Author Archives: Will Duquette

Letters from Armorica, 7 Novembre 33 AF

Dear Journal,

Now that I sit and reflect on the day, I have a feeling that I'm being managed. I'm not sure I like that.

But maybe I do. I suppose I shall have to make my mind up one way or the other, and before too much time has passed.

I was about to go and do battle with the goats this morning, just after dawn, when Marc came and found me. I think Armorican goats must be different than Cumbrian goats. I have never heard anyone utter a word against Cumbrian goats. But these goats, these fiends in bestial form, you must outface them and intimidate them before you can milk them, and if you are wise you wear padded leather armor while you are doing it. It does not help as much as one might think, and I have often longed for steel plate.

But Marc found me before battle was joined, and told me that Unc' Herbert had something else for me to do today: he was sending me into the village.

"If he says so," I said, "Though it isn't the usual day for that," I said. "Could you harness Marguerite while I get out of this stuff?"

"You won't be taking the cart, either," he said, smiling rudely at me. "M. Fabré needs some help today. The cart can't be spared, but…."

"I can," I said. "What's it about?"

"I can't say," he said, grinning even more widely. "Perhaps they have some goats they need tending. Or maybe worse."

"You might make a career in Toulouse with a sense of humor like that," I said, and handed him the milk buckets. I was a little dismayed to see that he took them cheerfully enough. Then I got out of the armor and went and got cleaned up a bit—because you don't get cleaned up before you tend to the goats—and set out to walk the few miles to the village. It would have seemed a long distance back in Yorke; now it was just one more usual walk.

I gave Amelie a brief smile when I entered the shop, but M. Fabré was waiting for me. "Bon.", he said. "It is inventory time, n'est-ce pas?" He didn't look well, more worn than usual, with a pinched look about the eyes.

I thought about the rows of shelves in the back room—very high shelves, some of them.

"Let me guess. You want me to update the ledger while you count the items on the shelves?" I said.

His face darkened a bit. "Non."

I smiled back at him. "I thought not. That's a pity, as I've discovered I'm quite good with ledgers. Where do you want me to start counting?"

That got a snort of surprise, but his face lightened again, and he said, "Bon. This way."

I followed him around the counter, Amelie blushing as I passed, and into the store room at the back.

It was a long day, and long before the end of it I was glad of the hard manual labor I'd been doing at Onc' Herbert's farm. I was up and down ladders and moving boxes and counting items small and large and calling them out to Amelie's father. Some of the boxes—usually on the highest or lowest shelves—looked like they hadn't been touched or dusted in years. By the end of the day I began to wish I'd done more hard manual labor at Onc' Herbert's farm.

Several times I had to stop while M. Fabré had a coughing fit. I wanted to ask him if he'd seen a physician, but there is no real physician in Bois-de-Bas.

We stopped for dinner at midday. The Fabré's home was in the same building as the shop, but to one side rather than above as would have been the case in Yorke or Mont-Havre. Amelie served, and while we ate M. Fabré asked me about my time in Mont-Havre.

I gave them the whole story—working at the docks, living with Madame Truc, keeping inventory ledgers at Suprenant-et-fils. I glossed over some of the details of Jean-Baptiste's adventure as not being fitting for a young lady (and certainly not in the presence of her father), but from her giggles I think she managed to fill in the gaps.

"C'est bon," he said at last, and we rose and went back to work. I made sure to thank Amelie. And then, at the end of the day, I plodded on back to Onc' Herbert's farm, aching in every bone.

Marc was waiting for me. "So," he said. "You look very tired. Were there worse things than goats?"

I thought of Amelie's smile when I said goodbye. "Non," I said. "C'est bon." And then I went to get cleaned up for supper.

____
photo credit: wuestenigel Happy goat via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica, 3 Novembre 33AF

Dear Journal,

The cat is now out of the bag, or at least his nose is peeking out of the mouth of the sack.

When we reached the hot springs this afternoon, Marc led me down a different path to a pool I had not seen before. It was provided with the usual wooden benches, and it was close enough to the place we usually bathed that we could hear the other men talking but far enough away that we could not make out their words. It looked just the spot for a private discussion, and I wondered what was on Marc's mind. We hastened into the water, for the air was cold.

