Chapter Seven — Funday before dawn

"You're up early, this not quite morning." Skye told Kit. She was wrapped in a big silk coverlet, staring out the east window of the observation room. It was still dark, a good ten minutes before sunrise.

"I couldn't sleep so I decided to watch the sun come up and do all my thinking in here."

"Then I'll leave you alone with your thoughts."

"No, come watch it with me." she took his hand and pulled his arms around her. He looked so comfortably ordinary to her, still sleepy with a cowlick of hair sticking up and wearing a soft brown robe that was patched in several places. He seemed to take great pleasure in wearing the ill fitting homespun clothes that the rabbits made for him and kept mended and clean.

"I hope that Clio is coping with everything. I feel awful that I abandoned her on her very first week here.'

"Miss Clio is extremely resilient. From what her parents told me she has been in and out of private schools in the Greylands all her life. I'm hoping that the Academy will offer her some stability. And remember, she has Mrs. Hogar keeping an eye on her as well as quite a few friends already, Patrin, Mook, Julian, Marina. I introduced her to Miri Trinket, from Littleshire. But I'm sure she'll be very happy to see you again."

"And Blue," Kit said. "I can’t wait to see Blue again." Skye let out a small troubled breath and said,

"Actually, love, Blue is here. I didn't want to tell you until you brought it up. One of the side effects of Ashes is that Friends often unanimate for a time."

Seeing the worried look on Kit's face he added quickly, "Not to worry, it's rarely permanent. Spark's had it twice." Skye reached into the pocket of his robe and pulled out a small flying unicorn. Blue was the same size that he was when Kit had first made him. The toy looked a little more worn then he had the previous summer, the velvet around his muzzle was starting to wear thin and his feather wings looked a bit bedraggled.

"Oh." Kit felt like crying. "He's so small." She cradled the stuffed animal in her hands.

"He'll reanimate soon. You have to be patient, love."

"I just assumed that he was fine and taking care of things while I was gone. I should have known something or sensed that he was like this. I should have…"

"Would you be this harsh with Miss Clio if Wilber had decided to take a nap for a week or two?" Skye's voice took on a tone that Kit had heard him use when instructing one of the newer Toymakers, kind but firm. He transformed in an instant, taking on all the strength of his profession and experience. The change in him stopped the wash of guilt that made her fingers turn cold.

"No, but…"

"Then the Woman of the House needs to show a little leniency with herself." Skye continued, his words full of warmth, "You're the only one that expects perfection, immediate and total. Could you show yourself a tiny bit of the tolerance and patience that you give me or Miss Clio or any of your students? Would that be so very much to ask, love?"

"It's just that…" Kit looked at the forlorn little flying unicorn cradled in her hands." Are you sure he is going to be okay?"

"Do you want my professional opinion?" Skye asked, relaxing back into his former sleepy self. "Because if you do, I would say that Blue has nothing to worry about. He'll be fine as fireflies before you know it."

"Well if the Royal Toymaker says so…" Kit smiled, "then I guess I should not worry and start packing our things. It is time to go back isn't it?"

"Do you feel up to traveling? I thought we could drive back."

"Yes, I'm ready as I'll ever be." In the east the morning light was beginning to spread soft and gray over the ocean.







Chapter Seven — Funday morning

"Thank you for all you've done, Koshka Mookael." Benek said as he helped Mook make the last of the repairs to the Aircoaster. Orangee checked the controls and sniffed at the picnic basket that Chimka was tucking in the back seat. The completed village sat gleaming in the morning sun. Little white cottages the size of playhouses lined cobblestone streets and Mook had even made a shiny new fire truck and a police car for the toys to use.

"I'll ask Sir Skye to send a Toymaker out as soon as one is available. Chimka says that he got a message from Spark saying that he and his missus are coming back to the Royal City this morning. I'll come back to check on things myself as soon as I can. It is only an hour in this thing," he said patting the metal Aircoaster.

"And thank you for talking to my mother. We don't often see eye to eye." Benek looked out to sea. "She's been disappointed in me ever since I refused to return to the Fair Folk. She's been flying against the wind all her life. I don't know why she should expect me to be any different." Mook knew that Benek was hundreds of years old but for a moment he sounded like a petulant teenager.

"Ah now," Mook replied. "Parents can be troublesome, but they mean well."

"Can you stay a moment more?" Benek asked. "The animals wish to give you a sendoff."

"I wouldn't think of leaving without one." Mook replied. Benek headed back to the Meeting Hall to get the rest of the toys.

"What are you going to do, Toymaker, when you get back?" Orangee asked.

"Well, first I want to sleep for a few days, than take a long hot shower, eat a good meal and then sleep some more."

"Toymaker, there is something that I don't understand. Why did your woman leave without you?" Orangee growled. Mook grabbed the big stuffed dog's ears affectionately and looked in his sad button eyes.

"Why is it, Dogfriend, that you keep saying that Princess Marina is my woman? I've never heard an animal go on like you do. She is not my woman and she can never be."

"But she said that she was. That is what I do not understand. Perhaps my stuffing is too thick but is it because you do not care for her?"

"She told you that? When?" Mook let go of the dog's ears.

"When she was in the toy box and you were leaking blood. She was making all kinds of horrible noise. Weeping I think you call it. I remember sometimes my maker made those sounds and it helped if I sat by her and put my head in her lap. But I couldn't help your woman, the box wouldn't open for me." The stuffed dog's gravelly voice took on the sound of confusion as he tried to explain what had happened. "She cried and cried for you. I talked to her all night. It seemed to help, the talking. She said that she loved you for days without end. Since the beginning of time, she said."

Mook knew that stuffed animal's concept of time was not very well developed and that a year and a week were almost the same to them.

"She told you that she loved me? What about Fletcher?"

"She said that she tried to like him but that he was…" The big dog thought for a moment. "Boring" yes, that's it! I think that was her word for him. And she was sad because you did not love her back. Why is that Toymaker?"

"Because…" Mook tried to find a way to answer Orangee's question in a way that the stuffed dog would understand. "She doesn't belong to me. I can't really explain it properly but her family is important, she's a Princess. I'm not important."

"But you are a Toymaker! A friend to toys, you said so yourself."

"Yes, yes I am, old thing and I'm honored to be so." He patted the worn stuffed dog behind his ears. "Thank you for reminding me of that. Orangee, you are mistaken though, I do love her, I always have, since the beginning of time as you said, and I always will. But there is no hope in wishing. Please keep all these words to yourself. Can you do that?"

"Yes, Toymaker I will, but as old as I am I still do not understand humans."

"No one does, Orangee Dogfriend."

Mook could see the line of toys coming across the grass to say good-bye. They sang a song for him and gave a few speeches then placed a few lucky seashells into the cockpit of the Aircoaster. Benek stepped forward and handed Mook a small iron feather hooked to a slender chain made of white gold.

"If one of the Fair Folk ever chance to cross your path show them this and they will let you pass unharmed. They will know that you are a friend of Hogar Benek."

"Thank you for your kindness! Thank you all! Live in peace!" Mook told the crowd and he and Chimka waved as they took off over the ocean towards home.

