Dear Uncle Friedrich,
I’m very happy you’ve decided to keep up our little correspondence. My official duties these days consist of attending an endless series of meetings where everything is discussed ad infinitum and nothing ever seems to get decided. Your requests for obscure information are therefore welcome: I much prefer field work. Well, I prefer a well-aged Château-Grillet shared with a beautiful woman next to a roaring fire, but if I must work, then yes, field work, please.
I understand now that you have replied in part because you really do need me. I’d like to think you were also impressed that I knew about the Society, since its existence is hardly common knowledge in Gallia. When Maman refers to me as her “crushing disappointment,” she does so with a loving smirk, but that does not make it any less true. The fact is, she taught me herself from a very early age, so I know all sorts of things that are not generally taught in school — it’s just that I usually find no higher purpose for all that knowledge than to impress people at parties. (And let me assure you, I am very impressive at parties.)
Anyway, I thought I knew all about your Society, but now I’m not so sure. I had no idea the full name was “The Ancient and Majestic Society of the Unchanged Ways” … that is absolutely terrific, and not at all what I imagined. I pictured something quite a bit more Albion-centered and modern. As Maman explains it, during the Blood War, the Gallians marched into Saxonia bursting with pride at the fact that the horses in their cavalry regiments were oh-so very well-groomed, only to see Albion show up with steam-powered-this and tesla-that … and of course the Skylads with their aeros! Naturally the question everyone had was, “Where did they get all these things?” And the answer, for those in the know, seemed to be (cue ominous music) “The Society.”
I see that I committed the all-too-common fallacy of assuming that your Society was a monolithic organization of unified mind and uniformity of purpose. And what organization is ever like that, really? All the more after what has happened to Albion. I stand corrected!
But I have to ask … if it is true that fellows in your Society helped to arm Albion during the Blood War, how does that make you feel, as one who was on the receiving end of the onslaught? Around here, people mutter about “what happened to Essen” as a sort of cautionary tale about the dangers of technological advances. It’s even said (in private) that whatever has happened to Albion may have been deserved after all the hell that it unleashed on the Continent. Not to say that the Kaiser didn’t have it coming, of course! But still. How do you square these things in your own mind?
On to business! I have been diligently pursuing information on your behalf, with some interesting results.
Asking after this Von Neumann fellow got me a lot of blank stares, but eventually someone suggested I try the library at the Sorbonne. They are very protective of their things over there, but as I mentioned in my last letter, being able to hold up a document, signed and embossed, that identifies me as an agent of La Commission, opens a lot of doors. A librarian escorted me through dusty corridors into a cavernous room, walls lined high with rickety shelves, full to bursting with books. Stout oaken tables in the middle of the room were piled high with the same, haphazardly. More books and loose documents filled the corners, including what looked like a random pile of scroll-cases as high as my chest.
“How will I find what I need in all this?” I asked the librarian. His reply began with “Je suis desolé,” a lovely Gallian phrase which, in this context, meant that he had already given all of the fucks he was planning to give about my situation. After a fruitless hour of poking around, I realized I would need to come back with a clearer sense of what I was looking for, or help, or both.
Next I made for the Observatory, cutting an impressive silhouette atop a hill on the edge of town. I knew that’s where I would find astronomical records.
It should have been a perfectly pleasant carriage-ride. As I said, though, I was taught by Maman, and one of those lessons she drilled into me was to perpetually check my surroundings, take note of the people I see, and file away important details, especially if anything seems out of place. A pointless exercise, done out of habit – it’s not as if someone would be following me!
Except, this time, someone was. Another carriage, keeping its distance but matching mine turn-for-turn. Like mine, it was an enclosed carriage, horse-drawn, so I could not say for sure who it was. I instructed my own driver to round the next corner, and in that moment when we were out of sight I slipped out and crouched down a nearby alley. (Getting horse-shit on my boots in the process … let it not be said that I will not go to great lengths on your behalf!)
When my pursuer slowed to come around the corner, I darted out, opened the carriage door, and slipped in to sit opposite its passenger, who at that moment had his head craned out the side window opposite me in order to see ahead. His flabbergasted expression when he realized he was not alone with well worth a bit of horse-shit, that’s for sure.
“Bertie Dupont,” I said, extending my hand. “You were following me. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
Lest you think me too cocksure for my own good, let me assure you that that I did not choose that particular approach until I had seen the man, and seeing him put to rest any concern that I was dealing with some sort of assassin or agent provocateur. This fellow was a dowdy scholar scarce older than myself who fidgeted with his hands while he tried and failed to say anything witty – or, indeed, even cogent – in response to me.
Finally he introduced himself as Julian LaGrande, archaeologist at the Sorbonne. One of the librarians alerted him that someone was asking after Von Neumann texts, and he apparently wanted to find out about me before he decided whether to offer any assistance. I took great interest when he mentioned he had done some work early in his career at Mont-Bré; I recalled that you had mentioned that place in your first letter so I knew it must be relevant.
We repaired to a café, where I showed him some of the rubbings you sent along to see if he thought he might be able to translate them. What he lacked in certainty he certainly made up for in enthusiasm; he could barely resist getting started on the project right then and there. You can be the eventual judge as to whether his linguistic skills are up the task: I decided he seemed harmless enough, and so arranged for him to receive a position with La Commission, reporting directly to me.
The following day I did get to the Observatory, and I am happy to report that I was not je-suis-desoléd by anyone there. Indeed, they bent over backward to be helpful, which is why you will be receiving a crateful of star-charts and celestial maps, possibly more than you need, and hopefully including some that are of use to you. I am also including with this letter some of the early results of LaGrande’s work, but that is still very much in process, and the bulk of it will have to wait for my next letter.
A curiosity and a question, though, while I’m thinking about it. While waiting for the folks at the Observatory to gather up all those maps and charts, I killed some time poring over a magnificent wall-atlas showing the Continent and its environs. I was able to find all the places you had mentioned in your letters, save one.
“Where is Skald?” I asked a fellow who was in the room. He sneered, causing his mustache to wriggle in an unseemly fashion as he peered at me over his spectacles.
“The Isle of Skald is a myth,” he drawled, disdainfully.
Curious, no? I hadn’t ever heard of it before myself. Perhaps you could tell me where it is?
Finally, my question. I get that your theory is that the rise of transformations is tied to astronomical events. It’s strange, but “strange” is relative when we’re already talking about werewolves and fairy-tale islands. But you said that you arrived at it that theory after “hundreds of dissections” …
What were you dissecting?