Monthly Archives: December 2017

Letters from Armorica— 19 Octobre 33AF

Dear Journal,

Harvest is over; the weather is cooling; and I have at last had word from Mont-Havre!

The news is both good and bad. The pirate threat has diminished, or at least more ships are getting through, and so there is news from abroad. We hear that Cumbria and Provençe have been squabbling and running their guns in and out and making ultimatums but there have been no open hostilities as yet—not that either will admit to, at any rate, the nationality of the pirates still being an open question—and there has been no explicit declaration of war.

But the atmosphere in Mont-Havre is still tense. It seems a new power has arisen in Provençe, a man they call the Maréchal, and that he is the source of much of the bellicose talk. I have not discussed the Maréchal with the folks here in Bois-de-Bas, but I have listened to the men talk in the hot springs, and there is fear that he will try to involve Armorica in his disputes. The sentiment of the men of Bois-de-Bas seems to be unanimous: Armorica is its own place, and no province of Provençe. Onc' Herbert described the general mood in just two words: "upstart" and "rascal".

The merchants have had little relief. "More ships" is not "most ships", and M. Suprenant and his fellow guild-members don't know what to do. Ought they to send their goods with the ships that call, and hope they will get through? Or ought they to leave their goods in the warehouse, where they are safe? The latter may be smart in the short run but fatal in the long run; whereas the former is a nasty gamble no matter how you look at it.

In the dark of the night, after yet another day being abused by the goats morning and evening, I have pondered returning to Yorke—but there is no point to that. I want to leave Armorica only to get away from the goats; but I have the goats to deal with only because of the pirates and the threat of war; and because of the pirates it isn't safe to take ship. If the pirates and rumors of war were to vanish, I could return to Mont-Havre and never look at a goat again…and then I'd have no reason to leave Armorica.

No, it's no use. "The neighbor's flowers are always more beautiful," they say back home; but I grew up in Yorke, and I know better. And Cumbria is too small for me to live anywhere outside of Yorke and still avoid my father.

But despite the goats, and the growing cold, and the hard work, I find I like it here in Bois-de-Bas. I like the country-side. I like the hotsprings. I like the people.

Though I speak Provençese exclusively, it is now an open secret that I am from Cumbria. My assumed name, "Tuppenny", gives that away if nothing else does. Everyone here has their roots in Provençe, yet none of them have looked the least bit sideways at me—not like I'd expect in a small village in Provençe, or even simply as a man of Yorke in a remote village in Cumbria. Perhaps it is because they are all colonists, or the children of colonists. Like me, they chose to come here, instead of settling for what their forebears had done for centuries.

I have made several trips to the village with Marguerite and the cart—Onc' Herbert seems relieved to have found a task that I am good at—and twice Amelie was at the counter. She seems a clever girl, well-able to handle the day-to-day running of the shop, though ignorant of many things, for there is no school here in Bois-de-Bas, not yet. Her father has taught her her numbers and to read from the few books he brought with him, and she seems eager to learn. Her father, too, seems a competent soul, though worn by (so I assume) the loss of Amelie's mother.

Alas, I had no chance to do more than exchange glances with Amelie today after divine services. The meals on the green ended with the harvest; it is now too cold to take a meal in comfort out-of-doors. Everyone still gathers in the village after divine services, but as there is no place indoors large enough for everyone (excepting the church, of course) they scatter to different homes around the green, each family with their special friends. I do not know to whose house the Fabrés go, or, it may be that they host their own group their in the shop; but Onc' Herbert's family visits the Gagnons, a family whose farm is just outside the village. Onc' Herbert's father and the Gagnon patriarch came to Armorica on the same ship.

