Author Archives: Will Duquette

Letters from Armorica, 14 Mai 34AF

Dear Journal,

I am amazed and astonished. As a journeyman former, I am used to managing and applying forces beyond the knowledge of most men—and yet until to this day I have never appreciated the force available to the women of a village when properly moved.

Mme. Pôquerie came to the shop last Vendredi with another saucepan for me to harden, and finding me at the counter she naturally asked after Amelie; and after assuring her of Amelie's good health I happened to grumble a bit about the nursery she is planning. Mme. Pôquerie gave me quite the look and began to remonstrate with me in the most vigorous terms. (I have noticed that my neighbors are unstinting in both praise and censure when either is justly earned.) How could I deny her, the mother of my child, her joy in preparing for the coming arrival? It was only a few more months—did I not not wish to be ready? Fool of a man!

The flow continued for some moments until I explained that the nursery was my only workshop, as Amelie had forbidden me to work in the parlor after one of my experiments had smashed a pitcher that had belonged to her mother—not that I was complaining about that, I hastened to say, for she was quite right to do so—but that if I was to continue to harden pots and other such-like small chores, I needed a place in which to do it. Didn't she agree? For I could not do such work in the nursery. What if I were to smash the baby's cradle? Or worse yet, the baby?

And Mme. Pôquerie stopped, and blinked at me, and considered, and asked me several searching and intelligent questions about how much space I would need. I was able to state my requirements most precisely, for this has been much on my mind.

"Bon!" she said at last, and marched out of the shop, and I wiped the sweat from my forehead. I thought nothing of it until this morning, when a large team of men from all over the village, including Marc and Onc' Herbert, appeared at our door to begin construction.

The shop is at one end of our home, with the storeroom behind it; I had contemplated adding a workroom behind the main part of the house off of the storeroom, filling in the inner part of the "L", as it were. But my neighbors had other ideas. My work as a former was part of my business, and should be treated as such. A good workman works in the open, they said, where his customers can see, for he has nothing to hide; and in any event, and with the baby coming, my new workroom needed to be convenient to the shop counter.

I know what my father would say about a former working "in the open"; for he is most jealous of the secrets of his "art". But I have discovered that it is no good arguing with my neighbors about this kind of thing.

In short order, then, and with my help, for I was put to work tout de suite, the party cleared the space next to the left of the existing shop and began construction of a second shop, complete with counter, equal in size to the first and communicating with it by two doors, one in front of the counter and one behind it. No design work was needed; for they had the original shop right to hand, and anyway, I was assured, they all knew what was right and proper, having done this before. The main difference between the new shop and the old is that the space behind the counter will be my workspace, rather than being filled with shelves and cupboard.

The whole whirlwind has left me quite breathless. It is not at all how things would have been done in Yorke, as I know quite well. In Yorke there would be the summoning of the architect, and the choosing of the draperies, and all manner of visits to furniture makers and rug merchants, and delights of condescension to the artisans one determined to favor with one's patronage. The process would take weeks or even months before construction began. And yet here we are, less than a week after I first mentioned my needs in public!

The work is not quite complete, of course. The roof is not on yet, and I must order glazing for the windows, and a wood-burning stove; and M. Pôquerie, who is the village's cabinet-maker, has promised me a stout workbench and some storage bins and the like. But structurally the new shop will be completed by the end of the week, and my order for the items not available in Bois-de-Bas will be on its way to Mont-Havre. The painting they are leaving to me—for it would not do for me to have la gross tête, as Onc' Herbert slyly told me.

We shall have to pay for it all, of course—for the materials, I mean, and the skilled work. (The unskilled work I shall have to repay, clearly enough, the next time a work party is called.) It astonishes me that they have done the rest on credit. But my neighbors have a shrewd notion of how much I make per pot, and how many pots remain unhardened in Bois-de-Bas; and if they don't yet know what else I can do they are certain that a man who can harden saucepans must have other valuable capabilities.