The trip back to the Royal City was uneventful and Mook landed the Coaster right in front of his workshop and slowly got out, stretching his weary legs. He made it upstairs to his apartment and was trying to decide if he had enough energy to take his boots off when a loud knock came to the door.

"Queen's business." a curt voice announced. Mook stumbled to the door and greeted the two soldiers; Chimka was behind them chattering wildly in protest.

"It's okay, Chimka, let them in."

"Her Majesty Queen Iren III has granted you an audience at 11:30 this day."

"Now?" Mook looked wearily at the clock. "In ten minutes?"

"Yes, sir."

"I'll be right down, just let me change." Mook still wore his work clothes that he had been wearing since the day before. He washed quickly, trying to rinse away the fatigue from the last week. Chimka had laid out his full dress uniform on the bed complete with medals, braid and gold cathead buttons.

"Do I have to wear this?" Mook asked, looking at the high starched collar. Chimka sniffed and nodded and Mook resigned himself to putting on the uncomfortable suit. Soon he was downstairs, hat in hand, where the soldiers waited to escort him to the court of Queen Iren.

The waiting area outside the throne room was crowded with visitors and guests waiting for an audience with the queen. Mook wanted to just sit and compose his thoughts but ended up teaching a group of children some yo-yo tricks as they waited. The door opened and a group of Badgers and Brownies came out. Mook heard his name called and before he knew it he was standing alone in front of the Queen. He bowed deeply and she motioned for him to stand before her. Mook glanced around and noticed that there weren't any guards in the room, which he took to be a good sign.

"At least I'm not going to be arrested," he thought as he wondered what the Queen could possibly want with him. She sat on the edge of her throne and said,

"I have a busy schedule today and I'm running late so I will make this brief. You had a safe trip back, I take it?"

"Yes, your Majesty."

"Ah, good." The elderly monarch stood up and came down to the edge of the dais so she was at eye level with Mook.

"Sir Mookael, it has come to my attention that you have serious feelings for my granddaughter. Is this true?"

Mook felt his stomach churn and fire come over his cheeks. He had told Marina that he would have rather faced a hundred sea pirates rather then incur the Queen's wrath. Now he found himself wishing that he was back in the heat of battle, anywhere but here having his most private feelings picked open.

"Yes, ma'am," he replied, barely above a whisper.

"She is the Crown Princess and will rule the kingdom someday."

"Yes, ma'am. That fact has come to my attention." Mook's voice sounded far away to him above the stabbing of his heart in his chest.

"My Granddaughter has a strong personality. She needs a strong man to be with, one that will help her fulfill her responsibilities. She has a hard life ahead of her, full of more obligations than I have time to explain to you right now."

Mook could only nod in reply.

"You have my permission to court her, that is if she finds you agreeable."

The pounding in Mook's head stopped and he felt like he was falling slowly through water. Everything in the room seemed outlined in bright light. He managed to stammer,

"Excuse me?"

" You seem to be a good influence on her. Please continue to be. That will be all. You may go."

"But ma'am, I…."

"Do you need a note?" The Queen's pale gray eyes crinkled with the possible hint of good humor.

"No, ma'am. But how did you know?"

"I didn't…" she replied, "until now. But I had my suspicions. I saw how you looked at her when you were translating her speech. I've been in love myself though you may find that hard to imagine." Queen Iren went on, lost in memory. As she spoke Mook could see on her wrinkled face a shadow of the young princess that she had been a half a century before.

"When I was Marina's age I fell in love with a young Toymaker's apprentice, from a poor, obscure village. My parents forbade me to see him so I foolishly ran away. Commander Hogar's son, Benek brought me back but at great personal expense. It's a long tale. I'll tell you the rest of it some winter's night when my great-grandchildren are asleep. I've enough mistakes to make on my own without repeating the ones my parents made." She smiled a world weary smile and said,

"Now go on, I believe she is in the drawing room. If you hurry you might be able to see her before luncheon

" And Sir Mookael,"


"Try and get some rest, you look a little worn."

"Yes, ma'am, I will, thank you, thank you so much!" he backed into the wall and managed to find the door.

Mook stumbled in a daze toward the large drawing room where Marina and her ladies-in-waiting were spending a pleasant morning of conversation and genteel pursuits, playing games and embroidering doll clothes.

The room was filed with a dozen girls dressed in pretty tea frocks, all the colors of an orchid hothouse. Mook didn't notice but there was a change in the room when he entered. A girl at the spinet played a little bit better and another girl singing with her sang just with a little more fervor. Mook's name echoed across the room like the chirping of little birds as the girls vied for his attention.

"Mookael, come see my new drawing,"

"Sir Mookael, come help me with this puzzle."

"Mookael, play chess with me."

He smiled politely at all of them and made his way to where Marina was practicing darts with Robin Fletcher. Mook could smell the faintest scent of jasmine and vanilla infused in the waves of golden hair that fell around her shoulders.

"Hello Mook." Marina told him, "You're dressed up."

"Your Highness, may I talk to you?"

"Of course, what is it?" Marina looked around the room. It was absolutely silent and all eyes were on Mookael. Marina grabbed her shawl off the back of a chair and took Mook's arm.

"I think I need a breath of fresh air. You will excuse us." She nodded to everyone on the room.

"But you haven't finished the game." Fletcher protested.

"Oh, well, here." Marina took her remaining darts and tossed them at the target. She hit the three red bullseyes all in a row and tallied up her points.

"Let me know the final score." she said and pulled Mook out onto the balcony.

Marina shut the glass paned doors behind them then wrapped the thick shawl around her and shivered.

"Nice brisk day." An icy wind was blowing from the off of the ocean. "Is anything the matter? Why are you in uniform?"

"I just came from a meeting with your Grandmother."

"Lady Wolfren? Has she heard from Uncle Skye? Is Kit alright?"

"No, no, they're fine, Chimka says that Kit is much better and that they should be returning some time today. I was asked to meet with your other grandmother."

"I'm sorry." Marina blurted out. "I hope that it wasn't too awful." The Queen was well known for her stern lectures.

"It was rather amazing. She said," Mook stuttered, "she said that she would like me to court you." Marina flushed red and her green eyes flashed.

"How dare she? She commanded you to marry me?"

"No! No! it wasn't like that at all, she gave me permission to see you if you wished it."

"But, why?" Marina pulled the cashmere shawl tighter around her shoulders. She looked so beautiful shivering in the icy wind that Mook couldn't decide if he wanted to wrap his arms around her or run away. He took a deep breath.

"Because she knows I love you, and I'm not sure why but it appears that her Majesty is of the opinion that I might be somewhat of a good influence on you."

Marina thought about this for a moment and an odd little grin passed over her face.


"Toymaker's truth." Mook took a squashed little package out of his pocket. "I made this for you the day after we met, when we were children, to thank you for saving me from Hosmer. I've carried it around for years. I've always wanted to give it to you but was never brave enough."

The ancient wrapping paper fell off of the ragged little present revealing in Marina's palm a tiny sleeping cat carved from a scrap of white pine.

