Secrets of Shakespeare's Grave: The Shakespeare Mysteries, Book 1by Deron R. Hicks, Mark Edward Geyer
The Da Vinci Code meets Nancy Drew in this galloping middle-grade mystery about twelve-year old Colophon Letterford and the ancient treasure left to her literary publishing family.See more details below
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The Da Vinci Code meets Nancy Drew in this galloping middle-grade mystery about twelve-year old Colophon Letterford and the ancient treasure left to her literary publishing family.
"The combination of humor and suspense works well to keep readers turning the pages of this modern-day mystery."
"Hicks establishes an aura of old-fashioned mystery in his entertaining debut."
"A fine traditional mystery with a modern sensibility."
Read an Excerpt
Le Mont Saint-Michel
May 1, 1616
Wind, rain, and waves have pounded the rocky coast of Normandy for thousands of years. The forces of nature slowly eroded the vast coastal plains to form a large bay and, in the middle of that bay—apparently oblivious to the onslaught of nature—remained an impossibly large granite rock. According to legend, the archangel Michael appeared to the bishop of Avranches in A.D. 708 and demanded the construction of a church on that rock. The bishop, who apparently had other items on his agenda, ignored the archangel’s demands. The archangel, however, would not be deterred. With a touch of his finger, the archangel burned a hole in the bishop’s skull.
The bishop got the message.
The church was built.
To honor the legend of Archangel Michael, the rock has been known for centuries as Saint Michael’s Mountain—or more commonly, le Mont Saint-Michel. At the highest peak of le Mont Saint-Michel stands the abbey church, hewn from the native granite and surrounded by beautiful gardens maintained by the Benedictine monks who have lived in the adjacent cloister for centuries. A narrow stone road winds its way up the rock, and through a small village that sits below the church. The church, the cloister, and the village are surrounded by a fortified wall—a testament to the rock’s history as a token of war. However, it is the raging tides of the bay that surround and truly protect le Mont Saint-Michel. The tides are not timid—they are said to be the swiftest and deepest in Europe. Many a man has lost his life for failing to pay due respect to the charging waters.
Over the centuries le Mont Saint-Michel had served as a fortress, a prison, and a sanctuary. On this particular evening, however, Miles Letterford hoped that it would offer both a brief respite from his long trek and the answer to his quest. He had set out from England five days prior, but the weather had not been cooperative. On many occasions he had been sorely tempted to turn back from this arduous and unusual journey. Just a week ago he had been sitting by the bed of his dying friend. His friend had placed a ring in the palm of his hand and asked him to swear an oath—an oath to recover and keep safe that which his friend treasured most. Miles now silently cursed his rashness in agreeing to such an undertaking.
The relentless weather of the Norman coast had left him cold, wet, and exhausted as he arrived at the edge of the bay at dusk. In front of him was le Mont Saint-Michel. The massive rock — its village lights flickering in the distance—seemed to float on the low fog that covered the bay. Miles could see the silhouette of the abbey church at the top of le Mont.
His arrival coincided with low tide, and he knew that the sea had retreated far beyond the imposing rock. This was not, as he had been warned, a guarantee of safe passage, and the fading light and fog made the situation particularly dangerous—the bay was not a place to dally. Miles spurred his horse on toward the glittering lights of le Mont.
The ride across the bay took far longer than Miles had anticipated. The lights—so clear from the far shore—were rendered almost nonexistent by the thick fog that now enveloped him and his horse. Miles wondered more than once whether he had rambled off course—whether he would eventually run into the teeth of the returning tide. He was therefore greatly relieved when the light from a lamp outside the village gates finally burned its way through the thick haze and offered him a guidepost.
Once inside the village gates, Miles found a public stable where, for a small fee, his weary horse was permitted some hay and shelter from the weather. Although his body ached and his stomach protested, he knew that he would have to wait for his food and rest.
The rain had now passed and night had come; the sky opened to reveal a full moon. Miles walked quickly through the empty, moonlit streets of the village, up a steep set of stone stairs, and onto a landing at the top of le Mont. The imposing stone facade of the abbey church now towered above him, its spire reaching far into the night sky.
Miles looked around the landing.
He was alone.
He opened the heavy wooden door of the church and slipped quietly inside.
He stood inside the entrance and stared down the nave. The church was dimly lit—four small lanterns offered only the merest hint of the space within. Looking upward offered nothing more—whatever moonlight illuminated le Mont could not penetrate windows darkened by centuries of candle soot. He could not see the ceiling—just darkness. The shadows in the side aisles hung like curtains. Everything was black and gray.
Miles stepped into the shadows of the side aisle and listened intently.
He heard nothing.
