The sky had turned yellow, peach, and then red, all in matter of minutes. Socrates stood at the library window, staring at the beautiful sunset. Admiral Benbow hadn’t returned, and Socrates had seen nothing of the loyal bird in his enchanted television. He watched the shadows slowly withdraw into the hedgerow maze behind the house.
Socrates swallowed, struggling to stay hopeful. Bleise had always been devilishly tricky, but he always had a good reason for the things he did. Jynx and Ethan had come to stay at Gramarye, and now Ethan was time traveling. It couldn’t be a coincidence.
Puck woke up, stretched, and joined Socrates.
“Puck, Bleise thinks it’s time for the Ceithir to be together again.”
The dog raised his eyebrows.
Socrates continued, “You’re wise to be concerned. Bleise has chosen Ethan, Jynx, and Amos to retrieve them, whether for good or for evil. Speaking of evil, Morgause is aware of Bleise’s steps to obtain the Ceithir.”
At the sound of Morgause’s name, the dog hurried behind the sofa and scampered underneath.
Socrates walked to the fireplace and warmed his paint-splattered hands. “Puck, we have to make sure the kids are collecting the Ceithir for the side of goodness. If Morgause possesses the Ceithir, innocent people will die. Again.”
He poked the fire, sending sparks shooting all around him. Looking down, he saw his beard smoldering and quickly patted it out.
“Those kids are in serious danger. I have to devise a way to keep them safe,” he whispered.
He blew aromatic tobacco smoke into the dark-wood- paneled library.
“Lots of thinking to do. It’s been a long day—’bout to become longer.” He glanced down at his cane and pressed his lips together. “But I promise you this. Morgause won’t defeat me this time.”
When Jynx awoke, the large green eyes of Badger were just inches from her own. “Badger, don’t do that! You startled me. Did I fall asleep? Everything went black all of a sudden, and it didn’t feel like a nice falling asleep.” Standing up, her eyes focused on a large book sticking out further than the other books.
“Jynxed Scottish Labyrinths,” she read aloud. “What a strange title for a book. My name, labyrinth, you in the painting . . . I’m supposed to go through the maze again, aren’t I, Badger? That’s what this means. You know all about this, don’t you, girl?”
The large cat rotated her head sideways and gave Jynx a determined look.
“I know that’s what I’m supposed to do, but what happens if I don’t do it? I’m scared, Badger,” she whispered. “The cemetery, that grave, and that tomb thing in the middle of the maze—they’re all so creepy. But worst of all are those ravens.”
The painting over the fireplace had changed again. Now it was a mixture of swirling pastel colors. “Umm, Gramarye . . ? Ma’am, are you behind all this?” Nothing happened.
“Shoot, if only Badger could talk; how great would that be? It could freak me out, or she could have a really annoy- ing voice. Anyway, the painting’s different again, Badger’s acting weird, and the boys aren’t here.” Jynx paused, scanning the library. “Wait a minute—the boys aren’t here. What if they’re in trouble? What if the ravens attacked them? It’d serve them right, leaving me behind.” She put a hand to her forehead. “What did I just say? I didn’t mean that, Badger. I’ve got to help them.” Jynx hurried to her room to change clothes. If I have to go into that maze again, this time I’ll be ready.
She now stood in front of the mysterious bookcase dressed in a parka, a thick wool hat, and ski gloves. Jynx looked like a stylish arctic explorer, ready for the North Pole.
I hope Mrs. Gooch doesn’t notice the flashlight missing, she thought as she zipped her backpack.
She took a deep breath and focused on the book. Reach- ing forward, she grabbed it and tried to pull it from the shelf. Nothing happened; the book wouldn’t budge. Setting her jaw, she pulled as hard as she could, and finally, it slid forward, though her momentum propelled her backward onto the rug. A mechanical scraping noise followed, reveal- ing an opening in the wall where the bookcase had been. She cautiously inched over to the space, the crackling fire providing the only light. It looked like an unpainted empty closet. She couldn’t even see a floor.
