It was not magic. He knew that. It was simply science beyond his comprehension. But he had never got over the thrill of seeing a mechanical brought to life, not since he was six years old, watching Gaius work from behind his father’s legs.
First would come the green ichor, for motion, a narrow vial fitted into the chest cavity. Then Gaius begins to measure out the red and the yellow – one for obedience and one for passion. They had to be perfectly balanced to create an effective mechanical.
Finally, the black ichor. It was worth more than its weight in gold, and it would allow the servant conscious, rational thought. Gaius measured it one drop at a time, slipped the final vial into place.
And it was finished. Gaius reached for the crest set into the mechanical’s forehead, pressed down, and hundreds upon hundreds of tiny cogs began to turn. The ichor flowed. The mechanical twitched, blinked, stretched its hands and stared at its own flexing fingers as if in wonder.
Arthur’s father had wanted him to have a servant he could trust completely. He had insisted that it have no voice, so that it could spill no secrets. It was perfect. Arthur had expected that.
He hadn’t expected it to be beautiful. Gaius had poured a lifetime’s work of skill into the most extravagant royal commission yet. It’s wood and ivory and gold wire, real black hair, painted blue eyes.
He hadn’t expected it to be sinister. He’d never seen a more realistic mechanical. Were it not for the faint whirrs and clicks as it moved you might almost take it for human. Almost.
That Gaius modelled its face on his late nephew didn’t help. Arthur had seen the boy around a few times before he died. He’d worked in the kitchens. What had his name been, again?
He discovered on the first night that his new servant had some quirks. For the most part, it did its job with a speed and efficiency that outpaced any human manservant he’d ever had. But then when Arthur ordered it to clean the fireplace out again, just to see if it would, it got angry, impatient, wooden features bending into a scowl. It was so unsettling that Arthur backed down, stuttering apologies.
His father had it serve him at dinner the next time they had guests, just to show it off.
“It’s beautiful, don’t you think?” he said. “The finest mechanical in all Englandia.”
The Lord and Lady stared at it. It stared back. Arthur tried not to look.
“It’s quite something,” managed the Lord eventually.
“Very graceful,” said the Lady. “And it has such interesting… ears.”
After a while, Arthur took to thinking aloud to his new manservant, musing and complaining and making plans. At first he didn’t think it really listened. How could it?
“Good God,” he said one night after a feast, “Did you see Lady Somerset’s hat? I’ve never seen anything more ridiculous. She looked like a cow.”
The mechanical laughed. He didn’t realise what it was at first, for there was no sound, just little bubbling puffs of air, but it was laughing alright. He stared at it, stunned.
“Yes,” he said, “well. Fetch me some water, will you?”
The wooden smile faded away.
The months went by. Arthur began to grow attached. He found he had to remind himself at least once a day that it was just a machine. Science beyond his comprehension. Wood and glass and gears.
Sometimes it would seem to stare at him longingly, but there was nothing behind those eyes. If its ivory fingers brushed his skin when dressing him, it was just the cold that made him shiver.
Sometimes it would stand and stare out the windows at night, up at the firmament, its hazy reflection looking almost human.
The polished wood and ivory was smooth against his skin. The carved lips moved in silence. Was that praise? A plea? Arthur stripped the clothes from its body and let himself be pleasured by skeletal ivory hands, lay back against the soft pillows and tried not to think.
It was not a human. It was a mechanical. There was no soul behind those painted eyes. The ichors were imbalanced, that was all. Too much passion.
He was on the brink of his climax when his fingers found the stilling crest and pressed down sharply. The mechanical slumped down on top of him as if dead, leaving him reeling, bereft.