“Captain Lancaster Brown, founder and operator of the Black Diamond Trading Company, Nassau, Bahamas. Died 15 February 1763, believed to be aged 82 years. Survived by his wife and four children.”
Amos put down the copy of Lancaster Brown’s obituary he’d printed at the library.
“Where’d you find this?” Ethan asked. Jynx put down her book.
“Local library. Being at home with my parents was driving me nuts—I had to get out. I couldn’t stop thinking about Lancaster. I did some searches on Lancaster Browneighteenth century and found his obituary. When I searched on Black Diamond Trading Company, I found out more. He had six ships, and his son took over the company after he died; this article said his ships were rated as a ‘one’ in Lloyd’s Register, whatever that is, but it must be important.”
“So, Lancaster Brown was a rich man and had a family!” Ethan said happily, passing a plate of Mrs. Gooch’s Christmas cookies to Jynx and Amos.
Amos said, “Here’s the really cool part. The article said that Lancaster bought his first frigate with money he got for selling a huge, rare diamond—a black diamond given to him by two mysterious friends.”
So, without knowing it, Ethan and Amos had helped Lancaster to freedom!
Jynx said, “That black rock you guys found in the cave!” “We didn’t know what it was. It turned out to be the most valuable part of Captain Kidd’s treasure. That’s the reason for the booby traps,” Amos whispered.
They sat back in their chairs and exhaled simultaneously. They watched the flames in silence and then Ethan said, “I was thinking—let’s see if we can find the entrance to Jynx’s hidden passage.”
“Yeah, and I’d like to check out the fresco one more time. I want to double-check to make sure my copy is accurate.”
They spent the rest of the day searching the library for another secret passage. They pushed and pulled on every bookcase, tried all the statues and busts, and scanned the books for anything unusual, but found no entrance.
Later that afternoon, they crunched across the frozen snow to the graveyard, and soon were standing in front of Thomas Malory’s tombstone. The snow covering the grave looked as if it had not been disturbed.
Ethan slammed his foot down hard on the snowy grave, but no hollow sound answered. They found the shovel they’d hidden and carefully removed a small patch of snow, only to reveal grass underneath. The entrance had been magically sealed.
Christmas vacation was coming to a close.
Fergus took them into Deadmoor so Ethan could replace the army parka and vintage sneakers Salamandra had ruined. While he was in Agatha’s Psychedelic Cascade, he saw a vintage bracelet he thought Jynx would like and bought it with his own money. She loved it. Amos was now a fixture in the house, and on Jynx and Ethan’s last day, they all went back into town for pizza.
After lunch, the kids spent the rest of the afternoon read- ing in front of the fire in the library. Ethan finished Treasure Island and started reading Le Morte d’Arthur, the book that had been left in his room. Amos was racing through Trea- sure Island. Ethan had to stop him from saying things like “that’s really how they talk” or “that’s just like Kidd’s ship.” Late in the afternoon, Mrs. Gooch came into the library and said, “Amos, I’m afraid you’ll need to be headin’ home.
The Moseby kids need to pack for tomorrow.” Her voice was tinged with sadness.
After she left the room, Amos stood up, faced Ethan and Jynx, and said, “It was a great adventure, wasn’t it?”
Ethan shook Amos’s hand. “Weird, but so choice. Hey, give me your cell phone number. We can text.”
Amos shook his head. “I don’t have one.” He went to the large mahogany desk, scribbled on two small pieces of paper, and handed it to the two of them. “This is my home address. Just write me a letter.”
“You gotta be joking, right?” Ethan said.
“We’ll both write you, Amos,” said Jynx, and she gave Ethan a look.
Before closing the window, Amos said, “Well, see ya around.”
That night after dinner, Socrates invited Ethan and Jynx back up to the solar, and they settled into the battered old chairs in front of the fire. Puck, who had grown very fond of Ethan, came over to him and laid his head on his knee, his cow-like eyes gazing up at the boy.
Socrates paused from puffing on his pipe and said, “We’d love to have y’all back next Christmas, maybe even some- time this summer. You know, if you want to?”
