“How many times have you taken that apart?” asked Frau Schlüsselherrin.
Monsieur L’Horloge gently screwed in the back of the chronoton and then slowly wound it up.
“It keeps running slightly slow,” he said holding it up to his ear.
After a moment, he put it down and shook his head.
“Still not perfect.”
The key mistress put her much larger hand over his.
“There is still hope.”
Both of them paused, the only sound, the faint tick-tock of the alleged slow-running timepiece. Withdrawing his hand, Monsieur L’Horloge leaned back in his chair and lowered his head.
“I’m holding on to that, but…”
“She would want-“
Standing suddenly, he knocked over his chair and began to pace about the room the Coterie du Honor had provided him.
“I think she would want to be safe and whole! She would desire to not be at best missing and at worst-“
Grabbing him by the arms, Frau Schlüsselherrin stopped his frantic stride.
“Look at me!”
He did so, eyes full of an earnest panic.
“These Chevaliers are looking for her, they swore to find her. You remember?”
An image of kneeling and oaths flashed in his head.
“They also swore to protect her. That did not go so well.”
“True, but I think that they will do much to recover her. For them, it is a matter of honor. They take that very seriously.”
“They take everything seriously.”
“Yesterday, I hear one swear that she would bring back the runniest cheese in all of the Arrondissement!”
“I hope she also swore to get the freshest bread to spread it on,” he said.
“Mein Gott! We must warn her at once!” cried the key mistress.
They both laughed. To an observer, it might appear to be manic. But to them, it was a relief. Staggering to their chairs, tears falling down their faces, their amusement reduced to a simmer.
“You are very welcome.”
“I don’t suppose I’ve ever told you who we met?” asked the watchmaker.
“No, but given that we’ve feuded for years, it’s understandable.”
“It seems so silly now, I’m sorry I was such a dolt.”
“Well, I might have some of the blame,” she said with a smile.
“A little perhaps.”
“We met at a party-“
“I thought you hated parties?”
“Very much, so disorderly. People all jammed into a place too small to hold them. Dreadful.”
“But you went to this one?”
“I did. An old friend of mine, a singer, insisted that I come because she wanted an excuse to leave early, which I was supposed to provide. We were only supposed to be there long enough for one drink. But as soon as we were through the door, she disappeared.”
“Why didn’t you just leave?”
“I had promised to help my friend.”
“Your code of honor?”
“Yes, I think so. I had more than one drink, as one does, and was contemplating finding my friend when I felt a tap on my shoulder and there she was. She looked at me and said, ‘Everyone I’ve talked to tonight is boring. I hope you aren’t.’”
“Was she drunk?”
“Probably, but then again, so was I. I said, ‘Do you think time is boring?’ ‘Depends on whom I’m spending it with,’ she replied. So I then give her a brief history of chronotons.”
“How long before she left?”
“That’s the thing. She didn’t. I go on and on about the seven different schools of gear work, self-winding versus manual versus time goblin and so many other topics, all related to chronotons. I got into some very detailed techniques.”
“I thought you said ‘a brief history’?”
“How long would a brief history of keys and locks take?”
Frau Schlüsselherrin pondered that and said, “Point taken.”
“Now I’ve been going on and on, even I’ve lost track of time and I ask her if she has any questions. She looks at me thoughtfully and says, ‘Would you like to get out of here?’ I say absolutely, and we leave. We have dinner where she tells me she’s a librarian, I have many questions about that, which pleases her. Then more drinks and more talking and then, cafés as the sun rose.”
“Quite a story.”
“It hardly seems real. Most people outside my profession don’t have the patience to hear about the details. I’ve always wondered why she listened.”
“Why didn’t you ask her?”
He smiled sadly, “I was afraid it would be like breaking a spell.”
“I know why.”
“Would you like to know?”
“Then please tell me.”
He leaned in with cautious anticipation.
“She told me the same story, from her point of view. And she said, ‘I didn’t understand most of what he said, but he loved his work and clearly didn’t care if anyone else did. He has a pure passion!’”
“Zsófia said that?”
“Yah. Also, the fact you didn’t ask her why a librarian was at a raucous party helped.”
“It never occurred to me.”
“Seems to have worked out.”
They sat for a while. Neither spoke but it was a comfortable quiet. It was broken when a screwdriver was knocked on the floor. Sitting on the desk/worktable was a black cat.
“How did you get in here?” asked Frau Schlüsselherrin.
The cat regarded her with a look that implied that was an absurd question.
“Hold on,” said Monsieur L’Horloge, who scratched the cat behind the ears. Purring ensued, the cat closed his eyes and raised his head, revealing a…
Unrolling it, both of them read.
“Let’s get the Chevaliers.”