Timepiece

Timepiece by Heather Albano Read Free Book Online Page A

Book: Timepiece by Heather Albano Read Free Book Online
Authors: Heather Albano
this,” she said. “Perhaps there’s a key—” But there proved not to be. There was no keyhole in the watch, either.
     
    “There must be some way to set it,” William said, and, looking back on the scene later, he rather thought that was the moment when he had sat down beside her, so enraptured by the puzzle in her hands that he forgot how terribly he would compromise her reputation if anyone came upon the two of them sitting close enough to touch in a secluded corner of the orchard.
     
    Elizabeth turned the watch over and over, examining it from all directions, running her fingertips over the etched vines and flowers. “Oh,” she said in tones of surprise. “Here—” She showed him dials running along the inside of the casing, tiny things that she could only just manage to turn with her fingernail. Turning them made the hands on the timekeeping face move, but it did not make them start telling time. Nor did pressing down the ornate stem above the “12,” nor the plain stem beside the “3.”  Similar dials changed the nested wheels on the second and third faces, but similarly failed to set the wheels moving or deliver any clue as to what they might be measuring. William found himself reminded of the wheels of the water-driven mill he had seen at Cheshire, but thatwas hardly a helpful comparison.
     
    The fourth face had remained blank all this while, no matter what they did. Elizabeth continued to insist it had displayed images a short time before, and William tried to believe her, an effort that became abruptly much easier when the watch lit up in his hand.
     
     “Look!” Elizabeth said, leaning so eagerly forward that her curls brushed his shoulder. “That’s what I meant.”
     
    The fourth face displayed a fog-bound city street, with carriages rattling to and fro in the foreground. A gas-lamp burned through the fog, casting just enough light that William fancied he could see shapes moving behind the carriages. Large shapes. Indistinct, but somehow menacing.
     
    Just as he thought the words, the scene changed. Elizabeth exclaimed in surprise, and William hastily shook his vision clear to study the new picture. This one was less complicated, consisting of a meadow by a brook, with clouds and grasses reflected in the water. It was a scene that could be from any estate on the English countryside, and William was about to comment to that effect when the image changed again, and now it was a castle perched upon the crags of a mountaintop. A narrow winding trail led down into the forest below, tiny specs of color moving along it.
     
    “Are those—could they be men on horseback?” Elizabeth asked, and William squinted, holding the watch close to his eye.
     
    “I believe they are,” he said slowly. “Elizabeth, I believe they are knights in armor.”
     
    “Truly?” She leaned in again, and as he moved the watch so that she could see, the mountaintop became an embattled ship, dodging blasts of cannon-fire and riding heaving waves so realistic his insides lurched. As they stared at the ship, the fourth face flickered and went dark. Elizabeth shook her head, blinking.
     
    “Look!” she said then. “There’s writing around the picture face. An inscription.” William brought it closer to his eye. If there was a name, he could not decipher it, but the rest of the inscription read, for service to the Empire.
     
    A painful burst of light seared his eye as the fourth face came back to life. William flinched, fumbling his hold on the watch case, and it slipped from his grasp. He and Elizabeth grabbed for it at the same time, and his fingers brushed her knuckles at the same moment her palm touched the watch. She managed not to drop it, but it was a near thing; she caught it by closing her hand around it. Her thumb bumped the top stem, depressing it briefly and then letting it spring back as she shifted her grip.
     
    The world had seemed to hold its breath for that moment. The air had been

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