Hugh the Discerning

Garnett Elliott

One warm spring morning, the reeve Hugh de Manchefort was out among his gardens supervising the early planting. Amidst flowering chamomile and carefully cropped bushes of amaranth, del-phinium, and juniper, he stood like a stern warden; an elderly man in a woolen shirt and broad- brimmed hat, with a long willow rod tucked beneath one arm. If a servant went about his duties without sufficient zest, then—whack!—out came the willow rod and across the unfortunate's back. Such was Hugh's devotion to detail that he inspected each and every seed before it was placed beneath the ground. His garden had not suffered for his attentions; a lush checkerboard of rare plants, stately trees, and polished, artfully-placed stones. Everything seemed to prosper beneath Hugh's watchful eye.

Presently, he noticed an assortment of villagers heading up the road towards his estate. A single, gray-haired figure marched purposefully at the lead. Hugh squinted his eyes in recognition and frowned. The procession drew close. The leadmost figure was none other than Matron Margeut, a woman of property nearly as old as Hugh, and no small authority in the village of Morraine. She wore a coat of green velvet and had her hair drawn up with long silver pins brought from Troyes. Hugh bluntly asked the nature of her business.

"You have not heard the news?" she asked.

Hugh scratched at the scalp just beneath the rim of his hat. "What news are you referring to?"

"Why, the ogre Chantillion of course," she said, looking surprised.

"Ogre?" Hugh said slowly.

"Yes. Even now he ravages the forests around Morraine. It is only a matter of time before he enters the village proper."

Hugh stared at Matron Margeut and the crowd behind her for several long moments. He then turned to one of his servants and began instructing him in the proper trimming of rhododendrons.

Sensing dismissal, Margeut stepped forward and rapped her knuckles against the front gate. "Hugh!" she demanded. "Hugh, I am not finished speaking to you."

Hugh looked up wearily from his flower bush. "Yes?"

"I was telling you about the ogre Chantillion, and how he threatens the common good of Mor-raine."

"Yes, a frightful character I'm sure." He bent to examine a clipping. "And you—along with half of the village here—have brought this to my attention because?"

"You are the reeve."

"Yes," Hugh admitted, "I am the reeve. That means I count grain. I am responsible for keeping an accurate tally for the Comte de Fleuris. I am not, however, responsible for vague supernatural threats."

Softly, Margeut said: "You are also Hugh the Discerning."

Hugh straightened. At the mention of his old sobriquet, some of the harshness drained from his face. "You have a long memory," he said, but his tone was not so dismissive now. Hugh had long ago earned a reputation for his powers of perception. When presented with several choices, it was said, Hugh could unerringly pick the most fortuitous, and this had helped to build his early suc-cessful career, serving in courts as far away as Venice and Prague. Even to the present, he enjoyed the best livestock, carefully culled and bred from the farms of his neighbors; he employed the best vintner and ale-tasters in the region, so that his private stocks were always sought after; and he had procured for himself, after much haggling, the most handsome, vivacious young wife that a man of his advanced age and station could hope for.

"I am flattered," Hugh said carefully, "that you have sought my counsel in this important matter. I would advise you thusly: take your appeal to the Comte de Fleuris. He can dispatch some of his horsemen to help out, provided you can convince him of the threat posed by this creature."

Matron Margeut shook her head. "Your mind is no doubt clouded by your exertions this morning. Else you would remember that the Comte's horsemen are away raiding our neighbors in Coeur- sur-Mer, at the behest of our benevolent lordship."

"Then I would exhort you to locate the Christian hero Balthazar of Messina, a swordsman without equal, who bears the magic blade Triste. He should prove more than adequate in dispatching your ogre."

"Again," said Matron Margeut, more tersely this time, "I think the vapours of this fresh morning air have left you addled, else you would recall that Balthazar is now a prisoner of the Moors, and the sword Triste is believed to languish in some Saracen treasure-house, masterless."

Hugh reddened. "The duties of my station," he said thickly, "do not allow me time for idle gossip about far-away places. You have come here seeking my aid and I have given it. For all I know, you are having some elaborate joke at my expense, teasing me with this fairy-talk about ogres and what not."

