Ivory and Pine by ficklepickles
Reborn was a wood craftsman of some renown. He lived by himself in a small shop, tucked away in the corner of a nearly nameless village. During the day he fashioned tables, dressers, figurines, and the occasional cuckoo clock. His hands shaped intricate and fine designs in every piece.
While his daytime crafting had brought him a comfortable trade, his specialty lay in talents that were revealed after sundown.
At night, he carved dolls. In the back of his shop was a special workroom filled with dolls. They were beautiful creations, meticulously painted and inlaid with polished glass eyes. When the sun set, he would enter this room and sit down at his worktable. There he would open his little music box, and begin to sculpt his marvelous dolls, surrounded with the soft clacking of wooden feet tapping across his swept floors and an achingly haunting melody sung with inhuman voices.
When the sun rose again, another doll would rest among their number, carefully placed in a room with glass eyes and hollowed limbs. The door to the room would shut, and Reborn would open up shop for the day, patiently whittling some other odd or end.
Though his customers were few and far between, he did his best to satisfy their requests. From the villagers themselves, he granted them their simple orders. A chair to match their table. A knob to replace the broken one from the stairwell banister. In the case of celebration, he would even fashion for them a chiming clock, filled with fitted gears and a silver bell.
It was for travelers he gave his special designs. Some sought him out purposefully, others stumbled in not knowing what it was they wished for. For them, he took them to his back room, with its carved faces and wooden bodies, and showed to them their dream. For an elderly woman whose arthritic joints forced her to be wheelchair bound, he gave to her a doll of a dancer, her arms and legs frozen in artistic grace. To a man who had lost his family in a fire, he gave a paired doll set of a baker's wife and son, complete with basket.
For these amazing dolls he took only a single payment, that of a favor to be granted to him, either large or small. Most of the time, he was given whatever the traveler had in their pockets: copper pieces, string, a button, a lump of cheese. Other times, an act was offered, from fixing his roof to fetching water or bringing wood to him for a day or a week. Those who had searched for him, paid him in gold.
Among the wealthy, Reborn's name was whispered like a curse. He was a man whom little was known about. Some had claimed he was an agent of the devil. Some said that he was a charlatan and a liar. Still others believed that he didn't exist at all, but was merely an urban legend. The fact remained, though, that the dolls he carved were magical.
A man, desperate to save his sickly and dying daughter, had ridden for three nights straight on an exhausted horse to find Reborn. There he had been taken to Reborn's special room, with its white music box and myriad of dresses, and been given a doll with flaxen hair set in neat curls and glass eyes that sparkled like green gems. It had been dressed in a white silken gown trimmed with fine lace.
At first the man had been horrified, seeing in the doll his daughter's face and form. Reborn reassured him that it was nothing but a doll and gave him explicit directions for its use.
The doll would be for his daughter to hold and sleep with each night for a month. No matter what happened to the doll, the child must sleep with it every night, Reborn told him firmly, no matter what it looked like. Once a full month was up, and no longer, the doll would be burned and its ashes buried beneath the tree under the girl's window. If this was not done, then she would become ill again. The man agreed, willing to use any method to cure his daughter.
As payment, Reborn took the man's worn gelding, but presented him with a fresh filly, young and swift. This horse ran the distance in a day and half without stop. Elated, the man presented the lovely doll to his daughter, hoping for truth in the words of a man his peers called a soothsayer. He cast those doubts aside for there was nothing left for him if not this doll. Doctors had forsaken his daughter, and his prayers to God had gone unheeded or unanswered.
His child because attached to the beautiful doll at once, taking it without hesitation. After the first week of sleeping with it, the man began to notice color returning into the pallid face of his daughter. After the second week, she became able to sit upright without the aid of props, and the coughs which had wracked her fragile form so often had begun to subside.
In comparison, the doll began to turn mangy. The gold had faded from the doll's hair, and the pale skin and delicately painted features had begun to peel. The fine dress it had worn was smudged with dirt and practically grey. This, the man thought, had been what Reborn had warned him about. Despite the wretchedness of the doll, he made sure that it remained in his daughter's arms until the month was up.
