Scafell Crag emerged from between two of the huge stones, stopped, and whistled. From the other side of the stone ring, Silas bounded over to the yew tree in the center. At its base lay the body of Socrates Maupin. Crag nodded his head when he saw Socrates’s chest gently rise in the beam of his flashlight. Silas stopped his sniffing and licked Socrates’s nose.
“No more lickin’ now, ya crazy hound. You leave him be— back to the cottage with ya. . . . Go on now. It’s all right. . . .I’ll be around shortly; that’s a good boy.”
It’s been a while since he’s done this. Crag searched the woods surrounding the garden. Seeing what he had been looking for, he followed his eyes to the spot and start- ed working. A few minutes later, he laid Socrates on the improvised stretcher made from two small trees, a belt, and his coat.
“Maupin, how much longer am I going to have to do this?” he said, lifting the end of the stretcher. After struggling with the briars and snow, he reached Gramarye’s side porch, where Mrs. Gooch stood.
“Sakes alive, he hasn’t been there in a long time,” she said, throwing her shawl over him. “Best fetch Fergus. It’ll take both of you to get him into the house thanks to all that breakfast food he eats. I’ll wait here with Mr. Maupin.”
After moving him inside, Mrs. Gooch settled Socrates comfortably near the conservatory fire. When she had finished spreading the quilt evenly over him, she felt his forehead and, satisfied with her work, left the room.
High above them in the solar, Benbow wriggled through the well-worn hole in the rafter. The raven had looked better—feathers were missing and he had cuts on his body. His only eye was almost swollen shut. With effort, he landed in the old sink where he had built a nest. The jaculus had attacked Benbow when he had first approached her, and the following negotiations hadn’t been easy. The raven would owe a serious debt. After a few turns around the nest, the great raven fell asleep.
“I don’t see the disgusting human larvae. What if they’ve found it? If those dreadful brats have succeeded . . .”
Morgause adjusted the hair dryer once more. “Let’s see, Bleise’s enigma; I can’t seek it and I can’t enter the tomb. Only the innocent, only one devoid of evil, can do that. Curse that old fool. I simply must have the sword before Maupin, or whatever he’s calling himself now. When I collect it, the first of the Ceithir will belong to me.
But how? If only I were innocent.” She straightened her back. “Innocent! That’s it! He found children. That’s why they were in the maze. Very clever! Whom shall I send?” She paced the room, her yellow lips curled into a frown. “I don’t know anyone innocent or devoid of evil.”
Dwaine sat up and smiled at his master.
“You? Innocent? You’re a redcap—your hat is soaked in blood,” said Morgause.
Dwaine said, “Marm, if I may, perhaps a creature—an animal—can help you?”
“Why, Dwaine, there is a gooey brain in your noggin. Excellent!” She walked over to the little redcap and bent to pat his head. At the last moment, she plucked his nose viciously. “Fetch Salamandra. He’s innocent because he’s a creature—a creature being true to his nature.”
She floated across the room and slid gracefully into a chair. As she placed her head under the dome, the hair- dryer hummed to life. Two boys were running across a field toward a lone tree. She heard gunshots and saw men emerge from the thicket. “Shoot straighter, you imbeciles,” she muttered.
One boy joined the other at the base of the tree. Then they touched the tree—and vanished!
“The tree must be the portal. It’s so delicious summoning the ancient magic. That means Bleise has created a riddle, and I think I know where it is,” Morgause said, an evil smile spreading across her face.
Dwaine made his way down the spiral stone stairs. The stench of rotting flesh hung in the air. With each step, his torch dimmed as the air became colder. Stepping onto the slimy stone floor, he moved the torch from left to right.
At the sound of a clink, Dwaine turned to his right and saw a large dark mass on the far side of the chamber. The creature’s raspy breathing filled the chamber. His hand trembling, he moved his torch in the direction of the noise. Dwaine took one step, and the creature burst into flame. A long forked tongue flicked out of its mouth. Dwaine jumped to his left and dodged a large glutinous blob of glowing green slime.“Marm, a little help down here, if it would please you? I’m about to be toasted by your lizard.” “Salamandra, you impatient little parasite!” Morgause shouted from upstairs. “I have the potion ready.”
