Monthly Archives: August 2018

Letters from Armorica- Visitors (14 Août 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I am shocked and appalled. A sky-wagon came from the village today, bearing three people I have reason to know well: Madame Truc, Jacques-la-Souris, and Jean-Baptiste. They came to the shop in Bois-de-Bas seeking shelter, for of course Madame Truc knew I had come there. Elise directed them to Onc’ Herbert, naturally, and he arranged for them to be brought to me. I could not believe my eyes.

“O, mon fils,” Madame Truc cried when she saw me. She looked tired to me, tired and worn and small. Jacques-la-Souris looked haggard and much thinner than when I’d left Mont-Havre. And poor Jean-Baptiste! It seems that when Le Maréchal’s men came they took over the port and all of its functions. All available goods were seized to support Le Maréchal’s war, and of course all of the merchants and their clerks were sent away. M. Suprenant could only help him so much, for of course it was his business at the port that was shut down; and so he fell in with a group of young men who opposed the Provençese cochons. There had followed a number of scuffles and skirmishes and in one Jean-Baptiste was wounded in the leg. Madame Truc brought him from Mont-Havre in the back of a cart, moaning and delirious.

“It was an escape of the most thrilling!” Madame Truc told me with a little of her old fire. We were sitting here, in our quarters on Le Blaireau. It occurs to me that I have not recorded this before, but it was decided (and not by me) that Amelie and I should remain here, the sloop’s interior being less drafty than anything on the island itself. Jacques Poquerie (we have too many Jacques on this island!) and his men expanded the narrow little hole the sloop’s commander had called his quarters forward into the body of the sloop, and made for us a cozy apartment, complete with a pot-bellied stove against the chill of the night. I am not at all sure where the stove came from, and have learned that it is best not to ask such questions. It is a great comfort to us, especially when I remember my first nights on board, huddled in the galley!

When they arrived Jean-Baptiste was whisked away to have his leg attended to; Bois-de-Bas remains a town of the frontier, and her people are accustomed to the sort of injuries received while felling trees and the like. I was assured that though different in origin, Jean-Baptiste’s wound is not all that different in kind, and that although he would certainly lose his leg below the knee he is quite likely to be well enough after. Provided they were quick enough, for it had grown much worse during the journey. I trust that they were quick enough, for I heard his cries as they took his leg from him.

And so it was that Madame Truc and no-longer-so-fat old Jacques-the-Mouse sat with us in our “parlor” in the stern of Le Blaireau. I escorted them in, and introduced them to Amelie. Even in her fatigue Madame Truc gave Amelie a careful looking over, eyeing her from head to toe, for of course only the best would do for one of Madame Truc’s young men; but Amelie rose (with difficulty) from her chair and advanced to meet her, taking her hands.

“Dearest Madame Truc,” she said. “Armand has spoken of you so often and so warmly. I am delighted that you thought to come to us in your need.” How many are the ways that a woman might say those words! But Amelie’s sincerity was so clear that Madame Truc simply nodded, looked me, and said, “Bon.”

It was then that Madame Truc and Jacques sat down and told us of their “escape of the most thrilling.” Jean-Baptiste had been carried back to Madame Truc’s boarding house by his friends after the scuffle, and she had hidden him away. A day had passed, a day of watchful waiting, until she began to think that his identity had passed unnoticed and that no one would come looking for him. It had, in fact, passed unnoticed, but that was no help; for the very next day a squad of Provençese soldiers came and told her to turn away all of her borders; the soldiers were to be garrisoned there from now one, and she was to see to their needs.

“All of my people, my gentil-hommes had to go,” she said. From another I might have expected tears, but Madame Truc was simply irate. “Even pauvre M. Sabot. It was too much. I had Jacques move young Jean-Baptiste to the cellar, and then sent him off with his things, as if he were leaving, but really to hunt for a cart and horses.”

“I hid them outside of the town,” said Jacque-la-Souris with a hint of a smile. He looked bad, gray in the face, and had not yet spoken much to us. “It is many years since I last hunted les grand-blaireaux, but still I know every inch of the country-side, me, what the town has not covered.”

“And then he returned by night and we fetched Jean-Baptiste up from the cellar.”

“But how did you get through town, just the three of you! Surely the cochons were keeping watch, and with Jean-Baptiste wounded—”

“It was tres difficile,” she said. “But M. Suprenant sent two of his men to help us.”

