Letters from Armorica- The Garrison (30 December 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It is usually quiet in Bois-de-Bas in this season. The snow has covered the ground, the crops have been in seemingly for ever, les bûcherons are home by the fire, and everyone has settled in for the winter.

This year, in contrast, we have a new garrison, courtesy of Lord Doncaster. The garrison, a full company of soldiers, is led by one Captain Hampton of the 3rd Bollards—a bluff, hearty gentleman of middle years, fond of his food, and with no ambition whatsoever. The garrison is the home base of the sloop Polliwog, commanded by Captain Fleming. He is lean, fond of his drink, much junior to Hampton, and yet, somehow, the one in charge.

"It is always the way," said Hampton cheerfully over dinner at Le Cochon's Head. "The 'Bollards' they call us, because we are solid and never move, and we give the Navy an anchor. And the Navy is the senior service, after all."

"Don't let him fool you," said Fleming. "Charlie saw action enough in his younger days. He's learned to appreciate a quiet life, is all, and he's earned it too."

Cousin Jack waved at Sergeant Allen, over behind the bar. "The Bollards is where we send the best of our older veterans who don't wish to retire. If your Sergeant Allen hadn't decided to settle down, he might well have been Charlie's first sergeant."

They both seem reasonable men, and so far at least there has been little trouble between the garrison and the town. The snow may have something to do with that: those of the men who are allowed into Le Cochon's Head do not wish to be thrown out of the warm.

We were also joined by Lieutenant Carlisle, who commands the Polliwog's marines. He said little, ate much, and gave no sign of listening to any of the discussion.

Having previously discussed it with Jack, I related to them the history of our defense during the war, and about our hidey-hole on L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau.

"I hate to talk about it," I said to Captain Fleming, "as its value is its secrecy and unreachability. But of course it is right there in the northern sky, and I can hardly hope that you wouldn't reconnoiter. Had we had purely an army garrison I would have not have mentioned it all."

"Our men would have learned of it eventually," said Captain Hampton. "They will get to know your townsfolk in time, and tongues will wag. Better to have it out now."

"Yes, I agree," said Captain Fleming. "I shall avoid drawing attention to it."

"I am so glad," I said. "I was afraid you might want to use it as a base."

Fleming shook his head. "The Navy has tried that in the past, but we've found it doesn't answer. Resupply is difficult, and if the enemy attacks in force it is difficult to evacuate the ground troops."

"True," said Hampton. "Here we can fade into the woods, regroup, and bide our time. There we would be like ducks in a pot."

In all, they seem to be men of good will; I believe I can work with them.

Jack has negotiated the sale of a plot of land not far from the wagon-works. "Close enough to defend it," he told me privately, "but not so close as to crowd it—for I feel sure you will want to expand some day."

"Do you think defending it will be likely?"

He shrugged. "His Lordship does, or the Polliwog wouldn't be here."

It is not a comforting notion.

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Letters from Armorica- Christmas (25 December 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

What consternation! What joy!

Yesterday afternoon a sky-sloop came to Bois-de-Bas out of the west. It was greeted by screams and shouts; for of course all here remember the coming of Le Cochon's sloops during the war. The shouts drew Amelie and I out of the house, along with most of my fellow townsfolk, and we watched in horror as (so it seemed to us) the bad times came again. Jacques Pôquerie came and stood by my side.

The sloop drew near and descended over the green, just as those had. Then I noticed that the sloop was flying the colors of Cumbria-in-Armorica, the colors flown over Lord Doncaster's residence in Mont-Havre; that the sloop's gun ports were closed; and that Jack was waving to me from the quarterdeck.

The sloop did not settle on the green, leaving a deep rut, as the Provençese sloops had. Instead it paused a careful two feet over the thin layer of snow, a ladder of rope and wood was thrown over the side, and down came a pair of smartly dressed marines in red coats, followed by His Lordship's aide, my Aunt Maggie's son Jack. He was equally smart in a red coat of his own, though somewhat different design; for Jack is not a marine.

Jack smirked at me as I ran up to him.

"What is the trouble, Coz? You invited me to come visit, after all."

"Yes I did, you damned fool, but I didn't invite you to stop all of our hearts!" But even as I said that I was embracing him and pounding him on the back.

Quite a crowd had gathered around the edges of the green by this time. I turned around to face them.

"My friends, there's nothing to worry about. You all remember my cousin Jack. He has chosen this melodramatic way to join us for Christmas, instead of spending it in Mont-Havre."

