Chapter One - Moonday morning

Patrin Orion, apprentice to the Royal Toymaker was not known for having the tidiest workshop at the Queen’s Academy of Toys. From the ceiling of the big room hung every kind of airplane, kite and flying machine imaginable. One whole wall of shelves from floor to ceiling was packed full with stuffed animals, dolls, balls, paint boxes, cars and trains. Another set of shelves was stacked without an inch of spare room with piles of games and puzzles. Two of the big worktables were covered with a mountain of boxes wrapped in shiny red wrapping paper.

The winter sun shown through the high arched windows down on the fifteen-year-old boy as he put the finishing touches on a drawing of a mechanical bird. He fussed over the drawing adding layers of extra scrollwork on the silver plated wings and articulated legs. When the drawing was finally a solid mess of little lines he scratched at the corner of the picture and pealed the finished toy off the paper. Holding the shiny metal bird in his hands, he turned it around to examine it from all sides. He turned the little windup key on the toy’s underside and set it down to hear it sing. Instead of a sweet trilling song like Patrin had hoped, the bird beak opened and closed with a loud cawing sound.

"Sweet Shooting Stars!" he swore to himself as he tossed the squawking bird into a huge basket filled with rejected toys. "I’ll never get done." He pushed a lock of thick wheat colored hair out of his eyes and took out a fresh piece of paper. He had just started sketching in the feathers when the cheerful sound of a Catlandian folk tune came whistling down the hall. Mookael the Game Master poked his head through the doorway.

"Best of mornings to you, your Highness."

"Oh please don’t call me that, Mook. It makes me feel like I should be doing better than I am, which I’m not."

"I thought you’d be feeling best of show what with Miss Clio here in the Lone Isles and going to the Academy and all. I heard that the Greyland school she was going to was something terrible. I was hoping to able to wish her well with her studies."

"She’s in Mechanics class right now. She’s already caused quite a stir. She made an alligator in Stuffed Animal class this morning and animated before anyone could tell her that wouldn’t be necessary. The beast turned out to be a good natured thing but I hear there was quite a bit of squealing before Professor Argyle got the class back under control."

"Well it’s a delight to have her back. I’m sure she’ll raise the toy shelf around here. Lady Skye must be pleased to have her apprentice back."

"I’m sure of it. She’s seemed a little lonely these last few months what with Uncle Skye traveling so much and all. It seems like they’ve spent more time apart than together as of late. It seems like there is an emergency every other day and he has to go take care of it. Just this month there’s been a teddy bear revolt up in Beargarden, a carrot famine down in Bunville and a rust storm in Machina-on-the-Marsh. Heaven knows how we survived for three years without a Royal Toymaker." Patrin scribbled out the bird picture, crumpled it into a ball and pitched into an overflowing wastebasket.

"Having an off day, sir?" asked Mookael looking at the pile of trash.

"It’s these stupid presents that I’m having to do to apologize for the whole exploding frog disaster. There were over twelve hundred people at the birthday party and the Queen told Uncle Skye and me to make a toy for every person that was there. We divided the list in half. He finished making his toys in three days while I’ve been working on my six hundred names for months now. It seems like every toy gets harder to do." Patrin rubbed his writing hand, "It doesn’t seem fair."

"Perhaps Sir Skye had longer to think about it than you did." Mook said. Sir Skye the Royal Toymaker had been sent to prison for the accident with the exploding frogs and then disappeared for three years after that. He had been found just the summer before, working in a kitchen down in Blocksbury.

"I know," Patrin looked embarrassed and hung his head. "You’re more than right. It was my fault that the stupid frogs exploded in the first place. I really should be responsible for the whole bunch of toys. I’m sorry to sound so self-pitying. I just wish I could be finished with my punishment and get on with all the work that needs to get done around here."

"Well it’s going to be hard if you think of being a Toymaker as a punishment. Most people think of it as a privilege." said Mook as he pushed his way through a line of rocking horses to look at the list of names. The carefully written list had check marks by all but about fifty of the names. "There are only a few left. I’ve seen you make this many toys in an afternoon. What seems to be slowing you down?"

"I guess I want each toy to be special. It’s not like I can just whip up a bunch of marbles and be done with it. And did you see some of the toys that Uncle Skye thought up? He gave Baron Mouseburger a rainbow slide that has people traveling by the wagonloads to see it down in Cheesegate. It’s boosted their economy to the top of the box. And he made another dollhouse…"

"Could it be that you are comparing yourself to the Royal Toymaker?" Mook laughed. "You know he has years more experience and also has gifts most people can’t even imagine."

"I know, he never forgets anything, ever. And he never has to draw the toys on paper before he makes them. He just pulls them out of nowhere and they are always, always perfect."

"Oh I don’t know about that. I’ve seen him make a few clinkers in the past. When I first came to the Royal City and was about your age, it must have been ten years ago, Hosmer the Troublemaker was the Royal Toymaker and Sir Skye was still the Royal Apprentice." Patrin made a face at the mention of Hosmer’s name and Mookael continued, "I heard Hosmer had Skye so overworked he could hardly make a teddy bear without forgetting an ear or a leg. It was a dark time, let me tell you. So you hurry up and finish this list with good, clean, simple toys so you can get on with your job. Not that half the people on this list deserve any new toys." Mook bumped into the basket of rejected toys and set the windup bird squawking. He picked up the silver bird and smiled as he listened to the cawing sound.

