Letters from Armorica, 20 Juin 33AF

Dear Marc,

I'm so glad to hear that you and Elise are settled in Bois-de-Bas in such an excellent situation. It must be good to have family there to support you, and to "pave the way" as we'd say back home. I'm sure that you will work your way into your own farmstead in short order.

No, I'm not still working at the port; I am now a junior clerk at Suprenant et Fils, and I live at Madame Truc's boarding house. You may safely write to me at that direction. I hadn't planned on staying here very long, but Madame Truc has taken a shine to me, and M. Suprenant pays me well enough that I am able to save for the future so long as I am not extravagant in my needs. For that, Madame Truc's serves me very well.

What that future may be I am still unsure. I am still working it out. I do not wish to remain a clerk all of my life, but I am learning a great deal about trade and imports and exports just by watching what goes on at S&F. With my connections in Cumbria and the knowledge I am gaining I suppose that some day I could set up as a merchant here in Mont-Havre. I think I could manage it. There are many inducements. M. Suprenant lives in a grand house, and has all the good things in life, or at least all of the good things that are readily available here in Armorica; and he is a good man, generous in both word and deed. I expect that I shall marry one day, and it would be good to make a fortune to provide for my family.

And yet, to be M. Suprenant seems to me to be little more than a grand sort of clerk—he needn't keep the journals and ledgers himself, but his working life is consumed by them. He comes in every morning, perhaps an hour after I must arrive, and always through the warehouse doors at the back of the building. He greets me and the warehouse-men cordially, and asks after our comfort, and then heads off whistling to his office across from the senior clerk to go over the latest transactions. At noon he dines in the hall of the Guilde du Marchandes with his peers, the owners of the other mercantile concerns, and the talk is all of harvests and storms and the price of bronzewood in the back-of-beyond. And none of it is good, open talk such as we used to have on board the Lombard. They enjoy each other's company and drink each other's health, but they fence one with another, always desiring to learn whatever will aid their dealings while giving nothing away.

It's a grand game, I suppose; but it was to avoid something like it that I left Yorke.

But the experience can only be useful, and my wages will lay the foundation for my future dreams whatever they may turn out to be.

Please, write me and tell me more about Bois-de-Bas. I am delighted by your descriptions of the woods and grottos and hot springs around which your town is built, and would gladly learn more of them; and also of the people of your town. I am a city boy, as you well know, not a countryman like yourself, and I have no taste for farming; but if there were some way I might earn my living there in Bois-de-Bas, some way I might be of use and support a family, I would gladly live closer to such an excellent friend as yourself.

My best to Elise!

Your friend,


photo credit: DMREAnne Mammoth-lower-Yellowstone-( via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica, 13 Juin 33AF

Dear Mum,

A couple of weeks ago I started to tell you about my job at Suprenant et Fils, and got side-tracked into talking about the local architecture and kinds of timber. It's easy to get side-tracked when there's so much here that's different from an old, established city like Yorke.

S&F is housed in a neat timber-framed building on the Rue du Champs. In the front there is a room with a counter, where a clerk sits to accept orders and payments from the firm's customers. The Guilde du Courriers has a messenger service that runs throughout the city, but as most of the larger merchants and traders are within a few blocks of S&F it is often less expensive (and quicker) to send a boy with a packet or to visit in person than to use the Guild's services.

Because the desk clerk must take in and disburse money it is a position of great responsibility, and as the newest member of the staff I have not yet been entrusted with it for even a few minutes. On the other hand, as a clerk and as a man grown I rank above the office boys, and so haven't had to run any messages. In a way it is a pity, for I should like to learn more about the other merchants in town.

The offices of Mon. Suprenant and the senior clerk are off a hall behind the counter. The senior clerk himself, Mon. Bardot, has been with the firm for many years and resides with his family in a small apartment over the offices. (At least two of the office boys are his sons.) The owner and his family live in a fine house on a shady street some blocks away.

