Monthly Archives: August 2020

Letters from Armorica- Wickshire (1 February 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

2 December 1014

My dearest cousin Armand,

But there, you have started in surprise. Yes, it is I, your cousin Amelia!

But what is the cause of your surprise? Is it that I call you "dearest cousin"? As you are my only close cousin, you are certainly my dearest. Is that I am writing from the depths of Wickshire? Or is it simply that I am writing to you at all?

Well you may ask! For it is a singular thing, I will readily admit, for me to write to you from such a place as The Elms, or indeed to write you at all, for before your sudden departure from Yorke I was not accustomed to speak with you upwards of two or three times a week in the normal course of things, a frequency that was quite sufficient to maintain the familial bond, and in the time since I have not had your direction until just recently.

Oh, have I run on again? I do apologize. I shall strive to do worse over the long weeks ahead.

But why am I in Wickshire, I hear you cry? What unforeseen, yea, unprecedented event has drawn your blushing cousin from the familiar assemblies and drawing rooms of Yorke?

It is said that a young woman in possession of a fortune, however small, must be in want of a penurious husband. Not by me, of course; but by the vast herd of penurious younger sons who flock to Yorke during the Season in the hope of offsetting their gambling losses. And some of these are successful at hiding their deepest aims from their intended.

I, thanks to my great-aunt Matilda, do possess a fortune of the smallest sort. More, I am not too ill-favored—compared to you or Jack, and at least—and my parents are utterly respectable. And so, as Jack has surely failed to mention, I became engaged last spring to a young gentleman whose name I cannot now recall, having burned all of his letters in lieu of setting fire to his heavily-mortgaged ancestral home.

He played the beau prettily enough. He was attentive, kind, and generous; well-dressed and well-spoken; and then I discovered, never mind how, that his perfectly fitting coat was not yet paid for, that his matched set of greys were borrowed, that his gambling debts exceeded my little all, and that he was wont to refer to me to his intimates as Old Prune Face!

Armand, I will admit to you, if to no one else, that I am no reigning beauty; no sister of Jack's could be, as I am sure you will agree. But I am sometimes in looks, my disposition is of the sweetest, and I am by no means old enough to be on the shelf!

And so, after making this untoward discovery I met with this enterprising cad in the Park, and waiting my moment succeeded in upending him into the duck pond. I believe he may still be searching for the ring he gave me in the muck at the bottom of the pond. It was a cold day, too, and I hope he may have had a lengthy fever from his ducking, the scoundrel!

So I have had a close escape; and yet my parents, so far from agreeing with the wisdom of my actions, have accused me of imprudence and have banished me to the old family home in Wickshire until the rumors have died down, with only my abigail, Miss Derby, for company. Indeed, I believe they hope I may settle here permanently, and perhaps find a husband here in the country.

I must not judge them too harshly, I suppose, for I did dispose of my erstwhile fiancé in broad daylight, in the midst of all the ton, and Father did remain here long enough to see me introduced to the best houses in the neighborhood—for you know we have lived in Yorke the whole year round since Jack and I were small, and I should have had no acquaintance at all otherwise.

But still I have not answered the question that I know is gripping your beating heart. Why? Why have I written to you? The simple facts of the matter are these: you have always been a good listener (and you are now a better still for not being able to make reply in less than four months' time); you are comfortably far off, and will have no occasion or temptation to spread my words about Yorke, if I should prove indiscreet; and O! I am so hellishly bored, Armand, and heartbroken with it. I did think he loved me.

In time, I know, I will begin to take an interest in the society of those here in Wickshire, but for now I remain,

Your ill-used cousin,

Amelia

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- Friction (23 January 37 AF)

First Letter

Dear Jack,

Bois-de-Bas has grown in size yet again with the coming of the garrison, and I am not sure how we will manage. When I first came, this was a tidy little place, and all discussions as to the future of the community were held in the hot springs of a Sunday afternoon. Then came the War, and an influx of young men from the surrounding region, many of whom stayed, and our population was too big for the hot springs. In response we built a town hall—which, by the by, I must find some way to heat, for town meetings are a trial at this time of year. People have been trickling in slowly since then: Sergeant Allen, of course, and others looking for work. And now we have the garrison—not properly members of the community, not eligible to vote in the town meeting, but nevertheless here.

