Chapter Two - Topsday morning
"I should ask Chimka for a haircut," Mook thought to himself as he tried to run a comb through his mess of wavy dark hair. "but not this week. Ill be lucky if I have time to sleep or eat." He stared bleary-eyed at his face in the mirror. "Not bad for less than two hours of sleep," he laughed to himself and started brushing his teeth.
He pulled a clean shirt out of his Clothes Box then thought for a moment. "An official visit to the Crow King calls for a serious set of clothes." He laid his hands on top of the Clothes Box and imagined what he wanted to wear. When he opened the lid there lay a midnight purple suit, so dark that it looked almost black. The material was winter weight wool. He was pulling a pair of heavy boots on when he heard a brisk knock at the door. Mook glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. "Six in the morning, someones an early riser." He stomped his heel down into the thick boot and called. "Its open."
"I must speak to you." a soft voice answered. Mook was surprised to see Patrins older sister, the Princess Marina standing in the doorway. She was dressed in a white velveteen traveling dress that fell to the top of her study walking boots. Her blond hair was wrapped in tight braids around her head and the faintest smell of vanilla and jasmine surrounded her. Mook stood staring at her for a moment before saying,
"Good morning, your Highness. Youre looking especially radiant this morning."
"Save your sweet words for someone else, Mookael. I want to see the letter." She pushed her way past him.
"What letter?" Mook asked, annoyed that the Princess was intruding into his bedroom. Half the kingdom had passed through his workshop but he never entertained guests in his private apartments. Even though he looked like a typical resident of the Royal City with his pale skin and gray eyes he was still from the northern regions of Catsport. His rooms were furnished in traditional Catlander furniture. The carved cabinets and rugs made the room look like the inside of a caravan. Red cinnabar jars held odds and ends and a row of guitars with beaded straps hung on one wall. A bed nook was tucked into one wall with the faded denim comforter smoothed neatly in place. Mook found himself feeling oddly grateful that his parents had taught him to keep his things tidy as the Princess Marina swept around the room.
"The one Uncle Skye gave you. I need to see it." She picked up a pile of correspondence and started leafing through it.
"Do you mind?" Mook took the stack of papers from her, mostly admiring letters from young women and tossed them on a chair.
"There, thats it." Marina pointed to a thick piece of white stationary with the Royal Toymakers gold crest on Mooks writing desk. "Commander Hogar told me that you were going to be my escort for my visit to Ravinsbeak. Which is ridiculous. There must be some sort of mistake. So if you could please let me see it Im sure we can remedy this and I can be on my way." Mook showed her the line instructing him to take her to meet with the Crow King and act as interpreter.
"You see, miss. Its all official. Dont worry, I wont tarnish your family silver. You can bring along one of your ladies-in-waiting if it will make you feel more at ease."
"No! That will not be necessary." Marina told him. "My carriage will be ready in fifteen minutes."
"I was hoping, your Highness, that we could take the Air Coaster. It would cut our travel time to less than an hour." Mook looked at her hopefully.
"I would prefer my carriage." Without further explanation Marina turned and left the room. Mook shook his head in irritation. The trip by carriage would take most of the day and they wouldnt be able to return until the next morning. "If we went by car it would at least have heating. Perhaps I can ask Mrs. Hogar why the Princess is acting so unreasonably or perhaps Chimka knows something."
When Mook got downstairs he knew at least part of the reason why the princess was behaving strangely. Standing by the windup coach, helping Marina get inside was Robin Fletcher, the Apprentice Toymaker from Arrowsford. He was what Clio described as a "super hottie". He was a tall, slender young man, with thick brown hair that fell down straight to his shoulders. He was dressed in soft moss green tracking clothes and his Friend, Schutze, a hunting falcon, sat on his shoulder. Fletcher carefully tucked the rugs around the princesss knees and said his good-byes as Mook wound up the mechanical horses hitched to the carriage.
