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First pages

Kryštof and Stefan

Kryštof's neat pile of shavings scattered across the workshop as Stefan struggled through the door with more coal. Kryštof's apprenticeship at Rheinhoffer's, the finest instrument makers in all of the Empire, had had its moments, but it had not been as exciting as he'd hoped. He had learnt how to clean varnish out of badger hair, how not to untangle brass wire and how to sweep up wood shavings. But his dream of becoming a great scientist and adviser to the Imperial court seemed no nearer at all, if he had believed in it in the first place.

 

Kryštof had been inspired as a child by his father who worked for the university as a craftsman. He had once been allowed to accompany Papa to see his work, where Kryštof was amazed by the elaborate equipment that Papa built and maintained for the professors. One of them, a kindly bear of a man with a great white beard and a Viennese accent, had delighted in showing young Kryštof a beautiful telescope. “This one is a Newtonian telescope; you see it uses mirrors instead of lenses. No see, look in here. Now if it were dark I could show you the rings of Saturn or the moons of Jupiter, but as it is not we shall have to settle with Professor Ludwig across the quadrangle...”

 

From then on Kryštof had determined he would become a scientist. But Papa's death when Kryštof was only twelve had removed even the slight possibility he might have been able to attend the university himself. There were more important things to worry about, like helping Mama keep the house going and looking after his little sister Marie. But there was still Rheinhoffer's where Papa had been apprenticed. They were Praha's foremost scientific instrument and clockmaker, split into numerous arcane departments within a huge rambling old building next to the Čertovka. He might not become a scientist himself but he could still work with them as Papa had before...

 

"So are you still on for tonight?" whispered Stefan. Stefan and Kryštof had known each other since they were seven, on the face of it they were unlikely friends. Kryštof was quiet and bookish while Stefan was boisterous and always up to something, but for whatever reason he was Kryštof's only close friend; and though it might not have been apparent to the casual observer Stefan had always depended upon Kryštof as a point of stability in a chaotic childhood. In the end he had joined Rheinhoffer's at the same time for a lack of alternative inspiration.

 

"We have to meet Ivan at eight." Stefan continued conspiratorially. "I'm not sure." worried Kryštof. Stefan's new friend Ivan made him uncomfortable, and his conscience was plaguing him about their plans for the evening. "Come on, old Rheinie is rolling in it, he won't even notice if a few choice items go missing. And it'll clear me with Schulbeg!" Mr Schulbeg was a legitimate businessman who happened to be leaning on Stefan quite hard to pay up his losses. It wasn't easy for him to hide either, where Kryštof was short and dark with his roots somewhere closer to the Adriatic, Stefan was a tall Teutonic blond. Well if it saved Stefan's neck… His share would definitely make things easier for Mama and Marie, and it really wouldn’t have much of an impact on Mr Rheinhoffer... But despite all the reasoning he constructed in his mind he couldn't settle.

He had just finished cleaning up the workshop when Hans the foreman found him. “Go to the optical workshop please, Mr Rheinhoffer wants you to assist in testing the mirrors for the Hapsburg telescope.” “Certainly, Mr Fessenheim.” he responded and made for the door. “Where's Stefan? I asked him to organise the storeroom an hour ago and not a thing has changed.” “I don't know sir, he was restocking the coal last I saw.”

Principia Optica

Kryštof excused himself and made his way through the labyrinthine building, the optical workshop was right at the top and built so that telescopes could be tested on real distances with minimum movement, or plunged into a subterranean level of darkness for fine adjustment. Mr Rheinhoffer was already at work carefully aligning a large telescope mirror.

“You sent for me Mr Rheinhoffer?” queried Kryštof. “Ah Kryštof, excellent, yes.” he said looking over pince-nez perched precariously on the end of his nose. “Gunther has finished the grinding for our new mirror, and we must now ensure that it is truly of correct and consistent focus around its total circumference.” He gestured to the arrangement he had established on a large granite table in the middle of the room. “This is a little test I have devised that enables us to view any inconsistencies in the mirror surface, and so address them.” He stepped to one end of the table where the mirror was clamped. “The mirror is held here, perpendicular to the surface of the alignment table and parallel to its long axis.” He pointed to a curious looking brass lamp sat on another work bench by Kryštof. “Now we need that lamp, what would you say it does for us?”

