Author Archives: Will Duquette

Letters from Armorica- Miss Willoughby (24 February 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

23 December 1014

My dearest cousin Armand,

I have had a triumph this week!

No, the carriage is not yet ready; or, rather, it is ready but the team is not. It seems that horses truly are scarce in Wickshire, or at least horses of the appropriate sort for drawing a carriage; for we might find any number of stout draft horses suitable for drawing haywains and beer wagons. Blightwell tells me that Father has purchased for me a set of matched bays, respectable though not flashy, and will be sending them down with Edward and a coachman "as soon as the weather permits." Considering the time of year, the weather, and Edward, I am practicing patience.

No, the triumph is that this past Thursday was a fine midwinter day, cool but clear, and I happened to capture Blightwell on the verge of driving out to Stourton on estate business. Blightwell has nothing so grand as a carriage, but must make shift with a small cart; but the cart has quite enough room for two, and so, after much browbeating, I compelled him to take me along.

"I shan't be able to escort you about, Miss Amelia," he told me.

"Nor shall I expect you to. Will be you be carrying goods in the back of the cart?"

"Not today, Miss Amelia. It is market day, but everything will be delivered."

I had known quite well that it was market day, and that Blightwell was too grand a personage to cart his own groceries. "Then Miss Derby can be seated quite comfortably on an overturned basket in the back of the cart. For, as I am sure you know, I do so wish to behave with all propriety."

As it happens, my dear cousin, Miss Derby was standing nearby, basket in hand, for I had made my plans most carefully.

"But the cart isn't suitable, Miss—"

"A fact I will be sure to mention to my Father when I inquire as to Edward's delay in bringing my team to Wickshire."

"Very well, miss."

Blightwell is a good man, truly; he doesn't wish to disoblige me, though I feel sure he would prefer it if I were in Yorke where I belong.

And so I was able to go to Stourton! A small thing, I know, but how grand it was!

Blightwell stopped the cart at The King's Scones which name, so he informed me, dates back to when some Cumbrian king of diminished memory spent the night in Stourton some centuries past; and while he was arranging for his horse to be fed and groomed, Miss Derby and I ventured out into the market square.

Truly there was not much for sale, harvest being past. I bought a supply of thread and a paper of needles, for I find that walking out in the country is hard on my walking dresses, much harder than my promenade in the Park ever was; for the only harm my apparel ever took in the Park was the turned up noses of some of my less favored acquaintance. I also looked for a length of cloth with which to make up a new dress, but found nothing I cared for. How does your Amelie make do, Armand? Surely she does not wear homespun?

I confess I also purchased a jam tart for myself, and another for Miss Derby, something I would never have done in the open air in Yorke. But then, the air is so much more sparkling here in Wickshire. Truly, I would not have credited it.

But I did not come to the market for the needles, or the pins, or the spools of thread, or my new thimble, or even for the jam tarts, but to see and be seen. My acquaintance is not wide enough for me to be greeted by anyone but the stallholders I patronized; but alas, there will be time for my acquaintance to increase, and I wish to be known here, Armand. I willnot be that poor ruined lass who is being hidden away at The Elms, whatever the Grimsbys may think!

So I took a turn around the market square, and then proceeded down the high street, nodding at the ladies I passed and outwardly ignoring the officers of the 2nd Hussars in their blue coats—for none of them were Lieutenant Pertwee, the only one of their number I might deign to speak to.

And then, blessed day, I came face to face with Mrs. Willoughby, the squire's wife, and her daughter, followed by a footman.

Miss Willoughby smiled at me, but deferred to her mother, who greeted me. "Why, Miss Montjoy, I am glad to see you abroad," she said. "I have been remiss, for I meant to have you to tea last week. Wednesday, perhaps?"

"I have no carriage as yet, Mrs. Willoughby," I said, taking care to smile ruefully.

"Tosh," she said. "I shall send ours. Look for it on Wednesday afternoon!"

And that, my dear Armand, is the Squire's wife in a nutshell. Stout, good-hearted (or so I believe), and a force of nature, arranging the surrounding countryside to suit herself.

But she was not done. "Now, Jane," she said to her daughter, "I must attend the market; but if you wish you may make take a turn around the village with Miss Montjoy and her abigail. I shall be quite all right with Porter, here."

"Yes, mother," she said, dutifully, to her mother's rapidly retreating back, and then to me, "It is chill today, Miss Montjoy, isn't it. Would you care for some tea?"

"Indeed I would, Miss Willoughby," I said warmly.

"There is a shop nearby," she said, coming to my side and taking my arm.

Soon we were seated in a small teashop, nothing like what that phrase would mean in Yorke, but snug enough for all that, with Miss Derby sitting at a separate table some yards away. Have you ever been in a teashop in Yorke, Armand? I suspect you have not. They are one of the few places where ladies can sit down together in public for a tête-à-tête. We were shortly served with tea and scones, though not, I hope, the King's scones.