Jynx asked, “Socs, would you ask our parents about us coming back to Gramarye? We love it here.”
“Most certainly—I’ll talk to your folks,” Socrates said, blowing a perfect smoke ring. He took a deep breath. “Kids, uh, I need to tell y’all something important.”
Ethan and Jynx looked at each other. Here’s where he tells us he knows about the sword, Ethan thought. They leaned forward in their chairs.
The flickering firelight glinted on Socrates’s glasses. “Okay, so . . . oh geez, this is hard,” he said.
“Uncle Socrates, it’s okay. You can tell us,” Jynx said. Ethan nodded.
“Here goes. Kids, um . . . you know the stuff going on around this house? Lights, doors opening and closing . . . fireplaces? Well, there’s more. You see, I’m a wizard. In fact, a very famous wizard, I’ve been told.”
Ethan and Jynx exchanged looks of disbelief.
Is Socs some weirdo? What if he’s crazy, like those guys who think they’re Napoleon? Maybe he’s pranking us. That’s it! He’s pranking us, Ethan thought.
“Ethan, Jynx. To answer your ponderings, no, I’m not pranking you, and again, no, I wouldn’t lie to you. Sorry for reading your noggins—I do that only when it’s absolutely necessary.”
An uncomfortable silence fell over the solar.
Socrates whispered, “I guess a little demonstration might help?”
He placed his pipe between his teeth and settled back in his chair. His eyes darted to the fireplace. Ethan and Jynx watched as a small flame leaped from the fire and hopped on the top of one of the andirons. It rose into the air and then floated over to the bowl of his pipe and danced around the rim. The flame bowed and then dropped into Socrates’s pipe.
“Oh, I get it! You’re that kind of a magician,” Ethan said. Socrates shook his head. He scratched his ear, puffed on his pipe, and blew a smoke ring that hung in the air in front of the children. They watched as the ring turned into a glowing orb.
Jynx stood and stared at her uncle in amazement.
“Ethan, by the way, the wall of stone monoliths on the beach? Guess who?” Socrates asked shyly.
Ethan couldn’t move. Jynx slowly sat back down. “Look, you two. I couldn’t think of a good way to tell you. Fact is, I’ve only told a few people. Scafell has always known, though. We were kids together, in the old country.” Socrates then told them his story. He was actually Merlin and centuries old. He told them how he came to the new world and settled in Deadmoor. He then explained the maze and how they had portal-jumped—not time traveled—to Scotland, where the maze and the mausoleum really were. They had time traveled to Captain William Kidd’s ship and the island where they’d found his treasure. When he finished,
Socrates filled his pipe again and sat forward in his chair.
“Ethan and Jynx, please listen very carefully. Ethan, it’s no accident you found the maze and travelled back in time to find the sword. Jynx, I have a theory about the orb that found you in the cavern beneath Gramarye House. Some- one spoke to you, didn’t they?”
“Ethan, someone spoke to you too, in the upstairs bed- room. Well, the person who spoke to y’all was Bleise, my old tutor and my master. He’s also the most powerful wiz- ard the world has ever known. Bleise wanted you to find the sword and the orb, and I think it has something to do with the other student he taught. Her name is Morgause, and she is a very powerful fairy witch. We chose different paths. She was drawn to evil magic. For fun, she conjured the Black Plague, which killed millions of people in the fourteenth century. We fought a duel, and she won. My leg is a constant reminder of being beaten.” Socrates reached for his sneaker filled with tobacco.
“What does all this have to do with me and Jynx?”
“I believe y’all were meant to be here this Christmas. You see, the sword and orb are magical objects. I’d believed them to be lost. Their discovery could be a very good thing, or it could be very deadly. It’s important to understand what this means. To do this, I need your help. I hope you’ll come back to Gramarye, and we can hopefully get some answers.” Jynx turned from staring at the fire and looked at Socra- tes. “I don’t mean to be rude, but why don’t you just ask this Bleise guy?”
