Author Archives: Will Duquette

Letters from Armorica- Gossip (13 March 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have finally found Bertrand, who I have been looking for these many weeks.

I had been thinking and pondering about his future ever since I called for him to come to me in Mont-Havre last summer. He has been such a help to me, and is such an able young fellow, though unskilled; and I fear that I have made his life very much harder. His father, M. Laveau, is a foolish and angry man; and when the Provençese troops withdrew and we were able to return to town from L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau, Bertrand was so full of M. Tuppenny this and M. Tuppenny that that M. Laveau thought I was trying to transfer his son's affections to myself. I spoke to him at the time, and did the best I could to smooth it over; but it seems that my existence has continued to rankle.

After we returned to Bois-de-Bas from Mont-Havre, Bertrand simply vanished. Even Luc did not seem to know where he had gone. I kept my eyes open for him, but did not approach M. Laveau for fear of throwing fuel on the fire.

And then, two days ago, Luc came to me with a message arrow in his hand—and one not of my making. He seemed distressed.

"You've been busy," I said, taking the arrow and examining it. It was simple, as such arrows are, more the suggestion of an arrow than an arrow one might shoot from a bow. I could tell at once that it had been properly made and formed. "Have you tried it?"

"Oui, maître, I have. It was from Bertrand. He is very ill, and has no one to help."

"So you do know where he is?"

Luc looked down. "Oui, maître. Je suis désolé."

"Poppycock. You're not a bit sorry, Luc. You're worried about Bertrand, and pleased that you gave him some message arrows. You did give him more than one? And a message board?"

"Oui, maître."

"You're too sharp for your own good, Luc, but I supposed I must be pleased at your skill. Now, tell me about Bertrand."

It was a brief tale, quickly told. I had called for Bertrand to come to Mont-Havre; and he had come without his father's leave, without even asking for his father's leave. This was very bad; and when we returned to Bois-de-Bas his father accused him of horrible things, and cast him out.

He was ashamed and humiliated, and afraid to come to me; but he spoke with Luc, and remembering some of the tales we had told during the war he found shelter against the winter in the hunters' caves east of Bois-de-Bas, the place where we had made a decoy against the Provençese, hunting and fishing in the increasing cold.

"But now he is sick, and has no more food."

"You have more arrows? Send him a message telling him that we are coming." And then I went and found Jacques Poquêrie in his workshop and asked him to organize a rescue. We left early yesterday morning in M. Tremblay's sleigh, Jacques and Luc and I, stopping frequently to trim back branches to clear the way, for the snow was still many feet deep—and how I wish I had a sky-wagon in good working order, for we could have been there in a few hours and back in time for dinner!

We found him some distance into the cave, feverish and wrapped in skins and the remains of an old blanket. He had managed to keep a small fire going, and had been melting snow for drinking water, but he was bony and shivering. He lay on his side, clutching Luc's last arrow to his breast, and was hardly able to look up at us.

Luc sat by his side and fed him water and biscuit while I built up the fire. Jacques brought the two horses into the cave and attended to their needs—we were glad for their warmth—and then hung skins against the draft. I made soup, and gave Bertrand willow bark against his fever. I had brought the willow bark from our shop, which doubles as our village pharmacie. I shall have to see about finding a proper doctor for Bois-de-Bas; folk medicine and midwifery are all very well, but it is past time we should have a doctor of our own.

And then we settled in for the night. Bertrand was in no state to tell us his story, and we did not press him. Jacques and I kept the fire going through the dark hours; and after the sun rose we carried the invalid out to the sleigh and returned to Bois-de-Bas.

I would have brought Bertrand to our home and made room for him here, but Jacques said no. "There is gossip that does not reach your ears, Armand. It will be better if he comes and stays with us tonight. And tomorrow I think I will go and pay a call on M. Laveau, n'est-ce pas?"

"Is that wise? Perhaps we should leave it for now, and address it at the hot springs next week."

He laughed harshly. "A man who drives his son away to die in the snow, Armand, what should be done with a man like that? I know what the men will say at the hot springs even if you do not. And as for you, you should take no notice. It is beneath your honor."

"Are you sure, Jacques?"

"Mais oui. Leave it to me."

I do not know what Jacques proposes to do, for he would not tell me. But at least Mme. Poquêrie will take good care of Bertrand.

