Monsieur Daaé had been resting when he heard someone at the door. He half expected that it would be the children coming back early (or deciding that they had the need for more snacks). So, he was mildly surprised when he opened the door to see Count Philippe, with Raoul's distraught governess by his side.
"Monsieur Comte de Chagny," said the violinist, with a nod of respect. "To what do I owe this good fortune?"
"I wouldn't refer to it as 'good fortune,'" the count replied, rather brusquely. "It seems as though my younger brother has been wandering off with your daughter without telling anyone. Do you happen to know of his whereabouts?"
"Indeed I do, Monsieur," he replied. "He was here not too long ago to help my daughter pack a picnic lunch. They are taking their lunch to the edge of the forest… I believe that looking for elves was on their agenda. I humbly apologize if your brother was not to be here."
"Indeed, it is not your fault," agreed Philippe. "The boy chose to be defiant today. However, it is not right for the young aristocracy to engage in such activities as picnics by the forest or elf hunting."
"What you say may be true, but he is still a child," insisted Daaé. "However much he exasperates you with his antics, you do not want him to grow up too quickly, Monsieur."
A distant rumble of thunder caused everyone to glance at the sky, which had suddenly clouded over with a thick, dark gray blanket of clouds that swelled with promise of heavy rain.
"However," Daaé continued. "They are both very wise children. I assume it shan't be long until they arrive here to escape the storm. If your Lordship would like to wait here, I am certain that your brother shall arrive soon enough."
"I wouldn't know if I agree with Raoul being overly wise," said Philippe, casting a derisive glance at Daaé's dismantled hedge, from which he withdrew a gold button that had, a few hours ago, been on the boy's jacket.
He indicated the button to the violinist. Daaé merely shrugged in reply, as though gold buttons were found in his hedge on a daily basis.
"Children will be children, Monsieur," he said.
"So it would appear…" Philippe replied, in disapproval. "That is why they need boundaries."
Another rumble of thunder roared in the distance.
"Do come inside, Monsieur Comte," said Daaé. "We can continue this discussion further. You are welcome, too, Madame," he added to the governess, who was clearly worrying over the thought of Raoul being caught in the rain.
"It wouldn't be good for him," she fretted. "Why, he could catch cold, or worse—he could take ill…"
"Madame, you do not seem to have much faith in the boy," Daaé observed, and he turned to Philippe. "Nor do you, Monsieur Comte, if you will pardon me for saying such a thing."
"You are correct, Monsieur Daaé," said Philippe, not offended. "We do not have much faith in Raoul because he is a child. If you believe that children are prepared to handle every obstacle that comes their way, then that is your opinion; I, for one, do not share it."
"Never did I say that they were self-sufficient," said the violinist. "I only believe that they are able to handle certain challenges without any help from us. It helps them to grow."
"I am afraid that I must disagree," the count replied.
Daaé said nothing more. He bowed his head respectfully to the nobleman, and then headed into the kitchen to prepare a cup of tea for his guests.
The approaching storm did not go unnoticed by the two children in the forest. The humid, muggy air was rolling in, and they could feel it, despite the trees all around them. And even in the forest, the distant rumbling could be heard, signaling the oncoming storm.
And through it all, not a blade of grass moved in the clearing. The Amanita mushrooms in the ring did not sway. And there wasn't a sound to be heard, apart from the sporadic, faint thunder. No bird uttered a note, no squirrel chattered, and no single creature was out or about. It was truly the calm before the storm, and it was frighteningly eerie.
"I… I thought that it was getting rather dark for the afternoon," said Christine, as she glanced up at the sky. The clouds that she had seen earlier had thickened to such an extent that the dark cloud covering, combined with the tall trees around them, had cut the light around them down to almost nothing.
Raoul said nothing, trying to size up the situation. He had been banking on the evening stars to help guide them out of the forest. Not only were there too many clouds to see them, but a storm was rapidly approaching them, and they would soon be in the thick of it.
"It won't do us any good to stay in the clearing," said Raoul, getting up from his hiding place. "We need to find some sort of shelter; there has to be some sort of shelter out here, even if it's just an abandoned animal den."
"But where are we supposed to look?" Christine asked. "And what kind of animal would have a den large enough?"
"Wolves come and go in these woods," said Raoul. "Perhaps they may have left one of their dens behind--"
"Wolves!?" gasped Christine. "You cannot be serious!"
"Well, I certainly wouldn't try to go in whist they are still there!" Raoul informed her. "Usually, the packs move out of the area by this time of year; if we're fortunate, we can find--"
He was cut off by a louder crack of thunder.
"We cannot wait any longer," he said, seizing her arm. "Come with me; we must find a place to get out of the storm."
