This is the 16th installment of the Troll Serial. To read from the beginning, or to find past and future installments, click here.
Aimee averted her eyes.
“Look at me, or I’ll make you share my meal.” She raised her head. “There,” said Kratan, and smiled. Aimee lifted her hand, covering her mouth and nose with it.
Through her hands she asked, “What are you going to do with me?”
Kratan licked his lips and sucked the last remaining bone, throwing it in careless aside before answering, “Why, I’m going to eat you, of course!”
Aimee frowned, not wanting to show how scared she really was, cold sweat forming in her hands. Although her head was directed to this new Kratan, she turned her attention inwardly to consider De Faumont’s sign at the village. She could not understand what he had meant. Did he know what was going on? Or was he just trying to calm her down? Was he aware of this new danger? She gazed at her feet, feeling the absence of the fire Kutril would have built, and decided that she wanted old Kratan back, prince charming or no prince charming to the rescue.
“What’s happened?” she asked defiantly.
“What do you mean?” he dodged.
“Don’t act stupid. You’ve changed and I want to know how it happened. Where’s Kutril?”
“Oh, the little dame in distress is showing her teeth, eh?” he said getting up. Before Aimee could open her mouth, he was looking down into her eyes, his teeth inches from her nose. She recoiled both in fear and disgust.
“I... I just…”
“What? Not so brave now?”
Aimee swallowed hard and looked up his hollow eyes, “I thought we were friends.”
Kratan stood up and hip cuffed, his smile unnaturally broad. He looked up and let his laughter roar throughout the hiding place, shaking the ground above them. With his hands in his hips he replied, “You are so naïve, little dame! I bet you’ll taste as good as the crying boy. Will you cry before I eat you? I like salty food.”
Aimee gulped down again but did not give up, “What about Kutril? He is your friend, isn’t he?”
Kratan’s smile vanished. He stared at her for a long time, seeming lost in thought. She didn’t dare breaking his reverie and when he turned his back to her to rest for the day, she smiled. She had planted a tiny seed she hoped would grow inside him in time. She didn’t keep her hopes up though.
It took the villagers the whole night to put off the fire at the Mayor’s house, which by the morning was left into ruins. Although Madam Daussy and her father in law were rescued in time, she was still unconscious and the old man was frailer than ever.
“But papà, you never left your room anyway, why ask for father Pélerin?” The Mayor patted his father’s hand. “You’ll see, you’ll get better and live to see Aimee married to a nobleman as Agnes always wanted.” He showed his teeth in a poor attempt of smile.
The old man gazed up from the Velin’s family’s bed right into Daussy’s eyes, and then looked aside. The Mayor’s chin met his chest and a heavy silence fell between them.
De Faumont labored to prevent panic to settle on the villagers’ hearts, as well as on his own. He had never seen such audacity in a troll, not even in the evilest ones he had encountered before. He set to organize a search group, a night watch, and a rebuilding group. All this was more to have the peasants busy than anything else. He also dispatched a second bird to ask for reinforcement and a third to his uncle.
At mid-afternoon he received an answer that help was on their way. When he finished crowing a compliment to the bird, there was a wide eyed young man in front of him, changing feet impatiently. Upon having his presence acknowledged, he bowed hastily and pointed to the road, “Please come, Monsieur Le Prince. You must see this!”
Without word he followed the young hammer, praying to his ancestors to send him good news. He almost smiled when he was received by a loud cheering, but lost the little color his face held when seeing two trolls turned into stone in the middle of the road to the castle, just outside the village. The man’s cheering died instantly, being replaced by a mix of worried and puzzled faces.
“What’s the problem, my Lord? Shouldn’t we be celebrating that the trolls are dead?” asked Monsieur Depré.
It took De Faumont a moment to gather his thoughts around the question, “This is worse than I thought,” he said, almost to himself. “Much worse.” He finally looked up to the men and explained, “Don’t you see? These trolls were placed here to be found. They were unconscious before the sun came up.”
“Who would put them there?” asked someone to his right.
De Faumont looked down to hide his shame and his grief, “A third troll.”
There was a commotion, which the Mayor was unsuccessful to control. Some people shouted against the troll’s mischief, but most whispered doubts about De Faumont’s ability in dealing with such monsters. Perhaps the tales of his feats were false, planted by him to make himself famous and respected.
De Faumont heard none of that. He gave a loud and anguished bird-like cry and turned back to the village. He paused after a few steps to meet the stunned faces.
“Come,” he summoned. The faces sobered up and followed.