Chapter Four - Turtlesday morning

When Mook woke up he found that he was warm and comfortable. The day before had been spent laying the groundwork for the new city. He had started by drawing graders and dump trucks to level the ground for foundations, streets and walkways. Marina volunteered to drive the bulldozer. She’d helped Patrin and her uncle on many rebuilding projects in the past so before long she had graded the area and Mook was ready to start drawing houses. He also organized Benek and Isabella in washing and mending the lost toys. Soon Benek was pulling soapy toys out of a big tub, rinsing them in clear water and hanging them on a long line to dry. Isabella sewed up countless rips and tears with small neat stitches. After lunch Mook created a Clothes Box and the princesses spent a pleasant afternoon creating new outfits for all the dolls and teddy bears. They made little coats of blue, red scarves, green sweaters, bright little dresses of velvet and silk and sturdy walking shoes. The room became a rainbow of bright colors as the toys ran back and forth showing off their new clothes.

The first building that Mook finished was a Meeting Hall. Storm clouds had started to form and he wanted shelter not only for all the toys but for Isabella and Marina as well. As the sun started to set it had begun to drizzle. The toys crowded around the big fireplace to watch Mook draw building after building. The combination of fatigue and a warm fire had proved too much for the exhausted Toymaker. With Orangee as a pillow and the other animals clustered around on the floor Mook slept soundly till morning.

The first pale rays of dawn were flickering in through the high arched windows as Mook picked his way through the sleeping toys to the washroom. He made himself a new set of work clothes from the Clothes Box and got ready for breakfast.

After pulling a steaming mug of Catgrass tea, strong and bitter, out of the Food Box Mook noticed Benek huddled in a nook by the great fireplace silently watching him from behind his ebony bird mask.

"Hungry, Master Benek?" Mook asked quietly so as not to wake the sleeping toys that covered the floor. "Help yourself to the Food Box. It’s for all to use." Mook pulled a plate of flapjacks out of the box and a bowl of blueberries and cream. He was halfway through eating them when he glanced at Benek again. Mook was surprised to see a look in Benek’s eyes that he recognized quite well, one of hunger. He had known it in his youth and seen it time after time in Blocksbury, on the faces of the workers and the children that came begging for scraps in the kitchen where he worked. He reached in the box and pulled out an apple, red and crisp, set it on the table and continued eating, still watching Benek out of the corner of his eye. Mook finished the pancakes and put the empty plate back into the Food Box. As he closed the lid on the box Mook pushed the apple off of the table with his elbow and pretended not to notice as it rolled to where Benek was crouching.

Mook got out his pad of drawing paper and started to work. From underneath Benek’s dark cloak a gloved hand snatched the apple. As Benek devoured the apple Mook caught a glimpse of sharp fangs biting in to the fruit.

"So you are on of the Fair Folk, no?" Mook pulled a bowl of hot porridge swimming in melting butter and syrup from the box and set it with a napkin and spoon on the ground next to Benek. "The Fairies as I recall don’t take to box food. You must be half starved to stoop to eating it."

"Fair but not Fair, neither here nor there." Benek cawed back softly. "Half of two but not one or the other." He pulled off his mask and hood and picked up the bowl, all the time glaring at Mook. The young man had straight black hair, a hawk-like nose and high cheekbones. He might have been handsome except for a large burn mark that crackled across his smooth chocolate skin. It stretched from his forehead across one eye and down to his mouth, flaming and red.

"Neither here nor there, I understand." replied Mook. "You’d think our parents would show a little more sense before mixing up branches on the family tree."

From out of the washroom, Marina shuffled sleepily toward the table rubbing her back. She was dressed in clean coveralls and a gray bandana covered her hair. She pulled a mug of black tea from the Food Box and sat down. She stared bleary-eyed at the cup in front of her.

"Morning." she mumbled.

"Did you sleep well, your Highness?" Mook asked pulling a plate of orange crepes with fresh raspberries out of the Food Box for her. "I’m sorry there were no beds. I promise to make some as soon as I can

"Well…" she replied pressing her palms to her eyes, still trying to wake up, "compared to spending the night locked in a toy box or all night healing people in a taffy factory, I was quite comfortable." She took the plate from Mook and started eating the warm pancakes filled with cream. She glanced over at Benek huddled back by the fireplace. He quickly pulled his hood up over his face.

" I can heal that scar if it bothers you, Mister Benek." Marina said, putting her fork down.

"Too ugly to look at, am I?"

"I honestly don’t care what you look like." Marina shook her head, and walked over to where Benek was crouched down.

"Will it hurt?" he asked staring at her, his face a mixture of bitterness and hope.

"I’m told it feels rather pleasant."

"You, I mean," Benek asked. "will it hurt you?"

"Most likely." Before he could reply Marina’s hands shot out and she grabbed both sides of his face. A flash of red light passed across his skin washing the scar away. "Now take those claws off so I don’t have to do it a second time."

