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Excerpt for The Time Tunnellers by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Time Tunnellers



A Time Tunnellers Novel

David Ross Wood

Published by David Ross Wood at Smashwords




Smashwords Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.



Acknowledgements

To my three heroes, Thomas, Timothy and Nicholas


Alexander the Great was the King of Macedonia 300 years before the birth of Jesus. His empire was huge covering lands from Greece to India. Alexander, the Persian King Darius and Alexander’s General Admetus were all real people.

All other characters in this book are works of fiction however their adventures in battle are based on true events.



Contents

ONE- A TIME LONG PAST

TWO - THE EXPLORERS CLUB

THREE - THE DRAGON BOX

FOUR - THE GOLD MEDALLION

FIVE - A DISTANT LAND

SIX - A MEETING WITH A KING

SEVEN - NEW FRIENDS

EIGHT - OLD ENEMIES

NINE - THE SEIGE

TEN - THE WIZARDS PLAN

ELEVEN - THE FALL OF TYRE

TWELVE - A LONG WAIT

THIRTEEN - THE RESCUE

FOURTEEN - RETURN OF A KING

FIFTEEN - THE WIZARDS LAST TRY

SIXTEEN - BATTLE OF THE KINGS

SEVENTEEN - ANOTHER TIME

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

FROM THE AUTHOR

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

OTHER BOOKS BY THIS AUTHOR

CONNECT WITH DAVID ROSS WOOD


ONE

A TIME LONG PAST


Two hundred years before the first white man set foot on the shores of the land later to be known as Australia, huge ocean going Chinese merchant ships called Junks sailed the waters in search of opportunities to trade. It did not take them long to realise that the large unfriendly land had nothing to offer and was inhabited by natives who had very little to trade and who ran away into the bushland at every approach.

One of the very last of the Chinese ships to sail into these dangerous waters was hit by a fierce and savage storm as it tried to make its way back to its homeland. Below its timber decks, there was stored a huge selection of valuable goods and wares. The most magnificent Chinese silks in a rainbow of brilliant colours sat next to large wooden chests of the finest Chinese green tea. Carefully packed in straw to prevent damage, delicate jars and vases made by the most skilful pottery craftsmen in all of China shook and rattled as the winds became stronger and the seas became more violent. Hidden between the wooden boxes and chests was a treasure greater and more valuable than the whole of the cargo put together. In fact the small-carved wooden box held an item that was far greater in value than the contents of one hundred such ships.

With the wind at its strongest, the captain of the vessel, Jin Wu, looked toward the strange and unfriendly coastline, hoping to see a safe harbour where the Junk could ride out the worst of the storm. The rain lashed his face like a whip as wave after wave washed over the timber decks, soaking him to the skin. The savage waters battered and clawed at Jin Wu’s body, the ocean like a living thing, trying to drag him overboard into the cold, dark waters. The Junk rolled unsteadily as each wave hit the side of the ship, the dark green sea turning to a foaming white as the waves washed over the decks and streamed over the sides in a torrent of violent water. With no safe harbour in sight, the captain shouted the order to take down the sail that was already showing the first signs of tearing in the strong wind. Just as the order was shouted over the shrieking wind, there was a loud crack as if lightening had struck a tree.

The wind had caught the soaking sail, the strong ropes fixing it to the mast had snapped like strands of sodden string and the large piece of canvas was ripped away from the rigging and flew away from the ship like a monstrous bat. Over the sound of the howling wind, the captain heard one of his men scream out in agony and he turned to see the sailor at the wheel gripping his arm in pain. With the loss of the sail, the wheel had spun around sharply, its spokes breaking the unfortunate sailors arm.

Jin Wu raced to the wheel, shoving the sailor roughly aside but without the sail to maintain control the wheel was sluggish in his hands and the ship refused to respond. A crewman shouted something in the captain’s ear but the wind was so strong he could not understand what the sailor was saying. The crewman, his face a mask of horror, pointed fearfully toward the coastline that was hidden in the rain and Jin Wu’s gaze followed the sailor’s outstretched arm. Even above the shrieking of the wind, the sound of the surf crashing against the reef could be heard like a never-ending series of cannon shots.

Ocean reefs are a sailor’s greatest hazard and the captain felt the fear in the pit of his stomach as he realised the wind was slowly pushing the uncontrollable ship toward the razor sharp coral. Within a matter of minutes the ship would hit the jagged teeth of the reef, its hull ripped apart and smashed into a thousand pieces. Everything would be destroyed, the boat, its crew and its cargo. Jin Wu let go of the wheel in a panic and it spun around uselessly as he made his way below deck. The junk was rolling violently now as it came nearer and nearer to the treacherous reef and the captain grunted as he lost his footing on the wet deck, his head hitting a timber beam with a dull thud.

Minutes later the captain awoke to cold seawater lapping at his face and he realised the ship must have hit the reef while he had been unconscious. It was very dark in the hold of the Junk and Jin Wu felt around blindly for the little timber box hidden amongst the rest of the valuable cargo. Many minutes passed before he eventually found what he was looking for, his fingers lightly tracing over the carving on the lid of the box. Terror gripped him now and he realised with a dreaded certainty that he would most likely never see his wife or his baby son ever again. With his head throbbing mercilessly in the darkness below decks, he focussed on the job at hand, saving the wooden box that was held tightly in the grip of his freezing fingers.

