Monthly Archives: November 2018

Letters from Armorica- Homing In (29 Septembre 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Marc,

As you know, I've been pondering how we might quickly send word to you of approaching ships or troops. I believe I might have solved the problem, with a little help from my new apprentice, Luc.

It was late yesterday afternoon. I'd been running him through his preliminary forming exercises, which I won't describe in detail. In order to form you must first learn to see the forces you will be forming, and so the exercises involve lots of staring at formed stones, bits of wood, and shards of pot. It's essential but all too tedious.

That's my observation, not my father's. My father would never admit that anything he directed me to do was tedious.

We were taking a break, and naturally enough he was asking questions about the sky-chairs—in hopes of extending the break, you know. I am sure you have done the same in your time; I know I have. But he asked just the right question to get me thinking. He said, "Master, what would happen if you started a sky-chair moving, then hopped out. Would it keep going? How far would it go?"

I said, "Pretty far, I should think. It would be a waste of a good sky-chair." For of course it would sail off until it hit something. But then I began to wonder. What if there were a way to aim it? For example, suppose I went to the edge of the island, and aimed a sky-chair down at Bois-de-Bas and set it going. I could put a letter or package on the seat of the chair, and presuming the chair arrived you could collect them and send the chair back.

Now, there are many objections to this scheme. My goal is to send word to Bois-de-Bas of approaching troops; and for that to be useful the message must travel exceedingly quickly. A quickly moving sky-chair, poorly aimed, would be far too likely to put a hole through the Tremblay's roof, or worse, through the church's. And then, even a slowly moving sky-chair is quite a noticeable sight; if it were not, I would simply have a man fly the message down.

But suppose…what if there were a way to direct it to a specific spot, so that it wouldn't crash into people's houses? And what if it were very small, just big enough to carry a message, so that it wasn't noticeable going through the air? Then we'd be getting somewhere. I could not see a way to do it, but the idea would not leave me; and yesterday afternoon a notion came to me in the baths.

The essence of the idea is this: things once connected retain a connection. Suppose I were to cut a piece of wood in two, and form both halves in a suitable way. The one half is to remain in place; the other, when properly triggered, is to seek its mate, like birds seeking warmer airs in winter! Attach a message to the seeker, and send it on its way, and there you have it. The bond between the two pieces of wood might be enough to give the seeker the necessary direction.

I have tried this in my workshop with some degree of success, and no little comedy. I began by cutting a length of wood into two equal pieces. Forming them was tricky, but easy enough once I saw how to do it. I put one piece on my workbench and took the other some yards away and set it to going. The results surprised me: the seeker sought out its mate, all right, but when I set it going its mate leaped from the workbench at equal speed and the two met in the middle of my workshop, where they fell to the floor. I am not at all sure what to make of that, but I have discovered that it works much better if the pieces of wood are of unequal sizes, the more unequal the better.

Also, I have learned that the seeker is not too good about going round corners; it works best if there are no obstacles between the seeker and its mate.

Included with this message is a largish block of wood; if you look closely you'll see where I have cut a sliver from one side. Please put the block in a basket in the open air, in a place where you can clearly see L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau in the sky. Tomorrow morning I shall attach a message to the sliver, and send it off to you. I shall send it at about nine of the clock; and for this experiment I will send it slowly. It should take about an hour to reach you—if it reaches you at all. Should it work such a distance, I will begin to work on increasing the speed.

Amelie and Anne-Marie are both quite well, and Brigitte is spoiling them both, though possibly not for much longer; I think we shall see Jean-Baptists and Brigitte settled in their own home quite soon. Please give our regards to Élise!


Next letter

photo credit: ianpreston Wood Pigeon DSCN2398 via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica- Luc Touchard (24 Septembre 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have, perhaps, found my lad, though I am not sure how well he will like it. For that matter, I am not sure how well I will like it. His name is Luc Touchard. He's a smaller lad than most in Bertrand's crew, and he is both quick and quick-witted. He may have the Former's Gift; I think he does, but it is too soon to tell.

Two things are necessary to the making of a master former. (I can hear my father's voice echoing in my head as I write. How I used to loath his lectures, and how essential I shall find them now!) Two things are necessary, as I say. The lad must have the Gift, and the lad must have the wit. "A stupid fellow with the Gift might find work at one of His Majesty's shipyards, providing brute strength to a team of formers, but he will never be able to work on his own or to represent the Guild in any way!" So quoth my father to me on many occasions; and he nearly always followed it up with, "Is that what you want for yourself, lad? I won't have it, I tell you! I won't have it!"

