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Totally Made Up Tales

Sep 23, 2016

In this episode: the first part of The Rosewood Unicorn. Subscribe to get every episode of Totally Made Up Tales.

Music: Creepy –


Once upon a time, there was a man called Phillip who owned a small shop. In his shop, he stocked mostly wooden toys, but also, these days, a few plastic and metal ones, although he did look down upon them. He himself made most of the wooden toys in his shop, a trade which he had been taught by his father, and his father by his father, and so on for hundreds of years. His toys were known throughout the land as some of the finest wooden toys that you could give.

Wooden toys though were expensive in the modern world. Wood was not a cheap commodity, and each one required great time, care, and patience, one of the reasons why he felt that they were such charming and enduring toys. These days, many parents went straight to the metal and plastic toys, even though he kept only a small display case of them in the shop.

One day, a man came into the store, and came up to the counter, and rang the bell for attention. "Good morning," said Phillip. "How can I help you, sir?" The man said, "I'm looking for a present for my daughter. It must be a very special present, as she is a very special little girl. I want a wooden toy, a wooden toy of a unicorn." Phillip did not have a unicorn available in his shop, but he did promise the man that he would make one as soon as he could, a process which might take, he said, a few weeks, but nonetheless would be ready in time for Christmas. The man thanked him, left his telephone number for Phillip, and left the store with a promise to return.

Over the following days and weeks, Phillip worked hard creating a unicorn out of the finest wood that he had available, carefully sculpting and shaping it, shaving off the excess until he had a perfect unicorn toy ready for the little girl. He looked at it with great joy, placed in on the table in his workshop, turned off the light, and went to bed. The unicorn twitched its nose.

Meanwhile, not very far away, on the other side of town, in the Royal Palace, the king was worried. It had been a difficult year. It had started, as it always did, in the depths of winter, with a catalog of villages that had run out of food, and many of his courtiers had spent considerable time sending packages out through the snow to ensure that none of his subjects had starved. But this had taken a great toll on the store in the Royal Palace, which was designed to help a capital city resist any siege from a rouge nation, and so he felt that he had no option but to raise taxes in order to refill the storehouse.

This troubled the king, for he was generally a man who liked to consider his citizens and subject first, and his own needs later, but he could not allow the capital city to become vulnerable to the scheming of the surrounding nations. "So tell me, Chancellor," he said, after a lengthy pause, "You really feel that the only way that we can raise the necessary funds is with a tax on children's toys?"

"I regret," said the chancellor, "that there are simply no other options available. We have, after all, already taxed window, income, horses, and all transactions of any nature to do with adults only. We must now venture forth into unknown lands of taxation upon the child."

The king knew that the time for decision had come, and uncomfortable though he was with this, it was necessary, and as the king, it was sometimes required that he did things that he did not like for the good of the country. "Very well," he said. "Issue the necessary declarations, and I will sign them." Members of the court went out later that day with banners proclaiming the new tax, nailing them up on notice boards around the city, and out into the towns and villages of the surrounding countryside.

It was a sorry sight to see, amid the Christmas decorations that were being erected, the tinsel, the candles, the displays of toys, these posters. It was as if Christmas was being stolen from the people. Back in the shop, Phillip was getting anxious. The unicorn had taken some considerable skill and time, and thus was very valuable to him, but the man had not yet returned. He looked inside his notebook and found the telephone number and rang it. There was no answer.

"What could be going on?" wondered Phillip. Had it something to do with the new tax imposed on toys? Could this have put the man off? But he seemed like such a wealthy and exacting gentlemen. Surely the extra few percent on top of the current charge would not have put him off. Day after day, Phillip rang the number with no response at any time. He tried different times of day. He tried ringing in the evening, ringing in the morning, before he opened the shop with no difference. Regretfully, he realised that he would have to put the unicorn up for sale in his shop to anyone who might want to come and buy it. After all, it was a fine piece of craftsmanship, and if the man who had commissioned it so clearly did not seem to want it, he would have to find a home for it.

Just then, as he put the unicorn on the shelf and placed a small label below it indicating the price, the door opened. In the doorway stood a messenger from the Royal Palace who had come on the specific instructions of the Queen in search for a special present for her niece. Now, the niece of the King and Queen lived in the palace because the Queen's sister had very unfortunately died of the flu when the girl was very young, and so they had adopted her as their own, even though she was not directly in line for the throne. The King and the Queen loved their niece and often spoiled her, particularly at Christmas, and so the messenger had roamed out amongst the toy shops of the citadel, looking for a perfect gift for the young princess.

"Good afternoon," said the messenger, with great courtesy and dignity. "I am looking for an extremely special toy. I wonder if you could show me the two or three things that you have in your shop that you regard as your finest items?" Phillip of course was delighted to show the messenger the very finest work that he had done, including the unicorn. "Ah, now this is extremely special," said the courtly messenger when looking at the beautiful unicorn. "So expertly carved out of a single block of rosewood. Yes, this is very much what I had in mind. I will take it at once." Phillip wrapped up the unicorn in delicate paper, and put it in a padded box, tied it off with his finest ribbon, and handed it to the messenger along with an invoice that the royal coffers would pay in due course.

It was the night before Christmas in the Royal Palace, and the festive atmosphere of seasonal excitement was tingling in the air. All of the servants were dressed in their very finest, and the king himself was wearing not his normal, regular, everyday crown, but the special one that caught the candles and the glimmers as he strode through the palace.

It was a great tradition in the household that gifts were given at 7pm on Christmas Eve, when the old grandfather clock in the hallway of the Royal bedchambers struck and played a jolly little tune. It was a moment that everybody looked forward to with great anticipation. Known only to the young Princess Caroline, the mechanism in the clock had long since been investigated by her, such that she could now control when it struck seven by carefully manipulating how fast or slow it preceded through the day. It was actually around 5:30 this year, because she was very keen to see what she would get.

