Monthly Archives: July 2020

Letters from Armorica- Christmas (25 December 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

What consternation! What joy!

Yesterday afternoon a sky-sloop came to Bois-de-Bas out of the west. It was greeted by screams and shouts; for of course all here remember the coming of Le Cochon's sloops during the war. The shouts drew Amelie and I out of the house, along with most of my fellow townsfolk, and we watched in horror as (so it seemed to us) the bad times came again. Jacques Pôquerie came and stood by my side.

The sloop drew near and descended over the green, just as those had. Then I noticed that the sloop was flying the colors of Cumbria-in-Armorica, the colors flown over Lord Doncaster's residence in Mont-Havre; that the sloop's gun ports were closed; and that Jack was waving to me from the quarterdeck.

The sloop did not settle on the green, leaving a deep rut, as the Provençese sloops had. Instead it paused a careful two feet over the thin layer of snow, a ladder of rope and wood was thrown over the side, and down came a pair of smartly dressed marines in red coats, followed by His Lordship's aide, my Aunt Maggie's son Jack. He was equally smart in a red coat of his own, though somewhat different design; for Jack is not a marine.

Jack smirked at me as I ran up to him.

"What is the trouble, Coz? You invited me to come visit, after all."

"Yes I did, you damned fool, but I didn't invite you to stop all of our hearts!" But even as I said that I was embracing him and pounding him on the back.

Quite a crowd had gathered around the edges of the green by this time. I turned around to face them.

"My friends, there's nothing to worry about. You all remember my cousin Jack. He has chosen this melodramatic way to join us for Christmas, instead of spending it in Mont-Havre."

There were cheers, and much nodding, with smiles and a cheerful greeting or two. There was also a frown or two on the faces of some of the men with daughters of a certain age, for Jack had entranced a number of those daughters on previous visits—without, I hasten to add, having done anything to deserve the opprobrium of their male parents beyond being cheerful, dashing, and friendly.

"But what of your sloop, Jack," I asked him. "Is it going to remain with us?"

"That's one of the things we need to discuss," he answered me quietly. "For now, I assume there is a better place for it to stay on Christmas Eve than in front of the church."

"Certainly there is. How close do you wish them to be to the center of things?"

"Near enough," he said. "It is Christmas, after all, and I am sure they would like to visit Sergeant Allen's inn for some Christmas cheer."

"Will they be needing to pitch tents?"

"No, no, they will be snug enough aboard the Polliwog for tonight."

"I believe M. Gaston has the closest field to the inn; and of course there is nothing growing there now. But I see him over there. A moment."

M. Gaston proving willing to host the Polliwog for a few days, Jack's marine escort ascended to the sloop's deck, the sloop rose gently and sailed off, and Jack came home with Amelie and I for dinner.

After the meal—for we always have a plain, simple meal on Christmas Eve—Jack said, "Armand, we must talk." He and I left the rest of the family circle in the parlor, where Luc was reading yet another chapter from The Mystery of David Silverfish, and went to my workshop. I built up the fire in the pot-belled stove on the customer side of the counter, and we sat down on the settee like two of my old men.

"So, Jack, what is it? And how long will you and your extravagant conveyance be staying?"

"That's precisely what we need to speak about. I shall be here for a few days, or perhaps a week; the Polliwog rather longer. Indefinitely, in fact."

"What do you mean?"

"It's really all your fault, you know. His Lordship wanted to have you and your wagon-works in Mont-Havre, where he could keep you safe. You would not oblige him—for which he bears you no ill will—but he must see to your defense and security. Someday Cumbria will be at war with Provençe, or Andaluse, or Hanondorf; and when that happens your sky-wagons may be what turns the tide. In sum, Trust me, Armand, like it or not you have become an asset of the realm."

I suppose I looked stunned. Jack laughed at me, as he has laughed at me so often before. "Second city of Armorica, Armand? Haven't I heard those words on your lips? What did you expect to happen?"

He settled down with his pipe and let me absorb all of this.

"So, we are to have a garrison, then," I said at last.

"In a word, yes."

"What are His Lordship's expectations? For though I'm the mayor I can't simply make decrees. My people trust me because my decisions make sense to them."

Jack laughed again. "His Lordship has no desire to cause you trouble. If he did you and yours would be settled in Mont-Havre whether you liked it or not." And then he outlined for me what Lord Doncaster wants from us: a piece of land on which to build a barracks for a small garrison and berthing for the Polliwog; food and other supplies to support the garrison; and a small self-motivated sky-cart or wagon to use for courier duty. All of these to be properly paid for by His Lordship, and Jack to return to Mont-Havre in the sky-cart.

"Only one such cart?"

"He shall want several over the next year. But he only needs one this week."

