Monthly Archives: November 2020

Letters from Armorica: Wizardry (6 May 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

4 March 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

It will not surprise you than in the week since the dinner party at the Willoughbys I have conceived an interest in wizardry! I have always been curious, as you well know; and just this morning, my darling brother Edward remarked that he found me curious indeed.

I had not given wizardry two thoughts before that day, other than being aware that there was such a thing as the Royal College of Wizards, nor had I any idea as to what wizardry consists of—any more, dear cousin, than I have any idea as to what your profession of forming consists of. If put to it, I suppose I would have said that they were much the same kind of thing. This, I have learned, is almost as grave a solecism as shoving the—well. As grave a solecism, then, as pushing a darling of the ton into a duck pond.

And yet, I still can't see why one ought not to compare the two.

In part, this is due to the deficiencies of the library here at The Elms—one would think that no Montjoy had ever exhibited any curiosity regarding the magical arts. Although, when I consider my brothers, I suppose one must think that, for Jack is too unstudious and Edward too dull to dabble in wizardry—it is the very word he used to me today at breakfast. "So, Amelia, are you going to spend your day dabbling in magic again today? It is a good day for it."

As you can see, he has chosen to be amused and dismissive rather than alarmed and dismissive, from which you will have rapidly inferred that he knows nothing of the cause of my new interest. It keeps me in the library, where I am safe, instead of out and about where I might dangle instead of dabble, and so he is pleased.

Not that there is danger of danglement—is that a word, do you think, Armand?—this week, for it is now March, and though I do not normally associate blizzards with lions the wind is indeed roaring about the eaves and making the windows rattle.

I have found little about wizardry in our collection—well, other than colorful and highly romantic events in various novels and sagas, with which I was already perfectly familiar. I cannot take them for a guide, though; I rather doubt that the King that was had Lieutenant Archer's great-uncle strew the landscape with enchanted castles and pavilions so as to tempt His Majesty's knights errant away from the path of virtue. In fact, I do not believe that King Simon had any knights errant, and judging from the stories that have come to my ears, I do not believe virtue was of great concern to him. And while it would be enchanting, in both senses of the word, to give Edward the ass's ears he so richly deserves, I do believe my father would be disappointed in me.

Nor have I determined just what forming involves, precisely, which surprises me not at all given your father's insistence on what he calls guild secrets. One would have thought my grandfather would have done some research before allowing Aunt Jane to marry a former, but if he did the proof is nowhere at The Elms.

In the old tales, if there is any truth to them, there does seem to be a distinction between wizards proper and enchanters. The terms are used loosely, but an enchanter seems to be a person who uses magic to permanently modify objects in some special way—which is more or less the little you've told me of your craft, whereas wizardry seems to be used more in the moment, if you see what I mean.

I am not sure I do.

If the weather improves, I shall take the sleigh to Stourton and visit the library there; if they have Anaxagoras, perhaps they shall have some work on wizardry that is, in all likelihood, similarly lonely.

Your curious cousin,

Amelia

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Letters from Armorica: Dinner Party (29 April 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

25 February 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

The weather having been fine and the moon being full, Squire and Mrs. Willoughby hosted a dinner party this past week, to which I and Brother Edward were invited. It was my first dinner party in Wickshire! And it was a much grander thing than a mere tea, though of course not nearly so grand as a ball.

I have been cataloguing, for my own benefit and appreciation, the kinds of social events one might encounter here in the country. First there is "coming over for tea," which is a small gathering of not more than five or six people, congenial or otherwise. In Yorke, "coming over for tea" lasts precisely for the socially acceptable half-hour, except among family or intimate friends, and then either takes one's leave or escapes gratefully, depending on the company. In the country, possibly due to the distance between homes and the vicissitudes of winter travel, however, tea may be much more prolonged.

Then there is Market Day, where one might meet and speak with almost anyone—within the bounds of propriety, of course, pace my brother Edward. Market Day is a delight in good weather, and an excellent time for meeting a friend, for one might promenade about together at length. One is constantly interrupted, of course.

And then there is the dinner party, which is rather more like Market Day than tea, only more constrained. In Yorke a hostess plans the guest list for a dinner party most carefully, choosing to invite those who will get on well together, or those to whom one owes an invitation, or those who will strike sparks from one other, all according to the needs and inclinations of the hostess. It is much the same here in Wickshire, except that the pool of those one might invite is much smaller; and unlike a ball, one needn't invite those one dislikes.