"Why are we here instead of in with the others?" I asked, but Marc shook his head.

"Just be patient, mon frere, and enjoy the water."

Voices rose and fell in the distance, and it had just occurred to me that private discussions worked both ways when we were joined by Onc' Herbert. He descended slowly and deliberately into the water, much as he did everything else, and fixed me with that piercing eye of his.

"Who?" he asked. I stared at him, speechless. Whatever I'd been expecting, it wasn't an interrogation.

"He means—" began Marc, but Onc' Herbert held up his hand, and Marc fell silent.

I felt more than usually naked. "It's quite all right, Marc, I know what he means." I looked at Onc' Herbert. "What have you already figured out?"

He raised an eyebrow. "Hard worker. No farmer. Good with goats." He chuckled a bit, to my surprise. "On the run. From what?"

"M. le Gouverneur," I said. He waited, and eventually I said, "And my father."

He nodded.

"He knows that, Armand. You told me that much on the ship," said Marc.

"Who?" said Onc' Herbert.

I took another deep breath. "My name—my real name—is Armand Massey. My father is the head of the Former's Guild in Yorke." That shut them up. "And yes, I'm a former, too, though I can't legally practice without registering with the Guild in Mont-Havre."

To forestall any doubts Onc' Herbert might have, I raised my hand out of the water and brought forth a light. Marc and his uncle watched it floating above my palm in a silence tinged with awe. After a moment I made it go away.

"You can do that," said Marc, "and you've been tending our goats?"

"It was better than tending my father's ambitions," I said. "I always liked forming, but just being a former wasn't good enough for my father. I always had to take his position into account, and I always had to be careful to do just the right things so that I could step into his place in my turn and spend the rest of my days preventing others from taking it from me." I shook my head. "That's no kind of life. I hated it." I looked across the grotto at the light coming in through the trees. "If I could have moved to some Cumbrian town and set up my shingle as a small-town former, I think I'd have been perfectly happy. Or even on Danver Street in Yorke. But Father would never have stood for it."

"The Guild in Mont-Havre?" said Onc' Herbert.

I shook my head. "I considered that, but I couldn't be sure they wouldn't ship me back to Yorke, just to do my father a favor. And as a newcomer, and a Cumbrian, I had no guarantee of a welcome." I grimaced. "If I'd told them who my father was, they'd have fallen over themselves to let me in…but of course I wasn't going to do that."

Onc' Herbert nodded. "Tuppenny?"

"My family is wealthy, and I turned my back on all that. I figured, well, at least I'd always have Tuppenny to my name."

Onc' Herbert snorted, then considered me for a few moments. "Bois-de-Bas?"

"I like it here," I said. "It's beautiful. I like the hot springs. I like the people. I think I could be happy here." I shrugged, and grimaced again. "But as you say, I'm no farmer, and I don't want to tend goats for the rest of my life."

"You've stuck with them for months without complaining," said Marc. "The rest of us can't stick them for more than a few days at a time."

I looked at him in horror. "But I hate those damn goats. You mean the job usually rotates?"

"Armand, everybody hates 'those damn goats,'" he said, while Onc' Herbert chortled silently. "You've made the whole farm very happy."

Onc' Herbert's shoulders continued to heave for quite a time. At last he said, simply, "Bon." and climbed out of the pool. I began to follow, but Marc shook his head.

"Bide," he said, so I tried to relax and enjoy the hot water. Deep voices rose and fell in the distance, and then rose all together and fell silent before relapsing into a murmuring rumble.

"Now we can go."

So we got up and joined the other men in the main pool. No one said anything, though many smiled; and more than one of the men slapped me on the back on the walk back to the farm.

____
photo credit: mattvaux7 Autumn Forest via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica— 19 Octobre 33AF

Dear Journal,

Harvest is over; the weather is cooling; and I have at last had word from Mont-Havre!

The news is both good and bad. The pirate threat has diminished, or at least more ships are getting through, and so there is news from abroad. We hear that Cumbria and Provençe have been squabbling and running their guns in and out and making ultimatums but there have been no open hostilities as yet—not that either will admit to, at any rate, the nationality of the pirates still being an open question—and there has been no explicit declaration of war.

