Haakon could not quite bring himself to poke.

Haakon could not quite bring himself to poke. Sleeping grandfathers, like dogs, were known to be unpredictable creatures.

“Grandfather!” he whispered in his loudest whisper.

Grandfather’s shaggy head reared up, and he made a sharp sound like a bark.

His grandfather's shaggy head reared up.

Haakon skittered back out of spanking range and squealed, “It’s just me!” To allow no confusion he added, “Haakon!”

Grandfather sighed through slack lips, and his panicked face eased back into its familiar lines.

'It's just you, runt.'

“It’s just you, runt,” he agreed.

He wiped his mouth with the back of his arm and then examined the underside of his sleeve.

“I think you put your head down and fell asleep,” Haakon suggested.

“We shall say I was just blotting my ink with my sleeve,” Grandfather mumbled. “Or… not with my forehead, was I?” He rubbed his sweaty brow and frowned at his fingertips.

“No, it’s clean,” Haakon said solemnly.

'No, it's clean.'

Grandfather smacked his palm on the table and scowled at him. “You wouldn’t lie to me, would you, runt?”

“No, sir,” Haakon squeaked. “I expect the ink’s dry by now.”

Grandfather laughed and caught Haakon by the armpits to hoist him up onto the table.

“And if you lied and it’s not, then by God, you can blot it with your behind!”

'You can blot my ink with your behind!'

Haakon giggled wickedly. This was more like Grandfather!

“I wish it were still wet!” he squealed. “I could walk around the rest of the day with words on the back of my pants!”

“If your grandmother saw that you’d certainly be walking around the rest of the day,” Grandfather chuckled. “And I too, for that matter, if she caught me.”

“It’s not poetry, is it, though?” Haakon asked anxiously. All things considered, he did not like the idea of having poetry words on his behind.

'It's not poetry, is it, though?'

The creases between Grandfather’s eyes deepened, though he did not quite frown with his mouth.

“No, runt,” he sighed. He swatted at Haakon’s dangling boot with his big hand. “Just writing down a few things I forgot to tell your father. And tell him to keep it for you, when you’re grown. It’s good advice.”

'It's good advice.'

Haakon glanced uneasily down at the parchment peeking out from beneath his thigh. He did not like advice any more than poetry – less, perhaps, since poetry was harmless and merely boring, whereas advice tended to imply activities such as eating one’s peas, writing one’s Latin lessons, or cleaning one’s teeth.

Grandfather rubbed his eyes and mumbled, “Anyhow, I don’t think I have it in me to write another poem in this life…”

“But Hetty said it was a very good poem! The one you wrote.”

Grandfather opened his mouth and took a deep breath as though he meant to say something. He did not.

“She said it was beautiful,” Haakon went on. “Bee-​​yoo-​​tee-​​ful! she said. You know how she talks.”

Grandfather asked softly, “She read it?”

'She read it?'

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you all day!” Haakon groaned. “I had to tell you alone but you were never alone all day! Because it’s a secret!” he added, switching suddenly to a whisper in honor of secrecy.

“She read it?” Grandfather whispered hoarsely in reply.

“She said it was bee-​​yoo-​​tee-​​ful and she luffed it.” Haakon smiled fondly. “You know how Hetty talks.”

He tugged open the drawstring of his little purse and stuffed his hand inside.

“How does she say your name, Grandfather?” he asked as he fumbled for the key. “Your real name. Luff–ric?” he giggled. “Luff?

Grandfather’s hand came up and batted limply at the back of Haakon’s bobbing wrist, like the paw of a mildly curious cat.

“She said she loved it?” he murmured.

Luffed it! And she said thank you, but she hardly ever says tank you any more. And look, I’m supposed to give you this.”

'She said she loved it?'

His fingers had found the key, but its teeth had snagged in the snarl of Haakon’s more portable toys, and the harder he tugged, the closer he came to simply turning his pouch inside out.

Grandfather wiped his hands over his face and pressed his palms together before his lips, as if in prayer. He rocked forward and back slightly in his chair, like Father Faelan with his rosary.

