Author Archives: Will Duquette

Letters from Armorica- Ground-breaking (16 July 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Today we finished clearing the ground for Tuppenny Wagons' new home! I have seen how quickly my fellow townsfolk can put up a new barn, so it shouldn't be long before we can move in and get to work.

Amelie already has ten or so orders in her ledger; one is from M. Trousseau, the lumberman, for a wagon to carry logs to his mill. I have been pondering how best to meet his needs for some time, and after much discussion with Jacques we think we have come up with a solution.

At present, M. Trousseau's men do the rough cutting where the trees are felled, and then haul the sections to the mill by harnessing them to a team of oxen and dragging them. This is hard on the software woods (though not on bronzewood), and also hard on the oxen. But there has been no help for it: the sections are quite heavy, too heavy to easily lift onto a wagon; if there were roads for wagons, which there are not.

Now suppose we made a pair of lifting elements that could be strapped onto each end of a section of trunk. The first of the pair would have the attachments for harnessing a yoke of oxen. The second would have a hardened skid as an aid to dragging the section—for from our experiences with wagons, we do not consider that lifting the entire log into the air is a good way to transport it, as a floating section of log could easily get out of hand and crush someone. No, we intend that the lead end should float just off the ground, while the hind end should simply be lightened but not lifted.

To this we would add other lifting elements, with straps, that can be attached to a log and used (with care) to move it about "by hand", as, for example, onto the bed of the sawmill, or just to lift it enough to get the transportation fittings attached to the ends.

We will be presenting our ideas to M. Trousseau tomorrow; and no doubt will be told that we have missed some vital point, and shall have to start over. Still, I think we are making progress.

In the meantime, Jacques and Luc and I have nearly completed our first two wagons for sale; and Amelie will be sending word to the buyers in a day or so.

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Letters from Armorica- Ducks (28 June 36 AF)

First Letter

Mon cher Leon,

His Lordship is attempting to use guild law to put pressure on me to make my home in Mont-Havre. It was delicately done, by a brief word from Jack—while I am sure he would like to have Tuppenny Wagons based in Mont-Havre our mutual venture was nowhere mentioned, but only the legal status of the Armorican Former's Guild. I have put him off for the time being, but we must get our ducks in a row, as they say in Cumbria.

I enclose a copy of my letter to Jack, so that you know the full position; you are free to discuss it with him, if you think necessary; but I am concerned that he is in a delicate position himself, and I would not wish to put a strain on his loyalty to His Lordship. That would not be fair to him as a loyal and trusted aide, nor as my cousin and friend. But you will know best, I am sure.

I suppose I didn't need to say any of that; and naturally you drew certain conclusions from having received this by arrow.

You had best read the letter to Jack before continuing.

What I chiefly need to know is the state of Armorican law (and of the city of Mont-Havre's law, if there can be said to be such a thing, apart from Armorican law) regarding the establishment and maintenance of guilds. This must be kept quiet; I am sure you know someone who can help.

But second, as I most definitely did not discuss with Jack: I should like to know the laws regarding the establishment of new city charters. I have no wish to formally move the guild house to Bois-de-Bas; but at present I cannot even threaten to do so, as Bois-de-Bas is nothing more than a rather large village at present. That must change when our business grows larger and so I would have asked this question eventually in any event. I have discussed the possibility with a few of the folk here, with positive results (the idea of Bois-de-Bas being the second city of Armorica piques their vanity if nothing else) but of course we should have to have a town meeting to settle it. Before that, I should need to know precise details.

This question, you will understand, must be kept deadly quiet. I am sure that Armorica's charter as a colony has rules for the chartering of new cities, rules that quite possibly no one has looked at in decades; we have been a backwater here, and our towns and villages haven't needed the protection a city charter provides. As soon as the question is raised, however, there will be those who wish to change the rules to their advantage—and, possibly, to our disadvantage—and should we choose to pursue the matter I should like to have it a fait accompli under the law before any such legislation can be suggested.

I do not think we are in great danger, Leon; His Lordship is a reasonable man, and if necessary I will journey to Mont-Havre to speak to him myself. But my father taught me never to show my cards, and always to bargain from a position of strength. I find it distressing how useful his advice is becoming.