In the third week, his daughter was able to stand and walk about for short distances. Delighted, the man gave her free roaming of the house. She walked until she tired, but always made it back to her room, her doll firmly tucked in the crook of one arm. By the time the end of the month was nearing, the girl's cheeks were a rosy shade, her hair had become a gleaming mane of sunshine, and nearly no sign of her illness remained.
It was then that the man asked his daughter for the doll. By then, the doll had lost all of its hair and one eye. The other eye had dulled and cracked. Almost all of the paint had faded and peeled, revealing darkly stained wood through torn and ratty cloth. Truly, it had become an ugly thing, and the man had no remorse about burning it. But his child refused to give it up, thinking it a miracle doll, an angel who had saved her. She told him that at night, it sang to her, and it was the doll's song which had taken away her sickness.
The man thought that it was the child's illness which had confused her, and tried again to ask for the doll. Again his daughter denied him.
The final day of the month came, and his daughter was in perfect health, yet she declined to give him the now repugnant doll. Worried about the instructions from Reborn, the man snuck into his daughter's room at night, meaning to steal away with the doll and burn it without his child's knowledge.
When he entered into the room, the soft sound of singing filled his ears. It was a familiar melody, one he recalled hearing in Reborn's workshop. Puzzled at the sound, he searched for its source, and found it in his daughter's arms. The ratty doll had its lips parted, and from this open cavern came the gentle song. The man stared at the doll, mesmerized and mortified.
In the back of his head he heard the hallway clock strike twelve, and the song suddenly ceased. Bewildered, the man looked at the doll once more and saw that its single glass eye was staring at him, unblinking, its mouth closed. The man was filled with a sense of dread. Slowly, wooden lips again parted, and another song was struck up. This melody was harsh and grating, and in her sleep, his daughter moaned.
Reborn's words echoed in his mind, and without a second thought, the man snatched the doll and ran with it out of the house. Once outside, he set it aflame and watched it blaze. The doll caught fire quickly, its dry wood crackling and burning fast, but not fast enough. The man shuddered as he stood above the pile of blackening wood. The face of the doll had already turned charcoal and caved in on itself, but it was singing its horrible tune to the very last.
Finally the song faded as the doll crumbled to pieces. He gathered the still hot ashes into a sack and buried it beneath the tree that night. The deed done, he washed his hands and set about to forget the entire mess.
In the morning, he would buy his daughter a new doll, a normal doll, and never again mention Reborn's name.
From his seat at his work table, Reborn smiled, carving out another doll to replace his lost ones. Business was good, it seemed, and he would be in need of more dolls soon enough. All around him, his dolls danced and sang, beautiful figures who moved to the melody of his little music box.
One spring, he had opened his doors to greet a very strange customer.
It had been a particularly harsh winter, and Reborn had stocked up during the cold season, ready to receive any number of customers. This, however, would be his strangest one.
The man was sharply dressed in black silk and wore a solid gold watch on a delicate chain from his breast pocket. He had golden eyes and hair which reminded Reborn of orange flame. He introduced himself as Giotto. The name was unfamiliar to Reborn, but just the same, he invited the man to the back room of his shop, knowing that the man wasn't there for any old piece of wood.
Politely, Giotto refused, asking for something else instead. He wanted a companion, someone to stay beside him and be with him even when others had gone. Not any doll would do. Reborn considered it a moment, and once again invited Giotto to the back. Perhaps he had something there that would be of interest.
Giotto shook his head. In the back, he knew Reborn kept dolls that sang and danced, and were graceful and charming creatures all of them, but he wanted something different.
After another moment, Reborn agreed.
"Very well," he said, "but what will you offer as payment?"
"For now, this." Giotto replied, and handed to him the gold pocket watch. "I'll return when the doll is finished and tender ample compensation then."
This Reborn accepted and the terms were drawn up. Within a week, Reborn expected the project to be completed and Giotto would revisit then. He bid Reborn farewell and left.
Alone in his shop, Reborn set to work. To match his customer's specifications, the doll would, naturally, have to be much larger. For this he selected a rare piece of giant holly. The pale whiteness and smooth grain would do for what he had in mind. Reborn was quite the creator, as he never had to draft his dolls on paper. Rather, he carved the images directly from his head, and he had a distinct idea on the appearance for this particular doll.
