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

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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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Letters from Armorica- On Disappointment (9 Août 34AF)

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Cher Onc’ Herbert,

I have just this moment discovered what Drunken Jacques was telling people to get them to cooperate with getting the supplies in order. He was telling them that I’d be disappointed if they continued to make a fuss!

Me! What am I, some kind of monster? Why in all of the lands would anyone care about me being disappointed?

When I asked him why he was saying that, he said that you told him too. And that it was working quite well, and he intended to keep doing it.

I don’t know what you meant by it, M. de Néant, but I find that I am quite dis—oh, bloody hell.

I sent the boys out first thing this morning to look for good lookout spots all along the perimeter of the island, places where they can see without being seen, and it was much quieter around the settlement with them gone. In a few minutes Gérard de Soux will be heading out in a sky-chair to circle the island and see if he can spot them. He’s taken several shirts with me, and he’s going to change colors every so often. I’ve promised the boys that if they can identify the person operating the sky-chair, the time they saw him, and the shirt he was wearing, without being seen by him, I’ll give them extra sweets tonight.

We’ll see how it goes. The sky-wagon is about to leave so I’ll stop here.


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Letters from Armorica- The Supply Team (8 Août 34AF)

First Letter

Cher Onc’ Herbert,

Merci beaucoup for sending Drunken Jacques and your grandson Christophe to help manage the goods you have been sending us! You were quite right: Amelie was horribly bored here on Le Blaireau with nothing to do, and she has quite taken to sitting in a comfortable chair under the canvas roof of the new store while Drunken Jacques and Christophe do all of the running around and heavy lifting. She tells me that Christophe is an apt pupil, with a neat tidy hand in the ledgers, and that Drunken Jacques has been quite successful at encouraging the others who are here with us to carry, move and organize the supplies. There were some quarrels over it—apparently some of our people had become quite attached to their own little piles of goods. I don’t know what Drunken Jacques has been telling them, being busy with my own work, but it has been quite effective. Perhaps it is simply that he is so large? At any rate, we are coming to know just what we have and where it all is. It is already helping us accomplish our tasks more efficiently.

Thanks in large measure to their efforts (which are on-going), we now have everyone who was living on Le Rubicon and all of the supplies she carried under canvas on the island itself. She is now more or less as she was taken from the Provençese, and is ready to be carried off and burned. Meanwhile, we are continuing to clear land for living space and, eventually, for crops, and Jacques the Cabinet-Maker and I are fully engaged on the next of the sky-wagons.

We have had to discipline a number of the younger boys, unsurprisingly. One of them, young Bertrand, nearly knocked Amelie off her feet! I sent him to the top of Le Blaireau‘s mast to keep watch for Provençese invaders. In the end, I am afraid it did nothing to quell him, for he has rather been crowing about it to all of the other boys. I was forced to keep him by me to run errands after that.

We must make use of all of this boyish energy. The Provençese will come, and soon; we should establish watch points around the edges of the island and keep them manned—or, perhaps, boy’d—all around the clock. And I wish we could find a way to get our people underground in case of attack! At present, our only hope here on Grand-Blaireau is not to be noticed.

Christophe has been telling me this evening that Marc Frontenac has been training some of the men still in Bois-de-Bas to shoot from our sky-chairs, and also practicing boarding maneuvers onto the roof of my house! Please tell him I trust he will replace any lost shingles before the rains come, and also that I want to hear all about his experiences in this matter. There may be much we can do to make the sky-chairs more useful in combat.

Yours sincerely,

Armand Tuppenny

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Letters from Armorica- Order from Chaos (6 Août 34AF)

First Letter

Cher Onc’ Herbert,

We now have quite a bustling little place here on L’Isle de Grand-Blaireau, and I am beginning to worry about supplies.

In the long term, I am worried that we will not have enough, either here or in Bois-de-Bas. The Provençese forces either have control of Mont-Havre and the roads thither, or they soon will; and surely they must soon begin to believe that we are not loyal to Le Maréchal. When they do, it will be the easiest of all things for them to deny us supplies from the city. We must be self-sufficient, and we must put off that black day as long as possible.

