Letters from Armorica- A Talk among the Tombstones (3 October 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I meant to be back in Bois-de-Bas by now—indeed, Bertrand is already on his way, with Patches the Goat in tow—but Lord Doncaster held me here until today. His Lordship wants to have all of the threads tied up neatly, and I, of course, am one of them.

I met with His Lordship this afternoon, after attending divine services in the cathedral. I am not at all sure that His Lordship was present in mind as well as body, for an air of distraction filled his box. Religion is not an abiding concern among the higher folk in Yorke, so he might have been present to show willing, and to ingratiate himself with his Armorican subjects for whom it is very much an abiding concern.

Or he may have been there simply to meet with me in a plausibly casual manner. What is more natural than for two chance-met expatriates to take a short walk on a fine Autumn day and discuss the Old Country amid the tombstones in the churchyard? For walk we did, and for some twenty minutes or so.

His Lordship questioned me about Trout and all of my experiences with with him and at the Farm, and marveled at the doings of Patches the Goat—without, I may say, desiring to become further acquainted with the beast. He also listened quite seriously to my summary of my trials.

"I do not wish to command you, M. Tuppenny," he said. "Indeed I am not sure whether I can in this. Cumbria is in possession, as it were, but until le Parlement takes further action my legal position is uncertain. But for myself, I would say that you should continue your research by any means possible. Further, it is my opinion—and this is the official opinion of His Majesty's government, of which I am the representative, that you are rightfully and by guild-law the grandmaster of the Former's Guild in Armorica. My word on that.

"Mind you," he said with a smile, "His Majesty's government may change its collective mind after I am gone; but it seems that you have a powerful advocate in Yorke, so I shouldn't worry if I were you."

"My father," I said, ruefully. "I'm on the outs with him, you know. I came here intending to drop out of sight and never deal with him again. He's only pleased because my accomplishments here reflect well on him and extend his reach. Or so he thinks."

His Lordship nodded. "I and my father were the same; I was never happier than when I got my commission and was off to the wars. Nevertheless, do not spurn his good will, for it will serve you well, even, or perhaps especially at a distance. If it were not impertinent, I might add that it is clear that he taught you better than to do so."

"Yes, I suppose he did." I shrugged. "They say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, but you know, I'm doing my best to roll downslope."

He chuckled. "Indeed; and tomorrow you may roll off to your little town. But mind what I say! So long as you have your head above water I've no wish to interfere with you; but should you find yourself in need, ask for my help through your cousin Jack. The work you are doing is too important to be allowed to languish."

I nodded. "Thank you, your Lordship."

"Just so. Now then, I believe that pulls all of the threads into one tidy knot. All of the purely local threads, at any rate," he said. "We may never hear Trout's full story, not if I know His Majesty's intelligencers. If I learn more, I shall tell you what I can; but at a guess it was a plot aimed at the throne through your father. More than that I cannot say."

We had been pacing slowly, and now reached the center of the graveyard, hard by the tall monument of Jacques Durand, leader of the second wave of colonists. It was a fine obelisk of bronze wood, polished and gleaming. His Lordship turned and regarded me, there in its shadow.

"It takes good men to build a land," he said, gesturing at the monument. "I am glad to have met another." And then, with an airy wave he left me.

I dine tonight with M. Fournier, who has somehow acquired a math text for me; I shall sleep at the guild hall; and first thing in the morning I shall set out for Amelie and home.

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Letters from Armorica- Catching Trout (1 October 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Trout has been taken, much the worse for wear—as are we all, and it is only partially Trout’s fault. We shall be returning to Mont-Havre as soon as we are able tomorrow, despite our wounds.

The plan was for His Lordship’s men to take him _en route_. Somehow he evaded them; I don’t know whether he caught sight of them and managed to sneak past, or whether he simply took an unexpected path through the woods and so came to our door unobserved. No doubt he will tell us his methods in time, but at the moment I fear he is in no shape to do so.

What is clear is that somehow he was warned. He brought no cart of supplies, but came on foot and empty handed but for a pistol, apparently intent on ensuring our perpetual silence. We were watching the road, of course, but he must have come over the fields from behind the farm house, for he was actually within the house before we were aware of his presence.

Normally when Trout was expected I would have had Bertrand waiting on the porch where he could easily scan the length of the valley; today, taking the advice of Sergeant Travers, we sat in the front room of the farm house. We each had a clear view through the window of the lane leading to the house from the road, but by sitting in the dimness of the house we made poor targets.