“There are many ways out of Mont-Havre,” said Jacque-la-Souris. “Le Maréchal’s men could not watch them all. It is not so hard, if you know the town. And it was very dark.”

“And now we are here,” said Madame Truc. “And moi, I do not know what we shall do.”

“First you shall rest,” said Amelie. “You shall stay with us, of course.”

“Yes,” I said, “and for as long as you like. But you know, this sloop on which we are living is not unlike a boarding house.” I shrugged. “I should not object if you chose to help with running it.”

“And my time, it is nearing,” said Amelie, “and I have no mother or older sisters to watch over me. You are welcome for Armand’s sake, but I am sure you can make yourself welcome for your own sake, n’est-ce-pas?

At that Madame Truc brightened up, as I knew she would, for she lives to take care of others, and I knew she should hate to think herself useless.

Et moi?” said Jacques-la-Souris.

I knelt beside him, putting my hand on his shoulder. “As for you, you old reprobate,” I said to him, “my old friend and counselor, you shall remain with us as well. They seem to have put me in charge here on this island; I shall need men of sense to advise me.” I raised an eyebrow. “And besides, what would Madame Truc do without you to take care of?”

He chuckled a very little, though it was hard for him. The journey had taken nearly all he had.

“Come with me,” I said to them. “They will have made spaces for you by now. Sleep well tonight. You are safe.”

And so they are; yet they have walked away from everything they had in the world. I shall certainly see them taken care of. But my heart is sore for them, and also for M. Suprenant and his people, and for M. Fournier. If only we had more men, and could drive les cochons from Armorica!

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photo credit: DarrellR IMG_0766.JPG via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica- On Tactics (11 Août 34AF)

First Letter

Cher Onc’ Herbert,

I am troubled by what you write me of the news from Mont-Havre: Provençese soldiers garrisoned in private homes, men taken from their houses and their places of employment and pressed into service, my friend M. Suprenant’s young lads conscripted—and them still boys! And not for the defense of Armorica, but to be sent abroad to fight for that cochon Le Maréchal! It is monstrous!

It is with that in mind that I tell you what happened at L’Isle de Grand-Blaireau today. One of the lads—not Bertrand but his lieutenant-in-mischief Jean-Marc—was manning his observation post and saw a sloop flying Provençese colors sailing along the road to Bois-de-Bas. He ran to the encampment to give warning—and may I say, I wish we had a faster means of communication than running! But we are meant to be secret here, and so beacons or alarm bells won’t do.

I trust that by now you have dealt with the sloop and its crew; and might I suggest bringing the sloop here to the lake, burning it to the water line, and sinking what remains to the bottom of the lake? I think that would be much simpler than what we did with the Rubicon. But it got me to thinking.

Consider: the sloop is sailing along, eyes to the ground; and why wouldn’t they be, as the skies of Armorica are completely uncontested so far as Le Maréchal knows. From above comes a swarm of sky-chairs, each manned by a pilot and a gunner. The gunners, our best shots, begin picking off the crew one by one, the sky-chairs constantly moving so as to be difficult targets. More than this: the sky-chairs are presenting their bellies to the sloop—and every inch of them is hardened. Perhaps the gunners might even carry torches or grenadoes to drop on the sloop’s deck. Eventually they descend and take the sloop, and voila, there we are.

It is premature to execute this tactics, it seems to me; so long as the sloops come to Bois-de-Bas and land, giving your men easy access to the crew, there is no need to go to such trouble. But if Le Maréchal begins to make war on Bois-de-Bas in earnest, we must know what to do, and be prepared to defend against him on the ground—or the skies—of our choosing, rather than in the village itself.

So we must give thought to the tactics, n’est-ce-pas? Would it be better to begin with shooting the helmsman, or by shooting fire arrows at the sails? A sky-ship without its sails is a wallowing pig, as we have reason to know. And once we have decided on tactics we must train the men to execute them.

We now have several sky-chairs here on the island for our own use. I have begun sending our best hunters and sky-chair pilots down to the forest below (under cover of the waterfall, of course) to hunt for meat for the pot—and I have directed them to hunt from the chair, rather than on foot, descending to earth only to retrieve a kill. It is practice for them, of a sort, and good for us here. I dare do no more, for I must not risk the enemy discovering us.

