Monthly Archives: January 2021

Letters from Armorica: Absences (24 June 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

22 April 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

I am at an impasse. I cannot proceed with my magical studies without a teacher—without someone who can explain what all of these tantalizing words mean and what they are for. The books I have are no help—no further help—and the only man in the vicinity I might ask is unavailable. Doubly, perhaps triply unavailable.

I speak, of course, of the good Lieutenant Archer, who might or might not even know the answers to my questions, but whom I have been completely unable to speak with at any length.

As we are not affianced, I cannot write him letters.

I can invite him to tea; but for my own countenance I must invite others, with whom I do not at all wish to discuss wizardry.

I can speak to him on the street in Stourton, should I happen to pass him; but not for long before Edward Hargreaves charges in and begins to bristle.

I suppose I must write Papa and see if he can find me a teacher, or at least a wizard with whom I may have an interview.

In the meantime, Edward Hargreaves is far too much underfoot. He insists on squiring me about Stourton whenever I visit there—as if he could ever be the squire—and on riding with me if he chances upon me whilst I am out for my daily ride. I do believe he lies in wait for me. And then, he comes to visit Brother Edward nearly daily to talk about farming, which is quite reasonable; but then Brother Edward brings him to the library to torment me.

Yes, dear Armand, that is unfair. Edward does not bring the man in precisely to torment me. But he does bring him in, and then I must use all my address to avoid being rude.

I begin to think I must begin to be as rude as I know how, if I wish to discourage the man. Though I am not at all sure it would work, for Mr. Hargreaves has quite settled his mind. I am not sure I could change it with a cannon: head gone, idea still present.

Have I shocked you, dear Armand? I am sorry, if so.

I have had a small respite this last week, for Mr. Hargreaves has gone into the city for some reason or other; but though I looked eagerly for Lieutenant Archer at the market, I did not see him. I did meet Lieutenant Pertwee, who told me that Archer had been given leave to go home over some kind of family matter "but would no doubt be back soon, right as rain."

I do have one spot of bright news. Mrs. Willoughby invited Brother Edward and I to tea this week, and Edward had the good sense to ask me what he should talk about.

"When it comes to your activities with Blightwell," I said, "only answer questions they ask you. Let the Willoughbys guide the conversation. Ask Jane about her health and how she is enjoying the spring weather."

He nodded seriously, and took it all in. I must say, Armand, country life has been good for Edward. Back in Yorke he was the most serious of his entire crowd, none of whom had any particular occupation, and was accustomed to think himself superior because of it. Here in Wickshire even the gentlemen his age have their proper tasks, tasks about which he knew nothing when he came—and he has begun to learn something about them. Perhaps one day, he might even listen to me if I tell me that I have not the least intention of marrying Edward Hargreaves.

Your pleased tho' frustrated cousin,


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Letters from Armorica: Nodes and Nods (17 June 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

15 April 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

I begin to think that the most import aspects of wizardry simply aren't written down. Perhaps they cannot be—perhaps they can only be taught through experience. But it is my belief that Cumbrian wizards simply do not want idle folk like myself engaging in wizardly experiments. Thus, they write down the tricky mathematical and theoretical bits, and leave the practical bits ensconced in their wizardly heads.

Somehow, it is clear, one produces a flow of power, which is then managed to some end. How one produces this flow is never stated. Where does the magical power come from? From the wizard? Or from some other source? If from the wizard, how does the wizard produce it? By force of will? By exertion of physical strength? By reading back issues of Martle's Peerage and concentrating on the really long entries?

Yes, dear Armand, of course that's absurd.

Then, once one has the power in hand, if that's the proper term, one directs it through a series of nodes. I have finally determined precisely what a node is. A node, I am given to understand, is something through which magic can flow. A sublime and satisfying thought! Something through which magic can flow! How could I have missed that?

And one's choice of node is of immense importance, so says Carmichael, for one must choose nodes suitable to one's end, considering their capacity, and luminance, and translucence, and sublimity, and esoteric weight, and a baker's dozen of other qualities, none of which are explained in detail except in terms of how they affect the calculations.

And then, one must arrange the nodes in pattern most conducive to one's end…which end is described in similarly helpful terms.

However, there is no list of commonly used nodes—or ends, either—in any of the books father has brought me.

But all is not gloom and despair. I have learned one useful thing about the symmetry of the nodes, which is that it has more to do with the relationships between the nodes rather than how they are positioned in space. One of the more introductory books spoke of beads and strings: what matters is which beads are connected to which other beads, and how long the strings are that connect them. The beads represent the nodes, and the strings represent the flows from node to node; and the length of the strings might be the distance in space—I think—but might also be in terms of other qualities. In some arrangements, all of the distances are measured in terms of the same quality; in other more powerful arrangements, the qualities may differ. And I think it depends very much on which kinds of node one chooses, though how you connect them remains a mystery.

So as you can see, dearest Armand, I have learned a great deal and gotten nowhere. But perhaps I am boring you, so I will dismount from my hobby horse and pass the news.