The sound of his ship breaking up around him was frighteningly loud and the captain fought his way back up to the top deck, slipping more than once on the wet timber floor that was now awash up to his knees. Lightning lit the scene around him and he squinted painfully through the curtain of driving rain, looking for his crewmen but only seeing his ship, now very low in the water and close to sinking. Incredibly very few of his men knew how to swim and those that did found themselves thrown against the razor sharp edge of the reef where they found it impossible to keep their heads above water and were cut to pieces by the sharp coral. Suddenly a huge wave hit the ship, raising it high before flinging it savagely onto the exposed reef. Jin Wu was flung high into the air landing in the calmer water on the other side of the reef, closer to the beach but separated from his drowning crewman by the barrier of coral. With his ship in pieces around him, the captain held on tightly to a length of the timber decking with one hand, his other incredibly still holding the small timber box that he had saved from below decks as he kicked his feet hard and swam toward the strange shore.

How long he lay on the beach, cold and shivering he could not tell. For a moment Jin Wu dreamed that he was at home with his wife and child, far away from this strange and lonely land that he did not know. He did not think he would ever have the energy to rise and get out of the water that washed over his body in small waves, increasing his cold so that his whole body continued to be wracked by violent shivers. His eyes opened painfully, stinging from the salt water and he saw the box, half buried in the sand by his face. With a great effort Jin Wu stood, his clothes heavy with sand and dripping wet as he picked up the box and studied the shoreline.

A deserted beach that in the darkness seemed to go on forever. The sand was littered with pieces of the timber decking and useless lengths of rope but no other survivors that he could see, not on the beach and none in the water. Through squinting eyes, Jin Wu looked at the bushland around him and he felt very scared and alone. A huge cliff caught his attention and he walked towards it with a simple plan in mind. Perhaps from a high position he could see if any of his men had survived, perhaps there may even be shelter where he could rest and warm himself. With the box held firmly under his arm, the captain made his way toward the cliff face, his footprints the only marks on a beach in a land that didn’t even have a name.


TWO

THE EXPLORERS CLUB


The twins strolled down Hartley Lane on an overcast Saturday morning. Nick Young carried a loaf of fresh bread under his arm while his sister Kate held the carton of milk firmly in both hands. The bright purple blooms of Jacaranda trees above their heads created a canopy which gave the impression of walking along the sidewalk inside a long and colourful tunnel. The twins slowed down slightly as they approached number twenty-eight Hartley Lane. Nick peered over the front hedge in an effort to see if its only occupant, Mrs McCackney was up and about and in her front yard. The children weren’t afraid of Mrs McCackney, not really. It was just that they had never met anybody that always seemed to be in a frightfully bad mood. The children’s mother always said that Mrs McCackney was just a lonely old lady but the children thought that she was just plain mean.

Seeing that the coast was clear, Nick signalled to his sister to join him and they quickly picked up their pace so that they could pass the house as fast as possible. About half way across the house, Mrs McCackney lifted her head from behind the hedge, startling the children so much that they stopped dead in their tracks. Mrs McCackney was tall and thin and towered over the twins. Her grey hair was piled up on the top of her head and was looped around into a tight bun making her seem even taller. Tim, one of their older brothers, always said that her hair was so tight it stretched all the wrinkles out of her face!

Her long nose dominated an even longer face that was perfect at looking down at people, which she seemed to do at every opportunity. Today she was wearing a plain grey dress and a plain red cardigan, the same thing she wore yesterday and probably the same thing she would wear tomorrow.

Mrs McCackney looked down at the two children with distaste. A look that most people would associate with sighting a rat or perhaps some filthy cockroaches. Nick held the old ladies stare while his sister nervously played with her blonde pigtails that stood out from each side of her head like the handlebars of a bicycle, staring at the sidewalk as if she had just found something there of immense interest.

“Balls,” said an obviously irritated Mrs McCackney.

“Balls?” repeated Nick innocently, even though he knew exactly where this conversation was heading.

“Each time you children kick one of your sporting balls into my backyard, I have no choice but to confiscate it. You have no right crushing my lawn and destroying my trees with your violent behaviour.”

Nick thought about this comment for a moment. He had never heard kicking a ball described as violent behaviour before but thought for the moment at least it was better to let it go. “We’re sorry, Mrs McCackney, kicking them over the fence is just an accident, honest.”

Mrs McCackney wrinkled her nose as if she had just smelt something most unpleasant. “And that’s not the half of it,” she continued as if she hadn’t even heard Nick’s apology. “All the ball’s that I have confiscated are gone.”

“Gone?” repeated Nick.

“Yes, gone,” confirmed Mrs McCackney in a voice that tried hard to show her displeasure. “And don’t think I don’t know who has taken them either. You children have been sneaking into my backyard like a pack of rodents and stealing them. Yes that’s right stealing them!”

Once again Nick took his time to think about his accusers comments. He was not sure that you could actually steal something that is already yours and he was certain that now was probably not a good time to point this out to an elderly lady who looked like she was about to pop a valve at any moment.

“Well I don’t know anything about that,” he lied, “but I guess I could ask my brothers. Maybe they took them.”

“Yes, hum, you just do that,” she replied thoughtfully. “And don’t think I won’t be having a word to your mother either. And what have you got to say young lady.”

Katie looked up from whatever she found intriguing on the cement at her feet. “Your hair looks nice, Mrs McCackney.”

“My,….my hair looks nice? Have you not been listening to a single word of our conversation you silly girl?”

“Yes Mrs McCackney. But it doesn’t change that your hair looks nice.”

Nick and the elderly lady looked at the young girl in turn. Amazingly both of them were thinking the same thing at the same time. Was Kate just trying to annoy their next door neighbour or was she being sincere? It was impossible to tell as Kate looked up at the long face and past the long nose into the eyes of Mrs McCackney and gave her one of her best smiles.