That was yesterday; today we had a service in the Church, with much singing of carols, though no mass since we still have no permanent priest of our own. I suppose I must make a visit to the Bishop in Mont-Havre and request one. That was followed by a glorious meal, and the giving of presents, and much talk and frivolity, and if there were any difficulties at Sergeant Allen's inn or in M. Gaston's field, no one brought them to my attention.

Tomorrow I shall go to the wagon-works and put His Lordship's sky-cart in train; I have a few ideas. Jack will negotiate the purchase of some land, and no doubt drink much ale with the seller. Then, over dinner he will introduce me to the captain of the new garrison, and to the Polliwog's commander, two men with whom I suppose I shall become quite familiar.

Things are changing once again. Jack is right, it is all my fault. I hope I have not mounted a tiger.

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Letters from Armorica- Dashing over the Snow (17 December 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Jack,

You were quite right about the weather, and I beg your pardon for being alarmist. Yesterday we had our first snow of the season, a prodigious storm that begin early in the morning and kept all of us by the fireside for the rest of the day. We took turns reading to each other from Dikkon's The Mystery of David Silverfish, a difficult but engaging effort for most of my family group.

But today, ah, today! Today dawned clear and beautiful, with the sun shining on all the new snow!

You remember I wrote you about my sky-cart, that Patches the Goat pulls me to work in? Recently, as part of my war preparations, I outfitted it with a full set of properly balanced blocks for movement as well as floating. It isn't a full sky-wagon, as we used in the last war, it can't ascend into the sky; but it will happily go by itself over the snow, the rocks, the streams.

It's rather hard luck on Patches, who genuinely does like to be useful in her abrasive way. But now I shall have an easy time getting to and from the wagon works in even the worst of weathers!

But that's not the point. The point is that we have built a similar cart for Marc Frontenac, who unlike me needs to be at the works daily, and who, though richly supplied with goats, is less inclined to coddle them. And so today Amelie prepared a picnic, and I took her out for a ride in my goat-less sky-cart. We wrapped up in warm rugs and headed north to Marc's farm, where we met with Marc and Élise in Marc's sky-cart, and the four of us went out on a pleasure excursion to the lake below L'Isle de Grand-Blaireaux.

It is a much different thing, I find, to explore the edge of a lake from the water rather than by walking around it—much more restful, in truth, especially when one needn't be concerned about getting wet.

At noon we found a quiet inlet out of the breeze, and joined the two carts together by means of clamps that Marc had brought with him from the wagon works so that we could converse more easily, and sat there over the water and had our picnic. There was much laughter, I can tell you!

After our luncheon we removed the clamps, and had a race back to Bois-de-Bas. There was much hooting and hollering, and it would have been utterly unsafe if anyone else had been on the road. As it was, the snow was already melting, and the road is in such a state that no one who had to come in contact with it would willing do so.

Amelie examined her coat and frock after I let her descend to our porch, and exclaimed, "And not even a speck of mud!"

A small boy called to me today, as we returned home—for if no one was abroad, certainly all of the small boys were outside their homes throwing snowballs at their siblings—he called to me, "Mais, ou est Patches?" And I had to explain that the weather wasn't good for Patches, so I had left her at home. But I can see that will have to let her draw my cart as soon as the snow sets firmly and the mud is gone, at least when the weather is fine.

Would His Lordship care for a sky-carriage, do you think? We should have to work with a coach-builder from Mont-Havre; there is no one here in Bois-de-Bas with the skill to do the fine work such a carriage would require, not unless we could lure one here. Not that the standard in carriages in Mont-Havre is anything like we used to see in Yorke; but perhaps that's a good thing. In fact, I'm sure it's a good thing.

Cheerfully, your cousin,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- Tomfoolery (31 November 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I seem to have made a bit of a fool of myself. Yes, Le Maréchal has vanished from Guyanão, yes, his current whereabouts are unknown, yes, it is reasonable to make provision for the future. But, as Jack has acerbically reminded me, winter is coming, and Le Maréchal is not enough of a fool to campaign in winter. He will have gone to a place prepared by his supporters, a place unsuspected; but he will make no overt move until spring at the earliest. There is no immediate threat, Jack tells me, and no reason for me to have alarmed M. Suprenant so severely.

How had it escaped me that wars are fought from late spring to early fall? I suppose it comes from growing up in Yorke, where life goes on the year round: the streets are shoveled, and commerce proceeds. Sky-ships must beware the winter storms, indeed, but the snow is no hindrance to their movements; and I suppose I assumed that it was the same for ships of war.

To some extent it is. A sky-sloop or larger vessel can certainly go where it pleases, just as a freighter or packet can. But ships are not enough for conquest; troops are required, and troops must be kept warm. Delivering a company to a place where there is no housing for them in the middle of winter and keeping them alive and in fighting form can certainly be done; but expecting them to go out and take and hold territory in deep snow is much more difficult. Indeed, keeping a sizable number of soldiers warm and fed on shipboard in cold weather is tricky in itself. Even freighters have this problem, Leon assures me; some goods are better shipped in winter, some in summer.

