“My lady.” He was nervous—the familiarity itself betraying Father Brassbound’s deep sense of uncertainty—“Why do we go below this day?”
“Because,” she replied in a voice tinged with gentle exasperation, “I want to show you something.”
“I am not so fond of laboratories,” the priest said. “My own forging was a painful, drawn–out process.”
“We forge nothing this day,” the queen assured him.
That they had managed to separate themselves from Queen Perrault’s scuttling crowd of maids, ladies–in–waiting, courtiers, and guards was itself something of a minor miracle. As Father Brassbound well knew, royalty was almost never alone. They were attended even in the privy, at least much of the time. Their most intimate moments took place within earshot of a valet, a ladies’ maid, and at least two guards.
That she took this trip into the bones of the palace alone except for him was a momentous occasion. Momentous, and smacking all too readily of secrets.
He did not like secrets so much. His God was not a god of secrets, though of course the church had its Holy Mysteries. But those were available to any man who took the right vows and swore to the correct loyalties.
The queen . . . she was a woman of fierce intelligence and strong desires. Father Brassbound feared that in her.
They soon debouched from the winding tunnel of the stairs into the barrel–vaulted expanses of this particular basement. The queen, carrying a lantern, adjusted some valves and pressed a button that caused sparkers all around the vast, damp space to echo like a battalion of iron crickets.
“Lux fiat,” muttered the priest.
“Indeed.” He could hear the tense smile even in the queen’s voice.
The lights flared to life, illuminating a dozen dozen devices, from a great, hulking revolutionary with lightning cables thicker than his thigh to worktables covered with delicate glassware arranged for the miracle of a chemical wedding. Other shapes were shrouded with clothes, or lurked in shadows behind the pillars that supported the downward leap of the vaulting. Though the priest had no sense of smell, he was certain the place would be redolent of oil, metal, and mold.
Queen Perrault walked over to a great brass–bound tank filled with a dark green fluid. Tubes ran in and out while pumps ticked slowly over, moving dark and viscous fluids from a series of glass cylinders into the shadowed, foggy depths of the tank.
He looked, but was able to see little. Whatever went on in there was obviously meat rather than brass, but beyond that, Father Brassbound could not say.
“I will be pregnant soon,” the queen announced.
He was quite taken aback at this improbable declaration. “Your Highness?”
“You will help me create and maintain the appearance of gravidity,” she said, glancing back at him. Her brown eyes, so light they were almost amber, flickered in the gaslight that burned from two dozen sources around them. Not tears, he realized.
“Pregnancy has but one cause, and a highly predictable outcome,” Father Brassbound offered cautiously.
“We will forge our outcome,” she said, turning back to the tank. “Dr. Scholes has been very, very helpful to me. The fluid he guided me in preparing is almost steeped enough to host she who will be my daughter.”
“You cannot,” he almost squeaked. “Only a child of your body can inherit the throne.”
“So far as the world knows,” the queen replied calmly, “she will be the child of my body.”
“What does His Highness say to this plan?”
This time her voice was sad, distant, echoing from an exile’s distance. “So far as Grimm knows, she will be a child of my body.”
“My Queen,” Father Brassbound said slowly. “I serve you in all things so long as I do not betray the church and my faith in God to do so. I . . . If need be, I, I can stand beside you and bear false witness to the court in this matter. But I cannot . . . cannot betray the king.”
“Who speaks of betrayal?” Her eyes were glittering with tears. “Dr. Scholes and I will use the homunculi of his ejaculate and the blood–egg of my own body to make our daughter come to life. It is no different than what my body does by instinct and through the virtues of vital essences. I will merely use my hands instead of my uterus. She will still be Grimm’s child, and mine.”
“But not born of your body.”
“No, Father.” Perrault’s voice dropped, almost a growl, as she threw a switch and the tank began to bubble. “Born of my will.”
The priest knew then that no matter the qualms of his conscience, he would obey the queen in this as well.