The Shrouded Sword (CH 8)
“Well, pick a spot and just do it, then,” Amos said. “I can’t figure this thing out.”
Ethan walked to the painting slowly, scared of making the wrong choice. As he reached his hand toward the sham- rock, the boys were startled by the loud flapping of wings. Shooting toward them was the raven they’d seen in the maze earlier. They dived to the floor as the bird screeched above them. The raven turned in midair to avoid crash- ing into the painting and flew back to the front of the mausoleum.
Their relief was short-lived. The raven made another pass and repeated his earlier maneuver. The boys stayed down, covering their heads as it flew at the painting again.
“I hate that stupid bird!” Ethan shouted.
“We need to get to the door. Stay low,” Amos said.
As the boys crawled, the raven swooped down at them, barring their progress. Wherever they turned, the bird’s sorties steered them back to the painting. During one lull, Amos rested on an elbow and stared at the bird. His eyes widened.
“Ethan, go to the painting!” Amos shouted. “It’s flying toward the painting, not at us! I know the symbol we need to choose!”
The raven had just turned again in midair near the same spot.
With his hand a few inches from the painting, Amos pointed to the area where the bird had turned each time. It was the black flag emblazoned with a skeleton. The raven was now nowhere to be seen.
Amos looked at Ethan. “After you,” he whispered. Ethan took a deep breath. “On the count of three.” “One, two, three!”
Ethan’s finger moved through the cold, musty air and touched the black flag. A tremendous clap of thunder boomed and violently shook the mausoleum. Seconds later, a savage wind tore through the building, blowing out the torches. Ethan grabbed Amos’s arm.
The floor disappeared from under Ethan’s feet, and he felt Amos’s hand pull away from him. Tiny blurred lights swirled around him as he fell through the blackness. He had the sickening sensation of slowly falling while the lights and his reflection in the black mirrored tunnel swirled faster around him. Pulsing, muddled sounds echoed in the twisting passage. Ethan heard Amos screaming, but the distorted sound reverberated with an eerie rippling effect. Ethan felt intense pressure in his ears, as if he were swimming in the deepest part of a pool. As the pain increased, his vision went blotchy. His senses were numb; he was plunging headlong into an abyss devoid of any light or sound.
Just when Ethan felt he couldn’t take the pain pounding in his ears anymore, his body crashed onto a hay-strewn wooden floor. He rolled onto his side and vomited violently.
Amos was retching beside him. When his nausea finally stopped, Ethan lay back in the straw, struggling to catch his breath. He felt like he had the flu—the aching and soreness almost unbearable. As he lay on his back and stared at the strange wooden planks above him, a fur-covered face obscured his view. The face had large brown eyes and two horns on its head.
“Aaugh!” Ethan shouted. “What the heck is that?”
The thing was chewing straw, and it dribbled saliva on Ethan’s nose. A long piece of straw stuck from its mouth and rotated in a circle as it chewed.
“It’s a goat,” Ethan said, not believing his eyes. They were surrounded by three goats.
“We must be in a barn,” Amos said as a chicken cocked its head at him.
“Amos, does it feel like we’re moving?”
The floor rose and fell. Flexing lumber creaked and groaned as a barrage of horrible odors hit them: tar, animal waste, fish, and stale salt water. Sweat began to pour out of the boys from the broiling heat. Breathing was made worse by the smells of the animals.
“I’m getting out of here, Amos. I’m gonna throw up again.”
“There are the stairs,” Amos said, his hands covering his nose.
Dusty beams of light shined down through the square opening at the top of the stairs. Ethan’s foot was positioned above the first step when they heard shouting from above. The outline of a person filled the opening to the deck, and they scurried to a dark corner, crouching behind some barrels. A hunchbacked man with long, greasy hair made his way over to the tethered goats.
“What’s got ya spooked, me pretty girls?” said the man in a strange accent. He shuffled about, searching the area. Ethan held his breath when the man’s shadow appeared above the tops of the barrels; the sound of the hunchback’s labored breathing made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.
“Gummy, get up here, ya dog!” shouted a voice from above.
Cursing, the man turned away and started up the stairs. They waited a few minutes in the stifling heat. Needing air, Ethan started for the stairs, but Amos held him back. “What’re you going to do—suddenly appear on the deck of this ship? That won’t be noticed, will it?” Amos asked. “Whaddya mean ship? How do you know we are on a ship?” Ethan asked.