It would be a young male, in his late teens with eyes and hair like that of Giotto's, but softer. Reborn promptly divided up the wood into several parts for the doll. With what he had, the doll would stand to just above his shoulders, a fair height for he was a fairly tall man.
He opened his music box and watched as his precious dolls slowly stood and began to dance. Then he began to work, starting with the head, carving a large lopsided ball. From that, the curves of the cheeks and forehead emerged. Holly was a harder wood to work with than pine, and added to that he was using huge pieces, thus his carving was much slower than usual. He had just sculpted the temples, and rounded off the head when the sun began to peek over the horizon.
Carefully, he set aside the parts onto his table, covered them with a cloth, shut his music box, and readied himself for daytime hours.
That night, he picked up just where he had left off, smoothing the head. He had already finished each rise and slope of the head, as well as hollow it out. Reborn inspected it once more, turning it over in his hands. It fit comfortably in his palms and had a good heft to it, but so far it was just a rough head. He placed it on the table and started on the next part. In a few hours he had the general shape of the limbs extracted from the blocks of wood.
Deciding that was enough for the night, he cleared the table of scraps, closed his music box, and tucked himself in for a bit of sleep.
His shop had been opened for only a few hours and two orders had already come in. A man wanted a new headboard for a bed he had shared with his wife. A pair of children had entered with a request of a rocking chair for their grandfather. He was paid with a dozen coppers and three silver pieces in total. He smiled and wrote down their orders, saying that they would be ready the very next day.
That turned out to be untrue, as Reborn was the speediest craftsman for miles around. In a few hours he had spun out the requested pieces, already assembled, cleaned, and stained, resting in a sunny spot to dry. Wiping his hands, he scanned his immaculate shop. The floors were swept and shone with polish. The windows were open, their glass clear and pristine, and the room was cool and smelled of honeyed pine. Other than sit back and twiddle his thumbs, there was little else for Reborn to do.
Idly, his mind wandered back to his unfinished doll. Rarely had he not been able to complete a doll in a night, even a specially ordered one. This one, though, he knew he would have to put care in crafting, the kind that only showed when time was expressly taken to form it.
However, it went against his nature to work on his dolls during daylight hours. Until the last layer of finish had been applied and their clothing fitted, his dolls would only bask by the light of the moon and candles. To that end, he withdrew a flat sheet of pine and began to whittle.
Even still, his mind wandered back to the doll. Evening could not fall swiftly enough. Purple still decorated the sky when he locked himself in the back room of the shop. He worked through the night on a single piece of wood. The sun was near rising when he caught himself, surprised at how quickly time had passed. Looking down he saw only the emerging form of a forearm.
Following that, the day was even slower. The two previous customers came by to pick up their pieces, admiring the craftsmanship and adding a bonus to their pay. Reborn saw them to the door with a loaf of bread in one hand, and a basket of muffins in the other.
The items would lay on a table, overlooked in a few hours.
After a while, to Reborn, there was only night and the doll.
A week came and passed with hardly any notice on Reborn's part. Strangely enough, Giotto had not appeared either. Both escaped Reborn's notice, his eyes and mind focused on only what lay before him.
For days, the doors to Reborn's shop were closed and his windows shuttered. While questions and rumors as to his sudden reclusiveness were whispered throughout the tiny village, Reborn worked tirelessly in his back room.
The nighttime was strangely silent without the sound of dancing wooden feet and the harmonious ballad of an inhuman chorus. For all of Reborn's love of his dolls, his music box remained closed and his dolls forgotten in favor of his newest creation.
On his table lay the sinewy upper body of a juvenile, captured in white wood.
To the lean torso he fitted long, willowy arms and trim, coltish legs. He used ball and greased socket joints to give the doll realistically articulated joints. Even the doll's midsection had been integrated with a joint to bend forward and backward.
Reborn gave special care to the hands. The fingers were delicate and fine, each digit carefully fashioned and smoothed over. The tips were finished with a curved nail, and when assembled, became slender pianist fingers.
The face he had sculpted was of a young man, still round with youth, but had the slightly angled look of one who teetered between childhood and maturity.