"Chantillion is real," came a voice from among the villagers.

The crowd parted, allowing a shepherd to come hobbling forward, leaning heavily against his crook. His face was youthful and unlined; he had a trace of blond stubble growing at his chin. But his eyes, and his mannerisms, were those of a much older man. Hugh noticed with a start that his left leg was gone below the knee.

"I have met Chantillion myself," the shepherd said. "I can vouch for his cruelty."

"Go on," said Hugh.

Margeut leaned close and draped a comforting hand over the young shepherd. He began to talk, haltingly at first, of how Chantillion had come across his cottage in the dead of night, and Grendel-like, stole inside to devour his family while still in their beds. The shepherd had awak-ened and tried to escape by leaping out a window, but Chantillion caught his leg before he was all the way through and held him fast. Relishing at his own cleverness, the ogre then began to explain how he had found him.

"He came across my son," the shepherd said, "while he was out grazing the flock; killed and ate him on the spot." Tears slid down his cheek and onto the fine velvet of Margeut's dress. "Then he ate every sheep, one by one, until only our old hound was left. Chantillion made as if to let him go, but then followed at a distance. The dog led him all the way back to our house."

"I feared for my life, maddened by grief as I was, but Chantillion's hunger must have been sated from his night's work. He let me escape. As I fell out the window he gave my leg one final grasp, and tore with all his strength, lest I ever forget what had happened."

The shepherd fell silent. Margeut began to help him hobble back towards the crowd, but he turned suddenly and fixed his eyes upon Hugh. "I have glimpsed Chantillion's house in the darkest cor-ner of the wood," he said. "Built from the bone, skin, and sinew of his victims—a Grue House, and it grows larger as the ogre ranges farther about the forest. Soon, he will come to the edge of Morraine."

Hugh gravely shook his head. "I believe you. But, as Matron Margeut has already pointed out, my counsel is lacking. I do not know what to do."

"You could take action!" Margeut said. "I have seen an old sword hanging above your mantel-piece, in the main hall."

"That sword belonged to my father, good lady. I do not have the skill to use it. Or the strength, for that matter."

Margeut looked down at her feet. The crowd shifted, trading uneasy glances and muttering, but no one raised their voice to speak. "I will pledge this," Hugh said quickly, sensing the need for authority. "Tomorrow I will have the sword taken down and brought to the square. Assemble those stalwarts among the villagers brave enough to face this threat—preferably young ones. I will choose the most fit candidate from among these, and bestow upon him the weapon."

The crowd made no response. Geese honked from wicker cages nearby; a lark circled overhead. Margeut, still sullen, nodded her head and turned away from the gate. The villagers silently trailed after her. They marched back up the road with far less enthusiasm as when they had come down it.

Hugh noticed that all his servants were staring at him. "Back to work!" he sputtered, laying about with the willow-rod until they were once again kneeling and digging. He tried to concentrate on the garden, but the feeling that he had shirked his obligations nagged him for the rest of the morn-ing. At noon he found a large mound in his turnip bed swarming with ants. He watched the crea-tures for the better part of an hour, until he felt he had identified certain ants that were behaving in a laggardly manner, and carefully ground those beneath his heel. In this fashion he convinced himself that he had helped Morraine by ridding it of inefficient elements, and was so able to free his conscience for the rest of the day.

The next morning Hugh had a servant take down the old sword and wrap it in oilcloth, which he carried himself to the village square.

Margeut was already there and waiting. She had dressed somberly for the occasion; dark blue vel-vet instead of her usual green, lapis earrings, and a shawl of black silk. Her entourage sat patiently around the brick perimeter of the square, now more spectators than concerned citizens. Three men, presumably the candidates, stood behind her. Hugh surveyed them quickly and frowned. He asked Margeut when the rest would arrive.

"We asked among the villagers as you prescribed," she said. "These were the only willing to come forward."

"But they're, they're all..." he wrung his hands in disbelief.

