Author Archives: Will Duquette

Letters from Armorica- The Cumbrian Advance (13 April 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Such news!

I received a letter from my cousin Jack yesterday; it came with our first large delivery of goods from Mont-Havre since the first snowfalls. He has come to Armorica and plans to visit us—news enough, surely—but the real news came with the letter and not in it. Cumbria has claimed sovereignty over Armorica!

Indeed, this is why Jack is here. His Majesty's government has sent a fellow named Lord Dorcaster to be his "governor-general" in Mont-Havre. According to Guy, the wagoneer who delivered our goods, His Lordship addressed the Grand Parlement on his arrival and told them that Cumbria has no interest in Armorica's internal affairs, but only wishes to preserve her from Provençese tyranny.

"And this you may believe if you choose," said Guy, spitting on the ground by his wagon. But he admitted that Lord Dorcaster had made no attempt to claim the former Provençese governor's palace (now the home of what passes for the Armorican government). Rather, His Lordship had rented a house nearby for himself and his entourage.

"And what sort of entourage has he brought with him?"

Guy shrugged massively. "Just a squad of soldiers and a few servants," he said. "And his family, too," he said, shaking his head.

I sent Luc inside with the sack of letters for Amelie to sort, and then Luc, Guy, and I unloaded the goods into our sadly cramped storeroom.

"What are these?" said Guy, jerking his head at the shelf after shelf of warming blocks.

"A mistake," I said. "These boxes should go over here."

It was only after Guy had left that I found I had a letter from Jack and got more of the story.

It seems that Cumbria has Le Maréchal on the run! His troops have been driven out of Andaluse and Malague; more, His Majesty's government has made common cause with certain groups inside of Provençe, and with their help and connivance His Majesty's army is even now approaching Toulouse.

Jack had a bit to say about Lord Dorcaster, whose full title is Dorcaster of Avilona. He was raised to the House of Lords only a few months ago, as a reward for particular gallantry during the seige of Avilona in Malague; his quick action saved the battle and led indirectly to the Cumbria victory in that country. Prior to his exaltation he was but a captain of infantry, and Jack was his first lieutenant. Now he has brought Jack along as his right-hand man. So much for giving Jack a place to stay!

I mentioned to Amelie last night that as the weather was improving, it would soon be time to find Jacques and Madame Truc a home of their own. Jack would be coming soon, and we needed a room for him.

"Non!" she said, much to my surprise. "I will not hear of it." I looked at her in surprise, and she took my head between her hands, drew me close, and kissed me. "Non, we shall simply have to expand our house. For our children need les grand-parents, n'est-ce-pas? And where else shall we get them?"

I thought of what it would be like, per impossible, to have my father living with us in one house, or indeed in one country, and shivered. "Not from Cumbria, not if I have anything to say about it," I said. And then her words registered. "Wait. You said, children?"

"Oui," she said, and blushed. "And if I am to run the shop…"

I kissed her in return. "Yes," I said, "You are right. And perhaps we shall need to get Jean-Paul in to help you." And in truth I am glad, for Madame and Jacques have been very good to me, and I have often noted how they dote on little Anne-Marie.

And I am to be a father again!

I wonder how the Grand Parlement took Lord Dorcaster's address? Guy didn't know. I've heard little from M. Suprenant these past months, due to the weather. I hope I shall be hearing from him soon.

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Letters from Armorica- Speculations (30 March 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have worked from dawn until well after dusk for the past two weeks, and I believe I have now re-hardened all of the dishes and cookware in Bois-de-Bas. Also, I have collected nearly all of the warming blocks; stack upon stack of them clutter the back corner of our store room, each stack tied together with twine and carefully labeled. I have room for them all only because supplies are so low after the winter.

The interval was not without its points of interest, though I have been unable to record them until now. Mme. Coterie, about whom the less said the better, tried to trick me into hardening an old set of plates that had never before appeared in my shop. I did so, and then charged her the normal rate for them. She declined to pay, and when I insisted, she repined, she moaned, she bewailed, she threw herself on my mercy, and my mercy not availing she grew fierce, and cast doubt on my parentage. I threw her over to the mercy of my wife, who has none in such cases, and having paid she departed, grumbling.

M. Gascon, on the other hand, simply refused to hand over his warming blocks. He has pains in his joints, he told me, and needs the warmth all the year round. In fact, he thanked me over and over again for the invention, for he says he was snugger this winter than in any of the past ten years! He is a widower, and takes his meals with the family next door, and so perhaps it will do no harm to let him keep them.

As for me, my life has been too effortful for me to forward my study of effort, as I call it; but though it is tedious and tiring, it takes not much thought to harden a shipload of plates, and so I have had much time for reflection as I worked.

