Monthly Archives: March 2019

Letters from Armorica- The Strays (10 January 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

We had two unexpected visitors at the shop today, two quite different visitors; and yet, there's a certain similarity between them.

The most recent storm passed yesterday afternoon, leaving the sky clear, the air still and cold, and the homes of Bois-de-Bas nearly buried in snow. There is nothing so quiet in my experience as a small village in the early hours when the snow lies thick on the ground. Certainly I heard nothing like it in Yorke, a city which is never, ever quiet, not at any time.

But perhaps because of the shrouding snow, some noises travel more easily: laughter from my workshop, and an odd knocking noise from the roof over our heads. The knocking was accompanied by another, softer noise I couldn't quite make out.

The laughter was easily parsed. It was Bertrand, of course, come to see Luc; in the merriment there was a deeper tone with a bit of a catch that I'd come to know quite well over the summer on L'Isle-du-Grand-Blaireau. Lying there in bed I could even detect that furtive note that indicated that the boys were trying (and failing) to be quiet. I knew if I went down I'd find the two of them sitting on the floor by the pot-bellied stove, telling each other stories and drinking my tea.

This was a not infrequent event, though the reasons for it had changed. Part of it was simple friendship, of course; the friendship the two boys had forged on the island was as strong as ever. But on the island, Bertrand had been the Head Boy, the chief of all the others, and while Jean-Marc was his lieutenant, Luc had constituted his general staff. Bertrand gave the orders, and relied on Luc to be sure that they were the right orders. Here in Bois-de-Bas, though, the boys had all returned to their homes and their parents. Bertrand was still chief among them, more or less, but they were no longer on detached duty in the field, as you might say, and the superior officers were now firmly in control.

But independent command can be hard to relinquish, and where Bertrand used to come to Luc to ask for advice, now he comes to ask for sympathy. I gather from the little I have overheard that he finds his father demanding, arbitrary, and unwilling to treat him as anything other than a child. "It's all right for you," he’d told Luc. "You get to work for M. Tuppenny. Mon père thinks I am still a little boy."

And so Bertrand's presence in my workshop was not quite a surprise, but the hour was most unusual. He always has to come early or late, of course, for both boys are fully occupied by their chores and other duties during the day, but this was early even for him. I suspected that M. Laveau, Bertrand's father, must have committed some supreme enormity (in Bertrand's eyes) to drive him to our house in the cold of the very early morning.

Neither Luc nor Bertrand has ever applied to me for help in this matter; nor have I spoken to M. Laveau but once, last Novembre, when I praised Bertrand to him on our return from the island. I have been resolved not to meddle unless they asked; but now I thought that I should perhaps have a quiet word with him.

As I lay there, pondering what to do, the knocking sound on the roof grew more insistent. Amelie rolled over and said in a sleepy voice, "Cher Armand, you must go see what it is." This was easier said than done, for it took me some time to prepare to go outside, and then when I got outside I immediately had to go back inside for thicker gloves and a shot of liquid courage.

When I stepped outside the house, that soft noise I could not quite make out clarified into a high-pitched nasal bleating: the chilling sound of an angry goat. I did not delay, I did not investigate further, I did not venture out into the snow, but instead I beat a hasty retreat into the house in search of any protective gear I could find. At last I had to settle for my oldest clothing: not as warm as what I had been wearing, but the least loss if rubbing against the goat's hide tore them to shreds. Then, and only then, I went back outside.

The goat was on the roof, straddling the ridge line. I recognized it immediately by a patch of white and gray on its forehead: it was one of the ewes from Marc's small herd that I'd first met while tending the goats on Onc' Herbert's farm, and then had had to milk regularly on L'Isle-du-Grand-Blaireau for the sake of Amelie and my little Anne-Marie. In civilized countries like Cumbria and Provençe I understand that it is often the farmer’s wife or the dairy maid who milks the cows and goats; but in Armorica it is man's work, and justly so. And sometimes the goat wins.

When the ewe saw me, it—for I cannot bring myself to call it "she"—gave a long piercing bleat, then vanished down the back slope of the roof where the snow drifts were deepest.

I ran back onto the porch and opened the door to the workshop. The two boys looked up in horror at being caught.

"Luc," I said, "find me a bucket, tout-de-suite. Bring it to me here. Bertrand, we have a goat problem. I shall need you to take a message to M. Frontenac."

Their eyes widened; the horror remained. No one, not anyone, fails to take Armorican goats seriously.