The head he coated in three layers of a clear protective sap that would become as smooth as glass when dried, and not sticky. Then he dusted it over with a fine powder in several shades to give the wood an appearance and texture that was similar to soft skin. Alas, it was only a thinly veiled surface since the wood offered only resistance when touched, hard and unforgiving.
For the eyes, he set in raised discs of polished amber. They were deep and rich in color. He had bought the stones several years ago from a tradesman he was well acquainted with, the greedy and paranoid Viper. While the man had specialized in magic tricks and illusions, he was also a collector of the occasional oddity. The amber, he had told Reborn, was over a thousand years old, and had played witness to the millennia of change.
Reborn trusted his eyes more than he had trusted Viper. The amber was real, that much he knew, and traded for it two gold coins and one piece of knowledge. In return, Viper had given him a song as well, one that would lay dormant in his music box for ever.
He felt no regrets whatsoever in cutting and honing the amber into the proper shape. They fell seamlessly into the neat circles he had cut for them.
The face finished, Reborn ran a hand over the smooth yet bald head.
A neatly brushed and formed hairstyle would not suit this doll. Reborn forwent the carefully prepared wigs in favor of a roll of brown fur. It had come from a long-haired rabbit from some distant country and had been kept tightly wrapped in leather to preserve it. Reborn unwrapped it and found the fur just as rich and silky as he remembered. Running his fingers through it felt like a dream, and he quickly cut it and began set it upon the doll's wooden head.
The hair he applied with glue, cautiously and one drop at a time. In each drop, he placed a clump of hair, meticulously aligned. This was the longest and most painstaking method to apply hair, but the doll of this caliber required it. Even with all his care, in the end, the doll had a wild and untamed mass of hair. A smile tilted Reborn's features. It suited him just fine.
Absently, Reborn ran his fingers through the doll's hair. It was soft, and he could almost trick himself into believing that it was warm to the touch. That was a foolish thought. He was nowhere near done.
It had taken him several nights before he applied the finishing touches to the head. He had taken meticulous care to ensure that the face was just right.
He set the completed head aside, marveling at the sunny expression and the way the eyes darkened and brightened in the flickering candlelight. Reborn stared at the face, knowing he was mesmerized, but not being able to tear his eyes from it. Even when the sun began to rise, and the light reflected off of countless glass eyes, their gazes were empty and blank compared to the golden eyes that so enraptured him.
Reborn fell asleep, still facing the head of that special doll. In his dreams he heard whispers.
A soft voice called out to him. The words were indistinct and the sound faint, but Reborn knew that it was for him and him alone that the voice reached out for. He listened to the gentle sound of bubbling laughter and searched for it with his eyes and ears, but found nothing. The voice danced around him playful and yearning at the same time.
Reborn turned around and round, seeking the source of the voice. His sharp ears were tuned to every sound, yet it escaped him at every turn. He would catch a wisp of song and a flash of gold, only to have it disappear as he made to move toward it.
When Reborn awoke, he found himself staring into warm amber eyes framed in downy russet locks. The craftsman moved to touch the face and was surprised when his fingers fell across cold wood. Swallowing his disappointment, Reborn sat up, dusted himself off, and began work on the rest of the doll.
At long last he was finished. The doll lay on the table eyes closed, quiet, but so very lifelike, suited in a white shirt and pressed black pants. With hesitant, yet bated breath, Reborn nearly thought the doll would sit and stand of its own accord. Yet from it no motion came. He had forgotten something important, his music box. With that the doll would rise to move, to dance to that special melody.
His hands trembled on the case of the white music box, averse to opening it. The power that came from that song would imbue it with movement and voice, but it would still be a marionette, stilted and soulless. That would not be enough for this doll. It would not do it justice.
He wanted to hear its own voice. Reborn could feel the thrum of energy in his bones. The doll was real and so very close to alive, even as it lay there as a wooden corpse. He spent the rest of the night, staring at his marvel of holly and amber.
The next morning, he awoke the sound of a sharp rapping against his door.
Surprised, Reborn sat up quickly. His shop had not yet opened and he was not expecting any visitors. Warily, he answered it.
"Good morning." Giotto greeted with a wide smile. "You have finished, have you not?" He was nearly bouncing on his toes, resembling an over-eager child.
Astounded at the display, Reborn nodded. He walked over to where a large cloth had been placed as a cover.
