Blondel of Arden

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 The Blondel of legend was the minstrel who found Richard the Lionhearted when he was imprisoned, and helped to effect his escape. I became aware of him through Gore Vidal’s novel A Search for the King.

My Blondel is a different character, wandering through a different medieval land. I like him, and I think you will too, but don’t expect him to save the world. His ambitions and magics are small, and he is more likely to hang out with peasants and innkeepers than with knights. Come to think of it, that is also true of Tidac and Cinnabar, who came later. Ah well, what do you expect when the son of an Oklahoma farmer sits down at the typewriter.

(1) Blondel of Arden

Blondel was a man of many talents, not the least of which was survival. He could sing a ballad, juggle knives in a sideshow or books in a clerk’s office. He had been a traveling bard at times, but only when no other opportunity presented itself. Bards were, and still are in some rough places, considered of inferior stock. Though they regale, their status remains insecure and the songs they sing must fit into an acceptable mold.

Now Blondel was a man in love with the sound of his own voice, but to play the bard was to play the fool and he had no stomach for it. He had his pride, and he exercised it whenever circumstances permitted.

So Blondel, who was odd in many other ways as well, would pass up easy and lucrative employment at a Lords house one night, only to spend half the next singing himself hoarse in a peasants hut for a meal and a tick ridden tic to sleep on. He had done so only a week past, in fact, which accounted for a certain gruffness of speech and a cough that was just now passing.

Blondel had done many things in his time, but of them all, soldiering appealed to him least. He had a positive aversion to the feel of a blade piercing flesh; an aversion that was exceeded only by the unhappy possibility that the flesh might be his own. He carried a sword, which he had used on occasion, but he preferred flight to confrontation and tried to restrict its use to cutting wood for his night fires.

Blondel was a far ranging man. He never did say where he was born, but when asked his full title he invariably replied, “Blondel of Arden“. This phrase verged on usurpation, but it was merely and literally true. From Channel to Northpeak, Blondel had wandered the face of his native land for as long as anyone could remember. Oldsters remembered Blondel from their youths and said that he looked no different than he had then. This patent absurdity lent a certain mystical cast to Blondels basically simple life, and he did nothing to discourage it. In point of fact, it was Blondels father who had walked these paths thirty years earlier; they shared name, appearance, and an inclination to wander. In the north country, where they had both been these last two decades, everyone knew his secret; but here in the south they saw Blondel, remembered his father, and awe followed him like a shy, stray dog.

(2) Like his father, Blondel (the Younger, of Arden, if formality be needed) was of short stature and fine build. He looked like a perfect miniature of a larger man. Seen at a distance where no growing thing lent reference to his size, he might seem a tall, slim viking. On closer examination, it became apparent that he stood no more than five feet in height. Some attributed that to dwarf blood, but of course that was not so. Had it been, he would have been stout and twisted, not a finely sculptured miniature. In point of fact, one of his grandmothers had been a fairy.

Now there was reputed to be a great Faire assembling at the confluence of the Raipiar and Andis rivers in honor of the coming visit by King Henrique, and it seemed to Blondel that such a place would be a likely prospect. What, exactly, he would do there was a matter best left to fate and an agile mind. However, since it might include the singing of ballads, he took his voice out of the scratchy throat where it had been hiding and aired it.

The mighty Artur in his court,
With knights both brave and fair,
Did turn his eye with some delight
To a Ladys serving lady there.

And if in night, the Knight did weave,
The first warp of a golden dream;
The last weft brought him black despair.

Not bad. The coarseness of the last week was gone, though he still felt a strain at some of the higher notes. Well enough; by the time he reached the Faire, his voice would be back to its normal sweetness. Such was Blondel’s evaluation, though it was hotly disputed by a magpie whose slumber he had disturbed.

No sooner had the magpie begun his remonstrance than the bird found himself talking to an empty road, though only for a minute. Then a rider came into view leading a gaily painted cart. He was handsome enough, in a sour way, to have been a knight, but his threadbare clothing and the device worked into his tunic said that he was a guard for hire. That would make his charge the daughter of a wealthy merchant from one of the towns; a rural baron, however poor, would have at least one knight and would not stoop to hiring protection.

They were still a long way off, and Blondel hesitated before working his way deeper into the brush. On one hand, he had no reason to confront the travelers and that guard had a surly look about him. On the other hand, it had rained only a few hours earlier, and Blondel had no desire to trade slaps with a hundred leafy branches still wet from that shower. Compromising, he moved back out of sight to let them pass.

(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.

(4) 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 clear 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 selfcongratulation; it is not long on information, but Blondel did manage to pique the birds 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.

(5) 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 Blondels 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 was fast retreating.