Behind the offices is a large space used as a warehouse, with double-doors opening onto a lane. This is where S&F keeps smaller and more expensive goods: cinnabark, fine hardwoods, blaireau pelts, and the like—the sort of thing worth holding onto until the market is favorable, or too attractive to thieves to keep in the larger warehouse at the port; and also goods for local consumption. There is a locked area with metal bars for the most precious items.

The double doors stand open all day long, and there is a near constant flow of wagons and carts coming by to pick up goods or drop them off; sometimes we have as many as six an hour.

It is my job to stand at a desk near the doors, and note down in a journal everything that comes in and goes out, and the time, and how much, and from whom or to whom, and all such manner of details. I must make all of the notes in ink, and with the greatest of care; if I make an error I must strike it out and initial the entry, and go show it to Mon. Bardot. He is not a hard man, and has been willing to make allowances for my inexperience, so I hate to disappoint him. And so I must concentrate, and think about every letter and number that I note down before I inscribe it. It is surprisingly fatiguing, and I find that I am increasingly grateful to Dad for forcing me to attend to my penmanship. I suppose he won't be much consoled by this, and I suppose you needn't tell him.

Then, at the end of the day when the doors are shut and the night watchman begins his rounds I remove to another desk in the senior clerk's office and update the grand inventory ledgers from my journal. I am also responsible for a card file that gives our whole inventory by type of merchandise, and by owner for goods owned by others that we are waiting to trans-ship.

That is for the goods held in our space here in town; there is a separate set of ledgers and a separate card file for the big warehouse at the port. That is maintained by another young man, Jean Baptiste. We have not had much to do with one another, as he spends his days out at the port and comes into the senior clerk's office only twice a week. What he finds for himself to do at the port, I've no idea; ships are not the same kind of hourly (or even daily) occurrence as the wagons are here in town.

And then, when my work is done I return the ledgers to the shelf and close the card file, and Mon. Bardot locks it all up and goes upstairs for his supper and I return to Madame Truc's for mine.

Your loving son,


photo credit: dlerps Lanes of Green via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica, 6 Juin 33AF

Dear Mum,

One hasn't much opportunity for merriment in Mont-Havre, not on a clerk's wages, not if you're trying to save every franc you can—as you must, if you wish to be able to take advantage of opportunities for advancement as they come by. The folk of Mont-Havre are hard-working, and have no use for layabouts; I wouldn't have my position as a clerk if I'd been seen frittering away my earnings from my work at the docks.

It makes for a tedious life: up at dawn, wash up, dress, a quick roll and coffee with Madame Truc and the other roomers, walk to Suprenant & Fils, work at my desk until noon, back to Madame Truc's for my midday meal (fortunately, it is a short walk), work until evening, supper, and then to bed. I usually have a bit of time to read between supper and bed, and I have been known to carry a book with me on my walk to and from S&F's.

My only expenses are my room and board, a few items of clothing suitable for my new station, and the occasional book. I am becoming quite well known at the bookshop of Monsieur Fournier, and as his stock comes mostly from Provençe I am necessarily working on my Provençese. My fellow roomers have taken to addressing me as Monsieur le Rat, which I'm afraid means just what it sounds like; but it is short for rat de bibliothèque, "library rat," or, as we would say, Mr. Bookworm. Alas, there are no lending libraries in Mont-Havre or I should save my francs all the faster.

However, few opportunities is not the same as no opportunities. The 3rd of Juin is the anniversary of the Deuxième Débarquement, which is to say the Second Landing, the arrival of the second colony ship to Armorica. I haven't yet learned all of the details, but the first colonists had great difficulties and hardships, as is so often the way, and the arrival of the second ship was a more than welcome relief. It is one of the biggest fêtes of the year, and it is traditional for employers to give their workers the day off with pay. Generous employers, like Monsieur Suprenant, will even give their men a few extra francs to drink their health. It would be a "rudeness of the most great," says Madame Truc, and a miserliness "of the most deplorable", not to spend them for that purpose; and in truth I had little desire to hoard them.

