Zsófia refilled Frau Schlüsselherrin’s glass with more verdant Riesling.
“I really shouldn’t,” said the key mistress as she raised the glass to her lips.
“A little wine won’t hurt you,” replied the librarian.
“True, but I’ve had quite a lot!”
They had drunk enough to make that funny, so laughter followed.
“Danke for this wonderful meal! I didn’t know either of you could cook.”
“We can’t,” said L’Horloge ruefully, “I’m hopeless in the kitchen.”
“My food skills are largely centered around the appreciating arena. We ordered it from our favorite place, the Four de l’ange,” admitted Zsófia.
“Is that the little place off the Rue D’ Epicurean?”
“Yes! They really know how to sauté pine trout! So flaky!”
Moving to the parlor, they enjoyed the Rhine Tort Frau Schlüsselherrin had brought.
“The chef is an automata?” said L’Horloge as he wiped powdered sugar from his lips.
“The rumor is he has a soul!” added Zsófia in a loud whisper.
“That would explain this extraordinary confection!”
Conversation moved to the goings-on in the Arrondissement, how the First Minister finally and officially accepted the Union of Cats into the Ministry of Trade and Services. The awarding of the Minister of Chronology, Fulbert Cesar Crémieux with the Bataillon de Bureaucratie for his service and his almost simultaneous retirement. An early snowstorm had been predicted and rubbish bin lids were going missing at an alarming rate as school children prepared to sled.
“This has been an odd time for the Arrondissement but I am happy to have found a new friend,” said Frau Schlüsselherrin
“I’m only sorry it took the dissolution of linear time for us to put our disagreements aside,” L’Horloge sighed.
“It was about time,” smirked Zsófia.
“That was terrible!” moaned the key-mistress.
“Too soon darling, too soon,” said the watch-master with a pained smile.
“See how you can agree on things now! It puts a song in my heart!”
A brief discussion on the painfulness of the joke began but was quickly ended when Zsófia threatened to actually break into song if they didn’t stop mocking her humor.
“While this has been a thoroughly enjoyable evening, I didn’t just ask you here out of friendship,” L’Horloge spoke quietly.
“Is there a bill to be settled?” inquired Frau Schlüsselherrin.
“No. Well, maybe.”
L’Horloge got up, opened a drawer in the brass roll-top desk in the corner of the parlor and returned with what looked like a steel box for perhaps a pen set.
“If you would, I’d like you to hold on to this.”
The key-mistress opened it to reveal the Variable Key.
“This is from the- “
“Yes. It’s the only one that will open the Penultimate Device.”
“Variable keys are rare but another one should open it up.”
“No, it’s irrevocably linked to it.”
“You should hold on to it,” she said sliding the box back to him.
L’Horloge sat back and closed his eyes.
“Mistakes can lead to other mistakes,” said The Huygens, “But that damned device was my second biggest.”
“Second biggest?” asked L’Horloge.
“Yes. After all the turmoil it caused, I figured that I needed to make sure it and other creations of mine were protected. So, I started a group to make sure they didn’t fall into less than ethical hands.”
“You created the League of Spiders?”
“By the gears! That’s what they call themselves these days?”
“I think it was something the fourth estate created.”
The Huygens poured herself another drink.
“I hate to seem rude but the first biggest was putting together the League of Spiders?”
“Please stop calling them that!”
“But yes, that was my biggest mistake. They were originally just supposed to be custodians. Now they’ve gone all secret society with all that entails. That’s what you get when you recruit the zealotic. What a mess.”
“How did you know?”
“Because you know,” she said as if it was oblivious.
“I see,” he replied as if he did.
“When you get back, you need to take responsibility for the Penultimate Device.”
“How do you propose I do that? Given you know what the group you organized is willing to do to get it.”
“Sorry about that. If it’s any consolation, they’ve really gone off script.”
“I can’t blame you. If they invoke my name for legitimacy, remind them who I really was.”
“That doesn’t sound like a foolproof plan.”
“Trust me, it’ll work.”
“If you say so.”
“I know I’m asking a lot of you but if it feels like too much, just remember you don’t have to do this alone.”
“There’s an entire organization not doing it alone. Not as comforting as you think.”
“Not like them! People you trust. I know you have friends. They can make it easier.” “That’s a lot to ask of anyone. Additionally, how do you know that will work any better?”
The Huygens sighed.
“Listen, I like that you ask questions. It means you’re thinking about what’s going on. On the other hand, sometimes you need to take a leap of faith. Which is what I’m doing with you. Understand?”
“I… think so.”
“How can you be so certain this is will work?”
“Oh, I’m not. Time to go back.”
L’Horloge opened his eyes and said, “Because it’s too dangerous for one person to hold on to. I know this is a lot to ask but I trust you.”
Frau Schlüsselherrin drained her glass of the emerald wine and looked at him.
“Well, how can I say no to trust?” she replied.
L’Horloge smiled and melted into the couch.
“I told you she’d say yes,” murmured Zsófia.