Luc has the wit; and he may well have the Gift. Of all the boys here on the island, he alone might have both. I can look farther afield if I must, but one thing at a time.

This morning I found Bertrand in the mess hall (for the boys whose families are down below eat and sleep here on Le Blaireau) and told him to bring his lads to see me in my workshop this afternoon; and that I'd arranged with some of the young men to take over the watch for that period of time.

"Oh, monsieur," he said. "You don't want to do that. They won't keep watch as well as we do." He's a proud lad, is Bertrand; and of course, being captain of the boys gives him considerable prestige.

"Not to worry, Bertrand, it's just for this afternoon. I'm looking for a lad to help me with my work."

His face got pale. " Moi, monsieur? But—"

"You are perfectly well-employed where you are, Bertrand. You're doing excellent work. But one of your lads might have the skills I need. I won't know until I speak with them." Bertrand is a sharp lad, but I have worked with him enough to be quite sure that he hasn't the Gift.

"Oui, monsieur."

I lunched with Amelie and little Anne-Marie, and when I came out to my workshop, I found Bertrand and his lads in residence. Or, rather, all but one of them. Bertrand was sitting on my workbench with his lieutenant Jean-Marc by his side, and ten or twelve other lads lolled about on the floor, but one was missing.

"Bertrand, where's the other boy?"

"Other boy, monsieur?" Bertrand is skilled at getting in trouble, or at least he was before I put him in harness, but his facial expressions are most transparent.

"Yes, the other boy. I don't know his name, but I have often seen him with you and Jean-Marc."

Bertrand shrugged a little, and continued trying to look blank.

"I saw him sitting next to you at breakfast this morning. Sandy hair? About a head shorter than you?"

At that, Bertrand deflated. "Oui, monsieur." He dropped down from the workbench and straggled out the door and around the corner, returning only a moment later with the boy I remembered. Apparently the lad had been listening from out of sight.

"And what's your name, lad?" I asked.

"Luc Touchard," he said.

"Your father's a farmer?"

"Oui, monsieur."

"Bon. Now, lads, here's what we're about. I'm looking for a smart young fellow to help me here in my workshop. I'm going to speak to each of you in private, over there; and when I'm done with you, you can go about your business. If you were to be on watch this afternoon, you can take a sled and go to your post; otherwise, you can do whatever you normally do. Do not come back to my workshop to talk with your friends. Got that?"

"Oui, monsieur," they all said, and inwardly I marveled. Authority is a peculiar thing, and somehow I have acquired it! I should never even have attempted to control such a large group of boys when I first came to Armorica.

"Bertrand, I rely on you and Jean-Marc to keep order. As I finish with each boy send the next along. Jean-Marc can come last." Jean-Marc is another boy that I know quite well; he hasn't the gift either, and truthfully I didn't intend to speak to him at all.

Bertrand nodded, but he had a gloomy expression on his face.

I walked across to the avenue to a bench outside the door to my quarters, and we began.

I have never examined candidates for apprenticeship before, and my memories of my own examination are dim; not that there was any chance that a son of my father's line would lack the Gift. But fortunately it is one of the things I was required to write into my grimoire prior to becoming a journeyman (not that I was ever allowed to journey); for a journeyman is on the way to being a master, and a master must know how to examine an apprentice.

The Gift cannot be seen with the naked eye, not quite. There are certain marks to look for: a certain cast to the eyes, a certain set of the chin. Formers tend to have long, thin fingers. These marks I could look for without commenting on them, and I did so. Then there were the questions. What was his earliest memory? Did he ever dream of strange lights? Had he heard voices not his own in the darkness? If so, what did they say? There are a number of these. No man now living knows what they mean, or why formers so often give the same answers to them, so my father said. But they do.

One lad, a dull, thick, fellow, had the chin and fingers I was looking for; and he had often dreamed of lights, among other things, but I could tell he would not do. He was a good lad, stolid and eager to please, but he lacked that spark of wit. In my father's hands he might make a steady but boring living in the shipyards, given a team of brighter formers to work with, but we were not doing that sort of work, nor do two formers make a team. I made a note of his name, though. The time might come when he can be of use, and his future children will be worth watching.

Others had one or two of the marks, or answered a question or two in the desired way, but this, my notes assured me, was not uncommon.