The celebration itself was not much different from the various guild festivals in Yorke. The center of the festivities was Durand Park, tellingly named after the leader of the colonists on the second ship. The leader from the first ship was a man named Gerard Morin; the Armoricans hold him responsible for the hardships experienced by the first colonists, but I haven't been able to get anyone to tell me just what he did. The younger folks don't know, and the older folks just snort and look aside, and (if outside) spit on the ground when they hear his name.

There were booths around the outside of the park selling food and drink, and bands played throughout the day; there was a parade in which all of the guilds took part (the Former's Guild was notable for the puny size of its float; I've had no contact with it or its members, but it seems not to be one of the major guilds in Mont-Havre). Also, there was much dancing, and in between drinking (and eating) M. Suprenant's health I danced with any number of pretty young Armorican girls.

Yes, Mum, I hear your gasp of horror quite clearly. But this is my home now, you know; and so I must necessarily marry an Armorican girl in the end. If it is any consolation, many of the girls I danced with were of families originally from Greater Britonia, and them not the least pretty.

Your loving son,


photo credit: USFWS Mountain Prairie Badger on Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica, 30 Mai 33AF


I had intended to leave Madame Truc's by now, but I think I'm stuck here for a while. She has decided to take me under her wing—metaphorically not literally, for which I am grateful—and has not only rallied her friends to find me a job as a clerk in a shipping firm, she has upgraded me to a nicer room. I no longer need to form a hand-glow in secret (always being sure to lock the door before I begin, lest anyone see) in order to read in my room in the evenings, for now I have a whirtle-oil lamp "of the very finest" and a chair "of the most comfortable" in which to sit. Madame even provides the whirtle-oil. It would seem ungrateful to leave now.

And I must say, Madame Truc's table is a fascinating place. Not so much because of the food, which is both adequate and plentiful, if not "of the very finest", but because of my fellow roomers.

Madame Truc sits at the head of the table, of course, if the head is the end nearest the kitchen; and we her loyal subjects can measure our degree of favor in terms of how close to the head we are allowed to sit. This is related to the size and amenities of our rooms, but only to a limited degree. Getting a better room is a definite sign of Madame's approval, but rooms only come open every so often while Madame's favor can change between breakfast and dinner.

Myself, I began at the foot of the table, "as is only right", for I was nothing more than a common day laborer and had the meanest room. I have been considerably elevated in her favor since then, and now get to sit three spots up on the left side, even though my room only entitles me to sit one spot up on the right side.

The place of greatest honor, the topmost spot on the right, is almost always occupied by our oldest resident, Jacques-la-Souris, which is to say "Jack the Mouse". Jack was a great hunter of the grand-blaireau in his younger days, and acquired his nickname from his skill at sneaking up to them and taking them unawares. I think he might have been a friend of the late Monsieur Truc. Jack is old, in his sixties at least, and fat, and very gallant to Madame Truc except when he forgets. She brandishes a ladle at him when he becomes too ardent, but he only gets banished to a spot lower down the table when he comes home drunk, which he does every week or so. When he goes out he wears a tall hat of ver-blaireau from an animal he caught himself, so he says; and he assures me that once Madame is satisfied that I won't begin to come home drunk now that I have a fine new job and can afford it, she will surely elevate me to the chair three spots up on the right side.

He seems to have appointed himself my personal trainer. He stops me in the hall and gives me sage advice as to how to rise in Madame's esteem. With luck and determination, he tells me, I shall most certainly ascend even as far as the topmost spot on the left, opposite Jack himself!

The catch is that to do so I must woo her as he does—and Madame Truc being in her late fifties, I shall most certainly not do that for fear of catching her, which would be a thing "of the most fearful". Instead I shall endeavor to have "manners of the most polite".

Hoping this finds you well,

Your cousin,


photo credit: BadSoull Photo via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica, 23 Mai 33AF

Dear Mum,

As of yesterday morning, thanks to the machinations of Madame Truc, I am the newest clerk at the firm of Suprenant & Fils. S&F is one of the smaller merchant houses in Mont-Havre but it has a good reputation; it was one of the first to be founded and its headquarters are located on the Rue du Champs, the most prestigious business address. That wasn't the firm's first location, of course; that was a metal shack on a dirt road near the port. The Rue du Champs was surveyed less than ten years ago, and is where the more successful businesses have moved now that they can afford nicer buildings.

