The rest of the day passed without any conflict. The men continued their exploration of the countryside, memories of the war coming back with each locale. Charlotte was surprised by the seriousness of their efforts. James’ somberness no longer seemed aimless. Even Harry had avoided leaving a droll comment with every step.

Each man seemed different once they stopped to reminisce. For those moments, they seemed to channel the beings they were ten years ago. They took on a certain formality, a way of carrying themselves that was foreign to Charlotte and Elizabeth. Geoffrey had never ignored his title, but as Charlotte watched him framed in the fading light of the dusk, he seemed all the more noble in his bearing.

The trip had been Geoffrey’s idea, a way to get away from the city for a bit, and travel the countryside; three weeks away from Paris, heading east towards Lorraine before turning south to Marseille. The trip had started out fine, but once come across the locations the men remembered from the war, every so often things turned melancholy. It made Charlotte long for the bars and haunts of Paris. This sour turn did not please her. The men seemed to be almost different people. This Lord Dryden was not the Geoffrey she had chosen to marry. Thankfully it only lasted into the twilight of the evening. As they lay to rest for the night, Geoffrey was himself again, and a measure of comfort returned to Charlotte.

The following morning was free of the burden of the past. Their hotel was situated in the center of Aubellet, at the north end of the town square. Just opposite of the hotel, leading into a long street, was an open air market, already filled with cries of vendors hawking their goods and wares. The church bells of an old gothic cathedral chimed, ringing in the late morning as the penitent left the pews.

The travelers found themselves seated outside a café in the square. It was not yet noon and already three bottles lay empty on the table. The late breakfast was a casual affair, with a sampling of the local wines. Geoffrey and Charlotte leaned back in their wicker chairs, taking in the scenery. Harry was rambling away, all while Elizabeth listened intently. The louder American was her favorite today. For his part, James drank his wine quietly, looking at an old stone statue of Louis XIII in the center of the square. It had been erected years ago to commemorate a victory during the Thirty Years War, and it still stood, imposing and regal, a symbol of the history of the area.

Geoffrey sighed, setting his drink down. “It’s so strange, being back. Everything seems so vivid now, but we were here for so little time.”

“Do we have to talk about the war, dear?” Charlotte asked.

“Why not?” Geoffrey asked. “Isn’t that why we’re here, to see these old places again?”

“I thought we were here to see the countryside and get out of Paris for a bit. You know, to see something foreign.”

“We’re all expatriates dear, every part of France is a foreign to us as the next.”

“Not if we’ve spent the last few years living out of every bar and café in the city.”

“Time well spent,” Harry said, leaning towards the couple.

“Harry, you’re tight,” Elizabeth said playfully, giving the American a slap on the arm.

“Well love, I could be a lot worse,” he replied, feigning offence.

“He’s fine,” James said quietly from his chair, a small smile gracing his face. He had been silent for almost the entire day; at least since Elizabeth had chosen Harry as her companion for the day.

“I just want to have some fun, that’s all,” Charlotte whispered.

Geoffrey leaned towards her, trying to keep his words from reaching the others. “Charlotte, you know I just want to make you happy. I promise that we will do something soon. This has just been a…difficult few days for me. I’m sorry.”

He left a quick kiss on her cheek. Charlotte smiled in return, slipping her arm behind his waist and resting her head on his shoulder.

“Hang on,” Harry said. “Did it just get quiet here?”

The café had turned silent. Beyond their table, people leaned over their drinks, looking down the street with discomfort. They seemed overcome with apprehension, as if a sudden fear had grasped the people of Aubellet. Charlotte followed their gaze to the end of the market, and she saw what scared them. It was the man from the chateau.

He stood near a vendor, a bundle under his right arm. In his left hand he held his dark wooden cane. Charlotte realized he walked with a limp, his left leg faltering with each step. He walked away from the vendor, walking down the street, towards the café. He was dressed with immaculate care. His shirt was spotless, and he wore a dark cravat at his neck. Over it all was a long, gray coat. Even with the limp, the man walked with the air and look of a distant lord. The man held a somber grimace on his face, but once again Charlotte noticed something was odd about his eyes. His hair was shock white, paler than his face.

Charlotte watched the man walk past the café. As he passed, she saw into his eyes. She saw them only for the briefest moment, but at that moment she was able to see what had been odd about them. Despite his well-kept appearance, his eyes seemed like hollow circles in the center of his face. They were sunken and gray, almost dead. They stared out at the world passively, as if nothing caught the man’s attention. The two gray spheres were truly lifeless.

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