Author Archives: Will Duquette

Letters from Armorica- Doings in Mont-Havre (14 November 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Jack,

Of course you should come to us for the Twelve Days of Christmas. How not? Until you marry and start your own family we are your only family here, n'est-ce pas? And you can hardly go home to Cumbria.

I realize, of course, that our little celebrations here in Bois-de-Bas will be quite unlike what you are you used to in Yorke—what times, that is, that you have been in Yorke since beginning your military career—but I think we can certainly do better for you than Christmas in a military camp. And who knows? Perhaps you shall meet someone young and attractive, and choose to keep them for a change. Your Sergeant Allen did, and I can tell you that Sergeant and Mrs. Allen are to all appearances much taken with each other.

Yes, Jack, I know the Old Religion is an obstacle to you—or, at least, to your mother, whom I would not wish to worry in any way. But it isn't so bad as all that, Jack. I find I much prefer the simple faith of my fellow townsfolk here in Bois-de-Bas to the manner in which my father practices his piety in Yorke. They've retained something we've forgotten, I think.

But enough of hounding you! Though, you know, it is my job as the closest thing to a brother you shall ever have. But on to your news!

I am fascinated by what you tell me about His Lordship's actions with regard to Le Grand Parlement. It is quite a list—are you certain he is acting within the scope of his remit from His Majesty's government in Yorke? But of course you are, you handle his mail and saw the decree, you said so.

It is an astonishing degree of sovereignty His Majesty is giving us, Jack: the right to make our own laws subject only to His Lordship's veto, with possibility of appeal to Yorke; the right to keep our own courts, provided that we institute the jury system for capital crimes. We lose the right to our own foreign policy, but in fact we never had that. And in prior days we were entirely under the thumb of Toulouse, in theory, at least, if not always in practice.

What accounts for this, Jack? This is magnanimity itself; Cumbria could easily have chosen to treat us as a conquered territory. They'd have been foolish to do so, mind you: frontier folk are a fierce folk, as I have good reason to know, who make better friends than enemies. But I am surprised that His Majesty's ministers were wise enough to consider it.

Or, perhaps—

Jack, I must know: what do you hear about Le Maréchal in his swamp in Guyanão? What is going on in Provençe? For I can only assume that some kind of action is in the offing and that His Majesty is clearing the decks: that he is trying to bind Armorica more firmly to Cumbria before the fighting begins.

Let me know instantly if there are any steps I should take.

Your alarmed cousin,


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Letters from Armorica- Reading Lessons (28 October 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Some while ago I joked that Bastien is so devoted to my safety that I wouldn't be surprised to find him sleeping across our doorway at night. I now have manifest proof that this is not what he has been doing.

I have acquired a stock of Cumbrian books from M. Fournier—not so many as I would like, but enough to share with my Amelie. I thought at first that she would like to read them to herself, but no: she wants me to read them to her, as I used to read books to her when she was first learning to read and write. And so we gather by the fire in the evenings, Amelie and I and Jacques-le-Souris and Madame Truc, and Luc and Bastien, and I read to them.

I started with Whelkie's The Sunstone, in which, as it were, the hero digs into the secrets of the past that lie beneath of the green sod of the present—a remarkable book, and unlike anything else I've read. I thought my family would find it gripping, and they did. Then I went on to Dorchester Cellars, which concerns a town in the south of Cumbria, and a struggle for control of an old and storied winery there. It is a long, slow tale—as it well might be, being typical of Thomas Becker's multitudinous works. I picked it because there is much in it about country life in Cumbria. For, you see, I don't simply read straight through: Amelie and the others often stop me and ask questions, and so I get to tell them things about my homeland that it would never have occurred to me to talk about otherwise.

Luc has been particularly attentive, which does not surprise me, for he has been eager for more to read ever since I taught him; and he has been borrowing each book as we finish it so that he can read it over again for himself. In this he is so different than Bastien, who sits on his stool by the door with no expression on his face until we are done.

I am sure I do not know when Luc finds time for reading, as I keep him busy during waking hours—or, rather, I did not know until last night.

I was wakeful, why I do not know, but I was; and I found myself pondering the theory of forming, as I so often do at such times. Rather than disturb Amelie I decided to rise and retrieve the journal in which I keep my forming notes.

I was pleased rather than otherwise to discover that Bastien was not sleeping in the hallway, as I half-feared he might be, not that I have ever caught him at it; for stepping over his large form without waking him would have been difficult. And so, by the light of a candle, I tip-toed through the house, into the shop, and then over to my work shop. Luc sleeps under the counter there, so I was prepared to open the door as quietly as I could, but as I approached a saw a line of light under the door, and a soft murmur. What was this?