"Oh Mook! Thank you, how lovely!" Marina smiled at the little figure. Mook, after hesitating a moment, put his hands over hers and blew on her fingers as if to warm them. When Marina uncupped her hands the little carving had grown to a fluffy white kitten, no bigger than a mouse and was breathing in and out.

"She's adorable, listen, she's purring." Marina held up the newborn toy kitten for Mook to hear. When he turned his head to listen to the tiny cat he saw a crowd of young women standing very close to the glass watching them, their warm breath fogging the thick panes of glass. Robin Fletcher cradled the head of a teary-eyed girl on his chest and glared at Mook.

"I guess we better go back inside, miss. It's starting to drizzle."

"I think it's warmer out here." Marina replied, her eyes merry as she wrapped the tiny cat in the corner of her shawl. "But the sooner we get used to being stared at the better."

"Aye, being stared at is nothing new for me."

"The family is having music night this evening. My parents are back from the Saint Tortuga Day races. Would you like to join us? We're going to attempt to play one of Julian's latest pieces; it's a real puzzler. You could bring your guitar." She stood on her toes and brushed her lips on his cheek.

And Mook just nodded because for the first time in his life, the Catlander who was well known for his clever wit and quick way with words couldn't think of a thing to say.


Chapter Seven — Funday Afternoon

"How about this one…" Clio asked Wilber, "Chairs in three sizes for small medium and big bears? Maybe one for Goldilocks too, although I am not sure if these guys have ever even heard of Goldilocks." She was lying on the sofa in her workshop surrounded by books, trying to come up with a lesson plan for the doll making class the next day. Wilber started to write her suggestion down on a piece of paper then stopped to run to the window. His thick green velvet tail was wagging wildly and his wings flapped with excitement.

"Huh? What is it?" Clio hopped up and went to see what he was so interested in. People streamed into the broad courtyard outside her window blocking the view. Wilber buzzed outside and then back again. He jabbed his paw up in the air as high as he could reach making a motion that Clio knew was his sign how tall Skye was and a hugging movement that was his sign for Kit. Then he dissolved in to general fluttering.

Clio tried to push her way through the crowd of people that swarmed into the courtyard to welcome back the Royal Toymaker and his wife. She was stuck about halfway between a family of stuffed elephants and a group of well dressed women that had just been ice-skating. Clio could hear Skye addressing the crowd.

"Thank you all for your kind concern. Your good thoughts and gifts mean so much to us. We're glad to be back and look forward to celebrating the Winter Solstice with great joy." Clio moved to keep from being stepped on by the biggest elephant and backed into a pair of icy skates that a woman had slung over her arm.

"Wow, I'm sorry." Clio said, seeing the annoyed look on the woman's face.

"Pardon me!" The woman brushed some ice flakes off her red velvet jacket and was about to say something else when a startled look came over her face. The crowd parted and Clio felt something strong and warm grab her waist and lift her off the ground. There was the flapping whoosh of bat wings and crush of soft fur that smelled oddly of warm candle wax as Spark carried her over the heads of the crowd. Wilber had to fly as fast as he could to keep up with them. The big Griffin deposited Clio on the doorstep next to Kit, Patrin and Mook.

"Hello! How good to see you!" Kit gave her a big hug and whispered. "Turn and wave and hopefully we can get away from this crowd. Can you come in for a visit? I want to hear about your first week of school." They stood on the stair steps to the Royal Toymaker's apartments and waved and nodded for a minute before Skye opened the big wooden doors and swept them inside. Soon they were sitting around the big kitchen table drinking mugs of tea and hot cocoa and talking all at once except for Mook who was very quiet.

"So the signs for the Badger house and Brownies were switched?" Skye asked.

"Yes, but the Badgers loved the flowers in the Brownie house." Patrin told them. "The Queen said it was "Bee-yoo-ti-ful" His imitation of Queen Eka had Kit in stitches.

"The Brownie kids turned out to be a lot of fun once they stopped being so bored with everything." Clio added. "I don't think that they get to play much where ever it is they live."

"Brownies aren't known for their adventuresome spirit," Skye said. "They're very traditional. Your work must have been pretty special to amuse them so. And I'm sure that it gave them a clearer understanding of each other. Thank you, the kingdom owes you both a great debt." Skye finished his mug of tea and stood up. "I'll let you catch up on the events of the past week. If you'll excuse me, I feel the need to start dealing with the mountain of paperwork that is downstairs." He pulled a piece of material out of his pocket and stretched it into a soft shawl the color of periwinkles, the edges embroidered with dancing white bunnies, wrapped it around Kit's shoulders and went back to work. Patrin cleared a few of the dishes and followed his uncle downstairs.

"You've been unusually quiet." Kit told Mook who still sat at the table staring off into his thoughts. The winter sun streaming thick through the big kitchen window made a halo of light around the young Game Master's wavy dark hair and it seemed to Kit that he looked like a lost angel, he was so still and so solemn, his skin pale as porcelain.

"Hmm?" Mook replied. "I'm sorry, ma'am. I've haven't slept much in the last few days and I think it is beginning to catch up with me."

"You look more than tired." Kit told him. "Go get some rest."

"Aye no," Mook shook his head and drank the rest of his coffee. "As much as I wish that was next on my list I've been asked to instruct her Majesty Queen Zahira in the intricacies of Catspaw checkers. I'd better go. Brownies don't take well to tardiness." He smiled at no one in particular and slowly left the room.

Kit and Clio chatted for a while about Clio's classes and the projects that the Kit's students had made. Seeing the dark circles under Kit's eyes Clio asked,

"Were you sick really bad?"

"Yes, I think I was. Thank you for the mittens. It was so thoughtful of you to make them. I'm feeling much better now, although I'm not allowed to make anything for a few weeks."

"I can make anything you need me to, for your classes and stuff. I mean it would be as good as the stuff that you make but I can try to do whatever you tell me to."

"Oh Clio, everything that you make is just wonderful. Skye said that I was to rely on you to make all the samples for my class. But you'll be careful and not overdo things. Promise?"

"No problem. I think making things is fun. I let you know if I get barfy or tired or anything. I'm just stoked to be here."

"And you let me know if you think I'm being too serious."

"Okay. You do look a little wore out, more than Mook. Maybe you need to take a nap. I gotta go talk to Mister Skye about something."

"Is everything alright?" Kit leaned forward and watched Clio's face to see what she wasn't saying.

"No biggy, I just want to give him back a book he lent me."

"I guess I could use a rest. And thank you for your help. I'm glad that you're safe and I'm so sorry that I abandoned you for your first week here."

"It was okay, but I'm glad that you guys are back. Teaching was all right but I'd rather be a student for a little while longer."

Clio found Skye was sorting through a wall of wrapped boxes. They were everywhere, piled on the tables, six and seven boxes deep, get well presents from friends and Toymakers all over the country. Wilber fluttered around and started sniffing a big wrapped basket from Doughton.

"Hey Mister Skye. Can we help you with anything?"