"This would be a perfect gift for your sister. She’s scheduled to go on a trip to Ravinsbeak tomorrow and speak for the Crow King’s birthday festival. Do you know what the bird is saying?" Patrin shook his head.

"No, you know I’m not allowed to speak Crow."

"Well I don’t want to translate it word for word because your mother would have my head if I used such foul language around one so young but it’s the Song of the Fire Raven. It’s a nice piece and I’m sure the Princess Marina would delight in it."

"Well then, that’s at least one person to worry about." Patrin crossed off his sister’s name from the list. "Only forty nine more toys to go. Thanks Mook, if I ever start feeling sorry for myself ever again you have my permission to banish me back to Blocksbury. I have much to be grateful for."







Chapter One - Moonday afternoon

"I hope I can catch up with the other students." Clio thought as she looked around the classroom. "Geese! It’s only the fifth week of the semester and look at how much stuff they’ve done already." The shelves on one wall were stacked deep with dolls that the students had designed. Miniature dollhouse furniture covered every available surface.

Clio Halina made sure she was early to the afternoon class on her first day at the Queen’s Academy of Toys. She wanted to get a good seat and check her notes. As the other students started trickling in and taking their places at the long wooden drawing tables she felt very excited. Not only had her parents agreed to let her attend the toymaking school full time but also her favorite teacher, Kit Ashlyn, now Lady Skye, was teaching the Dolls and Dollhouse class. She looked down at her schedule. Her friend Patrin had tried to explain the names of all the days to her the day before.

"It’s easy," he had told her. "Funday, Moonday, Topsday, Friendsday, Turtlesday, Flyday, Sabbotday. Funday is for playing. Moonday is for starting new projects. Topsday is for lots of activities, Friendsday is good for working in groups, Turtlesday is for steady work, and Flyday is when you hurry up and finish things. Sabbotday is a calm day when you finally get to rest. Your classes are Moonday through Turtlesday and Flyday is for homework. No worries! Tomorrow is Stuffed Animals in the morning taught by Professor Argyle. He is great! And look! Kit is teaching the Doll class. You know what a wonderful teacher she is."

Clio took a deep breath and started arranging her drawing pencils in neat rows in front of her. A boy dressed in the brown uniform of a third year student came up to where she was sitting. He had short dark hair that stood straight up and his nose was wrinkled in disgust. He took one look at her gray blue first year student uniform and started piling up her books in a stack.

"You can’t sit here. This table is for upperclassmen only. Pawns are supposed to sit in the back."

"Pawns?" asked Clio.

"You are right out of the box!" he sniffed as he handed Clio her things and pointed to a table in the back of the room. "Pawns are newbies like you that don’t know how to make anything."

"Whatever." Clio wanted to explain to the older kid that she did so know how to make things and that she had spent the previous summer doing nothing but making very cool toys. Then she decided to just wait and not get into an argument on her first day. She found a seat at the back table and started organizing her drawing supplies again. A mousy white haired boy sitting next to her was hard at work on a project. He was drawing an elaborate floating garden on a large piece of paper.

"Wow!" Clio said looking over at it. "This is hot! It must have taken you forever!" The light haired boy grinned shyly and stuck out his hand and said,

"Thanks! I’ve been working on it for weeks now. It’s supposed to fly. I’m Chive Sheeple from Cheesegate."

"I’m Clio Halina from, um what you call the Greylands."

"Great Gorgonzola!" The boy was clearly impressed. "Really? You’re actually Clio the Greylander? I heard that you were coming to school here and that the Royal Toymaker is your guardian. Is it true that…" He was interrupted by the older, short-haired boy that had told Clio to move.

"Hey Chive, want to try a puzzle?"

"No Hosmerk, I really don’t." Chive looked nervous as the bigger student placed a small painted box on the table.

"What’s wrong? Are you turning into one of those mice that Cheesegate is so famous for? Hey! Look at this!" He snatched up the drawing of the floating garden and studied it. "I’ll tell you what, Cheddarboy. You test my puzzle and I’ll think about giving you this drawing back."

"That’s not fair!" Clio popped up and grabbed for the drawing.

"What are you going to do about it, pawn?" He dangled the drawing out of Clio’s reach.

"I’ll tell Miss Ashlyn, I mean Lady Skye when she gets here…. and... you’ll get in trouble." Clio glared at the older boy and he looked nervous for a moment. Then he looked at her with disdain.

"So you’re gonna snitch? What a tattletale! But I don’t see any teacher here now do you?" He picked up an open bottle of ink and held it over the paper. "What will be, Cheesepuff? Go ahead and try the puzzle. I made it so simple even your big mouth friend here could do it." Chive reluctantly picked up the small rainbow colored metal box and started looking for a way to get it open. When he pushed on the latch it glowed white-hot and he dropped it with a yelp. All the students in the class turned to see what was going on. At the sight of Hosmerk they quickly turned back to their drawings and went back to work.