The monks who inhabited the abbey followed a rigid schedule—a schedule that called for them to be in their rooms for evening prayers for at least the next hour. The church itself was used only for mass in the morning and vespers in the evening. Otherwise it remained empty, except for the occasional pilgrim and cleaning—neither of which would be expected at this time of night.
Satisfied that he was alone, Miles walked down the nave to the center of the church—the crossing—and turned right down a short passage. At the end of the passage, several small prayer candles burned on a wooden pedestal. Above him towered a large wooden sculpture of Archangel Michael, standing triumphantly with his right arm raised high above his head, a flaming sword in his hand, and under his left foot, the decapitated head of a dragon.
Miles pulled out his dagger, paused, and listened once again.
He placed his left hand on the top edge of the pedestal and felt along its edge. Almost two-thirds down the edge, he found what he was looking for—a small, almost imperceptible notch. He placed the tip of his dagger in the notch and pulled.
The sound reverberated through the church. The front of the pedestal separated slightly from the rest of the base.
Miles listened for any sounds.
Miles set the dagger in the crack in the pedestal and pulled again.
The wood groaned and then . . . CRACK. The front of the pedestal separated a full hand’s width from the base.
Miles paused and listened once again.
He grabbed the front of the pedestal, took a deep breath, and pulled.
The front of the pedestal had now separated entirely from the rest of the base. Miles carefully placed the front of the pedestal aside, grabbed one of the pilgrim candles, and held it up to the base. The base, as he expected, was hollow. Inside was a box, which he carefully removed.
Miles examined the box. It was constructed of dark, almost black wood, edged at its corners with inlaid brass. Carved into the top of the box was a falcon holding a spear with the words non sanz droict inscribed beneath. On the front of the box was a large brass oval inscribed with the symbol for the Greek letter sigma—∑.
Miles ran his hand over the carving on the top of the box. It was exactly as described to him. His heart raced with anticipation, the long and demanding journey now forgotten.
In his excitement, however, Miles did not hear the footsteps behind him.
The first blow went directly into his ribs.
The second blow struck him below his right shoulder blade.
Miles dropped the box and tumbled to his side in pain. He gasped for air as he looked up and saw standing above him a large bald man dressed in a gray tunic—the traditional vestments of a Benedictine monk. In his hand he held a thick wooden staff. His face was red with rage.
“Thief!” the monk growled. “Wretched vile miscreant!”
Miles attempted to scramble to his feet, but another blow to his back sent him flat to the ground.
“Ill-bred, beef-witted varlet!” the monk hissed.
Miles struggled to catch his breath. His chest burned. “Wait . . . ,” he coughed.
“Fie upon you!” the monk exclaimed. “Ye will get no sympathy from me!”
Miles crawled toward the crossing as the beating continued.
Miles reached the crossing and rolled over onto his back. The monk—sweat pouring from his bald head—stood over him and raised his staff high, ready to strike. Miles covered his face with his hands and awaited the next blow.
But the next blow never came.
Miles waited, eyes closed, hands over his face.
He chanced a peek at his attacker. To his surprise, the monk was reaching down, his hand extended toward Miles.
“My apologies,” said the monk.
It’s a trick, Miles thought, and covered his face.
“I pray thee,” said the monk, “stand up.”
Miles slowly removed his hands from his face. The monk simply stood there, his hand extended. Miles did not move.
“Come now,” said the monk. “I haven’t all night.”
Cautiously, Miles extended his right hand to the monk, who grabbed it and pulled him to his feet. The monk stood him upright and brushed him off.
“There—just as I found ye,” said the monk, who extended his right hand. “My name is Gallien.”
Miles ached from top to bottom.
The welts on his back and side pounded with pain.
His breaths came in short, painful gasps.
All courtesy of the monk standing in front of him.
But, Miles realized, he had just been caught breaking into a church and destroying church property. As such, he considered it a far better approach to make peace with his attacker rather than argue over his own inconveniences. He took the monk’s hand and shook it. “My name is Miles Letterford,” he said, and paused. “Not to seem ungrateful, but may I ask why you relented?”
The monk gave a short laugh. “The ring, of course.”
The ring was why he was in this dark, dank stone church. The ring was why he had made this journey.
“You know of the ring?” asked Miles, suspiciously. “But how?” His friend had not mentioned that anyone else knew of the ring—or the box, for that matter.
“Aye,” replied the monk. “Many years ago your friend—the man who once wore that ring—delivered that very box to me for safekeeping by the archangel.”
The monk sensed Miles’s uncertainty. “Fear not, my friend. I swore an oath to watch over the box, but I have never asked its contents, nor sought to know them.”
Miles breathed a sigh of relief. “Forgive my suspicions.”
