Monthly Archives: February 2020

Letters from Armorica- The Sleeping Sloops (4 April 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

How I wish I had another master former to discuss my research with—one trained by a different master, and preferably from a different guild house altogether. I have learned much from Master Grenadine’s books and more than I had realized from my father; but I cannot talk matters over with a book, and I have never at any time been able to discuss anything with my father. Luc is a great help and comfort to me, a lad of surprising insights, but of course he knows less of the history and development of our craft than I do.

Because I have not the aid of another master, I must take unusual risks. And this week I build for myself a new sky-chair, along different lines than before. For my first practical sky-chairs I hardened as much of the vehicle as I could, all but the lifting blocks; in later cases I hardened almost nothing, having not the time for it. But I have come to believe that both methods are prone to catastrophe: if everything is hardened, the hardened elements bear so little tension they provide no significanteffort to the greedy lifting blocks; and if nothing is, the lifting blocks will draw effort willy-nilly from whatever is around, to the detriment of any generous formed objects in the vicinity.

The new chair has been designed so that only certain load-bearing elements are hardened—so that whether the chair is flying or on the ground, it is “hanging”, as it were, from the hardened elements, and so putting tension on them. At all times, then, effort is produced; and if my theories and calculations are correct, this effort will sustain the lifting elements.

I am morally certain that this tactic works in principle; but my mathematics are as yet insufficient to prove that my new chair will be stable in the long-term. And yet, the sky-ships that ply the Void between the lands use lifting and motive blocks, as I well recall, even though they do not rely on the motive blocks for any great degree of propulsion, but on their sails. The motive blocks are only for maneuvering slowly in the harbor.

It is a proven design, doubtless achieved by trial and error over many years a very long time ago; and doubtless far more conservative than it needs to be. But it would provide a useful data point to me, should I be able to examine such a ship, to see just where the hardened elements of the ship are, and how they are held in tension, and how strong the lifting and motive elements are.

And of course, we left two sky-sloops suspended over the river on L’Isle de Grand-Blaireau, ready for me to investigate, if only I could reach them. Hence the new sky-chair, and hence the adventure.

I took Jacques Pôquerie with me, for his strength (and for his company, truth be told), and we made the journey north and up over the lake to the sky-island. (And how, now I come to think of it, does the sky-island remain floating in the sky? Is it by the same principle as my sky-chair, or something wholly other?)

The camp was much as we had left it, with the two sloops hanging solidly in place just as we’d left them. Some distance away I found the terrifying remains of the sky-chairs, sleds, and wagons we’d cached on the island. It was worse than I had feared: every hardened element had decayed to powder, and the place was a shambles.

Some of the sky-wagons, the ones I had had no time to “fortify”, looked to be in good working order, and would no doubt be quite safe to use…but would work irretrievable harm on any hardened objects placed close by.

Leaving the sloops to the side for the time being, Jacques and I busied ourselves by retrieving the lifting elements from amid the decay and placing them to one side. They are all in good shape and might conceivably be reused, though I dare not bring them all back to Bois-de-Bas en masse. The remaining wagons I may be able to do more work on, one of these days, judiciously hardening this and that to render them “stable,” so that they may be used without harm to the formed objects around them.

And then I spent a happy few hours exploring the sloops, identifying the various formed elements, and taking all manner of measurements. My memories were correct; the sloop as a whole hangs from a hardened super-structure incorporated into the railing and gunwhales around the perimeter of the deck, and is supported by its hardened keel; and the hardened elements are themselves upheld by the lifting elements, which are quite good-sized and always in operation. The motive blocks are quite small and localized near the stern of the sloop, just forward of the rudder.

I found no evidence of decay in any of the hardened elements, which are undeniably under great tension. Alas, I have no way of measuring it: I have no means of estimating the weight of the elements that depend upon them. The information must be available somewhere, though possibly not in Mont-Havre. But if I can acquire it, and if I can finish my trials and my mathematical excursions, I have every reason to think that not only can I build sky-chairs and wagons that are safe, I will also be able to design sky-ships that are lighter than those currently in use—and much less dependent on their sails.

It is time, I think, to make a trip to see M. Fournier in Mont-Havre, and Cousin Jack as well.

Next Letter

Photo credit: Tanner Mardis on Unsplash

Letters from Armorica- The Trial (20 March 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

O! It has been a week. Bertrand's father, M. Laveau, has not been seen in some days; and Bertrand himself is no longer staying with the Poquêries, but has returned to his home, to live once again with his mother and his younger siblings. It was the central topic of discussion at the hot springs this afternoon.

