A Fatal Homecoming
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 circle just ahead of his feet, but
protected his eyes from the stream of water that was soon
cascading over his face. Some days were better than
others for a forestier - but ones like this came bottom of
the pile. He stumbled over tree roots and more than once
grazed his shin against a protruding rock, but he knew he
had to clear the traps today or they'd be cleared by
poachers and foxes tonight. The Commune of Troyes only
paid him to watch and maintain the forest - they wouldn't
care if he went home and dried himself beside his fire. As
long as the trees were kept healthy (God willing, he'll be
able to do something to make sure of that) and a daily
load of kindling was supplied during the colder months to
the various charitable institutions to which the Commune
was committed, then no-one cared what hours he kept.
There were no restrictions on which animals he was
allowed to hunt and trap - a great privilege allowed only
to the forestier and the local nobles, and one on which he
greatly depended. There was no alternative but to plod
on despite the rain.
Soon he came to a denser part of the forest and his
progress became more difficult. There was a lot more
kindling to collect here, but tree roots barred the way in
every direction and were treacherously slippery in the
damp conditions. It was curiously quiet - neither bird nor
animal stirred and the only sound came from the branches
above as they rocked back and forth in the wind. He
came to a particularly awkward root buttress and placed
his palm against it for balance as he tried to climb over.
Suddenly the moss covering the bark gave way and the
load on his back forced him to lose his balance and topple
sideways. At the last moment he tried to brace himself
with his foot, but by now his momentum was too great.
He fell face first into the mud, bruising his elbow and
taking several layers of skin off his hand into the bargain.
He was just beginning to think the day couldn‘t get any
worse, when he lifted his face from the mud and looked
directly into the dead, staring eyes of a corpse.