“For if we miss him, he might be a wee bit angry, and angry men can be a wee bit hasty,” he said.

Angry he certainly was.

“Up, both of you,” he said, and our heads whipped round in surprise. He was framed in the door to the kitchen, his pistol trained on Bertrand and his eyes on me. He was clad in his usual black. I saw Bertrand tense to spring, for he was but four feet from Trout, but he was seated and Trout was standing, and the muzzle of the pistol looked distressingly large.

“No, Bertrand,” I cried, in fear for his life, and also in hopes that one of Travers’ men might be near enough to hear me.

“Very wise, M Tuppenny,” said Trout to me; and then to Bertrand, “Get up, slowly, and back away until you are standing by your master.”

“But Monsieur—” he said, but I cut him off.

“Do it, Bertrand,” I said. “This man is not to be trifled with.” When Bertrand had reached my side I continued, “What is the meaning of this?”

“It appears that you have been naughty, M. Tuppenny. Very naughty indeed. I fear you are no longer a valuable asset.”

He cocked the pistol with his thumb, his hand trembling slightly. I had the absurd thought that he needed more practice at disposing of inconvenient witnesses when my eyes were caught by motion behind him. Was it one of Travers’ men? I blinked and trained my eyes on the gun, so as not to warn him, and then cursed inwardly as Bertrand gasped.

Trout noticed the line of Bertrand’s gaze immediately, and his pistol swung to cover him instead of me.

“Stop!” he cried, turning his head very slightly to speak to whomever was approaching him from behind. “If you come one step closer, I’ll shoot the boy!”

And then everything happened at once. A long, low form burst past Trout, knocking him violently to one side. I dove to the floor as the pistol discharged its ball into the ceiling. Bertrand, still just a little closer to the door than I, was knocked down, and as I saw him fall I heard shouts from down the road.

And then I was on the floor and a rough, wet tongue was removing the skin from my cheek.

It was Patches the goat. She was bedraggled and muddy, and her ribs were clearly visible along her flank through the holes in her tattered armor. What must she have gotten into during her long journey from Bois-de-Bas to get her armor in such a state! Past her I could see Bertrand on the floor and Trout lying in a heap in the doorway.

“Bertrand, get his pistol,” I said. He rose, holding his side; and as he did so I pushed Patches’ nose away with the utmost care, managing to lose only a little bit of skin, and stood up to take stock. Fortunately her left horn cover was still in place, so I was able to hold her off without further injury.

There was blood all along her left side, matching the gaps in her armor, fresh and quite red, and mixed with many shreds of black cloth and a bit of blue from Bertrand’s trousers. The blood proved to be Trout’s, the product of Patches catching Trout against the door frame as she burst past him. He was fortunate that it was her right horn cover that was missing, not the left, or she might have torn quite the hole in his side in her eagerness to get to me.

Bertrand was in much better shape, having only minor abrasions and a nasty bruise. It didn’t slow him down much as he found power and shot in Trout’s coat pocket and reloaded the heavy pistol.

“Well, you’ve had quite the journey, haven’t you,” I said to Patches, with, I am not ashamed to say, a rush of fondness quite out of my experience with Armorican goats.

And that was how Travers found us: Trout still in a heap, Bertrand with Trout’s pistol trained upon its owner, and me in the middle of the room holding Patches off by her left horn.

We are still at the Farm, but will be leaving sometime tomorrow. It pains me to abandon the trials I have in progress here, but I believe I have learned enough to be going on with. I shall spend only enough time in Mont-Havre to acquire the mathematics text I have been longing for, and then we shall be off to Bois-de-Bas and my Amelie and Anne-Marie. I should have left today, no matter the hour, save that we require a cart for our belongings—and to tie Patches’ lead to, for however grateful I might be for her timely arrival, I am in no way minded to lead her back to Bois-de-Bas by hand.

God send we arrive before the new baby does!

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Letters from Armorica- News from Yorke (1 October 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

A man came to me yesterday, and with monstrous news.

The past weeks have been somewhat mildly idyllic. I have made progress on my trials, Bertrand is reading more fluently than ever, and I am better at chess—against Bertrand at least—than I have ever been in my life. I am worried for Amelie, so far away without me, for our new baby is due soon, but I know that Marc and Elise and our other friends will keep her safe and well. Boredom is ever present, and I have been eager for Trout to make his move, whatever it may be.

I am eager no longer.

