The Keepers of Verdorso: A Traitor’s Return. First Chapter

As promised the first chapter of the second book in the Verdorso series. Excited for this to be released soon!

Chapter One – Snake Tongues

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to accept you will never walk to the same rhythm everyone else does. Life is not always as clear as we would once expect it. Yet, discovering that your own rhythm has been taken as you mindlessly follow a path set out by others can become an unbearable truth to discover.

A truth that was very much still in the forefront of Nataleena’s mind.

Still moping in her chair, Nataleena sat thinking how Babaleena would have thought she was dreaming to see someone thought to be dead. This was only a small distraction before her thoughts wandered right back to herself and how lost her childhood really had been. How she should have had her mother and father there to raise her and not left behind in a sick tale in a land far away. Nataleena believed they should have kept her safe here in Verdorso, it would have made more sense. Should have known the lands better, understood what had happened a lot sooner and be in a land she felt was more her home than anywhere else.

Trudy tried her hardest to speak to Nataleena, to stop this self-pitying, to stop her morning the loss of her parents so many years ago but she could not stop her, just as she could not stop Grace’s thoughts and the rushing of her feet growing closer. Swiftly, wisely and without a word Trudy left Nataleena alone, ensuring she was nowhere to be seen when Grace arrived.

The chair was still warm from Trudy as Grace sat down staring in annoyance at Nataleena.

“Do you think you are the only kin who has lost a loved one in this inn? The only one never to have known their parents? To have been told a lie to protect them?” Shards of guilt pierced through Grace the moment the words left. The truth was simple, she could not allow Nataleena time to grieve. Grieving time was a luxury that right now they could not afford. From Freyothrot finding her to Grace’s recent words were all planned just as Nataleena’s life had been. She needed to know what had happened to her parents but sadly did not have to time to register it all properly. Something Grace would eternally feel horrendous for but she knew when the time was right she could apologise to Nataleena. Right now, was not that time. Babaleena was back, they needed to move.

“I know others have lost parents. I’m sorry it’s just a shock.” Nataleena voice started to crack, upset by Grace’s cruel tone.

“A huge shock for you yes Nataleena but right now Babaleena has retreated in shock of seeing you. That gives us an upper hand it buys us time but not a lot. We need to move on this.” Grace confirmed.

“But we already know it’s Babaleena and we know she wants Verdorso, should we not just be ready for when she comes back?”

“Nataleena,” sighing heavily Grace continued, “I wish it was as simple as that. We still need to find out who or what curses the marsh land of Gorgorson and probably travel to Incapatok to find the prophecy stones.”

The vacant expression emitting from Nataleena’s face confirmed her confusion.

“In the marshland, there are the Crackta who live in the water, the land is cursed of course. Wherever there is a curse there is always a reason, kin, that started it all. That wanted the land to be cursed.” Grace’s further explanation did not create a moment of clarity for Nataleena.

“You don’t think a careless whisper about how to get what you want, to cheat time and circumstance is ever just that? Careless? Deliberate acts from desperate kin are always at the starting point of any cursed land. A contractual agreement where only one side of the party knows the full extent. Often the first to fall victim is given a bargain, told they will not meet the fate intended for them if they bring the first group with them. Then one from each group thereafter will survive the curse with a hidden clause, to bring more to the same fate. Until the curse becomes infamous enough to carry itself with tales of survivors it lures kin in.”

“Who would want to inflict such misery upon kin?”

“Nataleena, if I knew that we would be several leaps ahead of Babaleena.” Grace was right there was such little time for them to keep ahead of Babaleena. Other than Nataleena, they had nothing. They knew she was starting to use Vantrasco and Crackta but again she was steps ahead of them. They needed to act upon Babaleena’s emotions and confusion if they were to have any chance of defending Verdorso.

They sat quietly for ten minutes both thinking about the sort of kin that would want to see the downfall of many kin and encase them in their own gloopy trophy in the marshes.

“Where would we even begin to look?” Nataleena’s thoughts broke out into speech.

“Prophecy stones would be a good start actually.”

“What are they?”

