- Ch. 1: Waking up is hard to do. Unless, of course, there are fries.
- Ch. 2: It might be a game to you, but it’s not to us.
- Ch. 3: Does anything actually happen or do we just talk about it?
- Ch. 4: What could possibly be better than jewels, gold and glittery treasure?
- Ch. 5: The first thing we do, let’s uninvite all of the parents.
- Ch. 6: The long walk to freedom
- Ch. 7: Pieces of the puzzle are coming together. But what’s the puzzle?
- Ch. 8: The unknown versus the known.
- Ch. 9: It doesn’t always make logical sense. Sometimes, you just have to go with it.
- Ch. 10: This is the worst day of my life (again).
- Ch. 11: We are family.
- Ch. 12: Castle Burgers with a side of Bog
- Ch. 13: Upside-down ladders and distant brothers
- Ch. 14: Sibling rivalry isn’t only among 9- and 11-year olds
- Ch. 15: No time for patience
Trying to just have some fun, the boys accidentally make progress.
“Hey, what did you guys do last night? Were you out late?” Li asked Lu and Dec.
“Nothing much,” Lu said.
“We can tell them, can’t we?” Dec asked Lu.
“Oh yeah, you’re right. Duh, sorry,” Lu said. “I’ve been hiding whatever we’ve been doing from so many people, I’m just used to saying that we’ve been doing nothing.”
“So what’d you guys do?”
“Nothing,” Lu said just to be annoying, but couldn’t hold onto the serious annoying tone and laughed.
“Hey, I’m supposed to be the annoying one, remember?” Dan said.
“Oh yeah. You’re so annoying!” Lu exaggerated the words and emphasized the ‘so.’
“Guys,” Li started up, “Could we just stop talking about the castle and play soccer for a while?” They got down to the grass and he dribbled the ball a bit. “I mean, it seems like all we do,” there wasn’t much reaction from his audience. “I just want to play soccer and I don’t even know if I want to go downstairs and all that moonlight stuff tonight. Do you guys want to go?”
“Scaredy pants, scaredy pants!” Lu cried out like a baby.
“I think it’s ‘scaredy cat,’ Lu,” Dec suggested. “And why do you have to pester your brother?”
“Oh, because you never pester me?” Dan asked.
“Scaredy cat, scaredy cat,” Lu continued in his infant wail until Li picked up the soccer ball and threw it at his head. Lu thought things over as he ducked from the ball, “Wait a minute, don’t you guys go to school in China? How do you know English so well anyway? How do you guys know it’s scaredy cat and not scaredy pants?”
“We go to an international school, it’s in English and Mandarin,” Dan piped in. “So we speak English with our dad, but then Mandarin with the rest of the family.”
“That’s so cool,” Li said. “Can you say something in Chinese?”
“Duh, of course. What do you want me to say?”
“How about that Lu dances around the house in his underwear and farts on our dog? Can you say that?” Li asked.
“Lu tiàowǔ zhōuwéi de fángzi zài tā de nèiyī. Ránhòu, tā duì wǒmen de gǒu fàngpì,” Dan said using sounds and intonations the Dutch boys had zero comprehension of.
“Li is zo dom dat hij wordt overgereden door een geparkeerde auto,” Lu said, giggling the whole way through.
“What?” Li wondered aloud, “Lu, that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, it doesn’t even make sense.”
“I know it doesn’t make sense, but you’re so dumb you get run over by a parked car. I know it doesn’t make sense, cuz you don’t make sense.”
“Guys,” Li pleaded his case to his half-Asian jury, “Obviously, Lu doesn’t make any sense that even his insults don’t make sense.”
Dec and Dan were silent in their attempt at comprehension of the half-Dutch insults about parked cars.
“Jīntiān wǒ hēle nǐ de bàngqiú moo!”* Dec said to Dan without any translation. Li and Lu were silent as they didn’t even understand a single sound.
It was time for no language at all.
“Pass over here, Li,” Dec said and sped ahead for the ball. Li passed it up his way.
“OK, Dan and I play against Lu and Dec,” Li said and glared at Lu with a wiggling face and smile. Lu gave him a thumb’s up.
“Yeah, but,” Lu started, “that’s not fair because I’m a World Cup champion and Dec is the Chinese team’s leading scorer and you guys are just kids.”
“We’re going to grind you guys into the ground,” Li taunted Lu.
“So where are the goals posts?” Dec asked.
“Oh, I know,” Dan jumped in, “See those stones there in the field?”
“Dude, are those gravestones?” Dec asked with a tinge of fear in his voice.
“They are, let’s pick four to be the goal posts, we can pile our shoes on them and play barefoot,” Lu suggested.
“I got this one,” Dec picked one, took off his shoes and piled them as high as he could.
“I’m on this one,” Dan said, “and it’s a good distance from yours, Dec.”
“OK, then I’ll go over here,” Lu sprinted, jumped in the air and landed face first next to the stone. “Hey, this one has a gold letter in the name. It’s an ‘O.’ Cool,” Lu looked at the stone and tried to get his shoes off. “Hey, could someone help me untie my shoes?”
“Are you seriously asking us?” Li asked.
“I got it,” Lu said, embarrassed that he asked out loud.
“I’m here for this one, this is a good distance,” Li stacked his shoes up.
“OK, we’re good to go. You guys ready?” Lu asked.
