THE THREE- COOKIE PROBLEM
That evening at dinner, Jynx was excited about her after- noon with Mrs. Gooch and told everyone about changing the carburetor in Socrates’ station wagon. Ethan noticed the bandages on Mrs. Gooch’s arms and saw her grimacing in pain during dinner—she must have had injuries from Jynx’s legendary clumsiness.
Mrs. Gooch said, “Jynx was enthusiastic. A body’s got to learn somehow.”
As the children feasted on steak and french fries, Socrates was happily gobbling up toast with jelly. He would look up from his plate every few minutes and tell a corny joke, laughing harder than anyone.
Ethan didn’t mention meeting Amos because he didn’t want to tell Socrates that the boy had been spying on him. His thoughts were focused on finding the entrance to the maze. He was thinking of a plan for the next day when the grandfather clock in the hall started chiming. In a sleepy daze, he counted ten deep bongs. Ten o’clock? What time had they eaten dinner?
Jynx talked all the way to their bedrooms. Ethan listened and chuckled. She’s going to be a lawyer when she grows up. Entering his room, he said jokingly, “Hello, room. I’m back—you big old funky bedroom.” The side-table lamps flicked on, and a roaring fire appeared in the fireplace.
Returning from brushing his teeth, he noticed there was something on the bedside table that hadn’t been there a few minutes before. He specifically remembered the table had been empty when the lamp came on. As he walked toward it, he was disappointed to see it was a book.
What’s up with all the books?
Turning the battered copy over in his hands, he read the cover: Le Morte d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory.
What does that even mean? I bet it’s not even in English. Anyway, I wish it was a book about mazes. He put the book back on the nightstand and didn’t bother to pick it up again.
Ethan lay awake in the warm bed, his arms behind his head. He thought about his first full day at Gramarye. It certainly hadn’t been boring, and the freedom was awesome. Anything was better than staying with his cousins, who always got away with bullying Jynx. As he turned off the light, he heard the welcoming crackle of the fire and looked out his window into the night. It was snowing! His door creaked open, and the outline of a small girl made her way to the big bed and quietly climbed up.
Ethan whispered, “All right. Good night, Jynx.”
He barely heard the muffled night from under the covers, and soon they were both asleep.
The children awoke to a white-blanketed world the next morning. They hurried through breakfast because of the snow, and because their uncle was eating liver and onions and the smell was horrible.
They headed outside. “Let’s build a snowwoman!” said Jynx as she began to roll a small snowball in the snow. After an hour, a short and lopsided snowwoman stood guard on the main lawn. The snow had made Ethan forget about the maze, and he had to admit he was having a great time. Admiring their creation, Jynx announced, “I’m freezing,” and she turned to go inside.
Ethan asked, “What are you going to do?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe get a little hot chocolate and then perhaps some more hot chocolate?”
“See, Jynx, maybe it’s not so bad here. Phoebe and Reginald would never let you have hot chocolate.”
Jynx smiled. “Yep, even with all the freaky stuff around here, it’s growing on me.”
He had an idea; she might want to help him with the maze, and she was smarter than he was. He’d give it a try. He explained to her what he was trying to do. He told her everything, except he forgot to mention meeting Amos Sprunt and the chase through the dark forest. “So what do you say? You want to help find the entrance to the maze?”
As she stood on the side porch looking at him, she answered, “Definitely not. When we were exploring Gramarye House, I knew you were tricking me into looking like you always do. You’re on your own, buster!”
He watched as she knocked snow off her boots and then opened the door to the mudroom. Before he could say anything, she slammed the door. Well, that didn’t work, he thought.
He decided to try searching the hedge again. When he was near the cemetery wall, a cloud of acrid smoke wafted from behind a dark evergreen.