There were cheers, and much nodding, with smiles and a cheerful greeting or two. There was also a frown or two on the faces of some of the men with daughters of a certain age, for Jack had entranced a number of those daughters on previous visits—without, I hasten to add, having done anything to deserve the opprobrium of their male parents beyond being cheerful, dashing, and friendly.

"But what of your sloop, Jack," I asked him. "Is it going to remain with us?"

"That's one of the things we need to discuss," he answered me quietly. "For now, I assume there is a better place for it to stay on Christmas Eve than in front of the church."

"Certainly there is. How close do you wish them to be to the center of things?"

"Near enough," he said. "It is Christmas, after all, and I am sure they would like to visit Sergeant Allen's inn for some Christmas cheer."

"Will they be needing to pitch tents?"

"No, no, they will be snug enough aboard the Polliwog for tonight."

"I believe M. Gaston has the closest field to the inn; and of course there is nothing growing there now. But I see him over there. A moment."

M. Gaston proving willing to host the Polliwog for a few days, Jack's marine escort ascended to the sloop's deck, the sloop rose gently and sailed off, and Jack came home with Amelie and I for dinner.

After the meal—for we always have a plain, simple meal on Christmas Eve—Jack said, "Armand, we must talk." He and I left the rest of the family circle in the parlor, where Luc was reading yet another chapter from The Mystery of David Silverfish, and went to my workshop. I built up the fire in the pot-belled stove on the customer side of the counter, and we sat down on the settee like two of my old men.

"So, Jack, what is it? And how long will you and your extravagant conveyance be staying?"

"That's precisely what we need to speak about. I shall be here for a few days, or perhaps a week; the Polliwog rather longer. Indefinitely, in fact."

"What do you mean?"

"It's really all your fault, you know. His Lordship wanted to have you and your wagon-works in Mont-Havre, where he could keep you safe. You would not oblige him—for which he bears you no ill will—but he must see to your defense and security. Someday Cumbria will be at war with Provençe, or Andaluse, or Hanondorf; and when that happens your sky-wagons may be what turns the tide. In sum, Trust me, Armand, like it or not you have become an asset of the realm."

I suppose I looked stunned. Jack laughed at me, as he has laughed at me so often before. "Second city of Armorica, Armand? Haven't I heard those words on your lips? What did you expect to happen?"

He settled down with his pipe and let me absorb all of this.

"So, we are to have a garrison, then," I said at last.

"In a word, yes."

"What are His Lordship's expectations? For though I'm the mayor I can't simply make decrees. My people trust me because my decisions make sense to them."

Jack laughed again. "His Lordship has no desire to cause you trouble. If he did you and yours would be settled in Mont-Havre whether you liked it or not." And then he outlined for me what Lord Doncaster wants from us: a piece of land on which to build a barracks for a small garrison and berthing for the Polliwog; food and other supplies to support the garrison; and a small self-motivated sky-cart or wagon to use for courier duty. All of these to be properly paid for by His Lordship, and Jack to return to Mont-Havre in the sky-cart.

"Only one such cart?"

"He shall want several over the next year. But he only needs one this week."

That was yesterday; today we had a service in the Church, with much singing of carols, though no mass since we still have no permanent priest of our own. I suppose I must make a visit to the Bishop in Mont-Havre and request one. That was followed by a glorious meal, and the giving of presents, and much talk and frivolity, and if there were any difficulties at Sergeant Allen's inn or in M. Gaston's field, no one brought them to my attention.

Tomorrow I shall go to the wagon-works and put His Lordship's sky-cart in train; I have a few ideas. Jack will negotiate the purchase of some land, and no doubt drink much ale with the seller. Then, over dinner he will introduce me to the captain of the new garrison, and to the Polliwog's commander, two men with whom I suppose I shall become quite familiar.

Things are changing once again. Jack is right, it is all my fault. I hope I have not mounted a tiger.

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Letters from Armorica- Dashing over the Snow (17 December 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Jack,

You were quite right about the weather, and I beg your pardon for being alarmist. Yesterday we had our first snow of the season, a prodigious storm that begin early in the morning and kept all of us by the fireside for the rest of the day. We took turns reading to each other from Dikkon's The Mystery of David Silverfish, a difficult but engaging effort for most of my family group.

But today, ah, today! Today dawned clear and beautiful, with the sun shining on all the new snow!

You remember I wrote you about my sky-cart, that Patches the Goat pulls me to work in? Recently, as part of my war preparations, I outfitted it with a full set of properly balanced blocks for movement as well as floating. It isn't a full sky-wagon, as we used in the last war, it can't ascend into the sky; but it will happily go by itself over the snow, the rocks, the streams.