Jynx clicked on the flashlight. Below her, a stone stair- case spiraled down. She had seen stairs like these in books about ancient castles.
“Ethan, after all this, if you’re ever mean to me again . . . ,” she whispered and took a deep breath. The tempera- ture grew colder with each step, and she could hear the faint sound of water dripping. Her flashlight turned off and wouldn’t come on again. Then she heard it: the sound of the door above closing.
“Miss Gramarye?” she whispered. A small lightbulb turned on above her. “Oh, thank you! I knew you wouldn’t let me down,” she said, and continued to the bottom of the stairs.
The steps led to a short tunnel with a dark room at the other end. A torch in a bracket ignited as she passed. This is freaky—lucky, but freaky, she thought as she carefully took it down. The warmth of the torch made her feel better. When she entered the room that she’d been walking toward, however, her feeling changed.
Two black eye sockets—affixed right above the grimac- ing teeth of a human skull—glowered down at her. She screamed and dropped the torch, almost putting it out. Snatching it up, she noticed two bony feet dangling a few feet above the stone floor.
“Oh my God—it’s a ghost skeleton,” she whispered.
A small glint caught her eye: the torch was reflecting off something metal. Looking closer, she saw that the skeleton had been mounted to a chrome metal stand, like the one at school. Why would Uncle Socrates have something like that here? Maybe for his art?
Light from the torch revealed a most unusual room. From the far end came the sound of running water, but she couldn’t see any other doors or exits. Curious, she moved forward. It looked like a bizarre antique market, or an ancient museum. All around were stacks of musty books, papers, and drawings. The horn of an antique phonograph was stuffed with twigs and bits of string. Peering into it, she saw a large bird’s nest. While checking out a bottle of ink, she looked up and saw a Dr. Seuss book wedged between a crystal ball and a brass astrolabe on a crammed bookshelf. To her left stood a large, ornately carved desk. On it were quill pens, candy wrappers, and jars of animal specimens in formaldehyde. A small brass pot stood on a stand with a candle underneath.
“What is this place?” she asked out loud.
The glass eyes of taxidermic owls, hawks, and falcons followed her from bookcases and tables. Other animals were hung on strings from the ceiling. Large jars were filled with everything from marbles to powders of every color.
Raising the torch to look at an old computer from the late 1970s, Jynx inhaled as the room erupted in tiny spots of light. When she looked up, she saw a mirrored disco ball hanging from a rafter. The walls were covered with nighttime-sky maps and charts, along with psychedelic posters of rock groups with names like Eccentric Mirror and the Exquisite Corpse.
A wonderful smell hit her—beeswax. Following the scent to a large table, she saw a candle. From the warmth and softness of the wax, she could see that it had just been put out. She heard a shuffling noise but saw nothing. She whispered, “Who’s there? Uncle Socs? Is that you?” She heard footsteps in the dark stillness. No one answered.
I’m getting out of here. She went back to the steps and hurried up, too scared to look back. Reaching the top step, she could see the back of the bookcase, but no doorknob or handle of any kind. She tried pushing the bookcase open, but it wouldn’t budge.
Now what do I do? she thought, searching the inside of the closet for any way of getting out.
“Begin what you complete. Oh, fiddlesticks: complete that which you began,” the high-pitched, crackly voice of an old man said from above. She didn’t look up to see who was speaking—she was too busy running down the stone steps back to the peculiar room.
That was not Gramarye, she thought. It was hard not to scream. I hate this place. When I see my brother and that Amos Sprunt, I’m going to give them a piece of my mind. Wait until I tell Mrs. Gooch about this.
Walking back through the cave-like room, she saw an opening at the far end. A blast of musty air hit her, and the torch went out. She tried her flashlight again. It still didn’t work.
I want to scream, she thought. I want to scream so loud that the entire house above me will hear. Wait . . . then whatever’s down here—probably something gross—will be able to hear me too. Think, girl, think. I am so scared.
