Monthly Archives: November 2019

Letters from Armorica- Farming Efforts (20 August 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It has been a week, and Bertrand and I are settled as well as we shall ever be in this benighted place. The farm house has been swept out as best we could, given the state of the broom I found in a corner of the kitchen. We have food, but of the plainest; fuel for the kitchen hearth; and no other supplies but what we brought with us.—and most of those are intended to support my research, not our comfort. It is fortunate that the weather is warm, for we have little bedding, and that little we must use to make pallets on the floor. We might as well be in prison.

Trout was here today with another load of food. He did not stay long, and though he took the list of needed supplies I handed him—lamps and whirtleberry oil, bedding, and other gear—he made no promise to bring us any of it.

Truly, I do not understand Trout's game. In theory, I am here to perfect my designs for sky-chairs, sleds, wagons for use by His Cumbrian Majesty's forces against Le Maréchal in his hiding place. I know this to be a lie, and Trout's lack of interest in my progress confirmed it weeks ago. But he wants me for some reason, and having got me out her to "continue my work" one would think he would at least provide the materials I would need: seasoned wood, and so forth.

Yet he has provided none. It is as though Trout has accomplished his entire purpose simply by getting me out of town and out of communication (as he thinks) and no longer cares in the slightest what I might think of it. Does he think it would be so hard for Bertrand and I just to walk back to Mont-Havre? I assure you, Journal, we kept careful note of every turning, and we are near enough to the city that we need not fear les grand-blaireaux. I assume he is trusting my good behavior to his threat to take away my mastery in the guild.

No matter. I have sent arrows to Jack and to Marc in Bois-de-Bas as to my whereabouts and the conditions here; and in the meantime Bertrand and I have set up four trials around and about the Farm. Each consists of a hardened rod with weights suspended from each end, adjacent to a lifting block calibrated to lift ten pounds of weight. The first rod supports twenty pounds, the second ten, the third five, and the fourth none. If my thinking is correct, the first will last the longest: the physical strain on the rod will produce effort due to the hardening of the rod, which can then feed the greedy lifting block indefinitely. If I am right, it explains some of my failures. My early chairs and sleds were hardened altogether, except for the lifting blocks, which would reduce the physical strain on the hardened elements due to the flexing of chair or sled, and so reduce the effort produced.

I wish I had access to one of the Provençese sky sloops we left on L'Isle de Grand-Blaireaux. I investigated closely where the lifting members were, but paid little attention to the hardened elements, except to note that there were fewer of them than I expected. I am now guessing that the sloop was designed so that the lifting elements lift the hardened elements, and that the remainder of the sloop hangs from these, thus keeping the hardened elements under constraint strain. The question is, how much strain is required to keep the lifting elements properly fed, as it were, without cannibalizing the hardened elements.

I have set up a fifth trial in another place, consisting of a hardened rod and a quiescent lifting block, just to determine whether such a system will degrade over time.

The five are located as far from each other as I can manage; and since I have nothing to build shelters with as we did on Marc's farm, we placed them just over the edge of the fields into the woods, where the trees will protect them from summer storms.

And now we wait, and ponder, and blackguard Trout to each other. The man could at least have left us a deck of cards!

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Letters from Armorica- The Farm (13 August 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Bertrand and I have been installed at The Farm, and I am not best pleased about it.

I spoke with Jack on Wednesday as planned, and told him all I knew of Trout and his intentions for me. It seems that Le Maréchal and his few remaining troops have indeed retreated to Guyagão as Trout said, and that the region is being watched…but Jack is unaware of any planned efforts to draw the cochons from their hiding places.

"His Majesty's Government is pleased to let them rot in the swamps," he told me. "We'll keep an eye on them, and we'll certainly prevent any would-be recruits from joining them, but there's little enough harm they can cause there."

Further, he has never heard of Trout or of any secret doings His Cumbrian Majesty's Government might have in train in Armorica.

"That means little, though," he said. "As His Lordship's aide I hear things, but I don't hear everything. Still, I don't like you going off with him, not when we know he's lying to you." He shook his head. "And yet, there is little we can do other than arrest the man when next he presents himself at your guild hall. I would be pleased to arrange that. But if he is genuinely in His Majesty's service, His Majesty's Government would be…displeased."

"Perhaps His Lordship knows more?"

