I feel as if I should be writing to Amelia, but I cannot; there is no way to send such a letter, and I must speak of things that cannot be openly spoken of at this time. Still, I have hopes of her safety. I picture her ensconced at L’École du Sorciers, eating high tea with Maximilian and her fellow students, as Le Maréchal’s war-wagons plummet to earth on all sides by force of wizardry. I hope I am not too far off.
But I get ahead of myself.
On the 26th of January I boarded the packet Marguerite for Toulouse, to visit Amelia and to raid the booksellers. We found two sloops of war guarding the approaches to Provençe, which is not unusual, so I am informed; but when we approached them the white lily at their mastheads came down, to be replaced by Le Cochon’s crossed cannons. We turned to run, and as we did so I saw two dark oblongs rise into the air, one from the deck of each sloop—oblongs I quickly recognized as sky-wagons.
I demanded the use of the captain’s spy-glass, which he granted at last, though he cursed me; for I stood on my dignity as a guild master. The wagons were like but also unlike my own early sky-wagons, the ones we used to supply L’Isle du Grand-Blaireau when the war came to Armorica. These were larger by a half, and clad in what I am certain are sheets of hardened wood, with loopholes for small arms fire. I saw no gunports for cannon—and even in our extreme danger I smiled to think of what must have happened to them when they tried that, for I am sure they did.
I am now utterly certain that Trout was in the pay of Le Maréchal, and that he passed the plans for my first sky-chair to his masters. There is terror in this, but also hope, for I have learned much that I never allowed Trout to discover.
The war-wagons followed us as far as they dared, until we were fully into the Abyss, our sails set on a broad reach with the winds of the abyssal tempest. Their crewmen shot at us, of course, and I was obliged to go below; but we escaped unharmed to bring the news to His Majesty’s government.
Since then I have been keeping long hours at the Admiralty. It took some little while for me to get a hearing there, for the Lords of the Admiralty thought they had no time for a mere craftsman; but I was possessed of a letter of introduction “to whom it may concern” from Lord Doncaster, which I brandished liberally, and in time they found it hard to dismiss me in the face of my claims to know precisely what it was they were dealing with. The Trout affair is known in certain circumspect government circles, and events progressed swiftly after I had undergone a lengthy interrogation by men who were never named to me.
In short, the Royal Army has established a camp on the moors well away from any town. I have been removed to this “Camp Moorhen”, and at my request and that of His Majesty’s Government, Grandmaster Netherington-Coates has required the Formers of the Salisbury guild house to attend on me.
We are building vessels to my design. There are war-wagons of course, similar to those used by Le Maréchal but with my improvements: I have long had the requirements for those memorized.
We have “laid the keel” of a fast courier, a naval version of the vessel I have been imagining for some weeks, though “keel” is perhaps a misleading term, for I am certain that Master Eaves would recognize no part of it. I am less certain about my design in this case, for I am having to re-derive all of my theory from memory. We will need to keep a close eye on the durability of the hardened elements.
And I have plans in progress for a fast gunboat: a small vessel no larger than a courier, but built around a powerful cannon, with provisions for absorbing the effort of the recoil. Such a vessel, with a proper balance of generosity and greediness, can carry quite a weight of hardened armor—always provided that the gun is exercised frequently.
I have heard that through channels that the kingdom’s ship builders, including Eaves and Sons, are in high dudgeon at the diversion of funds away from their yards in time of war—and not least because they have no notion of the cause. But my vessels will be smaller, and so cheaper to build, provided that I am there to design them and direct the work; and His Majesty still has most of the ships-of-war that were built for the first segment of Le Maréchal’s war.
At times I fear that I am unleashing something awful into the world. But with Le Maréchal’s example and that of my wagon works in Bois-de-Bas, it is only a matter of time before war-wagons become commonplace—and if I am involved, Cumbrian sailors and soldiers will not be falling out of the sky when they least expect it.