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photo credit: davebloggs007 Lake Louise along the trails via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica- Equations (6 February 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It has been a long and cold and quiet winter in Bois-de-Bois—quiet, that is, except for the noise produced by little Anne-Marie and Margaret. So quiet, in fact, that there has been little to say, as occupied as I have been with Amelie and children, and with settling back into my normal life here in town. The front of my workshop has remained a hotbed of anecdotes and grey hair; Jean-Baptiste has been ably running the shop for Amelie; the hot springs have retained all of their warmth and attraction; and the new Town Hall, completed in my absence, has been receiving regular use, which has done much to reduce the friction between the original settlers and those who have come to Bois-de-Bas in the aftermath of the war. And Patches the Goat has remained every bit as much of an infernal nuisance as ever.

I wonder—it is possible to harden plates, pots, and so on; I wonder if it is possible to soften Armorican goat hair while it is still on the animal. It would have to be repeated periodically, of course, and I am not at all sure that I want to be spend quite that much time with goats on a regular basis. I shall have to think on this.

But quiet is good; and that is not to say that I have been idle, for I have been diligently studying mathematics with Luc. It is difficult, yet intriguing; and I believe that in time I will be able to state my findings with regard to thaumaturgical effort, greed, and generosity with great precision.

In the meantime, working from my trials of this past summer and fall, I believe I have come up with a way to make my warming blocks practical without risking the destruction of other formed elements in the vicinity. They will necessarily be more complex than the simple wooden blocks I started with, and so will be more expensive; but I think they will not be difficult.

The trick is to combine a simple heating block with a thin hardened element that is under tension. The tension is achieved quite simply, by means of four screws that fasten the hardened element to the heating block. The screws are tightened, causing the thin element to bend imperceptibly (I have exaggerated this in my diagram). This produces a source effort generously given up by the hardened element and used greedily by the hardened element. The whole contraption may then be enclosed in a frame leaving the faces of the two primary elements exposed.

I am not yet sure how as to the best size for the hardened element, or the required degree of tension, to make them absolutely safe; but this, after all, is why my design leaves the hardened element exposed: should the greed of the heating block consume the hardened element it will be immediately obvious to the user. And

In the meantime, our beds are toasty warm, which is a joy and a delight in this cold, snowy weather.

In the meantime I am eager for spring. We have received no letters from Mont-Havre, let alone Yorke, in some time, due to the snow; all I can say for certain is that there have been no disasters, or Jack would have spoken with M. Suprenant, who would have sent me an arrow. I must remember to provide him with a new set sometime in the coming months, for it is likely he is running short.

I suppose I am over-eager, for it has been barely enough time to have received word from Yorke concerning Trout's pernicious plans and ultimately fate at the hands of His Majesty's government—always assuming that anyone deigns to pass the details along to me—for the wheels of government grind slowly. But I hope I may soon have word from my mother.

Ah! Amelie is calling.

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Letters from Armorica- Friends and Family (17 October 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Mum,

It has been far too long since I was last able to write you and send you my love; indeed, between the war with Provençe and other goings on I haven't been free to write anyone in Cumbria in almost a year. At first I was trying to avoid attracting attention; and then later there was no way to send a letter; and in recent months I have been out of contact with almost everyone. But things have changed, both here in Armorica and there in Yorke, and I have reason to think that this letter will not be unwelcome.

First, give me joy! And give yourself joy, too, for you are once again a grand-mama! Two days ago, on 15 October, my Amelie gave Anne-Marie a sister, a lovely baby girl. We have decided to name her Margaret Elise after Aunt Maggie and Amelie's good friend Elise Frontenac. I have mentioned Mme. Frontenac to you in the past, though you may not remember; I met her and her husband Marc on the boat here to Amorica—my word, almost three years ago! They have been stalwart friends all of that time, and I owe much of our current health and prosperity to them. But there is a special reason for honoring Mme. Frontenac, and that is that I was obliged to be away in Mont-Havre on business starting in early August until just a week or so ago. Mme. Frontenac has taken good care of my Amelie in that time, and made sure that she wants for nothing.

Oh! There is so much to tell you. I expect you have had some words of me from Aunt Maggie, through Cousin Jack, but I have no idea what you know and what you don't know. Let me tell it all plain.

When the War broke out something over two years ago, I was obliged to leave my position in Mont-Havre. Marc and Elise, bless them! took me into their home here in Bois-de-Bas. I soon met my Amelie, the daughter of the proprietor of the general store here in town, and we married that December.

Truly, I know it seems a bit of a comedown for my father's son to wed a shopkeeper's daughter—but remember that Bois-de-Bois is a small place on the frontier. The general store is the lifeblood of the community, and its owner an exalted personage by local standards! And, well, my Amelie is a dear and a delight, and I know you would love her as I do. I think, given time, she would even manage to charm Father.