"He might; and you'd best believe that I shall ask him instanter. But if he doesn't we are simply left in the same position as before. Tell you what, coz, let me speak with him. He'll have to decide what's best to be done. Where shall I send word to you?"

"It would look odd if we met again; and I have to assume that Trout has me under observation. Perhaps send a messenger to Suprenant et Fils? I dine with them tomorrow night."

"I shall do so."

"I don't suppose you could simply speak to him; if he's on His Majesty's service he must have some way of proving it. Some code word or something?"

"But how would we know he is here? The man's been careful not to draw official attention. No, if we bring him in we'd best arrest him outright, for he sure's to know you've been talking to us. We'll have to make inquiries to the folks at Home, and that will take time."

It would, and several months of it even by fast cutter.

"I suppose I must go with him on Friday, then."

"I'm afraid so. But if I know His Lordship, you won't be as alone wherever you're going as Trout thinks you are. We'll be keeping an eye on you."

I nodded. "Perhaps you could make discreet inquiries about my status in the Guild? Trout was so good as to inform me that I owed my chain solely to him, and that he could remove it at any time. I've no idea whether the Guild knows anything about the business or not."

"Messing in guild business, is he? That could be helpful." Jack nodded. "Aye, it could. His Lordship will want to know about that." He eyed me over the last of his ale. "You have a way to get in touch if trouble arises?"

"Yes, I do. I can send word through M. Suprenant; he will know how to reach you."

"Good, then. I'm off, and you'll hear from me tomorrow."

And so I did, but it was brief: "Trout unknown. L.D. will inquire. Eyes open. J."

"L.D." was surely Lord Doncaster; and "Eyes open" presumably was a warning to me and also a promise from Jack, and with that I had to be satisfied.

Trout came with a cart this morning, and carried us north out of town, into a region I'd not ventured into before. It took us several hours to reach what I am calling The Farm: several small fields surrounded by collapsing fences and stone walls near a farm house that will need several days worth of work to be livable, the whole shrouded in deep forest.

"I'm sorry I was not able to find a place in better repair," he said, "but there is fuel and food. I shall return in a week." Of course he wasn't a bit sorry. I told him we would manage, and he did not linger.

And so here we are, Bertrand and I, and I am writing by the light from the kitchen fire for though there is firewood there is no oil and no lamp. Trout made no comment at any time today as to my progress, and I fear that his real goal is only to have me out of communication. He is doomed to disappointment if so.

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Letters from Armorica- Preparations (8 August 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Trout has informed me that we shall be moving to a place he calls "The Farm" at the end of the week; consequently, I am to wrap up our efforts here in Mont-Havre and pack up anything we must take with us. Perhaps fortunately, the hardened block in my first trial quite gave up the ghost sometime during the night; when I tested it this morning it crumbled quite easily. Thus, I have my first data point: under constant load and with the given sizes, weights, and degree of lift, an otherwise unstressed hardened block survived just under twenty days.

This suggests two subsequent trials, which will have to wait until we are settled once again. First I must replace the hardened block with a hardened rod of similar weight, under continual physical stress; and second, at Bertrand's excellent suggestion, another test in which the lifting block is present but not in fact lifting anything. I had considered that to be pointless, but Bertrand is right: Marc Frontenac's sky-sled failed after having been left idle and unused for some weeks. That leaves one of three possibilities. First, the sled may have been on the verge of failure when Marc put it away. Second, it may have been sufficiently near a warming block, or some other greedy object, that its hardened elements were consumed. Or third, the hardened members might be affected by the mere presence of the lifting and steering blocks, even if they are not in use. I find either of the first two possibilities to be most likely, but I must not discount the third, not given my current state of knowledge!

But that will have to wait for next week. In the meantime I have my preparations to make, including several that Trout will, I trust, never discover. Tomorrow I shall send an arrow to my Amelie. On Tuesday I shall dine with M. Suprenant and his family, and I shall leave with him a new receiving board and some arrows, so that we may communicate privately from the Farm wherever it turns out to be.

And on Wednesday I shall lunch with Jack, and I have determined to tell him all that had gone on and is still going on with Trout—although, of course, Trout has directed me to speak of his plans to no one. I am not pleased to be putting myself further into the man's power. He remains incurious as to my degree of progress, merely inquiring if all is going well, and my sense that he is playing some deeper game at my expense increases with each meeting.

