Chapter 34: Epiphany

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Joseph was hauled out of the doorway and onto the street. The sun shone directly into his eyes as hands clamped painfully around his arms and ankles. Fingers dug into his flesh. With all his might he tried to kick out, to wiggle his hips, to at least raise his head so he could see who was taking him and where he was going. But it was useless. He couldn't even bend his elbows or flail his legs.

Panic and frustration overtook his senses and he started screaming. An animalistic roar that stemmed from deep inside his gut.

"Shut him up," a gruff voice ordered, and a dirty rag was plunged into Joseph's open mouth, gagging him.

He clamped down and accidentally bit his tongue. A metallic taste coated his mouth and he nearly retched.

Calm down. He ordered himself. It wouldn't do any good to drown in his own blood. He inhaled deeply through his nose and tried to absorb any detail that might help him make sense of what was going on.

The men who held him were a sea of blue and white. They were dressed identically, almost like they were wearing a uniform. And they were tall and muscular and walked with disciplined determination. What were they? Soldiers? Guards? But why?

Joseph heard a voice call out in the distance. It somehow made it to his ears through the cacophony of the streets. "Let him go! ... Joseph, can you hear me? I'll get you out. Don't worry! ... Hey, get your hands off me." Joseph strained to hear more, but it faded away. Adso. Adso was here. It was a spark in the darkness.

So many questions. He had so many questions.

Adso was here. In Venice. It was all going to be miraculously over. But now he was being dragged off by God-knows-who for God-knows-what and ... and ... frustration threatened to erupt in his chest again. The bitter tang of blood and the musty taste of the dirty rag kept Joseph from crying out, but tears sprung to his eyes. It was all too much.

Suddenly the light changed and the air cooled. He was back indoors. The footsteps echoed as he was marched down a stone corridor. A door slammed and Joseph was thrown roughly down onto a chair.

One of the guards then took a thick rope and bound Joseph's arms and legs, tying him to his seat. The gag was left in his mouth. Once he had been secured, the gold necklace was carefully lifted from around his neck.

The guard bowed slightly and handed the necklace to a man who Joseph hadn't noticed before. Had he been there the whole time? He looked noble, with a fine silk shirt and thick gold rings on his long delicate fingers. Torchlight cast dancing light and shadow across his thin face and cold steel eyes. He took the necklace with care and contemplated it, saying nothing.

Joseph's heartbeat reverberated in his ears as the silence stretched on. Something about the nobleman froze him to his spot.

His eyes darted around the windowless room. A long crack splayed jagged and harsh across the slab-stone floor. Dark rusty stains dripped down from metal rings that protruded from the smooth walls. The space was empty except for a sturdy oak table and two chairs: the one he was tied to and a finely carved one where the nobleman sat. Joseph counted four guards standing at attention. Two by the exit and one on either side of him. The air was so still that it was suffocating. His nostrils flared as he attempted to suck in deeper breaths.

Why was he here? It had to have something to do with the necklace. What curse had Grimbert laid upon him? Joseph wanted to scream that he was innocent, but he didn't dare.

The man continued to ruminate on the necklace, turning the pendant and rubbing the chain. Tears rimmed his eyes. Finally, he looked up at the guards and nodded. He stood, his movements as graceful as the flow of water down the canals, and exited the room without so much as glancing at Joseph.

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