"Gotcha! I think I’ll call it Hosmerk’s Shock Block." the older boy laughed. He drizzled a stream of ink over the paper and tossed it on the table. "Keep trying to figure it out. Maybe, you’ll be smarter next time. And you, newbie," he whispered to Clio. "If you tell on me I’ll make you sorry… sorry for a long time." He laughed and walked back to his seat.

"Are you hurt bad?" Clio asked Chive who was clutching his hand. Red blisters were starting to form all over his fingers. He shook his head and whispered,

"It’s nothing. Please don’t say anything. He’s done worse. Hosmerk is a troublemaker just like his father, his grandfather and his grandfather’s father. Everybody’s afraid of him. If you rat on him he’ll make your life a big stinky cheeseball for as long as you’re a student. Stay out of his way if you can help it."

"He’s a big creep if you ask me. I wish that we were able to bring our Friends to class. Wilber would have fried him!" Clio’s face flushed with anger. She picked up a pencil and sketched a bandage. She had just passed it to her new friend when Lady Skye came in to the room. Kit wore a high collared Toymaker’s suit in her chosen color of navy blue. The long white scarf draped over her shoulders was embroidered with a crest showing a ramping griffin and flying unicorn. Her dark hair was woven into a neat braid down her back.

All the students stood up to greet their instructor. The class had not known what to expect from this new teacher from the Greylands that was married to the Royal Toymaker himself. She soon developed a reputation of being tough but fair. The work that her class was producing was considered to be some of the best in the school. Kit was walking up to the front of the classroom when she noticed Chive cradling his swollen hand. The young student was looking very pale. She went over to where he was standing and saw the blisters swelling up and wet ink soaking into his drawing.

"What happened to your fingers?" she asked, looking concerned.

"It was nothing… just an accident." Chive stared at the floor as the teacher scanned the room for any clues of what had happened. Kit could tell that something was not being said. She caught sight of Hosmerk glaring at Clio and turned to her favorite pupil.

"Clio, do you know anything about this?" Clio shook her head and stared at the floor too. At the sound of her name a wave of murmurs washed over the class and Clio felt her ears turning red.

"Could anyone else possibly tell me what happened here? Is there a toy problem that I should know about?" Kit waited as the students all stared at their drawing pads.

"Well I’m sure there is a reason for this. I’m going to take Chive to the infirmary and when I get back perhaps someone will be able to tell me what caused such a thing. Work on your projects and remember chairs are due at the end of class."

As soon as the door closed behind them Clio felt a wad of paper hit her on the forehead. She looked up and saw Hosmerk break a pencil between his fingers. He gave her a warning look and went back to drawing. Clio wondered what she should do. If she told Kit about what had happened then she would make an enemy on her first day at the Academy. She had hoped that this school would be different than her last one but it was turning out to be just the same. She was trying to force herself to think about what kind of chair to draw when a hush fell over the room and everybody rose to their feet. She heard a familiar voice say,

"Greetings students, may your lines be straight and your pencils sharp. Please, go on with your work." The only sound on the room was the intense scrape of two dozen pencils on paper as the tall, lanky figure of Sir Skye, the Royal Toymaker walked casually into the room.

"Hello, Miss Clio." He stopped in front of where Clio was sitting and leaned on the table. "Enjoying your first day of school?"

"Hey Mr. Skye. It’s okay I guess. I didn’t think that there would be so many books. The Stuffed Animal class was really wild this morning. We made alligators." Clio replied.

"Good, glad to see that you are getting settled in." His solemn face lit up with an inner warmth, "Have you seen my wife?" he asked, saying the word ‘wife’ as if it gave him great pleasure to do so.

"She was just here. She had to take a kid to the nurse’s office."

"Nothing serious I hope." Skye turned his head and noticed that all movement in the room had ceased. Every student was listening intently to what they were saying. He said in a slightly louder voice. "Perhaps if Lady Skye is going to be gone for a while then I should help out by checking everyone’s work. That is, since everyone seems to be finished." The sound of pencils and papers filled the room again. He worked his way around the room checking drawings and inspecting toys. When Kit and Chive came back into the room he pulled Kit aside.

"What happened?" Skye quietly asked Kit as they watched Chive uneasily take his seat. "I smell fear and not just the usual sort that I seem to bring out in students."

"It was the strangest thing," she replied. "and just when thought I was getting used to strange things. He had the most awful blisters on his right hand, but by the time we got to the infirmary they had disappeared. Do you know what might have caused something like that?" Skye watched as Chive passed a white cloth back to Clio.

"I’m not sure what caused the blisters but I have a fairly good idea of what might have healed them. Miss Clio can draw an exceptional bandage."

"I tried to ask what happened," whispered Kit, "but everyone seems to be afraid of something or someone."

"Ah." Skye’s yellow green eyes scanned the faces of the students. "Give me a minute. I’ll see what I can uncover." He sniffed the air, his sharp nose twitching as he walked around the room.

Kit realized that she was still learning what kinds of things her new husband found upsetting. In the months since they had been married he seemed unfazed by most of the daily problems of life. He was cordial and polite to everyone that he came in contact with as he tirelessly carried out his duties as Royal Toymaker. Long hours, endless public appearances and tedious official functions that often had left her exhausted did not seem to diminish his good humor in the least. During one particularly school tour no less than three small children had thrown up on him and he had taken it all in stride. Yet a few days later he walked out of a banquet in his honor because the baron hosting the dinner had cuffed a teddy bear that was slow in opening the door. Skye was infinitely tolerant with children and yet could be scathing with Toymakers who produced shoddy work. Kit wondered how he would feel if he found that one of her students was responsible for Chive’s injury.