Kryštof picked up the device and studied it carefully; a mantle sat in the centre of the lamp and was supplied with oil from the base and air from a convoluted vent on one side. On the other three sides it was enclosed by brass sheet, with a convoluted exhaust on the top. On the side opposite the air intake was a single pin hole, penetrating the metal on a level with the centre of the mantle, which Kryštof also saw was totally spherical. “It must provide a perfectly circular point source of light.”

“Excellent! Precisely. Please position it at this end of the table with the pinhole pointed at the centre of the mirror. That's it. Now place your head level with the lamp on this side.” Kryštof did as directed and peered towards the mirror, Rheinhoffer did the same on the other side. “You see the light from the pinhole will spread out across the mirror and bounce back at us.” All Kryštof could see at present was Mr Rheinhoffer's eye looking back at him, a hugely magnified cerulean orb streaked with lighter veins of colour.

“The final part of the apparatus is a horizontal reference edge.” Rheinhoffer picked up a brass instrument consisting of a knife blade, about six inches across, mounted on two scales so that its height and fore and aft position could be precisely adjusted. He set it on top of the lamp such that it stuck out either side and wound it down towards the pinhole. “The strip is now aligned where the focus of the mirror should be, we are ready to test, please close the shutters once I have the lamp lit.” Kryštof did as directed and wound the heavy shutters over the windows, plunging the room into Stygian darkness. As his eyes adjusted he saw Rheinhoffer faintly illuminated by the glow from the pinhole. “Now Kryštof, look into the mirror over the blade, what do you see?” He bent down and squinted one eye over the brass edge, as he did so the mirror, full of light from the pinhole suddenly went dark but for the rim of the disc. “All the light is blocked accept for an arc around the bottom of the mirror, what does that mean?” “Ah that we have a little more work to do on this one!” Chuckled Rheinhoffer. “You see the brass blade is positioned where all the light bouncing back at us from the lamp should be focussed to a point, and indeed that is the case for most of the mirror. That is why it suddenly goes black as you lower your point of view; the reflected light is blocked in an instant, but the rim is not of the same curvature. What we see is the result of the rim focusing in a different place, instead of the strip being aligned with a focal point it is cutting across a cone of light. Move your head further down and you will see the bright arc wiped away from top to bottom.” Kryštof did as directed and sure enough the arc seemed to drain out of the mirror. “Now lift your head until you see the light cupping the lower half again, then wind the strip closer to the mirror and see what happens.” Kryštof took the little dial and turned it slowly, as he did so the main disc suddenly filled with light in its lower half while the bright arc crept up the rim before it then winked out, a black circle cradling a half moon. “They have reversed!” he exclaimed excitedly. “Excellent! Well in a way at least,” commented Rheinhoffer wryly “Gunther will not be pleased, he will have to grind the rim further, measure off the distance in the scale and we can give him some guidance as to how much.”

 

They continued testing the alignment for some time, refining the measurement of the variation, and Kryštof found Stefan hopping about impatiently when he returned to the workshop. “Come on, we're free to go!” It was dark already as Hans signed them out early at five and they trudged off into a bitter wind.

Home

Kryštof's walk home took him only about fifteen minutes, Stefan disappeared in the opposite direction as soon as they'd crossed the Kamenný bridge leaving him to make his way alone. The warm smell of cooking greeted him as he opened the door; Mama was busy at the stove creating some kind of stew as Marie came bounding down the stairs.

 

She was ten years younger than him but was otherwise much like a female twin. “Kryštof!” Their age gap meant they had never really fought and he was something of a hero to her. “Can we build more inventions after dinner?” Marie also currently wanted to be a scientist and always wanted her big brother to teach her everything he knew. He often entertained her by building, and helping her build, things. All manner of things; from little toys, through to Marie's elaborate attempts to accomplish some task with “an invention!” “Not tonight I'm afraid Mrs; I'm going out to do something with Stefan.” “But you see him all day!” she exclaimed. “I know but at work's not the same. What did you do today?” She was more outgoing than him and enthusiastically started telling him who had done what at the market.

