Author Archives: Will Duquette

Letters from Armorica- Alliances (9 Octobre 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I find that I am all to pieces, so much so that I can hardly write.

Today I conveyed Jean-Baptiste to Bois-de-Bas, where I had not been since being hurried away to L’Isle de Grand-Blaireau back in July. Marc is away with the better part of our young men, seeking alliances and harrying the Provençese wherever they can, so long as it is far distant from here, and so things are quiet in our vicinity. Thus, when Jean-Baptiste came to me and said that he must speak to Brigitte’s father—an event long foreseen, at least by Amelie and I—it seemed much the most natural thing to fly him down myself, and as his friend to vouch for him.

I am happy to say that that all went quite well, and if all remains calm we shall bring a party down from the island on Samedi for the wedding. Though for myself I am not calm at all.

But the prospective nuptials are not what has me all aquiver, whatever effect it may be having on Jean-Baptiste. After the meeting with Brigitte’s father I left Jean-Baptiste and began to make a rounds of the village. I was at the Gagnon’s when M. Tremblay came to find me. I believe I have written of the Tremblays before, great friends of Onc’ Herbert (on whom be peace); and M. Tremblay is overseeing affairs in the village in Marc’s absence. He had with him an odd little man with the look of a solicitor, for he was dressed all in black, with lank straw-colored hair and square spectacles. I had often seen his like in Mont-Havre—or in Yorke, come to that—but never out here, in the countryside. Imagine my surprise when he spoke to me in a broad Cumbrian accent!

He begged leave to speak to me alone, which I readily granted; but rather than going into a room by ourselves he insisted that we walk on the green.

“The better not to be overheard,” he said, speaking now in Provençese, perfectly Armorican Provençese. “You are Armand Massey, son of Burlington Massey of Yorke?”

“I do not use that name any longer,” I said. “Here, I am Armand Tuppenny.”

“Quite so,” he said. “Now, I was directed to ask what it was that you received from your father on your twelfth birthday.”

I stared at him. “I beg your pardon?”

He regarded me somberly through this spectacles. “It is easy to claim that you are Armand Massey; and indeed you match the description I was given. In my profession, however, I must observe all due diligence.”

I began to feel a profound sense of worry. “Has something happened to my…to my parents?”

To my surprise, my visitor smiled slightly.

“No, no, nothing of that kind. Now, I must ask again: what was it that you received from your father on your twelfth birthday?”

“I hardly like to say.”

“Nevertheless.”

I sighed. “If you must know, I received a good caning for not having studied my lessons to his satisfaction. I did not sit down for a week.”

“Very good. Though to be precise, it was for defying him in the matter of your forming exercises, was it not?”

“Yes, it was.” That was a detail known only to my father and I. I well remembered the occasion, he and I alone in his sanctum. Very well, this man must be from my father; or, if not, all was already lost in Yorke.

“In that case,” he said, “I have something to show you.”

He led me to the front of the church, which was completely untenanted at this time of week, as though to get out of the wind. We stood with our backs to the green, and he removed a flat box from the side pocket of his coat. He opened the lid, and showed me its contents.

“None of that,” he said, when I reached for it. “All things in due course.”

“But that is my master’s—”

“Not so,” he broke in. “This is a master’s chain of the Former’s Guild in Yorke. It may, perhaps, become your master’s chain. If we can reach an accommodation.” He closed the box and returned it to his pocket. Later, I was able to reflect that this was my father’s mark: never anything without strings attached. At the time I was merely furious.

“What kind of accommodation, monsieur—I do not even know your name.”

“And that is for the best for now. Tell me, M. Massey, where do you stand on the war between Cumbria and le Maréchal?”

I stiffened. “With my Armorican countrymen, monsieur. And my name is Tuppenny.”

“Your Armorican countrymen are divided, M. Tuppenny. Where do you stand?”

“I am quite sure that you know. The cochons have invaded our homes, and abused our people. Armorica will have none of them so long as le Maréchal is in command.”

“Very good. And where do you stand as regards Cumbria?”

“It is the land of my birth.”

“That is good. For I may tell you plainly that Armorica is too weak to stand on its own. This war will end one day; and either le Maréchal or the King’s forces will prevail. And as goes the war, so will go Armorica. Will you support the King in this?”

“What kind of support do you have in mind?”

“Will you speak well of His Majesty to your new…countrymen? Would you provide information to his agents? Would you undertake tasks for him?”

“And if I would not?”

Le Maréchal‘s men in Mont-Havre are looking for one Armand Tuppenny. They know he has gone to ground, but they do not know where, all of the troops sent in this direction having mysteriously disappeared.”

The thread was plain enough. “And what is to stop you from mysteriously disappearing, monsieur?” I found myself trembling with rage. “I should find it easy enough to take the chain from your corpse, and none here would say me nay.”

The man was unmoved. “That is up to you, of course. But if I do not return to Mont-Havre in good time the information as to your whereabouts will be released to the Provençese commander. And more, once His Majesty’s forces have defeated le Maréchal the Guild in Yorke will repudiate you utterly. You know what guild law entails for such an offense. You see, my friend, that you have little choice.”

I have the chain before me as I write. And I must say, my rage is not for the little man in black, but for my father—my father, who will never simply ask when he can coerce, damn him!

