The Clockwork Soldier

Published on May 26th, 2011 by

The Clockwork Soldier

Once, a long time ago, there was a toymaker who lived in a small village. He made toys for everyone, from the children to the adults who fancied something to show off at dinner parties. The Toymaker made every kind of toy, from jigsaw puzzles to dolls to model train sets, but the thing he specialised in most was clockwork toys. Many children squealed with delight every Christmas as they opened tore apart colourful wrapping to reveal the Toymaker’s latest design. A crocodile who softly snapped his jaws. A bear who played on a marching drum. A motorcar that would drive around in a huge circle. Every year the Toymaker worked diligently to perfect his latest masterpiece, and every year he would call in three lucky children from the village to test the toys.

One day, the Toymaker sat at his desk with an empty piece of paper in front of him. It was time to design the next clockwork toy. He had sent his apprentice home until he was finished, as was customary before designing a new toy
Now the Toymaker was very old, and he knew that this would be his last clockwork toy, so he was determined to make something extra special. He worked long into the night, and all the next day, and the next, and the next. Soon, the villagers grew concerned, for the Toymaker had not left his house in days. But soon they grew reassured when the sounds of banging and crashing could be heard from his dwelling. He was hard at work.
A week passed, then another, and finally one day the Toymaker’s door opened and he emerged into the busy town square.
“I’ve done it!” he called out, a huge smile on his elderly face. “The toy is made.”
A cheer rose up from the crowd. The villagers rushed to him, calling out their questions. “What is it?” “Can I see it?” “When will it be for sale?”
The Toymaker just smiled at them. He had grown accustomed to the villagers eagerness of his toys.
“As usual,” he said “I will select three children to test the toy. I will send letters tomorrow morning, inviting the lucky three to my workshop.”
With that, the Toymaker winked and walked back into his house, closing the door behind him.
That night when all was dark and the villagers were all in bed, the Toymaker left his workshop and snuck around the square as silent as a thief, sliding tiny slips of paper through the doors of three lucky children. He then went to bed, and slept soundly all night.
The next morning, the Toymaker opened the front door just as the three children he had selected arrived. Two boys, and one girl. All fresh faced youngsters, eager to see the miraculous new toy.
“This way, this way!” the Toymaker said with an excited glint in his eye. He led the children into his workshop, where stood a table on which was sat a box draped with a rich blue cloth. With a flourish, the Toymaker pulled away the throw, revealing the toy standing inside a glass case.
The children gasped in surprise and awe, clambering forward, pushing and shoving at each other to get closest to the toy.
The toy was a beautiful clockwork soldier, painted in glorious reds and blacks, holding a bayonet in his right hand. Out of his back jutted a golden key, shiny and new. The soldier’s legs and arms were joints which would move in conjunction with the gears hidden inside his wooden body.
“Let me show you,” the Toymaker told the children as he gently lifted the glass case from around the soldier. He placed it to one side on the table, and carefully wound the key in the soldier’s back.
“Go and fight,” the Toymaker whispered to the soldier.
At the sound of the Toymaker’s voice, the soldier’s bayonet arm rose to his shoulder and he began marching back and forth across the table top. After a moment or so, the soldier pointed his bayonet forward and marched some more, his feet drumming a uniform rhythm on the wooden surface.
When the mechanism had finally wound down, the children sighed in disappointment. Smiling kindly, the Toymaker told the children to get in line so they could try playing with the toy themselves.
The first child was one of the boys. He took the soldier in his hand and wound the key with a gleeful smile on his face. He held the soldier in his hand for a while as the legs flailed wildly in the air, then he placed the toy on the tabletop. Immediately the soldier fell over. The boy set him upright again, only for the toy to fall on its back, flailing helplessly. He tried a few more times to no avail, and finally he turned to the Toymaker.
“I cannot get this toy to work,” he said sadly.
“Well, you must not be playing with it in the right way,” the Toymaker replied curtly, for he himself was disappointed at the child’s reaction. “Go home. This toy isn’t for you.”
Tears welling in his eyes, the boy left the workshop and went home.
The second child was the girl. She did not pick the soldier up to wind it, but instead ran her young grimy hand across the toy’s painted finish as she lovingly turned the key. The soldier did not move. The girl nudged it slightly, but it still remained motionless. She picked the wooden man up but the soldier did not even twitch.
“I cannot get this toy to work,” the girl told the Toymaker, sticking her tongue out at the soldier.
“Well, you must not be playing with it in the right way,” the Toymaker told her angrily, his disappointment and frustration growing. “Go home. This toy isn’t for you.”
The girl left the workshop, muttering something under her breath.
The remaining child, the boy, stepped forward with a determined yet distant look in his eyes. He did not caress the soldier, did not pick him up. He simply looked at it with the curiosity and passion of the dedicated, and turned the key.
“Go and fight,” he whispered to the soldier, and released the key.
The soldier began to march across the work table and the little boy nodded happily. He looked up at the Toymaker, eyes wide with admiration, his mouth curved into a grin. The Toymaker smiled back at him.
“I made it work.” the little boy said, reaching out to pick up the still-moving soldier. As the boy’s hand got within range of the toy, the soldier’s bayonet arm shot downwards and the blade of the bayonet hit the boy’s palm. The boy cried out in pain and withdrew his hand. He was injured. A single drop of blood fell to the table.
Finally the Toymaker understood. He sent the boy back to his mother and locked his front door. Going back into his workshop, he looked closely at the clockwork soldier that sat prone, the bayonet still tainted crimson.
The Toymaker picked up the soldier, and spoke aloud.
“What a fool I’ve been,” he whispered, gazing into the toy’s painted eyes. And with that, the Toymaker cast the clockwork soldier into the fire. The paint had barely started to peel when he left the room.
The Toymaker was suddenly very tired and decided to retire early to bed. As he lay down, he decided that the next day he would begin work on a new toy. A toy that the children would love. Perhaps, with enough dedication, he could finish it in time for Christmas. Reassured, the Toymaker closed his eyes and fell asleep.

The next day, the Toymaker’s apprentice arrived at work to find his master lying unmoving in his bed. The apprentice tried to rouse his master from slumber, but it was no use. The Toymaker was gone.
As soon as the townsfolk heard the news, they organised a procession through town square; a procession of children holding the toys the Toymaker had made. Many tears were shed and many fond memories spoken of. It was the darkest day the townsfolk could remember.
It took the Toymaker’s apprentice three days to find the plans for the final toy in the clutter of the workshop.
Determined to do his former master proud, the apprentice set to work on producing as many units of the final toy as he possibly could, so that every child in the kingdom could have a Clockwork Soldier to call their own in memory of their beloved Toymaker.
As he worked with all of his heart, the apprentice spared little thought for the tiny spot of blood on the work table, and the golden key glinting curiously in the fireplace.

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