woke all the way up. I didn’t know why he did it. He didn’t remember it the next morning, but I had no idea he was being controlled. It all happened so fast.” She looked down at her arm. “I should have told you sooner.”

Ilsa spread her hands. “You don’t like feeling helpless.”

“You know I don’t.”

“We should keep each other informed. We’ll have to work together to survive this.” Ilsa told Cass about the mess they were in, caught between the Lector and his wife. “They want to parley.”

“We don’t have much choice. More Vogmem will take time to arrive.” Cass whistled. “If we’re going to fight, we won’t win with the numbers as they are now.”

“Reasonable. We can try to buy time.”

Ilsa looked out across the lake. A grove of trees nestled green in the arm of Nurse Mountain near the far pass. “I know one way to extend the delay. We pick a place far from the camp. Keep most of our troops out of it, and hold the meeting there, with other conditions.”

Cass glanced at her. “I take it that’s your idea?”

“It’s the first one,” said Ilsa.