The guests gather in the drawing room, as in Yorke, for conversation, and then go into dinner together in strict order of precedence…but precedence in the country is quite a different thing than precedence in Yorke. To my surprise Squire Willoughby honored me by taking me in himself, though of course I was seated rather further down the table.

"Privilege of rank," he said to me, with a broad smile.

"La, sir," I said, in my most affected tone, "you shall turn my head! And you old enough to be my beloved Jane's father!"

"And so I am," he chuckled, patting my arm, "and so I am!"

But I get ahead of myself. In Stourton, on Market Day, one may greet anyone in one's acquaintance that one chances to pass by, be it Miss Willoughby or Lieutenant Archer; but in the drawing room a young lady must be less forward. When Edward and I arrived, therefore, I immediately went and sat with Miss Willoughby, whom I had not seen in some days, and then waited for the young gentlemen to come to us.

Which they did, of course. There was no room on the sofa for Edward but he took up station nearby, adopting his most forbidding mien. Lieutenants Pertwee and Archer soon joined us despite his manifest, along with another handsome young man I had not met but who proved to be Edward Hargreaves the scientific farmer.

My dear Jane performed introductions, introducing the two Edwards to one another; and shortly thereafter the doors were opened and the good squire came to take me in to dinner.

Once I was seated I had to laugh; for Mrs. Willoughby had placed Lieutenant Archer to my left, between Jane and myself, and Lieutenant Pertwee to my right, while Brother Edward watched in consternation from several places down on the opposite side of the table.

I spent the first course chatting not unagreeably with Lieutenant Pertwee, who is a decent man, though dim, and hearing about events at the garrison and how Pollock had beaten Maskerton at whist.

"Rolled him up, too, took his entire allowance," said Pertwee. "Bad business, that. Can't stay away from the cards in garrison, of course. Not much else to do this time of year. Still, it was a bad business."

With the next course, Archer turned to me with a gentle smile. "And now, Miss Montjoy, how do you do?"

It was my first chance for a prolonged exchange with the good lieutenant, and I took full advantage.

"Your brother officer tells me that it is quite slow in garrison this time of year," I said. "Tell me, how do you find it? Has Anaxagoras been the balm for which you were hoping?"

"Not he," he said with a laugh. "A few choice ideas, mind you, but hidden amidst a mass of infernal nonsense. I was quite disappointed."

"It seemed an odd selection to me," I said. "Do many officers go in for ancient philosophy?"

"Hardly," said he. "But am not your typical officer, you know."

"I see that, of course. What accounts for it, if I may be so bold?"

He gave me a rueful smile. "It has long been the tradition in my family that the second son serve in one regiment or another. But until the passing of my brother Ernest I was the third son, and so was bound for the University." He shrugged slightly.

"Why, I am sorry for your loss!" I said. "I hope you do not find the military life too…too—"

"Physical?" he said. "Not at all, for I am a countryman myself. But I try to keep up my studies. And service does have its present compensations."

I rewarded him with a demure smile. "More of your philosophy?" I asked, deliberately misunderstanding him.

"It is quite to my taste. But, again in keeping with family tradition, I am most interested in wizardry. My uncle belongs to the Royal College, and in his day my great-uncle Matthew was Court Wizard to the King who was."

"Wizardry? Truly?"

"Quite so—not that I seem to have any great talent for it, so perhaps it is best that I was compelled to take on another career."

Philosophy, wizardry, quite the gentleman, and so well-looking in his uniform—if I were dangling after the officers, Armand, I fear I should be quite jealous of my dear Jane Willoughby.

Your loving cousin,

Amelia

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Letters from Armorica: Edward (22 April 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

18 February 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

Oh, it is too, too bad. My brother Edward, so far from being consoled by my father's words to him, has determined that it is his duty to "stand by me"—that is his phrase—"during this difficult time." And what "stand by me" means is to remain here in the country with me, breaking up my peace and in no way alleviating my tedium, while preventing me from attaining that free and easy social discourse with the other folk of the district that is all that can console me for my exile here.

Which is to say that he still does not understand about the duck pond, and that he is determined to prevent me "dangling after officers," however free of concern our male parent might be. It is too provoking!

You will say he means well, and so he does; or so he would if he were more concerned for me and less for the good name of Montjoy.

Though perhaps I wrong him, Armand. But he is like a monstrous creature from one of the more lurid penny-dreadfuls: he cannot be stopped, and he cannot be made to go away. Only a shining hero can end him—and that on the last page, only—and I give leave to doubt that any of the local heroes would seek to win my heart by destroying my father's heir.

