Chapter Six Sabbotday morning
"Let me explain to you one more time exactly why you should open this door." Mook could hear Marinas voice, smoldering with fury outside the storeroom where he was locked up. "I am the Princess Marina and sometime in the next fifty years there is a very good possibility that I will be the Queen. Your name is Lieutenant Cooper. Now how long do you think that I can remember that name for? Ten minutes? A year? Well Im telling you that if you do not open this door and let me take this tray in that I will remember the name "Cooper" until the day I die and beyond." There was a pause and a deep voice said,
"Have a heart, your Highness. Commander Hogar said that no one was to go in or out of this room until she gets back. Shell have my skin if anything happens to the prisoner"
"Well Im not going to poison him and I give you my word that he wont escape, so open the door, this tray is heavy."
"Word of honor, miss?" The soldier sounded like he was crumbling.
"You have my word." There was the sound of keys and the door swung open. Mook squinted in the sudden light. He was lying bound on the floor palm to palm by an ancient pair of ornate shackles especially designed to keep Toymakers from using their hands. Marina set a lamp and the tray on the floor and helped him sit up.
"And a good Sabbotday morning to you, miss. I hope you slept well." Mook tried to manage a smile. His shoulders ached and he could barely feel his fingers.
"Better than you, at least. I dont know why Grandmother wont believe me. Ive argued with her until she threatened to have me sent out to the ship. She cant though because I still have to give the speech for the Crow King before we can leave." She held a cup of tea to his lips and let him take a sip. The warm bitterness of it tasted wonderful.
"Why didnt you give the speech yesterday?" Mook asked.
"Right after they arrested you Master Benek and Mrs. Hogar got into a horrible fight. I think they were speaking Fairie. Their words scorched the ground black beneath their feet. Ive never seen Mrs. Hogar so angry. And Ive definitely never heard anyone speak to her the way Benek did. I thought that they were going to come to blows before they stopped arguing. Benek made the strangest cackling noise and King Rauzstark flew down with dozens of crows. They picked Benek and Mrs. Hogar up and carried them away. So now we are waiting for them to return. And one more thing, Im not sure but I think that my Grandmother knows Benek. She turned white as milk when she saw him."
She fed Mook a forkful of egg and said, "Im sorry that youre being treated so awfully."
"Well, miss, Im being fed a fine breakfast by a beautiful princess. Im in a warm room. No one is shooting at me. I think today is turning out to be rather pleasant all things considered." He shifted his weight and a cramp wrenched through his bound arms. His face drained pale for a moment as he pressed his lips together. Marina put the fork down and touched his hands. He felt the red flash of healing and the pain faded away.
"I wish I could do more." Marina said. "I told my Grandmother and Mrs. Hogar over and over that this was all my fault. Isabella tried to explain too. They seem positive that you're somehow responsible and were just trying to protect you."
"Dont worry miss, it will all come out right. I have faith in the Council of Justice. Theyve been fair with me on numerous occasions before."
"I just wish I could get these cuff things off you." She started pulling at the latch when Mook shook his head.
"Dont trouble yourself, miss. They're rather uncomfortable but remember that I am her Majestys Game Master and was apprenticed to Sarka the Puzzlemaker. I could pick these locks in two skips of a rope if I put my mind to it." he told her with good humor. "Please dont tell anyone, it would only frighten her guards and be unpleasant for everyone. At least they are helping me keep the faith for the first time in a turtle's age."
Toymakers were supposed to rest on Sabbotday but Mook was well known for neglecting to do so. He had even been caught drawing small toys on hymnal pages and slipping them to children during Mass.
Marina finished feeding him in silence, then gathered up the empty dishes.
"Forgive me for not seeing you to the door." Mook told her as she stood up.
"I promise that Ill make this up to you, someday."
"Perhaps you and Fletcher can name one of your children after me." Mook leaned back against the wall and smiled at her. "Prince Arkus Fletcher Mookael has a nice ring to it, dont you think?"
"How can you even say such a thing! Robin Fletcher is the last thing that you should be concerned about right now!" Marina snapped, looking like she would spit fire if she could.
"Im sorry, miss. Its my troublesome cat tongue, I promise to " he broke off his words because she had already left.
It was a miserable, cold midmorning as Marina stood on a tree stump waiting to give her speech. Her black velvet walking suit clung heavily to her in the drizzle. The field in front of her was dark as well with the hundreds of crows that had returned with King Rauzstark. Next to the giant crow Benek stood, once again wearing his ebony bird mask and feathered cape. Mrs. Hogar rifled through a packet of letters in her hand, looking up occasionally to glare at Benek. Isabella waited with them, hiding all emotion behind a serious face and a thick layer of white makeup. She stood so still that she looked like a mannequin. Queen Iren looked properly regal flanked by two of her flying guard lions and a regiment of soldiers. A smaller group of uneasy soldiers surrounded Mook who stood barefoot beside Marina waiting to translate. Since prisoners are not allowed to wear shoes he rubbed one foot on top of the other trying to keep warm. Orangee and Chimka, looking forlorn, were lined up with the lost toys on the stairs leading up to the Meeting Hall.