For my part, I am much moved by their friendliness and their confidence in me. Amelie tells me I am being most foolish. Am I not her husband? Of course they have confidence in me, for she is no fool, you know, to have married a worthless layabout, and everyone knows it.

She said this to me just now, as she sits by me, knitting by the fire. Knitting by the fire! What a marvelous thing.

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Letters from Armorica, 6 Mai 34Af

Mon cher M. Suprenant,

Many thanks for your speedy response!

So, M. le Gouverneur has received a visitor from le Maréchal, inviting Armorica to contribute to the Provençese war effort. I wish I was surprised, but I have been fearing this. Just for your eyes, and I suppose you may wish to burn this, I may say that there is little if any support for le Maréchal's ambitions here in Bois-de-Bas. My neighbors are almost all of Provençese origin, and have the liveliest respect and admiration for the culture and traditions of their motherland; but on the other hand all of them chose to leave that motherland and come here, those who were not born here. I do believe that if Cumbria were the aggressor, wantonly striking at Toulouse, they would be eager to repel the invaders; but as it is, they regard le Maréchal as an upstart and as a disturber of the peace.

It is a pity, as you say, that le Maréchal's depredations have so impacted the abyssal trade routes, not least as I have not been able to send a letter to my people at home since the troubles began. And yet, in strife there is opportunity. I think that we here in Bois-de-Bas might indeed be able to provide replacements for one or two of the items you mention which are no longer available from abroad. Not, perhaps, in sufficient quantity to make up the lack, but enough to do both you and I some good. Now that I have your little list I shall make the rounds of my friends and neighbors to determine the precise quantities that might be available. Our next wagoneer leaves for Mont-Havre several days from now, and I shall try to have the information for you by then. If so I shall include it under a separate cover.

I am surprised and concerned by what you tell me of the Mont-Havre Former's Guild. I cannot doubt you; and yet I am sure that there is a place in Mont-Havre that bears that name, a small building on the Rue de Lapins, for haven't I walked past it countless times while I was in your service? There is a small sign fixed by the door: La Confrerie des Thaumaturges de Mont-Havre, with a date near 12 AF. And yet you tell me that there is no Former's Guild in Mont-Havre. Of your kindness, can you explain this mystery to me?

I remain your obedient servant,

Armand Tuppenny

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Letters from Armorica— 21 Avril 34AF

Mon cher M. Suprenant,

Joyeuse Pâques to you and your family!

As you may have heard from Mme. Truc, I appear to be firmly ensconced here in Bois-de-Bas. In point of fact I have married a local girl, the shopkeeper's daughter, and we have a child coming. It seems that Bois-de-Bas is now my home.

As the local shopkeeper, I am also the primary importer of goods to our little village; and I handle the majority of shipping back to Mont-Havre as well, though some of our larger farmers transport their own goods at harvest time. Usually we simply bring our goods to market and sell to the highest bidder. But I was impressed with the extent of your commercial interests while in your employ, and also with your integrity, and I have been wondering whether it would be in our interests here in Bois-de-Bas to come to some agreement with you.

I recognize, of course, that all commerce is curtailed due to the Maréchal's war, but I believe it is not too early to begin building the necessary relationships. I have attached a list of the many good things we produce hereabouts, and another of the kinds of things we need. Perhaps you might guide us as to the things we might most profitably send your way?

Also, I have a favor to ask. Would you be so kind as to provide me with the direction of the Former's Guildhouse in Mont-Havre?

Your obedient servant,

Armand Tuppenny

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Letters from Armorica— 6 Avril 34AF

Dear Journal,

Spring—le printemps, I mean to say—is here, and what I have feared has come to pass. The snow has melted, at least in most places; the hot springs are once again readily accessible; the plants are starting to grow; the village green will soon be green instead of muddy brown; and Amelie's friends are bringing me their cooking pots.

I suppose it was inevitable, once word got out that I am a member of the Former's Guild. Marc passed that bit of news to Onc' Herbert last fall, and we discussed during that significant interview in that little chamber at the hot springs; and Onc' Herbert may have had need to refer to it while the men of the village discussed me and my presence among them that afternoon. But he may well have held his tongue, for I got no hint of it from anyone all winter long.