Margeut shrugged. "We have what we have. Begin with your judging."

Hesitant, hugging the sword-bundle against his chest, Hugh walked over to the first candidate, a young man of disheveled appearance. One of his eyes stared off at a pronounced angle from the other. Hugh asked him a question and he answered with a stream of amiable babble. "I recognize this man," Hugh said at last, "as Gerard the Idiot. He is a stable-hand at the farm of Guilliame Severts."

"It is true," admitted Margeut.

"And did he volunteer for this duty of his own free will?"

"I am not completely sure. He is difficult to understand. Suffice to say that I put the question to him, and he seemed agreeable enough."

"I see." Hugh moved on to the next candidate. This was a much older man, around Hugh's own age, with great shaggy matts of silver hair. He sat cross-legged on the ground. He was clothed in old rags clotted with urine and ale, and a stench wafted up from him with the force of a stiff breeze.

"This is Antoine de Lus," Hugh said with disgust, clutching at his nostrils. "A known drunkard and layabout."

"True," confessed Matron Margeut. "But it is common knowledge that spirits can embolden a man and fire his heart to great deeds."

Hugh gave her a despairing look. "And so," he said, addressing Antoine, "How would a tosspot such as yourself hope to overcome Chantillion? I don't think you have the wits about you now to find your way out of the square."

In reply, Antoine vomited up a stream of thick brown liquid. Hugh could not dash aside in time to avoid having his boots splashed. He fumed and kicked at the besotted man before turning to the third and final candidate. This last was more promising than the previous two, and Hugh felt his hopes soar for a brief moment. He was a young man, with intelligent features, and wore his long black hair tied back in a poet's queue. His eyes were reddened and sore; when Hugh approached, he buried his face in his hands and began to sob.

"And what is wrong with this one?" Hugh asked, suddenly very weary.

"Ask him yourself. It is a sad story, and frankly makes me depressed to repeat it."

The young man composed himself and told his story. He was indeed a poet, and very much in love with a certain young Colette, whom he had courted for the better part of a year with the intention of marriage. But at the last moment, she had spurned him for an older, more wealthier prospect.

"This story has a certain familiar ring to it," observed Hugh. "I assume you wish to win Colette back by the performance of heroic deeds?"

The poet threw up his hands. "What does it matter?" he asked, his eyes becoming wide and manic, his ink-stained fingers trembling. "Colette has already been married, and nothing I do can bring her back." He leaned close to Hugh and looked at him slyly. "In truth," he giggled, "I only wanted to obtain the sword so that I could run myself through at the first opportunity." Then he collapsed to the floor and began weeping all over again.

Hugh cursed aloud, but Matron Margeut could only profess her own frustration. "The only men willing to come forward," she concluded, "were those who already had nothing to lose."

"I find not one of them suitable," Hugh said. He turned to the crowd huddling around the edges of the square, speaking loud enough so everyone could hear. "I see no other recourse," he said. "As a group, we must arm ourselves—with torches and pitchforks, if nothing else is available—and seek out Chantillion in the surrounding woods. I doubt that even this creature could prevail against a mob. There would, of course, have to be casualties..."

His voice trailed off. Most of the spectators were rapidly leaving the square.

"What is this?" Hugh said, turning to Margeut.

"Your 'army' appears to be deserting the field."

Hugh sighed. "Yesterday, they seemed much more resolute."

"They're scared," Margeut said simply. "They've had no training as soldiers."

"And I have?"

Margeut ignored his question. A small, determined-looking group of villagers remained behind, including the one-legged shepherd, but they were not numerous enough to form a mob. Hugh shook his head in disgust. He began to stalk away from the square. "And where do you think you're going?" Margeut demanded.

"Home. If the townsfolk are too craven to band together for their own good, then so be it. I go to arrange the defenses of my own estate."

"But your pledge--"

"I have done as I pledged."

The young shepherd's staff struck against the floor with such force that fragments of brick flew upwards, and the sound echoed through the square like a thunderclap. All eyes now turned to him. "You pledged," he said, leveling the crook at Hugh, "to choose among the candidates and pick the most suitable. None of them are suitable. By default, you are the most fit to confront Chantillion."