Mrs McCackney looked more confused than ever and with a huff, turned her back on the twins and walked slowly to her front door, mumbling to herself all the way. Nick looked at his sister and smiled and together the children began to giggle as they made their way to number thirty Hartley Lane.


Thirty Hartley Lane was an old timber home beautifully restored and cared for. Not the most expensive house in the street but one that was obviously well looked after with a regular coat of fresh paint and a beautiful garden that was kept neat and tidy. A row of delicate white rose bushes lined the driveway that led to an old garage that couldn’t quite hide its age no matter how many coats of paint covered it. Behind the garage stood a large willow tree, it’s hanging branches reaching all the way to the ground that was covered by freshly mown green grass. Here and there a soccer ball or cricket bat littered the damp surface and the rain began to fall lightly on the roof of the tree house that was nestled in the branches at the top of the willow tree. The twins called out to their brothers in the tree house as they made their way to the back door. Their mother was at the kitchen sink, her short dark hair framing an attractive face with large brown eyes. She brushed away a lock of hair from over one of her eyes with a hand covered in soap suds and smiled at her two youngest children. Taking the bread and milk and placing them on the kitchen table, she turned back to the sink to finish the dishes.

“Thanks for doing that,” she said to the children.

“That’s okay mum,” replied Nick. “No problem.”

“Mrs McCackney will probably want to talk to you later,” added Kate in a quiet voice.

The children’s mother turned around and looked at each of the twins in turn. “What’s happened now,” she said uncertainly.

“Balls,” said Nick, as if that explained everything.

“Balls,” whispered their mother nodding slowly to herself. “Okay, I’ll deal with it.”

It was times like these that Annie Young wished that her husband James was at home more often. But he was a busy man, a salesman whose work required him to travel interstate more often than not. He was the reason that they had their nice home and food on the table but it meant that Annie was left to deal with the little dramas that will always happen when you are raising four children mostly on your own.

Annie smiled as she wiped her hands on a tea towel. “Would you two like a snack before you go out and join your brothers?”

“I’m fine thanks mum,” answered Kate.

“I could eat,” replied Nick who never ever seemed to knock back a meal.

Their mother made her way to the pantry and took out four snack bars and some muffins. “Here take these out to your brothers. “I’ll call you when lunch is on the table.”

The children opened the creaky back door and made their way onto the rear veranda. The rain was still falling lightly as the twins scuttled across the grass to the sanctuary of the low sweeping branches of the willow tree. Nick was first up the rope ladder with the food, followed slowly by Kate who always seemed nervous about the swinging ladder and the height of the climb. Thomas and Timothy accepted the food Nick was carrying eagerly and Tim leaned over and helped his little sister with the final few steps. Thomas the eldest of the four children waited until they were all sitting back down before he began to speak. “What took you so long?”

“Mrs McCackney stopped us and asked us about the balls,” said Kate.

Tim looked up from the history book he was reading. Tim loved to read and history was one of his favourite subjects. This book was rather large and was about the life and times of famous conquerors in ancient Greece. “And what did you tell her?” he asked.


Nick smiled mischievously, “I told her maybe you guys took them.”

Tom stared at his little brother. “You said what!”

“I said maybe you guys took them. Don’t worry Tom, she knows it was us and at any rate we can’t get into trouble for taking our own stuff.”

Tom shook his head but made no comment. The eldest of the four children, a year and a half older than Tim and two and half years older than the twins, Thomas had many of his mother’s features including her dark hair and brown eyes but had nowhere near as much patience for his brothers and sister as she had for her children.

“Can we start our meeting now?,” said Tom a little too grumpily.

Nick wiped the dampness from his short blonde hair as he shifted his weight on the tree house floor that was made from the wood of old fruit cases. Tim, careful not to get splinters, slid across and joined his brothers.

“Alright then. I hereby call this meeting to order,” said Tom importantly.

Timothy and Nicholas sat up straight, eager for the start of the meeting and excited about having their very own secret club.

“First of all we need to come up with a name for our club,” continued Tom.

“Well that is going to depend on what our club does, doesn’t it,” said Nick seriously.

“How about a history club?” asked Tim as he brushed a mop of dark curly hair away from his forehead. “We could look up in books all the interesting events that have happened throughout history.”

Tom rolled his eyes and pulled a face. Everybody in the family knew of Tim’s love of history and how good he was at it at school, even Dad had to admit that Tim knew more about the subject than he did himself.

“Gee Tim, just because you’re really good at history doesn’t mean we should have a club about it,” said Tom irritably.

Tim stared at his older brother for a moment, disappointed. Tom always seemed to get his own way because he was the oldest and when he didn’t his younger brother and sister would because they were the youngest. It always seemed to Tim that he was the one in the middle that had to let things go and accept the wishes of his siblings. It was something he didn’t let annoy him for too long but every now and then he wished he would get his own way.

“How about an explorers club?” suggested Nick. “We all like exploring and it’s something we all could do.”

Kate looked up from playing with her doll. “Ooh, I want to play too,” she said.

“We’re not playing Kate,” said Tim, “and besides you are only ten and you’re a girl.”

“Nick is only ten as well and he’s allowed to join in,” complained Kate.

Nick smiled,” yeah, but I’m not a girl. At least I’m pretty sure I’m not. Hold on while I double check.” Laughing now, Nick pulled at the waist of his pants and looked down. “Nup, definitely a boy.”

Tim started to laugh too, the smile lighting up his face. “Nice one Nick.”