After we married I took up forming again in a small way; and on investigating—for Father has always impressed on me the importance of the approval of the Guild—I found to my surprise that I more or less am the Former's Guild in Armorica. Three formers came here from Toulouse in the early days of the colony, but they returned to Provençe after one was killed by a wild beast. They left behind a small but soundly constructed guild-hall. I wrote home seeking to be granted my mastery, as I believe you may know, and under guild law and with the approval and support of Lord Doncaster, His Majesty's governor-general for Armorica I am now the grand-master of the Armorican Former's Guild, La Confrerie des Thaumaturges. You may tell Father that I claimed the grand-mastery and the guild-hall last spring, on my own authority under guild-law and without seeking approval from anyone; that should bring him satisfaction. His Lordship's approval came later, as Father would say it should.

But I am getting ahead of myself, for I have neglected to mention the War! How clumsy of me, for of course it is the War that has prevented me from writing home as I would have liked to do. It was the War that drove me here to Bois-de-Bas, yes and it followed me here, and we had a time of great confusion. I shan't say much about it, as I was rarely in direct danger myself; but I served in my way, and in so doing won the hearts of my neighbors. We do not have much in the way of formal government in Bois-de-Bas, being a small place on the edge of things; but at the time of my coming the mayor of Bois-de-Bois, if so I may call him (for no one here ever did) was Marc Frontenac's uncle, Herbert de Néant. He was a wise and strong man, and my benefactor, but he was tragically killed during the fighting…and to my shock and surprise (and some amount of dismay) my neighbors chose me to replace him. They don't call me "mayor" either.

It is not a time-consuming task, mind you. I preside over the town meetings, when we have them; and I am the one to whom everyone brings their knottiest problems involving their neighbors. I have not yet had to prove my wisdom by dividing a baby down the middle, but it may well come to that. In the meantime, the front half of my former's workshop has become a kind of salon for the old men of the town, especially in cold weather. They play chess and tell each other stories that they all have heard a thousand times, and they are literally my council of elders, giving me the benefit of their wisdom whether I ask for it or not.

Among their number is a fellow named Jacques-le-Souris, whom you may remember my mentioning in my early letters home. He was another boarder at Madame Truc's boarding house, and when Le Maréchal brought war to Mont-Havre and his men confiscated her house to garrison troops in, she and Jacques came to Bois-de-Bas. They are married, now, and live with us, and have been a great help to Amelie.

Indeed, our household has grown alarmingly. In addition to my Amelie and Anne-Marie (and now Margaret Elise as well!), and Jacques and Madam Truc, there is also my apprentice, Luc, a quick and likely lad who will be a great former one day; and also an Armorican goat named Patches of whom I have been inordinately and mysteriously fond—for Armorican goats are distinctly and uniquely unlovable.

And then there is Jean-Baptiste and his wife Brigitte. I first met Jean-Baptiste in Mont-Havre when I worked at Suprenant et Fils. He also came to us because of the war, and being commercially minded has been helping Amelie with the shop while I am away. I expect that in time we may sell it to him, for I am more and more involved with my forming and with the town, and so have little enough time to spare for it, and Amelie's time is increasingly taken up with our children.

Oh, and I have forgotten to mention young Bertrand, a stalwart lad and a great friend of my apprentice, Luc. Bertrand is not my apprentice, having no talent for forming whatsoever that I can see; and yet I think I shall have to find a lasting place for him. He was of great use to me during the war, and also more recently, and his father insists on treating him like a child though he has proven himself to be a young man.

As you can see, Mum, I have built a new life for myself here; and if my actions with regard to the Guild have earned Father's respect and approval, well. That's something I think I never would have done had I remained in Yorke, for we should have always been butting heads. For my part I am surprised at the lessons I learned from him without realizing it, and at the good use I have been able to make of them, and I though I miss you I am quite content to use them out from under his immediate supervision.

Do feel free to share this last paragraph with him. I am quite done trying to please him—and yet I find that I would be glad of his good opinion.

Dearest Mum, I shall try to write more often now that peace has broken out. Please give my best to Aunt Maggie.

Your loving son,

Armand

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photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar Cute baby goat! via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica- A Talk among the Tombstones (3 October 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I meant to be back in Bois-de-Bas by now—indeed, Bertrand is already on his way, with Patches the Goat in tow—but Lord Doncaster held me here until today. His Lordship wants to have all of the threads tied up neatly, and I, of course, am one of them.

I met with His Lordship this afternoon, after attending divine services in the cathedral. I am not at all sure that His Lordship was present in mind as well as body, for an air of distraction filled his box. Religion is not an abiding concern among the higher folk in Yorke, so he might have been present to show willing, and to ingratiate himself with his Armorican subjects for whom it is very much an abiding concern.