The man was a Cumbrian soldier. It was plain to see it by his bearing and posture, though he wore countryman's clothes; and had I any doubts they were dispersed by the letter he handed to me, and the ring he showed me to identify himself: my cousin Jack's ring. The letter was unsigned, but I know Jack's handwriting and mode of speech.


You have gotten yourself into a pickle! A fast packet returned from Yorke today with answers to His Lordship's queries. Trout is known to His Majesty's intelligencers, thought not as well as they would like, and they have dearly been wanting a word with him for some time. I do not have all of the details—the message we received was absurdly uninformative—but I gather the man is part of some plot against His Majesty's government. And given Trout's efforts to isolate and control you I can guess that the Former's Guild in Yorke is involved in some way, or perhaps I should say embroiled, for no one can think of your father as being disloyal to the crown without laughing. No, if there is treachery in the Guild it is lower down.

I think it more likely, though, that Trout's co-conspirators are simply using you to put pressure on your father—to extort from him some action they desire by holding you as a hostage. I can hear you laughing bitterly. He has forbidden your name to be mentioned, it is true…and yet m'mother has found him lingering near the door of the drawing room after her visits with your own mater, and this more than once.

Regarding your master's chain and the status of the Armorican Former's Guild, I have two points of information. First, it is unclear where Trout acquired the chain he gave you; no one in the Yorke guild house seems to know anything about it, or will admit it if they do. Second, your father has certainly heard that you have claimed the Armorican Guild, and he seems to be quietly delighted. "A master stroke," I believe he was heard to mutter to himself. (And by-the-by, I do not believe the pun was intended. This is your father I'm speaking of.) This may be the cause of his lurking around drawing room doors!

The bearer of this letter is Sergeant Travers. We know that you are expecting Trout tomorrow, and we intend to take him, package him neatly, and ship him off home. If it were possible we would nab him before he ever reaches your farm, but His Lordship has a notion. Travers will fill you in. There is some risk, but I believe you are equal to it. And once it is all over, of course, Travers and his men will see you back to Mont-Havre.


Now it is early morning; it is some hours before I expect Trout, for he usually arrives at midday, but I cannot sleep. May the Good Lord protect us all!

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Letters from Armorica- Hard Time (17 September 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I've written little over the last three weeks because there has been little to write. I have had arrows from Amelie in Bois-de-Bas and Jack in Mont-Havre (the latter via M. Suprenant, of course). All is well at home, though I am greatly missed. Jack meanwhile says that Lord Doncaster has as yet heard nothing from Cumbria about Trout, but he hardly could have after so little time; and he assures me that the Farm is being watched and that Bertrand and I are perfectly safe. There is a rail along the front of the porch, and I am to hang a cloth on it if I am in need of immediate assistance during one of Trout's visits.

Trout has continued to visit each week, and if his purpose remains inscrutable at least he has brought us a few more supplies: especially, we now have a lamp and whirtleberry oil so that we need no longer sit by the fire in the evenings. This is a significant blessing in this weather. I have done no building and made no models, for I have little in the way of raw materials, not without taking the farm house or the out-buildings to bits.

The real difficulty lies in not succumbing to a fatal boredom. I have been teaching Bertrand to read (not that the available reading material is of the best); and I have scratched out a chess board on the top of the farmhouse table, and we have had many a game of chess and checkers through the long evenings. We even have reasonably good chess men that I formed from small stones: crude, for I am no sculptor, but recognizable. Fortunately, the chess men are not necessarily either generous or greedy, and so their presence will not throw off my trials.

The trials are going well: indeed, this is the one bright spot. Almost four weeks ago I placed five hardened rods adjacent to lifting blocks. Three of the rods were under greater or lesser strain by means of weights hanging from their ends; the other two were unstressed. Four of the lifting blocks were lifting ten pounds of weight; the fifth, which was adjacent to one of the unstressed rods, was left inactive, not lifting anything.

My prediction was that the unstressed rod next to the active lifting block would fail in about twenty days, as in my previous trial with a hardened block; in the event it took only nineteen days. The reason for the decrease in time is obscure to me, but I suspect it has to do with the difference in the shape of the hardened objects. Meanwhile, the rods under stress are still holding strong, just as I expected.

