Chapter 3 – Telling Time the Hard Way

PROOF

Chapter 3

Telling Time the Hard Way

The next morning Aldar asked the hotel clerk if he could make train reservations to Budapest for him.
“I can’t do that for you, but she can,” the desk clerk said pointing to a woman at desk with a sign saying, “Concierage.”

Aldar thought “Concierge” was the woman’s name and that it sounded French. Aldar greeted her by saying, “Bonjour Mademoiselle Concierge.”

“My name is Marie Novotna. How can I help you?” she said trying hard not to laugh.  This was by far the cutest little person she had ever seen. He was dressed in a nice suit and tie with a pulled down hat to covered his ears.  She couldn’t help but smile just looking at him.

Aldar realized that the word “Concierge” meant someone who helps hotel guests make reservations and arrange tours. He blushed with embarrassed, which made him seems even more charming to Marie.

“I would be most pleased if you could make a train reservation for me to Budapest,” said Aldar who was trying to speak as politely as possible.

“Well, ordinarily I could do that, but the trains are all on strike and not operating. All the workers want high pay, so they walked off their jobs.  It is no telling how long it will last.  I could get you a plane ticket.”

“I really would like to see the countryside, and beside I find all the security at airports makes it unpleasant.  Would it be possible to take a bus?”

“Yes, but it is a ten hour bus trip.  You might want to stop overnight in Bratislava,  Slovakia.  It is about half way to Budapest and there are some interesting things to see.   I can make hotel reservations for you if you wish.”

“That would please me very much,” answered Aldar politely.

“It is a few hours yet before the bus leaves, so you still have time for some sightseeing.  If you haven’t seen the 600 year old astronomical clock yet at the Old Town Hall, I am sure you will enjoy it.  It should be ringing pretty soon now. You can leave your suitcase here with me and pick it up before you catch the bus.”

“Thank you very much for your kind assistance,” Aldar said with a little bow. Maria tried not to snicker at his attempt to be polite.

When Aldar got to the Old Town Square, it was full of people waiting for the clock to strike the hour. The Astronomical Clock was confusing to look at.  It was supposed to indicate many things including the position of the sun, the phases of the moon, and the time of the first day of spring.  Aldar wished he would have had time to try to figure it all out.  The clock also had two carved figure on each side.  Aldar overheard a tour guide explaining that the two figures on the left represented a vain self-center man, who was looking at himself in a mirror and a miser, who was holding a bag of gold. The two on the right were a skeleton, who stood for death, and a man in a turban, who represented pleasure and entertainment.

As the new hour approached the crowd got excited and talkative. All of a sudden  the skeleton rang a bell and the three other figures shook their heads. The tour guide explained that this meant the others where not yet ready to die.  At that moment two little doors opened up above the clock and six craved figures appear one at a time from each of the doors.  Each turned to face the crowd as it came in front. “The twelve Apostles,” the guide said.  After that was done, a model of a roaster at the top crowed. People in the crowded all applauded.

Aldar, who loved things mechanical, had to see how this all worked.  He went around to the Tower entrance and asked the attendant if he could see the inside of the clock.

“Sorry, the clock is not open to the public, but you can take the elevator or climb the stairs to the top of the tower and get a great view of the city.”

“Thank you, I would like to purchase a ticket,” Aldar said.

As Aldar went around toward the stairs, he noticed a small black door under the stairway.  He had already walked up one  set of stairs, and he correctly guessed that this door was at about the same level as the clock. The door had a lock on it.

“This  lock should be a piece-of-cake to pick,” he said to himself.  Aldar it turns out had somewhat of a criminal past.  It all had to do with chocolate, something elves can’t seem to get enough of.  When he was around ten years old, his mother caught him snitching chocolate from the kitchen. She thought she would solve the problem by putting a lock on the cabinet that contained the chocolate.  Aldar was not to be deterred.  He checked out a book about how locks work from the library and figured out how to pick the lock on the chocolate cabinet.  He cleverly only took a few pieces of  chocolate at a time, so that his mother would not notice.   After Aldar had collected a good amount, he would have what he called a “chocolate pig-out day.” That worked great for a while until his 12 year old sister, Edda, caught him and threatened to tell their mother unless Aldar shared the chocolate with her.  It took a few more weeks to collect enough chocolate for the both of them, but it work out great.  Aldar thought “chocolate pig-out day” was much more fun when he had someone else to join him.  Their mother never was able to figure out why every few weeks or so, the children would run around the house wildly with more energy than two Icelandic horses.

Aldar was able to pick the lock on the door to the clock in a jiffy. He climbed the stairs to where the little statues were located, and spent quite awhile looking at he mechanisms that drove the little figures around.  He got a little too close to one of the gears, which suddenly moved and snagged off his hat causing it to fall on the halo around head of one of the little figures.  Just then the gong rang that signaled the new hour.  Aldar with his quick elf reflexes thought he could grab his hat in time, but he was a half-second too late.  The whole wheel transporting the figures began to move and before Aldar knew it, he was in front of the crowd between two of the wooden saints.  He did the best he could to imitate the movement of the little statues as each turned to present itself to the crowd. The crowd was not fooled.  When Aldar appeared, people reacted with gasps of alarm, applauds, and laughter.  Aldar spotted a couple of policeman who he could tell were not amused.  They were rapidly making their way toward the clock.

Aldar grabbed his hat and raced out of the tower as fast as he could.  As he dashed through he crowd, he heard various comments:

“I thought there were supposed to be the 12 apostles, I counted 13.  These Czech can’t get anything right,” an older grumpy tourist complained.

“What a cool thing to add an elf!” a college student exclaimed.

“I wonder if they dress up the elf at Christmas?” said another tourist.

“Mommy, can we stay another hour to see the elf again?” asked a little girl.

Needless to say, Aldar was happy to safely get on the bus headed to Budapest.

However what he expected to be an overnight stop in Bratislava, Slovakia, turned out to be much more.

 

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