She gave a wry smile as she stood over the boiling copper pot on her desk. The sound of Dwaine’s hobnailed boots scurrying over the dungeon floor echoed from below, and she laughed. Dwaine screamed.
“Take a bone now from his nest; sometimes old ways are the best,” she chanted and dropped an arm bone into the pot. Gliding over to the top of the stairs, she shouted, “Grab Salamandra’s chain!”
“But, Marm, it’s glowing hot,” Dwaine replied. “Do it, or you’ll be glowing hot, dolt!”
A bloodcurdling screech echoed from the dungeon as Dwaine grabbed Salamandra’s chain. Morgause drank the noxious liquid, her eyelids twitching from the foul taste. Her thumb touched the tip of her forefinger, and with a loud snap, the redcap and salamander stood in the mausoleum’s snowy courtyard.
Ethan held the mysterious sword under one of the torches in the mausoleum. “This sword’s so choice. It’d be awesome to hold on to this. You know, in case of any trouble.”
Amos grabbed his arm. “Ethan, hush. Do you hear that?” A low, raspy noise was coming from outside.
Ethan pushed the heavy oak door open. A lizard-like creature the size of a bull stood in the courtyard of the mausoleum, its blotchy yellow spots glowing against purple skin in the moonlight. The salamander’s head turned toward them; its forked tongue snapped out of its mouth, recoiling instantly. Standing next to the creature was the redcap, Dwaine.
“Well, boys,” he said in his Scottish accent, “won’t you come out and play?”
“Not that little creep again!” Ethan whispered.
“Goodness gracious! Where are my manners? Allow me to introduce you to my spiteful friend. He’s called Salamandra,” Dwaine called to them with a grotesque smile.
Salamandra spit a blob of venom at a small pine, burning the tree in seconds.
“Wee lads, a riddle for you, if you would so indulge me?” “Like we have a choice?” Ethan said.
“As I was sayin’ . . . ,” Dwaine replied, rolling his red-veined eyes. He struck a theatrical pose, then announced his riddle:
No body I have,
Nor blood or bones.
On air I feed;
My guards are stones.
Amos stepped forward. “Challenge us, won’t you? That riddle’s easy. The answer is fire.”
Dwaine’s face contorted at Amos’s correct answer. He repeatedly stomped his hobnailed boots on the frozen cobblestones and shouted a string of curses in Gaelic. Of course, the boys didn’t know what he was saying. Dwaine clapped his hands, and Salamandra’s body glowed a brilliant orange. Then it burst into flames.
Ethan asked, “A flaming lizard?”
“Actually, he looks more like a salamander,” Amos observed. “See, lizards have clawed toes and scales on their skin.”
“Amos, shut up. He’s on fire and spitting acid—he’s a lizard.”
“No, Ethan, you’re missing—” “Okay! You win! What do we do?”
Before Amos could answer, Dwaine dropped the chain he had been holding. The clink of steel hitting cobblestones froze the blood in their veins. Salamandra flicked his long tongue again and started toward them.
Amos shouted, “Ethan, remember the rowan tree. He won’t go past it—back inside!”
Slamming the door shut, they set the board in place to bolt it. Amos was staring at the sword on Ethan’s back.
“Amos, no way! I’m not going up against that giant lizard, even with the sword. What if it doesn’t work again? Besides, even though I didn’t die, it still hurt—a lot. I don’t know what being on fire feels like, and I prefer to keep it that way.” “Ethan, what choice do we have? He’s blocking the only way out of here.”
“Why don’t you fight that thing, then?”
“Ethan—don’t be silly.”
He knew Amos wouldn’t change his mind. Ethan grabbed the scabbard and pulled out the glowing sword. “I guess that means it’s on.”
Amos paced up and down the tomb. “Now wait. The painting can’t help us. Gramarye can’t help either.”
“What are you doing?” asked Ethan. “Devising a strategy.”
“Huh? Here’s one. We run out. I see if this sword works. If it does, that lizard’s dead,” Ethan said. Whenever he swung the sword, it glowed brighter.
“Okay. Let’s say you slay the beast. What about Dwaine? What if he doesn’t ask a riddle this time? What if he asks a riddle we can’t answer? He is a redcap or some kinda goblin thing. We don’t know what he could do to us. He did mention eating us, remember? Think about this: What if you can’t kill the salamander? What if your sword doesn’t work?”
