Chapter 12:
The Kingdom of the Dolls

I believe every one of you children would have instantly followed the honest and good-natured Nutcracker, who never had an evil thought in his head. Marie was glad to follow him all the more because of her gratitude to him, and because she was convinced he would keep his word. So she said, "I'll go with you, Mr. Drosselmeier, but it can't be too far or take too long because I haven't had enough sleep yet."

"Then we'll take the shortcut, though it is a bit harder."

He walked ahead and Marie followed him until they reached the big old wardrobe in the hall. To Marie's surprise, its doors - which were normally locked - hung open. She could see her father's fox-fur traveling coat hanging in the front.

Nutcracker nimbly climbed up the coat by grabbing onto its trimmings until he reached the large tassels that hung from its back. He pulled on one of them, and a little cedar ladder descended from the coat sleeve. "Please climb up, my dear lady."

Marie - who had somehow become as small as the Nutcracker in the meantime - did. When she drew close to where the collar ought to have been, she could see a blinding light through it. When she pulled herself up and her eyes adjusted, she could see that she was standing in a wonderfully fragrant meadow that sparkled like millions of shimmering gems.

"We are in Candy Meadow now," Nutcracker said. "But we'll soon pass through that gate."

Marie looked up and saw the beautiful gate, which was just ahead of them. It seemed to be made of white, brown, and rosy-colored speckled marble, but when she got closer she could see that it was really made of almonds and raisins baked in sugar. Nutcracker informed her that for this reason it was known as the Almond-and-Raisin Gate, though the common folk had rather disparagingly nicknamed it the "Student's Snack Gate."

A gallery made from barley sugar had been built out from the gate where six monkeys in little red jackets played Turkish marching music. Their music was so beautiful that Marie almost didn't notice that the marbled path that lead through the meadows was really made of beautifully-crafted nougat.

Soon they approached a grove with an opening on each end, and the loveliest smells drifted out from it. Although it was rather dark inside, gold and silver fruits hanging from the trees sparkled brightly. The branches and trunks were adorned with bouquets and ribbons like a joyous bride and groom and their wedding guests. When orange-scented zephyrs drifted through, the tinsel tinkled and clinked to make cheery music and twinkling little lights bounced about.

"Oh, it's so beautiful here," Marie said in delight.

"We are in Christmas Forest, excellent lady," Nutcracker said.

"I'd love to stay here awhile - it's so beautiful!"

Nutcracker clapped his little hands and immediately a few shepherds, shepherdesses, hunters, and huntresses appeared. They were all so white you'd have thought they were made of pure sugar. They had been about all along, but Marie had not noticed them while she'd been walking. They brought Marie an adorable little golden chair with a cushion of white licorice and invited her to sit down on it. No sooner than she had done so the shepherds and shepherdesses danced a magnificent ballet and the hunters blew their horns. When they finished, they all disappeared into the bushes again.

"Pardon me, excellent Lady Stahlbaum," Nutcracker said, "and forgive me that the dance turned out so badly, but the people are part of our wire ballet; they can't do anything differently; it's always and forever the same. And the hunters and their sleepy, dull blowing - that has its reasons, too. The candy hangs a bit high over their noses in the Christmas tree! Even so, why don't we move on?"

"I thought it was very pretty; I liked it quite well!" Marie said as she stood up and followed the Nutcracker.

Soon they came to a murmuring, whispering creek that seemed to be the source of the wonderful smells that filled the woods.

"This is Orange Creek," Nutcracker explained when she asked. "But aside from the lovely fragrance, it's not nearly as impressive as Lemonade River. They both pour into Almond Milk Lake."

Before long, Marie heard a louder rippling noise and saw the wide Lemonade River flowing in amber-colored waves between bushes as bright and green as emeralds and peridots. A cool, fresh scent that strengthened the heart and chest rose from the water. Not far away a dark yellow stream that smelled uncommonly sweet plodded along, and all kinds of pretty little children sat fishing at its banks. They pulled up small, round fish that they ate immediately. As she drew near, she noticed that the fish looked like hazelnuts.

In the distance a lovely little village sat near the river. The houses, church, parson's home, and barns were all dark brown, though the roofs were covered in gold. Many of the walls were painted with bright colors, as though they had been pasted with candied orange peels and almonds.

"That's Gingerbreadholm," Nutcracker said. "It's on the Honey River. The people there are nice to look at, but they're in terrible moods because they suffer from toothaches. So we'll pass them by."

Then Marie saw a small and beautiful town full of colorful and translucent houses. Nutcracker headed straight up to it.

Marie heard a ruckus and clamor and saw what had to be thousands of little people unloading carts that had been packed as full as they could in the marketplace. Upon closer inspection, their goods seemed to be multicolored paper and bars of chocolate.

"This is Bonbonville," the Nutcracker said. "Shipments from Paperland and from the Chocolate King have just arrived. The poor town has been threatened by the mosquito admiral, so they're covering their houses with donations from Paperland and building walls with the bars the Chocolate King sent them. But what we really want to see, excellent lady, are not these small country towns and cities. Let us hurry to the capital - the capital!"

Full of curiosity, Marie hurried after Nutcracker. Before long the air was filled with the scent of roses, and everything around them seemed to have a gentle rosy glow. She saw that the glow came from light reflecting from a body of rosy water that splashed with silvery-pink waves just ahead of them, and as they drew nearer she could see that it was really a large lake.

Silvery-white swans with golden collars swam about the lake singing the most beautiful songs in chorus while fish that shimmered like diamonds jumped up and down as if in dance.

"Oh!" Marie exclaimed. "That's the lake Godfather Drosselmeier promised to make me, and I'm the girl who will pet the swans!"

Nutcracker smiled a mocking smile she'd never seen before. "Uncle could never do anything like that; even you would be more likely to make a lake, dear Miss Stahlbum. But let's not worry about that right now, and sail across Rose Lake to the capital."

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