Author Archives: Will Duquette

Letters from Armorica- Coercion (16 July 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It seems that His Majesty's Government has been intercepting my mail to Cumbria, perhaps for the whole time I have been here in Armorica. I now know that the sky-chair plans I sent to my father never reached him, and that I have my master's chain not through any change of heart on my father's part, nor because my aunt forced his hand by speaking with Master Netherington-Coates, but solely through the machinations of Trout and his ilk.

I know this because Trout told me at our meeting that the sky-chair was now a tightly-held secret of His Majesty's Government, that I was not to speak of it to anyone, and that His Majesty was calling on me to, as he put it, "extend and elaborate" my design for the use of the Cumbrian Royal Army.

According to Trout, if anything he says is to be believed, Le Maréchal has fled with 500 men to a benighted land called Guyanão, a place of swamps, giant trees, torrential rainfall, and no roads to speak of. Evidently they are living on the sloops and other small craft by which they fled.

The Cumbrians—I had written "Our troops," Dear Journal, but I have struck it out though it pains me to do so—the Cumbrians, I say, have had great difficulty finding the Provençese forces, for they have nothing suitable for scouting in such an environment. The ground is unfit for foot travel, and though the forest is relatively open under the canopy of the trees, a sloop is not easily maneuvered. Moreover, the place has long been in the possession of the Provençese, and some of the cochons with him are familiar with it. They have exhibited great skill at moving from tree to tree, the better to set up ambushes.

His Majesty, Trout tells, wants sky-chairs, or something like them: something small, maneuverable, capable of carrying one, two, or three men and their weapons: precisely the sort of things I was building and have stock-piled on L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau.

And yet how can I in good conscience build them, knowing what I now know? If the war here in Armorica had continued any longer, my people would have begun to fall out of the sky!

My one salvation at this time is that Trout is not omniscient. He knows that I dropped out of sight for a time during the war; he doesn't know where I was, and he doesn't know how successful I was. He thinks the plans I sent my father are a possible design, a speculation still to be confirmed: a ploy, in fact, to try to get back in my father's good graces, as if I had ever been in them in my entire life. A ploy, but a plausible one, and of sufficient potential value that I am ordered here to Mont-Havre to perfect it. I am grateful that he knows no more than that: for if he knew that I had already succeeded I am sure that I should have already been spirited away to some benighted place, there to labor for the Royal Navy until Trout should find it prudent to let me go.

I must determine how to balance greed and generosity in my designs, how to build robust sky-chairs, sleds, and wagons—for I will not send men like Jack to their deaths at my hands. If only I had more time! But I have no choice in the matter: for it seems that my mastery has not yet been registered with the Guild in Mont-Havre.

"It pleases His Majesty's Government that you should be considered Grand Master of the Guild here in Armorica, and so there will no trouble, no trouble at all, Master Tuppenny," so he told me. The phrase, "just so long as you cooperate," went delicately unsaid. If I balk, His Majesty's Government may choose to see me as an imposter, as a rogue former pretending to a rank he does not possess—and by guild law, all my property would then be forfeit to the Guild in Yorke. Amelie would be destitute—or worse, the region around Bois-de-Bas would rise against Yorke as they did against Toulouse, and I not there to help them.

Trout thinks it desirable that I be visible in Mont-Havre, meeting occasionally with my friends—distressingly, he knows all of their names—but it is clear to both of us that I cannot do the work he requires at the Guild Hall, not once I get to the stage of practical models. I have told him that I must have a secluded place, open to the sky, where I may make trials unseen. He proposed a building with a courtyard here in the city; but, I told him, how was I to determine maximum velocities in a space of small compass? I proposed a farm, secluded, yet close enough to Mont-Havre that I can make regular visits, and with fields broad enough that one can get up a good degree of speed without fear of crashing.

Truly, of course, I simply want the space! For I will need to greatly accelerate the program of research that Luc began, and I must have space between the individual trials. Until I have it, I can do little but stew whilst making a show of things.

O Lord, help me in this time of trial!

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Letters from Armorica- Fire (16 July 35 AF)

First Letter

My dearest Amelie,

The news is not good, and I am glad that you insisted on remaining in Bois-de-Bas, especially in light of your condition. Indeed, I only wish I could be sure I might return home before the baby is due in October.