“Think, Ethan. Look at the shape of the walls. They’re curved and made of wood. How many buildings have you been in that roll from side to side and move up and down?”
“What if we’re in a theme park, Amos? You know, a pirate-ship ride?”
“Ethan, look at the mold and tar between the boards. Two goats are staring at us, and I doubt that guy with the greasy hair is a struggling actor. Did you notice the open sores on his arms, and his stained teeth?”
“Really good special effects?” Ethan asked.
“Ethan, what I’m about to say is totally insane, but I’ve analyzed all the probable scenarios, and there is only one plausible explanation for our current predicament.”
“Uh, in English, please?” Ethan said, climbing onto a barrel for a dry seat.
“Here goes: we’ve traveled back in time,” Amos said, his chin resting on his knees.
“Good one, Amos.”
“I wish I were joking. No other possibility exists. Both of us can’t be dreaming this—remember falling through the tunnel? The puke was real, right? Ethan, it’s the only explanation.”
“Okay, maybe you’re right. Still, I gotta get some fresh air.” He sighed. “But yeah, I guess we have to wait until tonight.” Ethan jumped when a rat scampered over his foot.
The afternoon passed in agonizing boredom; after all, they could only speak in whispers for fear of being overheard. To top it all off, the boys almost vomited from the rank odor and movement of the ship.
Ethan knew he would go crazy if he didn’t get out of the cramped space and breathe fresh air. Because they couldn’t walk around, they’d spent hours without straightening their legs, and he felt very stiff. To add to their misery, they’d had no food or water. One of the goats burped, and the smell made Ethan dry heave. “We’ve got to get out of here, Amos!”
“Let’s wait until we don’t hear any more noises up there,” Amos said.
Frustrated, but knowing Amos was right, Ethan settled against a barrel. The noises on deck didn’t stop, and they waited until the compartment grew darker. One of the goats burped again.
“Nice,” Ethan said sarcastically as he watched moon- beams slowly move across the floor.
“Moonlight’s good. We can walk around up there without flashlights,” Amos said.
“Amos, wouldn’t that mean they’ll be able to see us too?”
Before Amos could respond, a loud splash made them jump. Amos whispered, “That must be the anchor.”
A bell rang, and they heard joyous voices above them, followed by the sound of hurried footsteps. Ethan flinched when muffled voices came from the other side of them.
“I bet they’re having dinner,” a hungry Amos whispered.
Ethan stood up. “Let’s go.”
“Ethan . . . wait. Someone could still be up there.”
“I don’t care. I’m getting away from those stinking goats.”
They both eagerly breathed in the fresh air as they reached the deck.
Ethan looked for a hiding place. “Amos, over here.” He motioned quickly with his hand, then ducked.
Amos joined Ethan. “Okay, mister I’m getting away from those goats, what’s your plan?”
Ethan sat with his chin resting on his knees. “Well, first— food. Then we find somewhere to sleep.”
“I’m already ahead of you,” Amos said. He handed a candy bar to Ethan.
“Hold on. The whole time we were in that goat dungeon, you had food?” Ethan whispered.
“We have to ration the food. We don’t know how long we’ll be here,” Amos said.
They finished eating in silence. Another loud clang startled them. When they heard sailors close by, they moved behind a pile of heavy cloth and sat staring out at the water, legs dangling off the back of the ship.
Ethan whispered, “I’m tired—think I’ll get some sleep.” “Good idea. I’ll keep the first watch.”
“Ethan, we can’t get caught. We have no idea what kind of ship we’re on, or what kind of sailors these are.”
“What do ya mean?” Ethan asked.
“Remember the flag in the painting?” Amos asked. “The flag we touched? It was black and had a skeleton holding a bolt of lightning. Pirates.”
“I guess you do have a point there,” Ethan said.
“We’ll switch the next time they ring the bell. Good night.”
“Yeah, good night.” Ethan immediately fell asleep after he crawled under the canvas.
He had the strangest dream. He was on a pirate ship, fighting off enemy pirates. A nasty scallywag was advancing with cutlass raised, backing him up against the captain’s cabin. Ethan reached for his sword, but it was gone. His eye caught the glint of oiled steel near a barrel to his left. Lunging for it, he felt a sharp point in his side. I must be dead. Wait, how can I be dead? Don’t they say you can’t die in your own dreams?