But the truly delightful outcome is the fifth trial, the unstressed rod adjacent to an inactive lifting block. Bertrand had suggested that perhaps the lifting block was greedy even when not in use, and would continue to draw effort from the hardened rod; and it seems that he is correct, for the unstressed rod crumbled to bits this very afternoon, twenty-six days after I set it up. An inactive lifting block continues to draw in effort from its surroundings! Less than an active one would, this is no surprise, but not very much less!

This is a phenomenal result. It implies that the reason why Marc's sky-sled failed so abruptly, crashing him into the ground, is that it had been left unused for too long! Had he been using it, his weight and the stress from moving him about would have caused the sled's body to flex, which would have stressed the hardened elements, which would have produced effort for the lifting elements to take up. But he let it sit idle, and so the hardened elements were fatally weakened.

Should I ever return to L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau I must use a brand-new sky-chair; and my first act must be to burn the chairs, sleds, and wagons we left there. Or perhaps not, for likely the hardened elements have already turned to dust.

I wonder what has become of the two sloops we turned into housing? For they contain hardened elements, but also active lifting blocks, for they remain floating in mid-air. My guess is that the weight of the sloop stresses the hardened elements enough to provide enough effort to satisfy the lifting blocks. I am glad we didn't try to settle them into some sort of cradle!

I also wonder if M. Fournier has yet acquired a book on algebra for me. There are precise mathematical relationships at play here, I hope and I trust, but I haven't the knowledge or skill to capture them. It is frustrating, for now I begin to have some measurements of interest to work with!

On the whole, I suppose, I am bored but not displeased with my progress. It is ironic, really, that Trout brought me here. He is up to no good, I feel sure, and certainly has no interest in whether or not I produce sky-chairs that work; but it may be due only to him that I will one day be able to produce sky-chairs that work reliably!

If only Amelie and Anne-Marie and Luc were here as well, I should be quite content.

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Letters from Armorica- Farming Efforts (20 August 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It has been a week, and Bertrand and I are settled as well as we shall ever be in this benighted place. The farm house has been swept out as best we could, given the state of the broom I found in a corner of the kitchen. We have food, but of the plainest; fuel for the kitchen hearth; and no other supplies but what we brought with us.—and most of those are intended to support my research, not our comfort. It is fortunate that the weather is warm, for we have little bedding, and that little we must use to make pallets on the floor. We might as well be in prison.

Trout was here today with another load of food. He did not stay long, and though he took the list of needed supplies I handed him—lamps and whirtleberry oil, bedding, and other gear—he made no promise to bring us any of it.

Truly, I do not understand Trout's game. In theory, I am here to perfect my designs for sky-chairs, sleds, wagons for use by His Cumbrian Majesty's forces against Le Maréchal in his hiding place. I know this to be a lie, and Trout's lack of interest in my progress confirmed it weeks ago. But he wants me for some reason, and having got me out her to "continue my work" one would think he would at least provide the materials I would need: seasoned wood, and so forth.

Yet he has provided none. It is as though Trout has accomplished his entire purpose simply by getting me out of town and out of communication (as he thinks) and no longer cares in the slightest what I might think of it. Does he think it would be so hard for Bertrand and I just to walk back to Mont-Havre? I assure you, Journal, we kept careful note of every turning, and we are near enough to the city that we need not fear les grand-blaireaux. I assume he is trusting my good behavior to his threat to take away my mastery in the guild.

No matter. I have sent arrows to Jack and to Marc in Bois-de-Bas as to my whereabouts and the conditions here; and in the meantime Bertrand and I have set up four trials around and about the Farm. Each consists of a hardened rod with weights suspended from each end, adjacent to a lifting block calibrated to lift ten pounds of weight. The first rod supports twenty pounds, the second ten, the third five, and the fourth none. If my thinking is correct, the first will last the longest: the physical strain on the rod will produce effort due to the hardening of the rod, which can then feed the greedy lifting block indefinitely. If I am right, it explains some of my failures. My early chairs and sleds were hardened altogether, except for the lifting blocks, which would reduce the physical strain on the hardened elements due to the flexing of chair or sled, and so reduce the effort produced.

I wish I had access to one of the Provençese sky sloops we left on L'Isle de Grand-Blaireaux. I investigated closely where the lifting members were, but paid little attention to the hardened elements, except to note that there were fewer of them than I expected. I am now guessing that the sloop was designed so that the lifting elements lift the hardened elements, and that the remainder of the sloop hangs from these, thus keeping the hardened elements under constraint strain. The question is, how much strain is required to keep the lifting elements properly fed, as it were, without cannibalizing the hardened elements.

