The Dollmaker

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The city of Hecate was famous for banning the use of magic in its city limits. Many mages traveled there to experience how normal humans got by without it. Their latest tourist just reached its gates.

Sabrina gracefully dismounted from her broom. Strange outsiders always came in and out of the city, she sighed with relief. She wouldn’t have to worry about appearing normal for once. No more hiding.
She took off her hat and rustled the top of her silver hair. There was nothing worse than walking around a big city than having hat hair. She untucked the two braids from her ears. They signified her graduation as a fully trained witch. It was two years since her apprenticeship ended and they now reached the tips of her shoulders.

The immigration line was short. The bored clerks robotically leafed through her papers without a moment’s hesitation.
“I see everything is in order, Miss Spellman. Now may you please?”
She outstretched her wrists. A pair of magic bracelets were slapped on them as the gates opened. “Welcome to Hecate. Please enjoy your stay.”
Sabrina’s eyes sparkled with anticipation. The city was bursting with excitement. Merchants stood on streets yelling out their goods. People of all different species, from elves to felinoids, and even orcs, went about their day without fear of angry mobs. She ruffled her cat’s ears, “Jiji we’re finally here.”
She spent most of the day wandering around the streets, sampling the food and peering into random shops. She never saw so many buildings that were taller than two stories high. Sabrina noticed that most of the women, specifically working women, wore their hair short. Most were chin length while some even shaved their hair short enough that you could see their scalp. Only a few nobles ran about with long hair like royal robes. She got a few glances at her own appearance, even though she was wearing a commoner’s robe. Her hair wasn’t long enough to stand out of a crowd, she didn’t think –
A cloaked figure bumped into her.
“Watch it!”
Sabrina yelled at him as he ran into the bustling street. She patted down where she kept her money pouch. It was missing.
She whipped out her wand, prepared to cast, as a jolt of electricity shocked her. She fell to the ground. Stray sparks shot out of the bracelets she twitched in pain.
She staggered against a wall as she watched him run further away. Without magic she couldn’t catch him. There was no use.
Luckily she was nearby the local police office.
“Please I swear I didn’t mean to trigger the bracelets! It was instinct to draw my wand but I didn’t shoot.”
The orc behind the desk sighed. “Look, Miss Witch. A lot of thieves mark tourists for looting. But with your faceless description of your assailant there’s not much we can do.”
Sabrina looked down in her lap, her cheeks burned in shame. Of course she should’ve been more careful in a new city. The orc noticed her distress and quickly waved it off. He handed her a cup of water.
“I can waive the penalty of activating your bracelets but that’s it I’m afraid.”
Sabrina and her cat wandered in the streets. No money meant no food or lodging. She had to make a quick amount of money – fast.
“Excuse me, young witch?” She jumped and reached for her wand. Behind her was a tall old man. Large round spectacles perched his nose. An apron was tied around his waist, possibly a craftsman. His beard, once black or brown, was streaked with grey.
“You look lost, it’s been a long time since one of your kind has come to this city.”
They walked into his shop. Antique dolls lined all the walls. They looked so lifelike one could mistake them for miniature people.
Sabrina gently stroked one of their faces. The craftsmanship was immaculate. How could they be created without the use of magic?
“Lovely aren’t they?”
“Your skills are amazing.”
“Thank you young witch. I’m afraid it’s almost a lost art.”
They sit down for tea and cookies.
“So, Sabrina. What troubles you so?”
“A pickpocket swiped my pouch in the crowds. I’m not sure where I can find work quickly. I can’t exactly offer my services with the laws here.”
He laughed. “Why not create gold? Surely you know magic.”
“I’m not an alchemist, just a humble witch. Not to mention that I’m still figuring out my specialty.”
“I think I know a solution. Look here, do you want to know why my dolls are so lifelike?”
Sabrina peered closer
“It’s real human hair. I can’t use any other material besides it.” He stroked Sabrina’s silver hair. “I haven’t seen hair like this in years. I assure you I will pay you handsomely for it.”
Sabrina twiddled with her hair. Just last week she noticed that it finally reached her waist. But she also needed money until she could find somewhere that would pay for magical work.
“How much are you going to need.”
“Depends how desperate you are for money.”
He placed a small stack of gold coins onto the table. “Two gold coins for every inch, that’s twice my rate.”
She pulled out a measuring tape and glanced into the mirror. If she cut off everything, she could travel comfortably for the next few months. But what kind of haircut would she end up with like that?

