Chapter Three - Friendsday morning
"Poke him again, Freddy" a high-pitched voice came through the pain.
"I think hes unstuffed.," another squeaky voice said nervously. Mook slowly opened his eyes. His chest felt like his lungs had been filled with hot coals and his mouth felt like he had been drinking sand.
"Marina." he croaked. He could make out bare tree branches black against the winter sky but couldnt lift his head to see more.
"See, he hasnt been unstuffed. I told you he was not unstuffed."
"He is a human, and by the looks of him a Toymaker as well." said a gravely voice "He has different needs than we do. He needs water and plants put in his mouth." The voice paused for a moment in thought, "Food and drink is the word for it. When Benek took the arrow out of him he stopped the red leaking, blood they call it. Its is what makes him move. Its his stuffing, I think."
"Whats a Marina, Orangee?"
"Thats the noisy human. Hes asking for his woman." replied the gravely voice.
"I dont think that we should give her to him. What would Benek say? He told us to watch them."
"I dont care what Benek says. Is he a Toymaker? Let me deal with the human." the rough voice spoke once more.
Mook tried to focus his eyes. The first thing he saw was a huge orange stuffed dog, the size of a wolf. A large teddy bear wearing a ratty vest and a floppy hat sat beside an ancient baby doll with matted hair. The doll was dressed in rags and stood leaning on a sharp spear. The orange dog with the gravely voice spoke first.
"You are torn, human?" he asked, not without kindness. "Benek removed the arrow but you are still damaged?"
"Yes, I am damaged, friend." Mook replied. "I wish for the woman. Where is she? Is she well?" He wanted to sit up and look around but was afraid of passing out again.
"I must see her. She can mend my tear and return my stuffing." Mook tried to speak in language that the toys would understand. "Please, I am Mookael, friend of Toys."
"I have heard of you. You are Mookael, friend of the Monkey, friend of the Toymaker that was Lost. The orange dog snuffled him with his worn furless nose. "I am Orangee, a lost toy. I will fetch your woman."
"She is not my woman." Mook told the dog. Orangee paused and gave Mook a suspicious look with his black glass eyes.
"Then what do you want with her?"
"I need her to stop my bleeding, my unstuffing, please. It would be a gift."
"Fetch the noisy one." the orange dog commanded and Mook fought to stay conscious. He concentrated on watching his breath form ghost clouds in the cold morning air. After a long time the toys pushed a large blue trunk down the barren hillside to where he lay. The bear called Freddy opened it and hauled up Marina by the collar. Her hands were tied in front of her with bands of old cloth. The animals pushed the trunk over and she rolled on the ground next to Mook. He was relieved to see that she was still alive and though bruised and half frozen seemed to have her wits about her. As soon as she saw Mook she immediately started inching to get nearer to him.
Please, friend," Mook told the orange dog. "Please set her free. She will be damaged in that box. It is too cold for humans to be treated like that. Her arms must be untied. For the love of Saint Portia, protector of all Toys, please show kindness."
"We will talk this over." The stuffed animals went over to a log and sat on it trying to decide what to do. Before Mook knew what was happening Marina grabbed his chest with both bound hands and pushed hard. Mook was opening his mouth to scream when he felt a wave of red light pulse through him as the Princess clutched at him with her fingers. Her face fiercely mirrored his own pain. He felt the wound in his chest closing up as Marina fell back gasping on the ground.
"Marina, Princess, your Highness! Are you alright?" Mook pulled himself next to her and started untying her hands. She groaned and struggled to her feet. The three toys scampered into the bushes at the sight of Mook and Marina standing up.
"We must get away. Quickly before the others get back." she said, rubbing her wrists. "Im sorry I couldnt get to you sooner. I was so afraid that I would be too late."
"Thank you for healing me. But we have to find Chimka." Mook told her. "Do you know where he is?"
"Hes with the others. There was a group of toy soldiers, a tiger and one that they called Benek. Im not sure what kind of toy he is; he looked like a big crow. He moved very quickly." Marina looked around and picked up the spear that the doll had dropped. "Its small but effective." She spun it around with skill that Mook didnt know she had and headed out of the clearing. Mook wanted to try and find Chimka but his sense of duty told him that his first responsibility was to get the Princess to safety.
He glanced over to the bushes where the orange dog and teddy bear were trembling in fear. The doll had run away.
"Wait a moment." Mook called after Marina.
"Why did you kidnap us?" he asked, crouching down to talk to the terrified creatures. "Im a Toymaker and sworn to protect toys. Why did you shoot an arrow at me?"