But then I made the mistake of mending one of Amelie's pots.

Mistake? No, that's too harsh a word. I simply didn't think about it. The sauce pan needed mending, and I used my skills to attend to it. And having done that, it was only natural to harden the others; and in not very long, my beloved had a complete set of well-formed cookware.

It was normal while I was growing up: if ever the cook had need of a new stew pot or sauce pan or what have you, she would purchase an ordinary one; and then Father would send one of his apprentices to harden it. Often enough that was me. No tinkers ever called at our house, for our pots never needed mending!

It wasn't until I was older that I discovered the prices that well-formed cookware could command. It was never available in the shops, even in Yorke, but only bespoke; and then usually only as a personal favor, for formers are few and their time is in great demand. It was seldom available on the open market. But if ever a great house were broken up and its contents sold, the resulting auctions were a thing to see.

So when one of Amelie's pots began to leak I mended it and hardened it without thinking; and then, of course, I did the others; and then, of course, she bragged about it to her friends. Which I hadn't forbidden her to do, mind you; I hadn't even thought about it. And why shouldn't she be proud of her husband?

But now I have the ladies of the village coming to the shop with their pots, and I don't know where that will end. Not the flow of pots, I mean, for the supply of pots in Bois-de-Bas is necessarily limited. But what else will they come up with for me to do?

And yet I cannot turn them away. Bois-de-Bas is my home now, the place that took me in when I was in need, and these are Amelie's friends, the young women she has grown up with, and their mothers. I cannot deny them.

I tried to do the work for free, for it is easy enough, but they will have none of that. They know what a mended pot is worth—to them, at least—and that an ever-lasting pot is worth even more, and so they insist on paying. And I, I am a shopkeeper now. What am I to do, turn away their coins and goods? That is no way to stay in business!

But it feels wrong, counter to everything my father tried to drum into me about the "professional standards of the Guild." I've rejected much of his teaching, but I still feel it.

I have often thought that an enterprising young former could make quite a good living from cookware, if it didn't mean forgoing even more lucrative work—and if the Guild didn't censure the young fellow for "lowering standards," as they certainly would have had I pulled this in Yorke. But here I am, doing exactly that. The Good Lord alone knows what will happen if the Guild in Mont-Havre comes to learn of it. Or, rather, when. It is a small chapter, in a young colony; perhaps the masters there have had to make their own compromises with professional standards. But that is a problem for another day.

And yet I am happy, too. I am helping my neighbors; I am pleasing Amelie, always a joy; and I am getting paid for it, if not the extravagant fees I would command in Yorke. (My neighbors have no notion of what I could charge in Yorke or Toulouse, or even in Mont-Havre.) I am doing well by doing good, as they say. And if it means that I can afford to build that work-room sooner rather than later, well. It might not be such an extravagance as I thought.

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Letters from Armorica— 18 Mars 34AF

Dear Journal,

I've done it! I've built a sky-boat big enough to carry a single person with full control. It is an odd design, mind you, and I may call it a sky-boat only by courtesy; it looks more like a cross between a sedan chair and a four-poster bed. It is not a thing of beauty, being knocked together out of rough scraps of wood, but it works!

At the bottom is a crate, not to put to fine a point on it, longer than it is wide, with the control levers built into one end and a seat at the other. Stout uprights rise from the four corners to above the rider's head, and support an arrangement of crossbars that correspond to the gunwales on my earlier models.

It is these crossbars that provide the lift; and since all of the weight hangs below them the craft is perfectly stable without any need for a vertical stabilizer. Or nearly; I suppose it may rock a bit in the wind, depending on how it is laden. We shall see. But it is easy to get into, at least when it is resting on the floor, and it seems stable enough.

I built it in Amelie's old bedroom (for we have moved into her father's room, it having the larger bed), having moved her bedstead and other furnishings into the store room. I could not build the sky-boat in the store room, it is too crowded already, and also far too cold this time of year to work in for any length of time; and my dearest Amelie forbid me to build any full-scale models in the parlor, for which I can hardly fault her.