Or he may have been there simply to meet with me in a plausibly casual manner. What is more natural than for two chance-met expatriates to take a short walk on a fine Autumn day and discuss the Old Country amid the tombstones in the churchyard? For walk we did, and for some twenty minutes or so.

His Lordship questioned me about Trout and all of my experiences with with him and at the Farm, and marveled at the doings of Patches the Goat—without, I may say, desiring to become further acquainted with the beast. He also listened quite seriously to my summary of my trials.

"I do not wish to command you, M. Tuppenny," he said. "Indeed I am not sure whether I can in this. Cumbria is in possession, as it were, but until le Parlement takes further action my legal position is uncertain. But for myself, I would say that you should continue your research by any means possible. Further, it is my opinion—and this is the official opinion of His Majesty's government, of which I am the representative, that you are rightfully and by guild-law the grandmaster of the Former's Guild in Armorica. My word on that.

"Mind you," he said with a smile, "His Majesty's government may change its collective mind after I am gone; but it seems that you have a powerful advocate in Yorke, so I shouldn't worry if I were you."

"My father," I said, ruefully. "I'm on the outs with him, you know. I came here intending to drop out of sight and never deal with him again. He's only pleased because my accomplishments here reflect well on him and extend his reach. Or so he thinks."

His Lordship nodded. "I and my father were the same; I was never happier than when I got my commission and was off to the wars. Nevertheless, do not spurn his good will, for it will serve you well, even, or perhaps especially at a distance. If it were not impertinent, I might add that it is clear that he taught you better than to do so."

"Yes, I suppose he did." I shrugged. "They say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, but you know, I'm doing my best to roll downslope."

He chuckled. "Indeed; and tomorrow you may roll off to your little town. But mind what I say! So long as you have your head above water I've no wish to interfere with you; but should you find yourself in need, ask for my help through your cousin Jack. The work you are doing is too important to be allowed to languish."

I nodded. "Thank you, your Lordship."

"Just so. Now then, I believe that pulls all of the threads into one tidy knot. All of the purely local threads, at any rate," he said. "We may never hear Trout's full story, not if I know His Majesty's intelligencers. If I learn more, I shall tell you what I can; but at a guess it was a plot aimed at the throne through your father. More than that I cannot say."

We had been pacing slowly, and now reached the center of the graveyard, hard by the tall monument of Jacques Durand, leader of the second wave of colonists. It was a fine obelisk of bronze wood, polished and gleaming. His Lordship turned and regarded me, there in its shadow.

"It takes good men to build a land," he said, gesturing at the monument. "I am glad to have met another." And then, with an airy wave he left me.

I dine tonight with M. Fournier, who has somehow acquired a math text for me; I shall sleep at the guild hall; and first thing in the morning I shall set out for Amelie and home.

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photo credit: SchuminWeb Edge Hill Cemetery via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica- Catching Trout (1 October 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Trout has been taken, much the worse for wear—as are we all, and it is only partially Trout’s fault. We shall be returning to Mont-Havre as soon as we are able tomorrow, despite our wounds.

The plan was for His Lordship’s men to take him _en route_. Somehow he evaded them; I don’t know whether he caught sight of them and managed to sneak past, or whether he simply took an unexpected path through the woods and so came to our door unobserved. No doubt he will tell us his methods in time, but at the moment I fear he is in no shape to do so.

What is clear is that somehow he was warned. He brought no cart of supplies, but came on foot and empty handed but for a pistol, apparently intent on ensuring our perpetual silence. We were watching the road, of course, but he must have come over the fields from behind the farm house, for he was actually within the house before we were aware of his presence.

Normally when Trout was expected I would have had Bertrand waiting on the porch where he could easily scan the length of the valley; today, taking the advice of Sergeant Travers, we sat in the front room of the farm house. We each had a clear view through the window of the lane leading to the house from the road, but by sitting in the dimness of the house we made poor targets.

“For if we miss him, he might be a wee bit angry, and angry men can be a wee bit hasty,” he said.

Angry he certainly was.

“Up, both of you,” he said, and our heads whipped round in surprise. He was framed in the door to the kitchen, his pistol trained on Bertrand and his eyes on me. He was clad in his usual black. I saw Bertrand tense to spring, for he was but four feet from Trout, but he was seated and Trout was standing, and the muzzle of the pistol looked distressingly large.

“No, Bertrand,” I cried, in fear for his life, and also in hopes that one of Travers’ men might be near enough to hear me.

“Very wise, M Tuppenny,” said Trout to me; and then to Bertrand, “Get up, slowly, and back away until you are standing by your master.”

“But Monsieur—” he said, but I cut him off.

“Do it, Bertrand,” I said. “This man is not to be trifled with.” When Bertrand had reached my side I continued, “What is the meaning of this?”