I invited Miss Willoughby to tea this past Monday, tête-à-tête, and naturally Edward joined us for a time. He said little, and stayed just long enough to consume a cup of tea and two rock cakes; but he greeted my dear Jane most politely and hung on her every word. It was most unlike him, and I do believe that he has taken to heart Papa's injunction that he must listen if he is to learn.

For I may say, Cousin Armand, that he is quite different from the agricultural enthusiast of whom I wrote several weeks ago. Blightwell tells me that Edward is really beginning to come to grips with the complexities of running a large and established estate—that there are no simple changes, for anything one does must necessarily affect half-a-dozen other things. And I do believe the work suits him.

Once he had left, Jane turned to me and asked plainly, "Did my mother put you up to this?" She had greeted me quite warmly on arrival, but now her tones were decidedly frosty.

"I presume you are speaking of my brother's presence?"

"I am."

"He does live here," I said. "One could hardly expect him not to pay his respects."

But she was not mollified, and selected a cake with a cold dignity.

"Very well, yes," I said, "your mother had a word with me. But if you think I put Edward up to anything, you are gravely mistaken. It is not as if he pays any attention to what I say." That took her aback, for she could not but admit the justice of what I said. I pressed on. "And more, Edward has been after me to invite you to tea for many weeks. I should have done so before now had the weather permitted."

The cake snapped in her fingers, leaving her all in crumbs. "He has?"

I nodded. "I know you haven't so much as glanced at him, but it is clear as day to everyone else that he's smitten."

"He is?"

"Certainly. And why shouldn't he be? Mind you, he has no idea how to go about it, poor dear. And he's off his stride at the moment, for he's being pursued by the younger Grimsbys."

She pursed her lips, clearly deciding what to think about that. "I did notice that you sat him with them at dinner. I assumed it was his preference, and I confess I thought poorly of him for it."

"No, no, I am afraid I was working off a grudge. Against him, not against them, you understand. But he's far too good for them, and he has steadied a great deal in the past weeks. Were you aware that Blightwell is teaching him how to manage our estate here?"

"Mother did say something, I believe, but she is always saying things, you know. One can't always be listening."

I agreed that one couldn't, and we passed onto other matters. But I have planted a seed; now it is up to them as to how they go on!

Your scheming cousin,


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Letters from Armorica: Chance Meetings (10 June 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

8 April 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

Now I am for it, and no mistake. I wish to relate to you three social events that happened this week, from which you may draw your own conclusions—in addition to the ones I shall of course provide for you.

This past Wednesday, Edward and I were invited to tea at the Grimsbys. This was unusual: they do invite me to tea, though less frequently now that it is clear that I am not in an interesting situation, but they have never before included Edward in the invitation.

By now, you should have some idea of what tea with the Grimsbys is like—just on the edge of insulting, at least for me—but I could hardly imagine they would treat me so in my brother's presence, nor did they. Indeed, they treated me to tea and then ignored me. Instead, Agatha and Matilda devoted themselves to Edward while their mother smiled and said pretty things to him.

Edward said little on his return to The Elms, though distress painted his face, and fled into Blightwell's cubby and his new work as another man might head for the decanter. I found the event instructive, for I learned many things in a short time: how to use a sharp elbow, and how to step on a sister's hem so that she cannot arise, and things of this nature, and not least, to my great surprise, that I really am quite fond of Edward.

It was no new discovery that I do not want a Grimsby for a sister.

Thursday was Market Day in Stourton, and a fine spring day, so I had Tom Coachman drive me and my abigail into town. I won't bore you with a list of my purchases…but as I passed the library I happened to encounter Lieutenant Archer. Miss Derby dropped back a few steps, as a well-trained abigail should, so that the lieutenant might take my arm.

"I won't ask what brings you to Stourton, Miss Montjoy," he said, waving at the crowd, "for the reason is everywhere plain."

"Indeed," I said, as we continued down the square. "Though I am grateful to have met you here, lieutenant, for there is a question I should like to ask you."

"Is there?" He seemed puzzled, and not sure whether to be pleased or worried.

"Yes. I have been doing some reading about wizardry—", I began, and felt his arm jerk just a trifle, "—and I beg you to explain—"


The air of worry was stronger, now. I at once inferred that Miss Willoughby had been asking him questions he found difficult to answer…or, perhaps, he found the answers impossible to explain.

"What, pray tell, is it good for? From the books I have looked into it seems to be solely an intellectual and speculative endeavor, with no practical uses of any kind. It might as well be a branch of mathematics."

"Well, it—"

"I mean to say, your great-uncle was the Royal Wizard. Surely His Majesty got some use out of him? Surely he was more than an ornament, a court functionary of the sort intended to add color to the court and allow His Majesty to boast to the other monarchs?"

Whatever he had feared I would ask, this was not it, for he smiled at me; but before he could answer we were accosted by a stormy Edward Hargreaves.

"Miss Montjoy," he said, tipping his hat. Then, in darker tones, "Lieutenant."