Skye paused for a moment in front of the table that Hosmerk was working at and picked up the two pieces of broken pencil and melded them back together. Without a word he placed the repaired pencil on the table and continued his search. He then crossed over to where Chive and Clio were sitting staring glumly at the ink soaked drawing.

"Had a bit of an accident, did we now?" Skye took a glass eyedropper out of his suit pocket and suctioned the black spot off the paper. "Nothing that can’t be fixed. Interesting idea by the way." he said as he returned the restored drawing to the surprised Chive. "Is this yours as well?" he asked the white haired boy as he picked up the brightly colored box. "An odd piece of work, what does it do?"

"No! Don’t touch it!" cried Clio. Skye put Hosmerk’s Shock Block down and asked carefully,

"And why not, Miss Clio?"

"Because it will hurt you if you don’t open it right."

"Ah," Skye rolled two pieces of paper up to use as makeshift tweezers and held up the metal box. "And how many people think that Miss Clio is telling the truth?" One by one all the students, including Hosmerk, slowly raised their hands. Skye pushed at the latch with a pencil and the box glowed white hot again. The paper tweezers burst into flame and the box fell to the table. The Royal Toymaker was clearly furious, his lips pressed into a thin line as he stared at the dangerous toy.

"Can anyone here tell me what the second rule of Toymaking is? Miri, do you know?" he asked the girl who had first raised her hand.

"Toys shall not harm or hurt any living thing, neither by intention or carelessness." the nervous girl quoted, her voice shaking. Every student in the class was in awe of the Royal Toymaker. One letter of recommendation could mean a coveted apprenticeship. It was rumored that a bad mark on a project could possibly mean a lifetime stuck in a toy repair factory. He not only knew the names of all the hundreds of students at the Academy but seemed to know all their strengths and weaknesses in Toymaking as well.

"I could have every person in this room expelled for knowing that such a toy existed and not reporting it. What if a small child accidentally found this? Valon," Skye turned to a second year student at the end of the row. "You have a little brother. How would you feel if he played with this toy? I am very disappointed in all of you. I won’t waste time trying to find out who made it because I hold you all equally responsible. You should have told Lady Skye the moment that she came in the door. Hopefully you will do better in the future and show more respect for your chosen profession." Skye covered the Shock Block with a piece of paper and pressed down on it with his palm. Clio watched in amazement as the toy disappeared into the paper. Skye folded up the page and sealed it in a black envelope that he pulled from his pocket.

"I would like for each and everyone of you to write a letter of apology to Lady Skye for not telling her about this when she asked. Please turn in your notebooks to me when you leave. I will check their contents and return them to you tomorrow. If the person who made this toy comes forward and talks to either me or Lady Skye then I can promise that will be far easier than if I find out on my own. I do not want to hear of this kind of thing happening again." The Royal Toymaker bowed curtly to the chastised students and to Kit and left the room.

After a moment of frozen silence pieces of paper flew out of the students notebooks and the sound of pen’s scratching filled the air. One by one the students finished their letters of apology and gave them to Kit. Hosmerk sealed his letter and looked very innocent as he set it on Lady Skye’s desk. He smiled at Clio on the way out and she felt a shiver run over her when he did.

Clio was one of the last students to get started as she agonized over what to say. She finally finished her note and went to find Sir Skye to turn in her drawing book. To her surprise he was sitting on a bench in the hallway going through a large pile of sketchbooks.

"I thought you’d be in your workshop.," she said. "I mean not that you have to be, I mean you can sit where ever you want, that is, um I’m sorry." Clio kicked herself and wished that she could start over.

"I thought that perhaps I would wait for Kit here. Patrin is coming over for dinner tonight. Would you care to join us? That is if you don’t have too much schoolwork."

"I guess I could… I mean I don’t have any homework or anything. I got the books a few days ago and have already worked ahead. Everything seems pretty easy except for the Mechanics stuff. Um," Clio twisted her fingers together and blurted out, "I’m sorry I screwed up so bad on my first day. You’re really mad, huh?"

"I was angry because a Toymaker’s talents must be used responsibly. Part of that responsibility is not only making toys for playing with but also to protect our craft from misuse. The toys we make keep people healthy. The lives and happiness of many people rest on our shoulders. If harmful toys started appearing in people’s houses then their trust in us would be broken and everything would soon topple like a stack of unbalanced blocks. Does that make sense to you?" Clio nodded as Skye continued.

"It was bad enough that Hosmerk made such a mean spirited toy but it was disheartening that the rest of the class let him get away with it. Yes, I knew right away to whom the toy belonged before Hosmerk confessed to me that he made the thing. He said it was an accident and I can’t really prove otherwise. He’ll get off with a reprimand this time but I’ll be keeping an eye on him in the future. Chive did say that you stood up to Hosmerk when he took his drawing, which is a good sign. Now sit down and let me get back to these notebooks. I’m hoping to be finished before supper." Skye went back to checking the student’s drawings and Clio put the finishing touches on her chair design. They worked in silence for a few minutes then Clio said,

"Mister Skye?"

