Magnus lowered himself to the ground, patted his ivory horse named Ponie and tied a long string to a wooden post. “Stay here. Something doesn’t seem quite right.”
Magnus stood before Bristol’s entrance gate. “It’s so quiet. The market has to be close by. No sound of people. This is making me even more nervous.”
Suddenly he heard a voice through the gate. “Bristol is being contained.”
“Yes, contained. No one gets in or out.” The voice explained.
Magnus moved in closer. “Pardon me, my name is Magnus. I am Kobo’s goldkeeper. I need to speak with Gracine Punishere.”
“Try again. Kobo’s goldkeepers’ name is Grant. Everyone knows he’s a tall, dark, attractive and alluring man. You are not he. You are a boy.”
“I am his replacement, look.” Magnus pulled out the ledger from his sack. “Here’s where I keep all of the gold records.”
“Forgive me, I presently understand. You look very young to be a goldkeeper.”
“I can count up to the high numbers,” Magnus responded. “Most people can not.”
“That is true. I wish I could count. Maybe you could teach me.”
“Anything is possible although I do stay fairly busy. What’s your name?”
“My name is…Jin,”she slowly disclosed. “Jin.”
Magnus gripped his ledger. “It is important that I speak to your leadership about the berry and marketplace agreements. It won’t take many moments. Then Bristol can go back to being contained.”
“There is no more marketplace. No… more marketplace.”
Magnus’ tolerance for Jin’s uncooperativeness was wearing thin. “Let me speak to whoever’s in charge here, alright? I’ll wait.” Magnus turned to look at his majestic horse. “I see I’ve come on the wrong day,”he stated to himself. “I hate delays.” He was thrilled and grateful to finally hear part of the gate opening. “It’s about time. Thank you.”
Later that day, Nestor paced back and forth around a table in his chambers. Lottie Punishere, Zee, Sam, Yessenia, Magnus and Grant were all seated each eyeing Nestor.
“We never should have let you go alone,” Nestor expressed. “Her name was Jin and she said that Bristol was being contained?”
“Yes,” Magnus kept his head down in moderate shame. “No one could come in or out she said. Not even a goldkeeper apparently.”
Lottie frowned. “I don’t know anyone named Jin that watches the gate.”
“You’ve been gone for some moments, Lottie,”Nestor mentioned. “Changes are made by the moment.”
Zee stood up and walked over to the window. “There’s a black cat that belongs to a witch hiding in Kobo. It’s in the berry fields behind an Ash tree.”
“Thanks, warlock. But there are no Ash trees on Koboian land. The Ash trees grow in the village of Ash. That’s why it’s called Ash village. You would know that if you didn’t live under rocks. We don’t have time for your lies.” Nestor thought he corrected Zee.
Zee turned back towards the others. “Yes, you are right about that. There are no Ash trees in Kobo. However, the berry fields are not actually on Koboian land, are they? That is one of your biggest lies. I don’t need to lie. I don’t care about you or your people. So again I repeat, a black cat is hiding in the berry fields behind an Ash tree. Take a look. You will notice that the tree is older than the others. Kinda like you.”
Nestor accepted his defeat and changed his tone. “Please take a seat Zee. I will have Jayson look for the cat. What do you know if anything about the village of Bristol?”
Zee relaxed himself in a chair next to Lottie. “I have to declare that Bristol is in crisis.”
“Crisis? Wait! Is my tribe in crisis?” Lottie asked. “You didn’t mention this before.”
“No, it would only upset you. Make you think we made the wrong choice,” Zee replied.
“What is going on Zee?”Nestor pressed him. “We need to know. We have a lot of gold invested in Bristol.”
“Bristol has no current Punishere. The book of law left Lottie but it rejected her brother Zedock. Lafet is the last confirmed Punishere of Bristol.”
Grant needed clarification. “So, you are telling us that Bristol is operating without a Punishere? Is that possible?”
“Lottie was supposed to be the next Punishere, Grant,” Nestor reminded him. “But she’s not going to be since Zee filled her with Hettie’s blood.”
“Then the people of Bristol are free to break laws if they want to,”Grant realized. “They won’t be afraid of punishment.”
“The village of Bristol is going to eat itself alive. Who knows who that Jin really was or what she’s going to do with Kobo’s ledger,” Zee voiced.
Nestor leaned forward into the table. “Whatever happens to Bristol or the marketplace is not our problem. It doesn’t matter. We can still sell the berries. We need our ledger back from this Jin.”
