Chapter Five - Flyday morning
"What if Mook made a few cannons? We could shoot the ships right out of the water." Isabella said to Marina. The dawn light showed that the pirate ship had been joined in the night by two more vessels. The two young women were up on top of the meeting hall keeping watch. Mook had spent the day before adding walkways and observation towers to the top of it. With the extra walls and turrets the structure now looked more like a fort. They had all taken turns sleeping and keeping watch during the night. As dawn stretched pink over the eastern sky they could see the Mook in a new Air Coaster circling around the anchored ships. A glimmer of light reflected off one of the fins as it soared over the waves.
"Cannons would violate the Toymakers law to never make harmful things." Marina replied. "He couldnt guarantee that there wouldnt be innocent people, even children on those ships. I dont think he would make a lethal toy even to save you or me. I, on the other hand, would have no problem with wiping out those thugs." She pulled out her sword from her scabbard and checked the edge before replacing it. "Are you sure that you wont let me take you to safety in the Air Coaster?" Mook had pleaded earlier with Marina and Isabella to take the Air Coaster and find safety but they had both refused to abandon him and the lost toys. They all knew that not only would the pirates want Marina and Isabella to ransom back to their families but that they would steal the toys to sell overseas as well.
"No," Isabella replied not taking her eyes off of the ships. "I know that you think that Im not of any use here. Im not a Toymaker or a Healer but there may be some service that I may be able to perform in defending these toys. The thought of them being sold as sideshow oddities and kept in cages chills my heart. How can anyone be so cruel?"
"I dont really know." Marina replied. "Lets hope that we dont have to find out. Perhaps the pirates will see that were armed and ready to defend ourselves and leave us alone." The Air Coaster soared around the ships one more time and started heading back toward the high bluff where the Meeting Hall stood. Mook landed the Coaster skidding almost off the edge of the roof. He hopped out and pulled off his helmet to reveal a worried expression. Orangee, who had accompanied Mook, leapt out behind him.
"They brought their friends, not doubt about it." Mook told Marina and Isabella. "Id judge there to be over a hundred warriors onboard those ships. Theyve landed more scouting parties during the night. Its hard to tell how many. I caught a glimpse of an encampment when I was landing."
"Do you think that they will attack soon?" Marina asked.
"Again its hard to say. They may plan a diversion." Mook pulled a package out of the Coaster and started unwrapping it. "This may be pushing the limits of the Toymakers Law but I want you both to have some sort of protection." He produced two bright green pistols from the package. "They shoot Gloop and will freeze anything to the ground they hit. You may remember that Miss Clio made something similar to this in the Grotto." he told Isabella. The clown princess looked very distraught at Mooks mention of the Grotto and ran her delicate fingers over her face to hide her mouth. She and her little brother had been captured by evil clowns the summer before and held in an underground fortress until Patrin and Clio had rescued them. Seeing her obvious distress Mook said,
"Now, now, miss. Dont worry, after those terrible clowns this will be a summers day at the park for us, dont you think?" Mook smiled his most winning grin at her but Isabella only returned his gaze with a bittersweet smile, biting back a flood of tears. She nodded sadly and said.
"Then I will dress for battle." She turned and climbed down the ladder into the Meeting Hall.
"Please watch out for her." Mook told Marina after Isabella had left. "And yourself as well. If you have to, force her to get into the Air Coaster and go for help. Id rather face a hundred sea pirates than your grandmother if I dont get you both home safely."
"You may get your wish." Marina pointed toward the ocean. A group of rowboats filled with warriors, the morning sun glimmering off their armor. Mook felt his lungs seize up and wondered if they had fully healed from the arrow wound or if it was just fear. He was afraid not so much for himself but for Marina, Isabella and the lost toys that were downstairs preparing for the attack.
"Im think Ill go and see if this thing works." Marina picked up on of the Gloop guns and before Mook could stop her took off in the Air Coaster toward the rowboats. She made several passes shooting the Gloop at rowboats. Her attack was returned by a rainstorm of arrows, many of which pierced the metal of Air Coaster. There was a moment of chaos as the rowboats floundered in the surf. The boats turned back filled with the immobilized bodies of the pirates. The Coaster returned to the shore, with lines of white smoke streaming out the back of it. Marina landed in the meadow across back toward the Meeting Hall.
From out of the woods a group of warriors led by a tall woman dressed in leather armor chased after the princess. Marina fired shots from her Gloop gun holding them off as she raced toward the safety of the Meeting Hall. Mook watched in horror as the tall pirate woman pulled her bow back and shot Marina in the arm, making her drop the Gloop gun.
"Your womans in danger. Here, climb on. I will take you to her." Orangee growled. He put his shaggy head down and waited for Mook to get on his back.