"Miss Clio," Skye looked up from the tiny crystal tea set he was unwrapping. "Yes, please. I sent Patrin off to finish up his toy list and I could use the help. These presents need to be opened, sorted and catalogued. Here's a pad of paper, if you would be so kind as to copy down the name of the sender and a description of the contents then we can send out thank you notes."

"Where are you going to put all these things? There must be a thousand boxes in here!"

"Closer to four hundred but this is just the first batch. Most of them will be given to children but if you see a toy that you'd like or one that Kit might be interested in, please, set it aside."

Clio was in heaven opening box after box of wonderful toys. The Toymakers had sent their best work and each box seemed to contain something more fascinating then the next. Some of the boxes were from children who were fond of Kit and contained handmade toys, animals sewn from scraps of cloth and dolls carved from wood or carefully sewn from rags. Clio played for a while with a carousel that had interchangeable animals, horses, reindeer, dogs, and lions. Then she made herself put it aside and go to the next box.

"This one's from Eli Scrub." Clio liked the dark haired young man that had been promoted to Toymaker for Blocksbury after they had left. She opened the bright yellow box. It was filled with little wooden blocks all shaped like birds. The blocks were painted with bright colored shiny paint and fit together to make towers and trees. Mrs. Skye has to see these!" Clio put the box on a separate table that had a griffin and unicorn puzzle from Sarka the Puzzlemaker and a funny little wind-up of four grizzly bears playing instruments.

"Who are the bears from?" Clio asked, turning the key on the back of the stand. A lively dance tune played as the little figures moved and swayed.

"It's from my mother. It's sentimental piece actually." Skye came over and watched the little toy. "It's a copy of the band that played on the night that I proposed to Kit." The song came to an end and Skye stared at it for moment in fond memory.

"Mister Skye," Clio said just as Skye turned to start another pile of boxes. "Um, can I talk to you about something… something kinda important."

"Of course, miss, I'm honored that you would confide in me." Skye sat down on the table next to Clio and waited for her to speak.

"Here's your book and when you look at it you'll see that lots of pages are like… blank. And that's because I erased them." Clio handed him the miserable looking little white book.

"Ah" said Skye, leafing through the pages. "I see."

"Hosmerk, that big kid in Mrs. Skye's class, told me do it and I… I… was really scared of him. So I thought that I'd go ahead and do what he wanted and just tell you about it when you got back."

"Did he hurt you, miss?" Skye asked, keeping all expression from his face.

"Not really bad, he grabbed my arms and was kinda crazy. But he said that he was going to talk to Patrin and like blackmail him or something, I don't know what about but I didn't want to get anybody in trouble."

"May I?" Skye asked and gently took Clio's wrist and pushed the sleeves of her sweater up to look at her arms. Round purple bruises the size of fingertips marked her skin. Skye closed his eyes for a moment and said,

"I would gladly give up being a Toymaker to be a Healer today."

"It doesn't really hurt. I mean, I've had way bigger bruises from sparring with Mrs. Hogar and Marina. I get clobbered all the time, you know. But this was different. Hosmerk came over to my house when nobody was there. It was just scary. I'm sorry I was such a wimp but, but… I was so scared you guys weren't ever coming back." Clio told him. Her words were mumbled and her dark hair fell over her face.

"When we left I honestly wasn't sure if we would return." Skye told her. "Toymakers have died from getting the Ashes and the effects of it on Greylanders are not well known."

"You aren't mad, are you?"

"Not in a lifetime of my heart's true sorrow would I be upset with you about this, Miss Clio." Anger flickered across his gaunt face though he kept his voice even. "I'm more than disappointed with Hosmerk, however. He will be dealt with, I promise you. It is no small matter to threaten the ward of the Royal Toymaker, you know. I'm so sorry that I didn't do a better job of protecting you."

"No big deal, I'm just glad that you're back."

"As am I, miss," replied Skye, wondering how soon it would be before he was called away again to leave his friends and family behind.

"But I have to tell you something." Clio said after a moment of them sitting side by side in the silence of their own thoughts.

"Yes, miss?"

"I sort of tricked him, you know, Hosmerk. Like, if you could talk to Chive about the drawings that Hosmerk stole it would help with my plan. But when I erased the book I was so mad that I…um…" Clio lowered her voice to a whisper. "I, uh made a washable eraser. It unerases with water or spit, see." She licked her thumb and rubbed it over a blank page. The print of the book faded into view where she had touched it.

"Miss Clio, once again I am impressed by your ingenuity." Skye took the book over to one of the workshop sinks and ran water over it. He blotted it off with a towel and started pealing the damp pages apart. After reading for a few minutes he shook his head and sat down again next to Clio.

"This is most unfortunate. I had suspicions that Hosmerk was bullying other students but not to this extent. I'm truly sorry for the way that he treated you. I feel like I have failed you and Hosmerk too. I promised his mother that I would watch over him, I made the same promise to your parents as well."

"I think that Hosmerk is just out of control. He's really angry about a lot of stuff." Clio said pulling on her sleeves. Wilber landed on the table and rest his head in her lap.

"What do you suggest, miss? I could expel him permanently and send him back to his stepfathers' farm. It might be good for him, although his father's family is very powerful. They would most likely send for him to return here to the Royal City."

"If you flunk him out he's not going to learn any different. I've seen a lot of kids just like him in private school, their parents give up on them and just send them away to be somebody else's problem." Clio thought for a moment and said, "Nope, don't get rid of him forever… as much as I'd love to see you to kick his butt." She grinned and went on, "Why don't you could expel him for a week so he knows you're really serious and then when he gets back make him carry the book around that writes down everything that he does until he learns to stop being so mean. Maybe he'll change. I dunno, I'm not too smart about these things, maybe you better ask Mrs. Skye or Mrs. Hogar. They know lots more about this kind of stuff than I do."

"I think that you are far more wise than you realize, miss." Skye told her, putting the book in his pocket. "It would please me if you'd talk to Kit about Hosmerk when you get a chance. You are her apprentice and it's your responsibility to tell her when things like this happen. I'll check with Master Chive and see if there is anything that he might need to talk about. I've learned there is nothing so bad that it can't be helped by bringing it out in the open. Were you able to tell Mrs. Hogar or perhaps Mookael about Hosmerk bothering you?" he asked knowing that Clio thought highly of them both.

"They've been gone all week. Everybody's been gone. Patrin's been swamped taking care of the Badgers and Brownies."

"Mook and Marina didn't return from Ravinsbeak on Friendsday? That is odd."

"Yeah, I guess that they got kidnapped or something. Mrs. Hogar and the Queen had to go get them and they just back yesterday except for Mook. He got back I think this morning." Clio explained in a rush.

"That is interesting. I wonder why he hasn't said anything."

They went back to work with renewed vigor. Clio felt like a great weight had been lifted and went back to her normal cheerful enthusiasm. But Skye was burdened with the decision of what to do with Hosmerk. He wrote a note and gave it to Spark, then whispered a few words to her in Griffinspeak. She sniffed in reply and bounded off to deliver the message.