Jynx stood in total darkness. She couldn’t see her own hand in front of her face. With the darkness came deep quiet; the only sounds were her breathing and the low murmur of gently flowing water.
She held her breath, trying to hear anything moving around her. What if there was an old man standing beside her, unseen in the darkness? She felt something scamper over her foot and heard high-pitched squeaking.
Oh, gross—a mouse. What if it’s a rat? At that moment, the squeaking got louder, and she felt furry bodies running across her feet. She clenched her fists. More rats. This is disgusting. If I run or walk, I may squish one—ew.
Her nose began to itch, and it grew more intense. She scratched and felt something soft on her nose. What is it now? She flicked the thing away. As if in an answer, the sound of thousands of small wings fluttering joined the din of the rats. Small creatures landed on her face, crawling, twitching, and burrowing in her hair.
Aaugh! Too small for birds or bats. One crawled out of her hair and into her open mouth. Spitting it out, she screamed, “Moths!” She didn’t move, afraid of stepping on a rat. She flailed her arms to fight off the moths.
What if this doesn’t stop? The more she thought, the more she felt like crying. I will not cry. I will be brave, strong.
For the first time in her life, Jynx felt alone. She thought of her parents and friends—but especially Ethan. He could be anywhere, lost or in trouble. Her large brown eyes began to blink away tears, but she made no sound; the enormity of her situation became clear. She put her hands over her face and fought to keep from crying.
The whirling flood of moths and rats continued all around her. Had she been at home, she could run to her room. In the blackness, she couldn’t run anywhere. “Crying won’t solve anything. Calm down. Okay, that’s it—now think,” she said aloud.
From behind her glowed a faint light. Turning around, she saw it floating toward her—a glowing orb. Its soft light radiated and began to light the cavern around her. The rats scampered away, and the moths clumped together on the cavern’s ceiling. She stared at the beautiful light in wonder. As the object moved toward her, she felt an overwhelming calm. Its light warmed her and slowly changed from soft green hues to varying shades of blue.
Jynx reached out and gently took hold of the floating orb. “You are truly a beautiful thing,” she said. With the orb lighting her way, she followed the footpath through the cavern and over a brook, until she reached an opening at the far end. Stepping through, she entered a stone passageway and looked for any sign that the boys had been there. No traces could be seen.
I’m kind of glad I didn’t pack another flashlight—if I had, Gramarye wouldn’t have sent this glowing ball.
A door stood at the end of the passage. It took all her strength to turn the rusty ancient knob, and when the door swung open, she walked into the snowy maze. She felt exhilarated as she breathed in the clean, cold air. A feeling of calm and confidence washed over her. She felt strong. She felt brave.
Above, a faintly glowing cloud slid through the night sky, revealing a full moon. With its bright light, she saw a piece of duct tape on a nearby branch, and then the orb’s light faded away.
“It’s always something else, isn’t it?” a frustrated Ethan asked.
“Ethan, look—there’s a rope hanging from the ceiling. We can swing across. Thing is, how do we reach it?” “I think I can jump and grab it,” Ethan said.
“Yeah, you miss, and you’ll fall into that black abyss,” Amos replied.
“A deep hole. I’ve got an idea—hold on,” Amos said.
Amos took the sword from his backpack and handed it to Ethan. “Here, use this to push the rope.”
“Awesome idea! Once the rope swings close enough, you grab it and swing over,” Ethan said.
“I’m not grabbing the rope—you are,” Amos insisted. “You’re the athlete; I’m the brains.” He positioned the flash- light in the sand so the beam would shine over the hole. Using the sword, he began pushing the rope, and soon it was swinging closer to them.
Ethan lunged forward to grab it, but the pain from his wound kept him from fully extending his arm. The rope swung back to him, and again he missed. One foot slid over the edge of the pit, and he fell to one knee, just stopping himself from plunging into black hole.
Ethan stood, knowing he had to jump at exactly the right moment. As the rope began to move toward him, he launched himself over the hole, keeping his eyes trained on the moving target. He caught the rope like a trapeze artist, and instinctively, he drew his knees up and pumped with his legs.