"Your woman lied to us. We were told that the Toymaker who was Lost would come down the road." Orangee the dog spoke. "We wished to speak to him and ask him to build us a new home. When Benek saw you he said it was a trap and that you were coming to destroy us. He had said not to hurt you but I guess someone panicked."
"It wasnt me." said Freddy.
"Im not saying it was." growled Orangee, "but that is what happened."
"What do you mean that my woman lied to you?" Mook asked the toys. Marina looked nervous and said,
"Come on, Mookael. We must hurry."
"She sent us a message that she would bring us the Toymaker that was Lost." blurted Freddy the Bear pointing to Marina with a ragged paw. Mook stared at Marina in disbelief.
"Its a long tale." Marina said. "Ill explain it all to you when we are sitting safe by a fire. Now please, lets go!"
"You would come with us?" Mook asked the dog and bear. "As soon as I get the Princess to a safe place I can mend you if you wish it." Both toys had rips in their fur and loose joints. Freddy was missing an ear.
"I will go with you, Toymaker." Orangee said. The bear nodded in agreement.
They started into the forest climbing over mossy logs and winding their way through the giant trees. The only sound was an occasional bird fluttering in the pine branches overhead and the sound of their footsteps plopping in the damp earth. After a while Freddy the bear seemed to have trouble walking. One of his paws was so worn that he was losing his stuffing with each step. Mook pulled out his handkerchief and tied it around the bears hind foot.
"That will have to do for now, friend." he told Freddy. "As soon as I can get to a pad of paper I promise to make you a pair of shoes." The teddy bear looked at his bandaged paw and then at Mook in wonderment.
"Could you do that? Really?" he asked softly in his high pitched voice. Mook nodded and they continued on their way.
After an hour of hiking they came to a wide stream. Mook carried Orangee and Freddy to a sandy bank on the other side. He was about to go back for Marina when he saw her wading across with her skirts pulled up above her knees. The icy water bubbled and swirled around her traveling boots. They stopped for a moment to rest as they drank the cold water eagerly and washed their faces and hands.
"Do you have any idea where we are?" Marina asked him as she tried to scrub some of Mooks clotted blood out of the hem of her dress.
"Not exactly, miss, I think that we may be somewhere in the forest between Puzzlebury and Dollsbrook. If we keep heading south then we should reach the ocean soon. From there I could try making a boat and we could sail along the coast till we found a village. If we get lucky we may come across someone who can help us."
A large dark shape fluttered to their feet and crouched low before them. At first Mook thought that it was the Rauzstark the Crow King but then he saw it was a man wearing a hooded cloak covered in black sewn feathers. He wore gloves with sharp metal talons at the fingertips. He clawed in the dirt next to his filthy boots. A hooked ravens beak mask carved from ebony covered the figures face.
"Lucky plucky we are, travelers and will be awwl!" the man rasped in the coarse rhyming language of Crows.
"Hail and high to ye, stranger ranger, alone, not known." Mook cawed back to him. "I be cawled Mookael the Younger, guarder warder of the Queens Sons Daughter."
"Are ye now? This muely puely, dirty skirty?" The crow man scuffled toward Marina who was hiding Orangee and Freddy behind her. "Healer, Stealer of my Toys?"
"No Benek! We went with her. She is our friend." Orangee growled at him.
"Get away from them!" Marina told the man, smacking his gloved hands as he went to grab at the animals. "If these are your toys than you have done a poor job of caring for them. Shame on you!"
"And what does a Princess care about lost toys?" Benek said switching to common speech. His voice was cultured and smooth. He stood up and towered over Marina.
"Obviously more than you." she snapped back. "Ive never seen such neglect. Just wait until my Uncle Skye hears about this."
"You were supposed to bring him, not this pale thing, this city dweller." He waved a claw at Mook. "Your letter said that you were going to bring the Royal Toymaker not his lackey."
"Here now, who are you to be calling me names?" Mook said with an easy grin, putting himself between Benek and the Princess. "Pale yes, lackey? Today I may be but city dweller? Im from Catsport, thank you ever so and Ill ask you to keep a civil tongue in your head." The ebony beak turned toward Mook and underneath the hood black eyes studied him carefully.
"You dont look like a Catlander. Your eyes are blue and your skin is not dark."
"Now that is a surprise! And Ive never heard that before?" Mook said with a wry smile. "Her Highness tells me that you might know the whereabouts of my Friend, Chimka."
"The monkey? If you want to see him youll follow me." Benek turned, his feathered cape coiling around him as he headed into the underbrush.
