This entry is part 1 of 12 in the series The Secret of Markree Castle

NOTE: this is the Not Chapter One for the upcoming second book in the Li & Lu series, tentatively but poorly titled, “The Leprechauns of Markree Castle.” Read more about what it means to be Not Chapter One.

4 boys, 3 days, 1 castle. You do the math.

There's the castle. Now go play. Chapter One of the Markree Castle.

There’s the castle. Now go play. Chapter One of the Markree Castle.

“Wait,” Dec interrupted and almost choked on his crumpet in his excitement, “You want us to do what?”

Dec looked at Li to see what his reaction was. Li was beginning to understand what was about to happen and had a grin on his face that only spelled trouble. Well, trouble for others, not for them. For them, it meant adventure, no parents, and the who-knew-what-else.

“So,” Li continued as if at a bargaining table getting the full picture of what was about to happen. “You said that the babysitter who was supposed to watch us for the next four days at the castle isn’t here and you don’t have anyone else to watch us?”

“Yep, that’s about it,” Dec’s dad Rich said, trying to show that it was a good idea, acceptable, and was actually going to happen.

“But you’ll be around,” Dec asked. “You’ll be in the castle, too, right?”

“Yes, we’ll be around, but we have the parties and ceremonies and Em and I have tons of stuff to do,” he paused. “So we’ll be around, but you’ll be pretty much on your own.”

Rich mustered up some more bravado and gave it his best dad-knows-best voice, “You two older boys are now 11 and have earned the responsibility to be more independent.” He paused, possibly prodding for confirmation. There was a silence and stillness in the castle so strong you could hear a gargoyle giggle. Rich cleared his throat, “Right, boys?”

“Oh yeah,” Dec said. “Absolutely.” His eyes were wild, like a rabid hyena.

“Uh huh,” Li mumbled, still sporting a mischievous grin, already plotting and planning.

“Li?” his dad Bradley lowered his head and stared into Li’s eyes, shooting a glance of you can give a better answer than that.

“I mean, yes, absolutely, Rich,” he added as he gained his composure. “We’re 11. We’re responsible, we’re mature now. We’re almost teenagers!”

“Yeah,” Bradley said, “That’s reassuring.”

“Hey, what about us? We’re 9. We’re responsible, too!” Dan said, Dec’s younger brother.

“I’m so responsible,” Lu said, Li’s younger brother, the other 9-year old. He put his hand out in front of him teenage-girl-popstar style. “So responsible.”

Rich looked at Bradley, dad to dad, responsible parent to responsible parent. Their eyes locked, it was now or never, they had to decide if this was truly what they were going to do–but they were running out of options. Their four young boys sat patiently waiting at the table in an empty grand dining room of the castle, waiting to hear what the dads would say next, how this could possibly get any better or all go away as quickly as it came.

Without any words, Rich’s eyes and face said to Bradley, This is probably the worst idea we’ve ever had. Through a little-known language that parents have to communicate without words and without kids understanding, Bradley looked back at Rich and although he meant to say, We’re doomed. We’ll probably go to jail. Is this even legal? Maybe it’s OK because we’re in Ireland? I need a drink. He actually said without any words at all and contrary to what he thought he should say, This is going to be so much fun.

Bradley tried to keep a straight face, but the situation was what it was and there was nothing they could do about it. What was done was done. Richard was getting married in a few days in the castle, the babysitter broke her leg, the castle was in the middle of rural Ireland with no babysitters to be had, and, hey, they had responsible boys anyway, right? They had talked it over at length, or at least as much as you can talk over something at length when you have to decide the fate of your sons in a morning and it was settled. The boys would have an adventure of it. It’ll be great! They’ll remember it forever! They’ll become best of friends!

Bradley’s poker face curled into a Mona Lisa smile that morphed into a low-grade chuckle and finally he started laughing. It was one of those delirious laughs you have when jet lagged or extremely tired and he couldn’t help it or stop it–or care to. Rich, lighthearted adventurer soul that he was, smiled back and joined in the infectious laughter, although uncertain what they were laughing at.

“What are you guys laughing at?” Dan asked, concerned that something incredibly exciting was going to happen, but he wasn’t sure it was going to be good for the dads, the boys, both … or none of the above.

But there was no need for words at this point. The desperate dads kept on laughing and didn’t answer. Within seconds, the infection seeped into the mouths of the boys and, even with concerted efforts to no-way-do-what-their-dads-do, they could not longer hold it in and giggled and laughed and started pushing each other around as young boys do who don’t know what else to do.

A passing observer angel might look in and think that four boys and their dads were having a good laugh over a joke. A passing observer devil might think this was the beginning of a long, busy, and wild four days.

Still laughing, but knowing full well that something unknown was coming, that an adventure was afoot, but it might all go so, so wrong, Bradley managed to mouth a few words to Rich:

We’re doomed.

On reading the chapter aloud after dinner tonight, Lu commented, “Uh, that’s 8.” (4 boys, 3 days, 1 castle)

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