“They are exactly what you think Nataleena. Stones with a prophecy. Every kin had their own prophecy their own doom and glory. Every kin to enter Verdorso has one, even you Nataleena,” Grace could see how naturally invested Nataleena had become in this explanation, “not as simple that meets the eye, always in riddles or poems. No one would ever be careless enough to dictate how someone’s life should go. Most kin are joined to another stone, a loved one or someone who will be significant in their life.”

“Could mine be joined to Babaleena’s?” Nataleena asked.

“Possibly but they move and re-join constantly. The oddity is in the prophecy itself when parts of one prophecy is linked into another’s, that has not been seen in centuries Nataleena.”

As Nataleena started to speak Grace softly hushed her to listen. Nataleena’s ears pricked up hearing the disgruntled screams coming from upstairs.

“It’s Thyno he’s woke up, come on!” Grace grabbed Nataleena’s hand pulling her alongside.

After the easy ascend up the single set of stairs they reached the room Thyno had been moved into after last night. Sweat streaming from him Grace flung open a window.

The screaming stopped and he looked directly at them.

“She’s back isn’t she? The screams that night… They saw her!”

Grace ignored what Thyno was saying, he was completely delirious from his wounds. Heating up a glass of Topah on the small fire in his room Grace helped him drink it easing him back to sleep but leaving the window open for him to keep him cool. Hopefully, the heated Topah would keep at bay any starting of infection with honey being its main ingredient, every kin knew the healing charms of honey.

With water being poured over the fire, Grace let the room go cooler, keeping his temperature down.

Thyno’s screams had been a wakeup call for the kin that morning as they emerged passing Grace and Nataleena as they left Thyno to sleep.

“Will he be alright now?” Nataleena asked.

“Yes, just have to keep the infections away but he will be fine.” Grace moved down the stairs heavily as if each heavy step was a relief as her heart rate slowed to a normal steady beat.

Loud tins crashing sounded from the kitchen once more, Papou’s personal entrance music, as more kin congregated at the Pentoak table. Taking their seats there was a gentle lull of humdrum conversation over how they all slept. No one really cared, they all slept badly, what the actual question that was waiting to escape was “now that she’s back what are our plans?”. No one dared ask just yet.

Papou made it out of the kitchen in one piece offering up a modest meal to break their overnight fast. A few bits of bread and some eggs. Some ate, some just pushed the food around the plate while others took sips on some warm tea that had been brought out a few moments before.

“How did you sleep?” Lavito looked weathered and beaten, there was no guessing how his night had been.

“I got some sleep not much, Lavito,” Nataleena drew closer and whispered into his ear, “you look awful, have you not slept?”

“I spent most of the night patrolling around the inn and the surrounding woods. I wanted to be ready in case she came back. As I entered my room this morning I heard you walk past but I was too tired.” He replied.

At best Lavito had managed to get an hour nap before starting the day. The paranoia and lack of sleep were so obviously written into his skin. Instead of touching a soft face tickled with soft bristles of his dark beard, Nataleena reached out to a leathery tough coat of skin covered in coarse hair. Verdorso was starting to take its toll on Lavito. He sat for a moment perfectly content to let Nataleena hold his face in her hand, feeling the warmth her palm provided, Lavito’s eyes bobbed close just for a second. Nataleena ran her thumb across his cheek hoping to softly keep him awake, just until they had discussed what they needed to.

Opening his eyes, Lavito smiled at Nataleena and placed his hand over hers.

Grace sat smiling, in all of this darkness and the pending doom fast approaching, there was still light. Nataleena and Lavito gave them all hope to cling on to. Even if was just to see them grow together, wanting to survive through another troubling time in Verdorso was soon turning to a need for survival. When any kin is pushed into a need for their life it is amazing what they can achieve. The mind and body may know no boundaries.

“And how is Thyno? I sat with him a while last night.” Inpa turned to Grace.

“He seems stronger, was a little too warm this morning but I think that may have come from his dream. Awfully delirious though.” Grace replied.

“He mentioned something about screaming one night, they saw her? No idea what it was about, frightening really.” Nataleena added.

“That’s right, the night we stayed at The Camthrin River, after Fríton made his way back that’s when all the screaming began.” Lavito shuddered in memory of the piercing sound.

