17 Rue Thomas, Toulouse, Provençe
28 November 1015
My dearest cousin Armand,
I have the most awful news, news you will scarcely be able to credit—except that you will, because you will surely have heard of it yourself before you ever begin to catch up with my letters. I do hope that is soon!
But just in case, just in the event that in some calm and forgiving world you should have arrived in Yorke and before ever you returned to your own home made your placid way to Madrigal Court to see my dear Mama, only to find her out of the house, and so have settled in the drawing room or the library with your mail, which some servant will have handed to you, to read and wait for her, blissfully unaware—
Well, but I can put it off only so long.
Armand, I must baldly tell you that your father has had to be confined, for there was a fracas at the Guild Hall. A fracas caused, and instigated, and determined upon, and driven by your own male parent.
As you may not know, depending on which of my letters you have seen, your father is no longer grandmaster of the Former’s Guild, having been quietly replaced some time ago, by a vote of the guild, with Grandmaster Netherington-Coates. His rages, his mad rants about persecution, his bizarre flights of fancy about unnamed and despicable and wholly imaginary enemies, all of these rendered him incapable to do his duty. Ever mindful, as he was, of the prestige and reputation of the Guild, the members have done what was necessary to preserve them.
But his bodily strength is as it ever was; and he will not be told, Armand. Mother tells me that nothing that anyone says to him sticks in his head. At best he hears part of it, and it joins the morass of mistakes and illogic that seem to drive him now.
And yet, on first meeting he can be charming still, so I’m told, the bluff man of affairs, resolute on his duty. It is only after a time of conversation that an outsider would realize that something is—off.
For the sake of peace, for the members of the guild (barring yourself) have always esteemed him for his abilities if not his temper, and since they could not prevent him without having him restrained, he has been allowed to retain the use of the grandmaster’s chamber in the Guild Hall. He goes there each day, and sits at his desk, and members of the guild come and visit him and try to keep him calm; while all the while all of the real business is being handled by his successor in quite another part of the building.
This has been the way of things for some weeks; but today I had the latest in a letter from my dear Mama.
Some days ago your father took it into his head to go wandering about the building. They give him make-work to do, you know—details of contracts for him to review, contracts that have already been signed or rejected—just to keep him busy, but Grandmaster Netherington-Coates told your mother that your father has been having increasing difficulty in making sense of them; and it is thought that he left his desk in a fit of boredom and frustration.
He found a message boy in a corridor he never would have entered under normal circumstances, a message boy carrying what was clearly a document to be signed by the Grandmaster of the Guild—a sight he has, after all, seen countless times—and said, “Here, boy, give me that,” in such a forbidding voice that the lad was quite terrified.
“But I cannot, sir,” he said. “It’s for the Grandmaster.”
And with that, I am afraid, the fat hit the fire.
Grandmaster Netherington-Coates came at a run when he heard the noise. He found your father standing over the boy, shouting and berating him in a terrible way, having knocked him to the floor with a mighty blow. Netherington-Coates attempted to calm him, and was physically attacked in turn; and in the end it took four younger members of the guild and two servants to restrain him, and the poor Grandmaster received a broken arm.
It is fortunate that this occurred at the Guild Hall, for under guild law it can remain a guild matter; there is no reason for the guild to bring it to the attention of His Majesty’s courts. The official story is that the Grandmaster slipped and fell down a flight of stairs, breaking his arm; and publicly nothing has been said about your father at all.
For the time being he remains in confinement at the Guild Hall, watched by three stout journeymen; and I am informed that he spends his time cursing those who have stolen his pride and his position (for of course that particular detail chose to stick in his head) and scheming increasingly outlandish schemes to regain it.
The silver lining is that your mother is now safe from his rages; and Mama and Papa have had her come to stay with them for a time, for her own rest and relief; for she has been quite shaken by the events of the last months.
I do not know when you will read this, Armand, but I hope it is soon; and from my bed-sit here in Toulouse I am counting the days until I hear that you have arrived in Yorke to make yourself master in your own house.
Your loving cousin,