Benek pulled off one of his gloves and felt his cheek. His fingers ran across his eyelid and down his cheekbone. The young man let out a soft caw, high and crying, like air escaping from a balloon, then turned and fled the room. Marina sat kneeling on the floor, gathering her strength for a minute, then returned to her breakfast.

"That was a kind thing to do, miss." Mook said. Marina cradled her head in her hands.

"I just hate the waiting. I prefer to get things like that over with as soon as possible. People don’t know how to ask for help and so everything gets all uncomfortable and quiet. Then they get afraid, so afraid that you can taste it." She picked her cup up and stared into it without drinking. "Don’t you ever get tired, Mookael? I mean just sick of it all and want to be something else?"

"Aye, sometimes. Some days it seems like everyone wants something and you’re like a dull pencil with no eraser. But then some child smiles for you, not because they want anything but rather for the joy of it. " Mook said staring off into a memory past. "You understand my meaning. I wouldn’t rather be anything else and I know most days you feel the same way."

"You’re right, again." Marina took a small sip of her tea. "I haven’t said I’m sorry for getting you into this mess. One would think I’d have learned by now not to meddle, I guess it’s my nature. You must be worried about Chimka."

"No, I don’t think that Benek will hurt him. He tells a fierce tale but he really is concerned about these lost toys."

"Where did they all came from?"

"A few of them go back to the War of Chaos, thirty years or more." Mook looked out over the sea of ratty stuffed animals and other toys sleeping on the floor. "Some have run away from harsh masters. Other toys were loved by their people so much that they continued on living after their people died."

"No!" Marina said, "really? I thought that was just a firelight story. I didn’t think that it ever actually happened."

"Orangee the dog, the one that set you free. He said that his person disappeared in the War of Chaos and he’s been wandering ever since."

"How awful! There are so many children that need toys, even older ones like these. Do you think Uncle Skye can do something for them?"

"I’m sure he can, miss." Mook smiled at her. "And today, with a little hard work, we can do something as well." He spread a large drawing across the table. "I was thinking that the fire station could go here and a schoolhouse there."

"How about some flowerbeds along this strip and a vegetable garden behind the Meeting Hall?’ Marina pointed to different places on the map. "Benek will need food and so will any travelers that stop by." They were so engrossed in planning that they didn’t hear Isabella come silently to the table.

"Good morning, miss." Mook stood up politely after noticing that she was near. She wore a soft gray work dress and red boots. In spite of her plain outfit she looked elegant and regal. She blushed when Mook looked at her and put a small pile of dark clothing on the table.

"Where is Master Benek? I made him some clean clothes." she said. "He didn’t seem to take to Box work at all. I hope they fit."

"He stepped outside for a bit." Marina told her. "Have some breakfast. We’ve so much to get done today."

The toys, one by one, started waking up. Mook and Marina pulled bowl after bowl of delightful things out of the Food Box. Toys do not need to eat but enjoy it none the less. Mook made several extra platters of snowflakes and Marina was roundly applauded for her star crisps that she passed out. Isabella made some rainbow crunches that sent bright sparks flying from the mouths of the happy toys ate them.

The new village started to take shape by midmorning. Little houses lined up along curving brick paths and dotted the surrounding hillsides. The town square had a gazebo in the middle of it for summer concerts. The schoolhouse, fire station and combination hospital and toy repair lined up across from a music hall and barracks for all the toy soldiers. Marina came up with the idea of treehouses for the bears to live in and Mook sketched several different kinds. They were all planting flowers in the park when Orangee came trotting up to them. He looked much improved after washing and mending.

"Toymaker, you must know." he growled. "Benek has left us and the men from the ocean have returned."

Mook climbed up the railing of the gazebo and looked out to sea. There, as Orangee had said, was a tall pirate ship anchored off the shore.


Chapter Four - Turtlesday afternoon.

"The Badgers are going to love this." Patrin told Clio as they made the final adjustments on a teeter-totter bench in front of the Badger Lodge. "It goes up and down and side to side!"

"Does the lift work?" Clio asked sliding onto the smooth wooden seat.

"Yes! I finally got that part fixed. Hang on!" Patrin sat next to her and pulled on a lever marked "Go Up." The bench raised gently into the air and swung up and over the second story veranda.

"Wow! You can see the ocean from here. I can’t believe you made this!" The fog had lifted and it was a clear blustery afternoon. Clio’s black hair fluttered around her face as she looked out to sea.

"It wasn’t just me." Patrin replied. "Everybody worked on it. Uncle Skye did the preliminary layout with all the tricky bits. And I surely couldn’t have finished it without your class. All we have left to do now is the lighting and put the food in the kitchen. I have a list of things we need to make for that."

"Do you think that Mrs. Skye is better?" Clio asked. She had been trying not to worry too much and think good thoughts about Kit.

