Suddenly Annabeth’s eyes widened. “Percy.”
Up ahead was another blotch of land—a saddle-shaped island with forested hills and white beaches and green meadows—just like I’d seen in my dreams.
My nautical senses confirmed it. 30 degrees, 31 minutes north, 75 degrees, 12 minutes west.
We had reached the home of the Cyclops.
Chapter Fourteen: We Meet The Sheep Of Doom
When you think “monster island,” you think craggy rocks and bones scattered on the beach like the island of the Sirens.
The Cyclops’s island was nothing like that. I mean, okay, it had a rope bridge across a chasm, which was not a good sign. You might as well put up a billboard that said, SOMETHING EVIL LIVES HERE. But except for that, the place looked like a Caribbean postcard. It had green fields and tropical fruit trees and white beaches. As we sailed toward the shore, Annabeth breathed in the sweet air. “The Fleece,” she said.
I nodded. I couldn’t see the Fleece yet, but I could feel its power. I could believe it would heal anything, even Thalia’s poisoned tree. “If we take it away, will the island die?”
Annabeth shook her head. “It’ll fade. Go back to what it would be normally, whatever that is.”
I felt a little guilty about ruining this paradise, but I reminded myself we had no choice. Camp Half-Blood was in trouble. And Tyson … Tyson would still be with us if it wasn’t for this quest.
In the meadow at the base of the ravine, several dozen sheep were milling around. They looked peaceful enough, but they were huge—the size of hippos. Just past them was a path that led up into the hills. At the top of the path, near the edge of the canyon, was the massive oak tree I’d seen in my dreams. Something gold glittered in its branches.
“This is too easy,” I said. “We could just hike up there and take it?”
Annabeth’s eyes narrowed. “There’s supposed be a guardian. A dragon or …”
That’s when a deer emerged from the bushes. It trotted into the meadow, probably looking for grass to eat, when the sheep all bleated at once and rushed the animal. It happened so fast that the deer stumbled and was lost in a sea of wool and trampling hooves.
Grass and tufts of fur flew into the air.
A second later the sheep all moved away, back to their regular peaceful wanderings. Where the deer had been was a pile of clean white bones.
Annabeth and I exchanged looks.
“They’re like piranhas,” she said.
“Piranhas with wool. How will we—”
“Percy!” Annabeth gasped, grabbing my arm. “Look.”
She pointed down the beach, to just below the sheep meadow, where a small boat had been run aground … the other lifeboat from the CSS Birmingham.
We decided there was no way we could get past the man-eating sheep. Annabeth wanted to sneak up the path invisibly and grab the Fleece, but in the end I convinced her that something would go wrong. The sheep would smell her. Another guardian would appear. Something. And if that happened, I’d be too far away to help.
Besides, our first job was to find Grover and whoever had come ashore in that lifeboat—assuming they’d gotten past the sheep. I was too nervous to say what I was secretly hoping … that Tyson might still be alive.
We moored the Queen Anne’s Revenge on the back side of the island where the cliffs rose straight up a good two hundred feet. I figured the ship was less likely to be seen there. The cliffs looked climbable, barely—about as difficult as the lava wall back at camp. At least it was free of sheep. I hoped that Polyphemus did not also keep carnivorous mountain goats.
We rowed a lifeboat to the edge of the rocks and made our way up, very slowly. Annabeth went first because she was the better climber.
We only came close to dying six or seven times, which I thought was pretty good. Once, I lost my grip and I found myself dangling by one hand from a ledge fifty feet above the rocky surf.
But I found another handhold and kept climbing. A minute later Annabeth hit a slippery patch of moss and her foot slipped. Fortunately, she found something else to put it against. Unfortunately, that something was my face.
“Sorry,” she murmured.
“S’okay,” I grunted, though I’d never really wanted to know what Annabeth’s sneaker tasted like.
Finally, when my fingers felt like molten lead and my arm muscles were shaking from exhaustion, we hauled ourselves over the top of the cliff and collapsed.
“Ugh,” I said.
“Ouch,” moaned Annabeth.
“Garrr!” bellowed another voice .
If I hadn’t been so tired, I would’ve leaped another two hundred feet. I whirled around, but I couldn’t see who’d spoken.
Annabeth clamped her hand over my mouth. She pointed.
The ledge we were sitting on was narrower than I’d realized. It dropped off on the opposite side, and that’s where the voice was coming from—right below us.
“You’re a feisty one!” the deep voice bellowed.
“Challenge me!” Clarisse’s voice, no doubt about it. “Give me back my sword and I’ll fight you!”
The monster roared with laughter.
Annabeth and I crept to the edge. We were right above the entrance of the Cyclops’s cave.
Below us stood Polyphemus and Grover, still in his wedding dress. Clarisse was tied up, hanging upside down over a pot of boiling water. I was half hoping to see Tyson down there, too. Even if he’d been in danger, at least I would’ve known he was alive. But there was no sign of him.
“Hmm,” Polyphemus pondered. “Eat loudmouth girl now or wait for wedding feast? What does my bride think?”