I opened the door, making instead no effort at all to be quiet, and was rewarded by the sight of two shocked candlelit faces. Luc and Bastien were sitting side-by-side against the wall, a single candlestick between them; and their heads were bent over a book in Luc's lap, a volume I recognized from its binding as Dorchester Cellars.

There was a long moment. The two seemed frozen, except that their eyes turned to follow me.

I entered the room fully, and leaning against the counter I put my candlestick beside me.

"It is very late, Luc," I said. "Would you care to explain?"

Luc's mouth started to open below his wide eyes, but the voice I heard was Bastien's—deep, low, and strong.

"He is teaching me, maître," he said.

"Cumbrian?" I asked.

"To read Cumbrian," said Luc. "He already knows how to read—" And then he broke off, eyes even wider.

Now my eyes widened, my eyebrows rising to their fullest extent.

"He already knows how to read Provençese?" I said, and looked at Bastien.

"Oui, maître," he said. I stared at him, my thoughts spinning aimlessly. I had thought of Bastien as being rather like an ox, well-broken to the work of pulling a wagon—large, stolid, docile. I had not expected that he might know how to read. Indeed, most of the time I hardly expected him to even know how to speak.

"You have hidden depths, Bastien," I said after a time. He looked back at me, calmer now, his usual blank expression fixed on his face. "And why do you wish to learn to read Cumbrian?" For it seemed unlikely that he was motivated by scholarship, or even the desire to read Thomas Becker.

His next words took me wholly by surprise.

"To learn to form, maître."

I felt the first stirrings of anger swell in my chest.

"Luc," I cried, "you have not been—"

Luc sat bolt upright. "Non, non, maître! Jamais!"

"—you have not been teaching him how to form?" I finished more quietly.

"Non, maître," he said again, looking miserable.

"That is good," I said, my anger subsiding. "Only masters may teach, or journeymen under their guidance; and only apprentices may be taught. That is guild law. You are no journeyman, and Bastien is no apprentice."

"Oui, maître"

"Do not be angry, mon cher," came a soft voice from behind me. "It is all my doing, n'est-ce pas?"

Amelie entered with another candlestick, dressed in a warm robe, and came to my side. I looked at her in confusion, and she shrugged.

"You needed a strong protector, oui?" she said, and I nodded. "And you need un autre apprenti, n'est-ce pas?" I nodded again. "I looked for both, and I found him I think." She shrugged again. "Can he be a former? Je ne sais pas. Mais il est tres intelligent."

"But why—" I looked from her to Bastien, and back again. To my shock, Bastien's eyes had a sparkle I had not noticed before.

"Because you were too funny, mon cher. You thought he was un lourdad, un grand boeuf. It become our joke."

Luc was leaning back against the wall, eyes cast down so that I couldn't see them, his hand over his mouth.

I shook my head. "Very well, I have been duly misled. Bastien, you have my apology. But again, why Cumbrian?"

Luc looked up, surprise plain upon his face. "Because he must copy your grimoire, maître."

"And so you have been staying up late, teaching Bastien rather than sleeping?"

"Oui, maître."

"I encouraged them do so, mon cher," said Amelie. "It was to be a surprise for you, n'est-ce pas?"

"Well, there will be no more of that," I said. Amelie gasped, and the young men's faces fell. I paused, then continued, "You both need your rest, so you will simply have to find time during the day." Then, more gently, "But Luc, you know, don't you, that not everyone can learn to be a former? Don't you remember how I tested you, back on L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau?"

Luc shook his head. "Non, monsieur," he said in small voice.

I pondered for a moment, remembering how Bastien had been so calmly attentive while I was teaching Luc over the last months. I wondered how much he had already picked up.

"No matter," I said at last. "A desire to learn is a good sign." I turned to Bastien, who was looking blank again. "You say little, but you listen always, yes?"

"Oui, maître."

"Very well. I shall surely test you as soon as maybe—which is not tonight."

Luc beamed, and Bastien nodded somberly, and then we all went back to bed, not without a few wry glances at Amelie on my part.

And then, this morning, I administered a few simple tests. Bastien is of age; and so, tomorrow, he shall sign his indentures as an apprentice of the Armorican Former's Guild.

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Letters from Armorica- Scandal in Yorke (10 October 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Father,

Yes, it is quite true that I am "engaged in trade," as you put it, and have been since I married my Amelie and became a shopkeeper. Since I left Yorke, I have done many things that no doubt would distress you. I have also a been a stevedore, a clerk, and a keeper of goats. I should particularly like to introduce you to one of the goats. At present, I am, yes, the Grandmaster of the Former's Guild here in Armorica, a guild that consists of myself, my sole apprentice, my workshop here in Bois-de-Bas, and a mostly empty building in Mont-Havre.

