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