Monthly Archives: October 2017

Letters from Armorica- Sky Pirates (31 Juillet 33AF)

First Letter

Dear Jack,

There was a most uncommon occurrence up at the port yesterday—but I find I must explain a few things.

Armorica is a young colony, as you know, and so has little foreign trade of its own. We export a few things and import a few things—the trade grows every year—but rarely entire shiploads. And yet the port is surprisingly busy. It develops that Armorica is conveniently placed, and many sky freighters stop here in passing to take on wood and water, even if they are not carrying cargo to Mont-Havre. Most of our foreign trade gets packed into the nooks and crannies of such passersby.

So a freighter was expected in from Hanondorf, and my friend Jean Baptiste was at the dock waiting to see if the Cannondale (for that is the freighter's name) might have any small business for Suprenant et Fils when two lifeboats descended from the clouds instead.

At first he thought that the freighter had broken up in a storm, but the truth is both better and worse. It seems that the Cannondale was attacked by pirates, a most shocking thing! They descended out of the Abyss in a swarm of small craft, settling on and around the quarterdeck and killing the captain and first mate in moments. The remainder of the crew were held at knife-point and given the choice of dying or taking to the lifeboats.

Piracy! I have never heard of such thing happening in modern times. There were many ships taken in the skies near Provençe during the Troubles there, of course, but that was a matter of war rather than piracy. It is very strange; and the strangest thing is that none of the pirates uttered a word. They communicated with the Cannondale's crew solely with gestures and leers and threatening motions.

No one seems to know where they could have come from. None of the Old Worlds tolerate pirates in their spheres, nor would any of the colonies, not by choice at any rate. And yet, they must have come from somewhere: there is neither food nor water in the Abyss between worlds, save what we bring with us.

Jean Baptiste thinks that some ship's crew must have mutinied, and then run across an unknown world while fleeing through the Abyss; or perhaps the other way around, perhaps a storm drove them onto a new world, and rather than reporting it they have chosen to keep it for themselves, turning to piracy as a means to acquire the materiel they will need.

Madame Truc is much concerned that the pirates might attack us here in Mont-Havre, and so are many others in town, but I think that it isn't likely: Mont-Havre is quite a large place, and fore-warned is fore-armed. We should have no trouble in running off any number of pirates. But I am concerned about the effect of piracy on the merchants here (not to mention the effect of piracy on the Courier's Guild—I pray you will receive this letter in due time); and our smaller towns and villages have no such protection. I believe I must send a note to my friends the Frontenacs.

Your cousin,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- Cumbrian Classics (25 Juillet 33AF)

First Letter

Dear Aunt Maggie,

I dined with M. Fournier the bookseller again this past week, a simple meal of ox-tail soup and crusty rolls. As we ate he spoke further of his plan for the literary domination of Mont-Havre by means of selling books to speakers of Cumbrian.

I brought with me a list of Cumbrian authors and titles, both recognized classics and more modern works—everything I could remember from my own shelves at home. I listed as many of Thomas Becker's books as I could recall, including all of his Dorchester books; vast swathes of Dikkons, including The Mystery of David Silverfish, Ethel, and The Pirate's Daughter; and Whelkie's The Sunstone and The Gentleman in Scarlet. Nor did I neglect the Cumbrian drama, as the people of Mont-Havre greatly enjoy the theater of an evening. I especially encouraged him to acquire copies of Maltspire's First, Second, and Third Folios. Master Maltspire is not much thought of in Yorke these days, but I have always enjoyed him; and from what I have learned of the Armoricans I think he will speak to them in a way that the jaded of Yorke can no longer hear.

After we had gone over my list, M. Fournier went on to complain about the cost of importing books from the Old Worlds. Even the cheapest volumes, as sold by M. Harte, are priced out of a common laborer's reach. Properly bound volumes on good paper are affordable only by the wealthy…or, I suppose, by eccentrics like myself. As a merchant, M. Fournier wishes to sell many more books, specifically many more than M. Harte; as a lover of books, he wishes to sell much better books than M. Harte, at a price that working men can afford.