"I asked Puck to try and get a message to Spark but she didn’t get through. She also said that Chimka hadn’t heard anything either and was quite short with her." Friends have the ability to speak to each other silently, sometimes over long distances. Patrin tightened a knot on part of the log railing. The brisk sea wind made his cheeks and the tip of his sharp nose red from cold.

"Poor Chimka," he said. "he must be having his hands full with all those crows and my sister being in such a bad mood lately."

"So what’s her problem? I heard she was going out with Robin Fletcher, that he’s super mushy on her. You’d think she’d be all happy. Don’t your folks like him?"

"Well enough, I guess. She used to be more fun, but since we got back from Blocksbury she’s seems all grown up and well…strange."

"Well she is all grown up. She’s like twenty-one. That’s so old!" Clio replied. "And she’s supposed to be a Queen right? She can’t just be goofing off all the time. She’s gotta learn how to be serious."

"I don’t know. Mrs. Hogar once told me that my Grandmother Iren was a handful when she was a girl and always getting into trouble." Patrin leaned over the log railing and balanced on his stomach. He fiddled with one of the rope swings that hung around the building. "But I find it hard enough to believe that my grandmother was ever young, let alone wild."

"Maybe you can talk to Marina when she gets back, cause you’re her brother. If something’s bugging her maybe she just needs to talk to somebody about it. I mean…" Clio stopped midsentence and watched as Mrs. Hogar came running up the gravel walkway. Mrs. Hogar didn’t stop but ran straight up the log wall to the second story landing where Clio and Patrin where standing. The little Fairie woman hopped over the railing and landed on the deck.

"Excuse me, your Highness but I just got word that your sister and Sir Mookael never arrived in Ravinsbeak. Her Majesty is most concerned. Might your Friend try and get a message to Chimka and see where they are?"

"I think Puck is in my workshop. Let’s go!" Patrin jumped out, grabbed a ring and coasted down a rope to the ground. Clio sat in one of the tire swings and slid down behind him. Mrs. Hogar shook her head and climbed down one of the wooden ladders.

Puck and Wilber were playing a game of Cat’s Paw Checkers in Patrin’s workshop. They were munching on a bowl of popcorn and drinking hot cocoa.

"Hey," Clio said. "You guys should be working. You were supposed to finish all the lamps and stuff." Wilber waved a paw at two boxes filled with lamps. The Brownie lamps were fashioned from blown glass flower petals in lavender and blue with sensuous gold stems and leaves. The Badger lamps were simple wooden lanterns with panes of glass the color of fresh butter. Wilber wiggled his eyebrows as if to say, "I told you so." and went back to playing checkers.

"Mrs. Hogar would like you to get a message to Chimka." Patrin asked his flying polar bear. "She’d like to know why they are not back and if they are okay." Puck cocked her head and listened for a moment. Then she growled something to Patrin with a shrug of her butterfly wings.

"She says that Chimka told her everything is fine and not to worry." Patrin translated.

"Did he now?" Mrs. Hogar glared at the little winged polar bear. "And just where is it that they are doing so well?" Puck dutifully sent the message and waited for a reply. Patrin listened carefully to Puck’s response then asked,

"Can’t he be anymore specific than someplace green with lots of trees?" Both Puck and Wilber shook their heads. Puck mumbled something and Patrin translated.

"Puck seems to think that something is not quite right but will not say more. I’m sorry, my apologies, Mrs. Hogar."

"I will give your message to Her Majesty." Mrs. Hogar told the little polar bear with a scowl. "And I would appreciate your continued efforts in acquiring more information. Do I make myself clear?" Puck and Wilber nodded.

"Wow!’ Clio said when Mrs. Hogar had gone. "She was sure grumpy."

"She’s worried about Marina and Mook. Maybe not so much that they are in danger. I’m sure that Chimka would ask for help if that were the case. I think she may be worried what the Queen will do to Mook for letting my sister disappear for a few days. They’ll be in a cauldron of trouble when they get back."

"I guess I should write all this stuff down in my report book for Mister Skye. Hey where’d it go?" Clio reached inside of her jacket to take out the little white notebook that Skye had given her. Instead of the book she pulled out a piece of paper smudged on the edges with blue ink. It read,

"Ha ha! What are you going to do without your little tattletale book?"

Chapter Four - Turtlesday evening

"Tonight’s story starts out sad enough, but I promise you it will end most happily." Skye told Kit as he finished winding up the Puppet Theater. The curtain was now a greasy, filmy black material that hung like cobwebs across the stage. The wood appeared to have aged as well, with dark thorns sprouting out of the frame around the front. Skye checked the inner mechanism one last time and turned to sit down next to Kit. As he did his hand scraped against one of the thorns and a thin trickle of blood ran down his fingers. He shook it off on the stage and the play began.

"Do you need a bandage?" Kit whispered as the little doors at the bottom of the stage opened and the little musicians played a mournful dirge.

"No, love." Skye blotted the back of his hand with a handkerchief. "It’ll heal soon enough, you’ll see." He settled into the couch next to Kit and the room grew dark.

