Sweat beaded on Amos’s forehead. They sat behind the oak tree for a long while without coming up with a plan to help Lancaster. Amos couldn’t think of a thing—not a single strategy. Ethan wanted to run into the camp with swords and fight the pirates, but since neither knew how to fight with a sword, Amos didn’t think much of that plan.
“This is inexplicable, intolerable, grotesque,” Amos whispered.
“Hold on. I think I’ve got this one—you’re bummed because you can’t come up with anything?”
“I think that’s fairly obvious,” Amos said sarcastically.
“Sometimes you just have to wing it. I do it all the time.”
“Amos Sprunt never just wings it,” he whispered.
“Okay, so what’s your plan?” Ethan asked.
“We wait until they’ve all passed out,” Amos replied. “Then what?”
“We’ll have to improvise,” Amos whispered through gritted teeth.
“So we wing it, right?” Ethan asked.
“Shut up, Ethan.”
“Atta boy, Amos. You just did something cool. Okay, so we wait,” Ethan said, staring up at the night sky.
Amos checked his backpack with the moon as his only light. He pulled out what was left: a bottle of water, a piece of hardtack, and less than half of a candy bar.
“We won’t be able to wait very long,” he said.
Ethan looked in the direction of the pirates’ camp. The fire’s glow had vanished. “I can’t see their fire anymore. It’s time. Let’s go get Lancaster,” Ethan whispered.
They heard no sound as they neared the camp. Ethan wondered if the pirates knew they were nearby—had they made too much noise? Clouds suddenly covered the moon, making it hard to see. If Amos hadn’t stopped him, Ethan would have stepped on one of the sleeping pirates. They hurried over to a nearby thicket.
“Amos, I think they’re all asleep.”
They heard a slurring drunk voice sing:
“Davy Jones dead at six bells;
Pass the rum, pitchin’ like hell.
Lash to the rail, lash to the fly;
Say yer prayers, boys--
We’re all gonna die!”
With a thud the singing stopped. Crawling forward, they peered into the clearing. A pirate lay sprawled on the ground, his face in the sand.
In the ember’s dim glow, they could just make out the members of the crew lying all around the campsite. They could also hear horrendous snoring.
Amos whispered, “They’re all passed out drunk. Look at all the empty bottles.”
“Look at what they’ve done to Lancaster,” Ethan whis- pered with tears in his eyes. “That’s horrible.”
Lancaster was tied up, suspended between two trees. His head hung down—he had collapsed. The pirates had posi- tioned him above the ground, so he couldn’t stand and rest.
“My God, they’re savages,” Amos whispered.
“Amos, we’ve got to get him down and get him to the wherry—hurry.”
When the boys reached Lancaster, he slowly raised his head and looked at them, the pain contorting his face. “Boys. . . get out of here . . . the boat. Leave,” he rasped.
“Not without you,” Ethan whispered, looking Lancaster in the eyes.
“These knots are impossible to untie,” Amos said. “Boys, I’m too weak,” Lancaster whispered. “Even with
them being drunk, we won’t last with them in a fight. There’s two more on watch.”
Ethan carefully slid a knife out of one of the drunk crew’s belt. The pirate scratched his nose and then burped loudly, right in Ethan’s face. Aughh, that’s disgusting, he thought, making his way back to Lancaster and Amos. The knife was razor sharp.
Even with the sharp knife, the ropes proved to be a challenge. But at last Lancaster came free. Amos and Ethan helped him up.
“Thank you, boys, but you must leave now,” Lancaster whispered, grimacing from pain.
“You’re coming with us. Whether you want to or not,” whispered Ethan.
Moonlight from shifting clouds showed how Lancaster had been tortured by the pirates. He had cuts and bruises on his face. One eye was swollen shut, and his wrists were bleeding from where the ropes had cut into them.
They helped him out of the camp and found a clearing a safe distance away. Lancaster drank some water and ate the remaining candy bar, while Ethan patrolled the edges of the clearing for the other two pirates. Seeing Lancaster shiver in the cold night air, Amos wrapped his coat around him. Confident the pirates on watch weren’t nearby, Ethan rejoined them.