"Yes, miss?"

"What would you have done if you were me, a long time ago, when you were my age?"

"It is hard to say. It was not always easy to know the right thing to do." Clio nodded at these words and went back to drawing. After a few minutes another student came out of the office clutching a pile of books and papers to his chest. He looked uneasily at Clio as he gave his sketchbook to Sir Skye. As soon as he could the student scurried down the hall. After the door slammed behind him Clio asked,

"Mister Skye?"

"Yes, miss?" The Royal Toymaker didn’t look up from the notebook that he was checking. He peeled a toy chair off the page and turned it in his hands. It had three legs. He made a note on the paper and then tapped the little toy with his finger. Another leg sprouted out of the chair. He was about to fold it to put it away when Clio continued,

"When you were in school were you popular?" He put down the chair and looked at Clio sideways. The corner of his mouth twitched up for an instant.

"No, I don’t believe I was. I did have a few good friends though and that made the whole experience shall we say…bearable."

"Oh." Clio drew a little flower on the side of one of her sneakers as she let this sink in. The classroom door opened again. This time it was Miri, the girl who had recited the second rule of toymaking. She put her book in the pile and was about to make a hasty exit when Skye stopped her.

"Miss Miri, have you met my ward, Miss Clio Halina? She is under my care as long she in here at the Academy. Miss Clio, this is Miss Miri Trinket, from Littleshire. I believe she is doing quite well in Mechanics this term. Perhaps she could help you with some of your coursework in that area." Miri glowed with pride at this recommendation. The Royal Toymaker leaned over and whispered to Miri confidentially, "And if I were you I would try and talk Miss Clio into helping you with your stuffed animals project. She is very gifted in that kind of thing." The two girls nodded in agreement and Miri took off down the hall.

As Clio put the finishing touches on her chair drawing the last student left the class. Skye completed checking the notebooks and placed the final one on the pile.

"All done? Wow! That was fast." Clio said.

"Not quite, I have one more to look over, yours, Miss Clio." Skye held out his hand for her drawing book. She let out a sigh and passed it over.

"Remember to go easy on me, after all I am just a pawn." Clio told him. Skye stared at the classroom door as if he was lost in some school day from a long time past. He took the notebook and nodded solemnly back at her.

"I’ll keep that in mind. Now take these books in and tell Lady Skye that her husband is hungry."










Chapter One - Moonday evening

The Royal Toymaker’s apartments in the Royal palace were almost as old as the castle itself. It had been the sight of countless banquets over the years as a long line of Toymakers had taken over the most important job in the kingdom. This particular winter’s evening the traditional dining hall with its vast carved arches and stone window casings lay silent and cold. A warmer dinner party was just starting upstairs in the cozy private kitchen of Sir and Lady Skye. The exposed wood beams and rustic furnishings reminded Clio of an old farmhouse as a fire burned cheerfully in the stove.

The table was set and each person took turns pulling their favorite foods out of the Food Box that sat on an old oak sideboard. Kit had picked a green salad with pecans and apples while her husband had produced a big bowl of fiery Catlander stew that filled the air with the smell of curry and cilantro. Patrin thought for a moment and pulled a succession of huge green thistles, one for everyone out of the box. They looked really strange to Clio but Kit assured her they tasted like artichokes. Next it was Clio’s turn to pick a food out of the Box.

"I hope I remember how to do this." She lay her hands on the top of the box and after a few seconds opened the lid. Inside was a steaming plate of sweet corn tamales complete with sour cream and avocado. She placed the platter on the table.

"See, it’s just like riding a bicycle. Once you learn how you never forget." Skye told her. Clio laughed and replied,

"Or making one."

"How about a dessert of some sort?" Patrin suggested as he rubbed his hands together. He pulled out a chocolate cake that he knew was Clio’s favorite. "A Greylander recipe in honor of the Academy’s newest student. And Sir Mookael sends his most heartfelt regrets. He’s competing in the card house building finals tonight but says that he invites us all to dinner on Friendsday." With everything laid out on the table and wonderful smells filling the air everyone looked to Skye to say the Words over the food. He held his palms out and said,

"Miss Clio, Patrin, welcome to our home. It is a delight and honor to have you all here. I hope that…." He was interrupted by a brisk knock on the door and Commander Hogar came in.

"Pardon the interruption Sir, but there has been an emergency." The tiny elf woman was distraught. "I just received notice of a taffy explosion in Doughton. Hundreds of workers are trapped in the mess, humans and animals alike. There’s a car waiting. We will need you too, your Highness." she told Patrin. "Her Majesty has requested that the Royal family accompany you as well to help with the burn victims." Everyone in the Royal family was a Healer and required to help out in disasters.

Skye gave Kit an apologetic look.

"Don’t wait up. I doubt if I’ll be back before morning."

"Do you need me to go with you?’ Kit asked.

"No, love, you look so tired. Get some rest."

"Just come home safe to me." She handed him his jacket and an overcoat from the cupboard.

"You know I will, Woman of the House." He stroked her cheek with the back of his hand. "I’m sorry. We’ll have to hurry. If the taffy hardens we may never get everyone out." He nodded goodbye to Clio and left with Patrin following close behind carrying a plate of tamales and thistles.