On the stage the shadows of misty hills stretched for miles. A long procession of Toymakers all in white slowly made their way across accompanying the funeral wagon of Sterris Tinnin. They came to a wide grove of elm trees and lowered the coffin into the ground and planted a tree over it. The Toymakers faded away one by one leaving the figure of Skye as a young man kneeling by the freshly covered earth. The little tree took root and grew higher and higher until at last the leaves shimmered in the misty light.

"I knew that all things grow old and die." The shadow of the adult Skye came out from behind one of the trees and stood beside the kneeling young man. He took a wooden top out of his pocket and sent it spinning on the edge of the stage. "Even the Fair Folk, after a time, end their days and pass on to the other side. But I was not prepared for the sorrow and emptiness that I felt after Tinnin’s death. It was if I would never be happy, at least not in the same way, ever again. Life seemed so short and I could only measure the days until my family died, my friends died and one day my own time spun to an end and I was buried here under the branches of trees." The top danced and twirled across the edge of the stage until it slowly wobbled and came to rest in front of the kneeling young apprentice. The young Skye stared at the toy and put his hand out to take it, then stopped as if the energy to pick it up was too great. He rose up and walked silently from the stage.

"My return to public life did not relieve my sorrow. Rather, it served to bury it." The grown-up Skye picked up the little top and balanced it on his finger. He tapped at the spinning toy and it grew in speed and size. "When I returned to the Royal City I found that my life had taken an unexpected turn." The top dropped to the stage and started drawing the shadows into it like a miniature tornado. As it twirled the trees, hills and stars were pulled into its wake. The shadow of the grown up Skye held onto the curtain with one hand and his wide brimmed hat with the other, his clothes flapping in the wind like the sails on a ghost ship. Kit could feel the force of the spinning top from the couch where they sat and for one moment wondered if she might get sucked in as well. Just as she started to become really frightened there was a flash of light and the scene dissolved into the Royal Toymaker’s workshop.

"And so I’ve decided to promote you." The voice was hidden by the young Skye standing in front of the desk. Spark sat growling at his feet. Her wings glowing red hot with barely contained fury. "We will make some changes around here," the voice continued, "make some progress. I want you to supervise all the apprentices. This will free up the Toymakers to do more important things like plan for the future." The voice droned on as the adult Skye came out on the stage and sat on the desk.

"Have you ever wished that you could go back in time and give yourself advice?" the little figure of the grown-up Skye asked, looking at his younger self." Run away! Fight back! Request an audience with the Queen. Do something, anything! Don’t just stand there and get drawn into his lies." But the young apprentice just stood stoically rooted to the ground. "You see, the new Royal Toymaker was someone that I would not have imagined, not even in my worst nightmares. In the weeks that I was in mourning somehow a new Royal Toymaker had been named, rapidly, suspiciously, winning the competition with apparent ease. It wasn’t Sarka the Puzzlemaker or Misha Winter from Littleshire whom I assumed would be appointed; they hadn’t even made it to the Choosing for some unfortunate reason or another. The Royal Toymaker was now the one person that I disliked more than any other in creation." The adult Skye pushed his younger self toward the door. "Go you young fool! Get away as fast as you can!"

"I tried." The young shadow told the older version of Skye. "I asked the Queen what had happened, as you may remember, and she told me to help the new Royal Toymaker get settled in. That was her command. She had no idea of all the schemes and evil that he was planning. I also realized that while slowly and steadily he had been worming his way into the Queen’s confidence that he’d also been undermining her view of me. He told her that I was young, unimaginative, that I had served Tinnin for so many years that I was incapable of independent thought, that I needed guidance. His practical jokes made me appear clumsy and disorganized. I’d thought that his pranks were just made out of jealousy and cruelty but they really part of his plan to discredit me as well."

The figure behind the desk stood up. It was Hosmer, now in his thirties. His neck had thickened and he had put on weight. His stomach strained at the buttons of his vest as he grinned at the young man in front of him.

"Are you listening to me?" His voice was sharp and overbearing. His Friend, a curious looking red fox with long arms and legs wore a thick metal collar and sat sullenly in the corner.

"Yes, sir." The younger Skye’s shoulders hunched over as he stared at the ground. Spark seethed and glowed.

"I will expect you to work hard in your new position, none of this moping about like you have been. Several townships have asked for you to be promoted to full Toymaker. I’m sure that if you work hard after a few months I might think about advancing you." Hosmer sat down again and put his feet up on the desk. "Now go get the rest of the apprentices set up. I’ll be down to inspect your work this afternoon. Oh and one more thing,"


"I don’t want to see that Friend of yours in my workshop ever again. It’s a dangerous and poorly made toy. If I catch it anywhere outside of your work area I’ll have it unstuffed. Do I make myself clear."


"Yes, what?"

"Yes, sir."

The scene faded to a room packed with worktables and dozens of bewildered apprentices. They all clustered around the young Skye, full of angry questions.