"Why are we following this, this person?" Marina whispered angrily to Mook as they tramped through the bushes after him. She kept her voice low so Benek couldnt hear.
"You tell me, miss. Youre the one who asked to meet with him. If he needed help why didnt he come right out and petition the Council of Justice? They would send a group of Toymakers out as soon as they could. And why did you lie to me? You said that you were looking for Princess Isabella, not this Bird Man."
"I was. I meant to tell you. Isabella has run away from home. Id hoped she would be able to talk to Uncle Skye and convince him to ask the Queen to let her marry you." Mook looked at her incredulously as Marina continued. "But when Lady Skye fell ill and Skye asked you to take his place I knew that he wanted you and Isabella to elope and be together. I also thought that if we could stop for a few hours and help these poor lost toys it would be worth the long trip. Im sorry that you were injured. I never meant for that to happen."
"You foolish, meddling chick!" Mook struggled to keep his voice down. Benek turned and looked to see if they were still following. Mook and Marina both smiled and waved at him.
" What were you thinking?" Mook continued after they had walked along the path for a while. "Id never do anything so irresponsible as to run off with Princess Isabella even if I loved her, which honestly I dont. Ive only spent less than a day with the girl and that isnt enough time for any man to make that kind of decision."
"But she loves you."
"Then thats her misfortune. Shes nineteen if shes a day. She isnt old enough to know what love is. She may want to get away from her parents or have a more exciting life but real love makes people do better things than run off on some whim. How do you think King Lunaire feels now that she is missing? And think about how this would effect relations between our people and the Clown Folk. It could start a war! Would you, Princess Marina, heir to the throne of the Lone Isles, give up your crown and risk everything to be with some man that you hardly knew?"
"Certainly not!" Marina replied. "You know me better than that!"
"Then Id be thinking youd help your friend to make better choices."
They tramped on in silence for a while until they reached a bluff overlooking the sea. Small burlap tents dotted the landscape. Instantly a swarm of mangy toys engulfed them, pulling on their clothes and touching their hands. Suspended from a tall pole chattering wildly was the bound form of Chimka. The red stuffed monkey was swinging back and forth from a rope in the midmorning sun. Mook ran to the pole and untied him. Chimka was chattering away about what had happened when a group of tall yellow haired men came out of one of the larger tents. They were harsh and coarse looking. Their matted hair and beards were braided with strips of raw leather and they wore the rough clothing of sea pirates. They talked with Benek and gave him several heavy bags of coins. The crow man made a gesture with his hands and from another tent several large toy soldiers carried the limp body of Princess Isabella. Marina ran to her side and lay her hands on the unconscious girls temples. After a brief flash Isabella opened her eyes. She saw Mook and rushed to him throwing her arms around his neck.
"Oh my sweet Mookael! I knew that you would come for me."
"Excuse me, Miss, but we arent exactly out of the woods, so to speak." Mook took both her hands and asked, "Did they harm you?
"Oh no, I must have fainted after the soldiers caught me. But I feel much better now, now that youre here." Her voice was soft and sounded like the ringing of a hundred tinkling bells and her lips were still painted dark red like he remembered. Her dark straight hair was tucked neatly behind her pointed ears. The round pink circles painted on her pale white cheeks were a little smudged and her gray satin dress was stained with mud and grass but she looked healthy.
"Tis a pity to part with you, Clown girl." Benek came up and grabbed her arm. "But you see, I need gold to build a city for my toys." He started dragging her toward the group of men. "But not to worry, they will ransom you and the other one back to your parents within the week."
"Greasey piecey of Micey licey, Awk, curse your fowl nest of dirt!" Mook swore at Benek in the language of crows. "I will hunt you down and smash your nests through seven generations if you do this thing. Look at these men, you cannot think that they will return these women to their families unharmed." Beneks carved beak turned toward the sea pirates then to the ragged toys huddled forlornly together.
"I have no choice." he said after a moment. "These toys wont survive another winter without shelter."
"Ill build you a city," Mook bargained frantically, "the best that youve ever seen. Better than you could buy with money and Ill not leave until you are satisfied that the work is complete just let the women go."
"What guarantee will you give that you will keep your promise?"
"I give you my word as Gamemaster to her Majesty."
"Bah! What good is that to me?"
"I swear then and I give you Chimka, my Friend, as bond." Mook took Chimka from his shoulder. "That is if he agrees and goes willingly." Chimka looked over at the group of pirates. They had made a circle around Marina and were taunting her and pulling at her hair. She looked angry enough to fight them all. The red monkey sighed and jumped over to Beneks shoulders.