"I am so glad to have found you, Miss Montjoy," she said, "for I have been longing to speaking with you privately. Mother is all very well, but she does tend to fill a room, rather."

"And I you," I agreed, not presuming to comment on her female parent. "For the last weeks I have had no society but that of the Grimsbys."

"None at all? Why, you must be quite cross!"

"Not at present, Miss Willoughby, not at present."

She smiled over her tea. "Jane, please. You must call me Jane."

"And I am Amelia," I said, and she nodded, and there we were, in a united front against the Grimsbys of the world! Never let it be said, my dear cousin, that Mrs. Grimsby has never done me a kindness!

We chatted for some time, of this and that—of things I am sure I would never wish to bother you with, cousin—and she was shocked when she learned the very limited span of my acquaintance here.

"We shall have to have a ball," she said. "It is the only thing. We've not had one at Stourness in ages, and surely the Grimsbys will never throw one." She looked apologetically at me. "I am sure it will be a simple affair by your standards, nothing like Harrison House."

"It will be quite good enough for me, I am sure," I said stoutly. "And let me tell you a few things about Harrison House!"

I shan't bore you with the rest of our conversation; but may I say I am quite looking forward to tea on Wednesday?

Your surprisingly cheerful cousin,

Amelia

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Comedy and Siegecraft

Author K. J. Parker (also known as Tom Holt) has two books out about a siege of a thinly disguised fantasy Constantinople. The Robur Empire is made of up of two kinds of people: the Robur, and everyone else. But most of the residents of the Empire are “everyone else”, and most of the folks who enlist in the army are “everyone else”, and one of their leaders, Ogus, has had enough. He’s subverted the provincial armies and taken over the entire empire…except for the City.

That description makes it sound like Ogus is the hero; which he ain’t.

In Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, the Colonel of the Imperial Regiment of Engineers, a milkface named Ornhas, is the senior officer left in the City when the besieging army arrives—because everyone else, from the emperor’s top aide on down, has fled. He’s faced with defending the city for the Robur against Ogus—his childhood friend, with whom he mostly agrees—because it’s his job.

How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It concerns the seventh year of the siege in which Notker, a playwright, actor, and mimic of important people, is forced to stand in for the Hero of the Siege (who has just been killed by an enemy bombardment) and ends up being made emperor.

Both of these books are intended to be funny in an observational sort of guy-stuck-riding-the-tiger kind of way. I found them interesting, not usually all that funny, and more than a little tedious in spots, but I also got the feeling that Parker had done his research about Constantinople, history, and siegecraft. This is supposedly a fantasy world, but there a none of the trappings of fantasy beyond a bunch of made up names and peoples, all of which have a greco-roman sound. Even the religion of the Robur, supposedly the worship of the Invincible Sun, is a thinly disguised Christianity.

So…not sorry I read them, because history geek; but not firing on all cylinders as humorous fantasy either. Which, when I got to the end of the second and discovered that K.J. Parker is a pseudonym for Tom Holt, surprises me not at all.

Letters from Armorica- Tea with the Grimsbys (17 February 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

16 December 1014

My dearest cousin Armand,

Today I once again attained the peak of the social whirl here in Wickshire, at least I have so far experienced it: I attended tea at the Grimsbys.

No, perhaps that is too hard of me. The true peak is tea with Miss Willoughby at Stourness, but that is a rare treat: for I still have no carriage. I am assured—Blightwell assures me—that the restoration of the family equipage is proceeding apace, and that we will soon have a team and a coachman to drive it. For my part, I should be as happy with a chaise-and-two, though the weather has been chill, and I much fear that the snows will render the carriage useless before it is ready. Then, of course, I shall have to wait for the sleigh to be refurbished for my use.

Blightwell has acquired horses for Miss Derby and myself—a pair of dreary spiritless hacks that convey one from place to place at a halting amble. He pretends that no better mounts were available at short notice, and that they will do quite well, as I am no horsewoman.

The dreadful part, my dear Armand, is that he is quite correct. One has no need of a horse to promenade through the Park in Yorke, not unless one is a young single gentleman of good family on the hunt. One walks, or one rides in the chaise of an admirer. I do believe the last time I sat a horse was when I was last in Wickshire, and I fear that the horse in question was most likely a pony. And while I am bewailing my lack of skill, I suppose I should admit that I could not drive a chaise and two if one were available.

There is worse. I have discovered, to my shock and dismay, that it is not the done thing for a young lady to pay morning calls or come for tea upon her own horse! I may ride where I like, certainly, provided that I wear a proper riding habit and keep Miss Derby with me at all times; but I must not pay social calls in a riding habit. It would be like wearing a morning dress to the assembly at Harrison House, or so I am told. No more vouchers for ever and ever, amen!

I tell you truly, Armand, I had no notion that country life was so hedged about with rules. Why, it is as bad as Yorke!

