Chapter 15: Relics

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Hildegund glowered, but didn't respond. Richart's expression was stone. Grimbert allowed a minute of silence before speaking. "It'll be nice being in the company of other pilgrims tonight."

"True. And I will relish the opportunity to be surrounded by such piety," Richard nodded.

Grimbert thought back to his earlier anger. The way it had erupted in his chest. It had saved his life, but there was a nagging feeling in the back of his mind. Should he be worried about the safety of his soul? Was his mother right?

The gates of the Lorsch Abbey were beautiful. From a distance the gatehouse, with its three arched entryways, did not look much different than the red brick of Worms. But as they approached, the intricate details stood out as unique. The elaborate red and white crossed patterns showed the work of true master artisans.

As they crossed the threshold, Grimbert noticed several men in stark black robes walking across the courtyard in silence. Other black-clad men could be seen carrying crates of vegetables through a side entrance to a building, sweeping dirt from a covered pathway, and repairing a broken wagon. They were focused and working diligently, all without conversation.

Grimbert, Richart, and Hildegund dismounted, and soon they were approached by one of the monks. "Welcome, pilgrims," the older man smiled, his voice calm and melodious.

"We seek shelter for the night. We are headed towards Jerusalem," Grimbert responded.

"That is a long journey, indeed. Is this a pilgrimage that you have undertaken voluntarily or as penance?"

The question seemed rude, and Grimbert furrowed his brow. Richart interjected before Grimbert could utter his retort, "Voluntarily, brother. We were inspired by the stories of Crusaders."

"Ah, very good," the monk smiled again, slowly bobbing his balding head. "Let us stable your horses and find you accomodations. Usually pilgrims stay in the living quarters with one of the brothers, but this seems to be a busy pilgrimage season. I hope you won't be offended if we set you up in a common area."

"Oh no, not at all. We are very grateful." Richart returned the monk's smile.

Two more monks came to meet them and they took the horses. The travelers followed the first man into the main building. Distant singing seemed to echo from the walls and incense wafted through the air. Grimbert was filled with a sense of calm.

They reached a large common room with straw-filled mattresses on the floor. The belongings of other pilgrims were stacked neatly by two of the beds. "I must leave you here," the monk said, "It is time for our prayers. But please, make yourself at ease." The man exited with a silent nod, even his footsteps seemed to be noiseless.

As Richart and Hildegund made themselves comfortable, Gribert felt restless.

He excused himself and went wandering the halls. The evening light shone in through small windows, and oil lamps burned bright along the walls of the inner hallways. Peering through open doorways he noticed bookshelves with more books than he had ever seen before. He saw desks with scrolls of vellum and parchment. Small statues of saints decorated small coves in the walls. He felt both overwhelmed and humbled.

As he continued to explore the monastery, he finally stumbled upon what he was looking for. In a small sanctuary he found the reliquary altar of St. Nazarius. It was smaller than he had imagined, only a few feet long. It was covered with gold leaf and painted with exquisite and detailed scenes from the bible. Grimbert dropped to his knees in prayer. But instead of God, he started thinking of his mother.

When he had left home his goodbye had been more bitter than sweet. She stood, crooked with age, her white hair wispy in the spring breeze, and told him that he was abandoning her for no good reason. "But I am going on a pilgrimage, mother. Surely that is a worthy cause," he had protested. She had sneered at him. What had he ever finished in his entire life? He had trained to be a weaver, but had never made master status. He had courted women, but had never married. The only thing he was good at was drinking. She predicted that he would get drunk and forget his vows. A broken vow of pilgrimage was certain damnation, she reminded him. So, not only was he abandoning his mother for no good reason, but he was damning himself, too.

He could feel hot tears burn his eyes as he knelt at the altar. He was determined to prove his mother wrong. He prayed to St. Nazarius to help him find the strength he needed to be successful.

Hit by a wave of exhaustion, Grimbert made his way back to the common room where he had left Richart and Hildegund. He found them both asleep. Part of his brain told him that he should seek out an evening meal, but he felt too drained. He crawled onto the straw mattress, curled up, and drifted into a dreamless sleep.

The next morning, after a hearty meal, they left the monastery and headed east towards the Danube. After walking through heavily wooded areas and following small rivulets to larger streams, they would reach finally the wide roaring river that would lead them all the way to the Black Sea and the Eastern Empire beyond.

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Author's Note:

I feel like chapter 7 has been a slog to write. I hope it didn't feel that way to read it! Travelling scenes seem to offer their own kind of writing challenges, and I know that this part of the story will probably need a good bit of revision. Please know that the next several chapters have already been written and will be posted shortly. The action and drama is about to be taken up several notches!

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