Letters from Armorica- Inside the Guild Hall (16 May 35 AF)

First Letter

Ma chere Amelie,

I have such news! So much news, that I fear I might burst from it.

Yesterday, I must confess, I was disappointed. I met M. Suprenant's locksmith, a rotund fellow who rejoices in the name of Bertrand D'Aubigny, in front of the guild house at the appointed hour, and there waited while he effected an entry. It took him some little time, for as he told me, the lock was of an old and difficult style, and one rarely seen in Mont-Havre for it had been brought from Provençe.

"It is the sort of lock you might find on the front door of a bank in Toulouse, I think, M. Tuppenny. They wanted no one to get in, and I am sure no one has!"

But in time he succeeded, and beaming with pleasure threw the door wide that I might enter. I left him installing a new lock, and passed within.

There is good news and there is bad, cherie. The good news is that the guild hall is stoutly built of bronzewood, in and out, with bronzewood shingles on the roof. It looks rustic now, but it must have been the costliest building in Mont-Havre at the time it was built—or would have been, if they had contracted out all of the work. Bronzewood shingles, for sooth! But I must believe that the guild members formed at least the shingles themselves, and quite possibly many of the other members, for for bronzewood, though tough, sturdy, and durable, is notoriously difficult to shape. Even here in Mont-Havre it is generally used only for timbers.

As a result, I am pleased to say, there have been no leaks. The roof is sound; and the unnamed journeyman who returned to Toulouse took the time to shut the place up properly, closing and latching all of the stout bronzewood shutters, so that even the window glass has been preserved.

It is not large—for a guild hall in Yorke, or, I imagine, in Toulouse. But it is much larger than the few who built it were in need of; perhaps the Guild was expecting to build a respectable community of formers here in Mont-Havre, and moreover planned to provide at least some of them with living space. No one lives in the Guild Hall in Yorke, though there are a few rooms for visiting formers; but this structure includes three small apartments, along with a meeting hall and communal kitchen on the ground floor. It is plain, mind you—beyond the extravagance of bronzewood paneling, there is no decoration, no marble, no carving. But I think we could be quite comfortable here, should we ever elect to visit or dwell in Mont-Havre as a family; and at the very least it will give me a place to stay when I visit on my own.

The bad news—O, the bad news! Yes, the weather has been kept out. But the dust! And the mice, what remains of them. The survivor who returned to Provençe left everything here but his own personal effects; there are the remains of clothing in one of the apartments, as well as the remains of bedding and other linens, much chewed by small teeth and formed into nests. At least there are no living mice, that I can see; I suppose they abandoned the place when the food left in the pantry was all gone or spoiled beyond even their interest. It can be cleaned, of course, but I believe I shall have to find a cat.

And then there is the worst news. I looked for some kind of library of books on thaumaturgie—without much hope, mind you, for formers are secretive by nature, and certainly there is no such library at the hall in Yorke. But I thought I might at least find the grimoire of one of the deceased formers, abandoned when the hall was closed up. I had no such luck, at least during my cursory inspection. But of course the journeyman would naturally take his master's grimoire with him, at least if he had any sense.

By this time the locksmith had replaced the locks on the front and back doors of the hall; I paid him his fee, he gave me the keys, and we saluted one another. Then I locked it up and went to arrange for a man known to M. Suprenant to come and clean the place out.

I dined with M. Suprenant and his family that evening, and heard many stories of the early days of Mont-Havre that I will share with you when I return home; this morning I unlocked the Guild Hall for M. Armagnac and his workmen; and then at noon I dined with Cousin Jack. We talked of many things, as you can imagine, but in particular he told me that he had spoken of me to Lord Doncaster; and that His Majesty's Government was in favor of my possession of the Guild House though His Lordship saw no need to intervene in any way at this time. "Your cousin appears to have matters well in hand," so he said to Jack.

After the luncheon I returned to the Guild Hall to check on the progress being made by the cleaners, and as I approached the front door I was hailed by a voice behind me. I turned to see an old woman standing in the doorway across the avenue. I crossed the street and tipped my hat—for I confess, cherie, that I have bought a hat, so as to look the part of guild master. I seem to feel my father looking over my shoulder every moment that I wear it; it is not a calming feeling. I believe I shall leave it here in the hall, for it is certain I shan't need it in Bois-de-Bas.

"You are from the Confrerie?" she asked me with the creaking accent of one who has dwelt in Mont-Havre from the earliest days. "The Confrerie has returned to Mont-Havre?"

"Oui, madame," I said. "I am originally from Yorke, but Armorica is now my home; and by guild law I am the Guild Master."

"I saw you yesterday and thought you must be, n'est-ce pas? There is a thing I have for you."

She invited me into her front room, and I waited there for a quarter of an hour or so listening to her soft muttering from another room, until she returned with a small oblong object wrapped in a cloth. She handed it to me, and said, "I have been waiting twenty years to return this to one of the Confrerie. It was brought to me two days after that worthless journeyman ran off to Toulouse, and I have kept it safe all of this time."

I was seized with excitement, as you can well imagine. As I began to remove the wrapping, she continued, "Master Grenadin was killed by le grand-blaireau, oui? They told me this was found some distance from his body."

It was, of course, a book: the leather cover stained and dirty, and some of the pages torn; it must have been ripped from the pocket of the unfortunate master's coat by le blaireau's claws and sent flying. A quick glance verified that it was, indeed, a grimoire.

I thanked her gravely—I wanted to pick her up, buss her on both cheeks, and twirl her around, but as she was quite frail I chose to restrain myself until I return to Bois-de-Bas and can do the thing properly.

And then—O, and then! I returned to the Guild Hall, where one of M. Armagnac's men, a young fellow named Jean-Marcel, was waiting for me.

"We have found something, M. Tuppenny." He led me up the stairs to the first apartment on the right. "We moved the bed frame as we were cleaning, and, well, it is as you see." There on the floor, where it had been hidden by the ruin of the bedding, was a small trap door, perhaps a foot square. "We have not opened it."

I made haste to do so; and there, in a small cubby between the joists, I found a ring, a small sum of money in coins, and two thin books. I removed it all, pocketed the ring, shared the coins between Jean-Marcel and the other two workmen, and made my way to M. Bardot's, chortling softly as I went.

I have now had time to make a brief inspection of the two books, and to my joy they are not grimoires. The chaotic nature of your typical grimoire is impossible to mistake, but these, though written in Master Grenadin's hand, are no compendium of the notes, successes, and failures of a line of master formers. On the first page of the first of the pair is the title Sur la Thaumaturgie; and what follows is the master's attempt to set out a complete discussion of the length and breadth of his reflections on the nature and theory of forming. This cannot have been popular with the Guild in Toulouse—indeed, I begin to wonder whether Grenadin was sent to Armorica "under a cloud", as we would say in Cumbria, as a kind of exile. Or perhaps he came here of his choosing, to have a quiet place away from the Guild where he could work on his book in safety. Either would account for the journeyman's quick return to Toulouse on his death.

I have only begun to read them, cherie, for Grenadin's hand is difficult and my Provençese is barely adequate to the task. But I am more delighted that I can well say!

Please embrace my lovely Anne-Marie for me. I expect I shall be here another week, getting the Guild Hall into some kind of order, and then I shall return to Bois-de-Bas.

Your loving husband,


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photo credit: wuestenigel Lion door knocker via photopin (license)

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