If you are picturing marble floors and spiral staircases with wrought iron railings, think again—no one has time for that here. Here in Mont-Havre, a nicer building is one designed by a local architect out of local materials. Most of the newer buildings here are timber-frame and plaster on stone foundations. The local bronzewood trees, of which there seem to be far too many, produce a very hard wood. It's too expensive in sawblades to shape it into planks, they tell me, but the bronzewoods have to be cleared for fields; and as they grow tall and straight with few branches they make good and durable timbers.

There are other sorts of trees about Mont-Havre, enough for building and general carpentry; many of the older buildings, including Madame Truc's rooming house, are built of a soft wood called crêpe de chêne. But timber-framed buildings are longer-lasting, and the merchants here are planning ahead.

There are townships in the provinces that have good stocks of other kinds of hardwood, very beautiful and not so difficult to work as bronzewood, but they too are growing and have need of it for their own homes and businesses. S&S imports coralwood, chêne-pierre, and beechpine from the provinces for the local furniture-makers, but only the wealthier residents can afford such things.

Most floors and roofs are of tile—there are good stocks of a fine green clay in the valleys near Mont-Havre.

So I am learning the duties of a clerk, making entries in ledgers using a metal-nibbed pen—the very latest thing here in Mont-Havre—and ink made from the galls of chêne-pierre trees. It is primitive, yes, but sustainable; it would be too costly to import modern fountain pens and ink from the manufacturies of Cumbria or Provençe.

Now that I am a clerk, Madame Truc has told me that my little room, for which I have been paying three francs a week, is of the most unsuitable. I, a young man of business, must have a finer room at five francs a week. She has just such a room newly available, and nothing will do but that I move into it as quickly as I can. I believe the major difference is that it is very slightly larger and comes with a lamp and an easy chair. But as I am grateful to her, and as my increase in pay is more than sufficient to cover it, I have chosen to go along. Madame Truc is something of a force of nature, though I believe Dad would use a stronger phrase than that.

Mum, I know that you must be bemused and disturbed by my present situation and employment, so different from in Yorke. But these are my people now, and this is my new home. I am glad to come to know them "up from the earth", as they say here.

Please write me and let me know how things are with you.

Your loving son,


photo credit: wwarby Jim’s Wood Turning via photopin (license)

Letters From Armorica, 16 Mai 33AF

Dear Mum,

I thought you might like to hear what Mont-Havre is like, since it is very different than Yorke (or anywhere else I've been in Cambria).

Mont-Havre is built down the side of a flat-topped mountain, with the poor sections nearer the top. They didn't excavate the peak to make it flat; the first Provençese colonists found it that way and saw in it a natural harbor for sky-ships. Madame Truc tells me the explorers' vessel was losing buoyancy at the time, so the discovery was a blessed relief. They called the mountain Mont-Havre, which would be Mount Haven or Mount Harbor in Cumbrian, and the name naturally passed to the city that grew on the mountain side.

The climate here is pleasant. The land around the mountain is fertile and well-watered, and natural riches are abundant, from forests to wildlife to minerals of various kinds. It is a good land, and the people here seem to me to be happy and comfortable.

I have discovered that Madame Truc came here on the Pont Neuf, the first colony ship to follow after the explorers, she and her husband, for she was a young woman, newly married. Alas! Her husband died the first winter, though not from hunger or disease; he went hunting, exploring the land roundabout, and never came home. She believes that he was killed by a grand-blaireau, which I gather is a kind of enormous badger that once inhabited the region. They are both fierce and territorial, and claimed many lives until the colonists learned how to avoid them. There are none left near Mont-Havre, though they are still seen in the provinces.

She showed me a coat she has, made of the fur of a grand-blaireau her husband caught; it is quite luxurious. I do believe that Dad's guild regalia might be trimmed with it as well, for the hat he wears at guild festivals has just the same pattern of brown and white.

