Chapter 17: Morning

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Hildegund

The daylight revealed the horror of the night before. The entire camp had been trampled with footprints. Clothes, blankets, food, and water skins were strewn with reckless abandonment in the dirt and even in tree branches. And Richart's body lay unmoving and stiff next to the ashes of the previous night's fire. The ground around him was dark with spilt blood. Hildegund, too, was covered with it. Brown stains crusted her face and hands. She sat staring blankly, not sure what to do, what to say, or how to move.

Grimbert was the first to act. He rose to his feet and left Hildegund sitting alone with her father's corpse. He began by packing up their scattered belongings, consolidating what was left so that one horse could carry the burden. When he found a clean cloak, he walked it over to Hildegund and draped it over her shoulders. Once the camp had been cleaned he began digging a grave. He used his sword to break up the hard-packed earth and his hands to clear away the loose soil. The sun burned down harshly and sweat beaded his forehead, but Grimbert set about his work with a quiet determination.

Hildegund, still kneeling by her father's side, was motivated by Grimbert's strength. She took the clean cloak that Grimbert had given her, folded it, and gently laid it across a nearby boulder. The sight of her father's blood on her hands disturbed her, and she took a handful of dirt and rubbed it between her palms. She rubbed her face on her shirt, cleaning off both blood and tears.

When Hildegund stood up she searched for and found a wide flat stone and joined Grimbert in digging.

It was slow, arduous work, and even though they ignored their stomachs' cry for a midday meal, it was well into the afternoon before the hole was large enough and deep enough. They gently lowered the body into the ground. Hildegund placed the blood-soaked cloak under her father's head, as a pillow, before they pushed the dirt back into the hole. There was no priest to give a sermon, but Grimbert said the Lord's Prayer, and Hildegund said goodbye to her father.

"Papa, you loved me, trusted me, and allowed me freedoms that no daughter should have. I bury you dressed as your son, but I pray that you are now with my mother and your true son with our Lord in heaven." The words seemed hollow in her mouth, but the meaning of what she said rang true in her heart.

Fresh tears left pink streaks down her dirty face, but Hildegund did not feel ashamed.

Grimbert built a new fire, just feet from where his childhood friend had lost his life, and after a small and silent supper he and Hildegund crawled under the rough-hewn blanket that had been tossed over a branch for their tent. The space seemed cavernous without the third man sleeping between them.

Hildegund tossed and turned. The images behind her closed eyes made her stomach twist and convulse. She couldn't help but think about her father and the events of the night before. Why hadn't she come to her father's aid earlier? Could she have made a difference? Everything had happened so quickly. And it was so much worse than anything she had imagined. Her father didn't die in battle fighting against pagans or blasphemers like some legendary soldier for Christ. The men who robbed him of his life weren't even moors, but simple bandits from the west. They hadn't been in the east for long, but Hildegund knew they would not find treasure, and she doubted they would find God's glory either.

In the morning, after a fitful night with little sleep, Hildegund and Grimbert broke down camp and said a final prayer over Richart's grave. They loaded up their horse and walked down the road. It was much slower going with only one horse, and even though they began soon after sunrise and took few breaks, it was well into the afternoon when they spotted Tyre sparkling on the horizon.

Tyre was a well-fortified city that jutted out into the Mediterranean Sea. It stood beautiful and ancient with thick walls and only a thin strip of a road connecting it to the mainland. They led their horse over the narrow stone isthmus that connected the island-built city to the coastal road, and after speaking to the guards at the gate they were directed to a local inn. But Hildegund's heart was full of mourning and she walked the streets in a daze, following Grimbert without question. Grimbert handed Hildegund a few gold coins and told her to let a room, saying he was going to find a stable before he headed to bed himself. After speaking to the innkeeper, Hildegund climbed the stairs to her rented room, fell onto the bedroll, and immediately fell into a dead sleep.

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