“No forgiveness is necessary,” replied Gallien. “However, I fear that your journey brings bad tidings.”
Miles nodded. “Indeed. He died a week ago.”
The monk sighed. “When I saw the ring, I knew.” His voice was heavy.
“Good monk,” said Miles, “I must again seek your pardon for my actions this night. Had I known that you—”
“Nay,” interrupted Gallien, “no pardon is necessary. I am pleased that the archangel has successfully fulfilled his duty.”
The monk placed his hand on Miles’s shoulder. His tone was solemn. “Now, my friend, that duty has fallen upon you. I pray thee, carry it well.”
Miles looked back at the box. He knew what was inside and what it meant. For the first time, however, the weight—the significance—of this undertaking was clear to him.
Miles retrieved the box and carried it to the entrance of the church.
Gallien held open the door. “Do ye need assistance?” he asked.
“No,” replied Miles. “It is a weight that I must bear.”
The monk smiled in appreciation. “Then God keep ye, my friend.”
Miles hoisted the box onto his shoulder and stepped out into the night. England
Ellis Hollensworth could not refuse the offer, as strange as it may have been.
It was more than he could earn in six months.
Six months? Gad! It was easily a year’s pay.
Still, the ride had taken much longer than he had anticipated.
He had no idea where he was.
Had they left London and gone north? South? East? West?
He simply did not know.
For all he knew, he could still be in London. They may simply have been riding around in circles for hours.
The thick wool blindfold prevented him from seeing anything. It also covered his ears and muffled any sounds. Not that it mattered anyway. Heavy drapes covered the windows of the carriage. He had seen that much before the blindfold was put in place. The constant beat of the carriage wheels and the sound of the horse’s hooves drowned out any other noise.
The carriage had stopped just minutes ago, and now he was being led somewhere. He could hear the dead winter grass crunch under his boots, and the faint sounds of flowing water in the distance. There was a slight but bone-chilling breeze.
Is it nighttime already? he thought. How long have we been riding?
“Stop,” the voice said. And he did.
He could hear the heavy creaking of hinges.
A hand on his right forearm pulled him forward yet again.
Three steps forward, and his feet hit solid floor.
The wind stopped, but it was still cold. He was now inside some sort of structure. The hinges creaked again, and he heard the door shut.
THUD. Something heavy landed on the floor beside him. He assumed it was the device and his tools.
The instructions for the device had been very precise—they had made clear to him that there was no room for error. He had spent six months forging it. Although he had constructed devices with similar components in the past, none of them approached the scale and complexity of the one that now sat—presumably—in a crate at his side. The customer had provided a single set of plans. When Ellis completed the work, the customer had demanded the return of the plans and an oath that they had not been copied.
He had placed the device and his tools in a wooden crate and, as instructed, waited to be picked up at the appointed hour. Now he was blindfolded and standing in some unknown structure in some unknown location in England.
The blindfold was removed. The light in the room—although represented by only a couple of lanterns—immediately blinded him. It took several minutes for his eyes to adjust before he could even squint at his surroundings. When he did, he discovered that he was in a small limestone room with a low ceiling. There were no markings in the room. No ornamentation. There was nothing to suggest where he was or the purpose of the room.
In front of him were the four horizontal limestone blocks into which the device would be fitted—just as the plans had indicated. Each block was exactly a foot and a half high and six feet wide. Although the blocks appeared massive, they were, in fact, barely five inches in thickness. And, critical to his particular task, each block was hollowed out, leaving a two-inch cavity that ran its length. When they were stacked one on top of another, the internal cavity would be exactly six feet high, five foot six inches in width, and exactly two inches in depth. The device was designed to fit into this cavity.
He began unpacking the crate. Slowly and precisely, he set each piece of the device into place in the cavity. The device had been made, in large part, of an alloy of bronze and gold. The metal was hard and expensive but would resist corrosion. The device was, he understood, intended to last for centuries.
Strange, though, he mused. Built to last forever, but designed to be used only once.
Finally, it was time for the central component.
The placement of the central component was critical. He slowly lowered it into place until the right and left sides clicked into position. From the box he retrieved an iron rod with a slightly concave tip. Placing the tip into a slot in the right side of the device, he gave a slight pull until he felt it click. He then moved back to the central component and inserted the tip of the iron rod into yet another slot.
This will not be as easy, he thought.
Taking a deep breath, he pulled hard on the iron rod. Slowly it began to move.
A second click.
A third click.
One more click, and the device would be set.
He pulled hard. The iron bar did not want to move. Despite the cold, he was sweating intensely.
And then, finally, when it appeared that it was not going to budge . . .
It was done. Once the stones were put in place, the device would set itself until . . .
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