The doll maker saw her worry. He placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry, you’re a very lovely lady. You will look pretty with or without hair. I won’t touch your braids, you’ll need them after you leave the city. Now, how much will you give me?”
“Twenty inches.”
“Are you sure my dear? That’s a bit of a change.”
She nodded. 20 inches would be the most drastic but easily the best option in her circumstance. She pulled her silver locks back to try and envision herself with a shorn head.
He draped a cloth around her and tightened it. With quick hands he tied her hair into small bundles.
His hands trembled a bit above the hair ribbon. With a loud SCHINK, the bundle of silver hair fell into Sabrina’s lap. For the first time in years she could feel the fire’s warmth on her neck.
“There’s no going back now.”
He carefully continued around her head. “I’m just taking off what we agreed on, then I promise to tidy it up for you.”
Once he finished Sabrina peeked and tried not to cry. Bits of shorn locks peeled behind her ears. It was a mess. She looked like a disheveled porcupine. Each patch of hair where a bundle was tied was a different length. At best it looked like she was a victim of lice. At worst she looked almost bald due to her silver bristles paired with her pale scalp.

“Now now, don’t worry. I always treat my customers well.”
A strange sensation grew inside of her as she felt excitement and dread as he pulled out a straight razor. The cool foam spread all over her head as he meticulously scraped the rest of the bristles off. Her toes clenched at each stroke. She wished she could turn back time to ask for anything longer …even an inch or two to remain on her head.

“Alright it is done.”

She stood up and looked into the mirror. The old man didn’t do a bad job. Her new bangs reached the middle of her forehead, a bit too short to her liking. But everything else was gone. There was no hiding her braids any longer.
It was a severe haircut, not one many young women would willingly subject herself to. Aside from her braids and new bangs, she was bald. Straight on she looked like any other girl on the street. But now there was no denying her witch status. The warm fireplace felt hotter now that the back of her head was bald.

The doll maker eyed his work once more. She pulled her fingers through her bangs once more before he spoke up.
“I can shave the bangs off if you don’t like em.” He gently patted them down.
“They’re a bit short but this will get some getting used to.” She twiddled one of her braids. “This is more masculine than I thought.”
“Nonsense, twenty years ago this was the latest fashion craze! A timeless classic for the ages.”
Sabrina groaned. Maybe with the new fortune she could find enough ingredients for a hair tonic. This would take years to grow back naturally.
She reached for the pile of coins but the old man blocked her hand.
“Hey…”
“You must need a place to stay during your time here. I have a spare bedroom upstairs you can use.”
“Really?”
“Of course, but please tell me more stories about your travels.”
Sabrina spent the rest of the week exploring all of the nooks and crannies of Hecate. She saw so many fascinating inventions she could never have thought of – let alone work without the use of magic. Every night she would return to the Doll Maker’s home and tell her tales about her adventures.
Eventually she got used to her new hairstyle and boldly walked around the streets without her hat on.

But soon she got summons that she needed to be stationed elsewhere in the land. With a tearful goodbye she hugged the doll maker again.
“Thank you so much for your hospitality. I’ll write to you always.”
“Stop by next time you’re in the area for more of your stories!”
He smiled as she walked away to the city gates. He took up a small picture from the wall and gently touched it. It showed a little girl next to a younger version of himself. She had an identical haircut as Sabrina. If only time wasn’t an issue, he thought to himself, they would’ve been the best of friends. Maybe the next doll he made would be a traveling witch.

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