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.

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