"I dont think that you can carry me." Mook replied. The ancient stuffed dog only came up to his mid thigh and hardly looked strong enough to carry him.
"Perhaps not, but I can try." Orangee replied. Mook watched as Marina pulled her sword and fought off the tall woman pirates blows. Mook grabbed a satchel of darts and the other Gloop gun then hopped on Orangees back. He was trying to tuck his legs up to keep from dragging them on the floor when without warning Orangee leaped up and over the side of the building. There was a rush of air and a hard slam as they hit the ground knocking the wind out of both of them. Orangee recovered quickly and set off in a high gallop. It was all that Mook could do to hang on as he bumped over the grass trying to keep from falling off the stuffed dogs back. All the colors of the field and the sky blurred together as they sped toward Marina.
The next few minutes for Mook were filled with chaos, the war cries of more pirates rushing from the surrounding forest and the toys streaming out of the fort brandishing small spears and arrows. He threw darts and shot the Gloop gun at everything that moved. Marina yelled something at him as black shapes flapped like broken umbrellas all around. It was a huge swarm of crows that started attacking the pirates. Through the screams and caws and squeaks came the sound of a high calm voice singing. It was innocent and sweet like the song of a schoolgirl yet terrifying at the same time. Mook found he could move but only slowly like in a horrible dream. Everything else seemed to have stopped in time. Through the motionless warriors and toys around him he could see the Princess Isabella dancing a slow sad, dance through the frozen figures. She was dressed in a flared white tunic over billowing white pants that narrowed down to the ankles. The clown girls pale, white hands waved back and forth slowly over her head. She wore a pointed white cap with a black pompom on the front and tiny black slippers. Her face was painted in a thick mask of white and black with blood red circles on her cheeks. As she passed in her unhurried dance each of the pirates fell to sleep, lost in the land of dark dreams. The warriors collapsed one by one, with eyes closed, twitching and shaking in the grass.
A black shadow appeared by him and with difficulty Mook recognized through a dim haze the face of Benek. He half carried the barely conscious Marina with him.
"Hurry," he told Mook. "We must flee or be swept away." His voice sounded strange and far away, like the echo of an old memory. Mook took Marinas other arm and they started heading toward the Meeting Hall. After what seemed like hours they reached the steps of the Hall. Mook could still hear the eerie sound of Isabellas high voice through the tremendous pounding of his own heartbeat.
As soon as they reached the steps it was if they had passed through a wall of slow water. Everything rushed clear and time ceased to stand still. Marina moaned as they lay her down inside the Hall.
"What happened?" Mook asked. The inside of the Hall was quiet and still. Benek looked out the doorway.
"The clown girl is doing the dance of the Harlequin Moon. It gives dreams to humans, dark and horrible. It can cause madness, or so Ive heard. I saw her father perform it once during the War of Chaos. An entire army was sucked into a dreamplace so hideous that many never recovered." Mook made himself walk to the doorway and look out to the battlefield. Isabella still danced slowly through a field of warriors frozen like statues in a graveyard. Large crows walked back and forth pecking at the shiny buckles on the sea pirates armor. Mook recognized an enormous bird; tall as a man, as Rauzstark the Crow King perched off to one side watching the dance with apparent amusement.
"You dont look old enough to remember the War of Chaos." Mook replied returning to the still form of Marina.
"Appearances can be a trick you know." Benek smiled showing the tip of a sharp fang. "Im older than I look. But that is neither here nor there. I have a package for you. Youve more than fulfilled your promise." From underneath his cloak he pulled a small pack. As he loosened the cords, out popped Chimka looking a little mashed but none the worse for wear. Chimka sprang to Mooks shoulder, then hopped down to run a red furry paw over Marinas forehead. Seeing the monkeys worried expression Benek said,
"Shell wake up in a while. She was struggling so hard that I hit her over the head. I didnt want to her to hear Isabellas song and descend into lunacy." Chimka walked over and kicked Benek angrily in the leg then returned to Marinas side. He chattered something to Mook who just nodded in reply.
The toys started trickling back into the Hall one by one. Several large toy soldiers carried in limp body of Orangee while Freddy carried in the dogs leg and a tail that had been pulled off in the fighting. Mook pulled a needle and spool of thread out of his pocket and started sewing the big stuffed dog back together. Benek bandaged up the arrow wound in Marinas arm while Chimka looking on disapprovingly.
Mook finished mending Orangee and set him down on the floor. After a minute the big stuffed dog twitched his nose, then his tail and sat up. He scratched his neck with his back leg lazily and sat back looking pleased with himself. He looked at Mook and growled in his gravelly voice,
"I told you I could carry you."