And so I may ride for diversion; and I may have speech with any of my acquaintance I should happen meet. But if I wish to go visiting, I must either be driven or I must walk. And though I am accustomed to walking in Yorke—that is, I was accustomed to my three times around the Park each morning, in those merry days before I fell in with He Whose Name I Shall Not Remember—walking in Yorke is not like walking in the country. And with the weather as it is has been, it is beyond enough to keep the hem of one's skirt clean enough to enter anyone's house but one's own.

The country is beautiful, but it is not well-groomed. I do wish my never-to-be-sufficiently-forgotten beau had revealed his inner wickedness in the late winter rather than the late fall, for we should all have been much happier. Except for him, of course, the poltroon!

Yes, cousin, I called him a poltroon. I do not know quite what the word means, but it cannot be sufficiently bad, I assure you.

And so today I took tea with Mrs. Grimsby and her two ill-favored daughters, for she was good enough—if good is the mot juste—to send her carriage for me. She is a sharp-nosed, sharp-tongued old harpy, and I do believe she regards me as a parvenu even though the Montjoys have held property here since time out of mind. More, she is a gossip, and she never fails to quiz me on the reasons for my rustication—for we have not revealed the reason for my sojourn here to anyone. The official story is that I have been sickly, and have come to the country for my health.

And so every week she summons me for tea, and inquires after my health, which word she utters with what would be a simper on a better favored countenance, and I assure her that I am feeling quite the thing while her daughters laugh at me behind their fans, and respond to all her searching queries with cheerful pleasantries. It would be all too infuriating had I not the experience of being snubbed by the best in Yorke. As it is I retain my composure, and ask after their relations and the county news, and tot up the number of defects in their dress and their manner, for I have been keeping a record. They would never do at Harrison House, Armand, never.

Today, however, there was an extra diversion: we took tea with a Lieutenant Pertwee of the 2nd Hussars, a fine looking young man with long side whiskers and no mental capacity to speak. I rejoiced to see him, for it meant that I was spared many of the Grimsby's little attentions. Instead, she plied him for news of the garrison, and was greatly rewarded.

It seems that a Lieutenant Milton in one of the other companies has been—I believe he said "cashiered", which is an odd sort of word, Armand, I do think—has been relieved of his office for gambling! Or, not for gambling, I suppose, but for gambling when he hadn't a feather to fly with. I do believe there was more to the story than Lieutenant Milton was willing to share with us of the fairer sex, for he ended with, "Beg your pardon, ma'am," and a fit of coughing I quite failed to believe.

There were many exclamations of horror from the Sisters Grimsby—Agatha and Matilda, if I have not previously named them—and sententious moralizing from their mother, followed by speculations as to his replacement: for the 2nd Hussars is a crack regiment and his place will surely be filled in short order. The Sisters Grimsby are hoping for a gentleman—by which they mean not a gentleman, merely, for of course an officer must be a gentleman, but rather a gentleman with expectations.

"But a gentleman with expectations would not be pursuing a military career," I objected, for I must do my duty as a guest, you know, and say such things as will allow my hosts to feel the fullness of their superior judgement and character.

"He might, you know," said Agatha. "He might be seeking glory in battle. Or, perhaps he will be fleeing an undesired marriage."

"Or trying to forget some great sorrow," said Matilda, adding, with a ghoulish leer, "And even a younger son might inherit under the proper circumstances."

I refrained from arguing that a young man fleeing an undesired marriage would hardly have funds to purchase a lieutenantcy, or that while they were dreaming they should hold out for a captain at least. Not these points did not occur to me, but the Grimsby had a pointed look in her eye, and so I remonstrated no further.

Lieutenant Pertwee absented himself shortly after, and moments after that I was consigned to the care of John Coachman and returned, belittled but unbowed, to The Elms.

And so it was not an entirely objectionable outing, Armand; for at least now if I should happen to encounter the good lieutenant while out riding, I may greet him. It is but a little gain, but such are my social victories here in Wickshire.

Your affectionate cousin,

Amelia

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Letters from Armorica- Grumbling (12 February 37 AF)

First Letter

Dear Jack,

It has been three weeks since I wrote you about the troubles between the town and the garrison; and if the situation has grown no worse, it is only because the snow is too deep for any group to gather in large numbers at Le Cochon's Head. Those few soldiers and sailors who make it there consequently find ample room. But the mood about town is ugly, and even I can tell that the troops are desperately unhappy and blame us for their situation. And yet I have heard nothing from you, or from His Lordship!

Captain Hampton assures me that everything is quite normal, just what he would expect, that soldiers always grumble, that his own troops have endured far worse conditions than this without lasting harm, that there is really nothing for me to be concerned with.

"It's just part of the soldier's life," he told me. "It's got to be winter sometime. One just has to get through it. And you don't want them so comfortable that they get soft. We're here to defend the town. How would it be if there were an attack, and the men were so cozy in their beds that we couldn't get them up to meet it in time? As it is, they'd look on an attack as a personal favor, something to get their blood moving and warm 'em up.

"No, Mr. Tuppenny, we know what we are doing; and the men expect nothing better. Not that a tavern closer to the post would be unwelcome, you understand! But all things in good time."