The conveyance nearly fills the room; but if I climb into it and work the controls I am able to rise into the air, to make it turn in place through an entire circle, and to move into each corner. As such I regard it as a perfect success!

No doubt I will find other details that require attention when the weather warms up and I am able to build another in another locale; for in my haste and eagerness I neglected to consider that I should have to take it to pieces in order to remove it from the room in which it sits.

Had I been more foresighted, I might have been able to form it in such a way that it could be made to come apart. I say might, for it is the usual goal in things of this nature to form the desired object as a coherent whole. But with a bit of mechanical ingenuity (a skill most disdained by my esteemed father) it might be possible to form the lifting and control elements as a single body, and simply suspend a carrier from them.

I can see that I shall have to procure help from my neighbors if I wish to scale this up to something that will carry multiple people in safety; and at the very least I shall need to extend the house with a workroom—a workroom with large doors to the outside! And it shall have to be properly heated, by a fireplace or possible a wood stove, for Winter is by far the best time to devote to matters of this kind.

I feel quite extravagant pondering any such addition, but Amelie has agreed to it; and I shall not have use of the old bedroom for much longer, even if it were a convenient space, for my beloved has just informed me that we shall quite soon need it as a nursery!

I am so pleased I can hardly sit still. And shortly after spring has come and I can work outside, I shall rebuild my conveyance and pay a visit to the floating island to the north!

photo credit: Timothy Neesam (GumshoePhotos) PEI coastline via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica— 27 Fevrier 34AF

Dear journal,

After many, many trials, I now have a functioning working model of a sky-boat. It has taken longer than I hoped; the details in my grimoire are far sketchier than I had realized. All of the needed techniques are described adequately, but fitting them all together in one device is tricky.

But I have done it!

My model is far from lovely, with none of the attractive lines of the sky-yachts I saw at home in Yorke. It is a plain wooden box in appearance, about a foot long, with four-inch dowels stick up from the four corners. The tiller and other controls are inside, which is the reason for the dowels—I have too many models stuck to the ceiling already. With this one, I have a gap between the ceiling and the model's gunwale so that I can get my fingers inside to make adjustments.

Of course, the moment I enabled the model's lift it rose to the ceiling and got hung up on one of the rafters, the dowels rising up on either side of the rafter. The width of the rafter blocked my hands, and quite prevented me from reaching the lifting bar. Still, all was not lost! I had just room to get a grip on the gunwales on either side, and then I could use my weight to pull the model down far enough to adjust the lift to something more reasonable. I gather from Amelie's titters that I looked quite comical dangling from the model and drifting from around the room as I tried to get it under control. I must say, I am impressed at how much lift even a small model can generate!

After that, though, I found that I was able to adjust the model to hold position anywhere in the room, and I was able to set its speed and direction and watch it glide slowly from one end of the room to the other. I had great fun loading it up with nails and bars of soap to show that it could carry a load.

The hardest part of the whole thing has been the forming of the stabilizer. The boat lifts from its gunwales, and being of shallow draft has a tendency to flip over onto its belly if it is loaded too high. This is not much of a concern for the larger sky-ships, but is a considerable issue for a small boat intended to carry individuals. The stabilizer solves the problem, but has two defects, for my purposes. First, it is the single most difficult thing to form. I don't know why that should be, but it is. Second, it takes up too much room! It goes right in the center of the boat, and extends vertically from about the level of the gunwales to about a full hull-height below the hull.

This will be less of a problem in a full-sized sky-boat, but still vastly inconvenient, especially when it comes time to ground it. I should much rather have a nice flat bottom for it to rest on! I suppose I could add grounding legs…but I shall have to ponder.

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Letters from Armorica— 5 Fevrier 34 AF

Dear Journal,

Today was a surprise. Now that I live with Amelie in the village, Onc' Herbert has of course needed to send others to the village in the cart to get supplies—in the sleigh, rather, at this time of year. And today he sent Marc and Elise.