Kit and Clio sat down. They finished eating and talked about all the things that had happened in the last few months. The time flew by and before they knew it was late.

"I’ll walk you back to your rooms." Kit said reaching for her coat. It was the middle of winter and the wind outside was cold. Wilber sat on Blue’s back and shivered. They trudged across the great quad to the apprentice housing, the frosty grass crunching under their feet. They stopped in front of a friendly looking wooden door with an impressive looking dragon crest doorknocker.

"Hey! Where’s my door? It was right here." Dido looked around to see if they were at the right spot.

"Perhaps Wilber changed it for you while you were at school." Kit said. Wilber rubbed his paws together and opened the door with a flourish. When Clio had moved her things in the day before the big room had been very plain without any furniture. She had drawn a sleeping bag and slept on the floor hoping to make a bed when she had more time. Clio’s jaw dropped in surprise as she entered her apartment. A warm fire blazed in a tiled fireplace. Thick rugs covered the floors. Soft sage-green velvet chairs were grouped around a low table. An arched doorway opened up to a spacious workroom with a spiral staircase in the corner.

"Wow! I didn’t even know there was an upstairs! Wilber! Did you make all this?" The little stuffed dragon nodded shyly.

"You rock!" Clio said hugging him. He took Clio by the hand and gave them a tour around the rooms. Upstairs was a cozy bedroom furnished in different shades of green. Thick pine green towels hung in the bathroom and the claw foot tub had a dragon spout for piping hot water. Even the tile floor was inlayed with malachite and jade in a complex dragon scale pattern.

"It seems that Wilber had a busy day." said Kit admiring a carved mirror. The frame looked like intertwining ivy but closer inspection showed little dragon heads popping out here and there through the leaves. After they had toured the whole apartment Kit said,

"You’d better go try out that comfy new bed, young lady. You have a busy week ahead of you."

"You look kind of tired too, Miss Ashlyn, I mean Mrs. Skye."

"I’m going to finish up some lesson plans first. There is a big delegation of Brownies and Badgers coming in this Flyday for a peace conference. Our class has been asked to make the furniture for the lodging. Skye and Patrin are making the houses where they are going to stay. They are the ones who will be most tired. I’m hoping we can finish up our part and be able to give them a hand with the buildings. Anyway, I’ll see you tomorrow and sweet dreams. Let me know if you run into any problems or need anything."


As Clio was getting ready for bed she said,

"You know Wilber, we’ve really landed in a sweet spot. This beats boarding school any day of the week, no matter what the days are called." The little green velvet dragon would have honked a reply but he was already asleep in a basket by the fire.


Clio woke up from a horrible dream where she was trapped in ice and couldn’t move. She got up and looked out her upstairs window and could see the light on in the classroom across the courtyard where Kit was working. She could also see lights and hear voices coming from Mook’s workshop and the card house building contest was still going on. She looked at the clock and it was after midnight. She also saw a dark shape in the cold moonlight. It looked like a horse tipped over and frozen. Clio pulled on some clothes over her pajamas and tiptoed downstairs without waking Wilber up.

The air was frosty cold and made Clio’s lung’s ache. Her breath left puffy gray clouds that blew away into the darkness in the icy wind. As she got closer to the dark form she saw that it was Blue lying on one side with his feet sticking straight out.

"Okay, don’t panic. What would Mrs. Skye do?" Clio thought frantically to herself. She looked around and saw the warm yellow light in Mookael’s workshop with a crowd of people still inside. She ran to the window and banged on it. The people inside gave her annoyed looks and raised their fingers to their lips telling her to be quiet. Inside Mook stood on a ladder carefully balancing a card on top of a huge elaborate house of cards. Clio knocked on the door but no one answered. She grabbed the door and swung it open. The cold wind swept through the room in a swirl of several thousand playing cards as house after house collapsed. Clio found herself staring at a sea of angry faces.

"Ha! I win!" Mook’s voice came from somewhere in the room. The crowd parted and Clio could see that a few of Mook’s cards precariously leaning against each other. An older man with a puffy face dressed in red and white hearts glared at Clio.

"What is the meaning of this? How dare you come in here? I was winning! I demand a rematch!" He huffed down at her. Clio ignored him and stood on her tiptoes trying to figure out how to get to Mookael. The puffy faced man grabbed her arm and pulled her back. "Wait you, I demand an apology!"

"Now, Baron Von Deuce, keep your nose on." Mook pressed through the crowd. "This young lady is a friend of mine. I’m sure that she had a perfectly good reason for needing to see me. I promise you a rematch tomorrow." The Baron stomped out followed by a few women dressed in red and white hearts.

"And a good night to you all. Sleep tight!" Mook shooed the rest on the people out the door. "What can I do for you, Miss?" he asked good-naturedly as he pulled up a chair to talk to her.

"Something’s happened to Blue. He’s like frozen or something." she told him. Mook’s face turned pale.

"Are you sure, miss?" he asked. Clio nodded and pointed mutely toward the courtyard. They could see the dark shape in the icy moonlight. The young man sprang up and looked around the room for Chimka. The red monkey was wearing an apron and carrying a tray of pewter mugs to the kitchen.