I asked him whether he had considered printing books locally. He had, of course. But he says it would be an ambitious undertaking to print even one book, and that for two reasons: typesetting, and the cost of procuring manuscripts.

Paper is available, of course, as witness the ledgers I deal with each day, and there are printing presses enough for handbills and broadsheets and the like. But the printers of Mont-Havre are all accustomed to printing individual pages. None of them have sufficient type to typeset an entire book. Type must be ordered from abroad, and is exceedingly expensive. (One could, of course, typeset a single page, print many copies, and then reuse the type to set the subsequent page, and so on until the book is complete. But that would make subsequent printings as expensive as the first…or to wasting a great deal of paper if a print run didn't sell.)

In Yorke, and I imagine in Toulouse as well, I gather that books are printed not from movable type but from plates, one plate per page. A page is typeset, and a suitably proficient member of the Former's Guild produces a plate from the typeset page. It is tedious work, I am reliably informed, but also a steady income. But formers are few in Mont-Havre, much in demand, and not accustomed to such work.

And then, as to manuscripts, there are no authors in Armorica, at least not yet; and as the founding charter of the colony, written before the Pont Neuf set sail with the first load of colonists, requires that the colony respect Provençese copyrights, M. Fournier cannot simply print his own copies of the books he imports, even if the printing capability were available. It is not that he has qualms about Provençese copyrights, he told me, but that the Guilde du Papeterie in Toulouse might choose to sue him in an Armorican court…or, worse, refuse to sell him any more books.

It has perhaps not escaped M. Fournier that there is no such requirement in Armorican law with respect to books printed in Cumbria.

Your nephew,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- M. Sabot (18 Juillet 33AF)

First Letter

Jack,

I'm delighted to hear from you, and a little befuddled as to how to answer, since I think I've answered most of your questions in letters you had not received when you wrote me but should certainly have received by now. Let me tick them off briefly, just to make sure; then on to news.

Yes, I really have moved to Armorica, or I would not have received your letter.

No, I do not know what Dad will say, or, indeed, has said; he has forbidden Mum to correspond with me. However, I can well imagine, as can you.

Yes, it's a disappointment to everyone in the family but you. You are a great comfort to me, Jack.

No, I'm not starving in a ditch; I'm a clerk in one of the leading shipping firms, and doing adequately well.

Yes, I have met a number of young ladies—or, at least, danced with them in the park.

No, they have no sisters to whom I can introduce you, nor would I, you foot-slogging old reprobate.

Yes, actually, I do like it here. I like it here very much, somewhat to my surprise. The original attraction was simply that Dad had no reach here, and was unlikely to follow me; but the air is clear, the surroundings are beautiful, the girls are pretty, and I can be my own man here.

Moving onto news, I should clarify something. In my last, I indicated that I'd achieved the stellar distinction of sitting in the first seat on the left at Madame Truc's table. I would not want you to think that this is my permanent status; far from it. As I have explained, one's position at Madame's table depends on her favor and the quality of your room, which is to say the size of one's weekly rent. My usual place is three spots up on the right (one or two spots better than I deserve, given my rooms), and I returned there willingly enough the following day. The seat at Madame's left hand is a seat of special favor exceeded only by the spot at her right hand; and as the spot at her right is open only when Jacques-le-Souris has incurred her disfavor, being able to sit there is usually of little significance. Often, indeed, everyone just shifts up the table by one.

The spot on the left, on the other…. That is to say, being granted the privilege of sitting to Madame's left is always a sign of special favor for it means that everyone else must move down a spot, which is by no means a popular thing. And in particular, it means that M. Sabot must be moved down a spot, and that is of all things to be avoided without suitable cause.