“It appears that you have been naughty, M. Tuppenny. Very naughty indeed. I fear you are no longer a valuable asset.”

He cocked the pistol with his thumb, his hand trembling slightly. I had the absurd thought that he needed more practice at disposing of inconvenient witnesses when my eyes were caught by motion behind him. Was it one of Travers’ men? I blinked and trained my eyes on the gun, so as not to warn him, and then cursed inwardly as Bertrand gasped.

Trout noticed the line of Bertrand’s gaze immediately, and his pistol swung to cover him instead of me.

“Stop!” he cried, turning his head very slightly to speak to whomever was approaching him from behind. “If you come one step closer, I’ll shoot the boy!”

And then everything happened at once. A long, low form burst past Trout, knocking him violently to one side. I dove to the floor as the pistol discharged its ball into the ceiling. Bertrand, still just a little closer to the door than I, was knocked down, and as I saw him fall I heard shouts from down the road.

And then I was on the floor and a rough, wet tongue was removing the skin from my cheek.

It was Patches the goat. She was bedraggled and muddy, and her ribs were clearly visible along her flank through the holes in her tattered armor. What must she have gotten into during her long journey from Bois-de-Bas to get her armor in such a state! Past her I could see Bertrand on the floor and Trout lying in a heap in the doorway.

“Bertrand, get his pistol,” I said. He rose, holding his side; and as he did so I pushed Patches’ nose away with the utmost care, managing to lose only a little bit of skin, and stood up to take stock. Fortunately her left horn cover was still in place, so I was able to hold her off without further injury.

There was blood all along her left side, matching the gaps in her armor, fresh and quite red, and mixed with many shreds of black cloth and a bit of blue from Bertrand’s trousers. The blood proved to be Trout’s, the product of Patches catching Trout against the door frame as she burst past him. He was fortunate that it was her right horn cover that was missing, not the left, or she might have torn quite the hole in his side in her eagerness to get to me.

Bertrand was in much better shape, having only minor abrasions and a nasty bruise. It didn’t slow him down much as he found power and shot in Trout’s coat pocket and reloaded the heavy pistol.

“Well, you’ve had quite the journey, haven’t you,” I said to Patches, with, I am not ashamed to say, a rush of fondness quite out of my experience with Armorican goats.

And that was how Travers found us: Trout still in a heap, Bertrand with Trout’s pistol trained upon its owner, and me in the middle of the room holding Patches off by her left horn.

We are still at the Farm, but will be leaving sometime tomorrow. It pains me to abandon the trials I have in progress here, but I believe I have learned enough to be going on with. I shall spend only enough time in Mont-Havre to acquire the mathematics text I have been longing for, and then we shall be off to Bois-de-Bas and my Amelie and Anne-Marie. I should have left today, no matter the hour, save that we require a cart for our belongings—and to tie Patches’ lead to, for however grateful I might be for her timely arrival, I am in no way minded to lead her back to Bois-de-Bas by hand.

God send we arrive before the new baby does!

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Image credit:
Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Letters from Armorica- News from Yorke (1 October 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

A man came to me yesterday, and with monstrous news.

The past weeks have been somewhat mildly idyllic. I have made progress on my trials, Bertrand is reading more fluently than ever, and I am better at chess—against Bertrand at least—than I have ever been in my life. I am worried for Amelie, so far away without me, for our new baby is due soon, but I know that Marc and Elise and our other friends will keep her safe and well. Boredom is ever present, and I have been eager for Trout to make his move, whatever it may be.

I am eager no longer.

The man was a Cumbrian soldier. It was plain to see it by his bearing and posture, though he wore countryman's clothes; and had I any doubts they were dispersed by the letter he handed to me, and the ring he showed me to identify himself: my cousin Jack's ring. The letter was unsigned, but I know Jack's handwriting and mode of speech.

Cousin,

You have gotten yourself into a pickle! A fast packet returned from Yorke today with answers to His Lordship's queries. Trout is known to His Majesty's intelligencers, thought not as well as they would like, and they have dearly been wanting a word with him for some time. I do not have all of the details—the message we received was absurdly uninformative—but I gather the man is part of some plot against His Majesty's government. And given Trout's efforts to isolate and control you I can guess that the Former's Guild in Yorke is involved in some way, or perhaps I should say embroiled, for no one can think of your father as being disloyal to the crown without laughing. No, if there is treachery in the Guild it is lower down.

I think it more likely, though, that Trout's co-conspirators are simply using you to put pressure on your father—to extort from him some action they desire by holding you as a hostage. I can hear you laughing bitterly. He has forbidden your name to be mentioned, it is true…and yet m'mother has found him lingering near the door of the drawing room after her visits with your own mater, and this more than once.