To that end, I think we must get rid of the sloop Rubicon. It is useful living space, I grant—but will not les cochons keep looking for it, so long as it is not found? But how would it be if it were found in the woods, say a night’s distance from Bois-de-Bas, crashed in the forest and much burnt, and if possible with the bodies of the crew on board. Perhaps it might even be blown asunder by a spark in the magazine. It would be the easiest of all things: leave it in mid-air, set a fuse, and abandon ship by sky-chair. In a short time, the Rubicon is spread across acres of forest, and it appears to be an accident.

Moving on, I am not to be advising you in matters of prudence: you and the other good folk of Bois-de-Bas have been ahead of me ever since I arrived. But it seems to me that the more goods and food we can stockpile here on Grand-Blaireau, the better off we will be on the day the Provençese decide to take and garrison Bois-de-Bas. Judging by the loads I see arriving on our two sky-wagons, you must agree with me.

And that leads me to my present worries. Many things have been brought here already, with more coming every day…but there is no one here to manage these things, or to keep track of them. There are piles of goods haphazardly spread on the decks and through the holds of the two sloops, and in the midst of the encampment; already it is becoming hard to find things. We need a proper store, and a proper clerk to run it. We need someone to bring order out of chaos. More than that, I know these goods are being provided by the people of Bois-de-Bas in light of the current crisis…but all of them ought to be recompensed for their contributions, I think. But we cannot do that, we cannot even honor them as they deserve, if we do not track those same contributions.

I cannot take on this role, for I am fully engaged with Jacques in extending our fleet of sky-chairs and wagons. Amelie is well-qualified, but cannot so easily move around the sloop; it was not designed for a woman in her condition. And even if she were, we have none of the ledgers we would use to record the information.

To that end, I think it necessary that we begin moving the remaining contents of our store from Bois-de-Bas to Grand-Blaireau, starting with our ledgers, pens, and ink. But that will be to no avail without the clerk I speak of!

Finally, we need someone in overall command here on the island. Everyone here has a task already, and is intent on doing it come what may, and we have had more than one fist fight over tools and materials. (They are good men, but tensions are high.) We need someone who can judge which tasks must be done now, and which may be delayed, and make it stick. (And having a central source for supplies will help!)

I do not know who best to appoint to these roles; I am still very new to Bois-de-Bas. But I trust you will understand both the need and your people. Please do not delay!

Yours sincerely,

Armand Tuppenny

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Recent Reading: Historicals, Monsters, and DNA

Been doing a lot of reading of late; here are some capsule reviews.

Black Chamber, by S. M. Stirling. This is a WWI-era spy novel set in an alternate America in which Teddy Roosevelt was elected instead of Taft and was able to implement his progressive policies with a free hand. It’s got airships, submarines, handsome evil Germans (but no Nazis), and a femme fatale, Luz O’Malley Aróstegui, who takes the battle to Germany. The background is amazingly and thoroughly detailed; Stirling did his research on this one. A little more sex than I like, but a gripping read from one end to the other.

Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past, by David Reich. It turns out that the history of the human species is far more complicated than anyone had guessed, and in surprising ways. Reich is a geneticist specializing in the study of ancient DNA; much of the research was done in his laboratory. Fair warning: some of the paragraphs regarding their experimental procedures are quite exceedingly dry; I confess I skimmed them to get on to the conclusions. With that caveat, though, I found this to be a fascinating book. Rule of thumb: things get more complicated when you look closely, not less.

Monster Hunter Memoirs: Saints, by Larry Correia and John Ringo. This is the last book in a delightful trilogy beginning with Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge, and the trilogy itself is part of Correia’s larger “Monster Hunter International” series. The Monster Hunter books are a lot of fun; and Ringo’s contributions are somehow more fun than par. But don’t start with this one; start with Grunge or with the first book in the series, Monster Hunter International.

Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious, by Gerd Gigerenzer. A friend recommended this as a more rigorous take on the topic of Malcom Gladwell’s Blink. I enjoyed it but can’t completely recommend it, as I found myself arguing with the author on almost every page, and certainly in every chapter. The author habitually contrasts gut reactions and intuition with reason, to reason’s detriment; the trouble is, by “reason” he means modern propositional logic, a field that corresponds to only a small part of the human faculty of reason as it was understood by Aristotle or the Scholastics. Virtually everything he discusses is in fact perfectly reasonable and rational by the older definitions of “reason”. On the other hand, he isn’t wrong; it’s one of those cases where I find myself agreeing with the conclusions and disagreeing with the categories. It’s an interesting book if you’re interested in this sort of thing.