“A letter!” he whispered.

“No, something better!” Haakon said eagerly. “A – a surprise!”

Grandfather hunched his shoulders and breathed “Oh God!” His big hand flicked up to his forehead and darted across the hollow of his chest, making the sign of the Cross.

Haakon hesitated, and his elbow settled slowly against his side. He found this Church-​​like behavior not like Grandfather at all.

Haakon hesitated.

Now that Haakon’s excitement had deflated, the perverse little key slipped easily out of the pouch. Haakon clasped the graven toad in his fist and waved the toothed and most evidently key-​​like end before Grandfather’s face.

“It’s a key,” he explained. In his mind he added vaguely, “And not whatever un-​​Grandfather-​​like thing you think it is.”

But Grandfather snatched it away as if it were the very thing, and he clutched it on his lap and curled his shoulders protectively around it, rocking and brooding over it like Brede’s strange little boy with one of his two-​​penny treasures.

Haakon could hear him breathing through his teeth.

Haakon could hear him breathing through his teeth.

“Do you know what it’s for?” Haakon asked softly.

Grandfather swallowed and sniffed and lifted the key to the table. It seemed to weigh far more in Grandfather’s hand than in Haakon’s or Hetty’s. It clunked when he set it down.

“What did she tell you?” he whispered.

What did she tell you?

Haakon lifted his arms and let them fall limply in despair. “She told me you would know!” he wailed.

“I know what it’s for, runt,” Grandfather murmured. “I only wondered what she said.”

“She said it was for a door to a place where no one ever goes any more, and there was something inside but not something little boys would like.”

'She said it was for a door to a place where no one ever goes any more.'

Grandfather swallowed and rocked himself in a sort of full-​​body nod.

“Do you suppose it’s something like clothes?” Haakon ventured.

Grandfather roused himself enough to chuckle and rub Haakon’s leg. “Sounds like someone has been peeking into his Christmas presents.”

Haakon howled, “No!”


Grandfather laughed and bent his head lower to kiss Haakon’s knee before straightening his strong back. At last he was looking more like Grandfather again.

“Now, you know your old Grandfather wouldn’t do that to you, runt,” he smiled. “I know it’s hard to believe, but I was a boy once, too!”

“So was Father, but he gives me clothes presents sometimes.”

“And that’s why the Lord made grandfathers!”

'And that's why the Lord made grandfathers!'

They grinned at one another for a moment, but all the while Grandfather’s right hand was creeping up onto the table to lay itself over the key.

Haakon did not like the way it moved: sneaking and shy, with fingers that flicked out to explore and caress the graven surfaces. The Grandfather-​​hand Haakon knew slammed itself down on tabletops and seized whatever it wanted.

“But, Grandfather,” Haakon wheedled, “if you were a little boy once, you must know how I wonder and wonder and wonder what’s behind that door!”

'You must know how I wonder and wonder and wonder.'

Grandfather sighed and covered the entire key with the flat of his hand.

“Perhaps I shall tell you someday – ”

Haakon whined, “No! Now!”

“Runt.” Grandfather laid his other hand over Haakon’s knee. “I was a little boy once,” he said gravely, “and I can promise you it is nothing that would interest you. The important thing is that you completed your mission, and I am…”

He paused for a breath. Haakon comforted himself by whispering the lovely word: “Mission!

“Proud of you,” Grandfather choked. Grandfather squeezed his eyes shut and squeezed Haakon’s knee with his big, strong hand. “And grateful to you,” he whispered tautly.

“Couldn’t you at least tell me what the carving is?” Haakon asked.

'Couldn't you at least tell me what the carving is?'

Grandfather’s eyes flickered open. “The who?”

“The carving on the key. I think it looks like a toad with hair.”

Grandfather sighed and seemed relieved, or perhaps only tired. Then he laughed softly to himself and lifted his hand from the key to study it.

“Runt, that’s supposed to be the Virgin Mary on that key there, with her crown.”

He stroked his finger around the stamped outline of the figure. Haakon twisted his head around to look at the key.

