Monthly Archives: September 2018

Letters from Armorica- Waiting (31 Août 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

The last three days have been among the longest in my life, not excluding the weeks spent on the Lombard in transit to Armorica. No fires, no light at night, no building during the day, nothing to do but sit and worry. It is not good for me; it is not good for any of us except Amelie, who in her condition might well do a good deal more sitting and resting than she has been willing to. It seems to me that our child might come any day, but she assures me that there remains at least two more weeks.

For myself, I have tried to keep busy, for forming, at least, is not a noisy endeavor in and of itself, and there is useful work I can do. It can be cold at night, here on our island in the sky, and while light is forbidden there is no reason for us to be cold, not while I still have my skills. The same kind of heating blocks I provided to the bathhouse to heat the water can be used, if carefully contained, to heat tents and huts. The blocks in the bathhouse I made of metal, brought from Bois-de-Bas for the purpose; but metal is scarce here on the island and so I am forced to make do with wood, and wood is tricky for this purpose: even hardened wood will burn if it gets too hot. Thus, the heating blocks I am producing now will provide a gentle warmth, but are no good for cooking. They will not even boil water.

If this goes on for long I may need to re-purpose the bathhouse heaters. I wish we had more metal on hand.

In the meantime we are keeping watch, keeping silence, and waiting for word from Bois-de-Bas. We have heard nothing more; all we know is what we can see from our watch posts—and Bertrand’s boys have been keeping careful watch. They tell me that the three new Provençese sloops have been quartering the region, sailing slowly hither and yon. No doubt they are looking for encampments. They can see for themselves that many of the villagers are missing, including many of the young men; no doubt they imagine that there is a band of them out in the woods who are responsible for the loss of their sloops and men. It would be funny if it were not so serious: here we are, high above them, watching their efforts; and yet we are not the ones responsible for their losses, but rather Onc’ Herbert and his hunters. Les Cochons are living in the very “bandit encampment” for which they are searching, and they do not know it!

So they are searching, and that is well and good, for there is nothing for them to find. But what are they doing in Bois-de-Bas? What are they doing to our friends and families? A deputation came to me today; one of Jacques Pôquerie’s helpers wants to take a sled and investigate the village. I had to forbid him, of course, for if he were discovered, all would be lost. I told him that Onc’ Herbert would surely send Étienne or Marc with news if there was anything we needed to know. I pray he will, and soon.

But of course Jacques’ man is simply bored, tired of waiting, tired of nothing to do; and his imagination is filling his head with all manner of evils that might be taking place on the ground.

Perhaps tomorrow I will send the young men out to thoroughly explore the rest of the island. We have had no time for that, hitherto. We established the watch posts around the rim, and the paths to and from them, and we have done a modicum of hunting; but most hunting has been done in the forests below, now that Old Man Blaireau is no more and his fur graces Amelie’s bed, and for the rest our efforts have been directed to building our homes here. I still hope to find caves or grottoes big enough for our community to hide in, and maybe even to dwell in. It would be well to be underground and out of sight should les Cochons come calling.

Some folk might be unwilling to move underground, but I know my people. Grottoes come naturally to the folk of Bois-de-Bas; and all I need do is move the bathhouse first, and all the folk will follow.

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Letters from Armorica- The Garrison (28 Août 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Nearly the worst has happened: the Provençese cochons have come to Bois-de-Bas in force, and established a garrison in the village, bringing three sky-sloops and a full company of troops in addition to the crews. Marc and Elise have been ejected from the shop, which they had been running in our absence; it has been taken over by their quartermaster. Others have been ejected from their homes as well.

It seems that the Provençese commander in Mont-Havre, Général La Salle, has become suspicious of the number of sky sloops that have been lost in the vicinity of Bois-de-Bas, and sent the garrison here to find out what has been happening to them, and to put a stop to it. Beyond that, I know very little.

The first we knew was when Jean-Pierre, one of Bertrand’s lads, flew right into the Avenue on a sled, bellowing “Les cochons, les cochons.” He had been manning the western watch post and seen them with his spyglass when they were still on the horizon. He is a good lad, and will not be made to tend the goats any time soon.