I do not know what effort is, but I plainly see that it is part of the world, and is all around us. If I were to travel to a new land where no man has ever been, and there form a warming block, I have no doubt that the warming block would warm me up nicely. I now see that it would do so by drawing effort from my immediate vicinity.

I also see that hardened objects somehow concentrate effort, making it available for use by formed objects such as warming blocks. Putting the two in proximity establishes a flow of effort from one to the other. The plate or the pot concentrates the effort, and the block somehow receives it, uses it, and then—what? Disperses it? It is gone, in any event; it does not return to the concentrator.

Why doesn't the warming block simply draw effort from the area around it once the effort concentrated by the hardened pot is gone? Why does it proceed to consume the pot itself? And where does the dispersed effort go?

The good news is that it does seem that proximity is required: I spoke with Marc today, and he had indeed been keeping his sky-sled in the shed for his oxen, which he had been warming with my warming blocks.

A warming block can function indefinitely if there are no hardened goods nearby; this I believe. Hardened goods remain hardened indefinitely if there are nothing draining the effort from them; this I know for a fact for at home in Yorke we have dishware that was hardened by my great-great-grandfather. Bring them together, and the one devours the other.

And yet, the great sky-ships, and even the sloops we took from the Provençese in the war, combine hardened elements with motivating elements, and yet these do not devour each other. Are motivating elements somehow different than warming ones? It seems not, or Marc's sky-sled would not have crashed. Both must disperse concentrated effort.

This gives me hope: there is a way to make the two things work together. Perhaps now that I have dealt with all of the dishware in Bois-de-Bas I will have time to try a few things.

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Letters from Armorica- The Flood Begins (16 March 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

The flood has began.

The weather is warming and the snow is melting, the village will be all over mud in a week; but I do not speak of that, but of the ladies of Bois-de-Bas.

Mme. Tremblay came to my shop two days ago, holding the shards of a broken plate. Mme. Simard the butcher's wife came later that day with more. Yesterday they were followed by others.

I had been dreading their arrival, which I knew could not be long delayed; what I had not expected was their diffidence.

"M. Tuppenny," said Mme. Tremblay with an embarrassed smile, "I do not know what I have done. See, the plate, it is in pieces." As though it were somehow her fault for mishandling it, when the whole point of hardened dishes is that they cannot be mishandled.

Except, of course, they can, it seems; and M. Tremblay had been one of the first to buy my warming blocks for his household. I had my answer ready, and making a mental note to thank Luc once again for his perspicacity, I said to her, "Yes, Mme. Tremblay, I know, my Amelie is having the same difficulty. It is nothing you have done. I believe it is something to do with the warming blocks I made for your husband."

Her eyes grew wide, and more than a little indignant. "C'est impossible! I have never—" and she shook her head vigorously—"I, I have never brought them into the kitchen!"

"Nevertheless," I said, "it seems to have something to do with them. Le thaumaturgie, n'est-ce-pas? It is unaccountable." I waggled my fingers.

"Oui, oui, quite unaccountable," she said, nodding wisely as if she knew anything about forming. "So what are we to do?" Now that I had accepted responsibility, as it were, her tone was quite different: the word "we" clearly meant, "You, M. Tuppenny, you!"

"Fortunately," I said, "the weather is warming. If you will have M. Tremblay bring me all of your warming blocks, I will disable them; and if you bring me your dishes I shall harden them once again, and you should have no further trouble."

"But the blocks! L'hiver, it may return next week!"

"Yes, I know, and I hope to find out what is causing the damage so that we can prevent it in the future. But it will take me some time, and meanwhile, your dishes…." I shrugged.

She was forced to agree. "But the blocks, we have paid for them." She looked at me sharply. "You will note down in your ledger that we have returned them, and if they cannot be made safe, zut alors!" Which was quite strong language for Mme. Tremblay.

"Yes, of course. Leave them with Amelie, and she will make the necessary notations. As for your crockery and pots, you may bring them to me."

And with that she had to be satisfied; and with that I had to be satisfied.

And then I went over to the shop, and had a few words with my wife.

"Amelie, dearest," I said, "I have just discovered that Mme. Tremblay has been using some of my warming blocks as plate and pot warmers in her kitchen. Have you, just possibly, been doing the same?"

Her eyebrows flew up—not at the question, but at the degree of my husbandly inattention. "Mais, oui" she said. "It has been so cold, and to put the hot food on cold plates—brrrrrr." She pretended to shiver, which I fear quite distracted me from the main issue for a little time.

"I see," I said at length. "And I suppose you've discussed this with the other ladies in the hot springs?"

She shrugged enormously. "Mais, oui. How not?"

"Yes, I thought so. You must stop using them thus, I am afraid—it is this, I think, that has been damaging your plates."

"O!" she cried.

"Yes," I said. "And I fear the cost of it will be great for us." I told her what I told Mme. Tremblay, and she began to cry.