It's rather hard luck on Patches, who genuinely does like to be useful in her abrasive way. But now I shall have an easy time getting to and from the wagon works in even the worst of weathers!

But that's not the point. The point is that we have built a similar cart for Marc Frontenac, who unlike me needs to be at the works daily, and who, though richly supplied with goats, is less inclined to coddle them. And so today Amelie prepared a picnic, and I took her out for a ride in my goat-less sky-cart. We wrapped up in warm rugs and headed north to Marc's farm, where we met with Marc and Élise in Marc's sky-cart, and the four of us went out on a pleasure excursion to the lake below L'Isle de Grand-Blaireaux.

It is a much different thing, I find, to explore the edge of a lake from the water rather than by walking around it—much more restful, in truth, especially when one needn't be concerned about getting wet.

At noon we found a quiet inlet out of the breeze, and joined the two carts together by means of clamps that Marc had brought with him from the wagon works so that we could converse more easily, and sat there over the water and had our picnic. There was much laughter, I can tell you!

After our luncheon we removed the clamps, and had a race back to Bois-de-Bas. There was much hooting and hollering, and it would have been utterly unsafe if anyone else had been on the road. As it was, the snow was already melting, and the road is in such a state that no one who had to come in contact with it would willing do so.

Amelie examined her coat and frock after I let her descend to our porch, and exclaimed, "And not even a speck of mud!"

A small boy called to me today, as we returned home—for if no one was abroad, certainly all of the small boys were outside their homes throwing snowballs at their siblings—he called to me, "Mais, ou est Patches?" And I had to explain that the weather wasn't good for Patches, so I had left her at home. But I can see that will have to let her draw my cart as soon as the snow sets firmly and the mud is gone, at least when the weather is fine.

Would His Lordship care for a sky-carriage, do you think? We should have to work with a coach-builder from Mont-Havre; there is no one here in Bois-de-Bas with the skill to do the fine work such a carriage would require, not unless we could lure one here. Not that the standard in carriages in Mont-Havre is anything like we used to see in Yorke; but perhaps that's a good thing. In fact, I'm sure it's a good thing.

Cheerfully, your cousin,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- Tomfoolery (31 November 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I seem to have made a bit of a fool of myself. Yes, Le Maréchal has vanished from Guyanão, yes, his current whereabouts are unknown, yes, it is reasonable to make provision for the future. But, as Jack has acerbically reminded me, winter is coming, and Le Maréchal is not enough of a fool to campaign in winter. He will have gone to a place prepared by his supporters, a place unsuspected; but he will make no overt move until spring at the earliest. There is no immediate threat, Jack tells me, and no reason for me to have alarmed M. Suprenant so severely.

How had it escaped me that wars are fought from late spring to early fall? I suppose it comes from growing up in Yorke, where life goes on the year round: the streets are shoveled, and commerce proceeds. Sky-ships must beware the winter storms, indeed, but the snow is no hindrance to their movements; and I suppose I assumed that it was the same for ships of war.

To some extent it is. A sky-sloop or larger vessel can certainly go where it pleases, just as a freighter or packet can. But ships are not enough for conquest; troops are required, and troops must be kept warm. Delivering a company to a place where there is no housing for them in the middle of winter and keeping them alive and in fighting form can certainly be done; but expecting them to go out and take and hold territory in deep snow is much more difficult. Indeed, keeping a sizable number of soldiers warm and fed on shipboard in cold weather is tricky in itself. Even freighters have this problem, Leon assures me; some goods are better shipped in winter, some in summer.

And then, troops are easier to come by than troop transports. Raids are possible on widely dispersed points by use of sky-sloops, but occupation and conquest, Jack tells me, involve considerable marching. A transport most usually spends it time moving from port to port, if not from Land to Land, not ferrying troops around the countryside.

So it is unlikely that we will see les Cochons for some months, if we see them at all; and as le Maréchal can't have many ships, his first concern must be transport for the troops he hopes to gather to his cause. If this is so then I am doubly a fool, for shipping is much more readily available elsewhere than it is in Mont-Havre.

Jack thinks the following is most likely: that troops have already gathered at some location; that le Maréchal either has or will join them; and they will strike some nearby harbor or shipyard in a quick raid, cutting out the shipping they need; and then they will vanish. To where? There are Lands unknown in the Abyss, and islands that appear on no merchant's charts. They may well have established a haven in such a place. And then, no earlier than this spring, they will strike. And as the prize is in Provençe, Jack is certain they will strike there.

