Once upon a time, there was a small cabin in the woods. The cabin was the home to an old man, greying and stooped over, yet possessing a kindly smile to all who he saw. The warm and cozy cabin was tucked away into a shallow bend of the road. Here, the old man had stored countless piles of metal, wood, scraps of cloth or fur, and countless tools. Large tools, small tools, long tools, and short tools. Spinning tools, drilling tools, fine tools, and blunt tools. Tools and tools and tools were scattered around the place, for tools were his life. The old man spent his days as a tinkerer, fixing, polishing, working, and creating.
Every day, the tinkerer would pack his wares and his tools on to his trusty donkey. He would climb aboard it with his aging, but steady hands, and he would take a journey through the woods and streams where he lived to a nearby town. When he reached town, he beat his pots, pans, and tools in a cacophonous crash that sounded the arrival of the tinkerer.
The people in the town were familiar with the old man. When they heard his ringing call, the wives would run forward with their pots and kettles and brushes and mirrors for him to fix. The men would come forward, and ask for scraps of metal for their homes, or to peruse the wares that he offered. And finally, the children came forward to give him their toys and their baubles to tinker and fix.
And so, the tinkerer made his living, getting a bit of bread, cold meat, and water to live on, with an extra coin or two that could always be saved up for a special occasion.
The tinkerer had raised a pair of boisterous boys, who in turn had their own children as well. The youngest child of his younger son was named Piotr, and the tinkerer loved him very much.
Piotr had been born early, and his mother had died while giving birth. When Piotr was born, the midwife had told his father to smother the baby. The old man intervened, and Piotr lived. Though his father did not care for him, little Piotr was beloved by his grandfather.
The boy could not run or play like the other children. He was too frail and too sickly to play the rough and tumble games of the other children. He had a weak heart, and could not breathe well even at the best of times. And so, Piotr stayed in bed.
The father did not care for Piotr like he did with his other children: big, strapping boys who fought and played like real boys should, and pretty, quiet girls who did what they were told. Piotr, with his wandering mind and his physical weakness did not concern him. And yet, the old man favored him the most out of all of his grandchildren. He begged his son to let him take care of the boy, but, much as his son did not care for Piotr, he cared for his own father even less.
The tinkerer was saddened at the sight of the boy, who languished in bed all day, with only a large window and his imagination for company. The tinkerer took it upon himself to help his favorite grandson. He took scraps of tin and brass from his supply, and he set to work. Laboring for a week, his creation slowly took shape.
One day, the old man journeyed to his son’s house and presented the young boy with a blanket-covered item. Then, with a majestic flourish, he unveiled his creation, revealing a small iron cage. Perched within the cage was a bird.
The bird was crafted of metal, yet possessed soft features and intricate details, as if it were a real nightingale frozen in a metal embrace. It turned its head and peered at the boy. Then, it opened its beak and began to sing.
The song was a beautiful étude that sprang forth from the bird, as if it contained an entire orchestra within. Then, the bird warbled in a pure song of its natural calling, as it hopped off its perch. The tinkerer opened the door, and the bird flew out.
It cut a delicate arc through the air, flapping its wings and singing mixtures of natural birdsong and scraps of music. It cut circles through the air with the ease of a real bird, before finally coming to a halt, and perching within Piotr’s outstretched palms.
The boy cried with delight, and the commotion drew the attention of his father. His father was similarly amazed with the beauty of the bird, which continued to sing as it nuzzled the cheek of the boy.
They had never seen anything like it before, and as the sickly child giggled and played with his pet, he almost appeared like a normal boy. The old man’s heart swelled with joy at the reward of his long labor.
From then on, the tinkerer would take every coin that he saved, and buy scraps of metal, porcelain, and glass that he could not get himself. Then, with the pound of his hammer, or the twist of his drill, the tinkerer would make a new toy for the child.
There were toy soldiers who would fight each other, falling in combat, and then rising again, over and over, as much as the boy wanted. There was a ball that could change its size and fly through the air by itself, to help the boy who could not throw. Dolls that would come to life and talk. A mirror that showed the viewer any place in the world.
The tinkerer never got tired of making toys for the boy. As the boy grew older, he became less frail, and could go outside. His father allowed him to go to school with the other children. And of course, to accompany the boy on his voyage was his faithful metal bird.
When the boy showed the other children his pet, they shouted with glee and crowded little Piotr, asking him where he had gotten such a marvelous toy. Piotr told them all that his grandfather had made it for him, beaming with pride.
Soon, all of the children wanted toys from Piotr’s grandfather. The tinkerer was inundated with a horde of children who were dissatisfied with their own mundane dolls and tin soldiers. The tinkerer saw their expectant faces every time that he went to town, and soon, the children stopped asking him to fix their toys. They wanted him to make better ones. They wanted something new. They wanted something entertaining. They wanted something wonderful.
And so, the old man set to work, making more toys. Each and every one of them was a glory to see, something that amazed children and adults alike. His hands and his tools could spin marvels out of ordinary tin, and legends out of iron. Every toy that he made was better than the last. Over time, less people wanted tinkering done. They wanted toys. Then, one day, the tinkerer stopped tinkering. He became a toymaker.
Soon, news of the magical toymaker and his curiosities spread over the countryside like wildfire. People came from all around to get a glimpse of him, and to buy a toy. Noblemen paid lavish sums for their sons and daughters to receive the best toys, wrought of gold and silver, while even the poorest peasants could afford a coin for a simpler toy for their children. The toymaker became richer and richer, yet, at his heart, he remained a kindly old man who wanted nothing more than to see the smile of his children who loved him and his toys.