Kate tried hard to look serious and angry all at the same time. “If you don’t let me be in your club I’ll tell Mum and then none of you will be able to play,” she replied.

Tom looked at his little sister with a frown, knowing full well that she would do exactly as she said, well aware that their mother would make sure that the boys included Kate in the club.

“Okay, you’re in,” said Tom reluctantly. “But you have to follow the rules and remember it’s a secret club.”

“Can I be leader?” asked Nick.

“No, Tom’s almost thirteen and he’s the eldest so he should be leader,” replied Tim.

Thomas smiled and slapped his brother on the back, happy that Tim had suggested him as leader. Nicholas knew that it was pointless to fight his older brothers once they had chosen sides, so he just crossed his arms and put on his grumpiest face, saying nothing.

“What kind of things does an explorers club do?” asked Kate.

“We explore of course,” answered Tim, looking confused.

“Like where?” replied Kate.

Tom looked thoughtful for a moment as he considered his little sisters question. Nicholas, arms still folded tightly, watched as the small drops of rain found gaps in the tree house roof and dripped silently onto the floor by his side, splattering in a tiny pool.

“How about the caves?” said Tom finally.

Nicholas looked up sharply, forgetting the drops of water and stared at his eldest brother, his eyes wide. Everyone in the tree house knew that the caves were strictly out of bounds for every child in the town and to be caught anywhere near them would mean a very severe punishment indeed. The caves were on a cliff face at the beach, just a ten-minute bike ride from home. But the children were forbidden to go anywhere near them due to a tragic accident that happened many years before.

The story went that a young boy exploring the caves got buried alive when he went digging in the soft sand of the caves and since the collapse they had been out of bounds for just about everyone. The children never knew the boy of course, the accident had happened years before any of them were born, but all the parents remembered and had passed on the warning to their own children.

“I don’t know Tom,” said Tim, “that place sounds kind of dangerous.”

Kate began to get bored with all the talking and left the group to find another one of her dolls scattered in the corner of the tree house. Playing with her brothers was fun, at least it was sometimes but when they did a lot of talking it was easy for her to lose interest very quickly.

Tom shook his head and looked at his brothers seriously, “Sometimes exploring is a little bit dangerous, but you can’t be an explorer if you’re going to be scared all the time.”

Tim thought about that and had to admit that all the explorers that he had read about had been in danger at one time or another and besides, Tom was very good at laying down challenges to his younger brothers. He would almost dare them to refuse and Nick and Tim did not like being made to look like they were scared. Just recently they had gone on a secret mission to retrieve the balls from Mrs McCackney’s back yard and while terrified of being caught by the old lady, the two younger brothers had been more worried about what Tom would say if they refused to go. And as far as exploring the caves were concerned, it was not like they had to tell anybody about where they went or what they did. It was a secret club after all!

“Okay, the caves it is. When shall we go?” asked Tim.

“How about after lunch?” replied Nick, who was never happy to go anywhere on an empty stomach.

Tom grabbed a pencil and a piece of paper from a cardboard box by his side. “First of all let’s make a list of the things that we will need.”

A look of concentration appeared on the faces of the three boys as they sat on the floor of the tree house. “I give up,” said Nick, “I’ve never been in an explorers club before.”

“None of us have,” said Tom impatiently, “but we still need to think of things to take.”

“The caves are going to be dark so we will need a torch,” said Tim with a smile, glad that he was the first one to think of something useful.

“Yeah, good thinking Timmy, what else?” asked Tom as he wrote the item on a list. “Something to drink and plenty of food?” suggested Nick not too surprisingly.

“I guess it wouldn’t hurt to take provisions,” replied Tim, “all the good explorers took provisions.”

“What are provisions?” asked Kate joining in the conversation once again.

“Things that we will need of course,” replied Tom angrily.

Tim looked at his elder brother and wondered why he was getting so annoyed. Kate was a lot younger than Tom and things needed to be explained to her sometimes, a chore his elder brother often found frustrating.

“So, a torch, some food and water, is that it?” asked Tim

“How about a shovel for buried treasure?” said Kate in a small voice.

“Good thinking Katie,” replied Nick. “If any buried treasure is around here I bet it will be hidden somewhere in those caves.”

Tom nodded his head in agreement, still angry that his little sister was part of their secret club but having to admit to himself that the shovel was a pretty good idea. He finished off the list and placed the pencil and paper in his pants pocket. The rain had stopped falling and the only sound in the tree house was the light patter of the fat drops of water as they fell from the leaves of the willow onto the roof of the tree house.

The moan of the screen door at the back of their house interrupted their thoughts as their mother walked onto the back porch, “lunchtime guys, come and wash up for lunch.”

The children quickly made their way down the swinging rope ladder, their feet hardly making a sound as they hit the ground that was covered with a dense carpet of fallen leaves. “Now don’t forget,” said Tom, “our club is a secret and not even mum must know about our plan.”

Each child nodded their head in agreement, getting a little wet as they parted the drooping branches of the willow tree, walking through the curtain of leaves onto their back lawn. The rain had well and truly stopped by now and the sun was peeking behind rolling clouds that seemed to be moving across the blue sky like the sails of ships far out to sea. The air was clear and smelt good after the clearing rain and each of the children enjoyed the warmth of the sun’s rays as it touched their faces as they walked slowly back to the house.

Nick was first up at the table; he was usually first at anything that meant that he was going to get something to eat. As he shifted onto his chair the seat made a little farting sound. “Ooh, I don’t remember eating that,” joked Nick with a large grin.

“That’s enough,” replied his mother, trying hard to hide her own smile.