"Greetings, your Majesty and loyal friends of the air." Marina began. "I thank you from the depths of my heart for coming to our aid in an hour of great need." As she continued addressing the flock of crows one by one the toys slipped off the stairs and wound their way down to where Mookael was standing. Starting with Orangee they wrapped themselves around Mooks feet in an attempt to keep him warm. At first the guards tried to shoo them away but as soon as they removed one stuffed animal another took its place. As Marina continued speaking she noticed Mrs. Hogar working her way back to the Queen and surreptitiously handing her one of the letters.
"And so in the bright hope that we will continue to live in peace and prosperity we fly side by side into the future." As Marina finished giving her speech the crows set up a tremendous cacophony of caws and whistles as they flapped about. As she stepped down from the tree stump she noticed the Queen gesturing to Mook and two soldiers walking toward him. They unlocked the shackles that held his hands and returned his boots. The soldiers surrounding all took an uneasy step back as if they expected him to explode but Mook just stretched and smiled cheerfully at his former captors.
The sea of crows parted as Queen Iren made her way toward the front where King Rauzstark was waiting for her. As she went to climb the stump to address the crows Benek offered his hand to help her up but she ignored it. Holding her skirts tight around her knees she hopped up and pulled herself aright.
"Would you like me to translate for you, your Majesty?" asked Mook; still rubbing his hands to get the blood flowing back into his fingers.
"That will not be necessary," the Queen replied. She raised her hands out to the vast flock of birds and began to squawk at them in perfect Raven. The crows let out raucous caws in response to her thanking them for saving her granddaughter and Princess Isabella. Mook was astonished at the words that she was using and even blushed a few times at the off color references that she made. The crows however loved it and each swooped by her as they took off in a giant black cloud.
"If you so much as tell one soul what I just said Ill have you locked up until youre older than my wedding ring." The Queen told Mook under her breath. Then she took his arm and commanded him to escort her into the Meeting Hall.
"I was not aware that you spoke the language of crows so well, your Majesty." Mook said.
"I was the Princess Fire Raven once myself when I was a girl, just like Marina. The oldest daughter of the Royal family always is, or didnt you know that?"
"No, Maam. I did not."
"I apologize for all the discomfort that you suffered last night. After I received Beneks letter that you and the princesses were here I jumped to conclusions. Then when I saw some of the letters that my foolish granddaughter had written I realized my mistake. One would think that I would know better at my age. Thank you, Sir Mookael."
"Not at all, maam." Mook replied.
"I wish to grant you a boon to repay you for taking care of Marina and Princess Isabella. If half of what they told me was true about your actions the kingdom owes you a great debt for your bravery and self-sacrifice."
"I dont know about that, maam. I would like to be able to stay and finish the town for the lost toys if at all possible."
"Granted. This is not the first time that you have done well in serving me. Anything else? Land perhaps? I could deed you an estate if you desire."
"For me, maam?" Mook thought about the offer and laughed. "For me, no. Im no farmer. Thank you though. There is one thing that I would ask of you." He whispered his request into the Queens ear. She was greatly amused by his words.
"Dont worry. I will show mercy for the wayward princesses. I was a young girl once myself, though you may not believe it, full of wild ideas and romantic notions."
"And Master Benek?"
" Oh, him." she replied. "I shall let Commander Hogar take care of that unpleasantness."
"He did bring King Rauzstark to help us when the sea pirates attacked. His heart is in the right place, please be kind to him, your Majesty." Mook asked. The Queen gave him an odd look and said,
"More than you know. Very well, it will be as you wish. But it would have been easier to give you a castle and land." She signaled to Mrs. Hogar to come over to where they were standing.
"Sir Mookael has requested that I be lenient with the princesses for their foolishness. He has also asked that we show kindness toward Master Benek for bringing King Rauzstark and his troops to their aid."
"But your Majesty," Mrs. Hogar could scarcely contain her anger. "If Benek had only gone through the proper channels none of this would have happened! He kidnapped two princesses, a Toymaker and a Friend. He deserves to be beheaded or at least banished."
"Mrs. Hogar," Mook interrupted. "Im sure if you were better acquainted with Master Benek youd find hes not such a bad sort."
"Better acquainted?" The little elf woman shook with rage. "I assure you, Catlander, that I know Master Hogar Benek very well. After all, the miserable creature is my son."
Chapter Six - Sabbotday afternoon
"Whoa!" Clio called to Wilber from the overstuffed chair in her living room. "Can you take this letter with you when you go? I'm sorta, almost done." She balanced a book with a sheet of writing paper on her knees and reread the letter she was writing to her parents.
