Monthly Archives: May 2018

Letters from Armorica-In Hiding (17 Juillet 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

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.

"What?"

"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.

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Letters from Armorica- The Recruiters (16 Juillet 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It has happened. The forces of Le Maréchal have come to Armorica.

A recruiting sloop came to Bois-de-Bas late this afternoon, landing on the green before the church and scarring it horribly. The lieutenant in command sent his troops to scour the village and gather us in. We men were made to form a pair of lines; the women and children, including Amelie, stood behind us in a frightened mass. Then the lieutenant, an officious over-inflated little popinjay, made to us a speech.

"Gentilhommes", he said, "the Grand Army of Provençe is fighting for glory in Andalus, in Hanondorf, in Illyrica. Le Maréchal has need of brave men, men who can fight and win. Nothing is too good for the men who serve the Motherland in this way!"

He went on in this vein for some time, trying to engage our enthusiasm, our cupidity, our fears of being thought cowardly.

We listened politely, because of the guns; there are few fools in Bois-de-Bas. But the little coxcomb did not get any takers, which seemed to offend him. He was eyeing us with a sour expression when several of his men came up to him and stood at attention. They had been searching the village. He turned and heard their report, making notes in a small book. At one point he seemed surprised, and cast us all a long look.

The soldiers saluted and rejoined their ranks; and then the lieutenant turned back to us.

"In this time of war, the Motherland may call upon her people at need. If you hear your name, step forward.

"Jacques Pôquerie. You are a cabinetmaker, a worker of wood?" Jacques stepped forward and nodded. "Le Maréchal has need of men like you to build his siege engines. Go, stand over there."

"Non," he said. "I will not."

"And yet you will," said the Lieutenant, and waved his hand. Two soldiers stepped forward. One leveled his weapon, aiming it at Jacques' belly. Jacques sneered at him, then leaped, taking the man to the ground. The struggle did not last long, for the other soldier clouted Jacques on the head with the butt of his gun. At a word from the lieutenant the soldiers carried Jacques off and laid him on the ground in the shadow of the sloop.

"Armand Tuppenny!"

I stepped forward. I'd known this moment was coming since I had seen the lieutenant's look of surprise.

The lieutenant inspected me. "You are the shopkeeper?"

"Yes," I said in Provençese. "Please, my wife is expecting. Do not take me from her, I beg you." I felt like a coward to be pleading with him; but it was necessary.

The lieutenant made a gesture as if to throw that away. "Le Maréchal has need of quarter-masters. You will be made to be useful. Yet there is something else, I think. My men tell me surprising things about your shop."

"I don't know what you mean."

"Oh, I think you do. Your sign, it claims that you are a thaumaturge? It is too absurd."

"I am, though. You can ask anyone here."

He swept the crowd with his gaze, then looked back at me.

"Bah. Why would a thaumaturge leave Toulouse, the City of Dawn, for a place such as this? But no matter. Le Maréchal shall discover the truth, and you will serve like all other true sons of Provençe. Go over there, with the other."

I saw movement in the trees behind the church. It was time for a distraction. I stood up straight, hoping I would not get clubbed for my pains, or worse. "But I am no son of Provençe," I said in my purest Cumbrian. "Armorica is my home, but Le Maréchal has no claim on me. Death to the upstart!"

The soldiers all stiffened, and the lieutenant scowled. "Cumbrian scum! Provençe is not at war with your land, not at the moment, but its time will come. I live to see the day! And as for you—"

And at that moment there was a hiss, and the lieutenant fell back with an arrow through his throat. It was the first of many.

We had made our plans, we men of Bois-de-Bas, gathered in the hot springs of a Sunday. At the first sight of the sloop, the young lads of the village had scattered into the trees and made their way to the surrounding farms.

In the Old Lands the farmers huddle together in the village for fear of armies and bandits, and go out to their fields each day. But Bois-de-Bas is a peaceful place, and the farmers and their men live on their farms. And the woods of Bois-de-Bas are wild woods, filled with game and savage beasts, and every man born and raised in Bois-de-Bas is a skilled hunter.

The lieutenant's men gathered us up they found only those of us who lived around the green. And the rest, hunters all, were well-prepared.

More soldiers will come when the recruiting party is missed. It is late, now, but tomorrow we must hide all signs that the sloop was ever here.

And I think we must do more than that. I have one or two ideas.

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Letters from Armorica- A Strategem (22 Juin 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Aunt Maggie,

I am taking advantage of the current truce to write you and tell you how am I doing. Doubtless you have been waiting for word, and I must first explain why you hadn't yet received any. Several weeks ago I sent a letter to my father, a letter of the utmost importance. I think it quite likely that he will have burnt it unread and unmentioned; but knowing my father's temper as I do, I expect the event will not have passed unnoticed by my mother.

