O! for a muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention! -- Henry V, Act I, Scene 1.
The first two clockwork men were only toys, a Christmas gift for a ten-year-old boy king that its designer began on the day the lad was crowned.
Like most brassheads--so called after the first such artifact which had been crafted by the scientist-monk Roger Bacon more than a century before--the clockwork men were designed to be human-like in appearance without being able to pass for human. Both were crafted to look like grown knights in chain mail...armor which concealed buttons that could be pushed in various patterns, each pattern corresponding to a different dueling style. Their longswords were both blunt-edged practice weapons, since they would be fencing with a human child as well as each other. Their helmets--Spanish style with movable visors, rather than the visorless bascinet which bulged out like the long muzzle of a hound that English knights favored--were welded onto their heads, and their staring faces were bronze set with crystal eyes.
Ten-going-on-eleven-year-old Eleanor de Bohun found them fascinating.
"You like the oddest things, Nell," her twenty-one-year-old husband said one evening after Eleanor had been going on about science and brassheads for longer than he felt was strictly necessary. "Honestly, Nell, sitting in an old laboratory for hours each day, doing mathematical calculations and watching a Franciscan nossie--"
"Prognosticator," Eleanor corrected.
Thomas of Woodstock chuckled and then continued. "--a nossie, as the commons and my brothers call them, designing and building clockwork men. Hours and hours of detail on something you won't use. It's as bad as needlework."
This last, Eleanor knew, was Thomas's teasing, for she liked needlework and was quite good at it for her age. She also liked mathematics, logic and swordfighting. And, she was beginning to suspect, Baconian science. There was a clear and precise beauty to all these activities--reason X, design Y, do Z and you would get the result you desired.
"You don't mind, do you?" she asked. "I know it's not what most wives do--"
"Of course not," Thomas said gently. "This is your home now, lass. I want you to enjoy it. And why would I object to you wanting to learn and understand more about the world about us? It's a noble desire. And I doubt that the"--he spoke the word slowly and precisely this time, but his eyes were still glinting with mischief--"prognosticator will mind. I think he would have said something ere now if he cared that you were watching him at work."
The prognosticator, a monk from the Holy Roman Empire called Brother Cunradus Blicchece--or, as he told Eleanor, "Conrad the Lightning"--was willing enough to let her watch while he designed and built not only the young king's knights but also devices that would help the Woodstock tenant farmers harvest crops all the faster. Eleanor found the farming equipment quite dreary, and didn't understand at first why Brother Conrad fretted about it so.
"It is dangerous to improve too much too quickly," he replied in his clipped, precise French. "It would be possible to build a machine that could do the work of a thousand men. Which would be wonderful, yes, but the machine cannot feed a thousand starving families of a thousand angry farmers. And the machine cannot buy and sell goods as humans do. Make enough such harvesters, and the country will be bankrupt, besieged by men and women who have nothing left to lose." He shook his head. "It is better to make haste slowly. And safer--both for those who design brassheads and for those who pay for them."
Eleanor could understand this. In fact, she almost wished that she didn't. The notion of peasants rebelling was rather like that of brassheads rebelling--something alien to the very order of the universe.
"Don't you find making haste slowly rather hard?" she asked Brother Conrad. "After all, anyone nicknamed 'The Lightning'--"
Brother Conrad chuckled at this. "That is not because I am so quick,fille. It is because I am good at keraunology. I can craft small thunderstorms in glass jars, and the storms continue for months, even years, fueling my gimmors and brassheads. Many can design the machinery, but not everyone can make it run."
Eleanor thought that sounded suspiciously like pride, but then shrugged. He was good at what he did, after all. Being falsely humble about it would be silly.
"I like these," she said instead, lightly touching one of the mechanical knights on the arm. "But why did you give them faces? Most fencing dummies have helmets for heads instead."
"Because the king has enemies," Brother Conrad said, not looking up from the elbow of the other knight. The teeth of one small gear had got bent in testing today, causing the brasshead to keep lowering his sword at crucial moments. "I'll grant that there are not many hired killers of the size of these knights, but one is too many. If someone does creep into the king's bedchamber in such a disguise, I want King Richard's guards to think, 'Let us look beneath the visor and see if this creature be brasshead or being' and not 'We seek a human killer--not this faceless toy which we do not even notice.'"
"Is that why they don't look human?"