Mrs. Hogar came into the workshop carrying an armload of boxes and paperwork. Skye took the boxes from her and opened the door to his office to talk with her in private. Clio continued on opening presents and had fun opening a whole family of jack-in-the-boxes from Newcastle. There was a father, mother, boy and girl and even a little box with a dog. The smallest two ones held a cat and a goldfish that popped up after Wilber turned the little crank on the side of the toy. Clio was admiring a beautiful silver bow and arrow from Arrowsford when she heard a soft tap at the back window. At first she was frightened that it was Hosmerk coming to bother her but to her surprise it was Chive Sheeple from her doll making class. He looked nervous as he motioned for Clio to come to the window.

"Hey Chive." Clio said opening the window to talk to the boy. "What's up?"

"I was trying to get in early but the Griffin is guarding the door. The Royal Workshop never opens before two on Fundays." he whispered.

"Spark? Mister Skye probably told her not to let anybody in. But you're cool. Climb up!" Clio pulled up the sash to the big window and helped Chive climb into the room. The pale haired boy looked around the big workshop with wide eyes.

"I need to talk to Sir Skye about those drawings that I made before Hosmerk does. He's not even in the game room with all the other people waiting to get in here. He's standing right out front! I think he has his grandfather with him! Are you sure that it's all right for me to be here? It is the Royal Toymaker's workshop and all."

"You're with me." Clio said with a grin. "Mister Skye will be out in a little while. Help me open some of these boxes, or even better, I'll open them and you write down the names. Your handwriting is much better than mine." Clio shoved the list across the table to her friend. They spent the next half-hour opening boxes and sorting through toys. Chive kept looking nervously at the door to Skye's office.

"So you gonna tell him?' Clio asked. Chive nodded and looked like he was going to be sick.

"Don't worry about it. Mister Skye is really nice. I was scared of him at first too when I first met him but he's okay. You can trust him. He's not…. like…" Clio hunted for the right word to describe her guardian. "like…stupid. He's really smart, I think."

The door swung open and Skye gave Clio an odd look. He said goodbye to Mrs. Hogar who swept out of the room. He then turned to focus his attention on Chive.

"Chive Sheeple, good to see you. How is that garden drawing of yours coming along?" he asked.

", sir." Chive managed to say.

"And what can I do for you on this excellent winter's day?"

"I... I need to, that is could I… would it be possible to speak to you privately?" Chive asked in what was probably the bravest sentence that he had ever uttered in his life.

"Yes, of course. Come into my office."

Chive gave a last forlorn glance at Clio. She waved and Wilber gave him a thumbs up. It seemed like the office door was closed for a long time, much longer than the ten minutes that it took for Chive to explain about the harmful drawings that he had made and lost. Clio wanted to eavesdrop at the door and make sure that her friend was okay but she made herself open a few more boxes instead and neatly folded the used wrapping paper into a stack. When Chive finally did come out he looked very relieved and almost happy.

"How'd it go?" Clio asked. Wilber fluttered next to her and looked concerned.

"He was very understanding. I've been put on probation and he's sending me to Blocksbury for two weeks."

"No way! That so sucks!" Clio replied. "I didn't think he'd be that mean!"

"No! It's really not bad at all! I thought that I'd be expelled and have to go home and face my family, not to mention everybody else in my town for being such a failure. Sir Skye is sending me to Blocksbury to design a garden for a place called the Bunks. He says that if I do a good job of it that they will build my design in the spring. He said I should also take a look at the Council building and see if there is anything that I could do about the flowerbeds there. I really like doing gardens." he added shyly.

"Oh, well in that case…" Clio punched his arm. "See, I told you he was smart."

"Thanks for your help. I better go start packing." Clio helped Chive climb out the back window. When she turned around Skye was watching her with good humor.

"We do have doors here in the Royal Workshop, miss."

"I know," Clio replied. "It just seemed easier to not have to deal with Hosmerk. Chive says he's standing right out front."

"His grandfather certainly replied to my note with all good speed." Skye rubbed the back of his neck, "I'd better let them in. Although, some days I'm tempted to climb out the back window myself." He opened one of the big double doors that were at the main entrance of the workshop and ushered in Hosmer and a distinguished looking elderly man in a gray long coat. Hosmer gave Clio a smug smile but his grandfather just scowled at everyone.

"Lord Chausmark, welcome, come in, come in." Skye pointed to a comfortable looking chair. "Thank you for coming on such short notice. I need to speak to Master Hosmerk. Miss Clio, could that you see that his Lordship gets a warm drink? I'm sure that you must be half frozen after being out on a day like this."

Before Clio knew what had happened Skye swept Hosmerk into his office and she was left facing the irritable old man. He sat in the chair very straight as if he were at a military tribunal. He was very frail and looked as if his expensive clothes were the only thing holding him up. Wilber hid under a workbench at the back of the room.

"Can I get you some cocoa or something?" Clio asked.

"Never touch the stuff. Too sweet."

"Coffee? I can make coffee… or tea maybe? I mean I can do like peppermint tea or the regular kind but not like Catlander tea because I really don't like it and it wouldn't taste right." Clio chatted away as she sketched a teapot on a piece of paper and pealed it off. It was filled with steaming hot lemon tea.

"Here try this one." She sketched a small cup and filled it. Lord Chausmark just stared at Clio and clutched his walking stick.

"Or maybe you like green tea, Mrs. Skye likes this one." She pulled a second smaller pot off the paper. "Although you might like coffee better, some grownups do, especially when it gets real cold like today." Before Hosmerk's grandfather could speak Clio had filled the little table next to his chair with a rainbow of different colored cups.

"This is supposed to be pretty good." She handed him a little blue cup of steaming coffee and watched him expectantly.

"You are that Greylander girl." The old man said. "The apprentice for Sir Skye's woman." He studied the cup as if he was checking for bugs. He sniffed at the dark black liquid and pressed his thin lips together. After a moment he took a small sip.

"Not bad."

"Uh, thanks" Clio said with visible relief. The old man took another sip and let out a dry laugh that was so bitter that it might have been mistaken for a cough.

"Both of my sons were Toymakers and my grandchildren are as well. Never once have they made me a cup of coffee. Here take this." He fished in the pocket of his tailored gray overcoat and pulled out a small silver coin.

"Gee, no thanks. It's my treat." Clio sat down on the table next to him. "Did it really taste okay?"

"Fine a cup as I've ever had."

"Here, try a cookie." Clio held out a huge basket of baked goods that the Toymakers at Doughton had sent over. "The heart shaped ones are oatmeal. I don't think they are super sweet." Lord Chausmark took a small cookie and after examining it carefully started to nibble on one edge.

Inside of Skye's office Hosmerk was not having as agreeable of a time. Skye motioned for him to sit down in a chair across from his desk.

"Master Hosmerk, do you know why I asked you to come here?" Skye asked.

"No, sir." Hosmerk looked as innocent as a choir of church mice. "I don't"

"Are you sure?" Skye laid the little white book on his desk and sat back in his chair. Hosmerk lost his smug look and licked his lips before replying,

"Is it about the paperwork that I found this morning belonging to Chive Sheeple?"

