The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 23

In the previous episode, Queen Caliee informed Mike that not only can’t he court Mistress Maybelle, that if he refuses to comply with her wishes that she will have him locked up and used as breeding stock for the rest of his days.  Mike will not compromise with the Queen and is locked back into his room.

To read the previous episode, click here!

To start at the beginning of the story, click here!

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Once the initial anger from being locked into the small bedroom subsided, Mike began to pace.  He had to figure out a way to get a message to Maybelle and warn her of what was happening. He picked up his cane from the corner; perhaps he could find a way to use it. He had already tried it on the door, but being Tinker work it had been warded against Tinker magic. Typical.

When he had been locked in before, he had almost figured out the elaborate locking mechanism. He knelt at the door and studied the various gears and levers once again.  He reached for his jacket toolkit and realized that he was still in his night shirt.  That wouldn’t do at all.  If he managed to open the door he couldn’t just waltz down the hall dressed like that.  He had standards after all.

After quickly dressing and brushing he returned to the door. There would be standing guard, he’d have to deal with that once the door was open.  He could only hope that Queen Caliee had kept her plans for him a secret from the keep.  It didn’t make sense for her to share her plans with more than one or two trusted attendants and advisors, ones that sided with her and agreed that Mistress Maybelle should be forced to stay. Otherwise she might have a revolt on her hands.

The lock clicked and the bolt slid free of the frame.  Mike opened the door a few inches and spied the guard standing at attention.  Cane in hand, he opened the door the rest of the way.

“Hello there,” he greeted her in his most cordial voice.

She spun toward him, utterly confused. “How did you-“

Before she could finish he poked her with the end of his cane and released a bolt of magic sending her boneless to the floor. He checked the corridor for any witnesses, there were none. He hoisted her up and hauled her into the room and into the bed and then positioned her so that should anyone look in the door they would assume it was him.

Back in the corridor he wound his way towards Mistress Maybelle’s workshop. Along the way he passed several of the women he had met during the interview process.  Some gave him gentle shy smiles as if by some miracle he would change his mind and want to get to know them better.  Others he had rejected glared at him with open hostility.

Another guard stood rigid at the door of the workshop.  Her eyes widened when she saw Mike and she grabbed her spear. “What are you doing here?” she demanded. Obviously she was in on the Queen’s plan.

Mike didn’t stop or slow as he approached, his cane stretched out in front of him like an anemic battering ram.

“Stop, I mean it!” She held her spear at the ready and seemed terrified to use it.

Mike released a burst of magic at her and her eyes rolled back as she crumpled to the floor. He caught her as she fell.  “I’m sorry, none of this was supposed to happen.”

He was relieved to find the workshop door unlocked.  He dragged the unconscious guard inside and closed the door. When he turned he was greeted by the shocked expressions of nearly a dozen tinkers working in the shop.

Maybelle recovered first and stood from her stool, dropping her pliers onto the workbench. “What is the meaning of this?”

He placed the guard down against the wall and away from the door being careful not to knock her head against the hard floor. He then turned the giant lever that locked the door.

One of the workshop tinkers came forward with a hand to her mouth. “Is she hurt?”

“No, just sleeping. She’ll be fine in a few hours.”

Maybelle grabbed Mike by the shoulder and spun him so they were facing each other, her eyes wide with terror. “What’s wrong with you?”

“I’m fine, I swear it. It’s the Queen. She doesn’t want you to leave.  She’s threatened to put me in a cell for the rest of my days should I try to take you from here.”

“What?” She released her hold on him dropping her arm to her side. “That’s impossible.”

Mike sank onto one of the nearby stools and ran a hand through his hair. “She says that the safety of this keep depends on you, that you are the next in line to the throne.”

Maybelle gestured to the others to give them some space. “I suppose she didn’t bother to mention that there are six of us in line, six cousins that can all take the throne if needs be.”

“No, she wanted me to pretend that I was not longer interested in you and to take another girl and leave. I couldn’t do it. It’s wrong.”

Maybelle settled into the stool next to Mike and laced her hand into his. “I’ve been worried something like this might happen.  When the curse hit and Caliee was forced to take the throne it was a dark time for everyone, but for her especially.  The king died leaving her alone to protect the keep, she wasn’t ready.  The stress of it changed her, made her harder, more cunning. The last few years have shown us that if she is determined for something to happen she wouldn’t stop until it was done.”

Mike squeezed her hand. “Escape with me. The keep is in good hands. You have trained your fellow engineers well.  I’m sure that they can do whatever is necessary.”