"Dear Mom and Dad,
School is great. I am learning lots of stuff. I have met a lot of new people. I like all my teachers, they are cool." She chewed on the pencil for a minute before writing, "My favorite class is stuffed animals. I hope that you can come visit for the holidays. I miss you,
She folded the letter and put it into an envelope that Wilber handed to her. After sealing it with green melted wax the little dragon headed toward the door.
"Have fun playing checkers. Tell Puck hello. Don't forget it's the gray mailbox Mister Skye set up for me." Clio called after him. Wilber nodded and gave her a look that said that he already knew that, then waddled out into the cold. Clio shivered from the gust of icy wind that blew through the room and chilled her through her thick sweater to the skin. Even after the fire in the hearth had chased the cold away she still felt sad and forlorn.
"Jeez! Everybody is gone," she thought. "Mook's in trouble, Marina and Mrs. Hogar are gone. Mister and Mrs. Skye may never come back. Patrin's going to be busy with Brownie and Badgers for who knows how long ." She clutched her knees to her chest and tried to squeeze out the loneliness. "I wish that someone come visit me," she thought. The minutes on the dragon clock on the mantle ticked by. Clio had almost made up her mind to get out of the comfy chair and find something to do when a knock came at the door. Before she could get up it swung open and Hosmerk ducked inside.
"You have to help me!" he snapped at her. He didn't have a jacket on and looked half frozen. His hands were still blue with dye and his damp shirt had scorch marks on it.
"Right." Clio replied. "Like I'm going to help you. What happened? All the people that you've been nasty to finally buy a clue and stand up to you?"
"Um, no. I mean, I don't know what you're talking about." His eyes darted around the room as if he was being watched.
"Well then what?" Clio asked.
"That book of yours. You have to tell me how to erase it."
"Why should I? Do you have it?"
"No! Of course not!" Hosmer grabbed his pocket, which twitched wildly. "I mean, yes." He pulled the little white volume that Skye had given Clio out of his pocket and threw it at her. It was wet and had burn marks on it.
"You creep! Did you do this?" Clio asked looking at the mangled little book.
"No." Hosmerk said. The book twitched in Clio's hand. When she opened it up she saw the words "Hosmerk lied to Clio about trying to destroy me. "
"The book says you did." Clio pointed to the page. She flipped through a few more pages. "It says that you threw the book in the ocean and also tried to burn it.
"I did not!" The book fluttered again like a wounded bird and Hosmer said, "Okay, okay! Maybe I did a few of those things. But you have to help me erase all these pages. I'll get suspended if anybody see this!"
"So?" Clio wasn't weakening. "You shouldn't have stolen the book in the first place. Why should I help you?"
"Because " Hosmerk seemed at a loss for words. "I don't know, you just should. You're the Royal Toymaker's ward. He'll listen to you."
"Mister Skye might, but you still haven't explained to me why I should even be talking to you. You've been mean to so many people. Maybe if you gave Chive his drawings back that you stole from him then maybe I'll think about it." Hosmerk flushed red at her words.
"You little Newbie! How dare you talk like that to me! My father was the Royal Toymaker Hosmer the Innovator. If he was here you'd be back to the Greylands before the sun set."
"Well if he's so great then why don't you go have him talk to Mister Skye, that is if you're too wussy to do it yourself!" Clio snapped back at him. Hosmerk flushed even redder and said,
"Because if you knew anything you would know that my father was kidnapped by Wolfren Skye ten years ago."
"Oh, right. Like that would happen!" Clio replied.
'It's true. Everybody knows it. Everybody but you!"
"I dont have to prove anything to a little outsider know-nothing like you. Now get to erasing this book or else!"
"Or else what? I know," Clio glared at him, "It'll be bad! You gonna hit me or something? Go ahead, I'm not touching that book." Hosmerk grabbed Clio and shook her hard back and forth like a rag doll. He raised his hand to slap her when suddenly he stopped and turned to go.
"Fine, don't help me," Hosmerk said regaining his composure. "I'll just go over and visit your good friend, Prince Orion."
"What's this got to do with Patrin?" Clio asked rubbing the red spots on her arms where the older boy had grabbed her.
"I'm just going to pay him a little visit, a social call, about some drawings I found by your other friend, Chive Sheeple that is unless you help me." Hosmerk pointed to the book on the table with a smile. Clio wondered what she should do. With a small sigh she drew a small pink eraser on a piece of paper and scraped at the edge with her finger. The eraser peeled if the page and lay in her palm.
"I hope this works," Clio said as she started rubbing the words from the book.