Ethan looked at the glowing sword. What if Amos is right?
Whaddya mean ‘if’? “You got a plan?”
“No. That’s what’s bugging me. If only I had a cookie. Wait a minute, is there another way out of here?” Amos asked, taking down a torch and waving it around to see better.
They checked all the walls but found no secret passage- way. Then they noticed the quiet.
“I don’t hear Salamandra anymore,” whispered Ethan.
Just then a blast of fire shot from under the door. The bottom started to burn.
“Keep looking!” Ethan shouted.
Socrates felt weak from the strain of blending his magic with the magic of the yew. His vintage television glowed near the fireplace—Ethan and Amos were trapped in the mausoleum, as the burning door clearly revealed. He walked over to where Admiral Benbow was sleeping and saw the bird’s injuries. You rest, friend. Since I can’t enter the tomb, I’ll need to enlist the aid of an animal friend—preferably one that can fly. The falcons! That means a little time travel to visit the old mews. Hmm . . . I haven’t time traveled in a long time. Should I go as myself? No, a hideous argument erupted last year. Come to think on it, it’s been over two years since I’ve transformed into a falcon. I am exhausted and it might be dangerous, but how I’ve missed flying.
He picked up his cane of lignum vitae. The weight of the dense wood felt good in his hands. He wriggled his toes in the warmth of the fire and watched them shrink and transform into talons. His legs grew smaller, and his skin changed to armored scales. His cane fell to the floor, and Socrates squirmed out of the arm of his purple T-shirt, transformed into a perfect falcon.
The mausoleum was filling with smoke, and it would soon be difficult to see and breathe. The flames at the bottom of the oak door were growing larger.
Ethan got up and walked around the interior of the mausoleum with a torch, desperate to catch a glimpse of anything that could be an exit. “That’s really weird. There’s a bird, right over there, on that lady’s nose!”
A small hawk perched on the nose of one of the effigies. “It must have got in somehow. I bet it saw that lizard,” said Ethan.
“I wonder . . . ,” Amos said, walking over to the effigy. The bird screeched and flew away. He raised the torch to the very place the bird had been standing. “Amazing! Ethan, check this out.” Amos held the burning torch over the statue’s face and pointed to the nose. “Doesn’t that look funny to you?”
“Amos, it’s a nose.”
“Yes, but look at that huge nostril.”
“Ugh! Is that a big booger in there?” Ethan asked.
Despite the danger they were in, Amos laughed. “No, I think it’s a lever, a button. What if pressing it opens a secret passage?”
“Well, pick her nose and push the button.” “Or booger, you mean?” Amos said, smiling.
The small joke made them feel better. Amos pushed the button, and with a loud grinding noise, the stone effigy slid back, revealing stone steps leading to a crypt below.
“Ethan, if that leads to a passage out of here, maybe we can sneak by them. If they catch us, you hold off Salamandra, and I’ll deal with Dwaine’s riddle.”
The opening in the floor was just a little wider than their shoulders. When they entered, they were relieved to see stone steps instead of a dead body. The steps led to a chamber with walls lined on either side with thousands of neatly arranged human bones. The bones were stacked in different niches that had been carved into the solid rock walls.
“Freaky—look at all the skulls,” said Ethan. Hundreds of human skulls glared at them with hollow black eye sockets.
The crypt ended at an oak door, and upon opening it, they found themselves outside, behind the mausoleum.
Ethan smiled. “We follow your plan. Good luck, dude.”
“Good luck, Ethan.”
“Let’s do this,” Ethan said, leading Amos toward the left side of the building.
They moved without a sound over the hemlock needles as beams of moonlight filtered down through the trees.
They stayed under the hemlocks’ cover so they wouldn’t be seen, then reached the front corner of the large mausoleum. Turning the corner, they could see the glow from Salamandra’s fire up ahead.
“With the salamander being on fire, we know where it is,” Ethan whispered.
“Unless that’s the door still burning,” Amos replied.
They stood at the front corner of the building with their backs pressed against the cold limestones, neither wanting to make the turn. For all they knew, Salamandra could be headed their way right now. If they were discovered, Ethan wondered if he had the tougher job, but he also knew Amos was their best chance of getting past Dwaine. He felt like his heart was going to break through his ribs.