“You don’t understand. She’ll come after us. She’s decided that I must stay here, she won’t stop until she has guaranteed that I will.”

“Don’t you want to leave?”

“Of course I want to leave.  I’ve wanted to leave ever since the curse took all that I loved from me. I want to start over somewhere new.”

“Come with me. Right now.  They won’t have had time to prepare yet, we might make it. You know this place better than any tinker alive.  Surely there is a secret exit, a way that we can slip out unnoticed?”

“This is my home and my family.  I can’t abandon them.”

“But you aren’t living. Every day you are tortured by your past. You deserve a life where you can be happy.”

Maybelle released a pent up breath. “I know.”

“Come with me.”

“I’m scared.”

Mike cupped her cheek, turning her face toward him once more. “I will never leave you.”

“Never?”

“I promise.”

She squeezed his hand back and smiled.  “There is a tunnel under the east wing leading to an abandoned irrigation system.  We could be away from here within the hour.”

Just then loud voices erupted in the hallway along with sounds of someone trying to force the door.

Maybelle stood from her stool. “She knows you’re here.”

“How is that possible?”

“Never underestimate Caliee.” She pulled his hand. “Follow me, we might still make it.”

***

To be continued…

To read the next episode, click here!

The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 22

In the last episode Maybelle finally opened up to Mike and told him of her tragic past. They share a much-needed embrace and Mike vows that he will do everything in his power to never let anyone hurt her again.

To read the previous installment, click here.

To start the story from the beginning, click here.

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Mike woke to a knocking at his door. He rolled over, hoping whoever it was would go away. He and Maybelle had talked long into the night and he had only gone to sleep a few hours before. The light from the bottle glass window seemed too bright to his sticky eyes and he pulled the blanket over his head.

The knocking continued. With a groan Mike peeled off the blanket and answered the door. Whoever had the nerve to wake him at this hour was going to get a piece of his mind.

He jerked open the door. “What do you want?” he barked before looking at who was there. He immediately regretted it

Queen Caliee and one of her attendants stood in the doorway.  The Queen wore her circlet and robe leading Mike to believe that she was here on official business.  Her attendant folded her arms across her chest and wore an unamused smirk.

“I need to speak with you,” the Queen said.

“Sure, give me a moment to put myself together and I’ll be right with you.” He sounded too eager, trying hard to make up for his lack of manners a moment earlier.

“No, now.” She pushed past him and sat in the branch work chair in the corner of the room under the window. The attendant took her post outside the door.

Mike took a seat on the edge of the unmade bed, painfully aware that he was still in his rumpled nightshirt as he faced the Queen.

“I have been made aware of your interest in Mistress Maybelle and I’m here to tell you that you cannot take her from Willow Keep.”

The suddenness of the announcement took Mike by surprise and left him gaping. “Excuse me? What do you mean I cannot take her?”

“The women available to you were the ones that we presented to you.  Did you presume you could just waltz in here and take whoever you wanted?”

Mike attempted to answer, to defend himself, but she cut him off before he could utter a syllable.

“I’ve tried to be patient with you and your lack of interest in the dozens of women we’ve made available for you. I hoped that somehow one of them would spark enough interest that you would be satisfied and leave.”

Mike hadn’t gotten over her initial pronouncement. “Why not her? Why can’t she leave with me should she choose to?” An intense heat built up within him as he spoke and he couldn’t hide the anger that he felt. “She’s lonely and hurting. Staying here only makes it worse.  Everyday she is reminded of what she has lost, of what you all have lost. Why can’t she be allowed to have some peace?”

“It’s not that. She is one of my advisors and is needed here. More than that, she is my cousin and the next in line to the throne. I simply can’t have her running off with the first he tinker that knocks on our door.”

Mike sighed and ran a hand through his uncombed hair. “Have you spoken to her about any of this?”

“No, and I won’t either.  If she thinks that I’m involved she will never speak to me again.”

“You expect me to be the one to tell her that I don’t want her?  I can’t do that.”

“Don’t you understand? She must stay here.  The safety of this keep depends on it.”

“I refuse to argue with you.” He stood and paced the narrow room. “And I refuse to lie to her either. If I talk to her I will tell her that you refuse to let her leave. She should be allowed to decide her own fate. It’s only fair.”

“Fair has nothing to do with it.  If you choose not to comply with my wishes I have no choice but to find a way to get rid of you.  I must protect my people and my kingdom.” She stood, straightened her skirt, and headed for the door.

“This is madness!” he shouted. “Without a next generation there will be no more tinkers. And as the only man left I am your only hope for survival.”