Still, I worry. Would it be seemly to offer Captain Hampton the use of our Town Hall as a sort of barracks until spring? It is no more than a barn of a building, and unheated; but stoves could be added, and it would seem to be more hospitable than tents in the snow. If you think it right I shall offer its use to him (though, I may say, I fear what I would find carved into the walls come spring); and if His Lordship were to provide the stoves I would send a wagon to Mont-Havre to fetch them. Four stoves, say? One in each corner?

But perhaps you will agree with Captain Hampton. If so, I suppose I must defer to your greater experience.

Speaking of the weather: one of our regular drivers spoke to me about the need for warmer coats. He tells me that he's not used to plying his trade this time of year; usually when the snows get too deep to travel he and his brethren are out of work until after the spring thaw. Our wagons laugh at the deep snow, of course; it is a selling point. We have been giving the drivers warming blocks to carry with them, but he said that they aren't enough without a heavier coat to keep in the warmth. His thought was that we might have a sideline selling heavy driving coats, with special pockets for the warming blocks. Perhaps you and Leon could investigate the possibilities in Mont-Havre? For there is no need at all to make such coats here in Bois-de-Bas, where we have neither the materials nor the skills.

Though I suppose a coat whose exterior was lined with goat skin could be a defense against bandits…but no, the wear and tear on the wagon would be too great. Never mind.

I have been hearing from your sister Amelia, of all people. I was rather surprised, for though Amelia and I have always gotten on well enough, we have never been chums. Have you heard from her as well? It seems she has removed to the old family home in Wickshire. I have heard her explanation for it; I am curious to know yours.

Please give my regards to His Lordship, and give him my apologies as well if my concerns for the garrison are truly misplaced.

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- The Elms (9 February 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

9 December 1014

My dearest cousin Armand,

Yes it is I, again. I fear you are to be stuck with me, at least so long as my sojourn here in Wickshire extends. But I shall endeavour, as in good faith, to make my wailings and lamentations as diverting for you as they are not for me.

Father has now returned to Yorke, leaving me here with Miss Derby, the two of us alone in this ramshackle old pile. Yes, ramshackle! Inwardly, at least; Blightwell, Father's most unfortunately named man of business, has taken good care of the farms, the gardens, the grounds, the roof, and all such visible things that might reflect upon Father and Mother here in the County. But within, The Elms has been languishing under holland covers these past ten years or more. Blightwell has made it a point to pass through the house every week or so, so there are no leaks or damage of that sort. But there was no housekeeper, no caretaker, no maids, no cook, no butler, no grooms, no horses. Beds were unaired; linens mouldered in the linen closets; cups and dishes gathered a layer of dust; what little silver was left here, locked up tight in the butler's pantry, has turned quite black; and everything within is as cold as the stones without.

Father has not left me entirely orphaned here. The state of The Elms was so far beyond enough that we were obliged to put up at the King's Scones in Stourton while Father hired a local couple to do for us: Mrs. Morphick will keep house and cook, and her husband will be a kind of butler-cum-footman. And then, of course, we had to remain in Stourton while the house was made livable. We shall not be opening the entire house, of course, just enough for our use. And Father has given instructions to open the stables and find hacks that Miss Derby and might ride, weather permitting.

I must give Father credit, Armand. He will insist on confining me here in Wickshire—that is, in the Back of Beyond—"until the talk dies down in Yorke"; and I may say to you that though I wish to scream "I care nothing for the talk in Yorke!", and have done so, I fear, at times, I am just as glad not to see the old ladies look at each other and smirk when I enter a room, yes, and the young ones too. It is too vexing, Armand! Too, too vexing, for I have done nothing but give a sorry excuse for a gentleman the ducking he deserved.

But though Father's sense of the right thing to do in these circumstances is dire, there is no shabbiness in him, as you know as well as I. He is not playing the pinchpenny here, nor has he requested the Morphics to spy on me, but rather to make me comfortable in every way. Indeed, I believe they are related to the aged chief servants I remember from a child, and they dote on me in the extreme. It is another reason why I write these lines to you rather than to Mother, for she could but take them as ingratitude after all of Father's efforts. You, I know, understand the need for discretion where one's people are concerned.

So there will be horses; indeed, Blightwell is seeing to the refurbishment of our old carriage, and of the sleigh we use in fine weather when the snow is too deep for a carriage. And I am exceedingly grateful, for else I should not be able to leave the grounds until spring, or visit the shops in Stourton (such as they are) or take tea with friends there.

And may I say, Armand, that Stourton is quite a colorful place this year? For the 2nd Hussars are in residence nearby, and it is a treat to see the officers in their blue coats and shakos promenading down the high street with the local damsels on their arms. The horses cannot arrive soon enough for me!

No, no, Armand, I do not aspire to become one of those damsels, think what you will. It is too soon. But the house here is so dark, and the days so dreary, that I am mad for any diversion, any bright thing to observe and take delight in, and for any conversation but Miss Derby's. A fine woman, do not mistake me, and devoted to me, but I am all too well acquainted with her complete store of observations.

