Monthly Archives: March 2020

Letters from Armorica- A Little Stir (3 May 36 AF)

First Letter

Ma chère Amelie,

Our trip to Mont-Havre has been more glorious than I could have expected. The journey itself was a treat: I knew riding in a floating wagon would be much more pleasant than in a conventional wagon with wheels, but I had not accounted for the lack of bumpiness over the course of an entire day. For once I do not feel battered and bruised as I sit down to my evening meal!

I do believe our road-wagons will change the geography of Armorica. The little towns of Honfleur and Petit-Monde are spaced about a day's walk apart on the road from Bois-de-Bas to Mont-Havre, a distance suitable enough for oxen as well; but we made quicker time than I have ever made before. The oxen didn't get so tired as quickly, and though we stopped briefly in Honfleur for water and necessaries we spent the night in Petit-Monde. It made for a very long day, so that we would much have preferred to stop midway between the two; but still, to arrive in Mont-Havre on the second day!

If only the wagon were self-motivating, I do believe we could easily have made it in one day. But Marc was correct: there is far too much traffic on the road for that to be safe in unskilled hands. We must have passed twenty or thirty other wagons today, some going our way, some coming the other way; and the road is narrow and far from straight. Had we been moving faster, I think there would have been some dangerous collisions! A fine thing it would be for our new company to go bankrupt before it was formed, through paying damages to other firms.

But the glorious part, chérie, is the look on the faces of the other travelers and those who dwell in the little towns as they suddenly realize that our wagon is different. We have been stopped for a talk by many of them, and I have told them to contact me, Armand Tuppenny, care of the shop in Bois-de-Bas. I expect you will already have heard from at least one or two by the time you receive this. I have been collecting the directions of those who are interested; do you the same, and we shall—but I am not to be telling you how to conduct business, chérie!

Today we all met: M. Suprenant, Marc, Jack, and I, with Luc in attendance; blessedly, Lord Doncaster did not feel the need to be present, though I expect that he might still drive a difficult bargain when it comes time to address selling wagons to the Crown. We had a fine dinner at M. Suprenant's home, and then had a long talk after the table had been cleared.

Most of the details were settled quickly, as things so often are among friends; and may I say that Marc and Leon Suprenant are well on the way to becoming friends? I could ask nothing better.

There will be one hundred shares. Leon will own the grand-blaireau's share, of course, as the money is his; I begin with fifteen, as the former who can make it possible; Jacques Pôquerie with ten as the builder, and Marc and Jack each have five, leaving Leon with sixty-five…at present. Part of our agreement (all properly written down, I assure you) is that Jacques and I shall be able to purchase shares from Leon as we begin to earn money, so that in time you and I shall own the largest share. For now, it is Leon who is taking the most risk.

Though I know you will be pleased I find I am rather embarrassed to tell you the name we settled upon for the new venture. I favored a simple name like Armorican Wagons, but the others insisted on "La Compagnie des Wagons Tuppenny", or as we would say in Cumbrian, Tuppenny Wagons. We wrangled over it for quite some time, but ultimately they wore me down. I tried to argue that it was a bad name, that the wagons would cost quite a bit more than tuppence, that our customers would find it confusing, and Jack laughed at me and told me I should have chosen my nom de guerre more carefully, and that it was a proper stick in the eye for my father.

It is true, I should like to see the look on his face, chérie. His son, grandmaster of the Former's Guild in Armorica, engaging in trade—and under such a name as Tuppenny! And when we are successful, as I am sure we shall be, I am not sure which will annoy him more: that I am bringing shame on the family by engaging in trade, or that I am not using his name, so that he can't take credit for our success.

It has been a long day, chérie, and there is much to do tomorrow; but I should be home late on Samedi. Kiss Anne-Marie and Margaret for me!

Your loving husband,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica– Avec Prudence (29 April 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Tomorrow at last I will set out to Mont-Havre to speak with M. Suprenant and Lord Doncaster…and I shall do so in style!

Jacques and I have spent this week building a fine road-wagon: a simple affair, based on a normal wagon body, but with just enough in the way of lifting blocks to carry it a foot or so off of the ground, and sled-like runners on which to rest for loading and unloading. The wagon has no motive block, and must be pulled by horses or other beasts of burden—or, rather, instead of a motive block it has what I call a braking block so that it will slow down on its own. The braking block was a late addition, developed after our wagon narrowly missed maiming two of Marc's best oxen. It is always active.