But the atmosphere in Mont-Havre is still tense. It seems a new power has arisen in Provençe, a man they call the Maréchal, and that he is the source of much of the bellicose talk. I have not discussed the Maréchal with the folks here in Bois-de-Bas, but I have listened to the men talk in the hot springs, and there is fear that he will try to involve Armorica in his disputes. The sentiment of the men of Bois-de-Bas seems to be unanimous: Armorica is its own place, and no province of Provençe. Onc' Herbert described the general mood in just two words: "upstart" and "rascal".

The merchants have had little relief. "More ships" is not "most ships", and M. Suprenant and his fellow guild-members don't know what to do. Ought they to send their goods with the ships that call, and hope they will get through? Or ought they to leave their goods in the warehouse, where they are safe? The latter may be smart in the short run but fatal in the long run; whereas the former is a nasty gamble no matter how you look at it.

In the dark of the night, after yet another day being abused by the goats morning and evening, I have pondered returning to Yorke—but there is no point to that. I want to leave Armorica only to get away from the goats; but I have the goats to deal with only because of the pirates and the threat of war; and because of the pirates it isn't safe to take ship. If the pirates and rumors of war were to vanish, I could return to Mont-Havre and never look at a goat again…and then I'd have no reason to leave Armorica.

No, it's no use. "The neighbor's flowers are always more beautiful," they say back home; but I grew up in Yorke, and I know better. And Cumbria is too small for me to live anywhere outside of Yorke and still avoid my father.

But despite the goats, and the growing cold, and the hard work, I find I like it here in Bois-de-Bas. I like the country-side. I like the hotsprings. I like the people.

Though I speak Provençese exclusively, it is now an open secret that I am from Cumbria. My assumed name, "Tuppenny", gives that away if nothing else does. Everyone here has their roots in Provençe, yet none of them have looked the least bit sideways at me—not like I'd expect in a small village in Provençe, or even simply as a man of Yorke in a remote village in Cumbria. Perhaps it is because they are all colonists, or the children of colonists. Like me, they chose to come here, instead of settling for what their forebears had done for centuries.

I have made several trips to the village with Marguerite and the cart—Onc' Herbert seems relieved to have found a task that I am good at—and twice Amelie was at the counter. She seems a clever girl, well-able to handle the day-to-day running of the shop, though ignorant of many things, for there is no school here in Bois-de-Bas, not yet. Her father has taught her her numbers and to read from the few books he brought with him, and she seems eager to learn. Her father, too, seems a competent soul, though worn by (so I assume) the loss of Amelie's mother.

Alas, I had no chance to do more than exchange glances with Amelie today after divine services. The meals on the green ended with the harvest; it is now too cold to take a meal in comfort out-of-doors. Everyone still gathers in the village after divine services, but as there is no place indoors large enough for everyone (excepting the church, of course) they scatter to different homes around the green, each family with their special friends. I do not know to whose house the Fabrés go, or, it may be that they host their own group their in the shop; but Onc' Herbert's family visits the Gagnons, a family whose farm is just outside the village. Onc' Herbert's father and the Gagnon patriarch came to Armorica on the same ship.

Which reminds me of something I have not yet recorded. Onc' Herbert's full name is Herbert de Néant, which means Herbert of Nothing: an odd name, and one that begs an explanation. Marc tells me that Onc' Herbert's grandfather was a younger son of the Provençese nobility; when the Troubles came in Provençe, he joined the rebels and styled himself de Néant, that is, "Lord of Nothing". His fellow rebels considered this a great joke, and the name a badge of honor…but a generation later it had become a dangerous name, no matter who was temporarily in power. The masses distrusted the noble "de", not appreciating the irony, and the king's men distrusted the name even more for its rebel antecedents. And so, on the old man's death Onc' Herbert's father quietly gathered his resources and left for Armorica. Marc's mother is Onc' Herbert's cousin.

The meals on the green may be over for the year, but the trips to the hot springs continue just the same, O blessed hot springs! Though I notice Jean-Paul did not get nearly so drunk as usual this week. Perhaps no one wanted to cart him home in the cold.

____
photo credit: MikeSpeaks Peaceful Path via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica, 5 Octobre 33AF

Dear Journal,

It has been a busy time. The goats are ever-present, but in addition we are beginning the harvest.