A Famine of Horses, by P.F. Chisolm. This delightful book is a mystery novel set on the Anglo-Scottish border in the days of Queen Elizabeth I, and concerns one Sir Robert Carey, newly appointed Deputy Warden of the English West March. The border in those days was a lawless place of horse and cattle thieves and protection rackets in which the Grahams, the Armstrongs, the Elliots, and other “surnames” fought, rustled, and feuded and moved from one side of the border to the other to escape the heat. It’s a milieu I’d encountered before, in George MacDonald Fraser’s excellent non-fiction work The Steel Bonnets, and Chisolm quite brings it to life. Recommended.

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Letters from Armorica- The Sky Wagon (3 Août 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Yesterday and today Jacques and I continued our work on our first sky-wagon. We built it on the foredeck of Le Rubicon, not the most congenial spot for such activity: the deck of the sloop has a distinct curve to it, and is cramped besides. The curvature makes it tricky to get things square, and we had no proper workbench. Still, a sky-wagon is a necessity in order to continue to build up our encampment here on what the others are calling L’Isle de Grand-Blaireau, or simply Grand-Blaireau for short.

It is ironic, truly. Le Rubicon and its sister Le Blaireau have a cargo capacity far in excess of anything I am ever likely to build; and yet we dare not use them because without a skilled crew we dare not raise the sails. Without the sails, the sloops are slow and unmanageable, and far too noticeable at a distance. The sky-wagon will be smaller and much faster and more maneuverable, and provided we keep a good watch should be able to avoid notice. The current plan, as I understand it, is to descend in the shadow of the waterfall and then across the lake to a spot where we can meet normal wagons on the road from Bois-de-Bas. Ultimately we may be able to dispense with those, and take the sky-wagons the entire way, but that will require rather more of them than we will have for some time.

I had been pondering the design for some time, so Jacques and were able to set straight to work. The basis for the sky-wagon is a standard wagon bed: a box, not to put it too plainly, about two feet high by five feet wide by something over six feet in length, open at the top and back. Where a normal wagon would have axles and tall wagon wheels, putting the bed at waist height, our wagon is on runners—not sleigh runners, but simple beams—and to save lumber and to make it easier to load and unload the bed is only about a foot off of the ground. After all, there shall be no need to roll it anywhere.

To the front of the box is affixed the body of a sky-chair, cut down so as to seat only one. And above the whole, at a height of about five feet from the bed, is a canopy: the lifting elements, from which the whole will depend in flight. We have covered the canopy with canvas and netting, so as to disguise it from above, and to shade the load.

We completed our first wagon to this design today. It is roughly finished at best, as we are in haste, but it is functional, and in addition to the lifting and control elements I have hardened all of the structural members and many of the exposed surfaces. It is ugly, but at least those who use it shall have no need to beware of splinters!

Étienne, Onc’ Herbert’s wagoneer, will have the honor of flying the wagon. He presented to me that it would be better to leave the wagon completely open at the top, for ease of stowage and to increase the cargo capacity. I presented to him that it would better not to load the wagon above the lifting elements, so as it keep it stable and unlikely to capsize in mid-flight, and to maximize the number of lifting elements, so as to carry the needed loads with ease. When I put it to him that way he quite saw the point. Jacques and I did, however, increase the height of the canopy by a foot, so that one need not stoop quite so much while loading. It requires more materials, but increases stability as well as comfort.

The wagon bed itself is of fairly typical construction, a sturdy base with solid side panels two feet high in front and on the left and right. We added a gate of sorts in back, to prevent the cargo from slipping out mid-flight; and at Amelie’s comment that she should be quite frightened to ride in such a thing with nothing between her and the air, we ran laths along the uprights at intervals of about every two inches from just above the sides all the way up to the canopy. This provides light, air, and sense of safety to those who shall occasionally be riding in the wagon bed, and ensures that we shall not lose any small boys. At least, it makes it less likely.

