Monthly Archives: December 2019

Letters from Armorica- A Talk among the Tombstones (3 October 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I meant to be back in Bois-de-Bas by now—indeed, Bertrand is already on his way, with Patches the Goat in tow—but Lord Doncaster held me here until today. His Lordship wants to have all of the threads tied up neatly, and I, of course, am one of them.

I met with His Lordship this afternoon, after attending divine services in the cathedral. I am not at all sure that His Lordship was present in mind as well as body, for an air of distraction filled his box. Religion is not an abiding concern among the higher folk in Yorke, so he might have been present to show willing, and to ingratiate himself with his Armorican subjects for whom it is very much an abiding concern.

Or he may have been there simply to meet with me in a plausibly casual manner. What is more natural than for two chance-met expatriates to take a short walk on a fine Autumn day and discuss the Old Country amid the tombstones in the churchyard? For walk we did, and for some twenty minutes or so.

His Lordship questioned me about Trout and all of my experiences with with him and at the Farm, and marveled at the doings of Patches the Goat—without, I may say, desiring to become further acquainted with the beast. He also listened quite seriously to my summary of my trials.

"I do not wish to command you, M. Tuppenny," he said. "Indeed I am not sure whether I can in this. Cumbria is in possession, as it were, but until le Parlement takes further action my legal position is uncertain. But for myself, I would say that you should continue your research by any means possible. Further, it is my opinion—and this is the official opinion of His Majesty's government, of which I am the representative, that you are rightfully and by guild-law the grandmaster of the Former's Guild in Armorica. My word on that.

"Mind you," he said with a smile, "His Majesty's government may change its collective mind after I am gone; but it seems that you have a powerful advocate in Yorke, so I shouldn't worry if I were you."

"My father," I said, ruefully. "I'm on the outs with him, you know. I came here intending to drop out of sight and never deal with him again. He's only pleased because my accomplishments here reflect well on him and extend his reach. Or so he thinks."

His Lordship nodded. "I and my father were the same; I was never happier than when I got my commission and was off to the wars. Nevertheless, do not spurn his good will, for it will serve you well, even, or perhaps especially at a distance. If it were not impertinent, I might add that it is clear that he taught you better than to do so."

"Yes, I suppose he did." I shrugged. "They say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, but you know, I'm doing my best to roll downslope."

He chuckled. "Indeed; and tomorrow you may roll off to your little town. But mind what I say! So long as you have your head above water I've no wish to interfere with you; but should you find yourself in need, ask for my help through your cousin Jack. The work you are doing is too important to be allowed to languish."

I nodded. "Thank you, your Lordship."

"Just so. Now then, I believe that pulls all of the threads into one tidy knot. All of the purely local threads, at any rate," he said. "We may never hear Trout's full story, not if I know His Majesty's intelligencers. If I learn more, I shall tell you what I can; but at a guess it was a plot aimed at the throne through your father. More than that I cannot say."

We had been pacing slowly, and now reached the center of the graveyard, hard by the tall monument of Jacques Durand, leader of the second wave of colonists. It was a fine obelisk of bronze wood, polished and gleaming. His Lordship turned and regarded me, there in its shadow.

"It takes good men to build a land," he said, gesturing at the monument. "I am glad to have met another." And then, with an airy wave he left me.

I dine tonight with M. Fournier, who has somehow acquired a math text for me; I shall sleep at the guild hall; and first thing in the morning I shall set out for Amelie and home.

Next letter

photo credit: SchuminWeb Edge Hill Cemetery via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica- Catching Trout (1 October 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Trout has been taken, much the worse for wear—as are we all, and it is only partially Trout’s fault. We shall be returning to Mont-Havre as soon as we are able tomorrow, despite our wounds.

The plan was for His Lordship’s men to take him _en route_. Somehow he evaded them; I don’t know whether he caught sight of them and managed to sneak past, or whether he simply took an unexpected path through the woods and so came to our door unobserved. No doubt he will tell us his methods in time, but at the moment I fear he is in no shape to do so.

What is clear is that somehow he was warned. He brought no cart of supplies, but came on foot and empty handed but for a pistol, apparently intent on ensuring our perpetual silence. We were watching the road, of course, but he must have come over the fields from behind the farm house, for he was actually within the house before we were aware of his presence.

Normally when Trout was expected I would have had Bertrand waiting on the porch where he could easily scan the length of the valley; today, taking the advice of Sergeant Travers, we sat in the front room of the farm house. We each had a clear view through the window of the lane leading to the house from the road, but by sitting in the dimness of the house we made poor targets.

“For if we miss him, he might be a wee bit angry, and angry men can be a wee bit hasty,” he said.

Angry he certainly was.

“Up, both of you,” he said, and our heads whipped round in surprise. He was framed in the door to the kitchen, his pistol trained on Bertrand and his eyes on me. He was clad in his usual black. I saw Bertrand tense to spring, for he was but four feet from Trout, but he was seated and Trout was standing, and the muzzle of the pistol looked distressingly large.

