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Chapter 3 - Inside the Walls

Harlie and Anya walked down the pebbled drive toward a stone manor some two hundred yards away. The rain was coming down steadily again now. Harlie's fingers were as puckered and wrinkled as if he'd spent hours underwater. The flickering light from the gate offered glimpses and faint shapes darkening the formal garden in front of the manor. They had gotten within fifty feet of the house when the porch light popped on and a plump woman in a red floral dress opened the front door.

“Aaah. Prisán muchachos,” she said, beckoning them inside.

“Gracias, Señora,” Harlie responded tentatively. She nodded and directed them into a dimly lit foyer.

“We're Harlie and Anya Fox—” he began.

“Un momento,” she interrupted. She disappeared into an adjacent room, leaving them dripping in puddles where they stood. He leaned against the banister of a staircase that ran up one wall, catching Anya's eyes in the mirrored hall tree at the far end of the foyer.

“Not exactly our VIP-look,” she said.

“Not our fault, is it?” Harlie said casually.

The woman reappeared and motioned for Anya and Harlie to come in. They squished into the room. Wooden shelves crammed with thousands of books surrounded the study. A dark-haired man sat behind a mahogany desk opposite two red upholstered chairs. He stood as they came in the room.

“Harlie! Anya! Come in.” He came around his desk and greeted them as if he'd known them forever. “So glad you got here this evening. Marta and I have been positively fretful about your arrival. You have no idea how difficult it is to trust these things to turn out just so. I'm Stephen Quinn, by the way—so good to meet you. Heard so much about you—oh, for goodness sakes—where are my manners? Sit down, sit down. You must tell us all about your day.” The words tumbled out of his mouth so quickly that Harlie could hardly think fast enough to understand what he was saying.

Anya recovered her voice. “Um… We're wet and muddy, Sir. We'd ruin your chairs.”

The man examined their hair and clothes as though he hadn't noticed anything odd in their appearance before this very moment. He mumbled something to himself and without any pause whatsoever said, almost too loudly, “Now that does change things, doesn't it?” Neither Harlie nor Anya knew how to respond to this. Luckily, they didn't have to—Quinn seemed to be talking more to himself than to them.

“Marta, please show our intrepid adventurers upstairs to freshen up.” His eyes shifted back to Anya, “Tell the others to meet our guests of honor in the dining room in, say, forty-five minutes.” Then, without waiting for an answer, he returned to his desk and began contemplating a parcel of air just inches in front of him as if his guests had melted away. Harlie stood dripping on the oriental rug, wondering what to make of this odd man, until Marta spoke.

“Por favor,” she motioned them into the foyer and led them upstairs.

 

Marta stopped outside the first door on the left. “Anya, es su quarto.”

Harlie nudged Anya toward the door. “Go on!”

Marta walked another ten feet. “Jarlos, para ti.”

“Gracias, Señora.”

“De nada.”

Anya opened the door to a room decorated in peach and cinnamon. The walls were papered in a dusty coral with soft brown scrollwork dancing over them. She ran her hand across the silk damask draped over the dark four-poster bed. Pillows covered in magnolia shams leaned against the mahogany headboard. It was the most exquisite bedroom she had ever seen. But Anya's eyes were drawn to an object at the foot of the bed that seemed oddly out of place in the pristine room.

The aqua plaid of her suitcase clashed violently with the soft muted colors of the room, but to Anya it was the most beautiful sight she had seen all day. Unzipping it, she unpacked her tennis shoes, travel bag, flats, shorts—she unfolded a pink polo and a pair of navy bermudas. There, between her socks and underwear, was a small, acrylic box holding the silver locket her mother had given her for her tenth birthday.

Anya could almost feel her mother's presence in the room. She knew we would make it! Anya had doubted herself all day, but her mother had known, even before they got to the island, that they would be in this house tonight.

Anya picked up the cell phone, rehearsing in her head what she would say to her mother, You really should have told us what we were getting into this morning! Why didn't you trust us—or at least me? But then she looked at the phone and remembered it was dead. She found her charger in her backpack and tried to plug it into the wall, but the prongs wouldn't fit in the wall socket. “Dammit.” Well, their mom could wait.

She took a quick shower and dried her hair, checking the mirror to make sure her cowlick did not show. Her hair was not thick and full like her brother's; it was a shinier darker brown. She smiled at her reflection; she felt pretty at the moment. Usually, she didn't think of herself as pretty or ugly, but lately she spent more time wondering about it. She was insecure about her longish nose and thought her eyes were too deep-set. She consoled herself by concentrating on how unusual her eyes were—a mixture of blue, green, and gold. In dim light, her pupils obscured the inner gold ring, making her eyes look more blue. In the sun, they were brighter green. Anya tilted her head and sucked in her cheeks as she applied some light blush to her face. Staring into the mirror, she had to admit that being pretty mattered to her more than she thought it should.

