Yesterday everything changed. We are at war. I don’t say that Armorica is at war with Provençe—though would that it were! But Bois-de-Bas is certainly and openly at war with the forces of Le Maréchal. And more than that, I am no longer alone. The forest round about Le Blaireau is ringing with the sound of hammers and axes, there are voices and shouts everywhere, and best of all my darling Amelie is here by me as I write.
The first I knew of it was yesterday evening. I had retired below, and was reading by the light of a lantern when I heard the sound of splintering branches. The entire sloop shook with a massive blow. My first thought was, “Le Maréchal! He has come!”
I crept up to the deck to see the silhouettes of men jumping onto it from another sloop, which had been brought along side. I could see its bare masts and the loom of its bowsprit in the dim light. “A boarding party!” I gasped from my spot in the darkness of the hatchway. How had the Provençese found me! What ought I to do? The moment I left the security of my hole I would be seen. Could I reach my sky-chair on the foredeck before I was taken? Not likely, it seemed, for the men had spread out until they lined the rail at intervals all of the way to the bow.
The men on deck were passed the ends of ropes from the other sloop, which they used to make all fast, binding the two vessels together, rail to rail. Then another form was passed across from the other sloop, gently as it seemed, and I heard a familiar voice calling, “Armand!”
It was Marc, and the one passed so carefully over from the other sloop was my Amelie, heavy with our child! I stumbled out onto the deck, still quivering in every bone but more relieved than I can say.
“But what is this?” I cried at him, clinging to my bride. “What has happened?”
“The men of L’Asticot returned to Bois-de-Bas with manners of the most rude!” said Amelie, clinging to me in turn. “Please, I must be sitting down.”
“This way,” I said, and led them down to the captain’s cabin. It was cramped, and if Amelie could be comfortable Marc and I could not, but no matter. I sat her down on my cot, and wrapped blankets around her to make a nest.
“L’Asticot?” I asked. “Who is that?”
“That pig Le Maréchal, she means,” said Marc, and Amelie nodded solemnly. “L’asticot is a, how you would say, a grub, a maggot.”
“And he is eating the motherland from the inside,” said Amelie firmly.
“So, his men returned,” I said. “I wondered what was taking them so long. They only just now missed Le Blaireau?”
“Oh, no, no,” said Marc. “They have visited several times since then. The first time they were looking for Le Blaireau, and we said it had come and gone. They tried to recruit some of our men, but of course no one agreed, and as they were in a hurry they did not argue.”
“But what about the shop?”
“Marc and Elise have been most helpful,” said Amelie.
It took me some little while to get the full story. It seems that by then Amelie had switched places with Marc and Elise, living with Onc’ Herbert while Marc and Elise ran the shop. The sign was repainted to say Frontenac instead of Tuppeny, and Elise had reconfigured my former’s workshop as a place for a seamstress while my benches and tools were hidden in a shed on Onc’ Herbert’s farm. There was no sign of my presence for the soldiers to find.
That was over a week ago. Two more parties had come since then. The first asked for the whereabouts of “le maître de la thaumaturgie Armand Tuppenny,” and were told that I had left town. Marc had obligingly pointed them in the direction of the false trail he had laid.
“Maître de la thaumaturgie!” I exclaimed. “It would seem that either my father or my aunt came through for me, more’s the pity. I should never have written home.”
“It is only what you deserve,” said Amelie with great fondness.
“It is,” said Marc, “though the timing is tres difficile. But we amused them for some days, until today they came again. And today they insisted on knowing the location of Madame Tuppenny.”
“They thought to use me as a hostage, les cochon!”
“And so we have this fine sloop,” said Marc, “which is loaded with many good things. The rest of your tools, for one, and Jacques and his tools, and materials.”
“And women and children,” said Amelie. “And goats.” She grinned wickedly.
“And such other men as we can spare,” said Marc. “There is much to do here, and much yet to bring if we are to be safe and well supplied.”
And so Le Blaireau is no longer empty, but is filled with the sound of children. The two sloops have been lowered nearer the water, just slightly above the level of the top of the banks, and rude bridges have been run from the banks on either side to the sloops, turning them into the basis for a small settlement. The men have spent all day felling trees and building animal enclosures and work shops. Jacques and I are under orders to build a larger version of the sky-chair, so as to be able to carry more goods and people from town to my island, and so we have been working on the foredeck of the second sloop, Le Rubicon. Indeed there is much to do.
And now it is night once again, and Amelie is waiting.