In fact, Father, I have done much worse: I have hardened cookware for those you would call peasants. I have earned my living by forming at retail. I consort with the lowly, with farmers and cabinetmakers and small merchants, not with members of parliament and owners of large shipping firms. I have (I can hear you gasp) innovated.

In short, Father, I am using my gift as it was meant to be used, rather than as a means of political power and social status.

As you surely do not know at time of writing, but surely will before you receive this, I have gone into business for myself, with several partners—stout, trustworthy men of the sort you despise. I am now a builder and seller of wagons, wagons whose construction involves careful forming. I have joined the merchant classes, Father—and I have based it on a breakthrough in the theory of forming.

By now, you are no doubt turning purple (if you have not already thrown this letter in the fire) and are thinking of ways to bring me to heel. If so, I will remind you that by guild law the guild here in Armorica is at present bound to the guild in Yorke only by ties of affection. I am the grandmaster, and I will conduct guild business as I see fit. Hence, the remainder of your letter is of no consequence, and I will pass over it without comment.

Your industrious son,


Dear Mum,

Amelie and the girls are well, as am I; life is good here in Bois-de-Bas, and I have come to a good understanding with Lord Doncaster, the royal governor. My practice is doing well, and I shall be taking on another apprentice as soon as I can locate a good candidate.

I have gone into business, of a sort, with Cousin Jack and several of my Armorican friends; we are making and selling a new kind of wagon that floats above the ground. It provides a much more even and gentle ride than a traditional wagon, and is easier for the oxen to pull. It's a pity you aren't here, I should love to take you for a ride in one, as I know how much you hate riding in carriages on the cobbled streets of Yorke. (Hah! There's an idea for a new product—thank you, Mum, for inspiring me!)

By now Father will have opened my letter. Please do contact his physician, won't you? He will need something soothing.

Your loving son,


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Letters from Armorica- Cumbrian Literature (30 September 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear M. Fournier,

So! You have finally managed to forge a relationship with the publishers in Yorke! I am delighted for you; I know that has been your dearest wish these past years. I am equally delighted to know that you now have a stock of Cumbrian books for sale, for though I have become fluent in Provençese I miss reading in my mother tongue. Yes, and I would like more books to share with my Amelie, and with Luc.

Please put together an assortment of the kinds of authors we spoke of so long ago—Becker, and Dikkons, Whelkie and Maltspire, and anything in that vein. Speak to M. Suprenant, and he will arrange payment.

In the meantime…if I were to wish to have a book privately printed, is there a printer in Mont-Havre with whom I could arrange it? Or would the work need to be done across the Abyss?

Wishing you much prosperity, I remain

Your friend,

Armand Tuppenny

Mon cher Leon,

My friend M. Fournier the bookseller will be approaching you in regard to some books I have ordered. Please see him paid, and square it through the firm. And on that note—

It is too absurd that I am relying on you, my good friend, as my personal banker! It was reasonable enough, I suppose, when I was in your employ and all I had in the world were my wages. And I know you will not grudge me any service you can do me. But I find that I am becoming a man of property, and I do not wish to strain our friendship unduly. Is there a banker in Mont-Havre that you would recommend? Or perhaps a man-of-business to whom I might entrust my interests outside of Tuppenny Wagons? I would not need them to devote themselves solely to my needs, far from it! I leave this in your wise and capable hands.

I have often spoken to you of Patches the Goat, how she took to visiting me at unpleasant and inopportune times, and how I was compelled to take her in to avoid discommoding my neighbors. What you do not know, I believe, is that she is now responsible for pulling my cart to and from the wagon works. It is quite a sight, and she has become much the favorite of the children along the way—from a safe distance of course. They laugh and call out her name as she plods along. She has become quite the most popular goat in town, and given the nature of Armorican goats, she may well be the most popular Armorican goat in history. My life in Bois-de-Bas was founded on goats, and now I have one as my own prop and stay. I would not have believed it, had someone told me about it on my first exposure.

I find myself wondering if Patches would make a suitable mascot for our firm. Aussi dur qu'une chèvre, as tough as a goat!

Fortunately I do not need to milk her myself—what joy!—but she does still require daily attention from me if she is to remain in her pen. Conveying me through town seems to scratch her itch quite nicely.

