Letters from Armorica- Friction (23 January 37 AF)

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Dear Jack,

Bois-de-Bas has grown in size yet again with the coming of the garrison, and I am not sure how we will manage. When I first came, this was a tidy little place, and all discussions as to the future of the community were held in the hot springs of a Sunday afternoon. Then came the War, and an influx of young men from the surrounding region, many of whom stayed, and our population was too big for the hot springs. In response we built a town hall—which, by the by, I must find some way to heat, for town meetings are a trial at this time of year. People have been trickling in slowly since then: Sergeant Allen, of course, and others looking for work. And now we have the garrison—not properly members of the community, not eligible to vote in the town meeting, but nevertheless here.

When I came here, Jack, we didn't even have an inn. Sergeant Allen has done well to provide an evening gathering place for the young men who have been coming to town, and he keeps things under control, but with the garrison he is having great difficulties. There are simply too many men, and not enough room, and too little (at this time of year) for them to do.

Yesterday, for instance, a party of men came to Allen's inn, and could not be admitted because a group of young men from the town were gathered for a celebration. Paul D'Esprit, a young fellow from Nouveau St. Mare (a grandiose name for a tiny village) who came to us during the War has got himself engaged to a local girl, one Mademoiselle Jean Martin, and his friends were drinking his health. The place was quite full, as I have reason to know, for I was there myself; Paul is now employed at the wagon-works, and invited Marc and I to share his joy. I assure you, Jack, that there was no room, and also no intent to leave His Majesty's soldiers in the cold; but His Majesty's soldiers took it poorly. Windows were broken, and much beer was spilled, and we narrowly avoided burning down the inn.

I hasten to say, there was no intent on anyone's part to do so. So far as I can tell, the men were put out, as who would not be, and cold, as is clearly the case; and if they could not have a quiet warming drink, a loud warming brawl was next best.

I must also hasten to say that the young men within the inn were by no means averse to a good brawl, if such were offered, and gave as good as they got. The trick now is to try to cement this into mutual respect rather than mutual hatred; and this will be difficult under the circumstances.

I do not wish you to think I am criticizing Captains Fleming and Hampton, with whom I have established satisfactory relations. But the fort consists of four stakes pounded into the snowy ground, a few lines of tents, and the Polliwog. Hampton does his best to drill the men and keep them busy, and the Polliwog is usually out patrolling if the weather is clear; she is becoming a familiar sight in the sky. But the men have no respite from the cold, and no place to go when they are off-duty but Sergeant Allen's.

A few—a very few, mostly from among the older troops—have managed to make friends with local families; by which I mean they are befriending the daughters of local families in the only possible way. Some of these, I think, will settle down here when their term of service is complete; others, well. Heartbreak is always a possibility, and it is not my responsibility to prevent it.

This is no time of year for building. The snows are deepening, and will grow worse before winter's end, and so there is little that can be done, at least by us. Come spring, though, we will need to take steps, and it were well if we could plan them now.

For my part I think we need another inn, closer to the post. Perhaps His Lordship has another sterling sergeant wishing to retire? Or possibly someone here may wish to establish one. But what would you suggest, Jack? And is there anything His Lordship can do in the meantime to improve matters? For I can tell you that friction is increasing; and since it is in part due to His Lordship sending us a garrison before building proper housing and facilities, I look to him to help us resolve it.

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- Twelfth Night (6 January 37 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Tonight is Twelfth Night, or L'Épiphanie as my Provençese-speaking fellows call it; and tomorrow Jack will return to Mont-Havre without having formed any attachment to any of the daughters of Bois-de-Bas—and, what is more surprising, without any marked degree of flirting! It is a state of the most vexing, as Amelie would say, for I would truly wish to have him settled close by.

We spoke of it briefly several days ago—briefly, in that way that men have. "Bois-de-Bas is a friendly place," he said to me. "And it will become a fine one in time. But I've hitched my cart to Lord Doncaster, and so I must be in Mont-Havre." And on an earlier evening when we sat by the fire, just the two of us. "There are two kinds of old soldier, Armand: those who move on to something else, like Sergeant Allen, and those who make their home at the bottom of a tankard. I expect you to make me rich, Armand, and may you succeed beyond my wildest dreams. But if I don't keep busy, it will be the ruin of me."

I quite see his point. Myself, I am fully occupied with my designs and my forming, not to mention with the town itself. Jack is not needed at the wagon works, for all that he is (quite justifiably) profiting from them; and just what would he do here? Armorica is not a place for idling, we are too young for that, and if Jack set himself up as a retired gentleman at his age he'd be pitied at best and held in contempt at worst. It is true that he has only one leg, but in Bois-de-Bas such an injury is no excuse for idleness.

Most here in Bois-de-Bas work the land in some way. The easiest route to respectability would be for Jack to buy some land and play the squire, but he would have to actively manage his property to retain the expect of his neighbors; and alas, he was not brought up to that. He is the second son, intended for a military career from his birth. And while my uncle George is indeed a member of the landed gentry, he and Aunt Maggie have been fixtures in Yorke for as long as I recall, and his lands—I cannot even remember where they are—are managed by an agent. Still, Jack could come to it easily enough, if he had a mind to it; he would have no end of help. But so far, at least, the notion holds no attraction.

I can hardly fault him for following his own wishes and desires, not after leaving home in the manner I did. Still, I hope he may settle down, even if it is in Mont-Havre. I suppose the important question is how long His Lordship will stay in Mont-Havre. As governal-general his term will be determined by politics in Yorke, which are no less opaque to me now than they were in my youth; but he has brought his family here, and though he is a peer he is a newly created peer, due to his heroics during the war, and he may establish his house anywhere he chooses. If His Lordship were to settle here, I do believe Jack would remain as well.

But be all that as it may.

I have been hard at work, with Jacques and Marc, designing and forming the courier wagon that Jack will take back to Mont-Havre with him. It is similar to my goatless goat-cart, though larger, and safer to operate, for it has but two controls: a tiller, by which it may be directed, and another which sends it forward and stops it when released. If I were to fall asleep, or have a seizure, or something of the sort, my goat-cart would happily proceed onward until it smashed into a tree; the courier wagon will instead glide swiftly to a halt.

The wagon has a seat in front wide enough for two, should the courier have a companion; and the bed is enclosed, instead of being open, with a door that locks and as much hardening as I could manage. Operation of the wagon depends on the possession of a metal ring, rather like a signet ring; without it the wagon will not move of itself, nor can the freight compartment be opened. The ring I shall give Jack is plain; I imagine that in the future His Lordship will arrange for an emblem for his courier service, and provide us with rings that are so marked.

But all that is for the future. For now, well, we lose Jack tomorrow.

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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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