“We’re ready to school you two in what real soccer looks like,” Li responded, jumping lightly on the grass.
“Go!” Dec yelled and the ball was kicked, dribbled and shot within seconds.
For what seemed to them like minutes was hours on the real clock. The Dutch contingent showed off their European skills, while the Chinese scored with accuracy and persistence. There were high fives, fist bumps and of course the occasional frustrated tackle and yellow card sliding tackle complete with exaggerated painful acting, arms waving, chest bumps and mouth-wide-open disbelief with the imaginary referees.
“I didn’t even touch you!” one screamed.
“You practically broke my ankle with your illegal slide!” came the reply from the injured player, twisting and turning on the ground, waiting for the stretcher and the coaches to arrive.
All was forgotten and forgiven within seconds and Dan dribbled through his two defenders to cross to Li who scored with a left-footed shot right through the middle of the gravestones.
“Are you left footed?” Dec asked.
“Yeah,” Li said with pride. “That’s what’s going to get me on the Dutch national team,” he said as if it were a done deal.
More goals were scored, more Irish grass embedded in knees and they learned quickly to work with each other. Li figured out that Dan could turn on the afterburners and really burst with speed when he wanted to. Dan took advantage of Li’s Dutch left foot. Lu had the smooth moves and Dec had a strong leg that, when he was open, could use to boom that ball across the entire graveyard.
Dec made a sliding kick right near the goal and the ball tumbled next to the shoes, but on the good side of the goal.
“Goooooaaaaalllll!” he wailed and Lu came over to tackle him in celebration.
They were on the grass, rolling in celebration as Dec saw another gravestone up close. “Hey, this one has a gold letter ‘p’ on it, cool,” he said.
“Yeah,” Dan replied, “we found five stones that had gold letters around here. P, r, o, u and d. ”
“Proud,” Lu figured out.
“Exactly, little bro,” Li said as he came over and sat next to Lu on the grass.
“Maybe it spells something else,” Dec suggested.
“Well, what?” Li asked. “We tried everything.”
Dec didn’t have an answer.
“You know what we found last night?” Lu said as he turned onto his side and propped himself up in the grass on his elbow.
Li had his guesses and aired them publicly, “Did you go downstairs and find the room full of machine guns and then you came back upstairs and shot out all of the windows on the castle and then blew it up with dynamite?”
Lu was so used to these types of scenarios that he didn’t even comment. Dec and Dan didn’t comment because they just didn’t have any comments.
“No, we found a window,” Lu said.
“Seriously?” Li mocked. “A window? That’s your big news? That’s what you guys were up half the night discovering? Man, I’m glad I went to sleep.”
“It was a stained glass window,” Dec added.
“Oh, well then that was clearly worth it,” Dan mocked and rolled onto his back on the grass. “I slept like a baby.”
“It was kind of a magic window,” Dec said, trying to think back all the way to the previous night and all the they experienced.
“Like how magic?” Dan said, less mockingly.
“It was like a magnifying glass and then it wasn’t, then it was blurry and then it was clear,” Lu said.
“Where was it? What did you see? What were you looking at?” Li asked.
“We were above the dance hall,” Dec added.
“We saw Killian, it was scary,” Lu said.
“That guy is everywhere we turn,” Dan said.
“But in the windows were also letters, just like here in the gravestones,” Dec added.
“Cool,” Dan was intrigued. “What did it spell?”
“We’ll give you the letters,” Dec teased and said each letter into the air, “L, o, r, d, and another l.”
“Lord,” Li tried.
“Riddle,” Dan guessed.
“No ‘i,'” Dec said, “But that’s a good one since everything around here is a riddle. Good guess, Dan.”
“Ok,” Li started and brought himself up to a sitting position. “So, I know the word but it’s just from memory, I’m not even really sure what it means, but it’s the only thing I can put together with the letters,” then he paused while he was thinking.
“Uh, are you going to tell us what it is or are you going to sit there and tell us that you know what it is?” Dan asked, impatient.
“D, r, o, l, l,” he spelled out.
“Droll?” Dan pronounced it as best he could without seeing it on paper.
“Yep,” Li said.
“What does it mean?”
“I’m not really sure,” which translated to ‘I have no idea.’ But he kept going. “It’s from a Christmas poem.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Dan asked, incredulous.
“I know, right?” Li said and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know why I remember this stuff, it’s just in my head.”
“So what does it mean?” Dan asked.
“Here’s the poem,” Li started, then he recited it from memory, “His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow.”
“Uh huh, so what does it mean?” Dan asked again.
“I think it’s like funny or silly or just kinda weird, but like cute, too,” Li scraped the insides of his brain like the bottom of a Nutella jar to find the meaning.
“So now we have ‘Droll’ and ‘Proud.'” Dan said.
“What do they mean?” Dec asked.
“How am I supposed to know?” Li asked.
The boys sat there in silence on top of the graves of past souls of the Markree Castle. Their minds were churning, their imaginations flying high and the scenes of tonight’s adventures played out in from of their eyes.
But Lu was the first to suggest the next plan of action. His mind was half medieval explorer, half 9-year old. The 9-year old was about to win the game.
“Guys, I know what we could do,” he broke the silence with a yelp. “Let’s do penalty shoot outs!”
* * *
* “Today I drank your baseball cap!”