The fields are small, having been carved out of the forest, and they do not all ripen quite at once, having been planted one at a time, but still there has been much to do—and I begin to despair of getting the hang of it. Jack would be laughing at me now if he were here, the way he used to laugh at me during games at school, for harvesting the grain is quite like a game: there is a technique to it, and a rhythm, and where everyone else ends with a neat bundle of stalks I end up with the stalks scattered everywhere. By the end of Mardi I was reduced to carrying drinking water to the harvesters. I was mortified.

On Jeudi, Marc took me aside. "I've got a bit of a break for you," he said. "Someone needs to take the donkey-cart into the shop in the village for supplies, and everyone's busy in the fields."

"Everybody but me, you mean."

"Don't be so hard on yourself, mon ami," he said. "Gathering the sheaves is harder than it looks." Though he seemed to take to it well enough though I knew he had grown up in town. "Onc' Herbert asked me if you could see to it."

I'm well enough used to horses that I had no difficulty with harnessing Onc' Herbert's donkey to the cart, not so far as the straps and buckles go. Marguerite was not inclined to cooperate at first (that's the donkey's name, Marguerite), but after the goats she was not much of a challenge, and by the time we reached the village we had also reached an understanding. We were on quite good terms thereafter, Marguerite and I.

Marguerite was the one bright spot to the morning. I spent the drive to the village in a pit of despond. I'd had no news from Mont-Havre in almost a month, so I had no idea whether the war had begun or not, or whether, perhaps, normal shipping had resumed. I didn't know whether M. le Gouverneur was still looking for me, or indeed whether he had ever concerned himself with me at all. Meanwhile the list of farm chores I was not allowed to help with was growing by the week, and I could foresee a time when I would be quite unable to earn my keep. I pictured myself sleeping in a little shed, trusted only to muck out the stables.

I was expecting to find M. Fabré at the village shop—which is an wholly inadequate name for the place, I must say. A "shop" sounds like a tiny place at which one might buy a handful of buttons or a pouch of tobacco, and indeed you can do both there; but it is really more like a small warehouse. Most of the farmers do send their own carts to one of the bigger towns a few times a year; but anything else that is needed comes through the village shop.

I had been introduced to M. Fabré at the hot springs. He seemed a quiet man, worn down and with a bleak look in his eye. I was curious to ask him which of the merchants he dealt with in Mont-Havre, but we hadn't had any opportunity to speak.

We still didn't, for behind the counter was the young lady who had been trying to catch my eye after divine services. She blushed prettily.

"Oh!" she said. "It is you!"

I didn't know quite what to say to that, though I'm sure Jack would have been at no kind of loss, so I just said, "Bonjour, mademoiselle. Um, I was told to speak with M. Fabré?"

"Mon pere," she said. "He is not here. He is helping M. Tremblay with the harvest. But I may help you." And she smiled warmly.

Her name, I found, was Amelie, Amelie Fabré. I handed her the list Marc had given me, and she helped me load up the cart with the items, laughing and chattering as we worked our way up and down the rows of shelves. I found I had to work hard to keep up with her. As we worked I asked a few questions about the business, and found she had ready answers.

I was bemused all the drive back to the farm. Amelie had a fetching smile, and she was clearly no fool, and she was ever so much prettier to think on than the goats. I thought of her all day Vendredi and Samedi, and I managed to catch her eye after divine services this morning. I gave her a warm smile, which she returned in kind. She was already sitting with her father and another family I learned to be the Tremblays, or I might have tried to join her.

It is only now, as I write these words, that it has occurred to me: when Marc and Onc' Herbert sent me to speak with M. Fabré, they'd have known quite well that he would be helping the Tremblays with the harvest.

Letters from Armorica— 21 Septembre 33AF

Dear Journal,

My life has taken on a pattern. I work hard on Onc' Herbert's farm all week, tending the goats and what not (for he no longer allows me to help cut down trees); and on the day of rest I attend divine services and visit the hot springs with the rest of the men. And that, despite all my ambitions, is that. I have no time during the week for reflection, or, rather, no time for recording my reflections in any coherent way; but then, my reflections while waiting upon the goats are generally not such as I would care to remember anyway. The goats and I are not on speaking terms, however much time I spend with them.

