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?

Next letter

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photo credit: Homedust Black Claw Hammer on Brown Wooden Plank – Credit to http://homedust.com/ via photopin (license)