Letters from Armorica: Conspiracies (6 December 1015)

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

13 Norwich Street, Yorke, Cumbria
6 December 1015

My dear cousin Amelia,

Oh what a tangle I have fallen into!

You should be properly grateful, Amelia, that you are not my personal journal, for it has had to bear the brunt of my anger and distress each night after each tedious and maddening day. You, on the other hand, are receiving my reflections after I have had time to cool down—very slightly. For my part I am grateful that I need not address separate letters to my dear wife as I go through the stages of this farce, for in the course of things I should bring them home with me, and instead I shall simply read her the events from my journal as they occurred.

On the morning of the 4th, as projected, I went to the Guild Hall to see my father. Grandmaster Netherington-Coates greeted me warmly, as one grandmaster to another, which was an unexpected comfort. I have known him for this past age, of course, ever since I was a boy, but we had never truly been on speaking terms before. He is much my elder in the guild, and as Father viewed him as a rival I never studied with him or had occasion to do more than bow respectfully as he passed.

“We should speak before you see him,” he said. He took me aside into his old chamber, saying, “I shall certainly remove into the grandmaster’s chambers in due time, as Burlington is no longer making use of them, but ask me for anything but time! It is not only your mother’s household that is in a state.”

He eyed me ruefully, though not unsympathetically. “Had you been here, Armand, had you been able to stick his pride and his scheming, he might have been willing to let you step into his place, and perhaps things would be quieter around here. As it is, well.” He patted the simple medallion that stood in for his grandmaster’s chain day-to-day. “I shouldn’t be sitting here if you had, and I suppose one day I shall be grateful to you.”

“Grandmaster,” I began, meaning to apologize, but he waved my words away.

“Call me John, Armand. You’re a grandmaster in your own right, now, so let there be no ceremony between us.”

“Hardly very grand. There’s only myself and my two apprentices.”

“That won’t last. You have a fallow field and big ideas.” He cocked his head a little to the side. “I’ve watched you over the years, Armand, and I would say that you are like your father in all ways but two: you are utterly unconcerned with rank, and you are far more devoted to forming as a craft. You have all of his skill, and all of his strength of will, and had you had his ambition as well you would not have stuck him for nearly as long.

“No, you couldn’t have done other than you did, and I honor you for it. And that reminds me.”

He turned, and took up a brass-bound chest from the floor, which he set on the table; and handed me a key.

“Go ahead,” he said. “Open it.”

I unlocked it and lifted the lid. Inside, to my wonder and surprise, was a guild master’s chain, wider and more ornate than my own though rather less so than the one Father wore at formal guild events.

“What is this?”

“That, Armand, is the Grandmaster’s Chain of the Former’s Guild of Yorke prior to your father’s ascension to that position. He thought it insufficiently grand, though it had been quite good enough for all of the grandmasters of the century previous. I’m stuck with the one he commissioned, I am afraid; but this will do for you.”

“You mean me to take it to Armorica? But it belongs here!”

“It is doing no good here, and have you not re-established the Armorican Former’s Guild as a branch of the Cumbrian guild? Someday someone from Toulouse will come calling and will try to assert their authority over you, and you will wear that chain and defy them as you defied Burlington. It pleases me to think of it. Now, lock it up and keep the key; I shall have it sent ’round to your mother’s house.”

He rose. “You should see Burlington now.”

I did as he directed, and then he led me down below to a locked door with a brawny servant standing by it. “We can keep him here indefinitely if need be,” he said, “in what comfort is possible for one in his state; but we can discuss that after you’ve seen your solicitor. In the meantime, I wish you luck.”

He nodded at the servant, who unlocked the door and stuck his head within; then he swung the door wide and I entered. It closed behind me and I heard the sound of the latch being locked once again.

There were two men in the room: another servant, and Father. He sat in an armchair, a decently comfortable armchair in all truth, and looked blankly into a corner of the room. He wore a stained baggy shirt; his hair was unkempt; and he stank.

“We try to keep him clean,” the servant whispered in my ear, “but he fights us.”

Father looked up when he heard the whisper. His eyes lit upon me and blazed up with a fire I well knew. He leaped from his chair and took me by the arm.

“You! You’ve got to help me,” he said into my face. His breath was foul, and I was hard pressed not to lean away. “They have me locked up so they can steal the Guild from me. I am the Grandmaster, you know, yes, the Grandmaster. You’ll help me, won’t you?”

I had been warned to humor him, so I merely said, “Of course. But what’s this all about?”

“It’s them,” he said. “Netherington-Coates and that worthless son of mine. And the rest of the Guild. They are all against me. They want to sell the Guild to those bastards in Toulouse! But it won’t work, not now that you’re here!”

Amelia, he didn’t know me. I was a familiar face, someone from whom he expected and demanded aid and succor, but no more than that.

I shall spare you the rest of that long and painful conversation, for he had much to say, much of it about his worthless son. It seems that I had taken the pay of the Confrerie du Thaumaturges in Toulouse and had left Yorke, not for Armorica as I’d claimed but for Provençe, there to be trained as an assassin, and that one day I meant to return to kill him and hand the Cumbrian guild over to the Confrerie. Meanwhile I’d coerced Netherington-Coates to join me and work against Father from within the Guild Hall—”Not that it took much work, for he has always hated me!” My mother was in on the plan as well.

There was more of this, much more, all equally detached from any sane view of the world. We had turned the tradesmen with whom the Guild dealt against him, and infiltrated the Admiralty and other bodies with whom the guild had contracts. In time he sank back into his chair, exhausted; and then I told him I would do what I could for him, which in truth I will, and took my leave.

That was just Friday morning; but I haven’t the heart to continue tonight. May God bless you and keep you, dear Amelia.

Your cousin,


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Photo by Marina Kazmirova on Unsplash

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