Monthly Archives: June 2019

Letters from Armorica- Speculations (30 March 35 AF)

Dear Journal,

I have worked from dawn until well after dusk for the past two weeks, and I believe I have now re-hardened all of the dishes and cookware in Bois-de-Bas. Also, I have collected nearly all of the warming blocks; stack upon stack of them clutter the back corner of our store room, each stack tied together with twine and carefully labeled. I have room for them all only because supplies are so low after the winter.

The interval was not without its points of interest, though I have been unable to record them until now. Mme. Coterie, about whom the less said the better, tried to trick me into hardening an old set of plates that had never before appeared in my shop. I did so, and then charged her the normal rate for them. She declined to pay, and when I insisted, she repined, she moaned, she bewailed, she threw herself on my mercy, and my mercy not availing she grew fierce, and cast doubt on my parentage. I threw her over to the mercy of my wife, who has none in such cases, and having paid she departed, grumbling.

M. Gascon, on the other hand, simply refused to hand over his warming blocks. He has pains in his joints, he told me, and needs the warmth all the year round. In fact, he thanked me over and over again for the invention, for he says he was snugger this winter than in any of the past ten years! He is a widower, and takes his meals with the family next door, and so perhaps it will do no harm to let him keep them.

As for me, my life has been too effortful for me to forward my study of effort, as I call it; but though it is tedious and tiring, it takes not much thought to harden a shipload of plates, and so I have had much time for reflection as I worked.

I do not know what effort is, but I plainly see that it is part of the world, and is all around us. If I were to travel to a new land where no man has ever been, and there form a warming block, I have no doubt that the warming block would warm me up nicely. I now see that it would do so by drawing effort from my immediate vicinity.

I also see that hardened objects somehow concentrate effort, making it available for use by formed objects such as warming blocks. Putting the two in proximity establishes a flow of effort from one to the other. The plate or the pot concentrates the effort, and the block somehow receives it, uses it, and then—what? Disperses it? It is gone, in any event; it does not return to the concentrator.

Why doesn't the warming block simply draw effort from the area around it once the effort concentrated by the hardened pot is gone? Why does it proceed to consume the pot itself? And where does the dispersed effort go?

The good news is that it does seem that proximity is required: I spoke with Marc today, and he had indeed been keeping his sky-sled in the shed for his oxen, which he had been warming with my warming blocks.

A warming block can function indefinitely if there are no hardened goods nearby; this I believe. Hardened goods remain hardened indefinitely if there are nothing draining the effort from them; this I know for a fact for at home in Yorke we have dishware that was hardened by my great-great-grandfather. Bring them together, and the one devours the other.

And yet, the great sky-ships, and even the sloops we took from the Provençese in the war, combine hardened elements with motivating elements, and yet these do not devour each other. Are motivating elements somehow different than warming ones? It seems not, or Marc's sky-sled would not have crashed. Both must disperse concentrated effort.

This gives me hope: there is a way to make the two things work together. Perhaps now that I have dealt with all of the dishware in Bois-de-Bas I will have time to try a few things.

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- The Flood Begins (16 March 35 AF)

Dear Journal,

The flood has began.

The weather is warming and the snow is melting, the village will be all over mud in a week; but I do not speak of that, but of the ladies of Bois-de-Bas.

Mme. Tremblay came to my shop two days ago, holding the shards of a broken plate. Mme. Simard the butcher's wife came later that day with more. Yesterday they were followed by others.

I had been dreading their arrival, which I knew could not be long delayed; what I had not expected was their diffidence.

"M. Tuppenny," said Mme. Tremblay with an embarrassed smile, "I do not know what I have done. See, the plate, it is in pieces." As though it were somehow her fault for mishandling it, when the whole point of hardened dishes is that they cannot be mishandled.

Except, of course, they can, it seems; and M. Tremblay had been one of the first to buy my warming blocks for his household. I had my answer ready, and making a mental note to thank Luc once again for his perspicacity, I said to her, "Yes, Mme. Tremblay, I know, my Amelie is having the same difficulty. It is nothing you have done. I believe it is something to do with the warming blocks I made for your husband."

