17 Rue Thomas, Toulouse, Provençe
22 December 1015
My dearest cousin Armand,
I am so sorry to hear of your difficulties, but it is your own fault, you know. A forward-thinking young man with a difficult father must always be in want of a legacy, and so should not be so careless as to lose sight of even his most distant relations. A slight, a very slight amount of true diligence on your part, expended over the course of your youth, and all would have been settled weeks ago. It is too late, now.
Yes, it pleases me to make light of your situation, and I do hope to have made you smile; for it is all I can do from here. Poor Amelie will be beside herself when the news reaches her at last.
My last few letters have been brief, I know, and I ask your forgiveness for not having been as diligent a correspondent as hitherto. It is only because I have been forced to apply my diligence elsewhere.
And not without result, I may say! Having been immersed in the Provençese tongue for the last month, thrice-weekly with Mme Poictesme, and constantly with Maximilian, that scoundrel, and daily at the shops and cafés, I find that I can now make myself understood in ordinary situations and no longer boggle when a shopkeeper asks me a question. Dr. Laguerre tells me that my accent is acceptable, if barbare, and has begun to speak to me only in Provençese.
This has been of more help to my magical studies than I would have thought. Dr. Laguerre has been instructing me in the rudiments of the Johannine Stream (or Fleuve de Johannes, as she would put it) by leading me through an introductory text. You will recall that Provençese magical theory is written not in mathematical terms, but in metaphorical ones; and in practical terms this means that most of the words used in the text are perfectly commonplace words used in utterly peculiar ways. The meaning is frequently opaque, but at least I need have but little recourse to my Provençese dictionary.
You wouldn’t think it possible, but we spent an entire day discussing the text “The bird takes wing, and flies thrice around the Sun while draped in damask.” No, I am not going to try to explain what that means; I only half grasp it myself. But I believe I am meant to be the bird.
I have not said too much about Maximilian’s activities in these letters, for of course it is embassy business and not to be bruited about. But part of his task is to monitor social currents at all levels of society here in Toulouse; and he tells me that there has been an uptick in activity among the Maréchalists here. They remain divided, he tells me; there are at least three distinct organizations (or, perhaps, disorganizations) that claim to be the true supporters of the Consul Premier (as Le Cochon styled himself here in Provençe). Their meetings have become more frequent, and less sporadic; and some members of the Fraternité Consulaire in particular have been behaving provocatively towards current members of the Provençese parliament and towards Cumbrian émigrés. To date, however, there has been no violence.
It is not clear what has caused this burst of confidence; nothing has been heard of Le Maréchal since he broke through the blockade at Guyanão just over a year ago.
Lord Ellesmere remains sanguine. “Nothing to worry about, m’dear,” he said to me at an embassy dinner yestereve. “These little groups catch a whisper on the wind and blow it into a gale. I’ve seen it happen several times before, just in my time here. They will subside again in a few weeks’ time.”
Maximilian agrees. “If the Maréchalists had definite word that Le Maréchal was coming, they’d go underground and we would hear nothing. Even now, I can assure you that the Fraternité Consulaire are the last folk he would trust.” I translate, because of course he said it in Provençese.
I do pray that they are both right.
Your not-yet-damask-clad cousin,