Thanks to Amos training the flashlight beam on him, Ethan could see the pit’s far edge. As he moved closer, he let go of the rope, landing with a thud on the other side.
“Ethan, heads up!”
The flashlight flipped through the air, throwing strange circles of light everywhere. Ethan caught it, keeping it from hitting him in the face. His arm throbbed.
“That was brilliant,” said Amos, “or as you’d say, so choice.”
“Thanks, man. What now?” Ethan asked.
Amos said, “Look around over there for anything that can help me get across.”
Ethan shined the light all around the small passage. Seeing the end of a board, he pulled on it. “Amos, it’s a long board. I’m going to push it over.”
When the board spanned the pit, a scared Amos stood at the end.
Ethan shined the flashlight’s beam on the board. He worried Amos would puke. “You’ve got this, Amos.”
Amos took a deep breath and started walking. With each step the board sagged. “I can’t take this anymore,” he said and started running. Nearing the end of the board, he jumped and landed in a cloud of dust near Ethan. His foot had pushed the board, sending it into the water below.
“That took guts, Amos.”
Amos shook the flashlight. “Thanks. Sorry to be a wet cemetery, but the light’s not as bright. The batteries are dying. We need to hurry.”
They continued through the passage. The ceiling appeared to be closing in on them, and the air was getting warmer. Turning left, they were met with a dirt wall. It felt as if they were in the maze again.
“That dirt looks all wrong,” said Amos, frowning. “Here, hold the flashlight.”
“The dirt looks wrong?” Ethan asked.
Ignoring him, Amos scratched and clawed at the dirt wall, soon uncovering a seam. Ethan clenched the flashlight between his teeth and started helping. After a few minutes of digging, the outline of a round door finally appeared. Amos crammed his fingers into the seam and pulled with all the strength he had.
“Move over, Amos. This isn’t a thinking job.” Ethan sat on the ground and slammed both feet into the center of the door, sending pieces of wood everywhere.
Amos said, “That’s certainly one way. Notice the mud on this wall doesn’t match the soil and sand down here. They obviously needed a clay-based soil so it would adhere to the vertical surface. It needed to be viscous, so obviously they used red clay. That’s how I deduced that this was a fake wall. When I saw the seam, my suspicions were confirmed—they used the top of a wooden barrel for a door.”
“Obviously,” Ethan said with a grin. “Elementary, Ethan,” Amos said, winking.
They crawled through the opening into a round chamber. Unfortunately, it was a chamber with no other way out. Amos scanned every inch of the space with the flashlight. “Maybe this is actually an underground maze, and we’re at another dead end,” Amos said.
“I feel, like, a million times better hearing you say that,” Ethan said, rolling his eyes and looking around the small chamber.
He noticed a small piece of wood sticking up from the floor. When he tried to pull it up, it wouldn’t budge. Think- ing it strange, he decided to dig it up. He only had to dig down a couple of inches in the loose sand before he found sailcloth lying flat. They pulled up the cloth and found logs placed side by side. Ethan jabbed the sword between the logs and pried one up. A blast of stale air filled the chamber. After pulling up more logs, Ethan lowered himself down through the hole, but couldn’t feel anything under his feet. Peering down into the hole, he saw another chamber. Off to one side was a tunnel.
“What a surprise—another tunnel,” Ethan said, frustrated. They had crawled only a few yards when Ethan asked, “Do you hear that?”
“It’s rushing water again, but where’s it coming from?” Ethan looked behind him, and the flashlight’s beam showed water entering the chamber. It was rising fast.
“Could it be from the ocean?”
“Ingenious . . . simply ingenious! Who’d have thought they had the mental capacity?” Amos said.
“Amos!” Ethan shouted.
“Sorry, but it really is brilliant. You see, pulling out the logs and that canvas broke a seal. The pirates have booby- trapped this shaft to fill with water and drown anyone trying to steal their treasure,” Amos replied.