“Thank you for the food, water—everything. Being strung up like a chicken drains your strength. I feel much better,” Lancaster said. “Now, we need to get to the wherry.”
They made their way out of the dunes toward the forest’s edge. The sound of crashing waves made it difficult to hear anything.
“Glasspoole and Toombs are around here somewhere, and they’re not to be trifled with,” Lancaster said. He led them to the skirt of the woods, where they followed the beach and stayed hidden by the shoreline trees.
Then Lancaster stopped, tapped Ethan on the shoulder, and pointed. In the moonlit gloom, they saw the black silhouette of the Adventure Prize’s jolly boat pulled up onto the beach. They would have to work fast to get the boat into the water. Lancaster gathered them together at the stern. “I’d like the gig better, but I can’t get my bearings as to where we hid her. This’ll be hard work with only three.” A thought popped into Ethan’s head—leaving the island wouldn’t solve their problem, at least not his and Amos’s.
It wouldn’t get them home. What would they do if they left with Lancaster? They would be in the wrong time. He had to think of a way to tell Lancaster, but his thoughts were interrupted.
“Well, look what I spies here,” Israel Glasspoole said from the bow.
“If it isn’t Mr. Lancaster Brown,” said another menacing voice.
The boys jumped.
“You’ve got no business with us,” Lancaster replied, moving in front of the boys. “Go tell the captain—we’ve no interest in his treasure.”
The glow of a burning match, shielded behind a warty hand, revealed the face of the last man they wanted to see. “Why not speak with me yerself, Mr. Brown?” Kidd lit his cigar and released a plume of white smoke. It disappeared into the wind. “We ain’t drunk like them dogs over yonder.” “Whatcha planning ter do with that there craft—make sail and leave us marooned?” Glasspoole asked.
Lancaster didn’t answer.
“You’ve got my prisoners, Brown—you ain’t goin’ nowhere,” Kidd said, chewing on the end of his cigar and advancing toward them.
“ ’Sides, I got a score ter settle now, don’t I?” said Glass- poole, pulling a cutlass from his silk belt. He walked behind the captain and added, “That boy and ol’ Glasspoole have a score to settle. Step aside—a sword to his belly should make him respect his elders.”
Lancaster stood his ground. The boys were too terrified to move.
Captain Kidd moved his hand to his sword. Lancaster kicked hard at the soft sand, sending a shower of the tiny particles into the captain’s eyes, temporarily blinding him. As Kidd’s hands were frantically rubbing his eyes, Glass- poole advanced.
“Your fight’s with me!” shouted Lancaster.
Glancing over Lancaster’s shoulder, Glasspoole replied, “I thinks Captain says nay.”
Lancaster ducked just before Kidd’s sword passed over him. He sprang forward, jabbing his shoulder into Kidd’s stomach and knocking him to the ground. Lancaster slammed his foot on the captain’s wrist, wrenching the sword out of his hand.
Ethan and Glasspoole slowly circled one another—the pirate skillfully twirling his cutlass and Ethan struggling to get to the sword on his back. They continued this macabre dance, Ethan wondering why Glasspoole didn’t go ahead and attack him. Still, Ethan couldn’t get to his sword; the belt had snagged on his parka. He feared taking his eyes off Glasspoole, but he needed the sword.
Realizing he had no other option, Ethan turned his head and reached for the belt, but his sneaker jammed into the soft sand. He tripped, landing on his back.
Glasspoole rushed over, looked down into Ethan’s wide eyes, and said, “I’m sending you to hell.” He raised the cut- lass with both hands and thrust the sword into the center of Ethan’s chest.
“NO!” Lancaster and Amos shouted.
Seeing his chance, Captain Kidd jerked the sword out of Lancaster’s hand and in a swift motion slammed the tip of the sword into Lancaster’s stomach as he got up from the beach. Lancaster put both hands over the wound and dropped to his knees.