At noon today I arrived at the appointed inn for a meal with Cousin Jack—and there I found not him, but rather Mr. Trout—the little Cumbrian man who brought me my master's chain last October. I have not said much about him to you—for your own safety, for he frightened me—but now I believe I must tell you that Trout is an agent of the King, or, at least, of some dark chamber within His Cumbrian Majesty's government. He brought me my chain of office, but would not relinquish it to me unless I promised to carry out any orders he might give me during the course of the war. He made dire threats, and I was forced to acquiesce in order to receive my chain and so my office, from which I hope so many blessings will come for you and our children.

But little came of it, for the war ended here in Armorica shortly thereafter; and Lord Doncaster was able to come to Mont-Havre and take control with no help from me. At that time I had dared to hope that I had seen the last of Trout. But here he was at table in the little private room to which I was brought, in the same subfusc lawyer's garb he'd worn in Bois-de-Bas.

"Trout," I said. "I suppose it was always you I was to speak with, and not His Lordship."

"Indeed, Master Massey."

"The name is Tuppenny."

"As you wish." Trout is hard to read—he has no expression, and the glass in his square spectacles is thick—but I thought that I amused him.

"Where is my Cousin Jack?"

"Your cousin is a man who knows how to obey orders, Master Tuppenny. As, so I shall continue to presume, are you."

I suppose I mustn't say too much about what followed: Trout is no man to cross, and though he made no overt threats he did inquire after your health. We have friends; see that you keep them close. In particular, seek help from Jean-Baptiste and Brigitte!

Trout tells me that the fighting is going well in Provençe. Le Maréchal's forces have been broken and Toulouse has been captured. But Le Maréchal himself is still at large. To point not too fine a point on it, he has fled with a small but sturdy force, and has taken refuge—somewhere. Somewhere difficult. I am told that my skills are required.

I believe I will be allowed to stay here in Mont-Havre for the time being, working at the Guild Hall. I hope I will need to roam no farther than that—his Lordship will provide materials, and I shall provide the forming. I could use Luc here, but I think he will be more valuable in Bois-de-Bas tending our investigations. If he discovers anything of interest please send it on—it may be crucial. In the meantime, though, I do need help from someone I can trust. Would you please have Marc speak to M. Laveau? I should like him to send young Bertrand to me.

There is more I wish I could say; for now, please speak to Marc, for he knows everything that passed between Trout and I last year. You may show him this letter; and then, I suppose, you ought to burn it. Speak of this to no one by Marc!

I am writing this in M. Suprenant's study, and will send it to you by arrow; if you have need to contact me quickly, do reply to me here in the same manner. And do send me more usual news about the shop and our Anne-Marie by M. Suprenant's drovers, as is usual. Everything must seem normal.

I have managed to have a quiet word with Cousin Jack, who I may say is furious at the deception that has been practiced on me. He had no idea of Trout's existence until he was told not to come meet me today. He tells me that Sergeant Allen is one of his men, stout-hearted and a man to be trusted, and no creature of Trout's; and that he is under orders to give you any assistance should you need it.

I shall return to you as quickly as I may; and if anything changes—if, in particular, I am required to leave the city—I will send you an arrow.

In all haste,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- Smoke (11 July 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Jack,

I should indeed be glad to come to Mont-Havre for a chat with you…but for a chat with Lord Doncaster? Are you sure that's wise? I wrote to you about my dinner with M. Archambault, I know I did. And I have been advised by M. Suprenant, my good friend, to keep clear of politics if I wish to thrive, and not to be seen as associated with either His Lordship or with Le Grand Parlement. I believe he is wise in this. Now, if you wish to put it about that I have been summoned by His Lordship, well. I can but obey.

Oh dear, that makes it sound like I am being balky and demanding written orders. I have heard you speak about that; and I should not wish you to think that I see either you or His Lordship in that light. Very well, I shall come to Mont-Havre, bringing a few articles of comfort to the Guild Hall; and whilst I am there I shall naturally sit down for a meal with my beloved cousin; and you shall make your case. But you must persuade me, Jack.

I must say a few words about your messenger, Sergeant Allen—retired, or so he says. Does he really mean to retire to Bois-de-Bas, or is this simply His Lordship's not particularly discreet way of keeping an eye on me? He shall have to make his own way, Jack, for I don't know him, at least not yet, and so cannot sponsor him. If he truly means to stay here and to open an inn he will find a welcome in the end, I think, but he will have to make his own way.

He has started well, I'll grant him that. He spoke kindly to Amelie, and inquired for a family where he might rent a room, and listened most attentively to the old men who frequent my workshop. And he has been making inquiries as to where he might find the necessities for brewing: kegs, grain, and so forth. That was well-done of him, Jack. He will undoubtedly need to send away for some things, as indeed we all do. But there is much to be had locally, and he will please the townsfolk if he buys it here.

