In the previous episode it was decided that all women of Willow keep must have a chance to meet Mike so that everyone would have a fair chance. Now he is stuck playing the Tinker version of “The Bachelor” and Mike doesn’t like it one bit.
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The meetings ran through the morning, ten eligible women would be led into the room and he would have ten minutes to talk to them. They looked as if they had spent hours perfecting their hair in elaborate braids and curls. The effect made Mike think of ropes and gears. One woman even went as far to fashion her hair until it resembled a strange tree growing from the top of her head.
None of it impressed him, however. In fact, it seemed that the women who tried the hardest to look their best, had the most elaborate clothing and hair, where the ones who annoyed him the most. If anything they made him think that they were trying to hide things from him.
After a dutiful knock on the door, the current gathering of women stood and left while yet another bustled in. Mike folded a yawn into his elbow, being careful not to offend this new batch of hopefuls. Only three of them placed plates of food before him this time, to his relief. He had sampled so much food over the course of the morning; tarts, breads, nut candies, and more, that he couldn’t bear the thought of eating another bite. He did anyway.
“Please Mike, we want to know more about you, tell us about yourself,” said a younger she tinker who was sitting so far on the edge of her seat that Mike imagined her slipping off. The thought made him smile. She wore her white blond hair in a wave over one shoulder woven with hundreds of tiny glittery beads.
A chorus of agreement spouted from the other women, each trying desperately to seem the perfect and ideal match. He recited the same information that he had shared seventeen times already, embellishing the details a touch here and there to keep things interesting. They all responded with eager nods and demure giggles, and although they were all interesting they were not her.
He had hoped that he would find Mistress Maybelle among all the different faces, after spending so long admiring her intricate craftsmanship he felt he knew her already. They shared the same intense fascination with creating and crafting ingenious devices. And yet group after group came and went and she did not come.
After the last group came and went Mike’s head was a sea of faces and names. Only a handful interested him enough to learn more about. He jotted those names on a list, not trusting himself to remember. As he stood to leave Queen Caliee entered, shutting the door behind her.
“Well, Mike Finnegan, what have you to say for yourself?” she asked as she settled into one of the seats facing his.
Mike bowed and then sat back down. “You are blessed with an amazing amount of talent here, I’m flattered that these impressive women would want anything to do with me.”
“Enough with the humility Mike, tell me the truth. What do you think?”
“It’s hard to get an honest impression of anyone when they are trying so hard to stand out. I had no idea that hair could do all that.”
Queen Caliee smiled and adjusted her dress. “There has to be one or two that caught your interest.”
Mike handed her his list.
“Only eight out of everyone, interesting.” After glancing over the names with a nod she folded the paper and slipped it into a hidden pocket. “I will personally tell these women of your interest and arrange more personal meetings for you. Until then you are free to explore. Is there anything else you need?”
This was Mikes chance, and he wasn’t going to waste it. “Yes, I’ve wanted to talk to someone in engineering, I have some questions that I hope they can answer.”
“Of course, Sali here will lead you there.” She motioned to one of the women standing outside the door who blushed and curtsied. He recognized her from one of the earlier groups even though she had changed back into uniform and wore a simple braid down her back.
She led the way without speaking, although she kept sneaking sidelong glances that made him think she wanted to ask how the morning went and more specifically, if he had chosen her. The silence hung heavy between them although wherever they went a trail of whispers followed from those they passed along the way.
The door leading to the engineering shop rose higher than the other doors and was a complex array of gears and wheels more complicated and beautiful than the others, had Mike been on his own he would have stopped to admire it. Sali turned the central knob and gave the door a gentle push. The gears spun to life and the door swung forward opening into a room that Mike could only dream of. Mistress Maybelle perched on a tall stool in front of a workbench with a magnifying glass in hand.
Mike cleared his throat.
Maybelle didn’t look up. “I thought I made it clear that there are to be no visitors here, only my staff.”
“Even if it’s a special visitor?” Mike asked, fumbling for the right words.
She looked up and studied him as she would an interesting cog or spring before turning back to the table. “Weren’t the other hundreds of women enough for you?”
“It’s not that.” He shuffled his feet, unsure how to continue. “I am impressed by your work, I was hoping to talk to you about it.”
“Is that so? Well then, you’d better have a seat and promise not to touch anything. I’ll be with you in a moment. Sali, you may go now.”
The other woman muttered a thank you and left, leaving the two of them alone.
“This is a remarkable place you have here.”
“Don’t talk to me, I’m busy.” She said without turning her head.
“Sorry.” Mike whispered. He had hoped to have a much more welcoming reception, but as it is with anything he was willing to do whatever was needed to get to know Maybelle better.
To be continued…
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