Mook went outside to find Isabella with Orangee trotting close at his heels. Groups of crows were picking up the unconscious pirates and taking them back to their ships. When the last one was delivered the pirates pulled up anchor and sailed away under full sail. Isabella sat on the steps staring out to sea. Her hands were folded neatly in her lap and her back was very straight.
Mook approached her gently. "Can I get you a cup of tea or anything?"
"No." she whispered. Orangee put his shaggy head in her lap and looked up at her.
"Thank you for saving us, miss." Mook told her. Isabella didnt reply but only pressed her red lips together and nodded.
"I mean, what you did, it saved our lives. I know that it must have been hard for you but "
"It was nothing. You dont have to be with me, Mookael. You may go now. I know how horrid I must look to you."
"You, miss?" Mook sat down next to her. "Why would I ever think that?"
"Because Im a clown and I know how much you hate clowns." her words gushed out. " I thought that it wouldnt matter but it does. I am a clown; the daughter of Pierrot Lunaire and that will never change. You must find me hideous."
"No, Miss Isabella, not in a lifetime would I ever think that of you. Youre good and sweet and strong. You are very beautiful, inside as well as out. Its just that "
"What?" Her tears made the black paint around her eyes run and send stripes of dark ink down her cheeks. Mook leaned over and took her hand. It was ice cold. He hesitated for a moment then told her,
"My heart is elsewhere. There is someone else that I have been fond of for a long time. Im sorry."
"Oh." Isabella thought about this for a while then asked him. "Is it Marina?" Mooks eyes grew wide at this suggestion.
"The Princess? And me? Oh no." Mook laughed, shaking his head at the thought. "Theres a girl in Catsport, and she and I and well..." He took out his handkerchief and carefully wiped away some of the smudged paint around her eyes. When he was done she looked very ghostly.
"Oh." Isabella said, finally. "I wish you both much joy together."
She shielded her eyes with her hand and said, "Look! Another ship is coming in." She pointed out to sea. "There, on the horizon." Mook pulled a pad of paper out of his pocket and quickly sketched a toy telescope.
"Its flying the banner of the House of Arkus. Its the Queens warship."
Chapter Five - Flyday afternoon
"Nothing so far." Clio said into the Floweraphone that she made out of two sunflower blossoms connected by a long string. She was on one of the balcony of the Brownie castle. The string stretched across the garden to Patrin who was standing in the balcony of the Badger House.
"Only a little bit longer." Patrin replied. "The Badgers should be arriving any minute." Theyd been watching the houses all night for signs of mischief. They were sure that Hosmerk would try to cause trouble before the delegations arrived. Clio thought that she might have heard things a few times during the night but when she checked all the rooms in the morning everything seemed to be untouched.
"I think I see something!" Patrins voice buzzed out of the Floweraphone. A low bark covered wagon wound its way up the path. Six young badgers pulled the wagon, their sleek brown fur gleaming in the afternoon sun. They wore green vests emblazoned with the striped crest of King Yosem Dach, ruler of the Badgers. In the wagon sat the portly monarch next to his equally plump wife, Queen Eka. She was fanning herself with a large gingko leaf. Behind the wagon covered in dust and looking weary trudged four more badgers, the Kings Counselor and three ladies-in-waiting. Clio spoke into the Floweraphone.
"I guess we did it! Here they are and nothings gone wrong. Wait, I think I spoke too soon. Why are they coming up here?" The Badger caravan wound its way toward the Brownie Castle. Clio dropped the Floweraphone and dashed down three flights of stairs. By the time she got down to the entrance hall the Badgers were walking in the door.
"Hi, Im Clio Halina." she gasped, out of breath.
"His Supreme Majesty King Yosem Dach and her Royal Majesty Queen Eka Thistledown of Bageria." the Counselor said. He waved his paw toward two pudgy gray badgers.
"Uh, welcome to, um the Royal City of Saint Ives." Clio said. Before she could say anything else Queen Eka said,
"This is bee-you-ti-ful. Really nice." The Badger Queen ran a sharp four-inch claw softly over the lavender velvet runner covering a graceful side table. "Ladies, we are in for a treat here. We are not used to such lux-oo-rious accommodations."
"Uh, glad you like them." Clio replied. "The dollmaking class made the furniture and Patrin did the house. But "
"Lover-lee" said one of the dusty ladies-in-waiting. "I cant wait to see baths and the balconies looked dee-vine!"
"Real fancy." The badger King grunted. "I like it! Nothing is too good for my little buttercup." He smiled fondly at his wife. "Thank you, Halina."
"You can call me Clio, all my friends do."
"Okay then!" he patted Clio heartily on the back. "Friend Clio, thank you for providing us with such a comfortable place to stay." Queen Eka had already started climbing the swirling staircase.
