As I write I am sitting—with no small degree of bemusement—in the tiny cabin of the Provençese sloop my fellow villagers have christened Le Blaireau. I am perfectly safe—and yet, in some ways I am no less a prisoner than if the Provençese lieutenant had carried me away. I cannot move the sloop, not by myself; I dare not leave it; and I am alone. It is some consolation that this is only for a time, and at least one of my friends will be returning in a day or so.
The bemusement comes from the singularity of my situation. I am on the sloop, as I have said. The sloop is in mid-air, several fathoms above ground level, and moored to two trees on either side of the river. (Should I care to leave the cabin and look over the rail, I should see the water far below, rushing and gurgling in the last of the day's light.) And the river is on the sky-island to the north of Bois-de-Bas.
But I get ahead of myself. When I arose yesterday morning the bodies of the Provençese soldiers had been taken away, I know not where—but Jacques assures me that no one will ever find them. A group of men headed by Onc' Herbert and M. Tremblay were standing looking at the sloop.
I had had a difficult night, worrying and brooding, but I had made up my mind, and soI walked up to Onc' Herbert with as much determination as I could summon. Marc was standing by his side; he greeted me cheerfully: "Good morning, Armand! We need your expertise."
"You need my absence," I said. "It's my fault that the soldiers came to Bois-de-Bas."
Onc' Herbert cocked an eye at me. "Pour quoi?" he said.
"I was indiscreet in my correspondence."
Onc' Herbert blinked, slowly, and then waited, his eye still cocked.
"It's complicated," I said.
Onc' Herbert continued to wait, and I sighed.
"Oh, very well. I'm a former; you all know that. By rights I should have registered with the Armorican branch of the Former's Guild when I arrived in Mont-Havre. I didn't, because I wasn't expecting to work as a former. Now I am, and so I had to do something about that." They all nodded; guilds and their ways were a remote concern to the folk of Bois-de-Bas, but they knew of them. "I wrote to M. Suprenant in Mont-Havre for the direction of the guild house—and he told me that there is no Former's Guild in Mont-Havre. There was one, briefly, but it didn't last."
Onc' Herbert considered that. "Quel est le problème?" he said.
I shook my head. "You don't understand. If there is no Guild in Armorica, then I am the Guild. Me, Armand Tuppenny, I am the Master of the Armorican branch Former's Guild. Or I would be, if I were a master instead of a journeyman."
I looked around the group. A number of eyebrows had gone up, and there was more nodding.
"I'm only a journeyman because I disagreed with my father; by rights I should have been a master several years ago. So I wrote to him, and to another at the Guild in Yorke, asking them to grant me my mastery in absentia. It would have worked. It might still work. I had to take the chance. But I think one of the letters must have gone astray. You saw the look on the lieutenant's face when he learned that there was a former here in Bois-de-Bas."
Onc' Herbert nodded. M. Tremblay said, "What do you propose to do?"
"Leave. Another sloop is bound to come when this one is missed. They will find Bois-de-Bas, and they will find my shop. They will know I was here. But if I am not here any more, Le Maréchal will have no reason to bother you."
Onc' Herbert cocked his eye again. "Amelie?" he said.
"She'll come with me, of course. What, did you think I would abandon her?"
"Non," said Onc' Herbert decisively, which was gratifying to me.
I turned to go. "Amelie and I will pack up and be gone as quickly as we can."
"Non," said Onc' Herbert again.
"No? What do you mean, no? I tell you, I must leave."
"Non," he said. "Mais oui."
Now I was thoroughly confused.
"Shopkeeper," said Onc' Herbert. "Non."
Marc took pity on me.
"It's simple," he said. "First, we need our shopkeeper. We can't let you take Amelie away; and the baby is coming besides."
I nodded reluctantly.
"Second, we need you." I blushed, and he went on. "And third, we are already committed." He smiled. "What, did you think we would abandon you?"
I hung my head a bit, and shook it from side to side.
"No," I said. "I thought I would have to persuade you."
Marc grinned. "We've been discussing what to do," he said. "And you're right, you'll need to go away for a time—but not so far as all that. But first, we need your help to move this sloop so that we can repair the damage to the green."
"Very well," I said. "I'm in your hands. But first, let me go tell Amelie to stop packing."
"No need. Mme. Gagnon is with her by now."
Once again, the village was too many for me. I should be getting used to that by now.
It was a busy day after that. I had never flown a sky sloop before, but I understood the principles well enough to trace the controls and figure out how to get it off of the ground, and to move it about slowly. The sloop, I must say, is a much more complicated beast than my simple sky-chair.
With help from Jacques and Étienne I directed the sloop to the edge of the green, where we moored it, still several feet above the ground, to a tree. Then by means of a rope and windlass we loaded it with supplies. There was some food and drink already on board, of course, though of low quality; Le Maréchal did not over-indulge his men, it seems. We added considerable to that, along with a fair quantity of other things. There was room, though the sloop is not large, for the belongings of the soldiers were already gone. I imagine they accompanied their owners to their eternal rest in some deep grotto.
While we were doing that, others were taking up the scarred and bloody turf. The gouges could not be hidden, but they could be removed altogether. Still others brought lumber and stout timbers, and raised a wooden deck covering the space, on which were put a number of the trestle tables at which we all ate dinner on Sonnedi.
And then it was time to go. I gave Amelie a last squeeze and a kiss and gathered my things, including this journal, and climbed the rope ladder to the deck of the sloop. Jacques and Étienne followed, and Marc flew my sky-chair into place, landing it gently just forward of the tiny cabin. And then the four of us proceeded to fly the sloop to the sky-island.
It took us most of the rest of the day, for we had not the skill to hoist the sails; and the larger the vessel the less it can depend on the kind of tricks my sky-chair uses for propulsion. But we made it, and flying through the mist of the waterfall maneuvered over the mouth of the river and in between the trees and moored the sloop as I've described some hundred yards upstream. Then, comfortable that I was secure from grand-blaireau attacks, Marc ferried Jacques and Étienne to the ground in the sky-chair, where a cart was waiting to take them back to the village.
Marc still has the sky-chair. I would have preferred to have it with me, but it is the only means the villagers have of reaching me, so I had to let him take it.
And so here I am. Amelie has been instructed to wear black, and to curse my name to all and sundry visitors for abandoning her, to which endeavor I fear she shall throw herself with fierce gusto and secret glee. Marc and another man from the village, a hunter, are going to lay a false trail for me to the south, along a series of hunting camps used by the villagers; or, rather, the hunter will lay the trail and Marc will follow in the sky-chair and bring him home, leaving no trace of their passage north. Then he will hide the sky-chair out of sight in the woods near the lake, so that he can reach me when necessary.
As for me, well. I have my journal and some books; I have food and drink; and I have the supplies and tools I need to begin constructing more sky-chairs. We will need them.