It is an ugly beast, not nearly as comely as the sky-chair we built together, and poor Jacques hates to look at it, but thanks to his skill and my hardening it is both solid and durable; and as it is controlled in the same way as the sky-chairs it should be easy to operate. Étienne has pronounced himself content, and in the morning will descend to the lake shore to pick up his first load.

At the same time, Jacques and I shall descend to the river bank, as the men have put together the beginnings of a better workshop for us. It is a simple affair: just a wooden floor with a canvas awning to keep off the sun and disguise our activities, but the floor is perfectly flat. We have saw horses, and are promised proper work benches as soon as they can be transported from the village—which shall be all the sooner the quicker we work.

It is good to be a part of a community like this: each of us has our tasks to do, and the work progresses with amazing swiftness. I credit Onc’ Herbert, for he is a man of considerable prudence and foresight. Still, I wish Marc could have remained with us here on Grand-Blaireau, he being my closest friend in Bois-de-Bas; but he and Elise are occupied with running our shop, and on top of that he has become Onc’ Herbert’s chief lieutenant and aide, running hither and thither with prudent and deliberate abandon. I shan’t see him here for more than brief visits unless we find we need to abandon Bois-de-Bas altogether. That is, of course, why we are building the settlement here on my island, yet I hope it will not come to that.

At least I have no fear of wasting my time. The sky-wagons shall prove to be of great use—and, ultimately, profit!—even should the Provençese never come in greater force.

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Letters from Armorica- The Rubicon (1 Août 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Yesterday everything changed. We are at war. I don’t say that Armorica is at war with Provençe—though would that it were! But Bois-de-Bas is certainly and openly at war with the forces of Le Maréchal. And more than that, I am no longer alone. The forest round about Le Blaireau is ringing with the sound of hammers and axes, there are voices and shouts everywhere, and best of all my darling Amelie is here by me as I write.

The first I knew of it was yesterday evening. I had retired below, and was reading by the light of a lantern when I heard the sound of splintering branches. The entire sloop shook with a massive blow. My first thought was, “Le Maréchal! He has come!”

I crept up to the deck to see the silhouettes of men jumping onto it from another sloop, which had been brought along side. I could see its bare masts and the loom of its bowsprit in the dim light. “A boarding party!” I gasped from my spot in the darkness of the hatchway. How had the Provençese found me! What ought I to do? The moment I left the security of my hole I would be seen. Could I reach my sky-chair on the foredeck before I was taken? Not likely, it seemed, for the men had spread out until they lined the rail at intervals all of the way to the bow.

The men on deck were passed the ends of ropes from the other sloop, which they used to make all fast, binding the two vessels together, rail to rail. Then another form was passed across from the other sloop, gently as it seemed, and I heard a familiar voice calling, “Armand!”

It was Marc, and the one passed so carefully over from the other sloop was my Amelie, heavy with our child! I stumbled out onto the deck, still quivering in every bone but more relieved than I can say.

“But what is this?” I cried at him, clinging to my bride. “What has happened?”

“The men of L’Asticot returned to Bois-de-Bas with manners of the most rude!” said Amelie, clinging to me in turn. “Please, I must be sitting down.”

“This way,” I said, and led them down to the captain’s cabin. It was cramped, and if Amelie could be comfortable Marc and I could not, but no matter. I sat her down on my cot, and wrapped blankets around her to make a nest.

L’Asticot?” I asked. “Who is that?”

“That pig Le Maréchal, she means,” said Marc, and Amelie nodded solemnly. “L’asticot is a, how you would say, a grub, a maggot.”

“And he is eating the motherland from the inside,” said Amelie firmly.

“So, his men returned,” I said. “I wondered what was taking them so long. They only just now missed Le Blaireau?”

“Oh, no, no,” said Marc. “They have visited several times since then. The first time they were looking for Le Blaireau, and we said it had come and gone. They tried to recruit some of our men, but of course no one agreed, and as they were in a hurry they did not argue.”

“But what about the shop?”

“Marc and Elise have been most helpful,” said Amelie.

It took me some little while to get the full story. It seems that by then Amelie had switched places with Marc and Elise, living with Onc’ Herbert while Marc and Elise ran the shop. The sign was repainted to say Frontenac instead of Tuppeny, and Elise had reconfigured my former’s workshop as a place for a seamstress while my benches and tools were hidden in a shed on Onc’ Herbert’s farm. There was no sign of my presence for the soldiers to find.