"Oh look! Tulipia, Frittlewig!" She called to her ladies-in-waiting. "Hydrangeas are my favorite! How did you know? And look, gold doorknobs and everything!" The badger ladies toddled giggling up the stairs as Patrin came through the front door.
"Your Majesty, I can explain .." His face was flushed and his hair stuck up in several cowlicks.
"No need. Well figure everything out. The missus is happy so Im happy." The Badger King dusted off his ample gray belly. "Come on Melas, lets go check out the kitchen." He shook Clios hand warmly and before Patrin could say a word lumbered off down the hall.
"What are we going to do?" Patrin asked Clio. They were sitting on the marble steps of the Brownie Castle. "When the Brownies get here and see their house being inhabited by Badgers theyll be less than amused. Brownies, at least the ones from the northern regions, arent known for their great sense of humor." Patrin ran his fingers through his hair trying to get it back in place but without much success.
"Can your parents talk to them?" Clio asked.
"Theyre down in Machina on the Marsh for the Saint Tortuga Day races. The races are really fun, driving as fast as you can through a huge obstacle course. Well have to compete in them next year," Patrin brightened for a moment at the thought of a good race before slumping forward and saying, "that is if we survive that long."
"What about Mrs. Hogar? Or the Queen?" Clio stared over at the great Royal Castle as if she could conjure up help just by wishing.
"No, Puck said that they left to go look for Marina and Mook. It seems that everybody has problems by the bucketful this morning."
"I hope that everybodys alright." Clio stood up. "I guess well have to do the explaining ourselves. Here they come!"
The Brownie delegation could be seen winding down the gravel path through the forest trees. They abruptly turned and walked quickly and confidently towards the Badger Mansion. If they looked surprised by the giant log structure they did not show it as they waited patiently for Clio and Patrin to join them.
The brownies looked almost identical in their drab gray brown clothing and blunt cut dark hair. They wore close fitting tunics and narrow legged pants. The tallest one only came up to Clios elbows. The brownies were all very slender and wore grave serious expressions on their sharp faces. She had always thought that Brownies were supposed to be mischievous jumpy little creatures always smiling and giggling. These little people looked as if their faces would crack if they attempted a smile.
"King Alok, good to see you again." Patrin extended his hand to one of the Brownies. "Queen Zahira, you are looking well. I trust you had a pleasant journey?"
"Yes thank you." The Brownie Queens voice was low and measured. "You remember our children, Prince Dulal and Princess Sarla."
"Of course! Welcome to Saint Ives." Patrin shook the hands of two bored looking teenage brownies. Sarla and Dulals faces were expressionless as they greeted Patrin.
"And our advisors." King Alok presented three identical looking older Brownies.
"Yes! Lord Hetal, Lord Gunin, Lady Tarlika it is a pleasure to have you here." The advisors all bowed slightly. Clio thought that their lips were pressed so tightly together at the word "pleasure" that they were going to snap off. She could only imagine their response when they saw the inside of the Badger Mansion.
"Allow me to introduce my good friend Miss Clio Halina, Toymaker from the Greylands." Patrin said, introducing her all around. She wasnt sure how Patrin could tell everyone apart; they looked so much alike. She thought noticed a flicker of interest on the faces of the two younger brownies when they found out she was from the Greylands. But it faded away to boredom again as Patrin conversed with their parents about various details of the conference.
"Well, shall we get you settled in?" Patrin made a grand sweep of his hand toward the front door. "Its cool inside and Im sure you will want rest a bit before tomorrow."
The brownies followed Patrin and Clio through the great oak doors. Clio held her breath as King Alok finally spoke.
"I must say, this is ," he said staring at the rustic bark covered railings on the grand staircase and the rope swing elevator. "different." The only sound was the gentle splashing of the water slide to the dining hall.
"Look at this rug." Queen Zahira pointed to lush green carpet under their feet. "Are these pinecones?"
"Uh, yeah, I mean yes, yes maam" Clio answered.
"Ah." The Queen replied. "And this lamp, who made it?" She pointed to one of the rustic oak lanterns that Wilber had made. The butter colored glass cast a warm glow over the pine table and gray green linen tablecloth.
"My Friend Wilber did. Hes a dragon." Clio told her.
"It has an acorn." The Queen told everyone pointing to a tiny bronze acorn on the end of the pull chain. Clio couldnt tell if she thought that this was a good thing or not. There was another long silence; so long that Clio started thinking about how long it would take her to pack all her stuff when she was banished back to the Greylands. She was jolted out of her thoughts by a loud whoop as Prince Dulal swung up to the second floor in rope swing elevator. The brownies looked at each other in amazement and started talking all at once in a strange high-pitched language. They stopped when the young prince peeked over the edge.
"That was different." he said after a moment. The counselors wrung their hands in unison and looked perplexed.