"Take good care of her, Sir Mookael." he said as Mook climbed up to coachmans box and took the reins. Chimka finished strapping a trunk onto the back of the coach and hopped up beside Mook.
"Dont worry. I make sure she stays warm." Mook told him.
"If you lay a hand on her youll answer to me, sir." Fletcher was serious in his threat. He was one of the best archers in the country and famous for his skill in the War Arts. Mook laughed at the young man for being so protective.
"Dont worry, Fletcher, shes the Princess. Shell be Queen someday. If I lay a hand on her it will be my duty to kill myself." Fletcher glared at Mookael who let out a sigh.
"Im joking. Dont you people from Arrowsford ever have a sense of humor? Cant you talk her into taking the Air Coaster? Its going to be eight hours in snowy weather by land."
"Its too dangerous. What if a storm blew in? You might crash. Just be careful, Sir."
"I will. And dont worry, your lady love will be back tomorrow." Mook smacked the reins and the carriage started off.
The first few hours were uneventful as they traveled in the pale light of the winter morning sun. The mechanical horses trotted at a brisk pace past frozen fields and ice covered forests. Mook stopped at a wayside inn outside South Turtlesford for late breakfast so that the Princess could stretch her legs and rest for a few moments. The innkeeper was very excited and honored to have a member of the Royal Family patronizing his inn. He showed her to the best seat by the fire and plate after plate of steaming food was set on the table before her. She tried a little of everything and chatted cheerfully with the innkeepers children. Mook slurped down a bowl of hot cereal and warm bread as he paid for the meal by making small toys for the innkeeper and his family. Mook quickly sketched dolls and puzzles and pulled them off the paper. When it came time to go Princess Marina spoke to him for the first time since they left.
"I would like to ride in the open air. Help me up, sir." He lifted her up and gave her a blanket then took his place beside her. Soon the carriage was on its way, horses trotting, the jangling of the harness the only sound in the gray landscape. Marina kept looking up ahead expectantly.
Mook pulled abruptly on the reins, stopping the horses.
"What is it?" he asked her. She flushed pink for a moment and asked
"Is there a reason why we are stopping?"
"Yes, you keep looking for something or someone. Perhaps I could help you look for whatever it is thats so important. If you were hoping to meet Fletcher out here why didnt you just tell me?"
"Its about Princess Isabella " she began.
An arrow flew out of the trees and hit Mook in the chest. He crumpled and fell to the ground. Marina screamed and jumped down beside him. When Mook opened his eyes he thought he was having the worst dream of his life. Then he realized that he was surrounded by the ugliest group of toys that he had ever seen. The moldy group of damaged toys carried sticks and spears that they brandished in his face. Dolls with missing eyes and limbs and stuffed animals with matted fur swarmed around him. He looked for the Princess but couldnt see her. He tried to stand up but an arrow was piercing one of his lungs. All he could do was lie on the ground and try to keep breathing.
Chapter Two - Topsday afternoon
Clio was wearing her Toymakers apprentice suit. It was dark green and she hoped it made her look more official then she felt. She checked over her list of furniture that needed to be made. Patrin had explained some of the requirements for the Brownie and Badger housing. Brownies loved finery, delicate lines and ornate fabrics. Badgers felt most at home in log buildings with rustic furnishings. There were to be five representatives from each group, each with their own bedroom and bath and a central area for gatherings. Clio had figured that they needed at least two hundred pieces of furniture to fill all the rooms. There were two dozen students in the class. She scratched out the equation on a scrap of paper.
"If everybody makes ten pieces of furniture than well have more than enough. Thats only five drawings a day. That isnt too many. Is it?" Clio asked Patrin. "I mean some of these guys are senior students. They should be pretty good at Toymaking by now."
"One would hope so, but everyone is different. Some students do wonderful work but rather slowly. Other students work fairly quickly but without much imagination. I just hope I can get the buildings done before Flyday when the delegation arrives."
"Well, at least we wont be bored!" Clio laughed. "Maybe I can help you with stuff after class. Wilber can help out too."
