Behind a Legend
He remembers when things first began. It was a little, one man operation. A plan to keep his hands busy during the long, cold days of winter. A bit of carpentry, and then some sewing. Simple things, really. Just a distraction.
He wasn't sure when, or how, or why they got involved. But somehow, others heard. They came, and the operation grew. Without a word, they picked up chisels, or sandpaper, or hammers, or paint cans. They joined in. They added to the stockpile of creations until they outgrew his little backyard shed.
They didn't work in the North Pole back then. No, back then it was a just a little side job. A hobby, really. Something he did in his spare time. They did it full time because spare time was all they had. Now, it seemed there was plenty of that to go around.
At any rate, somehow, the business grew. Not that it was a business, he wasn't selling anything and he didn't advertise. His work was always meant to be covert. Secret. He didn't earn a profit, and he wasn't looking for one. That was the beauty of this endeavor. It wasn't one.
Of course, once they started coming, he had others to look out for. And once they had some inventory set aside, well...that's when they moved.
It was the woman that found them a spot up north. Snowy country, she said, lots of land, no rent. No citizenship. They could be world travelers, and only worry about the workshop. She was right.
Did I forget to introduce the woman?
She's old now, of course. But like the stories go, she was once slender, her hair fell long, past her shoulders. She had a twinkle in her eye and roses in her cheeks. But surely, you knew that. It's the way of all women in stories. He never knew what she saw in him, but see it she did. She caught him slipping into a hovel of a home to set up a few hand carved farm animals.
Young, and headstrong, and certain she was immortal (she wasn't back then, but like all young people, she fancied herself so), she chased him down to have at it. But he wasn't doing any harm, only good, and for that she couldn't fault him. And she couldn't forget him.
So she watched for him. Offered him a bit of warm cocoa, and a spell by the fire. Conversation. She wanted to know everything, and she approved of his endeavor. She offered suggestions, too. The baker's boy might use a sketchbook, and she offered calfskin vellum to make one. The carter's boy could build masterpieces with firewood, so he sanded down a set of wooden bricks. She offered to stitch a doll and it's wardrobe for the widower's daughter.
She had walked among the people of the village. And she'd travelled a bit. She herself had never known want, but she saw the hunger in these people's eyes. And she knew that as much as the toys he made would warm the hearts of these children, their stomachs would remain empty.
She proposed that he branch out his endeavors to deliver food, and clothes, but he balked. He claimed that toys inspired children to dream. To hope for a better future, the toys were a light to show the way to better times. Food would give them a moment's peace, but toys would fill their hearts for months.
Mayhap he was right, for in the early days, the children did dream. They dreamt of bigger houses, and they grew up to build them. They dreamt of Cathedrals, and were commissioned to design them. They dreamt of sailing, and discovered new lands. The toys gave them dreams, and they went out to live them.
But that didn't fill their empty stomachs. And it didn't help the girls who couldn't dream of owning farms or setting sail on the seven seas. Well, not right away.
He couldn't bake, he finally confessed. And so she did. First, she baked at home. She baked bread, good solid loaves. And then she baked lighter pastries, and filled them with dreams and hopes and prayers.
When her father, as understanding as he was of her wayward ways, could not understand what happened to the food she spent half her days preparing, she refused to stop. And when her father, bless his departed soul, put his foot down and demanded that she admit the devil had taken up with her, she packed up a parcel of cookies and her mother's cookbook and slipped out in the dead of night.
She never looked back. He did, of course. For he never felt quite right that she should give everything up to follow him.
But she wanted to, she says.
She's still willow-slender, and the roses on her cheeks are brighter and rosier than ever before. And if her hair has turned snowy white, well, what of it? She's a woman after all. And once a mortal one, at that.
It was her who found them a place in the North. Who commissioned a proper workshop with the bit of dowry she'd tucked into her mother's old cookbook and some old fashioned magic they all found within them. He may have started the dream, but it's her who took it forward, one step at a time.
They don't know any other world. But the world is changing. It takes more than a toy, or a bit of bread or candy to right the growing wrongs. The children who once forgot their dreams in the face of their Earthly needs, have once again forgotten how to dream. This time, their dreams are drowned by surplus goods.
He stares out at the rolling hills of snow, the ice caps, the occasional polar bear. He wonders what it might have been like if things were different. He wonders if this life will continue to evolve, as it's evolved so much in the past century.
The workers have never had to give up their individual identities to work for circus acts or oddities, the only other avenues open to them when they first joined his endeavor. The workers, too, worry about what comes next.
Christmas morning magic is no longer wrought by the labor of elves who long ago forsake their mortal lives for the joy of giving and a bit of food and lodging, but that of sweatshops in third world countries where workers hope for enough coin to pay their own food and lodging.
His wife, they did finally make things official, comes to stand beside him, seemingly unworried by the turns the world takes. She presses herself close to his side, and stands up on tiptoe to whisper in his ear. And he smiles, hugging her close to his side.
What does she say that puts his mind to rest, you ask? Well, that I don't know. It brings a smile to the man's face though, and he sips his cocoa and nods as he stares into the everlasting sunset. He has come too far to stop now, so he will continue, for her and the workers if no one else. No, that's not true. He'll do it for the children, for the idea of the children. And he'll do it, not for the woman but because she believes in him. He has created a legend now. It can't help but live on.
And as long as one believes, it's true.