He felt another jab in his side, and then another. “Isn’t killing me once enough?” Ethan said.
“Boy, this here swab won’t kill you—just work you to death,” said a strange voice.
Ethan opened his eyes. A dark-skinned man was looking down at him and smiling. He was holding a mop.
“What? Who?” Ethan asked.
“Who? I believe that’s my question for you, little boy,” he said, his smile disappearing.
“Um, sir, it’s like this. Wait. Here’s what happened . . .” What could he say?
The man looked at Ethan, then turned his bald head and nodded toward Amos, who was sleeping a few feet away.
Ethan’s mind raced. What will he do to us? What if he’s a pirate and kills us and throws our bodies into the sea?
“I think I know your story,” the man said calmly. Behind him, first light revealed the morning.
Ethan couldn’t place his accent—kind of Indian, but different.
The sailor continued, “You two are stowaways—apprentices running away from cruel masters, right? You don’t have to tell me. Everyone has a story, and I’ve heard my share.”
Ethan asked, “Who are you and where are we?”
The man chuckled and whispered, “Don’t you worry about who I am, boy.”
Amos was waking up. His blond hair stuck out at odd angles and in matted clumps. He rubbed his eyes, and when his glasses finally straddled his nose, Ethan clamped his hand over Amos’s mouth, so his scream wouldn’t give them away.
“Get below decks before anyone sees you,” said the sailor. “You shouldn’t be here—’tis a dangerous ship for boys to be on.”
Ethan whispered, “Not with those stinking goats.”
The man smiled and almost laughed, but caught himself. “Okay, no goats—the powder magazine’s toward the bow. There’s a small cabin off it where Captain puts the sick. I’ll keep a weather eye open today. Tonight, we discuss this situation. Hurry now!”
Three shapes moved across the deck to the front of the ship. The sound of voices quickened their pace, and the man grabbed the boys and carried one under each arm down the main hatch. After putting them down, he pointed to the ladders; with dread, Amos and Ethan knew this meant going below deck.
When they’d reached the next level, the man whispered, “That’s it—quick, to the bow.”
Each boy took a step in a different direction. The man grinned and pointed to the front of the ship. With hearts racing, they dodged wooden crates and hammocks, reached the cabin, and plunged inside. The hatch closed behind them. They were safe, for now.
They tensed upon hearing a knock. A muffled voice said, “I’m called Lancaster Brown. Good luck.” With that, he was gone.
They spent the next few minutes listening intently at the hatch, then settled into an uneasy wait. Ethan sat on a long board that served as a bed, and Amos rested on a wooden crate. The space was cramped, but better than hiding with the goats.
“Amos, maybe we’re on one of those sailboats—you know, for people who want to live like pirates.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. Would rich people pay a lot of money to sail with a bunch of putrid goats?”
“What does ‘putrid’ mean?”
“It means they stink,” Amos whispered.
“My parents’ friends are all rich, and they do some pretty weird stuff.”
“Ethan, listen very carefully: touching the painting, falling in a bizarre vortex, and puking. What travel agent planned that, huh? Ethan, we’ve gone back in time, and we’re on a real pirate ship.”
Ethan rested his chin on his knees and thought about what Amos said. No other explanation made sense. Every- thing else had been so weird—why wasn’t traveling back in time possible?
The morning passed, and the air in the cabin became hot and sticky. To pass the time, they talked about Lancaster Brown. Was he a pirate? He didn’t seem like one. He said he knew about stowaways. Had he been one? Ethan trusted Lancaster. After all, he hadn’t turned them in. He even hid them and mentioned meeting that night to talk about their situation. He hoped he wasn’t wrong.
Starving, they couldn’t wait any longer and ate two of the chocolate bars. It was a feast. After a few sips from the water bottles Amos packed, they settled back and waited for Lancaster.
Ethan was almost asleep when the loud bang of the opened hatch startled him and sent Amos to the far corner of the cabin. To their horror, a filthy pirate with long, greasy hair and tattooed skinny arms swayed in front of them. Through the man’s open shirt, Amos could see an hourglass tattoo on a scrawny, blotched chest. The man looked at them and grinned, revealing a single jagged brown tooth.