Kidd grabbed the flintlock pistol that hung from around his neck, cocked it, and leveled the weapon at Lancaster’s head. “Mr. Glasspoole, I think I’ll put Mr. Brown out of his misery.”
Socrates focused his third eye to conjure a vision of the boys, since his antique TV had failed him this time. When the view finally materialized, the scene horrified him. Socra- tes dashed across the floor to a niche in one of the room’s branch-covered walls. There, he directed his attention to the raven, who had just returned from helping the boys in the mausoleum. Benbow perched on the top of a stained- glass lamp shade, preening his feathers.
“Admiral Benbow, things are getting out of hand with the boys,” said Socrates, his breathing labored. “They’re facing skilled murderers—pirates. They need assistance—someone lightning fast, and more vicious than the two of us. Will you help me? I must warn you; it could be dangerous. You must enlist the aid of the jaculus. Since the creature is half snake and half bird, only you can communicate with her.”
The raven croaked and fixed its eye on Socrates. “Thank you, Admiral. I’ll be in the secret garden at the
yew tree. It’ll take more than the jaculus to defeat those pirates. I need truly awesome magic—more than my cane of lignum vitae can provide. Anyway, only the yew has the power to conjure the magic I need to help the boys and their friend. Now, hurry please!”
The ebony bird flew to the crude hole near the room’s glass ceiling and squirmed through. Socrates pushed on a well-worn branch, springing a panel open to reveal a large dumbwaiter. When the lift opened on the ground floor, he stepped out into the dark night, his shoes sinking into the frozen snow. After fighting his way through snow-covered small trees, bushes, and briars, he reached the secret garden. Illuminated by the bright moon above, two large monoliths loomed high above him. It’s been too long since I’ve visited my other garden, he thought as he passed between the large standing stones and entered the circle of monoliths that guarded the garden’s ancient inhabitant. Despite his concern for the boys, he smiled as he looked at the immense tree. The yew was over a thousand years old and held many secrets in its gnarled, twisted trunk and thick, knotty branches.
He hurried over to the massive tree, placed trembling hands on the scaly bark, and peered up through the branches at the moon. The beams touched his face as the tree’s limbs began to slowly dance. He steeled his thoughts and slowed his breathing. The frozen soil around its exposed roots started vibrating, and feeling this in his feet, he focused harder to increase the flow of magic up from the earth, through his body, and into the yew. The ground split open, and intense white light shot up through the fractured earth. Socrates fought to keep his hands on the writhing trunk as the light spread over the entire surface of the tree. The muscles in his legs, arms, and back radiated waves of unbearable pain, and his vision blurred. When the light reached the tip of the tallest branch of the tree, a brilliant, crackling shaft of raw energy exploded into the night sky, the deafening sound shaking the ancient monoliths.
Then, as if the garden had always been peaceful, the tree stopped moving, darkness returned, and silence once again shrouded the space.
Amos stood between Ethan and Lancaster, looking down at both of them. He shuddered when he saw the blood on Ethan’s chest.
A high-pitched screech made him look up. A strange animal swooped around Kidd’s head—he struggled to fight it off. The creature changed tack and veered off. When it turned, Amos saw it was a long snake with feathers covering its wings. It soared high into the sky, turned in midair, and plummeted back toward the captain, clamping its jaws on Kidd’s wrist. Screaming, the pirate dropped his pistol and tried to shake the creature off.
Amos, slowly backing away, could only gape at this strange battle. He had forgotten all about Israel Glasspoole, who now advanced toward him with the bloody cutlass at the ready.
Then Ethan sat up. He had a strange and dazed look, as if he had no idea what had just happened.
“Lucifer’s spawn! He’s in league with the devil himself!” shouted Kidd, finally shaking the jaculus off his wrist.
Glasspoole stared at Ethan. “He breathes! We’ll burn in all the fires of hell.”
The ground began shaking violently, startling everyone. Mounds of sand, like large ant hills, appeared in front of the boys. They watched as the mounds rose higher and began to take the shape of tall stones.