Regarding your master's chain and the status of the Armorican Former's Guild, I have two points of information. First, it is unclear where Trout acquired the chain he gave you; no one in the Yorke guild house seems to know anything about it, or will admit it if they do. Second, your father has certainly heard that you have claimed the Armorican Guild, and he seems to be quietly delighted. "A master stroke," I believe he was heard to mutter to himself. (And by-the-by, I do not believe the pun was intended. This is your father I'm speaking of.) This may be the cause of his lurking around drawing room doors!

The bearer of this letter is Sergeant Travers. We know that you are expecting Trout tomorrow, and we intend to take him, package him neatly, and ship him off home. If it were possible we would nab him before he ever reaches your farm, but His Lordship has a notion. Travers will fill you in. There is some risk, but I believe you are equal to it. And once it is all over, of course, Travers and his men will see you back to Mont-Havre.

Cheers!

Now it is early morning; it is some hours before I expect Trout, for he usually arrives at midday, but I cannot sleep. May the Good Lord protect us all!

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Letters from Armorica- Hard Time (17 September 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I've written little over the last three weeks because there has been little to write. I have had arrows from Amelie in Bois-de-Bas and Jack in Mont-Havre (the latter via M. Suprenant, of course). All is well at home, though I am greatly missed. Jack meanwhile says that Lord Doncaster has as yet heard nothing from Cumbria about Trout, but he hardly could have after so little time; and he assures me that the Farm is being watched and that Bertrand and I are perfectly safe. There is a rail along the front of the porch, and I am to hang a cloth on it if I am in need of immediate assistance during one of Trout's visits.

Trout has continued to visit each week, and if his purpose remains inscrutable at least he has brought us a few more supplies: especially, we now have a lamp and whirtleberry oil so that we need no longer sit by the fire in the evenings. This is a significant blessing in this weather. I have done no building and made no models, for I have little in the way of raw materials, not without taking the farm house or the out-buildings to bits.

The real difficulty lies in not succumbing to a fatal boredom. I have been teaching Bertrand to read (not that the available reading material is of the best); and I have scratched out a chess board on the top of the farmhouse table, and we have had many a game of chess and checkers through the long evenings. We even have reasonably good chess men that I formed from small stones: crude, for I am no sculptor, but recognizable. Fortunately, the chess men are not necessarily either generous or greedy, and so their presence will not throw off my trials.

The trials are going well: indeed, this is the one bright spot. Almost four weeks ago I placed five hardened rods adjacent to lifting blocks. Three of the rods were under greater or lesser strain by means of weights hanging from their ends; the other two were unstressed. Four of the lifting blocks were lifting ten pounds of weight; the fifth, which was adjacent to one of the unstressed rods, was left inactive, not lifting anything.

My prediction was that the unstressed rod next to the active lifting block would fail in about twenty days, as in my previous trial with a hardened block; in the event it took only nineteen days. The reason for the decrease in time is obscure to me, but I suspect it has to do with the difference in the shape of the hardened objects. Meanwhile, the rods under stress are still holding strong, just as I expected.

But the truly delightful outcome is the fifth trial, the unstressed rod adjacent to an inactive lifting block. Bertrand had suggested that perhaps the lifting block was greedy even when not in use, and would continue to draw effort from the hardened rod; and it seems that he is correct, for the unstressed rod crumbled to bits this very afternoon, twenty-six days after I set it up. An inactive lifting block continues to draw in effort from its surroundings! Less than an active one would, this is no surprise, but not very much less!

This is a phenomenal result. It implies that the reason why Marc's sky-sled failed so abruptly, crashing him into the ground, is that it had been left unused for too long! Had he been using it, his weight and the stress from moving him about would have caused the sled's body to flex, which would have stressed the hardened elements, which would have produced effort for the lifting elements to take up. But he let it sit idle, and so the hardened elements were fatally weakened.

Should I ever return to L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau I must use a brand-new sky-chair; and my first act must be to burn the chairs, sleds, and wagons we left there. Or perhaps not, for likely the hardened elements have already turned to dust.

I wonder what has become of the two sloops we turned into housing? For they contain hardened elements, but also active lifting blocks, for they remain floating in mid-air. My guess is that the weight of the sloop stresses the hardened elements enough to provide enough effort to satisfy the lifting blocks. I am glad we didn't try to settle them into some sort of cradle!

I also wonder if M. Fournier has yet acquired a book on algebra for me. There are precise mathematical relationships at play here, I hope and I trust, but I haven't the knowledge or skill to capture them. It is frustrating, for now I begin to have some measurements of interest to work with!

