Letters from Armorica- The Gathering Place (15 December 34 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It is all as I have feared.

Everyone smiled broadly and greeted me warmly at divine services this past Sonnedi morning. It was the same at Sonnedi dinner at the Tremblay's—and I was made to sit at M. Tremblay's right hand, with Amelie by my side. It was a worrying thing, for never before had I sat much above the bottom of the table.

Precedence, I have found, is very important to the Provençese settlers of Armorica. I saw this at Madame Truc's table back in Mont-Havre, of course, and it is the same here. But Madame had only to consult her own desires and the events of the day, for hers was mostly a gathering of strangers; but here it is a thing I have never understood, a thing of a complex of relationships and shared experience and favors given and favors owed and old feuds and old alliances, none of which am I familiar with.

I said as much to Amelie on our way to the hot springs.

"Naturellement, mon cher," she said. "And that is why." But she wouldn't say anything more.

And then, in the hot springs, I was made to sit at Onc' Herbert's corner of the grotto, in Onc' Herbert's own place. There was much hooting and many broad grins as Marc escorted me there and sat me down. It is a spot with a clear view of the rest of the grotto, and from which my voice could be clearly heard throughout if I raised it event a little. I discovered this when I sat down and found that the water in that spot was rather hotter than I expected, for I made some exclamation or other. There were cheers and many rude gestures, and Marc said to me, "Bien sur, Armand. We would not wish you to be too comfortable." But he sat down to my right, where I am sure the water was not much cooler.

For what it was worth, no one called upon me to pronounce judgement on anything. The will of the village had been made plain in the most concrete possible way; and the business of the day being concluded, I was left to stew in peace.

As I stewed there, in mind as in body, I tried to remember how Onc' Herbert had behaved. He rarely spoke, that I recalled, at least not to everyone. The hot springs are a social place, so of our course everyone chats to those around them, and there is a certain amount of to-ing and fro-ing. But sometimes the conversation becomes general, and everyone quiets down and listens. At those times Onc' Herbert listened with the rest; and at length would ask a question or two; and a little later might have something to say on the matter. Then he might answer some questions, and the general conversation would break down into smaller groups again.

"It wasn't that Onc' Herbert was in charge," I said to Marc. "It was that everyone trusted him."

"He was in charge, mon ami," said Marc in my ear. "He was in charge because they trusted him, "n'est-ce pas?"

"I see I shall have to work on my reliability," I said, and Marc thumped me on the shoulder.

And these last few days, things have been appearing in my workshop. My workshop is typical for Bois-de-Bas, being built to a pattern: a front door, a broad space for customers, a counter, and the workshop proper behind that, where I have tool racks, a work bench, and other appurtenances of the former's profession, and not the least welcome, a wood-burning stove. The space in front of the counter had remained largely empty, for I seldom had more than one customer at a time.

When I entered it on Monday morning, I found Jacques Poquêrie installing another wood-burning stove in the corner. When I returned from my midday dinner with Amelie and Anne-Marie, I found that a low-backed settee had been placed below the windows, facing the counter. A rocking chair soon joined it, and a low table with a chess set.

Jacques-le-Souris spent much of today in the rocking chair, and many of the older men in the village have been in and out of the workshop all day, chatting with Jacques and with each other. I recognize all of them, of course, but many I have never spoken to, not more than two words; for it was mostly the women of the village who came to our shop proper in the short time I was at the counter there with Amelie, and there were only young folk on L'Isle du Grand-Blaireau. Each of them greeted me, and gave me their names if I didn't already know them. It is fortunate that a former's training requires a great deal of memorization!

I followed my resolve to listen and say little, and spent my time hardening cookware and pondering what else I might form during this stretch of uneasy peace. It is hard to ponder when your workshop has become a parlor! But I said nothing of this, to them or to Amelie.

But she understands, of course. "It is tres difficile, je connais," she said to me last night as we climbed into bed under Old Man Blaireau's majestic pelt. "But I am so proud!"

My father shows his authority to everyone by always dressing richly and wearing his grandmaster's chain if anyone might see him. My master's chain, which I coveted so when I was younger, remains in its case; and my authority is shown by the presence of old men in my workshop and by my place in the hot springs, where, truly, any attire at all would be quite out of place. It is a strange place, compared to Yorke, Armorica is; or perhaps it is Yorke that is the strange place.

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photo credit: Martin Cathrae The Standoff via photopin (license)