Letters from Armorica: Rivalry (13 May 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

11 March 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

I was able to go by sleigh to the library in Stourton this week, for the air was clear, the sun bright and cold, and the snow deep and even. I wrapped up in fur rugs with hot bricks at my feet, and had Brother Edward’s solid bulk at my side, and so I was warm enough, at least for the ride there; on the ride home I was heated, I am afraid, by my anger and frustration.

But I get ahead of myself. There was no market in Stourton this week, due to the depth of the snow, nor any promenading to speak of; but the shops were busy enough and the library was not untenanted. Now, I like a browse in a library as much as anyone; but as I was eagerly in pursuit of my quarry I went straight to business, which is to say straight to the librarian.

Mr. Cobb is a middle-aged man with spectacles and thin hair, a pronounced nose, and no meat on his bones to speak of, who sits at a desk in the central room of the library. On this day he was bundled up so that he looked twice his normal size—for the library is by no means well-heated. I asked where I might find anything on wizardry, and he looked at me with some surprise.

“In that room, miss,” he said, indicating the proper doorway with a jerk of his head. “You’ll find the little we have in the middle case on the right wall, on the top shelf.”

“You seem surprised,” I said. “Ought a young lady not be inquiring into such things?”

“Not at all, miss,” he said. “But no one’s ever asked for them before this afternoon, and, well, as you’ll see…”

“Someone is there before me?”

He nodded. I sighed for who could it be but Lieutenant Archer? Not that I shouldn’t wish to see him, but I had Edward by me. “And now,” I thought to myself, “Edward will think that I have been making assignations, when I have done no such thing.”

Imagine my surprise, then, when I entered the indicated room and saw my dear Jane Willoughby on her tiptoes before the relevant bookcase, scanning the titles on the upper shelf!

Of course, I said nothing about my quarry, but only, “Why, Jane, I am fortunate, I find! I did not expect to see you today.”

She smiled at me with a tinge of embarrassment, and said, “Why, Amelia, how good to see you. Yes, it has been quite dull at Stourness this past fortnight and so I am looking for something new to read.”

Edward had been by me when I spoke with the librarian, of course, and and in his usual style he put his outsized foot in the middle of it.

“Have you also conceived an interest in things magical, Miss Willoughby?” he asked, in his most gallant style—by which I learned that Brother Edward was beginning to take an interest in dear Jane. At any normal time I should be glad of it, for a closer acquaintance could do nothing but improve Edward’s understanding, and I have grown quite fond of Jane; but now, well.

“Oh, Mr. Montjoy,” she said. “Are you also interested in the wizardly arts?”

“Not I, indeed,” he said, “but my sister has been combing the library at The Elms for that very thing.”

At that, Jane shot me a look I had not seen from her before: pointed, dark, the look of a woman at her rival. “Has she,” she said, lightly enough in all truth, for her manners are exquisite, but I could tell her emotions were quite otherwise.

“Why, yes,” said my idiot brother. “I really cannot account for it; perhaps it is something in the air here in Wickshire, for I am sure Amelia never displayed any interest in the subject in Yorke.”

“I am sure it is no surprise,” she said, with another dark look at me. “In weather like this, what else is one to do? One cannot be knitting all the day long.” By which, of course, she meant that I should tend to my own knitting and leave her intended beau alone.

I felt I should die, for it was truly unfair. My interest in wizardry is purely one of curiosity and a desire for diversion! Also, I had thought that I alone was aware of the good lieutenant’s interests in that direction, for I had not passed them along to her.

It was a fraught situation, my dear Armand, and I was trying to determine how best to spread oil on the waters when a voice said, “Miss Montjoy, Miss Willoughby, how pleasant to meet you both here.”

It was Lieutenant Archer, of course. Edward bristled, and the temperature dropped several degrees as Jane realized that the lieutenant had spoken to me _first_—again, unfair, as I was merely standing closer to the door.

But she rallied quickly. “A good day to you, lieutenant,” she said. “Would you please lend me a hand?” And she indicated a book on the top-shelf.

“Of course,” he said, causing Edward to bristle on his own behalf this time, rather than on mine. The lieutenant took down the indicated volume, a thick one bound in red leather, and started in surprise. “Leicester’s Principles of Wizardry,” he exclaimed, and I perceived that it was the very book he had himself been seeking. “I fear you shall find this too advanced,” he said, and looking along the shelf he took down and handed her another, much slimmer, volume. “I should start here, if I were you. This is Murgatroyd’s The Wizardly Arts. Read it, and if you find you are still interested I shall suggest another.”

“You have my gratitude, Lieutenant,” she said, and glancing sidewise at me took his arm, and the two of them went off to see Mr. Cobb, taking both volumes with them. Edward watched them go with thunder in the line of his brow while I pointedly turned my back on them and approached the shelf.

There was little enough left to choose from. There was a volume entitled The Mathematics of Magic, and another entitled Arcane Geometry by someone named Hopsgood. I took down the latter, thinking, “At least it is likely to have pictures.” Then I had to stand by, seething, while Edward looked for a book on scientific farming; for he and Edward Hargreaves have become quite friendly.

The lieutenant and Miss Willoughby were both gone when we approached the desk; and I am proud that my own brow was unruffled and my demeanor calm as Mr. Cobb stamped my book, for he gave me a knowing look, and I could tell that it would soon be all around the district that Miss Willoughby and Miss Montjoy were competing for the attentions of Lieutenant Archer of the 2nd Hussars.

We returned home, and though I have glanced at the first pages of my acquisition I have been quite unable to give it any attention; for my heart is sore, and Edward has, of course, been “unable to remain silent” about how impossible it would be for me to make a match with a poor lieutenant. I have said nothing, remaining silent; while he, of course, has remained silent himself about his own dismay at the lieutenant’s obvious interest in Miss Willoughby. Probably he imagines that no one else is aware of it.

Your discommoded cousin,


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photo credit: Martin Lopatka compass study 1 via photopin (license)

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