On the whole, I suppose, I am bored but not displeased with my progress. It is ironic, really, that Trout brought me here. He is up to no good, I feel sure, and certainly has no interest in whether or not I produce sky-chairs that work; but it may be due only to him that I will one day be able to produce sky-chairs that work reliably!

If only Amelie and Anne-Marie and Luc were here as well, I should be quite content.

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Letters from Armorica- Farming Efforts (20 August 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It has been a week, and Bertrand and I are settled as well as we shall ever be in this benighted place. The farm house has been swept out as best we could, given the state of the broom I found in a corner of the kitchen. We have food, but of the plainest; fuel for the kitchen hearth; and no other supplies but what we brought with us.—and most of those are intended to support my research, not our comfort. It is fortunate that the weather is warm, for we have little bedding, and that little we must use to make pallets on the floor. We might as well be in prison.

Trout was here today with another load of food. He did not stay long, and though he took the list of needed supplies I handed him—lamps and whirtleberry oil, bedding, and other gear—he made no promise to bring us any of it.

Truly, I do not understand Trout's game. In theory, I am here to perfect my designs for sky-chairs, sleds, wagons for use by His Cumbrian Majesty's forces against Le Maréchal in his hiding place. I know this to be a lie, and Trout's lack of interest in my progress confirmed it weeks ago. But he wants me for some reason, and having got me out her to "continue my work" one would think he would at least provide the materials I would need: seasoned wood, and so forth.

Yet he has provided none. It is as though Trout has accomplished his entire purpose simply by getting me out of town and out of communication (as he thinks) and no longer cares in the slightest what I might think of it. Does he think it would be so hard for Bertrand and I just to walk back to Mont-Havre? I assure you, Journal, we kept careful note of every turning, and we are near enough to the city that we need not fear les grand-blaireaux. I assume he is trusting my good behavior to his threat to take away my mastery in the guild.

No matter. I have sent arrows to Jack and to Marc in Bois-de-Bas as to my whereabouts and the conditions here; and in the meantime Bertrand and I have set up four trials around and about the Farm. Each consists of a hardened rod with weights suspended from each end, adjacent to a lifting block calibrated to lift ten pounds of weight. The first rod supports twenty pounds, the second ten, the third five, and the fourth none. If my thinking is correct, the first will last the longest: the physical strain on the rod will produce effort due to the hardening of the rod, which can then feed the greedy lifting block indefinitely. If I am right, it explains some of my failures. My early chairs and sleds were hardened altogether, except for the lifting blocks, which would reduce the physical strain on the hardened elements due to the flexing of chair or sled, and so reduce the effort produced.

I wish I had access to one of the Provençese sky sloops we left on L'Isle de Grand-Blaireaux. I investigated closely where the lifting members were, but paid little attention to the hardened elements, except to note that there were fewer of them than I expected. I am now guessing that the sloop was designed so that the lifting elements lift the hardened elements, and that the remainder of the sloop hangs from these, thus keeping the hardened elements under constraint strain. The question is, how much strain is required to keep the lifting elements properly fed, as it were, without cannibalizing the hardened elements.

I have set up a fifth trial in another place, consisting of a hardened rod and a quiescent lifting block, just to determine whether such a system will degrade over time.

The five are located as far from each other as I can manage; and since I have nothing to build shelters with as we did on Marc's farm, we placed them just over the edge of the fields into the woods, where the trees will protect them from summer storms.

And now we wait, and ponder, and blackguard Trout to each other. The man could at least have left us a deck of cards!

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Letters from Armorica- The Farm (13 August 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Bertrand and I have been installed at The Farm, and I am not best pleased about it.

I spoke with Jack on Wednesday as planned, and told him all I knew of Trout and his intentions for me. It seems that Le Maréchal and his few remaining troops have indeed retreated to Guyagão as Trout said, and that the region is being watched…but Jack is unaware of any planned efforts to draw the cochons from their hiding places.

"His Majesty's Government is pleased to let them rot in the swamps," he told me. "We'll keep an eye on them, and we'll certainly prevent any would-be recruits from joining them, but there's little enough harm they can cause there."

Further, he has never heard of Trout or of any secret doings His Cumbrian Majesty's Government might have in train in Armorica.

"That means little, though," he said. "As His Lordship's aide I hear things, but I don't hear everything. Still, I don't like you going off with him, not when we know he's lying to you." He shook his head. "And yet, there is little we can do other than arrest the man when next he presents himself at your guild hall. I would be pleased to arrange that. But if he is genuinely in His Majesty's service, His Majesty's Government would be…displeased."

"Perhaps His Lordship knows more?"