Although the toymaker became busier and busier, he never forgot little Piotr. Any of his toys would go to Piotr first, and he would make sure to create finer and more grandiose versions for the child that he loved best.
However, there were those who resented the old man. His younger son was not pleased with the whole affair, and believed that Piotr was getting far more attention than he deserved. As they are wont to do, his children heard and felt the ill will that their father had nursed in his heart, and soon, they came to resent their youngest brother as well.
The toymaker’s oldest grandson, Aleksey, was not happy. He was envious of his youngest brother, and how he always received the finest and grandest toys first. He wanted his brother’s toys, and he wanted to please his father. One day, he decided to act on both.
Piotr was playing in the grass with his grandfather’s latest invention, a puppy made of cloth and buttons. The little boy giggled at the sight of the exuberant puppy, running around and yipping. His bird happily chirped on his shoulder.
Aleksey approached Piotr. His shadow cast a looming darkness over Piotr that made the little boy look up into the eyes of his older brother. Oblivious to the malice in Aleksey’s eyes, Piotr broadly smiled when he saw his older brother.
Aleksey demanded that Piotr give him the puppy. Piotr cocked his head, confused, and asked why. Aleksey ordered his brother, saying that he was older, and therefore deserved it.
Piotr stood up in fear as he realized Aleksey’s intentions, and began to back away, while holding his puppy. The bird took to the air, and loudly chirped at Aleksey. Aleksey demanded the puppy again. Piotr swung his head from side to side. The poor boy never saw the hit coming.
Aleksey smacked Piotr across the head, causing the boy to cry out in fear, and making him drop the puppy, which ran off, yipping along the way. Aleksey continued to kick and punch his younger brother, screaming at him for taking his right as the eldest. Piotr sobbed and tried to get away. Aleksey continued to furiously beat the child.
Then, the songbird dove down and raked Aleksey’s face, causing the older child to scream in pain. Piotr shakily stood up, and began to run, for the very first time in his life. The bird followed along as Aleksey cursed his brother while he screamed in pain from the metal talons that had carved furrows across his face.
Piotr continued to run, but the sickly child could not keep running. As he ran, deeper in the forest, he quickly began to exhaust himself. His pitiful heart struggled futilely as it beat faster and faster, trying to keep the boy’s body going. Piotr fell to his knees as his tired heart exploded from the exertion.
The boy fell face first into the grass of the forest, cold and unfeeling. As soon as his beloved bird saw what had happened, it flew off, heading for its original home: the toymaker’s cabin.
Days after the death of the boy, people noticed that the toymaker had gone as well. His marvelous toys stopped being made. Those who went to his cabin saw that it was boarded up, and no smoke rose from the chimney that adorned the roof.
People were confused and sad. The toys that had brightened the lives of so many were gone. The toymaker began to slip away from memory as his toys broke or became lost. Soon, the people began to forget that he had ever existed, and as time went on, he became more and more of a fairy tale. His cabin was swallowed up by the woods, and the people’s lives went on.
All until one day, far in the future, one of the toymaker’s descendants came looking for the cabin of his once-famous relative. Though the world had forgotten the old man, stories had continued to be passed down in the toymaker’s family, and a few of the most cherished toys still remained. Through the ages, the family had kept quiet. Many had tried to replicate what the toymaker had done, but none had quite the magic in their hands that he seemed to possess. They could not find his cabin, and soon, most gave up the search as fruitless.
This child chose to come and find what remained, and what could be discovered. This child would not be discouraged.
After searching for hours and hours, he came upon a dilapidated cabin in the woods, which stood near the shallow bend of an old country road. He managed to tear down the rotting boarding covering the door, and he broke in. Using his flashlight, he peered around the former home of the marvelous tinkerer.
Inside, heaps and stacks of materials, long rusted and faded remained. Blueprints and designs for new toys were brittle and yellowed in their aging. Yet, throughout the cabin were hundreds upon hundreds of tools shone as brightly as if they had just been freshly polished. Large tools, small tools, long tools, and short tools. Spinning tools, drilling tools, fine tools, and blunt tools. Tools and tools and tools were scattered around the place. And in the middle of it all lay a true work of art.
It was a half constructed life-size model of a boy, made of the finest polished gold with silver inlays. Time had not dulled the surface, and the metal brightly shined. A half-finished arm lay on the table, open and showing the clockwork and parts that lay inside. The torso had been left open, demonstrating thousands of intricate parts and bits of odd materials, such as leaves, wood, and various runes and gemstones. On the table sat a jar containing a perfectly preserved, if somewhat small and bruised heart.
Scattered around the yet to be completed creation were pages upon pages of notes and scribblings in an awkward, stilted hand. They debated the best materials to use, what would last the longest, what could house a mind the most effectively.
As the young man examined all of this, he heard a short étude thrumming through the air. Looking up, he gazed with wonder as a beautifully carved metal bird flew through the air, and landed on his shoulder with a happy chirp. The man knelt down as he saw a delicate tool laying on the ground.
As he picked it up, it felt right in his hands, as if it belonged there. He began to fill his bag with all of the tools in the cabin, and he stuffed his backpack full of the blueprints and designs as well. Giving one last nod to the half-finished creation, he left the cabin and departed for home.
When he returned on his journey home, he pulled out a blueprint, and cleared his desk. He peered at the first design, and immediately began to get stacks of paper and a tool from his backpack. He grasped the tool, and touched it to the paper.
And then the wonder began.