Within a mile he found the guard’s horse athwart the trail, dead from an arrow he had picked up during the ambush. Six sets of prints led away from the trail, one feminine, five masculine. There was no way to establish which had been laid down first, but it seemed reasonable that the guard and the girl had taken to the woods with four outlaws on their trail.
Well, Blondel told himself, the guard would have his hands full, but that was what he got paid for. Besides, it was nearly dark, and Blondel would soon lose the trail if he tried to follow.
And it wasn‘t any of his business anyway.
And the guard would probably take him for an enemy and kill him if he tried to help.
And what could one man — with the build of a quarter bred fairy and a fairy’s aversion to violence — do against four outlaws?
But he remembered the look of open innocence on the girl’s face and, damning himself for a fool, he set out along the trampled trail.
# # #
By nightfall Blondel was several miles off the trail, laying up in a willow thicket and staring wistfully across a brook at the bonfire that blazed there. Two of the outlaws were tossing bones while a third slept. The fourth stood guard a hundred paces higher up the hill, but Blondel had spotted him long since.
With a bow, Blondel could have evened the odds, but he had no bow and no stomach for that kind of fighting. Instead he crept back and circled the camp, heading south. A mile further on he burrowed into the leaf mold in a stand of larch and slept fitfully.
He was back on the trail by sunup. A raven accompanied him for a way, gurgling and cawking his obscene merriment. Blondel replied, but gained little information in the interchange. Raven speech is boisterous and bragging, consisting mostly of imprecations and self–congratulation; it is not long on information, but Blondel did manage to pique the bird‘s curiosity so that it circled up in reconnaissance.
Three hours later, led by the raven, he found them.
Blondel was not so stupid as to rush to their aid without first checking out the situation, so he held a course parallel to their flight. The guard had been wounded twice, in the left thigh and left arm. Both wounds were bound with strips torn from the girl’s petticoats and seemed to be troubling him little. Yet Blondel had seen fresh blood spatters on the trail that morning. more on Monday