Monthly Archives: June 2020

Letters from Armorica- Doings in Mont-Havre (14 November 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Jack,

Of course you should come to us for the Twelve Days of Christmas. How not? Until you marry and start your own family we are your only family here, n'est-ce pas? And you can hardly go home to Cumbria.

I realize, of course, that our little celebrations here in Bois-de-Bas will be quite unlike what you are you used to in Yorke—what times, that is, that you have been in Yorke since beginning your military career—but I think we can certainly do better for you than Christmas in a military camp. And who knows? Perhaps you shall meet someone young and attractive, and choose to keep them for a change. Your Sergeant Allen did, and I can tell you that Sergeant and Mrs. Allen are to all appearances much taken with each other.

Yes, Jack, I know the Old Religion is an obstacle to you—or, at least, to your mother, whom I would not wish to worry in any way. But it isn't so bad as all that, Jack. I find I much prefer the simple faith of my fellow townsfolk here in Bois-de-Bas to the manner in which my father practices his piety in Yorke. They've retained something we've forgotten, I think.

But enough of hounding you! Though, you know, it is my job as the closest thing to a brother you shall ever have. But on to your news!

I am fascinated by what you tell me about His Lordship's actions with regard to Le Grand Parlement. It is quite a list—are you certain he is acting within the scope of his remit from His Majesty's government in Yorke? But of course you are, you handle his mail and saw the decree, you said so.

It is an astonishing degree of sovereignty His Majesty is giving us, Jack: the right to make our own laws subject only to His Lordship's veto, with possibility of appeal to Yorke; the right to keep our own courts, provided that we institute the jury system for capital crimes. We lose the right to our own foreign policy, but in fact we never had that. And in prior days we were entirely under the thumb of Toulouse, in theory, at least, if not always in practice.

What accounts for this, Jack? This is magnanimity itself; Cumbria could easily have chosen to treat us as a conquered territory. They'd have been foolish to do so, mind you: frontier folk are a fierce folk, as I have good reason to know, who make better friends than enemies. But I am surprised that His Majesty's ministers were wise enough to consider it.

Or, perhaps—

Jack, I must know: what do you hear about Le Maréchal in his swamp in Guyanão? What is going on in Provençe? For I can only assume that some kind of action is in the offing and that His Majesty is clearing the decks: that he is trying to bind Armorica more firmly to Cumbria before the fighting begins.

Let me know instantly if there are any steps I should take.

Your alarmed cousin,

Armand

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- Reading Lessons (28 October 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Some while ago I joked that Bastien is so devoted to my safety that I wouldn't be surprised to find him sleeping across our doorway at night. I now have manifest proof that this is not what he has been doing.

I have acquired a stock of Cumbrian books from M. Fournier—not so many as I would like, but enough to share with my Amelie. I thought at first that she would like to read them to herself, but no: she wants me to read them to her, as I used to read books to her when she was first learning to read and write. And so we gather by the fire in the evenings, Amelie and I and Jacques-le-Souris and Madame Truc, and Luc and Bastien, and I read to them.

I started with Whelkie's The Sunstone, in which, as it were, the hero digs into the secrets of the past that lie beneath of the green sod of the present—a remarkable book, and unlike anything else I've read. I thought my family would find it gripping, and they did. Then I went on to Dorchester Cellars, which concerns a town in the south of Cumbria, and a struggle for control of an old and storied winery there. It is a long, slow tale—as it well might be, being typical of Thomas Becker's multitudinous works. I picked it because there is much in it about country life in Cumbria. For, you see, I don't simply read straight through: Amelie and the others often stop me and ask questions, and so I get to tell them things about my homeland that it would never have occurred to me to talk about otherwise.

Luc has been particularly attentive, which does not surprise me, for he has been eager for more to read ever since I taught him; and he has been borrowing each book as we finish it so that he can read it over again for himself. In this he is so different than Bastien, who sits on his stool by the door with no expression on his face until we are done.

I am sure I do not know when Luc finds time for reading, as I keep him busy during waking hours—or, rather, I did not know until last night.

I was wakeful, why I do not know, but I was; and I found myself pondering the theory of forming, as I so often do at such times. Rather than disturb Amelie I decided to rise and retrieve the journal in which I keep my forming notes.

I was pleased rather than otherwise to discover that Bastien was not sleeping in the hallway, as I half-feared he might be, not that I have ever caught him at it; for stepping over his large form without waking him would have been difficult. And so, by the light of a candle, I tip-toed through the house, into the shop, and then over to my work shop. Luc sleeps under the counter there, so I was prepared to open the door as quietly as I could, but as I approached a saw a line of light under the door, and a soft murmur. What was this?

