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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photo credit: chrislon28 Morning Steam via photopin (license)

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.

Letters from Armorica- Growing Pains (15 January 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

The goat came back today.

It is Sunday, and after Sunday dinner the bulk of the population of Bois-de-Bas headed off to the hot springs as it usual in times of peace. I say the bulk of the population: small children, of course, do not, nor do those who care for them. (In our case, Madame Truc and Jacques-le-Souris stayed behind with little Anne-Marie.) But there is another group as well: those, mostly young men, who came to Bois-de-Bois during the hostilities and have remained here.

It seems that the hot springs have always been by invitation only: not as an official policy, as it were, but as a matter of custom. Marc and Elise were invited by Marc's Onc' Herbert; and I was invited by them—after Onc' Herbert determined that I wasn't above caring for his goats. The folk of Bois-de-Bois respect learning and wit, but they respect a willingness to do the dirty jobs even more. And so I was welcomed to the springs of a Sunday, all unknowing that another man might not have been.

But the young men who came to Bois-de-Bas during the hostilities and have remained here mostly have not been. A few have, those who have come to know the local families and have married or are courting local girls; but not most, and it is beginning to cause some friction. These men have fought for Armorica against le Maréchal's troops, but they are shut out from the social life of the village—and not just from the social life, of course, but the political life as well, since what passes for politics mostly takes place at the springs.

One of them, a fellow named René Desjardins, came to me at my workshop a few days ago to complain about it. I had never met him before; none of the outsiders were ever admitted to our base on L'Isle-du-Grand-Blaireau.

I was rather inclined to invite him to the springs myself, but I was too aware of the collection of older men sitting in the front part of the shop, watching my every move. They were there for the company, and to advise me at need, but also to keep an eye on me. And though I liked René well enough at first glance, of course I knew nothing about him. So I put him off as gently as I could. "I'm a newcomer here myself," I said. "I'm stilling finding out how everything works. I'll raise the question, on Sonnedi and we will see what we will see. Come and see me next week." That got me a number of sidelong looks from the observers (and a resigned grimace from René but no actual comments).

And so, this afternoon, I asked the question: why weren't les nouveaux hommes welcomed to the springs?

There was a great deal of hemming and hawing, before one of the older gentlemen undertook to explain to me about the need for an invitation to keep the racaille, the "riff-raff" out of town.

"It's far from clear to me that these young men are riff-raff, at least not all of them," I said. "They fought for us after all."

"But if they are good young men, why have they not returned to their own places?" said M. Tremblay. "Are they not welcome there?"

"Not every place is as well off as Bois-de-Bas," I said. "Perhaps they don't wish to work for their older brothers." There was much nodding at that. "Perhaps they simply like getting truly warm in the winter," I said, waving at the steaming water. "Few villages are blessed as we are." That got me a chuckle.

I asked Marc, for he sits by me, whether an invitation to the springs had ever been rescinded: whether anyone had been barred for bad behavior?

"We've had to chuck Drunken Jacques out in the snow a time or two when he got too boisterous," Marc said, "but that's not what you mean." There was more laughter, at which Drunken-Jacques raised his leather cup and took a half-bow.

M. Rouquet spoke up. "Once, a long time ago, there was a fellow who laid hands on my daughter. We told him he was no longer welcome, and he left town in shame." Several of the other gray heads nodded at this.

"So if we let someone in and they caused a problem, we could eject them?" I said.

"Well, but," began one large fellow.

"But what?"

"But there's no more room!"

I looked around the grotto in which we sat. It was a comfortable place, a large irregular chamber in which bronzewood benches and walkways had been installed, down in the water; for no one wishes to rest their backside rough stone. And indeed, the benches were tolerably full.

"Could we extend the space? Are there other grottoes like this one?"

"Well, yes…but then they would be out of earshot. Who knows what they might decide?" There was general agreement.

Aha! If another chamber were added, it would make it harder to have the kinds of discussion we were having now; and might, I thought, even lead to factionalism! That was probably going to happen in the long run anyway, as the town grew, but I quite saw the problem.

Conversation became general as I mulled it over.