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Letters from Armorica- The Master Mind (5 Octobre 34 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It’s been a tiresome week. Little Anne-Marie has been sleeping poorly all week, and keeping Amelie awake at all hours; and given the size of our quarters her fussiness is contagious. And yet the work goes on, and must be done, and done well. Today, however, is Sunday. We have been to chapel; we have had dinner with our neighbors in the mess hall (for it is now too cold to gather out of doors for a meal in any comfort); we have been to the baths, even if in shifts. And now the three of us are snug in our quarters and I have some time to reflect on the past few days.

I have spent most of the week working out the details of my new means of communication and make it viable for actual use. The answer, it turns out, is arrows—or at least something that looks like arrows. As Marc pointed out to me, a man carrying a bag of small pieces of wood is suspicious, but an archer carrying a quiver of arrows is simply an archer. And arrows have another advantage in the field.

First, take a length of log that is an inch or two longer than the shortest arrow your archers can comfortably use with their standard bows. Forming as you go, cut off the inch or two from one end; this is the “homing board”. Cut the remainder of the log lengthwise into arrow-like rods, and shape them appropriately, notching one end for a bow string. These are the seekers, all of which will share the single homing board. Attach a capsule to the pointy end of each seeker, into which a message can be put; or, simply wrap the message around the seeker and secure it in some way. In the latter case, the seeker can have a proper arrowhead.

Next, put the homing board at the top of a tall pole with good lines of sight. The homing ability will turn off when the seeker hits the homing board, so the board should probably be mounted over a basket. Ideally the board should be raised above the treetops, and so could easily be made part of a watch tower.

When you want to send a message to wherever the homing board is, write it out, attach it to a seeker, and launch the seeker into the air. If you are on the ground, you can use a bow to get the seeker into the air over the treetops; from the edge of our island nearest to Bois-de-Bas one can simply toss the seeker over the edge. It will fly to the homing board, not much like an arrow, indeed, where a watcher can retrieve it and open the message.

Bertrand’s lads can use the system to inform us here in the encampment about sightings as well, either by use of a bow or (for shorter distances) by means of a pre-surveyed line of sight from their watch posts to the homing board here on Le Blaireau. Position a small hoop at the far end to mark the spot, activate the seeker, and point it through the hoop. Voila!, as Amelie would say. But we have to be careful about using this latter method; we would not want a seeker to hit some poor soul on the trail.

In the meantime I have uncovered the mystery about Luc and Bertrand. As Luc’s master (for I drew up a formal contract of apprenticeship with Luc’s father) it is my responsibility to house and feed him and see to the rest of his upbringing, and so he has been given a small space adjacent to my quarters in which to sleep and keep his belongings, and he takes his meals with us. (According to tradition he should be sleeping in the workshop, but it is open to the Avenue on one side, and the Avenue is open to the night air at each end, and the nights are growing cold.) He has been diligent at doing his work, which to date has mostly consisted of sawing logs into rods, listening to my lectures, and asking questions so as to avoid going back to the logs.

But sometime he goes missing, quite unaccountably, usually early in the morning or late in the evening. I will pass by his space, and he will be gone. I have not pressed him, but I have kept a watchful eye; and several days ago, when I was unavoidably wakeful, I heard him creeping across the deck outside our room. I followed as quietly as I could.

He went straight to the mess hall, where he found Bertrand; and from the latter’s quiet welcome it was clear that this was no unusual meeting. I watched for a moment—was this a raid on the larder? For we are on a war footing, and food is strictly rationed. We have no farms here on the island, at least not yet, and by this time there is little game. Our food must come from below.

But no—neither made any move toward the galley or the stores. They appeared to be talking, no more. I waited another minute or two, then presented myself. It was almost amusing to watch the blood drain from their faces when the realized they had been found.

“Luc, return to your bed,” I said sternly. Bertrand made as if to rise as well, but I fixed him in his spot with a glance I learned at my father’s knee. When Luc had quite gone, I sat down across from Bertrand.

“Well?”

To my shock, he seemed to be fighting tears. For the sake of his pride I won’t detail the conversation that followed; but it seems that Bertrand and Luc have long had a partnership, since both were much younger. Bertrand has always been the biggest…and, so it seems, Luc has been the smartest. Bertrand has protected Luc, and Luc has provided Bertrand with the advice he needs to keep ahead of the other boys. Luc no longer needs Bertrand’s protection; he’s earned his place among the other boys long since. But Bertrand, it seems, still feels the need of Luc’s advice.

I suppose he might at that. In the last months he has been elevated from simply being the leading boy of the group to a kind of officer, directing the other boys in their duties. It may well be a daunting thing.

“Very well,” I said. “Can you trust Jean-Marc to keep order among the boys in the mess hall?” Bertrand said he could. “Well, then, you shall join Luc and my family for the morning and evening meals; and at that time you may consult with him…and with me. Every commander has a staff, after all. But there must be no more of this sneaking around at night. If you are to be alert for your duties, you must sleep when you can.”

And so it seems that I have acquired another apprentice, of sorts, not in the art of forming, but in the art of leading men.

