Chapter 36: Joseph

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The trial had been dizzying, and Adso's embrace anchored him back to the ground. "We can go home," Joseph said, his voice full of both relief and excitement.

The sun was high in the sky now, at the midpoint of its daily trek. It was a cheery yellow and a few fluffy white clouds bobbed above, floating on the slight breeze. The air was a perfect temperature, but it wasn't just the weather that warmed him up. The other men encircled him and Adso, their hands slapped his back and squeezed his shoulders. He was free; the ordeal was over.

"Let's get out of here," Adso exclaimed as he released Joseph from their hug, but Joseph had a hard time deciphering if his tone was one of joy or anger. He seemed teetering on the precipice of both emotions.

"Where to, my young friend?" Pascual's jubilant voice asked.

"Anywhere but here," Joseph responded with a smile. Adso draped an arm around Joseph's shoulder and the two cousins led the way down the street.

As they walked down the wide stone boulevard, Joseph couldn't help but notice how much Adso had grown in the half a year since they had parted. Whereas they had once been nearly the same height, Joseph's shoulder now barely reached Adso's armpit. And that wasn't all that had changed. His chin was more prominent, his nose broader, his hair coarser. Recognizing these developments stirred something inside Joseph. Was it envy?

For most of his time in Tyre, as awful as everything had been, he'd been confident in his disguise. So confident that it no longer felt like he was hiding anything. In fact, it had felt like for the first time in his life he was being seen for what he truly was. But walking along with his cousin reminded him of his flaws. His thin-boned frame and fair complexion would probably trap him into always looking like a young boy. Worse, people would start to see him as a girl. He began to doubt the plans he had thought of while sitting in his cell.

"I can't believe you killed Sir Hugh's murderer, yet didn't get an ounce of gold of the reward," Nikolaus guffawed behind them, breaking the silence.

Joseph heard Grimbert grunt in response.

"Hey, what about poor Joseph? He actually spent the night in the Rallac's filthy dungeon," Adso shouted back over his shoulder, his seriousness incongruent to the light-hearted kidding of the merchant.

"True enough," Nikolaus laughed, ignoring Adso's harsher tone, "That bald man and his friend did nothing but recognize the necklace, yet they get the gold. Doesn't seem fair."

"Whoever said the world was fair?" Lorenzo retorted as the group turned down a shady side street.

"Let's just be grateful that our young friend Joseph was released, and no harm came to him ... or Grimbert," Pascual added. "Oh, and here's a good place for a celebratory drink." He stopped outside a quaint brick building with green shuttered windows and waved everyone towards a wooden doorway.

It was a small establishment, and only a handful of old men sat in a back corner, sipping from mugs and playing checkers. The group took seats around a large round table. Pascual started to walk over to the counter, but Grimbert stopped him. "It's my turn to buy a round."

Lorenzo and Nikolaus exchanged a look, but Pascual just smiled. "Great! Let me know if I can help carry the mugs over once they're poured."

"I wonder what's with him," Adso muttered.

"Escaping death is no small thing," Joseph shook his head knowingly.

"True, cousin." Adso squeezed his shoulder. "You've been through more than I can imagine."

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