"Done." Benek handed the miserable Chimka to a group of toy soldiers and said, "Take him to the Nest. Do not let him out of your sight." He returned the bags of gold to the pirates. They started to protest until they saw that a crowd of fifty toys armed with bows and arrows surrounded them. The angry men turned and fled to their ship.
"Now Toymaker," Benek said pulling a pad of paper out of his pocket, "Remember to play fair or Ill have that Friend of yours stuffed into a cushion."
Chapter Three - Friendsday afternoon
"Uh, guys, guys," Clio stood before the class, "Lets get started." The students took their seats and she continued. "We have a lot of stuff to get done today. I hope none of you touched this covering on the table." She put on a pair of work gloves and peeled back the sheet labeled "Do Not Touch." "I covered it with a special itching powder and if you touched it youll have to ask me for the antidote." She folded up the sheet and checked the furniture on the table. She picked up on chair that was slightly out of place and set it off to the side. Hosmerk squirmed in his seat and rubbed his palms on his pants legs.
The time went by quickly as the class finished designing the furniture for the Badger and Brownie housing. Clio marked off each item from the inventory list. Miris group had drawn the Brownie furniture. Elegant little chairs were shaped like hydrangea blossoms with woven ribbon backrests in pink and white. Tiny sinks with opal countertops were finished with beautifully drawn faucets of gold and pearl. Piles of lavender and sea green rugs woven in an intricate dragonfly wing pattern were stacked on the table, ready to be taken to the new buildings. Chives group had designed wonderfully crafted rustic furniture. Pine green cushions embroidered with oak leaves contrasted with the polished wood of the rocking chairs and settles. Tree stump foot stools and bark covered side tables finished out the natural look of the furnishings.
Clio kept glancing over at Hosmerk to see how he was doing. He was working hard on a nightstand. Every few minutes or so he would stop to scratch his palms which were becoming quite red and irritated. The class ended with everyone loading up all their creations into boxes that Clio had labeled by room. They walked over to the building site which a few days before had been an empty pasture. Now two very different mansions stood at each end of the field. They were half the size of a regular house. Everything, from the doors and windows to the benches and mailboxes were sized smaller to better accommodate the guests.
The Brownie castle was as delicate as a snowflake with twisting spires and flowing balconies. Ornate flower petal motifs were everywhere in the elaborate structure. Water hyacinths draped across tops of doorways and swags of tulips wound around marble columns.
The Badger camp was a playful mix of rope swings and ladders and elegant lodge furnishings. Rope pulleys lifted guests to treetop bedrooms while plank bridges connected the different levels.
Patrin, Wilber the dragon and Puck were just putting the finishing touches on the entrance to the Badger Camp when the class arrived. Log posts rose out of the flowerbeds with a sign across the top that said "Welcome Badgerfriends"
"Greeting! And thanks!" Patrin made a broad gesture with his hand. He hopped from box to box inspecting the contents. "Miss Clio, your class has done an outstanding job. This is outstanding work. I am sure that her Majesty will be most pleased."
"Everybody pitched in." She replied, setting her box down. "Miri and Chive were the team leaders. They did all the organizing."
"Well they did it right!" Patrin enthused, holding up a canopy bed in his hand that had acorns for legs. "Thank you again. This is perfect!" I have a Dinkelyzer right here that we can use to size all this to the right scale." He pulled a raygun looking contraption and a ruler out of his toolbox. "I just need to adjust the settings for a minute." He fiddled with a small silver dial on the side of the curious looking gun. "Everything needs to be enlarged 128% to be the right size." He pointed the Dinkelyzer at one of the chairs and pulled the trigger. The little wooden rocking chair grew to be two feet high. "Ready to go!" He enlarged all the furniture and the students busied themselves placing the tables and chairs in all the rooms.
When they were finally finished Clio and Patrin stood back to admire the completed buildings.
"Ahead of schedule! This is wonderful!" Patrin beamed. "Now well have time to work on the gardens. Uncle Skye should be more than pleased with this! Im starving, want to go and grab a bite to eat?" he asked Clio.
"Sure, let me go grab my books out of the room first. I want to make sure I read ahead for tomorrow."
"Great, meet me at my workshop." They left Puck and Wilber stringing little twinkly lights in the trees and headed off to get ready for dinner.
The classroom was dark when Clio got there. She was looking for the lever that turned on the lamps when she felt a sheet being thrown over her head. Someone pushed her over and rolled her on the ground. When she got untangled she turned the lamps on and saw the sheet was the one that said, "Do Not Touch."
