Part Five of The Lost Children of Guérande
As Reginald expected a man was sent to the surrounding farms seeking volunteers to hunt the troll. A detailed description wasn’t forthcoming for those men gathered just outside of Guérande. A wise withholding of information, given the peasants would return to their fields if they knew the truth.
The few farmers recruited were armed with hunting bows and large wood cutting axes. Worn deerskin hides and shoddy spun garments were all the protection they possessed. Peasants were little more than cannon fodder in the end.
The local militia accompanying them was better armed. Large pikes rested at their sides. Massive weapons when used together could form a fearsome steel wall. Thick cured leather cuirasses and greaves protected them. A small detachment of militia was also armed with crossbows.
Andre Laurent and a few of Guérande’s nobles were present. They wore coats of mail and bore both shield and sword. Normally these men would be astride their warhorses, but the swamp prevented their use. Even so, these men could hold their own if they didn’t falter in the face of fear.
Reginald kept his distance and watched the assembly march into Brière. When he was sure the hunting party couldn’t be signaled back – Reginald rode Misery into the village. The guards posted in the watchtower didn’t sound an alarm or shoot at him. As Reginald expected – anyone who would’ve recognized him was already with the sheriff.
The knight rode Misery to one of the shops in the marketplace, kept his eyes down and averted from the suspicious gazes being shot his way. With his horse tethered, Reginald entered the small shop. Once inside he immediately noticed a fine crossbow hanging on the wall.
Reginald bought a bundle of rope as well before paying the merchant who had eyed him suspiciously the entire time. The man only sold his goods to Reginald because he correctly assumed the knight would use them in hunting the beast. That much was true. However, the knight planned on facing the troll alone.
Reginald was fastening his gear onto Misery’s saddlebags when he heard a soft hissing sound. It came from the darkened space between the merchants shop and the building next store. Reginald walked towards the source of the noise. Making sure no one watched, he entered the alley and saw Clemence. The little girl waved for him to follow her deeper into the gloom. Reginald shook his head in disbelief and walked up to her.
Her dirty hair was still hung to the side in a single pigtail. The dress she wore remained soiled and looked as if it were dragged through the brambles of Brière. Clemence’s cherubic face was still unwashed since the last time Reginald saw her.
“Your parents still let you run amuck?” Reginald greeted.
The little girl shrugged, “There really isn’t anything they can do about it.”
“Well, I’m happy you made it home safe last night and I thank you for helping me escape the marsh,” Reginald admitted.
Such an admission was a concession the knight normally forswore. But the grubby little girl before him deserved some encouragement. Seeing her face light up once more – Reginald turned to leave.
“Wait! Are you going to fight the monster again?” Clemence asked excitedly.
“Yes. And you will stay here. I have no idea how you managed to follow me into the marsh last night, but you will not do so again. Brière is filled with nervous men ready to let fly an arrow into anything that moves. Including little girls,” Reginald warned.
Clemence squinted defiantly. When Reginald showed no signs of relenting she looked down in defeat. What a willful little girl, Reginald thought, as he turned to leave again.
But Clemence stopped him cold.
“I know where that monster is…I can tell you,” she offered.
The knight spoke over his shoulder, “Stop it. You won’t convince me to let you come along. It won’t work.”
“I’m not lying, Reginald! Let me tell you! I promise I’ll stay home. Please?” Clemence begged.
Reginald walked on a bit further, determined to ignore the pleas and be on his way. Clemence was just trying to get his attention…but what if she wasn’t. He halted as he considered the situation. Clemence had navigated him through the marsh with ease.
Seeing Reginald hesitate, Clemence forged ahead, “You are going to enter Brière by crossing the fallow field. Keep going straight until you see the large stream. Follow its current until you see the stone steps and use them to cross. Up ahead you will find the skeleton tree. Just past that will be the hollow where it lives.”
Reginald tiled his head in thought. He was tempted to dismiss Clemence’s instructions, but the knowing look stamped on her face stopped him. What if she had spoken true? Clemence had known where the Troll would strike. In the end, there was no reason to ignore her directions.
“Alright, Clemence. I’ll see how far I get with your instructions. But I better not see you in the marsh,” Reginald warned.
The knight reached into his coin purse, wanting to reward Clemence for her aid. The poor peasant could at least buy herself a new dress. But before Reginald could extend his coin filled hand, the little girl was running away. Her frail figure disappeared behind the corner of the shop. Reginald thought about pursuing her, but it would only draw the attention of any remaining militia.
Reginald rode of out the village and returned to the hut. It wasn’t far from where Clemence had instructed him to go. The knight entered the shabby little structure and found Nicholas starring at the strange staff propped up against the wall. The old hermit’s brow was creased and his arms were crossed over his chest.
“What troubles you old man?” Reginald asked.
Nicholas sighed heavily before replying, “I was recently enlightened. My purpose here in Guérandeis now clear… and the explanation troubles me.”
“The truth is seldom a welcome thing,” Reginald reflected,“So? What is your reason for living near a troll infested marsh?”
Nicholas favored Reginald with a humoring smile, “You will have your answer the next time we meet.”
The knight chuckled, “That’s if I live that long, old man. I’m going back into Brière.”
“Then farewell for now. I have faith that we shall meet again,” Nicholas said.
The old man walked Reginald to the door. Though Reginald did not share the hermit’s confidence, he appreciated the gesture. Once more the knight left Misery with Nicholas and marched across the fallow field towards the Brière to do battle with the beast that dwelled there.