“Amos, Lancaster’s on top of that rock!” Ethan shouted. Amos scrambled forward, grabbed Lancaster’s wrist, and pulled him off one of the rising stones. When the rum- bling stopped, a solid wall of colossal monoliths stretched from the ocean to the forest, separating them from the pirates.
“You’re alive? But . . . I just—it’s impossible!” Amos said to Ethan.
“Amos! Help Lancaster! He’s dying. Stop the bleeding!” Stop the bleeding hammered away in Amos’s brain. How had Ethan survived the stabbing? There must be a logical explanation. Nothing’s making sense. Think like Holmes: deduce. What had been different with Ethan? The sword—the strange, glowing sword! He’d been lying on it. It must have some kind of power—the power to heal!
“Ethan, give me your sword!”
Ethan struggled again with the belt. He finally freed it and, frustrated, threw the scabbard and sword to Amos. Amos pulled on the sword, but it wouldn’t budge. Ethan tried, but still the blade stuck to the scabbard.
“We’re running out of time. What do we do?” Ethan shouted. He had moved over to Lancaster and was cradling his head. Lancaster gulped for air like a fish struggling to breathe on dry land.
Think, Amos. Wait, Holmes would do the next best thing! He touched the scabbard to Lancaster’s bleeding stomach. Amazed, they watched it glow a brilliant green. Lancaster cried out in agony, as if the scabbard were burning his skin.
“Amos, it’s killing him!”
Amos pulled the scabbard away. He looked at Lancaster, who now lay still. He appeared to not be breathing. Amos looked at Ethan, who shook his head.
A gurgling sound startled the boys. Lancaster was cough- ing. He turned onto his side and threw up blood. Then, he sat up and, just like Ethan, looked confused.
“Boys, what just happened? Are you witches?” asked Lancaster.
“I don’t know what just happened,” said Ethan, shaking his head.
“Lancaster, you’ve got to believe us—we’re not witches, but we don’t know what’s going on either,” Amos said.
Lancaster turned his head and looked up at the sky, bewildered.
“Ethan, what just happened? The scabbard, those rocks. . . ?” Amos asked.
Amos stared at the tall stones. Ethan had survived being stabbed in the heart. Then a huge wall of stones magically rose out of the sand, just when they needed it. Then he understood--it’s magic! Gramarye House, the maze, the paint- ing—all of it.
“It’s magic, Ethan. It’s the only logical explanation—a very choice explanation!” Amos replied, grinning.
“I don’t know what’s going here, and I don’t understand what you boys are, but I don’t think you’re evil,” said Lancaster, looking back and forth between Amos and Ethan. “I owe you both for saving my life. Thank you.” He looked down at his stomach. “Now we have to get off this island.” “Lancaster, this is hard to say,” Ethan said. “You have to go without us. All this stuff—this sword—means something, and I think I understand what it is. Please don’t make me explain. We need to help you get this boat into the water.” Confused after hearing Ethan’s words, Amos started to say something but stopped. He understood. He and Ethan didn’t belong in Lancaster’s time.
Lancaster looked down at his hands.
Amos said, “We found the sword along with some other stuff in the tunnels near the pirates’ camp. It’s very import- ant that we keep it. I’m sorry about the sword, but it’s only right that you should have the other part of the treasure.”
Ethan gave Lancaster the leather bag containing the black stone, and after Lancaster prepared the boat for sail- ing, he faced the boys. Amos and Ethan hugged him at the same time.
“Lancaster, thanks again and good luck,” Ethan said, extending his hand.
“I’ve wanted to get away from Kidd for a long time. Now, I’m free. It feels good. I must make the most of it. Good luck to you both,” said Lancaster, smiling and shaking Ethan’s hand.“Lancaster, good luck—and thank you,” said Amos.
As the tide came in, the three of them pushed the boat into the water. The boys watched Lancaster sail away.