"Mummy, I want to try it." Princess Sarla tugged on her mothers sleeve. "Miss Clio, show me how this chair works " after a pause she added, "please."
"Sure, no problem." Clio pulled on the lever that lowered the elevator. "Youll need to adjust this for your weight." They sat down and Clio turned a wood knob. "Hold on tight and away we go!" The two girls swung up and over the balcony. Soon Patrin and Clio were taking the Brownies all over the house showing them how the slides and swings worked. The counselors sat stoically as they spun around on the chairs at the long dining table. The Queen seemed especially interested in the chutes that delivered the food for teatime.
As Clio and Patrin left the Brownies Sarla and Dulal were racing from tree to tree in airplane swings carved from logs. The teenagers chattered back and forth as they swung around the branches and back again. Clio thought they could possibly be smiling or perhaps the happy expressions on their faces was from the centrifugal force caused by the airplanes looping and arching around the trees.
"Well," Patrin said as soon as they were out of earshot. "That went better than we had expected."
"Yeah," Clio replied. "Whod have thought that would happen? I mean what are the chances of them both going to the wrong place? I mean didnt they read the signs we put up?"
"I wonder " Patrin jogged down the path to where they had put up the signposts the day before. Someone had switched the arrows giving directions to the Brownie Castle and Badger Lodge.
"Man!" Clio wrinkled her nose up in disgust. "We stay up practically all night to keep Hosmer from wrecking our work and here he goes and does something as simple as swapping the sign posts. That guy is, like the worst!"
"How can you be sure it was Hosmer?" Patrin asked.
"Because of the " she was interrupted by a large black crow blocking her path. The bird had a white envelope with a thick gold seal on it. The crow spit the letter out at Patrins feet and cawed,
"Pay, no stay, swifty gifty, give me the gold, old, foretold. Deliver the letter as they said, spat the paper on yer head! Peal the seal! Shiney miney!" The crow pecked at the letter with his beak.
"Here, give me that." Patrin snatched the letter from the bird and began reading. He removed the gold piece of sealing wax and tossed it to the crow. With a satisfied squawk the large bird snapped up the shiny circle and flew away.
"Whats it say?" Clio asked, seeing Patrins worried expression.
"It says that were to lock up Mooks workshop. Hes being made to appear before the Counsel of Justice for kidnapping my sister!"
Chapter Five - Flyday evening
"Spark," Kit asked, looking down from the library window. "Do you think theyll be done soon?" Across the field she could see Skye helping the rabbits put together a new door for the barn. He looked like a scarecrow standing in the field; his work clothes flapping around him in the winter wind as the rabbits ran from board to board hammering nails. The sun was just beginning to set and long shadows stretched over the cold, gray earth.
Spark put her front paws up on the window seat where Kit was sitting and peered out through the thick glass. The griffin nodded after a moment and went back to feeding Little Berry a drink of water with an eyedropper. The tiny bunny was nestled comfortably in the soft pink mitten that Clio had made for Kit. The night before Skye had rescued several young rabbits from inside the burning barn. A lantern had been knocked over during a game of tag and set fire to a pile of hay. Fortunately Skye was able to extinguish the blaze before it burned out of control. The only injuries were a few burnt whiskers and Little Berrys singed tail.
Kit stared out the window again and waved back to Skye. She had banished her husband to the outdoors after a morning of being coddled and doted upon. Amidst assurances that she was fine and that Spark would watch over her Skye reluctantly left to help the rabbits repair the damage from the fire. Kit read for a while but as the afternoon turned to frosty twilight she found herself growing impatient and strangely disquiet. She couldnt quite put her finger on what was bothering her.
"Spark," she asked, "did you help me to bed last night? I cant really remember much that happened after the fire started. I think I passed out." Spark nodded yes and tucked the sleeping bunny and mitten into a small bed on the table.
"The Tall One " the fierce griffin rasped in a low growl that sounded like a ships hull scraping against rocks. "worries about the Woman of the House." Spark rarely spoke in common speech and Kit listened carefully as the Griffin continued,
"No play, all work. Humph!" she sniffed and her glowing green eyes narrowed to slits. "no good. And you worry, worry what humans think. No good, no good at all."
"I know," Kit replied. " Everythings out of balance. And you are right, I do worry. I dont want people thinking ill of Skye for marrying a Greylander."
"You afraid to be weak?"
"I guess, yes, silly isnt it?" Kit carefully placed her bookmark in the book she was reading and set it beside her on the window seat. "Last night I wanted to help him and I froze. It frightened me and I got colder and colder until I couldnt think of anything else."
"See! Worry!" Spark poked at Kit with a sharp talon and then turned to rummage through a desk drawer. She pulled out a shiny red ball and tossed it to Kit with her beak.