Ever your friend,


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Letters from Armorica- Antiquities (16 September 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It is good to be back in my home, to be able to work without worry, and to attend to Luc's instruction as I ought. He has been plaguing me, in his quiet way, for tales of the Former's Guild, how it began and came to be, and who the first former was; and due to my cares and my travels I have been unable to oblige him.

Yesterday evening, after the customers and the old men had gone home, the two of us settled down for a chat in my workshop. We often do this in the early evening, when I can make time; and in the workshop rather than the parlor, for deep discussions of forming are tedious for the uninitiated. Amelie is the best of wives, and so I try not to weary her ears with such things; and when I come to the parlor after and sit with Amelie and the girls, why, we speak of other things.

I say the two of us, but it is really the three of us, for Jacques-le-Souris often stays in his place on the settee at the front of the workshop, smoking his pipe—more, I think, because Madame Truc dislikes the aroma than because of interest on his part. And I suppose it is now the four of us, for now Bastien is there as well. He—or Amelie—has arranged things so that I am under his eye whenever he is not otherwise engaged. There is a stool against the wall of the workshop that wasn't there a month ago, and when he has no other duties and I am in the workshop, he is on his stool. Somehow (I don't know how he does it, given his size) he even manages managing not to loom.

It's of a piece with how smoothly he has entered our lives. He is always quiet, always present, does whatever we ask efficiently but without hurry, and (except when he is engaged in a task) never in the way. And so, since I am in the workshop, he is also in the workshop. I do not know how Amelie found someone who would be so devoted to my safety. In theory he beds down on a pallet in the main shop; but I should not be surprised to find him asleep outside the door of our bedroom, like a Cumbrian valet of my grandfather's era.

Last night our topic was the first formers and the earliest days of the Former's Guild. Alas, I had little to tell him.

"I was trained by my father, you understand, and my father has never been interested in such things," I said. "My father has only ever been interested in enlarging his prestige in the future. But even if he had been, I doubt I would know much more."

"Pourquoi, maître?" said Luc.

"You've just said it yourself: 'maître, master'. We formers are a close-lipped crew, Luc. A master accumulates forming recipes in his grimoire, and he passes them down to his apprentices—but not to other masters, not without payment or great need—though he might sneak a look at another master's book given a chance. And we are usually concerned more with what we can do than what we can know." I smiled at him. "You mustn't take me as a typical example, you know. You have helped me pursue my investigations; but the only other former I am aware of who went in for that was the late Master Grenadine, and he had to come here to Armorica to do it."

Luc pursed his lips. "But you must know something of these things, maître?" Bastien sat his stool in the growing dimness, a dark mass on the edge of my vision.

"A little," I said. "I was told as a boy that there have been formers, of a sort, since the days of antiquity, long before there was anything resembling the Former's Guild. Indeed, that was the only interest my father had in the subject: that they lived in the days before the Guild, and therefore they were mostly of low estate, leading lives that were short and uncomfortable. Little better than tinkers, he called them. I heard him say that frequently, any time I showed impatience with his teaching or the guild rules. 'Do you want to be a tinker, Armand? Is that what you want? It's the Guild that preserves us, and don't you forget it!'" I aped his deep, raspy voice, and Luc giggled. "And then he'd mention the name of some fellow or other who was more than usually skilled and grew wealthy in the service of some lord; and then perished because he didn't have the protection of the guild, and his grimoire was lost to the ages because of the fools around him."

Luc frowned in concentration, his face golden in the light of the lantern.

"But your grimoire, maître: the first pages are the oldest, non?"

"And so they should tell me something of my master's master's master's master, you think?"

"Oui, maître."

I shrugged. "It's a good thought, Luc, but you've read them for yourself. Or, at least, you've copied them; you might go back and take another look." He nodded. "Now, it's true that in the normal course of events the apprentice copies his master's grimoire word for word. If that were all there was to it we might learn many things from examining the earliest entries.

"But those apprentices grow up to be masters. Some of them learn more about the older recipes and need to revise them, and some grow tired of reading archaic language; and so some of them—though not my father—will make a new copy for themselves in after years. Some might even take the time to put the recipes in some kind of order. And if they hand their revisions down to some, or if there is time for an apprentice to copy them, their work might get handed down. If you look carefully, you'll see that the recipes in the first part of my grimoire are organized in related groups. That was my great-grandfather's work, I believe. My grandfather added many new recipes, and my father passed them along to me. The only new recipes he has added have been payment for political favors." I waved a hand. "Maybe I'll do as my great-grandfather did someday. In fact, I suppose what I should do is work through the whole grimoire and describe how my new equations apply to each recipe." I stared at the lamp for a time, frowning. "That will be a great deal of work. Perhaps, instead, I will write a book about my equations, and let you update the grimoire in your turn."