And finally there were three boys sitting across the way: Bertrand, Jean-Marc, and Luc. I waved, and Bertrand gritted his teeth and told Luc to go. Luc looked uncertain, and Bertrand shouted at him, and he came over hanging his head.

I'd feared it would come down to this. Luc had the eyes, and the chin; he had the fingers; and as I spoke with him it became clear that he also had the wit. He answered the questions well. I finished with a question that wasn't on the list.

"Bertrand seems to be a little upset. Can you tell me why?"

He shrugged, his face still downcast. He knew, all right, but he wasn't telling.

"Very well. If your father agrees, Luc, you are going to be working here with me in my shop as my apprentice. I will speak with him. For now, you may go."

"Oui, monsieur." He ran off, his head still down.

I walked over to where Bertrand and Jean-Marc were sitting.

"Thank you for your help, Bertrand," I said. "Luc will be working with me, now, I believe. You may go."

Bertrand was scowling as he went off. I shall have to find out what is behind that.

Next letter
photo credit: Dai Lygad Cat nap via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica- Lumber (21 Septembre 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Ask me for anything but lumber!

Wood we have a-plenty—L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau is heavily forested, as are the surrounding lands below—but of seasoned lumber we have but little, and we need far more than we have. Lumber for housing here on the island, lumber for sky-chairs, wagons, and sleds, and just plain wood for cooking, these are in short supply. The problem is particularly acute now that I am working on the design for our transport wagons, which will have a minimum of formed parts. When I was hardening everything, it mattered little whether the wood was seasoned or not: once hardened, a plank will no longer warp or splinter. But our transport wagons will not be hardened, and so seasoned wood is essential.

Gah! I have been going over and over this in my head so that I can hardly sleep. I try to break it down. We must fell trees. We must cut them into timbers, which is slow work; we have no sawmill in Bois-de-Bas. We must let the timbers season; which means getting them under cover, which means we need to build sheds.

That's if we do all of the work here on the island; which means it's probably better to do it downside and store the timbers in Jean-le-Marique's woodshed. But that means moving some of the men back to Bois-de-Bas, a thing I am most reluctant to do. I suppose it is for the best, though. If we fell too many trees here on the island, the gaps will be immediately apparent to anyone who cares to look, and then where would we be?

But what shall we do for lumber in the meantime?

Marc tells me I must not worry. Folk have lived without sky wagons for all of recorded history until now; we will need to make war on le Maréchal's forces without them for a time. In the meantime, he says, we need more sleds and chairs. He has found the sleds to be the most effective way to get sentinels to and from their posts, just as we have here on the island; and he needs the chairs to build his lines of communication with the surrounding towns. A sky chair is much faster than a horse or mule, and can easily be hidden in the woods, out of sight.

Already he has sent messengers north and south, to Bois-de-Soleil and to Trouville, to speak to the leading men there and to sound them out. We must be careful; it is by no means clear that our neighbors will share our views. In addition, he has sent men on sleds to scout the road west towards Mont-Havre. The Provençese will be wondering what has happened to the sloops they sent our way, and the next wave of troops will likely be on foot. We must know where they are based, and when they are coming; and we must have plans to drive them away.

Marc, blessings upon him, has not asked me to participate in this planning, nor to use my gifts to create more weapons of war beyond those I have already designed. Yet I find that I am uneasy in my mind. When I sit of an evening, and hold my daughter, my beautiful Anne-Marie, I am filled with a kind of ferocity in which I would gladly destroy anyone who might threaten her, yes, and sow their fields with salt besides. But then I reflect that even the wicked Capitaine Le Clerc was a mother's son, and possibly also the father of children, children who are now orphans, and I find that my ferocity fades away.

Amelie, I may say, has no such qualms. "If les cochons come here, why, we will deal with them," she says. "They may live for all of me, so long as they live somewhere else, n'est-ce-pas?" And Madame Truc agrees with her. "You are too good for this war, mon fils," she says. "Mon cher mari and I did not come here to be hounded by the men of the old country. If he were here, zut alors! He would show them a thing."

If we are confined to using green wood for the coming months, then I must harden it; and if I must harden it, I must have an apprentice. Tomorrow I will start testing Bertrand's lads; perhaps one of them will have the gift.

Next letter

photo credit: marcoverch Nahaufnahme eines Stapels Brennholz via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica- Anne-Marie (14 Septembre 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

And so now I am a father, and Amelie and I have a beautiful daughter. We have named her Anne-Marie.