Of course, in order to take tea with friends, I must first acquire some. Here again, Father did not leave me quite orphaned. He introduced me to Mrs. Grimsby and her daughters, the inhabitants of Ukridge House—they being our nearest neighbors; and also to Mrs. Willoughby and her daughter, who live at Stourness on the far side of Stourton, her husband being the local squire. The Grimsby is well named, I fear, though in prudence I may not shun her; but I have great hopes of Miss Willoughby should I be able to extract her from her mother's presence. Mrs. Willoughby has been good enough to send her carriage to fetch me twice since Father left, and so I must pay her every attention when I come; but once our carriage is ready I shall be freer to visit her daughter.

Need I say that Father introduced me to no gentlemen at all? Not even to Squire Willoughby, though of course I expect that that will come in time.

But I have reached the end of my paper, Armand. I hope you can decipher my crossings! Do write me, though I know it shall be months before I can hear from you! Until then, I remain,

Your lonely cousin,

Amelia

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photo credit: George Stubbs / Public domain, 1793, “The 10th Hussars”

Letters from Armorica- Wickshire (1 February 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

2 December 1014

My dearest cousin Armand,

But there, you have started in surprise. Yes, it is I, your cousin Amelia!

But what is the cause of your surprise? Is it that I call you "dearest cousin"? As you are my only close cousin, you are certainly my dearest. Is that I am writing from the depths of Wickshire? Or is it simply that I am writing to you at all?

Well you may ask! For it is a singular thing, I will readily admit, for me to write to you from such a place as The Elms, or indeed to write you at all, for before your sudden departure from Yorke I was not accustomed to speak with you upwards of two or three times a week in the normal course of things, a frequency that was quite sufficient to maintain the familial bond, and in the time since I have not had your direction until just recently.

Oh, have I run on again? I do apologize. I shall strive to do worse over the long weeks ahead.

But why am I in Wickshire, I hear you cry? What unforeseen, yea, unprecedented event has drawn your blushing cousin from the familiar assemblies and drawing rooms of Yorke?

It is said that a young woman in possession of a fortune, however small, must be in want of a penurious husband. Not by me, of course; but by the vast herd of penurious younger sons who flock to Yorke during the Season in the hope of offsetting their gambling losses. And some of these are successful at hiding their deepest aims from their intended.

I, thanks to my great-aunt Matilda, do possess a fortune of the smallest sort. More, I am not too ill-favored—compared to you or Jack, and at least—and my parents are utterly respectable. And so, as Jack has surely failed to mention, I became engaged last spring to a young gentleman whose name I cannot now recall, having burned all of his letters in lieu of setting fire to his heavily-mortgaged ancestral home.

He played the beau prettily enough. He was attentive, kind, and generous; well-dressed and well-spoken; and then I discovered, never mind how, that his perfectly fitting coat was not yet paid for, that his matched set of greys were borrowed, that his gambling debts exceeded my little all, and that he was wont to refer to me to his intimates as Old Prune Face!

Armand, I will admit to you, if to no one else, that I am no reigning beauty; no sister of Jack's could be, as I am sure you will agree. But I am sometimes in looks, my disposition is of the sweetest, and I am by no means old enough to be on the shelf!

And so, after making this untoward discovery I met with this enterprising cad in the Park, and waiting my moment succeeded in upending him into the duck pond. I believe he may still be searching for the ring he gave me in the muck at the bottom of the pond. It was a cold day, too, and I hope he may have had a lengthy fever from his ducking, the scoundrel!

So I have had a close escape; and yet my parents, so far from agreeing with the wisdom of my actions, have accused me of imprudence and have banished me to the old family home in Wickshire until the rumors have died down, with only my abigail, Miss Derby, for company. Indeed, I believe they hope I may settle here permanently, and perhaps find a husband here in the country.

I must not judge them too harshly, I suppose, for I did dispose of my erstwhile fiancé in broad daylight, in the midst of all the ton, and Father did remain here long enough to see me introduced to the best houses in the neighborhood—for you know we have lived in Yorke the whole year round since Jack and I were small, and I should have had no acquaintance at all otherwise.

But still I have not answered the question that I know is gripping your beating heart. Why? Why have I written to you? The simple facts of the matter are these: you have always been a good listener (and you are now a better still for not being able to make reply in less than four months' time); you are comfortably far off, and will have no occasion or temptation to spread my words about Yorke, if I should prove indiscreet; and O! I am so hellishly bored, Armand, and heartbroken with it. I did think he loved me.