“Moseby, you’d better not be up to something,” said Crag, emerging from behind the tree. A pipe was clinched between his yellowed teeth. “I’ve watched you sneakin’ ’round here. Yer uncle don’t know what’s goin’ on, but old Crag here does. He probably trusts you too. Well, I don’t.” Removing the pipe, he spat a large glob of brown spit onto the fresh white snow. Crag had a thick scar running from below his ear to his gnarled upper lip. The deformity affected his speech, causing a grating hiss.
Ethan gulped and looked down, afraid to meet his eyes. When he looked back up again, the grizzled old gardener had vanished. Not knowing where Crag had gone, Ethan hurried across the backyard to the house and gladly entered the safety and warmth of the mudroom.
There was Jynx, glaring at him and tapping one foot with both hands on her hips.
“You only asked me because you can’t figure it out,” she said.
“Jynx, it’s not like that.” Ethan then realized that Jynx saw it differently.
“And I’m much smarter than you,” she added. “Tell me something I don’t know.”
“I do have an idea, but I shouldn’t tell you,” she said, then turned and walked coolly away down the hall.
“You gotta be kidding me,” he muttered.
Ethan sat on the mudroom bench, trying to think of what to do about Jynx. He knew he’d better apologize. He spent a good thirty minutes searching the immense old house for her. He found her in the library’s annex reading an art book that almost covered her small body.
“Uh, Jynx, look. I’m sorry for not including you, but I really did try to show you the maze.”
“You really do need my help, you know,” she said. “For example, the library was the first place you should have looked for me.”
Ethan struggled to keep from laughing, but a small snicker escaped.
“That’s not helping you,” Jynx said sharply. She continued reading her art book as Ethan watched the flames dance in the fireplace.
The fire felt good.
“What’s your idea?” he asked.
“Humph,” she replied, arching a single eyebrow. “I’m only going to help you because I’m bored.” Jynx lowered the book. “The clue is in the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story ‘The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual.’ ”
“Jynx, what makes you think this story will help?”
“I was in this very room, mad at you, and I said, ‘I’d love to know how to get into that maze—I’ll show him.’ A book fell off the shelf and opened at the story, and because I’m polite, I said, ‘Thanks, Gram!’ That’s short for Gramarye.”
“Unbelievable. That’s so choice.”
Jynx asked, “Are you still saying so choice?”
“Okay, okay. Finish telling me what happened,” said Ethan. “You’ll just have to read it for yourself.” She left Ethan in his chair and climbed the staircase to the balcony of the library. A few moments later, she handed a small book to Ethan.
“The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Not him again.”
“Huh?” Jynx asked.
“Amos, the kid I chased out of the backyard, said I should read this too,” Ethan said, then immediately realized his mistake.
Jynx’s eyes narrowed. “I’m never talking to you again, never ever!”
“Look, come on, Jynx. I’m sorry I forgot to tell you about Amos.”
“Hush! I’m going upstairs to look at that stupid maze,” she shouted, and stomped out of the room.
He opened the book. I’ve got nothing better to do.
Just reading the first page was excruciating—he couldn’t get comfortable. The fire was too hot, and the words were too small. And who wanted to read about two old guys, especially since one kept describing how sloppy his friend was? The other guy, a detective named Sherlock Holmes, wasn’t much better, since he kept blabbing about old criminal cases and target practicing with his pistol inside the house. Okay, Ethan admitted, maybe the target practice was kind of cool.
After the first two pages, the story improved. A rich old guy got mad after catching his butler studying an old family document in his private library. The owner of the mansion fired the butler and gave him a week to leave. But when the butler disappeared early, the rich guy knew something was wrong. Holmes determined the document, the Musgrave Ritual, was the heart of the mystery.
“I wonder if this is what Jynx was talking about?” Ethan read aloud the riddle from the Musgrave Ritual:
Whose was it? His who is gone.
Who shall have it? He who will come. Where was the sun?
Over the oak.
Where was the shadow? Under the elm.
How was it stepped?
North by ten and by ten, east by five and by five, south by two and by two,
West by one and by one, and so under. What shall we give for it?
All that is ours.
