Letters from Armorica- The Sleeping Sloops (4 April 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

How I wish I had another master former to discuss my research with—one trained by a different master, and preferably from a different guild house altogether. I have learned much from Master Grenadine’s books and more than I had realized from my father; but I cannot talk matters over with a book, and I have never at any time been able to discuss anything with my father. Luc is a great help and comfort to me, a lad of surprising insights, but of course he knows less of the history and development of our craft than I do.

Because I have not the aid of another master, I must take unusual risks. And this week I build for myself a new sky-chair, along different lines than before. For my first practical sky-chairs I hardened as much of the vehicle as I could, all but the lifting blocks; in later cases I hardened almost nothing, having not the time for it. But I have come to believe that both methods are prone to catastrophe: if everything is hardened, the hardened elements bear so little tension they provide no significanteffort to the greedy lifting blocks; and if nothing is, the lifting blocks will draw effort willy-nilly from whatever is around, to the detriment of any generous formed objects in the vicinity.

The new chair has been designed so that only certain load-bearing elements are hardened—so that whether the chair is flying or on the ground, it is “hanging”, as it were, from the hardened elements, and so putting tension on them. At all times, then, effort is produced; and if my theories and calculations are correct, this effort will sustain the lifting elements.

I am morally certain that this tactic works in principle; but my mathematics are as yet insufficient to prove that my new chair will be stable in the long-term. And yet, the sky-ships that ply the Void between the lands use lifting and motive blocks, as I well recall, even though they do not rely on the motive blocks for any great degree of propulsion, but on their sails. The motive blocks are only for maneuvering slowly in the harbor.

It is a proven design, doubtless achieved by trial and error over many years a very long time ago; and doubtless far more conservative than it needs to be. But it would provide a useful data point to me, should I be able to examine such a ship, to see just where the hardened elements of the ship are, and how they are held in tension, and how strong the lifting and motive elements are.

And of course, we left two sky-sloops suspended over the river on L’Isle de Grand-Blaireau, ready for me to investigate, if only I could reach them. Hence the new sky-chair, and hence the adventure.

I took Jacques Pôquerie with me, for his strength (and for his company, truth be told), and we made the journey north and up over the lake to the sky-island. (And how, now I come to think of it, does the sky-island remain floating in the sky? Is it by the same principle as my sky-chair, or something wholly other?)

The camp was much as we had left it, with the two sloops hanging solidly in place just as we’d left them. Some distance away I found the terrifying remains of the sky-chairs, sleds, and wagons we’d cached on the island. It was worse than I had feared: every hardened element had decayed to powder, and the place was a shambles.

Some of the sky-wagons, the ones I had had no time to “fortify”, looked to be in good working order, and would no doubt be quite safe to use…but would work irretrievable harm on any hardened objects placed close by.

Leaving the sloops to the side for the time being, Jacques and I busied ourselves by retrieving the lifting elements from amid the decay and placing them to one side. They are all in good shape and might conceivably be reused, though I dare not bring them all back to Bois-de-Bas en masse. The remaining wagons I may be able to do more work on, one of these days, judiciously hardening this and that to render them “stable,” so that they may be used without harm to the formed objects around them.

And then I spent a happy few hours exploring the sloops, identifying the various formed elements, and taking all manner of measurements. My memories were correct; the sloop as a whole hangs from a hardened super-structure incorporated into the railing and gunwhales around the perimeter of the deck, and is supported by its hardened keel; and the hardened elements are themselves upheld by the lifting elements, which are quite good-sized and always in operation. The motive blocks are quite small and localized near the stern of the sloop, just forward of the rudder.

I found no evidence of decay in any of the hardened elements, which are undeniably under great tension. Alas, I have no way of measuring it: I have no means of estimating the weight of the elements that depend upon them. The information must be available somewhere, though possibly not in Mont-Havre. But if I can acquire it, and if I can finish my trials and my mathematical excursions, I have every reason to think that not only can I build sky-chairs and wagons that are safe, I will also be able to design sky-ships that are lighter than those currently in use—and much less dependent on their sails.

It is time, I think, to make a trip to see M. Fournier in Mont-Havre, and Cousin Jack as well.

Next Letter

Photo credit: Tanner Mardis on Unsplash

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