I opened the door, making instead no effort at all to be quiet, and was rewarded by the sight of two shocked candlelit faces. Luc and Bastien were sitting side-by-side against the wall, a single candlestick between them; and their heads were bent over a book in Luc's lap, a volume I recognized from its binding as Dorchester Cellars.

There was a long moment. The two seemed frozen, except that their eyes turned to follow me.

I entered the room fully, and leaning against the counter I put my candlestick beside me.

"It is very late, Luc," I said. "Would you care to explain?"

Luc's mouth started to open below his wide eyes, but the voice I heard was Bastien's—deep, low, and strong.

"He is teaching me, maître," he said.

"Cumbrian?" I asked.

"To read Cumbrian," said Luc. "He already knows how to read—" And then he broke off, eyes even wider.

Now my eyes widened, my eyebrows rising to their fullest extent.

"He already knows how to read Provençese?" I said, and looked at Bastien.

"Oui, maître," he said. I stared at him, my thoughts spinning aimlessly. I had thought of Bastien as being rather like an ox, well-broken to the work of pulling a wagon—large, stolid, docile. I had not expected that he might know how to read. Indeed, most of the time I hardly expected him to even know how to speak.

"You have hidden depths, Bastien," I said after a time. He looked back at me, calmer now, his usual blank expression fixed on his face. "And why do you wish to learn to read Cumbrian?" For it seemed unlikely that he was motivated by scholarship, or even the desire to read Thomas Becker.

His next words took me wholly by surprise.

"To learn to form, maître."

I felt the first stirrings of anger swell in my chest.

"Luc," I cried, "you have not been—"

Luc sat bolt upright. "Non, non, maître! Jamais!"

"—you have not been teaching him how to form?" I finished more quietly.

"Non, maître," he said again, looking miserable.

"That is good," I said, my anger subsiding. "Only masters may teach, or journeymen under their guidance; and only apprentices may be taught. That is guild law. You are no journeyman, and Bastien is no apprentice."

"Oui, maître"

"Do not be angry, mon cher," came a soft voice from behind me. "It is all my doing, n'est-ce pas?"

Amelie entered with another candlestick, dressed in a warm robe, and came to my side. I looked at her in confusion, and she shrugged.

"You needed a strong protector, oui?" she said, and I nodded. "And you need un autre apprenti, n'est-ce pas?" I nodded again. "I looked for both, and I found him I think." She shrugged again. "Can he be a former? Je ne sais pas. Mais il est tres intelligent."

"But why—" I looked from her to Bastien, and back again. To my shock, Bastien's eyes had a sparkle I had not noticed before.

"Because you were too funny, mon cher. You thought he was un lourdad, un grand boeuf. It become our joke."

Luc was leaning back against the wall, eyes cast down so that I couldn't see them, his hand over his mouth.

I shook my head. "Very well, I have been duly misled. Bastien, you have my apology. But again, why Cumbrian?"

Luc looked up, surprise plain upon his face. "Because he must copy your grimoire, maître."

"And so you have been staying up late, teaching Bastien rather than sleeping?"

"Oui, maître."

"I encouraged them do so, mon cher," said Amelie. "It was to be a surprise for you, n'est-ce pas?"

"Well, there will be no more of that," I said. Amelie gasped, and the young men's faces fell. I paused, then continued, "You both need your rest, so you will simply have to find time during the day." Then, more gently, "But Luc, you know, don't you, that not everyone can learn to be a former? Don't you remember how I tested you, back on L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau?"

Luc shook his head. "Non, monsieur," he said in small voice.

I pondered for a moment, remembering how Bastien had been so calmly attentive while I was teaching Luc over the last months. I wondered how much he had already picked up.

"No matter," I said at last. "A desire to learn is a good sign." I turned to Bastien, who was looking blank again. "You say little, but you listen always, yes?"

"Oui, maître."

"Very well. I shall surely test you as soon as maybe—which is not tonight."

Luc beamed, and Bastien nodded somberly, and then we all went back to bed, not without a few wry glances at Amelie on my part.

And then, this morning, I administered a few simple tests. Bastien is of age; and so, tomorrow, he shall sign his indentures as an apprentice of the Armorican Former's Guild.

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- Scandal in Yorke (10 October 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Father,

Yes, it is quite true that I am "engaged in trade," as you put it, and have been since I married my Amelie and became a shopkeeper. Since I left Yorke, I have done many things that no doubt would distress you. I have also a been a stevedore, a clerk, and a keeper of goats. I should particularly like to introduce you to one of the goats. At present, I am, yes, the Grandmaster of the Former's Guild here in Armorica, a guild that consists of myself, my sole apprentice, my workshop here in Bois-de-Bas, and a mostly empty building in Mont-Havre.