In time, I know, I will begin to take an interest in the society of those here in Wickshire, but for now I remain,

Your ill-used cousin,

Amelia

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Letters from Armorica- Friction (23 January 37 AF)

First Letter

Dear Jack,

Bois-de-Bas has grown in size yet again with the coming of the garrison, and I am not sure how we will manage. When I first came, this was a tidy little place, and all discussions as to the future of the community were held in the hot springs of a Sunday afternoon. Then came the War, and an influx of young men from the surrounding region, many of whom stayed, and our population was too big for the hot springs. In response we built a town hall—which, by the by, I must find some way to heat, for town meetings are a trial at this time of year. People have been trickling in slowly since then: Sergeant Allen, of course, and others looking for work. And now we have the garrison—not properly members of the community, not eligible to vote in the town meeting, but nevertheless here.

When I came here, Jack, we didn't even have an inn. Sergeant Allen has done well to provide an evening gathering place for the young men who have been coming to town, and he keeps things under control, but with the garrison he is having great difficulties. There are simply too many men, and not enough room, and too little (at this time of year) for them to do.

Yesterday, for instance, a party of men came to Allen's inn, and could not be admitted because a group of young men from the town were gathered for a celebration. Paul D'Esprit, a young fellow from Nouveau St. Mare (a grandiose name for a tiny village) who came to us during the War has got himself engaged to a local girl, one Mademoiselle Jean Martin, and his friends were drinking his health. The place was quite full, as I have reason to know, for I was there myself; Paul is now employed at the wagon-works, and invited Marc and I to share his joy. I assure you, Jack, that there was no room, and also no intent to leave His Majesty's soldiers in the cold; but His Majesty's soldiers took it poorly. Windows were broken, and much beer was spilled, and we narrowly avoided burning down the inn.

I hasten to say, there was no intent on anyone's part to do so. So far as I can tell, the men were put out, as who would not be, and cold, as is clearly the case; and if they could not have a quiet warming drink, a loud warming brawl was next best.

I must also hasten to say that the young men within the inn were by no means averse to a good brawl, if such were offered, and gave as good as they got. The trick now is to try to cement this into mutual respect rather than mutual hatred; and this will be difficult under the circumstances.

I do not wish you to think I am criticizing Captains Fleming and Hampton, with whom I have established satisfactory relations. But the fort consists of four stakes pounded into the snowy ground, a few lines of tents, and the Polliwog. Hampton does his best to drill the men and keep them busy, and the Polliwog is usually out patrolling if the weather is clear; she is becoming a familiar sight in the sky. But the men have no respite from the cold, and no place to go when they are off-duty but Sergeant Allen's.

A few—a very few, mostly from among the older troops—have managed to make friends with local families; by which I mean they are befriending the daughters of local families in the only possible way. Some of these, I think, will settle down here when their term of service is complete; others, well. Heartbreak is always a possibility, and it is not my responsibility to prevent it.

This is no time of year for building. The snows are deepening, and will grow worse before winter's end, and so there is little that can be done, at least by us. Come spring, though, we will need to take steps, and it were well if we could plan them now.

For my part I think we need another inn, closer to the post. Perhaps His Lordship has another sterling sergeant wishing to retire? Or possibly someone here may wish to establish one. But what would you suggest, Jack? And is there anything His Lordship can do in the meantime to improve matters? For I can tell you that friction is increasing; and since it is in part due to His Lordship sending us a garrison before building proper housing and facilities, I look to him to help us resolve it.

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- Twelfth Night (6 January 37 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Tonight is Twelfth Night, or L'Épiphanie as my Provençese-speaking fellows call it; and tomorrow Jack will return to Mont-Havre without having formed any attachment to any of the daughters of Bois-de-Bas—and, what is more surprising, without any marked degree of flirting! It is a state of the most vexing, as Amelie would say, for I would truly wish to have him settled close by.

We spoke of it briefly several days ago—briefly, in that way that men have. "Bois-de-Bas is a friendly place," he said to me. "And it will become a fine one in time. But I've hitched my cart to Lord Doncaster, and so I must be in Mont-Havre." And on an earlier evening when we sat by the fire, just the two of us. "There are two kinds of old soldier, Armand: those who move on to something else, like Sergeant Allen, and those who make their home at the bottom of a tankard. I expect you to make me rich, Armand, and may you succeed beyond my wildest dreams. But if I don't keep busy, it will be the ruin of me."

I quite see his point. Myself, I am fully occupied with my designs and my forming, not to mention with the town itself. Jack is not needed at the wagon works, for all that he is (quite justifiably) profiting from them; and just what would he do here? Armorica is not a place for idling, we are too young for that, and if Jack set himself up as a retired gentleman at his age he'd be pitied at best and held in contempt at worst. It is true that he has only one leg, but in Bois-de-Bas such an injury is no excuse for idleness.

Most here in Bois-de-Bas work the land in some way. The easiest route to respectability would be for Jack to buy some land and play the squire, but he would have to actively manage his property to retain the expect of his neighbors; and alas, he was not brought up to that. He is the second son, intended for a military career from his birth. And while my uncle George is indeed a member of the landed gentry, he and Aunt Maggie have been fixtures in Yorke for as long as I recall, and his lands—I cannot even remember where they are—are managed by an agent. Still, Jack could come to it easily enough, if he had a mind to it; he would have no end of help. But so far, at least, the notion holds no attraction.

