Reginald stared into the polished metal hanging over the basin. Its dull reflection captured his troubled image. A man of 24 years stared back at him. Unkempt brown hair and several days’ worth of stubble covered his face. It had been seven months since the events of Bern and his arrival in Dijon. Reginald had sought a quiet retreat within the city’s walls. He was utterly disappointed.
His damnation meant the citizens of Dijon treated him with disdain and loathing. The knight had been in denial of The Lady’s decree. But the hardships he continued to face soon validated her claim. The latest example involved his assignment as a bodyguard for the governor of Dijon. Reginald’s unique background in combat made him more than adequate for the role.
However, Reginald’s curse quickly reared its head. The captain of the guard suddenly took a dislike to him. The captain and a few of his trusted men threatened to reveal to the governor that Reginald was an English traitor. A baseless accusation, but one the knight knew he would be found guilty of nevertheless. With no choice in the matter, Reginald resigned from his post.
The knight spent the last few days in a ramshackle room he rented in the slums of Dijon. Cheap ale and moldy bread were his only companions. Here was the only place in the city he could go unnoticed, here amongst those damned by their own vices. How sad. Reginald had dined with the King of England. Damned and with no future prospects – what was he to do now?
“Resume your duty. Fulfill your obligation,” a silvered voice answered.
Reginald whipped his head around to see The Lady standing in the middle of his small room. She was unchanged since he first encountered her in the outskirts of Bern. She was a vision in white garments. Her pale face was framed with locks of scarlet hair. And as always her eyes were piercing and knowing as they locked onto his.
“I…should have expected you at some point. As bad as things are now – they are only about to get worse. Aren’t they?” Reginald asked rhetorically.
The lady said nothing. She waited patiently for Reginald to collect himself before giving her message, “You are needed in the village of Guerande. An evil terrorizes its people. Something comes in the night. One by one the children of the village are being taken – never to be seen from again. You will travel to Guérande and uncover the source of this evil.
Reginald remained silent for some time. He took in the Lady’s words and what they meant. The last time he heeded her, he nearly died in battle. A vile necromancer and its undead minions nearly succeeded in killing him. Being damned as he was – his soul would immediately be cast into hell if he perished. A fate Reginald had fought desperately against and only narrowly avoided.
Once more he was being commanded to face deadly peril with that very consequence in mind. Reginald steadied himself before he asked, “Do you know what it is that I will encounter there?”
The Lady made no response.
“Is there anything I should expect once I’m there?” Reginald pressed.
But the question, like the previous one, went unanswered. Reginald’s temper flared at this. “Is there anything you’d be willing to share? I don’t see why you bothered to appear here in person at all.”
Without malice or contempt The Lady asked, “Do you care to share with me the details of your time here in Dijon?”
The anger and bluster left Reginald as his eyes traveled to the empty ale bottles littered about the room. Reginald closed his eyes. Through force of will he pushed the apathy he wallowed in aside. He was a knight. Despite any predicament or problem – nothing could change that. Reginald passed The Lady without another word – retrieved his mail armor from the chest by his bed. By the time he strapped on his gear and turned, The Lady was gone.
It took the better part of six days to ride from Dijon to Guérande. In the brief time Reginald had worked at the governor’s mansion, he had managed to make enough coin to purchase a horse. A foul tempered stallion named Misery. A name the horse no doubt earned from its jilted, former rider. Being raised around horses most of his life, the knight managed to tame the belligerent beast.
Through ragged mountain passes and rocky trails, horse and rider traveled. Rough country gradually leveled off by the fourth day. It became increasingly marsh like as run off from the mountains pooled into the lowlands. Thick fog rose above the marshes in the morning. The sound of Misery’s hooves echoed in the eerie surroundings – it filled Reginald with a sense of foreboding.
On the morning of the sixth day, Reginald spotted the village of Guérande. It was a sizable settlement at the bottom of a long slope. The village was surrounded by farmland. Except from the south, where a large marsh served as the village’s southern border. Banks of fog swept over the walls of the village. Even from his elevated position – Reginald could sense something was wrong. It was if the buildings and people below were tainted by a great shadow from the south.
