Milo eyed the picket line where his mare Penelope was tied. The others were busy looking over the maps grandfather had made. Milo had gotten close enough to get a whiff of pipe smoke and a snippet of the conversation. Again, master Calhoon was droning on about, “The hidden treasure in this virgin land.” Milo didn’t know about that last bit but he had heard enough about this treasure’s supposed locations to know they were close. Or at least master Calhoon thought they were.
Milo had been excited about the idea of treasure at first when grandfather signed on with Calhoon’s expedition. Though at the time anything would have been a welcome diversion from his parent’s deaths. Not that Milo had a say in the matter of course. Yet if there was one thing about treasure hunting he had not expected, it was all the riding and walking involved. He had forgotten how many times they had set up camp, searched for a few days or a week, then moved farther west. Always west. Supposedly there was an ocean out west if you went far enough. Milo had never seen a real ocean but grandfather had, and the tails of ships at sea each big as a house had hooked Milo’s imagination.
For the moment, however, Milo was contemplating taking Penelope out for a roam. If there was a way to get her untied without anyone noticing… checking over his shoulder Milo crept quietly to the line. The coast looked clear. At his approach, Penelope stirred and snuffled his dirty brown hair with her snout. Milo gave her a quick rub on the nose and pressed a finger to his lips with a quiet shh. Penelope was a smart horse and she knew when Milo wanted her to stay quiet.
With dexterous fingers, Milo unfastened the lead line and strolled calmly from the camp into the surrounding trees. He didn’t have to go far, only a few paces, and the camp was hidden by thick jungle growth. As he mounted Penelope Milo giggled to himself at the ease of his escape. Take that chores, he thought. Now, what direction was that treasure again?
Guiding his mare through the jungle Milo hummed himself a tune as he thought about finding pirate treasure and of course about finding the legendary diamond crown of ages.
“Overland and sea we search for thee, we spend our days out on the waves, we spend our days down in those caves, to one day find, and make it mine, the lost treasure of the nine…”
On Milo hummed through verse and chorus until he looked up to find he was very much lost. For a moment his skin prickled with fear… but no… Penelope was a smart horse and she could find the way home even if he could not. Confidence bolstered he leaned over to whisper in Penelope’s ear.
“You’ll get us home, won’t you girl? I’m counting on you.”
To that Penelope snuffled the air and tossed her head in confirmation before moving off through the jungle. Milo let the mare lead confident she would guide him true. Through the canopy overhead, Milo began to hear rain. First just a light patter on the leaves which quickly ramped up to a roar. Drops like ripe cherries came down buckets at a time. Milo blessed the thick jungle canopy that kept most of the water off of them. Even so, it only took a minute to be soaked through. A brooding darkness shrouded what little sky could be seen through the leaf’s above and Milo felt himself shiver both from fear and the rain.
Ahead in the gloom, Milo noticed something approaching through the jungle. He rubbed his eyes then realized that whatever it was, it was not approaching them, they were approaching it. Partially buried by jungle growth lay a fallen statue of a man holding a spear before him. Then Milo noticed another and another. Two rows of statues making a corridor of sorts. Penelope followed the path ahead and soon a stone structure could be seen in the distance. It wasn’t the camp but at least it would keep them out of the rain for now.
Milo dismounted and walked Penelope through a low stone archway into a dark room beyond. Underfoot leaves crunched and Milo could feel knobby roots poking through a stone floor. Milo tripped in the darkness gripping at Penelope’s reigns for stability but they slipped through his damp fingers. Instead of striking the stone floor as Milo had expected he struck chest first into a low stone object. The object teetered precariously as if on the edge of a precipice. The smell of musty mineral water assaulted his senses as a stale draft wafted up from deep darkness before him. Then with a crashing sound, he began to plummet. Wind whipped past him and the sound of his screams echoed off the nearby walls of the shaft. Then something struck him hard and his body felt like it had become water.
Milo blinked his eyes but everything was pitch black. He tried to move but the only things that seemed to work were his eyes. He blinked as a flash of white light sparked in the distance. Whatever it was, the light was coming closer. Before long a figure appeared clothed in white with a gold bit around the chest. His hair fell in waves of brilliant white and his face seemed utterly familiar, but Milo couldn’t put a name or an age to him. The figure reached down and placed a brilliant white hand to Milo’s forehead. Immediately he could feel his body again.
“Come on I have something to show you,” The man said in a gentle voice as he reached out a glowing hand.
Milo took it and immediately he began to glow as well, his skin and clothes radiant. Suddenly there was a shimmering archway that appeared to be made of liquid light. It stood open before them and on the other side rippled an ocean so pristine it could have been glass. The ocean seemed to stretch on forever with a brilliant light on the horizon that shone with colorful refracted beams.
Hand in hand with the familiar stranger, Milo stepped out onto the clear ocean. To his amazement, the water lapped and rolled like ocean waves around them but where ever they walked it became hard as crystal under their feet. Within only a few strides Milo could make out several figures ahead each seated on some kind of floating chair. As Milo drew closer, he noticed that each one had a golden crown studded with a brilliant diamond that shone with the intense light from the horizon.
“The diamond crown of legend…” Milo stammered. It was real or rather… they were real. He quickly counted. Twenty-four… twenty-four crowns and each likely worth enough to buy an entire country. Milo smiled and felt at his eyes, he should have been crying at the sight but he wasn’t. The familiar stranger looked at Milo and smiled, and Milo’s heart melted within him.
“Beautiful isn’t it?” The man asked.
“Yes,” Milo said in a breathy tone.
“I have something else special to show you,” The man said and turned back the way they had come.
Milo turned to follow but not without effort as it was impossibly hard to wrench his eyes away from that beautiful light. When he managed, he saw another archway like the first. This one led to a green field with a small wooden house near the closest edge. It was a beautiful house, the same design as the one Milo and his parents had lived in before they died. Only this house was perfect. No rusty hinges, no peeling paint, and all the flowers in the garden were in bloom.
As the man led Milo through the archway the door of the house opened and a woman with his mother’s face walked out carrying a wicker basket laden with eggs. When she saw them the woman gasped, dropping the basket to the ground as both hands went to her mouth. Sprawled on the ground as they were not a single egg broke from the fall. Shock filled the woman’s eyes as she took in the sight of him and the familiar stranger in white.
Then a smile of pure joy parted her beautiful face and she raced toward them calling, “Jethro, Jethro come quickly!”
A moment later a slender man wearing his father’s face dashed out of the door behind her. His face too held a momentary shock at the sight before turning to joy.
“Oh, Milo we missed you so much,” His mother said as she scooped him into her arms. The warmth of her radiated through him and he felt like he should be crying but no tears came. His father wrapped his arms around encircling them all in a big family hug.
“I missed you too,” Milo said as he hugged them back.
“Better than buried treasure?” The familiar stranger asked.
“Yes, ever so much,” Milo said as he turned to thank the man in white. Yet when he looked both the man and the archway were gone.
“Milo come inside,” His mother said ushering him to the house, “We have so much to tell you.”
As Milo let himself be led inside, he stole another glance over his shoulder at the spot where he was sure the archway had been.
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