THE HIDDEN MAZE
Ethan and Amos started back down the path that had brought them to their camp, and soon they came to a clear- ing to the left of the trail. Standing on a high boulder, they could see the glow of a campfire in the distance. Just below them, another trail led down the mountainside.
Ethan said, “Let’s take this trail. I think it leads to the pirate’s camp. I bet anything they’ve got Lancaster.”
“You’re crazy—we don’t know for sure where it leads, and we don’t really know the pirates have Lancaster.”
“Where else could he be, Amos?”
“I guess you’re right, but we could get lost,” Amos replied.
“Yeah, and we could go the long way, and the pirates could kill Lancaster. Remember him—the guy who got us off that cruddy ship and saved our lives?”
Amos said, “I know, but if we get lost, we may be too late to help him.”
“It’s a chance we’ll have to take,” said Ethan.
They followed the trail down into the dark forest. They didn’t use the flashlight, worried that it would give them away. Their eyes had to adjust to the darkness. Ethan could just make out Amos’s head moving in front of him. Amos gasped, and to Ethan’s surprise, his friend vanished.
“Amos, where are you?” There was no answer.
Ethan continued on the trail, and after a few steps, the ground disappeared. He was falling. He landed with a thud on Amos, just as he was standing up.
“This sucks,” Ethan said, his voice echoing.
“I wasn’t the one saying let’s take this new trail. You got your wish. We’re on a new trail now all right,” Amos said.
“Sorry—I guess it wasn’t the best move. Where are we?” Ethan asked.
Amos shined his flashlight around them, revealing a huge underground cavern. Stalactites hung down in lumpy cones, and tiny bats clung to the ceiling. The cavern had a damp, musty smell, and they could hear trickling water nearby. As Amos explored the ceiling with his flashlight, he found a hole high above them.
“Well, we’re not reaching that. So, which way is out?” asked Amos.
“Amos, move the light back down.”
Amos’s flashlight revealed the only path, which was little more than an underground creek bed.
Following it, they came to an old campsite.
“This glass bottle looks like the ones on the Adventure Prize,” said Ethan.
“This means only one thing—pirates,” Amos said. “Look around—maybe they left something we can use.”
While searching the site, Ethan saw the glint of metal out of the corner of his eye, but Amos went to the area first. His friend pulled a battered and rusty sword from between the rocks.
“That’s awesome,” Ethan said, reaching out to touch the blade.
“Yes, it’s so choice, as you’d say, and it’s mine,” said Amos. “See if we can find another one.”
Ethan joined in the search, but after a few minutes they gave up; no other sword could be found. Ethan was thinking about Jynx and how much he missed her. I won’t ever see her again if we don’t get out of here.
Amos adjusted his glasses and strapped his sword to his back pack. He stood up and swung the backpack over his shoulder. His sword hit something.
“Amos, look out!” Ethan pulled his friend over onto his back, just as a large spike whizzed by Amos’s head.
He followed the light until he found the flashlight Amos had dropped. “Amos, that was a skinny tree with spikes on it!”
“Punji stake. It’s a pirate booby trap. That line is connected to something bad—something meant to keep others away, or worse. It’s meant to protect the treasure. Be careful—there’ll be more traps. I owe you twice.”
“Um, forget it. We need to be really careful from here on out, though,” Ethan replied, handing the flashlight back to Amos.
Amos just shook his head in the musty gloom. “Your eyes are better than mine. You lead.”
The rocky path gave way to soft sand. Looking for booby traps made their progress slow. The path grew steeper until Ethan could touch the cave’s ceiling above his head. He wondered if maybe they were getting close to the end.
“Hey, Amos, cut it out, will ya?”
“Cut what out?”
“Really funny. Quit throwing stuff at me.”
“I’m not throwing anything at you,” Amos said.
Ethan clawed at his shirt and twisted violently. “Ugh, something’s in my shirt!” He yanked it off.
Amos shined the light on Ethan’s back and swept two cockroaches off him. He then focused the beam on the ceiling. “Geez, look above us.”