“Amos, if they catch us, you’ve got to run faster than you’ve ever run in your whole life. Don’t think—just run. Dwaine will chase after you. That leaves me with the spitting lizard.”
“Hey, I know I’m a tiny bit chubby, but you don’t have to use me as bait,” Amos whispered.
“It’s not that. Dwaine’s faster than the lizard, and if he asks another riddle, you’ve got the best brain for solving it. When I get past Salamandra, I’ll catch up with you.”
“Gotcha,” he whispered. Amos gave Ethan a thumbs-up. Ethan led Amos back into the trees and looked for a good place to exit the forest. Finding a group of shrubs at the edge of the courtyard, they crouched low behind the cover. The closest entrance to the maze was thirty yards across the open courtyard. Ethan looked to his right. Salamandra and Dwaine were standing at the edge of the courtyard facing the mausoleum. The redcap had been careful to stay clear of the dreaded rowan tree—he knew his body would be racked with horrible pain from the tree’s magic. If we can get a good head start, maybe we can get past them and lose them in the maze, Ethan thought.
“Okay, Amos. Now’s as good a time as any,” Ethan whispered and fist-bumped him.
Amos entered the courtyard and headed toward the maze. Ethan waited a few seconds and silently slid through the bushes to follow. The powdery snow muffled their footsteps as they glanced over to where Dwaine and Salamandra stood watching the tomb’s door. Amos was near the maze’s path when they heard it.
“I smell children!” Dwaine shouted.
Dwaine darted toward them, the moonlight showing his bizarre frenzied movements as he shuffle-ran at them. The salamander followed behind at a faster speed than Ethan thought possible for such a large animal. As Amos entered the maze, Ethan shouted, “We need to separate!”
Amos and Dwaine entered the left side passage and disap- peared into the darkness of the maze. Taking advantage of his lead, Ethan spun around and stood facing Salamandra’s advance.
“Hey, lizard! Come and get me!” he shouted and then darted into the path to his right. Ethan was relieved when he heard the movements of the creature behind him. He knew Amos would now only have to deal with Dwaine instead of both of them. What am I going to do with Salaman- dra? I don’t have a plan, he thought. He reached a dead end and backtracked, heading down another path. He didn’t hear the salamander.
Ethan continued through the maze and stopped at an opening to see if his pursuer could be nearby. He slowly looked around the corner, and ten yards away stood Salamandra, glowing orange in the path. A burning blob of acid venom hit the corner of the maze, just below him. The burning leaves released a sickening chemical smell. Ethan ran to his left, entering a long stretch of path, and thought he could now distance himself from the sala- mander. He had never run harder. His hope faded when the path ended, and he faced a thick wall of privet hedge. Ethan desperately looked for another path, but didn’t see any. I’ve got to go back, he thought. When he turned around, the glowing salamander was standing at the other end of the path.
Ethan was trapped.
What would Amos do? He would think like Sherlock Holmes, that’s what. What do I know? No openings. No exit. The maze has changed before. Hold on--living puzzle . . . living puzzle!
Salamandra advanced toward him, its forked tongue flicking out of its mouth. Its glowing became more intense, lighting the entire path.
I can’t believe I’m going to do this, but here goes. “Um, maze? Can you, uh, make me another path, please? Look, I’ll do anything.”
A branch shot out of the hedge beside him and wrapped around his arm. Its sharp thorns tore through his parka and bit into his skin. Ethan could see his blood on the tightening branch as he fought to free his arm. Salamandra was closer now. Ethan screamed, “You’re supposed to help me!”
The branch unwrapped from his arm and withdrew back into the hedge as an opening began to appear. A blob of venom whizzed by Ethan’s ear and landed on the hedge. He could smell burning leaves. He saw that the opening was now large enough, and he darted through. He was back at the courtyard.
He reached back and pulled the enchanted sword from the scabbard. I’ve got to get away from this thing and help Amos, he thought. Ethan had started toward the path they’d used earlier, but Salamandra emerged from the maze, block- ing him. Ethan tried to run by it, but Salamandra again moved in front of him. He couldn’t believe the quickness of the large creature. Ethan was now facing him, holding the sword in one hand and moving his feet to dodge the large, glowing blobs of venom that Salamandra spit at him. The salamander lunged at him. Ethan dodged a large orange claw and watched it tear into the frozen ground. Salamandra attacked again, but Ethan countered by swing- ing the sword at the powerful creature, slicing a gash in its foreleg. Shrieking wildly from pain, the salamander launched another burning glob of acid. It missed Ethan,
and another unfortunate hemlock burst into flames.