"I already have him working with Puck on leveling out the job site. She said that Wilber was really good with a bulldozer." Patrins Friend Puck was a Flying Polar Bear with a tendency for mischief. She and Wilber were inseparable and often got Patrin and Clio into all kinds of trouble. "Good luck with teaching your class, and no worries, youll do fine."
Clio swallowed her fear and opened the door to the classroom. It was packed with students all hungry for information about what had happened to Kit.
"Hi." she started out tenuously as she took her place in the front of the room. "Im Clio Halina. Mr. Skye asked me to take over the class until they get back."
"Oh please! You?" Hosmerk rolled his eyes in disbelief. Clio ignored him and went on,
"Mrs. Skye has a case of the Ashes..."
"Ha!" Hosmerk interrupted, "Your Miss Ashlyn has a case of the Ashes. How funny is that? That just goes to show you what happens when Greylanders try to be Toymakers." The rest of the students moved uneasily in their chairs.
"Excuse me." Clio asked politely. "How do you spell "Hosmerk"?" She opened the little white book that Skye had given her and got out her pencil. At the sight of the Toymakers crest on the cover a wave of whispers rolled through the class. To her surprise Hosmerks words were already written on the pages. A broad grin spread across Clios face. "This is so cool!" She put the book down. All her fear drained away.
"We got a lot of stuff to do so lets start dividing up the lists of rooms."
"There is no way a stupid little newbie like you should be running this class."
"Duh, Hosmerk, dont you think that I know that!" Clio snapped back. "But Mr. Skye asked me to do this and I wasnt about to argue with him. So either sit down and start making furniture or leave. If you dont want to be here than I would be more than happy to ask Mr. Skye to send you on a one-way trip to my old school in the Greylands where they eat punky little bullies like you for snacks. Do you understand?" At the sound of this threat all the other students pulled out pieces of papers and looked ready to get to work.
"Hey, dont bend my nose off here. Im more than happy to design anything you want. Im a team player." Hosmerk backed down immediately. He managed to fake a halfway friendly smile at Clio and sat back in his seat. She looked at him suspiciously and went back to talking about the project.
Clio divided the class into a Brownie group and a Badger Group. She then assigned Miri and Chive to be team leaders and soon everyone was drawing away energetically. As the afternoon wore on the worktables began to fill up with rows of miniature beds, dressers, rugs and chairs. Even after the class was over most of the students kept working. By suppertime they were two thirds of the way through the list. Finally Clio told everyone to stop and that they could finish up the next day. After the last student left Clio stopped before leaving the room and looked at all the work that they had done.
"I bet it would be just like that Hosmerk creep to sneak back in here and mess with some of the stuff." Clio thought. "I wonder ." She sketched a large piece of fabric that read in big green letters, "Do not touch!" Giggling to herself she covered all the new toy furniture with the sheet and left to see how Patrin was doing.
Chapter Two - Topsday Evening
Kits thoughts wandered in the darkness. She couldnt move. Her muscles felt stiff and cold. "Maybe this is a dream that I cant wake up from. Where am I?" She tried to draw upon her other senses. There was the sound of waves and soft whispering of rabbits talking to each other. She breathed in the air and it smelled like orange oil and cedar. "Griffinsgate, I must be home." The thoughts slid slowly through her mind. "Safe place." Griffinsgate was a tranquil lodge hidden in the cliffs overlooking the Mermare Bay miles to the south of the Royal City. Kit and Skye tried to spend their weekends there. She could hear the soft sound of wind chimes hanging in the pine trees outside. There was another odor she couldnt place, sweet like candy or burnt sugar. A rough finger brushed a lock of hair from her face. The hand smelled familiar, salt air and soap. "Hmm husband. Skye." A warmth melted over her and Kit opened her eyes.
"Hello, you." she said. Her voice sounded distant and hoarse. Skye was sitting by the bed with an expression on his face that she couldnt quite read. He didnt reply but sat gazing at her as if he was watching the birth of the world. A few large rabbits wearing aprons scampered out of the room as he helped Kit sit up. She slowly raised her hand to rub her eyes and saw the mittens that Clio had made for her.