“If only it were so simple. He’s a very weird and complex individual. He’s never clear—everything is always a riddle or a puzzle. Our lessons were maddening. We had to solve riddles to get our assignments. And his idea of fairness is very confusing. After our duel, Bleise imprisoned Morgause in her own tower, yet he’s giving her a chance to escape. It’s as if he won’t side with either good or evil. Truth is, he won’t even speak to me. Kids, I’ve loved having you here. So has everyone else.” Socrates glanced at Puck and grinned. The dog was giving the children his most pathetic look. “See, Puck will miss you if you don’t come back. Kids, it’s your decision. No judgment or bad feelings from me if you decide not to. I promise you this, though. I will do every- thing in my power to keep both of you, and Amos, safe.”
Jynx turned to her brother. “It was a great adventure, and sure beats staying with the Minges.”
Ethan thought for a moment, and then said, “Socs, we love it here, and having a wizard for an uncle is really cool.” “So, y’all will come back to Gramarye House next Christmas?”
Ethan was about to say yes when Jynx put her hand on his arm. “Socs, we do have one condition.”
“Name it,” Socrates replied.
“You promise never to read our thoughts again. Deal?” she asked.
Socrates grinned, spit in his hand, and held it out for Jynx to shake. “Deal.”
Jynx looked at his wet palm, scrunched up her face, and then laughed. She and Ethan rushed over to Socrates and hugged him at the same time.
“Okay, y’all, it’s time for bed,” Socrates said. He was scratching Puck behind his rubbery ears.
“Socs, you didn’t tell us about Mr. Crag,” asked Ethan.
“Kids, that will have to come from him. I’m afraid I’ve said too much about Scafell already. His story is his to tell. I’m sorry.”
When they reached the door of the solar, Ethan turned to his uncle. “Can I tell Amos about, you know, the whole wizard thing?”
“Is it okay if we wait on that too?” Socrates asked. “Sure, and by the way, I’m sorry for the whole he’s crazy
as people thinking they’re Napoleon stuff.”
“Don’t sweat it, man. I thought it was kinda funny. But you know, it wouldn’t be Napoleon. I’d probably choose Pablo Picasso.”
Their parents were supposed to pick them up at nine thirty that morning, but as usual they were late. Ethan was busy skimming the book his parents had told him to read over the holiday.
“Your parents are here,” Mrs. Gooch announced. “Come over here and give Gooch a big ol’ hug. I’m going ta miss y’all somethin’ fierce.” She blew her nose in her apron.
Socrates was already standing next to the circular drive in front of the house when the children followed Fergus out. Phoebe and Reginald Moseby got out of the car.
“Dear brother, I trust your Christmas was pleasant?” Phoebe said as she adjusted the full-length mink coat that engulfed her. She made a move suggesting she would hug Socrates but then stopped herself, making a face as if she smelled rotten eggs.
“Maupin,” Reginald said, shaking Socrates’s hand. Reginald immediately wiped his hand on his coat, as if he had been contaminated.
“Children, hurry along. Tight schedule, you know. Our after-holiday soiree is a few days away, and I simply must meet with the caterers.” Phoebe paused, her perfectly sculpted jaw dropping. “Oh my God . . . what in the world is Ethan wearing?”
“It’s vintage—cutting-edge fashion for guys his age, I’d say,” Socrates said, a mischievous gleam in his eye.
“Well, we won’t stand for vintage. Not in our circle, I can assure you. I’ll have the help burn those clothes.” She slammed the passenger-side car door.
“Really, Maupin, our family has an image to uphold. I’m surprised they’re not tattooed like longshoremen. Bad form—very bad form. Children . . . now,” Reginald said, motioning to the car with his index finger.
Jynx gave everyone hugs. Mrs. Gooch erupted into another fit of crying.
Ethan walked over to Socrates. “Uncle Socs, thanks for everything. This has been the best Christmas I’ve ever had.” “You never have to thank us. Remember, you’re always welcome,” Socrates said with a wink.
Ethan extended his hand, but changing his mind, hugged his uncle.
