Long May She Reign(6)

By: Rhiannon Thomas

I twitched the curtains closed, but the shouts and laughter cut through the window, so I gripped my hands together in my lap, trying to remember to breathe.

It must have taken half an hour or more to fight through the crowds, but finally, the carriage turned onto my street. Only nobles lived here, in black-beamed buildings from hundreds of years ago. Normally, that meant that anyone stepping out of the front door risked being accosted by nosy matriarchs and young social climbers, but the road was quieter now, and no lights flickered in the windows. Who would be here when they could be at the palace instead? Perhaps a few dedicated servants, an elderly relative telling the younger ones to have fun. And now us.

As soon as the carriage stopped, I shoved the door open, stumbling slightly as my heels hit the pavement. Naomi handed the driver a couple of coins, and I hurried to find the spare key tucked under the windowsill. The servants had been given the night off. Adviser to the king he might be, but my father remembered what working life was like before he married a noble, and he always thought about what the servants might want. He’d never admit to such improper behavior to any of his new peers, of course, but that didn’t make his concern any less genuine.

If only that concern stretched to his daughter. My happiness could never come before the expectations of the court. I had far too many supposed duties to fulfill.

He wouldn’t take it well when I finally left. He wouldn’t hate me for it, exactly, but he wouldn’t understand. So I couldn’t tell him about my plans. I couldn’t ask for any assistance. One day, I’d inform him that I was leaving, and then I’d be gone.

I wished things could be different. I wasn’t close to my father, but I didn’t want to hurt him. I wished he could understand, that he didn’t wish for any daughter other than me, but wishes didn’t mean anything in the end. This was how things had to be.

The front hall was dark, the chandelier looming above us. I strode underneath it, to a narrow staircase at the far side of the room. Anyone visiting the house would probably dismiss it as a servants’ passage, and one step into the run-down corridor at the bottom of the stairs would seem to confirm it. I didn’t want anyone interrupting my experiments, and my father didn’t want anyone to stumble across them.

My laboratory wasn’t perfect. The cellar room was cramped, for a start. A scarred wooden table took up most of the space, and I had personally fastened several sturdy but slightly lopsided cupboards to the walls. The only windows were high up, long rectangular panes of glass that looked straight on to the grass of our garden. They could be opened to let out smoke, but they were far less effective at letting in light. Books spilled off the shelves, and every spot of counter space was covered in bottles and vials and notes.

But the busyness was comforting to me. Everything had a system, even if it was one I couldn’t express in words. I knew where everything was. When I stepped into that room, all the doubt that defined my life in court melted away. I knew what I needed to do. I knew who I needed to be.

I’d been interested in science for as long as I could remember, for longer than I’d had a word for it. I’d driven my mother and father insane with endless questions—why is the sky blue? Why is fire hot? Why does food change when it’s cooked? Why do people in different kingdoms speak different languages from us? Why, why, why, why, about anything and everything. My mother always indulged me with some ridiculous answer. Food cooked because it had big dreams, and it wanted to be the best it could be. The sky was blue because we were being watched by a giant and she had the bluest eyes anyone had ever seen. When it rained, she was crying. And at night, it got dark because she was asleep.

My father took the questions more seriously. He saw my curiosity as a good thing, then, and as a merchant who traveled far, he had some answers, if not all of them.

Of course, both approaches led to more questions, about the giant or the languages spoken across the sea. But the first time I’d learned about science, the first time I’d realized that we didn’t have all the answers and that some people worked to find them, was when I was about eight. My father mentioned his enthusiastic daughter to a scientist he’d met abroad, and the man gave my father a book called The Scientific Method, designed for students just beginning their studies. He’d said it was probably too dry for a child, but I became obsessed with it.

The accompanying letter said I sounded like a very intelligent young lady, and he hoped I would keep asking questions. So I did.

After my mother died, my father stopped traveling, but he also stopped caring about the court, for a while. He just wanted me to be happy. So he let me build my lab. But as I got older and my mother’s death faded from trauma into fact, my father became more concerned with her legacy. He needed a proper daughter with a future at court, not a stuttering scientist who planned to run as soon as she could.