Tom, Tim and Kate joined their brother at the table and sat silently waiting for the plate of sandwiches to be put in front of them. Their mother looked proudly at each of her children in turn. It was sometimes difficult raising her four children more or less on her own. They got on with each other so well for most of the time and it wasn’t easy for them or for her with their father being away on business frequently. The children supported her as much as she did them and she loved them for it very much.

Tom studied the plate of sandwiches quietly before choosing one, his brown eyes almost invisible behind the fringe of straight black hair. As if on cue the other children chose theirs and hungrily stuffed the food into their mouths.

The children’s mother frowned, usually lunchtime as well as just about every other time was a fairly noisy affair. “What’s going on guys, you are usually a lot more talkative than this at meal times.”

Tom grabbed his glass of orange juice and took a small sip. “No, reason,”.

“No reason,” said Tim.

“No reason,” repeated Nick.

“We’re in a secret club,” blurted out Kate.

Tom stared at his little sister, his mouth full of sandwich, “Aw, Kate. I can’t believe you told mum. It’s supposed to be a secret.”

“It’s alright Tom,” whispered his mother with a smile and a wink, “I can keep a secret. What type of club have you started?”

“An explorers club,” replied Kate.

“Ah, the Young explorers, I like it,” said Annie Young with a smile.

Tom continued to stare at his little sister, his anger at including her in their club returning strongly.

“So what are you kids going to do this afternoon?” asked their mother, changing the subject. “Would you like to go to the playground or the park?”

“No, we’re okay,” replied Tim quickly before Kate could say more and wreck their plan. “We thought we might go for a bike ride if it’s alright with you.”

“Yes it’s okay with me. I guess that now the sun has come out I can clean out that garage that I have been meaning to do for ages.”

“Good idea,” said Nick helpfully.

Annie Young worked hard to look after them. Money was always scarce in the house, particularly with four growing children. She could have worked of course but she felt that her children would benefit more with at least one parent around.

“You sure you don’t need our help?” asked Tim even though he was sure of the answer.

“No that’s alright sweetheart, you go off and have fun, I’ll be fine,” replied his mother with a smile.

The children finished their lunch and asked their mother to make extra sandwiches for the bike ride. Tim snuck away to get his Dad’s torch and Nick raced to the garage, finding the small hand shovel amongst the tools. Once they had collected everything on their list, Tom placed the items in his backpack and the children grabbed their bikes from the side of the house. Kate bounced up and down on the same spot like a kangaroo, excited to be part of such a great adventure.

“Bye, mum,” yelled Nick happily.

Their mother appeared at the door of the garage, “Be careful and make sure you are back before dinner time. Have fun,” she yelled with a wave, as she went back into the dusty shed.


The children rode their bikes through the quiet streets of the seaside town, the only sound coming from the swish of the tyres as they found a puddle or two from the morning’s rain. The breeze was cool on their faces and they made a colourful sight with their brightly painted bicycles and multi-coloured helmets as they raced towards the beach. Seagulls flew noisily overhead as Tom locked the bicycles together and walked out onto the cool white sand. A lone fisherman cast his line out to sea and the gulls hovered expectantly, hoping for a feed. The four children looked at the cliff face at the other end of beach. The top of the cliff was level with the road that led out of town. Small hollows and cracks dotted the face of the cliff and its base was ringed with large rocks that lay half buried in the sand or were hidden under the blue of the ocean, their hidden presence all the more menacing.

“Where’s the cave,” asked Tim quietly as he looked up at the cliff’s jagged face.

“You can’t see it from here, but it’s about halfway up and it faces the sea,” replied Tom.

“Have you been there before?” asked Nick, not quite sure if he should believe his brother.

“No,” replied Tom, “but I saw it that day I went fishing in Mr Sanders boat.”

Tom eyed the cliff nervously. While it was true that he had seen the cave on his fishing day out on the ocean, the cliff had appeared less high and the cave a lot less dangerous. Now that he was here looking up, the first threads of doubt had surfaced from deep in the back of his mind. The children walked down the beach, their heads bending back further and further as they kept their eyes on the top of the cliff. The sand was very cool as they approached the cliff face, which was deep in shadow. Kate held Nick’s hand tightly as she looked straight up, the tall pine trees at the top of the cliff making the cliff seem even higher. Nick gave Kate’s hand a little squeeze, letting her know that he was there to look after her.

“What now?” said Tim as they reached the enormously high wall of rock.

“There should be a path that leads up to the cave, somewhere around here,” replied Tom.

The children separated, looking for the way up. Tim was the first to find the path although at first he wasn’t sure if it was a pathway at all. Hidden behind a small clump of scraggy green bushes the start of a trail wound its way slowly up the face of the cliff, an old wire fence that used to stop people climbing the path lay untidily on the rocky slope, its wooden posts bleached white from the weather like old bones. The children studied the pathway from the safety of the sandy beach and Nick shook his head with concern, worried at how narrow the trail appeared to be.

“Let’s go,” said Tom, trying to sound brave.

“I don’t know, Tom. It looks awfully dangerous,” replied Tim.

“You’re not scared are you?” said Tom, pulling a face.

“Of course not, it’s just that I’m worried about Katie,” lied Tim.

Tom turned on his sister, “Well Kate, you wanted to be in our club, you’re not scared are you?”

Kate looked at her eldest brother with big blue eyes and then looked at the narrow pathway. She shook her head, no, not trusting herself to speak in case she started to cry. She liked being included in the things her brothers did and she was scared if she said no now they would never include her in any of their secrets ever again.

