It is fortunate that the weather has improved slightly over the last week, for now my warming blocks are failing—and we lost three more of our hardened dishes in the past week. It may simply be propinquity: we have all been spending much of our time in the kitchen. But these broke in the same odd way as the first dish, a week ago.
I have been trying and failing for the past week to make some sense of this. It has seemed to me that all of my forming has been failing—indeed, that it has a brief lifespan. And yet, my grimoire doesn’t speak of this. Things once formed remain formed, so saith the masters of the past. Except mine. How to account for this?
I have spent sleepless hours shivering in bed, my head spinning with ever more outrageous notions. For a brief moment one night I convinced myself that it was a side effect of the scent Madame Truc has taken to wearing now that she is a married woman once again…except that, in strict point of fact, she hasn’t. My weary mind has conjured up airy spirits who dwell in the grottoes of the hot springs, and who are jealous of my mastery of the sky. I picture them with little hammers and chisels, cutting carefully artless cracks into my plates and drawing the heat out my warming blocks by blowing on them with tiny bellows.
Why airy spirits would need tiny bellows to produce a draft, my waking mind cannot say. And when I blow on a warming block it has no discernible effect.
Today I took several of the warming blocks and the broken plates and an unbroken plate into my workshop for study. Young Luc shivered by the bench, arms wrapped round himself, and looked them over while I fired up the wood stoves for the first time in a week. That is Luc’s job by right, but I was so bitterly cold that I preferred to do it myself.
Then we stared at the collection together—crumbling plates, lukewarm blocks. I saw nothing I hadn’t seen before, and my mind was a curious blank.
After many minutes, Luc broke the silence. “Master,” he said, “where does the warmth come from?”
I looked at him, puzzled. “What do you mean, ‘Where does the warmth come from?’ It comes from the block, of course.”
He shook his head, pointing at the nearer stove. “We put wood in the stove, and we burn it and we warm up, but then after awhile the wood has gone to ash and I have to carry more in from outside, n’est-ce-pas? But the warming blocks don’t burn up. D’où vient la chaleur?“
We looked at each other. Then we looked at the broken plates and their crumbling—dare I say, ashy?—edges.
But Luc wasn’t finished. “And the sky-wagons. A normal wagon is pulled by beasts. Where does the pull come from in a sky-wagon?” I hadn’t spoken with him about Marc’s mishap with the sky-sled, but of course he’d been listening.
I thought furiously. “But the great sky-ships,” I said. “They work on the same principle as my sky-wagons, but I have never heard of one with these problems. They do age in use because they include many common materials, but their formed parts last for decades. Sometimes, indeed, I believe they are removed and built into new vessels along the same lines.”
Luc shrugged elaborately, as well he might.
“You have done well, young Luc,” I told him. “Go tell Amelie I said that you might have some jam or some dried fruit, if there is any left this late in the winter.”
I have been pondering his notions ever since, my mind whirling. It had never occurred to me before to wonder how forming achieves its effects. One simply does this, and if one has the knack and the skill then that is the result. But Luc is right. How is that a sky-ship, like the Lombard that brought me to Armorica, can go on flying for decades, taking on no fuel; but a common ox has to be fed daily to pull a wagon?
I have much to think on.