Haakon twisted his head around to look at the key.

Grandfather added, “Sitting on the top of a hill…” with that reverent tone adults used to describe wonders that little boys invariably did not find wonderful.

All things considered Haakon was a little disappointed it was not a toad. He thought it a very ugly Virgin, too, but out of fear of sacrilege he dared not say so.

Such fears did not inhabit Grandfather, however.

“Ugly little wench,” Grandfather said thoughtfully. “No wonder she was a virgin.”

Grandfather!” Haakon breathed.


Grandfather laughed and pinched Haakon’s nose. “Don’t tell anyone I said that, runt. And don’t tell anyone about this key.”

He slid it off the table and into his own big purse.

“And now, Haakon,” he said gravely, “I shall ask you a very important question. And try to remember exactly what Hetty said. What did she want me to do with this key? Did she want me to… to go open that door right away, or did she simply want me to keep it for her?”

It was a very Grandfather-like stare.

It was a very Grandfather-​​like stare, to be certain, but one which he only used on adults – never on grandrunts. Haakon had only ever seen it from the side. Straight on, its intensity convinced Haakon that something terrible would happen if he was wrong.

Haakon lipped, “I don’t know…”

'I don't know...'

Grandfather sighed and looked away, and for a moment Haakon was as frightened by that sidelong look of exasperation as he had been by that steady stare. But Grandfather heaved his patience back up and asked again.

“Try to remember, runt,” he said softly. “What did she say?”

“I don’t know…” Haakon mumbled. “She said she didn’t need it any more, and you might like to have it. She said no one ever goes to that place any more.”

“But she wanted to let me go there, is that it? In case I ever had the chance? She wanted me to have the key? Is that it?”

'Is that it?'

“I think so…”

Grandfather wiped his hand down his face and rubbed his beard. “She wanted me to know I had it…” he said in a creaky voice.

“But where is that place, Grandfather?” Haakon interrupted. “Is it in Winchester?”

Grandfather sighed and rubbed his face again. Then he folded his hands over Haakon’s knee and leaned closer.

“I shall know the door wherever I see it.”

'I shall know the door wherever I see it.'

“Don’t you know?”

Grandfather was standing up.

“Is it a house?” Haakon begged.

“Who’s up?” Grandfather asked him. “Is it time for breakfast?”

“No one’s up, not even the ravens!” Haakon squealed, brightening at this recollection. “It’s still night! I woke up all by myself before everybody! Because of my mission!

He scurried around Grandfather to stop him from going to the door.

He scurried around Grandfather to stop him from going to the door.

“And I saw you had a fire in here so I thought you might be alone. Isn’t it a good thing I woke up, Grandfather?”

Grandfather stooped and squeezed Haakon’s shoulders. “Thank God you did!”

“Don’t you think I would make a good spy? On a mission?

“Good spies keep their secrets,” Grandfather said low. “If you want to be a good spy, you had better start practicing now.”

'If you want to be a good spy, you had better start practicing now.'

Haakon pinched his fingers together and shut his mouth with an imaginary key. After hrmming and humming long enough to make Grandfather smile, he unlocked his lips and said, “I shall! I promise! For you I would even lie if I had to. Because I luff you! And Hetty too.”

Grandfather scooped Haakon up and hugged him until the hug almost hurt.

“I luff you, too, runt,” he whispered.

Haakon saw his chance.

Haakon saw his chance.

“Couldn’t you just give me a little hint?” he pleaded. “Even if I wouldn’t like it? Just tell me one thing that’s behind that door. And then will my weary mind be at ease,” he added grandly, quoting his harried grandmother.

'And then will my weary mind be at ease.'

That did the trick. Grandfather swatted Haakon’s shoulder with his big paw and threw back his head to laugh deep and long and loud.

“Will you tell me?” Haakon asked sweetly.

'Will you tell me?'

Grandfather looked left, looked right, leaned close, and whispered…

Poetry! Bee-​​yoo-​​tee-​​ful poetry!

Haakon wrinkled his nose. He ought to have known.

Haakon wrinkled his nose.