"How did this happen?"

"When do we get to go home?"

"Can’t you do anything?"

The young Skye thought for a moment and replied,

"I don’t know. I just returned this morning. This can’t be permanent. I’m sure that the Queen will see how impossible this arrangement is." He assigned a place to each apprentice, some two and three to a table and they went to work.

"I thought that I’d be promoted to some out-of-the-way village and end my days in obscurity." The grownup figure of Skye walked from table to table as if by habit inspecting the work. "If I had Hosmer might still be the Royal Toymaker today. But he was greedy and the temptation to abuse his power was too great. I was too blind to see that he was using the apprentices to make toys to sell, which is forbidden under our law. He also promoted many of his family members, loud and foul to be Toymakers. They would drop off the lists of the toys they wanted in the morning and pick up the finished work in the evening. I was so focused on my own misery that I couldn’t see what he was doing to the kingdom. The days changed to months before I knew it. I wish that I hadn’t been so self absorbed." The tall shadow of the adult Skye bent over to pet the sulking Spark that lay smoldering in a basket in the corner. When he did she snapped at his hand and turned away. The younger Skye kept drawing as evening fell into night, only pausing to stretch his aching fingers from time to time.

"Fortunately, Saint Portia, the protectress of Toymakers was invoked by a young boy." The grown up Skye walked to the front of the stage and started placing large dominos in a row. "This one small prayer for help, made in good faith, started a whole chain of events that greatly improved my situation." The line of dominoes curved and meandered as it crossed the stage. The grown up figure of the Toymaker stepped back into the shadows and the rest of the figures on the stage faded into darkness as well. Then small and piercing, a tiny light began to glow and warm the room. It took the form of a woman in a simple white gown glowing like the inside of a candle flame, flickering and shining. When Kit tried to describe it later she could only say that it was like looking into the heart of pure love. The figure drifted over the dominos and then with a happy laugh of absolute joy tapped one with her hand. The giant tile slowly teetered for a moment then fell into the one next to it making the sound of a great bell. The next one swayed and struck the next domino with a deep gong. One by one the tiles fell in turn, each ringing with the sound of bells, some big and somber, some small and high like the sound of children’s laughter.

The top of the stage faded to the soft pinks and blues of the Royal playroom. Marina, Julian and a toddler Patrin were playing hide and seek.

"You have to count slower, Julian!" the nine-year-old princess told her brother. She snuck out of the nursery and down a hallway. She hid first in the library and then found a hidden panel in the wall.

"Hee hee!" She giggled and slid the panel closed behind her. After waiting for a while she found that she couldn’t get out again. A glowing light flickered in the tunnel. Marina gathered her courage and followed the twinkly gleam down to the lower levels of the palace. The tunnel ended in a dismal little room with no windows, filled only with an old desk and a pile of rags in the corner. The young princess shrieked when the pile moved. Out of the rags crawled a filthy teenage boy only a few years older than herself. He had dark matted hair, gray eyes and high cheekbones. There was a look of utter panic on his face as he jabbered something at her.

"You speak Catlander?" Marina looked confused and thought for a moment.
"I am the Princess Marina from the house of Arkus." she told him in halting Catlander and touched the back of her hand to her forehead in greeting.

"I am Mookael the Younger. You must leave. The evil one will be back soon. Hurry." the boy growled back in the same cat language. Marina shook her head not understanding as he pushed her back through the opening in the wall. He barely had time to close it when the door opened and Hosmer came into the room. The boy huddled in the corner as Hosmer shuffled through a large pile of drawings on the table.

"There are only forty toys here. I asked for fifty. Come here Catscum. I’ll cure you of laziness." The angry Hosmer took off his belt and grabbed the terrified Mookael. Shadows of his thick arm rising and falling flashed on the back of the stage as the tiny pink figure of Marina shivered behind the wall.

"You’d better have twice as many as this done by the time I get back!" The door slammed behind him. Marina crept back into the room and laid her hands on the moaning boy. Soft red light flowed over him and he sat up. His face was filled with wonder. The Princess smiled at him.

"My uncle speaks Catlander. He can help you. He helps everybody." The boy stared at her not understanding. When Marina turned to go the boy scribbled something on a scrap of paper and handed it to her. It was a drawing of a little red monkey. The boy pointed to his eyes and to the picture. Then he pointed to the picture and Marina’s eyes.

"Chimka." he said and pointed to his eyes again.

"You want me to look for him, for this monkey, this Chimka?" She pointed to the picture and her eyes. The boy nodded and waved goodbye to the young girl as she disappeared behind the panel.

Soon the panel slid open again with Marina dragging her Uncle Skye by the hand. The boy sat at the desk hard at work drawing toys.