I have enclosed a sealed copy of that letter. If you have reason to believe that my earlier letter went astray, please take it to John Netherington-Coates at the Former's Guild…at some time when you know that my father is not present. All you need do is give him the letter and explain the circumstances, for he is a smart man and he will know what to do. Yes, I know he is my father's chief rival in the guild…but the results of that will be on my father's own head.

I must repeat: this is of the utmost importance, to both myself and to the Cumbrian branch of the Former's Guild. Do not fail me, I beg you!

And now onto the news. I have fetched up in a rustic but charming village called Bois-de-Bas, a place of farmers and small-holders and grottos and hot springs. I have enclosed a drawing of the town and its setting, as best as I can render; I think you will agree that it is a lovely place.

I am wonderfully happy here. This might surprise you, after my upbringing in the big city of Yorke; or perhaps it might not, knowing me from my birth as you have. But happy I am. I have a place here, a fine one; and you are to know that I have married. Her name is Amelie, and she is lovely (of course). She is also strong, and skilled, and thoughtful, and kind. She is of Provençese background, as you might expect—but I must add to that that the Armoricans are sternly and stoutly independent, and not lackeys of le Maréchal.

More: my Amelie is in an interesting condition, as I have heard you call it, and in September I may have news of a blessed and wonderful event to share with you. I would have preferred to wait and speak of it at that time—but perhaps the truce will not hold, and I should wish my mother to know.

An amusing story for you. The homes and shops here in Bois-de-Bas are timber-framed, just as in the towns and villages of Cumbria, though here the timbers are of bronzewood; but where Cumbrian homes would fill in between the timbers with lath-and-plaster, here homes are are sheathed with overlapping planks of chêne-pierre, an Armorican tree that looks something like a Cumbrian oak but has a harder wood with a closed grain. It seems shockingly extravagant to me; but chêne-pierre is abundant here, and as families and farms grow we must harvest a great deal of it. It sheds the rain and snow without any need for paint, and in time fades to a lovely, durable gray sheen. This is how you must picture the dwellings in my sketch—for the most part.

Housewives seem to be just as house-proud in Armorica as in Cumbria, so far as I can tell. Mme. Pôquerie is the wife of our cabinet-maker; the Pôqueries are as well-off as anyone in town. A month or so ago M. Pôquerie acquired a small quantity of yellow paint—by accident, I believe, in an order of supplies from Mont-Havre—and having no better idea what to do with it used it to paint the window sills and frames on the front of his house.

This simple act has led to a frenzy of near-riot proportions. Every house-wife in our little village now insists on having "colored windows," the brighter the better. (This has led to much business for the keeper of the village store, the one who orders such things from the city, and for this he is duly grateful.) I believe it was Mme. Simard, the butcher's wife, who first insisted on having a "colored door" as well, by which she meant just the door-frame. She was roundly castigated for her extravagance by all and sundry; and then, of course, there was another flurry of orders for paint. Then Mme. Gagnon had her husband paint their entire front door a quite amazing red, and the whole circus began again.

Thus far no one has considered painting an entire house—or at least no one has publicly admitted it, the cost of paint and its transport being prohibitive. Someday soon, I expect someone here in Bois-de-Bas will find a way to make their own colored paint…and that will set off another war between those who are willing to settle for the less expensive local paint and those who insist on the "proper" paint from away. It is quite an entertaining spectacle.

Please give my best regards to my mother and my cousin Jack!

Your loving nephew,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- The Sky Island (16 Juin 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I never imagined that a grand-blaireau could grow so large. I had heard much about them from Jacques-la-Souris while I was living at Madame Truc's—the ferocity, the sharpness of the fangs, the surly and jealous demeanor—and I had seen the richness of the fur for myself. All these were as I had been given to believe. They did not surprise me. But to find a grand-blaireau standing man-high at the shoulder! Clearly something will need to be done if my project is to succeed.

But I get ahead of myself.

When I first walked to Bois-de-Bas my imagination was much taken by the sky-islands that I saw dotting the skies here and there along the route. I wondered what they might be like, and amused myself with day-dreams of sky-pirates and of pirate bases hanging in the air, hidden from view. And then, when I came to Bois-de-bas my joy was complete, for I noticed a quite large sky-island hanging in the air to the north. It is suspended over a lake, and there is a single waterfall perpetually falling over the edge and down into the water below. Where so much water can be coming from I have no idea, but I immediately longed to find out.

And this, of course, is why I began the experiments that led to the creation of my sky-chair.

