It’s been a tiresome week. Little Anne-Marie has been sleeping poorly all week, and keeping Amelie awake at all hours; and given the size of our quarters her fussiness is contagious. And yet the work goes on, and must be done, and done well. Today, however, is Sunday. We have been to chapel; we have had dinner with our neighbors in the mess hall (for it is now too cold to gather out of doors for a meal in any comfort); we have been to the baths, even if in shifts. And now the three of us are snug in our quarters and I have some time to reflect on the past few days.
I have spent most of the week working out the details of my new means of communication and make it viable for actual use. The answer, it turns out, is arrows—or at least something that looks like arrows. As Marc pointed out to me, a man carrying a bag of small pieces of wood is suspicious, but an archer carrying a quiver of arrows is simply an archer. And arrows have another advantage in the field.
First, take a length of log that is an inch or two longer than the shortest arrow your archers can comfortably use with their standard bows. Forming as you go, cut off the inch or two from one end; this is the “homing board”. Cut the remainder of the log lengthwise into arrow-like rods, and shape them appropriately, notching one end for a bow string. These are the seekers, all of which will share the single homing board. Attach a capsule to the pointy end of each seeker, into which a message can be put; or, simply wrap the message around the seeker and secure it in some way. In the latter case, the seeker can have a proper arrowhead.
Next, put the homing board at the top of a tall pole with good lines of sight. The homing ability will turn off when the seeker hits the homing board, so the board should probably be mounted over a basket. Ideally the board should be raised above the treetops, and so could easily be made part of a watch tower.
When you want to send a message to wherever the homing board is, write it out, attach it to a seeker, and launch the seeker into the air. If you are on the ground, you can use a bow to get the seeker into the air over the treetops; from the edge of our island nearest to Bois-de-Bas one can simply toss the seeker over the edge. It will fly to the homing board, not much like an arrow, indeed, where a watcher can retrieve it and open the message.
Bertrand’s lads can use the system to inform us here in the encampment about sightings as well, either by use of a bow or (for shorter distances) by means of a pre-surveyed line of sight from their watch posts to the homing board here on Le Blaireau. Position a small hoop at the far end to mark the spot, activate the seeker, and point it through the hoop. Voila!, as Amelie would say. But we have to be careful about using this latter method; we would not want a seeker to hit some poor soul on the trail.
In the meantime I have uncovered the mystery about Luc and Bertrand. As Luc’s master (for I drew up a formal contract of apprenticeship with Luc’s father) it is my responsibility to house and feed him and see to the rest of his upbringing, and so he has been given a small space adjacent to my quarters in which to sleep and keep his belongings, and he takes his meals with us. (According to tradition he should be sleeping in the workshop, but it is open to the Avenue on one side, and the Avenue is open to the night air at each end, and the nights are growing cold.) He has been diligent at doing his work, which to date has mostly consisted of sawing logs into rods, listening to my lectures, and asking questions so as to avoid going back to the logs.
But sometime he goes missing, quite unaccountably, usually early in the morning or late in the evening. I will pass by his space, and he will be gone. I have not pressed him, but I have kept a watchful eye; and several days ago, when I was unavoidably wakeful, I heard him creeping across the deck outside our room. I followed as quietly as I could.
He went straight to the mess hall, where he found Bertrand; and from the latter’s quiet welcome it was clear that this was no unusual meeting. I watched for a moment—was this a raid on the larder? For we are on a war footing, and food is strictly rationed. We have no farms here on the island, at least not yet, and by this time there is little game. Our food must come from below.
But no—neither made any move toward the galley or the stores. They appeared to be talking, no more. I waited another minute or two, then presented myself. It was almost amusing to watch the blood drain from their faces when the realized they had been found.
“Luc, return to your bed,” I said sternly. Bertrand made as if to rise as well, but I fixed him in his spot with a glance I learned at my father’s knee. When Luc had quite gone, I sat down across from Bertrand.
To my shock, he seemed to be fighting tears. For the sake of his pride I won’t detail the conversation that followed; but it seems that Bertrand and Luc have long had a partnership, since both were much younger. Bertrand has always been the biggest…and, so it seems, Luc has been the smartest. Bertrand has protected Luc, and Luc has provided Bertrand with the advice he needs to keep ahead of the other boys. Luc no longer needs Bertrand’s protection; he’s earned his place among the other boys long since. But Bertrand, it seems, still feels the need of Luc’s advice.
I suppose he might at that. In the last months he has been elevated from simply being the leading boy of the group to a kind of officer, directing the other boys in their duties. It may well be a daunting thing.
“Very well,” I said. “Can you trust Jean-Marc to keep order among the boys in the mess hall?” Bertrand said he could. “Well, then, you shall join Luc and my family for the morning and evening meals; and at that time you may consult with him…and with me. Every commander has a staff, after all. But there must be no more of this sneaking around at night. If you are to be alert for your duties, you must sleep when you can.”
And so it seems that I have acquired another apprentice, of sorts, not in the art of forming, but in the art of leading men.
I ask myself, frequently, how I got into this situation? I sometimes feel that my place here on the island, and in Bois-de-Bois more generally, is held up by nothing more substantial than sustained whimsy. And yet here I am: I tell a man—or a boy—to do something, and he does it, which I find quite unaccountable.