"Perhaps," I began, but no one ever heard what I was about to say next, for there was a ruckus at the entrance to the chamber. Michel Marchand, who is quite a big fellow, had been given the place closest to the entrance. No one said that it was so that he could handle any interlopers, but that was why he was there. I found later on that he'd heard a noise and when he'd gone to investigate he'd found the goat starting to chew on a basket of clothing in the hut where we men undress. The hut (for I believe I have not described it before) has a stove for warmth, and is built around the entrance to our part of the hot springs.

It was quite a surprise for him, and for the rest of us, too, for no one wants to face an Armorican goat without proper gear, let alone in the altogether.

He relayed the news; and then, of course, everyone turned to look at me.

When I peeked into the hut I saw that it was the same goat I had found on my roof on Tuesday. It was chewing reflectively on someone's small-clothes.

"You're like a bad penny," I said out loud, which was a mistake. The goat stopped chewing, the garment dangling from either side of its mouth, and looked at me. Its ears flickered, and it made a muffled goatish noise in its throat, and started towards me with every indication of pleasure.

Fortunately it had started on the basket closest to the entrance. I snatched up the nearest, a good stout wicker laundry basket with hoops for handles, and fended it off with the bottom. The clothes inside (including mine, alas) went tumbling to the floor where the goat trod on them with its muddy hooves as I retreated.

I backed into the passage, which was delightfully narrow. "Marc," I shouted. "Marc, this is your problem!" There was a murmur of laughter and conversation from behind me as Marc made his way from his spot. Meanwhile, the goat stood there and watched me. It swallowed the small-clothes, and then tried to take a bite out of the bottom of my basket. I clouted it on the head, and it made its noise again. I don't know what to call it, but it was much louder now that the small-clothes were gone, and it echoed.

I made a rush to push it out into the room. Marc snatched up a basket of his own, garments flying everywhere, and between the two of us we managed to back it up to the hut's entry way, and to hold it off while Drunken Jacques and Michel Marchand got their clothes on so they could take over while we did the same. We had a bad moment when the goat nearly got into the ladies' dressing room, and there was a lot of shouting (and cries of " Qu'est-ce que c'est?") from the ladies' grotto. But in time we managed to drive it out into the snow, and several of the men stood guard while one of Marc's men strode off to the farm for protective gear and a goat-chain.

We all got home late, with lots of washing and mending of garments to do; and we still haven't decided what to do about les nouveaux hommes. What le Bon Dieu was thinking when He made goats I am sure I do not know.

Next letter

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photo credit: marcoverch Geflochtene Körbe unterschiedlicher Größen und Formen am Naschmarkt via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica- The Strays (10 January 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

We had two unexpected visitors at the shop today, two quite different visitors; and yet, there's a certain similarity between them.

The most recent storm passed yesterday afternoon, leaving the sky clear, the air still and cold, and the homes of Bois-de-Bas nearly buried in snow. There is nothing so quiet in my experience as a small village in the early hours when the snow lies thick on the ground. Certainly I heard nothing like it in Yorke, a city which is never, ever quiet, not at any time.

But perhaps because of the shrouding snow, some noises travel more easily: laughter from my workshop, and an odd knocking noise from the roof over our heads. The knocking was accompanied by another, softer noise I couldn't quite make out.

The laughter was easily parsed. It was Bertrand, of course, come to see Luc; in the merriment there was a deeper tone with a bit of a catch that I'd come to know quite well over the summer on L'Isle-du-Grand-Blaireau. Lying there in bed I could even detect that furtive note that indicated that the boys were trying (and failing) to be quiet. I knew if I went down I'd find the two of them sitting on the floor by the pot-bellied stove, telling each other stories and drinking my tea.

This was a not infrequent event, though the reasons for it had changed. Part of it was simple friendship, of course; the friendship the two boys had forged on the island was as strong as ever. But on the island, Bertrand had been the Head Boy, the chief of all the others, and while Jean-Marc was his lieutenant, Luc had constituted his general staff. Bertrand gave the orders, and relied on Luc to be sure that they were the right orders. Here in Bois-de-Bas, though, the boys had all returned to their homes and their parents. Bertrand was still chief among them, more or less, but they were no longer on detached duty in the field, as you might say, and the superior officers were now firmly in control.

But independent command can be hard to relinquish, and where Bertrand used to come to Luc to ask for advice, now he comes to ask for sympathy. I gather from the little I have overheard that he finds his father demanding, arbitrary, and unwilling to treat him as anything other than a child. "It's all right for you," he’d told Luc. "You get to work for M. Tuppenny. Mon père thinks I am still a little boy."