And then, on the day of rest, the day I look forward to all of the rest of the week, for it truly is a day of rest even if I still have to feed the goats morning and evening, I have no energy for anything but rest. I have opened my grimoire once of twice, but I've made no progress toward my goal of forming a sky-boat. Indeed, I cannot say that I've truly begun.

I would say that I have sunk into a depression, but for that sinking sounds like too much effort. As a sign of my malaise, that so appropriate Provençese expression, I have twice noticed a pretty young lady at the church, and this morning at the meal that follows on the green it even seemed that she wished to catch my eye—and I have been too tired to so much as return her glances.

When I came to Armorica I did not know what line of work I would settle into; I was only resolved not to step into my father's shoes at the Guild. Life as a clerk was enjoyable for a season, and I learned a great deal that I believe I might find useful if I am ever freed from the goats. It kept me fed and clothed. But I have seen enough of it to know that I do not wish to do that for the rest of my days, not if other opportunities arise.

The one thing I am certain about is goats. I am utterly certain about goats. I am utterly sure I do not wish to spend the rest of my life with goats.

Though I continue to try to do the work I'm given cheerfully and diligently, I am not sure that it is enough. Onc' Herbert began by looking doubtful and slightly amused; but lately he only looks thoughtful. He remains friendly enough in his manner, and he says little; I have learned that he never says very much, in any circumstances. But I cannot help thinking, when his eye is upon me, that I am not working up to his expectations. In my bleakest moments I am sure that I am working down to them, and that only pity stays him from sending me away.

I very much wanted to join Jean-Paul in his heavy drinking at the hot springs today, but I must not. He is one of theirs, while I remain an outsider. I must not give them any reason to turn me away.

____
photo credit: TamsinCooper@OrchardPigeon ChiffetiereOct22 via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica— 7 Septembre 33AF

Dear journal,

It has been days since I have had time and wakefulness enough to record any of my doings! There is no margin for slacking on the frontier, and Bois-de-Bas is most definitely on the frontier: a beautiful place, indeed, a place of woods and grottos and small valleys and small fields carved out of the woodlands, but also a place of hard work and few comforts.

What comfort there is to be had, Marc and Elise have given me: a cot to sleep on, hot food, and the opportunity to be of use around the farm. Marc and Elise have no farmstead of their own as yet, and live with Marc's uncle, Herbert Frontenac; and so perforce, am I. Since my arrival I have been learning to feed the goats and milk the cow and other necessary chores; and I have been helping to cut down trees (so as to expand the fields) and split firewood. I think perhaps my hands will never be the same, for it is work unlike any I have ever done. I fear I learn slowly.

Onc' Herbert has a doubtful look in his eye as he watches me—a doubtful and somewhat amused look, I think—but I hope I have given him no reason to doubt my willingness. And so, I have dropped onto my cot at the end of each day, worn, weary, and wiped out—as Jack used to say of his military service.

Today, however, is a day of rest for Bois-de-Bas, with only the most necessary of chores, and I rejoice for it means I have time this afternoon to sit and ponder a little.

The day began—after chores—with divine services in the little church, the most sturdily built structure in the village. It is framed of bronzewood timbers, and has a steeply pitched roof to shed the snow. The outside is plain, but the inside features all manner of carvings.

It was a service of the Old Religion, of course, the villagers all being Provençese in origin. I followed along as best I could, the proceedings being rather different than divine services back in Yorke—and those not well known to me at that, for my father paid as little heed to such things as he could well manage in his position. We were wealthy enough to have a private chapel and so avoid the need to be seen at public worship each week; and if the chapel remained dusted and empty for most of the year, who was there to speak of it but us?

After the service, which was quiet and simple, there being no priest resident in Bois-de-Bas, there was a meal held in common, and eaten at trestle-tables set up on the green outside the church. I gather it is the social highlight of the week, at least during the warmer months. I was introduced as "Cousin Armand" and did my best to appear not too obviously Cumbrian. Oncle Herbert knows where I am from, but sees no need to spread it too widely.

