Monthly Archives: October 2018

Letters from Armorica- The Goat’s Head (10 Septembre 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Onc' Herbert is dead. The Provençese cochons have killed him. Marc brought us word just after sundown.

They came to Onc' Herbert's farm this afternoon, looking for the men who took and burned their sloop. Their two remaining sloops found the wreckage this morning, one landing and one keeping watch, as the man we left behind reported to me later. They found the "hideout" and the false trail to the east, as we had intended that they should, but it seems that they were not fooled—or, perhaps, we over-estimated their industry. My man reports that instead of following the trail they returned to Bois-de-Bas; and they went to see Onc' Herbert.

I suppose it is not surprising. Bois-de-Bas has no mayor, and no elected officials, no guild-halls or equivalents. It is governed by what we in Cumbria might call a town meeting and my fellow townsfolk call "Sunday afternoon at the hot springs," and by the standard of the hot springs, Onc' Herbert has long been the town's leading elder. In the current crisis it is he, as much as anyone, who has been directing events, as even les cochons have the wit to notice.

The sloops landed in a field near Onc' Herbert's farm house, crushing the rows beneath them, and one fired a gun. Their commander, Capitaine Le Clerc, called for Onc' Herbert to come out. He did; and Le Clerc's men laid hands on him as his people watched, clearly intending to carry him off and interrogate him.

One of the younger farmhands, a lad named Michel, sneaked away and released Onc' Herbert's remaining goats into the farm yard, whipping them on with a length of rope—and the goats went forth like the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The Provençese sailors were greatly surprised, and I think we can regard the question as settled: Armorican goats are not like Provençese goats.

I do not know what young Michel was thinking, or whether he acted on his own. It is entirely possible that he did what he did on Onc' Herbert's orders. The Provençese lay about them with their guns and cutlasses, and Capitaine Le Clerc took off one goat's head with a single stroke of his sword. His men—those who weren't injured—took hold of Michel. And with the head of the goat laying at his feet, Le Clerc drew his pistol and put a bullet in Michel's brain.

That was enough. The folk of Armorica are not Provençese peasants, easily cowed by authority. Or, at least the folk of Bois-de-Bas are not. Onc' Herbert's folk rose up, then, and attacked the cochons—and thanks to Le Clerc's decision to quarter his men in the village proper, Onc' Herbert had many more people on his farm than normal despite having sent some here to Grand-Blaireau. Everyone fought. Elise Frontenac killed two herself, taking them from behind with her belt-knife.

Onc' Herbert was killed by the men holding him when the fighting started; and he and Michel were not the only casualties. Étienne the drover was killed as well, attacking Onc' Herbert's killers, and M. Tremblay's son Alain, among others; and many were wounded. Marc himself has a cut on his forehead and a gash on his leg, and if he'd had to walk to Grand-Blaireau we would not have seen him this night.

But Le Clerc and his men are dead.

I was not there, but I heard about what happened next from M. Tremblay.

When the fighting was over, Marc called for a shovel, and driving it into the ground upright, he took the goat's head and placed it on the end. And he gathered his folk around him, and he said, "Le Maréchal and his men think we are goats to be herded and slaughtered to his benefit. We are not, as these men have found out. It is no longer enough just to protect Bois-de-Bas; we must drive les cochons from Armorica." He waved at the goat's head. "And this: this will be our standard."

I can picture him, tall, haggard with pain, and blood dripping down the side of his face from his wound. "First we must bury the dead. Then we shall send messengers to all of the towns and villages along the frontier. And then, together, we shall retake Mont-Havre."

Most of us men here on the island returned with Marc to help; I have only just returned. Tomorrow, Amelie and I, and all of those of us who remain here on Grand-Blaireau, will descend to Bois-de-Bas for the funerals; and when we return we shall bring the two sloops here and strip them and convert them into living and working space. With two of them we can extend the Avenue clear across the river and begin to open up the land on the other side.

We shall need the space. I had thought we might all return to Bois-de-Bas now that we are coming into the open; but Marc said not. "This must be our base," he said. "You are our secret weapon. We haven't the skill or training to operate the sky-sloops in battle; and so we must rely on you if we are to bring the battle to les cochons. We will need sky-wagons and sleds in great numbers." He laid a hand on my shoulder. "You must never be taken. I'm sorry, Armand, but here you must stay until our victory is complete."

It is hard for me. But he is right, as Amelie is quick to confirm. And with our child coming any time now, it would be hard to be away from her for long.

Next Letter

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Letters from Armorica- The Ambush (7 Septembre 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

The men have returned from their excursion, and the Provençese cochons are down one sloop. The crew were slain to the last man, which I suppose was an unspoken part of the plan, and the sloop burned. I find that I am both pleased and appalled.

Jacques Poquêrie led the group. Having prepared the "hideout" in the grotto, they kept watch for any patrolling sloop; and when one came in sight they laid an ambush. A man in the grotto let a fire smoke briefly and then put it out, just as though a cooking fire had briefly got out of hand. And when les cochons landed to investigate, our men were hidden in and among the trees.