Which reminds me of something I have not yet recorded. Onc' Herbert's full name is Herbert de Néant, which means Herbert of Nothing: an odd name, and one that begs an explanation. Marc tells me that Onc' Herbert's grandfather was a younger son of the Provençese nobility; when the Troubles came in Provençe, he joined the rebels and styled himself de Néant, that is, "Lord of Nothing". His fellow rebels considered this a great joke, and the name a badge of honor…but a generation later it had become a dangerous name, no matter who was temporarily in power. The masses distrusted the noble "de", not appreciating the irony, and the king's men distrusted the name even more for its rebel antecedents. And so, on the old man's death Onc' Herbert's father quietly gathered his resources and left for Armorica. Marc's mother is Onc' Herbert's cousin.

The meals on the green may be over for the year, but the trips to the hot springs continue just the same, O blessed hot springs! Though I notice Jean-Paul did not get nearly so drunk as usual this week. Perhaps no one wanted to cart him home in the cold.

____
photo credit: MikeSpeaks Peaceful Path via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica, 5 Octobre 33AF

Dear Journal,

It has been a busy time. The goats are ever-present, but in addition we are beginning the harvest.

The fields are small, having been carved out of the forest, and they do not all ripen quite at once, having been planted one at a time, but still there has been much to do—and I begin to despair of getting the hang of it. Jack would be laughing at me now if he were here, the way he used to laugh at me during games at school, for harvesting the grain is quite like a game: there is a technique to it, and a rhythm, and where everyone else ends with a neat bundle of stalks I end up with the stalks scattered everywhere. By the end of Mardi I was reduced to carrying drinking water to the harvesters. I was mortified.

On Jeudi, Marc took me aside. "I've got a bit of a break for you," he said. "Someone needs to take the donkey-cart into the shop in the village for supplies, and everyone's busy in the fields."

"Everybody but me, you mean."

"Don't be so hard on yourself, mon ami," he said. "Gathering the sheaves is harder than it looks." Though he seemed to take to it well enough though I knew he had grown up in town. "Onc' Herbert asked me if you could see to it."

I'm well enough used to horses that I had no difficulty with harnessing Onc' Herbert's donkey to the cart, not so far as the straps and buckles go. Marguerite was not inclined to cooperate at first (that's the donkey's name, Marguerite), but after the goats she was not much of a challenge, and by the time we reached the village we had also reached an understanding. We were on quite good terms thereafter, Marguerite and I.

Marguerite was the one bright spot to the morning. I spent the drive to the village in a pit of despond. I'd had no news from Mont-Havre in almost a month, so I had no idea whether the war had begun or not, or whether, perhaps, normal shipping had resumed. I didn't know whether M. le Gouverneur was still looking for me, or indeed whether he had ever concerned himself with me at all. Meanwhile the list of farm chores I was not allowed to help with was growing by the week, and I could foresee a time when I would be quite unable to earn my keep. I pictured myself sleeping in a little shed, trusted only to muck out the stables.

I was expecting to find M. Fabré at the village shop—which is an wholly inadequate name for the place, I must say. A "shop" sounds like a tiny place at which one might buy a handful of buttons or a pouch of tobacco, and indeed you can do both there; but it is really more like a small warehouse. Most of the farmers do send their own carts to one of the bigger towns a few times a year; but anything else that is needed comes through the village shop.

I had been introduced to M. Fabré at the hot springs. He seemed a quiet man, worn down and with a bleak look in his eye. I was curious to ask him which of the merchants he dealt with in Mont-Havre, but we hadn't had any opportunity to speak.

We still didn't, for behind the counter was the young lady who had been trying to catch my eye after divine services. She blushed prettily.

"Oh!" she said. "It is you!"

I didn't know quite what to say to that, though I'm sure Jack would have been at no kind of loss, so I just said, "Bonjour, mademoiselle. Um, I was told to speak with M. Fabré?"

"Mon pere," she said. "He is not here. He is helping M. Tremblay with the harvest. But I may help you." And she smiled warmly.

Her name, I found, was Amelie, Amelie Fabré. I handed her the list Marc had given me, and she helped me load up the cart with the items, laughing and chattering as we worked our way up and down the rows of shelves. I found I had to work hard to keep up with her. As we worked I asked a few questions about the business, and found she had ready answers.

