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Letters from Armorica: Dinner and Mangelwurzels (3 June 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

1 April 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

Papa arrived at The Elms not too early in the afternoon last Wednesday, while Edward was berating me yet again for my high-handed, injudicious, and socially injurious plans to host a dinner party.

"For a young unmarried lady such as yourself—" he was saying, when we both caught the sound of coach wheels on gravel.

"Who can that be?" I said calmly—for I have been strategically calm all week, my dear Armand—and glided out of the drawing room into the front hall, where Morphick was already opening the front door.

"Why, Papa! How good to see you," I said, kissing him lightly on the cheek, and giving no sign that I had been expecting him for the past hour.

"Indeed, it is good that you are here," said Edward in thunderous tones. "I must speak with you immediately."

"Yes, Edward, we must talk," said Papa cheerfully as he took off his heavy traveling coat and handed it to Morphick. "But first I must have a tot of brandy to take the chill off, and then I must speak with Blightwell. Would you fetch him for me, please? If he isn't in his office I am sure he will be about the Home Farm somewhere."

"Of course, Father," said Edward, with the greatest reluctance, and went to do so.

"And now, Amelia, come with me and tell me what's to do."

"Mangelwurzels, Papa," I said as we entered the library. "Mangelwurzels are what's to do. Oh, and Edward wants to speak with you about tomorrow night's dinner party, because as a young unmarried lady I ought not be hosting such a thing. Here is the seating chart. You must rearrange it however you like."

He took the chart and glanced over it. "I see you have invited the Grimsbys. Was that truly necessary?"

"Of course it was, dear Papa. They have been so attentive these past months."

He sighed. "Yes, I know. It's simply that I knew Mrs. Grimsby when she was just young Gertrude Smotherwack. I see that you have Edward sitting between her daughters."

"He has been…challenging, Papa. I will move him if you prefer."

"No, no, he has sown the wind; it is only fair that he should reap." He pondered the chart for a few more moments. "I believe I know everyone here except your two Lieutenants. Tell me about, yes, tell me about this Lieutenant Pertwee."

"Good hearted, cheerful, stalwart, likely a good friend in a pinch, and of no mental capacity whatsoever. I met him at tea. At the Grimsbys, as I recall."

"And this Lieutenant Archer. I have heard a great deal about him from Edward already; now I should like to hear from you."

"I believe I should like you to come to your own conclusions," I said.

"Like that, is it? So Edward was correct?" He wasn't angry, Armand, but his gaze was beyond pointed.

"No!" I said. "No! I—I don't know, Papa. Oh, what does it matter! He is quite taken with Jane Willoughby, I believe, and she with him."

'Ah. And what about those books you asked me to procure for you?"

"Oh! Did you bring them? Are they here?"

"In my trunk. I trust your interest in wizardry has to do with young Archer?"

I blushed, Armand! I, who have been out long enough to win and then jilt—that is to say, I surprised myself.

"Well, yes, Papa, he spoke of it once. And yet, the subject has quite captured my attention. Perhaps I am merely turning blue with boredom."

"And what do you think of it?"

"It is quite a difficult study, I find, but it speaks to me somehow. Perhaps the new books will help."

"Very well," he said, handing me the seating chart. "I see no need to amend this. Indeed, I am quite looking forward to it."

Edward returned with Blightwell at that moment; and I am afraid I can give you no account of their discussion, for Papa sent me off to ask Morphic to bring a decanter of brandy. I may have lingered in the vicinity long enough to see Blightwell march out with a smile on his face. He closed the library doors firmly behind him, and came to me.

"Thank you, Miss Montjoy. It will all be all right now." He nodded, and strolled away humming under his breath.

Being wiser than Edward, I did not linger to witness my beloved brother's discomfiture, however tempted I surely was.

Edward was quiet all of the next day—I saw very little of him, in fact, though he came into the library once or twice looking for a book, being myself involved with instructing Mrs. Morphick and the servants we had hired for the evening.

The dinner party was a joy and a delight. I sat Mrs. and Squire Willoughby on Papa's left and right, with myself next to the Squire and Lieutenant Archer next to Mrs. Willoughby—close enough to allow Papa to observe him closely, but not so close as to make any kind of untoward public statement. True, both lieutenants were closer to the top of the table than Yorke manners would admit; but it has not been that long since the war against Le Maréchal, and folk here in Wickshire are still in the habit of showing their appreciation to our gallant soldiers. If Papa could not contrive to have a word with him over the port and cigars, well.

I put Jane next to him, for I am not heartless, and that tiresome Edward Hargreaves next beyond her, for I am not stupid. Lt. Pertwee was to my right, with the Grimsby girls and Edward beyond him, and Mr. and Mrs. Grimsby at the foot of the table.