Luc sat up straight. "Oui, maître. I surely will."

He will, too, unless I miss my guess.

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Letters from Armorica- Bastien (24 August 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Life is but a whirlwind of changes here in Bois-de-Bas. We are now a properly chartered city, of course, though that doesn't yet show on the surface; and the Guild Hall will remain in Mont-Havre for the time being, Lord Doncaster having agreed to my making a series of quarterly visits. But everything else!

The wagon-works is naturally in a constant state of change at this time as we learn the best ways to organize and speed the daily work. Marc and Jacques have that in hand, and I offer my thoughts whenever I visit—which I now do with a small floating cart of my own, so that I can more easily transport the lifting and motive elements I produce in my own shop. Luc, to my amazement, has trained Patches the goat to pull it.

When I arrived at the wagon-works yesterday I was surprised to discover that I now have a small closet there, with a writing desk and a chair. It is just a small cubby built into one wall, with thin partitions that do little to block the noise; but as the father of small girls I have learned to block out extraneous noise at need. Thus, I now have a place of my own to work and think on my days at the works.

Marc's office is rather larger and grander than mine, I may say, but then he is there every day—and I dare say it should be larger, for Jean-Baptiste has settled in as his clerk, and between Marc and Jean-Baptiste and the files and the ledgers there is scarcely room to move.

But it is the main part of the building where the changes are most dramatic. There are benches all along where the parts of the wagons are shaped, each in turn, and in the middle a place where each new wagon is assembled from the parts all around. Marc says they are now producing a new wagon every third day, and can go faster at need.

But it is the changes at home that have astonished me, for they were wholly unexpected. When I arrived home on Wednesday I found Luc working in the forming shop, and helping customers at the counter as needed, just as he should do…but I also found that the shop itself had changed. Between them, Amelie and Luc had arranged for a small extension at the back: a small place with a stool and a drawing table and places to keep my grimoires, journals, and other drawings. It is not a room precisely, being separated from the main part of the shop by no more than a railing at waist height supported by simple balusters; but it is more than I had before.

"Mais oui, you must be seen," said Amelie. "But you cannot be all of the time chatting with the old men, mon cher Armand. You must be able to think. Voilà! Penses-tu!"

I do not know how they managed to build it in the short time I was gone. I suppose that Amelie asked for it weeks ago, and that Jacques had had the materials all prepared so that he and his men could come in and assemble it quickly. It is small, not to say cramped, and the wood is unfinished (though well smoothed) as it is in the rest of the forming shop; but I find that I already love it very much.

But the biggest change is the presence of our new servant, Bastien. He is well named, I may say, for he is tall and stoutly built, more like an ox than a man; and he is bastion in very truth, for anyone who attempted to knock him down would surely bounce. He speaks little, but does whatever he is asked to do; and when he is not engaged in lifting crates or unloading wagons he stands against the wall somewhere in my vicinity and waits to be of use. I was taken aback when I first saw him, for there are many fragile things in our shops and store-room that might be harmed by a careless move, but for all his size he moves lightly and with ease. I have no idea where Amelie found him for I am sure I have never seen him before; and truly he is hard to miss.

I am of two minds about his presence, even though I was the one who asked Amelie to find such a person, for he is quite a sizable piece of furniture in his own way and I find I am often walking around him. But on the other, I do feel safer with him here, for he will be capable of dealing with most any physical assailant. A pistol could bring him down…perhaps I should look into making him some kind of hardened leather jerkin, such as the King's guards wear?

I shall consider.

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Letters from Armorica- Dinner with His Lordship (19 August 36 AF)

First Letter

Ma chére Amelie,

Marc and I have just returned from a private dinner with Lord Doncaster and my cousin Jack. All is well, and as I know you are waiting with 'bated breath I am taking a few moments before bed to write to you. Tomorrow I shall attend on M. Suprenant and send this to you by arrow.

Ma chérie, all is well, all is very well indeed. I fear I have misjudged His Lordship rather severely, and in fact the meal was full of surprises for me. But let me tell it as it happened.

Marc and I arrived in Mont-Havre two days ago; the trip was swift and comfortable, and I have a list of interested customers that I gathered along the way. We made haste to meet with M. Gauthier and give him a copy of the town charter, which was the work of but a moment. We dined with M. Suprenant, and yesterday with my good friend M. Fournier; and this morning a messenger brought an invitation to dine with His Lordship to the Guild Hall.