Affectionately,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- Guild Rules (27 June 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Jack,

Well, now. That's an interesting conjecture on His Lordship's part; and as you tell me Lord Doncaster has only my best interests in mind in bringing it to my attention, I must of course believe you.

It is certainly true that in Cumbria—or, rather, in Yorke, for historically the Guild, though united, owes its existence to its charter in each city—well, not to put too fine a point on it, yes, in Cumbria a guild must maintain a regular presence at its guild houses or lose its status before the law. That is, ultimately, the foundation of my legal argument for assuming mastery of the Former's Guild here in Armorica—the Confrerie des Thaumaturges packed bags and returned to Provençe, abandoning the field decades ago.

Best interests or not, this is an absurdly transparent attempt on His Lordship's part to persuade me to move lock, stock, barrel, and company to Mont-Havre. That would kill two birds with one stone: I would preserve the guild by taking up residence in the Guild Hall, a pleasant enough space, and His Lordship would have me ready to hand.

But you know, Jack, that my father expected me to take over the Cumbrian Guild from him in good time, and so spent more of my apprenticeship teaching me Guild Law, especially as regards this sort of thing, than he did teaching me forming. It was always a bone of contention between us, but after so many years it stuck well enough. And I can tell you, the situation is less simple than it looks.

Under Cumbrian law, His Lordship would be perfectly right. But we are in Armorica. The Former's Guild here has its origin in the Cumbrian Guild, as represented by my person; but it is the Armorican guild, and is free to adopt its own unique rules as circumstances dictate. To be blunt, within certain customary limits, the laws of the Armorican Former's Guild are what I say they are.

And, of course, within the limits of the laws of the land in question.

The question is, what are the Armorican laws regarding guilds? Before the war, I expect they would have been the same as the Provençese laws, Armorica being considered a province of Provençe; but what are they now? His Lordship is the Crown's representative in Armorica, more or less by right of conquest; but as a protectorate of Cumbria rather than as a province. His Lordship is here with the agreement of the population, and that only because His Lordship's hand has been light, and he has chosen to allow us to retain such of our local laws as seem good to us. Armorican laws apply. And then, the overarching law of guilds is ultimately the law of the city corporations, taken together, as they involve guilds, which is to say, the law of Mont-Havre.

So what is the law of the City Corporation of Mont-Havre as regards guilds? That is what I must determine—for I tell you plainly, I have no intention of making my home in Mont-Havre as a long-term proposition. In the meantime, the phrase "a regular presence" is subject to interpretation; and for the time being I am happy to establish a presence there at least once a year.

Might I add—I have no wish to discommode His Lordship; indeed, I am happy to hear any proposal he might have for me. But Bois-de-Bas is my home. If His Lordship truly has my best interests at heart, he will respect that.

Your affectionate cousin,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- Making Haste Slowly (6 June 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Leon,

Everything seems poised to go so fast, and yet proceeds so slowly! Amelie received three inquiries for road-wagons before I'd ever returned to Bois-de-Bas, and several more have come in during the last month. There would be many, many more, I feel sure, if we began to use our only road-wagon to haul goods in earnest between Bois-de-Bas and Mont-Havre, but it will be too useful to us here as we get La Compagnie des Wagons Tuppenny started. That, and as you say we must move avec prudence: let us by all means have a few wagons to sell and the ability to produce more before we starting enflaming demand too much!

And that will take a little while. CWT has so many needs, and even though so many are readily available here in Bois-de-Bas it takes time to get them all together. Lumber, for example. We have been using chêne-pierre because it is common here, and it was easy enough to gather sufficient seasoned wood for a single wagon; but if we are to make many such we need a steady supply, and that requires planning.

And then, Jacques has suggested that we might use a proportion of beechpine in place of chêne-pierre, as it is softer and easier to work, and might do equally well for the parts of the wagon that aren't load-bearing. And as far as that goes, it might do quite well for the hardened struture as well—though I will have to carefully determine whether the material to be hardened has an effect on the degree of effort a hardened block can make available to the other parts of the wagon. I don't believe it does; it seems to have more to do with shape and geometry.