"Chimka! Find Commander Hogar immediately and get a message to Spark as soon as you can. Tell her to get Sir Skye back here now! Miss Kit has come down with a case of Ashes. Miss Clio, do you know where she is?" Clio had never seen Mook look this distraught; he was always so cheerful and easygoing.

"She said that she was going to her classroom to work on stuff."

"On a cold night like this? We must get to her fast!" He ran out the door without a coat. Chimka stared out the window for an instant, deep in thought, then raced after him. Clio followed Mook into the cold and caught up to him as he knelt beside the still figure of Blue. The flying unicorn was covered with a thin layer of frost and still lying stiffly on one side. Mook dashed off toward the Academy and Clio lost sight of him. She caught up with him at the classroom when Mook stopped her at the door.

"I want you to run as fast as you can to the Royal palace and get the Queen. Tell her that Lady Skye has a bad case of Ashes. She’ll know what to do."

"What happened? What’s Ashes?" Clio asked. "What happened to Blue? Is he dead? Where’s Mrs. Skye?"

"Don’t worry. Just go! No wait, there’s a secret passageway around here somewhere." Mook studied the wall and kicked a floorboard. A thin opening in the wood paneling slid back to reveal a tunnel. "This should take you straight to the Queen’s bedroom."

"I can’t just sneak up on her at night." Clio didn’t like the looks of the dark tunnel.

"For the love of Saint Portia, just GO!" Mook spun her around and headed her on her way. Spurred on by the panic in Mook’s voice Clio headed blindly into the dark passageway. It seemed like hours before she reached the end. A panel slid open and she tumbled out onto the marble floor. A soft snoring sound came from a huge four poster bed sitting in the middle of the room.

"I hope I’m in the right place." Clio thought as she looked around for a light switch. She bumped into a table and the snoring sound stopped. An elderly voice came out of the darkness,

"This had better be most important."

"Um, hello. Are you the Queen and if you’re not can you tell me where to find her?" A light switched on revealing a formidable old woman wearing a nightcap.

"You are the Greylander girl, Lady Skye’s apprentice. How is that little dragon of yours doing? What is it, dear?" Clio looked so upset that the Queen didn’t even stop to question how she got into the bedroom.

"Mook said to tell you that Mrs. Skye has a bad case of Cashews."

The Queen quickly got out of bed and put on her robe and slippers.

"Did he mean Lady Skye has Ashes?" she asked. Clio nodded.

"Where is Lady Skye?" the Queen asked, inspecting the opening in the wall.

"I don’t know. I left Mook in the room, I mean the classroom."

"Here, girl, take these blankets and follow me." The Queen rolled up her bedding and handed the thick bundle to Clio. She then disappeared in to the passageway. As soon as they emerged back at the classroom the Queen snatched the bundle of purple bedding from Clio.

"Sit down and wait here." The Queen told Clio.

"But I want to go in. Is Mrs. Skye in there?"

"I am not asking you, I am telling you to wait here. Now be a good girl and sit down until you are called."

Clio sat down on the bench outside the classroom door and pulled her knees up to her chest. After a moment she could see a flash of red light under the door. She knew that when Healers used their powers that it caused a burst of red energy. Patrin had told her that everyone in the Royal family was a Healer but Clio had never thought that meant the Queen as well. Another flash of light seeped through the door cracks. There was a moment of silence then some muffled voices from inside the classroom followed by another flash of light. Commander Hogar ran up the hallway with Chimka and Wilber following close behind.

"Mrs. Hogar, what’s going on." Clio started to panic. She grabbed the little elf woman’s arm. "How come no one will talk to me? What is this Ashes thing?" Commander Hogar sat down with Clio.

"Ashes is a sickness that Toymakers get when they work too hard and forget to play. Every Toymaker I’ve ever met comes down with it at least once in their lifetime, some more than that. It’s a sad day when the wife of the Royal Toymaker gets struck by it, very sad indeed. One would think that she of all people would have plenty of toys to keep her healthy." Mrs. Hogar looked down at her wrinkled brown hands and shook her head.

"Will she be okay?" Clio asked.

"We can only hope for the best. Ask your dragon if there has been any word from Sir Skye. Have they got a message through?"

Wilber nodded yes and made a flapping motion with his arms and wings to show that they were on their way as fast as possible. It seemed to Clio that the next few hours went by in slow motion. People came and went out of the room. Wilber found a blanket somewhere and wrapped it around Clio as she sat staring at the door to the classroom. Ever so often another flash of bright red light, warm and healing, came pouring through the cracks around the door. As the hours passed into the darkness after midnight Clio started to see or imagine dark shapes like phantoms in the shadows and everything seemed very creepy and horrible. Wilber dozed fitfully on the floor next to her occasionally expelling little whimpers of smoke out his snout.

The door at the end of the corridor smashed open and Sir Skye came in. He was covered in frost and a row of tiny icicles hung like teeth around the edge of his wide brimmed hat. Blue streaks of light swirled about him and left a shower of cold sparks settling in his wake. He didn’t acknowledge Clio or Wilber in the hallway and swept into the room leaving a trail of melting snow on the wood floor behind him.

