The mystery was soon solved. The carcass of a hare hung at the guard’s belt and from time to time he shook it or pierced it anew with his dirk so that it spattered a drop of blood prominently upon the trail. Blondel grinned; since he could not hide his trail, the guard was s buying time by feeding the outlaw‘s confidence. Very good. If he continued to prove so efficient at his job, perhaps Blondel would not need to intervene.
They were to have no such luck. Within an hour the outlaws had come into sight. The girl was trying valiantly to keep up the pace, but her thin slippers, her clinging skirts and her pampered upbringings all conspired against her. Blondel could see the pain in her face and more than once the guard had to lift her bodily over some obstacle. These exertions, coming on top of his wounds, were taking their toll.
The trail broke into an open moor, so the guard and girl were exposed when the outlaws emerged from the trees behind them. One of them bent his bow; the arrow arched high and slashed the air between the guard and the girl. He whirled, grasped the situation in a heartbeat, and began to run, dragging the girl behind him.
Another near miss, then a third. The pair stumbled into a thicket of reeds and out of sight. The archer and his companions rushed forward while Blondel cursed his helplessness. Would that he were a raven to snatch up those deadly arrows, but he was not.
As suddenly as it had begun, the drama changed course. The guard had found a wash cutting across the moor and had followed it to one side. As the outlaws plunged into the reeds, he and the girl erupted from the seemingly open moor a hundred yards to the west and ran straight back the way they had come. Straight toward Blondel.
Blondel touched forefingers to his temples and sought, but there was neither peregrine nor raven to be found. The archer drew back his bow and Blondel tensed.
It flashed; missed. Again. This time the arrow struck the girl low and protruded, dancing jauntily. It had caught in her mud clotted skirt. A third shot and then a fourth — both long, both misses — and the two were in the dubious shelter of the woods again.
Now the outlaws were running toward Blondel‘s hiding place and he drew his rapier. It was a deed that needed doing, though his heart was not in it. The archer was in the lead, and Blondel stepped out before him. He stumbled and Blondel pierced him, then grabbed the bow and a handful of arrows from the quiver as he fell. Before his companions knew what had happened, the trail was empty save for the corpse, and a rustling in the bushes which was fast retreating. more tomorrow