“No, Bertrand,” I cried, in fear for his life, and also in hopes that one of Travers’ men might be near enough to hear me.

“Very wise, M Tuppenny,” said Trout to me; and then to Bertrand, “Get up, slowly, and back away until you are standing by your master.”

“But Monsieur—” he said, but I cut him off.

“Do it, Bertrand,” I said. “This man is not to be trifled with.” When Bertrand had reached my side I continued, “What is the meaning of this?”

“It appears that you have been naughty, M. Tuppenny. Very naughty indeed. I fear you are no longer a valuable asset.”

He cocked the pistol with his thumb, his hand trembling slightly. I had the absurd thought that he needed more practice at disposing of inconvenient witnesses when my eyes were caught by motion behind him. Was it one of Travers’ men? I blinked and trained my eyes on the gun, so as not to warn him, and then cursed inwardly as Bertrand gasped.

Trout noticed the line of Bertrand’s gaze immediately, and his pistol swung to cover him instead of me.

“Stop!” he cried, turning his head very slightly to speak to whomever was approaching him from behind. “If you come one step closer, I’ll shoot the boy!”

And then everything happened at once. A long, low form burst past Trout, knocking him violently to one side. I dove to the floor as the pistol discharged its ball into the ceiling. Bertrand, still just a little closer to the door than I, was knocked down, and as I saw him fall I heard shouts from down the road.

And then I was on the floor and a rough, wet tongue was removing the skin from my cheek.

It was Patches the goat. She was bedraggled and muddy, and her ribs were clearly visible along her flank through the holes in her tattered armor. What must she have gotten into during her long journey from Bois-de-Bas to get her armor in such a state! Past her I could see Bertrand on the floor and Trout lying in a heap in the doorway.

“Bertrand, get his pistol,” I said. He rose, holding his side; and as he did so I pushed Patches’ nose away with the utmost care, managing to lose only a little bit of skin, and stood up to take stock. Fortunately her left horn cover was still in place, so I was able to hold her off without further injury.

There was blood all along her left side, matching the gaps in her armor, fresh and quite red, and mixed with many shreds of black cloth and a bit of blue from Bertrand’s trousers. The blood proved to be Trout’s, the product of Patches catching Trout against the door frame as she burst past him. He was fortunate that it was her right horn cover that was missing, not the left, or she might have torn quite the hole in his side in her eagerness to get to me.

Bertrand was in much better shape, having only minor abrasions and a nasty bruise. It didn’t slow him down much as he found power and shot in Trout’s coat pocket and reloaded the heavy pistol.

“Well, you’ve had quite the journey, haven’t you,” I said to Patches, with, I am not ashamed to say, a rush of fondness quite out of my experience with Armorican goats.

And that was how Travers found us: Trout still in a heap, Bertrand with Trout’s pistol trained upon its owner, and me in the middle of the room holding Patches off by her left horn.

We are still at the Farm, but will be leaving sometime tomorrow. It pains me to abandon the trials I have in progress here, but I believe I have learned enough to be going on with. I shall spend only enough time in Mont-Havre to acquire the mathematics text I have been longing for, and then we shall be off to Bois-de-Bas and my Amelie and Anne-Marie. I should have left today, no matter the hour, save that we require a cart for our belongings—and to tie Patches’ lead to, for however grateful I might be for her timely arrival, I am in no way minded to lead her back to Bois-de-Bas by hand.

God send we arrive before the new baby does!

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Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Letters from Armorica- News from Yorke (1 October 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

A man came to me yesterday, and with monstrous news.

The past weeks have been somewhat mildly idyllic. I have made progress on my trials, Bertrand is reading more fluently than ever, and I am better at chess—against Bertrand at least—than I have ever been in my life. I am worried for Amelie, so far away without me, for our new baby is due soon, but I know that Marc and Elise and our other friends will keep her safe and well. Boredom is ever present, and I have been eager for Trout to make his move, whatever it may be.

I am eager no longer.

The man was a Cumbrian soldier. It was plain to see it by his bearing and posture, though he wore countryman's clothes; and had I any doubts they were dispersed by the letter he handed to me, and the ring he showed me to identify himself: my cousin Jack's ring. The letter was unsigned, but I know Jack's handwriting and mode of speech.


You have gotten yourself into a pickle! A fast packet returned from Yorke today with answers to His Lordship's queries. Trout is known to His Majesty's intelligencers, thought not as well as they would like, and they have dearly been wanting a word with him for some time. I do not have all of the details—the message we received was absurdly uninformative—but I gather the man is part of some plot against His Majesty's government. And given Trout's efforts to isolate and control you I can guess that the Former's Guild in Yorke is involved in some way, or perhaps I should say embroiled, for no one can think of your father as being disloyal to the crown without laughing. No, if there is treachery in the Guild it is lower down.

I think it more likely, though, that Trout's co-conspirators are simply using you to put pressure on your father—to extort from him some action they desire by holding you as a hostage. I can hear you laughing bitterly. He has forbidden your name to be mentioned, it is true…and yet m'mother has found him lingering near the door of the drawing room after her visits with your own mater, and this more than once.

