Snips And Snails, by Chris O'Kane

Story name: Snips and Snails
Author: Chris O'Kane
Publication date: January 20, 1999

Date: Summer 704 CR - Summer 706 CR
Location: Metamor Keep

Overview

Misha repairs an old automaton named Madog, and discovers there is more to the metal fox than it seems.

Summary

Misha invites Jon to his workshop to inspect a corroded artifact that a road crew uncovered. From the gears and its animal shape, Misha believes it to be an automaton. Jon brings Smithson over, and together they slowly clean off the dirt to reveal the twisted mass of gears and rods, shaped into a fox. Misha decides that he will fix and refurnish it.

Over the next two years, Misha carefully removes the skin, researches automatons as they were constructed hundreds of years ago, labels each component, replaces every broken piece (593 out of 912), and carefully reassembles the automaton fox. Engravings on the fox reveal that it was built 350 years ago in a short-lived minor duchy, and was named Madog. After two years of work, he demonstrates Madog's preset actions to a small audience of friends and Duke Thomas in his workshop, who are charmed and delighted by it.

One night, as Misha is finishing a report, Madog knocks him unconscious. Charles visits Misha's apartment and discovers Madog, which mutters "not the one" and escapes. In the library, Madog catches Rickkter off-guard, and lunges for his throat. Rickkter punches Madog in the neck, and receives a jolt of electricity that knocks him out.

Charles alerts the Keep guards and tends to Misha, who cannot believe Madog would do this. They head for the armory and find Rickkter in the hallway, carrying a war staff and hunting the automaton. They wonder who Madog is looking for. Misha reasons that such an intricate device must have been built for an important target. Remembering that 350 years ago, an illegitimate Duke of Metamor had to fight his enemies to claim the throne, Misha realizes that Madog is after the Duke.

Madog finds the Duke surrounded by guards in a corridor filled with vases and marble statues. He sneaks forward, breathes out a thick fog that blinds the guards, and quickly dismembers the Duke. Misha, Rickkter, and Charles arrive fully armed, smelling blood and sweat. Madog charges for Misha, who deflects his blow and allows Rickkter to stab it in the neck. Madog runs off, declaring that the Duke is already destroyed.

In their room, Kimberly and Hough are having dinner when Madog catches them by surprise and leaps onto Hough. Kimberly fears the worst when she hears a crunching sound, but it turns out to be Madog eating Hough's brass cup. Kimberly thinks Misha is pulling a joke on her, but Madog proudly announces that now he is free from commands. Hough is impressed by Madog's lifelike actions, and wonders if there is an animal soul trapped within. Kimberly sees the wound on Madog's neck, and asks what happened. Madog tells them he got it after destroying the Duke, but is confused when he hears Thomas's name.

Misha is trying to clear up the confusion in the corridor. A maid and two guards are tending to their wounds; the guards inform Misha that Duke Thomas was nowhere near them. Charles arrives with Thomas, who assures them he was perfectly safe. Kimberly and Hough appear and reveals that the "destroyed" Duke was actually a statue of Duke Brian, the illegitimate Duke from 350 years ago. Madog timidly peeks out from behind Hough's legs.

In the throne room, Thomas holds an audience between the various Keepers over Madog's fate. Several of them, including Wessex and Rickkter, believe that Madog is dangerous and must be destroyed; others, like Hough and Misha, believe that Madog was compelled by magic in his attack, but is now free from its influence. Thomas decides to give Misha one week to rehabilitate Madog, before giving Madog a thorough examination.

Characters

Main characters:

  • Misha Brightleaf: Long Scout and mechanic.
  • Madog: A fox automaton. He was built 350 years ago by Vernosa, Duke of Grammont, supposedly as a gift to Duke Brian. In actuality, he was built to assassinate him. He was also programmed to carry out a pre-programmed demonstration, presumably as part of his disguise. He was never activated and was lost en route to Duke Brian's, until Misha repaired him. After carrying out his orders, he regains his autonomy, which indicates he might have a soul.

Supporting:

  • Jon Sleeper: A quartermaster and amateur artificer.
  • Charles Matthias: A close friend of Misha's.
  • Rickkter: A warrior and newcomer from the East. He has only been morphed for a few days when Madog attacks. He was researching a signet he'd found before he was interrupted.
  • Father Hough: The Keep's Eccleisan priest, a child morph. He believes that Madog possesses an animal's soul, and ardently defends Madog before the court.
  • Kimberly: Matthias's beloved and Father Hough's caretaker.
  • Duke Thomas: Duke of Metamor Keep.

Minor characters:

  • Smithson: An archaeologist and Jon's mentor.
  • Wessex: A wizard who specializes in foreign magic. He believes Madog is simply a magical construct, and has no soul.
  • Fox Cutter: The Keep librarian.
  • Caroline Hardy: Misha's girlfriend. An amateur painter, she paints Misha's portrait, and has the idea to paint Madog's eyes blue. She is present for Madog's demonstration.

Cameo:

  • Will Hardy: The Keep jeweler. He recognizes the automaton's metal as aluminal.
  • Millie: A maid who receives a broken arm.
  • Pascal: The Keep alchemist. She produces aluminal cleaner for Will. Misha asks her for a few gallons of aluminal cleaner.
  • Posti: A wizard, present in the throne room with Duke Thomas. He believes Madog has no soul, as he was created in a workshop.
  • Raven: The Keep Lightbringer, present in the throne room with Duke Thomas. She can see that Madog has a soul, but his potent magic prevents her from seeing clearly.
  • Sasha: A commander of the Keep guards.

Referenced:

  • Brian Coe: The Keep doctor.
  • George: The Keep's patrol master.
  • Kee: A Keep messenger.
  • Phil: Head of intelligence at the Keep.

Story Connections

  • This story is the first of a three-part story about Madog, continuing with Exam and ending with Aging Gracefully.
  • Wessex mentions his arm being broken six years ago after calling Misha a killer.

World

  • Rulers during the mid-300s:
    • Duke Philip: He died under mysterious circumstances in 341.
    • Duke Brian the Bastard: Duke Philip's illegitimate son. In order to claim the throne, he killed his chief rival in a duel and exiled his other rivals.
    • Vernosa I: The Duke of Grammont, from 345 to 350. Grammont was apparently a newly created duchy after Duke Philip's death in 341. After Vernosa's death in 350, the Duchy of Grammont became extinct.
    • Automatons were popular during the time of Duke Philip and Brian.
  • In the Keep library are three works on automatons: Automatomica and Mechanica by Archamealos, and Mechanicals by Mertwin.
  • Also in the Keep library is a lesser-known book called Grey's Heraldry. Spanning two feet by three feet, and over a foot thick, it needs two people to carry. It is covered in soft black leather, with a life-sized hand on the front cover. By placing a heraldic symbol inside the hand, the book will open to the page corresponding to the symbol. Being a book on heraldry, it is light on history.
  • The great swan of Maldan Hall is a well-known automaton of a silver swan, powered entirely by gears and no magic. The swan floated on a pool of mercury, and with the push of a button would pop its head underneath and bring up various metallic animals to "eat".
  • The report Misha is writing concerns two Lutin tribes. The Long Knife tribe is fighting with the Ripper tribe, after a Keeper patrol killed a Ripper sub-chief in an ambush, and successfully framed it as a Long Knife attack.
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