After the meal, which lasted much longer than I would have guessed, we split into two groups, of men and women, and trooped off to the hot springs! And that is an experience I shall delight in repeating. It was a continuation of the social time, of course, and opportunity for the men and women to each go off by themselves—for no one can afford special clothing for bathing, not in Bois-de-Bas! And so we sat in the hot steaming water on benches made of chêne-pierre for the purpose and talked of this and that. Oh the relaxation! I was asked a great many questions, which I endeavored to answer (or not to answer) as honestly as I could; for someday these people will know all about me, and I would not want it said that I was a liar when I first came among them.

After the springs, and (in some cases) a great deal too much of the local wine—for one large fellow named Jean-Paul nearly slipped under the water and drowned. He was rescued with a great deal of merriment and ribaldry and left on the side of the pool like a grounded snark, this being evidently a commonplace event—after the springs, I say, we got dressed and returned to our homes, warm and refreshed.

There is a floating island not far from Bois-de-Bas, some miles away to the north and not too high; it appears to be well wooded, and also watered for there is a water fall that spills in a vast cloud of mist into a lake in the valley below. One might perhaps live there well enough if one could get there. I noticed it when I first arrived, and now I cannot get sky-boats out of my mind. I have my grimoire to hand; I think I shall settle down with it and see what I have learned that might be to the purpose. There will be something; my father assured me, once I had copied his grimoire, that I had the foundations for everything I would ever practically need, given time and thought. At the very least, it shall give me something to ponder as I feed the goats in the morning.

____
photo credit: CarbonNYC [in SF!] via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica, 4 Septembre 33AF

Dear Madame Truc,

I hope this finds you well.

I have arrived at my friends' home and found a welcome—of sorts. Which is to say: they are agreeable to my presence, indeed they hoped I would come to them; but they are not best pleased about the circumstances. I find it hard to fault them for this. I am not best pleased about the circumstances either, not just my own situation but the situation in which Armorica may find herself should war come to our heights. But I am safe here, at least for now, and I am doing my best to make myself useful.

The man who has brought you this letter comes to Mont-Havre on business every month or so. He is a friend—a new friend—and if you receive any mail for me, you may safely give it to him. I will leave it to the two of you to arrange any precautions you think necessary. Please write to me yourself when things are more settled in Mont-Havre! I might choose to continue here rather than return to the big city, but at present I am rather under a cloud and I should like to see it blown away. But you need not concern yourself with general news, as my friend will bring that back with him as a matter of course.

Please be sure you have all of my gratitude for your tender care of me during my time under your roof! I shall remember you in my prayers, and I shall certainly dome visit if I return to Mont-Havre.

Your friend,

Armand

____
photo credit: James St. John Black Pool (afternoon, 10 June 2017) 2 via photopin (license)

Letters to Armorica, 27 Août 33 AF

Dear journal—

Silly as that sounds to my ears, it is a blessed thing to write it down at last. I have been walking all day, and such sights I have seen and such thoughts I have had! They buzz in my brain, and I have been longing for nightfall and the chance to record them.

The road from Petit-Monde to Honfleur is well-maintained—I am still close to Mont-Havre, after all—but runs through the most picturesque forests and rocky crags. There are few grand-blaireaux remaining this close to Mont-Havre, and I am told that they have learned to avoid the road; I have also been told that I would be foolish to leave it, and I have no intention of doing so.

The road is lonely, though not quite empty; I was passed by any number of carts and wagons traveling in either direction, but never more than one at a time. I also passed two small villages during the day, and purchased food at one of them. I was careful to speak little and only in Provençese. I have little fear of being marked as a Cumbrian along the way; the people of Armorica have come from all over Provençe, and so speak with a variety of accents. Madame Truc tells me that my accent is not good, but will pass as being from somewhere in Provençe if I keep my mouth closed.

I do not think to hide my passage, precisely, for I do not really expect anyone to look for me on this road; I left unseen, and even Madame Truc can honestly say she does not know where I am headed, for I wrote it down and sealed it in an envelope for her to open "in case of need". Still, I do not wish to be remembered, either. In Bois-de-Bas I will need to be myself; until then I will rest easier if I am unremarked.

From one valley, wider than the rest, I spied a floating island on the horizon, such as dot the skies of Armorica here and there. It is hard to judge the sizes of such things, but I judged it to be small, not much more than a barren ball of rock. Some, I am told, are much larger and topped with the green of trees, and I found myself pondering these as I walked.