"O, Armand, I am so sorry, me. I was so proud of you, and so excited, n'est-ce-pas, to share my new trick with the others."

"No, no," I said, "I would have suggested it myself, had I thought of it. No, the fault is all mine. I am trying new things, do you see, and so am finding surprises. It will be a costly mistake, but we will get through it."

We comforted each other for a few more moments, until we heard a customer's footsteps on the porch.

And now the word has spread. We have had to clear a section of the store room, which is now taken up with disabled warming blocks, and my workshop is filled with baskets and sacks of crockery, and I have been working long hours re-hardening dishes.

It has been truly fatiguing, for I must inspect the dishes carefully: if they are undamaged there is no point in expending any effort in hardening them, and yet the inspection itself takes effort. My effort, my own personal effort, that is.

And yet I am glad, for one mystery, at least, is explained, and there is one bright spot. My conjectures are correct, there is some link between the hardened plates and the warming blocks; and if they can be kept separate perhaps the effect will be greatly lessened.

But other mysteries remain. What of Marc's accident with his sky-sled? Why did it fail? I had been considering that it was something of the same kind, that somehow I had exceeded some degree of balance between the number of formed objects that absorb effort, like hardened dishes, and those that consume effort, like warming blocks and sky-sleds, and so there was not enough effort available to keep the sky-sled in the air. But the effect of the warming blocks on the plates seems to be governed by proximity in some way, and Marc's sky-sled was hidden in a shed on his, away from the house-hold.

Which shed, I wonder? Was it near the animals? Perhaps, was it near the goat pen? And perhaps, has Marc been using warming blocks to keep the goats warm? Foolish behavior, if so, for Armorican goats are known to be indestructible. More likely it was the oxen, if so. I must speak to him. Would that I had thought of this yesterday, so I could have spoken to him at the springs this afternoon!

And now I must lay down my pen and pay a visit to Patches the goat in her pen lest she feel lonely in the night and break out to come visit me. Even with her protective gear it is unpleasant to find her at my bedside.

Somehow when I left Yorke I thought that life would be simpler in Armorica. A simple life on the frontier, that is what I was looking for. Adventure, perhaps, excitement certainly, but simple adventure, simple excitement, not these complexities. Goats, forsooth!

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Letters from Armorica- A Dream of Spirits (11 March 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have scarcely been able to sleep these past days, pondering Luc's question: where does the warmth come from? What makes the sky-chairs go? And then, last night—what makes the hardened dishes hard and unbreakable?

I fell into a reverie, there in our darkened room, remembering an absurd notion I'd had, a vision of airy spirits with little hammers and chisels breaking my plates. I had almost an image in my mind of such spirits flying away from my warming blocks in vast cheer and merriment, each tiny spirit bearing a gift of warmth. And other spirits, darker in color, clustering within a dinner plate, their tiny backs pressing against the surfaces, protecting them from knocks and bangs.

It is a foolish idea, and yet in my fatigued state it seemed to me as good an explanation as any I'd considered, and with great satisfaction I was at last able to sleep.

And then this morning I awoke and realized that I'd only put off the problem: even supposing tiny spirits are carrying warmth away from the warming block, where do they get it? Not from the block; I could burn that and get a small amount of warmth, but my warming blocks keep giving.

I was shaving, wincing at the icy water in the basin—for my Amelie prefers me to remain clean-shaven even at the coldest times of the year—when a different image occurred to me. I pictured Amelie's cooking pot, its walls filled with tiny spirits as she prepared dinner. But instead of pushing against the knocks and bangs, the little spirits grabbed them and held them close, filling their little arms with them. And then, in my mind's eye, I pictured a warming block. Spirits were clustered around it—not in it, but around it—and each one had its arms filled with a warm glow. As I watched others joined them.

And then, in my mind's eye, I put the warming block beside the pot…and saw spirits flying from the pot, arms full of knocks and bangs, to the block. And as they approached it the knocks and bangs began to glow.

At that point Amelie interrupted me and pressed a cloth to my cheek, for I had cut myself without noticing.

I have been pondering this all day, sitting beside the stove in my workroom while Luc copies from my grimoire. I do not believe in my little airy spirits, of course, but there is something, some je ne sais quoi, that is shared by all of these things. I hardly know what to call it, or how it can be so.

The best word I have come up with is something like effort. It takes effort to move a sky-chair or a sky-ship. It takes effort to warm a bed. And, although my father taught me to think of hardening as a change in the substance of the thing hardened, it takes effort for a hardened plate or pot to resist knocks and bangs.

Or, no, I see now! I see it! It takes effort to produce the knocks and bangs! It takes effort on the part of an ox to pull a cart, and the cart is moved by it. The effort is produced by the ox, and transmitted to the cart through the yoke, and is so consumed.