"Not now, Spark. I dont feel like it." Kit let the ball fall to her lap. Spark gave out a warning snarl and Kit got the impression that it didnt matter what she felt like. Kit gently tossed the ball back. Spark immediately hurled it back hard and it hit Kits palm with a smack. Kit returned it with a little more vigor and before long they were running back and forth passing the ball across the library. Kit laughed and threw the ball as hard as she could. To her horror Spark missed the catch and the ball went straight through the window. There was the sound of breaking glass and a familiar voice said "Ow!" Kit peeked through the broken pane to see her husband rubbing the back of his head and holding the red ball. He smiled as he cradled the ball in both hands. He raised it to his lips and then pitched it back up to her.
"Im so sorry!" she said catching the ball.
"Not at all." he called up, "Its good to see you and Spark getting some exercise. Were almost finished here. Ill be up soon." He gave her a wave and went back to fixing large bunches of balloons to the new barn door to lift it into place.
Spark had already produced a new pane of glass and swept the broken shards into a dustpan. Kit held up the red ball. She was surprised to feel it glow warm in her hands then split open like an orange peel. A little cloud of hearts fluttered out and filled the room with the sound of tiny chimes. The little hearts popped like bubbles as the ball closed back up. Kit couldnt help but smile. Spark rolled her eyes at such a sentimental gesture and continued to fit the new pane of glass into the window frame.
Kit was still holding the ball in her lap as Skye put the finishing touches on the Puppet Theater. It seemed to be easier for him to create this one, fixing all the pieces in less than an hour. Kit watched him working out of the corner of her eye as he adjusted cogs and gears. The stage had changed back to a plain dark wood frame like she had seen the first night.
"Ive been concerned that this story of my life is altogether too gloomy." Skye told her not looking up from his work. "But its hard to show the beautiful things that I have seen without including some of the things that werent so pleasant. What if I made another kind of story, something lighter? The Miracles of Saint Lapin is one of my favorite stories. How about the Adventures of Violin Cat and the Summer Moon? I won the Royal Toymaker competition with that one. If that doesnt interest you then the story of Mooks father and the Bear King might. Its very funny." He looked at her hopefully but Kit shook her head.
"I dont know why but hearing about your life is helping me understand some of the things that have happened in the last few months. Im starting to put together a picture of why you are the way you are. I want to know these things. What happened to Hosmer? How did you become the Royal Toymaker? When did Patrin become your apprentice? How did Mook become the Gamemaster? Im curious."
"Curiosity is a good sign. It means youre healing. Well, if youre sure "
"Im sure of you." Kit replied and snuggled down into the couch. She still didnt know what to expect but the prospect of having so many of her questions answered about Skyes past filled her with anticipation.
Skye leaned over the top of the stage and reached down to adjust some of the delicate wires that moved the scenery. He was stretching forward, almost doubled over, when he lost his balance and tumbled forward headfirst onto the stage. There was loud thump and then silence. Kit sprang up from the couch and pushed aside the curtain. A tiny figure of her husband lay crumbled on the stage. She went to touch the lifeless form when suddenly the miniature version of Skye sat up and said,
" I just want to remind you that this is only a play. Its not real."
"Nothing happened." the little figure said. "Now, if you could be so kind as to sit down I will present the tale of how Sir Wolfren Skye became the Royal Toymaker."
Kit turned to sit back on the couch and was astonished to see Skye sitting there quietly. His face wore his usually serious expression but his eyes shown and Kit realized that he was teasing her. She grabbed a pillow and punched him with it.
"You! I was worried! I thought that youd fallen and somehow become lost in the story."
"No, thats your job." Skye laughed. He didnt smile very often but when he did it was like sun shining through rain clouds. Kit felt her heart melt and she curled up next to him as the curtain began to rise.
The play started with a parade. Row after row of Toymakers wound their way through the streets of the Royal City. They wore brightly colored suits and brimmed hats. Their stuffed animal Friends accompanied them as they passed by crowds of spectators. Kit recognized some of the Toymakers, younger versions of Quirin Rook from Chessingshire and Asenka Moss from Arrowsford on the Moor. Sarka the Puzzlemaker was there with her cheetah Quizzel. At the front of the stage a small version of Spark paced back and forth impatiently. Over the sound of drummers, pipers and people cheering buzzed the sound of a motor. Spark stopped pacing and looked up expectantly. An odd looking flying machine in the shape of a fish skidded across the stage and came to a stop. After a hydraulic hiss the side door opened and the young version of Skye poked his head out, still looking sunburned and mosquito bitten. The puppet of Mrs. Hogar ran up and said,
"Youve barely enough time to make it to the opening ceremonies, Sir." She handed him a white widebrimmed hat. "Im sorry you werent given more notice but weve had a hard time locating you in the Greylands. Hosmer disappeared two months ago after the Council of Justice started investigating his activities. Now the Queen has commanded that each and every Toymaker and Apprentice in the kingdom enter the Choosing. She is adamant that every town be represented."
