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A Fatal Homecoming

Chapter 1
May 1310 - Troyes, Kingdom of France…
Hugo the Forestier shook his head sadly as he inspected
yet another dying tree. It was the fourth he'd found that
morning, to add to the dozens he'd come across over the
past month. What was decimating his forest he couldn't
tell. His father would have known at a glance - but he'd
been dead for three years, now. Hugo had done his best
to learn all his secrets before he died, but found that the
old man - although a very fine forestier - was a very poor
”Its something that can't be taught,‘ he'd explain
impatiently to his frustrated son. ”You can only learn the
secrets of the trees by watching and listening to them
over many, many years.‘
”Listen to them? What do you mean, “listen to
them”? Don't talk such rubbish.‘ - to which his father
would just hang his head and mutter to himself. Well,
Hugo had tried to watch and listen, but the trees
remained stubbornly mute. In his own way he had
nevertheless managed to learn a great deal, and was now
almost as well respected amongst the community as his
father had been. In reality, he was the only person aware
of his shortcomings, but that would quickly change once
people noticed that the forest was dying. He ran his hand
over the rough bark, half hoping it would give him a hint
of what was wrong. ”“Listen to them!” my father said.
Well, if you're ever going to speak to me, now's the time
to do it. No? Then there's little I can do to help,‘ he said
aloud. He shook his head and did one more circuit of the
trunk. He could identify any one of a dozen diseases, but
none that remotely resembled this. In the end, he broke
off one of the afflicted branches in the hope that his friend
in Saint Guillaume (a village some three miles away)
could shed some light on the mystery. He tightened the
rope harnessing the load of sticks on his back before
continuing his daily search for kindling and inspection of