The beast ignited and leaped high into the frigid air. For a brief moment, the giant salamander appeared suspended in the night sky, like a constellation floating too close to the earth. Ethan held his ground, both hands holding the glowing sword at the ready. The clouds shifted and revealed a bright moon. Its light turned the battlefield into an otherworldly light-blue landscape. The creature released a horrific roar and fired a stream of burning pink venom at him. Ethan just managed to dodge the blast, but lost his balance and fell to the ground. All around him became brighter. Ethan looked up, and to his horror, the burning salamander was falling toward him!
Ethan did the only thing he could do: he pointed the sword up at Salamandra and closed his eyes. He felt intense heat, and then the giant salamander landed on top of him. A thunderclap exploded, shaking the ground and everything around them. Salamandra’s fires went out, and its massive body rolled off Ethan—the sword sticking out of its chest.
“I’m going to give those boys a good talking to when I find them,” Jynx said out loud, her frozen breath floating around her head. Emboldened by her experience in the chamber, she was now following their tracks in the snow. A raven croaked above her, reminding her of the earlier encounter. Seeing a piece of silvery-gray duct tape sticking on one of the hedge’s branches, she knew she was headed in the right direction. “I could be in my comfy room right now with a warm fire and my fuzzy pajamas. But no—I’m stuck in a frozen, stupid maze looking for those knuckleheads. I’m going to give that Ethan a piece of my mind,” she muttered, looking up to check for the ravens.
When she reached the edge of the courtyard, she smelled burning wood. Then she saw the mausoleum—its doors burning. Hurrying forward, her eyes fell on the huge frame of the smoldering salamander.
What is that? she thought, her feet slipping on the snow as she ran. Then she saw Ethan lying on his back next to the grotesque monster. “No!” she shouted and ran toward Ethan. He wasn’t moving.
“Wake up,” she said, shaking Ethan’s body. A quick glance at Salamandra made her shudder. A pool of light-blue blood had formed beside the beast.
“Ethan, wake up! Wake up!” she shouted.
Ethan didn’t move. Two huge ravens landed a few feet from them and croaked. Jynx scooped up handfuls of snow and rubbed it onto his face. He still didn’t move.
“Ethan, forgive me,” she said, then slapped him as hard as she could. Looking at his burnt clothes, she shouted, “Come on, Ethan! Please wake up!”
Agonizing seconds passed; then he finally opened his eyes and slowly sat up. Jynx immediately pushed him hard in the chest, knocking him back onto the snow.
“What’d I . . . ?” he said with effort.
“You scared me half to death! What were you thinking, taking on whatever that thing is over there? Don’t ever do that again!” Jynx shouted.
Ethan looked at Salamandra lying dead in the snow. “Sorry, Jynx. I was freaked out too. I just remember the monster jumping, this insane heat, and then a loud clap of thunder. After that, everything went black.” He straightened up.
“Jynx, have you seen Amos?”
“No. When I followed the tape, it brought me here. You’re the only person I’ve seen,” she said.
“We’ve got to find Amos—I think Dwaine’s got him.” Ethan grabbed the glowing sword and pulled it out of Salamandra.
Jynx’s eyes got big. “What is that? You’ve got to tell me about that! There’s a story there.”
“Jynx, look. Amos and I found this sword. . . . It’s, um . . .” Jynx knew what Ethan wanted to say. And it didn’t seem so weird anymore to acknowledge it. “Magic! That’s incredible. Where’d you find it?”
“Can I tell you later? Amos is somewhere in that maze. Come on—we’ve got to hurry; follow me,” he said.
“Ethan, you should follow me. I notice things much better than you.”
Ethan just stared at her. “What’s gotten into you? The sword and the lizard didn’t even weird you out. You’ve . . . changed or something.” Jynx shrugged. “Are you following me or not?”
He followed her back into the snowy maze, limping. The silver moonlight made everything glow and cast shadows on the paths below. The maze was deathly quiet. All they could hear were their shoes crunching the snow. A raven croaked above them.