"The Choosing of a Royal Toymaker is quite a sight to behold." the young Skye stepped forward on the stage and addressed Kit. "The proceedings can take weeks or even months to select the right person. The candidates must demonstrate proficiency in every aspect of Toymaking. From archery to chess, puzzle solving to "
"You dont have much time, sir" Mrs. Hogar interrupted the young Skye and started pushing him across the stage. " Ill take over the narration. Youll lose points if youre late. Now go!" Skye put the white Toymakers hat on his shaved head and ran off toward the Exhibition Hall. After making sure that he was on his way the little figure of Mrs. Hogar turned and said,
"Id missed the last Choosing, the first time in hundreds of years. While inspecting a sugar mine in the Azure Mountains Id been involved in a mysterious cave-in. When I finally freed myself Hosmer had already been selected to be the Royal Toymaker. The Queen made it very clear that the next Choosing should be free of any foul play. The Judges were very sensitive to this and were everywhere, watching, taking notes and conferring every night until well after the moon had set." Hogar waited for a moment and then pulled a pad of paper out of her pocket. She checked it and called out,
"Excuse me, Sir. Isnt there supposed to be a scene change here?"
"Oh! Sorry!" The figure of Young Skye appeared from the side wings. " I had to finish the entrance exam." The young man pushed on the building behind him and it folded like paper. He pulled on a rope on the side of the stage and a screen pulled up to reveal a huge room filled with hundreds of Toymakers. Each was setting up tables covered with boxes of supplies. Spectators and Judges crowded around the booths as the Toymakers organized the areas that would be their home for the next few weeks.
"Skye! Do you have any extra pads of paper?" Keddy the Apprentice from Beargarden ran up. "And Durell Hooplighter wants to know if its okay to bring in his elephant. Oh and Stiggur asked if you could help him with his yo-yo routine. Hes great at cooking but his yo-yo skills are a mess."
"Yes to the first question and yes to Durell if he asks the Judges for extra room and yes, Id be glad to, but let me get organized first. Ill be helping people with yo-yos after dinner from seven to seven thirty. Sarkas already asked me about the cookie-baking contest. Tell Stiggur to get together with her. She can help him study for the puzzle quiz in exchange for icing practice. And you and Master Grizzlefur will most likely need help with your car for the big race on Flyday." He handed Keddy some of pads of paper. Soon Skye was surrounded by dozens of Toymakers and Apprentices asking for help. At one point he disappeared down into the crowd and reappeared with a tiny stuffed hamster clinging to the top of his hat. The terrified creature hung on for dear life as Skye passed out schedules, answered questions and organized study groups. Later as Skye set up the tables for his work area the pudgy hamster was still hanging on watching the events below.
Skye set up a hanging banner on a pole with a griffin rampant in gray on a white background. He then finished constructing a large white tent to live in until the Choosing was over. Spark smoothed a tablecloth across the front of the booth that read "The Greylands" in large silver letters with "Sir Wolfren Skye" embroidered underneath. After Skye was satisfied that everything was in order he went back into the tent to prepare for the next day. The vast Exhibition Hall was a city of tents with banners of every imaginable shape and size. A bell rang and the main lights went out for the night. Lamps flickered on all across the room as Toymakers labored late into the night preparing for the next days challenges.
Mrs. Hogar came to the front of the stage and said, "The Choosing is meant to push Toymakers to the limits of their abilities. No one person can be good at everything so the Judges watch more to see how the contestants deal with failure and weakness. I watched my young friend with special interest." She glanced over as the light in Skyes tent go out. Spark curled up at the doorway and slept with one eye half-open.
"My hope had been that Skye would have succeeded Sterris Tinnin after his passing. Now after the last two years I wasnt sure. He seemed distracted or uncertain. I couldnt tell which. Instead of spending his free time studying or preparing for the next test he helped other Toymakers with their projects. This was not unheard of but at the end of the first week not a single Toymaker had been eliminated from the competition. This was most unusual. The Judges asked me to keep my eyes open for any signs of wrongdoing but everyone seemed to be on task except Sir Skye. He performed every task with his usual precision but the minimum of effort or imagination. By the end of the second week the only definite thing I could report was that Skye had lost the block-stacking contest to Master Otek Wintar of Blocksbury. The blocks had numbered over three hundred in a single tower, which while not a record was a respectable number for a stacking competition. But Id seen Sir Skye make towers with several times that many in the Royal Nursery to amuse his niece and nephews. I reported this to the Judges under the suspicion that Sir Skye might be being blackmailed in one way or another."