When I came here, Jack, we didn't even have an inn. Sergeant Allen has done well to provide an evening gathering place for the young men who have been coming to town, and he keeps things under control, but with the garrison he is having great difficulties. There are simply too many men, and not enough room, and too little (at this time of year) for them to do.

Yesterday, for instance, a party of men came to Allen's inn, and could not be admitted because a group of young men from the town were gathered for a celebration. Paul D'Esprit, a young fellow from Nouveau St. Mare (a grandiose name for a tiny village) who came to us during the War has got himself engaged to a local girl, one Mademoiselle Jean Martin, and his friends were drinking his health. The place was quite full, as I have reason to know, for I was there myself; Paul is now employed at the wagon-works, and invited Marc and I to share his joy. I assure you, Jack, that there was no room, and also no intent to leave His Majesty's soldiers in the cold; but His Majesty's soldiers took it poorly. Windows were broken, and much beer was spilled, and we narrowly avoided burning down the inn.

I hasten to say, there was no intent on anyone's part to do so. So far as I can tell, the men were put out, as who would not be, and cold, as is clearly the case; and if they could not have a quiet warming drink, a loud warming brawl was next best.

I must also hasten to say that the young men within the inn were by no means averse to a good brawl, if such were offered, and gave as good as they got. The trick now is to try to cement this into mutual respect rather than mutual hatred; and this will be difficult under the circumstances.

I do not wish you to think I am criticizing Captains Fleming and Hampton, with whom I have established satisfactory relations. But the fort consists of four stakes pounded into the snowy ground, a few lines of tents, and the Polliwog. Hampton does his best to drill the men and keep them busy, and the Polliwog is usually out patrolling if the weather is clear; she is becoming a familiar sight in the sky. But the men have no respite from the cold, and no place to go when they are off-duty but Sergeant Allen's.

A few—a very few, mostly from among the older troops—have managed to make friends with local families; by which I mean they are befriending the daughters of local families in the only possible way. Some of these, I think, will settle down here when their term of service is complete; others, well. Heartbreak is always a possibility, and it is not my responsibility to prevent it.

This is no time of year for building. The snows are deepening, and will grow worse before winter's end, and so there is little that can be done, at least by us. Come spring, though, we will need to take steps, and it were well if we could plan them now.

For my part I think we need another inn, closer to the post. Perhaps His Lordship has another sterling sergeant wishing to retire? Or possibly someone here may wish to establish one. But what would you suggest, Jack? And is there anything His Lordship can do in the meantime to improve matters? For I can tell you that friction is increasing; and since it is in part due to His Lordship sending us a garrison before building proper housing and facilities, I look to him to help us resolve it.

Armand

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- Twelfth Night (6 January 37 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Tonight is Twelfth Night, or L'Épiphanie as my Provençese-speaking fellows call it; and tomorrow Jack will return to Mont-Havre without having formed any attachment to any of the daughters of Bois-de-Bas—and, what is more surprising, without any marked degree of flirting! It is a state of the most vexing, as Amelie would say, for I would truly wish to have him settled close by.

We spoke of it briefly several days ago—briefly, in that way that men have. "Bois-de-Bas is a friendly place," he said to me. "And it will become a fine one in time. But I've hitched my cart to Lord Doncaster, and so I must be in Mont-Havre." And on an earlier evening when we sat by the fire, just the two of us. "There are two kinds of old soldier, Armand: those who move on to something else, like Sergeant Allen, and those who make their home at the bottom of a tankard. I expect you to make me rich, Armand, and may you succeed beyond my wildest dreams. But if I don't keep busy, it will be the ruin of me."

I quite see his point. Myself, I am fully occupied with my designs and my forming, not to mention with the town itself. Jack is not needed at the wagon works, for all that he is (quite justifiably) profiting from them; and just what would he do here? Armorica is not a place for idling, we are too young for that, and if Jack set himself up as a retired gentleman at his age he'd be pitied at best and held in contempt at worst. It is true that he has only one leg, but in Bois-de-Bas such an injury is no excuse for idleness.

Most here in Bois-de-Bas work the land in some way. The easiest route to respectability would be for Jack to buy some land and play the squire, but he would have to actively manage his property to retain the expect of his neighbors; and alas, he was not brought up to that. He is the second son, intended for a military career from his birth. And while my uncle George is indeed a member of the landed gentry, he and Aunt Maggie have been fixtures in Yorke for as long as I recall, and his lands—I cannot even remember where they are—are managed by an agent. Still, Jack could come to it easily enough, if he had a mind to it; he would have no end of help. But so far, at least, the notion holds no attraction.

