L’Hôtel d’Esprit, Toulouse, Provençe
7 November 1015
My dearest cousin Armand,
In my last I had escorted you safely to the grounds of L’Ecole du Sorciers and then abandoned you there for lack of space. I was sorry for it then, and feel worse about it now, for I fear I have been overtaken by events in comparison with which my progress in wizardry is of but little moment.
You are doubtless imagining plots, alarums and excursions, my dear cousin, and I suppose, with what you have told me of your time in Armorica, you are right to do so. No doubt your fertile mind is envisioning Provençese plots against Cumbria, and both Cumbrian and Provençese plots against the current Provençese government. The third of those visions, at least, is spot on, but not in any way secret; the government established after Le Maréchal’s defeat has no weight of tradition behind it, but little weight of arms (at least compared with its predecessor), and no moral authority whatsoever. Plotting to overthrow it and replace it with something better seems to be the national pastime at present, so Maximilian tells me, with the great question being whether to do so from within or without.
But such plots are but buds on a twig, or so I am given to understand, for the Deuxiême Republique de Provençe, as the government is currently styling itself, has not yet even determined what sort of government it should be, with some members of L’Estates-General even plumping for a return of the monarchy.
Doubtless one or another of such schemes, or one as yet unbudded, will flower and come to fruition in the fullness of time, without or without the shedding of blood; but to my good fortune, that time is not yet.
No, the events that have overtaken me are the events surrounding our removal to a new home closer to L’Ecole!. For we did speak with Dr. Laguerre, of whom all too little in a moment, and come to an agreement. L’Ecole has housing for students, of course, but it would not do for Maximilian to live there, he being a representative of the Cumbrian government, and of course it would never do for me to dwell separately from him. Dr. Laguerre, anticipating our needs, found for us rooms with a landlord who is friendly with L’Ecole, and now we are much engaged in procuring everything we shall need to live there on our own.
But more of that at a later time. I must speak of our meeting with Dr. Laguerre.
The school’s porter directed us to a small dwelling, almost a cottage, not far from the gates. Not all of the professors live at L’Ecole, but many do, I find; and of these most live in rooms in certain college buildings, but the most senior are provided with one or another of these small houses. Dr. Laguerre’s cottage is a lovely place, with a roof of moss-bedecked tile and flowers along its front, somehow both urban and country at the same time: it has a sense of ease and peace, and yet also a sense of being in the thick of things.
Maximilian waved me forward, and so I found myself striking the door with a heavy wrought iron knocker in the shape of a quill and ink bottle. I struck it twice, and then folded my hands before me and waited.
After but a few moments, for the cottage, if attractive, was not large, the door opened, to reveal a tall, slender lady of a certain age, graying but by no means bent, clad in a plain black dress. The cut was appealing, and the material by no means of the cheapest, but it was unadorned by any embroidery or color whatsoever. Her expression was neither welcoming nor forbidding.
“Good morning,” I began, meaning to continue with, “I am looking for Dr. Laguerre, with whom I have an appointment.” But the lady cut me off with a raised hand, not unkindly, but quite firmly.
“You will be Mme. Archer. Enter. Your companion may wait in the front room.”
Turning, she led us into a hall, and gestured without looking back at a door on the right. Maximilian smiled at me, taking it in good part, and vanished within. The lady led me further back to another door, which proved to be a library or study. There was a desk, tidy as any housekeeper could wish, with a chair behind it and two smaller chairs before it.
I was wondering whether to ask when Dr. Laguerre would arrive, for I was worrying about poor Maximilian, you see, when the lady waved me to one of the smaller seats—and then seated herself behind the desk!
“Oh, my!” I exclaimed. “You are Dr. Laguerre!”
Doubtless you will think me very slow, dear Armand, but remember this all happened in a moment.
Dr. Laguerre raised one steely-gray eyebrow. “Oui,” she said, simply. “I perceive that Dr. Tillotson has not told you everything you might wish to have known, n’est-ce pas? It is of all things what I should expect from him.”
I colored. “It is indeed so,” I said. “But I am sure he meant it to be a surprise. He has been so very good to us, you see.”
“C’est vrai,” she said, and then, “Explain to me, s’il vous plaît, the nature of a Langston Transform.”
I shall not bore you what followed, Armand. I explained the Langston Transform in terms both abstract and all too personal, and that led into a variety of other topics from my reading, many of which, I knew, I understood far too poorly for Dr. Laguerre’s liking.”
“Bon,” she said at last. “Your grasp of many things is weak, as who can be surprised, and your knowledge, with certain few exceptions, is quite unattached to anything of use. Whether you can succeed as a practitioner is utterly untested. And yet you have perseverance, and a cast of mind that is well-suited to matters ésotérique.” She nodded.
Without pausing she opened a drawer and removed a book and two slips of paper. Handing me the book, she said, “I shall expect you here every Tuesday and Thursday at two hours past noon. I expect you to master this book with all speed.”
The book was entitled Éléments de Sorcellerie. I gasped. “But Dr. Laguerre! I have not yet had the opportunity to remedy the defects in my command of Provençese!”
“That will give you cause to apply yourself,” she said calmly, handing the first of the slips of paper. “And every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at three hours before noon you will present yourself at this address. Mme. Poictesme will see to your defects.” She nodded decisively. “Bon. Now, you must go,” she said, handing me the second slip. “For Mme. Hanson is expecting you. She has rooms quite close by that will suit admirably for the pair of you.”
I rose, more than a little stunned, for the interview was clearly at an end.
“You may see yourself out,” she said. “And when you return on Thursday you need not knock, for you will find me in this room. At any other time, knock, but not at your appointed time.”
“Thank you, Dr. Laguerre,” I said, and saw myself out. Maximilian rose from an arm chair in the front room as I approached. His warm look turned to concern as he took in my countenance.
“Did it not go well?” he said.
I handed him the book, which he glanced at and tucked under his arm. “Ask me that when I have learned a little more Provençese.”
Oh, Armand, I cannot quite tell you how I felt in that moment. Excited, yes, terrified, yes, both eager for and dreading my first session with Mme. Poictesme the following day, and greatly fearing to disappoint Dr. Laguerre the day after!
But all of that shall have to wait, my dear.
Your overwhelmed cousin,