I have set up a fifth trial in another place, consisting of a hardened rod and a quiescent lifting block, just to determine whether such a system will degrade over time.

The five are located as far from each other as I can manage; and since I have nothing to build shelters with as we did on Marc's farm, we placed them just over the edge of the fields into the woods, where the trees will protect them from summer storms.

And now we wait, and ponder, and blackguard Trout to each other. The man could at least have left us a deck of cards!

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Letters from Armorica- The Farm (13 August 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Bertrand and I have been installed at The Farm, and I am not best pleased about it.

I spoke with Jack on Wednesday as planned, and told him all I knew of Trout and his intentions for me. It seems that Le Maréchal and his few remaining troops have indeed retreated to Guyagão as Trout said, and that the region is being watched…but Jack is unaware of any planned efforts to draw the cochons from their hiding places.

"His Majesty's Government is pleased to let them rot in the swamps," he told me. "We'll keep an eye on them, and we'll certainly prevent any would-be recruits from joining them, but there's little enough harm they can cause there."

Further, he has never heard of Trout or of any secret doings His Cumbrian Majesty's Government might have in train in Armorica.

"That means little, though," he said. "As His Lordship's aide I hear things, but I don't hear everything. Still, I don't like you going off with him, not when we know he's lying to you." He shook his head. "And yet, there is little we can do other than arrest the man when next he presents himself at your guild hall. I would be pleased to arrange that. But if he is genuinely in His Majesty's service, His Majesty's Government would be…displeased."

"Perhaps His Lordship knows more?"

"He might; and you'd best believe that I shall ask him instanter. But if he doesn't we are simply left in the same position as before. Tell you what, coz, let me speak with him. He'll have to decide what's best to be done. Where shall I send word to you?"

"It would look odd if we met again; and I have to assume that Trout has me under observation. Perhaps send a messenger to Suprenant et Fils? I dine with them tomorrow night."

"I shall do so."

"I don't suppose you could simply speak to him; if he's on His Majesty's service he must have some way of proving it. Some code word or something?"

"But how would we know he is here? The man's been careful not to draw official attention. No, if we bring him in we'd best arrest him outright, for he sure's to know you've been talking to us. We'll have to make inquiries to the folks at Home, and that will take time."

It would, and several months of it even by fast cutter.

"I suppose I must go with him on Friday, then."

"I'm afraid so. But if I know His Lordship, you won't be as alone wherever you're going as Trout thinks you are. We'll be keeping an eye on you."

I nodded. "Perhaps you could make discreet inquiries about my status in the Guild? Trout was so good as to inform me that I owed my chain solely to him, and that he could remove it at any time. I've no idea whether the Guild knows anything about the business or not."

"Messing in guild business, is he? That could be helpful." Jack nodded. "Aye, it could. His Lordship will want to know about that." He eyed me over the last of his ale. "You have a way to get in touch if trouble arises?"

"Yes, I do. I can send word through M. Suprenant; he will know how to reach you."

"Good, then. I'm off, and you'll hear from me tomorrow."

And so I did, but it was brief: "Trout unknown. L.D. will inquire. Eyes open. J."

"L.D." was surely Lord Doncaster; and "Eyes open" presumably was a warning to me and also a promise from Jack, and with that I had to be satisfied.

Trout came with a cart this morning, and carried us north out of town, into a region I'd not ventured into before. It took us several hours to reach what I am calling The Farm: several small fields surrounded by collapsing fences and stone walls near a farm house that will need several days worth of work to be livable, the whole shrouded in deep forest.

"I'm sorry I was not able to find a place in better repair," he said, "but there is fuel and food. I shall return in a week." Of course he wasn't a bit sorry. I told him we would manage, and he did not linger.

And so here we are, Bertrand and I, and I am writing by the light from the kitchen fire for though there is firewood there is no oil and no lamp. Trout made no comment at any time today as to my progress, and I fear that his real goal is only to have me out of communication. He is doomed to disappointment if so.

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Letters from Armorica- Preparations (8 August 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Trout has informed me that we shall be moving to a place he calls "The Farm" at the end of the week; consequently, I am to wrap up our efforts here in Mont-Havre and pack up anything we must take with us. Perhaps fortunately, the hardened block in my first trial quite gave up the ghost sometime during the night; when I tested it this morning it crumbled quite easily. Thus, I have my first data point: under constant load and with the given sizes, weights, and degree of lift, an otherwise unstressed hardened block survived just under twenty days.