"That's not what I meant!" Hugh snapped. "What kind of logic is this?"

The crowd began to murmur. Margeut looked from them and back at Hugh, blinking rapidly, but just then a red-haired ploughboy stepped forward and everyone fell silent again. The ploughboy respectfully cleared his throat. "I have always heard," he said, "that ogres are stupid creatures, and therefore easily tricked."

Hugh nodded towards the shepherd. "He found his home cleverly enough."

"Yes," said Margeut, warming to the idea, "this Chantillion may possess some base cunning, but what is this next to the brains of Hugh the Discerning? You doubt if you can use a sword: I say that your sharp tongue is a sword, and your quick wits a shield. With these weapons, you could surely overcome a simple, backwoods ogre."

"You are proposing that I somehow trick this ogre?" Hugh asked. Again, Margeut's mention of his old title had restored some pride, stoking a fire within Hugh's belly, albeit a small one.

"Yes." She looked thoughtful for a moment. "Perhaps you could lure Chantillion off a cliff."

"Or into a fast moving river," suggested somebody else.

The group was quick to paint other, similarly inane, scenarios, all involving a high degree of cul-pability on the part of the ogre. The one-legged shepherd did not seem as confident as the others in this matter, but he was not about to break the group's momentum. "I doubt if the creature is that stupid," Hugh said at last. "But I think the idea has merit."

Margeut brightened. "Then you'll go?"

Hugh set his finger to the edge of his chin. Pride was like strong drink to him, and now the fire in his stomach was a furnace, blazing stronger still. In the courts of Milan, in Provence, he had faced poisoners and assassin's knives; the consequences of a hundred ill-fated intrigues, and yet his agile mind had always seen him through. Was he so rusted now, after years of grain-counting and livestock-whelping, that he could not reclaim the hard won lauds of his youth? He steeled himself by blotting out the possibility of failure. "I will try," he said softly.

The small crowd let out a cheer and rushed forward to mill about Hugh. Matron Margeut kissed him on both cheeks. He absorbed what adulation he felt appropriate, then waved the group back. The morning was still young, and if he hurried, he would have several hours of daylight to search for Chantillion in the woods nearby. He sent a message to his wife that he would be home by evening, then left the square via the main road, treading his way out of town and past the bound-aries of Morraine proper. For half an hour he walked, until a tall forest of beech and poplar loomed close. He left the road and took an old trail used by poachers that led into the thickest parts of the wood.

He was in good spirits. Grass and flowering brush reached to waist height on either side of the trail; insects droned, and in the high branches above male jackdaws called challenge to one another. The sword-bundle was becoming increasingly heavy, so in annoyance he cast it into the weeds. Perhaps he would be able to find it on his way back, perhaps not. He needed something new to go over the mantelpiece anyway. By late afternoon the shadows were growing longer and the trail nearing its end, but Hugh had still not found Chantillion or his Grue House. He would need to turn back soon, before darkness overtook the woods completely. Tomorrow he could find another trail and begin the search anew; all the better, as he had failed to come up with a clever plan on how to trick the ogre once he found him. He would have to think on that during supper.

Hugh turned to leave. And stopped. Somewhere off to his left came a sound, low and rhythmic, like hammer-blows. He strained his ears. The sound was not far away.

He stepped off the trail, plunging past brush and low-lying branches. Cracks of sunlight appeared through the foliage ahead, and suddenly he was free, standing at the edge of a bright clearing. Fifty paces away he glimpsed the source of the strange noise.

A tall woodsman was carefully lining up white posts and driving them into the ground with a cud-gel. Behind him, in the shadows of the treeline, he could dimly see the woodsman's modest estate. Hugh's immediate thoughts were of rest and refreshment. Perhaps he could stay the night, and with directions, resume his search for Chantillion in the morning, without having to walk all the way back to Morraine. He called out and the woodsman waved back amiably enough. He set out across the clearing.

