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

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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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Letters from Armorica- The Garrison (28 Août 34AF)

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Dear Journal,

Nearly the worst has happened: the Provençese cochons have come to Bois-de-Bas in force, and established a garrison in the village, bringing three sky-sloops and a full company of troops in addition to the crews. Marc and Elise have been ejected from the shop, which they had been running in our absence; it has been taken over by their quartermaster. Others have been ejected from their homes as well.

It seems that the Provençese commander in Mont-Havre, Général La Salle, has become suspicious of the number of sky sloops that have been lost in the vicinity of Bois-de-Bas, and sent the garrison here to find out what has been happening to them, and to put a stop to it. Beyond that, I know very little.

The first we knew was when Jean-Pierre, one of Bertrand’s lads, flew right into the Avenue on a sled, bellowing “Les cochons, les cochons.” He had been manning the western watch post and seen them with his spyglass when they were still on the horizon. He is a good lad, and will not be made to tend the goats any time soon.

Étienne was here making a delivery—not of goats, for which God be praised—and leaving his sky-wagon where it lay, he took one of my first man-sized sky-sleds back to town to give the alert. He is a brave man as he had never flown one before, for I must say that flying head first at speed between the trees while lying prone in a sky-sled is very different thing from moving more sedately in a sky-chair or wagon!

We had been preparing for this, of course. There are a fair number of sky-vessels in in Bois-de-Bas, now, and it would be fatal for les Cochons to find them—even if it did not turn their attention to the skies, which it surely would, it would reveal that I am still in the vicinity. It would also remove our advantage in short order, for there is little difficult about forming a sky-chair or wagon once you have the knack. But we had laid plans, as I say, and within a quarter of an hour of Étienne’s return, every chair and wagon in Bois-de-Bas was on the way north under cover of the trees while the Provençese vessels were still miles off. Their drivers left them in a hidden spot near the lake shore and returned to the village, and this evening after dark my men descended in Étienne’s wagon and flew them all home to L’Isle de Grand-Blaireau. Now they are all stacked higgledy-piggledy among the trees on the edge of the encampment.

Étienne has retained the sky-sled, which he will have stashed in a safe place; it is essential that the village has a means of communication with the island. It should not matter if it is found; it is much less obviously a conveyance than a chair or wagon, appearing to be little more than a simple wooden frame. I hope that Marc will use it to come to us as soon as safely may be. There is much we can do to harry them, if we are careful, but we must have information; and of course there is much concern here in the encampment, for everyone here has friends or family remaining in the village and its environs.

In the meantime we have disguised our settlement here on the island as best we can. We have stopped all building, all hammering and pounding, and the fires have been put out. Even the use of candles and lanterns has been forbidden: the Provençese commander in Bois-de-Bas shall certainly notice that many folk are missing, and I would not be surprised if he were to conduct night patrols with his sloops looking for signs of cooking fires. If they should fly directly overhead we shall be lost in an instant; but islands are common in the skies of Armorica, and everywhere ignored, and if we take care I have every hope that we shall be above notice.

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Letters from Armorica- The Sky Goats (24 Août 34AF)

First Letter

Cher Onc’ Herbert,

I very much appreciate the several wagon-loads of livestock you sent us yesterday, especially the chickens, for they will go a long way toward making our little hidden settlement self-sustaining should les Cochons du Maréchal come in force. But I ask you, was it really necessary to send us your goats?

Without warning? Seriously?

I picture you sitting in your big chair at the head of the table, guffawing at my expression when I discovered I had received a wagon-load of les chèvres du Diable. Whatever you imagined, it was less than the reality, as I’m sure Étienne was quick to inform you. At least you had your men put the goats in chains for the wagon ride, so we could keep them contained until we had a place to put them! Étienne wanted to leave immediately, for which I cannot blame him after a flight with a cargo of goats; but when I learned that he meant to let the goats go free, to roam the village and despoil men, women, and children, I am afraid I had to threaten him with violence.

Yes, Onc’ Herbert, I did. I threatened to chain him to one of the goats for the afternoon. More than that, I had to call a halt to the work that was going on so that my men could build a stout pen for the pernicious beasts, and I made Étienne fall in and help.