“I wish they’d fly away. I hate those things. Wait, what’s that?” Jynx asked.
Ethan kneeled in the snow and looked at a dark splotch. “Is that blood?” she asked.
They quickened their pace, and every couple of yards, they saw another patch of blood. Jynx noticed Ethan’s shoulders stiffen at the sight.
“How far could they have gone?” he asked.
“How long did you fight that monster and how long were you knocked out?” she asked.
“I don’t know.” Ethan shook his head. “They could be anywhere. They may not even be in the maze anymore. Oh my God, Jynx, what if Dwaine killed Amos?” His eyes suddenly widened, seeing something she didn’t.
Ethan followed Jynx. She ran harder than she’d ever run before, only slowing down when she saw a piece of duct tape ahead.
And then she heard the Scottish accent. Tied up and lying in the snow was Amos—and Dwaine stood gloating over him.
“Oh, goodie! Everyone’s here. I’ll stock the larder for winter,” he said, then danced a little jig.
Amos’s glasses lay in the snow a couple of yards from him. He looked so different without them. Then Jynx noticed the deep gash in his leg.
Ethan drew the sword and held it in front of him. “Amos, I’ll have you free in a minute. First, I’m gonna take care of this little creep.” The sword glowed an intense shade of purple.
“Verra pretty: an enchanted sword. Thing is, Sonny Jim, it only works if you can catch me,” said Dwaine. He spit at Ethan.
Ethan rushed at Dwaine. He yelled and wildly swung the sword. Dwaine scuttled away from him and laughed his high-pitched laugh. Ethan lunged again, and again missed the little redcap. Try as he might, Ethan couldn’t get close to Dwaine. To make things worse, every time Ethan attacked, the ropes tightened on Amos, who writhed on the snowy ground.
“Ethan, stop chasing him! The ropes are getting tighter,” Jynx shouted.
Ethan lowered the sword. “Let him go, Dwaine!”
“Ooh . . . now that’s not quite right, is it, ya great lummox?” asked Dwaine.
Squinting at the little redcap, Amos said, “Go ahead—ask your riddle.”
“Plumpy understands the rules,” Dwaine said excitedly, showing his blood-caked teeth.
Jynx said, “You haven’t asked me one. You’re not worried about a little human girl, are you?” She laughed at him.
“Right! I’ll show you, wee lass. Let’s see—which shall it be?”
The children then saw Dwaine’s eyes grow wild and his hands move to his mouth. He grimaced in pain, and they heard one of his teeth crack. Finally, he fell to the ground, holding his jaw.
The children exchanged surprised looks, not sure what was causing the redcap pain.
“Augghh! The fairy witch is in my head!” Dwaine rolled around the ground, covering his ears. “Okay, okay! I won’t ask the riddle, Marm! Just let me keep the rest of me teeth!” he shouted into the air around him. Blood dripped from a black, pulpy gap in his front teeth, and tear tracks etched Dwaine’s blood-caked face.
Ethan moved to untie Amos, but the goblin stopped him. “Take another step and me rope will snap his yellow
noggin clean off,” Dwaine said, spitting blood. “Jynx, run!” Ethan shouted.
“I’m not leaving without you guys,” she said. “Jynx, please—run to the passage,” Ethan said.
“She can run all she wants. I’ll still catch her.” Dwaine giggled.
“Dwaine, I’ve got a riddle for you,” Jynx said. “What’s bigger than a mountain, faster than a redcap, but possible to catch?”
Jynx seemed to dumbfound Dwaine. He had stopped laughing and was staring at her in disbelief.
“What? Wait—hold on,” Dwaine said, stalling for time.
She pulled the orb from her backpack, then slowly brought the ball behind her head, getting ready to throw it at Dwaine.
“Really, lass. That’s too funny,” he said, contemptuously looking at the orb. “Hmm, let’s see—what’s bigger than a mountain, faster than me, and possible to catch? It’s on the tip of me tongue.”
Jynx shut her eyes and threw the orb as hard as she could. The ball flew a few feet and then stopped. It hung, suspended in the air, in front of Dwaine’s eyes.
“Is this the answer to the riddle?” he asked.
