A GRAND LADY
The news report called it the “Blizzard of the Century.” Thirteen inches of snow fell during the night alone. The next morning, the world outside was a smooth, brilliant white. Ethan woke up in the morning and closed the heavy drapes in his room; an intense sunbeam was stubbornly hitting his eyes. It felt good to snuggle back under the thick quilts. Rolling over, he heard a strange noise and mumbled at it, “Please go away.”
It didn’t, and he soon realized it was a breathing noise. He opened his eyes slowly and found Fergus’s face a few inches from his own.
“Merry Christmas Eve, Ethan!” he said.
“What?” Ethan asked, rubbing his eyes.
“Whaddya mean ‘what’? It’s Christmas Eve, biggest day of the year around here. You been sleepin’ through it. Come on—I’ll meet you downstairs,” Fergus said, shutting Ethan’s door.
He sat up in bed. Ethan had forgotten that Christmas was so close; he had lost track of time while they’d been away.
Time—now that’s funny.
Socrates walked in as they finished eating. He entered the dining room whistling a strange tune and poured himself a cup a tea.
Taking a sip, he said, “How’d the camping go? I hope you’re feeling okay, with the stitches and everything. Even in a cave, wasn’t it freezing?”
Ethan hadn’t thought about everyone asking questions. He didn’t want to lie, but what could he say? He was think- ing of something to say when Fergus hurried into the room. “All done with breakfast? Then come on—let’s get the tree for tonight,” the butler said.
“Go ahead,” Socrates said, his eyes smiling over his glasses.
Relieved, Ethan immediately agreed and left the room with Fergus. Dressed in a heavy coat, hat, and mittens, Jynx was waiting for them in the foyer.
On the way to the nearby hillside to cut down a live Christmas tree, Fergus talked non-stop, entertaining them with funny stories of his Christmases growing up in Deadmoor. The tree was cut down and loaded into the back of a pickup truck. The rest of the morning and early afternoon flew by in a whirl of activity-- the tree decorated, fresh garland hung throughout the mansion, candles placed in the windows, and stockings for all the guests hung above the fireplace in the conservatory.
By midafternoon, the preparations for Christmas and the night’s party were complete. On his way to the library, Ethan walked through the decorated rooms and soaked everything in.
He was still a little sore, and the library’s fire felt wonderful. Kidd’s pirates and the mausoleum seemed far away now. He was wondering if everything had been a dream, but then he felt his sore arm. He turned when he heard the window open.
“I’m freezing—glad there’s a fire,” Amos said, leaving his boots beside the ornate radiator and laying his coat and ski cap on the floor.
They plopped down in front of the fireplace and sat in silence for a moment.
Then Amos asked, “I wonder what all this means. You know, the sword and everything?”
Ethan shrugged. “If you don’t know, I sure don’t. You’re the smart one. Not me.”
“You know, Ethan, I believe that awareness of what you don’t know is real intelligence,” Jynx said, stepping from behind an armchair.
The boys jumped.
“Where’d she come from? How does she do that?” Amos asked.
“You two just don’t pay attention. You’re talking about the adventure, aren’t you?”
Ethan replied, “I’ve been trying to figure out how long we were gone.”
“My calculations conclude it was about seventy-two hours,” Amos answered.
“In English, please?”
“I think it was about three days,” Amos replied, casually polishing his glasses with a handkerchief.
“Everyone around here thinks we were just gone one night,” Ethan whispered.
“Ethan”—Amos looked around to make sure no one but the kids could hear him—“I’ve been thinking. This isn’t over. It doesn’t make sense that there would be a large fresco filled with cryptic symbols—just for us to bring back a sword. There are more clues in the painting: ‘bone to four, but once a time’?” Amos was silent a moment, and then said, “Gee whiz, did we have a great adventure. You slew a gargantuan flaming salamander that spit acid—that’s awesome!”
“We did do some pretty cool stuff. Pirates, and I mean real pirates, shot at us. I just hope Lancaster’s okay.”
“You haven’t told me about the pirates or this Lancaster guy. While we’re talking about cool stuff, don’t forget me defeating a redcap,” Jynx said.
Ethan and Amos told Jynx everything that had happened to them. She was not happy about being left behind, but she forgave them when they explained that it wasn’t inten- tional. She asked a lot of questions about Lancaster.
“He’s a . . . was . . . a good man,” Amos said.
His word choice made them realize that Lancaster was no longer alive. They sat in silence, remembering him.
The knock of a cane on the polished hardwood floor made them turn to the library door. Socrates was standing behind them.
“Hey, y’all. After the party tonight, how’s about a tour of my solar?” he asked.
Ethan immediately answered, “Yes, sir!”
Amos asked, “Mr. Maupin, you said after the party; so am I invited to the party tonight?”
“Of course you are. So are your parents,” Socrates replied. Amos stood up, grinning a big grin. “Thank you for everything, sir! I need to be going home so I can get ready.”
A few seconds later, they saw him running across the snowy backyard.
“Not a bad idea. I need to get ready myself—Gooch wants me to wear a jacket and a tie. Yuck!” Socrates said, smiling. “Oh, I forgot—packages were delivered today for y’all. I think Fergus put them in your rooms.”
Ethan stood and watched his uncle leave the library. It was painful to watch him walk, yet he never complained, and always seemed happy. Ethan realized he’d been the happiest he’d ever been at Gramarye.
I bet I can guess what my package is. It’s my Christmas gift from Phoebe and Reginald. Jynx will have one too.
Across the room, his sister was looking at a book on one of the shelves. She brought it to him. “Ethan, you won’t believe this.”
On the front cover was a drawing of a pirate. The book’s title was Treasure Island, and after reading a few pages, he thanked her, tucked the book under his arm, and headed for his room.
The packages were indeed the Christmas presents from his parents. After he’d changed clothes, he opened his box and chuckled as he held the book in his hands: Improved Sports Performance through Self-Actualization by Gerhard Nuerta. Jynx’s gift was Mandarin Chinese Two, the second book in the series she’d been given last Christmas. Even though she said she liked her parents’ gift, Ethan could tell she was disappointed.
“Jynx, let’s go see if Fergus is doing something fun,” he said in an attempt to cheer her up.
“I’m nowhere close to being ready, Ethan. I need a shower, and then there’s my hair. You go ahead. I’ll be down a little later,” she said, and he could tell by her tone that the party was making her feel better.
The party did make Jynx feel better. Once again Mrs. Gooch had triumphed. Everyone loved the delicious food and the beauty of the decorated Gramarye House. When the last guest had left, the lights in the house flickered.
That party was awesome, Ethan thought as he took a bite of one of Mrs. Gooch’s homemade chocolate-chip cookies. He looked at the cookie and laughed, remembering what Amos had said when they were struggling with the Musgrave Ritual: a three-cookie problem.
“Now if Socs shows us the solar, this will be the coolest party ever,” Ethan whispered.
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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