Have I mentioned The Grimsby's husband? I believe not. He is an estimable man, silent, cheerful, attentive to his food, and utterly deaf to his wife's constant flow of speech—to which I rather think he pays no attention at all. The few times I have met him in Stourton he has greeted me with a smile and a tip of his hat and asked after my health. I find that I feel somewhat sisterly towards him, for in him I detect another who has learned the value of a strategic calm. He is much welcomed by hostesses here in Wickshire.

There were no fireworks—truly, Armand, you should know me better than that! Though Brother Edward seemed rather harried before the first course was removed. I am sure I do not see why, for young Agatha and Matilda Grimsby seemed eager to please him, and I am sure that he neither understood nor marked the honeyed barbs the sisters were flinging at each other. Edward Hargreaves was a perfect gentleman, attentive to his dinner companions—which is what I would expect from him, I may say—and if he shot me a longing look or too I heartlessly failed to see them.

For my part I had an enjoyable meal. I paid no more attention to Lieutenant Archer than to anyone else, which is to say I greeted him warmly and then let him make his own way. I heard him speaking with the Willoughby ladies about his experiences in the war, and about garrison duty in Wickshire, and nothing at all about wizardry, which made me smile to myself. Squire Willoughby is always good company, flirting outrageously while yet staying firmly within the bounds of propriety—a true skill, I have come to believe—and Lt. Pertwee was happy to listen to me babble about my difficulties with arcane geometry, nodding as if he understood—not that I understand it myself, though having looked into the tomes Papa brought for me I now know what symmetry is. I told Edward this morning that he is perfectly symmetrical, which made him bristle.

"It's quite true," I said. "You're known for it. Ask anyone."

Father returned to Yorke this morning. Before he left, he said to me, "Your Lieutenant Archer seems a fine young man, Amelia; I quite like him. His family is good, and I see no signs of dissipated living. But please take care. A soldier is no kind of husband, nor is his allowance generous enough to support you as you would wish. If he were the eldest, well. You could do better—you have done better, in fact—but the Archers are an old, respectable family. But as things are—"

"I know, Papa. I know."

Edward, I fear, has spent the last days in a state of tense fascination mixed with frustration. I have heard nothing definite, but he has been following Blightwell about the estate like a baby duckling; and I gather that Papa has commended him for his newfound interest in the management of our affairs here in Wickshire, promised to do all he can to ensure that he learns everything he needs to know in that line, and has put him firmly under the thumb of the esteemed Blightwell. I am grateful, as it gives him little time to concern himself with my affairs.

In the meantime I have continued my studies—but this letter has already gone on far too long.

Your studious and cheerful cousin,


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Letters from Armorica: Scientific Farming (27 May 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

25 March 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

I am by no means an idiot or a fool, as I hope you know; and yet somehow the behavior of my brother Edward passes all understanding. On the one hand we have Mr. Blightwell, my father's man-of-business. I have mentioned him to you before: he has been seeing to the manor here at The Elms since before I was born. And by "manor" I do not mean only The Elms itself, the house in whose library I am sitting, or even its immediate grounds; I mean the farms which together comprise the remainder of my father's land here in Wickshire. He is responsible, hardworking, and the cornerstone of my father's prosperity.

And on the other hand, we have my brother Edward, who has been talking with Edward Hargreaves about scientific farming, has read a book or two on the subject, and is confident that he, having not the slightest acquaintance with the day-to-day realities of farming, knows better than a man who has exhibited his competence repeatedly this past age.

And yet he must be listened to, for he can justly claim to be Father's representative. It is beyond enough for me, and worse for poor Blightwell, who came to me almost in tears this past Wednesday.

"It's Master Edward," he said. "He's bound and determined that we should plow our fields under and put in something called mangelwurzels!"

"Mangelwurzels! They sound quite horrific," I said.

"Beets, Miss Montjoy, a kind of beet. The coming thing, he says. They feed 'em to stock, he says. But they won't grow here, miss, it gets too cold, nor we don't have any stock to feed 'em too. And there's worse!"

"What could be worse than mangelwurzels?"

"He wants to plant the apple orchards with 'em! Ten years I've been growing those orchards, and they've only just started bearing the last two!"

I stared at him. "You are saying that my brother wishes you to pull down bearing fruit trees root and branch, so that he can plant some kind of beet that doesn't grow in these climes, in order to feed animal stock we do not have on our estates?"

"Yes, Miss Amelia! And he's told me to do what I'm told, and not to bother your father with it."

"He can't do that!"

