Ethan lay back, his hands cradling his head, and wondered what tomorrow would be like. Remembering the painting and the riddle, he decided to ask Amos about it tomorrow when they were back in the sick-bay cabin. Boy, he dreaded going back in there. But he enjoyed every minute on the main deck. With the sweet air and gently rocking ship, he fell asleep.
The last of six bells sounded as puffy clouds cast faint shadows across the spar deck. The ship’s quartermaster, Essex Hynde, basked in the early morning sun. From habit, he surveyed the horizon and abruptly stopped when a strange sight popped into his field of vision —a turkey buzzard was perched on the gig’s stern! The bird flapped its wings wildly. “Hynde, me lad, what make ye o’ that, do you reckon?” Hynde asked himself.
By this time, Jack Toombs had joined Hynde in staring at the strange bird. “Ol’ Jack’s never seen nothing like that bone picker out here. ’Tain’t natural and it’s ill luck. We’re all in a clove hitch, we be. That be the black spot. You may lay to that, Mr. Hynde,” he said, spitting a blob of thick black liquid from the large gap between his teeth.
“You might be talkin’ square—I’m wondrin’ if I’m still drunk from last evenin’,” said Hynde. “Could be the black dog. Whatever it be, I wish it’d shake out another reef. It sure ain’t made for sea goin’. Whether curse or real, it’d best be off, but it won’t shift from that spot.”
The men fearfully moved toward the rear of the ship. Step by careful step, their eyes never veered from the buzzard.
Boom! The smell of black powder reached their nostrils. Captain Kidd stood closer to the stern, pointing a smoking pistol where the black bird had been.
“Mr. Hynde, make sure the wherry’s sound,” Kidd said. Most of the crew were on deck and watching the stern— drawn like moths to the sound of the pistol as if it were a flame.
The gunshot awakened Ethan, and he strained to hear the conversation around them. Amazingly, Amos still snored away, oblivious to what had happened. A greasy finger poking him in the jaw woke him up.
“Cap, this here’s what concerned that bone picker,” Jack Toombs said, throwing the boys onto the open deck in front of the skylight.
Kidd replied, “Stowaways, eh? On a privateer, yet. Well now, who might you be? Talk square.”
Amos and Ethan stood up. Fully awake, the enormity of the situation hit them like a ton of bricks. They couldn’t say a word.
Losing patience, Kidd said, “We’ll be able to sell or trade these two. Till then, I don’t want them causing trouble on my ship. Time in the hold will loosen their tongues. Quartermaster, clap these two in the brig.” As he walked away, Ethan heard Kidd mutter, “I’ll have to spare provisions to feed ’em. I best be able to cut my loss.”
Essex Hynde grabbed the boys and dragged them down to the bowels of the ship, flinging them into the dank and dark brig. They landed in a shallow pool of stinking black water. A gate made of thick wooden bars slammed behind them. In the gloom, they watched Hynde locking the gate with a large padlock.
“Nighty, nighty, lads,” Essex Hynde said as he ascended the ladder.
“Augh!” shouted Ethan. “Another nasty place! Is there anywhere on this boat that doesn’t stink?”
“Climb up on a barrel. It’ll get you out of the bilge water,” Amos said.
“Bilge water? Where do you get this stuff?” Ethan asked.
Amos asked sarcastically, “How much are your parents paying for Brinkley Academy?”
Ethan shook the rank water off his hands and arms, his eyes adjusting to the darkness of the hold. Amos sat on a barrel, dry. Ethan climbed onto the barrel beside him and sat silently in the stuffy air. Ethan didn’t think it could get worse, but he heard the squeak and gurgle of a rat scurrying through the water below him.
In the muffled quiet, Amos begin to cry—a faint sniffling and then a few gasps. Apart from the creaking of timbers, it was the only sound Ethan could hear. The sound of Amos crying struck a spark in Ethan’s brain.
“Amos—it stops now.”
“What?” Amos asked.
“We’re getting out of this. We’re getting off this ship, and we are finding a way back home. Amos, you’re the smartest kid I know—well, probably the smartest person I know. What we need right now is for you to think. You need to sit right there and just think. We’re going to come up with a plan to get out of here.”
“Ethan, I’m scared.”
“I’m scared too, but we can’t be. I’m sick of being pushed around,” he whispered.
“Okay, I’m with you. What’s your plan?” Amos asked. “I’m going to see if I can break these wooden bars. If I can’t, we do whatever you think up.”
Another rat scurried through the inky water.
“Mr. Brown, take a sounding!” Kidd shouted as Lancaster Brown edged toward the main hatch.
