De Faumont’s brows knitted together and he held his chin with his hand, pensively. It was strange that his horse had been taken away and he hadn’t felt any sign of distress. He called for him in his mind and received a mixed sense of annoyance and enjoyment. De Faumont leaned back in his chair and decided that he had the perfect excuse to prolong his stay, but how could he make it less taut? He looked up to meet three reddened faces and two tearful eyes. “I’m afraid I’ll have to burden you with my presence until he is found, then. I hope you won’t mind.”
The lightness of his voice produced different reactions in each member of the family. The Mayor stood up, knocking down the chair on the way, and said while bowing repeatedly, “We are most honored, your Highnes, most honored!” at the same time that his wife cleaned her tears with her handkerchief and mumbled praises to Holy Mary, and Aimee sighed in relief. De Faumont had a bit of a hard time to hide his amusement.
“May I suggest some music then?” said De Faumont as silence fell to the table.
“Oh, it’s true!” cried Madam Daussy. “We haven’t celebrated my baby’s coming home!”
Aimee glared at her mother and her father said, scratching his head, “But the men are out there, searching for the horse…”
Madam Daussy was opening her mouth to speak when De Faumont turned to Aimee, “If Mademoiselle Daussy isn’t too tired, maybe she could sing for us?” She blushed and nodded in acceptance.
The nights were warmer that time of year, but there was a chilling wind blowing in the forest to the direction of the village, so they gathered together by the fire. De Faumont and the Mayor sat comfortably while Aimee sang the few pieces they had been told were performed at the capital. Her mother accompanied her proudly at her old piano. What a fine lady her baby had become! De Faumont asked Aimee to play something herself, but she had to decline. Her singing was poor enough, she said, and she wouldn’t want to harm his Highness hearing any longer. He didn’t want to put her in a difficult position so he suggested that they all went to bed early. It had been an eventful day.
No one slept well that night. The house was warm enough, but there was a strange chill in the air. De Faumont recognized evil being released in the world. He sent a bird to check on his horse and another to patrol the area. After their coming back reporting that all was well he fell into a troubled sleep. The Mayor and his wife worried about the horse for most of the night, and when they finally fell asleep they dreamed of horse’s whining, shining armors and bloodied teeth.
Aimee didn’t sleep at all. She couldn’t put together De Faumont’s calmness earlier. Had he known beforehand what would happen? Had he forged his own horse’s disappearance? Why would he do that? What kind of man was he? The image of his sad eyes when speaking with her father filled her mind. What could have caused such grief? She turned in bed toward the window, from where she could see the first pale light of a gray and misty dawn. She decided to rest her eyes for a moment and woke up a few minutes later sweating, with the image of Kratan’s large teeth filling her mind. She stayed there, panting, reviewing her dream. She was circling the fire, curious to know her savior, but he begged her not to approach, he begged her to come, he lured her with a deep growling voice, there was a laugh at the back of his throat when she arrived, and his eyes…
She got up abruptly and washed herself, shaking the dream off. Kratan was a good troll, she thought, the prince himself had set him free. She arrived at the breakfast table full of doubts and fears to find grim faces all over the house, and sat quietly while Monsieur Depré whispered in her father’s ears that the horse wasn’t to be found anywhere in the village or its vicinities.
De Faumont was climbing down the stairs when Monsieur Velin broke into the house shouting, “We found it! Can you believe Monsieur Le Maire? The horse was at the stable the whole night. Those wicked Millet boys had taken it for a ride to play prince charming. They’ve confessed it all! We'd give them a good spank, but we've spared them because they’ve spent the night brushing caring for the beast. The poor things were curled up at the horse's bail when we found them.”
“Didn’t her mother miss them?”
“The little devils came home for supper and slipped off through the window by bed time. No one new they were gone until morning. Their mother was almost giving birth of Belzebu itself, of worry when she found they were gone," he crossed himself repeatedly, "God forgive me.”
From the stairs, De Faumont said, “How nice it is to start the day with good news.” He smiled and several chins fell.
“Monsieur Le Prince!” cried Velin, and fell to his knees. “Please forgive our children, they meant no harm, I swear!”
“No harm done, good man. It was only an innocent prank that provided me a most entertaining evening.”
After much thanks and hand kissing, Dépré and Velin left, talking loudly how merciful the prince was and what a wonderful king he’d become.
They sat at the table with lifted spirits, nightmares and preoccupations pushed aside. The breakfast went on smoothly, after which the prince announced his leaving once again.
“Please stay another day, your Highness,” pleaded Aimee, unconsciously brushing her hands against De Faumont's when he sat to eat. “You must try my mother’s meat pie. It’s famous all over High France!”
Locking his gaze on hers, he made a decision, “Well, I suppose one more night wouldn’t hurt. For the pie, I’ll stay.” Under the table, he clenched and unclenched his hand. His hosts blushed both in delight and nervousness. Aimee smiled broadly, her eyes shining.
By nightfall, there was still much commotion at the Mayor's kitchen. Later that night Kratan observed two children playing at the border of the forest.