The blankness of his eyes was unnerving. Even before the man’s eyes swept past her, Charlotte impulsively turned away. There was something about the emptiness in his gaze that frightened her. She had always been fascinated with eyes. They were the true window into a person. No matter how someone acted, their true state could always be divined from the eyes. This limping man, with his dapper appearance and lordly bearing, was a dead man. He moved with a grave somberness, as if nothing was truly important. She leaned closer to Geoffrey, who wrapped an arm around her. She was afraid to turn around, afraid of whatever might happen if she stared into his eyes again.

After the man passed, a wave of whispers passed through the market. The travellers were confused by the incident. Aubellet was not some sort of Frankish Elysium, but it was as if the limping man had walked across the entire village’s grave. Charlotte thought back to the hike through the vineyards surrounding the town, and the dark chateau where she had first seen the man.

The time passed, and the man passed from their minds. Harry and Elizabeth eventually called for more wine. The travelers left a pile of francs on the table and left the café. They passed through the town square before ending up at the winery in the other side of the market. The store was a stone construction, cool on the inside with long wooden counters. Only one window let light in, the store was mostly dark. A few meats and cheese hung on the shelves behind the counters, while the rest of the storage space was reserved for the wine itself. Bottles lined the wall, and a door at the rear of the store led to a vast cellar of wine.

Gilles LaPadite sat behind his counter, a small glass of wine held idly in his hands. A solid man, the sommelier had a noticeable paunch around his midsection. His moustache was as gray as his hair. He was a gruff man, but honest and friendly. He also spoke English, something that made him quite popular to the travellers ever since they had arrived in Aubellet. When he saw them, he gave a nod of appreciation, turning towards his shelves for a pair of dark red wines.

As the bottles were opened and poured, the mood quickly returned to the laissez-faire attitude of the morning. LaPadite joined in on their conversation, engaging Geoffrey and James on a discussion of the fishing and hunting sites around Aubellet. The men grew excited and soon drew Harry into their plans. Charlotte took the opportunity to get the sommelier’s attention.

“Monsieur LaPadite,” Charlotte said, turning toward Gilles, “I was wondering if you could help me. There is a man in this town that seems strange. I have seen him twice since we arrived in this town, but everyone seems to stay away from him. He walks with a limp and has white hair, yet does not seem to be old. He is rather…striking.”

“Do you hear that Geoff?” Harry called from the other end of the bar counter. “Your fiancé has taken an interest in one of the locals.”

Geoffrey snorted, scoffing at the idea. “Please, don’t let your imagination run wild. Yes Monsieur LaPadite, indulge Charlotte’s curiosity.”

The sommelier rested an elbow on the counter, stroking his bushy whiskers. “Ah, d’Avout, now there is a harsh man. Hmm, this is a hard tale to tell. You gentlemen, I assume you fought in the war, yes?”

“Harry and I were part of the American Expeditionary Forces,” James replied. “And Geoff was with the British Army. We met in Belgium.”

LaPadite nodded, now scratching his stubbly chin. “Good, then you have some idea of the horrors of the war. It is amazing how much of a dead heat that fight was. Yet, some of the fighting stretched far more west than many expected. Head east for a few miles and you might find signs of an old battle, maybe a spent shell or the trampled remains of the site of an artillery strike.

“Regardless, this town has its history. There are five chateaus in the area, did you know that? On the north end of town, next to the river, there is the Chateau de Crépuscule. A decade ago it was an active place. The Vicomte d’Avout, the owner, was heavily engaged in cultivating the land. The Chateau was a major source of wine for years. However, the Vicomte died in 1914, just before the war broke out. His sons, Gaston and Philippe inherited the land, but by the next year, they were already fighting in the trenches. What happened after that, I cannot say, except that in January of 1920, Philippe d’Avout, the man Madame here is asking about, came back to Aubellet.

“It was a tumultuous return. D’Avout had left in good health, but he came back lame with his limping leg. He claimed the title of Vicomte d’Avout, declaring Gaston, the elder sibling, dead, and dismissed the servants and workers from the grounds. Since then, only he has inhabited the Chateau. No one ever stays there, and aside from coming into town for food, d’Avout never leaves. Surprisingly the place has not fallen apart, but it is just one man looking after it. It is faded and damaged, yes, but hardly in ruins. A gardener from town goes there every three weeks to tend to the flowers, but he says he never sees the Vicomte. When d’Avout comes into town, he is taciturn and somber. As you can imagine, with his attitude and the stir of his return, it only led to rumors.”

“What kind of rumors?” James asked.

LaPadite took the bottle of wine and poured himself a glass. He slowly took a sip before answering. “Rumors, hearsay, I personally give them no heed; they are just the speculations of overly imaginative people.”

“But there are rumors, and they are usually so interesting,” Elizabeth retorted. “What do people say about d’Avout?”

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