Letters from Armorica- A Ray of Light (6 March 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It is fortunate that the weather has improved slightly over the last week, for now my warming blocks are failing—and we lost three more of our hardened dishes in the past week. It may simply be propinquity: we have all been spending much of our time in the kitchen. But these broke in the same odd way as the first dish, a week ago.

I have been trying and failing for the past week to make some sense of this. It has seemed to me that all of my forming has been failing—indeed, that it has a brief lifespan. And yet, my grimoire doesn't speak of this. Things once formed remain formed, so saith the masters of the past. Except mine. How to account for this?

I have spent sleepless hours shivering in bed, my head spinning with ever more outrageous notions. For a brief moment one night I convinced myself that it was a side effect of the scent Madame Truc has taken to wearing now that she is a married woman once again…except that, in strict point of fact, she hasn't. My weary mind has conjured up airy spirits who dwell in the grottoes of the hot springs, and who are jealous of my mastery of the sky. I picture them with little hammers and chisels, cutting carefully artless cracks into my plates and drawing the heat out my warming blocks by blowing on them with tiny bellows.

Why airy spirits would need tiny bellows to produce a draft, my waking mind cannot say. And when I blow on a warming block it has no discernible effect.

Today I took several of the warming blocks and the broken plates and an unbroken plate into my workshop for study. Young Luc shivered by the bench, arms wrapped round himself, and looked them over while I fired up the wood stoves for the first time in a week. That is Luc's job by right, but I was so bitterly cold that I preferred to do it myself.

Then we stared at the collection together—crumbling plates, lukewarm blocks. I saw nothing I hadn't seen before, and my mind was a curious blank.

After many minutes, Luc broke the silence. "Master," he said, "where does the warmth come from?"

I looked at him, puzzled. "What do you mean, 'Where does the warmth come from?' It comes from the block, of course."

He shook his head, pointing at the nearer stove. "We put wood in the stove, and we burn it and we warm up, but then after awhile the wood has gone to ash and I have to carry more in from outside, n'est-ce-pas? But the warming blocks don't burn up. D'où vient la chaleur?"

We looked at each other. Then we looked at the broken plates and their crumbling—dare I say, ashy?—edges.

But Luc wasn't finished. "And the sky-wagons. A normal wagon is pulled by beasts. Where does the pull come from in a sky-wagon?" I hadn't spoken with him about Marc's mishap with the sky-sled, but of course he'd been listening.

I thought furiously. "But the great sky-ships," I said. "They work on the same principle as my sky-wagons, but I have never heard of one with these problems. They do age in use because they include many common materials, but their formed parts last for decades. Sometimes, indeed, I believe they are removed and built into new vessels along the same lines."

Luc shrugged elaborately, as well he might.

"You have done well, young Luc," I told him. "Go tell Amelie I said that you might have some jam or some dried fruit, if there is any left this late in the winter."

I have been pondering his notions ever since, my mind whirling. It had never occurred to me before to wonder how forming achieves its effects. One simply does this, and if one has the knack and the skill then that is the result. But Luc is right. How is that a sky-ship, like the Lombard that brought me to Armorica, can go on flying for decades, taking on no fuel; but a common ox has to be fed daily to pull a wagon?

I have much to think on.

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- Shattering Experiences (1 March 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have spent the last week brooding over Marc's accident with the sky-sled. I still do not understand what could have gone wrong.

The forming required to make it work is straightforward, if unconventional; the basic techniques were all in my father's grimoire. I woke in the middle of the night earlier this week wondering if I could have copied his grimoire entries incorrectly—indeed, in a dream I remembered just the page and the exact mistake that I had made—but of course the dream made no sense when I awoke, and as my father checked my efforts and beat me if I copied his words incorrectly—

I have written myself into a tangle. The point is, Dear Journal, that any mistakes would have been caught at that time and corrected.

Might my father have made mistakes? It is possible, I suppose, but my father received most of the pages in his grimoire from his master, and he from his, and so on back; and my father was a stickler for training me as he had been trained. The pages my father added on his own are of course less reliable than those of his predecessors; if a former finds an error or a new wrinkle on an existing page he is encouraged to add marginal notes, notes which will be copied into the main text by his apprentices. But come to think of it, my father has added precious few pages, and few marginal notes either. He despises innovation, and he has always been too intent on acquiring power within the guild to spend much time on research.