This suggests two subsequent trials, which will have to wait until we are settled once again. First I must replace the hardened block with a hardened rod of similar weight, under continual physical stress; and second, at Bertrand's excellent suggestion, another test in which the lifting block is present but not in fact lifting anything. I had considered that to be pointless, but Bertrand is right: Marc Frontenac's sky-sled failed after having been left idle and unused for some weeks. That leaves one of three possibilities. First, the sled may have been on the verge of failure when Marc put it away. Second, it may have been sufficiently near a warming block, or some other greedy object, that its hardened elements were consumed. Or third, the hardened members might be affected by the mere presence of the lifting and steering blocks, even if they are not in use. I find either of the first two possibilities to be most likely, but I must not discount the third, not given my current state of knowledge!

But that will have to wait for next week. In the meantime I have my preparations to make, including several that Trout will, I trust, never discover. Tomorrow I shall send an arrow to my Amelie. On Tuesday I shall dine with M. Suprenant and his family, and I shall leave with him a new receiving board and some arrows, so that we may communicate privately from the Farm wherever it turns out to be.

And on Wednesday I shall lunch with Jack, and I have determined to tell him all that had gone on and is still going on with Trout—although, of course, Trout has directed me to speak of his plans to no one. I am not pleased to be putting myself further into the man's power. He remains incurious as to my degree of progress, merely inquiring if all is going well, and my sense that he is playing some deeper game at my expense increases with each meeting.

How I wish Bois-de-Bas were closer to Mont-Havre! Using the arrows I can summon aid from Marc and the other townsfolk in quite a short time; but with the sky-chairs and wagons currently out-of-use it will take them days to come to me. Hence I must speak to Jack—for I am certain that neither he nor Lord Doncaster have any real notion of Trout's plans.

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Letters from Armorica- All My Trials (25 July 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I nearly suffered a stroke of apoplexy yesterday morning. I woke with a start and—but all things in their places.

At the beginning of the week I set up my first trial. As I do not have much space and cannot reasonably run multiple trials simultaneously, I decided on a design that should run its course as quickly as possible. Which is to say, I formed a small piece of coral wood into the strongest lifting block of its size that I could manage, and used my new balance to set it to offset ten pounds of weight. Truly it is fascinating sight: an ounce of wood floating on a string above one pan of the scale, as compared to the bulk of the metal weights in the other pan. And that little block is lifting 160 times its own weight.

Nearby I placed another block of coral wood, this one fully hardened. I have checking the second block several times a day for signs of crumbling. So far it remains in its hardened state.

I wonder: should I presume that a block's maximum lift is proportional to its weight or to its volume? I shall have to acquire two blocks of bronzewood, one the size of my coral wood block and one the same weight. And then I shall have to go lie down, for this mathematical kind of thinking makes my head spin. Perhaps I should have summoned Luc rather than Bertrand!

But I am grateful that Bertrand is now here. He is good company, for one thing; and after his years of friendship with Luc he is a good listener and sounding board. I have introduced him to the Suprenants (and I fear he will soon be as thick as thieves with certain of M. Suprenant's offspring), and he has proven adept at working with wood. I begin to understand why my father and the other masters of the guild in Yorke have little in the way of private practice, as I do in Bois-de-Bas, but do their work, as it were, industrially. It is too useful to have someone else provide both the materials for forming and the matrix into which they will be assembled. I should consider taking Bertrand on as another apprentice, but that I should be doing him a disservice: within the guild he could never be more than a kind of servant, for he has no talent for forming at all.

But yesterday morning, as I lay in bed, it occurred to me to wonder why the hardened block was still unaffected. Mind you, that was an absurd thing to wonder: it has been less than a week, and my work in Bois-de-Bas lasted for over a season before troubles set in. And I told myself so, and my thoughts drifted to the guild house itself, and its construction by the first members of the Confrerie des Thaumaturges to come to Armorica…and that's when I sat bolt upright. Had they used forming while building the hall? Is that why it was still in such excellent condition after so many years of neglect? Had the timbers, or the paneling, or, the heavens forfend, the windowsills been hardened or otherwise formed in a way that would throw off my experiments?

I leaped to my feet, dressed, and spent the rest of the day inspecting the Guild Hall from foundation to roof peak. And now I am pleased to say that, no, it owes its longevity to the materials used, not to the forming skills of my predecessors. My trial is safe.

