Bardic grunted approvingly as Edric removed the shaft lodged through his bicep and salved and bandaged the cuts the Cimmerian bore. The village priest prayed to Mitra for blessed healing to flow into the cuts, and to his surprise Bardic felt a little better. The village wise-woman pressed a shrivelled lump into his hand. “Eat it – good for you!” she signed. The Cimmerian shrugged and chewed stoically, then rose to help Vorel casting about for tracks leading north away from the Inn.
It was not from mere altruism, nor from a desire to deny Picts anything that pleased them, though that were a Cimmerian ideal. The Ostler had already made a compact with those that would accept: 60 silver pieces for the return of the wenches, half in advance half on completion.
Edric’s wild words were proven. The smith, who had taken cover behind his forge in the cart-yard, attested that while he had not noticed them at first, a small party of perhaps half a dozen Picts had entered from the north at about the same time the guests were hurrying south. Then only minutes later they ran out, dragging and carrying the two wenches. Though the inn-yard and roadstead were far too hard to render up any real information to the trackers waving a burning brand over the ground, as they worked further out and north of the village gate, their guesses as to numbers and direction hardened into certainty.
Leading to the riverbank through a fringe of trees the trail ran. In the softer ground of the riverbank the tale was plain to trained eyes: five Picts, two unwilling wenches, and one unknown, who ran with the Picts in bare feet though accustomed to boots. The marks of two canoes showed plainly that the eight had already left across the river, into Pictland!