"Mind the elf circle!" cried Christine, as Raoul's foot came dangerously close to the white mushrooms. The girl blinked, distracted, as a raindrop splashed upon her nose. "Raoul, the rain is already starting…"
"I know; just keep running," he said, desperately keeping an eye out for a place to escape the storm. It wasn't the rain that he was worried about, of course; the lightning would prove to be a bigger problem for them.
Raoul knew of how badly these coastal storms could get; his father, Count Philibert, had told him and his elder siblings many tales of his days on the sea, and of the storms he had been through.
And Raoul himself had experienced one a few years prior when Philibert had taken them along on a trip across the English Channel. He remembered it well; his father had ordered him and his sisters to get below the decks while Philippe remained behind to help him. Raoul, of course, had not been willing to miss out on the action, even at that young age. He took the first chance he received to escape from his sisters to return to the deck.
He had been only seven years old at the time, but even then, he had been in awe of the sight that had greeted him. The great flashes of lightning that had lit up the night sky… the cracks of thunder that sounded like the sky breaking in two… the howling of the wind as it swirled around the ship… the sheets of rain that had soaked him to the bone within minutes… the numerous waves that were causing the ship to lurch aggressively in any which way… Raoul had heard about such scenes from his father's stories, but never had he believed them to be possible until that day, when he had seen the sights with his own eyes.
His curiosity had been satisfied, and he had considered returning to below the deck when the ship had lurched again without warning, throwing him off balance. He had wrapped his arms around the ship's railing, bracing himself against the waves that washed over him as they grew large enough to swamp the deck. But he had refused to call out for help; pride would not let him. In retrospect, it had been foolish to wander on deck in the first place.
He need not have bothered; it hadn't been long before his father and brother noticed him.
"Raoul!?" Philibert had roared, his booming voice audible over the wind and thunder. "What in Heaven's name do you think you're doing!?"
"I… I wanted to help…" the boy had replied, spitting out the mouthful of seawater that he had received upon a particularly large wave washing over him as he had spoken.
Philibert had said nothing in reply, though he had pulled his son away from the railing, sending him to stand with his brother as he turned his attention back to navigating in the storm.
No one said another word; Raoul and Philippe watched in silence as their father kept them out of trouble until the storm had finally ended. Then, Raoul had received a talking to from his father.
"You should have stayed below the deck, as I had instructed you to do," Count Philibert had said. "However, your bravery is to be admired. You are a true Chagny, my son, but next time, don't be so quick to prove it."
Even then, his father's words had pleased him.
"Raoul?" Christine asked, bringing him back to the situation at hand. "Do you have any idea as to where we are going? It seems as though we're only going deeper and deeper into the woods."
"That is to be expected," said Raoul. The rain was staring to come down fairly quickly; the two friends were already drenched. "We shall be more likely to find a place to get out of the rain the deeper we go."
"Couldn't we just find a nice, tall tree to stay under until the storm passes?" asked the girl.
"No; that's the last place we want to be," Raoul informed her.
"Because--" the viscount began, but was once again interrupted by the thunder. "That's the reason why; trees attract lightning."
"I wish I were as smart as you, Raoul," she said. "You can use the stars to find your way, you know exactly where to go in a storm, even if you are in the middle of the forest, and you can fend off a lynx… even when that lynx didn't even want to bother with you."
"She is still feeling guilty for that…" Raoul realized. "Christine, can't you see that I would be willing to fend off a whole group of lynx, wolves, or anything else just for you…? You mean so much to me, Christine; that is the entire reason why I came here with you today…"
A particularly close crack of thunder caused Christine to shriek in fear.
"Oh, why did I insist on coming here!?" she cried, furious with herself. "We could have gone to the village square and looked in the bookshops for more stories, and we would be at my father's house right now reading them instead of being lost in the woods in this terrible weather!"
A sob escaped her, though she was trying her hardest not to cry. What good would that do them, anyway?
"Don't cry, Little Lotte," said Raoul, softly. He did not blame her in the slightest; after all, he had been her exact same age when he had been wandering about the deck of the ship that night of the storm in the Channel. "Just leave everything to your Commodore."
She glanced at him, first at the torn sleeve of his jacket (due to the lynx's claws), and then at his face. The rain was plastering his blond bangs to his forehead, giving his hair a slightly darker hue. But she could see the sincerity in his deep, blue eyes; he wasn't putting on an act just for the sole purpose of making Christine feel better about herself.
"Father must be worried about us," she said, realizing that the violinist would have been expecting them to come back ahead of the rain. "If we ever do get out of here, what do we tell him?"
"The same thing we tell my governess," Raoul replied, as they continued on. "She must have realized by now that I am not studying in my room, as I led her to believe… You needn't worry about the explanations, Christine; just leave all of that to me."
She knew what he meant by that; he was going to take the blame for everything: going into the forest, getting lost, and not coming back in time. And even though she was grateful, she still wished that there was something she could do.