16 March 1016
I almost do not know how to describe the enormity of what has happened. When I think of it I grow so angry I can hardly sit still.
I shall attempt to cool my passion, and begin at the beginning.
The Anne-Marie left Toulouse early yesterday, as planned. The prevailing winds being with us we made very good time back to Cumbria and Camp Moorhen—for as I have discovered, the strength of the winds remains a factor even for a self-motivated craft like the Anne-Marie.
Colonel Redvers was waiting for me when I disembarked, bag in hand.
“A successful voyage?” he said.
“A very successful voyage,”
“And a very pretty craft,” he said. “It is a pity.”
I was puzzled by both his words and his demeanor, but he pulled me away towards a waiting military coach.
“Now, you must listen,” he said quietly, for my ears only. “You have been planning to return to Armorica, yes?”
“Yes, I have.”
“You must go now, this very instant. Your bags are already on that coach, barring the one you’re carrying with you right now. The Herbert is leaving for Mont-Havre this evening; you have just time to board if you leave this minute.”
He paused, then said, “Tell me: you could rebuild the Anne-Marie from scratch given the knowledge you carry in your head, couldn’t you?”
“Well, yes, and better, I am sure. But—”
And then he pushed me into the coach and to my surprise entered behind me, slamming shut the door. “Go!” he shouted.
As the coach rolled away I caught a glimpse of the Anne-Marie at her berth. There was a small crowd by her; and then I saw a flare of red and a curl of black smoke.
“Colonel!” I cried, leaping for the window. “The Anne-Marie! Fire!”
He pulled me forcibly back into my seat with one strong hand.
“Yes,” he said quietly, “I know. A tragic mishap. You were lucky to complete the voyage alive.”
And then we were on the road to Yorke and the moment for action was lost.
I rounded on him. “Why have you done this?” I said, almost hissing between my teeth.
He regarded me somberly.
“I received word by a trusted hand not an hour ago. Parliament is in session today, and voted on a motion brought by the Duke of Salisbury on behalf of the Shipwright’s Guild. The motion demanded that the Anne-Marie and all papers relating to it be seized, and that you yourself be arrested for recklessly endangering His Majesty’s troops.”
I gaped at him. “They want to arrest me?”
“Bah!” he said, waving that away. “No jury would find grounds to convict you. They simply wish you held for a time while they turn your design to their own profit.”
I sat back, and thought about my Anne-Marie, burning at her berth.
“Her plans?” I asked softly.
“Stored in the berth,” he said. “Sadly, the fire spread before they could be saved.”
“So the Shipwrights’ Guild gets nothing.”
I was silent for many moments, listening to the hooves of the coach horses and the rumble of the wheels as we passed over the moorland.
“Why would you do this for me?” I said.
“You have friends here, Mr. Tuppenny. You have given your all for our men and asked nothing in return.” His voice grew hot. “And now these dogs want to harass and hound you for being better than they. We won’t have it. And I will add that the Admiralty feels the same way; the message I received was sent by the First Skylord.”
“But won’t it cause trouble for you?”
He laughed, sourly. “Possibly. But we have had no official word as yet, you know, though I’ve no doubt it is on the way. But provided you keep moving, you should be into The Abyss before they catch up with you. Now, have you any matters to which you had planned to attend before your departure? Give me the details and I will see to them.”
I considered, thinking of my mother waiting for me in Norwich Street. I had completed her trust long weeks before; she would be taken care of. I had brought little to Cumbria with me, and that little was here in the coach.
“I would have been gone long since, were it not for the uprising in Provençe,” I said at last. “But I would be most grateful if you would speak with Master Netherington-Coates at the Former’s Guild. He is a man of discretion; you may explain the entire matter to him, as you see fit. He will know best what to say to my mother and family.”
We fell silent after that, for the colonel would not let me discuss my plans.
“It is better that I don’t know,” he said. “After all, I simply offered you a ride into Yorke, don’t you know, on my way to speak to my superiors. Nothing more than that.”
He said nothing else until the coach stopped to let me off at the packet office, and then only, “Godspeed.” I nodded, and collected my belongings; and in less than an hour had boarded a commercial packet, the Ariel, bound for Toulouse.
And here I am. I shall do all in my power to help Amelia find and save her Maximilian; and only then shall I return to Armorica.
The Shipwright’s Guild be hanged.