No, my grimoire is complete and correct, so far as it goes; but of course there are things that neither my father nor his masters knew, and also things his master's master's masters might have known but failed to write down, either because they were secret or because they were commonplace, but now forgotten. I must look elsewhere for a solution.

A few nights ago I retrieved my sky-sled from its hiding place, and tested it within the confines of my workshop. It appears to work perfectly—though I confess I did not raise myself more than a foot or two from the floor, and of course I could not go far or quickly. In all ways it appears to function normally.

How I wish Marc had retrieved the broken pieces of his sled and brought them home with him! In point of fact he burned them rather than carry them or leave them lying about, a decision that I quite understand and might, in other circumstances, applaud. And, of course, it helped him avoid freezing, which I quite approve of. But it is most inconvenient.

I should also like to investigate the remaining sky-chairs and wagons…but I dare not use my sled to fly to L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau, nor indeed would I trust a new sky-chair to take me there in safety until I understand what is going on. And I do not at all understand what is going on—if anything; I suppose it is possible that there was a flaw in that one sky-sled.

I had nearly persuaded myself that this must be the case. And then my Amelie came to my workshop this afternoon, carrying in her apron the fragments of a plate she had dropped. It was a plate I had specially hardened for her quite some time ago now. And yet when dropped it had shattered. Or, rather, it didn't shatter. It broke into large pieces, but the broken edges are soft and I can easily crumble them into a powder with my forefinger.

Of course I immediately examined all of the other dishes in the kitchen. The plates and other vessels that we use daily are strong enough; I tried to smash one on the stones of the hearth and was quite unable.

Was this another bungled effort on my part? But hardening plates is a trivial matter for even a journeyman former, and I have never heard of a hardened plate breaking like this. Am I that incompetent? Or is there something else going on? I am unsure.

The broken plate was a large serving plate we had not used for some time, we rarely having need for a dish so large during the winter months. Amelie had taken it down from the shelf of the china cabinet to clean it—I've no idea why, as the fragments look perfectly clean to me—and it slipped from her fingers and shattered on the floor.

I do not know what to make of this. Did I fail to harden it properly? Is it something to do with not being used? My father and the other masters regularly harden cooking vessels for use by their own households, and as a distinct favor for a very few others; there may well be more hardened dishes in Bois-de-Bas than there are in all of Yorke. And while they could make sky-sleds and wagons as I have, they never do, but confine their efforts to much larger, more expensive items such as sky-ships…which are always made in the classic way.

What do they know that I do not? What did their masters know that they do not?

In the meantime I have something new to keep me awake at night. No one will flying one of my sky-chairs; they are safely out of reach, which is a great and glorious thing. So long as that was the case, I could treat this as an interesting problem to gnaw on and perhaps solve some day. But now I dread the day, a day I fear is not far off, when the housewives of Bois-de-Bas will descend on my workshop demanding that I replace the hardened dishes I made for them. I had best have an answer or my stock in Bois-de-Bas will be low indeed.

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- Technical Difficulties (20 February 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I had a troubling visit from Marc Frontenac this noon. Several days ago he received a seeker arrow with word of renewed enemy activity from Camp du Bûcherons, one of our neighboring villages. The notion struck me as quite unlikely, and so it seemed to him as well. Le Maréchal's forces left Amorica months ago, according to our latest news, and seem to be on the run from the Cumbrians; and even if that should have changed, any troops sent to Armorica by either side should have no call to be skulking about in these hinterlands, but would appear openly in Mont-Havre. In any event it is hardly the season for campaigning, not with the snow ten feet deep.

But Marc felt he must check it out; and, what with the snow ten feet deep, he retrieved his sky-sled from its hiding place and used it for his journey. Or, rather he tried. About a mile from Camp du Bûcherons his sled dropped out of the air, plunging him into a snow drift. He had found that if he went too high or too fast he could not keep warm, so he was moving slowly, and low to the ground, and it is fortunate that he or would have been killed. As it is the sled broke in two, but he himself suffered only a few scrapes.

He struggled the rest of the way to the village, where he was not best pleased to discover it was a false alarm: a hunter had gotten drunk and started to see things that weren't there. The villagers were embarrassed, of course, and to make up for it one of them drove him back to Bois-de-Bas in his sleigh yesterday. And today he came to see me.

He was understandably distressed and irate, as well he should be. For my part

I have no idea why the sled should have failed, and I shudder as I think about the sky-wagons that carried my wife and daughter from L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau back to Bois-de-Bas. What if they had fallen out of the sky?