And so Bertrand's presence in my workshop was not quite a surprise, but the hour was most unusual. He always has to come early or late, of course, for both boys are fully occupied by their chores and other duties during the day, but this was early even for him. I suspected that M. Laveau, Bertrand's father, must have committed some supreme enormity (in Bertrand's eyes) to drive him to our house in the cold of the very early morning.

Neither Luc nor Bertrand has ever applied to me for help in this matter; nor have I spoken to M. Laveau but once, last Novembre, when I praised Bertrand to him on our return from the island. I have been resolved not to meddle unless they asked; but now I thought that I should perhaps have a quiet word with him.

As I lay there, pondering what to do, the knocking sound on the roof grew more insistent. Amelie rolled over and said in a sleepy voice, "Cher Armand, you must go see what it is." This was easier said than done, for it took me some time to prepare to go outside, and then when I got outside I immediately had to go back inside for thicker gloves and a shot of liquid courage.

When I stepped outside the house, that soft noise I could not quite make out clarified into a high-pitched nasal bleating: the chilling sound of an angry goat. I did not delay, I did not investigate further, I did not venture out into the snow, but instead I beat a hasty retreat into the house in search of any protective gear I could find. At last I had to settle for my oldest clothing: not as warm as what I had been wearing, but the least loss if rubbing against the goat's hide tore them to shreds. Then, and only then, I went back outside.

The goat was on the roof, straddling the ridge line. I recognized it immediately by a patch of white and gray on its forehead: it was one of the ewes from Marc's small herd that I'd first met while tending the goats on Onc' Herbert's farm, and then had had to milk regularly on L'Isle-du-Grand-Blaireau for the sake of Amelie and my little Anne-Marie. In civilized countries like Cumbria and Provençe I understand that it is often the farmer’s wife or the dairy maid who milks the cows and goats; but in Armorica it is man's work, and justly so. And sometimes the goat wins.

When the ewe saw me, it—for I cannot bring myself to call it "she"—gave a long piercing bleat, then vanished down the back slope of the roof where the snow drifts were deepest.

I ran back onto the porch and opened the door to the workshop. The two boys looked up in horror at being caught.

"Luc," I said, "find me a bucket, tout-de-suite. Bring it to me here. Bertrand, we have a goat problem. I shall need you to take a message to M. Frontenac."

Their eyes widened; the horror remained. No one, not anyone, fails to take Armorican goats seriously.

By the time I close the door the goat was upon me, butting me with its head—not in anger, but also not gently. There is nothing gentle about Armorican goats. I managed to keep my feet, and was able to take the bucket from Luc when he thrust it through the barely open door.

"Now fetch me a rope!" I said.

Fortunately the goat was eager to be milked, which is not to say that the process was easy or quick. But I got it done with only a few bruises and the loss of one trouser leg, and by that time dawn had brightened the sky and Bertrand had gotten his warm coat back on. With his help I managed to get a loop of rope around the goat's neck and tie it off to a post at the corner of the house.

"Now, Bertrand, I need you to go tell M. Frontenac that I have his goat."

"Oui, M. Tuppenny. But mon père…."

"I shall let him know," I said. "But be quick—that rope won't hold the ewe for long."

I sent Luc with a message to M. Laveau; and in due course Marc and Elise drove up in their sleigh with a length of leather-clad chain suitable for leading a recalcitrant goat. We had them with us for the noon meal, and then finally Amelie, Luc, and I were able to get on with things—I with a small limp, but I counted it cheap at the price.

Tomorrow morning I shall have to visit M. Laveau in person.

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- Small Victories (8 January 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Of late it has seemed that every problem is mine to solve; but I find that I am mistaken, and in the most pleasant possible way. My Amelie has undertaken to teach young Luc to read! She will teach him as she herself was taught: his numbers first, and figuring, and then his letters, and then she will teach him to keep accounts. This is an unusual skill for a former, at least in Yorke where the Guild has a certain dignity, but it is quite a practical one for one in a little town in Armorica where being a former is not much grander than being a shopkeeper. A former can starve as easily as anyone else if he doesn't mind his expenses.