Reginald gazed over the village a moment longer before riding Misery down the slope in a slow canter. The knight was quite mindful of the occupied guard tower by the gate. He took note of the two men who leaned on long bows casually, but kept his eyes averted. He did not want to draw attention to himself as he neared the town square. He observed the villagers as they shuffled about in a subdued fashion. The scene had a muted and lifeless feel to it. And Reginald knew why – there were no children running about.
The knight dismounted and tethered his horse in front of an Inn. He felt eyes on his back as he walked into the dwelling and headed straight for the barkeep. He was a worn, hard looking man who gazed upon Reginald with open hostility. Reginald knew his tainted presence, caused by his damnation, would make finding answers to what plagued Guérande difficult. Still he needed to start somewhere.
Reginald reached into his cloak. He grasped enough coins for several rounds of drinks and placed them on the stained and dented counter. The knight noted how the barkeeps eyes lingered on the pile before he gruffly asked,
“What can I get for you?”
“Some wine and information,” Reginald answered evenly.
The barkeep grunted and bent down to retrieve a wooden goblet. He opened a tap of a large wine barrel, filled the goblet, and placed it before Reginald.
“Now, what do you need to know?” The barkeep asked irritably. The presence of the large pile of coins blunted his disdain only so far.
Reginald eyed the man impatiently before speaking, “There are stories of something lurking in the night. A beast that takes the children of Guérande and they are never seen again. What else can you tell me?”
“Everyone’s afraid. Mothers most of all. They’ve taken to feeding their children wormwood and other bitter herbs. They think it will spoil the taste of whatever is after them. What’s it to you? It is our problem and we will deal with it. It is of no concern to an outsider,” The barkeep stonewalled. Suspicion filled his face.
The animosity directed towards him was nothing new. Still – Reginald fought to keep both his pride and temper in check. He didn’t need to get thrown out of the village before he learned what threatened it. Reginald slid a few more coins towards the barkeep – hoping he could just buy the information he needed. The surly man cleared his throat and was about to speak when the inn’s door slammed open.
Reginald turned to see a tall, broad shouldered man enter. He wore a fine suit of mail and a blue embroidered tabard. A thick round shield was slung over his back and a long sword was belted at his side. Given the quality of his dress, Reginald assumed this was someone in authority.
“I am Andre Laurent – the Sheriff of Guérande. State your name and business here,” Andre ordered.
Reginald struggled not to let his frustration show. The interruption caused his answers to remain unspoken by the barkeep. The knight decided to take a different approach given the new obstruction of the sheriff,
“My name is Reginald. I am a simple man at arms looking for an opportunity to earn some coin. Rumors have spread. Tales of Guérande’s children being stolen in the night are already being told in taverns as far as Dijon. I’m here to see if there’s some reward for slaying whatever is responsible.”
“Don’t you mean, whomever is responsible – Englishman,” Laurent accused. The Frenchman wore a pronounced sneer as he looked Reginald over.
This would go nowhere. The French naturally reviled any Englishman. The Plantagenet acquisition of Aquitaine through marriage to Princess Eleanor of France was a point of contention. King Louis VII had been furious over the arrangement, understandable so. An English King was a greater landholder in France than Louis himself. The sheriff, apparently, was no less bitter.
Reginald tried to humor the Frenchman without creating a potential scene, “You seen to have someone in mind already monsieur, I wish you success in capturing the fiend.”
The knight turned from the tavern counter and began to leave when the sheriff stepped in front of him.
“Yes, I do suspect someone of this. How strange that a foreigner should appear as our children go missing. I don’t believe your story,” the sheriff pressed.
“Yet it is the only one I have to tell,” Reginald said through clenched teeth. The English hatred for the French was no less potent and Reginald’s patience was at its limit.
Then Andre Laurent made the mistake of insulting Reginald’s knighthood when he demanded, “You will surrender yourself to my custody. Now hand over your sword…”