I have been wondering, did you bring these goats with you from Provençe, or did you find them here, in Armorica? I seem to remember meeting some goats on a farm in Cumbria when I was a small boy, and they weren’t like these goats. They were smaller, and they had gentle eyes, quite without that little red glow deep inside. I remember, I was able to pet them with my bare hands without abrading the skin from my palms, and I had no fear of turning my back on them. So are these Armorican goats, or are they Provençese, relatives of Le Maréchal, perhaps?

Speaking of palms, could you send us some leather gloves? Or at least some leather, so we can make some? Amelie is due soon, and as tempting as it would be to slaughter the goats for their hides I am afraid that we may need their milk. And for that, we shall need gloves.

My only consolation is that my regular duties leave me no time to be directly responsible for the care of the goats. Well, and I suppose it does give me another handle on young Bertrand and the other lads, and on the young men. Not that I will assign goat-keeping as a punishment, mind you. Far from it. I shall set up a rotation, and shall excuse people from goat-keeping as a reward for hard service and heroic effort. Building should go more quickly in the future.

Aha! Amelie has returned from the bath house; it is now the mens’ turn. I must go.

Goats. Bah.

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- Sleds (22 Août 34AF)

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Dear Marc,

First, my thanks for the many wagon-loads of supplies you have sent to us over the past week. I begin to think you are stripping the barns and storehouses of Bois-de-Bas quite bare! Fortunately the lads have found some grottoes we can use for storage, or we should have been quite unable to get it all under cover. I know, of course, that you are sending it to us not for our own use, but to keep it out of the hands of Le Maréchal‘s men when they come, but as more and more of the villagers come here to the encampment the supplies are quite necessary. And indeed, our simple encampment is looking more and more like a village. The simple tents on the ground are being replaced by what I might call demi-cabins, with wooden floors but canvas roofs; some even have the beginnings of wooden roofs. The little church is coming along slowly, and the bathhouse has become a great comfort to all of us. Le Blaireau scarcely resembles a sloop any longer, being more of an inn and community center. Her masts and cordage have been taken for other uses (her canvas went long ago); windows have been opened everywhere, giving light to the spaces within; and she is connected to both banks of the river by a pair of permanent bridges that connect to a passage way of sorts cut through her hull. My folk here have taken to calling it the Avenue.

The space just forward of the Avenue is now my former’s shop; it is central, so I am always available for questions, and I have a desk for my work managing the encampment in the afternoons. The space aft of the Avenue is my Amelie’s domain where she manages the encampment’s stores. We can’t keep the stores all in one place anymore, and it is easier for her, in her condition, to work from Le Blaireau than to go out to her old spot on the bank. Not that she will be able to keep it up much longer! Indeed, she is spending most of her days sitting in a comfortable armchair directing others in the work.

And speaking of that, thank you so much for sending us Brigitte! She has been a great consolation to Amelie, for I find that they are old friends; and Amelie is teaching her what she must know to help out in managing the stores. Brigitte is also, as I’d hoped, assisting Madame Truc in nursing poor Jean-Baptiste! It is embarrassing for him, I think, having such a pretty girl see him so low, but at least it has brought color back to his cheeks. And this morning, to my delight, he agreed to be carried down to sit with me in my former’s shop. He could only manage it for a little over and hour before he had to be returned to his bed, but we had much conversation in that time, and I noticed that his eyes were much on a certain person at the counter on the other side of the Avenue.

I believe I have solved the communication problem, at least here on Grand-Blaireau. As Onc’ Herbert may have told you, we have our lookouts around the perimeter of the island: the lads of Bois-de-Bas, led by Bertrand and Jean-Marc. They are all much steadier now they have something to occupy them! But when they spy something it is a long and weary slog for them back to the encampment, the more so as we have not had time to cut proper trails. It would leave little enough time for us here to prepare for a direct attack, let alone to pass word along to you down below. But I have come up with a solution: the sky-sled!

Imagine a sled, just big enough for the occupant to lie prone, but with the runners extending above instead of below. The entire package is not much bigger than one of the lads. I have now built two of them; they are light and speedy, and can maneuver deftly between trees and over briars. Each of the lookout points will have one, to be used to alert the encampment, and I intend that each of the boys will be trained in their use.