Reborn unveiled the doll. It had been propped up in a chair, looking for all the world like a boy in slumber.
"Amazing," Giotto breathed, eyes glowing with pleasure. "It's much more than I could have imagined."
Delicately, he ran his fingers over the doll's face, before tilting it up to view.
Emotion spiked in Reborn and he had to clamp his teeth down on words of reproach. Giotto was too openly cavalier with the doll.
"He's beautiful." The man murmured. He moved his examination from the face to the body, lifting up an arm to inspect. Gently, he held the doll's hand, eyes roving over ever exquisite detail of the fingers. He lowered his head and kissed the palm. "Absolute perfection."
Reborn swallowed harshly. For some reason, witnessing that act had caused heat to swell in his chest. Giotto was a customer, and the doll was to be his. Reborn knew from the beginning that the man would treat the doll well. Whatever he did with the doll was no concern of his once the transaction was completed.
Speaking of which...
"I take it that you're pleased with the doll?" Reborn asked out of courtesy.
"Very much so." Giotto answered, taking his eyes off the doll for the first time. "You'll be expecting your payment now, yes?" The man smiled, his eyes sparkling.
The woodcarver nodded.
From his large coat, the man produced a bulging pouch and a thin bundle of worn paper. "This should suffice." He said, laying them on the table.
As soon as it was laid down, the pouch's drawstring loosened, revealing its contents of glowing gems and glittering gold. However, it was the papers which had caught Reborn's eye. Written on them were songs that he had never before seen the like. The melodies on them were strange, and their purposes unclear.
They were ancient songs meant for use with his music box. He eyed them suspiciously.
Giotto laughed. "Do not fret. The songs are harmless, but useful tools. You will find them a bit more effective than to make your wooden dolls just dance and sing. You are free to do with them what you wish. Use them, trade them, or simply keep them. It will be of no consequence to me."
Reborn's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?" He asked, keeping his voice even. Somehow, this man managed to slide so easily under his skin.
The man's smile remained fixed on his features, his eyes even closing to express his mirth. "You think that because I do not care of what becomes to these songs which are the like that even you have not seen, that I am looking down upon your skill? You would be very much mistaken. I've entrusted them to you because I believe in your skill. After all, why would I purchase from a craftsman I do not respect?"
"Perhaps there is something that you wished for that you cannot accomplish on your own." Reborn replied, politeness a razor thin veneer.
"Fair enough." Giotto admitted with a chuckle. "And you have accomplished quite a feat. He is truly a marvel."
Suddenly, Giotto bent down and pressed his lips against the doll's painted ones and exhaled a whispered word. Reborn suppressed the momentary flash of jealousy which rose within him. How dare the man touch his doll!
But the doll was Giotto's, a carefully constructed piece of merchandise the customer had requested. All the same, Reborn was loathe to hand it over to the man. Imagine his surprise when two slender arms lifted and wrapped themselves around Giotto's neck. The man stood, cradling the doll in his grasp.
From beneath a shock of downy soft brown hair, two amber eyes, round and guileless, looked at Reborn. They were deep and rich in color, changing shades in the shifting light, just as Reborn had imagined.
His mouth had gone dry at this display. This was more than a doll that could sing and dance to his tune, this doll was alive. Mechanically, he reached out to touch this marvel, and was stunned when his fingers met not hard and polished wood, but yielding flesh that was both warm and soft. "This... is beyond me." He admitted quietly.
Giotto smiled. "So, the doll is mine, yes?"
Reborn was speechless, but he recognized his better. Reluctantly, he nodded. Giotto made a pleased sound and moved to walk out the door with his new doll.
"Reborn!" The call was quiet but fervent.
The doll maker looked up and saw a pale arm stretched and reaching for him. Its amber eyes were liquid with emotion. "Reborn!" It said again.
The doll put up a slight struggle in an attempt to leap toward the wood carver.
"My," Giotto murmured to himself, "he has become quite attached to you, hasn't he?" Then he stilled the boy in his arms without much difficulty. "Hush, my dear. Once you're home, you'll be more comfortable."
Fury rose up unbridled beneath Reborn's skin. At that moment, he had nearly snatched back the doll, but fought down the urge.