I was bemused all the drive back to the farm. Amelie had a fetching smile, and she was clearly no fool, and she was ever so much prettier to think on than the goats. I thought of her all day Vendredi and Samedi, and I managed to catch her eye after divine services this morning. I gave her a warm smile, which she returned in kind. She was already sitting with her father and another family I learned to be the Tremblays, or I might have tried to join her.

It is only now, as I write these words, that it has occurred to me: when Marc and Onc' Herbert sent me to speak with M. Fabré, they'd have known quite well that he would be helping the Tremblays with the harvest.

Letters from Armorica— 21 Septembre 33AF

Dear Journal,

My life has taken on a pattern. I work hard on Onc' Herbert's farm all week, tending the goats and what not (for he no longer allows me to help cut down trees); and on the day of rest I attend divine services and visit the hot springs with the rest of the men. And that, despite all my ambitions, is that. I have no time during the week for reflection, or, rather, no time for recording my reflections in any coherent way; but then, my reflections while waiting upon the goats are generally not such as I would care to remember anyway. The goats and I are not on speaking terms, however much time I spend with them.

And then, on the day of rest, the day I look forward to all of the rest of the week, for it truly is a day of rest even if I still have to feed the goats morning and evening, I have no energy for anything but rest. I have opened my grimoire once of twice, but I've made no progress toward my goal of forming a sky-boat. Indeed, I cannot say that I've truly begun.

I would say that I have sunk into a depression, but for that sinking sounds like too much effort. As a sign of my malaise, that so appropriate Provençese expression, I have twice noticed a pretty young lady at the church, and this morning at the meal that follows on the green it even seemed that she wished to catch my eye—and I have been too tired to so much as return her glances.

When I came to Armorica I did not know what line of work I would settle into; I was only resolved not to step into my father's shoes at the Guild. Life as a clerk was enjoyable for a season, and I learned a great deal that I believe I might find useful if I am ever freed from the goats. It kept me fed and clothed. But I have seen enough of it to know that I do not wish to do that for the rest of my days, not if other opportunities arise.

The one thing I am certain about is goats. I am utterly certain about goats. I am utterly sure I do not wish to spend the rest of my life with goats.

Though I continue to try to do the work I'm given cheerfully and diligently, I am not sure that it is enough. Onc' Herbert began by looking doubtful and slightly amused; but lately he only looks thoughtful. He remains friendly enough in his manner, and he says little; I have learned that he never says very much, in any circumstances. But I cannot help thinking, when his eye is upon me, that I am not working up to his expectations. In my bleakest moments I am sure that I am working down to them, and that only pity stays him from sending me away.

I very much wanted to join Jean-Paul in his heavy drinking at the hot springs today, but I must not. He is one of theirs, while I remain an outsider. I must not give them any reason to turn me away.

____
photo credit: TamsinCooper@OrchardPigeon ChiffetiereOct22 via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica— 7 Septembre 33AF

Dear journal,

It has been days since I have had time and wakefulness enough to record any of my doings! There is no margin for slacking on the frontier, and Bois-de-Bas is most definitely on the frontier: a beautiful place, indeed, a place of woods and grottos and small valleys and small fields carved out of the woodlands, but also a place of hard work and few comforts.

What comfort there is to be had, Marc and Elise have given me: a cot to sleep on, hot food, and the opportunity to be of use around the farm. Marc and Elise have no farmstead of their own as yet, and live with Marc's uncle, Herbert Frontenac; and so perforce, am I. Since my arrival I have been learning to feed the goats and milk the cow and other necessary chores; and I have been helping to cut down trees (so as to expand the fields) and split firewood. I think perhaps my hands will never be the same, for it is work unlike any I have ever done. I fear I learn slowly.

Onc' Herbert has a doubtful look in his eye as he watches me—a doubtful and somewhat amused look, I think—but I hope I have given him no reason to doubt my willingness. And so, I have dropped onto my cot at the end of each day, worn, weary, and wiped out—as Jack used to say of his military service.