Why should we give it? For the sake of the trust.
This had to be it—the clue Jynx had mentioned. But wait, where had he heard for the sake of the trust? The voice he’d heard in the upstairs bedroom had said the same thing. The voice had also said seek the light at the very moment he saw the light in the maze. The riddle and the maze had to be connected! After reading the rest of the story for any other possible clues, he found a scrap of paper and a pencil and copied the riddle. Since an oak and elm were mentioned, he’d try his luck outside.
Excited, he put on his boots and coat. The bracing air stung his cheeks as he shut the door and stepped onto the side porch. The air seemed electric as the light began to change. The solid gray sky was beginning to glow, as if someone had turned on a silver light bulb.
Checking to make sure Crag wasn’t around, Ethan read the riddle again. He’d first have to find the oak and the elm—and realized it would be hard with no leaves to give him a clue. Most of the trees were evergreens, so he quickly found a few trees without leaves. The problem was they looked very similar. What if they were all the same tree?
Thinking back to his biology class, he remembered that oak bark is scaly and resembles elephant skin, while elm bark has grooves and is spongy. Searching the tree trunks, he found the trees! Checking the riddle again, though, his heart sank. He needed the sun to see a shadow. Looking up into the dreary sky, he realized he’d be waiting a long time before the sun could burn through the pea-soup gloom. What if he had to wait for days? It would drive him crazy. Even with no sun and shadow, he tried to solve the riddle.
In different directions, he followed the riddle’s steps and ended up in different places, including the gate of the old cemetery. Frustrated, cold, and wet, he headed back to the house; the gray sky took on a delicate salmon color as the hidden sun began to sink.
Discouraged, he joined Jynx and Socrates for dinner. His sister rattled on like a jack hammer about every subject she could possibly touch upon, with Socrates getting in an occasional “I see” and “cool.” Socrates didn’t have a chance to ask Ethan about his day. Ethan didn’t care; he just punted his peas across his plate with his fork.
Finally, Jynx put some food in her mouth, and Socrates seized the moment. “Ethan, what were you up to today?” Ethan was now staring at a peculiar painting hanging over the sideboard. It was a picture of a baby who looked like an old man.
“Ethan? Hello, anyone home?”
“Oh, sorry, Socs. Did you want the salt?”
“No, just asking how your day was. I had a blast; a few jars of paint exploded,” Socrates said, waiting to see if the children got his joke.
Ethan noticed tiny splatters of purple, blue, and red in Socrates’s hair and beard. Tiny flecks of paint even speckled his glasses.
Mrs. Gooch came in, apparently overhearing their conversation. “What on earth goes on up there in that solar thing, as you call it? Sakes alive, I hear all kinds of crazy noises from up there. It’s enough to give me the heebie-jeebies.” She put a plate of toast in front of Socrates.
Ethan and Jynx noticed their uncle didn’t answer. He sat and nibbled quietly on his toast, a contented look on his face. His eyes seemed to twinkle when Mrs. Gooch mentioned the mysterious room.
The solar was the only room in the house that Ethan hadn’t seen. Once he solved the maze, getting into the solar would be his next challenge.
“Speaking of my solar, I think I’ll head that way now. I’m really struggling with a painting. My blue is not getting along with a particularly peevish shade of purple. Good night, y’all,”
Socrates said, pushing back his chair and then exiting the room.
Ethan pushed back his plate of spaghetti. “I think I’ll head to the library.”
“Ethan, wait,” said Jynx. “I want to talk to you: I saw the maze. I think it’s really creepy, and there’s no way I’m going in there. You wanted to leave me out of this—well, you get your wish. I’m going to see if I can find Badger.”
“I wonder how long she’s going to be mad at me?” he muttered, getting up from the table and walking toward the hallway. He was surprised to see Badger blocking the door. She was staring at him with a disapproving glare.
“Oh, come on, Badger. Not you too?” Ethan said.
Badger turned from the doorway, and with a flick of her tail, she was gone.