I gather he is a countryman from well south of Yorke, and a twenty-year man, experienced, competent, bold but not brash. He is not overly handsome, but looks quite sturdy; and I may say that the young ladies in Bois-de-Bas have a great respect for sturdy. He might, in fact, do well here if he continues to step carefully.

I think I shall come to Mont-Havre all the more quickly, as the work on our new town hall has entered its next phase. Our men have been felling bronzewood trees for the past two weeks, and will fell the last perhaps the day after tomorrow; and after that they will begin to burn out the stumps. It has been smoky enough these past weeks as they burn the sawdust and trimmings; but nothing burns as smoky as a newly cut bronzewood stump. Nor is there any way to pull it from the ground in one piece!

I asked the cutters whether one might simply build the hall with an elevated floor, and leave the stumps in place beneath. They laughed, and told me that the old stumps would be quite likely to sprout, and we'd soon find our town hall rising into the air. "My uncle tried that nigh on twenty years ago, non?" said one to me. "He built his house over a stump four feet across. Les chèvres! By summer he was living in a tree house." "He had to build a ladder," said another. "And add to it week by week," said a third.

I still don't know whether they were teasing me or not, but yesterday I walked out to the place where it happened, and of a surety I saw the remains of a small house in the top of a tree, at least fifty feet from the ground, with a bit of ladder dangling. The roof and walls were mostly gone, but the bronzewood timbers preserved its shape quite nicely.

And so this week they shall start burning out the stumps. As the town hall site is only a short walk from my home, it is quite unpleasant.

Perhaps I shall bring Amelie and Anne-Marie with me. I am sure that in her condition, Amelie would be delighted to get out of the smoke.

Yours,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- A Matter of Time (2 July 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have it! I woke up quite suddenly with the answer plain in my head.

For several weeks now I have been thinking of every method I might use to measure the hardness of a hardened block of wood. Most of them have involved using some kind of clamp or vise with a screw that I might tighten or loosen. How many turns would it take before the jaws of the clamp mar the surface of the block? I could repeat this trial periodically, looking for changes.

The difficulties here are obvious. First, it is quite difficult to ever mar the surface of a hardened object. That is one of the reasons why hardening is a mainstay of my craft. Second, tightening the clamp is exactly the sort of action that would cause the block to collect effort; and my trial is precisely to see how long it takes the block to become fragile before that happens.

And that, bluntly put, is the key. That is my epiphany—that I am making everything—hah—harder than it needs to be.

It is easy to tell when fragility has set in; Mme. Poquêrie brought me a plate that I was able to crumble between my fingers with no great amount of force. Many of the plates that were returned to me could be marred with a finger nail.

So I have no need to measure hardness. What I must measure is time. Given a newly hardened block of wood and a lifting block capable of suspending a particular weight, the two placed in close proximity, how long will it take before the block becomes fragile? It is so simple. I have asked this question of myself a hundred times at least, and especially when Luc returns from Marc's farm and says, "It is all just the same as yesterday." But I was so focussed on the degree of hardness remaining that I did not listen to myself.

But time is the key variable. First, so that I know how long a hardened object may safely be used, as part of a sky-chair or boat; and second so that I may learn how to extend that time.

Luc tells me that he had always planned to measure the length of time. "For the plates were quite hard until they started breaking," he said. Not for the first time it has occurred to me that my apprentice may be smarter than I am. I console myself with the thought that perhaps he has had a more congenial teacher than I did; and also that it was I who came up with the notion of using a balance to measure the degree of lift in a lifting block.

The best part of this discovery is that our work to date will not be wasted. We know when we set up our trial in the shed on Marc's farm; and once the hardened block begins to crumble I can bring the lifting block into the shop and measure how much weight it can suspend.

I wish we could run multiple trials simultaneously; but they would have to be wildly separated. Perhaps the next step is not to try again with a stronger lifting block, but to move the hardened block and the lifting block apart. There must be a distance beyond which the two blocks no longer affect one another. But hah! How will I ever know if they are far enough apart? All I can see is that the hardened block has not yet begun to crumble. If they are far enough part, it never will. I do not believe I can wait that long. We shall have to make some trials in that direction…but perhaps there is a farmer on the far side of Bois-de-Bas from Marc who would let me set up a shed. How ever large the distance must be, I am sure that it is well under a mile!

It is quite early…dawn is just creeping into the sky. I believe I shall put out my lamp and return to bed and see what sleep I might get before the cutters resume their work on the town hall grove.