Chapter Six - Sabbotday evening
It had been a very pleasant Sabbotday. Kit and Skye walked to Mass that morning through fern groves and over lichen-covered rocks. The little stone church where the rabbits and other forest animals gathered was tucked in a clearing. White rays of winter sun shown between ancient redwoods that stood watch outside. The floor inside the little building was covered with pine needles. They sat in the back of the chapel on a moss-covered bench huddled close together to stay warm. Kit couldn't understand what the vicar, a stout old badger, was saying as he murmured words of encouragement to the rows of squirrels, mice and rabbits that nodded and murmured softly along with him. She followed along in the little maple leaf booklets that served as hymnals and catechism. The room smelled of mud and wet fur but Kit always enjoyed going and left feeling peaceful. She knew that Skye also preferred the privacy of this little sanctuary to the majestic cathedral in Saint Ives, with it's soaring arches, great stained glass windows and thundering pipe organ.
They had taken their time walking back to Griffinsgate and Kit was glad for the exercise. She felt her strength coming back and her skin returned to its normal healthy glow. Skye seemed more relaxed than anytime since their honeymoon as they wandered along through the forest talking and enjoying each other's company.
After a simple lunch that Mrs. Wiggles had brought for them Kit took a nap, falling asleep to the sound of her husband off in the observation room playing the fiddle, picking his way, rather badly, through a new piece of music.
Before she knew it night had fallen and the sound of rain was pattering against the windowpanes.
"Sorry to wake you, love," Skye brushed his fingers along Kit's face. "I've set the Puppet Theater for seven and I know you won't want to miss the beginning."
"Is it that late already?" Kit sat up and looked at the clock.
"You were sleeping so soundly I didn't have the heart to disturb you." Skye told her. "But once the Puppet Theater starts I don't want to reset it, being the Sabbot you know."
"Not at all," Kit replied. "I've been so looking forward to this." She hopped out of bed, washed and hurried down to the great hall where the Puppet Theater was waiting for her. It was changed back to the original dark wood frame although the simple white curtain had been replaced with a new embroidered one. Rows of building blocks, teddy bears and toy soldiers were embroidered along the hem of the thick brocade in red, blue and gold. In front of the curtain a wind up alarm clock loudly ticked the minutes. As the minute hand reached the twelve the ticking stopped. Kit waited for the curtain to rise but nothing happened. Silence fell upon the room and she listened to see if Skye was coming downstairs but the big house was quiet.
Kit sat back into the couch and tried to sit still. Just when she thought that she couldn't stand waiting any more the soft sounds of a violin playing drifted out from behind the curtain. The grown up figure of Skye sauntered out playing the violin. He was dressed in an old sweater, work pants and garden clogs. Kit recognized the tune as the Royal Toymaker song that was played at all official functions. His violin bow rose and fell over the strings as the notes to the cheery song filled the air. The curtain rose to reveal a room full of children sitting on the floor spellbound watching a puppet show. The young version of Skye stood in the shadows observing the performance. The pockmarks on his face had begun to heal and his hair had just begun to grow back in. On the puppet stage a tiny blue cat played the violin and danced on the roof of a miniature house. As the performance came to the end the children all clapped and cheered as a row of judges made notes in little notebooks. The scene faded away leaving only the young Skye clutching his hat.
"The first part of the Choosing was easy. It was based on skill and since I'd promised Mrs. Hogar that I would do my best I worked my way to the top ten candidates without any problems." Behind young Toymaker images flashed of an archery competition, chess games and puzzle contests.
"I'd grown up traveling around the country watching all the greatest Toymakers in the Lone Isles. I learned to play chess from Chorni Knight, Elspet's father, who taught Quirin Rook the Toymaker for Chessingshire. Sarka the Puzzlemaker was a frequent guest at my parent's house and we'd made hundreds of puzzles over the years for each other to solve. And my father was a famous archer and had turned down a request to be the Toymaker for Arrowsford on the Marsh. As for the toy repair contest " The little figure laughed and shrugged his shoulders. "Yes, the skill part of the Choosing was easy for me compared to the creative part of the test. Over the next few weeks we made hundreds of toys, dolls, balls, cars, stuffed animals." The young Skye sat on the edge of the stage and slumped forward. "My work was good. I'd picked up a wealth of new ideas from my time in the Greylands but it wasn't as brilliant as I'd hoped. Something felt missing. If I was to be the Royal Toymaker I wanted there to be no question that I was the best choice. It was if I wanted my work to wash away all the lies and doubts that Hosmer had spread about me."
The older figure of Skye crossed the back of the stage still carrying the violin. Leaning against the edge of the stage he studied a sheet of music.
"Today is the cookie baking contest." the younger version of Skye told his grown-up self.
"Hmm?" replied Older Skye, not looking up from the paper.
"I don't even like sweets. What should I do?"
"It's Sabbotday. Ask me tomorrow. I'm resting." The older Skye replied and stuffed the music into the back pocket of his canvas workpants and started tuning the violin.
"That will be too late. Tell me what to do." The young Skye looked lost.
"You know what to do. Trust your judgement. You don't need me to tell you that. Don't you remember anything that Master Tinnin taught you?" He plucked the strings to test the pitch.