“Okay then. Let’s get started,” ordered Tom as he adjusted the backpack on his back. The children began up the path in single file, Tom in the lead and with Kate bringing up the rear. Thankfully the pathway got a little wider as they travelled higher but it was still too narrow for them to walk side by side. Tom looked down as the beach gave way to the ocean and from up high they could see the menacing boulders more clearly beneath the swirling blue of the water and flecks of white foam. Nick put his arm behind him and grabbed onto Kate’s hand once again. The wind was stronger up here and it whipped her blonde pigtails across her face. Kate kept her eyes on the back of her brothers head, not wanting to look down and see how far up they were in case she got too scared to move. The children were all dressed warmly but even so the wind seemed to bite through their clothes giving all of them goose bumps.

Finally the children arrived at the small cave high above the water. It took only a few minutes along the narrow and rocky trail, but it had seemed a lot longer. The entrance was rough and crumbling, about half the height of Tom but very narrow. Tom grabbed the torch from his backpack while the other children tried to stare into the black hole. He flicked on the torch and pointed it into the mouth of the cave. The rear wall of the cave seemed to be very close and Tom felt a little disappointed that the cave wasn’t as big as he had imagined.

“Maybe it’s curved like a tunnel,” suggested Tim, as if reading his older brothers mind.

“Here, here’s the torch, why don’t you go in and have a look,” suggested Tom.

Tim looked at the cave entrance and then back at the torch and shook his head. “No, I think the leader of this club should go first.”

“What if there is a wild animal that lives in there?” asked Kate nervously.

“There are no wild animals up here,” replied Tom uncertainly.

“Maybe snakes then,” added Nick.

Tom started to look worried, he hated snakes.

Tim knelt down and studied the sand at the entrance to the cave, “Nah, snakes would leave a trail in the sand, there are no trails here. Don’t worry Tom, there are no snakes in there.”

Tom looked worriedly at his brothers and sister, wondering if he should go in. If he didn’t he knew that one of them would and then they would be made leader of the explorers club. Tom liked to be leader and as the older brother he had to show that he wasn’t scared so with a deep sigh he pointed the beam of the torch into the cold dark mouth of the cave and bravely followed the light inside.


THREE

THE DRAGON BOX


The cave was bigger than it looked from the outside. Tom was able to stand quite comfortably, however it didn’t extend much further down the short tunnel. More relaxed now that he had failed to encounter any dangerous creatures, he called his brothers and sister to come on in and they slowly crawled through the entrance, nervously joining their brother in the small dark space. There was just enough room for all four of them to stand but it was a tight fit and the children followed the narrow light of the torch beam as Tom swung it slowly around the walls of the cave. Nick looked disappointed as he realised how small the cave really was and even more importantly, saw no obvious signs of treasure.

“There’s nothing here,” said Nick disappointedly.

“Yeah, let’s go,” added Kate eagerly.

Tim shook his head in frustration, a small curl of brown hair falling across his right eye. “You don’t expect treasure to be just lying here on the floor do you? Why do you think we bought the shovel? It’s probably buried right under our feet.”

Kate and Nick looked down at their feet as if expecting to be able to see through the sand at the buried treasure below them.

“So we dig,” said Tom loudly, trying hard to sound like the leader once more.

Nick and Kate moved out of the way as best they could as Tom knelt down and began to dig into the soft sand with his father’s shovel. The sand moved easily and Tom fought hard to stop the sides of the hole from caving in and filling in the fresh hole that he had just made. He was surprised that he didn’t hit rock straight away and after a few minutes the hole was knee deep and Tom stopped to have a rest, puffing lightly in the still air. Tim grabbed hold of the handle and began to dig while Tom watched on in relief. Within minutes the metal edge of the shovel struck something hard under the sand with a soft clink. Tim looked up in wonder, surprised that the treasure had been so easy to find. The four children got on their hands and knees and slowly swept away the remainder of the sand from the bottom of the hole. With most of the sand out of the way Tom grabbed the torch and pointed it at the base of the dark hole.

“It’s just a rock,” said Tom disappointedly.

“I knew it was too easy,” added Tim, as disappointed as his brother.

“But it’s a very nice rock,” replied Kate cheerfully.

“We’re not here to find rocks,” said Tom angrily, his voice bouncing noisily off the cave walls, “we’re here to find treasure!”

Nick continued to stare at the rock at the bottom of hole; sure that he could see something interesting in the dim light. Carefully he swept the last grains of sand off its flat surface, blowing the last of the sand away with a puff of his mouth.

“Hey guys, I think I’ve found something,” he yelled excitedly.

“Yeah, a rock,” replied Tim without interest.

“No, I mean it. Look,” he replied.

Tom shone the beam of the torch into the bottom of the hole. Roughly carved into the surface of the rock was a strange symbol plus an arrow that pointed directly to the wall behind them.

“What does it mean?” asked Kate.

“I don’t know,” answered Tom, and Tim shook his head furiously in agreement.

Tim brushed away the remaining grains of sand from the rocks surface. “The symbol kind of looks Japanese or maybe even Chinese, you know, like you see on the restaurant menus at the takeaway.

Nick walked over to the cave wall to where the arrow was pointing.

“Anything there?” asked Tom.

Nick wiped the remaining sand off his hands on the back of his jeans. “Nothing I can see, shine the torch over here.”

Tom placed the beam on the wall in question, illuminating a deep crack in the wall’s surface.

“It’s getting darker in here,” said Kate nervously.

Tim looked at his little sister and gently squeezed her hand. “The batteries are running out in the torch, that’s all. But if there’s anything here to find we had better get a move on. I don’t really want to have to make that climb back up here another day.”