I admit that I was concerned that the lads would take them skylarking and do themselves injuries, but my Amelie had the answer to that. She took Bertrand and his lieutenant aside. “Those who fly recklessly shall not be allowed to fly at all,” she told them. “And my husband will hold you two responsible.” That put a stop to their capers. Young Bertrand would be mortified to be grounded when others can yet fly, and he has the others firmly under his thumb.

The sleds are easy to form, delightfully so after all my work with sky-wagons; they are light, and hardened throughout so that they are nearly indestructible. I should have enough for our needs soon. You might consider whether you could use a sled or two for your scouts—they carry less than a two-man sky-chair, and are far less comfortable; but they can go more places, they are easier to hide, and of course they leave no tracks.

The next challenge is how best to communicate what we learn to you on the ground. I have no good solution; but I’m thinking a sled relay might be best. When we see something, we send a sled to the lake shore, using the waterfall for cover. You keep a man with a sled or sky-chair on duty there, to carry word along to you and Onc’ Herbert.

I wish there were a way for us to use semaphores of some kind; but I cannot think of anything that would be visible to your men on the ground that wouldn’t possibly be visible to les Cochons as well. For them to find our encampment would be a waste of all of our hard work, and as our establishment here grows in size I find I am nervous even about sending out so much as a sled out during daylight hours. I have already constrained the hunters to go out before dawn and not return until after dark.

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- Jean-Baptiste (17 Août 34AF)

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Dear Marc,

I must thank you for your care of my friends Madame Truc, Jacques-le-Souris, and especially Jean-Baptiste, and for bringing them to me most swiftly. They had to take off Jean-Baptiste’s leg below the knee, but now he is doing ever so much better than he was when he arrived. He is still weak, but his fever has gone and he is speaking sensibly.

He is, of course, in a dark mood. His livelihood is gone, and so is his leg; he is angry at Le Maréchal, as who isn’t; he feels that he can do little to help, and that his future is gone. It is difficult for him. We are taking the best care of him that we can—Madame Truc has nursed many a sick gentleman in her time—but there is something lacking.

As you know, we have men here on Grand-Blaireau, and mothers with children, some with and some without their husbands; but we have no young ladies, no one to visit with him and give his life a little interest. Jacques-le-Souris tries his best, for he has a fund of stories going back to the founding of the colony; but I do believe that Jean-Baptist heard all of the best ones, and many of the worst, while on the road from Mont-Havre, and to him they all now have a tinge of pain and delirium.

Might you and Elise be aware of some other young lady in need of a husband, who might be willing to dare the wilds of L’Isle de Grand-Blaireau? Jean-Baptiste is a diligent and serious young man, a clerk, true, but one whom M. Suprenant put in a position of responsibility at the port of Mont-Havre. And he is something of a hero; I have been spending as much time with him as I can manage, and I have been delighted by such of his stories as he has had strength to relate. Before his injury, he and his compatriots managed to do not a little damage to Le Maréchal‘s forces; it seems that the Provençese have been bringing war materiel to Mont-Havre, to support their efforts to rouse the colony and conscript her people, and Jean-Baptiste’s group have been busily sneaking in to the port and burning them as quickly as they arrive. Apparently they also left a grand-blaireau in the commander’s bed. It was dead, of course, and had been for some time, and the commander, General Marchant, was forced to move out of Le Gourverneur‘s mansion.

I have employment for him, as soon as he is well enough to take it. My darling Amelie has been serving as our quarter-master here, but her time approaches. I am hoping to transfer her responsibilities to Jean-Baptiste’s shoulders as soon as may be.

I do not know what Jean-Baptiste will wish to do when peace comes, if it ever does; but I am confident that he would be an asset to Bois-de-Bas should he be persuaded to stay. All that is necessary at the moment, of course, is that he be persuaded to live.

Have a care, though. He has been unlucky in love before, for some time ago he was betrothed but his intended ran off with a sailor; you do not meet young ladies of good family at the port of Mont-Havre. If you know of any young lady who might be willing to come to us, let it be one who knows her own mind, and who will not lead him on if she decides against him. Sincere friendship will do far more for him than love followed by a broken heart.

