The Toymaker

This is a dark age, a bloody age, an age of daemons and of sorcery.

The Toymaker

Postby VictorK » Sun Oct 14, 2012 2:56 am

I originally prepared this short story for the Turning RiaR competition. I found myself unable to get it down to the required length, but it's still not a very lengthy story. I don't see a reason to expand it so I guess this is more or less the finished product. I'm trying to reboot one of my warhammer characters, Tydas Erikson, into a character who doesn't suck so much.

The Toymaker

Gustav the toymaker huddled over his workbench. A hundred mechanical miracles chirped and clicked on the walls. Soldiers kept watch around ornate timepieces, and country maids gathered eggs from painted chickens. But no miracle approached the wonder of the small thing that Gustav had set turning.

It occupied the bottom of a wooden bowl, and given enough time might wear through. Gustav considered the small thing his masterpiece. Its metal pieces, hoops and gimbals and a thin disc at its center, spun with an unearthly precision. Once Gustav would have considered a mere top below his skills; even one with the gyroscopic mechanism that he had devised. But this one was different. The toymaker could not tear his eyes from it. The serene rotation of the central disc caught him in its trance.

Gustav jumped when his door was thrown open. He was startled, not surprised. The top wobbled, but only because the toymaker held the bowl cradled in his hands. They were shaking. It was the dying end of autumn outside, and the intruder had let the wind in. The cold cut Gustav to his bones, and twisted the ends of his thin, blanched moustache. Hadn’t he once been a large man? When had his clothes become so thin?

“You could have knocked, I won’t run.” Gustav felt like he was shouting, but the words still caught in his dry throat. He was old, and his knees hurt. He had known that they were coming, but had decided he would stay. What man should be condemned for a mere toy?

“You won’t run, but you might have a pistol, or some delightful trap. A line of knights, lances drawn to pierce my heart? They would be beautifully painted, of course. You are still a master.”

The intruder advanced into the cluttered workshop without fear. Gustav felt his heavy, gloved hand on his shoulder. The toymaker looked over the other and saw a silver pistol held precariously over his head. The man was not particularly tall, though his build was hidden under his black cloak.

“You don’t look like a witch hunter.” Gustav said. “Some highwayman…I have no money, and you’ll not fence my toys…I have a famous mark.”

The man grinned. It seemed to Gustav equal parts malice and amusement to it. “I am not a witch hunter. My name is Tydas, and I am here on their business. It’s time to go, Gustav.”

The toymaker reached up to remove his vest. The tools of his trade tinkled together softly. He stopped when Tydas squeezed his arm. “Leave it on. They’ll want to inspect them. Up, moonlight’s wasting.”

Gustav looked back to watch his top turning. He must have lingered longer than he intended because Tydas was soon pulling him to his feet. Not long ago no one would have handled him like that. He used to love to pat his belly when the children laughed with his toys.

“Leave it.” Tydas had to pull Gustav away when he reached for the top. The toymaker felt some relief, and accepted his coat from the man who served the witch hunters but was not one of them. Gustav thought Tydas was kind to let him pause and lock his door.

The streets of Altdorf were never quite empty. But the night was cold, and there were warmer places to take shelter than off the banks of the Reik, where ice was already starting to form.

Tydas walked behind Gustav, a hand placed on his back to steady the toymaker. Gustav was breathing heavily. The cold air cut his throat raw, and he could feel sweat soaking into his undershirt. His feet could barely navigate the uneven stones.

“So. How long?” Tydas must have been a young man. Or he had a very warm cloak.

“I…” Gustav had to swallow, and his dry tongue licked his lips. They were split. “…It has been turning for five days now.”

“Have you slept?”

“It’s not sleeping. Sometimes I drift away, but…it’s not sleeping.”

“You are an old man early. I expected someone younger after speaking with the children.”

Gustav’s heart raced. He balled his bony fingers into fists, but his energy soon flagged. “They…have nothing to do with it!” He choked on his own indignation, and collapsed into a fit of coughing. Tydas eased him down, and Gustav rested against the side of a building. The road split ahead. One street cut back to the city, the other descended towards the docks.

“They saw it. You showed it to an entire crowd, if I’m not mistaken.” Gustav hated the calm in Tydas’ voice, and the way that he casually packed his pipe. The highwayman-for that’s surely what he was-was at home in this part of the sprawling Imperial capital. At home with rats and thieves.

“I should be celebrated, not denounced. What a thing to condemn a man for a top that will not topple.”

“Five days. Surely unnatural.”

“No more unnatural than the freaks who hide themselves in this city. Wizards…they roam free while a toymaker is hauled off by a thug.”

“I’ll thank you not to call me that.” There was no anger in Tydas’ voice; he was happily puffing away on his pipe. “I’m not a witch hunter, but I’m learning from them. There’s too much mercy in my bones.”

“Mercy?” Gustav looked up at the man draped in black.

“Why did you make it?” The coals from the pipe illuminated Tydas’ face. Gustav saw little mercy in those blue eyes.