But if we can, then using beechpine could result in a considerable savings of both time and money—except that we would have to acquire it from a distance, and it would need to be hauled here, and we would need you to set up relationships with those who sell it.

Oh, my. I have just imagined a discussion I must have with M. Trousseau, who owns our local lumber mill. Imagine, mon cher Leon, a road-wagon for hauling logs…to a lumber mill outfitted with formed devices for moving them easily. I'm picturing something like an object with a strap for strapping around a log that provides lift. Strap two or more around the log at intervals, and it should be possible to lift the log into the air and move it into place. It would need to be carefully designed: as with our road-wagon, you wouldn't want the log to get away from you. But it seems that the work could be made much easier and safer than it is now, and that would be worth quite a bit.

Hah! Perhaps we might acquire our chêne-pierre at a lower cost than we had planned! Yes, and then sell the equipment to other places in good time!

But our deepest needs are two: men to do the work, and a place for them to do it. The latter is the more pressing, as we have some number of young men who came here during the war and are eager to stop "feeding the goats" as my townsfolk have begun to say—that is, to do the unpleasant jobs that as newcomers they are most welcome to do. I've no doubt they have friends in their home villages who are eager to the do the same.

The facility is easy enough, in principle: all we need to get started is, effectively, a barn, to get us out of the weather, and that's a structure that the people here know well how to build. And quickly, too, as I saw with our town hall some while ago. But there is no place to put it right here in town, as the town hall got the last available space for such a large structure; and in any event no one wants it right here in town anyway. Marc and I have found a property some miles to the west of town: a nice spot on dry, high ground, but with bad soil for farming or it would have been taken decades since. The land will need to be cleared, of course, but we should have something in place in a month or two, enough to get started. It is a place of the most excellent, as Amelie noted to me, because it overlooks the road from Mont-Havre. We shall put a large sign on the front, and every drover who goes by will see it.

The more difficult issue is how we divide up our time, Jacques and Marc and I. Jacques remains our cabinet-maker here in Bois-de-Bas, but we will need him to build the first several wagons, and then to oversee the work. He will need to take on another apprentice or two, it seems, which will further restrict his time in the short run. And Marc, of course, has his farm; but he is planning on spending a good bit of his time on our new endeavor, and if it goes well he might, so he tells me, give up farming altogether.

Ironically, my services are the least of it so far as building the wagons goes; and I begin to see how the Former's Guild has become so powerful and its members so lazy. The forming proper is a small fraction of the effort required to produce a finished wagon; some of it I can do here in my workshop, and the rest can be done on-site quickly enough. And yet, only a former can do it. It will be quite some time before the work required is beyond the strength of Luc and myself. Still, I suppose I should begin looking for another apprentice. Luc is progressing quickly, now that he has learned to read and write fluently; his indentures run for another five years, but he will be capable of journeyman work long before that.

So there is much to wait for—but of course we are not waiting for all of that to fill the first few orders. Jacques and I have revised the design somewhat after our journey to and from Mont-Havre, and have begun work on the first few orders; and Amelie has designed a pretty little emblem we can place on each wagon, like a hallmark. On a part of the hardened structure, naturally, so that it can't be removed!

And so we go on, mon cher Leon, so we go on!

Affectionately,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- A Little Stir (3 May 36 AF)

First Letter

Ma chère Amelie,

Our trip to Mont-Havre has been more glorious than I could have expected. The journey itself was a treat: I knew riding in a floating wagon would be much more pleasant than in a conventional wagon with wheels, but I had not accounted for the lack of bumpiness over the course of an entire day. For once I do not feel battered and bruised as I sit down to my evening meal!

I do believe our road-wagons will change the geography of Armorica. The little towns of Honfleur and Petit-Monde are spaced about a day's walk apart on the road from Bois-de-Bas to Mont-Havre, a distance suitable enough for oxen as well; but we made quicker time than I have ever made before. The oxen didn't get so tired as quickly, and though we stopped briefly in Honfleur for water and necessaries we spent the night in Petit-Monde. It made for a very long day, so that we would much have preferred to stop midway between the two; but still, to arrive in Mont-Havre on the second day!