In the meantime, we have enough sky-chairs and wagons now, and I have enough other responsibilities, that I am slowing down production. Which is to say that Jacques Poquerie and I have been working on new chairs and wagons in the mornings; and while I have been attending to the business of L’Isle de Grand-Blaireau in the afternoon, Jacques has been working on completing our new bath house. It is still a tent, mind you, and more rustic than I can well say. But the first set of tubs are complete, as is the boiler for the hot water (for which I formed a heating element out of slate), and today is the first day we shall make use of it. Indeed, our ladies are in the bath as I write, for we do not yet have enough space for both sexes to bathe at the same time. Oh, I am looking forward to it; I have greatly missed the hot springs in the grotto.

You and Elise must come visit us when you can spare a few hours; Amelie misses her friend!

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- Visitors (14 Août 34AF)

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Dear Journal,

I am shocked and appalled. A sky-wagon came from the village today, bearing three people I have reason to know well: Madame Truc, Jacques-la-Souris, and Jean-Baptiste. They came to the shop in Bois-de-Bas seeking shelter, for of course Madame Truc knew I had come there. Elise directed them to Onc’ Herbert, naturally, and he arranged for them to be brought to me. I could not believe my eyes.

“O, mon fils,” Madame Truc cried when she saw me. She looked tired to me, tired and worn and small. Jacques-la-Souris looked haggard and much thinner than when I’d left Mont-Havre. And poor Jean-Baptiste! It seems that when Le Maréchal’s men came they took over the port and all of its functions. All available goods were seized to support Le Maréchal’s war, and of course all of the merchants and their clerks were sent away. M. Suprenant could only help him so much, for of course it was his business at the port that was shut down; and so he fell in with a group of young men who opposed the Provençese cochons. There had followed a number of scuffles and skirmishes and in one Jean-Baptiste was wounded in the leg. Madame Truc brought him from Mont-Havre in the back of a cart, moaning and delirious.

“It was an escape of the most thrilling!” Madame Truc told me with a little of her old fire. We were sitting here, in our quarters on Le Blaireau. It occurs to me that I have not recorded this before, but it was decided (and not by me) that Amelie and I should remain here, the sloop’s interior being less drafty than anything on the island itself. Jacques Poquerie (we have too many Jacques on this island!) and his men expanded the narrow little hole the sloop’s commander had called his quarters forward into the body of the sloop, and made for us a cozy apartment, complete with a pot-bellied stove against the chill of the night. I am not at all sure where the stove came from, and have learned that it is best not to ask such questions. It is a great comfort to us, especially when I remember my first nights on board, huddled in the galley!

When they arrived Jean-Baptiste was whisked away to have his leg attended to; Bois-de-Bas remains a town of the frontier, and her people are accustomed to the sort of injuries received while felling trees and the like. I was assured that though different in origin, Jean-Baptiste’s wound is not all that different in kind, and that although he would certainly lose his leg below the knee he is quite likely to be well enough after. Provided they were quick enough, for it had grown much worse during the journey. I trust that they were quick enough, for I heard his cries as they took his leg from him.

And so it was that Madame Truc and no-longer-so-fat old Jacques-the-Mouse sat with us in our “parlor” in the stern of Le Blaireau. I escorted them in, and introduced them to Amelie. Even in her fatigue Madame Truc gave Amelie a careful looking over, eyeing her from head to toe, for of course only the best would do for one of Madame Truc’s young men; but Amelie rose (with difficulty) from her chair and advanced to meet her, taking her hands.

“Dearest Madame Truc,” she said. “Armand has spoken of you so often and so warmly. I am delighted that you thought to come to us in your need.” How many are the ways that a woman might say those words! But Amelie’s sincerity was so clear that Madame Truc simply nodded, looked me, and said, “Bon.”

It was then that Madame Truc and Jacques sat down and told us of their “escape of the most thrilling.” Jean-Baptiste had been carried back to Madame Truc’s boarding house by his friends after the scuffle, and she had hidden him away. A day had passed, a day of watchful waiting, until she began to think that his identity had passed unnoticed and that no one would come looking for him. It had, in fact, passed unnoticed, but that was no help; for the very next day a squad of Provençese soldiers came and told her to turn away all of her borders; the soldiers were to be garrisoned there from now one, and she was to see to their needs.

