This is the 12th installment of the Troll Serial. To read from the beginning, or to find past and future installments, click here.
In case you're feeling a little lost, this episode follows the events of the 8th installment: Back Home.
And there goes my disguise... The knight sighed.
He motioned the peasants to rise and asked in a condescending tone, “Let’s not make the good father wait, shall we?”
The whole town rose as one body. Old and young, men and women, they all stood there in a sort of torpor. The children remained still, open mouthed; some men blinked as if waking from a deep sleep; the women hadn’t had the heart to gossip yet.
De Faumont was ten paces ahead when the crowd began to follow. The befouled Mayor and his family hurried to follow the prince, keeping a few paces of distance. The baby goat let out loud whine that went unnoticed to all but its master. They walked in silence. When they spotted the church bell at the curve of the road, Madam Daussy nudged her husband, who gathered his wits and trotted to reach De Faumont.
“Your Highness…” he said, gasping. De Faumont halted and looked back. The Mayor bowed, cleared this throat, bowed again, and blathered, “P-please forgive me, your Highness.” Not daring look at De Faumont’s eyes, he waited. Since De Faumont kept silent, the Mayor bowed again and continued, “Wouldn’t you agree, My Lord… I mean, your Highness!” He whizzed, grabbing his coat as if trying to grab his very heart. “Wouldn’t-you-agree-that-your-Highness-shouldhaveaproper-entry?” He took a quick breath. “I mean… perhaps… maybe… your-Highness-shouldbeannounced-before-enteringthechurch?”
As they walked, Aimee hid herself behind her lace-trimmed fan and peered at De Faumont’s back from time to time. She noticed the military line of his shoulders, his high chin and a certain air about him that hadn’t been there before. She almost stumbled on her own feet when they stopped, looking up unconsciously when De Faumont turned to the Mayor. She had never seen such profound sadness in her life. She couldn’t avert her eyes, no matter how rude it was to stare at a member of the royal family, or even a noble man.
De Faumont waited until the poor man finished babbling, worried about the deep crimson painted in his face. Feeling someone’s gaze upon him, he searched the crowd, locking eyes with Aimee, who looked down hurriedly and hid behind her fan.
“Of course,” he replied, looking back at the Mayor. “If you wish to warn the priest, I shall wait at the entry.” The Mayor bowed repeatedly, unable to produce any other words, and rushed to the church, turning and bowing from time to time. “Would you ladies care to keep me company as I wait for the arrangements?” he said to Madam Daussy and her daughter.
They both looked up wide eyed and curtsied, each accepting one offered arm with trembling hands. Aimee tried to perform the princess walk her mother had made her practice a thousand times, feeling utterly ridiculous in doing so. De Faumont glanced sideways at her and her mother glanced at him, blushing deeply of pride and glee.
They waited in silence as the church filled with gossiping villagers, until the Royal Highness, Count Jean-Louis Robert GuffroyDesbutteaux, Son of our Majesty the King Guillaume Robert Daragon Desbutteaux, Heir to the Royal Throne, Chief Commander of the Royal Army, Savior of the High Lands of France, Hunter of Trolls, Hero of the Nation, was announced. The mass was celebrated by a pale and fragile old priest to a fidgeting audience.
The bowing crowd started to disperse and De Faumont was rising from his place to leave, when all of the sudden Old Millet let out an anguished cry. Holding his lined cheek with one hand, he pointed a finger to De Faumont and wailed, stepping on foots and skirts as he stumbled back, “The eyes… those eyes…” With an impressive agility, he ran, pushing people aside and shouting, “The eyes! The eyes!”
People stared at each other, not understanding Old Millet’s fit, and proceeded to exit the church. Maurice the Father arrived panting at the door and whispered something into the Mayor’s ears. The whole village watched their faces as they became as red as enchanted apples.
The Mayor growled orders to some nearby men and went back. He turned to De Faumont and said showing his teeth, “We’re all tired. Maybe your Highness would like to retire for the day?”
His wife shot him a puzzled look, to which he shook his head slowly. They went back to the village, where Madam Daussy insisted that the prince should have her room, which De Faumont gently refused. He woke up in the middle of the afternoon to find the tea table set, where he made great efforts to maintain an amicable conversation, achieving his goal only partially. Aimee watched him while trying to behave naturally, her parents tried to hide their distress.
At the end of the meal he announced that he would have to leave that night. The the village was safe and he had other matters to attend to. Madam Daussy and her husband insisted that he remained for the night, which he courteously declined, asking them to have his horse set. The Mayor and his wife looked wide eyed at each other.
“Is there a problem?” asked the prince. They looked at De Faumont and at each other again. “Did something happen to my horse?”
Madam Daussy nudged her husband, but this time to no avail. He was shock stricken with shame and worry. She bowed awkwardly while still sat and replied apologetically, fussing with her skirt, "We lo-- Ahem, we seem to have misplaced your horse, your Highness. But all and each man of the village, except-for-my-husband-here, is looking for it!" She bowed again, almost hitting the table with her forehead.