So he will work with her in the shop in the morning while he is fresh, and with me in my workshop in the afternoons; and then in the evenings I will resume reading aloud to Amelie, and we shall have Luc join us. If I pick the tales appropriately (or, perhaps, inappropriately, in my mother's view) I think he shall soon develop a taste for the written word.

As a result of this new program, I happened to find myself alone in the workshop with Jacques-le-Souris yesterday, a storm having kept the other elders of the village by their firesides. He was passing the time by telling me an improbable story of a tame grand-blaireau that developed a taste for cognac—a story I firmly believe he was making up as he went along. A lull came after he related an episode in which the beast got stuck in the cellar of a tavern in Old Mont-Havre, having demolished the stairs in its drunken lurchings, and so had to be extricated by a team of men with horses and ropes and a net; and during that lull I struck.

"Jacques, tell me truly. M. Truc was killed by a grand-blaireau decades ago, and you have remained at Madame Truc's side all of the time since then; but you have never married her. Why not?" I didn't look at him as I said this, but continued polishing the bed-warmer I was forming.

He tried to evade the issue. "Oh, but Armand, Madame Truc is a widow of the most fierce! You know this. Who would willingly bind himself to such a woman? Only my old friend Edmond, only he would be brave enough."

"And yet, you seem to have done so," I said.

"Moi? Oh, no, cher Armand. I am not bound to her." He started looking around the room, as if to find a means of escape. "Her husband asked me to take care of her with his dying breath, vraiment, but I am a free man, moi!. I am a rover. I go where I please and do what I please!"

"This is true, my friend. I have often heard your stories. But still…it seems that going where you please often finds you sitting on the settee in my parlor by her side." He began to sweat visibly, but I did not relent. "In fact, Jacques, it seems to me that you have been a husband to her in all ways but the most central for all of these many years."

"She is, she is, a woman of the most proper," he said.

A thought struck me.

"Jacques," I said, "how is it that you first came to be called Jacque-le-Souris, Jacques the mouse?"

"Why, Madame Truc began to call me that, some time after—"

"After her husband died?"

He nodded sadly.

"And still you did nothing?"

"She is a woman tres formidable, Armand," he said, sadly.

"C'est vrai. But still, she has had many years to accept another's offer, and she has not done so."

Jacques got a look in his eye. Clearly this was a new thought.

"Do you think—"

"That she has been waiting for you to declare yourself? I do." In all honesty, Dear Journal, I was less certain than I let on. But I continued to meddle anyway. "I do believe that you will find her in the parlor with Anne-Marie. Perhaps she might like some company?"

Jacque humphed a bit in his colorful flavor of Provençese, and tried to go back to his tale about the drunken grand-blaireau, but after perhaps a quarter of an hour of fidgeting and sweating he made a paltry sort of excuse and left the workshop.

I have no definite news to report, but Madame Truc and Jacques-le-Souris kept shooting glances at each other over the dinner table this afternoon when they each thought the other wasn't looking. Something has changed; and as I haven't heard Madame utter a sharp-tongued word all day it is clear she has been given pause to think. I have the highest hopes for our living situation.

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Letters from Armorica- Lessons (4 January 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have made the most distressing discovery—young Luc does not know how to read and write!

This afternoon, as a break from shaping bed-warmers out of bronzewood, I set him to begin to copy my grimoire. This is how it has always been done: each former has his grimoire, in which he records how to form all of the things he knows how to form. He begins by copying his master's grimoire; and as times goes on he adds his own discoveries, and so the craft progresses. Master Netherington-Coates of the guild house in Yorke once told me that he had copied his grimoir several times, adding notes and amendments to the earlier entries and perfecting the latter ones, and expected to do so several more times over the course of his life. It is sage advice, and I intend to follow it as I can.

My father, perhaps needless to say, did not. When I copied his grimoire as an apprentice, the main body of the book was all in his schoolboy hand. Jealous as he is of protecting his status as a master former, he is far more a politician than a former.

And so this afternoon, I judged it both prudent and merciful to give Luc a rest from shaping bronzewood and from my own windy lectures, and let him get on with making his own copy. I pulled a blank ledger from our store room, that being what was available, and pen-and-ink, and sat him down at his bench to begin.