By the standards of Market Day, Lieutenant Archer should have relinquished my arm and bid me good day, but the greeting was a challenge that the lieutenant could not readily ignore. He retained my arm and said, mildly but with a barely perceptible edge, "Is there something you wish to say to me, Mr. Hargreaves?" he replied

"No, sir, nothing at all," said Mr. Hargreaves, but as he said it in the same tones his meaning was perfectly clear: he wished for the lieutenant to vanish into the distance and never reappear.

Lieutenant Archer regarded him coolly for a moment, then released my arm and said, "Another time, Miss Montjoy," bowed slightly, and left us. Mr. Hargreaves watched him go with a surly satisfaction.

I made haste to speak, for it was all too plain what sort of gallantries were likely to ensue, and I had no patience for them. "Why so stormy, Mr. Hargreaves?" I began, feigning not to know, which took him aback; and then, before he could navigate his confusion I continued, "And is it you who has been filling my brother's head with mangelwurzels?"

My strong nudge to his hobby horse succeeded in diverting him. He took my arm, and as we proceeded, he said, "Mangelwurzels, Miss Montjoy? I may have done. Great things are being done with them down south, you know."

"Were you aware that Edward proposed to plant them here?" I did not mention Edward's plan about the apple orchard, for as I say I have a newfound fondness for him and did not wish to expose him to ridicule.

"But he mustn't do that!" he cried in true horror, which I admit raised him slightly in my esteem. He enumerated the reasons why around two sides of the square, where we were met by Mrs. Willoughby.

"Just the young lady I was wanting to see," she said with a smile. Hargreaves bid me good day with an air of disappointment; Mrs. Willoughby continued to smile as she watched him walk away. "He might do for you," she said. "Easy to manage, that type."

"I think I should prefer Lieutenant Pertwee, on the main," I said lightly. "Having no thoughts of his own, he would have no thought but for me, and I wouldn't have to come second to mangelwurzels and irrigation."

"Not Lieutenant Archer?"

"He's penniless, poor lad," I said. "Of good family, my father assures me, but he's a younger son."

"Ah. A pity, I may say. He is quite a fine figure of a man."

"So is Edward Hargreaves," I said drily.

"Yes, but it is about Lieutenant Archer I wish to speak."

I looked at her in some surprise. "How so?"

"Come now, my dear, you cannot have failed to note my dear Jane's interest. Indeed, I know you have not, for you put them together at dinner last week."

"Why, yes, I did. She had been angry with me, and I wished to make her happy."

"Over the good lieutenant?"

"As you say."

"But you have just said that you have no interest in that direction."

I stopped and looked at her. "I—" I began, and stopped in confusion.

She nodded, and squeezed my arm. "And what of him? What are his feelings?"

I shook my head. "I don't know, truly. He is warm, and polite, but I have never known him to be otherwise to anyone. Well, except to Mr. Hargreaves, just now."

"And to Jane?"

"The same. In my sight, at least."

"And in mine," she said. "Miss Montjoy, we should have tea." And so saying she steered me into the tea shop where we were soon seated with tea and buns. Miss Derby, that treasure, took herself to another table some distance away.

"Now, Miss Montjoy," said Mrs. Willoughby, "I shall open my thoughts to you."

I nodded, wondering what was coming.

"It has perhaps escaped you that my dear Jane is our only child."

"Oh! And so her husband must be the next squire."

"That is right. So let me be plain. The Willoughbys have been squires in this manor for centuries. It is essential that Jane's husband be a man of the district, and willing to carry on that tradition."

"And Lieutenant Archer is not only not of the district, but might be sent anywhere at all."

Mrs. Willoughby nodded grimly. "And even if he were the eldest, his family's station is far more lofty than that of the Squires of Stourness. He would not settle her, nor would he ever be happy here."

"I think you do him a disservice, Mrs. Willoughby; but it is true that I cannot see him in your husband's place. Squire Willoughby is all that a country squire should be, if I may be so bold. But a man of the district—you cannot wish her wed to Edward Hargreaves!"

"Certainly not."

"But then who? Not Thomas Porter, my dear Jane would go mad. Nor Wallace Hampton. And Sir Roger de Montfort is surely far too old!"

"There is one other."

I must have looked a complete blank, for she laughed.

"Your brother Edward is an estimable man," she said. "And it does appear that he intends to remain in Wickshire, does it not? He is in training with your man of business, is he not?"

I studied her face. Her ever-present good humor remained, but I could tell she was in earnest. I finished my bun as I pondered, and she waited patiently.

"I suppose I needn't tell you that there is some attachment on his side," I said. She nodded, as well she might. "And if he could be brought to study Jane's happiness as he is currently studying farming, why, I suppose he should succeed at making her happy. But what of Lieutenant Archer?"

"Ah!" she said, and there was a world of meaning in that simple utterance.

It is beginning to seem to me that there is quite as much complexity in social as in arcane geometry, my dear Armand; perhaps more so.

Your embattled cousin,


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