The track leaves the village of Vilanòva from the north gate. It winds around the plots of cultivation, corn, vegetables, a few vines, that surround the small habitation. A village that is hardly a hundred people strong, that is if you discount the monks. Arnaud is following the path down a gentle slope towards the start of the trees. The ground is rocky under his feet.
The forest is sparse here. Stubby scrub oaks, never large enough nor close enough together to make a canopy. The sun shines through the leaves, illuminating patches of clearing with here and there small, marshy bogs. The track is clear enough for him to push his handcart with ease. He has made this journey so many times. He weaves his way through the trees, recognising familiar ruts and potholes, the exposed rocks that could break a wheel if he hits them too hard.
Arnaud has never understood why the charcoal burners have to live so deep in the forest. It is a good two hours journey to their camp, longer coming back with a cart laden with charcoal. Still, he never minds the journey. It makes a break from the days of sweltering in the heat of the forge. He has left the girl with Na Lisier. The old woman likes the company though the nine-year-old can be difficult at times, seeming to be closed in on herself.
It has been hard to deal with her since Allemande’s death, taken by a fever that would not submit to any ministrations. The girl had never cried, never asked for her mother after that. Her brothers, both older, had shown more upset at their mother’s death than had little Grazide. He tried to do his best with her but she was beyond his reach, as if isolated in her loneliness.
The forest thickens here. Taller oaks, ash and chestnut combine to create a dense canopy. The shade is darker and the path less distinct. Even so the journey is familiar enough to Arnaud, he has made it enough times. There is no difficulty in finding the charcoal burners, the familiar smell of wood smoke drifting on the breeze tells him he is nearly there…….