And then, troops are easier to come by than troop transports. Raids are possible on widely dispersed points by use of sky-sloops, but occupation and conquest, Jack tells me, involve considerable marching. A transport most usually spends it time moving from port to port, if not from Land to Land, not ferrying troops around the countryside.

So it is unlikely that we will see les Cochons for some months, if we see them at all; and as le Maréchal can't have many ships, his first concern must be transport for the troops he hopes to gather to his cause. If this is so then I am doubly a fool, for shipping is much more readily available elsewhere than it is in Mont-Havre.

Jack thinks the following is most likely: that troops have already gathered at some location; that le Maréchal either has or will join them; and they will strike some nearby harbor or shipyard in a quick raid, cutting out the shipping they need; and then they will vanish. To where? There are Lands unknown in the Abyss, and islands that appear on no merchant's charts. They may well have established a haven in such a place. And then, no earlier than this spring, they will strike. And as the prize is in Provençe, Jack is certain they will strike there.

He may be right. Far be it from me to wish ill on my Amelie's distant relations, but I very much hope he is. But as for me, well. There is no harm in keeping L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau well-provisioned, or for continuing our preparations for building hardened and self-moving wagons.

And in the meantime, I wonder. Ships of war may indeed go where they like; is there aught I could to do give them pause? It seems unlikely, for defense is a constant need, and not all formers are as hide-bound as my father; if there were something, surely someone would have thought of it? But in the event I have time to ponder this, for Luc has progressed far enough to do most of the day-to-day work at the counter, though under my supervision, and Bastien is still learning to read and write English well enough to copy my grimoire.

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Letters from Armorica- Le Maréchal Escapes (21 November 36 AF)

First Letter

Mon cher Leon,

You are aware, of course, of Lord Doncaster's decisions regarding how lightly Armorica is to be governed by Cumbria; the mood in Mont-Havre is joyous, I am given to understand, and well it should be. But you are likely unaware of some the undercurrents that Jack has shared with me, intending me to pass them quietly along to our whole circle.

The news is of the worst, as Amelie would say. Le Maréchal has broken out of his retreat in the swamps of Guyanão, he and what few men remain to him; and he has gone—where? We do not know. His ultimate plan must be to regain the seat of power in Toulouse, but first he will need to rebuild his forces. And where shall he do that? We shall not know until he lands somewhere.

The most likely place, of course, is somewhere in Provençe; Jack assures me that he still has supporters there, that there are many who would rise up to follow him once again. But he is a master of strategy, a master of what Jack calls "defeating the enemy in detail". Which is a grand phrase, but insofar as I understand it simply means that he uses his forces to destroy the enemy's forces while they are yet scattered, for two smaller forces may be beaten more easily than one large one.

But what if he were to choose to come to Armorica first, mon ami? It seems unlikely on the face of it; we have no central position between Cumbria and Provençe. But it is not unthinkable. We have young men, who can be enlisted; and though the people here in the region of Bois-de-Bas oppose Le Maréchal whole-heartedly, it may be that this is less universal across Armorica than we have thought. He may, indeed, be able to find men here. His Lordship's hand has been light, but I am sure there are those who hate him simply because he is a representative of a foreign power.

Or, possibly, Le Maréchal may simply still think of Armorica as loyal; and as a fertile place to plant a new regime that will lead in the end to still greater things.

All of this is a farrago of conjecture, of course. We do not know what le Cochon intends; likely Armorica is not in his eye at all.

And yet, I am concerned.

Leon, we have a hidden refuge that we established during the last war, and which we are now provisioning. You are closer to the center of things, and will hear things I do not, even as I hear things (through Jack) that will not come to you through the normal course of business. Moreover, any attack on Armorica would fall first on Mont-Havre. I beg of you, at the first sign of trouble do not hesitate to send your family to us; we will keep them safe. I do not say, come yourself; you will know whether it is better for you yourself to stay or go.

And send me an arrow if the situation becomes desperate. The wagons we sell require oxen, for safety; but that is easily and quickly remedied, given the necessary preparations—which are even now in train. Should you have need of us we will come for you and yours, and that speedily.

With the blessing of le Bon Dieu, none of these preparations will be needed. I am no doubt being unduly alarmist, and perhaps you are chuckling at my consternation. Perhaps so, and if so none will be more delighted than I. It is even possible that Le Maréchal has already landed in Provençe, and has already been destroyed, and that the news, always slow in coming, simply has not reached us yet. May it be so!

And yet, perhaps not so.

But I find that I am about to lecture an experienced and prosperous merchant on the subject of prudence, for which I beg your pardon; you need no schooling from me!

Please give all of my best to your family, and to M. Bardot; and be assured that the phrase "you and yours" includes him and all other members of your firm.

Ever your friend,

Armand

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