Brother Conrad nodded. "I could craft them to look far less mechanical. But--for the king's safety--it is better that there be nothing human about them. Nor would I want them to look too human and run afoul of the revivifiers."
Since the innovations of Baconian science had begun about a hundred years before, ushering in what scientists and philosophers called 'the Sophian Age of Mankind,' the Church had split into three camps: those of the Benedictines, who focused on prayer and hard work and left science to other folk; the Franciscans, who embraced the notion of science and mechanics as lights sent by God to guide humanity; and the Dominicans--sometimes called Domini canes, or "hounds of the Lord," by punning scholars--who saw science as a weapon against sin and evil. As the Dominican philosophy regarded death as a punishment rather than the natural process that the Franciscans claimed, it was not too surprising that the Dominicans had sought a way to resurrect humans, thus enabling more people's souls to be redeemed ere their bodies died a second, third or fourth time.
What was surprising was that they'd found a method of doing just this, involving copper, electrum, sea water...and a river of lightning sent into the heart, lungs and brain of a corpse. It didn't work in every case, but it worked often enough. The Dominicans called this "cheating the devil." The Franciscans called it "revivifying." And, to the Dominicans' everlasting disgust, that was the name that stuck, both in the Church and among lay people.
"I don't see why the revivifiers would care," Eleanor said at last, after turning the notion over in her mind for a bit. "They focus on resurrection, not brassheads."
Brother Conrad laughed bitterly. "Best not say that too loudly, fille. It is not wise to call it resurrection--that sounds too much like they are setting themselves up as the equal of our Lord. And they care because they fear things that look and act human without being human." He looked down at the knight he was repairing and smiled. "Look at it! Four different speeds. Eighty-six different moves. And it can learn and improve. The best brassheads from Bohemia can't do that!"
"They can learn?" This had never occurred to Eleanor before. "How? Tell me."
Brother Conrad shook his head. "The words would mean little to you."
"Then teach me. Thomas--er, I mean, my husband, the Duke of Gloucester--won't mind." After all, he'd already said that he didn't mind if she learned about the world around her, hadn't he?
He gave her a measured look, as if she herself were an odd device whose function he couldn't quite fathom. "It is not something I could teach you in a day--or even a month. It will take years of hard work."
"My husband won't mind," Eleanor repeated. "And even if he did, he still wouldn't object. He'd think of such knowledge as an asset."
Brother Conrad mulled this over. "Baconian science is rarely taught outside the Order these days--and never to one who could not become a monk." His eyes grew flinty. "Your oath on your soul that if I do teach you, you will reveal nothing to church, council or king. Some things must remain hidden, ja?"
And that was the beginning.
Eleanor was true to her oath, telling her husband only that Brother Conrad was providing her with lessons in science and mathematics. The other lessons in mechanics, physics, kinetics, engineering and keraunology she kept to herself, for Thomas seemed to have more than enough troubles. Things had begun going wrong before the coronation and they continued to do so long afterward.
She wasn't quite sure what was wrong. Part of it involved his much older brother, John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, whom the commons had cast as a wicked and power-hungry uncle even before the coronation...though John's oldest son, Henry, was an occasional playfellow of his cousin-king, Dickon. And perhaps because John of Gaunt had had to step down from the council that was to guide and govern for the king until he came of age, neither Thomas's other elder brother--Edmund of Langley, the Duke of York--nor Thomas himself had quite the acclaim they felt they deserved. The king's friends got that. They were finely tinseled with land and titles as well, until they rivaled his royal uncles in power.
"Or rather surpass us," York said gloomily after one private supper four years later at Pleshey to which ffifteen-year-old Eleanor was not invited. Eleanor was neither surprised nor offended by this; of course her husband would rather talk over politics in private with his brothers than in the presence of his young wife. If she had had friends, she would have preferred something similar.
So she did not fuss about it. But she also took care to tell her maid that she would be going out in the garden that evening for a bit, and that she would having a late supper in her rooms. And Lizzie was wise enough to ask no questions, nor to take any notice when she saw Eleanor slipping into the cold pantry adjoining the dining hall the brothers would be using, a mercy for which Eleanor was grateful.
"The King can hardly allow his friends to surpass his kin forever, Ned," said Thomas in the same soothing tone he used to calm an injured hound that was growling. "He is but young."
