Chapter 18: The Tavern

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Grimbert

Grimbert led the horse to the stable. The events of the last two days seemed to follow him like a ghost. They played and replayed themselves in his mind, and he didn't know what he could have done differently. Maybe if he and Richart had stayed in the tent – if Hildegund hadn't awoken them – maybe then his friend would still be alive. Or, if he had let that no good bastard escape, if he hadn't pressed on, but instead kept guard of Richart's back. Or, if Hildegund had joined the fight. Yes, she was a girl, but didn't he train her to fight with a sword?She could have made a difference in the fight. The crucial difference.

He couldn't get the sight of Richart's corpse out of his mind. White and stiff. His skin looked like wax, his eyes stared so blankly. And then lifting his body into the grave. A man was always heaviest when he was dead.

Grimbert had seen other dead bodies, of course. His father had passed away several years ago. Both his brothers had died before their fifth birthday. He had also seen the young deaths of more than one niece and nephew. The sight of a dead child should be more shocking than that of a middle-aged man, yet this grief dug into his bones and burrowed itself into the deepest parts of him. He felt as if he had been stabbed in the belly himself. To never have another conversation with Richart? Impossible. Yet, here he was: alone in a foreign city except for one remaining horse and Richart's bull-headed little girl.

Grimbert reached the stable nearest to the inn. The stable hand, a young man with black hair and almond eyes, was talking with a young woman. His hand rested a bit too comfortably on her waist, his voice was a low whisper, and his smile reached from ear to ear. She didn't seem to mind his intimate advances. Her head was leaned forward, and the blush on her cheeks was the color of roses in bloom. Grimbert stood and watched the young lovers for a moment, but a sudden hot anger washed over him and he led his horse quickly down the road. He didn't have the patience to bother with such foolishness!

The moon was high and full and the whole city seemed to be washed in a blue light. Grimbert walked down the wide cobblestone street, leading his horse. Few other pedestrians walked near him. There were just a few clusters of people standing outside of the taverns that he passed, continuing their conversations in the fresh air.

He inhaled deeply, tasting the bitter saltiness that hung over this port-city. The air was cool and dry and as he choked back an unexpected sob, he realized the salt in his mouth came from tears that had silently trickled down his face and into his beard.

Richart.

He didn't want to be here alone. Mother had been right. He shouldn't have left. It had been a mistake.

Grimbert saw a light down the block and recognized that he was approaching another stable. He brusquely wiped his face on his sleeve, and entered. The stable boy was nice enough, and took the horse quickly.

Walking back to the inn where Hildegund was waiting, Grimbert felt pulled down by the weight of his coin purse. Just one drink, he said to himself as he turned into the first tavern he passed. There had only been a few opportunities for wine since leaving Loconge, and tonight his thirst was great. Just one drink, that will quench it, and then I'll be on my way, he repeated to himself.

The bar was dark and dank. The walls were streaked with the grease of melting candles, their flames danced as patrons moved past, throwing long shadows into a quivering frenzy. Grimbert ordered himself a drink and sat down on a three-legged stool at one end of a long wooden table. When the wine came, he sipped slowly at first, but then he was overwhelmed with need and he drank it hungrily. His promise of one drink was quickly forgotten, the alcohol wrapped around him like loving arms, and he sat quietly, enjoying the numbness that ran through his veins.

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