*****

(6) Night had fallen and the girl, Sylvia, was fighting sleep. The guard had already succumbed to it, and she thought, no wonder. He had been without rest for better than two days now, running wounded and helping her over trails she had never been bred to take. It infuriated and humiliated her to be so — useless — but there was no help for it. At least she would not fail at standing guard.

Her task was easy enough. They were situated on a hill top in a small stand of trees that protected them from arrow flight but left a clear view all around. The moon was full, the sky clear and there was no chance of ambush.

Those were her exact thoughts when the hand clamped her mouth and a black weight pinned her struggling body to the ground.

SwiftlY, mercilessly, like a calf in the slaughter pens, she was trussed and a gag stuffed into her mouth. Then the motions stopped, the unspeakable hands were removed from her body and whoever had overcome her sat quietly athwart her rump, crushing her into the mud so that she could hardly breathe. She had shivered with her sisters at the night tales of abduction; now she was shivering again, and there was no fun in it.

The weight left her backside and moved silently toward the guard. He jerked, then lay still, but she could see his open eyes in the moonlight and feel the tension in his body. The outlaw had placed the point of his sword at her guard‘s throat. It would be all over in a moment for him, if not for her.

Then the black figure chuckled. “I dont expect you to believe this, but I’m friendly.” The guard said nothing, and the black figure let the moment drag on, savoring the melodrama. Then he whipped the sword away. The guard didnt move and the stranger nodded appreciatively, then said, “Consider what you would have done to me if I had made a more conventional entry into your lives.His voice was sardonic in the darkness, and Sylvia said, “Mmmf.

The guard‘s eyes flashed to her, then back to the stranger. Otherwise he did not move. He asked, What do you want?”

Would you believe me if I said nothing?

No.

Nothing.

“I don‘t believe you.”

Blondel shrugged, a useless gesture in the darkness. Have it your own way. I brought you a bow and four arrows; its all I could grab when I skewered the archer back there at the edge of the moor.”

“I wondered why they stopped shooting.

“They only had one bow.

(7) The guard sat up warily, beginning to trust this phantom in spite of his instincts. He said, “Then it’s two to three now; more reasonable odds.”

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?”

Grat.”

“I’m Blondel.”

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?”

Done.”

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 Grats 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 dont 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.”

(8) He turned back to Grat. “I am no warrior, but I do have some unusual talents. Before we go down and smite our enemies, to our own possible dismay, let me use them.” Grat agreed and the girl pointedly ignored him, so Blondel moved to the edge of the firelight and called softly. At first nothing came, then a hare hopped up shyly to investigate. He gave a sharp command and it disappeared. He did not want the aid of a fluff brain and besides a rabbit was likely to be stoned for food. Also, Blondel did not like to become too friendly with rabbits; he still had to eat them occasionally. An old bullsnake he also sent away, though it smacked its hard gums and cocked its head in readiness to serve. He needed more than stealth; he needed intelligence.

It was a fox that he chose. It is always hard to call a fox. They like to linger on the edge of things and snap up any appetizing creature that responds. This one had missed the hare Blondel had sent away, but the scent remained and it took all of Blondels concentration to get his mind off dinner and onto war.

What was that all about?” Sylvia asked when he returned.

“I sent a spy to check things out.”

A spy?”

“A fox.”

She stared at him angrily. “Dont take me for a fool!”

I wouldnt dare.”

You cant talk to animals. No one can.

“I can; you see, my grandmother was a fairy.”

“There are no such things.”

Blondel smiled. He had long since learned patience In dealing with rabbits, birds, humans and other less intelligent creatures. “Have it your own way. I must be a figment of your imagination.” He went out to the edge of the light again, so that the fox would not be afraid to come to him, and went to sleep.

An hour later, he came off the ground with a bound and a curse. Just like a fox to wake him by biting his earlobe! He choked back what he was thinking so as not to offend his temporary ally and leaned down, speaking strange and slow in the language of foxes. When he finally barked his thanks and looked up, Grat was looking at him with a new respect and Sylvia looked like she had just found something warm and squirmy in the toe of her boot.

Well?Grat wanted to know.

“I didnt find out much. There are nine of them now, and they have set up camp. They seem to have no intention of moving before daylight.”

“Didnt your friend overhear what they were saying?

Blondel looked pained. “Foxes don‘t understand human speech. Do you have any idea how long it took me to learn foxtalk?

How was I to know?

(9) “I did find out that the main road passes within a half day‘s journey of here.”

Then we can reach it before them?”

Perhaps, if we move out now and skip sleeping.Turning to Sylvia, Blondel asked, “Can you do that?”

“I can do any thing you can!”