I can hardly fault him for following his own wishes and desires, not after leaving home in the manner I did. Still, I hope he may settle down, even if it is in Mont-Havre. I suppose the important question is how long His Lordship will stay in Mont-Havre. As governal-general his term will be determined by politics in Yorke, which are no less opaque to me now than they were in my youth; but he has brought his family here, and though he is a peer he is a newly created peer, due to his heroics during the war, and he may establish his house anywhere he chooses. If His Lordship were to settle here, I do believe Jack would remain as well.

But be all that as it may.

I have been hard at work, with Jacques and Marc, designing and forming the courier wagon that Jack will take back to Mont-Havre with him. It is similar to my goatless goat-cart, though larger, and safer to operate, for it has but two controls: a tiller, by which it may be directed, and another which sends it forward and stops it when released. If I were to fall asleep, or have a seizure, or something of the sort, my goat-cart would happily proceed onward until it smashed into a tree; the courier wagon will instead glide swiftly to a halt.

The wagon has a seat in front wide enough for two, should the courier have a companion; and the bed is enclosed, instead of being open, with a door that locks and as much hardening as I could manage. Operation of the wagon depends on the possession of a metal ring, rather like a signet ring; without it the wagon will not move of itself, nor can the freight compartment be opened. The ring I shall give Jack is plain; I imagine that in the future His Lordship will arrange for an emblem for his courier service, and provide us with rings that are so marked.

But all that is for the future. For now, well, we lose Jack tomorrow.

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- The Garrison (30 December 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It is usually quiet in Bois-de-Bas in this season. The snow has covered the ground, the crops have been in seemingly for ever, les bûcherons are home by the fire, and everyone has settled in for the winter.

This year, in contrast, we have a new garrison, courtesy of Lord Doncaster. The garrison, a full company of soldiers, is led by one Captain Hampton of the 3rd Bollards—a bluff, hearty gentleman of middle years, fond of his food, and with no ambition whatsoever. The garrison is the home base of the sloop Polliwog, commanded by Captain Fleming. He is lean, fond of his drink, much junior to Hampton, and yet, somehow, the one in charge.

"It is always the way," said Hampton cheerfully over dinner at Le Cochon's Head. "The 'Bollards' they call us, because we are solid and never move, and we give the Navy an anchor. And the Navy is the senior service, after all."

"Don't let him fool you," said Fleming. "Charlie saw action enough in his younger days. He's learned to appreciate a quiet life, is all, and he's earned it too."

Cousin Jack waved at Sergeant Allen, over behind the bar. "The Bollards is where we send the best of our older veterans who don't wish to retire. If your Sergeant Allen hadn't decided to settle down, he might well have been Charlie's first sergeant."

They both seem reasonable men, and so far at least there has been little trouble between the garrison and the town. The snow may have something to do with that: those of the men who are allowed into Le Cochon's Head do not wish to be thrown out of the warm.

We were also joined by Lieutenant Carlisle, who commands the Polliwog's marines. He said little, ate much, and gave no sign of listening to any of the discussion.

Having previously discussed it with Jack, I related to them the history of our defense during the war, and about our hidey-hole on L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau.

"I hate to talk about it," I said to Captain Fleming, "as its value is its secrecy and unreachability. But of course it is right there in the northern sky, and I can hardly hope that you wouldn't reconnoiter. Had we had purely an army garrison I would have not have mentioned it all."

"Our men would have learned of it eventually," said Captain Hampton. "They will get to know your townsfolk in time, and tongues will wag. Better to have it out now."

"Yes, I agree," said Captain Fleming. "I shall avoid drawing attention to it."

"I am so glad," I said. "I was afraid you might want to use it as a base."

Fleming shook his head. "The Navy has tried that in the past, but we've found it doesn't answer. Resupply is difficult, and if the enemy attacks in force it is difficult to evacuate the ground troops."

"True," said Hampton. "Here we can fade into the woods, regroup, and bide our time. There we would be like ducks in a pot."

In all, they seem to be men of good will; I believe I can work with them.

Jack has negotiated the sale of a plot of land not far from the wagon-works. "Close enough to defend it," he told me privately, "but not so close as to crowd it—for I feel sure you will want to expand some day."

"Do you think defending it will be likely?"

He shrugged. "His Lordship does, or the Polliwog wouldn't be here."

It is not a comforting notion.

Next letter

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