"This morning? I was under the impression that you've been in possession of some drawings of Master Chives for some time now. Is that what you told Miss Clio that you wanted to talk to Patrin about? Or are you telling me that you've found some more of his work that you want to give to me?"

"I have some of Chive's drawings. Horrible ugly things they are. I told Clio that I was going to give them to Prince Orion in your absence but I didn't want to cause a scandal. Now you're back I'm relieved to deliver them to you, sir." Hosmerk said evenly. He reached inside his suit jacket and pulled out an envelope. He smiled as he passed it to Skye.

The Toymaker took out the drawings and counted the pages. He replaced the papers and placed a wax seal on the flap. He smacked the envelope hard with the palm of his hand and the envelope froze into the color of granite. When Skye's hand hit the table Hosmerk jumped in his seat.

"Thank you for returning these. I've already spoken to Master Chive about them. He has been reprimanded."

"Well! I hope that he'll be more careful in the future. May I go? My grandfather is waiting."

"There is one more thing. You frightened Miss Clio yesterday."

"I didn't mean to…. you know how women can get, don't you, sir? They can be so emotional."

"She showed me the bruises on her arms. She said that you asked her to erase this book that I gave her. Is that true? Think about your answer, Hosmerk and take care that you do not lie."

Hosmerk sat for a long moment before answering.

"I did ask her to erase the book."

"And the bruises?"

"I didn't think that I grabbed her that hard. She… she was being unreasonable."

"She's my ward. By law I could expel you, or have you reassigned to a remote village on the outskirts of nowhere. I could even call you out and challenge you to a Toymaker's duel for touching her. Would you like to fight a duel with me, Master Hosmerk?" Skye asked, standing up. He put his hand out and unclenched his bony fingers. A small blue flame burned cold in the center of Skye's palm. "I assure you it would not be pleasant."

Hosmerk blanched white and a thin layer of sweat beaded on his temples. He couldn't answer but just shook his head no. Skye closed his hand and the flames vanished.

"However, I promised your mother that I'd watch over you. And oddly enough, Miss Clio has asked for leniency. So I'll not expel you… permanently."

"But it's her word against mine... you have no proof!" Hosmerk replied. "I'll tell my grandfather!"

"Shall I give him this when you do?" Skye held up the little white book showing that it had been unerased and Hosmerk's eyes popped wide like a stuffed frog. "However I'd rather not burden him with the tales of your doings this last week. Instead I'm sending you home for the Solstice to your mother and stepfather."

Hosmerk look relieved to have been let off so easily. He immediately began planning ways to torment his younger stepbrother and sisters. He was so busy thinking of how much fun he was going to have making them obey him that he didn't notice Skye pull a piece of white velveteen from his pocket and spread it on the desk. He took a pair of gold scissors out of a drawer and began swiftly cutting out pieces.

"I'm also going to make something for you."

"What?" Normally a toy made by hand from any Toymaker would be considered a great honor and a source of much envy but Hosmerk was not sure if he wanted such a gift.

"You'll see. Now if you could thread a needle and sew these two pieces together we can get this finished up and send you on your way." Skye handed the young man a spool of thread and a needle. Hosmerk's hands were shaking but he managed to get the needle threaded and started sewing the little teardrop pieces of velveteen together. They worked in quiet for a few minutes and an outside observer would have thought it was a scene of a Toymaker and his apprentice finishing up a last minute toy for the Solstice.

"I read in the book that you told Miss Clio that I kidnapped your father." Skye said breaking the silence. He pulled a piece of shimmering gold fabric out of a drawer and started cutting out more little pieces.

"So this is where you deny that you would ever do such a thing." Hosmerk glared up at Skye.

"Oh no," The Toymaker continued cutting out pieces of cloth. "To be honest I'd have done away with him in a spin if given the chance, but that was not my privilege. I hated Hosmer for many reasons and not all noble ones I assure you. I searched for him across the country after his disappearance in the hope that he would be brought to justice."

"Is that your story?"

"Believe me or no, 'tis your choice. You could ask your mother about what happened. Might do you some good to listen to her."

"My mother was weak."

"Do you really think so?" Skye finished cutting out the gold fabric and picked up the needle and thread. He quickly sewed the gold cloth into little duck feet. "She loved your father before he cast her off and she's stronger than you know, I'm hoping that she's passed that strength on to you."

Skye opened a box filled with pure white cotton and started stuffing the sewn pieces of cloth. A toy duck began to take shape with gold feet and beak. He attached two black beads for eyes then took the teardrop shapes from Hosmerk. He sewed one on each side for wings.

"It's been a long time since anyone has made a watchduck." Skye picked the toy up and a sphere of blue flames surrounded it. "Let's hope this works."

The young man looked up to see Skye press the ball of blue fire between his hands. A flow of furious energy flashed over the Toymaker's face. It was a look tinged with barely contained fury and power. After that moment Hosmerk strove never to cross the Royal Toymaker and treated him with more caution, because he had no wish to see that face of terrible raw joy and creative force ever again. A horrible hushing quiet filled the room like a silent stream of water falling into sand. The noise grew in intensity, not louder but more oppressive and it filled Hosmerk with an unexplained fear. Just as he thought that he looking at the edge of madness the sound ended suddenly with a soft "Quack." Crackles of blue light flickered away from the bookshelves and furniture in the room. The only thing left to show that anything had happened was a large blue goose egg sitting on the desk.

"Take it. It is for you." Skye told him, as if he were offering him a chocolate.

"No, you don't have to give me anything. I promise that I'll change! I'll be good; I'll help the younger students! Please sir! I'll be nice! I promise!" Hosmerk wasn't sure what was in the egg but he did know that it was not something that he wanted.

"Master Hosmerk, since you seem to have a hard time listening to your conscience I have made you a gift to help you in your quest to become a better Toymaker." Skye repeated. "It is for you, I made it for you."

Hosmerk tried to look unconcerned as he picked up the egg. The shell cracked open in his hand and the toy duck popped his head out. Hosmerk was so surprised to see the cute little bird that he almost dropped it.

"This is it? This is the thing that is supposed to help me become a better Toymaker?" Hosmerk snorted a laugh. "Oh, please!"

"No, it's brilliant you see! He'll follow you everywhere and report to me every time you do something harmful!" Skye took the little fluffy ball of white feathers and held it up to his ear. The baby duck quacked softly and Skye looked very pleased with himself. "I'm sorry to have to do this Master Hosmerk but I really couldn't think of any other way to help you. I can't let you just run loose tormenting the other students and it would do more harm than good to expel you. This little friend will guide you to a better path. As long as you are doing the things that you are supposed to do he will serve you faithfully and bring you honor. If not…" Skye told him. "let us hope that you don't find out what he can do if you decide to be irresponsible. He says his name is Quacken, by the way. You'd better brush up on your Duckspeak so that you can communicate with him."

Skye opened the door to his office. "Check back in with me when you get back from visiting your family and let me know how you two are getting along. I don't have to tell you to take good care of him, do I?"

"No, sir. I'll do that, sir." Hosmerk replied wondering just what he had been given.

