I find that I am all to pieces, so much so that I can hardly write.
Today I conveyed Jean-Baptiste to Bois-de-Bas, where I had not been since being hurried away to L’Isle de Grand-Blaireau back in July. Marc is away with the better part of our young men, seeking alliances and harrying the Provençese wherever they can, so long as it is far distant from here, and so things are quiet in our vicinity. Thus, when Jean-Baptiste came to me and said that he must speak to Brigitte’s father—an event long foreseen, at least by Amelie and I—it seemed much the most natural thing to fly him down myself, and as his friend to vouch for him.
I am happy to say that that all went quite well, and if all remains calm we shall bring a party down from the island on Samedi for the wedding. Though for myself I am not calm at all.
But the prospective nuptials are not what has me all aquiver, whatever effect it may be having on Jean-Baptiste. After the meeting with Brigitte’s father I left Jean-Baptiste and began to make a rounds of the village. I was at the Gagnon’s when M. Tremblay came to find me. I believe I have written of the Tremblays before, great friends of Onc’ Herbert (on whom be peace); and M. Tremblay is overseeing affairs in the village in Marc’s absence. He had with him an odd little man with the look of a solicitor, for he was dressed all in black, with lank straw-colored hair and square spectacles. I had often seen his like in Mont-Havre—or in Yorke, come to that—but never out here, in the countryside. Imagine my surprise when he spoke to me in a broad Cumbrian accent!
He begged leave to speak to me alone, which I readily granted; but rather than going into a room by ourselves he insisted that we walk on the green.
“The better not to be overheard,” he said, speaking now in Provençese, perfectly Armorican Provençese. “You are Armand Massey, son of Burlington Massey of Yorke?”
“I do not use that name any longer,” I said. “Here, I am Armand Tuppenny.”
“Quite so,” he said. “Now, I was directed to ask what it was that you received from your father on your twelfth birthday.”
I stared at him. “I beg your pardon?”
He regarded me somberly through this spectacles. “It is easy to claim that you are Armand Massey; and indeed you match the description I was given. In my profession, however, I must observe all due diligence.”
I began to feel a profound sense of worry. “Has something happened to my…to my parents?”
To my surprise, my visitor smiled slightly.
“No, no, nothing of that kind. Now, I must ask again: what was it that you received from your father on your twelfth birthday?”
“I hardly like to say.”
I sighed. “If you must know, I received a good caning for not having studied my lessons to his satisfaction. I did not sit down for a week.”
“Very good. Though to be precise, it was for defying him in the matter of your forming exercises, was it not?”
“Yes, it was.” That was a detail known only to my father and I. I well remembered the occasion, he and I alone in his sanctum. Very well, this man must be from my father; or, if not, all was already lost in Yorke.
“In that case,” he said, “I have something to show you.”
He led me to the front of the church, which was completely untenanted at this time of week, as though to get out of the wind. We stood with our backs to the green, and he removed a flat box from the side pocket of his coat. He opened the lid, and showed me its contents.
“None of that,” he said, when I reached for it. “All things in due course.”
“But that is my master’s—”
“Not so,” he broke in. “This is a master’s chain of the Former’s Guild in Yorke. It may, perhaps, become your master’s chain. If we can reach an accommodation.” He closed the box and returned it to his pocket. Later, I was able to reflect that this was my father’s mark: never anything without strings attached. At the time I was merely furious.
“What kind of accommodation, monsieur—I do not even know your name.”
“And that is for the best for now. Tell me, M. Massey, where do you stand on the war between Cumbria and le Maréchal?”
I stiffened. “With my Armorican countrymen, monsieur. And my name is Tuppenny.”
“Your Armorican countrymen are divided, M. Tuppenny. Where do you stand?”
“I am quite sure that you know. The cochons have invaded our homes, and abused our people. Armorica will have none of them so long as le Maréchal is in command.”
“Very good. And where do you stand as regards Cumbria?”
“It is the land of my birth.”
“That is good. For I may tell you plainly that Armorica is too weak to stand on its own. This war will end one day; and either le Maréchal or the King’s forces will prevail. And as goes the war, so will go Armorica. Will you support the King in this?”
“What kind of support do you have in mind?”
“Will you speak well of His Majesty to your new…countrymen? Would you provide information to his agents? Would you undertake tasks for him?”
“And if I would not?”
“Le Maréchal‘s men in Mont-Havre are looking for one Armand Tuppenny. They know he has gone to ground, but they do not know where, all of the troops sent in this direction having mysteriously disappeared.”
The thread was plain enough. “And what is to stop you from mysteriously disappearing, monsieur?” I found myself trembling with rage. “I should find it easy enough to take the chain from your corpse, and none here would say me nay.”
The man was unmoved. “That is up to you, of course. But if I do not return to Mont-Havre in good time the information as to your whereabouts will be released to the Provençese commander. And more, once His Majesty’s forces have defeated le Maréchal the Guild in Yorke will repudiate you utterly. You know what guild law entails for such an offense. You see, my friend, that you have little choice.”
I have the chain before me as I write. And I must say, my rage is not for the little man in black, but for my father—my father, who will never simply ask when he can coerce, damn him!