"Hosmerk, you are such a goob!" she called out. "Are you going to ask me for the antidote to your hives or are you going to wait to try and see if I get all itchy?" A cupboard opened and to Clios great surprise Chive poked his head out. He reminded Clio of a big mouse. His pale face was all screwed up and he looked like he was about to burst into tears.
"Uh, um, are you okay?" he asked her.
"I was about to ask you the same thing. What were you doing in there?" Chive just hung his head.
"I mean did you see what happened?" Clio asked. "Why were you hiding in there?"
"Im sorry! Im so sorry!" Chive blurted out. " Hosmer said that if I didnt find the antidote for your itching sheet that hed, hed get me expelled."
"Like he could do that? Does he have something on you or something?" Clio waited for Chive to reply. The boy stood twitching his nose and wringing his hands.
"Um, uh I guess I can tell you. Hosmerks going to turn me in eventually anyway." He bit his lip and then continued. "A couple months ago I drew some drawings, some bad ones, that if anyone ever told a teacher about them Id be sent home in disgrace. I never meant to make them into toys. I didnt know why I did it; I just was cheesed off one night and drew a bunch of stuff to blow off steam. Hosmerk found out about them and stole them. He said that if I didnt help him that hed give them to the Royal Toymaker, himself."
"Well I think that you should just come clean with Mister Skye, I mean hed be cool about it. Itd be a million times better coming from you than if Hosmerk told him. Trust me on that one."
"I guess youre right. I swear Ill talk to him as soon as he gets back." Chive promised. "Im sorry I knocked you over. Arent you all itchy? Hosmerk said I was supposed to watch and see what you used for an antidote and then take it to him."
"Why didnt you just ask me? I thought we were friends." Clio told him.
"Im so stupid." The white haired boy looked miserable. Clio grabbed the sheet and wadded it up into a ball. She tossed it at Chive, hitting him in the face.
"There! Now were even!" she said. Chive looked at his hands and felt his face waiting to break out in red splotches but nothing happened. Clio laughed and said
"You dork! Its just a sheet. Were not supposed to make dangerous stuff, remember? I just wanted to see what Hosmerk would do. He broke out like he had poison ivy but the itching was all in his mind. There is no antidote cause theres nothing to cure."
Chive managed a thin smile.
"Thats a good one. I think that youre the first person to ever try and put something like that over on him. Its good to see him get a little of what he dishes out. But what am I going to tell him? I cant just walk up and explain that you played a trick on him."
"Maybe I could make up something so hell leave you alone." Clio found an empty jar and filled it with a mixture of blue ink and water. She found a bottle of cleaner in a drawer and poured a few drops of that of that in as well. "There, Clios antidote for what ails you." she laughed as she handed the bottle to Chive. "Give him this."
"I dont know if this is such a good idea." Chive said looking at the blue smelly liquid slosh back and forth in the bottle. "Hes going to be really mad."
" No, hell be happy that his hives will go away." Clio replied. "Listen, Im going over to have dinner with Patrin. Do you want to come?"
"Are you sure that you want me too? I mean I did try to give you the hives and all."
"Forget about it. We newbies need to stick together."
Chapter Three - Friendsday evening
The Puppet Theater was set up at one end of the great hall. The tall structure was made of a smooth polished walnut frame without any carving or ornamentation. A simple white silk curtain hung across the stage. Near the base was a row of little wooden doors. Skye moved the couch so that it faced the stage and tucked a coverlet around Kit. He made sure that her feet were comfortably placed on an ottoman. He fretted around fixing things, running around to check the back of the theater and then finally sat down next to Kit.
"You arent nervous about this are you?" Kit asked him. I dont think Ive ever seen you this wound up about making something before." He smiled at her with all the shyness of a boy.
"I hope you like this. Im so out of practice and the subject matter is less than riveting."
"Im sure it will be wonderful." His tenseness gave Kit a feeling of excitement.
"Well see." Skye hopped up and ran around to make one last check. He finally settled down, stretched out his long legs and wrapped his left hand around Kits. "Are you ready?" he asked. Kit nodded yes and Skye hit the air with his open right hand. It was a quick snapping motion but as soon as he made it from behind the stage there came a low rumble like water getting ready to gush out. A low tremor pulsed through the ground and built in intensity as the white curtain slowly rose up on an empty stage. There was a flash of brilliant light and the play began.
The little doors at the bottom of the stage popped open and tiny musicians carved out of wood came out and started playing penny whistles, fiddles and drums. The song was sad and quiet then changed to a pulsing dance. Two small figures came out that looked like younger versions of Skyes parents. Kit was surprised to see a miniature figure of Skye poke his head out from the side. Dressed in a white suit, he leaned casually against the side of the stage and said.
