Dear Aunt Maggie,
Trusting that my cousin Jack is well, and presuming upon your good will, I've enclosed a letter for him. Please, of your love for me, send it onward to him wherever he may be.
Your loving nephew,
Why is it that soldiers are such pigs? Or perhaps you will tell me that it is only Provençese soldiers that are pigs, and that Cumbrian soldiers are fine, upstanding, courtly lads who would never dream of carving obscenities on the mantelpiece of a temporary billet. Indeed, I think you might very well tell me that; and yet you forget how very well I have known you from a child.
Cumbrian soldiers would have been an improvement, mind you. The rubbish heaped (and, in some cases, seeped) into the corners of the rooms of our little house would at least be Cumbrian rubbish, and my dear Amelie would be less likely to be offended by their foul words.
You may well blink in surprise! Yes, not only do I have a dear Amelie, but we are wed; and not only wed, but parents of a lovely little girl.
You needn't look like that, Jack. Your countenance betrays your evil soldier's mind. Amelie and were married last December, and little Anne-Marie was born in September. Shame on you, Jack!
But yes, I find I am "settled down" here in Armorica. Not in Mont-Havre, however. On receiving your last letter I found myself quite unwilling to assist le Maréchal's forces in anything like an official capacity, and finding Mont-Havre uncongenial to those aims I journeyed out to Bois-de-Bas, the small village where my friends Marc and Elise Frontenac had settled.
It was a bold stroke, and as a way of avoiding the war, a futile one; for the war came to Bois-de-Bas in due course. Amelie and I were forced to leave our home (the village shop, in point of fact) and seek shelter elsewhere. Now we have returned to our village and are trying to put the pieces back together again, higgery-hoggery; and I suppose that restoring the woodwork will provide me with something to do once the snows come, which may be any time now. The mantelpiece itself can be replaced, but the timbers cannot be. At least the timbers are bronzewood, so the marks made on them by the Provençese cochons are as shallow as their wit.
The new mantelpiece will also be bronzewood, if I have anything to say about it; and indeed I think I shall take the time to harden it. That will learn them, should we ever have any trouble with soldiers again. May their knives break on it!
Yes, Jack, it is true, your esteemed cousin is now a humble shopkeeper. Amelie's father, M. Fabré, was the village shopkeeper—which, by the by, is a much grander title than you might think. The village shop is where everyone buys whatever they need that is not made locally, so it is as much a warehouse and a transshipment point as a shop. But he was unwell, and had only a daughter to follow after him, and—
You needn't look at me like I'm some kind of fortune hunter, Jack. If you must know, I was maneuvered into this marriage by my friends Marc and Elise—and, indeed, by the whole rest of the village, I suppose—and I am grateful. Amelie suits me very well, and should you have the chance to meet her you'll wish she had a sister, Jack, indeed you will. Alas, for you! But truly, you could do worse, when your time is up, than to take your pay and come here.
But there is more. Not only am I a humble village shopkeeper, I am now a master in the Armorica Former's Guild—which, at present, consists only of me, myself, and I. Yes, you may well stare. The guild here was founded by masters from the guild in Toulouse nigh on thirty years ago, and after experiencing conditions here in the early days of the colony, the survivor went home, leaving me in possession as it were. I have quite risen in the world!
Jack, I am hoping this finds you well; and if well, then, of course, still about His Majesty's business. In that case you shall certainly not tell me where you are or what you have been doing. But please, do write me, if you can, and let me know that you are well. I have been much concerned.