It seems that His Majesty’s Government has been intercepting my mail to Cumbria, perhaps for the whole time I have been here in Armorica. I now know that the sky-chair plans I sent to my father never reached him, and that I have my master’s chain not through any change of heart on my father’s part, nor because my aunt forced his hand by speaking with Master Netherington-Coates, but solely through the machinations of Trout and his ilk.
I know this because Trout told me at our meeting that the sky-chair was now a tightly-held secret of His Majesty’s Government, that I was not to speak of it to anyone, and that His Majesty was calling on me to, as he put it, “extend and elaborate” my design for the use of the Cumbrian Royal Army.
According to Trout, if anything he says is to be believed, Le Maréchal has fled with 500 men to a benighted land called Guyanão, a place of swamps, giant trees, torrential rainfall, and no roads to speak of. Evidently they are living on the sloops and other small craft by which they fled.
The Cumbrians—I had written “Our troops,” Dear Journal, but I have struck it out though it pains me to do so—the Cumbrians, I say, have had great difficulty finding the Provençese forces, for they have nothing suitable for scouting in such an environment. The ground is unfit for foot travel, and though the forest is relatively open under the canopy of the trees, a sloop is not easily maneuvered. Moreover, the place has long been in the possession of the Provençese, and some of the cochons with him are familiar with it. They have exhibited great skill at moving from tree to tree, the better to set up ambushes.
His Majesty, Trout tells, wants sky-chairs, or something like them: something small, maneuverable, capable of carrying one, two, or three men and their weapons: precisely the sort of things I was building and have stock-piled on L’Isle de Grand-Blaireau.
And yet how can I in good conscience build them, knowing what I now know? If the war here in Armorica had continued any longer, my people would have begun to fall out of the sky!
My one salvation at this time is that Trout is not omniscient. He knows that I dropped out of sight for a time during the war; he doesn’t know where I was, and he doesn’t know how successful I was. He thinks the plans I sent my father are a possible design, a speculation still to be confirmed: a ploy, in fact, to try to get back in my father’s good graces, as if I had ever been in them in my entire life. A ploy, but a plausible one, and of sufficient potential value that I am ordered here to Mont-Havre to perfect it. I am grateful that he knows no more than that: for if he knew that I had already succeeded I am sure that I should have already been spirited away to some benighted place, there to labor for the Royal Navy until Trout should find it prudent to let me go.
I must determine how to balance greed and generosity in my designs, how to build robust sky-chairs, sleds, and wagons—for I will not send men like Jack to their deaths at my hands. If only I had more time! But I have no choice in the matter: for it seems that my mastery has not yet been registered with the Guild in Mont-Havre.
“It pleases His Majesty’s Government that you should be considered Grand Master of the Guild here in Armorica, and so there will no trouble, no trouble at all, Master Tuppenny,” so he told me. The phrase, “just so long as you cooperate,” went delicately unsaid. If I balk, His Majesty’s Government may choose to see me as an imposter, as a rogue former pretending to a rank he does not possess—and by guild law, all my property would then be forfeit to the Guild in Yorke. Amelie would be destitute—or worse, the region around Bois-de-Bas would rise against Yorke as they did against Toulouse, and I not there to help them.
Trout thinks it desirable that I be visible in Mont-Havre, meeting occasionally with my friends—distressingly, he knows all of their names—but it is clear to both of us that I cannot do the work he requires at the Guild Hall, not once I get to the stage of practical models. I have told him that I must have a secluded place, open to the sky, where I may make trials unseen. He proposed a building with a courtyard here in the city; but, I told him, how was I to determine maximum velocities in a space of small compass? I proposed a farm, secluded, yet close enough to Mont-Havre that I can make regular visits, and with fields broad enough that one can get up a good degree of speed without fear of crashing.
Truly, of course, I simply want the space! For I will need to greatly accelerate the program of research that Luc began, and I must have space between the individual trials. Until I have it, I can do little but stew whilst making a show of things.
O Lord, help me in this time of trial!