Lancaster knew it would be a while before he finished the sounding. He also understood what the order meant; they were approaching land, and the sounding would tell them the depth of the water. If they steered the ship into shallow water, they would run aground and be stuck. Kidd hadn’t told the crew where they were headed—only that it was “fearful important.”
Nearing land meant the boys were running out of time. Lancaster had to think of a way to get the boys safely off the ship. The biggest problem was that pirates were excellent at keeping watch; their very lives, not to mention their fortunes, depended on it. He also worried about the boys being in the hold. Men had died from the lack of clean water, as well as the diseases caused by the filth and vermin down there. If Lancaster couldn’t get them off the Adventure Prize, the boys could die in the brig. Reluctantly, he left to take the sounding.
Amos sat quietly on the barrel, thinking and sweating. Ethan knelt in the stinking black water, feeling the wooden bars that made up the door to their cell and searching for an opening at the bottom they could squeeze under.
Ethan said, “That stinks; the space under the door is only about an inch. I thought we might be able to go under.”
Amos replied with a chuckle, “For me to get under it, it’d have to be enormous. Besides, it wouldn’t be a very good cell if someone skinny could crawl under the door, would it? You have given me an idea, though. I read in a book once that they used a lever to lift the cell door off its hinges.”
The only problem was they had no long piece of wood to use as the lever. They even tried lifting the door themselves, but it didn’t budge—the hinges were closed on the top.
As Amos climbed back on the barrel, his shirt got snagged on something sharp. “Gee whiz, Mom’ll kill me,” he said.
“Dude, your mother’s not here.”
“Obviously,” Amos said, grinning.
“Amos, something sharp is sticking out of that barrel.”
A thin, dusty sliver of sunlight shined through the dark hull, illuminating a nail sticking out of the barrel. Ethan reached out to touch the sharp end.
“Stop!” Amos said. “You could get cut and contract tetanus.”
“I’m not gonna contract tetanus, whatever that is. Amos, I’ve got an idea.” Ethan grabbed the nail and found it was just wedged between two pieces of wood. He began pushing and pulling on the nail until he was holding the nail proudly in his hand. “Amos, what if we use this to cut through these wooden bars?”
“What? It’ll never work.”
Ethan said, “Until we have a better idea, I say let’s give it a try.”
The door to the brig had eight wooden bars about an inch and a half thick. Ethan tried whittling away the wood with the nail, but made very little progress. After a few minutes, Amos said, “How about letting me give it try?”
“Can’t hurt; just don’t drop the nail—we’ll never find it in that water,” Ethan said. He carefully handed the nail to Amos and took his place on the barrel.
Amos kneeled in the water and, with the sharp point of the nail, began to cut away the wet wood just below the water line. Soon, he had cut a deep notch in one of the oak bars.
“Genius, Ethan. Simply genius,” Amos said happily.
“Huh? You’re doing better than I did,” Ethan said.
“Just a small improvement. This oak is hard wood, but it’s wood—so as it absorbs water, it gets softer and easier to cut,” Amos said, grinning.
Ethan switched places with him and continued cutting away at the wood. He was happy that Amos seemed more encouraged.
Lancaster stood on deck and watched the sun’s position in the sky while puffy clouds raced by. Surveying the deck, he saw that he was alone. Earlier that morning, he had slipped inside the galley, but all he could get were three pieces of hard tack. Seizing his chance, he hurried to the main hatch ladder and stepped on the top step—but halted when he suddenly heard Hynde’s voice: “Mr. Brown, so what ya be doin’?”
“Have business in the wardroom,” replied Lancaster. “Best make sure the wardroom is where you’re bound.
Funny, I thought ya might be goin’ to see them stowaways. Strange you weren’t to be seen when we found ’em. You make double sure ya steer clear of them boys, or I’ll broach you in shackles quick-like.”
Hynde slithered off, and relieved, Lancaster continued toward the ladders. Voices in front of him made him quickly change his mind, and he turned toward the wardroom. The boys had to wait—he couldn’t help them if he was lashed to the mainmast.
The single ray of sunlight had moved, and the air became cooler. Ethan finished cutting through the second wooden bar. Amos had wisely stopped him from breaking the first bar when it had been sawn through—if someone saw the bar missing, their plan would have been discovered and escape would’ve been impossible. When all the bars were cut, they would kick the bars at the same time; then they’d escape.
Amos took the nail from Ethan and asked with a shaky voice, “Do you know how to sail?”
“No, I’ve gotten out of it every summer at camp. The counselor who teaches it is a jerk. Why?”
Amos didn’t answer, but continued working. “Hey, Amos, can you swim?”