"My mother, Raizel the Catlander was already the Royal Toymaker when she married my father Lord Wolfren Vanek. They were very happy when a child was born to them." A crowd of brightly clothed figures swarmed around them and marveled at the tiny infant. The crowd swirled and danced around the couple as the proud father held the newborn baby high above his head. Up above clouds parted and a row of angels with trumpets and mandolins played a glorious tune. A beam of light shown down from the heavens as the crowd of people continued to dance around the happy couple and their child.
"That was my sister, Atheni." the miniature Skye said as Kit burst out laughing. "My own birth was overshadowed by the growing demands of a country on the verge of war." Dark shadows flickered across the stage and row after row of Toymakers were pushed off the edge to the floor by the dark shapes. As soon as the little figures hit the floor they turned to skeletons then vanished. Kit gasped as Skyes parents were pushed closer and closer to the edge struggling and fighting to protect their children. Raizel held off the shadows, as Lord Wolfren was able to scramble up carrying the young girl Atheni to safety. The slender elven form of Mrs. Hogar appeared and took the small boy from his mothers arm. She climbed up the side of the stage carrying the boy on her back. The dark shadows clawed after them like fingers. Mrs. Hogar dodged and dashed, each time barely escaping the inky black shadows that poured like mist over the stage.
"Mrs. Hogar was charged with the task of hiding me from those who would use me to force my mother to surrender." The puppet of the grown up Skye sat on the edge of the stage. " She hid me in the safest place that she could find, with her people, the Fair Folk. Believe me, the Fair Folk are not called that because they are lovely and true. Oh no, they are dangerous and often wicked. They are called Fair in an attempt to appease them so they will not steal ones luck or health or children away in the night."
A group of riders on horseback crossed the stage in slow motion. They made no sound as they moved and Kit felt a chilling frost pass through the room and wrapped the soft coverlet tighter around her. The figure of Mrs. Hogar ran silently alongside the Fairies then slowly swung herself and the small boy up on one of the horses. This was all done with dreamlike languor and the absolute quiet pressed heavy into the room. A trap door in the stage floor opened up and the horses and riders floated into it, disappearing from view.
The theater went black and then slowly a greenish glow grew from the middle of the stage, showing a roomful of figures lying on pillows and reclining on steps leading up to a raised dais. All their movements were heavy and measured. A beautiful woman, white as death, presided over the court from a low couch. Her dark hair curled and clung to her moving like seaweed in the tide.
"Sister," she addressed Mrs. Hogar. " I thought that you had left us for good."
"I seek a favor, Mabyn." Mrs. Hogar asked. Her apparition had changed. She was taller and younger. An aura of soft light glimmered around her. It was if a brown paper wrapper had been removed to reveal a sculpture of fine crystal. A small boy-sized bundle lay wrapped in a blanket at her feet.
"A favor, from me? Sister, this is a surprise." The Fairie Queen smiled revealing two tiny snakelike fangs between her red lips. The bundle moved and squirmed at her feet. From underneath the edge of the blanket a glowing silver ball rolled out chased by a baby griffin. The miniature Spark was the size of a golden retriever puppy and just as playful. She scampered after the ball, caught it in her beak and scrambled back underneath the blanket.
"A toy?" Mabyn leaned forward to get a better look.
"Shes not a toy, shes my Friend." A dark haired little boy poked out from underneath the covers. "Shes a griffin. Do you want to hold her?" He handed the flapping Spark to the Fairie Queen. Mabyn took the little griffin and petted the soft fur and feathers with obvious delight. Soon all the Fairies in the room were doting upon the small boy and Spark. They tried to out do each other with amusing tricks and surprises. The figures on the stage moved slowly as if underwater but in the background the shadows of day and night flickered by faster and faster. Sunrises and sunsets pulsed by unnoticed as trees blossomed and lost their leaves to winter.
"Time moves by so differently in the Fairie realm." The adult figure of Skye explained. "What seemed like a pleasant week to me was really two years to my parents. The War of Chaos ended and my mother came to claim me." Raizel appeared on the stage looking worn and tired. "She was almost half dead from the effects of five years of war. But she looked most beautiful to me." The small Skye, now dressed in glowing fabrics of the Fair Folk, ran to hug his mother. "But Mabyn was not so ready to part with me. A huge struggle followed, a battle of strength and wits, but like Whimbit the Queen of the Cats my mother won in the end." The stage was filled with scenes of Raizel and Mabyn locked in combat. Lights and magic flashed. As Raizel picked up her son to go Mabyn asked the boy slyly,
"Is there anything that you want to take with you? Anything you want? Anything at all." She waved her hand and piles of toys and sweets appeared in the room.