Étienne was here making a delivery—not of goats, for which God be praised—and leaving his sky-wagon where it lay, he took one of my first man-sized sky-sleds back to town to give the alert. He is a brave man as he had never flown one before, for I must say that flying head first at speed between the trees while lying prone in a sky-sled is very different thing from moving more sedately in a sky-chair or wagon!

We had been preparing for this, of course. There are a fair number of sky-vessels in in Bois-de-Bas, now, and it would be fatal for les Cochons to find them—even if it did not turn their attention to the skies, which it surely would, it would reveal that I am still in the vicinity. It would also remove our advantage in short order, for there is little difficult about forming a sky-chair or wagon once you have the knack. But we had laid plans, as I say, and within a quarter of an hour of Étienne’s return, every chair and wagon in Bois-de-Bas was on the way north under cover of the trees while the Provençese vessels were still miles off. Their drivers left them in a hidden spot near the lake shore and returned to the village, and this evening after dark my men descended in Étienne’s wagon and flew them all home to L’Isle de Grand-Blaireau. Now they are all stacked higgledy-piggledy among the trees on the edge of the encampment.

Étienne has retained the sky-sled, which he will have stashed in a safe place; it is essential that the village has a means of communication with the island. It should not matter if it is found; it is much less obviously a conveyance than a chair or wagon, appearing to be little more than a simple wooden frame. I hope that Marc will use it to come to us as soon as safely may be. There is much we can do to harry them, if we are careful, but we must have information; and of course there is much concern here in the encampment, for everyone here has friends or family remaining in the village and its environs.

In the meantime we have disguised our settlement here on the island as best we can. We have stopped all building, all hammering and pounding, and the fires have been put out. Even the use of candles and lanterns has been forbidden: the Provençese commander in Bois-de-Bas shall certainly notice that many folk are missing, and I would not be surprised if he were to conduct night patrols with his sloops looking for signs of cooking fires. If they should fly directly overhead we shall be lost in an instant; but islands are common in the skies of Armorica, and everywhere ignored, and if we take care I have every hope that we shall be above notice.

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Letters from Armorica- The Sky Goats (24 Août 34AF)

First Letter

Cher Onc’ Herbert,

I very much appreciate the several wagon-loads of livestock you sent us yesterday, especially the chickens, for they will go a long way toward making our little hidden settlement self-sustaining should les Cochons du Maréchal come in force. But I ask you, was it really necessary to send us your goats?

Without warning? Seriously?

I picture you sitting in your big chair at the head of the table, guffawing at my expression when I discovered I had received a wagon-load of les chèvres du Diable. Whatever you imagined, it was less than the reality, as I’m sure Étienne was quick to inform you. At least you had your men put the goats in chains for the wagon ride, so we could keep them contained until we had a place to put them! Étienne wanted to leave immediately, for which I cannot blame him after a flight with a cargo of goats; but when I learned that he meant to let the goats go free, to roam the village and despoil men, women, and children, I am afraid I had to threaten him with violence.

Yes, Onc’ Herbert, I did. I threatened to chain him to one of the goats for the afternoon. More than that, I had to call a halt to the work that was going on so that my men could build a stout pen for the pernicious beasts, and I made Étienne fall in and help.

I have been wondering, did you bring these goats with you from Provençe, or did you find them here, in Armorica? I seem to remember meeting some goats on a farm in Cumbria when I was a small boy, and they weren’t like these goats. They were smaller, and they had gentle eyes, quite without that little red glow deep inside. I remember, I was able to pet them with my bare hands without abrading the skin from my palms, and I had no fear of turning my back on them. So are these Armorican goats, or are they Provençese, relatives of Le Maréchal, perhaps?

Speaking of palms, could you send us some leather gloves? Or at least some leather, so we can make some? Amelie is due soon, and as tempting as it would be to slaughter the goats for their hides I am afraid that we may need their milk. And for that, we shall need gloves.

My only consolation is that my regular duties leave me no time to be directly responsible for the care of the goats. Well, and I suppose it does give me another handle on young Bertrand and the other lads, and on the young men. Not that I will assign goat-keeping as a punishment, mind you. Far from it. I shall set up a rotation, and shall excuse people from goat-keeping as a reward for hard service and heroic effort. Building should go more quickly in the future.