At twenty paces Hugh began to realize that something was wrong. The woodsman, in proportion to the surrounding trees and brush, seemed disconcertingly large. His hands and forearms were grossly knotted with muscle. Although he stooped at his work and his face was therefore difficult to see, when the woodsman turned to fetch a fresh post, Hugh was presented with a strange, craggy profile.

At ten paces more details: the woodsman wore a greatcoat stitched together from bear-skins, odd pieces of cloth, and oily leathers. An enormous hat of red felt tried to encompass his head, and over his back, dropping just below the waist, draped someone's tablecloth. Beneath the brim of the hat, Hugh could see rows of shovel-like teeth set within a square jaw, and a long nose with three long hairs protruding from the tip, one golden, one black, and one green.

A sudden and uncomfortable thought occurred to Hugh. But then it was too late; the woodsman stood up to his full height, grinning fiercely, and extended a massive hand. "Good evening," he said in a low, but dulcet tone. Hugh could now see that the 'posts' he had been hammering were human femurs. A thick odor, sweet and strangely familiar, wafted over from the direction of the cottage.

Hugh declined to shake his hand. "Are you the... woodsman in these parts?" he asked.

"I am Chantillion," the creature replied, removing any doubts.

Hugh swallowed. "I am Hugh de Manchefort, from the village of Morraine."

"Hugh de Manchefort?" Chantillion pulled at his protruding lower lip. "The name rings familiar... may I ask what you are doing in the middle of these woods?"

The bright morning, with its confident talk about clever tricks and stupid ogres, seemed a long time off. Hugh could not think of a properly guileful response. "I will not mince words," he said at last. "I have come in defense of my village, whose inhabitants you have been molesting. I am charged with the task of ridding you from these parts."

Chantillion nodded, half smirking as he drummed his fingers against his chin. "I admire your frankness. Sadly, I am committed to staying here for the present time."

"Then we are at an impasse."

"It would appear so."

An awkward silence ensued, then Chantillion began to laugh softly. "We could at least try to be civil," he said. He pointed with a muscular arm towards the cottage, presumably his Grue House. "The temperature will be getting nippy, soon. I suggest we retire inside and discuss the matter fur-ther."

Hugh agreed. If the ogre desired to overpower him, he could easily do so whether they were indoors or out. More importantly, Chantillion appeared to be a rational, even reasonable creature, and Hugh's skill at diplomacy might prevail where his trickery could not.

Chantillion led him up a twisting walkway, past piles of innumerable bones, to a 'cottage' that was not really a solid structure at all, but a giant tent made from carefully flayed and preserved human skins. Such was Chantillion's skill that Hugh could still make out individual faces within the canvas, and personal details like moles, birthmarks, and scars seemed to have been empha-sized rather than blended away. Bones wrapped tight with corded sinew provided support. The smell was nearly overpowering and thick clouds of black flies hovered above the roof.

"It's not altogether finished," Chantillion admitted, as he undid the finger-bone prongs that held the front flap shut. "Right this way."

Inside the air was warm and moist, the walls a dim pink shot through with purple veins, and Hugh was struck uncomfortably with the sensation of being inside a giant stomach. Chantillion led him through a series of chambers, all apparently kitchens by virtue of their cooking pots, racks of sharp knives and saws, and haunches of unidentifiable meats hanging from the ceiling. He at last entered a spacious, central room and was offered a seat made from some unfortunate's pelvis.

"An idea is coming to me," Chantillion said, after Hugh had been seated. "A way, perhaps, to resolve our mutual dilemma."

"Please make it known. I myself have no solid plans along this line."

Chantillion looked at him closely. "I said before that your name sounded familiar. In truth, it is your other name that I remember more clearly."

Hugh was taken aback. "But how do you know?"

"I have traveled in this country extensively. Once, in the wastelands outside Pont du Planier I at-- that is, I befriended a certain Benedictine monk, who regaled me with local legends before we... parted ways. One of these legends was you."

"Go on."

"I mean no disrespect, but I find it hard to credit some of the wilder claims he made about your powers of perception."