This morning, having persuaded my dear Amelie that the sky-chair is perfectly safe, I embarked. I did not go alone, which has turned out very fortunate—I rode through the middle air to Onc' Herbert's, and picked up Marc Frontenac to come with me. And then we were off!

It was a fine day today, warm and not over breezy, and yet I was glad of my coat—the chair can move with great swiftness, easily faster than a galloping horse; and as I have discovered, warm on the ground does not mean warm in the air! Though of course I was also shivering with anticipation.

As we rose to the height of the island we more or less followed the line of the river that runs from the lake down past the village. The view was stunning. Vast forests spread out beneath us, as yet little travelled by men. We saw stands of bronzewood and Chêne-pierre, studded here and there with the grottos and hot springs that give Bois-de-Bas its name.

It took us the better part of half-an-hour by my timepiece to reach the island. I wished to fly over the middle of the island directly; but Marc persuaded me to fly around it, under and over and about, spying out the land as he said.

And so, avoiding the waterfall, which is just east of the southernmost end of the island, we began by passing underneath—and again I was glad of my coat. It was dim and cool and damp under the island, with strands of hanging moss to be wary of. The base of the island proved to be made of the same stone as the land below, worn through with grottos and cave-lets, much like those of the hot-springs in which we take our Sunday soaks. Some of the grotto openings were quite large, and I imagined flotillas of small pirate craft issuing from them to prey on passing shipping.

Of which there is none, of course; but then, there are no sky-pirates either.

From there we circumnavigated the island. The edges are rocky, festooned with moss, and heavily forested right up to the edges. We found no break in the trees anywhere, except where the waterfall issued forth. There we found a shallow gorge worn by the force of the water, overhung by Chêne-pierre, almost like a tunnel. We could have proceeded in by that route, but there was a strong breeze blowing out of the mouth of it, stemming, I think, from the rush of the water. Instead we rose up over the trees, only to find—

Well, more forest, looking very much like that we'd passed over on the way. The general topography of the island was more or less bowl-shaped; it was, in fact, a shallow valley, rising up to a rim on the northeast. The river rose somewhere in that vicinity, and ran through the lowest part of the valley in a swooping curve only to issue forth on the southeast, as we'd seen. The air was moist and slightly foggy over the island, and here and there we saw clouds of rising steam indicating the presence of hot springs.

I backed off from the island a bit, so that I could see it and the lake below at the same time.

"It's almost as if the island used to be where the lake is," said Marc, and he was correct, right down to the sheer cliff on the northeast side of the lake that matched the rise on the northeast side of the island and matching line of the river to the south. If so, the island must have moved north as it rose; for the waterfall came down in the northern half of the lake.

And then it was time to take a closer look. Finally!

The island was heavily wooded, making any kind of landing difficult; were anyone to try to settle here they would need to clear a deal of land. There were a few open spots on either side of the river, however, and I directed the chair to one of these. It was not a perfect spot; the bank, though open, sloped enough that if we were to land there chair would likely topple over. I had foreseen this difficulty, and brought along a short rope ladder; and setting the chair to hang still a yard or so over the bank I threw the ladder over the side and climbed down. The chair held its position admirably, though it heeled to one side and rocked a bit.

And there I was! The first human being ever to stand on the island—perhaps the first human being ever to stand on any of the sky-islands of Armorica! My heart swelled within me as I scrambled up the bank to get a better vantage point, and to see what I could see under the trees.

I know very little about the nature of the grand-blaireaux, save that they are large, and badger-like, with strong jaws and white spots on their cheeks; and I have no idea what this one found to live on, or how it managed to grow to such a large size in such a confined space. Perhaps the grand-blaireau is like some fish I have heard tell of, that continue to grow their whole lives long, to fit the size of their pond or lake. And yet, that cannot be right, for the giant that emerged from deeper in the woods, its brown fur frosted silver with age, is far larger than any grand-blaireau of which I had ever before heard, and those had all of the land of Armorica to roam in.

It was tall and sturdily-built, though lean and hungry; and its dark eyes were focused on the nearest source of fresh meat—me; and it moved quickly and silently. I was aware of it only because of Marc's shout, and I am sure I covered the ten feet or so back to the rope ladder in one bound. Marc had shifted himself to my seat in anticipation of trouble—God bless him—and he did not wait for me to climb in before taking us out of danger. The beast's jaws snapped shut just inches from the bottom of the ladder; what would have happened had they closed on it I shudder to think.

Marc took us well up and out over the river, with me still dangling on the ladder, and there paused to let me clamber up and into the front seat. Much shaken, I allowed Marc to guide us back to Onc' Herbert's farm. The blaireau watched us until we were out of sight.

It is clear that if we are to return we shall need to bring an entire hunting party. I shall need to build a larger vessel; or perhaps a covey of additional chairs.

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