And just so is the effort of banging the pot on the stove transmitted to the pot. This wears down a normal pot, which eventually requires the services of a tinker, but in a hardened pot it is somehow taken in, absorbed like this towel absorbs the water from my face. It is taken in, and the plate seems harder because of it.

The warming block receives effort from—where?—and somehow radiates it like warmth from a fire, and we feel it.

It almost seems as if the warming blocks are somehow drawing the absorbed effort away from the hardened dishes and turning it into warmth. Eventually the plates are not only not hardened, but even weakened! And then, because there is less effort available to them, the blocks give off less warmth.

Could it be that simple? I feel that there is something I am missing. Warming blocks should work properly even in the absence of hardened goods. And then, how did my sky-chairs work for so long, over so wide a region, only to start failing now?

I must re-read my grimoire and think deeply about everything it says in the light of these new ideas.

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Letters from Armorica- A Ray of Light (6 March 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It is fortunate that the weather has improved slightly over the last week, for now my warming blocks are failing—and we lost three more of our hardened dishes in the past week. It may simply be propinquity: we have all been spending much of our time in the kitchen. But these broke in the same odd way as the first dish, a week ago.

I have been trying and failing for the past week to make some sense of this. It has seemed to me that all of my forming has been failing—indeed, that it has a brief lifespan. And yet, my grimoire doesn't speak of this. Things once formed remain formed, so saith the masters of the past. Except mine. How to account for this?

I have spent sleepless hours shivering in bed, my head spinning with ever more outrageous notions. For a brief moment one night I convinced myself that it was a side effect of the scent Madame Truc has taken to wearing now that she is a married woman once again…except that, in strict point of fact, she hasn't. My weary mind has conjured up airy spirits who dwell in the grottoes of the hot springs, and who are jealous of my mastery of the sky. I picture them with little hammers and chisels, cutting carefully artless cracks into my plates and drawing the heat out my warming blocks by blowing on them with tiny bellows.

Why airy spirits would need tiny bellows to produce a draft, my waking mind cannot say. And when I blow on a warming block it has no discernible effect.

Today I took several of the warming blocks and the broken plates and an unbroken plate into my workshop for study. Young Luc shivered by the bench, arms wrapped round himself, and looked them over while I fired up the wood stoves for the first time in a week. That is Luc's job by right, but I was so bitterly cold that I preferred to do it myself.

Then we stared at the collection together—crumbling plates, lukewarm blocks. I saw nothing I hadn't seen before, and my mind was a curious blank.

After many minutes, Luc broke the silence. "Master," he said, "where does the warmth come from?"

I looked at him, puzzled. "What do you mean, 'Where does the warmth come from?' It comes from the block, of course."

He shook his head, pointing at the nearer stove. "We put wood in the stove, and we burn it and we warm up, but then after awhile the wood has gone to ash and I have to carry more in from outside, n'est-ce-pas? But the warming blocks don't burn up. D'où vient la chaleur?"

We looked at each other. Then we looked at the broken plates and their crumbling—dare I say, ashy?—edges.

But Luc wasn't finished. "And the sky-wagons. A normal wagon is pulled by beasts. Where does the pull come from in a sky-wagon?" I hadn't spoken with him about Marc's mishap with the sky-sled, but of course he'd been listening.

I thought furiously. "But the great sky-ships," I said. "They work on the same principle as my sky-wagons, but I have never heard of one with these problems. They do age in use because they include many common materials, but their formed parts last for decades. Sometimes, indeed, I believe they are removed and built into new vessels along the same lines."

Luc shrugged elaborately, as well he might.

"You have done well, young Luc," I told him. "Go tell Amelie I said that you might have some jam or some dried fruit, if there is any left this late in the winter."

I have been pondering his notions ever since, my mind whirling. It had never occurred to me before to wonder how forming achieves its effects. One simply does this, and if one has the knack and the skill then that is the result. But Luc is right. How is that a sky-ship, like the Lombard that brought me to Armorica, can go on flying for decades, taking on no fuel; but a common ox has to be fed daily to pull a wagon?

I have much to think on.

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Letters from Armorica- Shattering Experiences (1 March 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have spent the last week brooding over Marc's accident with the sky-sled. I still do not understand what could have gone wrong.

The forming required to make it work is straightforward, if unconventional; the basic techniques were all in my father's grimoire. I woke in the middle of the night earlier this week wondering if I could have copied his grimoire entries incorrectly—indeed, in a dream I remembered just the page and the exact mistake that I had made—but of course the dream made no sense when I awoke, and as my father checked my efforts and beat me if I copied his words incorrectly—

I have written myself into a tangle. The point is, Dear Journal, that any mistakes would have been caught at that time and corrected.