After taking off his coat he went to help Mama put out dinner. Mama worked as a seamstress for a middling tailors in Praha. Fair and classically Czech, she looked younger than her forty years, and had worked hard to keep her children from growing up too fast in light of Papa's early departure. She was immensely proud of Kryštof's apprenticeship, and keen to see him progress. “Good evening dearest, how was your day?” “We're nearly finished with the new telescope for Vienna. I've mostly been making the mounting but I got to help with testing the mirrors today. Mr Rheinhoffer showed me how the glass department's been grinding them.” “Excellent. You must remember to put yourself forward for these things. Mr Rheinhoffer was so pleased when you joined the firm, you can do well there.” “Yes Mama.” smiled Kryštof. This was a common line of conversation at the moment; but then he felt his stomach sink as he remembered what he was proposing to do to Mr Rheinhoffer later that night.

 

After dinner he worked through his chores slowly and distractedly. He listened absently as Marie chattered excitedly about her next great invention. Finally he accepted Mama's entreaties not to stay out too late and not to let Stefan get them into trouble, and left.

The Ottoman

The Butchered Ottoman was the least salubrious establishment on Na Bělidle; an area with considerable competition for the title. It was a shabby three story building tucked in between an unpromising butchers and an empty tobacconist; the dark and dilapidated interior had been the point of rendezvous for many nefarious activities.

 

The smell of old beer and new sweat hit Kryštof in the face as he entered to find Stefan already causing trouble. He was trying to extract a free drink from Elsa Hoffman, the formidable landlady. Still tall and broad despite her advancing years, Stefan was attempting the impossible and risking the physical. Mr Hoffman had perished in the disaster of Karánsebes, when the Bohemian army managed to attack itself before the Turks even arrived, leaving Elsa to take charge of the bar immediately changing the name and starting to tell people why.

 

"Come on Mrs Hoff. Just one little beer? You know I'm good for it." She smiled tightly "Yes but I also know where you live and Mr Schulbeg was asking after you again. It'd be a shame if he found out too, wouldn't it deary?"

"Don't mind him Mrs Hoff; he's not well. Two beers please." “Certainly deary.” Somehow she managed to simultaneously smile at Kryštof and glare at Stefan. “Don't go spending all your money on him!” she said “And do pass my regards to your mother.”Kryštof thanked Mrs Hoff, paid and pulled Stefan into one of the Ottoman's less conspicuous corners. "You know how to make a spectacle of yourself don't you! A fine burglar you'll make..." "I was thirsty." said Stefan defiantly "and you're late!" Well I don't see Ivan here yet either, hopefully he's got lost." It was with that, and a cold dread sinking into his stomach, that he saw Ivan enter the bar.

 

Of a similar build to Kryštof, Ivan carried a presence and aura of intrinsic potential that belied his slight size; he had long brown hair and his green eyes shone in the lamplight. Stefan had met him quite recently through his card games with Schulbeg. From a wealthy family Stefan thought him exciting company, but Kryštof was more concerned about what he was getting Stefan mixed up in. The robbery was Ivan's idea and Kryštof had largely assented to try and keep Stefan out of trouble.

 

"Greetings Gentlemen" Ivan beamed an easy but wolfish smile "are we in fine fettle for this evening’s festivities?" Much to Kryštof's dismay Stefan was enthralled, bouncing up and down like a puppy. "You bet! My friend and I were just discussing how to spend our share of the proceeds. Beer?" After Kryštof had paid for Stefan's generosity they hold up in a dark corner for final planning.