I must never forget that I am in uncharted territory in this work I am doing: formers have not made these kinds of things before, or if they have (as the presence of our sky-ships argues that they must have) then they long ago ceased to do so. Why, when they are so obviously useful? Is it that they cannot be made safe? If so, why have the reasons not been recorded? And why do sky-ships function and my sky-sled fail?

I have much to think on; and I am more grateful than I can express that Marc and I chose to sequester all of the sky-wagons, chairs, and sleds out of reach on L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau until a more opportune time.

I do not believe I shall sleep well tonight.

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica-Penny Dreadfuls (12 February 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Today has been particularly quiet for a Sonnedi, for it has been deeply, deeply cold these last days, colder than I've ever seen it here in Bois-de-Bas. Everyone has remained at home, mostly huddled in one room for warmth—even in households with more than one wood-stove or hearth, for the firewood must be made to stretch until spring.

The Sunday routine has been the main constant in my life in Bois-de-Bas—divine service in the Church, Sonnedi dinner with friends, and then, of course, the hot springs—but today that routine was broken. Were Pére Georges still with us everyone would have come to Mass regardless of effort, but as he left on Lundi well before the weather turned, our service was but sparsely attended. Madame Truc was most shocked, but as Amelie said to me, one cannot miss Mass when there is no Mass.

Then, after services, M. Gagnon sadly informed us that he and Mme. Gagnon would not be hosting midday dinner, as the temperature in their dining room was below freezing and they dared not heat it. It would have been a sad disappointment had it been a surprise. And then, most tellingly, no one went out to the hot springs. At least, we didn't; and none of those I met at Church were planning to do so either.

Everyone gathers in one room, I say; and that room is usually the kitchen. If you plan to keep only one room heated and one fire lit, it makes sense that it is the room where the food is! That is what we did: Amelie and Anne-Marie and I, and Madame and Jacques-le-Souris, and young Luc. It is not a large room, but we made do, with Amelie and Anne-Marie near the stove and the rest of us at the kitchen table. I had Luc collect the heating blocks from each of the beds in the house, and by keeping them by us I am sure we were much cozier than average for Bois-de-Bas.

Well, except for Patches the Demon-Goat, I suppose, who remained outside in her pen; but as her pen is now insulated by drifted snow, and she herself by her new goat armor, I suppose even Patches is cozier than average.

There are always little tasks to be done, even in winter, even indoors; but today being Sonnedi we instead passed the time by making as merry as we could. Indeed, we spent most of the day by taking turns reading aloud from some of the books we received from my friend M. Fournier in Mont-Havre.

I would have preferred something Cumbrian, some Dikkons or perhaps Thomas Becker, and perhaps Amelie might have as well. But Luc has only been learning his letters this past month, and in his native Provençese—though of course he will need to learn to read and write in Cumbrian as well. As he has been most diligent, Amelie insisted that we read something suitable to his age and taste, which is to say one of the Provençese penny dreadfuls M. Fournier acquired for us from M. Harte. I regret to say that these books are also suitable to Amelie's age and taste, for she devoured them once they arrived and returns to them often.

For our first book she picked Janvier et le Mouron Pourpre, a tale of attempted assassination, swordplay, and romance set in a past and most unsettled age of Provençese history. Janvier, I may say, isn't the first month of the year, but rather the name of the hero, Michel Janvier, a dashing swordsman and member of the royal guard. The author (if I may use so exalted a term) has penned many books about Janvier, all with titles that begin with Janvier et: Janvier et le Empoisonneur de Gascon, Janvier et le Crapaud Argent, and Janvier et la Mademoiselle du Morte being but three others that came in the same shipment. The books are stirring, lurid, and soon read, and having finished one, one soon wants to begin the next, that is, if one can stomach them at all.

The volume in question concerned a highwayman known as le Mouron Pourpre, the "Purple Pimpernel". This worthy began his career of crime by rudely accosting minor Provençese nobles in their carriages and relieving them of their goods. This was just in the nature of things in those days, and caused but little comment; but when he began robbing them in their homes, and then, during one such invasion, abducted a young lady, a near relative of the Duc d'Avignon, le Roi sent his favored agent, Michel Janvier to find her and put a stop to the Pimpernel's doings. Our hero discovered a vast scheme to assassinate le Roi and see Michel hanged for it, but of course he put a stop to it at the last minute, running the Pimpernel through with his sword and rapier wit, before carrying the young lady back to Toulouse with a smile and a leer.