See that you do!” he snapped, and Grat bristled. Clearly, he was taking a personal interest in his charge. Well, he could have her; Blondel wished she had never crossed his path.

What I dont understand,” Blondel went on, “is why they are chasing you at all.”

“I should think thats obvious,Sylvia replied icily, stung again by Blondel’s disregard.

He said, “Have you taken a good look at yourself lately?

She flushed beet red and moved her hands as if to smooth out her skirts, but they were mud clotted. Her hair had come undone and hung in a matted tangle around her ash smudged face.

Grat had been prepared to make an issue of Blondel’s cavalier attitude, but his good sense got in the way. He opened his mouth, then closed it again and scratched his head. Finally he said, “You‘re right. Why work so hard to get something they could begging your pardon, Sylvia — buy cheaper in any, uh, tavern?

They both turned to Sylvia and her defiance melted. “I guess it could be for the brooch,” she said in a small voice.

What brooch?Grat asked.

The Tataelian Brooch, of course. It has been in our family for centuries.”

And they think you have it? How stupid.”

“But I do have it.”

Blondel asked, Where?” and she flushed again. How would they know that you are carrying it?

They might know. Father did brag it about town that I would look lovely with it at my throat at the Faire.”

God deliver me from mortals,” Blondel groaned. “Well, you might as well show it to us.”

“I will not. How do I know you won‘t try to steal it yourself?

“If that were my intention,” Blondel snapped, “you would have no say in the matter. Show us.”

Blondel expected Grat to react to that, but the burly guard was silent. Clearly, he felt demeaned to discover that, rather than guarding Sylvia‘s honor, he had been risking his life for a bit of gold and stone. She turned her back and fumbled with her bodice, then handed Blondel the brooch. He held it up to the light of the fire and examined it with an occasional, “Hmm.

(10) “They say it is magical,” Sylvia added.

They lie.”

Blondel handed the piece to Grat, who turned it in his big hands, not really knowing what to make of it. “The centerpiece is sapphire,” Blondel said,but of very inferior quality. The surrounding gems are emeralds of some value, though small. It would bring perhaps a hundred crowns on the black market; maybe thrice that if one could establish unencumbered ownership.”

Grat weighed the piece in his hand. “A hundred crowns? I doubt if I’ve made that in the last ten years. “

Blondel reached out for the brooch and Grat hesitated before returning it. Sylvia was beginning to look worried. “Aye,” Blondel said, “those outlaws would chase us to Hell for it.”

He continued to stare at the brooch, and Sylvia reached out saying, “Give it back.”

He shook his head and said, “Bide a moment. I have an idea. If this were left on the trail for the outlaws to find, all pursuit would cease.”

Now just a minute!” Sylvia said, reaching for the brooch again. Blondel drew it back and Grat moved menacingly toward him.

Stop!”

Sylvia froze, looking foolish, and Grat eased back on his haunches again. When Blondel chose to stop playing and project his will, his voice became a weapon of no small value. Even the crickets in the grass beyond the fire had fallen silent.

“It would not be necessary to leave the brooch, of course,” Blondel continued. “Only to make them think that we had.

How?

By creating a doppelganger of it.”

You cant do that,” Sylvia snapped.

No? I cant talk to foxes either, can I?”

She subsided. Blondel closed his hands about the brooch, bent forward and began to croon in a language strange to his companions. Grat felt the hairs on his neck begin to rise and reached for Sylvia‘s hand. She let him take it.

Ten minutes later, Blondel’s voice died away and he raised his head, stretched the muscles of his neck and opened his hands. Two identical brooches lay there. He handed one back to Sylvia and placed the other prominently near the fire. She turned the brooch in her fingers, examining it minutely. Blondel only smiled and said, “Lets go.”

*****

(11) They reached the road as the sun was rising. There had been no pursuit, and Grat asked, “Do you think they found the brooch you left?”

“I have no doubt of it.”

Grat looked uneasily over his shoulder, for the road was no haven of safety and they would be two days afoot before they reached the Faire. “How long before they find out what you have done?”

“I will keep the illusion up as long as I am able,” Blondel said, but he looked uneasy.

They made good time despite Sylvia. She walked at Grat’s side, leaning on him perhaps a bit more than was strictly necessary, and Blondel plodded wearily along behind. At first Grat wondered at his loss of vigor; then he decided that Blondel was still trying to hold the spell of illusion. He tried clumsily to express his gratitude, but Blondel only shrugged it off.

Grat left Sylvia to walk with Blondel for awhile. She did not drop back to join them, but continued doggedly ahead, looking back from time to time toward Grat. He seemed oblivious to the invitation, but Blondel was not so sure.

