Blondel 3

Leaves obscured the view he might have had, but he could see the tough, scarred face of the guard, dressed in leather shirt with chain mail worked into key points and leather trousers. It was the poorest sort of armor. Once it had been gaily dyed and painted with some coat of arms; but then once it had been fitted to a smaller man, to judge from the bulging, open neck and the relieving slits the guard had made in the trouser thighs. Second hand leathers and no padding on the wood and iron saddle — no wonder the guard looked surly.

The girl in the cart had fared better. Her gown was probably second hand, but meant for someone larger and cut down with some care. Once it had been gay; now it was subdued, but the life in the girl’s face made up for it. This would be the first great adventure of her life, going to the great Faire with only a serving woman and a hired guard. Her hair was brown and elaborately done up; she wore her rouge with that country gracelessness that can be alluring on the very young; the very innocent.

The serving woman? Ah, well; some things are better left undescribed.

After they had passed from sight, Blondel gathered up some sticks for a small fire and a pot of tea. The other travelers were moving faster than he, but he saw no percentage in coming upon their camp at night. This part of Arden had a bad reputation for thieves and adventurers of every type, and he did not want to prey on their nerves to his own misfortune.

But come upon them he did.

It was still three hours short of nightfall when he found the cart overturned in a roadside ditch with the offside mule dead in the traces. The serving woman was there, face down in a muddy, bloody pool of rainwater. Whatever finery and trade goods had been in the cart were gone. There was no sign of the girl or the guard, the guard‘s horse, or the other mule.

Blondel stood for a moment, drumming his fingers on his sword hilt. It was not his duty to police the world, nor revenge its wrongs; besides these brigands outnumbered him ten to one, to judge from their tracks. But still, there was the question of the girl. If he found her body, he would go on. The guard could take care of himself.

He circled the area, studying the ground. The guard had galloped away southward down the road; whether or not he had been carrying double, Blondel could not tell, but there were no feminine footprints leading away from the cart, so he dared to hope. Four of the outlaws had followed the guard on foot, so Blondel proceeded with caution. more tomorrow

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