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