He may be right. Far be it from me to wish ill on my Amelie's distant relations, but I very much hope he is. But as for me, well. There is no harm in keeping L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau well-provisioned, or for continuing our preparations for building hardened and self-moving wagons.

And in the meantime, I wonder. Ships of war may indeed go where they like; is there aught I could to do give them pause? It seems unlikely, for defense is a constant need, and not all formers are as hide-bound as my father; if there were something, surely someone would have thought of it? But in the event I have time to ponder this, for Luc has progressed far enough to do most of the day-to-day work at the counter, though under my supervision, and Bastien is still learning to read and write English well enough to copy my grimoire.

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Letters from Armorica- Le Maréchal Escapes (21 November 36 AF)

First Letter

Mon cher Leon,

You are aware, of course, of Lord Doncaster's decisions regarding how lightly Armorica is to be governed by Cumbria; the mood in Mont-Havre is joyous, I am given to understand, and well it should be. But you are likely unaware of some the undercurrents that Jack has shared with me, intending me to pass them quietly along to our whole circle.

The news is of the worst, as Amelie would say. Le Maréchal has broken out of his retreat in the swamps of Guyanão, he and what few men remain to him; and he has gone—where? We do not know. His ultimate plan must be to regain the seat of power in Toulouse, but first he will need to rebuild his forces. And where shall he do that? We shall not know until he lands somewhere.

The most likely place, of course, is somewhere in Provençe; Jack assures me that he still has supporters there, that there are many who would rise up to follow him once again. But he is a master of strategy, a master of what Jack calls "defeating the enemy in detail". Which is a grand phrase, but insofar as I understand it simply means that he uses his forces to destroy the enemy's forces while they are yet scattered, for two smaller forces may be beaten more easily than one large one.

But what if he were to choose to come to Armorica first, mon ami? It seems unlikely on the face of it; we have no central position between Cumbria and Provençe. But it is not unthinkable. We have young men, who can be enlisted; and though the people here in the region of Bois-de-Bas oppose Le Maréchal whole-heartedly, it may be that this is less universal across Armorica than we have thought. He may, indeed, be able to find men here. His Lordship's hand has been light, but I am sure there are those who hate him simply because he is a representative of a foreign power.

Or, possibly, Le Maréchal may simply still think of Armorica as loyal; and as a fertile place to plant a new regime that will lead in the end to still greater things.

All of this is a farrago of conjecture, of course. We do not know what le Cochon intends; likely Armorica is not in his eye at all.

And yet, I am concerned.

Leon, we have a hidden refuge that we established during the last war, and which we are now provisioning. You are closer to the center of things, and will hear things I do not, even as I hear things (through Jack) that will not come to you through the normal course of business. Moreover, any attack on Armorica would fall first on Mont-Havre. I beg of you, at the first sign of trouble do not hesitate to send your family to us; we will keep them safe. I do not say, come yourself; you will know whether it is better for you yourself to stay or go.

And send me an arrow if the situation becomes desperate. The wagons we sell require oxen, for safety; but that is easily and quickly remedied, given the necessary preparations—which are even now in train. Should you have need of us we will come for you and yours, and that speedily.

With the blessing of le Bon Dieu, none of these preparations will be needed. I am no doubt being unduly alarmist, and perhaps you are chuckling at my consternation. Perhaps so, and if so none will be more delighted than I. It is even possible that Le Maréchal has already landed in Provençe, and has already been destroyed, and that the news, always slow in coming, simply has not reached us yet. May it be so!

And yet, perhaps not so.

But I find that I am about to lecture an experienced and prosperous merchant on the subject of prudence, for which I beg your pardon; you need no schooling from me!

Please give all of my best to your family, and to M. Bardot; and be assured that the phrase "you and yours" includes him and all other members of your firm.

Ever your friend,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- Doings in Mont-Havre (14 November 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Jack,

Of course you should come to us for the Twelve Days of Christmas. How not? Until you marry and start your own family we are your only family here, n'est-ce pas? And you can hardly go home to Cumbria.

I realize, of course, that our little celebrations here in Bois-de-Bas will be quite unlike what you are you used to in Yorke—what times, that is, that you have been in Yorke since beginning your military career—but I think we can certainly do better for you than Christmas in a military camp. And who knows? Perhaps you shall meet someone young and attractive, and choose to keep them for a change. Your Sergeant Allen did, and I can tell you that Sergeant and Mrs. Allen are to all appearances much taken with each other.