If only the wagon were self-motivating, I do believe we could easily have made it in one day. But Marc was correct: there is far too much traffic on the road for that to be safe in unskilled hands. We must have passed twenty or thirty other wagons today, some going our way, some coming the other way; and the road is narrow and far from straight. Had we been moving faster, I think there would have been some dangerous collisions! A fine thing it would be for our new company to go bankrupt before it was formed, through paying damages to other firms.

But the glorious part, chérie, is the look on the faces of the other travelers and those who dwell in the little towns as they suddenly realize that our wagon is different. We have been stopped for a talk by many of them, and I have told them to contact me, Armand Tuppenny, care of the shop in Bois-de-Bas. I expect you will already have heard from at least one or two by the time you receive this. I have been collecting the directions of those who are interested; do you the same, and we shall—but I am not to be telling you how to conduct business, chérie!

Today we all met: M. Suprenant, Marc, Jack, and I, with Luc in attendance; blessedly, Lord Doncaster did not feel the need to be present, though I expect that he might still drive a difficult bargain when it comes time to address selling wagons to the Crown. We had a fine dinner at M. Suprenant's home, and then had a long talk after the table had been cleared.

Most of the details were settled quickly, as things so often are among friends; and may I say that Marc and Leon Suprenant are well on the way to becoming friends? I could ask nothing better.

There will be one hundred shares. Leon will own the grand-blaireau's share, of course, as the money is his; I begin with fifteen, as the former who can make it possible; Jacques Pôquerie with ten as the builder, and Marc and Jack each have five, leaving Leon with sixty-five…at present. Part of our agreement (all properly written down, I assure you) is that Jacques and I shall be able to purchase shares from Leon as we begin to earn money, so that in time you and I shall own the largest share. For now, it is Leon who is taking the most risk.

Though I know you will be pleased I find I am rather embarrassed to tell you the name we settled upon for the new venture. I favored a simple name like Armorican Wagons, but the others insisted on "La Compagnie des Wagons Tuppenny", or as we would say in Cumbrian, Tuppenny Wagons. We wrangled over it for quite some time, but ultimately they wore me down. I tried to argue that it was a bad name, that the wagons would cost quite a bit more than tuppence, that our customers would find it confusing, and Jack laughed at me and told me I should have chosen my nom de guerre more carefully, and that it was a proper stick in the eye for my father.

It is true, I should like to see the look on his face, chérie. His son, grandmaster of the Former's Guild in Armorica, engaging in trade—and under such a name as Tuppenny! And when we are successful, as I am sure we shall be, I am not sure which will annoy him more: that I am bringing shame on the family by engaging in trade, or that I am not using his name, so that he can't take credit for our success.

It has been a long day, chérie, and there is much to do tomorrow; but I should be home late on Samedi. Kiss Anne-Marie and Margaret for me!

Your loving husband,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica– Avec Prudence (29 April 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Tomorrow at last I will set out to Mont-Havre to speak with M. Suprenant and Lord Doncaster…and I shall do so in style!

Jacques and I have spent this week building a fine road-wagon: a simple affair, based on a normal wagon body, but with just enough in the way of lifting blocks to carry it a foot or so off of the ground, and sled-like runners on which to rest for loading and unloading. The wagon has no motive block, and must be pulled by horses or other beasts of burden—or, rather, instead of a motive block it has what I call a braking block so that it will slow down on its own. The braking block was a late addition, developed after our wagon narrowly missed maiming two of Marc's best oxen. It is always active.

As a result, this wagon has only one control, to lift it into the air or lower it to the ground. Once lowered, it will not move; and once raised it may be pulled about like any other wagon. Almost like any other wagon: it never requires quite as much work to pull as a normal wagon would on smooth and level ground, regardless of the footing or slope.

It is a modest effort, far less than I could do: even Luc can do most of the necessary forming. But it is easily formed, and the unformed parts are easily built, and it should be no more difficult for a drover or farmer or carter to use than a normal wagon—while being much easier on the horses or oxen, and never breaking a wheel.