“This stinks. The riddle in the Sherlock Holmes story doesn’t work at Gramarye. It doesn’t make any sense,” Ethan said to himself as the fire popped and crackled in the library’s fireplace.
Out of the corner of his eye, Ethan again saw Amos, the boy with blond hair, peering in the window. He was motioning Ethan over to him. Annoyed, Ethan made his way to the window, unlatched it, and cracked it just a little.
Amos asked, “How about letting me in?” “Uh, I don’t know. Why?”
“Well, it’s polite for one, and it’s also freezing out here. By the way, you did push me into an immense crater.”
“You fell into the hole,” Ethan said.
“Okay, you got me there. I thought we could, you know, hang out.”
“I don’t think—”
“I’m bored out of my mind living around here, and it’s freezing. Can you let me in? I’ll catch my death.”
Ethan looked at Amos standing outside in the cold night, and giving in, he opened the large window.
Amos scampered through. As he was removing his coat, he asked, “So, what are you doing?”
“I’m really having a tough time trying to solve a riddle,” Ethan said, then immediately realized his mistake. He didn’t want to get Amos involved in his mystery.
“A riddle—fascinating! I’m incredibly adept. Riddles are what I do best. Give me all the facts,” Amos said, pulling off his boots.
“Oh, yeah, the riddle’s over here.”
As they made their way to the fireplace, Amos oohed and aahed and touched everything. “I’ve always wanted to be in here! Do you have any hot tea?” he asked.
“Soda makes me all bloated. Oh, and can we have cookies too?” Amos asked.
“Maybe later. Right now I need help with this riddle.” At the word riddle, Amos became very serious.
Ethan said, “Here’s the deal—you can’t tell anybody what I’m about to tell you. You’ve got to swear.”
“Ethan, how can I swear an oath without facts? An oath is serious.”
“I’m not telling you anything unless you swear.”
Amos’s face scrunched up, and his hands clenched together. Struggling, he said, “Gee whiz. Okay, I swear!”
Ethan told him about the maze and Gramarye House’s magic. Amos was fascinated.
“I never knew!” Amos said. “You can’t see the entrance from the upstairs window?”
“Not that I . . .” Ethan stopped. “I didn’t notice.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Amos said. “You’ve spent all this time and didn’t look at the top of the maze? How stupid.”
“I guess I’m stupid.” Ethan shrugged.
“Well, it’s easy to solve. The moon’s out tonight. Let’s go look,” Amos said.
The boys made their way up the main staircase to look at the maze.
“I can’t believe I’m actually in Socrates Maupin’s house. This is amazing,” Amos whispered.
They peered out of one of the upstairs windows over- looking the maze. The snow-laden labyrinth looked like it was made of ice, and the moonlight made it appear to be glowing. Try as they might, they still couldn’t find an entrance.
“Who has a maze that doesn’t have a way in?” Ethan tapped his chin. “What if solving the riddle will help us find the entrance?”
“What makes you think that?” Amos asked.
Ethan wondered if he should tell Amos about the voice he’d heard. He’d told him about Gramarye House, and Amos hadn’t laughed at him. He took a deep breath. “Uh, Amos, the other night, I was in this room, and I heard, um, well, a voice. It said, ‘Seek the light to reveal the shrouded treasure. For the sake of the trust.’ ”
Amos said, “Oh, this is brilliant!” He began pacing. “Capital! Ethan, the voice said the same thing as the riddle. How can they not be connected? This is the best. You know, what’s more puzzling is the fact that the building in the middle looks like a mausoleum.”
“What’s a mausoleum?” asked Ethan.
“It’s a tomb for rich people.” Amos stopped pacing and squinted out the window. “Hold on—did you just see that light?”
“That’s what I saw before. I’m glad you’ve seen it. Why would someone be in there? Wait, why would someone be in there at night?”
“I don’t know. It’s not only singular, but spooky. Let’s say we find the entrance. I don’t think we should go into that maze. Something’s not right about this.”
