A band of sea gypsies headed for the ancient city of Constantinople discover an odd object adrift at sea. Captain Scopas spots two boys in a hot air balloon basket, and maybe a third in the water? When they dock in the foreign lands of the Ottoman Empire the clan encounters a villain engaged in a sinister animal trade. Driven to do the right thing, the courageous friends take on this evil man; however, it may have been too great a task to prevail.
Meanwhile in Europe, everything turns upside down for the curious friends, Margaret and Inez. In the company of a determined renegade and vital German prisoner, the group embarks on a harrowing journey trying to get back home to France through the Black Forest, all the while pursued by the dogged Major Hosteler. Inez definitely got her nose into trouble on this one!
Finally, Foster Crowe pursues the nefarious Wu Chiang across Europe in hopes of thwarting his secret plans to instigate a massive world war.
In the classic fashion of a Boy's Own adventure, the Red Hand Adventures are tales of friendship, bravery, risk and adventure, all in exotic locations, and always a whole lot of fun!
AN EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 16
Catacombs of the Red Hand
1872 — Kathmandu
Young Foster Crowe and Lhak-Pa walked through the streets of Kathmandu until they came to a tiny house at the far corner of a neighborhood block. The neighborhood looked poor, as could be seen by the houses in various states of decay and the number of people sitting on their stoops, seemingly without purpose.
“Lhak-Pa house. Foster need sleep and bath. Training in morning,” Lhak-Pa explained.
“But I haven’t agreed to any training!” Foster answered. “Try one month. You do not like, return home. Deal?”
Foster thought about it for a moment. He had no family to return to and really nothing that was calling to him in Belgium other than a cold boarding school. If he didn’t like Kathmandu, he could always leave.
“Deal,” he replied.
The house was small, with only two bedrooms, a living room, and a tiny kitchen. Lhak-Pa prepared a dinner of wild rice, goat curry, and greens. It was surprisingly delicious and Foster ate three helpings.
Foster then took a warm bath and slept for fourteen hours.
The next day, some simple clothes were laid out for him. Foster felt a bit funny without his normal European clothes. Still, they were comfort- able and he was happy to fit in with the local populace.
Foster wasn’t sure what to expect as they left Lhak-Pa’s tiny house and ventured into the streets of Kathmandu. After walking for twenty minutes, they came to a temple with a green door. Lhak-Pa opened the door to the temple, which was musty and sparsely furnished. The two walked to the back and down a flight of steps to a cellar. Lhak-Pa pushed aside some straw from the floor, uncovering a hatchway with a wooden handle. He pulled it open, and Foster could see that an opening proceeded straight downward.
“What’s down there?” Foster asked. “First lesson.”
The two carefully climbed down a ladder into the darkness of the underground. It seemed to go on forever, until finally, they hit solid footing. Lighting a lantern and handing it to Foster, and then lighting one for himself, Lhak-Pa began to lead Foster down a corridor. It was pitch- dark except for the illumination of the lanterns. The only sound that could be heard was the slow dripping from multiple leaks, as water drop- lets splashed onto the floor. Surprisingly, it didn’t smell bad; in fact, it smelled fresh.
Foster pointed his lantern at one of the walls and was shocked to see that it was covered in hieroglyphics—paintings from an ancient time and civilization.
Walking for five minutes and taking a series of turns, they came to a wall that was covered in red handprints and nothing else.
“What are those?” Foster asked. “Messages from dead,” Lhak-Pa answered.
“Messages from the dead? This is all very creepy.” Lhak-Pa laughed.
They walked a bit more, until Foster came across a most gruesome scene. As far as his eyes could see—along a wall measuring a hundred feet or more—there were nothing but human bones and skulls. The bones were crammed so tightly together they actually formed a wall that acted as part of the tunnel’s foundation. All the bones looked to be very old, and were dark and dusty. Some were cracked and others splintered, and others were crumbling to dust.
“What are these bones?” Foster asked. “Bones of dead.”
“I know that, but why?”
Lhak-Pa stopped and shrugged his shoulders. “They die. Something has to happen to bones.”
Foster continued to try to digest all of these new sights and new in- formation as they continued on a bit farther. Lhak-Pa led him into a room that was completely covered in writing. Even the floor and ceiling were covered in writing and symbols. The writing was all in white.
“Today start learning secret language.”
“Won’t I need a pencil and paper?” Foster asked.
“No, commit to memory. Start in corner and work our way over.” They studied in the room for two hours. The language was unlike any Foster had ever studied or seen. The letters were little more than strange symbols and elegant lines. When sounding out the letters, Lhak-Pa instructed him never to talk loudly, and to always whisper when speaking this language. When Lhak-Pa spoke the language, he spoke so softly it could barely be heard, and so rapidly it sounded like a strong wind brushing up against a tree with dead leaves on its branches.
Finally, satisfied with the first lesson, Lhak-Pa guided them back above ground, where they walked for another half an hour to a large building.
“What is this place?” Foster asked. “Library.”
“We’re going to do training at a library?”
“Of course. Many free books—what better place?”
The three-story library had books stacked in every available space. Foster could not find any rhyme or reason to the order of the books; they were simply stacked in piles until they were so high that not another book could be added, at which time a new pile was started. The result was a maze of books that needed to be carefully navigated in order to walk about the library.
