This entry is part 13 of 15 in the series The Key to Markree Castle

Just don’t eat the black hockey puck.

Li raised his eyebrows  and heaved his shoulders and sighed, all simultaneously.

“She just kept going and going, didn’t she?” Dan said to Li.

“Yeah, whew,” Li answered. “That was a lot of talking,” with a big emphasis on lot. They sat in silence alone in the dining room while the happy-go-lucky bouncing rainbow people outdoors danced to the Swede’s music and energy. “But she had a lot to say,” and they both mulled over her talk of history and tonight and wit and laughter and what it all meant–if anything.

“Do you want to go outside with them?” Li asked.

“Sure, I’ll go,” Dan said, but didn’t make any movements.

“Well, I mean, after breakfast,” Li said. “Sounds like Darcy is going to bring us breakfast. That’s pretty cool, right?”

“Totally. I wonder what breakfast is,” Dan said, thinking of nothing and everything at the same time. “Hey Li, how do you think we can learn more about the castle?”

“Do you think all of this stuff is real?” Li asked. “I mean, come on, people disappearing and old land barons and the moonlight,” he stopped and debated about whether or not to go on. “I mean, it sounds exciting and everything, but what if we just played soccer all day and then watched a movie tonight? I mean, right?”

Dan hadn’t thought of this as an option, but now that it was mentioned out loud and by someone other than himself, he considered it.

“Yeah, I guess so,” he mumbled and thought out loud. But then the lure of the fantasy brought him back to where he truly wanted to believe, where he wanted to be. “I guess so, but what if it is true? What if there is something behind those doors down there and what if we can really help?” As he spoke, his imagination went faster than the words came out of his mouth. “I mean, who knows what’s back there? We won’t know unless we go. We can always see a movie and have popcorn, but it’s not every day that you get to go under a castle and maybe unlock some secret,” he searched for a word, “I don’t know, some secret puzzle.”

“Yeah, you’re right. I was just testing you to make sure,” Li said, looking first at Dan, then out the window as if he were deep in thought.

“Yeah, my brother does that to me sometimes, says he’s just testing me,” Dan said. But then he had a little smile as he thought his next thought and wasn’t sure if he should say it, but somehow here in this castle, he felt bolder, stronger and felt like he could–and should–say what was on his mind. “But what’s really going on is that my brother doesn’t know what to do so he’s secretly trying to figure out what I want to do without having to ask me what I want to do.”

Li was immediately on the defensive and if his own 9-year old brother had accused him of such underhanded techniques, he certainly would have tackled him to the ground or at least lobbed several insults his way. But this was not his brother, this was Dan and although Dan was also only 9 like his little brother, Dan seemed to know stuff. Dan had the keys to the castle–maybe literally! Dan was going to be his friend. He didn’t want to completely cave in to Dan’s accusation, but he also wanted to acknowledge that he heard it and accepted it. The best strategy in this potentially personal situation? Change the subject.

“Do you think we should talk with Killian?” Li asked back.

“I don’t know. Maybe he’s not such a bad guy, Darcy seems to think he’s pretty nice. But I don’t know,” he paused. “He seems kinda creepy.”

“Yeah, he is,” Li said. “But maybe he knows things Alastar doesn’t.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Dan replied. “How can we find out more about the history? More about Alastar’s family and Killian’s family and what it’s all about. Like maybe they have a Wikipedia page on the castle or something.”

“You’re right, that’s a good idea. Let’s check it out,” Li said.

“Oh,” Dan said, dejected.

“What?” Li asked.

“There isn’t WiFi here,” Dan said.

There was no response to such a disturbing bit of news. Both boys were paralyzed and without suggestions.

“How can they not have WiFi here?” Li asked as he looked into the ceiling for answers.

Dan looked into his hands at the phone that wasn’t there. The phone without WiFi. The air without Internet wavelengths beaming around histories of castles, updates of World Cup matches, and videos of teenage boys’ doings that any other non-teenage-boy humans would consider idiotic and borderline criminal, but that other teenage boys watched again and again.

“How are we going to learn anything around here then?” Dan asked.