I believe it was meant to be rapier wit; but perhaps the author simply failed to remove the training button from the point of the rapier.

I say we took turns reading, but mostly it was Amelie and me. When I passed the book to Jacques he just smiled and passed it along to Madame Truc; and when Madame Truc came to the passage in which our Michel flirts with the serving girl in the tavern in Saint Rémy she turned bright red and handed the book back to me.

"Such a thing in my house, I would never tolerate," she said. "It is of all things the most scandalous." Jacques just chuckled.

Luc turned bright red as well, I noticed, and neither he nor Madame would look at me as I finished out the scene. It was mild enough for all that, but strong drink for those not accustomed.

And so we passed the day, finishing that book and one more, in which Michel Janvier foils yet another obscure and overcomplicated scheme to bring down le Roi; and when we were done I left the two books on the corner of the table rather than returning them to the bookcase in the parlor. If I am not tempting young Luc to virtue, at least I may tempt him to read!

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- Goat Handles (9 February 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It is now deep winter; the snow is piled high around the houses, we live by lantern light all the day, and we visit each other by walking through tunnels in the snow. Only when we get out of the village proper can we travel about up in the light—when the day is fine, which often it isn't, and so mostly we don't. There's not much to do: we get few deliveries for the shop this time of year, having to make do with what's in store (which is why we have such a large store-room). My forming work is easy, being limited only by the raw materials I have at hand and my own know-how, so I am busy enough; but for the most part we in Bois-de-Bas spend our time working on small things and visiting each other to complain about the weather.

As a result, my crew of older men who play checkers and gossip in the front part of my workshop is if anything larger in bad weather than in fine, though it takes them a little longer to gather. If I go down first thing I can usually count on having the workshop to myself for an hour or so, except for Luc asleep under the bench.

I was much taken aback, then, to enter my workshop this morning and discover that the pot-bellied stove in the front of the shop was already quite hot (for we bank it at night); and not only that, the settee was occupied by a reclining form wrapped in a blanket. We do not lock our doors at night in Bois-de-Bas, so anyone might have entered in search of shelter, and welcome to it; but why not come to the front door? The settee is comfortable enough to sit on, for a hard wooden bench, but I should not like to sleep on it.

The figure roused as I entered, and sat up; and I found that it was Jacques-le-Souris. The freshly married Jacque-le-Souris, who should have been in bed in quite another part of the house altogether with his new bride, Madame Truc.

Though I suppose she is no longer Madame Truc, but to call her Madame Le Souris is unthinkable (Madame not being mouse-like in the slightest) and also wrong, because "le-Souris" is only a nick name. In fact, I have just this minute realized that I do not know what Jacques' full name really is. How odd.

For a man who had spent at least part of the night on a wooden settee, Jacques looked surprisingly cheerful.

"Eh, I know, Armand," he said placidly. "It is her way. Back in Mont-Havre, you remember, she would send me down to a lower spot at the table when she was displeased with me, or cast me out altogether for a day or two. Now, all she can do is make me sleep somewhere else." He shrugged. "We are who we are, even now that we are married. C'est bon."

"But what did you—never mind, Jacques. Best you return to bed, before Amelie rises. Perhaps Madame will have forgiven you by now."

He nodded, and gathering his blankets about him he made his way from the room as dignified as a prophet.

After that I rousted out Luc and sent him to go feed Patches the goat, snug in her new pen, and got to work. We broke our fasts an hour or so later, when Amelie rose, and it was late morning before I realized how quiet my workshop was. Luc was in the main shop for his lessons with Amelie; Jacques was presumably still in bed; and none of my other gentlemen had appeared.

What could be keeping them? Had the snow tunnel to our porch collapsed? It had been a cold, quiet night, with no new snow, so far as I could tell. I went to the front door of my workshop to take a look, and when I opened the door, I found Patches the goat reclining on the porch with her back to it. She looked up at me with her weird goat eyes and made that horrible rasping noise she makes; and then, to my horror, begin to get to her feet. I slammed the door.

"Luc!" I called.

"Oui, monsieur?" came his voice from next door, followed by the sound of footsteps. He opened the door from Amelie's shop and stuck his head through.

"Luc, did you leave the goat pen open?"

His eyes got big.

