Armand’s First Letter. Amelia’s First Letter.
13 Norwich Street, Yorke, Cumbria
13 March 1016
I have as yet heard no word regarding Admiral St. Victor’s progress in Provençe. One cannot imagine any great difficulty, as the Maréchalist war-wagons have been smashed, and Le Maréchal can have no great naval force remaining to him. Indeed, the cochon might have already been captured. If so, it will in large measure be due to the actions of my cousin Amelia, astonishing though I still find it.
I went to sit with her today. She was in her parent’s library, as before, though looking much improved from yesterday. She greeted me in somber tones, and called for tea. I made to speak, and could not; for I greatly wished to ask her about her presence at the Battle of the Approach, as the papers are calling it, and about her actions there, and about the shocking statements she had made when I came to her yesterday; and yet though I was nearly consumed by it I wished her only rest and recovery. I began to speak instead about my hopes to return to my Amelie and my daughters, and then stopped myself; for if she truly had lost her husband, how could I prattle about my longing for my loved ones, for whom I have no such fears?
In time she began to speak, and I to listen. It was hard to listen, for the tale was heartbreaking for her, and so for me; but she insisted, and I confess I had many questions.
It seems that she had taken refuge at L’École du Sorciers, as I had thought; but Archer had not gone there with her. Under orders from his chief at the Embassy he had hidden himself among the people of Toulouse, there to oppose the Maréchalists in any way he could.
“Bravely done,” I said, and she nodded.
“And then they caught him,” she said tonelessly. “And that day a toad of a lieutenant came with a file of soldiers to tell me so, and to solicit my aid against His Majesty’s troops. Or else—” And her she broke off.
“Or else your husband’s life was forfeit,” I said, quietly.
She nodded, and collected herself. “At the insistence of the Masters he gave me a day to think over it. I spent the rest of that day and half the next working with Dr. Laguerre; for we agreed, she and I, that I must go—not to aid them, never that, but to do what I could.”
She looked at me, then. “I had just the week before come to an understanding of the theory Dr. Laguerre was trying to teach me. We had spent no time on the practical side of things.” She looked off toward the windows, and did not go on.
“And now you did.”
“And now we did. Just one or two things, Armand,” she said softly, her eyes closing. “One or two little things!”
I will draw a curtain over the next moments, but it was some time before we were able to proceed.
“I had thought they would take me to Maximilian,” she said at last, “to show me that he was in good health. I hoped I would be able to overcome his guards and mine, and we would make our escape. Instead, they took me to Colonel Marchant les grand-cochon, who threatened me and told me that Maximilian’s life was in my hands. Then they locked me in a room; and the next day put me onto a war-wagon with more threats.”
She fell silent for many minutes. I wanted to ask what happened next, but held my peace. And at last her eyes met mine.
“The magazines of the Maréchalist ships were full of powder, and the wagons laden with incendiaries, Armand. And it is so easy to ask fire to do what it wants to do.”
“But what of the crew of the wagon you were aboard?” I burst out. “Surely they had something to say about it?”
And then I regretted my words bitterly, for Amelia bowed her head and turned away, and so we sat as the tea went cold.
After a time I rose and tended the fire; and then went out and fetched her a restorative.
She turned to me when I re-entered the library, her eyes widening and the dead look leaving her face; and I realized she had thought that I had left in horror at her actions. I went to her and handed her the drink and made her drink it; and kneeling by her side I spoke softly.
“You have done bravely and well, dear cousin; and I believe that your husband may yet live.”
I put my finger to her lips, as I had been used to do when we were children.
“First, they can as yet have no knowledge of what happened at the battle; for there was no one left to tell them. And as a member of the embassy staff, your husband is too valuable a bargaining chip to throw away, especially if they are on the verge of losing the war—as they are, or they would never have asked an untried novice to aid them. It was the action of desperate men, Amelia, grasping at straws.”
She stared at me, hope mingling with fear.
“Now, did you tell Admiral St. Victor’s men about your husband?”
She nodded. “But I was not—”
“You were not yourself,” I said, “and perhaps they did not understand.”
She nodded again.
I squeezed her hand, and rose. “I must go,” I said. “I will have no more to do with the conduct of this war, but I think the Admiralty will receive me, and if not them then I can speak to Colonel Redvers at Camp Moorhen. I will make it clear to them what you have done, and why; and word will be passed. Your husband will be found.”
“Thank you, Armand.”
I was received at the Admiralty; where I learned that Admiral St. Victor was already seeking to find Mr. Archer. It seems that whatever state my poor Amelia may have been in after the battle, the Admiral had been disinclined to dismiss the words of one who had destroyed the enemy force single-handed.
Tomorrow is Sunday; and we shall surely pray for good success and for Archer’s rescue.
Photo by Paul Wickens on Unsplash