Dinner with the Governer-General is often a grand affair: an enormous dining room, a long table with many chairs, footmen serving each diner, music, chandeliers sporting hundreds of candles, and all of the leading men of Bois-de-Bas in attendance. Tonight, though, we were escorted to a small room with a table set for four where Jack and His Lordship waited. We were seated, and a single footmen served us and then closed the doors and departed.

Once we was gone His Lordship asked us, in "a voice of the most stern", what we thought we were playing at. I began to explain our reasoning, and my desire to live and work in Bois-de-Bas, and all of the arguments you know, and as I spoke I noticed a most peculiar expression on His Lordship's face. His mustache almost seemed to be twitching, and I thought to myself, "How angry is he?" The twitching grew worse, and Jack stared at his plate with a fixed, glassy-eyed expression, and I grew more and more concerned, and then as I was wrapping up His Lordship burst into gales of laughter.

"You have no idea," he said, drying his eyes after many long moments of merriment, "you have no idea how much pleasure I have derived from watching the members of le Grand Parlement scurry hither and thither like crazed mice. Most of them are merchants or have mercantile interests, you know. A third of them are calling down curses on your name because of what they fear you will do to business here in Mont-Havre, another third are angry because they didn't think of it first, and all of them are consulting with their men of law to ensure that no one can do it again without their approval. I find I must drink your health."

And he did so, in bumpers. Then he spoke to me seriously.

"My dear Tuppenny, you have misjudged me. I do not wish to constrain you unduly, but I do wish to keep you safe. You are the only one who knows how to form these contraptions of yours, which are of the first importance for Armorican prosperity, and also, though you might not care as much about this, for Cumbrian supremacy over her enemies; and you have been the target of one plot already."

"Oh!" I exclaimed. "Is that all? In that case I can assure you that I am in no danger in Bois-de-Bas—less so than here in Mont-Havre, I assure you." And then, of course, I told him of the events of the war: how Le Maréchal's men tried to winkle me out of Bois-de-Bas, and how the folk of Bois-de-Bas responded. I did not go into detail about the location of our hide-out during those days, but only that we had one; I may have led him to think that it was underground. It is better that L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau remains a secret.

His Lordship enjoyed the stories immensely, but afterwards said to me gravely, "I see you are much loved. But consider: people will be coming to Bois-de-Bas now, people you don't know. Some may come to love you as well. Others, well, they may have reasons not to do so. I do pray you will be careful."

Perhaps, ma chérie, you might consider hiring someone? A largish someone to help with loading and unloading wagons and moving things about the store-room, and to ride with me when I travel to and from the wagon-works? You know the young men of the village; you will be well able to find someone worthy of trust.

Marc and I will dine with M. Suprenant tomorrow, and leave for Bois-de-Bas on Mardi, and so I should be home with you on Mercredi

With all my love,


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Letters from Armorica- The Charter (15 August 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

The thing is done, thanks to the good advice of M. Suprenant and his l'homme de loi, M. Gauthier. The people of the town of Bois-de-Bas have enacted a city charter under the statutes of the Articles of Founding, which are surprisingly lenient on the matter of population size. I suppose they had to be to allow for the incorporation of Mont-Havre thirty-six years ago, and then, these are the Articles set down by the Première Débarquement, the First Landing.

The successful founding of Armorica dates to the Deuxième Débarquement, an event Armoricans remember fondly and celebrate each June 3rd; but the city of Mont-Havre was founded by the colonists who came three years earlier on the Pont Neuf, our dear Madame Truc and Jacques-le-Souris among them. Though they are inveterate story-tellers, Jacques especially, even they prefer not to remember the hardships of those early years.

But the fundamental laws of the Colony of Armorica were set down at the time of the First Landing, and agreed to by the colonists who came later with Captain Jacques Durand on the Argenteuil. Planting a colony is a dangerous business, and it was understood that the site chosen for the first settlement might have serious disadvantages that were not apparent at first or even second glance—that it might, in fact, be necessary for the settlement to be abandoned in favor of a more propitious spot. On the other hand, the founders (most of whom perished within the first two years) did not want rival cities springing up everywhere just because of quarrels among the first colonists. All the Articles of Founding say, then, is that a second commune (for so the Provençese call an incorporated or chartered township) may not be established until twenty years after landing, unless the Première Cité must be abandoned during that time.