As a result, this wagon has only one control, to lift it into the air or lower it to the ground. Once lowered, it will not move; and once raised it may be pulled about like any other wagon. Almost like any other wagon: it never requires quite as much work to pull as a normal wagon would on smooth and level ground, regardless of the footing or slope.

It is a modest effort, far less than I could do: even Luc can do most of the necessary forming. But it is easily formed, and the unformed parts are easily built, and it should be no more difficult for a drover or farmer or carter to use than a normal wagon—while being much easier on the horses or oxen, and never breaking a wheel.

I had been all in favor of going straight to a full-fledged sky-wagon, or possibly what one might call a sky-skiff, but Marc and Jack between them talked me out of it. Jack's argument is that anything I make in this line will have military implications—what I want is a patent royal, and it will be much easier to get one if I offer my more advanced vehicles to the crown first. Marc's argument is more down to the earth, as one might say. He well remembers the day his sky-sled went to pieces around him, tumbling him to the ground. Our first customers are much less likely to kill themselves using a road wagon than they would with a sky-sled, sky-chair, or sky-wagon. "You are tres intelligent, Armand, and your work, it is digne de confiance. But still, let us move avec prudence." M. Suprenant, whom we consulted by arrow, agrees. "A man who falls from a wagon is bruised, while a man who falls from the sky, donc, he is killed. Let us remember that les idiots, they are always with us. Let us act so that they do not destroy what we are building."

All three are right, of course, and our unexpected need for a braking block (so that the wagon may also move avec prudence) is just an example of the wisdom of taking it slowly. And speaking of prudence, I must here record, since I neglected to do so above, that the braking block was Luc's notion!

And so tomorrow, Marc, Luc, and I will journey to Mont-Havre in our road-wagon, there (I hope) to acquire a patent royal and form a new company under the auspices of the crown. It shall not be a small endeavor: M. Suprenant for funding, Jacques Pôquerie for the design and normal building, myself for the forming, Marc and Jack for friendship and aid. And possibly Lord Doncaster, though I would prefer if he had no explicit role in the new company. I am glad to give him any credit, but I would prefer if our efforts were purely Armorican-owned. Always assuming that I can persuade Jack to make his life here, as I increasingly hope I can. But Lord Doncaster, as the Crown's representative here, must always be an outsider.

There will be pressure to locate our company in Mont-Havre, but we intend to place it in Bois-de-Bas. It is my home; the necessary materials are here in abundance; and it is past time for Armorica to have another commercial center.

And now, to bed for a good night's rest.

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Letters from Armorica- Regions of Safety (22 April 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Jack,

Thank you for the material you sent me on—

Oh my, has it been that long? Yes, looking at my journal I see it's been over a week since I received it. I beg your forgiveness—your sheaf of notes was exactly what I needed to make progress, and I have only just now come up for air.

What I have done, Jack—mostly, anyway, I suspect I will be filling in the corners for some time—what I have done, I say, is work out the mathematical laws by which greedy and generous formed objects interact. As a result, I am now able to design sky-chairs and other similar vessels that will contain both—and indeed a plethora, nay, a superfluity! of other things—and with perfect safety—

I am not very coherent today, I find.

I shall take a deep breath, and try again.

It has been a very long week, Jack. It began when I received your letter, and since then every waking moment has been consumed by my work. I have been elated and snappish by turns, and I have hardly left my workshop even to sleep. On the second day my Amelie took to leaving me plates of food on the counter, and that evening, smiling serenely, she left me a pile of blankets. "You will come out when it is done, n'est-ce pas? " And I believe she must have spoken to Jacques-le-Souris, for it just now occurs to me that my usual crowd of old men, my village elders, have been absent for most of that time.

Or perhaps they simply peeked in the window and were driven off by my unkempt hair and wild manner.