The Plan

Rheinhoffer's had a number of ornate display instruments and clocks used as examples of their work. Some of them were of a high quality but not too distinctive and others were very elaborate, but filled with valuable materials. The plan was to take as many of the smaller, higher value display items as possible. Then they could either be sold on or Kryštof and Stefan would take them apart for the gold, silver and precious stones used inside. This, Kryštof reasoned desperately, would impact Rheinhoffer's, obviously people would be upset. But they could be replaced and they weren't worth anything to the company if they sat on a shelf.

Ivan held court. “Have you brought the implements I asked you to?” he asked Stefan. “Yes!” Stefan beamed, producing two jute sacks, a hammer and a crowbar. “Keep them down! Okay, we go in from the back alley, Kryštof have you got the key and the gunpowder?” He nodded grimly, he'd copied the key from the one in Hans' office, it had been very difficult, it was a quite a complex shape. “Good, Kryštof will keep watch from the door while we go in and collect the stuff.” “What's the gunpowder for?” asked Stefan, barely able to contain himself. “When we've got everything we can, you and Kryštof will take it back to your place immediately. Then so it doesn't look like an inside job, I'll blow the lock in from outside; Kryštof's prepared a little charge for this. It'll make it look more professional when it's discovered in the morning.”

 

Stefan was agog, he'd never been a professional anything before; least of all instrument maker and certainly not thief. He neglected to notice that he hadn't actually been directly connected with the word. Kryštof felt resigned to his fate. "Come on then, let’s get it over with..."

It was just after nine by the time they drank up and made their way out into the night. The air was fresh and biting after the fug of the Ottoman and they passed the short walk to Rheinhoffer's in silence.

Not breaking but entering

The back streets were quiet and a brilliant full Moon shone a stark light on everything. To Kryštof it looked hard and jagged. What was he doing there? He wondered again if he could still somehow talk them out of it but was discouraged by the determined faces he saw beside him. His conscience weighed heavy on him, his shoes felt leaden and with every step he was further enveloped by a foreboding that swirled around him, like the clouds of icy vapour formed by their breath.

 

Stefan meanwhile was running through the plan in his mind over and over again; he felt sharp and alive, for him the moonlight seemed exciting and atmospheric. He looked across at Ivan with admiration, Stefan longed to be sophisticated like him. He gave the burglary a rest and set about planning their career together as daring thieves and adventurous tricksters.

 

The little party approached Rheinhoffer's through the tangle of back streets in the lesser town. The building was attached to an annex of the University on one side and Kryštof and Stefan's normal entrance was down the side street to the right. Tonight though they made for the back alley and the double doors that were used occasionally for large deliveries.

 

All the doors at Rheinhoffer's had big elaborate locks made in the company workshops. They were thought, at least by Mr Rheinhoffer, to be the finest locks in all of Bohemia, possibly the whole of the Empire. They presented a considerable obstacle to the casual thief. But Rheinhoffer's hadn't counted upon someone borrowing the key and spending a nerve-racking hour trying to copy it. After two such terrifying afternoons Kryštof finally had a copy that worked. Indeed the apparent impregnability of the locks would work in their favour, deflecting suspicion of an inside job when they blew the lock apart on their way out.

 

The Musty smell of the gutter wafted through the alley as they rounded the corner and gingerly stepped over the detritus of surrounding businesses. A crunchy layer of ice was already forming, making everything sparkle like crystal in the bright moonlight.

 

“After you gentlemen.” said Ivan gesturing to the door. Kryštof pulled out a key like a piece of Gothic art, oiled it with a can he'd left outside earlier, and carefully slid it into the lock. His copy still wasn't quite right and it was a struggle to turn it. “Come on!” Stefan harried. “Give it a rest, do you know how many levers this thing has! Ah there we go.” Kryštof swung the door open noiselessly; he had oiled the hinges twice in the last week.

 

Stefan pushed past him. “Right over to us now.” said Ivan. “you prepare the lock then come up the rear stairs to help Stefan carry the stuff away. Stefan...” “Yes?” “Well lead on!” gestured Ivan impatiently. Stefan looked dazed. “Oh right, yes.” They disappeared up the stairs towards the front of the building and the display room.