I ask myself, frequently, how I got into this situation? I sometimes feel that my place here on the island, and in Bois-de-Bois more generally, is held up by nothing more substantial than sustained whimsy. And yet here I am: I tell a man—or a boy—to do something, and he does it, which I find quite unaccountable.

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Letters from Armorica- Homing In (29 Septembre 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Marc,

As you know, I've been pondering how we might quickly send word to you of approaching ships or troops. I believe I might have solved the problem, with a little help from my new apprentice, Luc.

It was late yesterday afternoon. I'd been running him through his preliminary forming exercises, which I won't describe in detail. In order to form you must first learn to see the forces you will be forming, and so the exercises involve lots of staring at formed stones, bits of wood, and shards of pot. It's essential but all too tedious.

That's my observation, not my father's. My father would never admit that anything he directed me to do was tedious.

We were taking a break, and naturally enough he was asking questions about the sky-chairs—in hopes of extending the break, you know. I am sure you have done the same in your time; I know I have. But he asked just the right question to get me thinking. He said, "Master, what would happen if you started a sky-chair moving, then hopped out. Would it keep going? How far would it go?"

I said, "Pretty far, I should think. It would be a waste of a good sky-chair." For of course it would sail off until it hit something. But then I began to wonder. What if there were a way to aim it? For example, suppose I went to the edge of the island, and aimed a sky-chair down at Bois-de-Bas and set it going. I could put a letter or package on the seat of the chair, and presuming the chair arrived you could collect them and send the chair back.

Now, there are many objections to this scheme. My goal is to send word to Bois-de-Bas of approaching troops; and for that to be useful the message must travel exceedingly quickly. A quickly moving sky-chair, poorly aimed, would be far too likely to put a hole through the Tremblay's roof, or worse, through the church's. And then, even a slowly moving sky-chair is quite a noticeable sight; if it were not, I would simply have a man fly the message down.

But suppose…what if there were a way to direct it to a specific spot, so that it wouldn't crash into people's houses? And what if it were very small, just big enough to carry a message, so that it wasn't noticeable going through the air? Then we'd be getting somewhere. I could not see a way to do it, but the idea would not leave me; and yesterday afternoon a notion came to me in the baths.

The essence of the idea is this: things once connected retain a connection. Suppose I were to cut a piece of wood in two, and form both halves in a suitable way. The one half is to remain in place; the other, when properly triggered, is to seek its mate, like birds seeking warmer airs in winter! Attach a message to the seeker, and send it on its way, and there you have it. The bond between the two pieces of wood might be enough to give the seeker the necessary direction.

I have tried this in my workshop with some degree of success, and no little comedy. I began by cutting a length of wood into two equal pieces. Forming them was tricky, but easy enough once I saw how to do it. I put one piece on my workbench and took the other some yards away and set it to going. The results surprised me: the seeker sought out its mate, all right, but when I set it going its mate leaped from the workbench at equal speed and the two met in the middle of my workshop, where they fell to the floor. I am not at all sure what to make of that, but I have discovered that it works much better if the pieces of wood are of unequal sizes, the more unequal the better.

Also, I have learned that the seeker is not too good about going round corners; it works best if there are no obstacles between the seeker and its mate.

Included with this message is a largish block of wood; if you look closely you'll see where I have cut a sliver from one side. Please put the block in a basket in the open air, in a place where you can clearly see L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau in the sky. Tomorrow morning I shall attach a message to the sliver, and send it off to you. I shall send it at about nine of the clock; and for this experiment I will send it slowly. It should take about an hour to reach you—if it reaches you at all. Should it work such a distance, I will begin to work on increasing the speed.

Amelie and Anne-Marie are both quite well, and Brigitte is spoiling them both, though possibly not for much longer; I think we shall see Jean-Baptists and Brigitte settled in their own home quite soon. Please give our regards to Élise!

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- Luc Touchard (24 Septembre 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have, perhaps, found my lad, though I am not sure how well he will like it. For that matter, I am not sure how well I will like it. His name is Luc Touchard. He's a smaller lad than most in Bertrand's crew, and he is both quick and quick-witted. He may have the Former's Gift; I think he does, but it is too soon to tell.

Two things are necessary to the making of a master former. (I can hear my father's voice echoing in my head as I write. How I used to loath his lectures, and how essential I shall find them now!) Two things are necessary, as I say. The lad must have the Gift, and the lad must have the wit. "A stupid fellow with the Gift might find work at one of His Majesty's shipyards, providing brute strength to a team of formers, but he will never be able to work on his own or to represent the Guild in any way!" So quoth my father to me on many occasions; and he nearly always followed it up with, "Is that what you want for yourself, lad? I won't have it, I tell you! I won't have it!"

Luc has the wit; and he may well have the Gift. Of all the boys here on the island, he alone might have both. I can look farther afield if I must, but one thing at a time.

This morning I found Bertrand in the mess hall (for the boys whose families are down below eat and sleep here on Le Blaireau) and told him to bring his lads to see me in my workshop this afternoon; and that I'd arranged with some of the young men to take over the watch for that period of time.

"Oh, monsieur," he said. "You don't want to do that. They won't keep watch as well as we do." He's a proud lad, is Bertrand; and of course, being captain of the boys gives him considerable prestige.