"O non, monsieur. Jamais! Patches, she is fierce!"

"She is also on the porch. Go get your gear and take her back to her pen."

He took a deep breath. "Oui, monsieur."

That was one mystery solved, but several more in its place. First, how was Patches getting out of her pen? Second, how to keep Patches in her pen? Third, how to keep her from terrorizing my neighbors when she did get out?

I sat down on the settee by the pot-bellied stove, and pondered. I'd been considering the problem as a sometime keeper-of-goats; perhaps it was time to consider the problem as a master former.

Perhaps I could harden her pen in some way, to prevent her from doing whatever it was she was doing to escape? But more importantly, since locking down the pen was liable to involve much trial-and-error, how could I mitigate her nasty horns and highly abrasive coat in the meantime, so that she would less of a danger to the clothing, skin, and flesh of anyone who mer her unprepared?

The second being the more pressing problem, I found some scraps of leather and got to work; and by early afternoon I'd found a solution. I called Luc, we both donned our protective gear, and we went out and measured her. We escaped bruised but otherwise unharmed. Then I got busy with shears and Amelie's heaviest thread and needle, while perusing a few pages of my grimoire that I had never thought to actually use; and at the end of the day, we dragged Patches back to her pen (for she'd gotten out again) and dressed her in her new garments of hardened leather.

I say "hardened," but that's misleading because I had taken care to keep the leather supple. "Strengthened" might be a better word; or perhaps, "goat proof". Patches now wore a kind of surcoat of leather on her body, attached by hardened straps around her front and middle so that there was no way for her to rid herself of it. Now bumping up against someone would no longer tear holes in their garments.

I'd also attached close-fitting leather covers to her horns and hooves, hiding the sharpness away from the world. The horn covers I attached permanently, bonding them to the horn; and better still they were joined at the top by a length of hardened wood wrapped in hardened leather, so that horns and handle made a kind of upside-down "U" shape. A similar wooden handle was affixed to her leather surcoat approximately in the middle of her back, giving the unlucky goat tender two convenient handholds by which to drag her back to her pen.

When we were finished, Patches looked like nothing anyone had ever seen before; but I am confident that she presents much less of a risk to others.

I shall have to find some better solution before the weather warms up, as I fear that wearing the leather coat will be bad for her in the heat; but this will be a help while we figure out how to escape-proof her pen.

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- A Wedding (5 February 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have been remiss, quite completely remiss, in not recording the on-going story of Madame Truc and Jacques-le-Souris. Not that you care, of course; but myself, in the future, I will want to remember the details.

Looking back, I see that it was almost a month ago that I suggested to Jacques that perhaps Madame Truc had been waiting for him to declare himself. He did, I gather, in his fumble-fingered way; and there followed a week of searching gazes and pondering expressions (and much less banter and badinage than I am used to from them). Amelie and I pretended not to notice, of course, and it was by mere chance that I happened to overhear the denouement, as it were.

"Jacques," cried Madame Truc, "what is it you are doing? Following me about, with the greatest constancy, adjusting the chairs and offering me pillows? It is of the most tiresome!"

Jacques' response was abashed, most unlike him, but I mentally applauded him for his perseverance:

"But, Madame Truc, je t'aime, n'est-ce-pas?"

"Naturellement, petit Jacques, for who could not? It is of all things the most reasonable," she said. "I see that I must give into your demands, or peace, there will be none for me! But you must stop this foolish pillowing behavior."

But of course it wasn't that simple, for Madame Truc was a fine lady from Mont-Havre, and she knew what was due her, she did, and so she told him. It was fine for Amelie and I to marry in quite a fly-by-night way (as indeed we did, for the village conspired that Amelie and I should spend the night under the same roof during a snowstorm, which would quite ruin her reputation if we did not marry post haste; and so we stood up together in the Church the next Sonnedi, and did so again some months later when next the priest came to Bois-de-Bas). For we were young and foolish and rash, she said. But Madame Truc was a grown woman, she was, and was not about to rush into anything!

And so they announced to us over supper a couple of weeks ago that they planned to marry "as soon as is convenable"; and then poor Jacques had to pack his things and go off and stay with Marc and Elise on the farm, for Madame Truc would not remain a single night under the same roof with him until they were wed properly, by a priest, for she had her reputation to think of!