Yes, Jack, I know the Old Religion is an obstacle to you—or, at least, to your mother, whom I would not wish to worry in any way. But it isn't so bad as all that, Jack. I find I much prefer the simple faith of my fellow townsfolk here in Bois-de-Bas to the manner in which my father practices his piety in Yorke. They've retained something we've forgotten, I think.

But enough of hounding you! Though, you know, it is my job as the closest thing to a brother you shall ever have. But on to your news!

I am fascinated by what you tell me about His Lordship's actions with regard to Le Grand Parlement. It is quite a list—are you certain he is acting within the scope of his remit from His Majesty's government in Yorke? But of course you are, you handle his mail and saw the decree, you said so.

It is an astonishing degree of sovereignty His Majesty is giving us, Jack: the right to make our own laws subject only to His Lordship's veto, with possibility of appeal to Yorke; the right to keep our own courts, provided that we institute the jury system for capital crimes. We lose the right to our own foreign policy, but in fact we never had that. And in prior days we were entirely under the thumb of Toulouse, in theory, at least, if not always in practice.

What accounts for this, Jack? This is magnanimity itself; Cumbria could easily have chosen to treat us as a conquered territory. They'd have been foolish to do so, mind you: frontier folk are a fierce folk, as I have good reason to know, who make better friends than enemies. But I am surprised that His Majesty's ministers were wise enough to consider it.

Or, perhaps—

Jack, I must know: what do you hear about Le Maréchal in his swamp in Guyanão? What is going on in Provençe? For I can only assume that some kind of action is in the offing and that His Majesty is clearing the decks: that he is trying to bind Armorica more firmly to Cumbria before the fighting begins.

Let me know instantly if there are any steps I should take.

Your alarmed cousin,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- Reading Lessons (28 October 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Some while ago I joked that Bastien is so devoted to my safety that I wouldn't be surprised to find him sleeping across our doorway at night. I now have manifest proof that this is not what he has been doing.

I have acquired a stock of Cumbrian books from M. Fournier—not so many as I would like, but enough to share with my Amelie. I thought at first that she would like to read them to herself, but no: she wants me to read them to her, as I used to read books to her when she was first learning to read and write. And so we gather by the fire in the evenings, Amelie and I and Jacques-le-Souris and Madame Truc, and Luc and Bastien, and I read to them.

I started with Whelkie's The Sunstone, in which, as it were, the hero digs into the secrets of the past that lie beneath of the green sod of the present—a remarkable book, and unlike anything else I've read. I thought my family would find it gripping, and they did. Then I went on to Dorchester Cellars, which concerns a town in the south of Cumbria, and a struggle for control of an old and storied winery there. It is a long, slow tale—as it well might be, being typical of Thomas Becker's multitudinous works. I picked it because there is much in it about country life in Cumbria. For, you see, I don't simply read straight through: Amelie and the others often stop me and ask questions, and so I get to tell them things about my homeland that it would never have occurred to me to talk about otherwise.

Luc has been particularly attentive, which does not surprise me, for he has been eager for more to read ever since I taught him; and he has been borrowing each book as we finish it so that he can read it over again for himself. In this he is so different than Bastien, who sits on his stool by the door with no expression on his face until we are done.

I am sure I do not know when Luc finds time for reading, as I keep him busy during waking hours—or, rather, I did not know until last night.

I was wakeful, why I do not know, but I was; and I found myself pondering the theory of forming, as I so often do at such times. Rather than disturb Amelie I decided to rise and retrieve the journal in which I keep my forming notes.

I was pleased rather than otherwise to discover that Bastien was not sleeping in the hallway, as I half-feared he might be, not that I have ever caught him at it; for stepping over his large form without waking him would have been difficult. And so, by the light of a candle, I tip-toed through the house, into the shop, and then over to my work shop. Luc sleeps under the counter there, so I was prepared to open the door as quietly as I could, but as I approached a saw a line of light under the door, and a soft murmur. What was this?

I opened the door, making instead no effort at all to be quiet, and was rewarded by the sight of two shocked candlelit faces. Luc and Bastien were sitting side-by-side against the wall, a single candlestick between them; and their heads were bent over a book in Luc's lap, a volume I recognized from its binding as Dorchester Cellars.

There was a long moment. The two seemed frozen, except that their eyes turned to follow me.

I entered the room fully, and leaning against the counter I put my candlestick beside me.

"It is very late, Luc," I said. "Would you care to explain?"