“I don’t know how we’re going to get anything done at all, period,” Li added for emphasis.

“I mean, what do they expect us to do, anyway? Like talk to other people to figure things out?” Dan asked in mock horror. But Li didn’t get the mock part.

“I know, right?”

“I was kinda kidding, dude. I think we’re going to have to talk to people,” Dan said.

Li was stunned about the lack of connection with the text messages of the world. “I don’t even have my phone, my parents left it in Holland.”

“Whoa, that’s hardcore,” Dan said, sharing his condolences to Li’s reality. “I mean, I have a phone, but I can’t do anything with it,” he thought a minute, “Well, there’a a flashlight and I can play music.”

Li just smiled. “Do you think we should talk to Killian to see what he thinks about tonight? Or is that going to mess up Alastar’s plans?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know what to do,” Dan admitted. “Hey, maybe let’s go out to the cemetery, maybe we’ll learn something there.”

“But in the daytime, right? Not at night,” Li suggested.

“Yeah, like right now,” Dan paused. “Well, after breakfast anyway.”

“Hey, looks who’s coming,” Li noticed and pointed. Dan had a flash that it might have been Killian, so he turned slowly and looked to the other side of the dining room.

Darcy was on her way towards them with two steaming plates of Irish breakfast. She set them down and there were no Cheerios or pancakes.

Two full sausages took up much the plate, but baked beans merged into sausage territory and if you didn’t want bean juice on your sausages, you were already out of luck. Half of a roasted tomato lay face up next to the beans and alongside that was a slice of white toast. Thick and long bacon took up much of the center of the plate accompanied by two fried eggs smack in the middle. Finally, there was a round hockey-puck-shaped substance that might have been an actual hockey puck that got dropped into a raging campfire, but was otherwise unidentifiable.

“There you are, lads,” Darcy said with cheer and pride. “That should tide you over for a few hours of grave robbing and tunnel exploring, don’t you think?” She smiled and put her hands on her hips in a clear showing of satisfaction with what she brought them to eat.

“Thank you,” Li said. “It looks delicious.”

“Yes, thank you, Darcy,” Dan added.

“My pleasure, boys,” she said while nodding her head. She had a movement of some part of her body for most things she said. She was slowly growing on the boys. “Report back to kitchen headquarters when you have completed your graveyard mission, soldiers,” she said and brought her hand to her forehead in a salute.

“OK,” Dan said, not sure if he should salute back, not sure if she was serious.

“And you, son?” she guided her look towards Li.

“OK, I will,” Li said, now under pressure to respond. But then he thought for a minute, “Wait, do you really want us to report back to you about what we find?”

Darcy smiled and brought her hand down, “Ach, lads, you’ll get used to me as we get to know each other. Most people don’t know when I’m being serious or goofing off,” she said as if that cleared up which she was doing now.

“So which one are you doing now?” Li asked as 11-year olds are allowed to ask whatever is on their minds.

She was about to quickly answer, stopped herself mid-breath and stopped. “I don’t know, you tell me,” she said. “How about that? How about you boys go off exploring and find what you find and report back to me if you have anything to report back to me about? Is that a plan, Stan? Is that a deal, McVeal?”

The boys weren’t sure if they were giggling with her or at her, but she was worth a giggle.

“It’s a deal, Darcy,” Li said.

“Lads, what are we doing here? Your breakfast is getting cold. Eat up now and then out with you. Those Heyrobics fanatics are probably going to be invading my kitchen any moment and believe me, you don’t want to be here to witness that.” She nodded her head quickly down and then back up.

“Boys, I wish you a fine meal and an even finer morning. I wish you much luck with the headstones and keep in mind that this castle is a family castle and every little puzzle and snippet of history might require talking with someone else here who knows that one little thing,” she tried to stop herself from speaking. “So don’t be shy, lads. Walk up to complete strangers and let them know what you’re looking for. When you come upon the right person with the right question, they might just have the right answer.”

With two outstretched hands, she touched each boy on a shoulder. She did a sort of curtsy, bowed her head, gave them one last look, each one directly in their eyes, closed her own eyes, opened them, turned her head, turned her body, and floated away.

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