It is really a thing of the most foolish, as Madame herself would say; for she has lived under the same roof as Jacques-le-Souris these many years, and no one would doubt the devotion the pair have for each other. And more, Madame's reputation is quite strong enough, even after such a short time as she has been in Bois-de-Bas, to overcome any number of social proprieties. She is a force of nature, she is, and the folk of our village are accustomed to paying all due respect to such, living closer to nature than do the folks of Mont-Havre. And indeed, making the announcement in Church of a Sonnedi is really all that local proprieties require!

But that was not good enough; and so I breathed a sigh of relief when Pére Georges arrived in Bois-de-Bas yesterday. We never know when to expect him, for his circuits depend on the weather and many other things; but he was here, and sooner than I would have expected. Amelie immediately went to Madame Truc and told her that she and Jacques could be wed the following day.

"So soon? But my trousseau, it is quite unfinished."

"Nevertheless," said my Amelie with great firmness. "For it is the most unfair to keep poor Jacques waiting, now that Pére Georges has come. I saw him in Armand's workshop yesterday, and he looked quite miserable to be parted from you like this!"

And so Madame Truc and Jacques-le-Souris made their vows today, and are sharing a room; and it is to be hoped that tomorrow I shall be able to resume the use of my study.

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- Town Hall (29 January 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have been pondering much over the last couple of weeks, about town government, proper hygiene, and social contact. Also, I seem to have acquired a goat.

Regarding access to the hot springs, I have determined several things.

First, our newcomers will never be fully assimilated into our town so long as they are excluded from the springs. It is the one place where everyone has time to chat. Anyone may speak to anyone in the springs.

Second, excluding anyone from the comfort of the springs during January in Bois-de-Bas is more cruel than I can say. It is the one place in town (outside of one's bed) where one can truly be warm all over at this time of year.

Third, there really is no way to accommodate everyone at the same time. There are more grottos, and more hot water, but the early settlers had no difficulty identifying the two largest and most comfortable, and there is no real way to enlarge either of them. Possibly we could build a much larger bath house adjacent to the springs, and supplied by them…but that would necessitate demolishing a number of homes. And, in fact, there would be plenty of room if only we did not insist on seating everyone at once for town meetings.

No, we have two choices: either we must continue to accord all newcomers a second class of citizenship—and I may say that the good men of Bois-de-Bas all looked rather sheepish when I broached this notion at the springs this afternoon—or we must find another place in which to conduct business.

The obvious answer is a kind of town hall, big enough to hold everyone at once, if for limited periods of time. And if it is hard to heat in the winter, at least our business shall be conducted swiftly! Though I might consider building a warming block into the seat of the presider's chair….

I proposed this this afternoon, and was immediately told that this is the wrong time of year for building—as if I couldn't see that for myself, what with the snow all around. So I told them to think on it, and discuss it with their wives, and we will address it again when the weather is warmer.

In the meantime, it appears that I shall have to construct a solid pen for Patches the goat, if only as a matter of self defense, for it appears that I shall never be rid of her. Over the past weeks I have found her on my roof; I have found her at my door; I have found her at the hot springs; and this morning, I found her at my bedside, affectionately taking the night's whiskers off of my cheek with her tongue—along with a certain quantity of skin.

Amelie is darning the holes in my nightshirt as I write these words; the quilt, alas, will take longer to replace, as will my nerves.

I am not sure how Patches opened the front door to the house, but open it was; and so was the gate to the goat pen at Marc's farm; and somehow she had managed to gnaw through the leather-bound chain used to restrain her.

I say that I have found her in these places, but it is entirely more correct to say that in each case Patches has found me! What has brought her to this misguided affection for me, I do not know, nor what I might have done to foster it. It certainly was not my intent to do so! But it seems that I must now give her house room, for Marc is done with fetching her home, he tells me; and I can only hope that if I give her a pen behind the shop and visit her frequently that perhaps I will not find her in my bedchamber of a morning.

At least I will not have to milk her myself: that is what apprentices are for!

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- Monsieur Laveau (22 January 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It has taken me almost two weeks, but I have finally had a talk with Bertrand's father, M. Laveau. The Laveau's live at the far end of the village from us, and though I have several times set out in that direction I always seem to be stopped by someone else before I get there. More than that, though I have caught sight of him at the church and the hot springs he has avoided my eye, and slipped away before I can speak with him.

One of the perquisites of my position in Bois-de-Bois, however, is the use of a private chamber in the hot springs—I chamber I know from my own interview with Onc' Herbert, shortly after I came to the village. This afternoon I went there when I reached the springs, leaving it to Marc to snag M. Laveau and bring him to join me.