I had been all in favor of going straight to a full-fledged sky-wagon, or possibly what one might call a sky-skiff, but Marc and Jack between them talked me out of it. Jack's argument is that anything I make in this line will have military implications—what I want is a patent royal, and it will be much easier to get one if I offer my more advanced vehicles to the crown first. Marc's argument is more down to the earth, as one might say. He well remembers the day his sky-sled went to pieces around him, tumbling him to the ground. Our first customers are much less likely to kill themselves using a road wagon than they would with a sky-sled, sky-chair, or sky-wagon. "You are tres intelligent, Armand, and your work, it is digne de confiance. But still, let us move avec prudence." M. Suprenant, whom we consulted by arrow, agrees. "A man who falls from a wagon is bruised, while a man who falls from the sky, donc, he is killed. Let us remember that les idiots, they are always with us. Let us act so that they do not destroy what we are building."

All three are right, of course, and our unexpected need for a braking block (so that the wagon may also move avec prudence) is just an example of the wisdom of taking it slowly. And speaking of prudence, I must here record, since I neglected to do so above, that the braking block was Luc's notion!

And so tomorrow, Marc, Luc, and I will journey to Mont-Havre in our road-wagon, there (I hope) to acquire a patent royal and form a new company under the auspices of the crown. It shall not be a small endeavor: M. Suprenant for funding, Jacques Pôquerie for the design and normal building, myself for the forming, Marc and Jack for friendship and aid. And possibly Lord Doncaster, though I would prefer if he had no explicit role in the new company. I am glad to give him any credit, but I would prefer if our efforts were purely Armorican-owned. Always assuming that I can persuade Jack to make his life here, as I increasingly hope I can. But Lord Doncaster, as the Crown's representative here, must always be an outsider.

There will be pressure to locate our company in Mont-Havre, but we intend to place it in Bois-de-Bas. It is my home; the necessary materials are here in abundance; and it is past time for Armorica to have another commercial center.

And now, to bed for a good night's rest.

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Letters from Armorica- Regions of Safety (22 April 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Jack,

Thank you for the material you sent me on—

Oh my, has it been that long? Yes, looking at my journal I see it's been over a week since I received it. I beg your forgiveness—your sheaf of notes was exactly what I needed to make progress, and I have only just now come up for air.

What I have done, Jack—mostly, anyway, I suspect I will be filling in the corners for some time—what I have done, I say, is work out the mathematical laws by which greedy and generous formed objects interact. As a result, I am now able to design sky-chairs and other similar vessels that will contain both—and indeed a plethora, nay, a superfluity! of other things—and with perfect safety—

I am not very coherent today, I find.

I shall take a deep breath, and try again.

It has been a very long week, Jack. It began when I received your letter, and since then every waking moment has been consumed by my work. I have been elated and snappish by turns, and I have hardly left my workshop even to sleep. On the second day my Amelie took to leaving me plates of food on the counter, and that evening, smiling serenely, she left me a pile of blankets. "You will come out when it is done, n'est-ce pas? " And I believe she must have spoken to Jacques-le-Souris, for it just now occurs to me that my usual crowd of old men, my village elders, have been absent for most of that time.

Or perhaps they simply peeked in the window and were driven off by my unkempt hair and wild manner.

No matter. It is done, Jack. I have proven mathematically that it is possible to build self-powered flying vessels that will not self-destruct as my early efforts did. Yes, certainly, we knew that was possible—the sky-freighters and warships that ply the Abyss prove that. But I now know the relationships between the degree of hardening and the degrees of lift and motive power that are safe; and more than that, I know the range of designs that are workable, that fall within what I call in my head the region of safety. It is a much broader region than the shipbuilders of the Lands of the Abyss seem to think.

This will change the craft of forming forever, Jack. And it will provide a fortune for Amelie and my daughters, and for my friends here in Bois-de-Bas.

And now, Jack, I need one more thing of you. I shall be coming to Mont-Havre in a day or two, and I need you set up a meeting with M. Suprenant, Lord Doncaster—my thanks to him!—and myself. And you, of course. I will need funds, experience in trade, and the good will of the government to bring this off—and quite aside from that, I remember my friends.

