They rode for several hours, shaded by a canopy of branches and draped in an uncomfortable silence. Hildegund wasn't sure what the men were thinking, but she couldn't stop replaying her last exchange with Adso.
Sunlight filtered down through the bright green leaves, and when Hildegund looked up she could only see the occasional glimpse of sky. When the wind blew, shadows danced across the wide hard-packed dirt path. Ruts had been worn into the road from wagon wheels and hoof prints remained imprinted in dried mud, both signs that this road was well used. Not that they had passed any fellow travelers. Hildegund felt more alone and isolated from civilization than she ever had before. The only sounds came from the plods of their horses' hooves, the rushing of the nearby river, the occasional gust of wind, and the calls of wildlife. Squirrels were chittering away, running and jumping from branch to branch. Songbirds chirped and tweeted, happily oblivious to Hildegund's mixed emotions.
The constant bouncing of the horse was exciting at first, but it soon began to make Hildegund feel nauseous. She stroked the beast's hot and sweaty neck. Poor animal, she thought. She was grateful for the ride – she knew that many pilgrims walked the whole way to the Holy Land – but as her head bobbed along with each step the horse took, her stomach rolled uneasily. She needed to take her mind off the repetitive motion. "What is the plan for the night?" she asked, breaking the silence with the hope that some conversation would ease her growing discomfort.
"We are several days away from the next town," Grimbert answered. His voice seemed distant and hallow. "I've travelled this way in my work as a journeyman. We keep the river to our right and follow this path. It is wide enough for a wagon most of the way. We will make camp at dusk."
"Have you travelled this way often?" she persisted.
"Often enough. Depends on how much work I need."
"I've never been away from Loconge. Where is the furthest you have been?" Her stomach was starting to settle and she was eager to keep the conversation going.
"I saw the sea once. It was as blue as a sapphire and the flavor of salt could be tasted on the wind even when the water was miles out of view. When I was a much younger man I rode on a wagon down to Milan to trade raw cloth for dye." He paused, ducking to avoid a low hanging branch. "I thought I might become a rich merchant, but alas it was for naught." His jaw seemed to tense with this last sentence.
"What about you Papa?" she quickly asked, sensing the dark tone at the edge of Grimbert's words.
Richart's eyes seemed to twinkle as he turned his head to reply, "Oh, I have never seen the sea. But we will travel along the coast for quite a while once we reach Constantinople. I am sure it will be a magnificent thing!"
Hildegund thought about this. She had never been beyond the forest that surrounded her city. She had gazed at the mountains on the horizon, but had never been near enough to climb them. She had run through the small streams that diverted off of the large and rumbling Rhine River, but had never crossed it. She had gone fishing in the ponds that were within walking distance of her home, but she had never been close to a body of water that she couldn't see the far shore of. She knew nothing of seas or deserts or plains. She was filled with anticipation. "It will be magnificent, won't it? Oh, how I wish Adso was with us too."
A sad smile crept across Richart's mouth. "We all had to say some tough goodbyes," her father responded, glancing sideways at his friend.
"Ay," Grimbert sighed, "But it is God's will."
Richart nodded in agreement.
Hildegund couldn't read Grimbert's expression, but her father seemed to know what was pulling at him. They weren't just going on an adventure, Hildegund reminded herself. They were fulfilling a sacred pilgrimage. This was going to be a pious journey with much hardship. And her attention was brought back to their sleeping accommodations. "So, if there isn't an inn or a monastery nearby I guess that means we will just be sleeping out in the open tonight. Isn't that dangerous?"
"This road is well travelled by both merchants and knights and that makes it safer from bandits," her father said in a comforting tone.
"But we will need to remain vigilant," Grimbert added.
They continued on in silence for a while longer. All of a sudden, Hildegund heard a rustling sound coming from the forest and she tensed up.
Two deer ran across the road ahead, startling her, and she let out a yelp of surprise. Both men chuckled.
"No need to be so jumpy, you have good steal in your sheath," her father reminded her.
"But what if it had been a bear?"
"Bears are more afraid of you than you are of them. But wolves on the other hand ..." Grimbert began.
Richart interjected, "Don't scare the girl, it isn't funny!"
"You shouldn't be calling me a girl out in the open. What if a bandit hears you?"
"I doubt there are any bandits eavesdropping on our conversation right now, but you are right, we should heed to your disguise, Joseph," her father replied.
"And wolves don't scare me. I've been out in the woods before. I can take care of myself. I was just startled, that's all. I'm feeling uneasy from being on this horse for so long," she said defensively.
"It takes some getting used to. You will be an expert traveler before this trip is over. But it has been a long day, we should start looking for a clearing to set up camp," Grimbert offered.
After a short while, Grimbert gave the signal to stop and everyone dismounted. Her father started a cooking fire and set about preparing dinner. Grimbert constructed a small shelter with the help of some blankets and low hanging branches. Hildegund saw to the feeding and watering of the four horses: the three riding horses and the one packhorse. Everyone settled into this routine, and after a small meal, they all fell asleep, too tired for more conversation.
YOU ARE READING
Journey to JosephHistorical Fiction
Hildegund is always getting in trouble for acting too masculine. If it was up to her she would have been born a boy, but that's not how the world works. Or, at least that's what she has always believed. Then, Hildegund gets the opportunity to dress...