Monthly Archives: May 2020

Letters from Armorica- Antiquities (16 September 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It is good to be back in my home, to be able to work without worry, and to attend to Luc's instruction as I ought. He has been plaguing me, in his quiet way, for tales of the Former's Guild, how it began and came to be, and who the first former was; and due to my cares and my travels I have been unable to oblige him.

Yesterday evening, after the customers and the old men had gone home, the two of us settled down for a chat in my workshop. We often do this in the early evening, when I can make time; and in the workshop rather than the parlor, for deep discussions of forming are tedious for the uninitiated. Amelie is the best of wives, and so I try not to weary her ears with such things; and when I come to the parlor after and sit with Amelie and the girls, why, we speak of other things.

I say the two of us, but it is really the three of us, for Jacques-le-Souris often stays in his place on the settee at the front of the workshop, smoking his pipe—more, I think, because Madame Truc dislikes the aroma than because of interest on his part. And I suppose it is now the four of us, for now Bastien is there as well. He—or Amelie—has arranged things so that I am under his eye whenever he is not otherwise engaged. There is a stool against the wall of the workshop that wasn't there a month ago, and when he has no other duties and I am in the workshop, he is on his stool. Somehow (I don't know how he does it, given his size) he even manages managing not to loom.

It's of a piece with how smoothly he has entered our lives. He is always quiet, always present, does whatever we ask efficiently but without hurry, and (except when he is engaged in a task) never in the way. And so, since I am in the workshop, he is also in the workshop. I do not know how Amelie found someone who would be so devoted to my safety. In theory he beds down on a pallet in the main shop; but I should not be surprised to find him asleep outside the door of our bedroom, like a Cumbrian valet of my grandfather's era.

Last night our topic was the first formers and the earliest days of the Former's Guild. Alas, I had little to tell him.

"I was trained by my father, you understand, and my father has never been interested in such things," I said. "My father has only ever been interested in enlarging his prestige in the future. But even if he had been, I doubt I would know much more."

"Pourquoi, maître?" said Luc.

"You've just said it yourself: 'maître, master'. We formers are a close-lipped crew, Luc. A master accumulates forming recipes in his grimoire, and he passes them down to his apprentices—but not to other masters, not without payment or great need—though he might sneak a look at another master's book given a chance. And we are usually concerned more with what we can do than what we can know." I smiled at him. "You mustn't take me as a typical example, you know. You have helped me pursue my investigations; but the only other former I am aware of who went in for that was the late Master Grenadine, and he had to come here to Armorica to do it."

Luc pursed his lips. "But you must know something of these things, maître?" Bastien sat his stool in the growing dimness, a dark mass on the edge of my vision.

"A little," I said. "I was told as a boy that there have been formers, of a sort, since the days of antiquity, long before there was anything resembling the Former's Guild. Indeed, that was the only interest my father had in the subject: that they lived in the days before the Guild, and therefore they were mostly of low estate, leading lives that were short and uncomfortable. Little better than tinkers, he called them. I heard him say that frequently, any time I showed impatience with his teaching or the guild rules. 'Do you want to be a tinker, Armand? Is that what you want? It's the Guild that preserves us, and don't you forget it!'" I aped his deep, raspy voice, and Luc giggled. "And then he'd mention the name of some fellow or other who was more than usually skilled and grew wealthy in the service of some lord; and then perished because he didn't have the protection of the guild, and his grimoire was lost to the ages because of the fools around him."

Luc frowned in concentration, his face golden in the light of the lantern.

"But your grimoire, maître: the first pages are the oldest, non?"

"And so they should tell me something of my master's master's master's master, you think?"

"Oui, maître."

I shrugged. "It's a good thought, Luc, but you've read them for yourself. Or, at least, you've copied them; you might go back and take another look." He nodded. "Now, it's true that in the normal course of events the apprentice copies his master's grimoire word for word. If that were all there was to it we might learn many things from examining the earliest entries.