Aha! Amelie has returned from the bath house; it is now the mens’ turn. I must go.

Goats. Bah.

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- Sleds (22 Août 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Marc,

First, my thanks for the many wagon-loads of supplies you have sent to us over the past week. I begin to think you are stripping the barns and storehouses of Bois-de-Bas quite bare! Fortunately the lads have found some grottoes we can use for storage, or we should have been quite unable to get it all under cover. I know, of course, that you are sending it to us not for our own use, but to keep it out of the hands of Le Maréchal‘s men when they come, but as more and more of the villagers come here to the encampment the supplies are quite necessary. And indeed, our simple encampment is looking more and more like a village. The simple tents on the ground are being replaced by what I might call demi-cabins, with wooden floors but canvas roofs; some even have the beginnings of wooden roofs. The little church is coming along slowly, and the bathhouse has become a great comfort to all of us. Le Blaireau scarcely resembles a sloop any longer, being more of an inn and community center. Her masts and cordage have been taken for other uses (her canvas went long ago); windows have been opened everywhere, giving light to the spaces within; and she is connected to both banks of the river by a pair of permanent bridges that connect to a passage way of sorts cut through her hull. My folk here have taken to calling it the Avenue.

The space just forward of the Avenue is now my former’s shop; it is central, so I am always available for questions, and I have a desk for my work managing the encampment in the afternoons. The space aft of the Avenue is my Amelie’s domain where she manages the encampment’s stores. We can’t keep the stores all in one place anymore, and it is easier for her, in her condition, to work from Le Blaireau than to go out to her old spot on the bank. Not that she will be able to keep it up much longer! Indeed, she is spending most of her days sitting in a comfortable armchair directing others in the work.

And speaking of that, thank you so much for sending us Brigitte! She has been a great consolation to Amelie, for I find that they are old friends; and Amelie is teaching her what she must know to help out in managing the stores. Brigitte is also, as I’d hoped, assisting Madame Truc in nursing poor Jean-Baptiste! It is embarrassing for him, I think, having such a pretty girl see him so low, but at least it has brought color back to his cheeks. And this morning, to my delight, he agreed to be carried down to sit with me in my former’s shop. He could only manage it for a little over and hour before he had to be returned to his bed, but we had much conversation in that time, and I noticed that his eyes were much on a certain person at the counter on the other side of the Avenue.

I believe I have solved the communication problem, at least here on Grand-Blaireau. As Onc’ Herbert may have told you, we have our lookouts around the perimeter of the island: the lads of Bois-de-Bas, led by Bertrand and Jean-Marc. They are all much steadier now they have something to occupy them! But when they spy something it is a long and weary slog for them back to the encampment, the more so as we have not had time to cut proper trails. It would leave little enough time for us here to prepare for a direct attack, let alone to pass word along to you down below. But I have come up with a solution: the sky-sled!

Imagine a sled, just big enough for the occupant to lie prone, but with the runners extending above instead of below. The entire package is not much bigger than one of the lads. I have now built two of them; they are light and speedy, and can maneuver deftly between trees and over briars. Each of the lookout points will have one, to be used to alert the encampment, and I intend that each of the boys will be trained in their use.

I admit that I was concerned that the lads would take them skylarking and do themselves injuries, but my Amelie had the answer to that. She took Bertrand and his lieutenant aside. “Those who fly recklessly shall not be allowed to fly at all,” she told them. “And my husband will hold you two responsible.” That put a stop to their capers. Young Bertrand would be mortified to be grounded when others can yet fly, and he has the others firmly under his thumb.

The sleds are easy to form, delightfully so after all my work with sky-wagons; they are light, and hardened throughout so that they are nearly indestructible. I should have enough for our needs soon. You might consider whether you could use a sled or two for your scouts—they carry less than a two-man sky-chair, and are far less comfortable; but they can go more places, they are easier to hide, and of course they leave no tracks.