By the time I close the door the goat was upon me, butting me with its head—not in anger, but also not gently. There is nothing gentle about Armorican goats. I managed to keep my feet, and was able to take the bucket from Luc when he thrust it through the barely open door.

"Now fetch me a rope!" I said.

Fortunately the goat was eager to be milked, which is not to say that the process was easy or quick. But I got it done with only a few bruises and the loss of one trouser leg, and by that time dawn had brightened the sky and Bertrand had gotten his warm coat back on. With his help I managed to get a loop of rope around the goat's neck and tie it off to a post at the corner of the house.

"Now, Bertrand, I need you to go tell M. Frontenac that I have his goat."

"Oui, M. Tuppenny. But mon père…."

"I shall let him know," I said. "But be quick—that rope won't hold the ewe for long."

I sent Luc with a message to M. Laveau; and in due course Marc and Elise drove up in their sleigh with a length of leather-clad chain suitable for leading a recalcitrant goat. We had them with us for the noon meal, and then finally Amelie, Luc, and I were able to get on with things—I with a small limp, but I counted it cheap at the price.

Tomorrow morning I shall have to visit M. Laveau in person.

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- Small Victories (8 January 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Of late it has seemed that every problem is mine to solve; but I find that I am mistaken, and in the most pleasant possible way. My Amelie has undertaken to teach young Luc to read! She will teach him as she herself was taught: his numbers first, and figuring, and then his letters, and then she will teach him to keep accounts. This is an unusual skill for a former, at least in Yorke where the Guild has a certain dignity, but it is quite a practical one for one in a little town in Armorica where being a former is not much grander than being a shopkeeper. A former can starve as easily as anyone else if he doesn't mind his expenses.

So he will work with her in the shop in the morning while he is fresh, and with me in my workshop in the afternoons; and then in the evenings I will resume reading aloud to Amelie, and we shall have Luc join us. If I pick the tales appropriately (or, perhaps, inappropriately, in my mother's view) I think he shall soon develop a taste for the written word.

As a result of this new program, I happened to find myself alone in the workshop with Jacques-le-Souris yesterday, a storm having kept the other elders of the village by their firesides. He was passing the time by telling me an improbable story of a tame grand-blaireau that developed a taste for cognac—a story I firmly believe he was making up as he went along. A lull came after he related an episode in which the beast got stuck in the cellar of a tavern in Old Mont-Havre, having demolished the stairs in its drunken lurchings, and so had to be extricated by a team of men with horses and ropes and a net; and during that lull I struck.

"Jacques, tell me truly. M. Truc was killed by a grand-blaireau decades ago, and you have remained at Madame Truc's side all of the time since then; but you have never married her. Why not?" I didn't look at him as I said this, but continued polishing the bed-warmer I was forming.

He tried to evade the issue. "Oh, but Armand, Madame Truc is a widow of the most fierce! You know this. Who would willingly bind himself to such a woman? Only my old friend Edmond, only he would be brave enough."

"And yet, you seem to have done so," I said.

"Moi? Oh, no, cher Armand. I am not bound to her." He started looking around the room, as if to find a means of escape. "Her husband asked me to take care of her with his dying breath, vraiment, but I am a free man, moi!. I am a rover. I go where I please and do what I please!"

"This is true, my friend. I have often heard your stories. But still…it seems that going where you please often finds you sitting on the settee in my parlor by her side." He began to sweat visibly, but I did not relent. "In fact, Jacques, it seems to me that you have been a husband to her in all ways but the most central for all of these many years."

"She is, she is, a woman of the most proper," he said.

A thought struck me.

"Jacques," I said, "how is it that you first came to be called Jacque-le-Souris, Jacques the mouse?"

"Why, Madame Truc began to call me that, some time after—"

"After her husband died?"

He nodded sadly.

"And still you did nothing?"

"She is a woman tres formidable, Armand," he said, sadly.

"C'est vrai. But still, she has had many years to accept another's offer, and she has not done so."

Jacques got a look in his eye. Clearly this was a new thought.

"Do you think—"

"That she has been waiting for you to declare yourself? I do." In all honesty, Dear Journal, I was less certain than I let on. But I continued to meddle anyway. "I do believe that you will find her in the parlor with Anne-Marie. Perhaps she might like some company?"

Jacque humphed a bit in his colorful flavor of Provençese, and tried to go back to his tale about the drunken grand-blaireau, but after perhaps a quarter of an hour of fidgeting and sweating he made a paltry sort of excuse and left the workshop.