When they had made their way into the skirt of the forest, Ethan said, “No one would believe what just happened to us. I don’t know if I believe what just happened to us.”
Amos sat down on an uprooted tree. “What happened back there with the sword— you should be dead.” He looked down. “I owe you an apology. I did nothing back there. When the pirates attacked us, I just stood there, stupid. I’m a coward, Ethan.”
“You’re joking, right? And I thought you were logical. Look, a coward wouldn’t have done all the awesome stuff we’ve done. You’ve survived ravens, outsmarted that little freak Dwaine, climbed through an underground maze— fought pirates even. I didn’t do anything back there. You figured out how to save Lancaster, Amos. That’s all that matters.”
“You know, I did, didn’t I?” Amos sat back and blinked, then nodded. “Thanks, Ethan.”
“Now, what’s the deal with this sword?”
“You want to know what I really think?”
He exhaled. “Okay. Here goes. I think it has the power to protect people from death. In the King Arthur story, he has this enchanted sword named Excalibur, but there’s no way this is Excalibur.”
“It healed Lancaster. It healed me. What if it really is, well—whatchamacallit?” Ethan said.
“Excalibur. Ethan, everything leads back to the painting— the sword’s in the painting. That’s what we were meant to find. Remember the sun in the middle? It has brackets sticking out of it. This sword must hang on the sun. That’s why we couldn’t give it to Lancaster. There are other brackets, you know.”
“Okay, let’s say you’re right. How do we get back? And hey, why haven’t Kidd and what’s his face come into the forest to get us?”
Amos took out his notebook and trained the flashlight near the flag in his drawing.
“I’m guessing whatever magic conjured this wall of monoliths did something to keep them on the other side. I don’t know. Anyway, on getting back, we touched the flag to get here, so I surmise we touch something here to get back home.” He looked at the drawing. “The mermaid? No. Let’s see . . . sea monster, unicorn—ditto. Raven . . . hmm, no,” he muttered.
“How about the tree? You know, the tree in the clear- ing we hid behind when we finally got out of the pirates’ tunnels,” replied Ethan.
Amos shook his head and looked at his drawing. “I’m a numbskull. Of course, that’s got to be it. It’s the only thing left, and it’s easy enough to test. Let’s grab the tree at the same time and see what happens.”
They went around the end of the monoliths and then followed the coastline back to the tree, making sure to stay hidden in the pine forest. They didn’t see any pirates, and when they reached the clearing, they were glad to see the huge oak bathed in silvery moonlight. From their vantage point, it looked exactly like the tree in the painting.
They started across the open field, each holding an end of the sword. When they were within forty yards of the tree, they heard a pirate shout, “Look, in the field!”
“Amos, run harder than you’ve ever run in your life!”
They ran toward the tree, and Amos realized he was no longer holding onto the sword. Ethan, who had already far outpaced him, clutched the heavy object in his hands.
Amos’s heart quickened. He was no longer protected.
Gunshots erupted from the other side of the field—the pirates were firing at them. Amos glanced over his shoulder to see dark figures running in his direction. He had to make better time, but his body simply wasn’t cooperating. Ethan reached the tree and turned around to face Amos.
“Run faster!” he shouted.
Another volley of shots rang out. Amos felt like his chest and calf muscles were on fire as he willed himself to keep moving. When he finally reached the tree, he almost collapsed from breathing so heavily. “Thanks for leaving me back there!” Amos shouted.
“Sorry, Amos, I screwed up. Now, on the count of three! Ready . . . one, two, three!”
Just as Jack Toombs was leveling his pistol at Amos, the boys touched the tree.
The boys were sucked up into a powerful and surging wave of air. They had no control as they twisted and flipped in all directions. Blurred lights and sounds swirled around them, making them nauseated. When they fell onto the stone floor of the mausoleum, they had vomited, again.
Ethan was on all fours, gasping for breath. Amos, lying on his backpack, turned his head toward Ethan and said, “Please tell me you have the sword.”
Dazed, Ethan shifted the weight on his shoulder, and the sword fell to the floor.
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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