“Oh, I would never kill you.  But it is not beyond me to imprison you and use you as breeding stock for the rest of your days.” She shut the door hard behind her and Mike heard the lock click into place.

Once again they had trapped him in the small room. He kicked at the chair sending it tumbling over the floor. He wanted to scream and to curse. Just a few hours before he had found a happiness that he had never imagined as he and Maybelle kissed goodnight.  In the quiet hours of that early morning she had agreed to leave with him and leave the pain of her past behind.

There was only one thing to do.  He had to come up with a plan to escape with Maybelle, and soon.

***

To read the next episode, click here!

The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 15

In past episodes Mike has survived challenge after challenge and now has arrived at the base of the willow tree and met his first she tinker.  Will he survive this challenge?  Let’s find out!

To read the previous episode, click here!

To start at the beginning, click here!

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Mike brushed off the twigs and dirt from his sleeves and tugged his jacket straight. His tumble landing from his ride from the crazy blue jay had left him shaken, disheveled, and in no way prepared to meet the woman he might marry. He had envisioned so many things differently.  If he could have done this again he would have been brushed and groomed and come bearing some sort of gift.

The chance to make that sort of good impression was gone and it was all he could do not to curse at his bad luck. Especially not with a she tinker eyeing him while holding a spear.

“Answer me! What are you?” She demanded.

“The name’s Mike Finnegan, and I’m a tinker, like you,” he answered, holding his cane between himself and the armed she tinker. From above in the canopy of the willow Mike heard a gasp and the low hiss of several voices whispering back and forth.

“Impossible, all the he tinkers were killed with the curse.” She lowered her eyes ground the butt of the spear in the dirt.

Now it was Mike’s turn to be surprised. He knew that there had been some sort of calamity ages ago, but only hearing fragments here and there from sparrows visiting the house, he never had learned enough to put the pieces together. The shock of her statement startled him, he had to know more.  “Listen, I am what I say. You have to believe me, I never knew about any curse. Could you tell me more?”

She pounded the spear against the ground and her face twisted in anger as she once again stared him down. “How can you claim to be a tinker and not know this? Are you a spy for those filthy leprechauns?”

Mike stepped back. “No, I swear it!”

Another tinker stepped out from somewhere behind him without a sound.  Her hair hung in two dark braids over either shoulder and she had the air of importance about her.  “Enough Iszel, I’ll take it from here.” The honey haired tinker bowed and stepped back a few paces.

“Well, well, what have we here,” she muttered to herself as she stepped closer to Mike. She looked closely at his cane, being careful not to touch it, and then into his eyes.  With an outstretched finger she traced a line along his brow. “What you say is true, I find no deceit in you.” She smiled and the gesture sparked a warmth within him. “Welcome Mike Finnegan to Willow Keep, the last home of the tinkers. I am Queen Caliee.”

She turned to the other she tinkers who had assembled. “We shall show our guest every courtesy while he is with us.  Iszel, if you will show him to a room, I’m sure he’s weary from his travels.”

Iszel turned to the queen, never taking her eyes from him. “Are you sure he can be trusted?”

“I know you have sworn to protect me and this keep. I trust him to be what he says. Now show him into the keep.” She glanced around. “The longer we linger out here the more notice we’ll attract.”

“Yes,  ma’am.” Iszel nodded and bowed before turning back to Mike. “Alright, come with me and take care to stay on the path. We’ve taken measures to ensure our safety, I’d hate to see you caught in one before hearing what you have to say for yourself.”

“Yes, of course,” Mike agreed and followed her steps carefully.  He knew what he was capable of as a tinker in terms of creating traps and he’d hate to trigger any by accident. Iszel marched on ahead, head high, back straight.  He thought finding the she tinkers would answer all of his questions, not bring an avalanche of even more questions.

Iszel led him to a hidden passageway concealed by an outstretched root of the tree.  From within he could see an elaborate system of pulleys and gears that would raise and lower the root to allow entrance. Whoever had created all of this was surely a genius that he wanted to meet.  The passage slanted down toward a tall door flanked by two armored tinker guards who eyed him with curiosity.

Inside the doors was a great hall with pillars arching overhead formed from the roots of the tree.  The floor was set with smooth polished stones. Several she tinkers in the hall stopped what they were doing to watch him as he passed by.

They traveled down several different corridors before arriving at a door. “You should find everything you need in here, rest and get cleaned up.  Someone will come for you in a while.” Iszel said as she ushered him inside.

As soon as he entered the room she shut the door and he heard a key turn in the lock. “Hey, what’s the meaning of this?” he shouted and banged on the door. There was no answer.

To be continued…

To read the next episode, click here!