As the clock played its jolly tune, everybody gathered in the parlour to receive and give their Christmas gifts. The King's gift to the Queen was a very beautiful painting of the estate that she grew up on, executed by the finest painter in the land. The Queen's gift to the King was a fine new pair of slippers in shot purple silk. Of course, the King and Queen's gift to the Princess Caroline was a small box tied beautifully with a ribbon, which, as she approached it, seemed to move.

She untied the ribbon and removed it from the box. She removed the fine wrapping paper from the outside. She opened the box. She unpacked the tissue paper, and within, she saw the beautiful rosewood unicorn. It caught the light wonderfully, and it seemed to be imbued with charm and personality and love.

And then it bit her.

"Now look here my man," said the king in great exasperation into the mouthpiece of the telephone, "when I order a wooden toy, I expect it to be inanimate, or, at the very least, well-behaved."

Phillip didn't know what to say. "Your majesty," he stammered, desperately trying to think how on earth this simple rosewood toy that he had so lovingly crafted could be anything other than inanimate. "Your majesty, I have been making toys out of wood for all my life, and my father before him, and his father before him, and never before has anyone reported to us anything of this kind at all. They have always been simple wooden toys, alive in the imagination of their young owners, but inert to adults."

"Perhaps you should check the rest of your stock," the King said grumpily, while looking over at the small corral that they had built to contain the unicorn while they decided what to do next.

"Yes, of course, your majesty. Yes, of course. May I send you a selection of toys for your niece to play with while the unicorn is out of service?"

"Actually," said the King, "She's rather taken to it."

Phillip went back into his storeroom and looked around among the supplies and the tools that he had there. None of the other toys were moving in the slightest, but he was able to find the rest of the block of rosewood that he had made the unicorn from. It was stamped in the corner with the serial number from the timber supply yard where he had got it. He went back to his purchase book, and went through the list, and found the details, and saw that it was one that he had bought from a visiting salesman. He rang up the number on the invoice, and asked if there was anything special about this wood.

The person that he spoke to pointed out that it was Christmas Eve, and they were about to close, so there were not many people left, but, after some persuasion, since he was such a well-known figure in the capital city, went to look at their own records, and returned a few minutes later. "We don't have a record of that serial number, I'm afraid, sir. We do have a record of a similar one a couple of batches earlier, which is what we have on record as being the one that you purchased." Something mysterious was clearly going on. He thanked them and hung up the phone, and resolved to think no more on this until after Christmas.

After the Christmas festivities had finished, and people began to return to their normal lives, to their work, or to their school, it was time for the Princess to return and begin her lessons. She had a very strict governess, who had been brought in from an adjacent kingdom, who never let her play during class. However, she was allowed to meet other children in the evenings in her activities, at her ballet lessons, and in her riding lessons. She spoke to them and asked them how their Christmas had been, and what it was that they had received as gifts.
Many of them, due to the recent tax on children's toys, had had a more limited Christmas than previously. Where they might have had two presents, now they only had one. Where they might have had one present, now they had only had one smaller gift. It had been a sad and sorry Christmas for many people who, even if they understood the necessity of the tax, and the fact that the King's hand had been forced, saw him as the person who, having for so long been a bountiful father figure to them, had now stripped away their joy.

The Princess tried to downplay the unicorn as much as she could, but even if she merely mentioned that it was a unicorn made out of rosewood, that was itself a very special toy. If she let slip that it was alive, then that would make all of them jealous. However, she had been raised not to tell falsehoods, and so gradually, the truth got out amongst her playmates.

Rumours spread slowly through the city, as it does, step by step, first small, then a little larger, and finally enormous and malevolent. Everybody knew that the King, who had imposed the tax on toys, and had stripped so many people of their ability to delight their children at Christmas, had himself, for his own niece, purchased a live, magical, wooden unicorn. A ferment of discontent began to grow in the capital city.

Under pressure from petitions left, right, and centre, the King rescinded the tax, having built up some of the supplies of the citadel, and endeavoured to use his own wealth to top up the rest. As a result, people started buying the Christmas toys that they would have bought, but much later. Was this enough, or had the damage to his reputation already been done? Could he command their respect? Would they follow him if he needed to make another pronouncement for the greater good of the country?

One day, while accepting petitioners, the King was startled by someone who did not appear to be a citizen or even a resident of his kingdom. The man who had first asked Phillip for the unicorn toy now stood resplendent in black in front of the King. "Your majesty," he said, "I come to you as a friend, a friend with a proposition. You have in your position a particular toy. You also have a difficulty between you and your people. I can solve these things for you," he said. "With a simple incantation known only to me, the toy will once again become inanimate, inert, and quite normal. At the same time, your people will remember that you have attempted only to act in their good interest, and once more will acknowledge your authority.

"On the other hand," he continued, "with another incantation, equally uniquely stored in my own brain, I can make it the case that people never forget this unicorn, and that the discontent which is beginning now will grow larger and larger and larger. I can make it the case that neighbouring states will begin to declare war on you, and your seed store will be put to the test, your authority tested, leading to revolution."

The King had, it seemed to him, no choice, although, in the months since Christmas, his niece had so fallen in love with the unicorn, that he knew that it would break her heart. "Very well," he said. "What is the price of this incantation which will restore peace and order to our city and state?"

"Well," said the man dressed all in black, "there is, of course, only one price that I would possibly accept for such a powerful incantation. I myself am an extremely wealthy but lonely man, and I have often wanted a bride to be a companion to me in my old age." The King felt he had no choice but to accept, although it grieved him dearly to agree, and so the man said that he would return in ten years to marry the Princess Caroline.