This first trial is intended, of course, to determine how a hardened block will degrade in the presence of a greedy object when the hardened block is subjected to no effort at all. In the next trial I must subject to the hardened block to some kind of strain. I am not quite sure how to do that; I can hardly have Bertrand stand by it and bang it with a hammer at intervals for days on end. Or, rather, I could, but I should hate to have to listen to the banging, and once we have a larger space to work with and can run multiple trials simultaneously the labor involved would be prohibitive. I picture Bertrand running from one end of a field to the other, hour after hour, pausing every fifty feet or so to strike a wooden block with a hammer. I simply could not afford it: the lad eats enough as it is!

What if I were to use a hardened rod, and suspend weights from both ends? That would be a continual source of strain rather than an intermittent series of blows, as a hardened pot would receive while in use, but it would be easily measured!

Speaking of work space, Trout called on me today; he has found a suitable property for my work, so he says, and we may remove to it in two or three weeks once the arrangements are complete. He seems not at all worried about the delay; and I begin to wonder at his story about the pursuit of Le Maréchal and his men in Guyanão. If it is true, it would seem that he would need the fruits of my labor as soon as possible…but now that I am working for him he seems oddly content for me to take my time. Is he playing a deeper game?

Bah! I am grasping at straws. If they cannot catch les cochons, His Cumbrian Majesty's forces can certainly keep them bottled up in the jungle with little effort.

But then, why enlist me at all?

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photo credit: Homedust Black Claw Hammer on Brown Wooden Plank – Credit to http://homedust.com/ via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica- A Brief Respite (18 July 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Today I took a brief respite from my labors to attend divine services with the Suprenants, followed by a lovely Sunday dinner. It was life-saving, for I have been living at the Guild Hall and eating my own cooking—a skill I have never acquired, and for which I have no time! I wonder if Bertrand has any ability to cook. I wonder if Bertrand will be coming to help me. I found an arrow from Amelie awaiting me at the Suprenant's today, but it simply said that she understood my instructions and would attend to things in Bois-de-Bas. I take that as a good sign, but not as conclusive, for she will still have to deal with Bertrand's father.

I wonder if I can afford to hire a woman to come in and cook and clean the guild hall.

Mr. Trout thinks I am building models and perfecting my design, and in truth I have built a few models—the sort of thing I made when I first started thinking about flight last year—just so that there is something for him to see should he infiltrate the guildhall in my absence. I have also fashioned a hiding place for you, Dear Journal, of a sort only another former might notice. It wouldn't do for Trout or his agents to find you. I have also put a small amount of money and some papers in the hiding place beneath Master Grenadine's bed; if Trout goes looking he should find something, lest he keep looking!

But mostly I have been trying to work out plausible relationships between Greed and Generosity in formed objects: what Master Grenadine refers to as charité and envie. I have been re-reading him closely, trying to glean anything more that he has to say. But no, there is nothing. He got almost as far as Luc and I have in our observations, and he wrote them down in his highly poetic way; but beyond that he seems to have contented himself with idle speculation.

I wonder…perhaps there is nothing practical in his book because all of the practical applications are in his grimoire? They would be near the end, which I confess I have not read carefully. And, of course, I left his grimoire in Bois-de-Bas. I shall have to send another arrow to Amelie.

I spoke to M. Fournier yesterday, asking for books about mathematics. I should have done so a month ago, when I first thought of it. He had none, alas; as I believe I have noted before, his clientele purchases books to give the appearance of culture, not the appearance of learning. In better days, he told me, he might get me one from Toulouse in a matter of a few months. But it is not impossible, he told me, that there might be one among his acquaintances who is interested in such things, or who knows of such a person. I am to be patient.

In the meantime, I am pondering harmonie. Master Grenadine says that a thing exhibits harmonie if its formed parts exhibit charité and envie to the same degree, and describes harmonie as a blessed state much to be achieved. It is clear that he is speaking of exactly that state of balance between Greed and Generosity that I am seeking. And yet, how is one to know that two parts are in this state of balance without measurement? He doesn't say.

He goes on to wonder whether we might ever form a single thing that exhibits harmonie in and of itself. This is worth thinking on: would this be a hardened block that also warms, a thing formed in two distinct ways? An unusual thing to do, though I'm not sure why; and I don't know whether that would mean forming it in one way, and then, subsequently, in another. Or would it be something else, a new kind of forming altogether, where rather than aiming at a particular Greedy effect and also at a particular Generous effect, one aims at a single Harmonious effect?

