Chapter One

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A small cottage sat between the stonewall and forest just outside of town. Sticks and stones of different colors were stacked on all sides, which nearly blocked the door and windows. A thin chimney puffed green smoke into the overhung branches. Fallen leaves scattered over the thatched-roof.

Inside, there were aisles of toys. Puppets hung from the ceiling, stuffed animals were stacked in corners, and toy vehicles lined the workbenches. The sound of gears filled the tiny home with clicks and clanks. The billow at the fireplace wheezed as a rope pulled its handle up. As the rope tightened a large weight dropped on the pulley's gears and another dropped onto the billow's raised handle. Air whistled out and stroked the blue-green fire that warmed the space and chased away the autumn chill.

At the center of the cottage sat the largest table, littered with cloth and wool. A shelf tittered on the edge filled with yarn, thread, beads and other things used to create and furnish the toys. In the very middle of the table sat a golden basin with water so clear it almost seemed empty. Next to the bowl laid a porcelain doll with honey-colored eyes and curly auburn hair. Its pink sundress had yellow petals and wore brown button shoes.

"Ah," an old woman picked the doll up and placed it carefully into the basin. "Look how beautiful you are?" she smiled; wrinkles appeared at the corner of her eyes. "The little one will be so happy with you."

"Mrs. Lev," a man called from the doorway, "are you in?"

"Ah. Mr. Bardolf," she peaked around a shelf full of toy soldiers, "did you bring her?"

The father pushed his daughter further into the cottage. The little girl looked around with large honey-colored eyes. She fiddled nervously with her sandy-brown hair. "You said the doll would be ready today."

"Of course. A grownup should never go back on their promise," Mrs. Lev winked and huffed out a laugh.

"Will she really look like me?"

"Come take a look." The old woman set a stool in front of the water basin.

"Why's it in there? Isn't it going to get ruined?"

"You're parents asked me to give it an extra charm. One of protection. To do that, I must cleanse the doll and ask the gods to give it a favor."

"The gods?"

"Oh yes. The gods have given me a gift to use so that I might help protect their children. You and me," she tapped the little girl's nose.

"You're not a child. You're old!"

Mrs. Lev laughed, "not as old as them. Now to complete the charm we need to give her a name."

"Brook," the little girl said without hesitation.

"She'd been thinking about that all week," Mr. Bardolf grinned.

"Brook is a fine name," Mrs. Lev hummed, "don't you agree?"

She tapped the bowl once and looked down at the doll. For a moment nothing happened and then the eyes flickered open. The little hands flexed and its knees bent. The little girl gasped as the doll stood up. Mrs. Lev plucked Brook out of the bowl and set it on the table. The doll was completely dry, not a single wet strand could be found.

"Remarkable," Mr. Bardolf breathed in awe, "the rumors are true."

"It is said that all rumors have some truth."

"Of course. The payment?" he reached for his pocket.

She placed a gentle hand on his. She could feel it tremble beneath her touch. "Has already been paid. After all, they sent you to me."

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