Tom nodded in agreement as he took hold of the shovel firmly in his hands and dug out a few rocks that were tightly wedged into the crack in the wall. The dying yellow beam of the torch shone dully on a dark rectangular shape stuck in the narrow space.

“What do you think it is?” asked Tim excitedly.

“Only one way to find out I guess,” replied Tom.

With his mind firmly back on the thought of snakes once again, Tom slowly, carefully put his hand into the narrow crack in the cave wall, expecting the head of a venomous snake to strike at any moment. His fingers touched the dark rectangular object and he tried to prise it out of its hiding place but it wouldn’t budge, he just could not get a good enough grip on whatever it was to pull it free.

“Here let me have a go,” said Tim but his fingers were just as big as his brothers and he had no better luck at removing the mysterious object.

As Tom and Tim stood staring at the wall in frustration, Nick took hold of the shovel and bashed the edge of the crack as hard as he could. Lumps of the soft earth flew off in all directions and Nick hit it once again. Satisfied with his work, he reached into the enlarged gap and wrapped his fingers around the edges of the mysterious object. At first nothing happened. Then Nick put one foot on each side of the crack and pulled with all his might. A soft scraping sound was the first sign that the thing was coming loose. Then as Nick pulled even harder the crumbling earth gave way and the object came out of the cave wall with a rush, sending the youngest of the boys flying backwards, landing with a thud into the hole that they had just made.

Nick lay there in the hole for a few seconds, unable to speak, the wind knocked painfully out of his lungs and the sweat stuck his messy blonde hair to his face that was red from the effort of his work.

“Are you all right?” whispered Kate in awe.

“I think I broke my butt,” said Nick.

“What do you mean you broke your butt?” replied Tom.

“Well it’s definitely has got a crack in it,” he said with a huge grin spreading across his face.

Tim shook his head and smiled, glad that his little brother was okay while Kate looked confused, not getting the joke.

Nick wiped the sand from out of his eyes and looked at the thing lying on his chest that he had pulled from out of the cave wall. A wooden box, about the size of a shoebox but a lot thinner rested in his hands. Nick turned the box over, trying to examine it further but the torch had almost gone out by now and it was much too dark to see very much of anything anymore. His two elder brothers helped him out of the hole and the four children moved to the caves entrance where the last of the afternoon sun shone weakly into the cave.

“What is it? What is it?” yelled Kate excitedly.

“Some sort of box,” mumbled Tom quietly.

Tim held the box in the light and studied it carefully. Its dark wood was hard and smooth. Even the rough treatment, wedged in the crack, had not damaged nor scratched the box too badly. Tim turned the box over and all four children gasped as they stared at the lid. Carved into the top of the box, a fierce dragon stared back with small red gemstone eyes. Its needle like teeth were bared in a wicked snarl and its leathery bat-like wings were raised forming a perfect circle around the mythical beast.

“Let’s open the box,” suggested Tim in a whisper, as he stared at the dragon.

“Do you think we should?” muttered Nick, “it might be dangerous.”

“Yeah and it might be treasure,” replied Tom. “We have come here to explore and look for treasure, we can’t just put it back without knowing what’s inside.”

“Okay, then,” agreed Tim, “lets open it.”

Tim turned the box over and over again, looking for a lock or a catch, anything that would open the lid but the edge of the box appeared smooth without a line to suggest a join of any sort.

“Come on then,” said Kate, “open it. Let’s see what’s inside.”

Tim studied the box closer, his face only centimetres from its surface. “I can’t find any way to open it.”

Tom looked out of the cave entrance at the lavender sky outside. The sun had disappeared behind them and the evening wind was gradually getting stronger by the minute.

“Well whatever we do we better do it quick. It’s getting late and Mum told us that we have to be back before dinnertime. If anybody comes looking for us and finds us up here we are going to be in heaps of trouble.”

“Tom’s right,” agreed Tim reluctantly, “we’ve got to be going home real soon.”

Tim had one more try at prising the box open before admitting defeat. “We are just going to have to take it home,” he said.

“But what about Mum, she will take it off us,” replied Nick, “and besides she’s going to want to know where we found it.”

“Good point Nick,” said Tom, not willing to face his mother and telling her where they had been all afternoon.

Kate looked at the box with dread, a little scared of the carved dragon on its lid but unwilling to admit it to her brothers.

“Maybe we should just hide it in the tree house,” she suggested.

“That would work,” agreed Tim, “as long as no-one blabs.”

“YEAH, KATE,” said Tom loudly, remembering how she had told their mum about the secret club in the first place.

“I won’t blab. I promise,” replied Kate softly.

“Okay then,” added Tim, “we take the box home, hide it in the tree house and try and open it later.”

“Even better, Tim,” suggested Tom, “we have our dinner and ask mum if we can camp out tonight in the tree house. It’s not a school night and the weather is okay, she’ll let us do it. I know she will.”

Kate looked at the dragon box doubtfully. The tree house at night-time was scary enough without sharing it with the evil dragon carved into the lid of the box.

“Come on Kate it will be fine. You said yourself that you wanted to be part of our club. It’s only an old carving, nothing in the box is going to hurt you and besides we’re all going to be there with you, it’ll be cool,” suggested Nick. “Just think of it. Our Explorers club found treasure on the very first expedition. I bet no other explorers in history can say that. And you are part of it.”

Kate slowly nodded her head. Not feeling any braver but unwilling to lose her spot as a treasure hunter especially now that they had found real treasure.

