Category Archives: Serial

Blondel 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 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.

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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

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

Blondel 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 Lady‘s 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. more tomorrow

Blondel 1

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.

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 Lord‘s house one night, only to spend half the next singing himself hoarse in a peasant‘s 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 Blondel‘s basically simple life, and he did nothing to discourage it. In point of fact, it was Blondel‘s 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. more tomorrow

Spirit Deer 40

Chapter 15

Well fed now, with his ankle all but healed, Tim snowshoed down the mountainside to the Tate, and upstream to the highway bridge. It took most of two days, but he had learned to build shelters quickly. With meat and a fire, and wrapped in a half cured bearskin, it did not take much to make Tim comfortable enough to sleep at night.

When Tim reached the road, it was still choked with snow, so he walked the last few miles into the village. It was afternoon of the fourteenth day of his absence when he headed down his own street looking like something out of another age. He wore ragged jeans and an enormous, shaggy bear skin, and moved confidently on snowshoes, dragging a rough toboggan of saplings piled high with greasy, frozen bear meat.

His father’s rig was sitting in the front yard. A feeling of guilt for the trouble he had caused took the edge off his homecoming, but only for a moment. He left his toboggan in the yard and stepped up onto the porch. He knocked.

His mother looked smaller, older, and more precious when she opened the door. She stood for a moment, frozen by the shock of his reappearance. Then she gathered Tim into his arms. Over her shoulder, he saw his father coming into the living room. The smile that split his father’s face was worth the whole ordeal Tim had gone through. In three strides his father crossed the floor and caught them both up in his embrace, and Tim was truly home at last. finis

Spirit Deer 39

With a growl that shook the forest, the black bear wheeled; the spear shaft quivered in his side. He charged. Tim cast his second spear at the bear’s open mouth, but missed. The obsidian point flew high and cleaved a gash through the animal’s already mutilated nose and up between his eyes, glancing off his heavy skull. The bear screamed and reared up, pawing at his face. Tim lunged forward, grabbed the shaft of the first spear, and plunged it deeper. A mighty paw caught him and tossed him aside.

Tim staggered to his feet. Blood rushed into his eyes, but he wiped it away. The bear, too, was blinded by blood. Moving unsteadily, Tim recovered his second spear. He circled the thrashing bear, found his atlatl, and took a stand near the club. The bear was dying, but he was still deadly. Blinded by blood, he turned his shaggy head from side to side to listen.

“Here, Bear,” Tim whispered. The bear jerked his head toward the sound, then rose on his hind legs, turning his head to catch the slightest noise.

“Here!” Tim screamed and hurled his spear. It pierced the bear’s belly once again. Dropping to all fours, the bear charged. The spear shafts burrowed twin furrows in the snow. It was a blind charge, and Tim stepped to one side bringing up his club. He swung it as he would have swung an axe in his father’s woodpile, overhead and down with all the power of his chest and arms, directly onto the bear’s skull. The bear dropped, plowing up the snow as it skidded to a halt, twitched, and lay still.

* * *

The crippled deer stood proud and defiant on his island of traction. Tim faced him with a spear in his hand. The deer’s hard brown eyes never wavered and his antlered head was lowered to fight to the last. But it would be no contest, for Tim could kill from where he stood.

Tim had followed his deer a long way. Both of them had been cripples, and now both were nearly well. Tim had been alone and helpless. Slowly, bit by painful bit, he had gained the tools of survival. Now he stood with the deer’s life in his hands.

And now he no longer needed to kill it.

The deer’s flinty eyes never changed as Tim laid aside his spears and removed his snowshoes. Moving carefully with his club raised, Tim fenced with the deer until he had tangled the club in its antlers. When the deer threw up his head to rip the club from Tim’s hand, Tim did not resist. Instead he lunged forward and threw his shoulder against the deer’s side, reaching under its belly to grasp his opposite foreleg, and tossed him into the snow. Tim rolled on over the deer’s back to avoid his flashing rear hooves and caught him by the antlers.

Throwing his weight backward, he dragged the struggling deer off the mud bar onto the smooth ice, then dragged him to shore. Tim stepped back as the deer plunged to his feet and bounded away. When the deer reached the edge of the timber, he turned for a moment and looked back.

Tim raised his hand to the deer. “Good luck,” he said.

The deer disappeared into the forest, and Tim turned back to the carcass of the bear. last post tomorrow

Spirit Deer 38

Tim’s snowshoes lent speed to his footsteps. When he caught up to the bear, it had its nose close to the snow, doglike, as it lumbered through the drifts with careless strength. Tim remained at a distance. He kept the animal in sight, but made no move to overtake it. The wind lay at Tim’s back, but for some reason the bear did not scent him. Once the bear stopped and tested the air as Tim crouched in the cover of a hemlock, but he seemed unable to get the information he needed from the wind. Tim could see his massive head; the swelling was gone from his cheek. Tim’s blow had done the bear some good by allowing the wound to drain. Now the bear looked less anguished, but just as deadly.

The bear topped a rise and disappeared. Tim followed, taking care in case the bear had stopped just out of sight. He crossed the ridge a hundred yards to the left of the bear’s tracks.

Tim’s deer had been feeding just under the crest of the hill. Now he was floundering in flight from the bear.

The crippled deer tried to cut to the right, but the bear was faster in the deep snow. He closed the gap quickly, and the deer turned away to the left, heading out across a barren stretch of snow.

The deer should have known better. The “clearing” extended tabletop flat for two hundred yards in every direction – it could have been nothing but a frozen, snow covered lake. In his frenzy to escape, the deer hit the smooth snow, floundered, and fell sliding on the ice. The bear galloped after him. The deer regained his feet, only to fall again, then lunged forward and spun around. He had found a mud bar, no more than six feet by four, that rose inches above the ice and provided a tiny island of traction.

Yet, he was trapped. He could stand; he could wheel to face his attacker, but he could not retreat over the slick ice.

He was doomed.

Tim could not allow it.

He moved down the slope at a shuffle with his snowshoes shushing along the snow’s surface. The crippled deer stood with his head down and his antlers poised; he made a splendid figure of defiance. The bear circled just out of range of his lunges. The slickness of the ice did not seem to bother the bear at all. The advantages were all his.

Tim came to the edge of the ice and paused. The bear had not seen him, but when he did his life would be in deadly danger. Yet he could not leave. He had uncompleted business here. The bear circled close and the crippled deer lunged, catching the bear’s nose with his antlers. The bear sat back and turned his head.

He saw Tim.

Startled, the bear spun and lost his footing on the ice. The deer lunged forward and speared his flank. The bear leaped back, then turned toward Tim. Tim stood like a statue, with his spear poised to cast. He had taken his crutch-club and had stuck it into a snowdrift close at hand.

The bear looked at Tim, then at the deer. He turned to rush the deer and Tim cast his spear.

It flew forward in a clean arc, propelled by the extra snap of his wrist, and arrowed toward the target Tim had selected. Just forward of the bear’s hind leg, back from the heavy bones of his rib cage, it penetrated the bear’s belly.

With a growl that shook the forest, the black bear wheeled; the spear shaft quivered in his side. He charged. more tomorrow