Letters from Armorica- Antiquities (16 September 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It is good to be back in my home, to be able to work without worry, and to attend to Luc's instruction as I ought. He has been plaguing me, in his quiet way, for tales of the Former's Guild, how it began and came to be, and who the first former was; and due to my cares and my travels I have been unable to oblige him.

Yesterday evening, after the customers and the old men had gone home, the two of us settled down for a chat in my workshop. We often do this in the early evening, when I can make time; and in the workshop rather than the parlor, for deep discussions of forming are tedious for the uninitiated. Amelie is the best of wives, and so I try not to weary her ears with such things; and when I come to the parlor after and sit with Amelie and the girls, why, we speak of other things.

I say the two of us, but it is really the three of us, for Jacques-le-Souris often stays in his place on the settee at the front of the workshop, smoking his pipe—more, I think, because Madame Truc dislikes the aroma than because of interest on his part. And I suppose it is now the four of us, for now Bastien is there as well. He—or Amelie—has arranged things so that I am under his eye whenever he is not otherwise engaged. There is a stool against the wall of the workshop that wasn't there a month ago, and when he has no other duties and I am in the workshop, he is on his stool. Somehow (I don't know how he does it, given his size) he even manages managing not to loom.

It's of a piece with how smoothly he has entered our lives. He is always quiet, always present, does whatever we ask efficiently but without hurry, and (except when he is engaged in a task) never in the way. And so, since I am in the workshop, he is also in the workshop. I do not know how Amelie found someone who would be so devoted to my safety. In theory he beds down on a pallet in the main shop; but I should not be surprised to find him asleep outside the door of our bedroom, like a Cumbrian valet of my grandfather's era.

Last night our topic was the first formers and the earliest days of the Former's Guild. Alas, I had little to tell him.

"I was trained by my father, you understand, and my father has never been interested in such things," I said. "My father has only ever been interested in enlarging his prestige in the future. But even if he had been, I doubt I would know much more."

"Pourquoi, maître?" said Luc.

"You've just said it yourself: 'maître, master'. We formers are a close-lipped crew, Luc. A master accumulates forming recipes in his grimoire, and he passes them down to his apprentices—but not to other masters, not without payment or great need—though he might sneak a look at another master's book given a chance. And we are usually concerned more with what we can do than what we can know." I smiled at him. "You mustn't take me as a typical example, you know. You have helped me pursue my investigations; but the only other former I am aware of who went in for that was the late Master Grenadine, and he had to come here to Armorica to do it."

Luc pursed his lips. "But you must know something of these things, maître?" Bastien sat his stool in the growing dimness, a dark mass on the edge of my vision.

"A little," I said. "I was told as a boy that there have been formers, of a sort, since the days of antiquity, long before there was anything resembling the Former's Guild. Indeed, that was the only interest my father had in the subject: that they lived in the days before the Guild, and therefore they were mostly of low estate, leading lives that were short and uncomfortable. Little better than tinkers, he called them. I heard him say that frequently, any time I showed impatience with his teaching or the guild rules. 'Do you want to be a tinker, Armand? Is that what you want? It's the Guild that preserves us, and don't you forget it!'" I aped his deep, raspy voice, and Luc giggled. "And then he'd mention the name of some fellow or other who was more than usually skilled and grew wealthy in the service of some lord; and then perished because he didn't have the protection of the guild, and his grimoire was lost to the ages because of the fools around him."

Luc frowned in concentration, his face golden in the light of the lantern.

"But your grimoire, maître: the first pages are the oldest, non?"

"And so they should tell me something of my master's master's master's master, you think?"

"Oui, maître."

I shrugged. "It's a good thought, Luc, but you've read them for yourself. Or, at least, you've copied them; you might go back and take another look." He nodded. "Now, it's true that in the normal course of events the apprentice copies his master's grimoire word for word. If that were all there was to it we might learn many things from examining the earliest entries.

"But those apprentices grow up to be masters. Some of them learn more about the older recipes and need to revise them, and some grow tired of reading archaic language; and so some of them—though not my father—will make a new copy for themselves in after years. Some might even take the time to put the recipes in some kind of order. And if they hand their revisions down to some, or if there is time for an apprentice to copy them, their work might get handed down. If you look carefully, you'll see that the recipes in the first part of my grimoire are organized in related groups. That was my great-grandfather's work, I believe. My grandfather added many new recipes, and my father passed them along to me. The only new recipes he has added have been payment for political favors." I waved a hand. "Maybe I'll do as my great-grandfather did someday. In fact, I suppose what I should do is work through the whole grimoire and describe how my new equations apply to each recipe." I stared at the lamp for a time, frowning. "That will be a great deal of work. Perhaps, instead, I will write a book about my equations, and let you update the grimoire in your turn."

Luc sat up straight. "Oui, maître. I surely will."

He will, too, unless I miss my guess.

Next letter


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