“All of my people, my gentil-hommes had to go,” she said. From another I might have expected tears, but Madame Truc was simply irate. “Even pauvre M. Sabot. It was too much. I had Jacques move young Jean-Baptiste to the cellar, and then sent him off with his things, as if he were leaving, but really to hunt for a cart and horses.”

“I hid them outside of the town,” said Jacque-la-Souris with a hint of a smile. He looked bad, gray in the face, and had not yet spoken much to us. “It is many years since I last hunted les grand-blaireaux, but still I know every inch of the country-side, me, what the town has not covered.”

“And then he returned by night and we fetched Jean-Baptiste up from the cellar.”

“But how did you get through town, just the three of you! Surely the cochons were keeping watch, and with Jean-Baptiste wounded—”

“It was tres difficile,” she said. “But M. Suprenant sent two of his men to help us.”

“There are many ways out of Mont-Havre,” said Jacque-la-Souris. “Le Maréchal’s men could not watch them all. It is not so hard, if you know the town. And it was very dark.”

“And now we are here,” said Madame Truc. “And moi, I do not know what we shall do.”

“First you shall rest,” said Amelie. “You shall stay with us, of course.”

“Yes,” I said, “and for as long as you like. But you know, this sloop on which we are living is not unlike a boarding house.” I shrugged. “I should not object if you chose to help with running it.”

“And my time, it is nearing,” said Amelie, “and I have no mother or older sisters to watch over me. You are welcome for Armand’s sake, but I am sure you can make yourself welcome for your own sake, n’est-ce-pas?

At that Madame Truc brightened up, as I knew she would, for she lives to take care of others, and I knew she should hate to think herself useless.

Et moi?” said Jacques-la-Souris.

I knelt beside him, putting my hand on his shoulder. “As for you, you old reprobate,” I said to him, “my old friend and counselor, you shall remain with us as well. They seem to have put me in charge here on this island; I shall need men of sense to advise me.” I raised an eyebrow. “And besides, what would Madame Truc do without you to take care of?”

He chuckled a very little, though it was hard for him. The journey had taken nearly all he had.

“Come with me,” I said to them. “They will have made spaces for you by now. Sleep well tonight. You are safe.”

And so they are; yet they have walked away from everything they had in the world. I shall certainly see them taken care of. But my heart is sore for them, and also for M. Suprenant and his people, and for M. Fournier. If only we had more men, and could drive les cochons from Armorica!

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Letters from Armorica- On Tactics (11 Août 34AF)

First Letter

Cher Onc’ Herbert,

I am troubled by what you write me of the news from Mont-Havre: Provençese soldiers garrisoned in private homes, men taken from their houses and their places of employment and pressed into service, my friend M. Suprenant’s young lads conscripted—and them still boys! And not for the defense of Armorica, but to be sent abroad to fight for that cochon Le Maréchal! It is monstrous!

It is with that in mind that I tell you what happened at L’Isle de Grand-Blaireau today. One of the lads—not Bertrand but his lieutenant-in-mischief Jean-Marc—was manning his observation post and saw a sloop flying Provençese colors sailing along the road to Bois-de-Bas. He ran to the encampment to give warning—and may I say, I wish we had a faster means of communication than running! But we are meant to be secret here, and so beacons or alarm bells won’t do.

I trust that by now you have dealt with the sloop and its crew; and might I suggest bringing the sloop here to the lake, burning it to the water line, and sinking what remains to the bottom of the lake? I think that would be much simpler than what we did with the Rubicon. But it got me to thinking.

Consider: the sloop is sailing along, eyes to the ground; and why wouldn’t they be, as the skies of Armorica are completely uncontested so far as Le Maréchal knows. From above comes a swarm of sky-chairs, each manned by a pilot and a gunner. The gunners, our best shots, begin picking off the crew one by one, the sky-chairs constantly moving so as to be difficult targets. More than this: the sky-chairs are presenting their bellies to the sloop—and every inch of them is hardened. Perhaps the gunners might even carry torches or grenadoes to drop on the sloop’s deck. Eventually they descend and take the sloop, and voila, there we are.

