Delphi Keep is awash in activity, and for Ian, Theo, and Carl, their safe haven might be nearing its end. The Royal Navy has taken the keep to use as a hospital and the tunnels running under the keep and the castle are ideal to set up a central communications outpost for the approaching war. The earl is happy to help the effort, but now the keep is no longer safe for the orphans and they must be evacuated to his winter residence.
Ian, Theo, and Carl know that if they're sent away, they'll no longer be protected. But more important than their safety is deciphering the third prophecy. All clues point to a quest. The orphans don't know where they must go, but they know they must rescue the Secret Keeper.
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Delacorte Books for Young Readers
February 14, 2012
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Excerpt from Quest for the Secret Keeper by Victoria Laurie
AN OATH SWORN
A hidden cave, Morocco 1232 BC
General Adrastus Augustus of Lixus tugged hard on the large sack filled with gold, silver, and other treasure he'd managed to snatch away from the Carthaginians currently looting his city. Sweat ran into the creases of his brow as he pulled the last of his massive fortune into the mouth of a cave, relieved to have snuck right past the Carthaginian guards posted at the harbor.
His vessel was tucked into a small lagoon not far away, and the general had already determined that he would wait until nightfall, in a few hours or so, to load the treasure onto his boat and sail away, with no one the wiser.
The general had discovered this small cavern after first arriving on the beaches of Morocco when he was a boy, during the time his father had ruled the great city of Lixus. He remembered climbing the large rock wall down the beach only to discover this hidden cove and, at the opposite end, another rock formation.
Curious, he'd come to this side and found the small and somewhat shallow cave with the most astonishing secret: in the back wall of the cave was a skeleton, set into the rock as if somehow the very stone had formed around it. How the bones had become encased in solid rock was a mystery he'd long wondered about; what truly fascinated him was that they were clearly human. As he knew the bones to be a secret--no one had ever mentioned them, and bones encased in stone would be something worth talking about in Lixus--he thought this the perfect place to hide his wealth until that evening.
With a final tug he lugged the last sack close to the seven others he had already laid at the foot of the bones, and sat down to wipe his brow. It was while he was catching his breath that something quite extraordinary happened: as if by magic, the wall that held the skeleton disappeared, and the bones that had been entrapped by it clattered to the ground at his feet.
"By Zeus!" Adrastus exclaimed, jumping up in utter amazement. But he was even more astonished when he saw that on the other side of where the wall had been stood a beautiful woman with her arms crossed over her chest, and eyes that seemed to pierce his soul.
For a long moment he stood gaping at her, and it wasn't until she lowered her arms and bent over slightly that he realized the woman was gravely injured. Blood seeped through a wound in her side, and she shook with the effort to maintain her posture.
"My lady!" Adrastus gasped, leaping forward to catch her as her legs gave out and she fell into his arms. "What wickedness has befallen you?"
But the lady did not answer him. Instead, her trembling fingers pulled off two large bronze cuffs that adorned her wrists, and she pushed them into his chest. "These belonged to my husband, Iyoclease," she said, her voice barely stronger than a whisper. "And now they belong to you, General Adrastus of Lixus."
Adrastus eyed her closely. He was quite certain he had never seen her before, because he would have remembered a lady so lovely. Still, as he lifted her in his arms and gently eased her over to one of his sacks of treasure so that she could lean against it, he asked, "Have we met before, my lady?"
The woman coughed and a small bit of blood appeared on her hand when she covered her mouth. "No, General, but in the next few hours before my death, we shall know each other quite well."
Adrastus removed his cloak and covered her. "I must find you a healer," he said, thinking perhaps the lady's condition was making her a bit delirious. "You have lost much blood, my lady. If you are brave enough to sit here for a bit, I shall go in search of a healer immediately."
But the woman only clasped his arm tightly and said, "Please, General, do not waste what little time I have left with such a noble but fruitless cause. You must sit with me and I must tell you a tale and then I will ask something of you, something of the greatest importance."
The general had no intention of allowing the beautiful creature to fade away when he was certain he could find a healer. He was about to gently protest and pry her hands off his arm if need be when she said to him, "My name is Laodamia of Phoenicia. I am an Oracle of Delphi and I have seen the way of things, General Adrastus. I know that you will grant me this wish, so perhaps you will agree to listen and allow me to get to my tale?"
The general gasped anew. "My lady," he said, "you do not wish to imply that you are the Laodamia of Phoenicia? The greatest Delphian Oracle the world has ever known?"
The pale features of the lady's countenance lifted in a sardonic smile. "Yes, General, I do mean to imply that very thing."
Adrastus looked at the place where the wall had been and back at the woman before him. He remembered a coin given to him by his mother for good luck. It had been engraved with the great Oracle's face, and he could clearly see the resemblance to the beauty on his coin, but his mind was having difficulty believing what his eyes beheld. "But, my lady, how can this be?"
Again the woman pushed the bronze cuffs at him. "Here," she said. "Take them, General. They are key to opening the portal at will. Use them to help you on your journey, and to help the United find each other."
Adrastus stared down at the cuffs, still reluctant to take them, but Laodamia would not give up until he had donned them. To his surprise, they fit perfectly.
"When you want the portal to open, merely cross your arms over your chest and think of the next place you must go. The portal will act as both guide and protector. You will need it to act as such in order to stay alive, General. And do not take these words lightly, my friend, for they will mean the difference between the salvation of mankind and its utter annihilation."