Ethan understood—Amos’s plan must be to use the wherry to sail away from the ship; however, someone would have to know how to sail. If something happened, and they were thrown into the water, Amos would drown.
We’re sunk, Ethan thought.
The flame dipped quickly three times as if dancing in the darkness. Having lit his pipe, Socrates blew out the burning tip of his finger. High above the grounds of his estate, he stood on the solar’s porch like a ragged crow perched on the top of a barn. A chill wind blasted him as he began pacing back and forth across the porch; each time, he carefully stepped over the black leopard sprawled in front of the porch’s fireplace. Faint moonlight illuminated the puffs of tobacco smoke from his pipe.
“We’ve received no word, girl—I’ve seen nothing on the television,” he said to Badger. Frowning at the cat, he said, “Oh geez, come on. Don’t look at me like that. I know Admiral Benbow won’t let us down. He showed them the nexus on the painting, didn’t he? I wish he’d show us where they are now.” Clenching the pipe between his teeth, he left the porch, crossed the room, and fell into his favorite chair. “What a bitter, cold night.”
The fireplace instantly burned as Socrates again tuned the small television. The cat sauntered into the room. He pushed his glasses higher on his nose, and a sky-blue streak of paint appeared on its bridge. “Geez, need to remember to clean my glasses,” he said.
Beside the fireplace snored Puck; the bluetick hound’s rubbery jowls puffed out with each exhale. One eye opened, questioning Socrates.
“I know, Puck, I’m talking to myself again. You have been very rude, you know. We have two young guests, and you haven’t even said hello.”
The dog rolled over onto his back and wiggled a few times, then rolled onto his other side. His ear flopped on his head, and a snore ruffled from his mouth. The cat flowed across the room and snuggled next to the dog.
“Badger’s taken advantage of my special charm and met my niece and nephew—just passed right through their closed bedroom doors. You might make an effort, Puck.” A loud humph grunted from the mottled hound, and his leg twitched.
Socrates shifted in the worn leather chair and sank into its deep cushions. He gently kicked off his battered sneakers and rested his bare feet on the ottoman. So Ethan and Amos are time traveling. This has been Bleise’s magic at work, and it explained where the boys were. People in the present had no idea the boys had traveled back in time—a second in the present was the same as a day when time traveling. As the fire soothed his toes, he fondly remembered his early experiences with time travel. Mine wasn’t as dangerous as what the boys are facing, though.
He checked the television for any information on the boys but couldn’t get a clear picture. Flashes of greenish gray, wood, rope, and blurry figures filled the small screen. He continued tuning the television, still having no luck.
Socrates thought about the enchanted television, one of Bleise’s best ideas. He had created a magical device called a preceptor oculus. Bleise would cast a spell over an every- day object and the preceptor oculus would live inside it, enabling the viewer to see people or places anywhere in the world. Bleise had given the TV to Socrates as a gift.
“If that magic doesn’t work, best conjure up something with a wee more spice, shall we?” He rested his folded hands on his ample belly and slowly closed his eyes. His eyes started flicking behind his eyelids, while the room vibrated and lights blinked at random. Puck fixed a wary eye on his master, then shifted uneasily at the jars of paint rattling on the shelves and easels. The popinjay weathervane whirled on the roof, shooting bolts of lightning into the winter sky. Three window panes cracked, causing Badger to move to one of the room’s many alcoves. As the vibrations intensified and the lights flashed rapidly, Socrates remained sitting in his chair. Hands still folded calmly on his belly, he had a peculiar smile beaming on his paint-flecked face. The lights went out and all was still. He sat in the dark room, the fire’s glow flickering on his face. Badger had slinked back to Puck’s side.
When the lights came back on, Socrates reached over to the little table and pressed a button. “Gooch, please send up some bacon, eggs, and toast, please? I’m hungrier than a Monoceros on a Full Worm Moon. Oh, and please don’t forget the marmalade.”
Lancaster made his way to the wherry. He would take the risk; the blond boy had left his strange kit in the small boat. He slipped more hard tack into the boy’s bag, then folded a large piece of canvas over the backpack and headed forward to the main hatch. High above in the crow’s nest, the shrill whistle of the watch sounded, but Lancaster kept going. Reaching the hatch, he descended the ladder and made his way through the ship’s lower decks.
He had come up with a plan. If he could lower the wherry quietly enough, he should be able to get the boys off the ship. It would be tricky—the moon hung high in the sky, and the watch would certainly see them. They were lucky they were about a mile off shore, and calm water would make rowing or swimming easier. Still, Lancaster worried about their capture; pirate justice was swift and painful.