"This is your grimoire," I said, handing it to him. "And here is mine. It contains everything I know about forming. Over the next few months you will be copying it over; and by the time you are a journeyman you will know what all of it means. Here is pen and ink; best you get started."

I was discussing the news of the day with the gentlemen gathered at the front of my workshop—M. Simard has been helping M. Gagnon to remove the last of the red paint from the Gagnon's front door, and suchlike matters of import—when Old Edouard jerked his head at me and made a pointed glance over my shoulder. I turned to look and found that Luc was sitting on his stool, head down, utterly still.

I walked over to him, quietly as good be, and looked over his shoulder. My grimoire and his own lay open before him. There were no marks on the page; the pen still lay where I had placed it.

"Luc, what's the matter?" I said.

Behind me I heard the door open; I glanced back and saw Jacques-le-Souris waving the other gentlemen through the door into Amelie's shop. He winked at me, and followed them out.

Luc looked up at me, his face the very picture of misery, and shook his head.

"All you need to do is read what's there, and then copy it down. Much of it won't make sense to you, but that is quite all right for now."

He shook his head again, and looked down. It was very strange; I had always found him to be both willing and able to do anything I asked of him.

"Luc," I began, and his shoulders hunched. A thought came to me. "Luc, you do know how to read and write, don't you?"

His shoulders hunched in tighter.

I pulled the stool over from my bench and sat down next to him. "You don't know how to read and write," I said. He made the tiniest little shake of his head.

"How on earth do you not know how to read and write?"

He shrugged. I stopped. I'd known a boy, once, who seemed to be simply unable to learn. He said the words swam around before his eyes. Could Luc be like that? But—

"Luc, what about Bertrand and the other boys. Do they know how to read and write?"

"Some do, some don't, Master Tuppenny. It all depends," he said in a tiny voice.

"On what?"

"On their parents."

I thought about the buildings in the village. The church, our shop, the various houses.

"There is no school here, is there?"

"No, Master Tuppenny," he said, without turning to look at me. "Are you going to send me away now, master?"

"What?" I was quite taken aback. "Send you away? What nonsense! You're my responsibility, young Luc. It's my job to teach you what you need to know to be a former."

"Oh," he said, and I saw his shoulders relax a bit.

I picked up my grimoire, and the pen and ink.

"Put your grimoire away for now; you'll want it later. In the meantime go back to the warmer you were working on. I must go talk to Madame Tuppenny."

And indeed I do, though that will wait until I am done with this journal entry. Mostly I wanted time to think, and to tell Jacques and Edouard and the others that it was safe to return to the comfort of my workshop.

I must teach Luc to read and write, and that will be a challenge. I taught Amelie to read, but her father had taught her her letters and how to figure. She could read and write names of things well enough, or at least recognize them and copy them well enough to keep accounts. And she'd acquired a love of stories from her father's reading to her. Luc hasn't even that basic foundation.

I fear I have been leaving him too much alone in the evenings. I shall have to consult with Amelie as to which of the books we have would be the most exciting for a young boy.

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Letters from Armorica-Rich Fools (26 December 34 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It has been an eventful week, and so I have had little time (or interest) in writing. It is hard to find a time for writing anyway, with so many people in the house. Anne-Marie is getting bigger and becoming more interesting every day, and Madame Truc and Jacques-le-Souris are ever present—and that is just the evenings!

But the first snows came a couple of days ago, and buried our house up to the windows; we had to dig our way out in order to go to divine services these last two days. It is snowing again, and so all is hushed; and what with the cold and the effect of the hot springs this afternoon, Madame and Jacques both went to bed early.

Separately, of course. I really must persuade them to marry, if only to make better use of our living space!

So it is quiet, and Anne-Marie is asleep, and Amelie and I have the parlor to our selves. There is a small fire, so that we are warm and cosy; and so it is time to write about the past week or so.

It has been busy, as I say. Back on L'Isle du Grand-Blaireau I formed some heating blocks out of metal to heat water in the bath-house, and some out of wood for heating our homes and tents when it got cold and we didn't dare show any lights or smoke. The wooden blocks weren't completely satisfactory, as they could not put out as much heat as the metal ones without catching fire, but they were better than nothing. It occurred to someone last week—I am not sure who, but I suspect Madame Pelletier, who, it seems, always has her eye on her comforts—it occurred to someone, I say, that the wooden blocks would be ideal for warming beds on cold nights, and so much safer than warming pans filled with coals from the fire!