"Not to worry, Bertrand, it's just for this afternoon. I'm looking for a lad to help me with my work."

His face got pale. " Moi, monsieur? But—"

"You are perfectly well-employed where you are, Bertrand. You're doing excellent work. But one of your lads might have the skills I need. I won't know until I speak with them." Bertrand is a sharp lad, but I have worked with him enough to be quite sure that he hasn't the Gift.

"Oui, monsieur."

I lunched with Amelie and little Anne-Marie, and when I came out to my workshop, I found Bertrand and his lads in residence. Or, rather, all but one of them. Bertrand was sitting on my workbench with his lieutenant Jean-Marc by his side, and ten or twelve other lads lolled about on the floor, but one was missing.

"Bertrand, where's the other boy?"

"Other boy, monsieur?" Bertrand is skilled at getting in trouble, or at least he was before I put him in harness, but his facial expressions are most transparent.

"Yes, the other boy. I don't know his name, but I have often seen him with you and Jean-Marc."

Bertrand shrugged a little, and continued trying to look blank.

"I saw him sitting next to you at breakfast this morning. Sandy hair? About a head shorter than you?"

At that, Bertrand deflated. "Oui, monsieur." He dropped down from the workbench and straggled out the door and around the corner, returning only a moment later with the boy I remembered. Apparently the lad had been listening from out of sight.

"And what's your name, lad?" I asked.

"Luc Touchard," he said.

"Your father's a farmer?"

"Oui, monsieur."

"Bon. Now, lads, here's what we're about. I'm looking for a smart young fellow to help me here in my workshop. I'm going to speak to each of you in private, over there; and when I'm done with you, you can go about your business. If you were to be on watch this afternoon, you can take a sled and go to your post; otherwise, you can do whatever you normally do. Do not come back to my workshop to talk with your friends. Got that?"

"Oui, monsieur," they all said, and inwardly I marveled. Authority is a peculiar thing, and somehow I have acquired it! I should never even have attempted to control such a large group of boys when I first came to Armorica.

"Bertrand, I rely on you and Jean-Marc to keep order. As I finish with each boy send the next along. Jean-Marc can come last." Jean-Marc is another boy that I know quite well; he hasn't the gift either, and truthfully I didn't intend to speak to him at all.

Bertrand nodded, but he had a gloomy expression on his face.

I walked across to the avenue to a bench outside the door to my quarters, and we began.

I have never examined candidates for apprenticeship before, and my memories of my own examination are dim; not that there was any chance that a son of my father's line would lack the Gift. But fortunately it is one of the things I was required to write into my grimoire prior to becoming a journeyman (not that I was ever allowed to journey); for a journeyman is on the way to being a master, and a master must know how to examine an apprentice.

The Gift cannot be seen with the naked eye, not quite. There are certain marks to look for: a certain cast to the eyes, a certain set of the chin. Formers tend to have long, thin fingers. These marks I could look for without commenting on them, and I did so. Then there were the questions. What was his earliest memory? Did he ever dream of strange lights? Had he heard voices not his own in the darkness? If so, what did they say? There are a number of these. No man now living knows what they mean, or why formers so often give the same answers to them, so my father said. But they do.

One lad, a dull, thick, fellow, had the chin and fingers I was looking for; and he had often dreamed of lights, among other things, but I could tell he would not do. He was a good lad, stolid and eager to please, but he lacked that spark of wit. In my father's hands he might make a steady but boring living in the shipyards, given a team of brighter formers to work with, but we were not doing that sort of work, nor do two formers make a team. I made a note of his name, though. The time might come when he can be of use, and his future children will be worth watching.

Others had one or two of the marks, or answered a question or two in the desired way, but this, my notes assured me, was not uncommon.

And finally there were three boys sitting across the way: Bertrand, Jean-Marc, and Luc. I waved, and Bertrand gritted his teeth and told Luc to go. Luc looked uncertain, and Bertrand shouted at him, and he came over hanging his head.

I'd feared it would come down to this. Luc had the eyes, and the chin; he had the fingers; and as I spoke with him it became clear that he also had the wit. He answered the questions well. I finished with a question that wasn't on the list.

"Bertrand seems to be a little upset. Can you tell me why?"

He shrugged, his face still downcast. He knew, all right, but he wasn't telling.

"Very well. If your father agrees, Luc, you are going to be working here with me in my shop as my apprentice. I will speak with him. For now, you may go."

"Oui, monsieur." He ran off, his head still down.

I walked over to where Bertrand and Jean-Marc were sitting.

"Thank you for your help, Bertrand," I said. "Luc will be working with me, now, I believe. You may go."

Bertrand was scowling as he went off. I shall have to find out what is behind that.

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Letters from Armorica- Lumber (21 Septembre 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Ask me for anything but lumber!

Wood we have a-plenty—L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau is heavily forested, as are the surrounding lands below—but of seasoned lumber we have but little, and we need far more than we have. Lumber for housing here on the island, lumber for sky-chairs, wagons, and sleds, and just plain wood for cooking, these are in short supply. The problem is particularly acute now that I am working on the design for our transport wagons, which will have a minimum of formed parts. When I was hardening everything, it mattered little whether the wood was seasoned or not: once hardened, a plank will no longer warp or splinter. But our transport wagons will not be hardened, and so seasoned wood is essential.