"Reborn..." The doll whined, pining for the carver who's hands lay uncharacteristically at his sides.
Giotto tsked and used his gloved hands to touch the doll's chin. "Child," he crooned, directing the doll's face toward his. "Tell me your name."
The doll turned, wide amber eyes darkening slightly as they focused on Giotto's luminescent golden orbs. It calmed instantly, a serene expression softening its already fair features. Dreamlike, it answered.
"A lovely name." Giotto complimented. "It suits you."
"My name is Giotto."
Stop touching him.
A rage swelled within Reborn so suddenly, it was overwhelming. The fact that it was Giotto's name that had fallen from Tsuna's lips had filled him with such jealousy. Emotion overcame reason and Reborn's arm shot out, hand closing around Tsuna's bicep and pulling him away from Giotto's grasp.
The paralysis broken, Reborn found his voice.
Reborn pulled the pocket watch from his collections box and laid it atop the parchment, sliding it and the pouch of jewels back over to Giotto.
"I am sorry, but I cannot give you this boy." He said slowly.
"You are certain?" The other man questioned, slight disappointment coloring his tone. "You will not see the likes of these songs ever again."
Reborn nodded without hesitation. "I cannot take them. But I will offer anything else in my shop to appease you. I simply cannot give up Tsuna." He would not give him up. It mattered little what the stranger would do to him or his shop, but Reborn could not let the boy slip from his fingers.
His zeal and passion astonished him, but it was enough for him to stand resolute by his decision. Reborn wanted to keep Tsuna all to himself.
Giotto gave a small 'harumph'. "If only you weren't such a good man." He murmured to quietly.
The woodcarver flashed him a cautious look, but the foreigner merely shrugged.
"Keep the items. I have no use for them. But I shall take you up on your offer."
Giotto stood and walked about the shop for a moment, before his eyes lit up. His hand settled on an unfinished piece of carved ivory. Reborn had bought it on a whim years ago, and had begun to carve it, but found the medium tedious and lifeless. He had set it aside to be completed later, but had yet to return to it.
"I shall take this then. A fair trade, wouldn't you say?" Giotto smiled again, one that was too clever and too knowing.
Reborn's eyes narrowed suspiciously, and Giotto laughed.
"You're not the only craftsman in this world, Reborn." He enunciated clearly.
"Obviously." The woodcarver said in monotone, wrapping his arms around Tsuna. His arms tightened around him possessively. The boy squeaked uncomfortably, and Reborn loosened his hold minutely.
Giotto just laughed again. "You're far too paranoid, Reborn." He said casually. "Originally, I approached you to have a figure made that I had no hand in. You would infuse it with looks, personality, and everything else but life. That, I would breathe into it myself. I had never imagined that you would make such a beautiful doll, or that it would be nearly alive itself when I arrived." His smile was soft as he cupped Tsuna's chin.
Instinctively, Reborn's grip tightened.
The other man merely chuckled. "No need to worry, friend. I have no intention of stealing away something that loves you so very dearly." He patted Tsuna's hair. "Take care of him, my dear. He is one that takes some looking after."
Tsuna nodded, a brilliant smile breaking out across his features.
"Ah, what one regret one doth leave behind." Giotto said almost wistfully. Then he took his ivory under his arm and bid the two a fond farewell. "Trust that I shall return for a visit, if only to see how Tsuna is fairing."
Reborn offered a sharp nod of his own as Giotto finally left.
Alone at last in his shop, the woodcarver looked down to study his carefully crafted doll turned flesh.
Tsuna blushed prettily under the scrutiny.
"Reborn?" He asked questioningly.
The craftsman smirked, leaning down to steal a kiss. No longer cold, polished wood, but warm and pliant flesh, Tsuna melded to him.
"Reborn?" The former doll murmured glassy-eyed and breathless.
"None other, and no one else's name shall you speak in that tone." Reborn nearly growled.
Tsuna laughed, a lovely bell-like sound. "Never." He agreed.
Geh. This was written in bits, as can be plainly seen from how choppy it is. I wrote small scenes in-between homework assignments. Because it's so old, it makes total sense to me, but I'm not sure it does to anyone else. Oh well.
Inspired by Pygmalion and Pinocchio.