Crawling over the cave’s ceiling were thousands of cockroaches making loud clicking noises and scuttling on top of each other. The cave’s ceiling looked like wriggling black spaghetti. Every few seconds, some freed themselves from the moving mass and dropped on the boys’ heads, shoulders, and backs.
“Amos, run!” Ethan screamed. Little legs tickled the back of his neck no matter how often he scraped at his skin.
“Ethan, remember the booby traps!” Amos called.
But he couldn’t stop. He continued bolting up the path. Ethan heard Amos’s feet pounding after him, though his friend had turned slightly to his right. He slowed to a stop only when he noticed Amos had plopped himself down on the path to rub his ankle. The flashlight glowed beside him.
“You okay?” asked Ethan, trying to catch his breath. Amos looked up at Ethan like he was going to respond--
then gasped. “Ethan, look out!”
They dove forward and landed facedown in the sand, the swinging log just missing Ethan’s back.
“It’s coming back!” shouted Amos.
They rolled out of the path of the swinging log and watched as it finally came to rest.
Ethan groaned. “I must’ve tripped on a piece of that twine when I was running from those roaches. We have roaches at Brinkley. I really hate roaches.” He shuddered.
“Ethan, we must be getting closer to Kidd’s treasure because there’s more traps.”
“That also means we’re closer to freeing Lancaster,” Ethan said.
Lancaster tried to blink the blood out of his eyes. He was hanging, suspended by ropes between two trees. Gravity was slowly pulling his arms from their sockets. Through the blotchy red haze, he could see a fire and the blurry outlines of the men. He could smell meat cooking, felt his hands tingling and shoulders aching. An explosion of loud laughter startled him.
“Well, our hero’s finally come to. Not lookin’ too smart now, are we, ya dog?” Toombs said. “Yer lucky ya ain’t in a sack and down in Davy Jones’s locker.”
Toombs’s scarred face was only a few inches from his, and Lancaster recoiled from the pirate’s foul breath. He didn’t blink as the bosun’s bloodshot eyes stared back at him.
Toombs said, “We ain’t done, Mr. Brown. The lads here let me have first go—fittin’ for ya striking me down.”
“If I remember right, you weren’t tied up when I did it,” Lancaster struggled to say. He was hanging just high enough to make him stand on his toes.
Toombs said, “Shut it! You’re a thief and a mutineer.”
Hynde now joined Toombs and said, “Captain will call yer fate this time. I wish ol’ Hynde could do the job proper and cite the punishment. Course, I’d maroon ya . . . no water.”
“The boy’s mine,” said a very drunk Israel Glasspoole, sucking on a rat bone.
“Oh, easy now, mate,” said Hynde. “He’s already beaten ya once. Wouldn’t want to chance a second whippin’, would ya?”
The pirates erupted in laughter. Additional jibes passed around from the crew.
Glasspoole glared at the other pirates. “Go ahead and laugh boys. When I sets me talons into that wee lad, he’s dead. Lucky shot he had, and I ain’t forgettin’. Mark my words. He’s got the black spot on ’im now.” He threw the bone into the fire.
They all became silent. Taking a long drink of rum, Glasspoole threw the empty bottle into the dark woods and then pitched a penny at the small hole a few feet from the fire. The coin landed almost a foot from the target.
“Yer ’orrible at chuck-farthin’, Glasspoole!” a pirate shouted.
The laughter and song returned to the pirate camp.
Glasspoole didn’t sing or laugh, though.
Lancaster shuddered. Glasspoole’s eyes were locked in a murderous stare—directly at him.
As they made their way deeper into the cave, Ethan noticed footprints in the sand and hoped they hadn’t been recently made. The path became steep again, and they stopped.
“Whoa!” Ethan said.
They found themselves standing next to a large hole—one that was impossible to cross. Ethan shined the light ahead of them—the path continued on the other side.
“Ethan, that’s a shaft dug by people. You can see marks made by pickaxes. There could be anything at the bottom.”
Looking down into the hole, they saw no bottom.
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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