"Well, well, well." The young Skye said in Catlander as he looked at the sketches. "I wondered how Hosmer was coming up with so many interesting ideas as of late. One would think he’d learned how to actually make good toys. Now I see he’s only become more clever at stealing them. I’m Sir Wolfren Skye. My niece tells me you are looking for a red monkey. Wait, I remember you, you’re Mookael the Elder’s boy. Let me think, three years ago in Catsport. You were in a crowd of children. I was there visiting my mother’s people. How is it you are so far from home?"

"I ran away." the boy growled back.

"To find your Friend? The one you lost?"

"He was stolen, the evil man has him. He says if I do not draw toys for him that he will hurt my Friend."

"Does he now? That is a serious crime, kidnapping a Friend. Come with me. Don’t worry, we’ll keep you safe. I have an idea where your little monkey might be." They wound their way through the tunnels until they came to a warm room filled with boxes.

"This is the cellar underneath my workshop. You’ll be safe enough here. Excuse me a moment." Skye climbed up a flight of stairs and disappeared through a trap door. After a few minutes he returned with Spark.

"Spark Griffinfriend, this is Mookael the Younger. He is looking for Chimka, Monkeyfriend of Mookael Who Talks To Cats, Have you heard of such a Friend?" Spark thought for a moment and shook her head.

"Could you possibly ask Hosmer’s Friend, Fox if he has any word of this Chimka?" the young Skye asked. Spark sniffed with disdain.

"Before you say no, try and think if Fox seems… well, at all like a fox to you. Please Sparkushka, it would be a grand favor." The fierce Griffin sighed a puff of smoke and reluctantly sent a message. She waited for a reply then let out a surprised growl. Her snarls sounded very excited as she relayed the message from Fox.

"As I thought." the young Skye said patting Spark behind the ears. "Now please watch over this boy and protect him from harm. Get him some soap and water and some new clothes. The young Mook made a face at this suggestion but followed Spark up the stairs.

"As for you, little niece, you need to go home before you are missed. Spark will make sure that your young man is seen home safely." She started to protest but after giving Mookael a hug goodbye dutifully followed her Uncle back into the passageway.

A cutout of a new moon dropped down from the top of the stage showing that the time was now after midnight. The secret panel opened again with Skye carrying Hosmer’s red Fox. He sat down on one of the boxes in the cellar and took out a small pair of scissors. After making a few snips he pulled the outer layer of red fabric from off the stuffed animal’s head to reveal a very relieved looking monkey.

Mook returned washed and in clean clothes. He was trying to comb some of the tangles out of his hair. He shouted with glee at the sight of Chimka and spun the happy monkey around in the air.

"Saint Portia be praised for answering my prayers, and thank you, sir, I’ll be in your debt always. My thanks to the Princess Marina as well."

"Spark will take you straight home to your parents. I hope that some day that we can meet under happier circumstances. Hosmer will not last as Royal Toymaker long, not without you and Chimka to steal from. I hope that her Majesty will soon see this and appoint a new Toymaker in his place. When that time comes I will put in a request for you to attend the academy here if you like." Mook’s face broke out in a wide grin and he shook Skye’s hand.

"Yes, sir!"

"Now hurry, before Hosmer discovers that you’re gone. My regards to your parents."

Mook sat on the back of Spark clutching Chimka close to his chest. The big Griffin ran up the stairs and into the workshop. Without stopping Spark jumped out the window and spread her wings and started on the long journey to Catsport.

The grownup Skye came out from behind the curtains and waved farewell to the vanishing shadows of Mook, Chimka and Spark.

"I told her Majesty about Mookael and Hosmer’s deeds. At first she did not believe me. After I showed her the red headpiece that Hosmer had made Chimka wear she reconsidered. She promised to keep an eye on Hosmer and asked me to be patient and to trust her judgement. The months went by and it did not seem that I was any closer to being promoted to Toymaker. Hosmer continually found fault with my work and often told me that I was fortunate to even be an apprentice. I’d about decided to leave the Royal City and retire to a life in the country when my luck turned again.

The stage lit up to show the young Skye sitting behind a tall worktable in the Apprentices Workshop. The other apprentices had finished for the day and Skye was staying late correcting drawings. The howls of an unhappy little boy echoed from outside the room. The door burst open and Queen Iren came in carrying a distraught young Patrin. He was about four years old and wailing at the top of his lungs.

"What is it? What’s wrong?" the young Skye asked, taking his sobbing nephew from his grandmother’s arms.

"She, she, she’s BROKEN!" the little boy shrieked. He held out several pieces of a lumpy stuffed polar bear.

"Now, now, I bet we could fix this in no time at all. No need for too many tears is there?"

"That is exactly what I’ve been trying to tell him, but he’ll have none of that from me." The Queen looked frazzled. "If you could mend this thing I would be most grateful."

"Not at all, your Majesty, 'tis my pleasure." The young Skye took the stuffed animal pieces and threaded a needle. "This won’t take but a moment." he said as his fingers swiftly sewed a leg back on. The Queen sat down on one of the workbenches.

"I haven’t seen much of you lately, Sir Skye. You have been missed."

" I’m sorry, ma’am."