Which is true, of course, which is why Luc and I had made some for the beds here in our house. I suspect Luc of talking a bit more than he ought—as an apprentice, he ought not be speaking of the craft to outsiders.

But the cat is out of the bag; and I could hardly refuse to fill the demand, especially after Amelie told me about the horrible fire that consumed the senior Gagnon's cottage some years ago.

The blocks I made on the island were just that: simple blocks of crêpe de chêne, with squared-off edges and all splinters smoothed away, and then formed to give off heat. The wood was on-hand, and easily worked, and there was no need for more than that in the spartan setting of a war camp. For our use here at home, though, I made them out of bronzewood, and formed them into flattish disks with rounded ages, rather the shape of warming pans. Made properly they give off a comfortable degree of heat, not hot enough to burn the skin, and Amelie found that she likes leaving them in the bed all night long; but the square edges of my original blocks were uncomfortable on the feet, and the soft wood didn't wear well under that kind of use. So I made them out of bronzewood, a labor of love, and now everyone else wants bed heaters made out of bronzewood too!

Ah, well. The current demand will keep us fed through the winter.

Then there are the daily distractions, which I expect will only pick up in coming weeks: with the two wood-stoves in my workshop, it is likely the warmest public spot in town.

Come to that, how is it that Bois-de-Bas has no inn, no public house? We shall have to see to that come spring, if only to avoid expanding the size of my workshop!

Being head-man has been different than I expected, at least so far. I was fearing having to sit in judgment over tales of thievery or worse, but it hasn't been like that. Even with the new folks in town, it seems that one just doesn't do that here on the frontier. Oh, there are stories, but they all go back to the earliest days of the settlement. The offenders quickly left town, and in a box as often as not.

No, it's been an issue not of petty thievery but of petty feelings.

Some while back, before the Provençese soldiers came, there was a fashion for brightly painted doors and window frames here in town. The houses here in Bois-de-Bas don't really need painting; they are all built of bronzewood timbers, with chêne-pierre cladding on the exteriors, and neither kind of wood requires painting to stand the weather. But Mme. Poquerie had some extra paint, and painted her window frames yellow, and a kind of frenzy began.

At the height of it Mme. Gagnon had had her husband paint their entire front door a brilliant red, and the soldiers had found it irresistible; from the looks, they spent much of their free time throwing knives at it. The underlying wood isn't much scarred— chêne-pierre can stand a great deal of abuse—but the paint job is in an awful state. Mme. Simard, the butcher's wife, lives across the way; she began the trend of "colored doors" by painting her doorframe (leaving the door itself alone), and Mme. Gagnon painted her entire door to do her one in the eye. But a doorframe isn't much of a target, and so the soldiers mostly ignored it; and so Mme. Simard has been lording it over Mme. Gagnon and teasing her about the damage to her fancy door.

I heard about this while I was working; the old men sitting around the front of my shop were gossiping about it, and laughing a great deal. But it was a problem, one said: "The Gagnons ate at home alone last Sonnedi rather than share space with the Simards, and that isn't right." Eventually one of them asked, "What do you think, Armand?"

I'd had time to think—if you don't let your mind go about its business when you're shaping bronzewood, you'll go mad—so I had an answer ready.

"I guess you all know that my father is an important man back in Yorke, where I come from," I said. "He's always been very concerned with appearances. He always had to have clothes made of richer cloth than any of the other guild-masters, and I remember him replacing our front door for one that was fancier than the neighbor's, and gloating about it at the dinner table. But you know," I shrugged, "he never got along with anyone, and he was never happy with anything. I like it better here in Bois-de-Bas, where people help their neighbors."

Our home isn't painted except for the sign that says "Tuppenny's," and of course I was wearing my work clothes, which were simpler and rougher than those of any of my listeners. I've no doubt that word will get back to the ladies that they are acting like rich fools from Yorke.

In the meantime we've placed an order for paint with Suprenant et Fils; but the demand for it is much greater in Mont-Havre than it is here, and what with that and the snow we won't get any until spring at the earliest. By then, with luck, it won't matter.

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Letters from Armorica- The Gathering Place (15 December 34 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It is all as I have feared.