Luc's mouth started to open below his wide eyes, but the voice I heard was Bastien's—deep, low, and strong.

"He is teaching me, maître," he said.

"Cumbrian?" I asked.

"To read Cumbrian," said Luc. "He already knows how to read—" And then he broke off, eyes even wider.

Now my eyes widened, my eyebrows rising to their fullest extent.

"He already knows how to read Provençese?" I said, and looked at Bastien.

"Oui, maître," he said. I stared at him, my thoughts spinning aimlessly. I had thought of Bastien as being rather like an ox, well-broken to the work of pulling a wagon—large, stolid, docile. I had not expected that he might know how to read. Indeed, most of the time I hardly expected him to even know how to speak.

"You have hidden depths, Bastien," I said after a time. He looked back at me, calmer now, his usual blank expression fixed on his face. "And why do you wish to learn to read Cumbrian?" For it seemed unlikely that he was motivated by scholarship, or even the desire to read Thomas Becker.

His next words took me wholly by surprise.

"To learn to form, maître."

I felt the first stirrings of anger swell in my chest.

"Luc," I cried, "you have not been—"

Luc sat bolt upright. "Non, non, maître! Jamais!"

"—you have not been teaching him how to form?" I finished more quietly.

"Non, maître," he said again, looking miserable.

"That is good," I said, my anger subsiding. "Only masters may teach, or journeymen under their guidance; and only apprentices may be taught. That is guild law. You are no journeyman, and Bastien is no apprentice."

"Oui, maître"

"Do not be angry, mon cher," came a soft voice from behind me. "It is all my doing, n'est-ce pas?"

Amelie entered with another candlestick, dressed in a warm robe, and came to my side. I looked at her in confusion, and she shrugged.

"You needed a strong protector, oui?" she said, and I nodded. "And you need un autre apprenti, n'est-ce pas?" I nodded again. "I looked for both, and I found him I think." She shrugged again. "Can he be a former? Je ne sais pas. Mais il est tres intelligent."

"But why—" I looked from her to Bastien, and back again. To my shock, Bastien's eyes had a sparkle I had not noticed before.

"Because you were too funny, mon cher. You thought he was un lourdad, un grand boeuf. It become our joke."

Luc was leaning back against the wall, eyes cast down so that I couldn't see them, his hand over his mouth.

I shook my head. "Very well, I have been duly misled. Bastien, you have my apology. But again, why Cumbrian?"

Luc looked up, surprise plain upon his face. "Because he must copy your grimoire, maître."

"And so you have been staying up late, teaching Bastien rather than sleeping?"

"Oui, maître."

"I encouraged them do so, mon cher," said Amelie. "It was to be a surprise for you, n'est-ce pas?"

"Well, there will be no more of that," I said. Amelie gasped, and the young men's faces fell. I paused, then continued, "You both need your rest, so you will simply have to find time during the day." Then, more gently, "But Luc, you know, don't you, that not everyone can learn to be a former? Don't you remember how I tested you, back on L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau?"

Luc shook his head. "Non, monsieur," he said in small voice.

I pondered for a moment, remembering how Bastien had been so calmly attentive while I was teaching Luc over the last months. I wondered how much he had already picked up.

"No matter," I said at last. "A desire to learn is a good sign." I turned to Bastien, who was looking blank again. "You say little, but you listen always, yes?"

"Oui, maître."

"Very well. I shall surely test you as soon as maybe—which is not tonight."

Luc beamed, and Bastien nodded somberly, and then we all went back to bed, not without a few wry glances at Amelie on my part.

And then, this morning, I administered a few simple tests. Bastien is of age; and so, tomorrow, he shall sign his indentures as an apprentice of the Armorican Former's Guild.

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Letters from Armorica- Scandal in Yorke (10 October 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Father,

Yes, it is quite true that I am "engaged in trade," as you put it, and have been since I married my Amelie and became a shopkeeper. Since I left Yorke, I have done many things that no doubt would distress you. I have also a been a stevedore, a clerk, and a keeper of goats. I should particularly like to introduce you to one of the goats. At present, I am, yes, the Grandmaster of the Former's Guild here in Armorica, a guild that consists of myself, my sole apprentice, my workshop here in Bois-de-Bas, and a mostly empty building in Mont-Havre.

In fact, Father, I have done much worse: I have hardened cookware for those you would call peasants. I have earned my living by forming at retail. I consort with the lowly, with farmers and cabinetmakers and small merchants, not with members of parliament and owners of large shipping firms. I have (I can hear you gasp) innovated.