He was both hangdog and sullen when Marc led him in, and sat down on the bench in the hot water in silence.

After Marc left, I said, "M. Laveau, I want to speak to you of your son Bertrand."

He still didn't look at me, but he muttered, "He's my son, not yours."

"Yes, I was afraid it might be like that. But I said I want to speak to you of him, not about him. As you say, you are his father, and it is not for me to come between you."

He looked at me suspiciously out of the corner one eye, not turning his head.

"M. Laveau, has he spoken to you about his time on L'Isle-du-Grand-Blaireau?"

"Oui, and all about you!" He looked like he wanted to spit, and I am sure that if we had been outside he would have.

"Let me tell you of him, instead. First, you probably imagine that he strays over to my workshop to see me. Nothing could be further from the case."

"Merde."

"I speak truly. During his time on the island he became close friends with my apprentice, Luc. I assure you, at the hour when Bertrand comes to see Luc, I am warm in my bed, moi.

"But more importantly, let me tell you about his service. You have much to be proud of."

And then I told him about the flock of boys, and Bertrand's leadership of them, and how they kept watch for the village and helped out in so many other ways. By the end of my tale, M. Laveau was facing me, and shaking his head in amazement.

"Bertrand is not the same boy who was sent to the island for his own safety," I concluded. "He grew to an extraordinary degree during our time there. I have not spoken to him about it myself, but from what I have overheard I think he chafes at being treated like a child."

M. Laveau bridled at that, a bit, but I waved it away. "It isn't for me to say, M. Laveau. But if he were my son I believe I'd load him down with adult responsibilities—real ones, that matter."

And at that I bowed my head to him, rose and left for the main chamber. And so we shall see.

Next letter
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photo credit: Free Public Domain Illustrations by rawpixel Two crayfish by Julie de Graag (1877-1924). Original from the Rijks Museum. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica- Legless (19 January 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Jack,

O! I am sorry to hear about your leg! But at least I need no longer worry that you might have died in the fighting—or worse, that His Majesty might send you to pacify his new province of Armorica. Yes, I fear that will come, now that Cumbrian troops are fighting in Provençe. Le Maréchal is done for, it seems to me, and my wife's motherland can no longer hope to hold onto its possessions abroad.

It may well be that my new countrymen would welcome Cumbrian rule with open arms; Le Maréchal is not popular here, at least in my own little locale. But it would also depend on the weight of His Majesty's rule here. There will be but little love where there is no intent to be loved.

But enough of that. You want news—and as you have given me more news of the situation between Cumbria and Provençe than I have had in many months, as well as the excellent news of your own good (if slightly truncated) health, why, I must do my best to repay the favor.

It is hard to know where to begin, for I have been writing you letters in my head (and sometimes in my journal) this past year. I have no memory of what I've told you and what I haven't. So let me begin at the beginning.

I left Cumbria not quite two years ago. I settled first in Mont-Havre; and then, when Le Maréchal began his war I joined my friends Marc & Elise Frontenac in a country village called Bois-de-Bas. (But clearly you know that much, for your letter reached me here!) Here I met my wife Amelie, and with her took over her father's shop on his passing, and so moved up from goatherd to shopkeeper. And then two things happened that have had effects I never would have anticipated.

First, I discovered that the Armorican Former's Guild (the Confrerie des Thaumaturges, as they call it here) was defunct. Several masters came here from Toulouse in the early days of the colony, but the survivors soon returned to Provençe—and that meant that I, your cousin Armand, would by guild law be the head of the Armorican guild! If, that is, I were a master rather than a journeyman. I immediately wrote to my father and your mother, have two arrows to my bow; and now (after I still do not know what machinations) I have my master's chain and indisputable seniority. Astonishing! (If you could make some quiet inquiries to find out exactly how it happened, I'd be grateful. No one is talking to me about it, and so I still don't know whom to thank.)

But Le Maréchal's spies read my letter, and his troops came looking for me, presumably so that I could use my skills in support of his war. That led to a fraught situation or two, and in the aftermath I found that the folk of Bois-de-Bas were looking to me for leadership—not solely to me, you understand, but somehow I acquired responsibilities, a great many responsibilities, completely on top of my normal work. I won't put the details to paper, not when the future of Armorica is so uncertain; but I hope one day you will come to us, and then I am sure we shall see the night out with our tales!