"But I couldn't, I can't " The young Skye shook his head.
"Perhaps Kit could offer some suggestions," the older Skye said over his shoulder as he wandered off the stage.
"Is she here?" The young Skye ran to the edge of the stage and peered out into the darkness. "So I do get to see her again!" The little figure extended a miniature hand toward Kit. "Please, come here!" Kit got off the couch and knelt down by the stage. With a smile she touched the hand of the little figure. There was a flash of light and the room changed. Kit couldn't tell if she got smaller or the Puppet Theater got bigger but when she looked up a twenty-five-year-old Skye was standing in front of her and she was inside a large white tent. There was a narrow sleeping cot and piles of books off to the side. A large folding worktable was covered with stacks of dolls and other toys.
"You made all of these?" Kit picked up a curious looking horse and cart. It was carved from wood and painted with shiny red and blue paint. She spun the little carved wheels with her finger. When she looked up she was surprised to see young Skye staring at her with a charmed look on his face. He looked so real to her, just like she remembered from ten years before.
"Yes, 'twas nothing. I can't believe that Mrs. Hogar was right, that I do get to be with you, that is if I can win the Choosing." He suddenly got flustered and stared at the floor. "Actually, that's not exactly what she said." he said after a moment "She said if I did the right thing I could see you again. But I'm not sure what 'the right thing' is." Kit had caught glimpses of this part of her husband before, nervous and unsure of himself.
"I wish I knew how to help you." she told him. There was a heavy silence and then Kit noticed a large bundle on the table wrapped in white gauze.
"What's this?" she asked.
"My entry for the doll competition tonight." Skye unwrapped the bundle and set the doll on a stand. Its brocaded, full skirt was covered in gold mirrored petals that reflected streams of light all over the room. Sinuous tendrils of pale silver hair curled down the back of the porcelain figure. The doll's arms were raised reaching up to the heavens. It was magnificent yet the toy did not look like anything that Kit had seen Skye make before. There was something almost frightening about the doll it was so hauntingly beautiful, more like a holy icon than a mere plaything.
"It's supposed to be Ura Amara, the Queen of Heaven," Skye told her.
"It's very beautiful." It made Kit feel sad to look at the doll as if she was looking at some lost paradise forgotten.
"Yes, I suppose." Skye shook his head. "But it's not right. There is something about it that isn't what it should be. " He smoothed away a wrinkle in one of the jewel encrusted sleeves. "I just don't know."
"Who's it for? Did you have someone in mind when you made it?" Kit asked. She couldn't see a child playing with this exquisite object in front of her. Skye didn't answer. He covered the doll back up with the gauze and the colors in the room dimmed, the very air seemed pale and gray.
The young Toymaker bent over a large piece of paper sketching furiously. After a few minutes he dipped a brush in a bottle of pale pink ink and deftly ran a wash of color over the drawing. The drawing showed a doll in a petal skirt with a sweet expression on its face.
"Perhaps this will be a little better," he said as he peeled the doll of the page. "I was saving this design for my niece Marina for her birthday but perhaps she won't mind if I show it today." Kit felt a smile warming her face when she saw what he's made. The new doll was smaller, just the right size for a little girl to hold. It was dressed in a pink velveteen dress, soft as a lamb's ear. The full skirts were filled with layers of lace petticoats. It's long golden hair fell in thick waves soft as corn silk. She immediately wanted to hold the doll and had a childlike desire to brush its hair.
"Pearl buttons on the shoes! And look!" Kit opened the tiny heartshaped locket that hung on a delicate chain around the doll's neck and was surprised to see her initials etched inside.
"Do you really like it?" Skye asked her as he fixed a little basket to the doll's wrist filled with three toy kittens.
"It's wonderful! There isn't a little girl I know that wouldn't love to have this. It even has a little handkerchief in the pocket with a heart embroidered on it."
"Thank you for reminding me exactly who the real judges are. The other doll will probably end up in the glass case of some collector." Skye said, waving at the shrouded bundle. "But this little thing might be lucky enough to spend a long and happy life as a toy that is loved."
"The Baking Contest is starting, sir." Mrs. Hogar poked her head inside the tent. She saw Kit and said, "Come for a closer look, ma'am?"
"Yes, I hope that it's alright."
"Just make sure that our friend here gets to the competition on time. He can't afford to lose any points." After Mrs. Hogar left Skye let out a groan.
"Cookies! I don't care for sweets! I still haven't figured out what to make for the Baking Contest."
"You've never eaten a cookie that you liked?" Kit asked. Skye thought hard, his mind flickering over each and every cookie that he'd ever eaten. Suddenly his eyes lit up.
"Yes!" He grabbed a food box from underneath the workbench and put his hands on top of the lid. After a moment he opened it and pulled out a small plate with a grainy looking oatmeal cookie on it.