Might my father have made mistakes? It is possible, I suppose, but my father received most of the pages in his grimoire from his master, and he from his, and so on back; and my father was a stickler for training me as he had been trained. The pages my father added on his own are of course less reliable than those of his predecessors; if a former finds an error or a new wrinkle on an existing page he is encouraged to add marginal notes, notes which will be copied into the main text by his apprentices. But come to think of it, my father has added precious few pages, and few marginal notes either. He despises innovation, and he has always been too intent on acquiring power within the guild to spend much time on research.

No, my grimoire is complete and correct, so far as it goes; but of course there are things that neither my father nor his masters knew, and also things his master's master's masters might have known but failed to write down, either because they were secret or because they were commonplace, but now forgotten. I must look elsewhere for a solution.

A few nights ago I retrieved my sky-sled from its hiding place, and tested it within the confines of my workshop. It appears to work perfectly—though I confess I did not raise myself more than a foot or two from the floor, and of course I could not go far or quickly. In all ways it appears to function normally.

How I wish Marc had retrieved the broken pieces of his sled and brought them home with him! In point of fact he burned them rather than carry them or leave them lying about, a decision that I quite understand and might, in other circumstances, applaud. And, of course, it helped him avoid freezing, which I quite approve of. But it is most inconvenient.

I should also like to investigate the remaining sky-chairs and wagons…but I dare not use my sled to fly to L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau, nor indeed would I trust a new sky-chair to take me there in safety until I understand what is going on. And I do not at all understand what is going on—if anything; I suppose it is possible that there was a flaw in that one sky-sled.

I had nearly persuaded myself that this must be the case. And then my Amelie came to my workshop this afternoon, carrying in her apron the fragments of a plate she had dropped. It was a plate I had specially hardened for her quite some time ago now. And yet when dropped it had shattered. Or, rather, it didn't shatter. It broke into large pieces, but the broken edges are soft and I can easily crumble them into a powder with my forefinger.

Of course I immediately examined all of the other dishes in the kitchen. The plates and other vessels that we use daily are strong enough; I tried to smash one on the stones of the hearth and was quite unable.

Was this another bungled effort on my part? But hardening plates is a trivial matter for even a journeyman former, and I have never heard of a hardened plate breaking like this. Am I that incompetent? Or is there something else going on? I am unsure.

The broken plate was a large serving plate we had not used for some time, we rarely having need for a dish so large during the winter months. Amelie had taken it down from the shelf of the china cabinet to clean it—I've no idea why, as the fragments look perfectly clean to me—and it slipped from her fingers and shattered on the floor.

I do not know what to make of this. Did I fail to harden it properly? Is it something to do with not being used? My father and the other masters regularly harden cooking vessels for use by their own households, and as a distinct favor for a very few others; there may well be more hardened dishes in Bois-de-Bas than there are in all of Yorke. And while they could make sky-sleds and wagons as I have, they never do, but confine their efforts to much larger, more expensive items such as sky-ships…which are always made in the classic way.

What do they know that I do not? What did their masters know that they do not?

In the meantime I have something new to keep me awake at night. No one will flying one of my sky-chairs; they are safely out of reach, which is a great and glorious thing. So long as that was the case, I could treat this as an interesting problem to gnaw on and perhaps solve some day. But now I dread the day, a day I fear is not far off, when the housewives of Bois-de-Bas will descend on my workshop demanding that I replace the hardened dishes I made for them. I had best have an answer or my stock in Bois-de-Bas will be low indeed.

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Letters from Armorica- Technical Difficulties (20 February 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I had a troubling visit from Marc Frontenac this noon. Several days ago he received a seeker arrow with word of renewed enemy activity from Camp du Bûcherons, one of our neighboring villages. The notion struck me as quite unlikely, and so it seemed to him as well. Le Maréchal's forces left Amorica months ago, according to our latest news, and seem to be on the run from the Cumbrians; and even if that should have changed, any troops sent to Armorica by either side should have no call to be skulking about in these hinterlands, but would appear openly in Mont-Havre. In any event it is hardly the season for campaigning, not with the snow ten feet deep.

But Marc felt he must check it out; and, what with the snow ten feet deep, he retrieved his sky-sled from its hiding place and used it for his journey. Or, rather he tried. About a mile from Camp du Bûcherons his sled dropped out of the air, plunging him into a snow drift. He had found that if he went too high or too fast he could not keep warm, so he was moving slowly, and low to the ground, and it is fortunate that he or would have been killed. As it is the sled broke in two, but he himself suffered only a few scrapes.

He struggled the rest of the way to the village, where he was not best pleased to discover it was a false alarm: a hunter had gotten drunk and started to see things that weren't there. The villagers were embarrassed, of course, and to make up for it one of them drove him back to Bois-de-Bas in his sleigh yesterday. And today he came to see me.

