Master Madrigal's Mechanical Man
by Scott C. Mikula
I tried to shut out the crowd's roar, but the thunder of a thousand feet pounding above us in the
arena stands rose until I could feel the breastplate of the mechanical swordsman vibrate beneath
my touch. Master Madrigal gestured with his palsied hand for me to replace the automaton's
helmet, but I hesitated long enough to examine the delicate inner workings. Just one small
A cuff to the back of my head arrested my motion. "We have spoken of this, Cetta," said
Madrigal. "There is no problem with the balance." He crossed his arms, tucking his useless
right hand out of sight beneath his sleeve.
I was twelve years old when I persuaded my mother to send me to her uncle Madrigal, after his
illness. It was supposed to be temporary, but his palsy only worsened in the intervening years.
The word apprentice was never used. Girls did not apprentice to craftsmen like Madrigal, and I
don't think he would have taken an apprentice in any case. He referred to me as his hands. My
deft fingers did the work his no longer could.
"Yes, Master Madrigal." I set the helmet as he had indicated, covering switches and levers and
the gyroscope I believed flawed, but my belly roiled with indignation. Madrigal thought me no
more intelligent than the automaton, as though my head, too, were full of switches and levers
contrived to direct me to his bidding. But I held my tongue. Contesting Madrigal's opinion
would only make him sour and stubborn.
The applause gave way to a muted anticipation as Lybron, the opposing swordsman, made his
way to his corner of the combat yard. He was handsome, with a mane of golden-yellow hair that
flowed loose behind him. He stood with an easy grace, exuding pride like a strong perfume.