"But those apprentices grow up to be masters. Some of them learn more about the older recipes and need to revise them, and some grow tired of reading archaic language; and so some of them—though not my father—will make a new copy for themselves in after years. Some might even take the time to put the recipes in some kind of order. And if they hand their revisions down to some, or if there is time for an apprentice to copy them, their work might get handed down. If you look carefully, you'll see that the recipes in the first part of my grimoire are organized in related groups. That was my great-grandfather's work, I believe. My grandfather added many new recipes, and my father passed them along to me. The only new recipes he has added have been payment for political favors." I waved a hand. "Maybe I'll do as my great-grandfather did someday. In fact, I suppose what I should do is work through the whole grimoire and describe how my new equations apply to each recipe." I stared at the lamp for a time, frowning. "That will be a great deal of work. Perhaps, instead, I will write a book about my equations, and let you update the grimoire in your turn."

Luc sat up straight. "Oui, maître. I surely will."

He will, too, unless I miss my guess.

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Letters from Armorica- Bastien (24 August 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Life is but a whirlwind of changes here in Bois-de-Bas. We are now a properly chartered city, of course, though that doesn't yet show on the surface; and the Guild Hall will remain in Mont-Havre for the time being, Lord Doncaster having agreed to my making a series of quarterly visits. But everything else!

The wagon-works is naturally in a constant state of change at this time as we learn the best ways to organize and speed the daily work. Marc and Jacques have that in hand, and I offer my thoughts whenever I visit—which I now do with a small floating cart of my own, so that I can more easily transport the lifting and motive elements I produce in my own shop. Luc, to my amazement, has trained Patches the goat to pull it.

When I arrived at the wagon-works yesterday I was surprised to discover that I now have a small closet there, with a writing desk and a chair. It is just a small cubby built into one wall, with thin partitions that do little to block the noise; but as the father of small girls I have learned to block out extraneous noise at need. Thus, I now have a place of my own to work and think on my days at the works.

Marc's office is rather larger and grander than mine, I may say, but then he is there every day—and I dare say it should be larger, for Jean-Baptiste has settled in as his clerk, and between Marc and Jean-Baptiste and the files and the ledgers there is scarcely room to move.

But it is the main part of the building where the changes are most dramatic. There are benches all along where the parts of the wagons are shaped, each in turn, and in the middle a place where each new wagon is assembled from the parts all around. Marc says they are now producing a new wagon every third day, and can go faster at need.

But it is the changes at home that have astonished me, for they were wholly unexpected. When I arrived home on Wednesday I found Luc working in the forming shop, and helping customers at the counter as needed, just as he should do…but I also found that the shop itself had changed. Between them, Amelie and Luc had arranged for a small extension at the back: a small place with a stool and a drawing table and places to keep my grimoires, journals, and other drawings. It is not a room precisely, being separated from the main part of the shop by no more than a railing at waist height supported by simple balusters; but it is more than I had before.

"Mais oui, you must be seen," said Amelie. "But you cannot be all of the time chatting with the old men, mon cher Armand. You must be able to think. Voilà! Penses-tu!"

I do not know how they managed to build it in the short time I was gone. I suppose that Amelie asked for it weeks ago, and that Jacques had had the materials all prepared so that he and his men could come in and assemble it quickly. It is small, not to say cramped, and the wood is unfinished (though well smoothed) as it is in the rest of the forming shop; but I find that I already love it very much.

But the biggest change is the presence of our new servant, Bastien. He is well named, I may say, for he is tall and stoutly built, more like an ox than a man; and he is bastion in very truth, for anyone who attempted to knock him down would surely bounce. He speaks little, but does whatever he is asked to do; and when he is not engaged in lifting crates or unloading wagons he stands against the wall somewhere in my vicinity and waits to be of use. I was taken aback when I first saw him, for there are many fragile things in our shops and store-room that might be harmed by a careless move, but for all his size he moves lightly and with ease. I have no idea where Amelie found him for I am sure I have never seen him before; and truly he is hard to miss.

I am of two minds about his presence, even though I was the one who asked Amelie to find such a person, for he is quite a sizable piece of furniture in his own way and I find I am often walking around him. But on the other, I do feel safer with him here, for he will be capable of dealing with most any physical assailant. A pistol could bring him down…perhaps I should look into making him some kind of hardened leather jerkin, such as the King's guards wear?

I shall consider.

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Letters from Armorica- Dinner with His Lordship (19 August 36 AF)

First Letter

Ma chére Amelie,

Marc and I have just returned from a private dinner with Lord Doncaster and my cousin Jack. All is well, and as I know you are waiting with 'bated breath I am taking a few moments before bed to write to you. Tomorrow I shall attend on M. Suprenant and send this to you by arrow.