"Try this!" He handed the plate to Kit. "I seem to recall enjoying eating this one." Kit took a bite. The cookie was dry and had a slightly seaweed taste to it.
"It's different. But it needs well something." She told him, trying to swallow. Skye's face fell.
"Oh, a family of otters invited me over to tea once and they made these. I must have been really hungry at the time. Oh well, I guess I'll have to settle for my old standby. Master Tinnin used to really enjoy these." He put his hands on the Food Box and pulled out a large platter heaped with pale golden discs the size of silver dollars. He held the plate out to Kit and watched anxiously as she took a nibble. It was by far the best cookie she had ever tasted in her life. It was light and fluffy, buttery hot. It melted like a little sweet cloud on her mouth.
"These are incredible!" she said, taking another.
"They're a version of a Fairie recipe that Mrs. Hogar gave me. It took me months to perfect the flavor and get rid of the side effects. Fairie food can play all kinds of tricks on mortals. But these are just full of vitamins and good for your eyesight. Fortunately Spark is particularly fond of them too and ate all my practice ones." He tossed a handful out the tent door and the big Griffin snapped them up before they hit the ground.
"Let's go see what the competition have come up with." Skye grabbed Kit by the hand and they headed off with Spark sniffing hungrily behind them.
"Mrs. Hogar didn't seem too surprised to see me." Kit said as they walked through the line of Toymaker's booths through the auditorium to another building.
"Well, this is just my remembrance of what happened. I thought that you might enjoy it more if you had a closer perspective." They reached the judging area and Skye handed over his plate.
"They are just getting ready to start." They pushed through a crowd of people and took a seat in the Toymaker's booth. Jugs of cold milk and ice water were laid out on a long table and the smell of baked goods filled the air. Skye's plate of cookies looked rather plain next to the rest of the cakes and pastries. Elaborate gingerbread castles and dioramas make of sugar candy sat ready for the judging. Mrs. Hogar came up to where Skye was sitting and whispered angrily,
"That is your entry? You promised!"
"Patience, Commander." the young Toymaker replied. "It's your recipe, you have only yourself to blame if I don't pick up a lot of points from my entry."
"But couldn't you have dressed it up a bit, sir?"
"Just wait and see " The Judges came in and passed by the tables making notes and murmuring to each other. Kit noticed that one of the youngest Judges, a little boy about seven, sneak one of Skye's cookies off of the plate and pop it into his mouth.
"Have a seat. This is interesting." Skye moved closer to Kit and made room for Mrs. Hogar. The little Fairie woman squeezed on the bench as the Judges broke off pieces and tasted each entry. They wrote furiously and whispered amongst themselves. Every now and then one of the black robed figures would slip off and take another golden cookie off of Skye's plate. Soon the milk jugs where empty and the Judges left the room. Almost all of Skye's cookies were gone. Finally two teddy bears came out with little slips of paper and labeled all the entries. They ate the last of Skye's cookies and left. There was a mad rush of people to view the results. After a while Mrs. Hogar pushed her way back up to where Skye and Kit were sitting.
"Congratulations, Sir. You have made the Final Five. 97 points on your entry! I can't remember a higher score."
"Thank you for your recipe, Commander." Skye replied. "And here," he pulled a white paper bag out of his pocket. "I saved a few for you." The air filled with the smell of warm cookies. Kit was about to ask for one more of the fluffy little treats when the room changed and she found herself looking over an empty classroom with several long tables.
"This is the last competition." Skye appeared alongside her. He still looked young and Kit had to remind herself that she was still inside the Puppet Theater. "I've made it through all the tests. The Judges really liked the doll, by the way. Thank you for your help. I'm glad you are here. This next test is the hardest of all." He started pushing all the tables against the walls.
"What is the last test?"
"Children, two dozen of them for three hours," Skye replied. "The Judges will watch to see how well you cope with a room full of tired, overexcited children. The children have been with the other Toymakers all day and it has been their job to wear them out. I have a bit of an advantage though." Skye unrolled a large thick carpet. "I was part of this test when I was a boy at Tinnin's Choosing. I remember everything that the Toymakers did, how tired I was after an entire day of activities."
"You poor thing." Kit said, helping him smooth the carpet flat.
"So I'm hoping to try something different tonight."
Skye constructed several small tables that were knee high and then placed dozens of big velvet cushions all over the floor. From out of his suit pocket he pulled a little bookcase filled with a colorful assortment of books. When he tapped it with his finger it grew to full size and he placed it alongside one of the walls. Piece by piece the cold classroom turned into a cozy den decorated in warm rich colors. There was a small play area off to one side with a few wooden toy boxes. Spark attached strands of soft glowing lights to the ceiling. By the time the sun had set outside they were ready. Kit by the buffet table stood waiting to pour hot mugs of milk and cocoa. Plates of sandwiches cut in the shape of stars and sliced apples; cookies and popcorn were on low tables for snacks.