"And likely to remain so," grumbled Gaunt. "Never have I seen a lad so unwilling to grow up and see sense. His extravagances are ruining the nation. There are too many in his entourage; we cannot pay for them all. Yet he will give them lands and castles and horses and feast them on thrice-daily banquets...and the treasury will not support this, Thomas. You know full well it will not."
"He needs time to grow," Thomas replied, looking weary. "We must give him time...and hold tight to the reins until he is of age."
"In other words," said York, clutching a pewter wine goblet so hard that Eleanor fancied she could see indentations of fingers in the metal, "we shall do our duty and be roundly hated for it by king and commons alike, while the king's friends garner praise and power for tasks they have not done. Forgive me, brother, but I'd sooner drain a cup of rue and wormwood--'twould be no less bitter, and I would not have to keep quaffing it day after day."
"We are not hirelings," Thomas replied sternly. "We do labor for the weal of both the land and our nephew."
"Who hates us," John of Gaunt said, gazing grimly into his trencher of whitefish stew. "Judas despised by the hosts of heaven is not so loathed as we."
"That is but the evil influence of his false friends." For a moment, Eleanor thought that Thomas sounded less certain. "Grant the king time, and he will outgrow them."
"Or else they will grow in numbers and influence," York said gloomily. "The king was left too long in Bordeaux. Four years doesn't seem overlong, and yet...well, he'd be a fine French king, with his extravagances and his decadent toadies by the hundreds. Regrettably, this is not France."
"Mayhap he'll change, Ned," said Thomas quietly. "I still have hope. He means well, God knows."
And that was the last Eleanor heard of the conversation, for at this point Lizzie, who had evidently been looking for her, caught her eye. "You look weary, my lady," she said firmly. "I think that you should go upstairs and rest. Especially if you want to...labor on your needlework or weaving tomorrow."
Perhaps if Eleanor had understood why her husband and his brothers were so unhappy, she might have fought to remain, but she knew too little to understand. So she gave in gracefully, obediently ate her late supper in her room and slept.
She thought no more of the conversation until, two weeks later in early May, a scarlet hot air balloon landed in a meadow near Pleshey.
The pilot of the balloon, which had the name Seintespirit inscribed on the crimson envelope in large white letters, and his passenger were escorted to the tower laboratory by the servants. This was because the passenger insisted on speaking to the Duchess of Gloucester immediately, and the servants knew full well that was where Eleanor was most likely to be.
The pilot was Henry Bolingbroke, and he was looking ridiculously pleased with himself, as if he'd just dared the devil and won. "Hello, Aunt Nell," he said, giving her the most formal of bows. "And Brother Conrad. Did you see us fly in?"
"We did, nephew." Eleanor added some bite to the last word; being the aunt of a boy as old as herself never ceased to make her feel awkward. "But I didn't know that you could fly."
"Neither did I," groaned his passenger, a fair-haired, round-faced boy perhaps a year younger than Henry and Eleanor. "In fact, I'm almost sure that he can't. I believe we are still sailing above the clouds--sailing, men call it, though the air has more bumps in it than the most ill-paved highway--and this beautifully solid stone floor we're standing on is no more than a vision sent by Heaven to comfort me in my last hours."
"It wasn't that bad," Henry said. "I have been taking lessons, you know; Father thinks that someday England will need men who can both sail the skies and do battle in them. And you enjoyed it for a while, Dickon, admit it."
"Well...yes." The fair-haired boy smiled then. "Getting away from guards and strictures and everlasting 'don'ts' was a pleasure."
Eleanor bit her tongue, struggling not to say anything sensible like Half of England must be searching for both of you right now or You couldn't simply bribe a trained aeronaut to sail the balloon here? or the incredibly obvious You both could have been killed! But Henry looked so insanely proud that Eleanor couldn't bring herself to scold him. Especially as that would also involve scolding the king, and she couldn't imagine that scolding a proud and stubborn princeling who already had bouts of distrusting her husband and brothers-in-law could possibly be a wise choice.
So instead she sighed inwardly and curtseyed low. "How may we serve you, my king?"
The two boys--Eleanor was having a hard time thinking of them as anything else, for right now they looked like mischievous children of six or seven rather than nearly grown men of fourteen and fifteen--exchanged glances. Henry was the first to speak. "Truthfully, Aunt Nell, we didn't come to speak to you. Just to Brother Conrad."
