“No. I wish it were so, but our brave lads of the forest got reinforcements about sundown. I counted six, which tallies with the footprints around the cart.”
The guard grunted. “I didn’t take time to count them when they hit.”
“The accuracy of hindsight . . . what’s your name?”
“MMMMFFF!” said Sylvia.
“We’d better stop fencing or we will still be trading pleasantries when those outlaws attack. Shall we sign a nonaggression pact and untie your muddy little friend?”
“Then you cut her free. I’m afraid to be near her when she gets loose.”
Grat crossed over and untied Sylvia. When he pulled off the gag, she spat, “You God damned pig! You ass! You . . . you peasant!”
Blondel only grinned. “Your vocabulary is seriously underdeveloped,” he said. She sputtered into silence, but the looks she hurled across the fire cut like knives.
Grat returned to sit between his charge and Blondel. “Who are you,” he asked, “and why are you here?”
“I am Blondel, as I said. I have no title save ‘of Arden‘, and that only as a token of my wanderings. I am here because I saw you three before the outlaws attacked and afterward feared for the safety of your charge.” He turned to Sylvia and asked, “And who are you?”
She twitched her clotted skirts around her and ignored the question. Grat supplied her name and persisted, “But why did you follow us? Are you a knight errant?“
Blondel almost laughed, but the seriousness in Grat’s voice held him still. The poor fellow was hungry for him to say yes. Honesty prevented that, but he kept his face neutral when he denied it. “Sorry, Grat. But don‘t you think I’m a little small to be a knight, after all?”
“No knight would act as you did!” Sylvia snapped.
Blondel fixed her with a look of disgust. He was getting heartily tired of her attitude. “No?” he said. “Well, I am here to help, when I need not be. And since you need me infinitely more than I need you, I would counsel courtesy.” more tomorrow