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Letters from Armorica- Sawdust (27 June 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

They have begun cutting down the bronzewood trees at the site of the new town hall. I have spent a certain amount of time watching them this week, in my role as headman of the village—and I have carefully heeded the directions I was given to stay out of the way and well back. Cutting bronzewood is a tricky and dangerous business, and one that my people here are well familiar with; but it is rarely done so close to town these days. The trees are large, and the wood is tough, and no one wants a bronzewood tree to fall on their home.

Lesser trees can be felled using axes; bronzewood dulls an axe so rapidly that it isn't even worth trying. The loggers use what they call a cord-saw, some kind of tough cord impregnated with abrasive dust. They are made by forming, I gather, but the men know nothing about that. The first settlers brought some with them, knowing what they were getting into, and more have been imported from Provençe in the decades since. I have looked, but there is nothing like them in my grimoire. Perhaps Master Grenadine has something. Even if he does, though, it isn't clear that I could make more with what I have to work with.

There is considerable technique involved. The bronzewood tree has a tall and straight trunk with many branches, so the men begin by climbing the tree and lopping off the branches one by one. They work in two man teams, one man on each side of the trunk, and must trade off frequently: some of the branches are big enough to be used as timbers in their own right, and even the thin ones take a deal of cutting. When felling a grove of bronzewoods, as here, it is the custom to de-branch all of the trees before felling any of them.

Then—so I am told, for they have not gotten so far yet, they will pick a tree to fell, and attach a cable to its peak; the other hand goes through a block and tackle some distance away. That is to ensure that the tree falls in the desired direction. They then cut a large notch on that side of the trunk, and put tension on the cable; and then proceed to cut through the back side of the trunk. You must not picture them standing close to the tree at this time! The cutters use cord-saws that are many yards long (though only the center is abrasive), and the teams stand well to the left and the right. Note that I said "teams": for this phase, the cutting process resembles a tug-of-war, with four men on each side.

It is a long and onerous process, and I do not recommend arm-wrestling any of the cutters, for one is certain to lose.

Once the trees are on the ground they will be shaped into timbers in place. Bronzewood timbers are difficult enough to transport; bronzewood trunks are next to impossible. It was my romantic notion that we would then build the town hall using the timbers we had just cut down, but I was soon corrected. The timbers must be seasoned before use. These will go into storage, and the town hall will be built using timbers from trees that were felled last year.

All this is meant to say that the center of our village now resembles a logging camp, with all of the noise and mess that that implies. There is sawdust everywhere. Amelie has taken to leaving a broom and dustpan by the counter in her shop, and handing them to every person who comes in. And they, I might add, including many who would argue over the price of buttons and the look that Mrs. So-and-So gave them the other day, take these objects and clean up the mess without objection. There is nothing to be done with the dust but burn it, and so there is a constant smoky haze in Bois-de-Bas these days, and will be until the cutting is complete.

The noise is blessedly absent on this Sunday evening, but I begin to see why no one has built a town hall in the past.

Meanwhile, I am continuing to ponder how we might measure the effects of a formed object. Warming blocks are easy in principle, but difficult in practice, there being no thermometers in Bois-de-Bas, but I have sent to M. Suprenant to procure me one. He may well have to get it from Yorke or Toulouse.

Lifting blocks are easier, for all we need is a balance. (I am indebted to Luc for this notion.) Tie a string to the block, attach one end of the string to one arm of the balance, and add weights to the pan underneath until the arm is level. We have tried this with Amelie's balance, which is behind the counter in the shop, and it works fine. The difficulty here is that Amelie will not allow us to transport her balance to our shed at the back of Marc's field, on the flimsy excuse that she needs it in the shop. I have asked M. Suprenant to send me a level as well, and that, at least, he should be able to find in locally.

But warming blocks and lifting blocks are both greedy: both consume effort to produce their effects. For our trials, we must also measure a generous object, a collector of effort, to wit, something hardened. I am not sure how we do that. How does one measure hardness? It must involve putting pressure on the item in the some way…but putting pressure on the item will cause it to collect effort, which will then be given generously to the nearby consumer. What we are trying to measure is the decrease in hardness of the hardened item when it is not collecting a significant amount of effort.

With any luck, I shall have figured something out before my new balance arrives from Mont-Havre.

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Letters from Armorica- Greed and Generosity (20 June 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have slept little this past week, and burned vast quantities (it seems) of whirtleberry oil; and I scarcely finished my first mug of ale at the hot springs this afternoon before my eyes began to droop. The other men teased me, of course, and told me that one day perhaps I'd grow up and be able to hold my liquor. I am fortunate that it has been a peaceful week in Bois-de-Bas and that there were no serious disputes or concerns for me to address.

