The man called Luc was looking between Edgard and the vague region of Abel’s hips, curling and uncurling the fingers of one hand in visible agitation. “If Monsieur would follow me …” he said uncertainly, indicating the direction of the woods. Claude strode past, not standing on ceremony.
“Good luck. Our prayers are with you,” the village elder said solemnly as the group of five began walking south. Though even the dirt path disappeared before they entered the shade of the trees, Luc seemed to know exactly where to go - and it was a good thing too, for even if they had known the lay of the land, both Heinrich and Abel almost instantly lost their sense of direction. As the shade of the evening fermented between the trees, one trunk became indistinguishable from the next, and the uneven landscape of fallen logs, muddy puddles and clumps of ugly weeds made it almost impossible to see their own footprints behind them. Perhaps the villagers had ways of recognising land that had felt the tread of a human boot before, but to the knight and the pit fighter it all looked like just so much more forest. As the minutes passed, the shadows thickened noticeably, and the air chilled; it would not do to be left in the forest after dark.
After ten or fifteen minutes of clambering quickly between the trees, Luc suddenly paused.
“What is it?” whispered Claude - and until that moment, there seemed to be no reason to whisper, but now that he had spoken, his voice sounded most unwelcome beneath the howl and creak of branches stirring in the wind.
“There,” said Luc, pointing to one gnarled thicket of spiny bushes. “This is where I lost him.”
There was nobody to be seen.