Perhaps you might do the same in Bois-de-Bas: send your pilots and hunters out to practice their marksmanship from the air. You might even set up some targets.

In the meantime, we must give thought to our communications. We are well situated here to be good lookouts for you, if only we could keep you informed as to what we see. Perhaps we might do something with mirrors? I shall think on it.

In the meantime, are there any spyglasses in Bois-de-Bas? We have two here, taken from the sloops Le Blaireau and Rubicon, but that is not enough for all of the lookout posts.

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- A Day of Rest (10 Août 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I am not quite sure how it happened, but here in the encampment on L’Isle de Grand-Blaireau I have become the person everyone asks for permission to do things. It is a great nuisance and distraction, for I have many things of my own to attend to; but at times it becomes endearing.

Today, of course, is Sunday, a day of rest, and the day for Divine Worship; but we have no church here, and no way (even were it prudent) to transport everyone to Bois-de-Bas; though of course we have no priest in Bois-de-Bas either. We have been observing the day of rest in past weeks; the people are working hard all day every day, and need their rest, even if it were not customary. But today I had a deputation of men, led by Drunken Jacques (not that he has touched a drop since he arrived on the island) asking my leave to continue working today—to begin building a church here, and a bath house.

“It is the Lord’s Day,” said Drunken Jacques to me, “and so we ought not work; and yet we have Church in which to attend to Him. And no time the rest of the week to build one.” I discussed it with Amelie, who told me she quite liked the idea, especially the idea of a bath house, and so I gave them my leave.

I was pleased to see that they do not intend to build the two structures all at once, but a little each week. Today they prepared the site for the church and sank timbers into the corners to support the floor and, eventually, the roof. We had our Divine Worship sitting on sections of log and on blankets on the ground in the midst of the site. Drunken Jacques led the worship; he has a rich baritone voice. Afterward we had a communal meal in the new clearing near Le Blaireau that has become the village square, after which my friend Jacques the Carpenter began building a pair of enormous tubs for the bath house. Tents are enough for modesty, at least until winter comes; and we shall need a stove for a ready supply of hot water ere long; but we cannot have our Sunday afternoon baths without the tubs—and we cannot have our town hall meetings, as it were, without the baths.

The folk of Bois-de-Bas are keenly attuned to social position, I have discovered. Onc’ Herbert is influential as much because he is a prominent farmer and land-owner as because of his undoubted wisdom; and I suppose my upper-class upbringing in Yorke, and my role as the town’s shopkeeper and former lend me cachet I am not at sure I deserve. Apparently Amelie has been bragging about me, for some of the folk here have taken to calling me Maître Tuppenny!

But wisdom and common sense are also highly respected—and in the baths, social position is forgotten. Everyone may speak, and though fools are not heeded, poor men are heard. Amelie tells me it is the same for the women. It is a system I have not heard of elsewhere in the world; and it may well be unique to Bois-de-Bas.

In the long run, I think, we will need to excavate much larger pools, as I have seen in the public bath houses in Yorke, and how we shall heat them I have no idea; perhaps I could form something? But for now Jacques’ tubs will serve admirably, and I find I am quite looking forward to their completion.

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

Letters from Armorica- On Disappointment (9 Août 34AF)

First Letter

Cher Onc’ Herbert,

I have just this moment discovered what Drunken Jacques was telling people to get them to cooperate with getting the supplies in order. He was telling them that I’d be disappointed if they continued to make a fuss!

Me! What am I, some kind of monster? Why in all of the lands would anyone care about me being disappointed?

When I asked him why he was saying that, he said that you told him too. And that it was working quite well, and he intended to keep doing it.

I don’t know what you meant by it, M. de Néant, but I find that I am quite dis—oh, bloody hell.

I sent the boys out first thing this morning to look for good lookout spots all along the perimeter of the island, places where they can see without being seen, and it was much quieter around the settlement with them gone. In a few minutes Gérard de Soux will be heading out in a sky-chair to circle the island and see if he can spot them. He’s taken several shirts with me, and he’s going to change colors every so often. I’ve promised the boys that if they can identify the person operating the sky-chair, the time they saw him, and the shirt he was wearing, without being seen by him, I’ll give them extra sweets tonight.

We’ll see how it goes. The sky-wagon is about to leave so I’ll stop here.

Armand

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