"Of course," Eleanor said rather stiffly. "If you'll pardon me--"
"I fear," Brother Conrad said, interrupting her, "that if this involves my skills as a Baconian scientist, then the Duchess of Gloucester must remain. She has been my apprentice these four years, and a skillful one."
Richard looked startled by this, which didn't surprise Eleanor. Henry, she noticed, didn't look startled at all.
"If you say so, good friar," said Richard, sounding as if he would rather argue but had decided that the wiser choice lay in telling Brother Conrad what he wanted before a bevy of anxious guards arrived. "There is a task I would give you, but it must go no further. Neither of you must ever speak of it, even in confession." He gazed at Eleanor very solemnly for a moment. "Or to your husband, Your Grace. Upon pain of death, and worse."
Eleanor sighed. Why is it that everything that happens in this room has to be kept a secret?
Brother Conrad frowned reprovingly at Richard. "Your Majesty is not asking his lordship to take a similar oath?"
"There's no need," Richard said, shaking his head. "Coming here was his idea. You see, there was a council meeting recently."
"That is, a long and dreary session all about treaties and trade," Henry said, grimacing. "And long dull documents that all have to be read and signed and sealed by the king."
Richard nodded. "It's a horror." His voice dropped low. "And it feels like a trap. Or like I'm being sucked into a whirlpool. There are so many facts and figures, and all of them become a hodgepodge in my head until I'm not certain what one has to do with the other. I swear that I did see a treaty at that meeting that asked for permission to export the number seven to Burgundy, or some such rubbish. Anyway, it isn't a king's duty to focus on accounts or taxes or treaties. That's a councilor's job."
"Perhaps," Eleanor said hesitantly, "being a king is like learning how to spin. Or how to fight with a sword. No one starts knowing everything about it. It takes time to gain skill."
Richard sniffed. "My lady, I hardly require instruction in how to become what I already am. And teaching me how to do a councilor's tasks won't aid me in kingship. My uncles only want me to become just like them in every way. There are times I leave the council chamber and almost wonder if my face is still my own, or if I've been transformed into a miniature version of one of them, with a gray beard down to my chest for good measure." He shuddered.
"He told me all this," Henry said, "and then asked if I had any suggestions. And I didn't really know what to recommend." He turned to Richard. "My father will be very cross if he discovers that you're dodging out on meetings of the council, you know."
Richard made an impatient gesture that said Yes, yes, you and I have already talked about this, get on with it.
"I said that what Dickon needed was someone to take his place at council and similar tedious meetings. And he said that this was all very well, but where was he to find such a changeling? Did I know where he could find Queen Mab, perchance? And I said, no, but I did know of a wizard, and so did he, for we both owned samples of his work--"
"Baconian scientist," huffed Brother Conrad. "Only the ignorant call us wizards."
"Well..." Henry squirmed uncomfortably under the monk's irritated gaze. "The thing is, if you could craft a brasshead that looked just like the king, it nearly would be magic."
Brother Conrad scrutinized both of them. "It would be best, perhaps, an you both told me what you want...above and beyond something that looks like the king."
As it turned out, both boys wanted quite a lot. Henry not only wanted a brasshead that looked exactly like the king but one whose expression could change as subtly a human's could and whose eyes would gaze at others in a way that said "living being" and not "moving corpse." Richard insisted on a brasshead that could counterfeit his own signature so skillfully that no one could tell the difference--which, Brother Conrad pointed out, would mean that the creature would have to be able to read as well, and not only recognize certain words, but comprehend what it read as well. Henry added, reluctantly, that the brasshead would have to be able to read, write and speak several languages because the king could do so. Both boys agreed that it needed to know court etiquette and to be able to identify every courier at court and every friend that Richard possessed. And, Brother Conrad added, if they wanted it to do all this, then it would have to be able to learn as a human could, and not merely repeat tasks by rote.
Once the boys had finished compiling their list, the monk fell silent.
"Well?" Richard said, after waiting for Brother Conrad to say something for several minutes. "How long will it take to build this?"
Brother Conrad laughed bitterly. "'How long?' I have no idea. Such a detailed brasshead has never been built. No brasshead has ever had eyes that resemble those of living people, or skin as soft and warm as a human's. And the complexity of the creature's brain--parts would have to be invented for that. And I cannot imagine where I would get the money for all the materials. This far outstrips the expense of a normal brasshead."