In short, Father, I am using my gift as it was meant to be used, rather than as a means of political power and social status.

As you surely do not know at time of writing, but surely will before you receive this, I have gone into business for myself, with several partners—stout, trustworthy men of the sort you despise. I am now a builder and seller of wagons, wagons whose construction involves careful forming. I have joined the merchant classes, Father—and I have based it on a breakthrough in the theory of forming.

By now, you are no doubt turning purple (if you have not already thrown this letter in the fire) and are thinking of ways to bring me to heel. If so, I will remind you that by guild law the guild here in Armorica is at present bound to the guild in Yorke only by ties of affection. I am the grandmaster, and I will conduct guild business as I see fit. Hence, the remainder of your letter is of no consequence, and I will pass over it without comment.

Your industrious son,

Armand

Dear Mum,

Amelie and the girls are well, as am I; life is good here in Bois-de-Bas, and I have come to a good understanding with Lord Doncaster, the royal governor. My practice is doing well, and I shall be taking on another apprentice as soon as I can locate a good candidate.

I have gone into business, of a sort, with Cousin Jack and several of my Armorican friends; we are making and selling a new kind of wagon that floats above the ground. It provides a much more even and gentle ride than a traditional wagon, and is easier for the oxen to pull. It's a pity you aren't here, I should love to take you for a ride in one, as I know how much you hate riding in carriages on the cobbled streets of Yorke. (Hah! There's an idea for a new product—thank you, Mum, for inspiring me!)

By now Father will have opened my letter. Please do contact his physician, won't you? He will need something soothing.

Your loving son,

Armand

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photo credit: wuestenigel Close-up of broken chicken egg via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica- Cumbrian Literature (30 September 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear M. Fournier,

So! You have finally managed to forge a relationship with the publishers in Yorke! I am delighted for you; I know that has been your dearest wish these past years. I am equally delighted to know that you now have a stock of Cumbrian books for sale, for though I have become fluent in Provençese I miss reading in my mother tongue. Yes, and I would like more books to share with my Amelie, and with Luc.

Please put together an assortment of the kinds of authors we spoke of so long ago—Becker, and Dikkons, Whelkie and Maltspire, and anything in that vein. Speak to M. Suprenant, and he will arrange payment.

In the meantime…if I were to wish to have a book privately printed, is there a printer in Mont-Havre with whom I could arrange it? Or would the work need to be done across the Abyss?

Wishing you much prosperity, I remain

Your friend,

Armand Tuppenny

Mon cher Leon,

My friend M. Fournier the bookseller will be approaching you in regard to some books I have ordered. Please see him paid, and square it through the firm. And on that note—

It is too absurd that I am relying on you, my good friend, as my personal banker! It was reasonable enough, I suppose, when I was in your employ and all I had in the world were my wages. And I know you will not grudge me any service you can do me. But I find that I am becoming a man of property, and I do not wish to strain our friendship unduly. Is there a banker in Mont-Havre that you would recommend? Or perhaps a man-of-business to whom I might entrust my interests outside of Tuppenny Wagons? I would not need them to devote themselves solely to my needs, far from it! I leave this in your wise and capable hands.

I have often spoken to you of Patches the Goat, how she took to visiting me at unpleasant and inopportune times, and how I was compelled to take her in to avoid discommoding my neighbors. What you do not know, I believe, is that she is now responsible for pulling my cart to and from the wagon works. It is quite a sight, and she has become much the favorite of the children along the way—from a safe distance of course. They laugh and call out her name as she plods along. She has become quite the most popular goat in town, and given the nature of Armorican goats, she may well be the most popular Armorican goat in history. My life in Bois-de-Bas was founded on goats, and now I have one as my own prop and stay. I would not have believed it, had someone told me about it on my first exposure.

I find myself wondering if Patches would make a suitable mascot for our firm. Aussi dur qu'une chèvre, as tough as a goat!

Fortunately I do not need to milk her myself—what joy!—but she does still require daily attention from me if she is to remain in her pen. Conveying me through town seems to scratch her itch quite nicely.

Ever your friend,

Armand

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photo credit: @tc_goatwriter Standing on fence eating leaves via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica- Antiquities (16 September 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It is good to be back in my home, to be able to work without worry, and to attend to Luc's instruction as I ought. He has been plaguing me, in his quiet way, for tales of the Former's Guild, how it began and came to be, and who the first former was; and due to my cares and my travels I have been unable to oblige him.