"Have I forgotten anything?" Skye looked around the room. He had just finished making a wall of sleeping cubes if the children wanted to nap. "I hope this works. It's what I would have liked to have been part of when I was little, or maybe it is just how I want to spend an evening now." He looked around some more. "Chairs for the judges, I can only imagine that they are exhausted after all this madness." He started pulling comfy armchairs out of his pocket and setting them around the room. "A few side tables to set their cups, some soft music " He pulled out a music box and turned the crank and the gentle sound of a hammer dulcimer filled the air. The clock struck seven and a crowd of judges and children swarmed into the room. Skye greeted each child by name and showed them to a wall of cubbyholes where they could store their coats and the toys that the other Toymakers had given them. Some of the children were so tired that they just sank into the mounds of pillows in a daze or crawled off to the sleeping cubes. Skye got some of the more energetic ones occupied with the toys in the play area all while carrying a sleeping baby over one shoulder. Other children sat quietly looking through the books. Kit made sure that the judges all had refreshments and were settled in comfortably. Skye made a cradle and tucked the infant in. The room was calm and quiet for about an hour when the door opened and Mrs. Hogar came in carrying a screaming baby. The piercing shrieks of the squalling infant immediately put all the children on edge.
"Sorry to disturb you, sir but Quirin Rook's group of children is coming over in about ten minutes. He just withdrew from the Choosing after being pelted by several hundred chess pieces. It seems that the children got a little out of hand."
"Ah. I see." Skye replied. "I think we can take on a few more guests tonight." He turned to address the children.
"It seems that we're to have company. If you could all help me get ready for our visitors I'd be most grateful." He pulled a bottle out of his pocket and handed it to Mrs. Hogar, which the hungry baby took eagerly. Skye was everywhere at once, moving furniture, making more refreshments, giving instructions. He opened a door to the adjoining room and filled it with little beds. Several of the younger children had fallen asleep on the cushions and he and Kit finished moving the sleeping children just as the new batch arrived.
Quirin's group galloped down the hallway screaming and shoving in the hyperactive hysteria of children that have had too many sweets and not enough familiar activity. Skye stopped them at the door and after a brief welcome let them in one by one. He assigned some of the smallest children to the care of older ones. Soon the room was back in order, packed with the new arrivals.
"Anything I can do?' Kit asked, after picking up trays of empty mugs.
"I think we are alright for the moment." Skye replied, but just as he poured himself a cup of tea the sound of fighting erupted in the play area. Two small boys were rolling on the ground, kicking and punching wildly. Kit recognized a young Princess Marina standing by horrified.
"Patrin! Hosmerk!" Skye pulled them apart. "And what is this all about?"
"Is not!" Patrin shouted.
"Is so!" a six-year-old Hosmerk yelled back.
"Master Hosmerk, why don't you tell me what happened?" Skye asked.
"My father is so a better Toymaker." Hosmerk told Patrin.
"No, my uncle is!" Patrin interrupted.
"Patrin, you'll get your turn to talk in a minute." Skye knelt down to talk to the two little boys. "Master Hosmerk, your father made many remarkable toys and you should be very proud of him. But I'm sure that he would not want you fighting about it."
"My father was the Royal Toymaker. You were just an apprentice."
"This is true." Skye turned to the young Patrin. "And what do you have to say for yourself?"
"He told Marina that you were so bad at making toys that the only place you could get a job was the Greylands!"
"Well is that true?" Skye asked.
"No. You make the best toys of all!"
"Does not!' murmured Hosmerk under his breath.
"Well, hmmm." answered Skye. "You both know that comparisons are odious."
"Stinky?" asked Patrin.
"Unpleasant at best. And rather than fighting about your families why don't you spend some of that energy making some of your own toys? That is unless you would rather spend the rest of the evening sitting in the hallway?" The two young warriors shook their heads as Skye pulled out two pads of paper and a box of colors. "If you draw a toy I'll animate it for you, just make sure it follows the Toymaker's law not to hurt anything. Now shake hands and let's get to work." The two boys shook hands gruffly and sat down at one of the little tables. They drew intently with occasional glares at each other. Hosmerk made a small train and Patrin sketched a funny looking automobile. When they finished Skye pulled the toys off the paper as the other children looked on in awe. Soon every child in the room was busy coloring toys. Kit noticed that some of the younger judges were looking on with longing and gave them pads of paper and colored pencils too. Even some of adults tried their hands at doodling up ideas. Before they knew it the clock struck ten and it was time to go.
"Just a little longer?" Patrin asked.
"Only until your mum come to get you." Skye crouched down to tell his nephew. "The car you drew was especially fine. You can be very proud of it."
Marina sidled up to Skye and put her arm around his neck. She shyly showed him the sketch that she had made.
"And Miss Marina, your drawing is lovely."
"It's Mookael the Cat Boy," she replied pointing to her picture. "See and there's the red monkey. I hope that I get to see them again soon."