Ma chérie, all is well, all is very well indeed. I fear I have misjudged His Lordship rather severely, and in fact the meal was full of surprises for me. But let me tell it as it happened.

Marc and I arrived in Mont-Havre two days ago; the trip was swift and comfortable, and I have a list of interested customers that I gathered along the way. We made haste to meet with M. Gauthier and give him a copy of the town charter, which was the work of but a moment. We dined with M. Suprenant, and yesterday with my good friend M. Fournier; and this morning a messenger brought an invitation to dine with His Lordship to the Guild Hall.

Dinner with the Governer-General is often a grand affair: an enormous dining room, a long table with many chairs, footmen serving each diner, music, chandeliers sporting hundreds of candles, and all of the leading men of Bois-de-Bas in attendance. Tonight, though, we were escorted to a small room with a table set for four where Jack and His Lordship waited. We were seated, and a single footmen served us and then closed the doors and departed.

Once we was gone His Lordship asked us, in "a voice of the most stern", what we thought we were playing at. I began to explain our reasoning, and my desire to live and work in Bois-de-Bas, and all of the arguments you know, and as I spoke I noticed a most peculiar expression on His Lordship's face. His mustache almost seemed to be twitching, and I thought to myself, "How angry is he?" The twitching grew worse, and Jack stared at his plate with a fixed, glassy-eyed expression, and I grew more and more concerned, and then as I was wrapping up His Lordship burst into gales of laughter.

"You have no idea," he said, drying his eyes after many long moments of merriment, "you have no idea how much pleasure I have derived from watching the members of le Grand Parlement scurry hither and thither like crazed mice. Most of them are merchants or have mercantile interests, you know. A third of them are calling down curses on your name because of what they fear you will do to business here in Mont-Havre, another third are angry because they didn't think of it first, and all of them are consulting with their men of law to ensure that no one can do it again without their approval. I find I must drink your health."

And he did so, in bumpers. Then he spoke to me seriously.

"My dear Tuppenny, you have misjudged me. I do not wish to constrain you unduly, but I do wish to keep you safe. You are the only one who knows how to form these contraptions of yours, which are of the first importance for Armorican prosperity, and also, though you might not care as much about this, for Cumbrian supremacy over her enemies; and you have been the target of one plot already."

"Oh!" I exclaimed. "Is that all? In that case I can assure you that I am in no danger in Bois-de-Bas—less so than here in Mont-Havre, I assure you." And then, of course, I told him of the events of the war: how Le Maréchal's men tried to winkle me out of Bois-de-Bas, and how the folk of Bois-de-Bas responded. I did not go into detail about the location of our hide-out during those days, but only that we had one; I may have led him to think that it was underground. It is better that L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau remains a secret.

His Lordship enjoyed the stories immensely, but afterwards said to me gravely, "I see you are much loved. But consider: people will be coming to Bois-de-Bas now, people you don't know. Some may come to love you as well. Others, well, they may have reasons not to do so. I do pray you will be careful."

Perhaps, ma chérie, you might consider hiring someone? A largish someone to help with loading and unloading wagons and moving things about the store-room, and to ride with me when I travel to and from the wagon-works? You know the young men of the village; you will be well able to find someone worthy of trust.

Marc and I will dine with M. Suprenant tomorrow, and leave for Bois-de-Bas on Mardi, and so I should be home with you on Mercredi

With all my love,


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Letters from Armorica- The Charter (15 August 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

The thing is done, thanks to the good advice of M. Suprenant and his l'homme de loi, M. Gauthier. The people of the town of Bois-de-Bas have enacted a city charter under the statutes of the Articles of Founding, which are surprisingly lenient on the matter of population size. I suppose they had to be to allow for the incorporation of Mont-Havre thirty-six years ago, and then, these are the Articles set down by the Première Débarquement, the First Landing.

The successful founding of Armorica dates to the Deuxième Débarquement, an event Armoricans remember fondly and celebrate each June 3rd; but the city of Mont-Havre was founded by the colonists who came three years earlier on the Pont Neuf, our dear Madame Truc and Jacques-le-Souris among them. Though they are inveterate story-tellers, Jacques especially, even they prefer not to remember the hardships of those early years.