M. Sabot is a mystery to me. He is an older man, nearly as old as Jacques-le-Souris, but as unlike Jacques as a horse from a hound. He maintains a gentlemanly appearance at all times—I have never seen him without a coat and waistcoat—and holds himself so aloof from the other boarders that I have hardly ever passed two words with him. He does not seem to work, yet he can afford the nicest rooms in the house. (Jacques' position on Madame's right depends less on his lodgings and more on long acquaintance, for he was a friend of Madame's long-dead husband, and, I believe, her first roomer.) I have often seen M. Sabot walking the streets of an afternoon, going from nowhere to no place, or sitting alone in Durand Park at noon.

From his appearance and bearing one would expect him to live in a fine home, with a family; and yet he lives in Madame Truc's boarding house. "It is a tale of the most sad," is all that Jacques will tell me; naturally I haven't dared ask Madame herself.

The point is, elevating anyone to the seat on Madame's left requires displacing M. Sabot, and I have come to believe that she only does so after explaining the candidate's merits and receiving his acquiescence. It would not do to lose him as a tenant, no, no, for he is a man of the most distinct…and if he can bear to make way, no one else is likely to raise a fuss.

Certainly M. Sabot did not raise a fuss on the occasion when I took his place. Rather, he sat down beside me with the greatest dignity, and spoke only to beg me for the salt.

There's a story there, Jack. I wonder if I shall ever know what it is.

Your cousin,

Armand.

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Letters from Armorica- Fournier the Bookseller (11 Juillet33 AF)

First Letter

Dear Aunt Maggie,

The highlight of this past week was an opportunity to dine with M. Fournier, the proprietor of the bookshop that I walk by on my way to and from Suprenant et Fils. As I had told Mum, I am diligently saving my pennies; my one luxury these days is my weekly book, which I buy from M. Fournier. I must choose carefully, given my limited budget, so I have been spending a not inconsiderable amount of time in M. Fournier's shop, browsing and talking with the proprietor. I stopped in on my way home several days ago, and while we were speaking he invited me to dine with him at noon the next day. (We take the main meal at midday here in Mont-Havre.)

You are, perhaps, surprised by the presence of a bookshop in such a rustic place as Mont-Havre; but consider, the colony is now well-established, and Mont-Havre is the center of what little civilization we possess here in Armorica. The townsfolk (for Mont-Havre is little more than a large town by Cumbrian standards) are prosperous and hard-working, and need their entertainments of an evening; and as most of the leading families came from Provençe before the Troubles they feel they have a duty to uphold Provençese high culture. Thus, we have a theater, and an opera house, and if it is all rather pretentious by the standards of Yorke it is nevertheless well-meant…and thoroughly enjoyed.

But such nights out are the exception, not the rule; and then, the leading merchants and guild-masters of the town are concerned to appear cultured and well-read, at least by local standards. That requires books, and M. Fournier is one of those who cater to this need. He was so good as to explain all of this to me over dinner, which we ate in his rooms over his shop.

It seems there are two kinds of book-buyer in Mont-Havre: those who buy books singly, like me, and those who buy in bulk. Which is to say, those who read, and those who wish to appear well-read while actually decorating their fine new homes with rows of volumes bound in fine leather. I ought not to disparage them, though, for they do read their books. At least, some of them do read at least some of their books.

M. Harte serves the former group, mostly with poorly written and cheaply bound novels my father would (rightly) dismiss as penny-dreadfuls, while M. Fournier serves the latter. As such, his stock consists primarily of the Provençese classics; and as such, he gets very few people coming in to browse. Instead, the well-to-do contract with him to provide them with a steady stream of books in fine, matching bindings; for not even the well-to-do of Mont-Havre can afford to buy an entire library at once. Thus, the quest for status and the appearance of culture provides M. Fournier with a steady, if boring, means of making his living.

I gather my visits are a welcome relief, the more so as he entered the business from a love of those very same classics. He did not, so he told me, intend to become a dealer in home furnishings! No, no, no! But so it is; man proposes, and le bon Dieu disposes.

During the meal we spoke of the book I was currently reading, Montpelier's Gaston du Monde; and after we had eaten, he explained why he had asked me to dine with him, mixing business with pleasure in the typical Armorican way. He had several reasons: the pleasure of my company and the opportunity to practice his Cumbrian first among them; for we speak in Cumbrian and Provençese by turns, for our mutual benefit. But then he came to the point.