"Ask the Duke of Gloucester for more money," Richard replied in a tone that said this should have been incredibly obvious even to an unworldly monk. "He must have limitless coin put by; he never spends any of it on feasts or trappings for his horses or even fine clothes."
Eleanor took a deep breath. "My husband has no such wealth as this, Your Majesty. I am not certain that Caesar Augustus, Prester John and King Solomon together had so much."
Richard looked baffled by this. In his world, insufficient money was something that happened to other people.
"The money problem is a good point," murmured Henry, "as is the complexity of constructing such a device. But there's another question to be asked first: 'Are you capable of building this creature?' And tell me not that you do not know, for never have I met a master of any skill--swordplay, archery, horses or ballooning--who could not tell at a glance if a work was beyond him." A pause. "If you can't do this...well, no word will be spoken of blame. And I am certain that there are other mechanical scientists in the world whose abilities are not so...limited."
Brother Conrad said nothing. But his sudden sharp intake of air told Eleanor that Henry's arrow had hit its target.
"Enough, Henry!" she snapped, trying to sound at least as commanding as her husband, if not Henry's father. "Insulting a man's skills is a poor way to say 'please.' And if you were planning on contacting the Baconians of Paris or Bohemia, I trow that you would have kept your counsel and sent missives there first, rather than stealing a balloon and coming here mere hours ahead of the royal guards."
Henry glared at her impatiently, as if he hadn't expected a response from this quarter. Eleanor had the sensation that she'd interrupted a well-rehearsed play at the climax, and that the chief player had temporarily forgotten his lines.
"We did sent letters there," Richard replied, ignoring the fact that Henry was motioning him to be silent. "Of course, we couldn't go there unescorted--"
Henry rolled his eyes.
"--but we could contact various universities and monasteries to find the best Baconian in Europe. Which took ages. The trouble we went to, to smuggle those letters out with diplomats, monks and merchants..." He shook his head. "And then when we'd finally identified the best one, we discovered that Cunradus Blicchece been in England all along, I knew, of course, that you had crafted my fencing dummies; I'd asked Gloucester when he gave them to me. But I never dreamt you were in his employ." For a moment, his pale blue eyes grew icily chill with suspicion.
This, Eleanor knew was, due to persistent rumors that all Baconians could craft strange devices for warfare out of a handful of nails and two sticks tied together; in fact, use of such a device in battle could get a man excommunicated. But that wasn't nearly the threat it had been before the Dominicans discovered revivification. At least one excommunicant--the third son of the Earl of Salisbury--had died of heart failure and been revivified by the order of the local reeve a few hours later, on suspicion of having poisoned another noble...this one cousin to Richard's grandfather, Edward III. Not only had the earl's son denied any connection with the murdered man, but, once revivified, he also went into vast detail about the joys of the Heaven that excommunication had supposedly banned him from. Eleanor suspected that Salisbury's son had lied through his teeth to discredit the priests, and that, post-resurrection, he did not so much lead an exemplary life as strive mightily not to get caught this time. But many of the simple folk had believed him to be a saint. Many still did.
With one of the strongest weapons in the Church's arsenal crumbling and the threat looming of hideous and impersonal weapons against which sword, lance and arrow were useless, it was not too surprising that rumors abounded about what Baconians could do. Eleanor thought it rather silly that so many people thought that every Baconian scientist could take a handful of cogs and gears and transform them into a clockwork army...but that was people for you. She had, however, expected the king to be marginally less superstitious.
"I am not a hireling," Brother Conrad said with stiff dignity. "The Duke of Gloucester thought, along with his brothers, that my knowledge might aid the English Crown, and, with the permission of the University of Padua, brought me hither. Your father was not pleased. He felt that Baconian science was best not applied to war, and refused to have me near any of the royal residences." He shrugged. "And he died ere he could learn what else I might be good for."
Richard did not answer.
Eleanor cleared her throat. "When do you want this device completed?"
Richard glanced at her in astonishment. So, for that matter, did Brother Conrad. Henry, on the other hand, nodded slightly, as if to say, Yes, 'twould be best to ally his suspicions as best you can.
"Perhaps...three months?" Richard sounded doubtful. "Would that be long enough?"
"A year," said Brother Conrad firmly. "A year, at the very least. Most likely more, as I told you already, Majesty. But let us say a year from now, to start with."
Richard gazed at the flagstones, looking utterly forlorn. "One of my friends told me that Baconian scientists can do anything between one breath and the next."