Gah! I have been going over and over this in my head so that I can hardly sleep. I try to break it down. We must fell trees. We must cut them into timbers, which is slow work; we have no sawmill in Bois-de-Bas. We must let the timbers season; which means getting them under cover, which means we need to build sheds.

That's if we do all of the work here on the island; which means it's probably better to do it downside and store the timbers in Jean-le-Marique's woodshed. But that means moving some of the men back to Bois-de-Bas, a thing I am most reluctant to do. I suppose it is for the best, though. If we fell too many trees here on the island, the gaps will be immediately apparent to anyone who cares to look, and then where would we be?

But what shall we do for lumber in the meantime?

Marc tells me I must not worry. Folk have lived without sky wagons for all of recorded history until now; we will need to make war on le Maréchal's forces without them for a time. In the meantime, he says, we need more sleds and chairs. He has found the sleds to be the most effective way to get sentinels to and from their posts, just as we have here on the island; and he needs the chairs to build his lines of communication with the surrounding towns. A sky chair is much faster than a horse or mule, and can easily be hidden in the woods, out of sight.

Already he has sent messengers north and south, to Bois-de-Soleil and to Trouville, to speak to the leading men there and to sound them out. We must be careful; it is by no means clear that our neighbors will share our views. In addition, he has sent men on sleds to scout the road west towards Mont-Havre. The Provençese will be wondering what has happened to the sloops they sent our way, and the next wave of troops will likely be on foot. We must know where they are based, and when they are coming; and we must have plans to drive them away.

Marc, blessings upon him, has not asked me to participate in this planning, nor to use my gifts to create more weapons of war beyond those I have already designed. Yet I find that I am uneasy in my mind. When I sit of an evening, and hold my daughter, my beautiful Anne-Marie, I am filled with a kind of ferocity in which I would gladly destroy anyone who might threaten her, yes, and sow their fields with salt besides. But then I reflect that even the wicked Capitaine Le Clerc was a mother's son, and possibly also the father of children, children who are now orphans, and I find that my ferocity fades away.

Amelie, I may say, has no such qualms. "If les cochons come here, why, we will deal with them," she says. "They may live for all of me, so long as they live somewhere else, n'est-ce-pas?" And Madame Truc agrees with her. "You are too good for this war, mon fils," she says. "Mon cher mari and I did not come here to be hounded by the men of the old country. If he were here, zut alors! He would show them a thing."

If we are confined to using green wood for the coming months, then I must harden it; and if I must harden it, I must have an apprentice. Tomorrow I will start testing Bertrand's lads; perhaps one of them will have the gift.

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Letters from Armorica- Anne-Marie (14 Septembre 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

And so now I am a father, and Amelie and I have a beautiful daughter. We have named her Anne-Marie.

It is the strangest thing to hear her little cries, oh so tiny, in this camp of war. She is not the only infant in Bois-de-Bois, indeed, but none of the smaller children have come to L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau to date: Bertrand and his lads are the youngest.

I was not present for the birth, no of course not. When Amelie's time came, Madame Poquerie send Jacques to town with a sky-chair to fetch the mid-wife, and when he returned, Madame Truc, Madame Poquerie and Brigitte drove me from her Amelie's bedside.

"This is women's work, mon fils," said Madame Truc to me. "Go away. We will call you when it is over."

I suppose much the same would have happened had we been living in Yorke; although in Yorke I'd just have been banished to another part of the house, there to pace or pretend to busy myself with work or to get drunk (as many new fathers do, so I am told).

But our living space on the former sloop Le-Blaireau is too small for that. I found myself pacing up and down the original portion of the Avenue, from the bank to Le Blaireau and then through it to a sort of balcony where I can look out on the other two sloops, not yet warped into place.

It is a short distance to pace. But on my third return to the bank I found Marc waiting for me; and he and the other men of Grand-Blaireau led me away to the bath house, there to distract me from what was going on in my quarters. There was hot water, and laughter, and, yes, a vast quantity of ale. I can feel it in my head even now. Marc talked about the rebellion, and I talked about our plans for building sky-wagons and how to make the best of our time and our limited lumber supply.

Our current wagons are simple pieces of work with open railings on the sides. The wood is hardened throughout, so they are nearly indestructible, but because they are open they do not offer much protection to the men or goods inside them. But because they are hardened everywhere they are costly in our dearest coin, which is to say my time and effort. That is not work which I can delegate.

I suppose I must find an apprentice. That will be hard, for it is rare to find a lad with the talent to become a former; and then, of course, as a journeyman I am forbidden by guild law to take and train an apprentice. How I wish I knew whether my father or his rival granted me my mastership! Even now, my master's chain may be waiting for me in Mont-Havre, or perhaps hiding in some Provençese commander's coffer. If only I could know that were so! It is the position that matters, not the possession.

But that sky-ship has sailed. I might as well be hanged for a goat as a kid.