Finally Mrs. Hogar and Mook came out with the Queen who was leaning heavily on Mook’s arm. She looked exhausted and her nightcap drooped sadly off to one side of her head letting a few thin strands of gray hair wisp out. Clio overheard some of their conversation but didn’t move.

"I’ve done all that I can for the poor thing." The Queen said. "If he can’t help her get better than I’ll have to start looking around for a new Toymaker to fill his place." She sounded absentminded and Clio couldn’t tell if she was serious.

"I think we could all use some rest, your Majesty." said Mrs. Hogar and hustled the aging monarch off to bed.

Mook came back and saw Clio waiting glassy eyed on the bench.

"It’s almost morning, little love." Mook told her.

"Don’t tell me to leave. I’m not going until I make sure she’s okay."

"Let me go and inquire for you, miss." Mook knocked on the door and slipped into the room.


Inside the classroom Kit lay on one of the tables wrapped like a cocoon in the Queen’s bedding. Only the tip of her nose peaked out of the satin coverlet. All color was drained from her skin. Skye sat writing at one of the other tables. A small stack of letters sat neatly in front of him.

"One would think a man would have more important things to do than work at four in the morning." Mookael said in his native language of Catlander.

"Yes." Skye hissed back in the same growling language.

"And one would think that a man would take better care of a woman that fine."

"One would."

"Then how could you let this happen?" Mook snarled at him. "She almost died. By the stars in Ura Amara’s Crown, why did you marry her just to leave her alone all the time?

"You… don’t… know." Skye’s hands curled up on the table like claws.

"Why did you marry her if you didn’t love her?" Mook caught a glimpse of his friend’s face in the dim light and regretted his words. Skye’s eyes were red from fatigue or weeping, he couldn’t tell.

"Aye, I love her. My bones ache when I have to leave her. I would never touch another toy if she asked me to. How would you, Koshka Mookael, even begin to know what that is like?" A slow fury began to seep out of Skye’s words. "You who have a different woman every new moon. I saw Princess Isabella sobbing for you when she went back to her people. You didn’t even go to see her off." Skye uncurled his hands and went back to writing.

"And what chance would I have with the likes of her? I don’t have the luxury of a fine family name like you, Sir Wolfren Skye." Mook spit out the words. "As soon as her parents caught sight of me she vanished like catnip at Kittensridge. I barely spent ten minutes with her after that. I don’t even have a name in Catsport. When I go home it’s always ‘hide your daughters, that’s the son of Mookael the Elder and his foreign girl".

"Mind your mouth! I’ve met your mother and she’s as fine a lady as was ever spun, better than you deserve."

"Aye, and she was a stolen woman, did you know? My father won her in a game of chance."

"A game of chance with your father is not a game of chance." Skye told him. Mook laughed in spite of himself. He walked over to where Kit was resting. The Queen had managed to soften her breathing but little else about the still figure gave any signs of life.

"I’m so sorry." Mook said, switching back to common speech.

"And I as well." Skye put down his writing pen. "Thank you for your help in saving her." He sealed the last envelope. "I don’t know when we’ll be back. Here are my instructions for the Toymakers while I’m gone. Please see that they get them and follow them out. It’s all in your letter." Skye handed the stack of envelopes to Mook. With that he gently lifted the body of Kit and headed out the door.

Clio walked along side Skye peppering him with questions. "Is she okay? Is she asleep? What happened? Can I talk to her?" When they reached the outside of the building Spark the Griffin waited impatiently, clawing the cold ground with her razor sharp talons. The heat from her fiery bat wings and golden fur had melted the frost on the ground around her. The fierce beast was hitched to a traveler’s wagon. Skye tucked Kit safely into the back then pulled a pad of paper and pencil out of his pocket.

"I would ask a favor of you, Miss Clio."

"Me? Sure, whatever you want, I’m there."

"Could you draw a pair of mittens for Kit? I don’t want her hands to get chilled on our journey." Skye asked her. The horizon was just starting to glow with the promise of the morning sun but the air was still bitterly cold.

"No problem. Here." Clio quickly sketched a picture of a pair of mittens with hearts embroidered on the back and pulled them off the paper. They were a soft pink and the thick wool was lined with crème colored silk. Skye walked to the back of the wagon and put them on Kit’s lifeless gray hands.

"When she wakes up I’ll tell her they are from you and she will smile." The Toymaker climbed up and took the reins. "Thank you Miss Clio, Mook has an envelope with your assignment for the week. As Kit’s apprentice it will be your responsibility to teach her classes while we are gone." Clio’s eyes grew very wide as Skye continued. "I can imagine that this may seem like an impossible thing to ask you do, especially since this was only your first day at the Academy, but I assure you that you will do well."

"Teach big kids, like that Hosmerk guy…me? I don’t think so! Can’t Patrin or Mook do it?"

"They’ll be more than busy with their own tasks but not to worry. Here, if anyone gives you the least bit of trouble just write their name in this book." Skye pulled a slim bound notebook out of his pocket and handed it to Clio. It was white and had a tiny crest of a Griffin and a Flying Unicorn embossed in gold on the cover. "Write down everything that happens and I promise to read it when we return."

"When will that be?" Clio tried to look brave. She was so tired from being up all night and felt like crying.

"Hopefully soon."