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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 teacher.
‘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
A light rain was falling now, and Hugo pulled the hood of
his tunic over his head to keep out the worst of the damp. It
hung down almost to his nose, restricting his vision to a small