I can hardly fault him for following his own wishes and desires, not after leaving home in the manner I did. Still, I hope he may settle down, even if it is in Mont-Havre. I suppose the important question is how long His Lordship will stay in Mont-Havre. As governal-general his term will be determined by politics in Yorke, which are no less opaque to me now than they were in my youth; but he has brought his family here, and though he is a peer he is a newly created peer, due to his heroics during the war, and he may establish his house anywhere he chooses. If His Lordship were to settle here, I do believe Jack would remain as well.

But be all that as it may.

I have been hard at work, with Jacques and Marc, designing and forming the courier wagon that Jack will take back to Mont-Havre with him. It is similar to my goatless goat-cart, though larger, and safer to operate, for it has but two controls: a tiller, by which it may be directed, and another which sends it forward and stops it when released. If I were to fall asleep, or have a seizure, or something of the sort, my goat-cart would happily proceed onward until it smashed into a tree; the courier wagon will instead glide swiftly to a halt.

The wagon has a seat in front wide enough for two, should the courier have a companion; and the bed is enclosed, instead of being open, with a door that locks and as much hardening as I could manage. Operation of the wagon depends on the possession of a metal ring, rather like a signet ring; without it the wagon will not move of itself, nor can the freight compartment be opened. The ring I shall give Jack is plain; I imagine that in the future His Lordship will arrange for an emblem for his courier service, and provide us with rings that are so marked.

But all that is for the future. For now, well, we lose Jack tomorrow.

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Letters from Armorica- The Garrison (30 December 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It is usually quiet in Bois-de-Bas in this season. The snow has covered the ground, the crops have been in seemingly for ever, les bûcherons are home by the fire, and everyone has settled in for the winter.

This year, in contrast, we have a new garrison, courtesy of Lord Doncaster. The garrison, a full company of soldiers, is led by one Captain Hampton of the 3rd Bollards—a bluff, hearty gentleman of middle years, fond of his food, and with no ambition whatsoever. The garrison is the home base of the sloop Polliwog, commanded by Captain Fleming. He is lean, fond of his drink, much junior to Hampton, and yet, somehow, the one in charge.

"It is always the way," said Hampton cheerfully over dinner at Le Cochon's Head. "The 'Bollards' they call us, because we are solid and never move, and we give the Navy an anchor. And the Navy is the senior service, after all."

"Don't let him fool you," said Fleming. "Charlie saw action enough in his younger days. He's learned to appreciate a quiet life, is all, and he's earned it too."

Cousin Jack waved at Sergeant Allen, over behind the bar. "The Bollards is where we send the best of our older veterans who don't wish to retire. If your Sergeant Allen hadn't decided to settle down, he might well have been Charlie's first sergeant."

They both seem reasonable men, and so far at least there has been little trouble between the garrison and the town. The snow may have something to do with that: those of the men who are allowed into Le Cochon's Head do not wish to be thrown out of the warm.

We were also joined by Lieutenant Carlisle, who commands the Polliwog's marines. He said little, ate much, and gave no sign of listening to any of the discussion.

Having previously discussed it with Jack, I related to them the history of our defense during the war, and about our hidey-hole on L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau.

"I hate to talk about it," I said to Captain Fleming, "as its value is its secrecy and unreachability. But of course it is right there in the northern sky, and I can hardly hope that you wouldn't reconnoiter. Had we had purely an army garrison I would have not have mentioned it all."

"Our men would have learned of it eventually," said Captain Hampton. "They will get to know your townsfolk in time, and tongues will wag. Better to have it out now."

"Yes, I agree," said Captain Fleming. "I shall avoid drawing attention to it."

"I am so glad," I said. "I was afraid you might want to use it as a base."

Fleming shook his head. "The Navy has tried that in the past, but we've found it doesn't answer. Resupply is difficult, and if the enemy attacks in force it is difficult to evacuate the ground troops."

"True," said Hampton. "Here we can fade into the woods, regroup, and bide our time. There we would be like ducks in a pot."

In all, they seem to be men of good will; I believe I can work with them.

Jack has negotiated the sale of a plot of land not far from the wagon-works. "Close enough to defend it," he told me privately, "but not so close as to crowd it—for I feel sure you will want to expand some day."

"Do you think defending it will be likely?"

He shrugged. "His Lordship does, or the Polliwog wouldn't be here."

It is not a comforting notion.

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Letters from Armorica- Christmas (25 December 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

What consternation! What joy!

Yesterday afternoon a sky-sloop came to Bois-de-Bas out of the west. It was greeted by screams and shouts; for of course all here remember the coming of Le Cochon's sloops during the war. The shouts drew Amelie and I out of the house, along with most of my fellow townsfolk, and we watched in horror as (so it seemed to us) the bad times came again. Jacques Pôquerie came and stood by my side.