"He might; and you'd best believe that I shall ask him instanter. But if he doesn't we are simply left in the same position as before. Tell you what, coz, let me speak with him. He'll have to decide what's best to be done. Where shall I send word to you?"

"It would look odd if we met again; and I have to assume that Trout has me under observation. Perhaps send a messenger to Suprenant et Fils? I dine with them tomorrow night."

"I shall do so."

"I don't suppose you could simply speak to him; if he's on His Majesty's service he must have some way of proving it. Some code word or something?"

"But how would we know he is here? The man's been careful not to draw official attention. No, if we bring him in we'd best arrest him outright, for he sure's to know you've been talking to us. We'll have to make inquiries to the folks at Home, and that will take time."

It would, and several months of it even by fast cutter.

"I suppose I must go with him on Friday, then."

"I'm afraid so. But if I know His Lordship, you won't be as alone wherever you're going as Trout thinks you are. We'll be keeping an eye on you."

I nodded. "Perhaps you could make discreet inquiries about my status in the Guild? Trout was so good as to inform me that I owed my chain solely to him, and that he could remove it at any time. I've no idea whether the Guild knows anything about the business or not."

"Messing in guild business, is he? That could be helpful." Jack nodded. "Aye, it could. His Lordship will want to know about that." He eyed me over the last of his ale. "You have a way to get in touch if trouble arises?"

"Yes, I do. I can send word through M. Suprenant; he will know how to reach you."

"Good, then. I'm off, and you'll hear from me tomorrow."

And so I did, but it was brief: "Trout unknown. L.D. will inquire. Eyes open. J."

"L.D." was surely Lord Doncaster; and "Eyes open" presumably was a warning to me and also a promise from Jack, and with that I had to be satisfied.

Trout came with a cart this morning, and carried us north out of town, into a region I'd not ventured into before. It took us several hours to reach what I am calling The Farm: several small fields surrounded by collapsing fences and stone walls near a farm house that will need several days worth of work to be livable, the whole shrouded in deep forest.

"I'm sorry I was not able to find a place in better repair," he said, "but there is fuel and food. I shall return in a week." Of course he wasn't a bit sorry. I told him we would manage, and he did not linger.

And so here we are, Bertrand and I, and I am writing by the light from the kitchen fire for though there is firewood there is no oil and no lamp. Trout made no comment at any time today as to my progress, and I fear that his real goal is only to have me out of communication. He is doomed to disappointment if so.

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Letters from Armorica- Preparations (8 August 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Trout has informed me that we shall be moving to a place he calls "The Farm" at the end of the week; consequently, I am to wrap up our efforts here in Mont-Havre and pack up anything we must take with us. Perhaps fortunately, the hardened block in my first trial quite gave up the ghost sometime during the night; when I tested it this morning it crumbled quite easily. Thus, I have my first data point: under constant load and with the given sizes, weights, and degree of lift, an otherwise unstressed hardened block survived just under twenty days.

This suggests two subsequent trials, which will have to wait until we are settled once again. First I must replace the hardened block with a hardened rod of similar weight, under continual physical stress; and second, at Bertrand's excellent suggestion, another test in which the lifting block is present but not in fact lifting anything. I had considered that to be pointless, but Bertrand is right: Marc Frontenac's sky-sled failed after having been left idle and unused for some weeks. That leaves one of three possibilities. First, the sled may have been on the verge of failure when Marc put it away. Second, it may have been sufficiently near a warming block, or some other greedy object, that its hardened elements were consumed. Or third, the hardened members might be affected by the mere presence of the lifting and steering blocks, even if they are not in use. I find either of the first two possibilities to be most likely, but I must not discount the third, not given my current state of knowledge!

But that will have to wait for next week. In the meantime I have my preparations to make, including several that Trout will, I trust, never discover. Tomorrow I shall send an arrow to my Amelie. On Tuesday I shall dine with M. Suprenant and his family, and I shall leave with him a new receiving board and some arrows, so that we may communicate privately from the Farm wherever it turns out to be.

And on Wednesday I shall lunch with Jack, and I have determined to tell him all that had gone on and is still going on with Trout—although, of course, Trout has directed me to speak of his plans to no one. I am not pleased to be putting myself further into the man's power. He remains incurious as to my degree of progress, merely inquiring if all is going well, and my sense that he is playing some deeper game at my expense increases with each meeting.

How I wish Bois-de-Bas were closer to Mont-Havre! Using the arrows I can summon aid from Marc and the other townsfolk in quite a short time; but with the sky-chairs and wagons currently out-of-use it will take them days to come to me. Hence I must speak to Jack—for I am certain that neither he nor Lord Doncaster have any real notion of Trout's plans.

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