Before getting into the car, he looked up at the strange house and smiled. He would miss Gramarye and the animals too. He knew he was leaving a very special place and suddenly felt very sad. He could see the lamp in his room turn on.
She’s saying goodbye, he thought, and got in the car. He felt happy again.
“Thanks, Gram,” he whispered.
“What was that, Ethan?” Phoebe asked.
“Oh, nothing. Mom, we loved staying with Socrates. Can we come back, you know, when you and Dad have to travel for work again?” Ethan asked as the car started down the long gravel driveway.
“Your father and I will have to discuss it. By the looks of your wardrobe, I think Socrates has been a little too lenient.” “Oh, please, mother? The house was so comfortable for reading. I’ve almost finished my new book on Mandarin Chinese,” Jynx said, and she winked at Ethan.
Reginald looked at Phoebe and raised his eyebrows. “They like their Uncle Socrates’s house, dear.”
“Well, if it’s conducive to your studies, it’s settled, then. Gramarye House it is.”
Ethan smiled at Jynx, and then turned his face to the window. As they turned onto the paved road, they spotted Admiral Benbow perched on the rusty mailbox. When the car had vanished from view, the raven croaked his gurgling croak and flew away.
Ethan had just finished his first fencing practice and flopped onto his dorm-room bed. He opened his backpack and found the letter he’d picked up at Brinkley’s post office. Turning the envelope over, he saw Amos Sprunt, Route 740, Deadmoor, VA 24210 scrawled across the top.
After opening the letter, he read the spidery handwriting:
I hope you are doing well. I’ve finally gotten permission to use the computer room at our local community college, and I’ve been researching the sword. You won’t believe what I’ve found. I know I don’t! The sword matches the description of the famous sword Excalibur! It’s purported to be King Ar thur’s enchanted sword in the ancient legends. Remember how I thought it could be Excalibur? There was writing etched into the sword as well. I wish I had copied it down -- it was something about the king of England! At first I thought that was crazy, but then again, we did travel back in time, so I guess anything’s possible? The thing I don’t understand is how Excalibur connects to the painting. I can’t find anything linked to King Arthur in my copy of the painting.
Check your copy of the painting and see if you find any connections to King Ar thur. You may want to read the story -- I am! If you find something, just include it in a letter. Sorry, my parents won’t buy me a computer or a smartphone. My mother thinks they’re controlled by goblins. Please keep this last sentence to yourself.
That’s all from me. Hope to see you this summer.
Amos X. Sprunt, Esq.
Ethan grabbed his copy of Le Morte d’Arthur and flipped through its pages until he found the story of the sword. He read Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil is rightwise king born of all England.
That’s got to be it—it’s a magic sword! Ethan thought. It has to be Excalibur. Gram was trying to tell me by leaving the book on my nightstand. I wish I’d had it today at fencing! He chuckled, then checked his iPhone and saw it was time for dinner.
As he was walking through the quad on his way to the Commons, he came upon four boys surrounding a smaller blond-haired boy.
“Little Timmy must be lost. Shouldn’t you be at a girl’s school?”
“Look, boys,” said another kid. “Timmy’s gonna start crying. Then he’ll rat us out and tell old Bagby on us. Look, loser, you do that, and you’ll wish you were never born, you little nerd.”
“Guys, it’s Moseby!” said a kid named Phillips. “Ethan, look who actually came back from break? It’s little Timmy back for more. You’ve always had some great ones for him— give us a good one.”
Ethan looked at the small, pale younger boy and then at his classmates. “Phillips, leave him alone.”
“What’s gotten into you, Moseby? Have you gone nerd too?” Ethan walked up to Phillips and looked in his eyes. “Leave him alone. You and these other clowns need to move on, got it?”
Phillips stared back at Ethan, his mouth hanging open. “Come on, Tim,” Ethan said, placing his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “You’re sitting with me tonight at dinner. Guys, if any of you pick on him again, I’ll know about it.” He and Tim walked away, leaving the other boys speechless.
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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