A site has been picked for the new Town Hall, the women of the town having been much in favor. From what Amelie tells me, that was due to the prospect of regular town dances than it was to the plight of the young unmarried men who have been coming to live here; but no matter. The women of Bois-de-Bas have spoken and driven their husbands before them. There was consequently much good-natured wailing and gnashing of teeth at the hot springs today, for the chosen site must be cleared of bronzewood trees; but the site is convenient to both the town square and to the entrance to the hot springs, and will, I think, do very well.

But as the result of my late nights I have been making great progress with Master Grenadine's Sur la Thaumaturgie. His terminology remains peculiar, but I am slowly coming to understand it, with many false steps. For example, he writes of objects that exhibit charité and those, opposed to the first, that exhibit envie. I at first guessed that by charité he meant something like the ability of a hardened plate to provide effort to another formed object, and that by envie he meant the ability of something like a warming block to want to pull effort from something else that has what it lacks. His notion of harmonie, then, would be the balance of charity against envy such that the envious object would pull no more effort from the charitable object than it was able to safely provide.

This was plausible but wrong. I spent most of the week under this impression, growing more and more confused, until I realized that I had it precisely backwards…or, perhaps, a bit sideways. To Grenadine, an object exhibits charité if it changes things in the world. A warming block gives off heat; a lifting block in a sky-chair raises it into the air. An object exhibits envie if its effect is in itself. A hardened plate accepts knocks and bangs. Harmonie, he says, lies in placing envious and charitable objects in proxity.

He then goes on to discuss various kinds of formed objects and whether they exhibit charity or envy, and then moves along to speculate as to whether we might some day discover a kind of forming that achieves la perfection: an object that achieves harmony in and of itself.

It is an interesting question, and I would greatly like to discuss it with another master former of greater experience. But Grenadine comes to no conclusions and so the idea isn't of much help in my current endeavors. And there is worse: he seems to have no notion of what I call effort, nor any thought to measurement. He speaks of harmonie, but he has no notion of balance. I fear that even in my limited efforts I have already exceeded him.

Perhaps, of course, he is wiser than I: perhaps my idea of effort flowing from hardened plates to warming blocks is incorrect. Perhaps it is possible to achieve harmonie without worrying about balance. But if I am right then his terminology is not only obscure but also unhelpful.

As I see it, a hardened plate or pot is a collector of effort; and it is generous to the extent that it will provide that effort to other things in its vicinity. A warming block is a consumer of effort; I conjecture that it has what I might call an appetite for effort in proportion to the degree of warming that it provides. Moreover, it is greedy: it will consume effort from a nearby plate until the plate falls apart. (One might say that the plate is generous to a fault.)

And this of course leads me to so many more questions! How much effort can a given collector collect before it gets "full"? Is there a limit? How fast can it provide effort to a consumer? Are there consumers that aren't greedy? Can a collector be protected against a consumer's greediness? And though I have come to believe that these things can be measured, by what means am I to do so?

Measurement is where it all begins. If I can measure, I can begin to address these questions. Either there will be some kind of proportion between effort provided and effort consumed, or there will not.

I suppose I must send to M. Fournier for a book on mathematics. Which will, be in Provençese, blast it.

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Letters from Armorica- Goats and Harmony (13 June 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

The advantage of having a nanny goat, it seems, is that you get goat milk. And when you have a small child, goat milk is a thing to be desired. Cow's milk would be preferred but goats take up less room than cows, which is important when you live in the middle of the village.

Except that to get goat milk your nanny goat needs to have a baby goat. And for your nanny goat to have a baby goat, it goes without saying, you need a billy goat. All of this is quite ordinary and not worth mentioning, or at least it would be back home in the sorts of places where you might keep goats. But in Wussex or Walshire they would be Cambrian goats. Here we are talking about having three Armorican goats, and three Armorican goats is too many goats for any sane person to be having. Especially in the middle of the village.

Which is why I spent yesterday walking Patches the Goat out to Marc's farm for a stay, and why today I lingered in the hot springs. Goat armor and handles make it easier to manage an Armorican goat, but they don't make it pleasant. It might be better if Patches wasn't (to all appearances) fond of me, but—

No. No, it wouldn't. If Patches weren't fond of me I'd have hired a cart, tied her to the back of it, and ridden up front with the drover. I would most likely have had to pay for damage to the cart, but at least I wouldn't be found crumpled in the ditch by the side of the road.