Her eyes grew wide, and more than a little indignant. "C'est impossible! I have never—" and she shook her head vigorously—"I, I have never brought them into the kitchen!"

"Nevertheless," I said, "it seems to have something to do with them. Le thaumaturgie, n'est-ce-pas? It is unaccountable." I waggled my fingers.

"Oui, oui, quite unaccountable," she said, nodding wisely as if she knew anything about forming. "So what are we to do?" Now that I had accepted responsibility, as it were, her tone was quite different: the word "we" clearly meant, "You, M. Tuppenny, you!"

"Fortunately," I said, "the weather is warming. If you will have M. Tremblay bring me all of your warming blocks, I will disable them; and if you bring me your dishes I shall harden them once again, and you should have no further trouble."

"But the blocks! L'hiver, it may return next week!"

"Yes, I know, and I hope to find out what is causing the damage so that we can prevent it in the future. But it will take me some time, and meanwhile, your dishes…." I shrugged.

She was forced to agree. "But the blocks, we have paid for them." She looked at me sharply. "You will note down in your ledger that we have returned them, and if they cannot be made safe, zut alors!" Which was quite strong language for Mme. Tremblay.

"Yes, of course. Leave them with Amelie, and she will make the necessary notations. As for your crockery and pots, you may bring them to me."

And with that she had to be satisfied; and with that I had to be satisfied.

And then I went over to the shop, and had a few words with my wife.

"Amelie, dearest," I said, "I have just discovered that Mme. Tremblay has been using some of my warming blocks as plate and pot warmers in her kitchen. Have you, just possibly, been doing the same?"

Her eyebrows flew up—not at the question, but at the degree of my husbandly inattention. "Mais, oui" she said. "It has been so cold, and to put the hot food on cold plates—brrrrrr." She pretended to shiver, which I fear quite distracted me from the main issue for a little time.

"I see," I said at length. "And I suppose you've discussed this with the other ladies in the hot springs?"

She shrugged enormously. "Mais, oui. How not?"

"Yes, I thought so. You must stop using them thus, I am afraid—it is this, I think, that has been damaging your plates."

"O!" she cried.

"Yes," I said. "And I fear the cost of it will be great for us." I told her what I told Mme. Tremblay, and she began to cry.

"O, Armand, I am so sorry, me. I was so proud of you, and so excited, n'est-ce-pas, to share my new trick with the others."

"No, no," I said, "I would have suggested it myself, had I thought of it. No, the fault is all mine. I am trying new things, do you see, and so am finding surprises. It will be a costly mistake, but we will get through it."

We comforted each other for a few more moments, until we heard a customer's footsteps on the porch.

And now the word has spread. We have had to clear a section of the store room, which is now taken up with disabled warming blocks, and my workshop is filled with baskets and sacks of crockery, and I have been working long hours re-hardening dishes.

It has been truly fatiguing, for I must inspect the dishes carefully: if they are undamaged there is no point in expending any effort in hardening them, and yet the inspection itself takes effort. My effort, my own personal effort, that is.

And yet I am glad, for one mystery, at least, is explained, and there is one bright spot. My conjectures are correct, there is some link between the hardened plates and the warming blocks; and if they can be kept separate perhaps the effect will be greatly lessened.

But other mysteries remain. What of Marc's accident with his sky-sled? Why did it fail? I had been considering that it was something of the same kind, that somehow I had exceeded some degree of balance between the number of formed objects that absorb effort, like hardened dishes, and those that consume effort, like warming blocks and sky-sleds, and so there was not enough effort available to keep the sky-sled in the air. But the effect of the warming blocks on the plates seems to be governed by proximity in some way, and Marc's sky-sled was hidden in a shed on his, away from the house-hold.

Which shed, I wonder? Was it near the animals? Perhaps, was it near the goat pen? And perhaps, has Marc been using warming blocks to keep the goats warm? Foolish behavior, if so, for Armorican goats are known to be indestructible. More likely it was the oxen, if so. I must speak to him. Would that I had thought of this yesterday, so I could have spoken to him at the springs this afternoon!

And now I must lay down my pen and pay a visit to Patches the goat in her pen lest she feel lonely in the night and break out to come visit me. Even with her protective gear it is unpleasant to find her at my bedside.

Somehow when I left Yorke I thought that life would be simpler in Armorica. A simple life on the frontier, that is what I was looking for. Adventure, perhaps, excitement certainly, but simple adventure, simple excitement, not these complexities. Goats, forsooth!

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Letters from Armorica- A Dream of Spirits (11 March 35 AF)

Dear Journal,

I have scarcely been able to sleep these past days, pondering Luc's question: where does the warmth come from? What makes the sky-chairs go? And then, last night—what makes the hardened dishes hard and unbreakable?

I fell into a reverie, there in our darkened room, remembering an absurd notion I'd had, a vision of airy spirits with little hammers and chisels breaking my plates. I had almost an image in my mind of such spirits flying away from my warming blocks in vast cheer and merriment, each tiny spirit bearing a gift of warmth. And other spirits, darker in color, clustering within a dinner plate, their tiny backs pressing against the surfaces, protecting them from knocks and bangs.

It is a foolish idea, and yet in my fatigued state it seemed to me as good an explanation as any I'd considered, and with great satisfaction I was at last able to sleep.

And then this morning I awoke and realized that I'd only put off the problem: even supposing tiny spirits are carrying warmth away from the warming block, where do they get it? Not from the block; I could burn that and get a small amount of warmth, but my warming blocks keep giving.

I was shaving, wincing at the icy water in the basin—for my Amelie prefers me to remain clean-shaven even at the coldest times of the year—when a different image occurred to me. I pictured Amelie's cooking pot, its walls filled with tiny spirits as she prepared dinner. But instead of pushing against the knocks and bangs, the little spirits grabbed them and held them close, filling their little arms with them. And then, in my mind's eye, I pictured a warming block. Spirits were clustered around it—not in it, but around it—and each one had its arms filled with a warm glow. As I watched others joined them.

And then, in my mind's eye, I put the warming block beside the pot…and saw spirits flying from the pot, arms full of knocks and bangs, to the block. And as they approached it the knocks and bangs began to glow.

At that point Amelie interrupted me and pressed a cloth to my cheek, for I had cut myself without noticing.

I have been pondering this all day, sitting beside the stove in my workroom while Luc copies from my grimoire. I do not believe in my little airy spirits, of course, but there is something, some je ne sais quoi, that is shared by all of these things. I hardly know what to call it, or how it can be so.

The best word I have come up with is something like effort. It takes effort to move a sky-chair or a sky-ship. It takes effort to warm a bed. And, although my father taught me to think of hardening as a change in the substance of the thing hardened, it takes effort for a hardened plate or pot to resist knocks and bangs.

Or, no, I see now! I see it! It takes effort to produce the knocks and bangs! It takes effort on the part of an ox to pull a cart, and the cart is moved by it. The effort is produced by the ox, and transmitted to the cart through the yoke, and is so consumed.

And just so is the effort of banging the pot on the stove transmitted to the pot. This wears down a normal pot, which eventually requires the services of a tinker, but in a hardened pot it is somehow taken in, absorbed like this towel absorbs the water from my face. It is taken in, and the plate seems harder because of it.

The warming block receives effort from—where?—and somehow radiates it like warmth from a fire, and we feel it.

It almost seems as if the warming blocks are somehow drawing the absorbed effort away from the hardened dishes and turning it into warmth. Eventually the plates are not only not hardened, but even weakened! And then, because there is less effort available to them, the blocks give off less warmth.

Could it be that simple? I feel that there is something I am missing. Warming blocks should work properly even in the absence of hardened goods. And then, how did my sky-chairs work for so long, over so wide a region, only to start failing now?

I must re-read my grimoire and think deeply about everything it says in the light of these new ideas.

Next letter

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