Drosselmeyer: the Words & the Promise
Updated: Jan 1
“Speak the words,” she had said. “Keep your promise.”
Drosselmeyer pulled his hand back from the soup of cords and wires. Her words echoed more in his mind now than they ever had in the last twenty years, and now they were a crescendo.
He looked at the back of his harlequin. He had molded the musculature perfectly over the interior, giving it the appearance of a ballet dancer. Beautiful, balanced, and complex. All things that had once been used to describe him, he thought with a wry smile.
Tonight was the Stahlbaum’s Christmas party, and if he were correct, tonight would save the Yule Kingdom and restore his nephew’s humanity. All it would take is the captive imagination of a small child.
He checked the pressure gauge again, cursing his depth perception for the thousandth time. Drosselmeyer sat back on his haunches, his hand rising up to the midnight-blue eye patch over his left eye - It always itched around Christmas.
The Yule Kingdom proclaimed him the Rat Catcher, a snide and dismissive title for a position that deserved more thanks than any city could provide. It was also a horrible slur, targeting those different from the denizens of the kingdom, those that lived differently and believed differently. The Mouse Kingdom had lost the war, forever becoming ever so much less in the eyes of the Yules. Rats, they said. Vermin.
Drosselmeyer had to find ways to keep the Mice out of Yule, the poor wretched things, and he tried to do it as peacefully as possible. He learned magic and illusion, spells to confound the Mice and return them to their homes. Diplomacy was his goal in this, never retribution; they had lost the war, after all. It was all he could do to please his sister, the Snow Queen, whose lust for vengeance was never sated.
Yet one day the Snow Queen’s wrath encompassed them all.
Steam and circuitry made his dolls dance. Modern advances of watch making had given his quest for knowledge a new focus, and he learned as much as he could.
Science was his new magic, and their similarities were staggering: both required preparation before undertaking, both saw layers upon layers of interconnected parts, and both had the propensity to inspire staggering wonder. Drosselmeyer spent years learning the craft, as his magic wasn’t as strong in this world as it was in Yule.
With watch making he could unfold a symphony of rhythm in a small shell, a delicate bit of magic in and of itself, and reconstitute the mechanisms to measure the passage of life. His magician’s fingers were deft, his hands clever, his wrists strong, and his forearms unrelenting engines powering it all. Like the clockwork itself, his skills fit perfectly together in his new venture.
Mister Stahlbaum hired him away from his teacher, hired him to craft the most beautiful watches in Germany. They accepted him, strange as he was, and treated him like family. They gave him the opportunity to craft what his heart desired, and in turn he brought riches to this family.
His industrious nature allowed him time and capital to experiment with other sorts of machines. Soon he was experimenting with steam power - His creations could lift incredible weights, and then they could move distances. It was all mechanisms and clockwork to him, an industrial magic.
The Crown Prince had ventured out of the castle and into the forest for adventuring, bringing along the Rat Catcher, of course. The boy adored his uncle, always seeking his praise and his wit.
Drosselmeyer had cautioned against it, insisting that bringing along even a candy guard would be better than nothing. The boy laughed and showed the smile that always bested his uncle: they were fine together. What was the worst that could happen?
He leaned back into his chair, his lower back screaming into the curved wood. His shoulders ached and his hands stung. It had been developing for years, this cruel aging. He flexed his hands.
With the harlequin complete he turned his attention to the bear. This would be his true masterpiece: a machine so perfect it would mimic life. Its fur was a beautiful coat taken from a beautiful creature, track and taken by the greatest Cossack hunters the world had known.
For things as delicate as this, Drosselmeyer would use dental instruments. He tapped the toothkey against the arm of the chair, looking at the exposed engine of the dancing bear. He thought of the children’s faces – of Clara’s face – as they would see the bear emerge from the large box. At first they would be horrified, seeing such a creature dropped into their world, but soon it would twirl and skip and prance and cradle their hearts. He smiled at the notion.
He eased the bear’s minute gears into place. This was like telling a story, shifting the narration, streamlining it so that it would unfurl to the listener. The small details early on were just as important as the crescendo of action, the sharp barbs of witty dialogue. There was magic in stories, too.
The mice had found them as they cantered through the forest. They leapt from treetops down upon them, raking and clawing and biting. Drosselmeyer saw them rip away the prince’s coat, scarlet fabric mingling with fresh blood.
And yet, the prince grinned and unsheathed his blade.
“Fear not, Uncle!” he cried. “We will tell this story ‘round my mother’s table tonight!”
Despite the two mice holding his arm, the Prince slashed his sword, dappling the fresh snow with steaming blood. He seemed confident even though they were outnumbered so greatly.
Slowly, the mice began to draw back. Drosselmeyer had used his own saber to swing at the mice, not nearly as graceful as his nephew. Alternately, he used his spells to send mice toppled to the ground to be crushed by their frenzied horses. They shrieked as they fell, pleading for mercy. The Rat Catcher had none to give, especially to defend his family.
Then, like a cloud passing before the sun, a dark shadow descended from the snow-covered boughs. The Mouse King joined the fray.
He screamed at her, but she didn’t listen. She cradled the wooden doll in her hands, the world gone silent from grief. His blood ran a crimson stream from where his eye had been, but he still screamed.
The Snow Queen looked up, silver tears staining her cheeks.
“You must leave now, brother,” she said quietly.
“He would have died if I hadn’t acted!” Drosselmeyer shouted. “The Mouse King…the Prince challenged him!”
“It was your job to watch over him!” she spat. “Your job to save him!”
“Cutting the King’s tail drove him into a blind rage! He was tearing the boy apart!”
The queen stood abruptly, dropping the doll. Her rage was the stuff of legend, and now it appeared the full brunt of it was boiling over onto the old magician.
“You have created a war in the realms! You assaulted royalty, and you have cursed my only son to life as a gruesome wooden doll!”
“I gave my eye to cast that spell!” he bellowed. “Now he will live again, but you’re too vain to understand that now!”
She stood in front of him, hands shaking with rage.
“And what will it take, Rat Catcher? What has to be given to bring my son back to me??”
His head fell forward, and his mouth closed tightly. He didn’t know how to bring the prince back. Not yet. The pain that echoed from his empty socket paled in comparison to the guilt he felt.
“I will find the words, I will bring him back to you,” Drosselmeyer said quietly, “this I promise.”
She abruptly turned from him, the tears resuming their steady march down her face, and walked towards the wooden prince. She picked him up delicately, holding him close like an infant.
“Yes, you will,” she said as she put the Nutcracker into Drosselmeyer’s hands. “You will speak the words, and you will keep your promise.
“But until then, brother, you are banished until you can bring my son home to me.”
He sealed the last box and covered it with a large red bow. Three boxes of magic, each more impressive than the next. The children would love them, he thought. Clara would love them.
The bell was rung and the Stahlbaum’s servants took the large boxes down to the sleigh. Drosselemeyer whirled his cloak around him – he had to be sure this was the warmest one he owned. He drew on his thick leather gloves, and made sure to keep his knife on him. Then, his hand found its way up to his eye patch.
He didn’t know to whom he prayed, but he said it all the same. He asked for a blessing, for luck, for knowledge and hope and wonder. He turned to his table and picked up the final gift.
It was small, smaller than the dancers, but far more precious. He pressed his forehead to it, and a tear dropped. This would work, he knew. There was thick magic in the wonder of children, in the power of stories, and in the complexity of machinery. All three would lend him strength.
He would speak the words.
He would keep his promise.