Armand’s First Letter. Amelia’s First Letter.
1 Rue St. Albert, Toulouse, Provençe
18 March 1016
I have been in the Old Lands for just over three months, and it has been over five since I last saw my home and family; but it seems an age and an age. I regret missing these moments with Amelie and my girls more than I can say, and I am delighted to tell you that I will begin my voyage home as soon as may be, for I have but one thing left to do here.
My father and my mother are taken care of—and may I say, Jack, I esteem your parents even more than before. All is quite correct on that front.
But what of the Maréchal? What of the fighting in Malague? You will have heard of all that by now, given your post with Lord Doncaster; and you may also have heard that I am a fugitive of sorts.
In two words: I built, for the Royal Navy, a collection of hardened sky-wagons and a new kind of fast packet based on similar principles. In so doing, I incurred the ire of the Cumbrian Shipwright’s Guild, a truly contemptible lot. The Guild incited Parliament to decree that I should be arrested for “endangering the lives of His Majesty’s sailors” on the grounds that my creations were manifestly unsafe; and further that the packet and all plans should be turned over to the Shipwright’s Guild.
It is all transparent enough. I have done nothing wrong, Jack, nothing but twist the noses of men who understand their work less well than I do—men who wish to steal my ideas if they can, and hobble me besides.
The new packet was destroyed—not by me—and I was carried to the harbor district in Yorke just in advance of the official word of my arrest by one I will not name.
I pray you, show at least this much of this letter to Lord Doncaster. Him I have come to trust, and he will understand the politics well enough. You may show him the rest of the letter as well; I leave that up to your judgement.
I will be returning to Armorica as soon as I have given what aid I can to your sister and her husband. I’m certain you’ve been informed of the miraculous destruction of the remains of the Maréchalist fleet; but I know Amelia hasn’t told you about her role in the matter. She’s a true heroine, Jack; she was taken by the Maréchalists and subsequently destroyed them. She has given me permission to tell you the tale on my return.
Meanwhile, Mr. Archer is still missing, laboring under the belief that the cochons took Amelia south to Malague. I am working with the masters of _L’École du Sorciers_on a scheme to track him and bring him home—or, at least, to inform him that Amelia is safe and well. I do not know whether he has joined with his Majesty’s troops, or what plans he has in train; whatever they are, he may be unwilling to abandon them.
He is a man you would approve of, I think, Jack; and I do not fear for his skill, but only for what he might do if he comes to believe that Amelia is dead. Thus, I have thrown myself into this work with all my heart.
We have made some progress, and I think we will crack it in the next day or so. It involves an unusual melding of two streams of Provençese wizardry with my skill at forming—a skill they now insist constitutes a stream of wizardry all its own.
And yet—I lay awake last night and wondered to myself whether I am doing the right thing. It is a question I would not have asked myself a mere seven days ago. But if we can track Amelia’s beloved husband by dint of possession of some of his hair and some clothing he has worn, then other individuals can be tracked as well, for less savory reasons. My trust in the goodwill of others has been damaged this week, Jack.
I console myself that I have found the masters of L’École to be worthy of that trust. They are collectively set against using their skills for war, for they have seen where that leads. And as it will take the skills of two masters and a former to use our new technique, I suppose I am wrong to worry that it will be abused in future.
Your sister’s actions, I may say, were sanctioned ahead of time by the masters. Master Guisman has remarked to me that he regarded them as a salutary lesson. “We will never go to war again,” he said. “But we will defend ourselves when forced, and it will never go well for those who attempt to coerce us.”
I should like to go in search of Archer myself; my packet, the Anne-Marie, would have been an invaluable tool in the hunt, as well as being a great aid to His Majesty’s general staff in Malague. That was not to be, alas; and as I have, through a certain delicacy, avoided bringing my presence to the attention of His Majesty’s ambassador here in Toulouse, I cannot call on His Majesty’s forces for aid. Nor do I wish to strain the embassy’s patience should they learn of my presence, as I have no doubt they will.
But hope is not lost. The Provençese government is well-disposed to both Amelia and L’École, and has offered the use of a sloop-of-war. Amelia was eager to act as pilot, should our efforts of the next few days meet with success, but the masters have forbidden it, and wisely in my view. She has done enough, and I fear she has not yet completely recovered; will not, I believe, until Archer is informed that she is safe.
One of her fellow students, a M. Lavigne, has volunteered to guide the sloop in her place. Amelia was quite overcome by his offer; though fellow students, I gather that they have not hitherto been friends. He is a difficult man, cold and suspicious, but I have come to believe that he has a good heart.
So that is the situation, Jack. I intend to board a packet for Mont-Havre as soon as my work here is done, possibly as early as next week.
Please pass the word to Amelie and Marc in Bois-de-bas; and tell Marc that we will need to extend the wagon-works to include a small shipyard. I have enclosed a rough sketch of what I have in mind.
Your disgusted but hopeful cousin,
Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash