Monthly Archives: July 2019

Letters from Armorica- Inside the Guild Hall (16 May 35 AF)

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Ma chere Amelie,

I have such news! So much news, that I fear I might burst from it.

Yesterday, I must confess, I was disappointed. I met M. Suprenant's locksmith, a rotund fellow who rejoices in the name of Bertrand D'Aubigny, in front of the guild house at the appointed hour, and there waited while he effected an entry. It took him some little time, for as he told me, the lock was of an old and difficult style, and one rarely seen in Mont-Havre for it had been brought from Provençe.

"It is the sort of lock you might find on the front door of a bank in Toulouse, I think, M. Tuppenny. They wanted no one to get in, and I am sure no one has!"

But in time he succeeded, and beaming with pleasure threw the door wide that I might enter. I left him installing a new lock, and passed within.

There is good news and there is bad, cherie. The good news is that the guild hall is stoutly built of bronzewood, in and out, with bronzewood shingles on the roof. It looks rustic now, but it must have been the costliest building in Mont-Havre at the time it was built—or would have been, if they had contracted out all of the work. Bronzewood shingles, for sooth! But I must believe that the guild members formed at least the shingles themselves, and quite possibly many of the other members, for for bronzewood, though tough, sturdy, and durable, is notoriously difficult to shape. Even here in Mont-Havre it is generally used only for timbers.

As a result, I am pleased to say, there have been no leaks. The roof is sound; and the unnamed journeyman who returned to Toulouse took the time to shut the place up properly, closing and latching all of the stout bronzewood shutters, so that even the window glass has been preserved.

It is not large—for a guild hall in Yorke, or, I imagine, in Toulouse. But it is much larger than the few who built it were in need of; perhaps the Guild was expecting to build a respectable community of formers here in Mont-Havre, and moreover planned to provide at least some of them with living space. No one lives in the Guild Hall in Yorke, though there are a few rooms for visiting formers; but this structure includes three small apartments, along with a meeting hall and communal kitchen on the ground floor. It is plain, mind you—beyond the extravagance of bronzewood paneling, there is no decoration, no marble, no carving. But I think we could be quite comfortable here, should we ever elect to visit or dwell in Mont-Havre as a family; and at the very least it will give me a place to stay when I visit on my own.

The bad news—O, the bad news! Yes, the weather has been kept out. But the dust! And the mice, what remains of them. The survivor who returned to Provençe left everything here but his own personal effects; there are the remains of clothing in one of the apartments, as well as the remains of bedding and other linens, much chewed by small teeth and formed into nests. At least there are no living mice, that I can see; I suppose they abandoned the place when the food left in the pantry was all gone or spoiled beyond even their interest. It can be cleaned, of course, but I believe I shall have to find a cat.

And then there is the worst news. I looked for some kind of library of books on thaumaturgie—without much hope, mind you, for formers are secretive by nature, and certainly there is no such library at the hall in Yorke. But I thought I might at least find the grimoire of one of the deceased formers, abandoned when the hall was closed up. I had no such luck, at least during my cursory inspection. But of course the journeyman would naturally take his master's grimoire with him, at least if he had any sense.

By this time the locksmith had replaced the locks on the front and back doors of the hall; I paid him his fee, he gave me the keys, and we saluted one another. Then I locked it up and went to arrange for a man known to M. Suprenant to come and clean the place out.

I dined with M. Suprenant and his family that evening, and heard many stories of the early days of Mont-Havre that I will share with you when I return home; this morning I unlocked the Guild Hall for M. Armagnac and his workmen; and then at noon I dined with Cousin Jack. We talked of many things, as you can imagine, but in particular he told me that he had spoken of me to Lord Doncaster; and that His Majesty's Government was in favor of my possession of the Guild House though His Lordship saw no need to intervene in any way at this time. "Your cousin appears to have matters well in hand," so he said to Jack.

After the luncheon I returned to the Guild Hall to check on the progress being made by the cleaners, and as I approached the front door I was hailed by a voice behind me. I turned to see an old woman standing in the doorway across the avenue. I crossed the street and tipped my hat—for I confess, cherie, that I have bought a hat, so as to look the part of guild master. I seem to feel my father looking over my shoulder every moment that I wear it; it is not a calming feeling. I believe I shall leave it here in the hall, for it is certain I shan't need it in Bois-de-Bas.

"You are from the Confrerie?" she asked me with the creaking accent of one who has dwelt in Mont-Havre from the earliest days. "The Confrerie has returned to Mont-Havre?"

"Oui, madame," I said. "I am originally from Yorke, but Armorica is now my home; and by guild law I am the Guild Master."

"I saw you yesterday and thought you must be, n'est-ce pas? There is a thing I have for you."

She invited me into her front room, and I waited there for a quarter of an hour or so listening to her soft muttering from another room, until she returned with a small oblong object wrapped in a cloth. She handed it to me, and said, "I have been waiting twenty years to return this to one of the Confrerie. It was brought to me two days after that worthless journeyman ran off to Toulouse, and I have kept it safe all of this time."

I was seized with excitement, as you can well imagine. As I began to remove the wrapping, she continued, "Master Grenadin was killed by le grand-blaireau, oui? They told me this was found some distance from his body."

It was, of course, a book: the leather cover stained and dirty, and some of the pages torn; it must have been ripped from the pocket of the unfortunate master's coat by le blaireau's claws and sent flying. A quick glance verified that it was, indeed, a grimoire.

I thanked her gravely—I wanted to pick her up, buss her on both cheeks, and twirl her around, but as she was quite frail I chose to restrain myself until I return to Bois-de-Bas and can do the thing properly.

And then—O, and then! I returned to the Guild Hall, where one of M. Armagnac's men, a young fellow named Jean-Marcel, was waiting for me.

"We have found something, M. Tuppenny." He led me up the stairs to the first apartment on the right. "We moved the bed frame as we were cleaning, and, well, it is as you see." There on the floor, where it had been hidden by the ruin of the bedding, was a small trap door, perhaps a foot square. "We have not opened it."

I made haste to do so; and there, in a small cubby between the joists, I found a ring, a small sum of money in coins, and two thin books. I removed it all, pocketed the ring, shared the coins between Jean-Marcel and the other two workmen, and made my way to M. Bardot's, chortling softly as I went.

I have now had time to make a brief inspection of the two books, and to my joy they are not grimoires. The chaotic nature of your typical grimoire is impossible to mistake, but these, though written in Master Grenadin's hand, are no compendium of the notes, successes, and failures of a line of master formers. On the first page of the first of the pair is the title Sur la Thaumaturgie; and what follows is the master's attempt to set out a complete discussion of the length and breadth of his reflections on the nature and theory of forming. This cannot have been popular with the Guild in Toulouse—indeed, I begin to wonder whether Grenadin was sent to Armorica "under a cloud", as we would say in Cumbria, as a kind of exile. Or perhaps he came here of his choosing, to have a quiet place away from the Guild where he could work on his book in safety. Either would account for the journeyman's quick return to Toulouse on his death.

I have only begun to read them, cherie, for Grenadin's hand is difficult and my Provençese is barely adequate to the task. But I am more delighted that I can well say!

Please embrace my lovely Anne-Marie for me. I expect I shall be here another week, getting the Guild Hall into some kind of order, and then I shall return to Bois-de-Bas.

Your loving husband,


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Letters from Armorica- The Guild Hall (14 May 35 AF)

First Letter

Ma chere Amelie,

And here I am in Mont-Havre. It seems so odd to see it again—it was so much my world when I first came to Armorica, and yet for such a brief time, only a few months. It is much larger than Bois-de-Bas yet smaller than I remembered, and much smaller than Yorke—although, of course, I might find Yorke similarly diminished were I ever to return there.

As you know, I had hoped to stay with M. Suprenant and his family. I find that Mme. Suprenant was recently delivered of a son, and so the house is even more full of life than usual. M. Suprenant offered to let me sleep under the counter if I could find nothing better, but it was truly the only space he had. And so I am staying with M. Bardot, the head clerk at Suprenant et fils. It shall do very well, for Mme. Bardot is a very good cook; and tomorrow I shall dine with the Suprenants after the close of business. You may write to me at Suprenant et fils at need.

I might also have stayed with M. Fournier, indeed he encouraged me to do so. But though he is a delightful man to converse with, he is unmarried and lives in a single room over his bookshop, and I find, cherie, that I have grown to appreciate the comforts of a real home!

I have not yet seen Jack, but I have arranged to meet him for the noon meal on Friday. We shall dine at a local inn, Les Fleurs, which was recommended to me by M. Suprenant.

It must seem odd to you that I make such a noise about this—that I do not simply go to stay with Jack and dine at his table whenever I am not with other friends. And yet more of my father's lessons have stuck with me than I would have guessed. I am the grandmaster of the Former's Guild here in Armorica, and as such I must maintain my independence from both the Armorican government, such as it is, and the Cumbria governor-general. The latter would be particularly fatal, as I am from Cumbria and I represent the Cumbrian branch of the Guild rather than the Provençese; and as Cousin Jack lives in the same house as Lord Doncaster and his table is in fact Lord Doncaster's table, I must keep my distance. I must meet him as my cousin, not as Lord Doncaster's aide; and I must do so in public.

Nor have I gone to speak to any members of le Grand Parliament, as I originally intended to do, nor to M le maire of Mont-Havre, for M. Suprenant has advised me not to.

"The hall of La Confrerie des Thaumaturges has been locked up tight since the last member departed these twenty years ago," he told me. "I have made inquiries, and found that he left no one responsible for the care and upkeep of the structure. As a journeyman, I suppose he had no authority to do so. And the city has not touched it, for by Guild law it is sacrosanct. Le Marechal would have cared nothing for that, I suppose, but his forces ignored it entirely; perhaps it was beneath their notice. And so it has just been mouldering.

"If you will take my advice you will ask no one's permission for entry, but simply engage a locksmith. It is your guild's property, n'est-ce-pas? Oui, oui, it is the property of the Provençese branch of the guild, c'est vrai, but you tell me that that does not matter by guild law. Begin as you mean to go on! And I may say that any true Armorican would rather see it in Armorican hands than in those of les Provençese cochons. Non, mon ami, you must act as one with authority!"

It did not surprise me to discover that M. Suprenant has arranged for such a locksmith to meet me at the Guild Hall tomorrow morning. Truly he is a good friend!

Perhaps I will find nothing but dust and discarded clothing, or such weathering that all within is in an advanced state of decay. But perhaps the structure may be saved, and we shall have a place to stay in Mont-Havre when we choose; and you know my other hope. We shall see.

Bless little Anne-Marie for me, and yourself as well!

Your loving husband,


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Letters from Armorica- A Leg to Stand On (5 May 35 AF)

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Dear Journal,

Jack left us this morning after an extended stay; word came that His Lordship needs him in Mont-Havre, as well he might. It was the longest Jack and I have been able to spend together since we were boys, and we spent it as you might expect: up until all hours talking, drinking just a little too much, and making the rounds of the village—for everyone here wanted to meet the hero who lost a leg fighting Le Maréchal.

Truly he was welcomed, and more than welcomed. He spent several days in my workshop while I worked, talking with my covey of older men and swapping outrageous stories with Jacques-le-Souris until they were all howling. The old men spoke of him to their families, which led to a stream of folks coming by to catch a glimpse of him, and to be introduced; and that led to invitations, and after a few days had passed I seldom caught sight of him between breakfast and supper. He had won their heart with his sacrifice, and they won his with their welcome.

When he first came, Jack was inclined to be sensitive about the remains of his leg, and morose with it when he was off his guard—for Jack has always understood his duty to his friends and family, to be of good cheer and keep up appearances. But I could see it in his fatigue at the end of the day, and the look in his eyes when he turned to go. I invited him to join us at the hot springs on the first Sunday afternoon he was with us, and he declined. "No one would care to see this," he said, with an overly casual wave downwards. I fear he spent the afternoon brooding.

But the folk of Bois-de-Bas are no strangers to serious injury—they hardly could be, given the rigors of building a new home in the forests of Armorica. They take it in stride, if I may use so inappropriate an expression; and an injury honorably received is a source of respect rather than revulsion, just as an injury foolishly received will be a source of humor (in others) for the rest of the person's life.

"You could cut a wide swathe her in Bois-de-Bas," I told him. "You're a handsome fellow, and charming with it, and the leg is neither here nor there."

"That last bit is true of a certain," he said. "I can't find it anywhere."

"But don't, please," I said. "Cut a swathe, I mean. It's a small town, and I live here."

He nodded, but he seemed more cheerful after that. And though he spent time with many families with daughters, I didn't hear his name linked with any in particular.

We had Marc and Elise to dinner, and visited them at their farm; and I saw Elise and my Amelie whispering to each other in the corner and giving Jack the occasional look. I didn't inquire as to what they were discussing. It was obvious enough, and besides, there are things man is not meant to know.

Yesterday I was told by several men of the village that I must be sure to bring him to the hot springs after our divine services, and to my surprise he came willingly. He seemed to know most of the men sitting near us by name, and when he told the crowd that he must leave in the morning they drank round after round to his health. Jack being Jack, he showed no effects from it on the walk home.

"I don't suppose you'd care to pursue a career as an innkeeper?" I asked him as he gathered his things this morning. "We have no proper inn here in Bois-de-Bas, and you have the temperament for it. Also the capacity."

He chuckled. "Wouldn't that set the cat among pigeons back in Yorke! It's bad enough that you've flown off as you have, but at least your father can tell himself you're extended the reach of the Cumbrian Former's Guild. But for me to descend to being a tavern-keeper! My parents would never live it down." His eyes got a faraway look. "Attractive idea, though. But no, that's a sergeant's retirement, not a lieutenant's, and anyway I think His Nibs has grander plans for me back in Mont-Havre."

And now he's off to whatever work "His Nibs" has for him. When he had passed out of sight, Amelie turned to me. "He must return soon, n'est-ce-pas? Perhaps you should visit him in Mont-Havre."

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Letters from Armorica- Stress and Strain (23 April 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I write quickly, for it is late—but I must not lose this thought. Cousin Jack is here, in fact he is snoring in the next room as I write, and during the evening he told us of his time with the Army. At one moment he spoke of trying to sleep on a troop transport during a storm, the void winds buffeting it and—and here is the point, Dear Journal—every sinew of the vessel straining and creaking. Even in calm, he said, there were always many small creaks and groans, but in a storm!

This past summer I often had cause to reflect on the hardened portions of the sloops we captured during the war: the keel and a framework around the gunwhales. Why so little, when you could harden more and give the ship a good measure of armor? But now I see, and it has all to do with the formed elements that keep the sloop in the air, and why the elements that move the sloop around the harbor can only move the sloop ever so slowly.

The hardened elements are like my hardened plates: as the ship works in the wind, groaning and creaking, they keep it whole—and collect the effort required to do so. And the lifting elements, for so I shall call them, make use of the effort so collected. The two are in a kind of balance! The movement elements are puny for fear that they will use too much effort—for fear that they will degrade the hardened structure, and eventually cause the sloop to fall from the sky.

If one were to harden the entire hull and support members of the sloop, what effect would that have? I had assumed it was a matter of cost only: that formers couldn't be spared for that. Hardening a wagon or sky-chair is no great difficulty, but a sloop is much, much larger. But perhaps such a hull would be too stable, would work too little, would collect too little too little effort (for which I need a better name).

How does one achieve this balance? There is nothing about this in my father's grimoire; but perhaps my father comes from a long line of incurious and unskilled formers. (It would explain his focus on guild politics.) Do the other masters in Yorke know more? What of the shipwrights? Someone must have recorded how it is to be done, even if not why it is to be done that way. But my grimoire records none of that: it is simply, "do this, and that will follow". And rarely, "My master tried that, and now he is gone."

But someone knows, or at least knew how to balance these things: how to assemble them together so that they will work safely. I will find out; and I will record my findings so that Luc and my future apprentices need not repeat my mistakes. And just perhaps I will find out how to safely do more than my father has ever dreamed of!

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