“Bristol does matter, Nestor. I can’t believe you. We grew up there.” Lottie dramatically stormed out of the room and Zee followed after her.
“She won’t go too far, the knights are still looking for her. Look, thanks to Magnus here, someone has all of our gold records.” Nestor suddenly approached Yessenia. “Do you have any thoughts on this? You are awfully silent.”
Yessenia felt the tension. “You don’t want to hear my thoughts. They aren’t pleasant.”
Nestor poured himself a cup of berry juice. “I know how you think after forty years. This is all my fault. All of it. It always is.”
Yessenia decided to concur. “I agree with you. It is all your fault. But Rayden is leaving tonight because of you. That’s what I was thinking about.”
“Forewarn him that he won’t be getting into Bristol.” Sam laughed. “He can’t go around punching people. I almost got hit myself.”
Yessenia continued, “First, Nestor you accidentally let a witch live here, then the next Punishere, then a werewolf and now a warlock counsels you. What’s next? I’m going to grab Kaytee and Malta and head out to the Sea. I’m going to lay in the sand and not think about you at all. Because Kobo is and will forever be a peaceful place.” She practically floated out of the room.
“She wasn’t helpful at all,”Sam concluded. “Not one bit.”
Grant rolled his eyes at Sam. “I kept accurate records, so the ledger is going to show that the Ash village’s fee for the berries is considerably less than the other villages. Ondello’s fee is the highest. Mattau would love that. The ledger will also show every time the fee for the berries went up. It’s going to show everything that we have done. We might want to have some explanations ready in case the ledger gets into the wrong hands.”
“It’s in the wrong hands already,” Nestor stressed.
“Also, we won’t know how much gold the villages owe us without the ledger,” Grant added.
“It’s such a disaster. We will start keeping two ledgers, one that never leaves Kobo. You two will count the gold. Better get started since it will take all night,” Nestor ordered.
“Does it have to be tonight?” Magnus asked Nestor. “I was going to go to berry and Ash tonight?”
Nestor grinned. “The festival in Ash village that happens every season. Where they eat our berries, Ash Ley sings and they dance around the trees. Thanks, for reminding me. I should be there.”
Magnus perked up. “Yes that one, I planned on attending. I wanted to brag to the pretty Ash girls that I am the new goldkeeper.”
“Try building roofs, that’s worth bragging about,” Sam suggested.
Nestor looked down from the ceiling and over to Magnus. “I was young once, I understand. How about this? You can go to the Ash village after you count all of the gold. Grant will help you and Sam as well.”
“No, why do I have to help with this?” Sam asked. “I can only count to five.”
“You answered your own question. A grown man should know how to count to at least twenty. Go with them and figure it out,” Nestor commanded him. “Grant and I will be leaving in a few days for a few days. Someone needs to help this boy while we are gone, that will be you.”
Sam was defiant. “No, I’m already in charge of building the shacks for the newcomers. I’m not picking up another assignment. You should properly train your goldkeeper.”
Nestor laughed out loud and snorted. “Easy.”
“What’s so freakin funny?”asked Sam.
“I just had another vision about the past,” Nestor lied. “You were in it. I could see you very clearly.
“Stop it! No, you didn’t,” Sam returned. “You were just telling me what to do. You didn’t have a vision.”
Nestor stated, “No, no I had a vision. You were exiled by Grant. You lasted a few moments outside of the gate and you came running back in. Crying like a little girl actually. You begged on your knees to be let back into Kobo.”
“I saw a man be eaten by a fish in front of me. Of course, I was afraid,” Sam fumed.
Grant squeezed Nestor’s wrist. “That’s enough, already. If we want Kobo to survive we will have to work together. There is nowhere else for us all to live.”
“Nestor can go and live with the other freaks,”Sam muttered. “I ain’t counting no gold all night.” Sam shoved his chair into the table and exited the room.
“You see he appreciates nothing. He’s totally useless without a shovel,”Nestor joked. “Magnus, I need to talk to Grant alone. Go ahead and start counting the gold.”
Magnus quickly left the same way the others did.
Nestor trusted Grant the most. “How bad is our situation? I can handle the truth.”
“It’s extremely hostile.”
“Nestor what is happening to you?”Grant questioned him.
“You have changed?”
“We all change Grant.”
“No, you used to be jolly even in your lies. Why are you so angry? You like talking about yourself. Tell me what is bothering you so much that you want to alienate all of us,” Grant asked him. “I’ve been invited to live in Ondello. I’d be a rich man living with Mattau without you. If you don’t tell me what’s going on with you, I’ll leave you too.”