How I wish Bois-de-Bas were closer to Mont-Havre! Using the arrows I can summon aid from Marc and the other townsfolk in quite a short time; but with the sky-chairs and wagons currently out-of-use it will take them days to come to me. Hence I must speak to Jack—for I am certain that neither he nor Lord Doncaster have any real notion of Trout's plans.

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Letters from Armorica- All My Trials (25 July 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I nearly suffered a stroke of apoplexy yesterday morning. I woke with a start and—but all things in their places.

At the beginning of the week I set up my first trial. As I do not have much space and cannot reasonably run multiple trials simultaneously, I decided on a design that should run its course as quickly as possible. Which is to say, I formed a small piece of coral wood into the strongest lifting block of its size that I could manage, and used my new balance to set it to offset ten pounds of weight. Truly it is fascinating sight: an ounce of wood floating on a string above one pan of the scale, as compared to the bulk of the metal weights in the other pan. And that little block is lifting 160 times its own weight.

Nearby I placed another block of coral wood, this one fully hardened. I have checking the second block several times a day for signs of crumbling. So far it remains in its hardened state.

I wonder: should I presume that a block's maximum lift is proportional to its weight or to its volume? I shall have to acquire two blocks of bronzewood, one the size of my coral wood block and one the same weight. And then I shall have to go lie down, for this mathematical kind of thinking makes my head spin. Perhaps I should have summoned Luc rather than Bertrand!

But I am grateful that Bertrand is now here. He is good company, for one thing; and after his years of friendship with Luc he is a good listener and sounding board. I have introduced him to the Suprenants (and I fear he will soon be as thick as thieves with certain of M. Suprenant's offspring), and he has proven adept at working with wood. I begin to understand why my father and the other masters of the guild in Yorke have little in the way of private practice, as I do in Bois-de-Bas, but do their work, as it were, industrially. It is too useful to have someone else provide both the materials for forming and the matrix into which they will be assembled. I should consider taking Bertrand on as another apprentice, but that I should be doing him a disservice: within the guild he could never be more than a kind of servant, for he has no talent for forming at all.

But yesterday morning, as I lay in bed, it occurred to me to wonder why the hardened block was still unaffected. Mind you, that was an absurd thing to wonder: it has been less than a week, and my work in Bois-de-Bas lasted for over a season before troubles set in. And I told myself so, and my thoughts drifted to the guild house itself, and its construction by the first members of the Confrerie des Thaumaturges to come to Armorica…and that's when I sat bolt upright. Had they used forming while building the hall? Is that why it was still in such excellent condition after so many years of neglect? Had the timbers, or the paneling, or, the heavens forfend, the windowsills been hardened or otherwise formed in a way that would throw off my experiments?

I leaped to my feet, dressed, and spent the rest of the day inspecting the Guild Hall from foundation to roof peak. And now I am pleased to say that, no, it owes its longevity to the materials used, not to the forming skills of my predecessors. My trial is safe.

This first trial is intended, of course, to determine how a hardened block will degrade in the presence of a greedy object when the hardened block is subjected to no effort at all. In the next trial I must subject to the hardened block to some kind of strain. I am not quite sure how to do that; I can hardly have Bertrand stand by it and bang it with a hammer at intervals for days on end. Or, rather, I could, but I should hate to have to listen to the banging, and once we have a larger space to work with and can run multiple trials simultaneously the labor involved would be prohibitive. I picture Bertrand running from one end of a field to the other, hour after hour, pausing every fifty feet or so to strike a wooden block with a hammer. I simply could not afford it: the lad eats enough as it is!

What if I were to use a hardened rod, and suspend weights from both ends? That would be a continual source of strain rather than an intermittent series of blows, as a hardened pot would receive while in use, but it would be easily measured!

Speaking of work space, Trout called on me today; he has found a suitable property for my work, so he says, and we may remove to it in two or three weeks once the arrangements are complete. He seems not at all worried about the delay; and I begin to wonder at his story about the pursuit of Le Maréchal and his men in Guyanão. If it is true, it would seem that he would need the fruits of my labor as soon as possible…but now that I am working for him he seems oddly content for me to take my time. Is he playing a deeper game?

Bah! I am grasping at straws. If they cannot catch les cochons, His Cumbrian Majesty's forces can certainly keep them bottled up in the jungle with little effort.

But then, why enlist me at all?

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