The sloop drew near and descended over the green, just as those had. Then I noticed that the sloop was flying the colors of Cumbria-in-Armorica, the colors flown over Lord Doncaster's residence in Mont-Havre; that the sloop's gun ports were closed; and that Jack was waving to me from the quarterdeck.

The sloop did not settle on the green, leaving a deep rut, as the Provençese sloops had. Instead it paused a careful two feet over the thin layer of snow, a ladder of rope and wood was thrown over the side, and down came a pair of smartly dressed marines in red coats, followed by His Lordship's aide, my Aunt Maggie's son Jack. He was equally smart in a red coat of his own, though somewhat different design; for Jack is not a marine.

Jack smirked at me as I ran up to him.

"What is the trouble, Coz? You invited me to come visit, after all."

"Yes I did, you damned fool, but I didn't invite you to stop all of our hearts!" But even as I said that I was embracing him and pounding him on the back.

Quite a crowd had gathered around the edges of the green by this time. I turned around to face them.

"My friends, there's nothing to worry about. You all remember my cousin Jack. He has chosen this melodramatic way to join us for Christmas, instead of spending it in Mont-Havre."

There were cheers, and much nodding, with smiles and a cheerful greeting or two. There was also a frown or two on the faces of some of the men with daughters of a certain age, for Jack had entranced a number of those daughters on previous visits—without, I hasten to add, having done anything to deserve the opprobrium of their male parents beyond being cheerful, dashing, and friendly.

"But what of your sloop, Jack," I asked him. "Is it going to remain with us?"

"That's one of the things we need to discuss," he answered me quietly. "For now, I assume there is a better place for it to stay on Christmas Eve than in front of the church."

"Certainly there is. How close do you wish them to be to the center of things?"

"Near enough," he said. "It is Christmas, after all, and I am sure they would like to visit Sergeant Allen's inn for some Christmas cheer."

"Will they be needing to pitch tents?"

"No, no, they will be snug enough aboard the Polliwog for tonight."

"I believe M. Gaston has the closest field to the inn; and of course there is nothing growing there now. But I see him over there. A moment."

M. Gaston proving willing to host the Polliwog for a few days, Jack's marine escort ascended to the sloop's deck, the sloop rose gently and sailed off, and Jack came home with Amelie and I for dinner.

After the meal—for we always have a plain, simple meal on Christmas Eve—Jack said, "Armand, we must talk." He and I left the rest of the family circle in the parlor, where Luc was reading yet another chapter from The Mystery of David Silverfish, and went to my workshop. I built up the fire in the pot-belled stove on the customer side of the counter, and we sat down on the settee like two of my old men.

"So, Jack, what is it? And how long will you and your extravagant conveyance be staying?"

"That's precisely what we need to speak about. I shall be here for a few days, or perhaps a week; the Polliwog rather longer. Indefinitely, in fact."

"What do you mean?"

"It's really all your fault, you know. His Lordship wanted to have you and your wagon-works in Mont-Havre, where he could keep you safe. You would not oblige him—for which he bears you no ill will—but he must see to your defense and security. Someday Cumbria will be at war with Provençe, or Andaluse, or Hanondorf; and when that happens your sky-wagons may be what turns the tide. In sum, Trust me, Armand, like it or not you have become an asset of the realm."

I suppose I looked stunned. Jack laughed at me, as he has laughed at me so often before. "Second city of Armorica, Armand? Haven't I heard those words on your lips? What did you expect to happen?"

He settled down with his pipe and let me absorb all of this.

"So, we are to have a garrison, then," I said at last.

"In a word, yes."

"What are His Lordship's expectations? For though I'm the mayor I can't simply make decrees. My people trust me because my decisions make sense to them."

Jack laughed again. "His Lordship has no desire to cause you trouble. If he did you and yours would be settled in Mont-Havre whether you liked it or not." And then he outlined for me what Lord Doncaster wants from us: a piece of land on which to build a barracks for a small garrison and berthing for the Polliwog; food and other supplies to support the garrison; and a small self-motivated sky-cart or wagon to use for courier duty. All of these to be properly paid for by His Lordship, and Jack to return to Mont-Havre in the sky-cart.

"Only one such cart?"

"He shall want several over the next year. But he only needs one this week."

That was yesterday; today we had a service in the Church, with much singing of carols, though no mass since we still have no permanent priest of our own. I suppose I must make a visit to the Bishop in Mont-Havre and request one. That was followed by a glorious meal, and the giving of presents, and much talk and frivolity, and if there were any difficulties at Sergeant Allen's inn or in M. Gaston's field, no one brought them to my attention.

Tomorrow I shall go to the wagon-works and put His Lordship's sky-cart in train; I have a few ideas. Jack will negotiate the purchase of some land, and no doubt drink much ale with the seller. Then, over dinner he will introduce me to the captain of the new garrison, and to the Polliwog's commander, two men with whom I suppose I shall become quite familiar.

Things are changing once again. Jack is right, it is all my fault. I hope I have not mounted a tiger.

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