It is premature to execute this tactics, it seems to me; so long as the sloops come to Bois-de-Bas and land, giving your men easy access to the crew, there is no need to go to such trouble. But if Le Maréchal begins to make war on Bois-de-Bas in earnest, we must know what to do, and be prepared to defend against him on the ground—or the skies—of our choosing, rather than in the village itself.

So we must give thought to the tactics, n’est-ce-pas? Would it be better to begin with shooting the helmsman, or by shooting fire arrows at the sails? A sky-ship without its sails is a wallowing pig, as we have reason to know. And once we have decided on tactics we must train the men to execute them.

We now have several sky-chairs here on the island for our own use. I have begun sending our best hunters and sky-chair pilots down to the forest below (under cover of the waterfall, of course) to hunt for meat for the pot—and I have directed them to hunt from the chair, rather than on foot, descending to earth only to retrieve a kill. It is practice for them, of a sort, and good for us here. I dare do no more, for I must not risk the enemy discovering us.

Perhaps you might do the same in Bois-de-Bas: send your pilots and hunters out to practice their marksmanship from the air. You might even set up some targets.

In the meantime, we must give thought to our communications. We are well situated here to be good lookouts for you, if only we could keep you informed as to what we see. Perhaps we might do something with mirrors? I shall think on it.

In the meantime, are there any spyglasses in Bois-de-Bas? We have two here, taken from the sloops Le Blaireau and Rubicon, but that is not enough for all of the lookout posts.

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- A Day of Rest (10 Août 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I am not quite sure how it happened, but here in the encampment on L’Isle de Grand-Blaireau I have become the person everyone asks for permission to do things. It is a great nuisance and distraction, for I have many things of my own to attend to; but at times it becomes endearing.

Today, of course, is Sunday, a day of rest, and the day for Divine Worship; but we have no church here, and no way (even were it prudent) to transport everyone to Bois-de-Bas; though of course we have no priest in Bois-de-Bas either. We have been observing the day of rest in past weeks; the people are working hard all day every day, and need their rest, even if it were not customary. But today I had a deputation of men, led by Drunken Jacques (not that he has touched a drop since he arrived on the island) asking my leave to continue working today—to begin building a church here, and a bath house.

“It is the Lord’s Day,” said Drunken Jacques to me, “and so we ought not work; and yet we have Church in which to attend to Him. And no time the rest of the week to build one.” I discussed it with Amelie, who told me she quite liked the idea, especially the idea of a bath house, and so I gave them my leave.

I was pleased to see that they do not intend to build the two structures all at once, but a little each week. Today they prepared the site for the church and sank timbers into the corners to support the floor and, eventually, the roof. We had our Divine Worship sitting on sections of log and on blankets on the ground in the midst of the site. Drunken Jacques led the worship; he has a rich baritone voice. Afterward we had a communal meal in the new clearing near Le Blaireau that has become the village square, after which my friend Jacques the Carpenter began building a pair of enormous tubs for the bath house. Tents are enough for modesty, at least until winter comes; and we shall need a stove for a ready supply of hot water ere long; but we cannot have our Sunday afternoon baths without the tubs—and we cannot have our town hall meetings, as it were, without the baths.

The folk of Bois-de-Bas are keenly attuned to social position, I have discovered. Onc’ Herbert is influential as much because he is a prominent farmer and land-owner as because of his undoubted wisdom; and I suppose my upper-class upbringing in Yorke, and my role as the town’s shopkeeper and former lend me cachet I am not at sure I deserve. Apparently Amelie has been bragging about me, for some of the folk here have taken to calling me Maître Tuppenny!

But wisdom and common sense are also highly respected—and in the baths, social position is forgotten. Everyone may speak, and though fools are not heeded, poor men are heard. Amelie tells me it is the same for the women. It is a system I have not heard of elsewhere in the world; and it may well be unique to Bois-de-Bas.

In the long run, I think, we will need to excavate much larger pools, as I have seen in the public bath houses in Yorke, and how we shall heat them I have no idea; perhaps I could form something? But for now Jacques’ tubs will serve admirably, and I find I am quite looking forward to their completion.

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