 

Kryštof now took out a small metal cylinder packed with home-made gunpowder. He took a fine length of twine impregnated with more gunpowder and slotted it into the top of the cylinder, securing it with clay. He then slid the cylinder into the lock and pushed more clay in after it before covering over the whole outside face of the lock. This done he pushed the door to and headed for the stairs.

Not the plan

An eerie calm lay over the normally busy building as Kryštof crept slowly up the back stairs and through the empty offices. The display room was at the front looking onto the Čertovka, not so much a shop front, that would be too common for a business as serious and scientific as Rheinhoffer's, but nonetheless where customers were entertained and business done. As he came to the door he found Stefan peering out of the front windows, with no items collected in the sacks and a gun in his hand...

 

The questions tumbled out of Kryštof. “What are you doing? Where's Ivan? What the bloody hell is that!? Where did you get it?!” “Sorry, there's a change of plan. Ivan's looking at the safe and he gave this to me to keep an eye out for anyone coming.” responded Stefan worryingly matter-of-fact. “The safe, that's not the plan! We agreed to go for the display apparatus; we could break the company by emptying the safe. And anyway how the bloody hell does he think he'll open it?” This question was answered by a sharp concussion from the bookkeeper’s office.

“No! This is ridiculous! This is wrong! Let's go, let’s get out of here, Ivan won't be able to carry much away by himself.” Stefan looked back at him with strangely blank eyes, the gun waving in Kryštof's general direction. “Well you go if you want to, I knew you would never have come if you knew, but we needed you for the key. I'm going to stay here and help Ivan....” Kryštof regarded his friend in a panic; his mind reeled at Stefan's duplicity and the change of events. He was torn by his loyalty to his friend. But suddenly the right course began to crystallise before him. “No you’re not...” Kryštof leapt at Stefan, grabbing the gun away before his friend could act. Actually he seemed not to act, at all.

 

“Okay now let’s find Ivan and shoot him in the leg, before we both get out of here!” said Kryštof as he levelled the flintlock at Stefan. He tried to look confident and forceful but his heart was racing and his head swam. Suddenly a different noise came from a different direction. “Who's there!? What are you doing!” Kryštof swung round to find himself facing Mr Rheinhoffer... Then the world seemed to freeze, as he saw in slow, inexorable, unstoppable, motion, the arm of the flint creep off the stock and lazily, bizarrely, arc over in front of his hand. He watched in immobile horror as it landed gently on the pan... Then all the sound in the world seemed to come back at once as the universe caught up with itself. The powder flared in the pan, a great flash of white light and acrid smoke burst forth, first from the breech and then from the muzzle itself, carrying forth a dreadful little lead ball straight into the centre of Mr Rheinhoffer's forehead.

 

Kryštof stood still for an instant, before he lurched forward and threw up. The sudden shock seemed pull Stefan into reality at last. “Oh my God, what have you done what have you done what have you done?! Ivan! Ivan! Where's Ivan where is Ivan gone?!” He was flailing around as Kryštof was recovering his physical equilibrium, if not his mental one. Mr Rheinhoffer was still there, slumped in an awful, awkward pile. He closed his eyes willing the scene to change, but time and again it came back all still there. He suddenly wanted to escape, to be out of the room, away from that room and away from the look of puzzlement and shock in Mr Rheinhoffer's green eyes as he looked at Kryštof the moment before the pistol had struck.

He ran, colliding with the door frame on the way passed, tears filled his eyes and he tumbled into a heap back by the double doors. Stefan caught up with him. Still dazedly spouting questions. “What was he doing there? What are we going to do? Where's Ivan gone?” Kryštof rounded on him angrily “I don't care about fucking Ivan! I've just killed Mr Rheinhoffer! A man I've just killed a man, a man....a man..” He trailed off in tears again. “What am I going to do? Oh Mama! What will she think? And Marie? How will they cope if I run? And if I don't I'll be hung and I still won't be able to look after them!” This brought Stefan properly out of his reverie and provoked some concern for his friend. Avoiding consequences was a vocation for Stefan and now he tried to put all his experience forward to help his friend. “Come on, let's get out of here. It was an accident, he surprised you. What the heck was he doing there at this time anyway! Come on, there's no point in you getting caught for this. Come on keep moving, think of Mama and Marie.” And so he continued, cajoling, entreating, encouraging, assuaging and sometimes physically pushing Kryštof to get him home. The journey passed in a blur, neither of them really perceived the time it took, only the feeling of the ground swaying beneath them, Stefan's constant stream of words and in the far off distance the sound of shouts, and panic and searching, as someone had been drawn to investigate the two loud concussions...