The floating orb began to glow, and Dwaine stared at it, transfixed. He then reached for it. A brilliant beam of pure white light emanated from the orb, illuminating his face. Dwaine began writhing in pain and screaming. The children heard a loud cracking and popping sound as the blood in his veins rapidly chilled and began to freeze. When he contorted in agony, the same white light shined from his nose, mouth, eyes, and ears. His hobnailed boots became clear, and then the rest of his body followed. In the pale moonlight, Dwaine stood before them, a statue of crystal-clear solid ice.
“The answer is light,” Jynx whispered.
“Jynx, that was awesome! Where’d you get it?” Ethan asked, untying Amos.
“I was in a secret passage—kind of a cavern really,” said Jynx. “You get to it from the library. Anyway, I was trapped in the dark with, like, a million moths and rats, and then this glowing ball appeared and saved me. I don’t know what it is or where it came from, but it chose me. Weird, huh?” “Yeah, weird. A lot of that’s going around; I’m just glad it worked, whatever it is,” Ethan said, touching Dwaine’s top hat.
The ice had frosted over, and Dwaine resembled white marble.
Amos looked at the crystal orb. Handing it back to her, he said, “Jynx, that orb, hanging in the air like that. It helped you, but it also turned Dwaine into solid ice. You need to be careful—you don’t know what it can do.”
Without a word, Jynx carefully put the orb back into her coat pocket.
“We’ve got to go the mausoleum—the sword,” Ethan said. When they reached the mausoleum, they were relieved to see it was still there. Only the door had burned. Still lying in the courtyard was Salamandra.
“So you killed it with the sword,” said Amos.
“He really kinda killed himself with it. I fell, held the sword up, and he landed on me.” Ethan pointed, his finger near the cut in the salamander’s chest.
Amos looked at the wound. “Gee whiz, or as you’d say, that is so choice! The sword must have killed him instantly. Ethan, you’re lucky to be alive.”
The three stood silently in the courtyard for a moment.
It began to snow again—in small, fine flakes. “Hey, y’all, what do we do now?” Ethan asked.
Amos said, “I have a theory. Let’s go back into the mausoleum.”
The three kids faced the painting, which was now illuminated by the torch light.
Amos walked up to the gilded sun and inspected it. “I’ve been thinking about these hooks. The purpose of a hook is to hold something. I’m certain we hang the sword and scabbard on one of them. It has to be done very carefully. Remember, we can’t touch any other part of the fresco. If we do, we’ll be pulled back into the painting again. I’m personally too tired and hungry to do that right now. What about y’all?”
Ethan and Jynx looked at each other and immediately shook their heads.
“Okay, so we’re in agreement. Ethan, I guess you do it? You fought Salamandra with the sword,” Amos said.
Ethan looked at the sword, which was now snug inside the scabbard. He shook his head. “I think Jynx should do it. She freed us from Dwaine.” He handed the sword to Jynx, who gave her brother a proud smile. She walked to painting, stood on her tiptoes, and with both hands, gently hung the scabbard on the golden hooks. The kids stared in wonder as the sun began to glow a beautiful yellow gold. The light became brighter and brighter until it was so intense they had to leave the mausoleum. A clap of thunder boomed, and a new tomb door that had magically appeared slammed shut behind them.
Their earlier footprints reappeared, and they followed them back to the secret passage. Soon they were smoothing the fresh snow back over Thomas Malory’s grave.
As they walked away from the graveyard, Ethan said, “I wonder what Gooch’s cooking. I can’t wait to get some real food. I bet she’s cooking right now.”
Amos said, “I just want to sleep.”
“Before you do anything, you boys need to take a shower. You really stink,” Jynx said, moving ahead of them.
“Thanks, Jynx,” Ethan said with a laugh.
In the dense snowfall, the large mansion loomed ahead.
They had reached the grove of ancient cedar trees.
Jynx stopped. “Do you guys hear that?” Other feet were crunching the snow.
They ran toward the house. The problem was they were running toward the footsteps, not away. The shape of a large dog was hurrying toward them. They huddled together.
“Which way?” Amos shouted.
Exhausted, Ethan found it hard to think, and the dog was almost upon them. At the last moment, he stepped in front of Jynx and Amos.
A shotgun blast rang out, and the large dog stopped. A wel- come voice boomed through the rushing sound of the wind. “Crag, whatcha doin’ settin’ that dog loose on those kids?” The lanky shape of Fergus was walking toward them.
