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Drosselmeier

Now you already know that in the course of their efforts to save the cursed Princess Pirlipat, the royal clockmaker named Drosselmeier (and his friend the royal astronomer) traveled all through the known world searching high and low for the nut Krakatuk. In the end, of course, they would find it in the place they had left, their home city of Nuremberg; and his nephew would crack it in his teeth and be cursed in turn to become the Nutcracker.

But do you know what Drosselmeier was doing on the tenth Christmas of his long quest?

Well, then, I’ll tell you.

Drosselmeier

He was in a dungeon, and his heart was sorely troubled.

“Am I to infer by your machinations that I am near to my goal?” he asked his cellmate.

The little rat (whose name was Master Longtail) smirked. “We will hinder you at every step, clockmaker, near or far,” he said. “The Mouserinks massacre was a crime against all our kind, and we do not intend that your magic nut should ever break our curse!”

“Why should an innocent princess suffer for the sins of her father?”

But Longtail was already off to whisper more poison in the Pistachio Queen’s ear.

Drosselmeier

“Have you decided at last to confess, clockmaker?” she said coolly when they brought Drosselmeier before her.

“Regrettably,” he said, “I cannot, for it would be dishonest.”

She shrugged. “Then it is the gallows for you after all. We do not lightly suffer conspiracy and incitement!”

He inclined his head. “Very well, if you must. Do you have a custom in your land of granting a last request to the doomed?”

“We grant few honors to insurrectionists,” she said, “but you may ask all the same.”

“I ask only,” said Drosselmeier, “that I might fix one more clock before I die.”

Drosselmeier

“As it happens,” the queen said with a devilish twist to her mouth, “we have a clock we’d very much like to hear again. Shall we place a wager on it, rabble-rouser? Fix her, and I’ll exile you, perfectly healthy; fail, and your poor accomplice the astronomer dies by your side.”

Now, Drosselmeier was not the kind of man to gamble with his best friend’s life. With Master Longtail at work, though, that execution was as assured as his own. “Your Majesty,” he said, “I accept.”

Drosselmeier heard squeaking laughter from beneath the floor. “You have until morning,” smiled the queen.

Drosselmeier

The clock was four stories tall and a century old; its works had once driven not just the great cast-iron hands but dials displaying the phase of the moon, the sign of the Zodiac, the chance of snowfall and the augury of the southbound birds. Its central gear was as wide as three men, and its smallest no bigger than your littlest toenail. It was dark and cobwebbed, rusted and still, and everywhere in its fragile structure were the signs of gnawing mice.

Drosselmeier had only a candle and a little oilcloth roll of tools. He chuckled, and went to work.

Drosselmeier

Under other circumstances Drosselmeier would have berated an apprentice for doing what he did then. He cannibalized and rigged with pocket twine; he repaired delicate metal with flour paste and ripped some of the more exotic dials out entirely. His goal was function, not ornament, and for this purpose he had a secret of his trade to use.

One thing every horologist knows: most clockwork is unnecessary. Two gears and a mainspring are the heart of time.

Morning came, and with it, the ratchet and tick and cheerful toll of bells as the great minute hand limped its way to twelve.

Drosselmeier

The queen heard, and was furious.

“It’s missing a note!” she snapped, and indeed–though the clock rang with bells like roaring lions, chirping frogs, howling coyotes and crying men–something was absent. “He’s made a mocking jingle of our royal clock’s melody. Drag him out to answer!”

The guards marched into the clock tower. They paced the catwalks, poked spears into crannies, and checked that they had missed no secret exit. Drosselmeier was gone.

The astronomer was laughing when they brought him to the throne room. “He’s escaped you, rodents!”

“And left you behind,” said the Pistachio Queen, “to hang.”

Drosselmeier

The astronomer watched them gather around the gallows: Pistachio People filled with vitriol, roaring with savage anticipation, weighing rotten vegetables in their hands. Longtail’s influence was no longer even thinly hidden. Each member of the crowd bore a whispering rodent on his shoulder.

“Might I smoke my pipe as I die?” he asked. The executioner was not a bad fellow, and in fact a foreigner himself. He even used a pinch of his own tobacco.

“Ah, would that I were at home in Nuremberg!” puffed the astronomer, and closed his eyes–just as a great shadow fell over the city square.

Drosselmeier

There was no sound at first; some wings in the world are utterly silent. But the crowd looked up and found their jeers stifled by terror. The bell that rang out from above was deep and clear and strong–and just like the hooting of an enormous owl.

Longtail’s minions squealing and fled in desperation, and the spell was broken–the Pistachio People found themselves covered in clawing, biting, filthy RATS! The crowd was a hysterical riot, and the executioner too dumbstruck to pull his lever.

Drosselmeier swooped down in his clockwork glider, his eyes like two great and glaring gears.

Drosselmeier

“We are yet no closer to Krakatuk,” the astronomer reminded Drosselmeier, as they crossed the border into the Date Kingdom.

“This may be so,” said Drosselmeier.

“The rats and mice hate us even more.”

“Indeed.”

“We have little more between us than a plug of hangman’s tobacco and an owl-shaped wreck of gears,” the astronomer observed.

“And yet we grin like wooden dolls.”

The astronomer chuckled. “Can you explain this disjunct to me, Herr Drosselmeier?”

“Sometimes it is enough to have fixed a clock and slipped the noose,” smiled Drosselmeier. “And to have the scent of dates beckoning you onward.”

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