Simon and Valerie

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Émilie nodded thoughtfully. "You're a city boy. You've got to be a quick thinker, and adaptable, to get by these days. No need to deny it, boy," she responded to any false modesty on Simon's face. "I can tell you're a clever one." She seemed to be weighing him up, as if he were a prize specimen of livestock at the market; Simon had never had an adult stare at him in such a way before.

Then the priestess turned to Valerie. "And you, my dear? What's your story? Because you won't mind me saying that the two of you are damned odd caravan guards. A bit on the scrawny side. People notice, in a village this size. They'll probably keep it to themselves, of course, but I'm rather nosy so I don't mind asking." She grinned wickedly, clearly enjoying her ability to bypass social niceties.


Abel, Heinrich and Siegfried

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Siegfried shrugged. "I'm not too keen to chase after anything with a jaw that big. We'll find this peasant, and that's all."

The apothecary led the others down the lane that ran by the market. The stalls by now were completely deserted - just empty skeletons, like the jutting ribs of some immense beast buried beneath the village. The shadows were starting to creep around corners, as the afternoon sun dipped to the treetops in the southern sky.

Three men were standing outside the last house, where the lane deteriorated into a thin line of dry earth. The tallest was the figure of the village elder, still clutching his ornate staff. He nodded cordially to Heinrich, then bowed slowly to Abel; the stiffness of the movement was probably due to his age rather than any lack of respect. His two companions were much quicker to make their obeisances, although one had a rather sullen look on his face as he did so.

"Monsieur," said the elder to Abel, "I am Edgard. I have the honour of being village elder in Remy-sur-Orne. These good men are Luc and Claude." They straightened up. Claude was the grumpier of the two.

Edgard continued. "We are truly blessed to have such a man of your status in our midst in this hour of need."