"He told me it was to be a surprise," said Blightwell in miserable tones.

"I should think it would be!" I nodded firmly. "I shall certainly bother my father with it, you have my word. In the meantime, do nothing to the orchards; I shall answer for it if need be, and I shall endeavor to keep brother Edward occupied until my father can post down and put things to rights. Shall we shake on it?"

"Oh, no, Miss Amelia—your word is good with me. So is your brother's, more's the pity: what he says he'll do, he'll do."

"Leave him to me, Blightwell; I'll see to him."

And so I have. I wrote to Father immediately, of course and expect him tomorrow; and have I led Edward a merry romp? I should say so!

First I invited Lieutenants Archer and Pertwee to tea—not them alone, of course, for that would look too particular, but also Mrs. and Miss Willoughby and La Grimsby and her daughters. I sent out the notes on Wednesday for tea on Thursday, and once they had quite gone I announced the affair to Edward.

"Oh, Edward, we are having some of our acquaintance over to tea tomorrow."

He looked up from Barber's South Cumbria: New Methods in Agriculture. "Oh! Have you invited Miss Willoughby?"

"Of course, for you have been teasing me to do so this age. And also the Grimsbys, for I must return their kindness to me, and a couple of officers from the garrison."

His face darkened predictably. "Not that Lieutenant Archer!"

"But of course, dear Edward. Who else? Well, and Lieutenant Pertwee."

He closed the book and inwardly I rejoiced. And then, when he had finished berating me for my loose ways and left me alone, swearing to compose such a letter to our father, I sent out invitations for a dinner party with a light heart. For he had already missed the post for the day, so that Father was sure to receive my letter first; and in my letter I had explained to Father in detail what I meant to do.

The tea party went off quite well, if by "well" you mean that it was calculated to keep Edward's best foot backward. I was careful to see that Jane Willoughby was seated by Lieutenant Archer—for though I would prefer to speak with him myself, a largish afternoon tea is no place to discuss matters of arcane geometry, and I do wish to placate her; and having Jane by the lieutenant is calculated to frustrate Edward almost as much as it would if I had him by me. Then, I sat Edward between La Grimsby's two daughters, Agatha and Matilda; for he is a fine figure of a man, and I felt sure that they would therefore keep him occupied. I sat between the good Mrs. Willoughby and Lieutenant Pertwee. The latter was all good cheer, and the former could not keep a sparkle from her eye as she gazed about the drawing room. The squire's wife is a woman of understanding, and I am sure she was more alive to the social undercurrents than I was, who had engineered them to the best of my ability! More, I expect she has some inklings of Blightwell's difficulties with Edward.

The dinner party will be in two day's time, on Thursday; and I have been keeping Edward on tenterhooks all of the week, filling him with details as to the courses and refusing to speak about the seating arrangements—for of course Father will be there and must have the last word, though Edward is not to know that for now.

Be sure that I shall communicate the results to you, dear Armand!

Your impish cousin,


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Letters from Armorica: Arcane Geometry (20 May 37 AF)

First Letter

Letters from Armorica: Arcane Geometry (20 May 37 AF)

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

18 March 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

I am so glad that you are not here, and that you are already married, for the geometries here in Wickshire are already quite sufficiently tangled; your unmarried presence would be beyond enough. And then, I have no one to offer you but one of the Grimsby sisters, and I hope I am a better hostess than that!

I have spent my week struggling to understand Hopsgood's Arcane Geometry, and I confess to you that it is heavy going. There is something that I do not know what it is, for Hopsgood doesn't tell me, that can flow from node to node. (I do not know what nodes are, either.) And if you draw the geometries properly, which seems to have to do with the arrangement of nodes, then the flows will balance, which is a good thing. Except, sometimes, it seems to be a bad thing. For some circumstances, evidently, it is quite right and proper and socially acceptable for the flows not to balance, provide that the result is symmetrical. Hopsgood does not use this word above half-a-dozen times per page, and I have no idea what it means.

To sum up, after a week of study I do not know what it is that flows, where it comes from, why it flows, or why I should want it to flow, because Hopsgood does not address any of these things. I have read a great deal about different arrangements of nodes, but nothing about how one would go about positioning a node in practice. It is all very well to tell me that a set of nodes arranged as a "reverse-hourglass hypothetical lozenge with Cadwallader insets" both smooths and amplifies the flow ("amplifies" is another word I do not know) when I would not recognize a node if I passed one on the street.

In short, Hopsgood assumes that I already know what wizardry is about, which you will agree, is unhelpful in the extreme.