"You must try and come for dinner more often." She picked up a pile of drawings from the table and started looking through them.

"I would like that. Perhaps if you asked Master Hosmer to let me have a night off he might agree to it." the young Skye said with a laugh. The Queen raised an eyebrow at this idea and was about to ask a question when the four-year-old Patrin tugged on her sleeve. He was wiggling around with his knees pressed together and whispered something in her ear. Skye pointed to a door and the Monarch of the Lone Isles took her grandson to the washroom.

Skye was sewing an ear back on Patrin’s bear when Hosmer came in. He was carrying a stack of papers that he threw on the table.

"Why aren’t the new furnishings for my office complete? And you call these drawings? I don’t know what you were thinking when you made them but they look pretty poor to me. I was thinking about promoting you but now I see that you have a lot to learn. I know you’re capable of doing a good job but for some reason you just aren’t making an effort. And look at this! What is this?" He held a pencil up in front of Skye’s face.

"It’s a pencil, sir."

"Is it sharp? Why isn’t it sharp? I heard that you sharpened Tinnin’s pencils every morning for seventeen years and never missed a day. Have you grown so self-important that you can’t even do that any more?"

"I sharpened Master Tinnin’s pencils and kept his things in order not because it was my job but rather out of respect for him. I have no respect for you." The shadow of Hosmerk swelled and his eyes bugged out as if his head would burst. He raised his hand as if to strike Skye but instead snatched the stuffed polar bear that Skye was working on and looked at it with disgust.

"And what’s this? What is this? You know I have warned you about neglecting your responsibilities for this kind of meaningless trash." Hosmer threw the polar bear on the floor.

"This is a child’s toy that needs mending." The young Skye picked up the bear and went back to mending the ear. "Surely even you must hold that sacred."

"Listen, Puppet," Hosmer poked the young Skye in the chest. At the word ‘puppet’ Kit noticed that the figures of both young and adult Skye twitched with anger. She also felt her husband tense up on the couch beside her. She squeezed his hand and felt him relax a little as the figure of Hosmer continued harassing the young apprentice.

"I don’t care if it belongs to the Queen, I need that shipment of cars to go out tonight. If you don’t I’m sure that I can find someone to do it for me, Keddy Furpaughs perhaps." Hosmer let this bit of information sink in with a smirk.

"You know Keddy is still recovering from the Ashes. He needs more time, he’ll relapse if he’s forced back to work too soon."

"Well he should have thought about that before he made all those teddy bears. I can’t help it if he wastes his time on such rot." There was the sound of running water from the washroom and a much-relieved young Patrin skipped in. He stopped halfway and ran back to hide behind his grandmother’s skirts at the sight of Hosmer.

"Your Majesty, this is an honor for you to visit us tonight." Hosmer voice was instantly layered with oil and sugar. "I was just complementing young Skye on his hard work. A little more care in the stitching there, lad, come along." As soon as the bear was put back together Hosmer grabbed the toy and held it out for Patrin. "Here you go, your Highness. Better than new."

"I don’t want her from you! He’ll make her all stinky." the little boy snapped. "Give her to Uncle Skye. Grandmother, make him give her back to Uncle Skye." Hosmer instantly relented, returned the bear to Skye then pulled a sweet out of his pocket.

"How about a candy?" he asked.

"No, thank you."

"It’s peppermint, I hear it’s your favorite." Hosmer wiggled the candy at Patrin.

"I said no, thank you!" the small boy crossed his arms tightly across his chest. The Queen looked amused at this display of stubbornness and said,

"Skye, could you entertain Patrin for a few minutes? I need to speak to Mister Hosmer." Patrin ran eagerly to his uncle and the young Skye took him off to the side of the stage where they sat down and started playing jacks.

"Hosmer," the Queen began, "don’t you think that Sir Skye is long overdue for a promotion? He should have been made Toymaker years ago. I’ve received seven letters just this week from cities requesting him. He’s had more than enough time to help you get settled in."

"Of course, Your Majesty, I know Transport needs a new Toymaker." Hosmer’s smile spread across his face.

"Sir Skye, you deserve to pick where you wish to be sent. Where would you like to go?" the Queen asked.

The grown up Skye had climbed up the side of the theater and was sitting on the crescent of the moon that hung over the stage. He kicked his feet and swung gently back and forth.

"I knew that my future was bleak if I became the Toymaker to Transport. Hosmer would merely find a way to force me to supply more and more cars and trains to export. So I picked the furthest away place that I could think of…"

"The Greylands, ma’am. I hear that there are all kinds of new and wonderful toys there." the young Skye said, still sitting on the floor.

"Well if that is your wish, but only for a few months. I want you back by the Solstice." the Queen said with an odd smile. "Sir Wolfren Skye, I pronounce you Toymaker to the Greylands." Hosmer’s mouth dropped as he tried to take in what had happened.

The stage faded dark with only the adult Skye left swinging on the moon.