"Would that it were so, Your Majesty," Brother Conrad said wearily. "Would that it were so."
Two things came of this visit. First, a contingent of guards and the captain of the balloon they'd stolen arrived at Pleshey several hours later (while the two young men were eating dinner, in fact) and were hustled off to their respective homes as quickly as possible. Neither would say why they'd come to Pleshey; Henry said that it had all been the king's fancy, while the king refused to say even that much.
Their silence gave rise to appalling rumors that the king had been stolen away by his wicked uncles with the intent of burying him--perhaps quite literally--in the country. Some said young Bolingbroke had helped to lure the king to Pleshey; others that he had stolen the balloon to speed to his friend's rescue a thousand times faster than he could on horseback. Others--though most of these were friends of the king--swore that Bolingbroke had sped after the king, not out of concern, but from a desire to make him look both weak and foolish.
"People will forget this," Thomas told Eleanor in private. "They have short memories."
Eleanor scowled as she stabbed viciously at her needlework. "They may forget the facts, Thomas. Facts are easy to forget. But they'll remember the story."
She particularly hated being sworn to secrecy. She and Brother Conrad could have explained so much if not for that. But she did not dare speak. The king was not, in her view, a bad young man, but he was rather determined to be seen as strong and decisive...like his grandfather. Might he lash out suddenly and regret it just as suddenly only a brief time afterward? Eleanor thought he might. Especially if so urged by the honeyed whisperings of his "friends," who had probably already told Richard that she would betray him. "Weak as a woman's word" was a common proverb, after all.
Eleanor thought that it might be a very good idea to astonish both the king and his sycophants.
Second, her own status changed after the king placed his order for the miraculous brasshead, for the balloon landed on one of the few warm days that May. Most of the spring and all of the summer were extremely wet. As farmers fretted over their crops and feared that there might be a recurrence of the Great Famine that had afflicted Europe for seven long years in their grandsires' time, the damp seeped into Brother Conrad's hands, rendering them stiffer and less able to create the finely detailed designs and materials that were so desperately needed for this assignment.
"I can scarce hold a pen some days," he told her. "And a scientist must be able to handle his tools with a strong and gentle hand, which I think will soon be beyond me as well. You must take up my tasks now." He laughed unsteadily. "His Grace will not long keep me here if I cannot do the work for which I was brought to England. I suspect that soon I will be teaching in Padua again."
"But I don't know enough!" Eleanor protested. "I'll make mistakes."
Brother Conrad pinned her with a javelin gaze. "Yes, you will. Horrible, material-wasting, time-wasting errors that will make you curse yourself. Mistakes that seem at first to be like solutions to the most dire of problems but instead only worsen them. There will be days when you will be convinced that you can do nothing right, and that you should never have become a scientist. And you will be right. And then you will pick yourself up, and go on."
And go on she did, designing hundreds of variations on the king's brasshead, as well as crafting tiny and complex portions of its eyes and brain and trying to invent a coating for the creature that would look and feel like human skin. At first Brother Conrad acted as mentor, but--as he had predicted--Thomas did not keep him long once his health became a problem. And in August, he sailed back to Padua on a Lombard merchant vessel--a pressurized airship with propellers, a rudder and clockwork engines.
This did not please the king, who found the monk's departure far too convenient. Eleanor groaned, sent him a series of placating letters--no, Thomas had not learned of Richard's request from her or from anyone; yes, Brother Conrad truly was afflicted with boneswell, that was not just a story; and yes, of course she would continue to design and craft the brasshead to the best of her ability--and went back to work.
Four years, three children, two executions of members of the king's council, and one peasant revolt later, she finally succeeded.
"At least you have finally succeeded," Eleanor's lab assistant said from her perch on a stool near the laboratory window. "The question is whether or not the king will actually want his replica any longer. Things have changed a bit since he first gave you the assignment. For one thing, he's found himself a lover--a madness indiscreet, I'd call it, but let that pass."
"That's no way to talk about Sir Henry Green, Martha," Eleanor muttered, tightening a recalcitrant bolt on Richard's replica with a pair of pliers. "Not even here in the laboratory. It's not safe. He has more influence than anyone on the king's council these days--and his intelligencers are rumored to be everywhere."
