The underground hall is quiet when I return. Neither Lynae nor Mýldir are there, thank the goddess. I’m not ready to face either of them. Muilon and his archers are sleeping, resting up for tonight. Enturi is still sleeping as well.
I shake his shoulder gently.
“Enturi,” I whisper. “Wake up.”
I shake him again and he jolts awake, his hand reaching up to grab my wrist. His eyes focus, recognizing me, and he lets go.
“Arq? Is it time?”
I shake my head. “No, not yet.”
He looks irritated.
“Well, what is it then?”
I lower my voice further, glancing back at his door to make sure no one could hear.
“I can’t explain here. It’s just – I need your help. Again. It shouldn’t take too long. You should be back here, in bed, within an hour, maybe two. Please?”
He sighs, then nods.
As Enturi pulls on his boots, he glances at me and his eyes widen. He lifts a finger to press lightly against my temple where the elven robber punched me. I wince. There must be a bruise because it hurts like hell.
“À damn, Arq,” he whispers. “What the rot have you been up to?”
“Got jumped in an alley by two would be robbers,” I reply. “The rest of my morning hasn’t been that great either. I’m sure you’ll hear more about it later. But the last bombs are set, and everything is in place for tonight. You ready?”
* * *
Enturi slides down the loose dirt into my old hiding place behind me.
“All right, Arq,” he says. “Why did you bring me back here?”
I gesture toward the sad little yew tree against the back wall. Its branches are drooping. A scattering of needles and berries circles its trunk. “When we were here last, you referred to the tree as her or she. Why?"
“When I touched the tree, I could feel the presence of her spirit inside, or maybe her sentience. And I could feel that she was female. She seemed sad.”
“You said that she was dying.”
He nods. “Yes.”
“Could you touch her again?” I ask. “Can you tell me if she is still alive?”
He looks confused. “But you can see the tree as well as I can, Arq,” he says. “She doesn’t look good. But she’s not dead yet.”
“I want to know if you can still feel the spirit inside. The girl.”
“All right.” Enturi nods, and moves to the tree, kneeling before it like a supplicant. He reaches out a tentative hand to the rough bark and slides his hand up the trunk as he did before, pausing as he holds a needled branch. He looks back at me, face full of concern. “She’s still there. But I can barely feel her. She is lost in the despair of dying.”
Good. I’m still very angry at her.
“Shoulda brought an axe,” I comment drily. Enturi looks at me with disgust.
“Relax,” I say before he can go off on some moralistic rant. “We’re here to save the tree.” Even if she doesn’t deserve it.
Enturi looks skeptical. “I don’t think she will survive a move. And the whole place is going to burn at nightfall.” He thinks for a moment. “Are you planning on carrying the tree out of Elftown tonight?”
“Maybe,” I smirk. “But not in the way you think.”
“What do you mean?” He looks confused.
“Remember how I told you that elves got their bows from living yew trees?” He nods. “And how they keep some of the spirit from the tree in the bow, so the bow is alive?” He nods again. “Well, the crazy old lady who taught me that was the nana who taught me all the songs. And one of the songs was about how to make bows from yew trees.”
“So,” Enturi feels his way through the information like a saltseller weighing out salt. “You think you know enough from the song to try to make a bow from this little tree. And you think you can preserve the spirit of the tree within the bow, even if the rest of the tree dies. And you want me to help you with the magic.”
“You catch on quick,” I say. “Maybe you are the smartest elf in the cave.” He blushes a bit. Heh. Who knew that when he wasn’t strumming his own lyre he was actually modest? “But I think the song is more than a description of how to do it. I think the song is the method. The magic.”
His eyebrows lift at that.
“How can I help?”
“Hold on to me,” I say. “Like you did when we were forcing our way through the fear ward. Meld your magic to my song. Steady me.”
He frowns, uncertain. “I don’t know, Arq. You haven’t done this before. It seems risky.”
“You’re right,” I concede. “It’ll probably be a bust. Why attempt it?” I turn to the yew. “Sorry little tree-girl. We don’t want to risk hurting you. Have a nice life. Until it ends tonight.” I turn toward the entrance. Behind me, Enturi laughs.
“All right, all right,” he says. “You win. Your crude attempt at manipulation is effective.” He grows serious again. “Let’s see what we can do.”
I turn to the tree, concealing a brief smile. Damn pretty boy. Relying on him is getting to be a bad habit.