Usually in the afternoon you would find Ron by the (indoor) pool, showing off for the pretty girls who would gather there. Since he was the second son of the Keykeep, the community leader, he was already an attractive prospect, so getting attention was never a challenge. But it was because he was the son of the Keykeep that this afternoon he was not beside the pool, flirting with Laura or Abby, his favourites at the moment. What Ron was doing was walking purposely through the common rooms, searching for a certain young boy.
Ron entered a narrow hallway and slowed, noticing the tussled chestnut hair of a boy, about nine years old, who was playing jacks. Trying to make his footsteps sound casual on the hardwood, Ron walked forward and sat down on a step nearby. He leaned forward, feigning interest in the solitary game.
“I used to play that when I was your age,” he offered.
Sam looked up, clutching the ball and three jacks in his hand. “That must have been a long time ago,” he said seriously.
Ron bit his tongue. Mother said, don’t antagonize the boy, just learn what you can about the key.
“I see you’re wearing a key,” Ron said. He gave an easy smile as he studied the key hanging around the boy’s neck.
“Yah,” said Sam, bouncing the ball once again.
“It’s a pretty small key isn’t it,” said Ron. “Not like mine, which is real big and fancy.” Ron displayed the ornate key lying against his chest.
Sam looked at Ron in disgust. “I’m not four.”
Maybe it was sarcasm the first time.
“I wonder where you found that key. I’ve never seen one like it before. I bet you found it pretty recently.”
Sam shrugged, focusing on the game. Ron waited a few minutes, but Sam continued to ignore him. This kid isn’t going to tell me anything.
Ron sauntered down the hallway, then sped up as he turned into a library and from there to a small kitchen. He knew the rooms of Great Hall community as well as he knew how to count, or the best way to polish a key. His steps were almost automatic as he took the fastest route back to the Great Hall, worrying about his mother’s reaction. At least I know where the boy is. The men from Downstairs haven’t found it yet. But mother won’t be pleased.
He reached to his right to touch the next doorframe, the one leading to the Great Hall and stopped in surprise. His hand brushed the stone wall, sending a chill through the bones of his fingers. The doorway was slightly to the left, hardly any different. Perhaps in his worry about the boy, not paying attention, he had misjudged. Ron put the thoughts aside as he donned a smile and entered.
At the far end of the Great Hall his mother and a circle of councillors rested on cushions.
“Strange things have been happening,” one man said. “I am certain our bedroom used to be just a little larger…”
Ron approached the Keykeep and the conversation ended.
“What have you learned, son?”
Back in the hallway, Sam kept on playing jacks, oblivious to the universe beginning to shift.