Martha addressed her in the most resolutely patient of tones. "As you've installed, throughout the laboratory, devices that record images of light, shape and movement, and as you have built and set in the walls several pocket phonographs that will record the voice of anyone other than you, me and your husband--not to mention the fact that I'm present--I think you have little to worry about. I would notice if there were spies and hired killers present, even if your devices didn't."
Eleanor turned toward her and gave her an impish grin. "Martha, you are a device."
"Please!" huffed Martha. "I am no mere device; devices are but tools. I, my lady, am a gimmor--a much higher ranking." She glanced at the replica. "Whether that will be device or gimmor remains to be seen."
Martha did not look mechanical. She had been one of the early models for the replica--one of the first to have eyes and skin and a tone to her voice that all mimicked humanity beautifully. What she lacked was an ability to change expression. Instead, her face--the round and dimpled face of Richard as he had been at fourteen--was an expressionless mask. The jaw moved, the lips moved...but that was all.
Martha's uncanny face unnerved most of the servants and provoked genuine dislike from Thomas, who insisted that she stay well away from him and the children. It didn't bother Eleanor, who'd seen variants that were far more eerie than mere lack of expression. As far as she was concerned, nothing was quite so disturbing as a mask with a permanent smile.
Now she stepped back and scrutinized the replica. "I hope 'twill be a gimmor. It has cost too much, in time and effort, to be a mere device."
"And is like to cost still more," murmured Martha.
Eleanor shot her a sharp look. "What do you mean?"
"Only that neither the Queen nor the Green--or perhaps I'd best say, neither of the king's queens--"
One word in a warning tone. "Martha..."
"--is likely to thank you for this. I know you don't give a clipped groat for Green's opinion, but I thought you liked Anne."
"Her Majesty," Eleanor corrected. "And I do like her. I can scarce imagine any disliking her. A kinder queen never dwelt in England." She pinched the top of her nose, leaving an oil smudge right between her eyes. Then she glanced at Martha--seemingly a young maidservant clad in watchet blue, her brown hair decorously concealed beneath a barbet and coif, who was sorting gears by sizes--and grimaced. "I'd never want to hurt Anne. But a king's command is just that. I know not why he craves it so; he's eighteen now, not the boy who gave Brother Conrad this assignment. But crave it he does, as if he were drowning in an endless ocean and this"--she tapped the replica's chest--"were air. He'll have his way. And he is already less than pleased that he's had to wait four years instead of one."
Martha nodded. "It might have made things simpler for you if you could have said, and truly, 'Majesty, I will never be able to craft this, nor will any scientist, not though we strive from now until the last trump sounds and all the candles of Heaven are blown out.' It is a pity you are so terrifyingly competent."
Eleanor put the replica aside and pretended to stagger back against her workbench. "Competent? Martha, did I just hear a compliment from thy lips? Beshrew my heart, I never thought to hear such flowery language from thee! Utter another such word and I shall swoon dead away."
Martha sat straight up, then tossed a skein of undyed skinsilk at her.
Laughing, Eleanor caught it and lobbed it right back at her. "Why did I not put courtesy and obedience into that clockwork-and-crystal brain of thine?"
"You did," Martha said in a smug tone. "You also wished me to possess a sense of proportion such as few humans have and the ability not only to calculate, but to reason. 'Tis not my fault that these qualities resulted in a sense of humor." Her voice changed, becoming low and solemn. "I've sometimes wondered of late--as you drew closer to completing my baby brother--why you did not correct my...deficiencies...and remake me into something closer to my intended design."
"Why would I do that?" Eleanor said, frowning. "You aren't what I expected you to be, true. But I like you as you are."
"There are those," Martha said, gazing on the flagstones as she squirmed on her wooden stool, "who would say that a defective machine needs to be repaired, and that a scientist who does not do so is sorely in error."
Eleanor wiped the grease from her hands, then walked over to Martha. "Why are you worried about this?" she asked gently, kneeling beside her. "I've never threatened to harm you. I never would. You're as much my child as Humphrey, Nan and Joan. More so, in some ways."
"Most scientists would not see it as harm, you know," Martha replied, still staring at the flagstones as if they contained all the secrets of the universe. From her tone, Eleanor knew that Martha would be scowling if she could. "I doubt whether Henry Green would. I'd be easier about the king's double--and the king too, come to that--if it weren't for Green, Bushy and Bagot. I like not the thought of giving over the care of either to--"
"--to the king's three continual councilors," Eleanor said patiently, "And little as anyone but the king likes them, we must treat them well or risk his wrath."