That was over a week ago. Two more parties had come since then. The first asked for the whereabouts of “le maître de la thaumaturgie Armand Tuppenny,” and were told that I had left town. Marc had obligingly pointed them in the direction of the false trail he had laid.

Maître de la thaumaturgie!” I exclaimed. “It would seem that either my father or my aunt came through for me, more’s the pity. I should never have written home.”

“It is only what you deserve,” said Amelie with great fondness.

“It is,” said Marc, “though the timing is tres difficile. But we amused them for some days, until today they came again. And today they insisted on knowing the location of Madame Tuppenny.”

“They thought to use me as a hostage, les cochon!

“And so we have this fine sloop,” said Marc, “which is loaded with many good things. The rest of your tools, for one, and Jacques and his tools, and materials.”

“And women and children,” said Amelie. “And goats.” She grinned wickedly.

“And such other men as we can spare,” said Marc. “There is much to do here, and much yet to bring if we are to be safe and well supplied.”

And so Le Blaireau is no longer empty, but is filled with the sound of children. The two sloops have been lowered nearer the water, just slightly above the level of the top of the banks, and rude bridges have been run from the banks on either side to the sloops, turning them into the basis for a small settlement. The men have spent all day felling trees and building animal enclosures and work shops. Jacques and I are under orders to build a larger version of the sky-chair, so as to be able to carry more goods and people from town to my island, and so we have been working on the foredeck of the second sloop, Le Rubicon. Indeed there is much to do.

And now it is night once again, and Amelie is waiting.

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Letters from Armorica- Exploring (3 Juillet 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have completed two more sky-chairs and am now out of materials; and so I have spent the last several days exploring my island, which Marc tells me my fellow villagers have taken to calling L’Isle du Grand-Blaireaux, or, alternatively, L’Isle d’Armand. We shall see which one wins out.

My first goal in exploring my island was simply to see what is beyond the tract that is visible from the deck of Le Blaireau. And the answer is, the island is all much of a muchness until it rises into rocky hills at its northern edge. The river flows from a spring in these hills, through the widest part of the island, until it falls off of the edge and down to the lake far below. In between it winds a bit, and there are some pools and a small waterfall or two. The water is good to drink, as I well know by now, and there are fish in the ponds.

For the rest, the island is wooded, and neither particularly flat nor particularly hilly. There are many flattish spots in which one could build a house or barn or shop (if the trees were taken down, and many rocky outcroppings, some of them appearing to contain grottos like those of our hot springs. Though, alas, I am seeing no signs of hot springs themselves, which is a great pity. I should like to explore these grottos, but that will have to wait until I have help. The openings are small; and also, I do not want to die alone, in the dark, with a broken leg or worse—or to fall in a hole, right through the base of the island, and down into the lake below.

I did find one grotto with a larger entry that appears to be the entrance to Old Man Blaireau’s lair. That one I was not tempted to look inside though the going would be easier. I have seen signs of small animals here and there, though nothing that remotely compares with my late friend in size; and it is quite possible that something new has taken up residence. I should not like to find out. And then, of course, there is the stench.

I should like to go fly under the island. From my brief visit there some weeks ago, before all of the unpleasantness with the Provençese recruiters, I remember seeing what seemed to be hollows and the mouths of rocky caves, some of them quite large. But the light is dim at best directly under the island, and we had no lantern with us; and what seems to be a deep pit of blackness can easily be a shallow pocket in the stone. I have a lantern or two here in the sloop, or I could form a hand-light; but of course I am supposed to be remaining out of sight. My days here would be quite wasted if another sloop saw me nosing around under the island, brightly lit.

All in all, my island looks like it could support a small population indefinitely, or a larger one at need for a shorter time; there is room aplenty, and one could plant a few small fields and keep a small herd of goats (ugh). But I am at a loss as to how one would do that without it being immediately visible to a direct overflight.