But he had nothing to lose. “It was…three years ago. A Dwarf caravan had arrived, and they had the most wondrous machines.” He smiled. His teeth were rotten. “I was a child myself that day. Inspiration seized me.”

“Three years seems to me a long time to make a toy.”

“I guarantee that more than that time went into the design of your guns. They are exceptional.” Gustav took some warmth from the moment of surprise, a small flinch of Tydas’ brow, that he caused. His eyes were still good. “There were many others. But none were perfect. They would stop turning. I almost despaired for that perfection…until a few months ago, when I was blessed. Sigmar’s Star hung in the sky, and I completed my miracle.”

Tydas was quiet. Gustav could almost see the gears turning in his head. Men were little more than machines, he had seen that in his miracle.

“It seems a strange thing.” Tydas finally said. “To condemn a man for a top that will not topple.” He tumbled the ashes from his pipe and let the embers smolder on the ground. He took Gustav’s arm and roughly hauled him to his feet. “Up. I may not turn you in after all.”

They turned away from the center of the city and made for the docks. There was an urgency to Tydas’ stride that Gustav had not felt before. His damp clothes clung to his bones, chilled by the night air. He tried to protest but his heavy breathing had stripped his throat bare.

“You can take refuge in Marienburg. They distrust Sigmarites there, and let’s be honest with ourselves the witch hunters won’t pursue you over a top.”

The street sloped down to the river bank. Ice was forming in the cracks that caught the last of the autumn rains. If not for Tydas Gustav would have fallen, and shattered. The stone turned to wood as they stepped onto a pier that extended into the Reik. It would have to be taken out soon, the ice would crush it.

“Thank you…” Gustav wheezed. “I can…start again. Make the children smile again. That’s all I wanted. To work my craft. To hear laughter. One cannot help inspiration.”

They paused, and Gustav seemed to sag, but held his feet. He looked out over the river, towards where the bellows of the College of Engineers cast an angry red glow onto the still waters.

“You know.” Gustav seemed to catch his breath again. “I almost joined that school. But I was called elsewhere. I could never be inspired to make weapons of war. I was inspired to make happiness.”

Gustav jerked when Tydas gripped his collar. “Inspiration is a kind of daemon.” The toymaker heard the mechanism click. So crisp and clean…no highwayman carried a pistol like that. The gun discharged and blew out his heart. The top wobbled.

Gustav tried to draw a breath, but there was nothing. He was grateful for the warm blood flowing over him. By the time he realized what it meant he was falling. The toymaker was dead before he struck the water. The tools in his vest dragged him down. The gunshot brought some watchmen to investigate, but by the time they arrived the man in the black cloak had vanished.

Tydas watched the top turn. Inspiration was a daemon that held sway only over its maker. But whatever had called Gustav the toymaker to his death so that it might be born warranted caution. He reached out to take it. Something burned in his fingers when the top was arrested. The metal disc continued to spin for a few moments longer, and then it stopped. It really was beautiful, the steel polished and inlaid with gold and silver, all perfectly weighted. Tydas knew he should destroy it. The witch hunters would be angry enough that he hadn’t turned in Gustav.

Instead he slipped the top into his pocket.
"The gods are not all powerful, they cannot erase the past." -Agathon
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Re: The Toymaker

Postby Athelassan » Mon Oct 15, 2012 6:04 pm

Since you were kind enough to comment on my story, I thought I'd return the favour. This is a very nice short piece with a refreshing mundanity to it, but still an identifiable Warhammer flavour.

There were a couple of bits that drew my attention, though. Firstly, the repeated mentions of Tydas as a "highwayman" - this seemed off. A highwayman seems to me to be someone who lurks on the roads and ambushes travellers, rather than a housebreaker in the middle of a big city. I know what you mean, particularly given the similarity in dress between traditional WHF witch hunters and highwaymen, but the context seems off. Perhaps "bandit", "outlaw" or even just "robber" or "lowlife" would serve the purpose better.

“So. How long?” Tydas must have been a young man. Or he had a very warm cloak.

This line had me puzzled for a minute. I imagine that Gustav thinks that Tydas's voice indicates the cold isn't bothering him, but perhaps it could be made clearer.

Although it's largely a preference and style thing, I noticed a couple of occasions where you say something along the lines of "he licked his lips. They were split" or "He smiled. His teeth were rotten". The details are nice, but I'm not sure they deserve a sentence to themselves at that stage in the story. Were it my writing, I'd consider revising to "he licked his split lips" or "He smiled, showing rotten teeth", but that is, as I say, largely a matter of personal preference.

If not for Tydas Gustav would have fallen, and shattered.

I assume you mean there that the ice would have shattered, rather than Gustav (or maybe not). Clarification might be helpful.

Finally, the last couple of paragraphs seem a little jerky as to location. We're told what happens to Gustav and the top without any identifiable break in the narrative, which makes it seem for a moment that Gustav and Tydas have the top with them, still spinning, rather than back at the shop. It's not dificult to make sense of it, but, especially at the climax of the story, it would be helpful if it were more obvious at first sight.

These are minor niggles, though, and I did very much like the piece as a whole.

Ath
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