If she could make it to the tunnels, she would live.
She would have to make her way along the wide galleries with their tapestries and tiled floors, downstairs to the first floor of the castile, to the kitchen pantry with the hidden tunnel entrance.
How long since he passed her door, his brazen boot-steps loud enough to hear from inside her studio, hear and know it was no friend come calling, not this time of night.
Was he alone?
Did she dare make a run?
At least the film was safe, hidden where they’d never find it.
So stupid not to see this coming.
Danel had warned her of this. He said they’d be desperate. He said they’d kill her if they had to. “Yes, my Char, you are what the Americans call a tough guy, no?” he said when she had scoffed. She had laughed at him again and said of course she was a tough guy and did she not live within the walls of a Roman fortress?
Within those same walls she now crushed in the dark against the stone wall of the alcove, crushed with held breath and strained hearing and the critical need to make a decision.
Have to get to the tunnels.
The irony—a lifetime of recognition beyond her dreams simply for doing what she loved and now, on the verge of the finest thing she’d ever done, the thing that would make sense of her and make so much right in the world, now to die?
I’m not done, you bastards!
She strained to hear down the gallery.
New footsteps. Leisurely.
He’ll find me.
Steeled for the fight of her life, crouched, panting, bared teeth, a deadly shadow waiting in the corner of the alcove with clawed hands.
Go for the eyes.
Scream. No, roar.
He would hear her roar, this invader, louder than the world had ever heard her, on any stage in any city of the world. There was strength in sound.
The smell of a leather coat, the sticky musk of cheap cologne.
The rustle of his clothes as he slowed his pace.
The silence as he halted and stood turning in the center of the gallery, turning, looking back and forward, looking right over the shadow that was her.
His breath was thick. The air smelled bad—something, garlic?
He shines his shoes.
Go for the eyes.
Then he moved, a step, two, up the grand corridor to the marble staircase where he would have to decide whether to climb to the third floor that housed the family bedrooms or down to the castile’s front hall.
So, two of them at least.
She could get around this one by using the servants’ staircase that led to the kitchen. The other was a problem, gone but which direction?
She listened into the darkened corridor, trying to quiet her shallow panting. She eased around the corner of the alcove that served as entrance to her music studio, the safest place in her world no more.
The scrape of a door latch and faint groan of iron hinges reached her from the direction of the grand staircase. He was coming back, working his way along, chamber by chamber.
She drew one last breath. She flung herself into the corridor, racing for the landing of the narrow stairway. If she could get there, she could flee to the kitchen hall and make the pantry and the passage to the catacombs and caverns. At its base, a hundred meters through the solid rock of the cliff, the hidden beach and certain escape to the sea.
She reached the landing to the servant stairway, stopped to catch her breath. She listened into the shadows where the steps led down. Silence. A tentative step.
He lunged up from the turn in the stairway, blond hair, hard face, hard breaths rasping across the silence to terrify and drive her.
She seized a little table from its place on the landing. She took it with both hands and threw it down at him. She wheeled to sprint up the stairs to throw herself around the corner, up another flight toward the third floor.
She left the man cursing as the table struck him. She did not stop at the third floor, nor the fourth, where the servants’ quarters spread down dark and long-abandoned halls. She raced upward, pumping legs made fit from rigid exercise and dance, her trained lungs serving well as she reached the wooden door to a rooftop courtyard. She flung it outward to burst into the night.
She knew there was no way to lock the door but she slammed it tight and turned to race for the bridge that would take her high into the ramparts to their hiding place.
She crashed against him as she whirled, someone, the outstretched arms encircling her, the solid chest and trunk stopping her as surely as a door.
“Char!” He called her name.
Her shriek died as recognition pierced the terror. He held her tightly in his arms. “It’s okay, hija, it’s okay.”
“Tio? Thank God, it’s you. But what… who? Are they with you? Who are those men? You’ve scared the almighty shit out of me!”
The door behind her flew open. The man from the stairs broke out. He stopped short of running into them. He touched a hand to his head and brought it down to examine the blood from the wound she had caused. “Bitch.”
“Stop!” the man holding her commanded. “There’ll be none of that.”
The two men stared one at the other as she jerked free of him.
“Tio, who is this creep? What’s he doing in my home? And you? What are you doing, in the dead of the night, unannounced?”
“Char, calm yourself,” said the man she called her uncle. “We have to talk. There are things we have to talk about.”
Through the stairway door a third man emerged. “Ah,” he said. “Got her, then.”
She backed across the flagstone, the chill of the night sinking deep into her, as surely as the deadly calm that overcame her.
Her tio spoke quietly. “Hija, you know why we’re here, don’t you? All we need is the film. That’s all. You aren’t going to be hurt tonight. You know me.”
“I know you now.” She spat the words, lunging past him toward the stone steps. She leaped to the parapet, whirled, plunged higher toward the watchmen’s walk.
The full moon cast a pale and silver light on her and on the castle walls and on the rocks below that broke the north sea into white froth, too far down the cliff to hear.
It was here in the open air on the high walls that she and Sancia had truly learned their music, not in the chambers down below or studios of Manhattan instructors. It was here Sancia had lifted her bow to play to the sea like a girl possessed, while she herself had cast her songs to the very gods. Sancia! Such a better woman than herself. They would get her, too!
Oh, sister, I’m sorry.
The man with the gash in his head was close behind.
He caught her as she struck out across the narrow planks of the bridge that could have, if she had made it, carried her across the treacherous gap between the ramparts to the place they called their hiding place.
He shrugged her off when she tried to pull him with her, over the edge of the useless bridge into the chasm between the fortress walls.
He watched her go soundless into the black, watched long after he lost sight of her, as though to see her break with the sea on the moon-bathed rocks.