You see, Dear Journal, that I am still consumed with worry about the Provençese. Whether or not they are still looking for me, whether or not they are still looking for their lost sloop (and I must assume that they are) I fear that war will be coming to Bois-de-Bois. Le Maréchal cannot overlook defiance by those he considers his subjects. We must either give in, or oppose him; and if we are to oppose him, we shall need a base, a hidden base where our families can be safe. I had thought that we might build such a base here on my island…but how to hide it from the air if we cannot build underground, I cannot say.

At night I have dreams of exploring vast networks of caverns deep in the rock of island, small tunnels and vast echoing spaces. Sometimes they are as dark as pitch, and sometimes they warm and lit with many lanterns, and my friends are coming and going. And then I wake, and I ask myself…if the island’s base is so riddled with holes, how is it that the river gets from one end to the other without draining through and out the bottom? And then, in the grey of morning, I am filled with despair.

I suppose there may yet be an answer; I have learned to respect the resource and contrivance of my friends here.

Tonight I am feeling low, lonely, and discouraged. If only Amelie could be here with me, I should know how to go on. But she is not.

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Letters from Armorica: Old Man Blaireau (26 Juillet 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It has been quite a busy week, Dear Journal, as you well know, and Dear Lord, when did I start talking to my journal as though it were another person? I am so tired of living alone. This sloop is not large, though far more than ample for one, and I have walked every inch of it over and over again, yes, and banged my head on the low beams over and over again as well, just trying to move. I once saw a lion in a cage in Yorke; I have been feeling like that lion, pacing back and forth, up and down, trying to find some part of the sloop I’ve never seen before, and of course failing.

But in between all of that it has been a busy week, filled with the building of skychairs and diagrams of congeries and much thinking, and it has borne much fruit. During the days I was able to construct three more of my two-man sky-chairs, ugly but effective, for a total of five! Leaving one here for me, that means that eight men can quickly come and go from Le Blaireau at a time; and that means that we were at last able to organize a hunting party for Old Man Blaireau. Though the phrase “hunting party” is misleading, for there was very little hunting involved. It was by no means necessary to seek out Old Man Blaireau, for he has been my daily companion through the week, my sole visitor in my loneliness, and so he came to us. And given the means used, it might be more descriptive to call it an execution party.

I did not participate, though I watched from above. I did not even need to take to the air, but could see everything from the railing of the sloop.

Old Man Blaireau is—or, I should say, was—enormous even by the standards of grand-blaireau, and so my friends took great thought of how to dispose of him with minimal risk. In the end, guided largely by Marc, I think, they adopted radically new tactics. They brought with them an enormous net, and they spread it out on the flats at the top of the bank, in the nearest suitable spot to the sloop. In the middle of the net they staked out a kid goat. From the corners of the net ran four pairs of lines, one pair to each of four sky-chairs, where they were attached in some way. The sky chairs took station over the corners of the net, high enough to be out of the beast’s reach; and then we waited, listening to the kid goat bawling for its mama.

I felt only mildly sorry for the kid goat, being acquainted with its mama, for she, I believe I may say without fear of contradiction, is no lady.

We did not have to wait long. Old Man Blaireau, looking more famished than ever, rushed through the trees, his broad nose low to the ground, and bit the kid goat in two. He was not left to enjoy his meal, for no sooner was he on the net than the four sky-chairs burst upward at speed.

The net had been designed to tighten and bind and ensnare its contents when the corner lines were pulled; and as Old Man Blaireau’s nose was at the center of the net he shortly found himself head down and tightly meshed.

I had had reservations about the plan when it was first broached to me: would not the giant beast’s thrashings tear open the net? Might he not pull one sky-chair or another into a tree?

“We have practiced,” Marc said. “And your chairs are of the most stable because of your design: they may tilt, but they can never capsize.”

“But might they not tilt so far that you fall out?”

Mais non!” he said. “For we have fitted them with straps. You are not to worry, mon ami. We are quite safe.” He assured me that so long as the chairs ascended with sufficient rapidity, Old Man Blaireau would be wrapped too tightly to move before he could do anything untoward. And so, indeed, it proved.

And then, each sky-chair no more than an arms length from the other three, the four chairs moved with care through the trees. They carried their burden beyond the stern of the sloop and lowered it head first into the river. This was the part of the plan I hated most.