She wrestled herself away from her reflection and dressed, clasping her locket around her neck, so that it hung lower than she usually wore it. She spun it around several times before unlatching it to check her tiny compass hidden inside. She had felt naked without it, and was glad to have her talisman in its proper place. She grabbed her journal from her bookbag and headed to Harlie's room.

 

“Harlie, are you ready?” Anya knocked. She hoped that they would have some time to talk before they went down for dinner.

“Come in.”

“Wow!” She goggled at his bed.

“It's a reconstructed ship!” Harlie exclaimed. A seascape mural covered all the walls in his room. A tall mast with a real retractable ship's sail doubled as a headboard. Harlie pulled it up for effect; the purple sail expanded to reveal a gold Maltese cross.

“Can you imagine having this in your bedroom when you were a kid?”

“I think that's what's happening, now,” she said.

Harlie jumped up on the bow of the ship. “Can you blame, me? You know how I used to love Pirates of the Caribbean.”

“Harlie, get down from there,” she insisted, “We need to talk.”

“Lord, what is it now? Onion, I love you and all, but can't you just let me have a few seconds of fun before we have to start analyzing everything?” His next sentence came out like a poor Captain Sparrow imitation. “Come on. Climb aboard me ship and we'll talk about me sunken treas—uure!”

“Harlie, I'm being serious, now—stop it!”

“Sass me again, wench, and you'll walk da plank!”

Anya rolled her eyes at her brother and then stared at him until he relented.

“Oh, alright, Onion, but you're a pain now that you think you're grown up.” He slid down beside her onto his mattress.

“I think I know why Mom didn't tell us about this school—at least I think I know bits and pieces. A few weeks ago I heard her arguing with someone over the phone with a man. It must have been Mr. Quinn. She was worried that we would be in danger if she came with us. She said people would know her here. So I'm just thinking, maybe she went to school here. It makes sense, right? Don't you find it odd she never talks about high school?”

“Maybe. I guess I've never thought of it before.”

“Oh, and she said, ‘I've trusted you before’ like she had a history with him. Now that's weird.”

“I think he's a little weird,” Harlie said, emphasizing the “he.”

“Well, du-uh—but he seems harmless. I think he's just a little excitable,” she said.

“Excitable? It was all I could do to listen as fast as he talked. I'm just glad you were there to get a word in edgewise, or we'd still be standing there dripping all over his rug.”

Anya smiled at her brother, gratefully. He didn't usually stop and think things through, but when he did, he could be perceptive. She was hoping he was in one of his more thoughtful moods.

“Do you think Marta is the sculptor's descendant?” she asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Remember the end of the riddle? ‘To the sculptor's descendant and your host, Stephen Quinn.’ Well, we haven't found the sculptor's descendant yet.”

“Who cares! The whole point was to get to Quinn, and we did,” Harlie countered.

“But why would it even mention a descendant it if weren't important? I think the sculptor etched his name in Phoenician letters inside a jug on the statue. I took a rubbing so we can compare it to the letters on the map. Maybe they'll match up—to give us a clue who the sculptor is.” She took the paper out of her journal and showed Harlie the etching. Its edges were damp but the rubbing was still dry. It had three faint characters: Pho. Harlie got out the map and ran his finger over its border, touching each of the symbols she was showing him. Anya was right; the letters were Phoenician.

“I don't know how this is going to help us, though. It's not like we know what it means, or how to pronounce it. Look, it's time to go down,” said Harlie, lifting a rosewood box about the width of a silver dollar out of his suitcase and slipping it into his pocket. “Maybe we can figure this out once we've had something to eat. I'm too hungry to think!”

“Bring the map,” Anya reminded him, “and concentrate on finding out who it belongs to.”

 

Voices drifted into the foyer as they descended the stairs. They followed the sounds into a large dining room.

“Ah, our guests of honor have arrived,” Mr. Quinn observed. All eyes turned to the twins. “Everyone, this is Anya and Harlie Fox.”

Harlie's eyes scanned the room. He'd half-expected to see his mother there. When he'd seen his suitcase, he'd entertained the notion that she had taken a later flight to the island.