But the fundamental laws of the Colony of Armorica were set down at the time of the First Landing, and agreed to by the colonists who came later with Captain Jacques Durand on the Argenteuil. Planting a colony is a dangerous business, and it was understood that the site chosen for the first settlement might have serious disadvantages that were not apparent at first or even second glance—that it might, in fact, be necessary for the settlement to be abandoned in favor of a more propitious spot. On the other hand, the founders (most of whom perished within the first two years) did not want rival cities springing up everywhere just because of quarrels among the first colonists. All the Articles of Founding say, then, is that a second commune (for so the Provençese call an incorporated or chartered township) may not be established until twenty years after landing, unless the Première Cité must be abandoned during that time.

Today there are of course many small towns, villages, and hamlets outside of Mont-Havre; but according to M. Gauthier none of them have chosen to incorporate as a commune. It seems odd; but Armorica has been a backwater for most of its existence—due to the Troubles in Provençe, no one there had time to make trouble for the colonists. And Mont-Havre proved to be as good a site as the first colonists thought. So communities formed, and handled their own affairs in peace, mostly because the other communities in Armorica were too busy with their own affairs to meddle. I'm sure some would have liked to incorporate had they been allowed; but twenty years is a full generation, and I by the time it was possibility the possibility had been largely forgotten.

The main point for us is that there is no obstacle in the Articles of Founding for Bois-de-Bas to be chartered as a commune; the only hard requirement is that the charter be registered with the "governing council" of the colony. Not "approved" by that council, but simply "registered" with it. The first colonists wanted to be able to live their lives without undue interference from above, to the extent possible. In Provençe, any new commune would have needed to be approved by the Crown, but the Articles of Founding are silent about that, despite having portentous language about the allegiance owed to the mother country and its monarch.

And so, with the help of M. Gauthier we wrote up a charter for Bois-de-Bas that says that our town is governed by a town meeting and presided over by a mayor chosen by that meeting—which is to say that life will go on as before, except that now Bois-de-Bas will have rights under the law that the big men in Mont-Havre are bound to respect.

The people of Bois-de-Bas met in informal council in the Hot Springs this past Sunday—at least, the residents of long standing did—and then again in formal meeting at our town hall this afternoon, and after a few minor changes, the charter was adopted. Bois-de-Bas is now the Chartered Commune of Bois-de-Bas—or will be, once the charter is registered—and I, for my sins, am its first official mayor.

Tomorrow Marc Frontenac and I will make the journey to Mont-Havre, armed with the final draft of our charter, and spend a few days living quietly at the Guild Hall and dining with friends while M. Gauthier sees to registering the charter with the "governing council" of the Colony of Armorica; and then, no doubt, we shall dine with Lord Doncaster, who will want to know what we are about; and then we shall have a some fraught talk about the Armorican Former's Guild and the residency requirements thereof. I do not see a need to move the Guild's headquarters to Bois-de-Bas if something can be arranged with His Lordship; but if he becomes sticky I shall gladly do so.

Moving the Guild headquarters would leave a vacuum in Mont-Havre, of course, which means that some Cumbrian or Provençese former might come and establish a new branch of the guild there—an unpleasant thing—but the guild in Bois-de-Bas would remain the senior branch and the head of the guild in Armorica.

His Lordship might argue that the Articles of Founding have been abrogated by the Cumbrian victory over Le Maréchal and subsequent annexation of Armorica…but His Lordship has been delicate in his touch, to date, and beyond insisting on Cumbrian hegemony has mostly left the laws of Armorica alone, and as yet he has said nothing specific about the Articles of Founding.

I expect that to change, shortly. But for now we shall see if His Lordship blinks. I rather think he will.

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Letters from Armorica- Shopkeeping (31 July 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Amelie and I have had our first serious squabble—and it came to me as a complete surprise. It was all about our shop—the village shop, not my workshop.

When I first married Amelie, she and I ran the shop together. Then it came out that I'm a former, and we added my workshop; Amelie ran the shop counter, took orders, and so forth, and I did forming for the townsfolk. Then came the children, and war; Marc and Elise ran the shop for a period of time, while we were away on L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau, and once we returned we sometimes asked Jean-Baptiste and his Brigitte to help out at the counter.