And so I must change the design of the sky-wagons. I have decided that we need two kinds: one for general transport, and one for carrying men into battle. The first will be similar to our current wagons in appearance, but only the lifting and control elements will be formed and hardened. In the main, they shall simply be normal wood—and, alas, sometimes green wood at that, for there is no time to allow it all to season. The second kind will have solid rather than opened sides for protection, with loopholes through which the men might shoot at their enemies, and will be hardened throughout. There, at least, the greenness of the wood will be no hindrance, for once the wood is hardened it will no longer matter.

Marc thinks that it might be desirable to have two classes of transport wagon: one as I have described, and perhaps a second kind containing lifting elements only—and that only enough to keep the wagon-bed level and off the ground. This latter kind would be pulled by horses or mules. He is thinking that they would be quicker to build in quantity, as they would take less of my time, and would be more useful in rough terrain than normal ground wagons with wheels. I disagree; much of Armorica is forested, and a ground wagon, whether floating or wheeled, cannot get through the woods without cutting a path through the trees. A true sky-wagon can always ascend above the tree tops.

The discussions and revelry continued through the night, though not of course at the bath house all of that time, or we would have become waterlogged. And then, as the dawn was breaking, Madame Truc came to us and told me that Amelie was perfectly well and had given me a baby girl.

I joined them; and then I could not sleep, so I have been writing this. Marc has ordered me to rest today, and perhaps tomorrow as well: to take joy in my little Anne-Marie, to take care of Amelie, and to sleep as and when I can; and to start again in earnest on my work the day after.

This is not the future I imagined for my child, born into war and rebellion. I imagined living quietly with Amelie in our shop, with our sons and daughters around us, learning the trade, and perhaps finding that one of my lads had the skill to follow me as a former. Instead, here we are, at war with Provençe, and perhaps with some of our Armorican countrymen too. Here I am, building weapons of war. I suppose it is little different than what I would have been doing had I stayed in Yorke, under my father's thumb; for surely the Former's Guild is involved in the construction of His Majesty's navy, and I expect that other work is at a standstill. I am merely working retail rather than wholesale. But I look forward to the day when we may live in peace here, and my creations may transport goods rather than men-at-arms.

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Letters from Armorica- The Goat’s Head (10 Septembre 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Onc' Herbert is dead. The Provençese cochons have killed him. Marc brought us word just after sundown.

They came to Onc' Herbert's farm this afternoon, looking for the men who took and burned their sloop. Their two remaining sloops found the wreckage this morning, one landing and one keeping watch, as the man we left behind reported to me later. They found the "hideout" and the false trail to the east, as we had intended that they should, but it seems that they were not fooled—or, perhaps, we over-estimated their industry. My man reports that instead of following the trail they returned to Bois-de-Bas; and they went to see Onc' Herbert.

I suppose it is not surprising. Bois-de-Bas has no mayor, and no elected officials, no guild-halls or equivalents. It is governed by what we in Cumbria might call a town meeting and my fellow townsfolk call "Sunday afternoon at the hot springs," and by the standard of the hot springs, Onc' Herbert has long been the town's leading elder. In the current crisis it is he, as much as anyone, who has been directing events, as even les cochons have the wit to notice.

The sloops landed in a field near Onc' Herbert's farm house, crushing the rows beneath them, and one fired a gun. Their commander, Capitaine Le Clerc, called for Onc' Herbert to come out. He did; and Le Clerc's men laid hands on him as his people watched, clearly intending to carry him off and interrogate him.

One of the younger farmhands, a lad named Michel, sneaked away and released Onc' Herbert's remaining goats into the farm yard, whipping them on with a length of rope—and the goats went forth like the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The Provençese sailors were greatly surprised, and I think we can regard the question as settled: Armorican goats are not like Provençese goats.

I do not know what young Michel was thinking, or whether he acted on his own. It is entirely possible that he did what he did on Onc' Herbert's orders. The Provençese lay about them with their guns and cutlasses, and Capitaine Le Clerc took off one goat's head with a single stroke of his sword. His men—those who weren't injured—took hold of Michel. And with the head of the goat laying at his feet, Le Clerc drew his pistol and put a bullet in Michel's brain.

That was enough. The folk of Armorica are not Provençese peasants, easily cowed by authority. Or, at least the folk of Bois-de-Bas are not. Onc' Herbert's folk rose up, then, and attacked the cochons—and thanks to Le Clerc's decision to quarter his men in the village proper, Onc' Herbert had many more people on his farm than normal despite having sent some here to Grand-Blaireau. Everyone fought. Elise Frontenac killed two herself, taking them from behind with her belt-knife.

Onc' Herbert was killed by the men holding him when the fighting started; and he and Michel were not the only casualties. Étienne the drover was killed as well, attacking Onc' Herbert's killers, and M. Tremblay's son Alain, among others; and many were wounded. Marc himself has a cut on his forehead and a gash on his leg, and if he'd had to walk to Grand-Blaireau we would not have seen him this night.

But Le Clerc and his men are dead.

I was not there, but I heard about what happened next from M. Tremblay.

When the fighting was over, Marc called for a shovel, and driving it into the ground upright, he took the goat's head and placed it on the end. And he gathered his folk around him, and he said, "Le Maréchal and his men think we are goats to be herded and slaughtered to his benefit. We are not, as these men have found out. It is no longer enough just to protect Bois-de-Bas; we must drive les cochons from Armorica." He waved at the goat's head. "And this: this will be our standard."