“I know King Freyfrosat hired you for your sharpness but my word you can be as sharp as blunt knife sometimes Lavito! Why did you fail to mention this? We all thought the screaming started when you came back! Fool!” Grace paced the small stretch behind the Pentoak table.

At the time Lavito did not think anything of it that the two could be related, the screaming and Fríton but Grace knew that scream. She had only heard it before in her dreams and visions when something bad would happen or someone would die. The fact everyone had heard it was Babaleena’s way of mocking Grace without her knowing. Had she known that it only started when Fríton came back suspicions would have been raised at that point.

“Does anyone, ANYONE, have absolutely ANYTHING, they think might be a clue or even just a small help, anything?” It had been a long time since Grace had become this angry but the thought of Babaleena mocking her almost drove her insane.

“Well I don’t know if this has anything to do with us but the first time we stayed at The Camthrin River, you know after Eyakata, I was out snooping around and I saw Fríton with someone in a hooded cloak. Like one of our cloaks so I just assumed it was something to do with The Keeper’s duties.” Nataleena gingerly offered this information.

“You know when you were younger Nataleena and you were taught English literature and language. There were many sayings like I before e except after c, yes?” Grace’s questions were odd considering the conversation.

“Yes, that’s right,” Nataleena answered.

“Well I’m not aware if you were taught this one but here’s a small piece of advice. When you assume… You make an ass out of you and me!” Grace slammed her fists on the table.

“Grace! Calm yourself now!” Papou entered just at the right time.

Instead of being shocked, Nataleena tried not to giggle at Grace, she always had a talent for wording things in such a way.

“It’s ok, it was stupid of me not to mention it, I guess I thought it had all been arranged.” Nataleena finished.

“Oh, it was definitely arranged but it was nothing to do with The Keepers of Verdorso that’s for sure.” Grace added. “Tell me what made you think it did have anything to do with us? Did he say anything?”

“Well yes, he said he had a job to do with the boat. So, I thought that the person was here to do something to the boat plus he gave them a letter with your seal on it Grace.”

Grace rubbed her brow and tried to stay calm. This was no fault of Nataleena. Grace started feeling completely dependable for not seeing what would happen.

Exhausted from her rage, Grace flopped into a chair at the table.

“I gave him that letter. His other request that night was entirely a selfish reason, I told him to take his Star of Life and the letter and quickly get to Papou, I knew he had said it was broken so I accepted he would be a little longer, I was not aware it never arrived.” Grace sighed.

“It did arrive, your letter at around four in the morning, there was a strange banging on the inn door. I opened it and the letter sat outside.” Papou offered the information.

“Was the letter sealed or not?” Nataleena asked.

“It was sealed but I could tell a new coat of wax had been placed over with no added seal, trying to put it back together again. I just thought you probably added more on to it Grace.” Papou answered.

“I did but it was before I had sealed it. It all makes sense now. Why we could not catch her each time.”

“Why?” Lavito asked.

“To keep Papou from worrying I put in our plans for Arías and my thoughts that we would be going to Gorgorson itself. She knew to stay away and to keep watch.” Grace had resumed her normal composed self.

“Grace what else did you put in that letter?” Freyothrot asked.

“Excuse me? It was a private letter not intended to be read by anyone other than Papou.” Grace answered.

“Well it’s not such a private matter now, Babaleena knows. Would there have been any information that she could use against us now?” His questioning was so crucial now. Any hints or clues about The Keepers of Verdorso could damage them.

“No and Nataleena was never referenced. I just confirmed our next move and Gorgorson that was it and that there would be a meeting. She knew about that though. The night of the screaming Fríton probably told Babaleena the plans for the meeting.” Grace confirmed.

“Just to be clear, Babaleena knows no more other than what Fríton may have told her. She is back, she is using Vantrasco to turn Crackta into her army and we still have no clue who curses the marshlands of Gorgorson or what the secret compound to Vantrasco is. Babaleena grows stronger every day that we do nothing and know nothing. So what are we going to do now?”

“Prophecy Stones.” Looking at each other Grace, Freyothrot and Inpa realised that in unison without realising they were in sync.

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