“Good one, Amos.” Ethan clapped him on the back. “I’m going to find out what’s in there. It beats sitting around here reading. Don’t you want to see what’s in the maze? The light?”
Amos just stared at Ethan, biting his lower lip.
“Look, you don’t have to go in the mausoleum. I’ll do that. There could be some really awesome stuff in there.” Ethan stepped close to Amos, cocking his head to the side with a devilish grin. “Are you a man—or a wimp?”
Ethan could see that Amos was struggling. Maybe Ethan calling him a wimp got to him.
“Okay, I’m your man.” Amos looked at the mausoleum and shuddered.
“Choice. Let’s get to work on the riddle,” said Ethan. “And I thought this Christmas Break was going to be boring,” Amos replied, sighing.
Back in the library, the boys sat in front of the fire. Ethan explained each step he’d taken to find the entrance to the maze. Amos seemed to soak up every word, interjecting an I see every now and then. When Ethan showed him the Sherlock Holmes book, Amos eagerly turned to the bizarre riddle.
After reading it carefully, Amos said, “So the ritual is a riddle. Don’t speak to me for the next hour. This should prove to be a three-pipe problem.”
“Do you smoke?”
“Of course not! What I meant was, this will be a three- cookie problem.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Ethan said.
“You don’t understand. I really mean it; I need three cookies to help me think.”
“I can’t believe I’m actually going to do this,” Ethan said, walking toward the kitchen.
“And milk!” Amos shouted after him.
When Ethan returned to the library, Amos was sitting cross-legged in the chair. He was deep in thought.
“I hope these are okay,” Ethan said, putting a plate of peanut-butter cookies on the table beside Amos.
“I told you not to talk to me.” “You’re welcome,” Ethan said. “Oh yeah, thanks. Sorry.”
Bored, Ethan sat on the balcony stairs and stared at a grandfather clock. Its loud ticking was getting on his nerves.
Amos jumped up from the chair. “Is there a painting of trees in the house?”
“You’re kidding, right? How about like a million,” Ethan said.
“Really, a million? Uh, scratch that. You were being sarcastic. It’s an artist’s house—how silly. Anyway, we need to find a painting that has the sun over an oak and a shadow under an elm.”
Ethan agreed, and the two boys began their search. The floorboards creaked as they walked through the dark house. On entering the dining room, Amos clicked on his flashlight, and they started checking the paintings.
Ethan whispered, “What if Crag is outside and sees the light? What if he thinks we’re robbing the place? He carries a gun.”
“It’s going to be impossible to find the painting in the dark.” Amos paused and looked around. “Ahem, we really need some light.”
With a click, the lights in the room glowed. Ethan hurried to the light switch and flicked it off. “You can’t do that.”
“It really works. That was awesome. Sorry, I had to try it out. She’s a very polite house,” Amos whispered.
Amos covered the flashlight lens with his fingers, allow- ing a tiny beam of light to shine on the paintings as they worked their way around the room. The sound of footsteps coming from the front porch made them stop.
“Amos, get beside the fireplace.”
They pressed their backs against the walls flanking the cold fireplace. The beam of a flashlight shone through the window from the porch and moved slowly around the din- ing room. Ethan looked to his left and, to his horror, saw another window beside him. Ethan lay down on his stom- ach, and hearing footsteps, he crawled toward the sound and huddled under the window, just as the beam of light passed above him. Afraid Amos would be standing in the path of the light, he was relieved to see that he had moved. Looking to the fireplace, he saw the tip of a socked foot. Amos was hiding in the fireplace.
The footsteps were now moving to the wall where Amos had been. If Ethan stayed where he was, he would be seen. He crawled to the fireplace and joined Amos. The beam illuminated the wall beneath the window, where he’d just been.
The heavy footsteps moved away, and the light moved across the dining room and appeared in the conservatory across the foyer. Neither dared move for a long while. Then Ethan crawled to the front window and, raising his head, saw the one person he didn’t want to see—Crag. The old man was stalking across the snow-covered lawn away from the house.
