This is the eight installment of the Troll Serial. To read from the beginning, or to find past and future installments, click here.
On their way down Aimee drank the scent of De Faumont. He tracked his way back to the villagers pausing once in a while to listen to an owl's hoot or a night bird's cry. She couldn't but notice their slow descent and more so when he stopped at a clearing. He twisted his body, clanking his armor to look straight into her eyes.
"Please forgive this delay, my Lady," he said, "you must be anxious to reunite with your loved ones so I'll be swift, I promise."
She nodded, unable to articulate words. He dismounted and scouted Kratan's and Kutril's first safe clearing, finding the signs of their recent activity. Soon after, they were zigzagging their way down, stopping in two more clearings. On the last one they turned uphill, confusing even more the tired girl.
The torches could be seen at a distance. Aimee caught her breath at the vision of her father - the only one riding a horse. Sensing her reaction De Faumont kicked his horse to a gallop. The villagers stopped when noticing the silvery glint of his armor and the sound of hoofs. Sébastien Daussy jumped off his horse, barely waiting for De Faumont's abrupt halt. He helped her down by pulling her to a hug, and she broke into relieved sobs.
"I was so scared papa!," she said against his broad chest.
"Hush, you're safe now," he whispered through a tight throat, with watered eyes.
When she calmed down he said to the villagers, "We should pray to Holy Mary and thank for the miracle of ma petit fille's safe return."
"But what about the trolls Monsieur Le Maire?" shouted someone from the crowd.
"That's a good question," muttered the Mayor. Turning to De Faumont he asked, "Did the trap work, my Lord? Did you kill the trolls?"
"I'm afraid not Monsieur Le Maire," said De Faumont. "They have escaped; I'm sorry."
"Sneaky creatures," mumbled the Mayor. "They must have known we were close to their lair."
De Faumont and Aimee exchanged a quick look.
The Mayor cleared his throat and announced in an official voice, "We will go back to the village and pray with our dedicated wifes and daughters." Nodding to himself he added, forgetting to lower his voice, "Yes, this is about right."
"What about the old Millet that is at his barn with the women and the goats?" asked someone from the crowd.
"Yes, yes, Monsieur Millet too."
"And your father who's snoring at your house?" said someone else, provoking a roaring laughter from all villagers.
"Enough already!" shouted the Mayor, and added authoritatively, "The whole village will pray together at dawn, and maybe Sir De Faumont will join us?" He finished in a softer tone.
"I would have no greater honor," replied the knight.
"Excellent! Come darling, let's get you home."
He bowed to De Faumont and passed his arm over his daughter's waist, leading her to his horse. De Faumont watched Aimee leaning her head on her father's shoulder, wishing that it was his.
The Mayor chose a villager to send word that a mass should be held within the hour. When they arrived De Faumont stayed outdoors while Aimee was received by her robust mother. He had excused himself as to allow them some privacy, but in fact he was relieved to have a thick stone wall between him and Aimee's mother's high pitched cries. Her constant howling for her daughter's absence could be heard half way to his castle, he thought, flinching at the sounds that came through the half opened window.
When all silenced, the Mayor invited him in for breakfast. Unfortunately they wouldn't have time to rest, he told De Faumont, but his best room was prepared so the knight could refresh himself before the meal.
Aimee came down the stairs wearing her best dress and a tired yet relaxed countenance. De Faumont resisted the urge to bow. Her gracious smile and her natural elegance confirmed that she was a lady in all senses despite her humble origins. He was convinced that there was more to the girl than her parents believed.
They talked amenities during the meal, Aimee only nibbling at her food.
"What's wrong with you, girl? You should be famished after all those days alone in the woods," said Agnès Daussy.
Aimee shot a desperate look at De Faumont.
"I have a confession to make," said the knight slowly.
The Mayor pursed his lips and his wife opened her mouth.
"Madam Daussy," De Faumont started, and she closed her mouth with a click, "I have taken your pie from the window on my way up. I didn't know how long it would take to hunt down the trolls and I needed supplies." Both the Mayor and his wife frowned. "You daughter was in dire need of food when I found her, so the pie was given a better use than to satisfy this fool's appetite." Their faces softened. "I never intended to take such liberties, I know-"
"That is all right, my Lord," said Madam Daussy while her husband nodded emphatically, "we're most grateful that you saved our petit lady's life."
"Mama!" Aimee gave her mother a stern look, who smiled sweetly. De Faumont held out a smirk.
They chatted amicably on their way to the church, walking slowly in the cool early morning. All of a sudden a baby goat sprinted through the square, tangling itself between the knight's legs. He knelled down and made guttural sounds, cocking his head to one side, then the other, all this with a blank look in his white eyes. He only raised his head when Kratan's lost dessert calmed down. When he refocused his eyes and stood up the whole village was lowered in the deepest bows.