“Silas, heel!” Crag shouted.
“What are y’all doin’ out here? It’s snowin’ somethin’ fierce, and it’s really cold,” Fergus said.
Before they could answer, Crag and Silas were standing beside them. Now that the dog was closer, he didn’t look as scary.
Crag said, “I thought you shot my dog.”
“Shot yer dog? I fired the shotgun to scare off your dog. What about these kids, you old fool?” Fergus asked.
“Thought they was intruders trespassin’.”
“Well, they ain’t. You oughta have yer head examined, scaring kids like that. Now, get on back to yer house, Mr. Crag.”
“Uh . . . sorry, y’all,” Crag muttered.
Fergus walked with them to the side of the house. Extremely tired, cold, and hungry, they entered the mudroom.
Fergus stopped them once inside. “Those clothes, the shape y’all are in, tells a story. Best go upstairs and change. If Mrs. Gooch sees you, all hell will bust loose. Ethan, throw them burnt clothes in the laundry chute, and I’ll get rid of ’em. Mr. Amos, sit there and put your coat over your leg. Whew! Y’all stink like a July hog. Sorry, Miss Jynx. What in the world did y’all get into?”
No one said a word.
“Oh, I get it. Ain’t none of ol’ Fergus’s business, huh? Well, up ya go, Ethan; I’ll be on the lookout for Mrs. Gooch. Now go fast,” Fergus said.
The warm mudroom felt wonderful; Jynx was glad to be out of the snow and cold. She looked over at Amos, who was contentedly holding his hands over a radiator. His cheeks somehow looked more defined, as if he had gotten older during their adventure.
Fergus said, “Sorry about firing my shotgun and scarin’ y’all like that. I fired into the air to stop that dog.”
“Fergus, it’s okay. We’re fine, really,” Jynx said. “Fergus Bugg, just what were you thinkin’ firing that gun
near these children?” Mrs. Gooch shouted, bustling into the mudroom like a wet hen.
“Mr. Crag had set his dog loose on the kids. I did it to stop that dog. It was chargin’ right at ’em,” he said, holding up his hands defensively.
“Did he now? I’ll fix Mr. Scafell Crag, and I’ll tell you this, Fergus. You do something like that again, and it’ll be me chargin’ right at you, instead of some ol’ mangy hound!” she said, her finger pointing up at Fergus.
While Mrs. Gooch berated Fergus, Ethan slipped back into the room. She stopped talking and began sniffing like a bloodhound, her nose turned up in the air.
“What in Sam Hill is that awful smell? Sakes alive, that’s foul,” she said, inspecting the room. When she reached the boys, her face screwed up and she said, “You two! What in tarnation have you been into?” She grabbed Ethan’s arm. “Ethan Moseby, what happened to your arm? And you, Amos—that’s a cut under your eye and look at your leg— that’s a nasty cut. Ruined those britches too. Your parents’ll skin me alive. You two can get cleaned up later. First thing is getting y’all to the emergency room over at Deadmoor General. Fergus, call the Sprunts and tell ’em to meet us there,” she said without taking a single breath.
The boys protested going to the emergency room, especially at a hospital named Deadmoor General, but Mrs. Gooch immediately silenced them. “Don’t y’all backsass me. Stink rot will set in if you don’t have those cuts tended to by a doctor.”
The boys looked at each other, raising their eyebrows. Fergus whispered, “I think she means gangrene, boys.
You know—a real bad infection.”
“I know what I mean, Fergus. Why’re you still here? Now git and call the Sprunts. Then get the station wagon warmed up and ready,” she ordered like a drill sergeant.
The trip to the hospital’s emergency room was uneventful. The boys each got stitches and tetanus shots, and were soon back at Gramarye. The kids agreed to meet in the library the next day, and Amos left with his parents.
Ethan headed upstairs for a much-needed bath.
After filling the huge bathtub with hot water, he eased into the bath, careful to keep his stitches dry. He realized how sore he was as the hot bath soothed his aching muscles. It was also nice to get clean. He climbed into his warm bed and smiled as he laid his head back into the soft pillow. The lamp on the nightstand turned off, and a fire instantly blazed in the fireplace.
A merlin was perched on the hemlock branch outside his window. It waited until Ethan was asleep and flew away.
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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