He turned to Grover, who backed up and almost tripped over his completed bridal train. “Oh, um, I’m not hungry right now, dear. Perhaps—”
“Did you say bride?” Clarisse demanded. “Who— Grover?”
Next to me, Annabeth muttered, “Shut up. She has to shut up.”
Polyphemus glowered. “What ‘Grover’?”
“The satyr!” Clarisse yelled.
“Oh!” Grover yelped. “The poor thing’s brain is boiling from that hot water. Pull her down, dear!”
Polyphemus’s eyelids narrowed over his baleful milky eye, as if he were trying to see Clarisse more clearly.
The Cyclops was an even more horrible sight than he had been in my dreams. Partly because his rancid smell was now up close and personal. Partly because he was dressed in his wedding outfit—a crude kilt and shoulder-wrap, stitched together from baby-blue tuxedoes, as if the he’d skinned an entire wedding party.
“What satyr?” asked Polyphemus. “Satyrs are good eating. You bring me a satyr?”
“No, you big idiot!” bellowed Clarisse. “That satyr! Grover! The one in the wedding dress!”
I wanted to wring Clarisse’s neck, but it was too late. All I could do was watch as Polyphemus turned and ripped off Grover’s wedding veil—revealing his curly hair, his scruffy adolescent beard, his tiny horns.
Polyphemus breathed heavily, trying to contain his anger. “I don’t see very well,” he growled.
“Not since many years ago when the other hero stabbed me in eye. But YOU’RE—NO—LADY—CYCLOPS!”
The Cyclops grabbed Grover’s dress and tore it away. Underneath, the old Grover reappeared in his jeans and T-shirt. He yelped and ducked as the monster swiped over his head.
“Stop!” Grover pleaded. “Don’t eat me raw! I—I have a good recipe!”
I reached for my sword, but Annabeth hissed, “Wait!”
Polyphemus was hesitating, a boulder in his hand, ready to smash his would-be bride.
“Recipe?” he asked Grover.
“Oh y-yes! You don’t want to eat me raw. You’ll get E coli and botulism and all sorts of horrible things. I’ll taste much better grilled over a slow fire. With mango chutney! You could go get some mangos right now, down there in the woods. I’ll just wait here.”
The monster pondered this. My heart hammered against my ribs. I figured I’d die if I charged.
But I couldn’t let the monster kill Grover.
“Grilled satyr with mango chutney,” Polyphemus mused. He looked back at Clarisse, still hanging over the pot of boiling water. “You a satyr, too?”
“No, you overgrown pile of dung!” she yelled. “I’m a girl! The daughter of Ares! Now untie me so I can rip your arms off!”
“Rip my arms off,” Polyphemus repeated.
“And stuff them down your throat!”
“You got spunk.”
“Let me down!”
Polyphemus snatched up Grover as if he were a wayward puppy. “Have to graze sheep now. Wedding postponed until tonight. Then we’ll eat satyr for the main course!”
“But … you’re still getting married?” Grover sounded hurt. “Who’s the bride?”
Polyphemus looked toward the boiling pot.
Clarisse made a strangled sound. “Oh, no! You can’t be serious. I’m not—”
Before Annabeth or I could do anything, Polyphemus plucked her off the rope like she was a ripe apple, and tossed her and Grover deep into the cave. “Make yourself comfortable! I come back at sundown for big event!”
Then the Cyclops whistled, and a mixed flock of goats and sheep—smaller than the man-eaters—flooded out of the cave and past their master. As they went to pasture, Polyphemus patted some on the back and called them by name—Beltbuster, Tammany, Lockhart, etc.
When the last sheep had waddled out, Polyphemus rolled a boulder in front of the doorway as easily as I would close a refrigerator door, shutting off the sound of Clarisse and Grover screaming inside.
“Mangos,” Polyphemus grumbled to himself. “What are mangos?”
He strolled off down the mountain in his baby-blue groom’s outfit, leaving us alone with a pot of boiling water and a six-ton boulder.
We tried for what seemed like hours, but it was no good. The boulder wouldn’t move. We yelled into the cracks, tapped on the rock, did everything we could think of to get a signal to Grover, but if he heard us, we couldn’t tell.
Even if by some miracle we managed to kill Polyphemus, it wouldn’t do us any good. Grover and Clarisse would die inside that sealed cave. The only way to move the rock was to have the Cyclops do it.
In total frustration, I stabbed Riptide against the boulder. Sparks flew, but nothing else happened. A large rock is not the kind of enemy you can fight with a magic sword.
Annabeth and I sat on the ridge in despair and watched the distant baby-blue shape of the Cyclops as he moved among his flocks. He had wisely divided his regular animals from his man-eating sheep, putting each group on either side of the huge crevice that divided the island. The only way across was the rope bridge, and the planks were much too far apart for sheep hooves.
We watched as Polyphemus visited his carnivorous flock on the far side. Unfortunately, they didn’t eat him. In fact, they didn’t seem to bother him at all. He fed them chunks of mystery meat from a great wicker basket, which only reinforced the feelings I’d been having since Circe turned me into a guinea pig—that maybe it was time I joined Grover and became a vegetarian.