Hugh smiled inwardly. Was the ogre proposing a challenge? And against his strongest suit? If so, then Chantillion was playing right into his hands—and he had not even bothered to set a trap!

"I think I see where this is going," Hugh said, "and I would be happy to satisfy your curiosity. Simply name your terms."

Chantillion leaned forward in earnest. "I propose this: I will present you with three unknown objects, and ask that you discern their true natures."

"Is that it?" Hugh asked, stifling a laugh. "I have played thousands of such guessing-games, in courts all over the continent. To accept your challenge would hardly be in good sport."

"In that case, I would propose instituting a handicap—say a blind-fold."

"I would insist on a blind-fold at the least," Hugh said, feeling magnanimous. "And if this does not prove difficult enough, you may propose further handicaps as the challenge unfolds."

"Such confidence!" Chantillion exclaimed. "Such generosity, even before the match has begun." He looked at Hugh sideways for a moment, and then asked slowly: "You don't intend to trick Chantillion now, do you? That would be a cruelty indeed! I remind you that I am a rustic, a pro-vincial, and not given to all the worldly complications of a man who has served in court."

"You have my word that I will ply no such trickery," Hugh said. In his opinion, the ogre seemed quite adept at tricking himself.

And yet, Hugh's vaunted perception had already failed him. He had overlooked several clues pointing to the cerebral refinements of his host. On a nearby table rested a set of Plato's Dia-logues, along with a complete copy of The Republic, both lovingly bound in human skin and dog- eared after much perusal. There were miniature chess sets carved from baby's teeth, a half-fin-ished astrolabe, and a series of anatomy portfolios penned in Arabic and Italian. Chantillion was an intellectual, but Hugh's senses, distracted by the gory opulence of the Grue House, were drawn elsewhere, and he could only see the ogre as the rustic he claimed himself to be.

"We have an agreement, then," Chantillion said. "If you can discern all three objects, I will leave Morraine peaceably."

"And if I lose?"

Chantillion smiled. "There are certain sections of the house needing expansion..."

Hugh silently reassured himself. Chantillion produced a bloodstained rag and carefully wound this around his eyes, making sure they were wholly covered. When he had finished Hugh testified that he could not see a thing.

"Does the room seem a tad chill to you?" the ogre asked, as he was bringing forth the first object for discernment.

"Somewhat. I am not adverse to a fire, if that is your intention."

There was a brief moment as Chantillion stoked the requisite fire. He then placed something spherical and vaguely wet in Hugh's outstretched hands.

Hugh stroked the convoluted surface; brought it close to sniff and took a small bite. "Ha!" he exclaimed. "Cabbage. I would say it is three days past its prime—still all right for putting in soup, though." He nibbled further. "I suspect that it was stolen from a farm near here. Guilliame Severt's? Yes—and from the dew still on the leaves, the cabbage was stolen in the dead of night, in great haste, so as to avoid Severt's many hounds."

Chantillion gasped. "You have described both the cabbage and the conditions of its abduction to the letter."

"As I surmised," Hugh said, quite pleased with himself. "I would suggest you impose another handicap before we go any further."

"A good idea. Let me ponder this." Hugh heard Chantillion pouring a large quantity of water. "Would you like some tea? I usually take a cup or two around this time."

Hugh politely declined. Chantillion drew close, then gently bound Hugh's hands behind his back with a length of knotted rope. "I have decided that your hands are too clever," he said when he was finished. "Let us see if you can discern the next item so quickly."

Hugh felt a small object drop onto his lap. Without the use of his hands it was indeed difficult to ascertain more, but he moved his hips in such a way that the object rolled onto his knee, and from there he was able to bend down and seize it with his teeth. Almost instantly, he knew what it was.

"This is a turnip fresh from the soil." By a combination of taste and smell, he was able to describe to the ogre the pedigree of the turnip, to the same exacting quality as he had the cabbage. Again, Chantillion was dutifully impressed.

"I must warn you," Hugh said, "that your predilection towards vegetables is making this much easier than I anticipated, despite the handicaps."