“We must kill it in some way,” said Marc, shrugging, “for it is a menace.” And then, winking at me, “And it would be a shame to spoil the biggest blaireau fur anyone has ever seen by piercing it with holes. However, if you wish to cut its throat you may be my guest. Take care not to damage the net.”

“No, no,” I said. “Please, proceed.”

When the beast was safely dead, they transported it some distance from the sloop, cleaned it, and skinned it; and the skin is now drying on the foredeck. The carcass they wrapped again in the net, and two of the sky-chairs carried it off to be dropped somewhere in the woods below, far from town, for blaireau meat is no good to eat unless you are starving.

I find I miss Old-Man Blaireau somewhat, for all that he would gladly have devoured me as quickly as he did the kid goat. But Marc’s final words to me before leaving were that he would bring Amelie to see me on the morrow; and of course now I am free to explore!

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Letters from Armorica: A Brief Visit (20 Juillet 34AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I had a lovely break from my solitude today, for Marc came to visit, and he brought Amelie with him! It was but the briefest of visits—should the Provençese return to Bois-de-Bas they must find Amelie present there, or they will never believe I have run. I quite scolded Marc for his recklessness, smiling all the while. He merely laughed at me. But Amelie and our child-to-be are quite well, and it did my heart good to see them.

They came immediately after divine worship, bringing with them some fresh food (eggs, a jug of milk, and a small cake, for Sonnedi), assured me that I was not forgotten, and then vanished again, having helped me eat the cake.

Marc cast a few longing looks at my sole completed sky-chair, and I could tell that he wished to take it back to Bois-de-Bas with him; it must weigh hard on him being the only means of communication with me on Le Blaireau. But first he must train another to operate the chair he has—and I am of no mind to rid myself of my only way of returning home at need. Still, it is clear that I must finish yet another sky-chair post-haste.

I have been entirely lazy today, at least in the matter of manual labor, for of course it is Sonnedi; and I am still consumed with pondering the design of Le Blaireau. I had to do a few arithmetical exercises to be sure, but now I think I understand.

The reason the great sky-ships do not use formed elements for propulsion in more than the most modest way is simply a matter of scale. The relevant elements in Le Blaireau—the keel, the rudder, the lifting element in the railings, and the small element for moving about the harbor—are all formed as single hardened pieces. This adds greatly to their durability, as the women of Bois-de-Bas can attest of their cookware, but it is difficult to form elements of such size. One former working by himself can only do so much. A team of formers working together can do more—must do more, for the enormous sky-freighters and warships—but working in teams is also difficult, and formers are rare and expensive.

At the same time, the simpler the task, the easier it is; and the lifting element and keel have been designed to be as simple as possible and still perform their functions. Simply put, a single propulsive element capable of moving a sky-freighter at speed would be enormous and enormously expensive. One could do rather better on a sloop such as Le Blaireau, for it is quite small as ships go, but the effort might well still be inordinate.

And then there is the design of the ship to consider. The force of any such propulsive element must be carefully placed, and the structure of the ship designed to transmit that force properly to the ship as a whole. It would be quite useless if the propulsive element was so strong that it ripped itself clear of the ship! A standard sky-ship, on the other hand, makes use of the tried-and-true designs of water-going ships, with their keels and masts and rigging and so forth. The forces are well understood.

And yet…need the propulsive element be formed as a single piece? It seems to me that many small elements working together, perhaps distributed about the vessel, might do very well, and achieve the same force as a single much larger element. Control would be more difficult, and the…collection? Congerie? Yes, the congerie would be more susceptible to damage than a single element. But if the propulsive elements were hardened, and part of the structure of the conveyance, as they are in my sky-chairs…. Truly, I think something might be done.

The classic design’s advantages of strength and durability are undeniably, especially on a long voyage through the Abyss, especially with no former to fix storm damage. But of course I am a former; and for local use—and local defense—it might be possible to build a number of smaller vessels along entirely new lines. Vessels that do not require masts, vessels that are easily hidden, vessels that might give us a fighting chance if Le Maréchel comes calling. Yes, and it might be possible to harden the rest of their members, too.

I must have materials, and I must have help. More, I must have room, and that means a permanent camp, which means that we must dispose of Old Man Blaireau.

I shall certainly complete another sky-chair tomorrow.

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