Needless to say, the library here at The Elms has been utterly useless in this regard. And as the weather has warmed this week, replacing the snow with rain, I have had no opportunity to visit Stourness looking for works on—I do not know what I should call it. Mundane geometry? Plebeian geometry? I should settle for a good dictionary, like the one on the stand in the main reading room at the lending library.

I suppose I shall have to send a letter to Papa and ask him to send me such things, for I am sure any plea to Edward to travel to Yorke on my behalf would fail. He is unlikely to leave me here unattended, now that he is aware of Lieutenant Archer's wizardly interests; nor, now that he is fixated on Jane Willoughby, will he wish to leave Wickshire on his own. Instead, he has been plaguing me to invite her to tea—for the deeper currents of last week's meeting in Stourness entirely eluded him. I have no doubt she would come, if we invited her, and indeed I should be glad to do so if I thought she would come in a spirit of charity and good will.

I have sufficient address, I know, that I could allay her suspicions with a few well-chosen words and a bright smile, and all should be well again—but then I should have to avoid Lieutenant Archer, to smile at him politely and speak to him not at all beyond social nothings, and I find I have no desire to do so. How should I, when he is likely the only person in all of Wickshire who can explain to me what it means for an arrangement of nodes to be symmetrical?

But I cannot say that to my dear Jane, for she would accuse me of being disingenuous. And so I have avoided her this week, to my shame. But I have not been socially idle, oh no! For my dearest brother Edward has had his good friend Edward Hargreaves over to dine three times this week, and to tea twice! Dinner has been a trial, for they will discuss scientific farming through every course, and both Edwards persist in trying to engage me in the conversation, and to explain to me the difficult points. It is beyond enough!

And then, they will not even have the gentlemanly tact to linger over the port and cigars and leave a young lady to gather her scattered wits on her own in the drawing room. No, they must join me not ten minutes after the cloth is drawn, reeking not at all of wine and smoke, and continue their discussion.

If dinner is bad, tea is worse, for Edward has decided to play matchmaker. Clearly I must be in want of a husband, if I am dangling after Lieutenant Archer; and he clearly believes that Edward Hargreaves would make me a solid husband if only I would deign to accept him. Mr. Hargreaves is by no means averse to this plan, for at tea he spreads himself, doing his best to fix his interest with me.

Perhaps I could reconcile myself to that in time, for he looks well and is by no means stupid…but he is so full of himself and his own concerns that he has no room to learn about mine. He is intelligent, I suppose you may say, on one topic only. If I were the clinging sort of female, the brainless sort who would hang on Mr. Hargreave's every word and begin every sentence with "Edward says," well. I should be happy to gaze on his masculine beauty and good manners, and let his words become fixed in my brain without the least understanding. You remember Agatha Crumwell—she would have done quite well for Mr. Hargreaves, I believe. But I am not that sort.

Failing a man of character and understanding, I should do much better with a man of character who could be managed than with a single-minded man like Edward Hargreaves. I should probably contrive to be quite comfortable with a man like Lieutenant Archer's friend Lieutenant Pertwee, given sufficient income; for he would never trouble me with any thoughts but those I should give him. I shouldn't be happy, mind you. But comfortable, yes.

Have I shocked you, dear Armand? This is what it is to be a young lady of our station; I learned to make such calculations in the schoolroom.

And so, I shall write to Papa asking for a good dictionary, and books on geometry; and I shall continue my studies; and perhaps I shall manage to discourage Mr. Hargreaves without marring my reputation in Wickshire.

Your harried cousin,


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Letters from Armorica: Rivalry (13 May 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

11 March 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

I was able to go by sleigh to the library in Stourton this week, for the air was clear, the sun bright and cold, and the snow deep and even. I wrapped up in fur rugs with hot bricks at my feet, and had Brother Edward's solid bulk at my side, and so I was warm enough, at least for the ride there; on the ride home I was heated, I am afraid, by my anger and frustration.

But I get ahead of myself. There was no market in Stourton this week, due to the depth of the snow, nor any promenading to speak of; but the shops were busy enough and the library was not untenanted. Now, I like a browse in a library as much as anyone; but as I was eagerly in pursuit of my quarry I went straight to business, which is to say straight to the librarian.

Mr. Cobb is a middle-aged man with spectacles and thin hair, a pronounced nose, and no meat on his bones to speak of, who sits at a desk in the central room of the library. On this day he was bundled up so that he looked twice his normal size—for the library is by no means well-heated. I asked where I might find anything on wizardry, and he looked at me with some surprise.

"In that room, miss," he said, indicating the proper doorway with a jerk of his head. "You'll find the little we have in the middle case on the right wall, on the top shelf."

"You seem surprised," I said. "Ought a young lady not be inquiring into such things?"