Amos whispered, “Geez, that was close.”
“Why’s Crag always walking around outside? It’s like he’s guarding something,” Ethan said, walking toward the conservatory.
“Maybe your uncle’s a very rich man. Maybe he’s his bodyguard?”
“If he’s so famous and rich—rich enough to need a body- guard—why does he live in a beat-up old house like this?” Ethan hoped the house wouldn’t react to what he’d just said about her.
“Ethan, shall we focus on finding the elm and the oak? Please?”
“I think Crag’s gone. Let’s hurry in case he comes back.” Ethan watched for Crag while Amos inspected the paintings. They checked every painting on the main floor, but couldn’t find a single elm or oak. Disappointed, they decided to regroup in the library.
Settling into the comfortable leather chairs in front of the fireplace, Amos read the riddle aloud once more.
“That didn’t help, and we’ve looked everywhere,” Amos said.
Ethan realized he hadn’t searched the balcony in the library. Hurrying to the top of the balcony stairs, he saw a small painting at the far end of the room. Seconds later he was standing in front of it, but it was too high for him to see any details.
Amos joined Ethan and handed the flashlight to him. Even with the light on the painting, they couldn’t see much. The painting was too dark.
Ethan said, “We need to get closer.”
They searched the balcony for a ladder, but found nothing.
Frustrated, Ethan said, “Who hangs a painting where no one can see it?”
Just then, five thick books fell from the bookcase and landed near his feet.
Amos jumped back, eyes wide. “Ethan, did you see those books? That’s amazingly efficient. Could the house be helping us?”
“Could be. Hey, see if you can stand on the books to see the painting,” Ethan said, trying to distract Amos.
Standing on the books, Amos’s eyes were just barely level with the outline of trees in the painting. He licked his finger and rubbed the picture, removing some of the grime to reveal a green branch hanging in a small patch of blue sky. He then spit a few times on his hand and rubbed the painting’s surface again. After repeating this for several minutes, the boys saw two clearly defined trees.
“Ethan, may I present a magnificent oak and a majestic elm. Look, the sun and the shadow.”
“Amos, that’s just awesome! Let’s get the riddle.”
A crescent moon shined through the library’s windows as the boys made their way back to the fireplace. Amos read the riddle aloud.
“What’s next?” Ethan asked.
Amos thought for a moment. “ ‘North by ten and by ten, east by five and by five.’ That’s it; we walk the paces. But where?”
“Walk the paces?”
“It’s elementary. The numbers represent the strides or paces we take. It even tells us which way to go.”
“Amos, you said we have to figure out where we walk the paces.”
“Let’s get to the painting. Bring the book.”
Amos stood on the books again. “Shine the light from where you’re standing. We need to see the whole painting.” Amos cleaned another small area, and when he had finished, a clearly defined building had appeared.
“Amos, it’s Gramarye House! The only thing is—which part of the house?”
“Hmm, the chimney . . . There’s no chimney on the front of the house. It’s the left side of the back of the house—the kitchen. Look where the shadow ends.”
Ethan was already hurrying down the spiral staircase. Amos followed, struggling to keep up. Once in the kitchen, they walked to the rear left corner.
Amos read, “ ‘North by ten and by ten.’ Okay, I get ‘north,’ but what does ‘ten and by ten’ mean?”
“We multiply, Amos. We walk one hundred paces to the north. Which way is north?”
“Hmm. This house faces north, so head straight toward that door.”
Ethan started walking but reached the door at twenty paces. “I guess I was wrong. Any ideas?”
“Ethan—twenty paces. Ten by ten equals twenty—we add! Stay where you are for a second. Next is ‘east by five and by five.’ Take a right.”
Ethan took ten long steps down the hallway and stopped. He was standing at the door that lead to the main-floor sitting room.
“Right or left?” Ethan asked in a whisper.