But you have not seen Edward in some years, and so you surely do not know what he has become; and perhaps, he being so much older, you were perhaps never well acquainted with him to begin with. So I suppose I must offer you a sketch.

Edward Trevelyan Montjoy, to give his full name, my father's heir, is now three and thirty years of age. He is a gentleman; and as our family holdings in Wickshire are well managed by Blightwell, he need do no more than flit about London, drone-like, sipping at nectar, smiling at pretty young things, resisting the blandishments of society mamas, whilst attending prize fights and horse races and driving high-perch phaetons too fast, all in the precisely proper attire: all the things that society expects of a young man in his position.

And yet he cannot even do that. He disapproves of horse races and prize fights on principle; he happily attends assemblies at Harrington House but has, as yet, managed to attach no young lady of the ton, nor her mother either; he drives perfectly, and sedately, in a low phaeton with nary a cape to his coat; he dresses well enough, but with no special distinction; and I am quite at a loss to state how he spends the rest of his time, for he neither engages in trade (for that would be low) nor manages the estates (for that would be needless), nor practices politics (for that would be unpleasant).

And now, instead of indulging his principles elsewhere, he has brought them here, where he spends his time in my library reading aloud to me from improving books and trying my patience.

If only the duck pond were not frozen over. For we do have a duck pond here at The Elms, Armand, a lovely duck pond in a seldom visited part of the garden, a pond that, when not frozen, is quite choked with weeds and slime. It would be perfect for my purposes, if only Edward were doing something actionable instead of merely being benevolent and improving towards me in the most objectionable manner imaginable!

But alas, my conscience prods me.

He means well; he does. And should I meet a tall, handsome, scoundrel with designs on my fortune and my virtue, I should be quite glad to have a tall, stouthearted brother to send him packing.

Not that it would help me, for he will not be convinced of the lack of good intent of anyone, it seems, but myself; for I have quite failed to convince him of the lack of good intent of the one tall, handsome, scoundrel I have met. I solemnly swear, Armand, that if he mentions the name of that loathsome object one more time I shall surely lay about him with the fireplace poker.

May the weather break soon! I must get out of this house for a time.

Your cousin,

Amelia

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Letters from Armorica: Confounded Spite (15 April 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

11 February 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

I am delighted to have heard from you at last! You seem to be doing quite well for yourself with your Amelie and your daughters and your town and your wagonworks. I remember how often you and Uncle were at daggers drawn; more than once I quite expected to see blood on the drawing room carpet, so cutting were your words. That is the second person plural, my dear Armand; I am by no means blaming it all on you. Nor can I blame you, in truth, and so I am glad that that is all behind you.

I thank you for your delicacy in not asking after my erstwhile beau—though I am sure you have not been so reticent with Jack, not that he knows anything more than you do. And that is all that I shall say about that loathsome object.

How little I have to tell you, to be sure. Life in the country is so slow! One daily has tea, and perhaps even crumpets, but one usually has it alone; one never receives morning visits; one never goes for a promenade in the Park. One can walk or ride, when the snow isn't all encompassing, but of course it is; one can go out in the sleigh, but only when there is somewhere to go—unless one delights in being frozen for its own sake.

And so I have remained at home, snug in my library, sitting by the fire and sipping tea in quite unladylike quantities. Even without a reply to spur me on, I find writing to you to be one of the bright spots in my week; I think I should go mad without it. So it is embarrassing to be caught with so little matter for reflection.

But let me see. The weather being particularly trying this week, I ventured no farther than the Grimsbys—and a badly judged outing it was, too, for a stray blizzard required that I must stay the night. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my room had been properly aired, with candles to spare and a decent fire; but I believe that one of the housemaids has taken a liking to me, for I am sure that La Grimsby did not order it so.

Of course, it is ever and always my plan to be pleasant to the Grimsbys, cheerful and demure, never rising to their bait, which is plentiful—for how better to confound them? I have no lack of repartee, Armand; I am not one of those who thinks of the right thing to say hours later, on the staircase. But this is the country; and so often the right thing to say would be the wrong thing.

I may say it has given me a great if bitter pleasure over the last four months to observe the faces of La Grimsby and her daughters when I come to call—for I am no naïf, Armand, and I know what it means when they glance at me in that way. They are looking for signs of my impending, so they suppose, confinement, and wondering how long I will continue to be seen in company. May they choke on my company as the months go by!

Poor Armand, I believe I have shocked you again. But I assure you that there is nothing in it: it is merely their ill-bred, low-minded spite that would lead them to think such a thing. The looks of disappointment on their faces are a joy to me, and I mean to heap the burning coals as high on their heads as I can.