“Harlie and Anya, these are a few of the faculty of my school, Caminus Academy. This is Anastasia Nettles.” Mr. Quinn indicated a tall woman dressed in riding boots and jeans. “She teaches history and civics, and Phyllo Jenkins,” he said, pointing to the man beside her. Harlie recognized him as the man in the seersucker cap from from earlier in the day. “He's our English and linguistics teacher. And Elissa and Ted Amazir. Elissa is our councilor and Ted is our minister.” A happy, exotic-looking couple smiled at them. Marta appeared from the kitchen with salad bowls in her hands. “Oh, and you have met the most indispensable person in the room, Marta Betancourt. She runs the academy flawlessly in spite of my interference.”

“Hola, Señora Betancourt,” Harlie and Anya said together.

“Sit down everyone. Marta has been gracious to keep dinner warm for us. Let's not keep her waiting any longer.”

Harlie blushed. “Sorry, we didn't know you were waiting on us,” he said apologetically.

“No, no, Harlie, we wanted to wait for you. Can't wait to hear how you found us,” said Mr. Jenkins.

“Well—” Harlie hesitated. He looked at Mr. Quinn, trying to decide what to say. He wasn't sure what anyone knew or how much he should tell.

Anya intervened. “Mr. Quinn, we'd love to tell everyone about our day if that is alright with you.”

“Please, do. Might help us with a little extra mystery to I hope we'll unravel tonight.”

“Quite the intrigue, as usual, Stephen,“ Mr. Jenkins joked.

“Quinn, you're bold, I give you credit, but really. You think two teenagers are going to solve a hundred-year-old mystery?” Ms. Nettles raised her wine glass to her lips and took a sip, looking amused at the idea.

“How old are you?” she asked.

“Almost fifteen,” Harlie answered.

“So you're fourteen. A little young to be private investigators, Quinn, but carry on.”

Harlie was utterly bewildered at this exchange. He hated to admit it because he thought she was a little snotty, but he had to agree with Ms. Nettles. He didn't want to disappoint Mr. Quinn, but he didn't see how he and Anya could figure out who the sculptor was. He wasn't even sure he could accurately recount the unusual series of events that had transpired today. His insides squirmed a little. He always felt like adults were testing him, but it felt worse when they didn't bother making a secret of it.

He and Anya took turns recounting the events of the day. The adults seemed curiously interested in the small details of their discoveries. Mr. Jenkins questioned Harlie about what made him climb up on the statue, how long it took him to find the letter on his ring, a “TSOD-KEE,” Quinn called it.

 

When Mr. Amazir asked Anya when she'd decide she trusted Emile, she didn't quite know what to say to him. She had hardly had time to eat any of her salad before Marta took it from her. She would have been truly heartsick had Marta not replaced it with a plate full of spaghetti.

When Mrs. Amazir, sitting just to Anya's right, asked her about the statue, Anya pulled out her journal and handed it to her.

“I took notes on the statue. You can read them if you like,” she said, hoping to quit answering questions long enough to eat. Anya twirled the noodles on her fork and lifted them to her mouth. She was repeating the process with great enthusiasm when her eyes focused clearly on the end of her fork. Its handle was a heavy silver mass of leaves and fruit. Anya's mind struggled to remember something it couldn't quite get to. She twirled another mound of spaghetti onto it slowly, examining the handle as she turned it before poking the spaghetti into her mouth—then it clicked: It looks like the gate. But her brother spoke first.

“Mr. Quinn, this fork,” he said holding it up, “looks like the vines on the gate of this place.”

“Good eye, Har—” but he was interrupted mid-sentence by Mrs. Amazir.

“I see you have an eye for art, Harlie. My grandfather designed these forks and the gate of Caminus Academy. Do you like the silver?”

“He is the athlete; I am the artist,” Anya intervened. “I love the forks. But the wrought-iron gates are exquisite.”

Mrs. Amazir smiled appreciatively. “My grandfather was Walt Sidon, and liked working in wrought iron, but he was a jeweler by trade.” She held up her wrist for Anya, showing off a beautiful gold bracelet. “He made this for my grandmother.” Amethyst stones hung in loose clusters strung together by finely veined leaves and vines. On the clasp, Anya saw some faint lettering.

“Is that your grandfather's signature?” she asked, pointing to her clasp?

“No, not his signature, exactly. It's more like a stamp of quality. He only put it on his best pieces.”

“Mrs. Amazir, may I have my journal?” Anya asked. “I want to show you something.”

