Ilsa and Blue have joined with the Keeper of Tenlyres, who it is their mission to protect.
The Keeper has demonstrated knowledge of the Lyres and a mystical ability to heal wounds.
However, the forces of the Ayoch have surrounded them, and trapped them beneath the Central Lyre, along with a surviving force of Oshomi nomads and the scholar Lemuel Chollush and his sister, Tirica.
The Ayochians have captured other allies Ilsa and Blue met along their journey.
And now the Ayochians continue the siege of the Central Lyre.
A week in the darkened chamber and Ilsa grew tense. Yet, the Ayochians refused to storm the chamber beneath the lyre, and the Oshomi could not break out. At least the chamber had light, but what it lacked was any way out except for back up through the passage to the surface where the Red Lector camped.
Blue kept them from coming down the passage when she was awake, and the Oshomi could protect the entrance despite their tiny number because of the narrowness of the passage. Over the week, Ilsa had not been forced to shoot, even when on guard duty. Evidently the Red Lector could be patient.
She suspected that meant his sons had survived their wounds. The Red Lector struck her as the vengeful type, so she doubted he would be so passive if she had killed Kaij or Yunn.
The food the Oshomi had brought with them had begun to run out, even with disciplined rationing, though they had yet to eat any horses. Ilsa planted her hand against Hailek’s side. The wooly strider stood stable, but after today there would be no more food for him.
The siege approached an end.
Ilsa grimaced at the thought. She paced away from Hailek across the chamber toward the wall opposite the entrance. Lemuel caught up with her halfway there.
They had not said much to each other over the last week. Part of her did not like how much she wanted to talk to him, because this situation was deadly serious, and they still had friends under guard by the Red Lector’s troops. So far, Cass and Ferdinand and the Oshomi rearguard had not been executed, another sign the Red Lector did not have reason to feel vengeful.
Ilsa wondered if that meant the bodyguard, Ozleji Sammhar, might have lived through his wounds as well. That thought made her grit her teeth and wish the opposite. The man who had been trained by her father scared her too much. If the battle continued, she did not want to confront him again.
“Ilsa, are you alright?” asked Lemuel.
They had reached the wall of the chamber. She put her branded palms to the smooth stone, knowing the vibration of the Lyre ran through it all, but unable to feel the frequency.
“There has to be a way out.”
He nodded. “I keep thinking the same thing.”
She turned and raised an eyebrow at him. “You’re serious?”
“The structure of the Lyres is a lot larger than one is on the surface,” he said. “My studies indicate, at least under the Eastern and Western Lyres, there are tunnels going out in every direction from the Lyre itself.”
She frowned. “Looks like there aren’t any here, unfortunately.”
“That’s what’s maddening.” Lemuel slapped his shrunken fist into his other palm. “I don’t see why this place isn’t connected.”
Ilsa grunted, frustrated. “If we’re not connected, we’re not connected. What can we do?”
Lemuel frowned at the wall where Ilsa’s hands still rested. “That’s just it, though. I don’t know if we’re not connected. My theory is that there must be other tunnels from this chamber. When you played that note with your gunshot, it opened one tunnel, but that shot only vibrated two strings.”
Ilsa’s eyes widened as she considered the possibility, the hope Lemuel’s idea provided. “You think if we played more notes we could hope more tunnels?”
“I suspect that’s the case, yes.”
She pushed off the wall and straightened her back. “Only one problem. The strings are up there.” She jabbed her thumb toward the ceiling. “And so are the Red Lector’s guns.”
He shrugged. “They aren’t camped on the Lyre. Seems to me they have to sleep sometime.”
“There are enough of us to always keep watch, and there’s a lot more of them than there are of us.” Ilsa shook her head. “But this still seems like our best chance, and we’re almost out of food, so the sooner, the better.”
He glanced over his shoulder at the one passage open to the surface. A little orange light filtered down the tunnel from above, glaring in comparison to the dull glow from the luminous stones that illuminated the rest of the chamber. The sun was setting.
She frowned. “I’ll try tonight. Blue is on watch now, so she can help keep the pressure off once I go outside.” After weeks of riding across the plateau, being trapped in this bizarre chamber for a week had left Ilsa cramped and aching to move, and her only glimpses of the sky had been during watches. “Is your sister well enough to move?”
“She’s been ready for three days. It’s the Keeper who keeps saying she needs to rest.”
“I’ll bet Tirica loves that.” Ilsa’s voice dripped with irony.
“About as much as the Red Lector likes you now.” Lemuel gave an awkward chuckle.
“Right.” Ilsa started to walk back toward where the Oshomi had set up camp among their horses near the entrance of the chamber.
Lemuel followed at her side. “Are you angry with me?” he asked.
Ilsa halted, and turned to him. “Why would I be?”
“Well, I…” He sighed and lowered his eyes. “I’ve kept secrets about how much I knew. And then, turning the battle, I touched you.”
“Your secrets were things I wouldn’t even have asked you about. As for the battle, my heart would have frozen without you.” She put a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry. You have to do a lot worse than saving my life for me to be angry with you.”
He raised his eyes and their gazes met. Her fingers tingled on the shoulder of his coat, feeling the warmth of his body beneath the cloth. Something sparkled in the corner of his eye. Tears? He put his small hand on her hand. “Thank you, Ilsa.”
“No, it’s not nothing.” He smiled and wiped tears away with his big hand. “Now look at me, blubbering.”
“Don’t worry. You’re not a soldier, but you rode through a battle. You’re not a priest but you found out more about the Lyres than any clergy member I ever met. You’ve done a lot of things you weren’t prepared for, so of course you’re hurting. It’s like you sprinted without stretching first.”
Lemuel’s shrunken fingers wrapped around her wrist, gentle, as if they had no strength at all. “I thought you didn’t want to talk to me.”
“Used to be, I didn’t talk as much as I wanted,” Ilsa said, and realized it was true. “Hathanian clergy is all about the words. Every priest and priestess has their own.”
“Like, Cass told you, to ‘be red,’ right?”
“Yes, that was from one of her sayings.”
He nodded. “You’re a priestess too. So why didn’t you want to talk?”
“I was banished from Saint Banyeen’s Garden, in Dal.” Ilsa sighed. “I used to think that meant I wasn’t worthy of having words of my own. Of course, that never stopped me from carrying a scroll.”
“If we get out of this, we’ll all have stories.”
Ilsa squeezed his shoulder gently. “Right.” She released her grip. “Let’s find a way out of here.”