I felt myself to be on trial, and wondered if I should absent myself; but Marc Frontenac told me I had done nothing wrong and that I needed to be in my place. And so I sat where Onc' Herbert always used to sit, feeling more like a fraud than usual, with Marc Frontenac in his usual place on my right and with Jacques Poquêrie on my left; and Jacques sat Bertrand to his left, a most exalted place for such a young fellow. There was considerable murmuring as we took our places, for of course everyone in town had some notion, clear or otherwise, of what had happened. Usually there is a great deal of chit chat as the men enter the springs and settle down in the hot water, but today everyone was silent.

Rather than speaking myself, I took Marc's advice: when all were seated I gestured to Jacques. Marc and I are still newcomers to Bois-de-Bas, though highly regarded; Jacques was born here.

Jacques began by telling them what they already knew: that Bertrand had been sent to L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau with the other lads; that he had excelled there, becoming captain of the lookouts and contributing to the defense of the island by his leadership and vigilance; that his father had taken against me through no fault of my own; and had driven him out into the snow. He explained how we had found him, starving and nearly frozen, with Luc's help (without going into detail about the message arrows), and brought him home.

This was followed by questions. Jean Thibodeau, a close neighbor of the Laveaus, asked Bertrand to confirm Jacques' story, and to give additional details, which he did. It was hard for him. He sat bolt upright, clenching his fists, but he answered as calmly and firmly as a young fellow his age might, though with an edge to his voice. No one alluded directly to M. Laveau's more vile claims and insinuations, for which I was grateful. M. Thibodeau then asked many searching questions about the living situation on L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau, and about the time he spent with me when Bertrand joined me in Mont-Havre and at the Farm.

Then M. Thibodeau, who seemed to have tacitly appointed himself Bertrand's advocate, asked me why I'd summoned Bertrand to come to me in Mont-Havre; it was the first time I'd been asked to speak.

"Because I knew him to be reliable," I said. "He did excellent service during the war, as you have all heard. I needed someone I could trust to run errands for me, and to help me keep things running."

"And why didn't you summon Luc, your apprentice?"

I laughed. "It is a long way from Bois-de-Bas to Mont-Havre. Luc is small for his age; I knew that Bertrand could handle any trouble that arose along the way, and would arrive safely."

There were a few more questions for me, but no surprises, and with a start I realized that I was not the one on trial; M. Laveau was, though in absentia. More, I had the sense that Jean Thibodeau had no friendly feelings for M. Laveau. Familiarity breeds contempt, they say, and sometimes it is deserved.

Then M. Thibodeau turned to Jacques, and asked him what he knew of M. Laveau's whereabouts. Jacques was painfully blunt.

"Once we had Bertrand safe, I went to speak to M. Laveau. I told him he was un cochon, and no good father, and that he was no longer welcome in Bois-de-Bas. The next day he was gone."

"Do you know where he went?"


"Did you threaten him?"

Jacques laughed harshly. He is a brawny man, our carpenter and cabinet maker; and he crossed his corded arms and said only, "I had no need to." Heads nodded all around the spring.

"And what of his wife and children? What provision did he make for them?" This had the air of a rhetorical question, and it was. Amelie had sent Luc to them the previous day with a basket of bread, and I knew she was far from alone.

"None at all, le ver."

M. Thibodeau then turned back to Bertrand, and spoke to him sternly.

"You should have come straight to me, n'est-ce pas? I have known you all of your life, and your father longer than that. We would have taken care of things."

"Oui, monsieur," said Bertrand, nodding his head awkwardly. "I—"

But M. Thibodeau held up his hand and stopped him. "Now, are you ready to take care of your mother and your younger brother and sisters?"

"I am," he said.

M. Thibodeau turned to me. "Then, M. Tuppenny, I say that Bertrand Laveau is a man of Bois-de-bas." I quite understood the subtext: that the Thibodeaus and their other Laveau neighbors would make sure he made a success of it, and that no one truly suspected me of any misbehavior, but that I needed to leave Bertrand be.

I nodded; and Bois-de-Bas's newest citizen was forthwith subjected to a ceremonial dunking which devolved with much yelling and shouting into a water fight the likes of which I have never seen before.

He is young for it, but I think he will do very well.

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