Taking the journal, Anya held it by the cover. She let the pages hang free and shook it slightly. The piece of paper with the rubbing she'd done earlier fell into her open hand. She unfolded the paper and handed it to Mrs. Amazir. “Is that your grandfather's mark?” she asked, pointing to the rubbing on the paper.

Phoenician Symbols

Mrs. Amazir stared at the page for a moment, and checked her bracelet closely. “Yes, it is—an exact match. But you couldn't have seen this tonight on the gate. Where did it come from?” she asked incredulously. All eyes at the table were on Anya. Mr. Quinn's wild eyes were fixed on her most intensely.

“It's from the statue. It was on the inside of a jug at Hanno's feet. You can barely see it in the shadows. It just looks like some scratch marks.”

Mr. Quinn's lips curled into a self-satisfied smile. “Didn't I tell you, Anastasia—and you doubted them.”

“You never cease to amaze me, Quinn. Just when I think you have finally relinquished your tenuous grip on your intellect and sanity, you manage something like this.” She shook her blonde locks back and reached for her wine. “A toast! To Hanno the Navigator, to Sidon the Sculptor, and to Quinn the Instigator!” She raised her glass and everyone joined in laughing and joking about Quinn's new nickname.

“Have you overlooked anybody, Anastasia?” asked Phyllo Jenkins, impishly.

“You do it, then,” she countered indifferently.

Phyllo raised his glass while the others waited. His voice boomed, “To Harlie and Anya, the Foxes of Caminus!” Everyone broke into celebration again. Anya would have sworn that Stephen Quinn fought back a tear, but soon realized that his wine had taken the wrong path down his throat. Marta handed him a glass of water and he soon recovered and cheered, “To the Foxes! Welcome to Caminus Academy!”

Anya and her brother had never been toasted by strangers, and Anya wasn't sure she liked feeling so known by people about whom she knew so little. And what did Mr. Quinn mean— “Welcome.” She could feel the anxiety welling in her stomach, tightening her muscles and constricting her airway. Anya struggled to maintain a facade of poise. She'd indulged all of them, including her mother, in this little game, but she now wanted to know the purpose of all of this.

“Mr. Quinn,” she said, leaning toward him to make sure he heard her, “may I use your phone?”

“Of course, but give me just a few more minutes. I would like to get something settled first.”

“Well now,” Quinn began, seeming somewhat lost in his own thoughts again. “I should advise the Chancellor's Council that Harlie and Anya are under the impression that they have come to do some scuba diving with us.”

“You mean we're not?” Harlie asked incredulously.

“Oh, we have some of the best diving in the world,” Mr. Quinn explained. “I do hope you'll have time to go at some point.”

“What are you saying, Quinn?” Ted Amazir asked.

“I'm saying they might need some time to take this all in. You see, their mother never told them about Caminus—thought it best—due to the nature of their—talents—”

“Quinn! Think about what you are saying,” Elissa Amazir interrupted.

“You've got to be kidding!” and “No!” came from one end of the table.

“What talents?” Anya asked.

“Never told us what?” Harlie talked over his sister. While neither one of them liked being talked about like they were toddlers, incapable of understanding what the grown-ups were saying, Anya was even angrier that she actually didn't understand. This was beyond rude! Why are these strangers so interested in us? What kind of talents do they think we have? Why didn't Mom just tell us about this place?

Everyone at the table was talking at once. Some were not happy. Marta's voice weaved in and out of the rest of the conversation in rapid Spanish. She heard “traumatized” and “breach of ethics.” The men seemed locked in heated debate. Anya was too overwhelmed to take it all in. Her head began to hurt, and she felt queasy and hot. She tried to glean an ounce of comprehension from the tangled mass of words that streamed out of everyone's mouths, but she couldn't. Her head felt as if it would explode. She grabbed Harlie's elbow, like holding onto a piece of her brother would keep her from falling apart.

 

Harlie saw the blood draining from his sister's face and he knew he had to do something. “Stop it! Just…stop!” His outburst stunned everyone into silence.

Marta was the first to speak. “Dinner is over,” she said in perfect English.

“Señor Jenkins y Señorita Nettles, buenos noches. Señor Amazir, Ayudamé, por favor.” She and Mr. Amazir began clearing dishes and retreated into the kitchen as the others left. Harlie was so thankful he could have kissed her. Even Mr. Quinn seemed more contemplative.

“Harlie, Anya—sorry for all of the confusion I have caused. I'd hoped to talk to you before dinner. I could have made things a little clearer,” Mr. Quinn explained. “Let me start by assuring you that I have spoken with your mother, and she knows that you are here and safe. You are here because we want you to consider coming to school here.”

