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“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.