Thadwyn opened the oven doors and pulled out a tray of burnt chocolate muffins. He had set the timer only three minutes too long, but the extra heat had done its destruction upon what would have been a delicious breakfast. Smoke rolled out of the oven as if from a dragon’s mouth, if the dragon’s mouth were toothless and rectangular.
Thadwyn tossed the tray of wasted food on the counter and switched on the vents on the ceiling. Fortunately the airship’s kitchen had a great ventilation system. If Thadwyn could dispose of the burnt muffins before anyone walked through the door, no one would ever know he messed up.
As Thadwyn was thinking this, a woman walked through the door. It was Miss Isabella Wormgood, Thadwyn’s guardian. She wore blue thick-rimmed glasses that always slid down to the bottom of her nose. Her dark hair was bundled atop her head like a pile of rope. It was the latest fashion for women in their late forties.
Wormgood smiled at Thadwyn. “Ah, good, you’re baking those muffins . . .” And then she began to cough. Her eyes glanced at the oven. “Oh. I see. You’ve burnt the muffins.”
“It was an accident!” Thadwyn was quick to say. What did the lady expect? He was only eleven years old. He did not have very much cooking experience. Besides, cooking was a woman’s job.
“You have to learn how to bake muffins properly!” Wormgood said, wagging a crooked finger. “Cooking is not just a woman’s job. It’s for everyone.”
“But can’t this wait until tomorrow?” Thadwyn said. “The emperor isn’t coming until Friday, and all the other kids are playing rumshuckles.” Rumshuckles was a great sport that involved throwing bouncy balls into wide plastic buckets arrayed across the airship’s gymnasium floor.
“Come, now, Thadwyn,” Wormgood said, pushing her glasses up her nose only to have them slide back down again. “We both know you don’t have any friends. Nobody would want you on their team and you would only spend your time playing those silly video games again.”
It was true, but Thadwyn did not want to admit it. So he just said nothing.
“Ah,” Wormgood said, “the boy doth not protest at all. Proof positive that I am right. Now then, what are these over here?” Wormgood walked across the kitchen to plate of amothens Thadwyn had baked earlier. Amothens were small hard biscuits, usually crumbled over soups and fish, but sometimes ate plain after dipping into a warm chocolate drink. “Did you bake these?”
“I did, yes,” Thadwyn said. “I used my own recipe.”
“Did you? I don’t remember giving you permission to do that.”
“I don’t remember you refusing me permission,” Thadwyn retorted cleverly.
“I’ll have to have a taste,” Wormgood said. She picked up one of the biscuits and shoved it into her mouth as if it were a giant coin and her mouth were a giant coin slot with slobber inside. She chewed and made faces and chewed some more. When she was done chewing, she swallowed. Then she swallowed again. She kept swallowing and then she stopped.
She gazed at Thadwyn over her blue thick-rimmed glasses with wide eyes as if Thadwyn had suddenly grown horns or something. “These are . . . These biscuits are simply . . .”
Thadwyn bit his lip so hard that he started bleeding and he drank the blood.
“These biscuits are the most delicious thing I have ever chewed and swallowed in my entire life besides applesauce!” Wormgood smiled a smile so widely that all her crooked teeth showed and Thadwyn realized she had really ugly teeth and needed to floss more. “What is your secret recipe?”
The secret recipe was that Thadwyn had used extra sugar, but he didn’t let the secret slip out so easily. “What’ll you give me if I tell you?”
“Hmmm . . .” Wormgood looked up at the ceiling as if an answer might be written on the tiles above. “Well, you don’t really need anything. I guess I could give you some candy.”
“Candy is for babies,” Thadwyn said, trying to sound grown up.
“Then how about some toys?” Wormgood said.
It was very tempting. Thadwyn enjoyed a good action figure as much as the next guy. Especially the deluxe models that took batteries and came to life and talked. But he had enough of those sorts of toys already. He wanted something special.
“I want something special,” he said.
“You know that play that you and the staff are putting on for the emperor?”
“You want to be in it?” Wormgood said, grimacing. “I’m sorry, but there’s no part for children in it.”
“I don’t want to be in it,” Thadwyn said. “I want to draw the backdrops for it.”
“I’m not sure you’re talented enough,” Wormgood said.
“But I am sure. Let me do it.”
“I’ll have to think about it,” Wormgood said. She stuffed another amothen in her mouth and munched on it. After five minutes of chewing and swallowing, she said, “Fine. You can draw the backdrops. But they can only be used for the play if Blyman approves of them.” Blyman was the head of staff, and was acting as director of their play. “Do we have a deal?”
“I suppose. But I will only tell you the secret recipe if my backdrops get approved. Understood?”
“Fine,” Wormgood nodded.
Excellent. Thadwyn’s plan of escaping the airship had just begun.