Disaster

Armand’s First Letter. Amelia’s First Letter.

Former’s Guild Hall, Yorke
30 April 1017

My dear Armand,

In addition to his normal duties as a journeyman of the guild, your Luc Touchard has been most generous in his efforts to teach this old dog the rudiments of your new tricks, which I have been absorbing slowly but greedily.

I confess it is rather a slog, and yet I am glad for it—and so should you be, as you shall see.

I plan to send Luc back to you at the end of his year here, as expected, for there will be little more that we can teach him. Certainly he has already mastered more of forming than I had at his age.

I begin to think you were right, to leave Yorke and establish the Guild in another place. We had grown moribund and complacent. Your father, as you know, was always more concerned with increasing the prestige of the guild, and of his position in it, than he was with the craft of forming or the use of it to benefit others. And those of us who competed with him in our youth, and those who came later and lived in the guild he had built, conducted ourselves accordingly, to our detriment.

But thanks to you, and to Luc, and no doubt to William Graves when he returns to us, I do begin to hope that we shall see the Former’s Guild bloom afresh here in the Old Lands, just as it is in Armorica.

Having mentioned your father, I must give you the latest news—though you may already have heard of it from your mother’s pen. Your father is no longer in residence at the Guild Hall. He has declined to such a degree, in his mind, in his body, in his, shall I say, vehemence toward others, that your mother and I have deemed it safe for him to spend his last days at home in Norwich Street. He is no longer capable of wandering, poor soul, nor of maintaining the slightest thread of thought for more than a minute; but I may say that he seems more comfortable.

How long he may persist in this state, who can say? He is not on his death bed yet. But I think it will not be many months, or at most a year, before he is gone.

Now, on to happier matters, and the fruits of Luc’s instruction! I have saved this for the last, and I hope you find it as delicious as I did.

The Shipwright’s Guild has made its own attempt to build a faster ship. I learned of this from Master Norfolk of our Salisbury Guild House. The Shipwright’s Guild had asked the Salisbury Formers to do some quite unconventional things with a new ship design; and as he has met you and is aware of your dispute with the Shipwrights, he wanted my guidance as to whether he should go along with their plans.

I asked him what the changes entailed. Larger, more powerful motive blocks, he said, much more powerful than his team had ever formed in the past. He guessed that a ship equipped with these blocks might well do without sails altogether. But still, the Shipwrights’ own arguments about your Anne-Marie gave him great concern.

Mind you, this ship they were building was no packet in size, no, but a medium-sized merchant vessel.

Having discussed your ideas with you during your recent stay in Yorke, and with Luc more recently, I gave Master Norfolk this advice: to do as they asked, as we have always relied on the Shipwrights to tell us precisely what they want from us; but also to make it clear that we were concerned about the results, having never formed such a thing before, and that we would need a contract in writing for this specific ship.

You will not be aware, but the Salisbury house has a standing contract with the shipyards to provide a our services at a certain rate per ship. For us to insist on a special contract is most unusual. The Shipwrights grumbled, but agreed in the end to sign a contract that held us harmless—as how could they not, after their public statements over the past year—and so the work was done.

The ship, the Annabel they called it, made a maiden voyage to Provençe; and on its return to Cumbria, just as it was coming to land at the shipyard in Salisbury, its keel and gunwhales shivered themselves to bits, along with every other hardened object on board.

The Annabel came apart slowly, so Master Norfolk tells, with rending noises that were heard for miles around. The lifting elements ascended royally skyward and out of sight, carrying with them bits of the cabin, and when it was done there was no longer a ship but only a heap of materials and cargo, with the massive motive blocks sitting in the middle.

I can see you nodding your head in my mind’s eye.

There were a number of injuries, but only three fatalities: the captain and first mate were lost with the cabin, as was Master Eaves of the Shipwright’s Guild, who had accompanied them on the voyage.

The Shipwrights were furious, of course, but Master Norfolk referred them to the contract they had signed, and to their numerous public statements. The work had been done to their specifications, over our objections, and we washed our hands of it.

The Times asked me, as grandmaster of the Former’s Guild, how soon your packet Amelie was bound to suffer a similar fate. It was here that Luc’s instruction bore its first, and possibly best, fruit.

As to the Amelie, I explained that it was built on different principles than a normal ship, precisely to avoid the Annabel’s fate, and that I had no fear for its future; but that on those same principles it would be difficult if not impossible to build a ship much larger than the Amelie without courting disaster. “I have been studying Grandmaster Tuppenny’s work,” I told them, “and according to his calculations the Annabel‘s fate was inevitable. It was only by the grace of God that most of her crew were spared.” Had they consulted with me I would have told them so, I said, but they did not.

Lord Doncaster was also asked for his opinion, and whether he would still choose to travel on the Amelie. “Of course,” he said. “Quite carefully designed, the Amelie. Grandmaster Tuppenny leaves nothing to chance.”

I will close with this tidbit: it seems there is quite the battle ranging in the Courier’s Guild here in Yorke, between those who wish to order a dozen packets from Tuppenny Wagons and those who wish nothing to do with you. When those in the middle sought my advice, I suggested that they contract with the Guild to produce a few large sky-wagons for their inland routes here in Cumbria. The principles were similar, I explained, and by flying low they might gain experience with your designs while avoiding too great a danger.

I believe that Luc and I will be up to the task of providing them—though I am taking the precaution of filing for a royal patent on behalf of the Guild. Your name is included on the patent, of course; but you had already indicated to me that you were not seeking to sell wagons here in Cumbria.

If all goes well—and I see no reason why it should not—I believe you may expect to begin receiving orders for packets in perhaps six month’s time.

Your friend,

John

Next letter

____

Photo by Aneta Foubíková on Unsplash

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