Today there are of course many small towns, villages, and hamlets outside of Mont-Havre; but according to M. Gauthier none of them have chosen to incorporate as a commune. It seems odd; but Armorica has been a backwater for most of its existence—due to the Troubles in Provençe, no one there had time to make trouble for the colonists. And Mont-Havre proved to be as good a site as the first colonists thought. So communities formed, and handled their own affairs in peace, mostly because the other communities in Armorica were too busy with their own affairs to meddle. I'm sure some would have liked to incorporate had they been allowed; but twenty years is a full generation, and I by the time it was possibility the possibility had been largely forgotten.

The main point for us is that there is no obstacle in the Articles of Founding for Bois-de-Bas to be chartered as a commune; the only hard requirement is that the charter be registered with the "governing council" of the colony. Not "approved" by that council, but simply "registered" with it. The first colonists wanted to be able to live their lives without undue interference from above, to the extent possible. In Provençe, any new commune would have needed to be approved by the Crown, but the Articles of Founding are silent about that, despite having portentous language about the allegiance owed to the mother country and its monarch.

And so, with the help of M. Gauthier we wrote up a charter for Bois-de-Bas that says that our town is governed by a town meeting and presided over by a mayor chosen by that meeting—which is to say that life will go on as before, except that now Bois-de-Bas will have rights under the law that the big men in Mont-Havre are bound to respect.

The people of Bois-de-Bas met in informal council in the Hot Springs this past Sunday—at least, the residents of long standing did—and then again in formal meeting at our town hall this afternoon, and after a few minor changes, the charter was adopted. Bois-de-Bas is now the Chartered Commune of Bois-de-Bas—or will be, once the charter is registered—and I, for my sins, am its first official mayor.

Tomorrow Marc Frontenac and I will make the journey to Mont-Havre, armed with the final draft of our charter, and spend a few days living quietly at the Guild Hall and dining with friends while M. Gauthier sees to registering the charter with the "governing council" of the Colony of Armorica; and then, no doubt, we shall dine with Lord Doncaster, who will want to know what we are about; and then we shall have a some fraught talk about the Armorican Former's Guild and the residency requirements thereof. I do not see a need to move the Guild's headquarters to Bois-de-Bas if something can be arranged with His Lordship; but if he becomes sticky I shall gladly do so.

Moving the Guild headquarters would leave a vacuum in Mont-Havre, of course, which means that some Cumbrian or Provençese former might come and establish a new branch of the guild there—an unpleasant thing—but the guild in Bois-de-Bas would remain the senior branch and the head of the guild in Armorica.

His Lordship might argue that the Articles of Founding have been abrogated by the Cumbrian victory over Le Maréchal and subsequent annexation of Armorica…but His Lordship has been delicate in his touch, to date, and beyond insisting on Cumbrian hegemony has mostly left the laws of Armorica alone, and as yet he has said nothing specific about the Articles of Founding.

I expect that to change, shortly. But for now we shall see if His Lordship blinks. I rather think he will.

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Letters from Armorica- Shopkeeping (31 July 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Amelie and I have had our first serious squabble—and it came to me as a complete surprise. It was all about our shop—the village shop, not my workshop.

When I first married Amelie, she and I ran the shop together. Then it came out that I'm a former, and we added my workshop; Amelie ran the shop counter, took orders, and so forth, and I did forming for the townsfolk. Then came the children, and war; Marc and Elise ran the shop for a period of time, while we were away on L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau, and once we returned we sometimes asked Jean-Baptiste and his Brigitte to help out at the counter.

But Tuppenny Wagons is now taking most of my time; and with the children, Amelie has less time for the shop; and Jean-Baptiste and Brigitte need something more regular than occasional work. So I thought, well. What if we were to sell the shop to Jean-Baptiste and Brigitte? It would be good for them, and good for us. We'd need to build a new home, of course….

But Amelie hates the idea. I can't find words to describe how much she hates it. It all came out in a tumble of words—the shop is all she has left of her father—she was raised to work!—it is her home. I backed down quickly, for I was horrified that I had made her cry, and went out to Tuppenny Wagons to talk with Marc.

To my surprise, he too reacted with horror to my idea, though without the yelling and crying.

"Jamais!" he said. "You mustn't do that, Armand!"

"And why not?" I am afraid I was quite cold and stiff.

"Because it is what your father would do."

I began to ask him what he meant by that, and then the sense of it hit me and I was silent.

Marc led me out of our big barn of a building to where a bench had been placed overlooking the sweep of land to the west, the road to Mont-Havre cutting through the middle of it, and sat the two of us down.

"You have been forced to think à ton pere of late," he said. "You have been demanding, devious, skillful in your dealings with Lord Doncaster.C'est bon, for it has been what Tuppenny Wagons needs. But it is not what you need,mon cher, and it is not what Amelie or the children need from you."