No one visits them, of course; there is land aplenty down below, and they are quite high up and inaccessible without a sky-boat of some kind. Sky-boats are far and few between on Armorica: I daresay the only ones one would ever normally see are lashed down on the decks of the sky-ships in the port at Mont-Havre. A normal boat is easily built from local lumber by any capable woodcrafter, but a sky-boat requires a formed keel, along with other parts I am uncertain of that also require the services of the Former's Guild to fabricate; and those services do not come cheap as I have good reason to know. Sky-boats would be a luxury in a young colony such as Armorica, and an unnecessary one.

Still, it occurs to me that a medium-sized floating island in a place like Armorica might serve very well as a base for sky-pirates. It could serve as home and port; if fertile, it might perhaps provide a little food; and the pirates could purchase supplies and engage in other trade without giving away their profession or place of residence by landing well outside some small town and trekking in. Such a place could never be self-sufficient, but it would never need to be—at least, not long as piracy continued profitable.

I do not say that our pirates are doing this—indeed, at the moment I am far from thinking that our pirates are pirates at all, but rather privateers. But I spent many an hour as I walked pondering the economy of such a pirate haven. I do not intend to ever turn pirate, of course, having no taste for cutting throats and taking plunder at sword-point, but if I should happen to do so I think I should know how to go on—how to survive it in the long-term, if not the short.

Tonight I sleep in a hayloft in the grandly named village of Honfleur, a place even smaller than Petit-Monde; I should reach Bois-de-Bas in two or possibly three days.

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Letters from Armorica, 26 Août 33AF

Dear journal—

How foolish that sounds to my ears! As though I were my young cousin Cynthia writing about her beaux. And yet, I must record these things, for my own safety, and I must not communicate them to others, for their safety and mine.

I had word from my cousin yesterday—a courier boat came yesterday, one that was expected a month ago. The boat had been fired upon by an unknown ship and much knocked about, and was forced to flee and take refuge in an unknown land until repairs could be effected. True to the motto of the Courier's Guild, they then proceeded on to Mont-Havre, faithful in all circumstances.

I could wish he had not written, for it was foolish in the extreme, though well meant. It has caused me much trouble; I pray it will not cause him even more.

His words were as follows. (I shall burn the copy momentarily.)

I write in haste. There have long been rumblings in the Corps now that Provençe is climbing back to its feet after the Troubles, and the word is that my regiment is being sent to Sarnia—the which is both the arse-end of nowhere and the closest Cumbrian possession to Provençe. I know nothing officially, but I fear that war is coming.

I dare write no more; my captain has just emerged from the colonel's tent. Watch yourself.

And now I fear the pirates are no such thing, but Cumbrian privateers; and that the attacks on our shipping are in fact attacks on Provençese shipping in general, for most of our traffic is with Provençe and its other colonies. Armorica is independent now, or the next best thing, but it is nominally still a colony of Provençe—and I doubt the King's navy is all that concerned with nuances.

Armorica is my home now; I do not wish to fight my former countrymen, but neither do I wish my new countrymen to fight each other. There are many Cumbrians here now, and I fear for what might happen if word gets out. And yet, I have felt that I must warn the powers that be—my new nation must not be taken unawares.

After long deliberation—for this past night in my crow's nest, watching for pirates, was good for little else—I sought Madame Truc this morning, privately, and asked whom I must speak to in the government.

"You shall do no such thing, mon fils!" she told me. "It would be an act of the most rash and the most fatal! You are but new here, you would not be trusted. Non, you must go to M. Suprenant, for he is a man of both honor and discretion, and well known to M. le Gouverneur. He will advise you; and he will carry the word for you, I think."

And so I copied my cousin's letter—the copy I have just now burnt—and went to work and sought an audience with M. Suppressant when he arrived.

"Thank you for seeing me, monsieur," I said, and handed him the original letter. He read it in a moment, and his lips pursed. Then he tilted the paper against the light of his lamp to examine the watermark.

"Why have you brought this to me?" he said.

"To learn what I must do with it," I said. "The governor must know that war is coming—he must take stops to prevent it coming here. But you know what they say about the bearer of bad tidings, and he may think I am not to be trusted. And if he were to mistreat me, and then war were to break out, well; there are many Cumbrians here now. For Cumbrians to fight Provençese can only be bad for Armorica, but I don't know the best thing to do to prevent it."