I spent most of the walk pondering how I might transport Patches by sky-chair. I was contemplating a kind of a sling by which she might dangle, with a release so that I could fly her straight to the goat shed, lower her down, and let her go without actually entering the goat shed myself. It was a foolish notion, for I do not dare use a sky-chair until I understand the motions of what I call effort ; and doubly foolish, for of course Marc's goatherd took care of Patches once we arrived. But it served to pass the time.

Having disposed of Patches I went to check on Luc's trial in its little shed at the outer edge of Marc's fields. It looked much the same as it had the week before, when Luc set it up in its new location: the hardened block resting on its post, and the other block floating above its post at the end of a taut string. I examined the hardened block as gently as I could, looking for the sort of degradation I'd seen in Amelie's dishware, taking care not to poke at it too strongly; for treating it harshly would, ironically, only increase its life. It was the hardened plates and bowls that deteriorated, not the hardened pots and pans.

Thus far the block looked as it had the week before; but we hadn't expected anything else, yet.

After that I shared the midday meal with Marc and Elise, and got to see their infant boy, whom they have predictably named Herbert. I believe that Elise and Amelie are already planning a wedding for Herbert and Anne-Marie. I should be pleased if that were to happen, but I know a little too much about forcing a boy into his father's image to press it myself.

I walked home, blessedly goat free, and thought about Luc's trial. So many questions! So many trials we would like to do! Hardened objects store effort and flying or warming objects consume it. Does it matter whether the consuming object is floating or producing warmth? Can the consuming object continue producing its effect indefinitely, or must there be a hardened object nearby? Are there other kinds of objects that similarly store effort like hardened ones do? Suppose I hardened a stick, and suspended a heavy weight from it, a weight that would break an unhardened stick: would that produce effort? And how much effort could I draw from the stick without causing it to deteriorate?

"How much?" What an odd thought! "How much?" is a question for shopkeepers and merchants and contracts. A thing is hardened or it isn't; a former doesn't worry about "how much" a thing is hardened. And yet it seems like le mot juste as my friend the bookseller would say. How much effort can a hardened object store and provide? How much effort does it take to produce enough heat to warm a plate of food? If those two things were evenly matched, if they were in balance—

Les chèvres! Master Grenadine speaks of harmonie, of charité and envie. Charity: giving forth. Envy: wanting what another has. Harmony between charity and envy—is that the key to understanding him? Thank the Lord that we received a new stock of whirtleberry oil yesterday, for I believe I shall be up late tonight.

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Letters from Armoria- Of Taverns and Town Halls (6 June 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It is a singular thing, but there are no inns in Bois-de-Bas—no place where folks might go of an evening to gather. People gather on Sundays, at the church and in fine weather have Sunday dinner together in the square, and at the hot springs. A few old men often gather at my shop on weekday afternoons. But for the most part, the citizens of Bois-de-Bas do not gather in the evening; or if they do they gather at each other's homes. As I noted last winter, we do not even have a town hall—unless one considers the hot springs to be the de facto town hall, as I think one must.

Jean-Claude Astreaux tells me—he is one of Jacques-le-Souri's cronies, and a frequent visitor to my shop—he tells me that it is because of les grand-blaireau and similar creatures. "You forget, you, that this was wilderness not so many years ago. Those who went out at night are no longer with us, n'est-ce pas?" And then, the folk of Bois-de-Bas are sober and hard-working, and not much given to frivolity.

But we still have many young men with us and who have no place to go in the evenings except their rooming houses. Many came during the war, and many have come since; Bois-de-Bas has acquired a reputation. Those of them who wish to settle here—the majority—are still resentful about being excluded from the hot springs on a Sunday. They may go on their own during the week, or on Saturdays, but not at the time when decisions are made. Some few have left in frustration; some few have worked their way into one family or another, much as I did. But there are many others, and a few more arrive every month. As I see it we must make them part of the town or there will eventually be hell to pay. We need a town hall when we can all gather together to make decisions.

I spoke of this to the men of Bois-de-Bas—most of the men of Bois-de-Bas—at the hot springs this afternoon. I was able to get agreement about the town hall; the problem was clear enough last winter, for all love, but you can't build a great huge barn in deep snow. And that's really all we need, nothing fancy: just a space big enough for everyone to meet together in bad weather.

"And then, once we have it," I went on, "we might use it for the occasional dance or celebration. I know we are in the habit here of spending our evenings at home—but, you know, no one has seen a grand-blaireau in this region for many, many years. Well, except for the beast we found on the island during the War, and as his pelt is now on my bed I think we needn't worry about him."