But Tuppenny Wagons is now taking most of my time; and with the children, Amelie has less time for the shop; and Jean-Baptiste and Brigitte need something more regular than occasional work. So I thought, well. What if we were to sell the shop to Jean-Baptiste and Brigitte? It would be good for them, and good for us. We'd need to build a new home, of course….

But Amelie hates the idea. I can't find words to describe how much she hates it. It all came out in a tumble of words—the shop is all she has left of her father—she was raised to work!—it is her home. I backed down quickly, for I was horrified that I had made her cry, and went out to Tuppenny Wagons to talk with Marc.

To my surprise, he too reacted with horror to my idea, though without the yelling and crying.

"Jamais!" he said. "You mustn't do that, Armand!"

"And why not?" I am afraid I was quite cold and stiff.

"Because it is what your father would do."

I began to ask him what he meant by that, and then the sense of it hit me and I was silent.

Marc led me out of our big barn of a building to where a bench had been placed overlooking the sweep of land to the west, the road to Mont-Havre cutting through the middle of it, and sat the two of us down.

"You have been forced to think à ton pere of late," he said. "You have been demanding, devious, skillful in your dealings with Lord Doncaster.C'est bon, for it has been what Tuppenny Wagons needs. But it is not what you need,mon cher, and it is not what Amelie or the children need from you."

I must have looked rather stricken, for Marc put a hand on my shoulder and spoke to me gently.

"The people of Bois-de-Bas love you, Armand, because you came here from la grande ville of Mont-Havre—and before that from Yorke!—but you were not hautain, ne pas prétentieux. You were willing to work, and did not complain. The people of Bois-de-Bas have not forgotten your time with the goats, mon cher. And then once you married Amelie you began to do everything you could for your neighbors. And you did it well, tres bon, and without thinking it made you important."

"I begin to see," I said.

"C'est vrai," he said. "And now in dealing with Lord Doncaster you have found that you must act like your father, wise as a serpent and mild as a grand-blaireau. It is a skill, Armand, and you do it well, but it is not you."

"Have I been acting like my father at home, do you think?"

"That you must ask Amelie," he said. But Amelie talks with Elise, and Elise talks with Marc, and from the look in his eye I could see the answer was yes. "But there is more," he said.

"That isn't enough?"

"Just a little more, Armand. The people of Bois-de-Bas are proud of you, but most do not see you daily. If you sell the shop and build a grande maison—for it would be grande, n'est-ce pas?"

I nodded.

"If you did that, they would begin to think you are—how do the Cumbrians put it? Too big for your britches. Non, you must keep the shop." He nodded decisively. "And your workshop. If you wish to keep their respect, you must remain where they can see you."

"But what about Tuppenny Wagons?"

"It is not to worry. I will be there, managing things day-to-day; and much of what you do you can do from your workshop. For you must design new things, and train Luc and the other apprentice you have not found yet, and be available to your neighbors. Oh, you need not be there every day. Luc is becoming a fine young man and can attend to it while you are here at the wagon-works."

"Yes, I see. But what about Jean-Baptiste and Brigitte? I had also hoped to provide them with steady work."

"Ça va. Brigitte may help Amelie run your shop, for, vraiment, she needs the help; and as for Jean-Baptiste, well, Tuppenny Wagons needs a bookkeeper, n'est-ce pas? For surely you and Amelie have no time for it."

I sat there quietly for a time, watching the sun as it approached the horizon, and Marc sat with me. Then I rose.

"I expect I need to get home to Amelie," I said.

"C'est vrai," said Marc, and slapped me on the back. "I shall look for you here in three days."

Amelie was waiting when I returned home. She apologized for acting like a shrew—which she had not—and I apologized for acting like my father.

"Ah! Ah!" she cried. "Is that him? Is that what he is like, ton pere?"

I nodded grimly.

"And that is why you came here and married me," she said, smiling through her tears. "Ne t'inquiète pas," she said, "I shall recognize him next time, and tell you so."

"You had better," I said. Then I told her of my conversation with Marc, and we agreed to invite Jean-Baptiste and Brigitte to share the noon meal with us tomorrow and talk about our futures.

Dear Lord, save me from the shadow of my father.

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