"Not at all, miss," he said. "But no one's ever asked for them before this afternoon, and, well, as you'll see…"

"Someone is there before me?"

He nodded. I sighed for who could it be but Lieutenant Archer? Not that I shouldn't wish to see him, but I had Edward by me. "And now," I thought to myself, "Edward will think that I have been making assignations, when I have done no such thing."

Imagine my surprise, then, when I entered the indicated room and saw my dear Jane Willoughby on her tiptoes before the relevant bookcase, scanning the titles on the upper shelf!

Of course, I said nothing about my quarry, but only, "Why, Jane, I am fortunate, I find! I did not expect to see you today."

She smiled at me with a tinge of embarrassment, and said, "Why, Amelia, how good to see you. Yes, it has been quite dull at Stourness this past fortnight and so I am looking for something new to read."

Edward had been by me when I spoke with the librarian, of course, and and in his usual style he put his outsized foot in the middle of it.

"Have you also conceived an interest in things magical, Miss Willoughby?" he asked, in his most gallant style—by which I learned that Brother Edward was beginning to take an interest in dear Jane. At any normal time I should be glad of it, for a closer acquaintance could do nothing but improve Edward's understanding, and I have grown quite fond of Jane; but now, well.

"Oh, Mr. Montjoy," she said. "Are you also interested in the wizardly arts?"

"Not I, indeed," he said, "but my sister has been combing the library at The Elms for that very thing."

At that, Jane shot me a look I had not seen from her before: pointed, dark, the look of a woman at her rival. "Has she," she said, lightly enough in all truth, for her manners are exquisite, but I could tell her emotions were quite otherwise.

"Why, yes," said my idiot brother. "I really cannot account for it; perhaps it is something in the air here in Wickshire, for I am sure Amelia never displayed any interest in the subject in London."

"I am sure it is no surprise," she said, with another dark look at me. "In weather like this, what else is one to do? One cannot be knitting all the day long." By which, of course, she meant that I should tend to my own knitting and leave her intended beau alone.

I felt I should die, for it was truly unfair. My interest in wizardry is purely one of curiosity and a desire for diversion! Also, I had thought that I alone was aware of the good lieutenant's interests in that direction, for I had not passed them along to her.

It was a fraught situation, my dear Armand, and I was trying to determine how best to spread oil on the waters when a voice said, "Miss Montjoy, Miss Willoughby, how pleasant to meet you both here."

It was Lieutenant Archer, of course. Edward bristled, and the temperature dropped several degrees as Jane realized that the lieutenant had spoken to me _first_—again, unfair, as I was merely standing closer to the door.

But she rallied quickly. "A good day to you, lieutenant," she said. "Would you please lend me a hand?" And she indicated a book on the top-shelf.

"Of course," he said, causing Edward to bristle on his own behalf this time, rather than on mine. The lieutenant took down the indicated volume, a thick one bound in red leather, and started in surprise. "Leicester's Principles of Wizardry," he exclaimed, and I perceived that it was the very book he had himself been seeking. "I fear you shall find this too advanced," he said, and looking along the shelf he took down and handed her another, much slimmer, volume. "I should start here, if I were you. This is Murgatroyd's The Wizardly Arts. Read it, and if you find you are still interested I shall suggest another."

"You have my gratitude, Lieutenant," she said, and glancing sidewise at me took his arm, and the two of them went off to see Mr. Cobb, taking both volumes with them. Edward watched them go with thunder in the line of his brow while I pointedly turned my back on them and approached the shelf.

There was little enough left to choose from. There was a volume entitled The Mathematics of Magic, and another entitled Arcane Geometry by someone named Hopsgood. I took down the latter, thinking, "At least it is likely to have pictures." Then I had to stand by, seething, while Edward looked for a book on scientific farming; for he and Edward Hargreaves have become quite friendly.

The lieutenant and Miss Willoughby were both gone when we approached the desk; and I am proud that my own brow was unruffled and my demeanor calm as Mr. Cobb stamped my book, for he gave me a knowing look, and I could tell that it would soon be all around the district that Miss Willoughby and Miss Montjoy were competing for the attentions of Lieutenant Archer of the 2nd Hussars.

We returned home, and though I have glanced at the first pages of my acquisition I have been quite unable to give it any attention; for my heart is sore, and Edward has, of course, been "unable to remain silent" about how impossible it would be for me to make a match with a poor lieutenant. I have said nothing, remaining silent; while he, of course, has remained silent himself about his own dismay at the lieutenant's obvious interest in Miss Willoughby. Probably he imagines that no one else is aware of it.

Your discommoded cousin,


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