I can picture him, tall, haggard with pain, and blood dripping down the side of his face from his wound. "First we must bury the dead. Then we shall send messengers to all of the towns and villages along the frontier. And then, together, we shall retake Mont-Havre."

Most of us men here on the island returned with Marc to help; I have only just returned. Tomorrow, Amelie and I, and all of those of us who remain here on Grand-Blaireau, will descend to Bois-de-Bas for the funerals; and when we return we shall bring the two sloops here and strip them and convert them into living and working space. With two of them we can extend the Avenue clear across the river and begin to open up the land on the other side.

We shall need the space. I had thought we might all return to Bois-de-Bas now that we are coming into the open; but Marc said not. "This must be our base," he said. "You are our secret weapon. We haven't the skill or training to operate the sky-sloops in battle; and so we must rely on you if we are to bring the battle to les cochons. We will need sky-wagons and sleds in great numbers." He laid a hand on my shoulder. "You must never be taken. I'm sorry, Armand, but here you must stay until our victory is complete."

It is hard for me. But he is right, as Amelie is quick to confirm. And with our child coming any time now, it would be hard to be away from her for long.

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Letters from Armorica- The Ambush (7 Septembre 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

The men have returned from their excursion, and the Provençese cochons are down one sloop. The crew were slain to the last man, which I suppose was an unspoken part of the plan, and the sloop burned. I find that I am both pleased and appalled.

Jacques Poquêrie led the group. Having prepared the "hideout" in the grotto, they kept watch for any patrolling sloop; and when one came in sight they laid an ambush. A man in the grotto let a fire smoke briefly and then put it out, just as though a cooking fire had briefly got out of hand. And when les cochons landed to investigate, our men were hidden in and among the trees.

All of our men had guns, and several had bows, for it is not that long since the village had to be completely self-sufficient. We are, after all, on the frontier. There were perhaps thirty men on the sloop, and five were downed by arrows before the rest knew anything was amiss. Several more were taken by bullets, and then our men fell back further into the woods. After that it was like a deadly game of tag. Most of our men led the Provençese sailors further into the woods, picking them off one by one; the rest descended upon the sloop in sky-sleds and fell upon the five left to guard it from above. That was a great risk, for if even one of the cochons had escaped we would be lost.

But I find I haven't the heart to remonstrate with them today.

I am surprised at how easily we have had it against the Provençese to date. Our men know the local forests and ground perfectly well, having hunted in them since they were small, whereas it seems that these sailors are no woodsmen, and are more used to fighting ship-to-ship than on land. I also expect that le Maréchal is keeping his best troops for the main front with the Cumbrians: the sailors left to guard the sloop should certainly have been keeping an eye on the skies, but I am told they were crowded against the rail, trying to track the path of their fellows by the sounds of the shooting.

We lost no one, though there were a number of cuts and scrapes and one sprained ankle; for Jacques, leaped from the sky wagon on their return in his eagerness to share the good news, and came down upon a loose stone. It did not dampen his spirits.

Now we wait for them to discover the burned remains of the sloop. One of our men stayed behind, equipped with a sky-sled; he is in a blind overlooking the remains and will stay there until the Provençese have come and gone.

I wish I could inform our folk in Bois-de-Bas of today's victory, but I was told not to risk it. As of now, only those two know of our plans; and it will go easier with the townsfolk if they do not need to feign surprise when the Provençese command questions them.

There remain two sloops; I greatly fear that they will patrol in tandem in the future. If one stands off while the other lands we will have a great deal more difficulty in taking them.

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Letters from Armorica- News (2 Septembre 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

News, at last! We had a visit from Marc Frontenac late this evening, and none too soon. I was delighted to see him. He came to us quietly after twilight, and left perhaps two hours later. It was a pity that he was not able to stay until morning and speak to everyone here, but I shall have to do that myself. As it is, I shall have to judge carefully what I say and what I do not. For now, I am recording this in the hold of Le Blaireau by the light of a handglow that I will extinguish the moment I am done. Everyone else has long since gone to bed.

The Provençese cochons have taken over all of the best houses in the village itself; the townsfolk, those who aren't here on the island, have either dispersed to outlying farms or are living cheek-by-jowl in the smaller homes that remain. Onc' Herbert himself has taken in many.

Passions are running high. The townsfolk are angry, as is only natural, and les cochons are angry for they have not found any evidence of their missing sloops. There have been no brawls, to my surprise, but then most of the younger men are gone—are here on the island, in fact. But there have been harsh words, and harsh looks, and I am glad for her sake that Amelie's friend Brigitte has come to us, for soldiers are soldiers everywhere.

The Provençese have been scouting the surrounding area by day and by night and have found nothing; yet they are certain that there must be something, for the missing sloops never made it to the adjoining regions.

Onc' Herbert has decided that it is time to give them something to find. Tomorrow night I shall send a group of men to a grotto well to the east of Bois-de-Bas. It is one of the larger grottoes in the vicinity, and well known to the young men of the town, who often use it as a hunting camp, or go out there for the night as a kind of adventure. It is too distant from the town for casual use, not like the grottoes where our hot springs are; and it is hard enough to find if you don't know the way that it is unlikely that les cochons have found it. The men will set it up as a base for insurgents: fresh fires, a modicum of foodstuffs, and other evidence of recent occupation. It will not be hard to make it convincing, given its past history. And there they shall stay until the next sloop comes by on patrol. They shall draw it in and take it and burn it, and then flee to the east on foot.