Regarding your master's chain and the status of the Armorican Former's Guild, I have two points of information. First, it is unclear where Trout acquired the chain he gave you; no one in the Yorke guild house seems to know anything about it, or will admit it if they do. Second, your father has certainly heard that you have claimed the Armorican Guild, and he seems to be quietly delighted. "A master stroke," I believe he was heard to mutter to himself. (And by-the-by, I do not believe the pun was intended. This is your father I'm speaking of.) This may be the cause of his lurking around drawing room doors!

The bearer of this letter is Sergeant Travers. We know that you are expecting Trout tomorrow, and we intend to take him, package him neatly, and ship him off home. If it were possible we would nab him before he ever reaches your farm, but His Lordship has a notion. Travers will fill you in. There is some risk, but I believe you are equal to it. And once it is all over, of course, Travers and his men will see you back to Mont-Havre.


Now it is early morning; it is some hours before I expect Trout, for he usually arrives at midday, but I cannot sleep. May the Good Lord protect us all!

Next letter


Letters from Armorica- Hard Time (17 September 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I've written little over the last three weeks because there has been little to write. I have had arrows from Amelie in Bois-de-Bas and Jack in Mont-Havre (the latter via M. Suprenant, of course). All is well at home, though I am greatly missed. Jack meanwhile says that Lord Doncaster has as yet heard nothing from Cumbria about Trout, but he hardly could have after so little time; and he assures me that the Farm is being watched and that Bertrand and I are perfectly safe. There is a rail along the front of the porch, and I am to hang a cloth on it if I am in need of immediate assistance during one of Trout's visits.

Trout has continued to visit each week, and if his purpose remains inscrutable at least he has brought us a few more supplies: especially, we now have a lamp and whirtleberry oil so that we need no longer sit by the fire in the evenings. This is a significant blessing in this weather. I have done no building and made no models, for I have little in the way of raw materials, not without taking the farm house or the out-buildings to bits.

The real difficulty lies in not succumbing to a fatal boredom. I have been teaching Bertrand to read (not that the available reading material is of the best); and I have scratched out a chess board on the top of the farmhouse table, and we have had many a game of chess and checkers through the long evenings. We even have reasonably good chess men that I formed from small stones: crude, for I am no sculptor, but recognizable. Fortunately, the chess men are not necessarily either generous or greedy, and so their presence will not throw off my trials.

The trials are going well: indeed, this is the one bright spot. Almost four weeks ago I placed five hardened rods adjacent to lifting blocks. Three of the rods were under greater or lesser strain by means of weights hanging from their ends; the other two were unstressed. Four of the lifting blocks were lifting ten pounds of weight; the fifth, which was adjacent to one of the unstressed rods, was left inactive, not lifting anything.

My prediction was that the unstressed rod next to the active lifting block would fail in about twenty days, as in my previous trial with a hardened block; in the event it took only nineteen days. The reason for the decrease in time is obscure to me, but I suspect it has to do with the difference in the shape of the hardened objects. Meanwhile, the rods under stress are still holding strong, just as I expected.

But the truly delightful outcome is the fifth trial, the unstressed rod adjacent to an inactive lifting block. Bertrand had suggested that perhaps the lifting block was greedy even when not in use, and would continue to draw effort from the hardened rod; and it seems that he is correct, for the unstressed rod crumbled to bits this very afternoon, twenty-six days after I set it up. An inactive lifting block continues to draw in effort from its surroundings! Less than an active one would, this is no surprise, but not very much less!

This is a phenomenal result. It implies that the reason why Marc's sky-sled failed so abruptly, crashing him into the ground, is that it had been left unused for too long! Had he been using it, his weight and the stress from moving him about would have caused the sled's body to flex, which would have stressed the hardened elements, which would have produced effort for the lifting elements to take up. But he let it sit idle, and so the hardened elements were fatally weakened.

Should I ever return to L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau I must use a brand-new sky-chair; and my first act must be to burn the chairs, sleds, and wagons we left there. Or perhaps not, for likely the hardened elements have already turned to dust.

I wonder what has become of the two sloops we turned into housing? For they contain hardened elements, but also active lifting blocks, for they remain floating in mid-air. My guess is that the weight of the sloop stresses the hardened elements enough to provide enough effort to satisfy the lifting blocks. I am glad we didn't try to settle them into some sort of cradle!

I also wonder if M. Fournier has yet acquired a book on algebra for me. There are precise mathematical relationships at play here, I hope and I trust, but I haven't the knowledge or skill to capture them. It is frustrating, for now I begin to have some measurements of interest to work with!

On the whole, I suppose, I am bored but not displeased with my progress. It is ironic, really, that Trout brought me here. He is up to no good, I feel sure, and certainly has no interest in whether or not I produce sky-chairs that work; but it may be due only to him that I will one day be able to produce sky-chairs that work reliably!

If only Amelie and Anne-Marie and Luc were here as well, I should be quite content.

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