"I'm sure you will, Marinabit."
"Can I come back and make some more drawings tomorrow?" Patrin asked, stifling a yawn.
"We'll have to see. Now off you go." Patrin and Marina left with their mother, Princess Atheni. One by one the children left with their parents and the judges converged in the adjoining room. The only child left was Hosmerk who had fallen asleep at the table where he sat; his hand still wrapped around a pencil.
A woman appeared at the door and peeked in, her hands twitching nervously. She was in her twenties but her face already had lines on it, telling the story of a hard life. Her pale hair hung limply around her sallow face.
"Hello Mina," the young Skye said.
"I'm sorry that I'm late." her voice was soft and unsteady like she wasn't used to talking. "I had trouble finding the room. I'm so stupid. I'm sorry. Was Hosmerk a problem?"
"Not at all, actually he made quite a few rather innovative toys this evening."
"Oh." she replied, glancing around as if she expected a loud noise at any minute.
"Mina, let me present my friend, Miss Kit Ashlyn from the Greylands," The young Skye noticed Mina staring at the ring on Kit's finger and said "Actually she is my future wife, Lady Wolfren Skye." Mina nodded as if this was the most natural thing in the world and replied,
"It is nice to meet you. I wish you both much happiness." She looked wistfully at Skye and then at her sleeping son.
"Shall I have Spark take you home?" Skye asked.
"No, I have a driver waiting outside." Skye picked up Hosmerk while Kit collected all his things and put them in a bag.
"Let me help you to your car." Skye said.
"No, that's that's not necessary." Mina took the sleeping boy in her arms. "I'm used to carrying him. He's not a baby anymore but when he's asleep " she said somehow managing to hold the six-year-old boy and a bag of toys at the same time.
"If you are sure "
"Thank you for taking care of him."
"Take care of yourself." Skye kissed the woman on the cheek and she brushed out of the room.
"We were " Skye turned back to Kit and took her hands in his, "friends in school."
"Friends?" Kit asked.
"Yes. I was more than fond of her, but she dropped out of the Academy to marry Hosmer. I've often thought that he married her just to spite me. He was never kind to her, didn't even like her really. He left her for another woman and had their marriage undone. She'll remarry in a few years to a farmer up in North Loondale, a good man and she'll have several more children."
"I'm sorry," Kit said, "I mean I'm sorry about Hosmer." Skye didn't reply but just went back to tidying up the room. They worked in silence for a few more minutes when a knock came at the doorway. The Judges came back into the room. They formed a circle around Skye and Kit. They were smiling widely and one of the children was carrying a piece of paper.
"I think that we set a record for coming to a complete agreement so quickly," an elderly woman said, "but after your work here tonight there is no doubt in our minds and our decision is unanimous." The black robed Judges nodded and beamed. A young girl read from the piece of paper,
"Sir Wolfren Skye, Toymaker to the Greylands, by the authority given to us, the Judges of the Lone Isles by Her Majesty Queen Iren the III, we choose to offer you the position of Royal Toymaker."
"I'm honored." Skye replied. "I accept and promise to do my best to serve my Queen and her subjects." There was much handshaking and happiness as the tired Judges congratulated Skye.
When they had left the young Skye took Kit by the hands again and squeezed them tight. "Thank you Kit Ashlyn. Thank you so much." He pulled her hands up to his chest and asked,
"Would it be all right if I kissed you?'
Kit suddenly remembered that she was in a Puppet Theater.
"Let me check with my husband first."
The new Royal Toymaker looked lost for a moment and then said,
"Close your eyes."
Kit did and there was a noise like falling stardust. When she opened her eyes the classroom had vanished and Skye, real, grown up and familiar stood before her. He was out of breath, his chest rising and falling and his eyes shown bright as if he'd just run a very long way. He shook his head and blue sparks fell off his hair like drops of water.
""How did you do that? Make everything disappear all at once?" Kit asked.
"I folded the Puppet Theater up and over your head." He opened his hand to reveal a tiny Puppet Theater no bigger than a matchbox.
"It was amazing! But " Kit said as Skye wiped the sweat off his face with the back of his sleeve. Ripples of blue light ran up and down the fabric of his shirt. She had never seen him expend this much energy before. "You weren't working were you?"
"Well," He took a deep breath and straightened up. "I don't want anyone to know this but technically the Sabbotday ends for Toymakers at sundown. Don't tell anyone. I rather like having the evenings off.
"Your secret is very safe with me." Kit replied.
"And besides, it wasn't work at all. I was playing. I've been thinking about this all week and wanted to see if I could actually make a complete environment from memory. But " A slightly disappointed look crossed his face. "I'd hoped to end the story with a kiss, but it is hard to plan these things."
Kit laughed and ran her thumb down his neck to wipe away the last of the blue flickers of light.
"I think I can fix that."