Today, however, is a day of rest for Bois-de-Bas, with only the most necessary of chores, and I rejoice for it means I have time this afternoon to sit and ponder a little.

The day began—after chores—with divine services in the little church, the most sturdily built structure in the village. It is framed of bronzewood timbers, and has a steeply pitched roof to shed the snow. The outside is plain, but the inside features all manner of carvings.

It was a service of the Old Religion, of course, the villagers all being Provençese in origin. I followed along as best I could, the proceedings being rather different than divine services back in Yorke—and those not well known to me at that, for my father paid as little heed to such things as he could well manage in his position. We were wealthy enough to have a private chapel and so avoid the need to be seen at public worship each week; and if the chapel remained dusted and empty for most of the year, who was there to speak of it but us?

After the service, which was quiet and simple, there being no priest resident in Bois-de-Bas, there was a meal held in common, and eaten at trestle-tables set up on the green outside the church. I gather it is the social highlight of the week, at least during the warmer months. I was introduced as "Cousin Armand" and did my best to appear not too obviously Cumbrian. Oncle Herbert knows where I am from, but sees no need to spread it too widely.

After the meal, which lasted much longer than I would have guessed, we split into two groups, of men and women, and trooped off to the hot springs! And that is an experience I shall delight in repeating. It was a continuation of the social time, of course, and opportunity for the men and women to each go off by themselves—for no one can afford special clothing for bathing, not in Bois-de-Bas! And so we sat in the hot steaming water on benches made of chêne-pierre for the purpose and talked of this and that. Oh the relaxation! I was asked a great many questions, which I endeavored to answer (or not to answer) as honestly as I could; for someday these people will know all about me, and I would not want it said that I was a liar when I first came among them.

After the springs, and (in some cases) a great deal too much of the local wine—for one large fellow named Jean-Paul nearly slipped under the water and drowned. He was rescued with a great deal of merriment and ribaldry and left on the side of the pool like a grounded snark, this being evidently a commonplace event—after the springs, I say, we got dressed and returned to our homes, warm and refreshed.

There is a floating island not far from Bois-de-Bas, some miles away to the north and not too high; it appears to be well wooded, and also watered for there is a water fall that spills in a vast cloud of mist into a lake in the valley below. One might perhaps live there well enough if one could get there. I noticed it when I first arrived, and now I cannot get sky-boats out of my mind. I have my grimoire to hand; I think I shall settle down with it and see what I have learned that might be to the purpose. There will be something; my father assured me, once I had copied his grimoire, that I had the foundations for everything I would ever practically need, given time and thought. At the very least, it shall give me something to ponder as I feed the goats in the morning.

____
photo credit: CarbonNYC [in SF!] via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica, 4 Septembre 33AF

Dear Madame Truc,

I hope this finds you well.

I have arrived at my friends' home and found a welcome—of sorts. Which is to say: they are agreeable to my presence, indeed they hoped I would come to them; but they are not best pleased about the circumstances. I find it hard to fault them for this. I am not best pleased about the circumstances either, not just my own situation but the situation in which Armorica may find herself should war come to our heights. But I am safe here, at least for now, and I am doing my best to make myself useful.

The man who has brought you this letter comes to Mont-Havre on business every month or so. He is a friend—a new friend—and if you receive any mail for me, you may safely give it to him. I will leave it to the two of you to arrange any precautions you think necessary. Please write to me yourself when things are more settled in Mont-Havre! I might choose to continue here rather than return to the big city, but at present I am rather under a cloud and I should like to see it blown away. But you need not concern yourself with general news, as my friend will bring that back with him as a matter of course.

Please be sure you have all of my gratitude for your tender care of me during my time under your roof! I shall remember you in my prayers, and I shall certainly dome visit if I return to Mont-Havre.

Your friend,

Armand

____
photo credit: James St. John Black Pool (afternoon, 10 June 2017) 2 via photopin (license)