He was understandably distressed and irate, as well he should be. For my part

I have no idea why the sled should have failed, and I shudder as I think about the sky-wagons that carried my wife and daughter from L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau back to Bois-de-Bas. What if they had fallen out of the sky?

I must never forget that I am in uncharted territory in this work I am doing: formers have not made these kinds of things before, or if they have (as the presence of our sky-ships argues that they must have) then they long ago ceased to do so. Why, when they are so obviously useful? Is it that they cannot be made safe? If so, why have the reasons not been recorded? And why do sky-ships function and my sky-sled fail?

I have much to think on; and I am more grateful than I can express that Marc and I chose to sequester all of the sky-wagons, chairs, and sleds out of reach on L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau until a more opportune time.

I do not believe I shall sleep well tonight.

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Letters from Armorica-Penny Dreadfuls (12 February 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Today has been particularly quiet for a Sonnedi, for it has been deeply, deeply cold these last days, colder than I've ever seen it here in Bois-de-Bas. Everyone has remained at home, mostly huddled in one room for warmth—even in households with more than one wood-stove or hearth, for the firewood must be made to stretch until spring.

The Sunday routine has been the main constant in my life in Bois-de-Bas—divine service in the Church, Sonnedi dinner with friends, and then, of course, the hot springs—but today that routine was broken. Were Pére Georges still with us everyone would have come to Mass regardless of effort, but as he left on Lundi well before the weather turned, our service was but sparsely attended. Madame Truc was most shocked, but as Amelie said to me, one cannot miss Mass when there is no Mass.

Then, after services, M. Gagnon sadly informed us that he and Mme. Gagnon would not be hosting midday dinner, as the temperature in their dining room was below freezing and they dared not heat it. It would have been a sad disappointment had it been a surprise. And then, most tellingly, no one went out to the hot springs. At least, we didn't; and none of those I met at Church were planning to do so either.

Everyone gathers in one room, I say; and that room is usually the kitchen. If you plan to keep only one room heated and one fire lit, it makes sense that it is the room where the food is! That is what we did: Amelie and Anne-Marie and I, and Madame and Jacques-le-Souris, and young Luc. It is not a large room, but we made do, with Amelie and Anne-Marie near the stove and the rest of us at the kitchen table. I had Luc collect the heating blocks from each of the beds in the house, and by keeping them by us I am sure we were much cozier than average for Bois-de-Bas.

Well, except for Patches the Demon-Goat, I suppose, who remained outside in her pen; but as her pen is now insulated by drifted snow, and she herself by her new goat armor, I suppose even Patches is cozier than average.

There are always little tasks to be done, even in winter, even indoors; but today being Sonnedi we instead passed the time by making as merry as we could. Indeed, we spent most of the day by taking turns reading aloud from some of the books we received from my friend M. Fournier in Mont-Havre.

I would have preferred something Cumbrian, some Dikkons or perhaps Thomas Becker, and perhaps Amelie might have as well. But Luc has only been learning his letters this past month, and in his native Provençese—though of course he will need to learn to read and write in Cumbrian as well. As he has been most diligent, Amelie insisted that we read something suitable to his age and taste, which is to say one of the Provençese penny dreadfuls M. Fournier acquired for us from M. Harte. I regret to say that these books are also suitable to Amelie's age and taste, for she devoured them once they arrived and returns to them often.

For our first book she picked Janvier et le Mouron Pourpre, a tale of attempted assassination, swordplay, and romance set in a past and most unsettled age of Provençese history. Janvier, I may say, isn't the first month of the year, but rather the name of the hero, Michel Janvier, a dashing swordsman and member of the royal guard. The author (if I may use so exalted a term) has penned many books about Janvier, all with titles that begin with Janvier et: Janvier et le Empoisonneur de Gascon, Janvier et le Crapaud Argent, and Janvier et la Mademoiselle du Morte being but three others that came in the same shipment. The books are stirring, lurid, and soon read, and having finished one, one soon wants to begin the next, that is, if one can stomach them at all.

The volume in question concerned a highwayman known as le Mouron Pourpre, the "Purple Pimpernel". This worthy began his career of crime by rudely accosting minor Provençese nobles in their carriages and relieving them of their goods. This was just in the nature of things in those days, and caused but little comment; but when he began robbing them in their homes, and then, during one such invasion, abducted a young lady, a near relative of the Duc d'Avignon, le Roi sent his favored agent, Michel Janvier to find her and put a stop to the Pimpernel's doings. Our hero discovered a vast scheme to assassinate le Roi and see Michel hanged for it, but of course he put a stop to it at the last minute, running the Pimpernel through with his sword and rapier wit, before carrying the young lady back to Toulouse with a smile and a leer.

I believe it was meant to be rapier wit; but perhaps the author simply failed to remove the training button from the point of the rapier.