With the plan agreed upon, the children carefully made their way back down the narrow twisted path. In the fading light each footstep was dangerous and the children were constantly reminded of their fate if they slipped as they listened to the booming of the surf far below. Everyone took a deep sigh of relief once their feet touched the cool sand of the beach once again, all of them happy that they would not have to make the treacherous journey up the cliff ever again. The children reached their bikes and rode as fast as they could in the dimming light and the sun had long since disappeared over the horizon by the time they swung their bicycles into the driveway of their house.

Tom hurried to the tree house to hide the treasure as Kate and her two brothers went inside to let their mother know that they were home. Dinner passed slowly and quietly as each of the four children thought about the box hidden at the top of the willow tree and wondered what it contained. Their mother looked at each of her children in turn, amused by their quiet behaviour, convinced that they were just tired after a long day of riding their bicycles. She happily agreed that they could all sleep in the tree house that night but she reminded Kate how she sometimes got scared. Tom assured his mother that the three boys would look after their little sister and their mother just nodded, not convinced but happy to give them a chance considering that they were all still playing nicely with each other.

With the dishes washed, the children walked out to the tree house, sleeping bags under their arms and the light from a lantern showing them the way. They parted the curtains of willow branches in the dark and hastily climbed up the rope ladder to their own private sanctuary. When they were all circled on the wooden floor Tom placed the lantern in the centre and took the dragon box from its hiding place.

“Let me try first,” said Nick, grabbing the box.

Nick turned the box over and over in his hands but just like in the cave, there seemed no way of opening the box. With frustration, Nick passed it to his eldest brother and Tom examined the smooth timber in the bluish-white light of the lantern. His hands passed lightly over the carving of the dragon, his fingertips tracing the outline of the evil looking figure carved on the wooden box. With a dragon breath soft hiss of escaping air, the lid of the box popped off and rattled onto the wooden floor of the tree house.

All four of the children were speechless for a moment, no-one had expected the lid to come off so easily.

“How did you do that? What did you do?” said Tim excitedly.

“I…I don’t really know,” stammered Tom. “My hands felt the shape of the dragon and then the lid just flew off.”

Tim picked the lid up off the floor and studied it closely in the light from the lantern. The only thing out of the ordinary were two small dark holes on the inner edge of the lid.

“Wow,” said Nick, taking Tim’s attention away from the lid.

“Wow,” repeated Tom.

Tim looked down at where his brothers were staring in awe.

“Wow,” echoed Tim as the mysterious contents of the dragon box were revealed under the bright white light of the lantern in the tree house.


FOUR

THE GOLD MEDALLION


The four children sat quietly and stared for several seconds at the contents of the dragon box. Lying snugly inside a deep-red velvet lining, four pieces of gold shone dully in the lantern light. Each piece was roughly the same size as the piece next to it. The four pieces of gold each had a curved smooth outer edge and two jagged, rougher edges as though someone had ripped a pizza into four. An ancient length of what looked like leather was attached to each piece of gold, threaded through a neat hole near their curved edges. Tom slowly put his hand out, his fingers lightly touching the leather cords. To his and everyone else’s amazement the ancient leather crumbled under his touch and turned to dust.

“These things must be hundreds of years old,” whispered Tom.

“Maybe even older,” mumbled Tim. “The dragon on the lid of the box kind of looks Chinese and their history goes back thousands of years.”

“Yeah, but what are they?” asked Nick in a quiet voice.

“Treasure of course,” said Kate loudly. “We’ve found some treasure.”

“Sshh, keep your voice down,” replied Tom. “We don’t want mum or dad to find out what we have got, at least not yet anyway.”

“But what have we got?” repeated Nick.

Tom laid the box down next to the lantern and peered at the gold pieces closely. Nick had been right. As incredible as it seemed they had stumbled on real life treasure their very first go at being explorers.

“It’s really faint but it looks as though there is some kind of pattern on the surface of these pieces.”

Tim bent over so that his nose was only centimetres from the treasure. “I think you’re right Tom, I wonder what it can be?”

“Whatever it is I bet it’s worth some money,” said Nick. “Let’s go and show it to mum.”

“Not a good idea Nick,” answered Tom. “She’s going to ask where we got it from and if she finds out we’ve been anywhere near those caves then we are going to get into heaps of trouble.”

“So what do we do now?” asked Tim. “If we can’t show it to mum, then we probably won’t be able to sell it and what’s the good of finding treasure if you’re not able to get any money for it?”

Tom looked at his younger brother in annoyance, knowing that he was right and realising that they expected him to come up with an answer since he was the leader of the explorers club.

“Well let’s find out what it is first and then we can worry about what to do with it.”

The other three children nodded their heads in silent agreement, happy that someone else besides them had to make the tough decision.

The creak of the back door interrupted their thoughts as their mother walked out onto the back veranda. “Is everything okay out there?” she asked.

The four children held their breath and stared at each other wide eyed as if their mother could use X-ray vision and see inside the tree house.

“Yeah, fine,” shouted Tom after he eventually found his voice.

“Well, get into your sleeping bags and try and get some sleep. You can leave the light on for Kate but no more talking okay?”

Annie Young walked back inside without waiting for a reply. Tom grabbed the lid of the box, running his fingers over the carving of the dragon once again. “I think I know how I opened the box.”

“Yeah, how?” asked Tim, leaning closer.

Nick and Kate leaned forward joining their brothers in a tight huddle.

“I think the lock for the lid is the dragon’s eyes.”

“How do you mean?” said Tim.

Tom replaced the lid and then placing a finger on each of the small red gemstones, pushed slightly. Sure enough the lid silently popped up once again.”

“See, no problem,” said Tom with a smile.


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