"There is something," the little boy said, leaving his mother.
"No" Raizels lips formed the soundless plea.
"You see," explained the adult Skye still sitting on the edge of the puppet stage, The baby Spark trotted over and dropped the silver ball in his lap. He scratched the little griffin behind the ears and continued. "My mother knew that accepting a gift from the Fair Folk rarely leads to good fortune. Their gifts are riddled with dark magic and more often than not bring trouble and sorrow." He threw the ball into the air. The little griffin flapped up in the air, caught it and gave it to the young Skye. The little boy wiped the ball on his tunic and crawled up next to the Fairie Queen. He whispered something in her ear and handed her the ball. Her eyes misted over briefly and she looked more beautiful than before.
"So be it." She told him kissing him tenderly on the forehead. "Now, leave me, before I change my mind."
"What did you do to him?" Raizel asked. "Promise that he will not be harmed!
"Do not worry, Toymaker, I have granted his wish but only good will come of it." Mabyn threw her head back sending her wavy hair spiraling down around her shoulders. "It is good to show kindness once in a while. It gives you mortals hope. You may return to us, Wolfren Skye to visit or to stay. You will always be welcome in this house." She told the young boy. He nodded solemnly then hugged the Fairie Queen. She laughed and with sound of her merriment all the puppets dissolved into a swirling flurry of sparkling snow.
The snowfall changed into the silvery glow of the Royal Toymakers workshop. An elderly man stood wrapping presents, humming to himself. His curly white hair stuck out wildly from underneath his wide brimmed Toymakers hat. Mismatched buttons on his brocade vest added to his disheveled appearance. Rows of little green boxes lined up on the worktables with a slip of paper on top of each one. His gnarled fingers smoothly folded the thick shiny paper. He finished each box off with a gold seal. The door opened and Raizel came in followed by her Friend, Grimmel the Flying Cat. The black winged cat purred at the sight of the old man and rubbed round and round his legs. A slender green dragon landed next to the elder Toymaker and touched noses with Grimmel.
"Lady Wolfren, hello, hello!" the old man grabbed her hands and greeted her warmly. "What an absolute delight. How is your family? Any change in the young one?" he asked with concern in his pale blue eyes.
"No Master Tinnin, Skye is the reason for my visit today. He seldom speaks and is becoming more and more withdrawn everyday. He rarely leaves his room. I brought him along in the hopes that you could perhaps talk to him. The time he spent with the Fair Folk was hard on him. Queen Mabyn gifted him in some way. Im not sure exactly what she did but I think she enhanced his memory. He seemed fine at first but now he is, is floundering." Raizel squeezed the hands of her old friend. "You always have such a cheering effect on people. Were lucky to have you as Royal Toymaker." She turned to Grimmel and asked him to fetch young Skye.
"You are missed, Raizel," Tinnin told the former Royal Toymaker. "but fifteen years in this job is more than enough for any human being. The kingdom can never repay you for all the work that you did and the lives that you saved. But you were wise to retire and take care of your family and your own health." He was pleased to see her almost fully recovered from a nearly fatal case of the Ashes. "However, Im having some trouble filling your shoes."
"You should take an apprentice." Raizel replied looking around the cluttered room. "You cant expect to keep track of all this on your own."
"Ive thought about it." the old man replied. "The Queen has suggested young Hosmer from Topspin but there is something about him that Im not sure I like. I know choosing the lad would do much to seal relations between the monarchy and his family but I need someone that I trust, someone that can help me find things and run errands. I cant see that young man stooping to such mundane matters."
Grimmel soon returned with a six-year-old boy. Tall for his age and slender he politely shook the hand of the new Royal Toymaker. Spark, now the size of a large dog, stood warily by his side, her bat wings folded tightly about her.
"Tinnin, you remember my son, Wolfren Skye. Skye, this is Sterris Tinnin the Royal Toymaker and his Friend Draco." The wide-eyed boy nodded shyly at the kindly old man and the elegant dragon that waved courteously and went back to napping.
"Please, look around. Pick out a toy to take home with you if you like." Tinnin told the boy. Skye wandered around the workroom checking package labels and examining toys as his mother chatted with Tinnin about the efforts to repair the kingdom. Skye noticed that all the pencils in the pencil jar on Tinnins desk were dull so he pulled a penknife out of his pocket and started sharpening them.