I have no definite news to report, but Madame Truc and Jacques-le-Souris kept shooting glances at each other over the dinner table this afternoon when they each thought the other wasn't looking. Something has changed; and as I haven't heard Madame utter a sharp-tongued word all day it is clear she has been given pause to think. I have the highest hopes for our living situation.

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- Lessons (4 January 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have made the most distressing discovery—young Luc does not know how to read and write!

This afternoon, as a break from shaping bed-warmers out of bronzewood, I set him to begin to copy my grimoire. This is how it has always been done: each former has his grimoire, in which he records how to form all of the things he knows how to form. He begins by copying his master's grimoire; and as times goes on he adds his own discoveries, and so the craft progresses. Master Netherington-Coates of the guild house in Yorke once told me that he had copied his grimoir several times, adding notes and amendments to the earlier entries and perfecting the latter ones, and expected to do so several more times over the course of his life. It is sage advice, and I intend to follow it as I can.

My father, perhaps needless to say, did not. When I copied his grimoire as an apprentice, the main body of the book was all in his schoolboy hand. Jealous as he is of protecting his status as a master former, he is far more a politician than a former.

And so this afternoon, I judged it both prudent and merciful to give Luc a rest from shaping bronzewood and from my own windy lectures, and let him get on with making his own copy. I pulled a blank ledger from our store room, that being what was available, and pen-and-ink, and sat him down at his bench to begin.

"This is your grimoire," I said, handing it to him. "And here is mine. It contains everything I know about forming. Over the next few months you will be copying it over; and by the time you are a journeyman you will know what all of it means. Here is pen and ink; best you get started."

I was discussing the news of the day with the gentlemen gathered at the front of my workshop—M. Simard has been helping M. Gagnon to remove the last of the red paint from the Gagnon's front door, and suchlike matters of import—when Old Edouard jerked his head at me and made a pointed glance over my shoulder. I turned to look and found that Luc was sitting on his stool, head down, utterly still.

I walked over to him, quietly as good be, and looked over his shoulder. My grimoire and his own lay open before him. There were no marks on the page; the pen still lay where I had placed it.

"Luc, what's the matter?" I said.

Behind me I heard the door open; I glanced back and saw Jacques-le-Souris waving the other gentlemen through the door into Amelie's shop. He winked at me, and followed them out.

Luc looked up at me, his face the very picture of misery, and shook his head.

"All you need to do is read what's there, and then copy it down. Much of it won't make sense to you, but that is quite all right for now."

He shook his head again, and looked down. It was very strange; I had always found him to be both willing and able to do anything I asked of him.

"Luc," I began, and his shoulders hunched. A thought came to me. "Luc, you do know how to read and write, don't you?"

His shoulders hunched in tighter.

I pulled the stool over from my bench and sat down next to him. "You don't know how to read and write," I said. He made the tiniest little shake of his head.

"How on earth do you not know how to read and write?"

He shrugged. I stopped. I'd known a boy, once, who seemed to be simply unable to learn. He said the words swam around before his eyes. Could Luc be like that? But—

"Luc, what about Bertrand and the other boys. Do they know how to read and write?"

"Some do, some don't, Master Tuppenny. It all depends," he said in a tiny voice.

"On what?"

"On their parents."

I thought about the buildings in the village. The church, our shop, the various houses.

"There is no school here, is there?"

"No, Master Tuppenny," he said, without turning to look at me. "Are you going to send me away now, master?"

"What?" I was quite taken aback. "Send you away? What nonsense! You're my responsibility, young Luc. It's my job to teach you what you need to know to be a former."

"Oh," he said, and I saw his shoulders relax a bit.

I picked up my grimoire, and the pen and ink.

"Put your grimoire away for now; you'll want it later. In the meantime go back to the warmer you were working on. I must go talk to Madame Tuppenny."

And indeed I do, though that will wait until I am done with this journal entry. Mostly I wanted time to think, and to tell Jacques and Edouard and the others that it was safe to return to the comfort of my workshop.

I must teach Luc to read and write, and that will be a challenge. I taught Amelie to read, but her father had taught her her letters and how to figure. She could read and write names of things well enough, or at least recognize them and copy them well enough to keep accounts. And she'd acquired a love of stories from her father's reading to her. Luc hasn't even that basic foundation.

I fear I have been leaving him too much alone in the evenings. I shall have to consult with Amelie as to which of the books we have would be the most exciting for a young boy.

Next letter

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