And now, I believe, I must go sleep in a real bed. Amelie will see that this gets sent to you, at least, if she is not completely out of patience with me.

I have done it, Jack. I am happier than I can well express.

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- A Game of Darts (8 April 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Jack,

I hope all is well with you, and that you've not broken too many hearts in Mont-Havre; there are several tender ones here in Bois-de-Bas, I do believe, who would rejoice in making your acquaintance once again.

Your Sergeant Allen has proven to be quite the treasure. His inn, Le Cochon's Head, has proven just the social center I hoped it would be, and with him behind the bar there's been little in the way of drunken trouble for me to take official notice of. He's a solid man, if stout looking; and the same describes the truncheon he keeps near to hand, not that he's had to make much use of it. He has the knack, Jack, and the townsfolk like him.

I shall tell you a story. Some while ago, Claude Fourneau got into a brawl with Guy Sanfois over a game of darts. Fourneau is one of our newer men, a fellow from Fôret-Rose who came here during the war; Sanfois is one of Marc Frontenac's hired men, and a third-generation resident. It was the usual sort of thing: Claude said Guy had shot with his foot over the line, Guy denied it, both had been drinking heavily, names were called, fists were thrown (and mostly missed), and it was about to become general when Allen stepped in and told them that if they were going to have a fight they were going to "do it proper," at least if they ever wanted to drink in his inn again. He'd never seen such poor excuse for fisticuffs in his life, and he wasn't going to stand for it.

I assure you, Jack, every jaw dropped.

Allen escorted them both outside, followed by all of the other drinkers, and sketched out a circle in the road with his foot. He pushed them both inside, and proceeded to give them both instruction in how to properly throw and receive a punch, how to block, and so forth. I'm not being coy, Jack; I don't mean he beat them up. I mean that he let them beat each other up under his tutelage, and damme if they both didn't improve quite a bit despite being half-seas-over.

And then they both collapsed, more or less simultaneously, and their friends took them home at Allen's direction, and everyone else went inside and had a round of Allen's excellent beer. Claude and Guy were back the next day, battered but happy, shook hands with good will, and last I heard were still badgering Allen for more lessons.

Bois-de-Bas remains a frontier town, as you can see; and I may say that the local ladies were quite impressed. At least one of your erstwhile admirers has set her cap at the good sergeant, and as I expect to see a wedding before Deuxième Débarquement in June you will have to move quickly if you wish to regain your place in her heart!

I joke, of course, but in all seriousness: when might we see you here again? I am eager to come to Mont-Havre, weather permitting, but I cannot bring Amelie and the girls, nor have you yet laid eyes on your newest cousin.

In the meantime I have a favor to ask of you; or, possibly, for you to ask of His Lordship. I am close to making a breakthrough, Jack, but I need numbers. More specifically, I need the plans and details of a small sky-ship: a sloop, or something of the sort. A sloop-of-war would be preferable, but I will take whatever I can get.

As you know, I have had occasion to examine two such sloops, both Provençese in origin, so I have a good idea of their draughts and dimensions; what I do not know is their tonnage: how much they weigh, how much material goes into them. If I can get some numbers, Jack, I am poised to make some major advances in shipbuilding—a good thing for me and mine, for Armorican industry, and potentially for Cumbria as well.

If it is possible to get what I need without involving His Lordship I would prefer it—for I have become a shopkeeper, Jack, no doubt to my father's dismay, and wish to be able to drive the hardest bargains I can—but I would never wish you to go behind Lord Doncaster's back. I owe him too much for that.

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- The Sleeping Sloops (4 April 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

How I wish I had another master former to discuss my research with—one trained by a different master, and preferably from a different guild house altogether. I have learned much from Master Grenadine’s books and more than I had realized from my father; but I cannot talk matters over with a book, and I have never at any time been able to discuss anything with my father. Luc is a great help and comfort to me, a lad of surprising insights, but of course he knows less of the history and development of our craft than I do.