No matter. It is done, Jack. I have proven mathematically that it is possible to build self-powered flying vessels that will not self-destruct as my early efforts did. Yes, certainly, we knew that was possible—the sky-freighters and warships that ply the Abyss prove that. But I now know the relationships between the degree of hardening and the degrees of lift and motive power that are safe; and more than that, I know the range of designs that are workable, that fall within what I call in my head the region of safety. It is a much broader region than the shipbuilders of the Lands of the Abyss seem to think.

This will change the craft of forming forever, Jack. And it will provide a fortune for Amelie and my daughters, and for my friends here in Bois-de-Bas.

And now, Jack, I need one more thing of you. I shall be coming to Mont-Havre in a day or two, and I need you set up a meeting with M. Suprenant, Lord Doncaster—my thanks to him!—and myself. And you, of course. I will need funds, experience in trade, and the good will of the government to bring this off—and quite aside from that, I remember my friends.

And now, I believe, I must go sleep in a real bed. Amelie will see that this gets sent to you, at least, if she is not completely out of patience with me.

I have done it, Jack. I am happier than I can well express.

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- A Game of Darts (8 April 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Jack,

I hope all is well with you, and that you've not broken too many hearts in Mont-Havre; there are several tender ones here in Bois-de-Bas, I do believe, who would rejoice in making your acquaintance once again.

Your Sergeant Allen has proven to be quite the treasure. His inn, Le Cochon's Head, has proven just the social center I hoped it would be, and with him behind the bar there's been little in the way of drunken trouble for me to take official notice of. He's a solid man, if stout looking; and the same describes the truncheon he keeps near to hand, not that he's had to make much use of it. He has the knack, Jack, and the townsfolk like him.

I shall tell you a story. Some while ago, Claude Fourneau got into a brawl with Guy Sanfois over a game of darts. Fourneau is one of our newer men, a fellow from Fôret-Rose who came here during the war; Sanfois is one of Marc Frontenac's hired men, and a third-generation resident. It was the usual sort of thing: Claude said Guy had shot with his foot over the line, Guy denied it, both had been drinking heavily, names were called, fists were thrown (and mostly missed), and it was about to become general when Allen stepped in and told them that if they were going to have a fight they were going to "do it proper," at least if they ever wanted to drink in his inn again. He'd never seen such poor excuse for fisticuffs in his life, and he wasn't going to stand for it.

I assure you, Jack, every jaw dropped.

Allen escorted them both outside, followed by all of the other drinkers, and sketched out a circle in the road with his foot. He pushed them both inside, and proceeded to give them both instruction in how to properly throw and receive a punch, how to block, and so forth. I'm not being coy, Jack; I don't mean he beat them up. I mean that he let them beat each other up under his tutelage, and damme if they both didn't improve quite a bit despite being half-seas-over.

And then they both collapsed, more or less simultaneously, and their friends took them home at Allen's direction, and everyone else went inside and had a round of Allen's excellent beer. Claude and Guy were back the next day, battered but happy, shook hands with good will, and last I heard were still badgering Allen for more lessons.

Bois-de-Bas remains a frontier town, as you can see; and I may say that the local ladies were quite impressed. At least one of your erstwhile admirers has set her cap at the good sergeant, and as I expect to see a wedding before Deuxième Débarquement in June you will have to move quickly if you wish to regain your place in her heart!

I joke, of course, but in all seriousness: when might we see you here again? I am eager to come to Mont-Havre, weather permitting, but I cannot bring Amelie and the girls, nor have you yet laid eyes on your newest cousin.

In the meantime I have a favor to ask of you; or, possibly, for you to ask of His Lordship. I am close to making a breakthrough, Jack, but I need numbers. More specifically, I need the plans and details of a small sky-ship: a sloop, or something of the sort. A sloop-of-war would be preferable, but I will take whatever I can get.

As you know, I have had occasion to examine two such sloops, both Provençese in origin, so I have a good idea of their draughts and dimensions; what I do not know is their tonnage: how much they weigh, how much material goes into them. If I can get some numbers, Jack, I am poised to make some major advances in shipbuilding—a good thing for me and mine, for Armorican industry, and potentially for Cumbria as well.

If it is possible to get what I need without involving His Lordship I would prefer it—for I have become a shopkeeper, Jack, no doubt to my father's dismay, and wish to be able to drive the hardest bargains I can—but I would never wish you to go behind Lord Doncaster's back. I owe him too much for that.

Armand

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