A window flew open and a young man with an upturned nose and short dark hair yelled,
"Hey Tinnin, made up your mind yet?" At first Kit thought it was Hosmerk, one of the students in her class but then the figure of Tinnin replied,
"Yes Hosmer, I have. Ive decided not to take an apprentice right now. It wouldnt be fair with all thats going on perhaps next year. Thank you for your offer though."
"What! How can you be so stupid! You need me! How do you expect to rebuild the country without my help? Youll regret this!" The unpleasant young man slammed the window causing all the labels on the little green packages to go flying about the room.
"Oh dear, oh dear." the old man fretted. "Now all my labels are all mixed up. I shall have to open and rewrap every present to make sure they go to the right person."
The young Skye crawled on the floor and picked up all the pieces of paper and then methodically went around replacing each label on the proper package. He finished in minutes.
"Thank you, Skyosh. Are you sure theyre correct?" Raizel asked her son. The boy nodded.
"There you go, Tinnin." she said. "All put to rights. If Skye thinks that where the labels should go then you have nothing to worry about." The elderly man looked at all the replaced slips of paper in amazement. Young Skye pulled on his mothers sleeve and whispered something in her ear.
"Well, its fine with me but youll have to ask him yourself." Raizel told him with a smile. The boy looked mortified and then straightened up and approached Tinnin.
"Might I come back tomorrow and help you, sir?" The young Skye spoke barely above a whisper.
"Yes, you are always welcome here." Tinnin bowed slightly. "And Im more than grateful for any help that you can give me. Like these dominoes," He pulled out a large crate of ebony black tiles. " They are all mixed up and need separating into sets. Could you sort them for me?" Raizel was astonished to see something that she thought that she would never see again, a smile on the face of her son.
"And that was the day I became apprenticed to the Royal Toymaker. It saved my life or at least my sanity." The grown up figure of Skye said, getting up and walking across the stage. "Queen Mabyn granted my wish, which was to never forget her. And so from that moment on I could remember everything that I saw, heard and felt. The sheer enormity of so much information almost killed me but having a purpose helped me learn to control the gift.
Master Tinnin was a wise choice to succeed my mother. He was kind and good. He had the ability to know instantly what toy would please a child most. He taught me to be patient and compassionate, how to calm a frightened child or talk to a stubborn one or charm an exhausted parent who might have been waiting for hours with a child for a glimpse at the Royal Toymaker." The stage flickered with reflections of Sterris Tinnin and young Skye passing out toys to groups of children. The boy Skye grew to a skinny young teen that wore the uniform of a first year student.
"It was hard at first to juggle school and all the increasing responsibilities of the Royal Apprentice. Hosmer was jealous that I had taken the position that he thought that he deserved. He lived to torment me it seemed." The shadows changed to show Hosmer playing mean tricks and pranks on Skye. "I was so busy that I didnt have time to worry about it much. Perhaps I should have." The older version of Skye looked on with concern as a chair collapsed under the younger Skye. "After I graduated I repeatedly turned down requests that I be promoted to full Toymaker. Every township was anxious to have me as their Toymaker to boost their trade and bring prosperity to their people." The grown up Skye explained as the teenage Skye grew into a tall, gangly young man with a sharp nose and serious face.
The shadow of Tinnin became more and more frail yet retained an aura of benevolence and caring. "By this time I was making all the toys for Master Tinnin. I kept the schedules and the inventory books, ran the planning meetings, organized the archives, toured the factories and kept the pencils sharpened. Id mastered all the mechanical aspects of the job. My technical skills had long ago surpassed that of any other Toymaker in the country. But I could never come close to the warmth and love that people heaped upon Tinnin, so I was content to remain his assistant, doing whatever I could to make his life easier and free from worry." The elderly Toymaker faltered during a speech and both the figures of the apprentice Skye and the grownup Skye each grabbed an arm to hold the old man up. "The more frail Tinnin became; the more powerful his ability grew to spread love and good hope to people. I thought that things would never change, at least I hoped that they wouldnt. Then one night my teacher and guide passed away in his sleep, after seventeen years as Royal Toymaker." The shadows on the stage flickered and faded and the Puppet Theater grew dark.
Tears were streaming down Kits face. She buried her face into the soft fabric of Skyes shirt and wept openly.
"Shush, love. Im sorry, I didnt mean to make you cry." Skye wrapped his arms around her.
"No, its not that, its that Im sad that I never got to meet him and Im sad for your loss. And, and thank you it was beautiful."