It was a fine winter morning. We have had no new snow for a week, nor any clouds, so the air was bright and cold. We can't see that from within the shop, of course, being buried up to the eaves, so Amelie and I stepped out for a few minutes to walk to the church and then up into the open air to enjoy the sunshine.

When the weather is clear for days on end, the young lads of the village make benches and settees and chairs out of snow on the green before the church—just where the trestles are set out on a Sunday afternoon in the warmer part of the year, but on a level with the eaves of the church. And then their elders go out with blankets on fine days and sit on the them, and that is what we did, with a thick rug of grand-blaireau fur beneath us, and another wrapped around us, only our eyes peeking out.

It is a grand prospect, sitting there. The village is on rising ground, built around the green with our shop at the lower end and the church at the upper end. We could see the roof and chimneys of our shop poking through the snow, and just the cross stroke of the "T" in Tuppenny on the sign—for further snows had obscured it after I put it up afresh. We could see the steam from the hot springs curling up from the grottos off to our right. And there, not quite so far to the right, lies the road out to Onc' Herbert's farm. One can't see the whole road, for it is obscured by trees here and there, but it had been travelled enough since the last snow that the one could easily make out the line of it.

Amelie saw the sleigh first. "It is your friends," she said. "For is that not the sleigh of Herbert de Néant?"

"How can you tell?"

She shrugged under the blanket. "You will see. O! And it is Marc and Elise Frontenac, for I see her red cap. They will stop at our shop, so we must be ready."

She was wrong—but only because Marc saw us gathering up our furs and drove the sleigh straight up the green—something one would never do in summer.

"All is quiet on the farm," he said, "and so Onc' Herbert has given us leave to come to dinner!"

"But do not fear," said Elise, clambering out the sleigh and embracing Amelie. "For we come bringing gifts!" And so they had, cheese, and fine sausage of goat meat, and so I had my revenge on the goats at last.

I shall always remember that dinner, which began with much laughter in the kitchen as Elise and Amelie prepared the meal and ended many hours later when, the sun approaching the horizon, we bundled the Frontenacs back into their sleigh for the mule to take home. I hope it is but the first of many like it.

It wasn't until later, as we were preparing for bed, that it occurred to me that Amelie and Elise had greeted each other as old friends. And then it occurred to me that they are of an age, and that the women of the village have their afternoons in the hot springs just as the men do, and it was with an even stronger sense of having been managed—and no little satisfaction—that I put the hot stones into the foot of the bed and climbed in beside my beloved wife. I am lucky to have such friends.

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Letters from Armorica— 15 Janvier 34 AF

Dear Journal,

Amelie's father has passed. He died in the night, in his bed, with Amelie by his side.

It was not a surprise, not for any of us. He had been growing weaker by the day, and for the past week I have had to carry him to his seat by the fire each morning. He wanted to be there, where he could see us. He did not speak during his last days, but I think….I think he was no longer worried about Amelie, or about me, for he smiled at me when I laid him in his bed yesternight.

I was making tea when Amelie called my name, and hurried into his room. She was holding his hand, but the light had gone from his eyes. We sat there until dawn; then I went to tell the Tremblay's, and fetch help.

He cannot be buried this time of year, of course; the snow lies deep over the graveyard behind the little church. But there is a grotto nearby where he may lie safe and dry in his coffin until spring comes, and then he shall be laid to rest. It is bittersweet to think that the same priest who blesses our marriage will also bless his grave, and likely on the same day.

We carried him to the grotto, I and five other men of the village, attended by Amelie and the rest of those living close by; and then we returned home and sat by the fire in our chairs.

I was staring at the little models of wood dotting the ceiling, staring but not seeing them for thoughts of my father-in-law, when Amelie said, "Tomorrow you must take down the sign."

