Ch.3 The Little Mouse - Part 1

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In the Past

Thirty Years Ago

Christophe Creangle's gaze fell on the old grandmother clock atop his lit fireplace's mantel. His fork clattered onto the edge of the black-and-blue china plate and his chest tightened.

"Oh, my goodness, I have to go. It's nearly eight o'clock." He yanked out the napkin that had been tucked into the neck of his shirt and threw it over the top of his half-eaten meal. "I'm going to be late. I can't be, not this time."

He dashed over to the coat hooks by the door of the single-room apartment. "My apologies, Kolas. Enjoy the rest of the dinner, and feel free to leave everything. I shall clean up when I return home." He started fighting with his coat, dancing around and cursing.

Nikolas Klaus stared at his close friend in a mix of confusion and amusement. "Christo?" He ate the bacon-fat glistening piece of broccoli that hung on the edge of his fork.

Finally, with his coat on, Christophe felt his pockets. "My notebook, where is it? It has a new story for her." Spinning around, he bolted over to his bedside table. "Ah, I found you."

"Wait, Christo, what are you doing?" Nikolas asked in their native language of Brunne. He knew it always had a way of calming his fellow inventor down. He waved his hands at the hourglass-shaped table he was still seated at. "We have plenty of food, and there's no Conventioneer meetings tonight. So, sit, yes?"

Christophe stood by the door, his face long and drawn, his eyes filled with terror.

Nikolas straightened up. The last time he'd seen that look on his friend had been three years ago. He'd stumbled upon Christophe cornered by a group of hooligans intent on beating him senseless for the crime of being a genius not in the employ—and following the rules—of the crown.

Each kingdom had their own Order of Conventioneers, run by a High Conventioneer who reported directly to the monarch. Their chief responsibility was to make sure the scientists and inventors under the crown's employ didn't contradict the beliefs or edicts of their divine leader.

Nikolas, who had himself been saved by another conventioneer, a young Marcus Pieman, had intervened and saved Christophe's life. Nikolas had then convinced Marcus, now a senior Conventioneer, to bring Christophe into the order.

While Christophe and Nikolas got along fantastically and pushed each other's inventive brilliance to new levels, Christophe constantly bristled and rebelled against the ignorant limitations that came with the title of Conventioneer and having to serve at the leisure of the king.

Christophe finally got his coat on. He pulled out his pocket watch and set the time to match the grandmother clock.

Nikolas waved him to come over with one hand as he used a napkin to wipe his mouth with the other. "A minute ago, we were talking about an even more revolutionary edition of our Magnetic-Copper-Magnesium engine, and now, you look like a man who is trying to outrun a raging river. Sit."

"I can't," Christophe replied. He put a hand over his eyes, a habit he had when trying to focus. "I'll need to hire a horse to get me there in time. The guards at the edge of our Conventioneer's villa complex will change in four minutes. I can still escape."

Nikolas got up, his hands out reaching for his friend. "Escape? We are not in prison. Are you having an attack again?"

Briefly glaring at Nikolas, Christophe shook his head. "I love you like a brother, Kolas, but you are naive. This is a prison." He went for the door, but Nikolas grabbed him by the arm. "I will return in a few hours."

"No, wait. You keep disappearing, and I wasn't going to say anything, but even if it is a lady friend, it will be noticed."

"Kolas, I must go. Enjoy your gilded cage alone for a few hours until I return." Christophe pulled his arm away.

Nikolas put a hand on the door. "Whatever it is, tell Marcus. He can make it official. Look at Isabella and me, we are courting, and it's accepted. We have our outings, as long as they are planned and approved. You could do this too."

Christophe put a hand on the door handle and started opening it. "Out of my way."

"No," Nikolas said as he pushed the door closed. "I say nothing when you and Marcus argue. I say nothing every other time, but now... now, as your friend, I say enough."

"You say nothing? I bite my tongue every time you laugh and smile with that venomous demon. I can't understand how you can be so blind to Marcus' ambition and deceit. And Isabella," Christophe stopped himself, his fist clenched. "I..."

Nikolas' chest was puffed out, and he was glaring fiercely at Christophe.

"I am not trying to insult you," Christophe bowed his head, his words slowing down. "I must go now. I made a promise that I cannot break." He grabbed Nikolas by the arms. "You know me, Kolas. My sense of duty is everything, is it not? You know I will return out of my sense of duty to you, yes?"

With a furrowed brow and awkward sigh, Nikolas stepped out of the way. "Go."

Christophe put his hand on the handle and there was a knock at the door. The two men looked at each other.

Nikolas shrugged.

As Christophe opened the door, the chilly evening air came into the room, along with a captain of the guard. Two sergeants stood behind him, their hands on the short swords secured on their belts.

"Good, both of you are here," the captain said. "By order of the king, you are to come with me to court immediately."

"Now? No. In the morning, fine. The king won't even arrive until morning. He's not going to waste our time again." Christophe tried to push passed them but failed as the guards closed ranks and blocked the doorway.

"The king is already there, waiting for you."

"What is this about, Captain?" Nikolas asked.

"You are both under arrest. I don't have any more details than that." The captain's beady eyes shone from beneath his gold and green helmet. "And you will come with me, Creangle, conscious or not."

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