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!


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