Clio was engrossed in a game of tiddlywinks with Lord Chausmark. The elderly man seemed to be having a good time as well. Hosmerk slumped into a chair and stared at the baby duckling in his hands. The game quickly ended when Lord Chausmark's pieces covered one of Clio's.

"I squopped you! I won!" The old man cackled.


"You see, girl, if you would use your squidger with a little less force like this then you won't scrunge so much."


"Bounce the winks out of the pot."

"Uh, yeah…Thanks! I'll have to practice. This game is hot!"

"Come up to visit anytime, I'm always ready for a good match. Sir Skye, you must bring your ward up to the estate for a visit…. delightful girl, makes a decent cup of coffee. Haven't had this much fun in ever so long." He shook Skye's hand and turned to Hosmerk.

"What have you got there? A gift? Ha! Cute little thing. And to think that you looked so nervous about this meeting."

"May I have a word with you in private, sir?" Skye asked Lord Chausmark.

"Yes, of course. I know that you are a busy man, if you think it's necessary, hum ha!" They disappeared behind the massive door to Skye's office and Clio put the Tiddlywinks back in their silver box.

"Your grandfather seems nice." Clio told Hosmerk.

"He's old." Hosmerk told her and then looked at the little white duckling curled up in his hands. "Not that it's a bad thing to be old."

"How cute! Did Mister Skye give you him?" Clio stroked the soft white down of the baby bird. Wilber waddled over from underneath the bench where he's been hiding and touched noses with Quacken.

"We made it. He said it's called a watchduck, whatever that is." Hosmerk said in a subdued voice as he slumped over the tiny toy bird.

"I bet he'd like a cookie." Clio held out a piece of gingerbread that the little duck snapped up right away. "Here, you feed him, he's your Friend." Hosmerk wrinkled up his nose and held a crumb out for the little bird that pecked at it with his little beak.

"Why did you say that I hurt you?" Hosmerk asked.

"Because you did!" Clio pulled up her sleeves to show the bruises where he had grabbed her the day before. Hosmerk's eyes widened and he sat silently for a while before saying,

"I'm sorry." The words cost him considerable effort but as soon as he said them Quacken grew an inch in size.

The door to Skye's office swung open and Lord Chausmark came out laughing so hard that was wiping tears away from his eyes with a linen handkerchief.

"Oh that is rich!" he chuckled. "I've haven't heard of those in ever so long!"

"Let's hope for the best." Skye replied.

"Please come and visit us, bring your woman. We'd be happy to receive her at Topspin Hall."

"Speaking of my woman, here she is." Skye gave Kit a nod as she came down the stairs.

"Kit, this is Lord Chausmark, Hosmerk's grandfather, Lord Chausmark, may I present Kitsune, Lady Skye from the house of Wolfren."

The old man bowed and Kit took his hand.

"Please, call me Kit." she told him. They chatted for a bit and then Chausmark called to Hosmerk,

"Come on boy, we need to get you packed up to go." Hosmerk pulled himself to his feet and tucking the little duckling into his jacket followed his grandfather out into the winter cold.

"Well, that went better than one would expect." Skye said.

"What happened?" Kit asked.

"I had a little talk with Master Hosmerk and decided to gift him with a watchduck. You hardly ever see them anymore because they are extremely tricky to make, a lost art almost, and I wasn't sure if this one even would turn out. " Seeing the puzzled look on Kit's face he went on to explain, "A watchduck is a very ancient toy made by Toymakers to watch over naughty children. They are historically very effective. Elined the Inventor supposedly had one and her gander grew to such a grand size that she was able to fly through the air on his back."

"But what do they do?"

"Well, they get bigger whenever a child does a thoughtful or kind deed." Skye tapped his lips with his fingers and Kit knew that he did when he was not saying everything he was thinking.

"And what if the child is naughty?" she asked.

"Well, it's not good." Skye busied himself with a pile of wrapping paper that was sitting on the worktable.

"Hosmerk is going to be okay, right?" Clio asked.

"Of course!" Skye replied. "I'd never make a toy that would actually hurt him. Quacken, his new Friend, will just remind him whenever he's straying off the straight seam."

"Sweetheart!" Kit said, "What did you do!" She and Clio were both staring at Skye with alarm.

"Let's just say that Hosmerk may hear a lot of duck quacking in the next few days, very annoying, very loud…. he'll figure it out."


Chapter Seven — Funday evening

"And we are thankful for our health and the food before us." Skye clapped his hands together and ribbons of light swirled around their arms and through Kit and Clio's hair before dissolving into a burst of tiny flowers. They sat down to dinner and had just picked up their forks when a bell ring from downstairs.

"Patrin's here!" Clio said, "I didn't think he was going to be able to make it." Wilber shook his head and Skye sniffed the air and looked concerned. He went to the door and returned with Robin Fletcher.

"Won't you join us for dinner, Fletcher?" Kit asked. "We've just started."

"No ma'am. I'm not hungry."

"Well, sit down anyway." Skye told him rather gruffly, annoyed to be interrupted at home during the dinner hour. He had already met with dozens of Toymakers earlier in the day, going over their workload and listening to their problems. For a Toymaker to bring work at dinnertime to Skye's household without an invitation was a serious breach of manners.

Fletcher took a chair and nervously picked at his napkin and adjusted his silverware.

"I came to ask permission to fight a Toymaker's Duel," he said after his knife and fork were perfectly aligned with his plate.

"Have you now?" Skye took a bite of one of the chili rellenos that Clio had made.

"Yes, sir. It's for a lady's honor."

"And who is this lady that needs your protection, not my niece Marina by any chance?"

"Yes sir." Fletcher looked indignant. "Koshka Mookael gave her a courting gift this afternoon on the conservatory balcony."

"Really!" Kit laughed. "Good for him! I thought he looked unusually serious this afternoon."

"That's so rocks!" Clio added and Wilber waved his paws over his head in a little happy dance.

"Do you know if he has permission from the Queen to court her?" Skye asked. "If he does then he's well within his rights to give her a present."

"Her Majesty would never give that mongrel Catlander permission to court the Princess." Fletcher replied. Skye gave him a warning look. His mother was from Catsport and he and his sister were half Catlander.

"Are you sure?" Skye waved his fingers for Spark to come over. "Perhaps we should check our facts before we start throwing accusations around, hmm?" The large griffin slowly got up from in front of the stove where she was dozing, yawned a cloud of steam then strolled over to Skye's side. He scratched her behind the ears and asked,

" Sparkushka, would you be so kind as to ask Chimka if he knows anything about Mook having permission to court Marina?" Spark lumbered over to the window and stared out into the starry night. After a moment she appeared to be listening to a long story, chuckling from time to time to herself and blowing tiny smoke puffs out her nose. She stared out the window quite awhile before returning leisurely to the table. She growled Chimka's reply to Skye who questioned her for quite some time in the harsh sounds of Griffinspeak. At one point his eyebrows shot up in surprise and he laughed out loud before continuing to converse with Spark. When the whole message was finally relayed Skye went back to eating.

"Miss Clio, could you please pass me the bread?" he asked.

"What did she say?" Kit asked. She knew that he was teasing them.