There was a bit of muttering at this, for folks here tend to socialize in certain set groups. I would not have been accepted the way I was if it weren't for my friendship with Marc and Elise Frontenac and my marriage to Amelie, aided by my willingness to work with goats without complaining and my activities during the war. Which is another reason why the hot springs are so important, of course—it's the one place that all of the men and women of the town have traditionally met as equals.

But I think having public dances and celebrations are necessary to the future of our town. The newly-arriving men must meet people; especially they must meet young women, so that they can marry and settle down. This is what most of them are seeking, after all, and yet there is so little opportunity for it today. The only ones who have married so far are those who have met an eligible daughter in the course of their work. I did not mention this concern to the men at the springs, however.

The women must agree with the building of the town hall, of course, but Amelie and Elise Frontenac attended to that this afternoon. Now the husbands and wives must confer, and likely there will be further discussion of details this coming Sunday; but I rather expect that a site will be chosen and the building will be erected in proper barn-raising fashion in the next few weeks.

Now if only we had an inn or tavern as well.

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photo credit: Me in ME Red Barn via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica- Learning from Luc (30 May 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Luc, I discover, has been busy while I was away in Mont-Havre. He—

But all things in due course.

When I left for Mont-Havre I instructed Luc to continue copying out my grimoire, which I left behind for that purpose. Amelie, I have discovered, is an excellent teacher; Luc's hand is better than mine ever was, or at least no worse. And as of this week, I can say with confidence that he is understanding much of what he copies.

I cannot say the same for myself and Master Grenadine's Sur la Thaumaturgie. In part it is a matter of language—my Provençese has improved greatly since I came to Armorica but I am constantly having to turn to Frobert's Dictionnaire de Provençese; and since the definitions are also in Provençese a single word can turn into quite the research project. Yes, dear journal, I could simply ask my Amelie; but Master Grenadine affects a high and lofty style, and uses many words that are not in common use in Bois-de-Bas.

But beyond that, Master Grenadine is speaking of arcane matters of forming, at a level of theory that perhaps no other former has reached, and so he is perforce having to invent a terminology in which to describe his thoughts. This is common in every field of endeavor, I suppose; I learned on Onc' Herbert's farm that there is a word for every part of a wagon, or a cow, or what have you. Or of a goat, I suppose, if anyone were willing to get close enough to discover all of them.

But Master Grenadine never stops to define his terms; and worse, Master Grenadine fancies himself a poet. I do not know if it was simply his way, or if obscurity was his goal. But it is no help, and so I have been reduced to listing the words that appear to be terms of art, and then reading along willy-nilly until I find something that appears to match my experience. (Alas, Master Grenadine's experience far exceeds my own.)

For example, I am nearly certain—but only nearly, I say—that by bombastication de tortue he means what I would call "hardening"; for a tortue is what I would call a tortoise, and of course tortoises have hard shells. But what does he mean by protestations d'envie, protestations of envy? Or oeuvres de la charité, works of charity? "Il est tres difficile," as Amelie would say.

But I was speaking of Luc. I was looking for him on Thursday and could not find him—an inappropriate condition for an apprentice—until I spotted him coming down the road toward the shop. He was dusty, and had one of the small ledgers he uses for writing practice in his hand. I waited for him on the porch. To do him credit he made no attempt to sneak around the back when he saw me, though he gave a heavy sigh.

"Maître," he said, and waited.

"And where have you been, Luc?"

"At the Frontenac's farm, Maître."

"At the Frontenac's—but why? What business could possibly take you there?" Luc was acquainted with Marc and Elise Frontenac, of course, and had occasionally run errands there for us, but not in this case, for Amelie had been equally ignorant of his location.

He squirmed. "I have been…"

"Yes?"

He looked up at me. He looked sheepish, but also…excited?

"May I show you, Maître?"

"At the Frontenac's?"

"Oui, Maître."

"Very well, but in the morning. It is too late today. Now, go and feed Patches."

Friday morning we set out for Marc's farm. Marc met us in the farmyard.

"Come to check on young Luc's doings, eh? I gave him some space out behind the goat shed."

I simply nodded, not wanting to shame Luc in front of Marc by saying that he had gone behind my back.

Behind the sheds I found two posts hammered into the ground about three feet apart. A small block of wood topped one of them, and another small block of wood was levitating directly above the other, held in place by a few inches of cord. I fingered the cord; it was tight as a bowstring.