She is quite a font of stories, is Madame Truc! She never remarried, and since her husband's disappearance has lived in Mont-Havre keeping her boardinghouse. Many young men, and not a few older ones, have come through her boardinghouse on the way to better things—or, sometimes, to worse ones. She seems to approve of me, I guess because I live quietly and don't come home drunk and wake up her other boarders.

I took a job at the port for a few days after I arrived, just a temporary thing to earn a little money to live on while I seek a better position. I was thinking of hiring myself out as a day-laborer here in town, but Madame Truc has put her foot down.

"Such work is not for you!" she cried to me. "You are a young man of the most educated. I will speak to my friends, and we will find something for you." I am awaiting the result with both eagerness and trepidation.

Your loving son,


photo credit: Marlis B Watercourse Killarney Nationalpark via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica, 10 Mai 33AF


I did it! I have finally gotten out from under my father's thumb and all of the guild politics back in Yorke. You said I never would, but at last I have. It took over a year of saving my pocket money and bowing and scraping to the old tyrant, but I managed it in time.

I'll have you know that I'm writing to you from Mont-Havre in Armorica, the biggest city in the colony. I'm sitting in a tiny little room on a hard wooden chair, writing by the light of a handglow, and I hurt all over from working all day at the port— but I'm feeling fine. I'm on my own for the first time in my life, truly all by myself except for the fleas. Madame Truc insists there are no fleas, but I've got the bites to prove her wrong. It's still better than having the servants spying on me and reporting to my father.

Yes, I know, I opted for a Provençese colony rather than a Cumbrian one. Shocking, but I did it on purpose, and only after doing my research. I had over a year to plan, remember.

Armorica is young enough that there are still opportunities aplenty for an ambitious young man, but old enough to be livable. Better still, the guilds here aren't beholden to any of the guilds back home, not in practice. The present guild masters here in Mont-Havre all came here from Provençe as young men, so they are doubly separated from all of the guild politics back in Yorke. In fact, they are triply separated. Because of the Troubles, the Provençese colonies have always been more independent than the Cumbrian ones, and these guild masters have been too busy building up Armorica to have any attention left for Old World matters.

In short, my father will find no ready-made cat's paws here.

And it will not be as lowering as you might think. Armorica is becoming more Cumbrian with each ship-load of colonists; now that the Troubles have subsided in Provençe, they aren't sending as many colonists over-skies as they had been for many years. That's true in all of the Provençese colonies. Everyone here speaks Cumbrian perfectly well.

Yes, I've been doing hard manual labor at the port, carrying this and lifting that. Quite a come-down after my sheltered upbringing, I know, but it took all my funds to secure passage on the Lombard, and that was in steerage. I made a few friends onboard the ship, but by the way of things they had little more on arrival than I did.

Dock-worker was literally the first paying job I came across after I disembarked: there was a sign offering ten francs for workers to help unload the Lombard. I jumped at it, because I wasn't going to have anything to eat otherwise.

That was three days ago. The Lombard left for Cumbria this afternoon, and I must say it was a fine sight, rising up into the sky and vanishing into the West. I was sorry to see it go, though. Dock-working isn't a full-time job; it only pays when a ship is in port, and there won't be another ship in for several weeks. The ten francs would keep me fed and housed until then, barely, but I think I'll use the time to find something better. I can tell you, I thought quite a lot about that on my walk from the port down into the city.

You're no doubt off somewhere with your regiment. As I've no notion how long it will take this to find you, you had best write me care of the Courier's Guild here in Mont-Havre. I've no concern about giving you my permanent direction, of course, but I do not intend to stay with Madame Truc any longer than I must, and who knows where I shall end up.

Hoping this finds you well,

Your cousin,


photo credit: publicdomainphotography Wooden Bridge over Fresh Water Limestone River Samal via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica, 9 Mai 33AF

Dear Mum,

I'm settled in Mont-Havre, at least for a little while, so you can safely send me letters. Send them to Armand Tuppenny, in care of the Courier's Guild, or as they mostly call it here, the Guilde du Courriers. A lot of the names are like that here, which is funny, because most of the people I've met speak Cumbrian. I guess the first settlers were Provençese, but there haven't been many colonists from there in the last ten years or so. A few; I spent a deal of time on shipboard with a Provençese couple, Marc and Elise Fronterac.