In fact, Father, I have done much worse: I have hardened cookware for those you would call peasants. I have earned my living by forming at retail. I consort with the lowly, with farmers and cabinetmakers and small merchants, not with members of parliament and owners of large shipping firms. I have (I can hear you gasp) innovated.

In short, Father, I am using my gift as it was meant to be used, rather than as a means of political power and social status.

As you surely do not know at time of writing, but surely will before you receive this, I have gone into business for myself, with several partners—stout, trustworthy men of the sort you despise. I am now a builder and seller of wagons, wagons whose construction involves careful forming. I have joined the merchant classes, Father—and I have based it on a breakthrough in the theory of forming.

By now, you are no doubt turning purple (if you have not already thrown this letter in the fire) and are thinking of ways to bring me to heel. If so, I will remind you that by guild law the guild here in Armorica is at present bound to the guild in Yorke only by ties of affection. I am the grandmaster, and I will conduct guild business as I see fit. Hence, the remainder of your letter is of no consequence, and I will pass over it without comment.

Your industrious son,

Armand

Dear Mum,

Amelie and the girls are well, as am I; life is good here in Bois-de-Bas, and I have come to a good understanding with Lord Doncaster, the royal governor. My practice is doing well, and I shall be taking on another apprentice as soon as I can locate a good candidate.

I have gone into business, of a sort, with Cousin Jack and several of my Armorican friends; we are making and selling a new kind of wagon that floats above the ground. It provides a much more even and gentle ride than a traditional wagon, and is easier for the oxen to pull. It's a pity you aren't here, I should love to take you for a ride in one, as I know how much you hate riding in carriages on the cobbled streets of Yorke. (Hah! There's an idea for a new product—thank you, Mum, for inspiring me!)

By now Father will have opened my letter. Please do contact his physician, won't you? He will need something soothing.

Your loving son,

Armand

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- Cumbrian Literature (30 September 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear M. Fournier,

So! You have finally managed to forge a relationship with the publishers in Yorke! I am delighted for you; I know that has been your dearest wish these past years. I am equally delighted to know that you now have a stock of Cumbrian books for sale, for though I have become fluent in Provençese I miss reading in my mother tongue. Yes, and I would like more books to share with my Amelie, and with Luc.

Please put together an assortment of the kinds of authors we spoke of so long ago—Becker, and Dikkons, Whelkie and Maltspire, and anything in that vein. Speak to M. Suprenant, and he will arrange payment.

In the meantime…if I were to wish to have a book privately printed, is there a printer in Mont-Havre with whom I could arrange it? Or would the work need to be done across the Abyss?

Wishing you much prosperity, I remain

Your friend,

Armand Tuppenny

Mon cher Leon,

My friend M. Fournier the bookseller will be approaching you in regard to some books I have ordered. Please see him paid, and square it through the firm. And on that note—

It is too absurd that I am relying on you, my good friend, as my personal banker! It was reasonable enough, I suppose, when I was in your employ and all I had in the world were my wages. And I know you will not grudge me any service you can do me. But I find that I am becoming a man of property, and I do not wish to strain our friendship unduly. Is there a banker in Mont-Havre that you would recommend? Or perhaps a man-of-business to whom I might entrust my interests outside of Tuppenny Wagons? I would not need them to devote themselves solely to my needs, far from it! I leave this in your wise and capable hands.

I have often spoken to you of Patches the Goat, how she took to visiting me at unpleasant and inopportune times, and how I was compelled to take her in to avoid discommoding my neighbors. What you do not know, I believe, is that she is now responsible for pulling my cart to and from the wagon works. It is quite a sight, and she has become much the favorite of the children along the way—from a safe distance of course. They laugh and call out her name as she plods along. She has become quite the most popular goat in town, and given the nature of Armorican goats, she may well be the most popular Armorican goat in history. My life in Bois-de-Bas was founded on goats, and now I have one as my own prop and stay. I would not have believed it, had someone told me about it on my first exposure.

I find myself wondering if Patches would make a suitable mascot for our firm. Aussi dur qu'une chèvre, as tough as a goat!

Fortunately I do not need to milk her myself—what joy!—but she does still require daily attention from me if she is to remain in her pen. Conveying me through town seems to scratch her itch quite nicely.

Ever your friend,

Armand

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photo credit: @tc_goatwriter Standing on fence eating leaves via photopin (license)