I'm afraid I looked blankly at her, for she repeated, "The sign. Tomorrow you must take it down, for it is not right. Our name, it is Tuppenny. It would have been wrong to change it while mon pere was still with us, but now it must be changed. And with the snow to the eaves, zut alors! When shall it be so easy to get at? So you must bring it in, and I shall repaint it while you work on your models." And she nodded so decisively that it did not occur to me until much later to question whether the other villagers would see it as she did. But if I cannot trust my Amelie to know these things, I am lost. Tomorrow I shall bring in the sign; and then I shall continue to work on the control problem for my little models; and so it will be until the snows melt.

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Letters from Armorica—5 Janvier 34AF

Dear Journal,

It has been a busy and mostly delightful month, learning how to be a proper husband to Amelie, and how to prepare for an Armorican winter; and now the snows have come and stayed, and the deep cold has set in.

It is unlike anything I have ever seen. It snows in Yorke, certainly, and in the surrounding countryside, not that I have ever been in the country at this time of year before, for my father's tasks with the Guild have always kept us in the city.

But there is snow, and there is snow. Bois-de-Bas is buried to the rafters and (in some places) beyond, with only the rooftops and chimneys picking out through the drifts. In some ways this is a good thing; Amelie and I walked to the church this morning through a tunnel in the snow in the easiest possible way, although a blizzard was raging far above our heads. The congregation was tiny, only those of us who live right in the village, and we all of us dispersed to our homes immediately after the service. One wants to be at home, snug, in weather like this. In clear weather we would have gone to the hot springs despite the cold, but the snow tunnels do not extend so far as the hot springs, and the blizzard is too intense.

The shop is quiet, for every household has already acquired the supplies it needs for winter. We have begun to spend our days sitting in the kitchen, to conserve firewood. Only a few people come to our door each day, and those few come to visit rather than to buy. Their visits are welcome! In the larger farms there is no shortage of company through the winter, but households are smaller right here in the village.

For myself, I am enjoying the quiet. Rumors of war are far away; whatever might be happening elsewhere, no commander of sense would bring troops to Bois-de-Bas at this time of year. Amelie and I have continued with her reading lessons. And best of all—next to the delight I take in Amelie—I finally have the leisure to pursue my interest in sky-boats.

I had thought that a small boat, suitable for one or at most two persons, would be a simple thing to form: far simpler than the swarms and layers of forms that surround a great sky-freighter. And that is somewhat true, for a working freighter has aboard it a great many informed devices. But as to the work that makes a sky-ship a sky-ship, a thing that can be maneuvered from place to place through the sky and the Void, it turns out that the difference is mostly one of scale: informing a sky-ship takes great power, which must be provided by a team of formers working in concert. For the largest vessels, it requires a double or treble team, working in shifts. A smallish sky-boat is within the capacity of a skilled former working alone, but it remains a complicated bit of work.

Something the size of a rowboat might be within my capabilities, but I would be a fool to begin there. What if I bungled it, and could not undo what I'd done? A rowboat is a not inconsiderable expense to a shopkeeper in a tiny place like Bois-de-Bas. So I have begun by making a tiny model of a rowboat out of wood from a discarded packing crate. It is a crude little thing, a few scraps glued together and whittled roughly into shape, but sufficient to the purpose.

I handed it to Amelie when it was done, and she turned it over in her hands. "Alors!" she said. "You will have time to do better before the first baby comes."

"Oh, it isn't a toy," I said, taking it from her. "Watch this!" And holding it in my hands I focussed my attention, and imbued it with the first form called for in my grimoire, the form of buoyancy.

I guess I overdid it, for the little boat jerked out of my hands, leaving me with a nice splinter, and slammed into the ceiling of the kitchen.

Amelie watched it go with shining eyes. "Incroyable. Is it that which you wished it to do?"

"Well. Part of it, at least."

That was several days ago, and it is still up there. I brought in a step-ladder from the store room and tried to pull it down and could not: the force of buoyancy is too strong. I can see that I shall have to practice. More than that, I can see that I shall have to build some kind of frame that is anchored to the floor to hold my sky-boat while it is being informed. I shall have to seek help when the time comes.

But for now, models are good enough; and in the deep of winter I have no shortage of time, and surely no shortage of old wooden boxes.

photo credit: Dave_S. Garage via photopin (license)