Lhak-Pa sat Foster down at a large wood table, disappeared into the maze of books, and returned with a big stack of ten books. He put them down in front of Foster, turned around, departed, and returned ten minutes later with another stack.
After fifteen minutes, Foster was surrounded by stacks and stacks of books that looked to be both ancient and new. There were books on Chinese acupuncture, oceanography, celestial navigation, metallurgy, astronomy, astrology, physics, mathematics, anthropology, geology medical science, mechanical engineering, ten different languages—and that was just the beginning.
“Do I have to read all these books?” Foster asked, quite intimidated by the stacks in front of him.
“No, have to learn from all these books. Understand difference?” Lhak-Pa asked.
“Yes, I suppose so.” “Good, get started.”
“Um, I thought we would study at a temple hidden in the mountains or something?” Foster asked sheepishly.
Lhak-Pa looked incredulously at him.
“Why do that? Sounds boring. Here, study books.”
For five hours they studied, starting with a book on anthropology and then moved on to the study of ancient Greece. After that, Lhak-Pa gave Foster an introduction to algebra and concluded with the basics of every bone in the human body.
Foster’s head hurt from studying so much, but that was not the end of the day’s lessons. Lhak-Pa showed him to a small park just outside his house. The park was pleasant, with a bench and some simple fruit trees and birds that jumped from tree to tree. After going through a series of breathing exercises, Lhak-Pa showed Foster the correct formation for a fighting stance—feet more than shoulder-width apart, legs bent slightly, shoulders straight, elbows tucked into the body, and arms at forty-five degree angles.
They sparred for two hours until Foster’s arms and legs were a mess of welts and bruises from being kicked and punched by Lhak-Pa.
Lhak-Pa then showed Foster to a shelter that provided room and board to homeless and broken men. They went about helping prepare food, served it to the men, and then saw to it that the elderly men in the shelter were taken to bed. Foster even sang them a lullaby he knew from his childhood. The old men smiled with appreciation for the young white boy who had taken the time to feed them and sing them a song.
Their lessons continued like this for a month. Intense study all day, martial arts training, and helping the needy and unfortunate at night.
It was extremely different from the rigid and authoritarian studies at his boarding school. Lhak-Pa didn’t want him simply memorizing facts, he wanted him to learn and understand their meaning and importance. Foster found that Lhak-Pa rarely had to goad him into learning; he wanted to study for the sake of learning. Once in a while, Foster’s thoughts drifted to his father, but never for long. He’d never really known his father, and what little he had known of him, he hadn’t liked much.
One night, Foster dreamt of a woman. She was young and beautiful and smiled adoringly at Foster. She seemed so familiar, until Foster suddenly awoke.
It had been his mother in the dream.
He had never dreamt of her before, but he knew her face from a photograph his father kept next to his nightstand. The photograph was in gray and white. It showed his father sitting and his mother standing to his right. They both had stern expressions, and were dressed in their finest clothes, as only the wealthy had portrait photographs taken.
But in his dream, his mother was smiling. He continued to dream of her each night. In some dreams, she sat next to him. In others, she would lead him through a forest to a lake. Yet, she never spoke. She simply looked at him the way only a mother can look at her son.
Foster began to feel that she was with him during the day. All his life he had felt alone, even in his crowded boarding school. For the first time, he felt calm and loved. He could never quite explain it, but he knew in his heart his mother was watching over him.
After a month, Lhak-Pa sat Foster down at his kitchen table and asked him if he wanted to continue.
Foster already knew the answer. “Yes, please.”
Lhak-Pa smiled and they went out to start the day.
Foster found that he was learning so much, at such a rapid pace, he could hardly contain himself with happiness. Knowledge seemed to flow so easily through him, and his mind expanded more each day with his studies of new worlds and inventions and exciting discoveries. He didn’t miss his boarding school, and he didn’t miss Belgium. The world presented to him by Lhak-Pa was so interesting and the lessons so invigorating that he hardly ever gave his old life a second thought.
And always he felt his mother with him.
In time, Lhak-Pa incorporated vigorous mountain and rock climbing to the regimen.
Their martial arts training became more and more intense, and the use of weapons was introduced.
One day, down in the underground crypt, Lhak-Pa took Foster down a passage through a strange chamber until they reached a locked steel door. He opened the door and lit a series of candles until the room was completely illuminated.
It was a laboratory.
Shelves and shelves of beakers and test tubes and glass canisters were stacked neatly on one wall. Another wall was a mass of hundreds of small drawers, each one marked with a unique symbol. In the drawers were all makes of powders and ingredients, such as sulfur, potassium, amethyst, quartz, topaz, mustard seed, dried cocoa leaves, valerian root, and hundreds of others. One entire wall was blank and had been smoothed over to be used as a place to write down formulas. There were now dozens written on this wall in chalk. A large wooden rectangular table sat directly in the middle of the room, with two stools at one side, providing a large and uninterrupted working area.
“What is this place?” Foster asked.
“This where young Foster become apothecary.”
Lhak-Pa pulled out a glass canister, produced some powders from a drawer full of ground herbs, and placed everything down on the table.
“New task—make potion, help sleep.”