Letters from Armorica: The Archers (5 October 37 AF)

Armand’s First Letter. Amelia’s First Letter.

Achin Court, Nexing Cross, Nexinghamshire
29 August 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

Yes, I have gone into transports once more! Of delight, predominantly, for I am reunited with my Maximilian; and of space, for as you can see by my superscript I am at the Archer family home in the west of Cumbria. But also of bemusement, for I find that Maximilian is by no means a typical member of his family.

Maximilian is a serious-minded man, as I am sure you have discovered from my letters, though possessed of a dry wit. His family are—how shall I put this—less so, in both distinctions. I do not mean to give you the wrong impression, Armand; I do not mean to say that they are not possessed of wit; but it is by no means a dry wit.

I shall try to explain.

The Archers are an old family here in the west country. The founder of the family, a yeoman named Hugh, was a commander of longbowman during a prolonged series of wars with Provençe many centuries ago. He was wounded in one of his lower limbs while his troop was preventing His Majesty’s position from being overrun; and in gratitude and for his valor on the battlefield, Aelfward II raised him to the baronetcy, one of the few among the longbowmen to be so honored. He returned to Nexinghamshire, weighted down with the His Majesty’s largesse, and purchased the estate on which his descendants still reside.

Now this Sir Hugh was a cheery fellow, and it pleased him to name his home “Achin Court,” because, he said, of the way his leg ached in cold weather. “‘Tis the getting of that wound that brought us all we have,” he was wont to say, “an’ it be but proper gratitude to acknowledge it.” This, I gather, was usually said with a broad smile and the slosh of a pint, for Sir Hugh was not one to give himself airs. But still—”Achin Court”. I ask you, Armand!

The family has grown more respectable with the centuries, but the familial sense of humor has not notably changed—not, at least, as regards Sir Alexander and Maximilian’s brother Octavian. They are big bluff country gentlemen, red-faced and stout, and I may honestly say that this is one house in which the affair of That Man and the duck pond has done me nothing but good. They have reverted to it on numerous occasions, with much happy laughter, as I am introduced to each member of their local acquaintance.

When I pushed That Man into the duck pond I was moved by great provocation and anguish of spirit, Armand; it was not representative of my character. But the folk in Nexinghamshire now regard me as a petite Amazon, one not to be crossed for fear of dunking! They do not think less of me for it, mind you; rather, Maximilian assures me that my new reputation will do me nothing but good in their eyes, for they have no respect for “blushing little milksops.”

He has explained his family’s manner to me this way: it is the practice in the west country to make light of serious things without in fact taking them at all lightly.

“Strong feelings lead to strong actions,” he said, “and strong actions can lead to unwanted consequences. People here prefer to handle them with tongs, as it were.”

In short, it is his father’s way of making plain that he quite understands the enormity of That Man’s actions, and that a good ducking was a just and well-deserved penalty—”though perhaps understated.”

“Understated?”

“Oh, yes. To the western mind it would have been utterly reasonable for your brother to have called him out. But I must tell you that the humiliation of a public ducking is very much to their taste, even if it is less than the scoundrel deserved.”

I tried to explain some of this to dear Papa. He patted my hand, for we were out walking, and told me not to worry about it. “I am sorry your heart was broken,” he said, “but it truly has been the making of you. Last year you were just one more young lady, flitting about the ballrooms of Yorke and concerned only about gowns and gossip—you would have been no fitting bride for your Maximilian. As it is, I am prouder than I can express.”

So that is all very well, Armand. But it is wearisome! I begin to feel that I might be called upon to rout a company of Provençese knight-errants at the drop of a bustle, armed only with my wits and a hatpin. Still, it means that they approve of me, and are inclined to be fond of me, and that is worth any amount of bonhomie.

Maximilian resembles his mother, I find. Lady Archer is an outwardly serious woman, much quieter than her husband: a spine of steel in a velvet gown. I have been much with her these past days, and found that behind her serious demeanor she has a way of uttering quiet little asides that are so outrageous I am hard put to it not to lose countenance. I find myself liking her very much, which is in no way surprising, for it is just what I like about her son.

We shall remain here in Nexinghamshire until after the ball, which is to be the week after next; for these things take time to arrange. After that comes the wedding, and after that? I cannot say, for all Maximilian will say is that he has “plans.”

Your surprisingly formidable cousin,

Amelia

Next letter

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Photo by Camerauthor Photosandstories on Unsplash

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