But the upshot of these things is that now I seem to be more or less the mayor of Bois-de-Bas. It is an unofficial position, with no high seat but a particular spot in the hot springs of a Sunday afternoon, no courtiers but a collection of old men who occupy the front of my workshop the rest of the week, and no pomp whatsoever; but it is real enough. The previous "mayor" was my friend Marc Frontenac's uncle Herbert de Néant, who was killed by the Provençese cochons. (Having met them, I'm sure you understand what I mean by that term.) Marc and I were more or less his lieutenants during the hostilities, and I rather wish Marc lived in the village proper rather than on what used to be Onc' Herbert's farm, because then he might have gotten the job instead of me.

How you must be laughing at me right now! Truly, I hope you are; though I made light of it above, I know how the loss of a leg must be affecting you. I do hope you will manage to come to us, though it make your dear mother despair! There is work for you, and young ladies for whom your loss would be a badge of honor rather than a liability. And I should deeply like it if my little Anne-Marie could know my favorite cousin.

Your affectionate cousin,

Armand

Next letter

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photo credit: The British Library Image taken from page 53 of ‘Every-day Characters … Illustrated by C. Aldin’ via photopin (license)

Sunday Will Never Be The Same, by Dawn Eden Goldstein

Don McLean asked, "Can music save my mortal soul?" In Dawn Eden Goldstein's case, the answer is a resounding "Yes!"; but as regards her immortal soul, the answer is far otherwise.

Sunday Will Never Be The Same is a spiritual memoir, the tale of Dawn's journey first into Christianity and then into the Catholic Church; it is also the tale of Dawn's journey from childhood sexual abuse and PTSD through depression into health; and it is a love story.

It is the story of Dawn's love for rock'n'roll and her life as a rock journalist and historian—an avocation that kept her alive during her deepest depressions; and it is the story of Dawn's love for Jesus, the only one able to love her as she had always wanted to be loved.

Dawn's book is not a sales job; it isn't, "My life was awful and then I met Jesus and now everything is hunky dory!" Far from making your life more comfortable, becoming a practicing Christian often makes it harder; Dawn lost multiple jobs because of her pro-life interests (and a personal bungle or two). Nor is this the dewy-eyed memoir of a very new convert. I wouldn't trust the story if it were.

This is a personal story for me. Back in the early 'oughts, when the blogosphere was so new and all, Dawn had a blog called The Dawn Patrol and I had a blog called The View from the Foothills. The blogosphere was a small pond back then. It was possible to know most of the major blogs and get to know many of the major players, and we did. (Probably few here remember The Truth-Laid Bear's blogging ecosystem, but as I recall I was a "finny fish" at one point—not a mammal, but not bacteria either.) Point is, I was one of Dawn's readers, and we exchanged e-mails on a number of occasions.

And so, in a way, I was there for many of the events this book relates. I remember Dawn's days at the New York Post, and her Chesterton pilgrimage to England, and her posts about Planned Parenthood, and the awful video company. It was on Dawn's blog that I first learned what clinical depression looks like.

Dawn's stories resonated with me, because I was on a journey as well. Raised Catholic, I'd become an Episcopalian when I got married; but in 2003/2004 it was clear to Jane and I that that couldn't last. Dawn's blog was one of many that influenced me on my way back to the Catholic faith (I returned to the Church in the fall of 2007; Jane was confirmed Catholic the following spring). Now Dawn's a professor of theology, and I'm a Lay Dominican who teaches RCIA. Who'da thunk it?

In short, I found Dawn's book to be a nostalgia trip as well as an interesting and enjoyable read. If I have a complaint, it's this: in novelistic terms, she concludes her book at the climax and leaves out the ending. There are loose threads I wanted tied up. Is she still in therapy? Is she still dogged with depression sometimes, or is that now a thing of the past? What about her relationship with her mother?

But, you know, life is like that. It goes on. Faith in Christ brings joy and the hope of salvation, but it doesn't solve all of our problems. (St. Paul had a "thorn in his flesh" to the end of his life, and Christ's grace sufficed for him.) As satisfying as it would be to have all threads tied up neatly, all problems resolved, and happy-ever-after in the offing, that's not how life works. We are all pilgrims on the road; we are all works in progress; and any personal memoir can be only a chapter of the final work.

Anyway, I liked it. Recommended.