Because I have not the aid of another master, I must take unusual risks. And this week I build for myself a new sky-chair, along different lines than before. For my first practical sky-chairs I hardened as much of the vehicle as I could, all but the lifting blocks; in later cases I hardened almost nothing, having not the time for it. But I have come to believe that both methods are prone to catastrophe: if everything is hardened, the hardened elements bear so little tension they provide no significanteffort to the greedy lifting blocks; and if nothing is, the lifting blocks will draw effort willy-nilly from whatever is around, to the detriment of any generous formed objects in the vicinity.

The new chair has been designed so that only certain load-bearing elements are hardened—so that whether the chair is flying or on the ground, it is “hanging”, as it were, from the hardened elements, and so putting tension on them. At all times, then, effort is produced; and if my theories and calculations are correct, this effort will sustain the lifting elements.

I am morally certain that this tactic works in principle; but my mathematics are as yet insufficient to prove that my new chair will be stable in the long-term. And yet, the sky-ships that ply the Void between the lands use lifting and motive blocks, as I well recall, even though they do not rely on the motive blocks for any great degree of propulsion, but on their sails. The motive blocks are only for maneuvering slowly in the harbor.

It is a proven design, doubtless achieved by trial and error over many years a very long time ago; and doubtless far more conservative than it needs to be. But it would provide a useful data point to me, should I be able to examine such a ship, to see just where the hardened elements of the ship are, and how they are held in tension, and how strong the lifting and motive elements are.

And of course, we left two sky-sloops suspended over the river on L’Isle de Grand-Blaireau, ready for me to investigate, if only I could reach them. Hence the new sky-chair, and hence the adventure.

I took Jacques Pôquerie with me, for his strength (and for his company, truth be told), and we made the journey north and up over the lake to the sky-island. (And how, now I come to think of it, does the sky-island remain floating in the sky? Is it by the same principle as my sky-chair, or something wholly other?)

The camp was much as we had left it, with the two sloops hanging solidly in place just as we’d left them. Some distance away I found the terrifying remains of the sky-chairs, sleds, and wagons we’d cached on the island. It was worse than I had feared: every hardened element had decayed to powder, and the place was a shambles.

Some of the sky-wagons, the ones I had had no time to “fortify”, looked to be in good working order, and would no doubt be quite safe to use…but would work irretrievable harm on any hardened objects placed close by.

Leaving the sloops to the side for the time being, Jacques and I busied ourselves by retrieving the lifting elements from amid the decay and placing them to one side. They are all in good shape and might conceivably be reused, though I dare not bring them all back to Bois-de-Bas en masse. The remaining wagons I may be able to do more work on, one of these days, judiciously hardening this and that to render them “stable,” so that they may be used without harm to the formed objects around them.

And then I spent a happy few hours exploring the sloops, identifying the various formed elements, and taking all manner of measurements. My memories were correct; the sloop as a whole hangs from a hardened super-structure incorporated into the railing and gunwhales around the perimeter of the deck, and is supported by its hardened keel; and the hardened elements are themselves upheld by the lifting elements, which are quite good-sized and always in operation. The motive blocks are quite small and localized near the stern of the sloop, just forward of the rudder.

I found no evidence of decay in any of the hardened elements, which are undeniably under great tension. Alas, I have no way of measuring it: I have no means of estimating the weight of the elements that depend upon them. The information must be available somewhere, though possibly not in Mont-Havre. But if I can acquire it, and if I can finish my trials and my mathematical excursions, I have every reason to think that not only can I build sky-chairs and wagons that are safe, I will also be able to design sky-ships that are lighter than those currently in use—and much less dependent on their sails.

It is time, I think, to make a trip to see M. Fournier in Mont-Havre, and Cousin Jack as well.

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Photo credit: Tanner Mardis on Unsplash

Letters from Armorica- The Trial (20 March 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

O! It has been a week. Bertrand's father, M. Laveau, has not been seen in some days; and Bertrand himself is no longer staying with the Poquêries, but has returned to his home, to live once again with his mother and his younger siblings. It was the central topic of discussion at the hot springs this afternoon.