And when night falls, then of course they shall return here by air, leaving no trace.

I had many questions.

Why burn the sloop in place? Why not make it disappear altogether? But that of course is the point: the Provençese do not know what is happening to their men and materiel. Here we shall give them something to see, and a trail leading away from Bois-de-Bas. They will send a patrol and find the downed sloop; they will most likely find the "base", and will certainly find the trails to the east; they will discover that none of the townsfolk they have seen are missing, and that there is no fresh trail to or from Bois-de-Bas; and they will spend much time looking farther afield, where there is nothing to be found.

I also asked about the base. If it is well-hidden, why not use it as a base in actuality? Why plan to cede its location to the enemy? Marc told me that it was too well-known. Everyone in Bois-de-Bas but us newcomers knows of it, and all the men older than twelve know how to get there. The folk of Bois-de-Bas are stalwart against le Maréchal's interlopers, but les cochons are ruthless. Someone would talk. Better to give it to them at a time of our choosing. And if by chance they do not find the grotto on this occasion, perhaps we can repeat this again in a week's time.

And besides, he said with a nudge and a wink, we have a better base. I am afraid that I blushed.

I shall have to ask for volunteers for this escapade, but I'm sure there will be no lack of them. The difficulty will lie in keeping Bertrand's lads here on the island. I should quite like to go myself, for that matter, but Marc strictly forbade me to do so; and if he had not, I am sure that any number of voices here on the island would say the same, starting with my darling Amelie. I confess I am glad to remain here with her. Her time is near, and so she sits in our apartment here on Le Blaireau, knitting blankets and such like, and Jean-Baptiste comes in twice a day to consult, and to visit Brigitte.

Things move quickly during war-time, and I think we shall have another wedding quite soon.

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Letters from Armorica- Waiting (31 Août 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

The last three days have been among the longest in my life, not excluding the weeks spent on the Lombard in transit to Armorica. No fires, no light at night, no building during the day, nothing to do but sit and worry. It is not good for me; it is not good for any of us except Amelie, who in her condition might well do a good deal more sitting and resting than she has been willing to. It seems to me that our child might come any day, but she assures me that there remains at least two more weeks.

For myself, I have tried to keep busy, for forming, at least, is not a noisy endeavor in and of itself, and there is useful work I can do. It can be cold at night, here on our island in the sky, and while light is forbidden there is no reason for us to be cold, not while I still have my skills. The same kind of heating blocks I provided to the bathhouse to heat the water can be used, if carefully contained, to heat tents and huts. The blocks in the bathhouse I made of metal, brought from Bois-de-Bas for the purpose; but metal is scarce here on the island and so I am forced to make do with wood, and wood is tricky for this purpose: even hardened wood will burn if it gets too hot. Thus, the heating blocks I am producing now will provide a gentle warmth, but are no good for cooking. They will not even boil water.

If this goes on for long I may need to re-purpose the bathhouse heaters. I wish we had more metal on hand.

In the meantime we are keeping watch, keeping silence, and waiting for word from Bois-de-Bas. We have heard nothing more; all we know is what we can see from our watch posts—and Bertrand’s boys have been keeping careful watch. They tell me that the three new Provençese sloops have been quartering the region, sailing slowly hither and yon. No doubt they are looking for encampments. They can see for themselves that many of the villagers are missing, including many of the young men; no doubt they imagine that there is a band of them out in the woods who are responsible for the loss of their sloops and men. It would be funny if it were not so serious: here we are, high above them, watching their efforts; and yet we are not the ones responsible for their losses, but rather Onc’ Herbert and his hunters. Les Cochons are living in the very “bandit encampment” for which they are searching, and they do not know it!

So they are searching, and that is well and good, for there is nothing for them to find. But what are they doing in Bois-de-Bas? What are they doing to our friends and families? A deputation came to me today; one of Jacques Pôquerie’s helpers wants to take a sled and investigate the village. I had to forbid him, of course, for if he were discovered, all would be lost. I told him that Onc’ Herbert would surely send Étienne or Marc with news if there was anything we needed to know. I pray he will, and soon.

But of course Jacques’ man is simply bored, tired of waiting, tired of nothing to do; and his imagination is filling his head with all manner of evils that might be taking place on the ground.

Perhaps tomorrow I will send the young men out to thoroughly explore the rest of the island. We have had no time for that, hitherto. We established the watch posts around the rim, and the paths to and from them, and we have done a modicum of hunting; but most hunting has been done in the forests below, now that Old Man Blaireau is no more and his fur graces Amelie’s bed, and for the rest our efforts have been directed to building our homes here. I still hope to find caves or grottoes big enough for our community to hide in, and maybe even to dwell in. It would be well to be underground and out of sight should les Cochons come calling.

Some folk might be unwilling to move underground, but I know my people. Grottoes come naturally to the folk of Bois-de-Bas; and all I need do is move the bathhouse first, and all the folk will follow.

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