"It has been like that for two weeks," said Marc.

"Luc—," I began, then stopped. "Marc, I apologize for my rudeness, but I must speak with my apprentice in private."

Marc grinned. "Elise will have refreshments when you are done," he said.

After he had gone, I inspected the first block, the one sitting atop its post. It had been hardened—not uniformly, but quite well for a first try.

"Luc," I said.

"Oui, Maître?"

"Have I given you leave to attempt to form anything without my supervision?"

"Non, Maître."

"Very well. So explain to me what you thought you were doing."

Journal, I was flabbergasted by the answer. Luc had been thinking about the hardened dishes and the warming blocks, and why they affected each other so, and had added a couple of questions of his own: "How soon?", and also, "How much?" And rather than merely pondering, as I have been doing, he decided to make a "trial" of it.

"The blocks each weigh four ounces, Maître, and they are exactly three feet apart. I am checking every few days to see when the hardened block begins to get soft." He showed me the ledger. He had written down these facts, and also the date at which he had begun his trial and the dates on which he had checked on it. He had begun the day after I went to Mont-Havre.

"I see. And why here? Why not in our workshop?"

"But there are so many sets of hardened dishes in the village, Maître."

"And you didn't want to risk damaging them?"

He looked surprised. "O! I had not thought of that, Maître. But having them near would have made things different. So I came out here, where there are no formed items nearby."

"I see. But you're mistaken, I'm afraid. Do you know what's in that shed?"

"Goats, Maître."

"And what are goats wearing, Luc?"

"Why, they are wearing—they are wearing hardened coats, like Patches." His face fell.

"Yes, and horn protectors. And so?"

"My trial is ruined, Maître."

"Yes, it is. And you ought not to have started it without informing me."

"O, but Maître! It was to be a surprise for you!"

"It has certainly been that. Now, for your punishment, I have a task for you. It is going to involve quite a lot of walking, I'm afraid."

His shoulders drooped. "Oui, Maître."

"First, you must speak to M. Frontenac, and find a place for your posts at the far end of his fields, well away from the goats. It will be necessary to construct a small shed to house them, so they stay dry. Second, we must prepare the blocks of wood together. And third, you must check on them every other day."

"Oui, Maître! I shall!"

I took the hardened block from its post and handed it to him. "This you may keep; it will do no harm in our workshop." Then I glanced at the levitating block. "Why levitation? Why not a warming block?"

He looked puzzled. "Levitation is more fun, Maître."

And you know, Dear Journal, he is not wrong.

Next letter

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photo credit: Edna Winti There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica- Town Matters- (23 May 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It is ironic, I suppose. I spent the wagon ride to Bois-de-Bas alternately pondering how best to study Master Grenadine's writings and wishing for a peaceful soak in the hot springs—for I may say that while traveling by wagon is much quicker than walking, it has its own discomforts.

But I have been bogged down in town matters since my return. Mme. Golombaque, it seems, has been stealing flowers for her table from the garden of Mme. Poquerie. M. Alemagne's dog has been terrorizing chickens at local farms. My goat, Patches, has…but I do not want to think of my goat, Patches. I am simply grateful that Patches did not take it into her knobby head to join me in Mont-Havre, or I should be getting complaints from Honfleur or even Petit-Monde as well.

It seems that no one in Bois-de-Bas can settle any dispute without my aid.

I did get my soak this afternoon, of course, but no peace, for the town matters joined me there. I am increasingly attracted to the notion of moving my family to Mont-Havre. There, at least, I could continue my studies in peace! I said something of this to my Amelie just now.

"Oui," she said. "In great peace, between visits from the servants of le Grand Parlement and those of Lord Doncaster, and visits to the tailor for les vêtements de cérémonie, and invitations from tout le Monde, n'est-ce pas? For you are the Grandmaster, and there you must play le Grand Homme."

I believe I shuddered. I saw the beginnings of that dance myself at my meal with M. Archambault—and I have been familiar with the body of it from boyhood.

"Mais non," she said decisively, and kissed me on the cheek. "You will stay here, where you truly are le Grand Homme."

Ah, well. There will doubtless be further matters to settle tomorrow, and then perhaps I shall be able to settle down to my reading. I will take some time! Master Grenadine's grimoire is neatly written (at least in the earlier pages) but poorly organized, as grimoires generally are; and his Sur la Thaumaturgie has proven to be entirely opaque to me so far. I understand the words, but they seem to have no relation to anything in my experience as a former. But it is a book of reflections; and perhaps it will grow more concrete as I proceed.

Next letter

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