"You are wise for your years," he said. "Do you know any more than what is written here?"

"Only that my cousin is in the 29th Foot."

He gave me a sharp look. "No more than that? Nothing else?"

"Nothing else, monsieur."

"Very well," he said. "You may leave the matter with me; I will attend to it. And I shall burn this letter—it would ill repay your cousin's loyalty to you if his name were to escape."

"Thank you, monsieur."

"M. le Gouverneur is a hater of bad news, and inclined to seek easy solutions. He may decide that you are a rabble-rouser, seeking to cause him trouble. I think that we—the guild and I—can bring him round…but that will be no help to you if he moves swiftly. And if he takes against you, I have no means to protect you. Have you somewhere to go?"

"I believe I do. I have a friend—"

"No more! It is better that I know as little as possible. I shall speak to Madame Truc when I judge it is safe for you to return. Go now, and make haste. I shall take counsel with myself today and tonight, and take the actions that seem best to me tomorrow."

"But if I run—won't that set him against me?"

"It is I who have advised you to do so, and I will tell him so myself. Now, go!"

I bowed and left. I made haste to Madame Truc's and spoke briefly with her; and then gathering my things in a sac à dos of her husbands I hurried away on foot, completely unremarked so far as I can tell. At present I am at the inn in the village of Petit-Monde, as far as I could go ere dark. Tomorrow I shall continue on my way to Bois-de-Bas.

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Letters from Armorica, 14 Août 33AF

Dear Marc,

Things are unsettled here in Mont-Havre, and the future looks bleak. I presume that the news has come to Bois-de-Bas of the troubles we have had from pirates: the Cannondale taken, and other ships missing altogether. M. Suprenant no longer whistles when he comes in in the morning, and my work here is nearly at a stand-still. Indeed, I am nearly at a stand-still, myself, and I hope I may presume on your hospitality if I find I must leave Mont-Havre.

Even my esteemed Madame Truc wears a face of the most long these days. Many of her boarders, her jeune hommes as she calls us (never minding that some are as old as she is) are involved in the shipping trade one way or another. It is as though Mont-Havre has been blockaded, and if it goes on many of us will need to seek other employment. How can she find positions for all of us at once? The burden of this riddle is wearing her down, and the evening meal has become a sad and depressing affair.

It is the worse for her in that most of her jeune hommes are tolerably recent immigrants to Armorica. What happens when a town such as Mont-Havre experiences hard times? The long-time residents pull in their horns and bar their doors, so to speak, and take care of their own; and the newcomers are left to their own devices. It is sad, and most unfortunate for me, but one can't really blame them. But it is a great trial to Madame Truc, who has devoted her life to helping other mother's sons since she has none of her own.

And yet I do not think I shall rush away from Mont-Havre. I am still employed—just—and I wish to hold on to my job as long as I can.

In the mean-time, Governor Francois is organizing what he calls les Observateurs: not a militia, as such, though I suspect that he has some such thing in mind as well, but volunteers to watch the skies. There is much fear that the pirates might stage a raid on Mont-Havre, and with the small boats we are told they used against the Cannondale they could attack anywhere, not just at the port. Sentinel posts are being raised all over town—quite literally posts, bronze wood logs thirty or forty feet in length, set vertically with a ladder and a kind of box at the top. They are high enough that an observer can see to the horizon on all sides, and have an alarm bell in case the pirates are seen.

I have signed up for this service, as you will have guessed, though I do not expect the pirates to do the kind of raiding the governor is worried about; why should they come to Mont-Havre and raid house-to-house when they can take entire ships already full of valuable cargo? But Armorica is my home now, and I want to show willing; and to the side, I think M. Suprenant will be more inclined to keep me on if he sees me working for the security of his family.

Madame Truc is pleased with me, at any rate. My first shift is this evening—fortunately it is not cold this time of year—and she has promised to send me off with a jug of coffee and other provisions to keep me awake and well fed during the long night.

Please do let me know if I may come to you. Be assured, I know that for your part the answer must always be yes; but I am well aware that you are not yet master of your own house. My best regards to Elise!

Your friend,

Armand

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