Now what?

It was still not yet eleven when Stefan shoved Kryštof through the door to his room above the pawnbrokers. Stefan groped around in the dim light from the window before he found and lit a small lamp. The yellow light cast an insipid illumination across Stefan’s modest room; a small bed in considerable disarray, a rough wooden table with the mouldering remains of a loaf of bread, two chairs and Kryštof curled into a ball in the corner. Stefan brought the lamp over, retrieved a bottle of Slivovice from underneath a dirndl, found a couple of grimy mugs and poured out the fiery liquid.

The coarse alcohol attacked the back of the throat and warmed their souls. Stefan broke the silence. “Well that wasn't what I expected.” “It certainly wasn't what I expected!” said Kryštof turning to him. “How long had you and Ivan been cooking this up? Was it from the beginning?” Stefan felt like Kryštof's eyes were boring into him. After the trauma of the evening and away from Ivan, the robbery didn't seem exciting any more. It was terrifying and guilt ridden. He gazed down at the floor and fidgeted nervously as he answered. “No it was only last week. Schulbeg started to press me for interest on top, so Ivan suggested going for the money instead. Quicker 'n' easier, after you've got into the safe anyway....” He trailed away into a whisper, downed the Slivovice and poured out more into both mugs. “Oh Stefan why did you have to get involved with them? With that much money at stake you'll be obliged to Schulbeg forever, unless you can disappear. But not now, we have to work out what we're going to do next.” “Shouldn't we wait for Ivan?” “Certainly not!” Kryštof was incensed. “I doubt we'll see him around here for a while, or ever again hopefully. He can look after himself, I'm sure he'll have run back to his mansion as soon as he heard the shot....” The ire and colour drained from Kryštof as he returned to what he had done. He felt a cold irreversible ache in his heart, an awful responsibility for something terrible he could never undo. He downed his drink, insensible to the pain of the spirits in an unguarded throat.

 

“I ought to go and turn myself in.” he said morosely, “but I can't. I can't admit this to Mama, to Marie, it would ruin more lives than just my own. And they'd never be able to keep the house on just Mama's money. They have nowhere to go, they'd be homeless. We must keep this between us and hope we escape suspicion. It'll be my sentence to live with the memory of what I've done.”

 

Stefan was relieved that his friend's self-preservation was taking over; he'd been worried that Kryštof might have been compelled to do something stupidly honourable! “So now what?” asked Stefan, the relief conspiring with the Slivovice to lighten his mood. “Behave as normally as we can, we didn’t leave any direct trace of ourselves behind. The lock’s our biggest worry, we can get rid of the keys and no one saw me making them. But we left the door open and the charge in place.” “Maybe Ivan will have set it off.” suggested Stefan brightly. “He has no reason to, if anything he’d now be better off making it look like an inside job.” Kryštof continued. “It’s a strange scenario, the door open, undamaged but with a charge in the lock and the safe blown. We can only hope the Royal Guard won’t be too sharp and it’ll leave them stumped.” Stefan rose awkardly, pocketing the Slivovice, everything hurt. “If we go now we can still make it to drink in The Lion, then head home at a normal time. The way there’ll take us past the river to ditch the keys, and Rheinhoffer’s on the way back to see if anything's happening.”

There was nothing else to do, so Kryštof stood, exercised his sore shoulder and straightened out his clothes. There would be nothing remarkable about Stefan’s disarray, but Kryštof usually looked better than this. Suitably revitalised they made for the door to the street.

The door rung to the pounding of a fist. “Open up this is the Royal Guard!”