It is the strangest thing to hear her little cries, oh so tiny, in this camp of war. She is not the only infant in Bois-de-Bois, indeed, but none of the smaller children have come to L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau to date: Bertrand and his lads are the youngest.

I was not present for the birth, no of course not. When Amelie's time came, Madame Poquerie send Jacques to town with a sky-chair to fetch the mid-wife, and when he returned, Madame Truc, Madame Poquerie and Brigitte drove me from her Amelie's bedside.

"This is women's work, mon fils," said Madame Truc to me. "Go away. We will call you when it is over."

I suppose much the same would have happened had we been living in Yorke; although in Yorke I'd just have been banished to another part of the house, there to pace or pretend to busy myself with work or to get drunk (as many new fathers do, so I am told).

But our living space on the former sloop Le-Blaireau is too small for that. I found myself pacing up and down the original portion of the Avenue, from the bank to Le Blaireau and then through it to a sort of balcony where I can look out on the other two sloops, not yet warped into place.

It is a short distance to pace. But on my third return to the bank I found Marc waiting for me; and he and the other men of Grand-Blaireau led me away to the bath house, there to distract me from what was going on in my quarters. There was hot water, and laughter, and, yes, a vast quantity of ale. I can feel it in my head even now. Marc talked about the rebellion, and I talked about our plans for building sky-wagons and how to make the best of our time and our limited lumber supply.

Our current wagons are simple pieces of work with open railings on the sides. The wood is hardened throughout, so they are nearly indestructible, but because they are open they do not offer much protection to the men or goods inside them. But because they are hardened everywhere they are costly in our dearest coin, which is to say my time and effort. That is not work which I can delegate.

I suppose I must find an apprentice. That will be hard, for it is rare to find a lad with the talent to become a former; and then, of course, as a journeyman I am forbidden by guild law to take and train an apprentice. How I wish I knew whether my father or his rival granted me my mastership! Even now, my master's chain may be waiting for me in Mont-Havre, or perhaps hiding in some Provençese commander's coffer. If only I could know that were so! It is the position that matters, not the possession.

But that sky-ship has sailed. I might as well be hanged for a goat as a kid.

And so I must change the design of the sky-wagons. I have decided that we need two kinds: one for general transport, and one for carrying men into battle. The first will be similar to our current wagons in appearance, but only the lifting and control elements will be formed and hardened. In the main, they shall simply be normal wood—and, alas, sometimes green wood at that, for there is no time to allow it all to season. The second kind will have solid rather than opened sides for protection, with loopholes through which the men might shoot at their enemies, and will be hardened throughout. There, at least, the greenness of the wood will be no hindrance, for once the wood is hardened it will no longer matter.

Marc thinks that it might be desirable to have two classes of transport wagon: one as I have described, and perhaps a second kind containing lifting elements only—and that only enough to keep the wagon-bed level and off the ground. This latter kind would be pulled by horses or mules. He is thinking that they would be quicker to build in quantity, as they would take less of my time, and would be more useful in rough terrain than normal ground wagons with wheels. I disagree; much of Armorica is forested, and a ground wagon, whether floating or wheeled, cannot get through the woods without cutting a path through the trees. A true sky-wagon can always ascend above the tree tops.

The discussions and revelry continued through the night, though not of course at the bath house all of that time, or we would have become waterlogged. And then, as the dawn was breaking, Madame Truc came to us and told me that Amelie was perfectly well and had given me a baby girl.

I joined them; and then I could not sleep, so I have been writing this. Marc has ordered me to rest today, and perhaps tomorrow as well: to take joy in my little Anne-Marie, to take care of Amelie, and to sleep as and when I can; and to start again in earnest on my work the day after.

This is not the future I imagined for my child, born into war and rebellion. I imagined living quietly with Amelie in our shop, with our sons and daughters around us, learning the trade, and perhaps finding that one of my lads had the skill to follow me as a former. Instead, here we are, at war with Provençe, and perhaps with some of our Armorican countrymen too. Here I am, building weapons of war. I suppose it is little different than what I would have been doing had I stayed in Yorke, under my father's thumb; for surely the Former's Guild is involved in the construction of His Majesty's navy, and I expect that other work is at a standstill. I am merely working retail rather than wholesale. But I look forward to the day when we may live in peace here, and my creations may transport goods rather than men-at-arms.

Next Letter
photo credit: Norbert Reimer Gimpel via photopin (license)