I must have looked rather stricken, for Marc put a hand on my shoulder and spoke to me gently.

"The people of Bois-de-Bas love you, Armand, because you came here from la grande ville of Mont-Havre—and before that from Yorke!—but you were not hautain, ne pas prétentieux. You were willing to work, and did not complain. The people of Bois-de-Bas have not forgotten your time with the goats, mon cher. And then once you married Amelie you began to do everything you could for your neighbors. And you did it well, tres bon, and without thinking it made you important."

"I begin to see," I said.

"C'est vrai," he said. "And now in dealing with Lord Doncaster you have found that you must act like your father, wise as a serpent and mild as a grand-blaireau. It is a skill, Armand, and you do it well, but it is not you."

"Have I been acting like my father at home, do you think?"

"That you must ask Amelie," he said. But Amelie talks with Elise, and Elise talks with Marc, and from the look in his eye I could see the answer was yes. "But there is more," he said.

"That isn't enough?"

"Just a little more, Armand. The people of Bois-de-Bas are proud of you, but most do not see you daily. If you sell the shop and build a grande maison—for it would be grande, n'est-ce pas?"

I nodded.

"If you did that, they would begin to think you are—how do the Cumbrians put it? Too big for your britches. Non, you must keep the shop." He nodded decisively. "And your workshop. If you wish to keep their respect, you must remain where they can see you."

"But what about Tuppenny Wagons?"

"It is not to worry. I will be there, managing things day-to-day; and much of what you do you can do from your workshop. For you must design new things, and train Luc and the other apprentice you have not found yet, and be available to your neighbors. Oh, you need not be there every day. Luc is becoming a fine young man and can attend to it while you are here at the wagon-works."

"Yes, I see. But what about Jean-Baptiste and Brigitte? I had also hoped to provide them with steady work."

"Ça va. Brigitte may help Amelie run your shop, for, vraiment, she needs the help; and as for Jean-Baptiste, well, Tuppenny Wagons needs a bookkeeper, n'est-ce pas? For surely you and Amelie have no time for it."

I sat there quietly for a time, watching the sun as it approached the horizon, and Marc sat with me. Then I rose.

"I expect I need to get home to Amelie," I said.

"C'est vrai," said Marc, and slapped me on the back. "I shall look for you here in three days."

Amelie was waiting when I returned home. She apologized for acting like a shrew—which she had not—and I apologized for acting like my father.

"Ah! Ah!" she cried. "Is that him? Is that what he is like, ton pere?"

I nodded grimly.

"And that is why you came here and married me," she said, smiling through her tears. "Ne t'inquiète pas," she said, "I shall recognize him next time, and tell you so."

"You had better," I said. Then I told her of my conversation with Marc, and we agreed to invite Jean-Baptiste and Brigitte to share the noon meal with us tomorrow and talk about our futures.

Dear Lord, save me from the shadow of my father.

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Letters from Armorica- Ground-breaking (16 July 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Today we finished clearing the ground for Tuppenny Wagons' new home! I have seen how quickly my fellow townsfolk can put up a new barn, so it shouldn't be long before we can move in and get to work.

Amelie already has ten or so orders in her ledger; one is from M. Trousseau, the lumberman, for a wagon to carry logs to his mill. I have been pondering how best to meet his needs for some time, and after much discussion with Jacques we think we have come up with a solution.

At present, M. Trousseau's men do the rough cutting where the trees are felled, and then haul the sections to the mill by harnessing them to a team of oxen and dragging them. This is hard on the software woods (though not on bronzewood), and also hard on the oxen. But there has been no help for it: the sections are quite heavy, too heavy to easily lift onto a wagon; if there were roads for wagons, which there are not.

Now suppose we made a pair of lifting elements that could be strapped onto each end of a section of trunk. The first of the pair would have the attachments for harnessing a yoke of oxen. The second would have a hardened skid as an aid to dragging the section—for from our experiences with wagons, we do not consider that lifting the entire log into the air is a good way to transport it, as a floating section of log could easily get out of hand and crush someone. No, we intend that the lead end should float just off the ground, while the hind end should simply be lightened but not lifted.

To this we would add other lifting elements, with straps, that can be attached to a log and used (with care) to move it about "by hand", as, for example, onto the bed of the sawmill, or just to lift it enough to get the transportation fittings attached to the ends.

We will be presenting our ideas to M. Trousseau tomorrow; and no doubt will be told that we have missed some vital point, and shall have to start over. Still, I think we are making progress.

In the meantime, Jacques and Luc and I have nearly completed our first two wagons for sale; and Amelie will be sending word to the buyers in a day or so.

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