I say we took turns reading, but mostly it was Amelie and me. When I passed the book to Jacques he just smiled and passed it along to Madame Truc; and when Madame Truc came to the passage in which our Michel flirts with the serving girl in the tavern in Saint Rémy she turned bright red and handed the book back to me.

"Such a thing in my house, I would never tolerate," she said. "It is of all things the most scandalous." Jacques just chuckled.

Luc turned bright red as well, I noticed, and neither he nor Madame would look at me as I finished out the scene. It was mild enough for all that, but strong drink for those not accustomed.

And so we passed the day, finishing that book and one more, in which Michel Janvier foils yet another obscure and overcomplicated scheme to bring down le Roi; and when we were done I left the two books on the corner of the table rather than returning them to the bookcase in the parlor. If I am not tempting young Luc to virtue, at least I may tempt him to read!

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Letters from Armorica- Goat Handles (9 February 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It is now deep winter; the snow is piled high around the houses, we live by lantern light all the day, and we visit each other by walking through tunnels in the snow. Only when we get out of the village proper can we travel about up in the light—when the day is fine, which often it isn't, and so mostly we don't. There's not much to do: we get few deliveries for the shop this time of year, having to make do with what's in store (which is why we have such a large store-room). My forming work is easy, being limited only by the raw materials I have at hand and my own know-how, so I am busy enough; but for the most part we in Bois-de-Bas spend our time working on small things and visiting each other to complain about the weather.

As a result, my crew of older men who play checkers and gossip in the front part of my workshop is if anything larger in bad weather than in fine, though it takes them a little longer to gather. If I go down first thing I can usually count on having the workshop to myself for an hour or so, except for Luc asleep under the bench.

I was much taken aback, then, to enter my workshop this morning and discover that the pot-bellied stove in the front of the shop was already quite hot (for we bank it at night); and not only that, the settee was occupied by a reclining form wrapped in a blanket. We do not lock our doors at night in Bois-de-Bas, so anyone might have entered in search of shelter, and welcome to it; but why not come to the front door? The settee is comfortable enough to sit on, for a hard wooden bench, but I should not like to sleep on it.

The figure roused as I entered, and sat up; and I found that it was Jacques-le-Souris. The freshly married Jacque-le-Souris, who should have been in bed in quite another part of the house altogether with his new bride, Madame Truc.

Though I suppose she is no longer Madame Truc, but to call her Madame Le Souris is unthinkable (Madame not being mouse-like in the slightest) and also wrong, because "le-Souris" is only a nick name. In fact, I have just this minute realized that I do not know what Jacques' full name really is. How odd.

For a man who had spent at least part of the night on a wooden settee, Jacques looked surprisingly cheerful.

"Eh, I know, Armand," he said placidly. "It is her way. Back in Mont-Havre, you remember, she would send me down to a lower spot at the table when she was displeased with me, or cast me out altogether for a day or two. Now, all she can do is make me sleep somewhere else." He shrugged. "We are who we are, even now that we are married. C'est bon."

"But what did you—never mind, Jacques. Best you return to bed, before Amelie rises. Perhaps Madame will have forgiven you by now."

He nodded, and gathering his blankets about him he made his way from the room as dignified as a prophet.

After that I rousted out Luc and sent him to go feed Patches the goat, snug in her new pen, and got to work. We broke our fasts an hour or so later, when Amelie rose, and it was late morning before I realized how quiet my workshop was. Luc was in the main shop for his lessons with Amelie; Jacques was presumably still in bed; and none of my other gentlemen had appeared.

What could be keeping them? Had the snow tunnel to our porch collapsed? It had been a cold, quiet night, with no new snow, so far as I could tell. I went to the front door of my workshop to take a look, and when I opened the door, I found Patches the goat reclining on the porch with her back to it. She looked up at me with her weird goat eyes and made that horrible rasping noise she makes; and then, to my horror, begin to get to her feet. I slammed the door.

"Luc!" I called.

"Oui, monsieur?" came his voice from next door, followed by the sound of footsteps. He opened the door from Amelie's shop and stuck his head through.

"Luc, did you leave the goat pen open?"

His eyes got big.

"O non, monsieur. Jamais! Patches, she is fierce!"

"She is also on the porch. Go get your gear and take her back to her pen."

He took a deep breath. "Oui, monsieur."

That was one mystery solved, but several more in its place. First, how was Patches getting out of her pen? Second, how to keep Patches in her pen? Third, how to keep her from terrorizing my neighbors when she did get out?

I sat down on the settee by the pot-bellied stove, and pondered. I'd been considering the problem as a sometime keeper-of-goats; perhaps it was time to consider the problem as a master former.

Perhaps I could harden her pen in some way, to prevent her from doing whatever it was she was doing to escape? But more importantly, since locking down the pen was liable to involve much trial-and-error, how could I mitigate her nasty horns and highly abrasive coat in the meantime, so that she would less of a danger to the clothing, skin, and flesh of anyone who mer her unprepared?