“ ‘South by two and by two.’ Take another right, then four paces.”
Ethan ended up back in the library, facing the fireplace. “It was west something, right?” he asked.
“Yes, ‘west by one and by one,’ and then ‘so under,’ ” Amos whispered.
Ethan followed the last instruction from the ritual, and it led them under the balcony to another corner of the library. The last clue was “and so under,” so they decided to search the floor for any secret doors by tapping gently on the hardwood floors. If they heard a hollow sound, it would mean there was an open area underneath. Having no luck with the floors, they did the same thing with the oak wall panels. Sure enough, after pushing against the panels, one opened with a click. Ethan pulled, and the panel opened with a noisy cre-e-eak. As the panel swung open, thick cobwebs clung to the panel and doorway.
“Whoa,” said Ethan.
“Who goes first?” Amos said, pointing the flashlight at the dark passageway.
“Hand me the light, please. I want to see what’s down there,” Ethan said as Amos followed him through the cobwebs and down the stone steps. “This place must be really, really old.”
At the sound of a click, light bathed the steps and room below. “Not as old as you might think,” Amos said, his finger still on the light switch.
At the bottom of the steps was a long, narrow room. Every inch of the walls and ceiling was covered in hundreds of framed paintings. The room was a confusing explosion of colors and shapes.
Ethan shrugged his shoulders and said, “I thought this would be easy.”
“Let’s think. We followed the directions in the riddle, and it brought us to some kind of secret gallery. Obviously, we look at the paintings. Look for maps, paintings of a maze— anything that could be a clue.”
Ethan became disoriented because it was difficult to distinguish the walls from the ceiling, and he actually fell to the floor. They realized they would have to carefully look at each painting for any signs of a clue. An hour passed, and they still hadn’t found anything.
Ethan, on his hands and knees, was looking at a picture of grotesque creatures and brass teapots walking around with human legs, when a painting on the opposite wall caught his eye. There was a large round picture in the middle and four smaller pictures in each corner. Under the large picture was a banner with words carefully painted on it.
“Amos, I think I’ve found it!”
“Paper and pencil, quick,” an excited Amos said. “You read it to me, and I’ll write it down.”
Ponder me this riddle Of the living puzzle
Born of dust and bone. The path to the goal
Begins with the mole From the door of
Old Tom’s home.
“Another riddle? There could be like a million riddles in these paintings. How do we know for sure this is a clue?” Ethan asked.
“This is the clue all right. The ‘living puzzle’? Ethan, that’s the maze. Now we know where to start. We figure out who Tom is and where he lives,” said Amos.
The grandfather clock chimed one, and they hadn’t made any progress, so they decided to stop for the night. They agreed to meet back in the library the next day.
“Ethan, leave this window unlocked tomorrow morning. It’ll make it easier for me to come in.”
The short, stocky boy crawled through the library win- dow and closed it. He pulled the ear flaps on his hat down over his ears and then shuffled off through the snowy backyard.
A three-cookie problem, Ethan thought and laughed as he watched Amos leave. That might be the smartest kid I’ve ever met.
The next morning was gray and overcast. At breakfast, Mrs. Gooch told Ethan that Socrates was away for the day, and she and Jynx would be going Christmas shopping. Jynx nodded happily.
After his breakfast, he went back to the second-floor bedroom window where he and Amos had been earlier. He was hoping to find the clue that would lead to Old Tom’s house. He couldn’t see any houses from the window, so he decided to try the other rooms.
He tried every window on the second floor, but had no luck. Finally he stood at the foot of the staircase leading to the third floor, which housed the off-limits solar and the private refuge of his uncle.
Ethan smiled. The uncle who wasn’t there that day.
“Ahem,” Fergus said, stepping out of a shadow. “Off- limits is off-limits, Ethan.”
“I took a wrong turn. I was just heading downstairs,” Ethan said.
“That’s what I figured,” the butler said with a grin, and he followed Ethan back to the main 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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