The next challenge is how best to communicate what we learn to you on the ground. I have no good solution; but I’m thinking a sled relay might be best. When we see something, we send a sled to the lake shore, using the waterfall for cover. You keep a man with a sled or sky-chair on duty there, to carry word along to you and Onc’ Herbert.

I wish there were a way for us to use semaphores of some kind; but I cannot think of anything that would be visible to your men on the ground that wouldn’t possibly be visible to les Cochons as well. For them to find our encampment would be a waste of all of our hard work, and as our establishment here grows in size I find I am nervous even about sending out so much as a sled out during daylight hours. I have already constrained the hunters to go out before dawn and not return until after dark.

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- Jean-Baptiste (17 Août 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Marc,

I must thank you for your care of my friends Madame Truc, Jacques-le-Souris, and especially Jean-Baptiste, and for bringing them to me most swiftly. They had to take off Jean-Baptiste’s leg below the knee, but now he is doing ever so much better than he was when he arrived. He is still weak, but his fever has gone and he is speaking sensibly.

He is, of course, in a dark mood. His livelihood is gone, and so is his leg; he is angry at Le Maréchal, as who isn’t; he feels that he can do little to help, and that his future is gone. It is difficult for him. We are taking the best care of him that we can—Madame Truc has nursed many a sick gentleman in her time—but there is something lacking.

As you know, we have men here on Grand-Blaireau, and mothers with children, some with and some without their husbands; but we have no young ladies, no one to visit with him and give his life a little interest. Jacques-le-Souris tries his best, for he has a fund of stories going back to the founding of the colony; but I do believe that Jean-Baptist heard all of the best ones, and many of the worst, while on the road from Mont-Havre, and to him they all now have a tinge of pain and delirium.

Might you and Elise be aware of some other young lady in need of a husband, who might be willing to dare the wilds of L’Isle de Grand-Blaireau? Jean-Baptiste is a diligent and serious young man, a clerk, true, but one whom M. Suprenant put in a position of responsibility at the port of Mont-Havre. And he is something of a hero; I have been spending as much time with him as I can manage, and I have been delighted by such of his stories as he has had strength to relate. Before his injury, he and his compatriots managed to do not a little damage to Le Maréchal‘s forces; it seems that the Provençese have been bringing war materiel to Mont-Havre, to support their efforts to rouse the colony and conscript her people, and Jean-Baptiste’s group have been busily sneaking in to the port and burning them as quickly as they arrive. Apparently they also left a grand-blaireau in the commander’s bed. It was dead, of course, and had been for some time, and the commander, General Marchant, was forced to move out of Le Gourverneur‘s mansion.

I have employment for him, as soon as he is well enough to take it. My darling Amelie has been serving as our quarter-master here, but her time approaches. I am hoping to transfer her responsibilities to Jean-Baptiste’s shoulders as soon as may be.

I do not know what Jean-Baptiste will wish to do when peace comes, if it ever does; but I am confident that he would be an asset to Bois-de-Bas should he be persuaded to stay. All that is necessary at the moment, of course, is that he be persuaded to live.

Have a care, though. He has been unlucky in love before, for some time ago he was betrothed but his intended ran off with a sailor; you do not meet young ladies of good family at the port of Mont-Havre. If you know of any young lady who might be willing to come to us, let it be one who knows her own mind, and who will not lead him on if she decides against him. Sincere friendship will do far more for him than love followed by a broken heart.

In the meantime, we have enough sky-chairs and wagons now, and I have enough other responsibilities, that I am slowing down production. Which is to say that Jacques Poquerie and I have been working on new chairs and wagons in the mornings; and while I have been attending to the business of L’Isle de Grand-Blaireau in the afternoon, Jacques has been working on completing our new bath house. It is still a tent, mind you, and more rustic than I can well say. But the first set of tubs are complete, as is the boiler for the hot water (for which I formed a heating element out of slate), and today is the first day we shall make use of it. Indeed, our ladies are in the bath as I write, for we do not yet have enough space for both sexes to bathe at the same time. Oh, I am looking forward to it; I have greatly missed the hot springs in the grotto.

You and Elise must come visit us when you can spare a few hours; Amelie misses her friend!

Armand

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