Harlie wasn't sure he'd heard Mr. Quinn correctly. He'd expected to be discussing a dive plan or his preference for a dive site, but had trouble wrapping his mind around the words that had just exited Quinn's mouth.

Mr. Quinn turned to Mrs. Amazir. “Elissa, if you will give me until tomorrow, I'll explain the method behind my madness—about the map and the Foxes' arrival—but I'll need the map to give back to the governor; she wants it returned within twenty-four hours.”

Mrs. Amazir seemed only slightly pacified, but she managed a strained smile and handed him the map. Mr. Quinn continued, “Mrs. Amazir has stayed with me because she is the counselor for the fifteen- and sixteen-year-old scholars at Caminus Academy. Your mother was concerned that we might be asking you to come too early, but given some preliminary information we've received, I believe both of you might need to be admitted this year.”

Harlie wasn't certain what he meant by the word, need. From the glance he exchanged with his sister, she didn't either. But Mr. Quinn continued as if he hadn't just dropped a bomb into their brains. “Your mother wants you to get to know us over the next two days, before deciding. We hope you'll choose to stay and continue your education here on Caminus. If not, you'll fly back to Bermuda to your mother.”

“But why didn't she just tell us that's what we were doing?” Anya complained.

“Don't ask me to ponder the intricacies of Sicily Fox,” he answered with a wry smile. “But I dare say that if you'd never made it to our door, both you and the school would have been better off for your lack of knowledge about Caminus Academy. Our Academy thrives in no small part because it is only lightly tethered to the outside world.”

“In her defense, I must add, she didn't know about the map, or that no one would be picking you up at the airport, but she knew you'd be safer if we didn't tell you too much until you got here. You can call her now, if you'd like.”

“No, I don't.” Anya's cheeks reddened. “She's kept us in the dark since, since—forever! She can wait to hear from us until we're ready to talk.”

Harlie didn't blame Anya for being mad, but he thought his sister's stubborn refusal was a mistake she'd regret. He also knew better than to say anything to her about it. Now that the day was over, Harlie thought their little adventure had been pretty fun, and Quinn had said that he and Anya would get to choose whether to stay or go. He was a little put out with his mom, but he followed the “no-harm-no-foul” rule; Anya wasn't always such a good sport.

“You were never really alone,” Quinn continued. “One of our people was on the plane with you—to watch after you and observe you for any signs of emerging tal—”

“Technically, it's not the Chancellor's job to identify your talents,” Mrs. Amazir interjected. “It's yours. I coach scholars to figure that out. Most students do within their first or second year. We believe that every scholar has unique talents that should be developed in addition to more traditional knowledge. Mr. Quinn obviously thinks he knows what your talents might be, but I advise him not to talk to you—or anyone else—about it until you've decided to stay with us.”

“Yes, yes, I just got so excited, I forgot myself,” Mr. Quinn admitted. “Besides, I defer to Mrs. Amazir's expertise.”

Apparently mollified by his deference, she continued, “You showed some extraordinary talents just getting here. It could be any one of these—or something you have not caught onto yet—something that you might think isn't a big deal because it comes naturally to you.”

“Do you have to be smart to come here?” Harlie asked. All this talk of talents suddenly made him feel insecure. He wasn't sure that playing soccer was a talent they would find useful.

“No, not in the way most people define smart. Most of our students have average IQs, and others have very low IQs, and others are geniuses. What matters to us is that their abilities are rare, or that we don't fully understand why they possess them. It's late. We have a tight schedule tomorrow, so I suggest you get some sleep.”

“Quite right, Elissa. I think I'll run along myself. It's not every day that so much happens that I don't already know about. It gets tiring, you know. I don't know how everyone does it.”

Mr. Quinn got up from the table and left without another word, confirming Harlie's suspicions that he might just be the most bizarre person he'd ever met. Dona Amazir seemed to take these odd comments in stride; she rose from the table. “Meet me in here for breakfast. Marta will wake you.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Amazir. We'll see you tomorrow,” Anya said as she and Harlie got up.

“Goodnight.”

As Harlie and Anya climbed the stairs to their rooms, they knew without asking what the other was thinking; they had envisioned going to Briarwood Academy, and having their mother cooing over their victories and encouraging them in their defeats. They had not pictured going to boarding school over a thousand miles away from anything they knew or cared about. Harlie waited until Anya got to her door.

“Don't think too much,” he said.

“Give me your brain,” she answered.

“Goodnight, Onion.”

“Goodnight, Harshly.”

 

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