"You, M. Tuppenny, are a young man of the most educated," he said. "It is incroyable that you are here in Mont-Havre; but that will be to my great benefit, I think. For I feel sure that you are as well read in the literature of your homeland as I am in mine."

"I can not go that far," I said. "You have many years of advantage on me. But yes, I have always read widely."

"I wish you to advise me, M. Tuppenny. My stock, it is Provençese. M. Harte's stock, the same. And yet most of our newest colonists are Cumbrian. True, they mostly go to the provinces, but that will change. You yourself are a sign of this."

I nodded. "I am something of a special case, I think, M. Fournier. But I have observed the same thing. You wish, then, to expand your stock to include works in Cumbrian."

"Exactement! You have it, my young friend. I wish to sell Cumbrian books, the best Cumbrian books. It is the future, n'est-ce pas? Moreover, I wish to get, as you would say, the jump on M. Harte. But I have no contacts in Yorke, nor am I myself familiar with the literature of your homeland."

At that point it was necessary for me to return to work at Suprenant et Fils, and so we adjourned the discussion for another day. In the meantime, would you ask Uncle George to discover for me the directions of the principle booksellers in Yorke?

My best love to Mum!

Your loving nephew,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- Dear Old Dad (4 Juillet 33AF)

First Letter

Dear Aunt Maggie,

Thank you for writing; it's good to hear from you. I hope all is well with Uncle George?

Now that that's covered—it's all very well for you to say that I should have spoken with you before I left, but you know as well as I do that if I had you'd have felt compelled to tell Mum, and Mum would have felt compelled to tell Dad, and Dad would have taken steps, and I'd still be in Yorke. That might have been a favorable outcome for the three of you, but it would have been a far from favorable outcome for me.

Nevertheless, you're quite right. I should have foreseen that Dad would learn of my letters and would forbid Mum from communicating with me, and I should have begun by writing to you rather than to her. Dad can hardly forbid Mum from visiting her own sister, after all, especially when you live in the same street. To do so would offend your esteemed father, and that would never do, no, no, not at all, mustn't do that, Dad would never do that. Not when Grandfather's influence and fortune are at stake!

Burning my letters on arrival, on the other hand, that's well within his authority as my father and my mother's husband, and will cause no political difficulty whatsoever. I suppose I should be grateful that he is burning them unread, and so has no notion of my nom de guerre, as they call it here.

Do I sound bitter? I suppose I am, a little. This is precisely the sort of thinking I left home to avoid having to do. Here I am merely young M. Armand Tuppenny, a lowly clerk out to seek his fortune in a new world. As the other new colonists have similar ambitions, mine pass unremarked, indeed are wholly unremarkable; it is a lack of ambition that would be worthy of note. I am unimportant enough that no one is seeking to thwart me, and I need play no one's game but my own.

Do you know, I find it quite refreshing.

Dear Auntie, you know you are my favorite of all my aunts and uncles, and I thank you for your kind offer. From now on I shall write to you, trusting that you will share my news with Mum discreetly and in such a way that she can honestly say that she is not in communication with me, while still consoling her fears and comforting her in my absence.

If you please, Auntie, could you find out how many letters Mum received before Dad started burning them? At least the first two or you'd not have known how to reach me, but I'm guessing not many more. Once I know, I'll try to fill you in on what's happened since then.

Please tell Mum that I'm doing well. I'm working as a clerk in a shipping firm, and have recently been promoted to work the front desk, a position of great responsibility as it means that I am trusted to take in and disburse money. I would not have you think that I am a mere sales boy: large sums of cash cross that desk! Tell her that I have plenty to eat and a comfortable place to sleep; I am making friends and continuing my studies. I do not intend to remain a clerk forever!

Please give my regards to Cousin Jack, and tell him he owes me a letter.

Your loving nephew,

Armand

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