- Not Chapter One: Wait, you want us to do what?
- So Not Chapter Two: Hot chocolate with marshmallows or bloody dagger gallows?
- No Way is this Chapter Three: Out of the frying pan and into the fire. Frying pan? Is it lunch time yet?
- This Can’t Be Chapter Four: Mysterious, Spooky and Dangerous? We’re in!
- Chapter 5: Grand, Old, and Secret
- Chapter 6: It might get worse before it gets better.
- Chapter 7: What happens under the castle stays under the castle.
- Chapter 8: Meat, Potatoes and a side of Uncertainty
- Chapter 9: Stuffed, serious, and scared
- Chapter 10: Caterpillars, decoys, and messengers
- Chapter 11: Big night planned?
- Chapter 12: This is just a test run, right?
Will these poor lads ever eat?
Alastar led the four young boys back through the heavy door into the corridor, but they took a different direction that they hadn’t noticed on their way in. This led to some more stairs and then another door. Before they opened it, Alastar turned around.
“Boys,” he started and looked pained at how he was going to say what he was about to say. “We’ve had a flurry of a morning, everything has gone so quickly and we’re about to go through this door and back into the castle where there are people who don’t know about the underground secrets of the castle and,” he paused, “they don’t need to.” He looked at each boy.
“So,” he started again and with a single word, his deep Irish sound of the letter ‘o’ was so round and foreign, it was hard to understand that not only did it come from a human mouth, but that he was speaking English–and a single syllable at that. The ‘o’ hung heavy in the hallway. Next time you meet an Irishman, have them say, ‘So.’ The boys waited patiently.
“When we open this door, we’re back to the land of the wedding. You have parents, I have my work and my boss. We can acknowledge that we know each other but I need to be able to trust you that what happens here under the old castle stays here under the old castle.” Again, he looked at each boy to make certain there was contact. There was.
“Can we talk to you?” Dan asked.
“Absolutely, Dan, and please do,” he said and realized that he needed to plan their next steps before they possibly got split up while in the castle. “Let’s see, we need to meet again. I haven’t started my work for the day yet, I’m working the bar for lunch, then I have a break until dinner.” This was all thrilling information, but the boys had one thing on their minds and it wasn’t medallions, secrets, or even castles.
“I’m starving,” Lu said, his mind in his belly.
“OK, boys,” he realized he was losing his audience. “Just one more thing,” and he had their last flicker of attention. “Please be careful of Killian.”
“Who’s Killian?” Dec asked.
“He has several jobs here at the castle: night watchman, guard, sometimes he works at the front desk early in the morning. But,” he let out a breath and looked around suspiciously as if there could have been anyone else in the tiny corridor. He was quite the dramatist. “He has a long history here at Markree Castle or that is, he and his family do. They go back generations as does my family. Our families have known each other for hundreds of years.”
“Is he your friend?” Dan asked.
“Well, yes, right, uh, let’s see, hmm. Well, no.” His speech had more stops and gos than Friday evening Beijing traffic. “No, he’s not my friend. Our families have never been friends really. Well, not for a few generations anyway,” Alastar mumbled and jumbled to get out his story.
“What happened between your families?” Li asked.
Alastar started and stopped. “Hmm, it’s a bit of a long story,” he looked at his wrist where there was no watch. “But for another time.”
“Can’t you tell us a little?” Lu asked.
“It’s only Friday, lads. Let’s talk about it tonight. It’ll also help you understand what’s behind that second door downstairs.” He looked at his wrist again. “Guys, I have to run. Are you guys OK on your own?” he asked.
“We don’t have a babysitter anyway, remember?” Dec said.
“Right, you boys will be fine on your own. Just stay away from Killian and if he does approach you, don’t go downstairs with him no matter what he promises you. He might seem like a right jolly old elf, but you’ve been warned.”
“Why would he … ” Dan started, but Alastar put up a hand in between them.
“Just be careful,” Alastar whispered. It was true, when something is whispered, it sounds more important. He paused again, always cautious not to tell too much, but wanting the boys to be safe. “There’s more to this castle than stones and gates, my young adventurers. There’s magic and mystery, but we have to be careful.” The words magic and careful rattled around in his brain and it reminded him of something else he needed to warn the boys about. But how to let them know? It wasn’t going to make any sense.
“Ach, I almost forgot,” Alastar continued. “Hmm, right, well, this probably isn’t going to make much sense, but, hmm, well, I’ll just say it anyway,” he took a breath. “Boys, not only will this not make much sense, but you probably won’t believe me and it will bring up even more questions.” The four young minds were again alive.
Alastar spoke slowly, deliberately and seriously, “Be careful what you wish for.”
The boys were all at once worried, excited and … hungry. The hunger won like rock, paper, scissors, and they had no questions to ask except for When do we eat? But like most boys, even when you might think they don’t listen, they hear, register and don’t forget.
Without another word of delay, Alastar opened the door and they were in the back of a busy kitchen. In fact, it was so busy that only one person of the half dozen or so turned around and saw them. Alastar quickly put his finger to his lips and smiled and winked, and the sous-chef smiled and went back to his work.
“This way,” Alastar led them around a table, along cupboards filled with cans and through yet another door and they landed in the main hallway leading to the main entrance. The four boys were just out of the hidden door and Alastar was behind them, but he stopped in the doorway. They all looked back at him. He smiled. He winked. He closed the door.
“Hey guys!” came an enthusiastic cheer from up the stairs in the main entry hall. The boys turned up to look. It was Em, Dec and Dan’s dad’s soon-to-be wife. She came down the stairs.
“How’s it going?” she asked.
“Fine,” Dec answered.
“Hey Li and Lu,” she continued, “What are you guys up to?”
Li shrugged his shoulders, but Lu immediately said, “Nothing.” He said it not in a way that said he had something to hide, but in a much more experienced way that truly got across the message that they were up to nothing.
“Dec? Dan?” Em asked.
“Just exploring,” Dec said, doing a fairly good job of hiding something.
Em looked around and saw the doorway behind part of a wall. “Did you guys come out of there?”
The boys looked at Em, looked at each other, but Em was a clever gal and didn’t take the question any further. Grasping the potentially dire situation at hand but handling it with grace and lightness, she was on her way to being an excellent mother.
“Are you guys hungry?” she asked and it seemed that compressed air was let out of the room.
“Absolu-la-toot-ly,” Dec said.
“I’m about to eat Dan’s foot,” Lu said and he looked at Dan who smiled.
“I was born hungry,” Li added.
“I thought we’d never see this moment,” Dan said in all seriousness and they made their way to the dining room.