Yesterday evening, after the customers and the old men had gone home, the two of us settled down for a chat in my workshop. We often do this in the early evening, when I can make time; and in the workshop rather than the parlor, for deep discussions of forming are tedious for the uninitiated. Amelie is the best of wives, and so I try not to weary her ears with such things; and when I come to the parlor after and sit with Amelie and the girls, why, we speak of other things.

I say the two of us, but it is really the three of us, for Jacques-le-Souris often stays in his place on the settee at the front of the workshop, smoking his pipe—more, I think, because Madame Truc dislikes the aroma than because of interest on his part. And I suppose it is now the four of us, for now Bastien is there as well. He—or Amelie—has arranged things so that I am under his eye whenever he is not otherwise engaged. There is a stool against the wall of the workshop that wasn't there a month ago, and when he has no other duties and I am in the workshop, he is on his stool. Somehow (I don't know how he does it, given his size) he even manages managing not to loom.

It's of a piece with how smoothly he has entered our lives. He is always quiet, always present, does whatever we ask efficiently but without hurry, and (except when he is engaged in a task) never in the way. And so, since I am in the workshop, he is also in the workshop. I do not know how Amelie found someone who would be so devoted to my safety. In theory he beds down on a pallet in the main shop; but I should not be surprised to find him asleep outside the door of our bedroom, like a Cumbrian valet of my grandfather's era.

Last night our topic was the first formers and the earliest days of the Former's Guild. Alas, I had little to tell him.

"I was trained by my father, you understand, and my father has never been interested in such things," I said. "My father has only ever been interested in enlarging his prestige in the future. But even if he had been, I doubt I would know much more."

"Pourquoi, maître?" said Luc.

"You've just said it yourself: 'maître, master'. We formers are a close-lipped crew, Luc. A master accumulates forming recipes in his grimoire, and he passes them down to his apprentices—but not to other masters, not without payment or great need—though he might sneak a look at another master's book given a chance. And we are usually concerned more with what we can do than what we can know." I smiled at him. "You mustn't take me as a typical example, you know. You have helped me pursue my investigations; but the only other former I am aware of who went in for that was the late Master Grenadine, and he had to come here to Armorica to do it."

Luc pursed his lips. "But you must know something of these things, maître?" Bastien sat his stool in the growing dimness, a dark mass on the edge of my vision.

"A little," I said. "I was told as a boy that there have been formers, of a sort, since the days of antiquity, long before there was anything resembling the Former's Guild. Indeed, that was the only interest my father had in the subject: that they lived in the days before the Guild, and therefore they were mostly of low estate, leading lives that were short and uncomfortable. Little better than tinkers, he called them. I heard him say that frequently, any time I showed impatience with his teaching or the guild rules. 'Do you want to be a tinker, Armand? Is that what you want? It's the Guild that preserves us, and don't you forget it!'" I aped his deep, raspy voice, and Luc giggled. "And then he'd mention the name of some fellow or other who was more than usually skilled and grew wealthy in the service of some lord; and then perished because he didn't have the protection of the guild, and his grimoire was lost to the ages because of the fools around him."

Luc frowned in concentration, his face golden in the light of the lantern.

"But your grimoire, maître: the first pages are the oldest, non?"

"And so they should tell me something of my master's master's master's master, you think?"

"Oui, maître."

I shrugged. "It's a good thought, Luc, but you've read them for yourself. Or, at least, you've copied them; you might go back and take another look." He nodded. "Now, it's true that in the normal course of events the apprentice copies his master's grimoire word for word. If that were all there was to it we might learn many things from examining the earliest entries.

"But those apprentices grow up to be masters. Some of them learn more about the older recipes and need to revise them, and some grow tired of reading archaic language; and so some of them—though not my father—will make a new copy for themselves in after years. Some might even take the time to put the recipes in some kind of order. And if they hand their revisions down to some, or if there is time for an apprentice to copy them, their work might get handed down. If you look carefully, you'll see that the recipes in the first part of my grimoire are organized in related groups. That was my great-grandfather's work, I believe. My grandfather added many new recipes, and my father passed them along to me. The only new recipes he has added have been payment for political favors." I waved a hand. "Maybe I'll do as my great-grandfather did someday. In fact, I suppose what I should do is work through the whole grimoire and describe how my new equations apply to each recipe." I stared at the lamp for a time, frowning. "That will be a great deal of work. Perhaps, instead, I will write a book about my equations, and let you update the grimoire in your turn."

Luc sat up straight. "Oui, maître. I surely will."

He will, too, unless I miss my guess.

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