I am not even sure that that last idea makes any sense! Indeed, I'm not sure that Grenadine distinguished between different kinds of Greedy or Generous effects.

In the meantime, I have at least managed to procure a balance and a set of weights, and a thermometer, by the simple expedient of telling Trout that I need them. They should arrive tomorrow; and then I can begin to get on with my trials.

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photo credit: National Library of Medicine – History of Medicine E Per Natura E Per Amor Sorelle via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica- Coercion (16 July 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It seems that His Majesty's Government has been intercepting my mail to Cumbria, perhaps for the whole time I have been here in Armorica. I now know that the sky-chair plans I sent to my father never reached him, and that I have my master's chain not through any change of heart on my father's part, nor because my aunt forced his hand by speaking with Master Netherington-Coates, but solely through the machinations of Trout and his ilk.

I know this because Trout told me at our meeting that the sky-chair was now a tightly-held secret of His Majesty's Government, that I was not to speak of it to anyone, and that His Majesty was calling on me to, as he put it, "extend and elaborate" my design for the use of the Cumbrian Royal Army.

According to Trout, if anything he says is to be believed, Le Maréchal has fled with 500 men to a benighted land called Guyanão, a place of swamps, giant trees, torrential rainfall, and no roads to speak of. Evidently they are living on the sloops and other small craft by which they fled.

The Cumbrians—I had written "Our troops," Dear Journal, but I have struck it out though it pains me to do so—the Cumbrians, I say, have had great difficulty finding the Provençese forces, for they have nothing suitable for scouting in such an environment. The ground is unfit for foot travel, and though the forest is relatively open under the canopy of the trees, a sloop is not easily maneuvered. Moreover, the place has long been in the possession of the Provençese, and some of the cochons with him are familiar with it. They have exhibited great skill at moving from tree to tree, the better to set up ambushes.

His Majesty, Trout tells, wants sky-chairs, or something like them: something small, maneuverable, capable of carrying one, two, or three men and their weapons: precisely the sort of things I was building and have stock-piled on L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau.

And yet how can I in good conscience build them, knowing what I now know? If the war here in Armorica had continued any longer, my people would have begun to fall out of the sky!

My one salvation at this time is that Trout is not omniscient. He knows that I dropped out of sight for a time during the war; he doesn't know where I was, and he doesn't know how successful I was. He thinks the plans I sent my father are a possible design, a speculation still to be confirmed: a ploy, in fact, to try to get back in my father's good graces, as if I had ever been in them in my entire life. A ploy, but a plausible one, and of sufficient potential value that I am ordered here to Mont-Havre to perfect it. I am grateful that he knows no more than that: for if he knew that I had already succeeded I am sure that I should have already been spirited away to some benighted place, there to labor for the Royal Navy until Trout should find it prudent to let me go.

I must determine how to balance greed and generosity in my designs, how to build robust sky-chairs, sleds, and wagons—for I will not send men like Jack to their deaths at my hands. If only I had more time! But I have no choice in the matter: for it seems that my mastery has not yet been registered with the Guild in Mont-Havre.

"It pleases His Majesty's Government that you should be considered Grand Master of the Guild here in Armorica, and so there will no trouble, no trouble at all, Master Tuppenny," so he told me. The phrase, "just so long as you cooperate," went delicately unsaid. If I balk, His Majesty's Government may choose to see me as an imposter, as a rogue former pretending to a rank he does not possess—and by guild law, all my property would then be forfeit to the Guild in Yorke. Amelie would be destitute—or worse, the region around Bois-de-Bas would rise against Yorke as they did against Toulouse, and I not there to help them.

Trout thinks it desirable that I be visible in Mont-Havre, meeting occasionally with my friends—distressingly, he knows all of their names—but it is clear to both of us that I cannot do the work he requires at the Guild Hall, not once I get to the stage of practical models. I have told him that I must have a secluded place, open to the sky, where I may make trials unseen. He proposed a building with a courtyard here in the city; but, I told him, how was I to determine maximum velocities in a space of small compass? I proposed a farm, secluded, yet close enough to Mont-Havre that I can make regular visits, and with fields broad enough that one can get up a good degree of speed without fear of crashing.

Truly, of course, I simply want the space! For I will need to greatly accelerate the program of research that Luc began, and I must have space between the individual trials. Until I have it, I can do little but stew whilst making a show of things.

O Lord, help me in this time of trial!

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