“You’re not a traitor Grant but alright. I really thought that I had a chance of being human again. I wouldn’t be a freak anymore. I wouldn’t see Omeria’s past. How she hated me before, it keeps flashing in my head. Sam convinced Lottie to take that chance away from me. A Punishere could undo my curse. For forty years, I’ve carried this burden. My physician can’t help me. The witches couldn’t take the visions away. I drank poison and I lived. Hettie didn’t want to have a child with me because I’m abnormal. I don’t even know what I am, really. I’m purely frustrated.”
Grant patted Nestor on the back three times. “Nestor, listen to me. We have absolutely no gold records and in a few days we will be going to the leader’s summit. We have broken rules of the treaty. We have many secrets to keep. I need a stable leader beside me when we go. Your pain proves that you are human. Do whatever you have to do. I have to go now and start counting the gold. I wish somebody had taught you how to count.”
Nestor sighed. “I was busy ruling the land while you were learning how to count.”
Grant waved goodbye to him.
“I’ll be there to help in a little while Grant.”
Missa ran out of her front door but was forcibly brought back inside by her shackmate Sydnee. “I saw something.” Missa peeked out of a window. She was unaware of exactly why the village of Bristol was being contained. The marketplace had not been open for days. The marketplace was the most notable attraction in Bristol. Humans from all around the land regularly visited and spent their gold in Bristol. As soon as Missa strolled into Bristol she searched for a shackmate. In Kobo, she always lived with her twin sister Rebe. They were inseparable. She knew that she would be lonely living alone. Her first stop was the marketplace. Sydnee sold long, wide but thin pieces of cloth that one could wrap around their neck. She called them “scarves”. Missa admired Sydnee’s nice shoes and long curly hair that was similar to hers. When Sydnee took a break from selling the scarves, Missa approached her.
Sydnee sat on the ground, she wore a gold imperfect scarf while eating a berry tart. Missa walked up to her. “Hello, how much for a red scarf?”
Sydnee laughed. “Ask Ruffo. I’m not at the table as you can see. Please let me be.”
“Do you yourself sell many scarves? You don’t sound like a friendly seller.”
“The scarves sell themselves. It’s cold at night in Bristol, hun.”
Missa sat down slowly next to her. “You are right about that. I used to live in Kobo. It never got too cold at night there. I need to find a shackmate as soon as possible or I will be sleeping in the woods. Do you have space in your shack?”
“Do you have space in your shack? I can help you out. I brought gold with me and enough berries to last for long moments.”
“You must be joking, right?”
Missa reached for her sack and motioned for Sydnee to look inside of it. “I can buy all of your scarves. You can take a break at home. I’m from Kobo, so you know that I have been taught manners.”
“Did Nestor exile you,”Sydnee asked. “Is that why you’re here?”
“He wouldn’t dare try,”Missa answered.
“No one decides to leave Kobo. Everyone wants to live there. You must be mad or so spoiled like milk that you became ill.”
Missa stared straight ahead. “No, my twin sister was eaten by a fish in our shack. I couldn’t stay there.”
“Wow! Your sister was eaten by a fish? You really are mad. But… you are rich at the moment, so this might work out. I will grab your scarves and we can head home then. I currently live alone. Wait, a moment! What’s your name?”
Sydnee pulled Missa away from the shack window. “I told you right now there is no Punishere. It is not safe to be outside unless it’s necessary.”
“I know but I swear that I saw Grant’s ledger book.”
“Grant’s ledger book? Kobo’s gold records, you mean?” Sydnee asked skeptically. “How did you see it from here?”
“I’m serious. There was a girl running outside. She was carrying Grant’s book. My sister Rebe was obsessed with Grant. One time she took the book, brought it home and licked it for several moments. She said it tasted like Grant’s hands. It was all so strange, so I never forgot what it looked like. I went with her to make sure she returned it to Grant’s shack. I have to see for sure if that’s it.”
“Repulsive, I didn’t need to know that. And it’s still unsafe to go outside, like I said. That freak Nestor and that perfect man can solve their own problems. You are a Bristolian now.”
Rebe opened the front door again letting a cold chill inside. “What if Grant is here in Bristol somewhere and he is hurt? My sister wouldn’t have wanted anything bad to happen to him or to Kobo. I am going out there to get that ledger back! You can’t stop me.” The cold night air mercilessly slapped Missa across the face. She pulled a strand of curly hair away from her face and extended her arm towards Sydnee. “Sydnee, hand me a scarf… No, I’m sorry make that two scarves.”