"A greedy, power-mad scientist, a corrupt sheriff, and a thieving politician," Martha snapped in disgust. "Any one of them would be dangerous, but together--!" She glanced at the other brasshead. "And I like not the prospect of him spending so much of his time in their company, either. He and I are, after all, constructed to learn. I dread to think what he may learn from them. Or what they may learn from him, an they discover what he is."
That last was Eleanor's greatest worry. None of the "continual councilors" had the scruples of a snake--a hermit dwelling in a cave in the desert knew that much--but Green was fully as skilled a Baconian as she was, if not more so, and she could not imagine a fellow scientist failing to recognize a brasshead when he saw one. She'd placed minute isomorphic locks on the repair doors in the replica's head, arms, torso, back and legs, and hoped that these would keep Green from violating her creation...but she couldn't help but think that if she were the one running into locks that were designed to keep out all but the original builder, then she would design a few new openings all her own.
And the fact that Green was the king's lover as well as his as well as a member of the council only complicated matters, because that meant, automatically, that the replica had to be good enough to fool not only Anne in public--for Richard and Anne were so devoted to each other that Eleanor could not envision Richard willingly putting a brasshead in bed with his beloved wife even as a momentary jest--but good enough to fool Henry Green, should the man proposition the replica.
Which meant that the fabric covering the brasshead's skull not only had to feel like skin, but also had to be as warm as the skin of a living being. The lips not only had to be able to shape sounds properly, but also to kiss. The mouth had to have some level of moisture in it, and yet not so much that it would leak and damage the internal machinery. And the replica had gone through a dozen or so revisions from its original pattern, for the king--even before Henry Green had appeared on the scene, though not long before--had insisted on the replica possessing genitalia. In fact, he'd been quite cross that she automatically hadn't thought of it.
"Your pardon, Your Majesty," she'd said to him on one of her infrequent visits to the palace, as she curtseyed and tried to keep her voice low. "With all the other nuts and bolts holding him together, I thought it unlikely that he'd need a toggle-pin between his legs."
"Well, think about it!" Richard had hissed back, blushing--he'd been no more than fifteen then, and not yet wed to his Anne. "Would you not agree that the lack of a privy member would cause comment and gossip? A king should not be lacking in that respect!"
Foolhardy though it was, Eleanor hadn't been able to keep from laughing. "Well, Your Majesty, he'll not need one for the privy—or privily, either. And I sincerely doubt that if a guard saw your twin, he would attempt to prove your identity by asking your lookalike to remove his hose and smallclothes."
Richard had blushed even more then and had muttered something about how kings should not be portrayed as impotent. Eleanor, realizing that matters were growing politically sensitive, had agreed to his wishes.
And hadn't that been embarrassing! It was bad enough to have to build Richard's member to scale (and thank goodness for tailors and their measurements, as she didn't know how she could have ever looked the king in the eye again if she'd had to take a tape measure to that), but trying to build one that possessed the correct texture, exuded liquid and was fully functional had been well nigh impossible. And then Richard taken up with Green--and possibly John Bushy and William Bagot as well, though that was no more than rumor which Eleanor prayed wasn't true, as that was two complications too many. Richard and Green had sent Eleanor scrambling for books detailing either anatomy or the Greek fashion of loving. And once she'd managed to get the latter clear in her mind, she'd been compelled to build the replica a--well, call it a back passage, for she suspected that Green would notice if his lover's fundament was fundamentally unbreachable.
The replica had cost her boundless time, effort and embarrassment, and she didn't even believe that creating a double for the king was a good idea.
She gazed at the replica sitting on the workbench, then glanced out the window. It was mid-morning, by the sun. She could delay no longer. Sighing, she stood up, walked over to the replica, picked up a quill pen, and began pressing the nib between the second and third toes of each foot, inside its left ear and in its right armpit in a complex nineteen-digit pattern. It would never do to have a single button that turned this brasshead on and off.
It blinked several times, as if waking from a sound sleep. Then it smiled at her and Martha, and spoke in a perfect double of Richard's voice. "Bonjour, Maman. Bonjour, ma soeur."
Eleanor forced herself to smile. "Good morning, Rhisiart," she said, giving the replica the Welsh version of Richard's name. "Do you think you could ride to the palace by nightfall?"