"You wouldn't believe it."

"I might." Kit replied, passing the basket of hot rolls down to her husband.

"Chimka said that the Queen has the idea that Mook is somewhat of a good influence on Marina and has indeed given him permission to see her. According to what Spark told me they had all kinds of adventures on the way to Ravinsbeak. We'll have to ask them about it at music night this evening, that is if you feel up to going, love."

"Yes, that would be nice." Kit replied.

"I'm sorry, Fletcher," Skye said with all seriousness. "I know that you care for Marina but she's entitled to make her own choices at least in matters of this nature. Did she lead you to believe that she returned your affections?"

"No, not really,' the young man replied, staring at the table. "I had hoped that with time she would. I'm sorry, I must seem terribly foolish."

"No, not to worry." Skye told him. "Your heart will mend, just give it some time."

Fletcher stood up and bowed to Kit and Clio and went to return to Arrowsford on the Marsh.

"I hope he's not too bummed." Clio said after he left.

"I'm sure that he will find solace in the affections of any number of young ladies that find him attractive." Skye assured her. "I didn't think that he was a very good match for Marina but as I said she should be able to make her own decisions about who she spends her life with." The rest of meal was spent happily chatting and catching up recent events. Afterwards Skye had sent Spark to escort Clio and Wilber back to her apartment to get her trumpet.

Kit noticed that her husband looked thoughtful as they put on their overcoats to walk to the royal palace. Skye's violin and Kit's guitar stood ready by the door.

"Are you really so surprised about Mook and Marina? From what you told me they have been friends since they were children."

"I shouldn't be but I was." he replied. "It's just that I said something to Mookael the night that you came down with the Ashes, that he didn't know what it was like to ache for someone. I now see that I was very wrong. It was a thoughtless thing to say and I hope that he'll forgive me."

"If Mook's half the friend that I think he is then he already has, love." Kit wrapped the shawl that Skye had made for her earlier around her neck.

"I may be able to remember everything but that doesn't mean that I always understand what's going on around me."

"And I thought I was the only one who couldn't figure everything out." Kit picked up her guitar case and took his arm. She buried her face into his shoulder for a moment, impulsively, as if to draw upon his warmth and comfort him at the same time. They stood together for a while, until Skye kissed the top of her head and they left their private world for the public one.


Julian's favorite place in the palace was the music room. It had originally been a cellar with it's high arched ceiling made with curving rows of bricks. However the acoustics were so good that for many generations it had been a place for the Royal family to make music. The room was a little chilly with its gray stone floor and dark oak paneling but Julian knew as he wound up the small mechanical stoves that were tucked in the corners that it would soon be filled with warmth and laughter as his family and friends gathered together.

Julian did not have his older sister Marina's gift of strength and self assurance nor did he have his younger brother Patrin's way with people, outgoing and carefree. He was quiet and thoughtful as he fulfilled his duties as a Healer and second son to the Crown Prince Nicholas and Princess Atheni. The dark haired young man did have one great talent however and that was the ability to make music, to write it and to play it. People said that Prince Julian could charm even Mabyn the Queen of the Fair Folk with his violin playing and that when he played or sang one would forget all else and see the face of Ura Amara in all her heavenly splendor.

This Funday evening Julian was filled with cheerful anticipation. He had written a new piece and was looking forward to having it performed for the first time. He carefully laid out the handwritten scores on each music stand then opened the big cupboards containing every instrument imaginable. He placed a selection of percussion instruments on a table for Patrin and Clio to play then opened up the cover on the grand piano and ran his fingers up and down the keys, the notes echoing off the high ceiling. Julian had just picked up his violin to start warming up when a quiet knock came at the door.

"Hullo!" Mook poked his head into the room. "I hope I'm not too early." He had changed out of his dress uniform and was carrying a battered looking guitar case.

"No! Mook, I'm glad you're here. Welcome back!" Julian said. "Marina told me you were joining us. She showed me her courtship gift. I've never seen her look happier. Thank you for saving her and Princess Isabella."

"They saved me just as much!" Mook replied and proceeded to tell Julian all about how Marina had fought an entire group of sea pirates and how Isabella had sung the Dance of the Harlequin Moon.

"I would've loved to have heard that!" Julian told him.

"I don't think it was something that I'd care to hear again, no offense to Miss Isabella."

"She is wonderful isn't she?"

"Princess Isabella?" Mook nodded, "She's a rare one, that's no lie."

"You don't think she's courting anyone, is she? She was supposed to be presented at the Toymaker's Ball last summer but her parents wouldn't let her go."

"She's not seeing anyone as far as I know." Mook said uneasily. He didn't want to tell Julian that it was his fault that Isabella had been forbidden to attend the party.

"I wrote her a song for her birthday next week." Julian told his friend and then turned pink. Mook was so exhausted from the events of the previous week and from staying up all night finishing up the town for the lost toys that he didn't notice.

"I'm sure she'll like it. Are you going to send it to her?" Mook asked. He took his guitar out and started tuning it.

"Um…." Julian turned an even deeper shade of red. "I was hoping to play it for her myself. Do you think that she would like that? I know she plays the cello. Perhaps she would prefer that I just mail her the sheet music."

Mook leaned on his guitar and took a long look at Julian. A smile warmed his face, as he realized what the shy young man was not saying.

"You're very taken with her, are you not?"

"Who wouldn't be? She's…" Julian replied, "…amazing."

"Aye, that she is. Best of luck to you. I'm sure that she'll love the music, especially if you played it yourself."

"Don't tell anyone. You know how rumors spread."

"No worries, there, my friend." Mook laughed.

Patrin and Puck the Polar bear arrived with Marina carrying her tiny white cat followed by their parents Nicholas and Atheni. They greeted Mook with kindness, with hand shaking all around. Patrin with fake tears threw his arms around Mook and called him "brother" much to Marina's discomfiture, but both she and Mook took his teasing with good humor. Skye and Kit, Clio and Wilber were close behind and soon the room was filled with such music and noise as the walls hadn't heard in centuries of listening.

They practiced Julian's new piece and Skye asked dryly if he was getting paid by the note because there were so many of them. Marina played the pennywhistle and Skye and Julian passed the melody back and forth between the two violins so quickly that it seemed as if they were playing pure fire. The song was lively and wonderful like a river of notes falling and tumbling. Everyone liked it so well that they performed it a second time when Queen Iren and Mrs. Hogar arrived. For the rest of the evening they played with great happiness through a series of old songs and sang together. Clio and Patrin had a wonderful time trying out all the percussion instruments, tambours, bells, drums and spoons. Kit was so busy playing her guitar that she didn't notice when Blue the little unicorn started breathing again as he rested curled up in her pocket.

As the evening fell into night Julian played an old Catlander lullaby accompanied by Mrs. Hogar on the Fairie pipes. The old song was sad and happy at the same time with Atheni softly singing to her children, pure and sweet. Kit leaned back to ask Mook what the words meant but when she looked over to the settle where he was sitting hand in hand with Marina, Sir Koshka Mookael, Game Master to the Queen was fast asleep.