"These are lovely." she whispered.
"I asked Miss Clio to make them for you." And just as Skye had predicted she smiled.
"That was thoughtful of you both."
Skye held a little cup of tea up to her cold lips and managed to get her to swallow a few sips. When he went to refill the cup one of the mittens slipped halfway off Kits hand. When he went to slide it back he stared in disbelief. The color had come back to her hands. Her face and arms were still a waxy gray but a healthy glow had returned where the mittens had covered her skin.
"What time is it?" Kit tried to look at her wristwatch but couldnt raise her arm.
"Its almost suppertime. Youve been " Skye tucked the coverlet closer around her. "resting. You came down with a case of Ashes."
"Ashes? How can that be?" Kit stretched her arm out and stared at the marble gray pallor of her skin. "I must look awful."
"No, No, not for a moment." he told her. Kit tried to catch a glimpse of her face in the dark reflection of the windowpanes. Skye put his hand up and turned her face away.
"I have seen many beautiful things in my life. But just now, when you opened your eyes... No," he repeated, "you dont look awful, not at all."
"Youve been sitting up all night?" Kit suddenly recognized the burnt sugar smell. Skyes boots were covered in taffy. Even his hair had bits of gooey pink sugar stuck in it. She knew that long years of working with children trying to feed him candy had left him with an aversion to sweets. "Ive been more than just resting if he hasnt even taken time to wash all that sugar off his skin." Kit thought to herself. "Ive been unconscious for almost a day." A feeling of panic tightened over her and she found it hard to breathe.
"The worst is over, love." Skye made a shushing sound and stroked her forehead. "The cure for Ashes is to play. All you have to do is rest, and not worry about a thing. Youre going to be fine. Here, watch," he reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of miniature lambs. He wound a little key on the back of each one and set them dancing and scampering across the covers. Kit found herself smiling as the tiny creatures did flips and tumbled about. After a few minutes Skye wound them up again and said,
"Im going to try and scrub some of this taffy out of my hair. Then perhaps I can talk Mrs. Wiggles into making us that carrot soup that you like so much."
The bowls sat empty on the table. Cold rain beat against the thick windowpanes overlooking the ocean but the room was warm and snug. Kit sank back into the wall of pillows that Skye had placed in her overstuffed chair. They watched each other in relaxed silence, too exhausted to move.
"Can I get you anything?" Skye finally asked. "Do you feel up to playing a game? The more you play the sooner youll get well. Chess perhaps?"
"Do you want to play for the title of winner of worlds fastest game?" Kit let out a tired laugh. "You know I cant even begin to compete with you in chess, or checkers or anything for that matter. Thank you though."
"There must be something." Skye tried to keep from sounding too anxious. "What did you used to do in the Greylands if you got sick?"
"Oh I dont know, sit on the couch and watch old movies, I guess."
"I could make you a movie." Skye offered, "Not a Greylander one but a puppet theater. I used to enjoy doing them when I was younger. Havent had time for them lately. They take some time to prepare." Skye tapped his fingers against his lips and started constructing the pieces of a toy theater in his mind.
"That sounds intriguing." Kit said.
"Yes, but what about? What would amuse you?" he asked.
"Why you, of course. Tell me a story about you."
"Are you sure that you wouldnt like something more epic in nature?" he said, hoping that she would change her mind. The history of Saint Tortuga or the Lost Princess of Feymoon Hollow?"
"No," Kit shook her head, "Tell me about some of the beautiful things that you have seen in your life. I want to know. It would cheer me up to no end."
"Ill start right away." Skye said, relieved that she had given him a task to do.
"How about first thing in the morning? Id feel better if you slept a bit first."
"Yes, yes of course." He pinched the bridge of his nose. " I must admit, I am tired."
Kit wobbled to her feet. After letting her take a few weak steps her husband picked her up and carried her the rest of the way.