Afraid of being discovered by the crew, he carried no lantern. He made his way with one arm extended in front of him and the other cradling Amos’s backpack. Finally, he grasped the brig’s gate.
“Boys,” Lancaster whispered. No response.
“Boys, I say . . . it’s Lancaster Brown. Are you there?”
“Yes, sir,” they replied in unison.
“I’ve got food and your kit. I’ll push the food through the gate; follow my voice. Be careful you don’t drop it.”
“Mr. Brown, thanks for this. Can you get us out of here?” Ethan asked.
“I don’t have the key to the lock and getting it means dealing with Hynde. No dirtier dog ever lived or breathed,” Lancaster said.
“We’ve cut away some of the wood with an old nail, but we’re not strong enough to snap the bars. Can you pull on one of the bars while we push? By the way, I’m Ethan Moseby, and this is Amos Sprunt.”
“Are ya now? Well, yer clever—I’ll lay to that,” Lancaster said. Then he added, “One of you’ll need to sit on the bottom of the hull and push as hard as you can on the bar. Sorry about the water—foul that. If I push from this side, you could get hurt by splintered wood. I’ll pull from here. By the way, call me Lancaster, right?”
Ethan sat in the black water, the smell making him gag. He positioned his feet on the bars. Lancaster got on one knee and grabbed the wooden bar right above the water line. Amos counted to three, and Ethan pushed as hard as he could. Slowly, the bar bent, and a second later, it snapped with a loud crack. The splintered bar hit Amos across the cheek, cutting a gash just below his glasses.
Snapping the second bar, Amos still couldn’t squeeze through. However, after breaking the third bar, they made it through. Lancaster whispered, “Put your hand on my back and follow. When we get near any light, keep behind me. Some crew are sleeping in the berth. Make a sound, and we’re all in a clove hitch. Them being dead drunk should help.” Reaching the ladder leading to the berth deck, they heard the snoring of the drunk pirates. The smell got worse. They could see the berth hatch above from the glow of lantern light and followed Lancaster forward. Ethan stopped himself from gasping as he emerged from the hatch. A hammock swung directly above him. Silently he crawled from under the sleeping pirate, with Amos following behind. The three of them then duck-walked toward the rear of the ship, keeping as low as possible.
When they’d reached the stern, Lancaster motioned for them to stay and made his way to the ladder. The boys watched him disappear through the hatch above. In agony, the boys crouched among the sleeping pirates. A pirate near Amos shifted, and his tattooed arm flopped over the side of his hammock, his hand resting on Amos’s head.
“What do I do now?” Amos whispered.
Ethan replied, “Don’t move. Whatever you do, just don’t move.”
Amos shook all over, and Ethan worried he would crack under the strain. He reached over the sleeping pirate and very carefully poked his arm. Luckily, the drunk man pulled his arm back into the hammock. Lancaster reappeared in the hatch above and pointed to the ladder, signaling it was now clear to go up to the main deck.
As they sneaked up onto the level just under the main deck, they were surprised when Lancaster pushed them toward the bow and deposited them behind the last cannon. “Why are we up here?” Ethan whispered. “The ladder’s back there. You know, where the fresh air is.”
“Boys, even at night, the Adventure Prize is still at work. If we go up now, we’re dead men. We wait, and we live, I hope. This won’t be easy.”
“We can just take the lifeboat, the one we slept in,” said Ethan.
“Lifeboat? Ah, you mean the wherry, yes, used for goin’ about. Yes, that we have right handy at present. We’re anchored, and land’s south’ard. Only thing—the wherry will be hard to launch, what with the sling and keeping quiet about it. Have you two ever worked a sling?”
“No,” they answered in a whisper. “Even harder, then,” replied Lancaster.
He motioned them closer and explained his plan. Early that morning, before the ship awoke, Amos would get in the wherry. Lancaster and Ethan would launch the boat with the main yard sling. The tackle would make lifting the boat possible, even with a person aboard. Once the boat was in the water, Lancaster and Ethan would drop from the main chains into the wherry.
“What’s to keep them from swimming after us?” Ethan asked.
Lancaster smiled. “None of ’em can swim.”
“You gotta be kidding me. They’re pirates. On a ship. Oh, that is choice,” Ethan said.
Owen R. Minter was inspired to write The Shrouded Sword, a fantasy story filled with ancient magic and time travel, after creating a drawing based on Arthurian legend. The Shrouded Sword is the first book in the Gramarye Cycle series. When he’s not writing, Owen makes paintings with a leaf blower, reads, and enjoys coaching Special Olympics Athletics.
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