All of our men had guns, and several had bows, for it is not that long since the village had to be completely self-sufficient. We are, after all, on the frontier. There were perhaps thirty men on the sloop, and five were downed by arrows before the rest knew anything was amiss. Several more were taken by bullets, and then our men fell back further into the woods. After that it was like a deadly game of tag. Most of our men led the Provençese sailors further into the woods, picking them off one by one; the rest descended upon the sloop in sky-sleds and fell upon the five left to guard it from above. That was a great risk, for if even one of the cochons had escaped we would be lost.

But I find I haven't the heart to remonstrate with them today.

I am surprised at how easily we have had it against the Provençese to date. Our men know the local forests and ground perfectly well, having hunted in them since they were small, whereas it seems that these sailors are no woodsmen, and are more used to fighting ship-to-ship than on land. I also expect that le Maréchal is keeping his best troops for the main front with the Cumbrians: the sailors left to guard the sloop should certainly have been keeping an eye on the skies, but I am told they were crowded against the rail, trying to track the path of their fellows by the sounds of the shooting.

We lost no one, though there were a number of cuts and scrapes and one sprained ankle; for Jacques, leaped from the sky wagon on their return in his eagerness to share the good news, and came down upon a loose stone. It did not dampen his spirits.

Now we wait for them to discover the burned remains of the sloop. One of our men stayed behind, equipped with a sky-sled; he is in a blind overlooking the remains and will stay there until the Provençese have come and gone.

I wish I could inform our folk in Bois-de-Bas of today's victory, but I was told not to risk it. As of now, only those two know of our plans; and it will go easier with the townsfolk if they do not need to feign surprise when the Provençese command questions them.

There remain two sloops; I greatly fear that they will patrol in tandem in the future. If one stands off while the other lands we will have a great deal more difficulty in taking them.

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Letters from Armorica- News (2 Septembre 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

News, at last! We had a visit from Marc Frontenac late this evening, and none too soon. I was delighted to see him. He came to us quietly after twilight, and left perhaps two hours later. It was a pity that he was not able to stay until morning and speak to everyone here, but I shall have to do that myself. As it is, I shall have to judge carefully what I say and what I do not. For now, I am recording this in the hold of Le Blaireau by the light of a handglow that I will extinguish the moment I am done. Everyone else has long since gone to bed.

The Provençese cochons have taken over all of the best houses in the village itself; the townsfolk, those who aren't here on the island, have either dispersed to outlying farms or are living cheek-by-jowl in the smaller homes that remain. Onc' Herbert himself has taken in many.

Passions are running high. The townsfolk are angry, as is only natural, and les cochons are angry for they have not found any evidence of their missing sloops. There have been no brawls, to my surprise, but then most of the younger men are gone—are here on the island, in fact. But there have been harsh words, and harsh looks, and I am glad for her sake that Amelie's friend Brigitte has come to us, for soldiers are soldiers everywhere.

The Provençese have been scouting the surrounding area by day and by night and have found nothing; yet they are certain that there must be something, for the missing sloops never made it to the adjoining regions.

Onc' Herbert has decided that it is time to give them something to find. Tomorrow night I shall send a group of men to a grotto well to the east of Bois-de-Bas. It is one of the larger grottoes in the vicinity, and well known to the young men of the town, who often use it as a hunting camp, or go out there for the night as a kind of adventure. It is too distant from the town for casual use, not like the grottoes where our hot springs are; and it is hard enough to find if you don't know the way that it is unlikely that les cochons have found it. The men will set it up as a base for insurgents: fresh fires, a modicum of foodstuffs, and other evidence of recent occupation. It will not be hard to make it convincing, given its past history. And there they shall stay until the next sloop comes by on patrol. They shall draw it in and take it and burn it, and then flee to the east on foot.

And when night falls, then of course they shall return here by air, leaving no trace.

I had many questions.

Why burn the sloop in place? Why not make it disappear altogether? But that of course is the point: the Provençese do not know what is happening to their men and materiel. Here we shall give them something to see, and a trail leading away from Bois-de-Bas. They will send a patrol and find the downed sloop; they will most likely find the "base", and will certainly find the trails to the east; they will discover that none of the townsfolk they have seen are missing, and that there is no fresh trail to or from Bois-de-Bas; and they will spend much time looking farther afield, where there is nothing to be found.

I also asked about the base. If it is well-hidden, why not use it as a base in actuality? Why plan to cede its location to the enemy? Marc told me that it was too well-known. Everyone in Bois-de-Bas but us newcomers knows of it, and all the men older than twelve know how to get there. The folk of Bois-de-Bas are stalwart against le Maréchal's interlopers, but les cochons are ruthless. Someone would talk. Better to give it to them at a time of our choosing. And if by chance they do not find the grotto on this occasion, perhaps we can repeat this again in a week's time.

And besides, he said with a nudge and a wink, we have a better base. I am afraid that I blushed.

I shall have to ask for volunteers for this escapade, but I'm sure there will be no lack of them. The difficulty will lie in keeping Bertrand's lads here on the island. I should quite like to go myself, for that matter, but Marc strictly forbade me to do so; and if he had not, I am sure that any number of voices here on the island would say the same, starting with my darling Amelie. I confess I am glad to remain here with her. Her time is near, and so she sits in our apartment here on Le Blaireau, knitting blankets and such like, and Jean-Baptiste comes in twice a day to consult, and to visit Brigitte.

Things move quickly during war-time, and I think we shall have another wedding quite soon.

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