"Of course Hosmer threatened and protested but there was nothing that he could do. I left the next morning, leaving Spark with my parents and setting out into the great unknown world of the Greylands. It was one of the best times of my life with many grand adventures. I traveled all over your world, eating strange food and seeing your beautiful mountains, forests and cities. I was fascinated by your Greyland culture, your history and odd music. And of course everywhere I went I sought out toys. I collected a warehouse full of them. It was wonderful! The time flew by. And then on my last day, I was wandering around your university. I could sense an interesting toy. I could smell it." The figure of Skye jumped off of the moon, down to the stage and crouched down like a spider.

"It smelled wonderful! Like the new morning, new ideas, pure and lovely. I had to see what it was." The adult Skye stood up and ran his fingers through his hair. It disappeared leaving him bald. "Of course I looked a little different at this time. As much fun as I was having I had no idea as to how to protect myself from Greyland bugs and such things." He tapped at his face with his fingers leaving blotches of mosquito bites across his sunburned skin. Kit watched as the figure on stage transformed himself into the homely young man she had first met ten years before.

"Pieces were everywhere! Two men were in the room pulling the toy apart. I got rid of them easily enough and started putting the toy back together as fast as I could. I needed to find out what it looked like." the figure of Skye said as he ran off stage. He came back dragging two big cogwheels that he set up in the back of the stage. Back and forth he ran bring more and more machinery pieces. He pulled out a wooden giraffe painted bright yellow that was as tall as he was. Then he started adding animals, cats and ponies, birds and dogs. Within minutes he had recreated the toy that Kit had made for her senior project in college. He turned a big crank on the side and all the animals moved as the mechanism began to turn. Doors opened and shut with little chipmunks and squirrels peeking out. The cats danced and the ponies swayed in rhythm. The young Skye stood back and admired the repaired toy that filled the stage.

"It was alive! And for the first time in ever so long I wanted to make toys. For so many years, even before Tinnin had died, I made toys because it was my job. This Greylander toy was so much more wonderful than anything that I’d seen or made because it was so… so happy." The figure of Skye waved his arms about and for a moment he reminded Kit of Patrin and how enthusiastic Skye’s nephew could be when talking about a new invention.

"But there was something else. I’d been so busy putting the toy back together that I hadn’t noticed another person in the room." The young Skye jumped up and pulled on the edge of the mechanical toy shrinking it down in size. As he pushed it with his hands the toy became smaller and smaller. He picked it up and set it on a table that appeared on the stage. At the end of the table sat a young woman. Her dark hair hiding her face and her arms wrapped around her stomach.

"There you go miss, all back together, fine as feathers. No harm done." The figure of Skye walked over to the young woman and stooped down trying to get a look at her face. She pushed a wave of hair behind her ear to reveal a twenty-one-year-old version of Kit. A smile warmed her eyes when she saw the repaired toy.

"You fixed it!" she said. "I thought it was ruined! Those guys, they were drunk. I tried to get them to leave, but…" She stopped midsentence and looked at Skye for the first time. " Thank you."

The two figures continued to talk on stage but so softly that Kit couldn’t hear what they were saying. As their conversation continued the thorns that grew up the sides of the stage began to glow and split open. Two little wind-up musicians appeared on the very top of the theater and started playing a delicate air on the harp and hammer dulcimer. The dark dusty wood that framed the stage cracked and streams of sunlight curled out. The sunbeams unfolded into vines that wove back and forth to form a curtain obscuring the shadows of young Kit and Skye. The golden tendrils continued to spiral and intertwine enveloping the theater. When the song came to an end the leaves and vines shimmered for a brief moment and the Puppet Theater disappeared in a falling cloud of golden stardust.

Kit sat in silence. Skye leaned up against her as she ran her fingers idly through his hair.

"And thank you again. That was wonderful." she finally said.

"I’m glad you liked it."

"Was ‘Puppet’ one of the nicknames you were called in school?"

"One of many I think, "Tinnin’s Puppet’ because I was so thin and always seemed to be falling over my feet. "He’s so skinny that if he puts his hands over his head he looks like a fork.’ You know, that kind of thing." Skye said. Kit had to stifle a laugh and said,

"I was 'Ice Princess’ because I didn’t like to go to parties. My parents didn’t have a lot of money so my clothes were the target of a lot of comments. I don’t think anyone gets out of school unscathed. I don’t know why that is."

"Perhaps it’s because…" Skye sat up and looked out the window. He sniffed the air with a worried expression on his face. A small bright light flickered red and orange through the dark night. "The barn is on fire. Excuse me. I’ll be right back."

Kit watched out the window as Skye ran across the field to the barn. He was followed by dozens of rabbits carrying water buckets. The crowd of rabbits darted back and forth barely visible as they raced toward the fire. Kit caught a glimpse of her own face in the window. She looked gray and ghostlike reflected in the glass. She felt a wave of freezing cold pass over her as she collapsed to the floor.