Throughout the afternoon they talked, and Blondel found Grat a boon companion, and a strange one. His years as a guard had not made him cynical and his rough demeanor had sloughed off now that he considered Blondel a friend.

Grat had been on his own since he was very young and even now his stature was belied by the youth in his eyes and the wonder in his speech. He was the stuff knights should be made of, but rarely were, and Blondel stopped regretting the efforts he had made. Grat, at least, was worth rescuing.

Blondel tried to warn him of what lay ahead, saying, Not all things are as they seem.”

Grat mistook the meaning of his words and replied, “I know that Sylvia has been haarsh, but she is alone and frightened.” When Blondel would have spoken more plainly, Sylvia dropped back to lead Grat’s thoughts astray with gay chatter and a hidden, cutting glance for Blondel.

Blondel fell back again, chewing on the future, for Grat’s open friendliness had touched him deeply.

They spent the night at an inn. The innkeeper’s wife took pity on Sylvias condition, helped her to bathe and provided her with simple but untattered clothing. Grat dozed in the corner, giving his wounds a rest, and Blondel played bones with the innkeeper and hostler. When they left the following morning, Grat found that Blondel had won a small purse and a saddled horse.

“Blondel,” Grat said, “you are shot through with luck.

Blondel scowled. “I augmented my luck last night.”

Grat was shocked. You spelled the bones! After the innkeeper took us in from pity!”

(12) Blondel looked up at Grat, quietly pleading for understanding. “I had to do it, he said. “We will need a fast horse, and soon.”

Sylvia rode, and Grat strode along beside her, smiling at her jokes as she chattered away the morning. From time to time she reached out to touch Grat’s hair or beard, but she never offered to let Blondel ride. He trudged wearily along behind them, still holding the spell of illusion. Grat had asked last night if he could hold it at a distance, and he had replied, “Not far. Not far at all.

*****

Between the Andis and the Raipiar rivers, above their confluence, there was a meadow spotted with trees. Now it had been converted into a tent town with twice a thousand inhabitants. There were wares and entertainments of every description in a moving mosaic of colors and flesh, with rushing children and dogs, and pigs roaming the littered streets, occasionally toppling a tent as they rooted out its pegs in search of garbage.

Blondel took his leave and his horse at the edge of the crowd. “I‘ve some friends to meet, and some business to attend to,” he told Grat, “but if you find yourself in need, come to Chianas tent.”

Grat took his leave hurriedly. By her carriage, Sylvia was making it clear that she was through with Blondel and that if Grat wanted her favors he had better be quick. Blondel watched the crowd swallow them up, following Grats unkempt head as it sailed unworried above the mass of smaller men. Then, smiling with world weary understanding, he let go of illusion.

*****

Something less than three hours later, Grat staggered through the back flap of Chiana’s tent looking as if the hounds of Hell itself were at his heels. The shallow parallel scratches that decorated his cheek were Sylvias brand, and he stood panting like a stag at bay. Blondel came quickly up from the narrow patch of shade where he had been dozing and offered Grat the dregs of his winehorn. Grat emptied it at a draught and hurled it to the ground, shouting, “I am undone!”

(13) “Now, Grat,” Blondel comforted, “not so dramatic, please. Tell me what happened.”

The brooch is missing and she accused me of stealing it.”

She, then; not Sylvia, any more. Blondel fought hard not to lose his look of concern and asked blandly, “But when would you get the chance to steal it? It hung between her breasts, beneath her bodice.”

Grat flushed and said, “Well, this afternoon . . . by the river, uh . . . Well, dammit, she was willing!

Now Blondel grinned outright. “At least your day wasn’t a total waste.”

That was no comfort. Grat caught Blondel’s arm and said, “Her father does business with Duke Corrin and his men are after me. What am I to do?”

“I have a fast horse. It is saddled, and it is yours.”

Grat wrung his hand in gratitude and cried out his thanks.

Blondel said, “It is the least that I can do. I held the illusion as long as I could.”

Grat’s mouth dropped and he shouted, “You left the real brooch on the trail?”

“I told you I couldnt hold the illusion at a distance. They would have had us otherwise.”

But why didnt you tell me?”

“When, Grat? When could I have gotten you alone? She was on you like lice all the last two days.” Then he chuckled. “Besides, if I had told you, you would have missed this afternoon by the riverbank.”

A broad grin creased Grat’s face. “Aye. Thats right.” Then he cocked his head, hearing voices beyond the tents, and bolted for the horse Blondel had tethered nearby. Leaning down from the saddle, he thrust out his hand and said, “If we ever meet again, I am your man. Youve saved me from a terrible fate.”

Blondel took his hand. “Yes,” he said, thinking of Sylvia. “I think I did.”  finis