"Hmmm. I see your point. A change in environment? Perhaps if you were disoriented this time..." Hugh felt himself being hauled up bodily and carried a short distance. The next moment he was plunged neck-deep into tepid water. He called out, sputtering protest against the nature of this handicap.

Chantillion promptly removed the blind-fold. Hugh was immersed in the waters of a giant caul-dron. Cabbages, turnips, and a dozen different kinds of wild mushrooms all bobbed in the waters around him. Chantillion's mouth parted in a huge smile.

"What is this?" Hugh asked, outraged. He couldn't climb out of the cauldron as both his hands were still bound.

"Why I would think that obvious to someone as perceptive as yourself."

Hugh's eyes went wide. "But the rules of our contest—you have yet to bring forth the third object, and therefore I have not lost!"

"Well," replied Chantillion. "I have not yet thought of a third object to present. I suspect, how-ever, that you will be thoroughly boiled by the time I do."

"Cheater!" Hugh snarled. "Base trickster!"

"Tut-tut. Let's not make an unpleasant situation any worse." Chantillion turned his back and began preparing various implements.

The water was heating rapidly, and already Hugh's skin was turning bright pink. He pleaded with Chantillion to be spared, offering him his estate, his young wife, and sums of money he did not have.

"I am moved to a small amount of sympathy," Chantillion said at last. "Not enough to free you, of course." He produced a tray of fresh cut shallots and proffered them to Hugh. "You may exercise your gifts for a final time."

Somberly, but with an air of dignity, Hugh sorted among the shallots for those that would make the most tasty addition to the stew.

* * *

A week passed in the village of Morraine. When Hugh did not return from the woods the towns-folk suspected the worst, and dutifully went about electing a new reeve. Panic around the approach of Chantillion reached a fever pitch, then subsided when sightings of the ogre began to decline.

As hot summer swiftly overtook the spring, travelers through the woods reported a fearsome stench, almost overwhelming, emanating from a certain clearing, and great clouds of flies and car-rion-birds darkened the sky. Chantillion appeared at the edge of Morraine a short time later.

He wasted no time, moving himself swiftly into Hugh's old estate. Hugh's former servants and closest neighbors fled immediately, with the notable exception of his young widow. Nothing else untoward occurred for several weeks. Matron Margeut, concerned as ever for public safety, sent an official petition for aid to the Comte de Fleuris and was promptly ignored.

Soon afterwards, Hugh's widow was seen making daily sojourns to the market and buying enor-mous amounts of food, mostly meat, but to the most fervent questions regarding her well-being would make only casual replies. In fact, she was often spotted in public singing idly or weaving wildflowers into her long hair. When pressed as to why she did not mourn the passing of her gen-tle old husband, only to have him replaced by a large and no doubt rapacious ogre, she would only smile broadly. The matter became the subject of much disreputable speculation.

Later that fall a rooster belonging to Guilliame Severts laid a reddish-hued egg from which hatched a strange worm. Severts cut the unwholesome creature into bits and threw the remains into his hay pile, but the worm soon re-formed and grew to prodigious size. The creature destroyed Severt's barn and began devouring all the sheep and cattle in the surrounding area.

The villagers were once again in disarray about what to do. Finally, Matron Margeut grew desper-ate and appealed to the powerfully built Chantillion for help.

The ogre pledged his support on the spot. Near Severt's farm, he uprooted a beech tree and affixed to one end an old plowshare. With this giant axe, he chopped the worm into several quivering pieces, which he swiftly collected and threw into a roaring fire. The worm was completely con-sumed.

From that point on, the terror surrounding Chantillion's presence in Morraine subsided into a gen-eral uneasiness, and he was hailed as a local champion, albeit from a discrete distance away. Like Hugh the Discerning before him, Chantillion became known for his wise temperament. Unlike Hugh, he proved to be a man of action, and not given to the vagaries of thought that often paralyze otherwise capable people. He would on occasion break into old form and make off with neigh-bor's livestock, but the townsfolk agreed, Matron Margeut foremost, that this was a small price to pay for having an ogre in the village.

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