The scene changed to the Council Chamber filled with a dozen men, women and children in black robes. Mrs. Hogar came in with Skye.
"We are not accusing you of anything." One of the Judges asked. "So far in the Choosing you have done well in every test we have given. We have a few questions and were wondering if you could help us by answering them?"
"If I can." Skye replied.
"Could you demonstrate the yo-yo routine that you performed for the test?" Skye nodded and pulled a silver yo-yo from his pocket. He deftly performed a few tricks and then snapped the yo-yo back up into his hand. The judges nodded and made notes when one of the children asked,
"Could you show us the routine that Master Revo from Yoyoton preformed." Skye thought for a moment and proceeded to do an elaborate series of tricks. The shiny yo-yo spun and glimmered as it hopped and bounced in the air. Skyes hands crossed and pulled as he wove the string in to an intricate spider web design with his fingers, all the time keeping the spinning toy in motion. The yo-yo shot up and wound around then returned to his palm with a smack.
"Ah!" The judges whispered some more before asking,
"What we specifically want to know is the reason why you didnt win the block stacking contest against Otek Wintar? Commander Hogar informs us that you are capable of much greater efforts."
"I didnt think that I had to win to pass the test." said young Skye. He removed his hat and clutched it in his hands.
"Didnt you want to win?" Another child asked.
"Honestly? Not really." Skye told the judges. This answer was followed by a hushed wave of murmurs through the Council Chamber.
"Well " Skye looked down at his hat and smoothed the brim. "Otek Wintar is over seventy years old. Hell retire in a few years and hes never lost a block stacking competition. It didnt seem right to beat him at the one thing that he is best at. Im sorry if I caused any problems." The judges discussed this bit of information amongst themselves for a few minutes and then told him,
"Your explanation is satisfactory, although we must say its rather extraordinary. We do encourage you to take the competition more seriously. The Queen has asked that not only that everyone apply for the position of Royal Toymaker but also that the Choosing go as smoothly as possible this time. We appreciate all the help that you have given to the other Toymakers however, as they will all be looking to you for guidance and leadership we ask that you do your best and highest work."
"Yes. Thank you." Skye said.
The judges bowed and left. The stage went dark leaving Mrs. Hogar and Skye standing in a pool of light.
"You seem to have a certain lack of focus, if I may say so, sir." Mrs. Hogar told the young man.
"Mrs. Hogar, I dont know what to do." Skye started slowly, rubbing the stubble on the back of his head. "I mean it doesnt really seem fair for me to even be here."
"Why do you say that, Skyosh?" Mrs. Hogar called him by his childhood nickname, a diminutive reserved for family members.
"Because, because " he struggled to get the words out. "because Im different."
"Because my sister in her "fair" ways gifted you when you were a child, is that what you mean?"
"Yes and also because I want to go back to the Greylands. I " he bit his lip and looked at Mrs. Hogar. "I met a girl, a woman. Shes all I ever think about. I want to go back and be with her. Have you ever felt like that, Doma?" he asked lapsing into Fairie speech.
"Aye, a long time ago. It took my life on a twisted road when I met him, but Ive no regrets. But youngling, you need to put your thoughts of this girl aside. The country suffered greatly under Hosmer, more than most know. The Queen and her loyal followers have been working hard to keep us from collapsing into war again. We need a strong Royal Toymaker to help defend our people, our children from the chaos that is trying to return."
"But why me? I just barely made Toymaker a few months ago. Hosmer said "
"Never mind what Hosmer said." The little elf womans voice was harsh and gentle at the same time. " Hosmer was full of lies. You were his biggest fear. He fed you a daily bowl of poison words so that you wouldnt have the strength to expose him for the evil thing he was. The Queen needs you to use all your powers to help repair the damage that hes caused. You know, Skyosh, I had this same conversation with your mother over thirty years ago. She didnt want to be the Royal Toymaker either, but then neither does anyone who deserves to be."
"Toymakers truth?" Skye asked. " I thought that she never wanted to be anything else."
"Fairie truth, for what its worth." replied Hogar. "Please promise me youll try and do the right thing." Skye nodded as Mrs. Hogar continued, "And I promise you will be with this girl of yours, if the World Maker wills." She raised her hands over head as if she were pushing a heavy weight and changing the very future of their lives. "Remember, my sister is not the only member of the family that can give Fairie gifts." With those words the stage vanished.
"What happened?" Kit asked.
"I became the Royal Toymaker and saved the kingdom and eventually became your husband."
"Shhhh." Skye put his finger to her lips. "Its past midnight. Ill tell you the rest of the story tomorrow night."