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What would happen in Nuremberg? They would learn from Drosselmeier’s cousin that Krakatuk had been in his home all along–sold to him, long before, by a laughing man who wanted only one coin of a specific year. It does no good to puzzle over such things. He could have been anyone.

What matters, my darlings, is that the new year has broken, and this story is done. The tale of the Nutcracker and his princesses is for another time. Into your pajamas, tapers lit; and if I read the stars aright, my old friend your godfather will be here by morning.


The spell broke. The deepest bell let out its twelfth peal. It was Christmas.

Time in the battle-bruised city unwound: men shredded by shot breathed again, boys wore beards, and snow flurried up from cobbles.

“We may never chase down the nut Krakatuk,” said the astronomer.

“I have been a fool,” said Drosselmeier.

“You have been legend,” said the astronomer. “I would not take all the kingdoms in Christendom in trade for our adventure.”

“Then let us home, to dear Nuremberg,” said Drosselmeier, “for whatever the consequences of failure, I will face them gladly, knowing you are by my side.”

The Astronomer

Seconds whipped like snowflakes at the astronomer’s face and hands; he fought to drag his feet forward. Bells unrang.

“Why invoke such lunatic sorcery?” he cried.

Drosselmeier stood mad and time-whipped in the eye of the engine. “Because you did not deserve this,” he said, tears streaming into his eyes. “It was my quest! My life at stake! And in my fear, my selfish desperation, I took fifteen years from you!”

“My friend,” said the astronomer, “my dear Christian Elias Drosselmeier–for you I would give them all.”

The heartspring of the clock, driven beyond its strength, shattered like glass.

The Astronomer

“Do you remember my position at the court in Nuremberg?”

Spiraling, spiraling, up a staircase caged in cogs.

“Clockmaker,” said Drosselmeier, “and magician.”

“What do you mean to do?” panted the astronomer.

“We have chased Krakatuk into the future; we cannot know where it will be. But we know precisely where it was!”

The cold struck a bolt through his chest. “Oh Drosselmeier,” he whispered, still climbing, “it has driven you to madness!”

A heaving, grinding sound, as Drosselmeier threw the gear train into reverse; time sheared at the astronomer, and he was–

Spiraling, spiraling, up a staircase caged in cogs–

The Astronomer

Hands clapped numb to his roaring ears, the astronomer shoved his shoulder against the access door at the back of the tower. It gave easily; its lock had been shattered by muzzle-load shot.

“Drosselmeier!” he shouted, inside, just as the bell finished its eleventh toll and ground to silence.  The echo hung for a long time.

“Do you know,” came Drosselmeier’s voice from far overhead, “they say the sun itself consults this clock to determine when to rise?”

“Children’s tales,” chattered the astronomer, trying to find a staircase.

“We have been living a child’s tale for fifteen years,” Drosselmeier said.

The Astronomer

It was only by blizzard-blind luck that the astronomer passed through the enemy fortifications, but pass he did, scarf freezing to his face.

At first he thought it was a cannon resuming fire, madly, in the snow-whipped darkness.  The sound rolled through his shivering body with a note so low as to be percussive.  Then the other bells followed, building an arpeggio, and when the deepest began again he understood:  it was midnight, and the great clock was turning Eve into Day–

The clock.

Of course.

The astronomer ran, following the bells to the heart of the Chestnut City.


“We must for the bivouac,” said the astronomer, “we’ll freeze out here.”

“Go,” said Drosselmeier, drawing his saber and pulling himself from the trench. “I have business in the city, and no better chance to transact it.”

“Drosselmeier! Wait!” He stumbled after, into the white wind.

“I set out to find Krakatuk for the sake of a child, cursed through no fault but her father’s. You asked why I brought you here; in truth I wish I had joined the fight alone.” Drosselmeier’s words were a trail of ghosts. “I began this quest for pity. I will finish it for love.”


“I have exhausted your sympathy,” said Drosselmeier, “is that it? I have at long last run out your patience.”

“I only want to understand your purpose.”

“Have you ever?”

“I thought I had,” said the astronomer.

“Perhaps,” said Drosselmeier. “Oh, that my purpose were constant; oh, that it were beacon and buoy on the dark sea of this search. But it has not been, my friend! It shifts, and I tack to follow, with patched sails and a splintered rudder.”

The cannons were quiescing, the storm setting in with silent fury. Snowflakes, white as age, caught on their beards and eyebrows.


“My friend,” said the astronomer, struggling for civility in the midst of the battlefield, “sometimes I think you throw us both behind a cause without consulting for consequences.”

“We cannot wait for the stars to align,” said Drosselmeier. “If we are to finish our search–”

“Is that your intention? To finish it?” said the astronomer, his color high. “I am not at all sure!”

“Of course!”

“There is no hard nut here, Drosselmeier!” A dull and deafening mark of punctuation; brick shards kissed their cheeks. “Only cold, and soldiers we do not know, and death in the mouth of the cannon!”


He was at war.

Then, as now, cannon case-shot bombardment was nearly as effective at killing one’s own infantry as the enemy’s.  Drosselmeier and the astronomer scrambled down into the remnants of a cellar stair as death whistled by.  Thunder followed; dust poured down.

“You know, I studied quite hard in order to never join an army,” panted the astronomer.

“Chin up, head down,” said Drosselmeier. “Between the Chinkapin and the Chestnut lies a matter of honor and long history. We are privileged to join their fight.”

“Whose side are we on again?”

“I do not entirely remember,” Drosselmeier said.