Mont-Havre is the big city here in Armorica. It's where the first colonists landed, and it still has the only harbor that can take big ships like the Lombard. The government is here, too.

Only a few of the folks I came with are staying in Mont-Havre, and they all have family members who are already settled here. The rest are moving out into the provinces to farm or to practice one trade or another. Most of them had some place to go all lined up before they left Yorke. Lucky them.

I hadn't time to arrange such things—you know why—and after paying for my passage I haven't the funds to set myself up with a farm or in trade somewhere. I don't even know what trade that would be, since— Well.

I could work on a farm, I guess, but if I'm going to do menial labor I've decided I'd rather do it here in Mont-Havre where I'm more likely to hear of better opportunities. So I'm living in a cheap boarding house, though Madame Truc assures me every day, and sometimes every meal, that "it is a place of the most elegant." But at three francs a week she can call it what she likes. I am managing to make ends meet, and even save a little. I'm starting here, but I don't mean to end here!

Write me, please, and tell me how things are at home. The Courier's Guild runs a pair of packets between Yorke and Mont-Havre, the Herbert and the Robert; anything you send me by the Guild should reach me in a couple of months.

Your loving son,


photo credit: Giuseppe Milo (www.pixael.com) Vulcanii Noroiosi – Romania – Landscape photography via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica

Dear Mum,

The Lombard is supposed to make landfall tomorrow. I was going to wait and write you once I'm settled, but a man just came round and told us all to write our letters now if we want them to go back with the ship. He's right, I guess. It took us three months to get here, and there might not be any other ships heading home for another month.

I hope you'll have gotten over being angry with me by the time you get this. I'm sorry I couldn't tell you before I went, but, well, it was easier this way. I couldn't be what Dad wanted, and here I can make my own way. It's a new world out here, Mum.

The man is coming back, so I must close. I'll write again soon.

With all my love, your son,


photo credit: Giuseppe Milo (www.pixael.com) Vulcanii Noroiosi – Romania – Landscape photography via photopin (license)

The Duty and Destiny Series, by Andrew Wareham

Beginning with The Friendly Sea, the Duty and Destiny series is the story of Captain Frederick Harris of His Majesty's navy. The (currently) eleven book saga follows Harris' career from his days as a newly made lieutenant in the Caribbean to his days as baronet and commodore at the beginning of the Peninsular Campaign in Spain. In between he travels from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean and back again, with time left over to marry, father children, and build up two grand estates.

The books have their flaws. Harris is faced with a variety of challenges, but seems to take them all in stride; he is the very ideal of the successful naval officer, rich in prize money, rich in the interest that comes from having friends in politics, a fighting captain who is prudent enough to take counsel from others and to invest his winnings wisely, moving from strength to strength with only minor setbacks. As such, the books lack any real suspense: the reader knows that Harris will come through, if not unscathed than at least smelling of roses. On top of that, Harris' attitudes toward certain moral issues arising on the ships of His Majesty's navy seem surprisingly modern for the era in question. Ahem.

The obvious comparison is with Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels, and Wareham's books come off a distinct second. The books have neither the depth nor the immediacy of O'Brian's; when I read about Jack Aubrey on the quarterdeck of the Surprise I can see the sun on the grain of the holystoned decking and the water splashing against the chains as the ship heels in a stiff breeze. More than that, O'Brian's novels are simultaneously romances and novels, the sea story serving as the occasion for much deeper story-telling, whereas in Wareham's tales the sea story is essentially all there is.

But the comparison with O'Brian really isn't fair; playing in O'Brian's sandbox is an endeavor which could lead any author to feelings of gross inadequacy. What I can fairly say is that I've now read all eleven books in the series, and that Wareham has kept me happily turning pages. If you're a fan of sea stories and you're looking for a new fix, Wareham's your man.

photo credit: Wikimedia Commons