And indeed, think whatever ill you may please concerning the loathsome object I spoke of earlier—but you must acquit him of that, at least. He is not so abandoned—or, if he is, the harm he did me was not of that kind.

Of what else may I write? The gardener's dog has had a fine litter of puppies. Miss Derby was afflicted with the ague, but is now quite well. Blightwell sent a man to deal with several persistent drafts; and if he did so in part by completely stopping up the music room door, I can well make do with the smaller piano in the drawing room. And if I missed my weekly promenade through the market in Stourton last Thursday, I can assure you that no one at all was walking through Stourton for pleasure this past week.

It is little enough to delight in, I am afraid. Perhaps next week's letter will not find me quite so at point non-plus.

Your loving cousin,

Amelia

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Letters from Armorica: Planning the Ball (8 April 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

4 February 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

I have been much with Miss Willoughby since I last wrote you, as we have been engaged in planning the ball the Willoughby's will throw at the beginning of spring. You might say, "But Amelia, isn't the beginning of spring many weeks away?" And so it is, of course—but my word, Armand, one mustn't leave these things to chance.

There will be dancing, that is beyond dispute, for it is to be a ball. But will there be waltzing? I dare say there will not be, for I am assured that some of the older ladies in the district think that even the quadrille is too spritely to be quite proper.

And then, what food shall be served, and what drink? These things are of particular importance, especially the drink—for, at a ball, of course, fetching food and drink is one of the few ways an admirer may licitly show his appreciation for a young lady, at least between dances. It is therefore of the utmost importance that the drink be palatable, Armand, for if one cannot drink it one cannot ask one's admirers to fetch more.

And then, one must give the guest list careful consideration. This is dreadfully important, and all the more when one is new to the district as I am. Not, of course, that our consideration shall change the list in the slightest degree, for the society here in Wickshire is fixed, and no one can be omitted without giving grievous insult. Mrs. Willoughby is, I am sure, a perfect hostess, and will only give grievous insult deliberately and with good reason.

Nevertheless, I say, it is necessary to consider the guest list. It is vital to know, for instance, that Sir Roger de Montfort has clammy hands, and wheezes in your face; and that young Thomas Porter, though handsome as Apollo, is unutterably dim; and that Edward Hargreaves talks only of scientific farming and the draining of fields; and that if one must dance with Wallace Hampton, one must be sure to do so before he drinks enough to forget himself.

Gossip, you say? Well, and so it is, I suppose. But just as Lord Doncaster required good intelligence of the countryside while campaigning in Provençe, so too I require it while campaigning in Wickshire. I am the general, and my dear Jane Willoughby is my scout.

But I may have given a mistaken impression, for the guest list will not be solely made up of the Wickshire gentry; there will also be a selection of officers from the garrison, Lieutenants Pertwee and Archer among them. And here, Jane's knowledge of the county is of no help: we must seek further afield for our intelligence.

Delightfully, I am now in a position to acquire such; for the sleigh is repaired, and the horses are available, and the snow is thick, and so I am able to repair to Stourton whenever the weather permits, and most usually on market days.

I was there this past Thursday, Miss Derby at my side, and chanced to meet Lieutenant Archer coming out of the lending library—for we do have a lending library in Stourton. Father had Blightwell acquire a subscription for me when we arrived, but beyond making a quick survey of its stock I have not yet had to avail myself of it; for of older books there is no lack at the Elms, and of newer the latest are those which were all the crack in Yorke over the past season and which I have already read.

The lieutenant greeted me cordially though without undue warmth, and at my inquiry showed me the book he had acquired: a book of philosophy, in all truth, by a Graecan of whom I had never heard.

"Why, Lieutenant Archer, such an unusual choice! I had not thought that lieutenants were meant to be interested in anything more serious than whist, whiskey, and warfare."

"No more we are," he said with a rueful smile, falling in beside me as we continued down the high street toward the square. "But Anaxagoras here seemed so lonely and unloved. He has never been opened, do you see? How long must he have languished on the shelf, unread! Since the library was founded, I should think."

"Your concern does you great credit, I am sure," I said. "Still, you have not yet accounted for it."

"Ah, well. My concern might prove to have been misplaced, you know, for I have never yet made his acquaintance. Perhaps loneliness is all that he merits! And now, I must return to the garrison," he said as we reached the square, "for I have the duty this afternoon. A good day to you, Miss Montjoy!"

Anaxagoras! What news I shall have for my dear Jane when next I see here! Perhaps she is the general, and I the scout.

Your loving cousin,

Amelia

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