The second being the more pressing problem, I found some scraps of leather and got to work; and by early afternoon I'd found a solution. I called Luc, we both donned our protective gear, and we went out and measured her. We escaped bruised but otherwise unharmed. Then I got busy with shears and Amelie's heaviest thread and needle, while perusing a few pages of my grimoire that I had never thought to actually use; and at the end of the day, we dragged Patches back to her pen (for she'd gotten out again) and dressed her in her new garments of hardened leather.

I say "hardened," but that's misleading because I had taken care to keep the leather supple. "Strengthened" might be a better word; or perhaps, "goat proof". Patches now wore a kind of surcoat of leather on her body, attached by hardened straps around her front and middle so that there was no way for her to rid herself of it. Now bumping up against someone would no longer tear holes in their garments.

I'd also attached close-fitting leather covers to her horns and hooves, hiding the sharpness away from the world. The horn covers I attached permanently, bonding them to the horn; and better still they were joined at the top by a length of hardened wood wrapped in hardened leather, so that horns and handle made a kind of upside-down "U" shape. A similar wooden handle was affixed to her leather surcoat approximately in the middle of her back, giving the unlucky goat tender two convenient handholds by which to drag her back to her pen.

When we were finished, Patches looked like nothing anyone had ever seen before; but I am confident that she presents much less of a risk to others.

I shall have to find some better solution before the weather warms up, as I fear that wearing the leather coat will be bad for her in the heat; but this will be a help while we figure out how to escape-proof her pen.

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Letters from Armorica- A Wedding (5 February 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have been remiss, quite completely remiss, in not recording the on-going story of Madame Truc and Jacques-le-Souris. Not that you care, of course; but myself, in the future, I will want to remember the details.

Looking back, I see that it was almost a month ago that I suggested to Jacques that perhaps Madame Truc had been waiting for him to declare himself. He did, I gather, in his fumble-fingered way; and there followed a week of searching gazes and pondering expressions (and much less banter and badinage than I am used to from them). Amelie and I pretended not to notice, of course, and it was by mere chance that I happened to overhear the denouement, as it were.

"Jacques," cried Madame Truc, "what is it you are doing? Following me about, with the greatest constancy, adjusting the chairs and offering me pillows? It is of the most tiresome!"

Jacques' response was abashed, most unlike him, but I mentally applauded him for his perseverance:

"But, Madame Truc, je t'aime, n'est-ce-pas?"

"Naturellement, petit Jacques, for who could not? It is of all things the most reasonable," she said. "I see that I must give into your demands, or peace, there will be none for me! But you must stop this foolish pillowing behavior."

But of course it wasn't that simple, for Madame Truc was a fine lady from Mont-Havre, and she knew what was due her, she did, and so she told him. It was fine for Amelie and I to marry in quite a fly-by-night way (as indeed we did, for the village conspired that Amelie and I should spend the night under the same roof during a snowstorm, which would quite ruin her reputation if we did not marry post haste; and so we stood up together in the Church the next Sonnedi, and did so again some months later when next the priest came to Bois-de-Bas). For we were young and foolish and rash, she said. But Madame Truc was a grown woman, she was, and was not about to rush into anything!

And so they announced to us over supper a couple of weeks ago that they planned to marry "as soon as is convenable"; and then poor Jacques had to pack his things and go off and stay with Marc and Elise on the farm, for Madame Truc would not remain a single night under the same roof with him until they were wed properly, by a priest, for she had her reputation to think of!

It is really a thing of the most foolish, as Madame herself would say; for she has lived under the same roof as Jacques-le-Souris these many years, and no one would doubt the devotion the pair have for each other. And more, Madame's reputation is quite strong enough, even after such a short time as she has been in Bois-de-Bas, to overcome any number of social proprieties. She is a force of nature, she is, and the folk of our village are accustomed to paying all due respect to such, living closer to nature than do the folks of Mont-Havre. And indeed, making the announcement in Church of a Sonnedi is really all that local proprieties require!

But that was not good enough; and so I breathed a sigh of relief when Pére Georges arrived in Bois-de-Bas yesterday. We never know when to expect him, for his circuits depend on the weather and many other things; but he was here, and sooner than I would have expected. Amelie immediately went to Madame Truc and told her that she and Jacques could be wed the following day.

"So soon? But my trousseau, it is quite unfinished."

"Nevertheless," said my Amelie with great firmness. "For it is the most unfair to keep poor Jacques waiting, now that Pére Georges has come. I saw him in Armand's workshop yesterday, and he looked quite miserable to be parted from you like this!"

And so Madame Truc and Jacques-le-Souris made their vows today, and are sharing a room; and it is to be hoped that tomorrow I shall be able to resume the use of my study.

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