I felt myself to be on trial, and wondered if I should absent myself; but Marc Frontenac told me I had done nothing wrong and that I needed to be in my place. And so I sat where Onc' Herbert always used to sit, feeling more like a fraud than usual, with Marc Frontenac in his usual place on my right and with Jacques Poquêrie on my left; and Jacques sat Bertrand to his left, a most exalted place for such a young fellow. There was considerable murmuring as we took our places, for of course everyone in town had some notion, clear or otherwise, of what had happened. Usually there is a great deal of chit chat as the men enter the springs and settle down in the hot water, but today everyone was silent.

Rather than speaking myself, I took Marc's advice: when all were seated I gestured to Jacques. Marc and I are still newcomers to Bois-de-Bas, though highly regarded; Jacques was born here.

Jacques began by telling them what they already knew: that Bertrand had been sent to L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau with the other lads; that he had excelled there, becoming captain of the lookouts and contributing to the defense of the island by his leadership and vigilance; that his father had taken against me through no fault of my own; and had driven him out into the snow. He explained how we had found him, starving and nearly frozen, with Luc's help (without going into detail about the message arrows), and brought him home.

This was followed by questions. Jean Thibodeau, a close neighbor of the Laveaus, asked Bertrand to confirm Jacques' story, and to give additional details, which he did. It was hard for him. He sat bolt upright, clenching his fists, but he answered as calmly and firmly as a young fellow his age might, though with an edge to his voice. No one alluded directly to M. Laveau's more vile claims and insinuations, for which I was grateful. M. Thibodeau then asked many searching questions about the living situation on L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau, and about the time he spent with me when Bertrand joined me in Mont-Havre and at the Farm.

Then M. Thibodeau, who seemed to have tacitly appointed himself Bertrand's advocate, asked me why I'd summoned Bertrand to come to me in Mont-Havre; it was the first time I'd been asked to speak.

"Because I knew him to be reliable," I said. "He did excellent service during the war, as you have all heard. I needed someone I could trust to run errands for me, and to help me keep things running."

"And why didn't you summon Luc, your apprentice?"

I laughed. "It is a long way from Bois-de-Bas to Mont-Havre. Luc is small for his age; I knew that Bertrand could handle any trouble that arose along the way, and would arrive safely."

There were a few more questions for me, but no surprises, and with a start I realized that I was not the one on trial; M. Laveau was, though in absentia. More, I had the sense that Jean Thibodeau had no friendly feelings for M. Laveau. Familiarity breeds contempt, they say, and sometimes it is deserved.

Then M. Thibodeau turned to Jacques, and asked him what he knew of M. Laveau's whereabouts. Jacques was painfully blunt.

"Once we had Bertrand safe, I went to speak to M. Laveau. I told him he was un cochon, and no good father, and that he was no longer welcome in Bois-de-Bas. The next day he was gone."

"Do you know where he went?"

"Non."

"Did you threaten him?"

Jacques laughed harshly. He is a brawny man, our carpenter and cabinet maker; and he crossed his corded arms and said only, "I had no need to." Heads nodded all around the spring.

"And what of his wife and children? What provision did he make for them?" This had the air of a rhetorical question, and it was. Amelie had sent Luc to them the previous day with a basket of bread, and I knew she was far from alone.

"None at all, le ver."

M. Thibodeau then turned back to Bertrand, and spoke to him sternly.

"You should have come straight to me, n'est-ce pas? I have known you all of your life, and your father longer than that. We would have taken care of things."

"Oui, monsieur," said Bertrand, nodding his head awkwardly. "I—"

But M. Thibodeau held up his hand and stopped him. "Now, are you ready to take care of your mother and your younger brother and sisters?"

"I am," he said.

M. Thibodeau turned to me. "Then, M. Tuppenny, I say that Bertrand Laveau is a man of Bois-de-bas." I quite understood the subtext: that the Thibodeaus and their other Laveau neighbors would make sure he made a success of it, and that no one truly suspected me of any misbehavior, but that I needed to leave Bertrand be.

I nodded; and Bois-de-Bas's newest citizen was forthwith subjected to a ceremonial dunking which devolved with much yelling and shouting into a water fight the likes of which I have never seen before.

He is young for it, but I think he will do very well.

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photo credit: Visual Content Legal Gavel via photopin (license)