It is not customary to make gifts of your nephews. But desperate times called for desperate measures. And Christian Elias Droßelmeier, once-royal clockmaker, was so accustomed to desperate times that he did not hesitate when it came to desperate measures. You did not suffer the threat of execution and wander everywhere in the world for fourteen years without becoming quite resourceful.
And so Droßelmeier wrapped his little wooden nephew carefully in silk and put him under his arm, then entered the Stahlbaum house to finalize his plans for Christmas Eve.
The present to Marie and Fritz was already quite finished. He had left the thouse under the pretext of getting some missing bolts, but in truth the castle was already in its full mechanical glory and would only need to be set in motion. Everything was carefully calculated. The castle had been such a daunting task that any spy of the Mouse King would only have seen Droßelmeier working away at night on those tiny men and women, those elaborate gates and windows and dresses, and the intricate mechanism of that little world. They would not suspect he had any designs at all regarding his nephew’s curse.
It was also carefully calculated to no hold the children’s interest for
long, so that Marie would have time to notice what else was yet waiting for her.
For they did not have time in excess. The spies of that arrogant seven-headed mouse would soon notice his nephew was not in his usual place. Something would need to happen before that, if anything was to happen after it.
Droßelmeier took his nephew out of his wrapping and surmised him. It was always sad to see what had happened to the beautiful boy since Mrs Mouserinks’ curse fell upon him. The boy really was quite ugly. Not that Droßelmeier was one to talk, but... Well, he really had to hope Marie Stahlbaum was as good and gentle-hearted as he had reason to believe.
He had troubled his head for quite a while trying to figure out how to find the girl to break the curse. It was, after all, somewhat his fault that his young nephew had been transformed into an ugly nutcracker. But then it had occurred to him: he had spent years and years looking for the nut and the nutbreaker when for all that time, his cousin had had the nut and his nephew had been the youth to break it. Why should he now waste time looking all over the villages of France and courts of Spain, gardens of Persia and mountains of Tibet for the right girl? When just as well his little goddaughter might be sweet enough, and have enough of that naïve childish belief in fairytales coming true, to love the ugly nutcracker as if he were a dashing prince? Why not try?
Although truth to be told, Drosselmeier was worried as well. Was this really the sensible thing to do? Marie was only a child. Her parents would certainly be furious at Drosselmeier if they knew what kind of an ordeal he was going to put their little daughter through? Perhaps for a reason. And could she have the strength of mind and heart all of this would require? Drosselmeier could not help doubting it. But the prophecy required a girl. Which girl
have the strength for that? Marie was as good a choice as any - likely better. As for putting a child through this ordeal - well, children had to grow up some time.
Droßelmeier shrugged and placed his nephew carefully behind that gorgeous castle.
The Nutcracker smiled as usual, but looked a little worried underneath that many-toothed grin. Droßelmeier thought he heard the boy speak in a tiny voice: “Uncle, are you sure this will work?”
“I am as certain as the stars and the sun,” Droßelmeier lied.
Then he was spared further questions, for Mrs Stahlbaum entered the room, carrying bowls of raisings and candied fruit. At least his nephew would feel at home, Droßelmeier thought with a smirk, as Mrs Stahlbaum placed the bowls on the gift table, surrounding the Nutcracker with sweets. She did not notice the little wooden man at all as she stared admiringly at the elaborate clockwork castle.
“How magnificent it is! Why, Mr Droßelmeier, my children are the luckiest in the world. I hope they will appreciate it.” She placed a fancily dressed pretty doll on the table. It had to be for Marie. Drosselmeier noticed the doll eyeing the Nutcracker curiously. He wondered what she would think if she knew the Nutcracker was really a prince. But the Nutcracker’s grin stayed frozen as it was, and he only curtly acknowledged the doll with a polite nod. He must have been nervous indeed.
“May I visit the room with the owl clock?” he asked Mrs Stahlbaum. “There is something in its mechanism I wish to check. It may help me fix something.”
“Why, certainly,” Mrs Stahlbaum said, her attention on arranging the table and admiring the castle. “Just do not let the children in.”
Marie and Fritz were nowhere to be seen, though Droßelmeier could hear them talking to each other. He could inspect the clock in peace. He was quite certain he knew how to enter the clock to prevent it from striking twelve. But he wanted to make sure of it one more time.
It was always interesting, he reflected while inspecting the mechanism, how in order to fix something, you always had to break something as well.
He was sure it would work now. If all went right, it would begin soon, even tonight. The Mouse King would not be prevented from entering, and the battle would begin. If only Marie would be the girl he hoped she would be. All depended on her.
As Droßelmeier passed through the great salon and past the gift table, he threw one last glance at his nephew, frozen in his nervousness. Strangely, he could not keep a moment of something akin to gentleness seizing upon his well-protected heart. Even though he told himself that the Nutcracker would come to no harm - most likely little Marie would spoil him rotten, if he ever could be spoiled. But still...
“Good luck,” Droßelmeier whispered to his nephew in passing. And then he sought a faraway corner to hide himself in and wait.
Soon thrilling times would begin, disguised in an ordinary Christmas idyll.