“Jim Ed? Ezra? Whatcha doin’ in bay? Captain’s broke out a hogshead and extrey ration of grog.” He whistled a brief line of a tune, took a drink from a crumpled black leather mug, and grinned. “Me lads, ol’ Barleycorn’s a sheet in the wind’s eye.” Then he slammed face-first onto the floorboards, emitting a gurgling snore. Ethan stared at the stinking pirate lying in front of him.
“I think he’s drunk. Who knows how long he’ll be asleep?” Ethan asked.
“What do we do?” Amos whispered.
“I guess we go to the back of the ship and hide behind the piled-up cloth,” Ethan said. They jumped upon hearing another loud growling snore from the pirate.
“How could someone that emaciated make a huge sound like that?” Amos asked.
“Avast, young gentlemen,” Lancaster whispered, appearing in the hatchway.
Amos jumped again.
Furious, Ethan hissed, “Amos, cut it out, will ya?”
“Hush, you’ll wake the dead,” Lancaster whispered, motioning the boys to follow him.
Wake the dead. I hope that won’t be us, Ethan thought as they followed Lancaster to the main deck. They paused for a second, savoring the cool fresh air.
Lancaster hurried them toward the stern. “Stick fast to the sides and always keep a grip on a shroud,” he continued. The boys had no idea what he was talking about, but understood when one of his hands passed from one vertical rope to another.
Lancaster stopped. “Quick, up the rigging.”
At this, the boys stared open-mouthed at Lancaster, who was pointing to a ladder made of ropes leading to the sails above.
“Quick, I say—someone’s coming!” Lancaster said. Lancaster grabbed Ethan and hung him in the rigging.
He was now on the outside of the ship and, looking down, saw that he was over the water.
“Climb, boy. To the main top, up there,” Lancaster whispered, pointing to the wooden platform above them.
Ethan did as he was told and started climbing. He reached the main top and peered back over the edge. In the faint moonlight, he could see Lancaster struggling to help Amos onto the rigging. Finally, a blond head bobbed toward him. As Ethan helped Amos onto the platform, they heard singing below:
Oh by my soul it is a Talbot,
Lillibullero bullen a la,
And he will cut every Englishman’s throat,
Lillibullero bullen a la! Ha! Ha!
Another drunken voice shouted, “Shut yer gob, ya dog!”
“Oh, bless my soul, if it ain’t the Englishman!” Laughter erupted from below.
Lancaster was talking with the other pirates, and Ethan worried one of them would look up and see them. One by one they left, except for the one Lancaster called Hynde, who obviously liked to talk.
The boys waited until Hynde was gone and started down from the main top. The descent was terrifying; the ship lurched repeatedly, tossing the boys around like ragdolls as they hung on the outside of the ship. Below them, the choppy sea churned, yawning open like a hungry mouth.
When they finally returned to safety, Lancaster motioned them to a small boat near the stern of the ship. “This is where you sleep tonight. ’Tis the safest place. Now, back behind the wherry—that’s the small boat. Wait there until I’m back.” And with that, Lancaster disappeared.
Resting against the wherry, they looked up at the clear sky filled with stars. A gentle breeze blew, and the sound of the sea began to lull them to sleep. Lancaster woke them an hour later with a gentle but firm hand over their mouths.
“Shh,” he whispered. “I’ve got water, biscuits, and fried junk. Tuck in and stay quiet. Captain’s not a kind man. He once killed one of our crew with a bucket.”
They ate hungrily, starting with what Lancaster had called fried junk, which turned out to be extremely salty meat. As they ate, Lancaster told them they were on Captain William Kidd’s ship, the Adventure Prize. It had originally been the Quedagh Merchant, the Indian ship Lancaster had sailed on before Kidd captured them. The Quedagh Merchant was laden with priceless jewels, as well as relics and weapons from the Crusades.
Lancaster had been forced to join Kidd’s crew. He told them he was from Surat and had been apprenticed by his father to a wealthy English sea captain. The captain and crew couldn’t pronounce his real name and started calling him Lancaster Brown. He explained that he had been lucky: the Englishman had been kind, and he had learned to be a fine first mate. Still, he missed his family. Lancaster became silent, staring out to sea.
A bell clanged, and Lancaster whispered, “I must go take watch. I’ll be above, and I’ll warn you if anyone comes. Make sure you stay put.” And then he left.
How are we gonna get out of this? Ethan worried. We’re on an actual pirate ship where Kidd killed a member of his crew with a bucket! I hope Amos can figure out how to get us back to Gramarye.
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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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