Everyone smiled broadly and greeted me warmly at divine services this past Sonnedi morning. It was the same at Sonnedi dinner at the Tremblay's—and I was made to sit at M. Tremblay's right hand, with Amelie by my side. It was a worrying thing, for never before had I sat much above the bottom of the table.

Precedence, I have found, is very important to the Provençese settlers of Armorica. I saw this at Madame Truc's table back in Mont-Havre, of course, and it is the same here. But Madame had only to consult her own desires and the events of the day, for hers was mostly a gathering of strangers; but here it is a thing I have never understood, a thing of a complex of relationships and shared experience and favors given and favors owed and old feuds and old alliances, none of which am I familiar with.

I said as much to Amelie on our way to the hot springs.

"Naturellement, mon cher," she said. "And that is why." But she wouldn't say anything more.

And then, in the hot springs, I was made to sit at Onc' Herbert's corner of the grotto, in Onc' Herbert's own place. There was much hooting and many broad grins as Marc escorted me there and sat me down. It is a spot with a clear view of the rest of the grotto, and from which my voice could be clearly heard throughout if I raised it event a little. I discovered this when I sat down and found that the water in that spot was rather hotter than I expected, for I made some exclamation or other. There were cheers and many rude gestures, and Marc said to me, "Bien sur, Armand. We would not wish you to be too comfortable." But he sat down to my right, where I am sure the water was not much cooler.

For what it was worth, no one called upon me to pronounce judgement on anything. The will of the village had been made plain in the most concrete possible way; and the business of the day being concluded, I was left to stew in peace.

As I stewed there, in mind as in body, I tried to remember how Onc' Herbert had behaved. He rarely spoke, that I recalled, at least not to everyone. The hot springs are a social place, so of our course everyone chats to those around them, and there is a certain amount of to-ing and fro-ing. But sometimes the conversation becomes general, and everyone quiets down and listens. At those times Onc' Herbert listened with the rest; and at length would ask a question or two; and a little later might have something to say on the matter. Then he might answer some questions, and the general conversation would break down into smaller groups again.

"It wasn't that Onc' Herbert was in charge," I said to Marc. "It was that everyone trusted him."

"He was in charge, mon ami," said Marc in my ear. "He was in charge because they trusted him, "n'est-ce pas?"

"I see I shall have to work on my reliability," I said, and Marc thumped me on the shoulder.

And these last few days, things have been appearing in my workshop. My workshop is typical for Bois-de-Bas, being built to a pattern: a front door, a broad space for customers, a counter, and the workshop proper behind that, where I have tool racks, a work bench, and other appurtenances of the former's profession, and not the least welcome, a wood-burning stove. The space in front of the counter had remained largely empty, for I seldom had more than one customer at a time.

When I entered it on Monday morning, I found Jacques Poquêrie installing another wood-burning stove in the corner. When I returned from my midday dinner with Amelie and Anne-Marie, I found that a low-backed settee had been placed below the windows, facing the counter. A rocking chair soon joined it, and a low table with a chess set.

Jacques-le-Souris spent much of today in the rocking chair, and many of the older men in the village have been in and out of the workshop all day, chatting with Jacques and with each other. I recognize all of them, of course, but many I have never spoken to, not more than two words; for it was mostly the women of the village who came to our shop proper in the short time I was at the counter there with Amelie, and there were only young folk on L'Isle du Grand-Blaireau. Each of them greeted me, and gave me their names if I didn't already know them. It is fortunate that a former's training requires a great deal of memorization!

I followed my resolve to listen and say little, and spent my time hardening cookware and pondering what else I might form during this stretch of uneasy peace. It is hard to ponder when your workshop has become a parlor! But I said nothing of this, to them or to Amelie.

But she understands, of course. "It is tres difficile, je connais," she said to me last night as we climbed into bed under Old Man Blaireau's majestic pelt. "But I am so proud!"

My father shows his authority to everyone by always dressing richly and wearing his grandmaster's chain if anyone might see him. My master's chain, which I coveted so when I was younger, remains in its case; and my authority is shown by the presence of old men in my workshop and by my place in the hot springs, where, truly, any attire at all would be quite out of place. It is a strange place, compared to Yorke, Armorica is; or perhaps it is Yorke that is the strange place.

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