“Well, we’ve got to get moving before their booby trap works. Amos, another passage runs off of this tunnel.”
Rushing forward on hands and knees, they ended up in yet another small chamber.
“Amos, the water’s rising fast, and it’s another dead end.” “Look,” Amos said.
In the middle of the sandy floor sat a large wooden chest locked with a rusted padlock.
“The treasure,” whispered Ethan.
Amos handed the sword to Ethan. “Whack the lock with this.”
“I sure wish I had one of these,” Ethan said, slamming
Amos’s sword on the lock. It smashed open. “Who’s going to open it?”
“It could be booby-trapped.”
“Amos, the flashlight’s going dead. Look, the water’s starting to come in—the sand’s wet.”
“After you,” Amos said.
Ethan used the sword to pry open the chest, and they were relieved when nothing bad happened. Ethan peered into it, his heart pounding. Moving the light around the interior, he handed the light to Amos. “See for yourself.”
Amos picked up one of the blackened objects from the bottom. “Pieces of wire, more tarred twine, a few empty bottles, and some moldy old cloth. It’s junk. Why would they care about this stuff?”
Ethan looked again, pushing the bits and pieces around. He stopped when he felt something. He pulled out a long bundle of cloth. “The treasure is clothes? Wait, this is heavy.” He untied a strip of leather and unwrapped the bundle. In the faint light, they saw a scabbard, a belt, and a long sword. “That is so choice! It looks like the sword in the painting, only slimy,” said Ethan.
Amos looked at the cloth. “Ethan, it’s a tapestry. It must be centuries old. I want to take a closer look at this later.” He stuffed it into his backpack. “At least we’re even now— you’ve got a sword,” Amos said, rummaging again in the chest. “Check this out.” He opened a small leather bag and pulled out an ordinary black stone. After looking at it and then the sword, he put the stone back in the bag and passed it to Ethan. “Perhaps they’re worth more than we think? Hey, look at the water!”
“All right, Amos, now would be a great time for your brain to crank up.”
“The painting. I remember something,” Amos said. After thinking for a few seconds, he snapped his fingers. “That’s it! Now it makes sense. Quick! Shut the chest and get on the top. Jab your sword into the ceiling.”
Ethan pulled the sword from the scabbard and held it with both hands. The sword blazed a brilliant blue and a pulse of energy fired through Ethan’s body. “Whoa, this is awesome! I feel amazing! Amos, did you see that?”
“It defies logic. That’s no ordinary sword. I don’t understand!”
“Amos, we’ll figure it out later—remember the water?”
The water level had risen to a few inches below the top of the chest.
Ethan thrust the glowing sword into the ceiling, sending a shower of sand falling on them. A log fell and almost hit him. Seeing a small opening, he dislodged more logs until he’d made a hole large enough from them to crawl through. He slid the sword into the scabbard and slung the belt back over his shoulder.
“How do we get up there?” Ethan shouted over the sound of rushing water.
Suddenly, a blast of air pushed down on them, and the water began rising faster.
“Exceptional. I was right. Ethan, you broke another seal. There’s another chamber above us. We can get out of here. Only thing is—the water will rise much faster now.”
With everything he had, Ethan launched himself at the hole, just catching the top edge of a log. He pulled himself up and through the opening in the chamber’s ceiling. Reaching back down through the hole, he extended his arm. Amos grabbed it, and as water filled the chamber, Ethan pulled him up. “Good call, Amos. You know, we make an awesome team.”
Amos smiled. “Yeah, I guess we do.”
A shaft extended above them, and they looked for notches in the side.
“Yes! Amos, they messed up—look, handholds.”
Ethan led the way up the shaft, and reaching the top, they found another wooden barrel top. Pushing it aside, they were soon standing in a clearing with only a gnarled ancient oak tree nearby. Beyond it, at the field’s edge, they could see a small fire burning in the distance. The distant sound of coarse laughter confirmed what they dreaded: the pirates’ camp.
“Well, we’re here Ethan. What do we do now
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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