In the name of King Wenceslaus...

Caught in a spasm of shock they had barely turned to run back upstairs when the decrepit door splintered around them. The acrid smell of burning torches mingled with leather and sweat swept in with three towering Royal Guards. Kryštof and Stefan were dragged out by the shoulders in a swirl of green uniforms and seemingly in an instant they found themselves before a stern looking Captain of the Guard. Possibly somewhere in his late forties, a bushy mustache and shock of escaping white hair made him seem older. He regarded them with disdainful emerald eyes that seemed to match the Royal Green of his uniform. When he spoke the culture of his voice seemed at odds with his grizzled appearance.

"Kryštof Špaček and Stefan Imelmann, I arrest you in the name of His Imperial Majesty Wenceslaus the fourteenth. You were seen leaving Rheinhoffer's establishment earlier this evening, coincident with the attempted robbery and murder of Mr Rheinhoffer. Take them away."

Kryštof and Stefan were marched away with a Royal Guard at each arm, feet barely touching the floor. The whole change of events had taken less than two minutes and they struggled to take it in. Stefan was the first to regain his wits. "Wait, wait, no wait, you've got the wrong men! We've been in the Ottoman and then my rooms all evening. Who said they saw us out, who was it, where are they, what do they say?"

The Barracks

The cobbles, round and hard and cold were unmoved as the guard's heels clashed against them. The bricks and cornerstones were impassive as they reflected the harsh sound into Kryštof's head. He perceived everything around him with a painful, crystal clarity as he and Stefan were bundled forward. The fetid smell of the back streets, the creeping pattern of lichen racing over the masonry above his head, and the future course of his life.

Despite Stefan's ongoing protestations the soldiers remained as enigmatic as the walls, moving like fairground automata set free from their bases, the Captain in the lead. By the time the Vyšehrad Barracks came into view the whole party had fallen silent.

The Vyšehrad had been one of the royal castles until the Imperial Court settled on Praha Castle a century before. Now it housed the Royal Guards, who functioned as Praha's military police force, and the High Courts with their methusulan, scarlet clad judges. As they passed beneath a vicious looking portcullis a junior officer hurried towards them pulling on his tunic. "Apologies Capitan, no patrols were expected at this hour." "There has been a grievous crime." growled the captain, "Rheinhoffer's Instrument Makers has been ransacked and Mr Rheinhoffer murdered. These two have been placed at the scene by an impecable witness. Place them in the cells!" "Yes Capitan, Sir." shouted the officer, recovering his decorum and his shirt tails. "But Sir!" Stefan cried, "We were at the Ottoman and then within my apartments all evening!" Despite his grim depression Kryštof still rolled his eye's at his friend's attempts at a learned tone, and description of the shabby cupboard he lived in. The Captain ignored him and began passing brief notes of the arrest to the officer. "Špaček, Kryštof, Imelmann, Stefan. Witnessed leaving the rear alley of Rheinhoffer's by..." Kryštof strained to hear as they were dragged away, but he already knew who the Captain was about to name. "...Dvorek, Ivan."

They were marched to the far side of the wide courtyard; Kryštof glanced up as they started down the dungeon steps, seemingly heading down to the underworld, and felt a terrible chill as the Captain, now alone in the yard, followed them with his piercing stare.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

I've been primarily, and implausibly, invoved in engineering; and having tackled rockets, robots, and reactors I suspect I've have been carrying out my career in a fifities "B" movie, but with slighty better social diversity. Exciting as these things sound, they often involve many hours waiting, which was when I started writing. (Well I always have to some degree, but accidental as the genesis of this story was, this time I was determined to finish it.)

Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
You can get anywhere from here... Always look after your clockwork... And never miss a chance for a scientific analysis.
Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
I think you'll guess, but otherwise, a documentary, a chance comment, and 4 hours stuck in a portacabin
Q. Which writers inspire you?
A.
Naomi Novik, Jasper Fforde, Gail Garriger, Terry Pratchett, Laurie Penny, Clive Cussler, Jodi Taylor, HG Wells

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