The knife's cut had been superficial, but Grimbert's sleeve was caked with blood. The fabric, now dry, was a deep burgundy and stiff to the touch. His arm throbbed. Every pulse of his heart was a dull thrumming of pain.
He rode through the night with images of the dying bandit burned into the insides of his eyelids. Everytime Grimbert closed them he saw how the man's thick eyebrows had knitted into an angry scowl as he took his last breaths.
All he could see was that face. Everything else was a blur.
Grimbert rode without direction, allowing his horse to deliver him to destiny.
After some time, he saw the moon illuminating the ripples on the surface of the sea. A dark inky expanse that stretched out to the horizon. Suddenly compelled, he encouraged his steed over the rocky soil and towards the beach.
Behind him the sun began to slowly awaken. The deep black sky was diluted by the first rays of light, transforming from indigo to cerulian. As his horse's hooves reached the sand, everything was still bathed in the gray wash of dawn.
He nearly fell from his horse – he was so exhausted – and he stumbled towards the surf. Dropping to the ground, Grimbert stared out at the large puffy clouds that made purple, pink, and orange streaks across the early morning sky. A light breeze brought the sound of birds and the bitter smell of salt. The waves lapped eagerly at his knees. He felt smaller now than he had when gazing up at the starry heavens. He had just killed a man. Who was he to take a life?
Grimbert cupped his hand into the water and rinsed his injured shoulder. He splashed his face, too. The salt bit at him, sharp and acute. Relishing the stinging sensation, he stood and waded forward until the warm water reached his thighs. His boots soggy and his clothes heavy, he washed his wounds. The dried blood turned the water around him a deep pink, and he continued to bathe in the pain until he felt clean of the man's blood.
Finally, as the sky warmed to a bright blue, and flecks of gold played on the surface of the sea, Grimbert turned from the water and headed back onto the beach. Salt and sand clung to his clothes and skin.
His horse had wandered over the dunes and was grazing on bits of grass. Grimbert slowly made his way over to the animal, and checked the saddle bags for any full waterskins. Luckily, he found enough drink to satiate his thirst and some bits of stale bread to fill his stomach, but he would need to get back to a town to refresh his supplies.
He ate in silence. The clouds above him also sailed by silently, their slowly passing shadows offering momentary relief from the blazing sun.
As he finished his small meal, Grimbert looked up and down the coastline and realized that he had no idea where he was in relation to any of the Crusader cities. Was he north or Tyre or south of it?
Did he even want to go back to Tyre?
He'd gone on this pilgrimage because he wanted salvation. He yearned for redemption. All the nights spent drunk at a tavern. His laziness. His failures. This was supposed to cure that. But as he stared out at the vastness before him he realized that he was in a worse spot now than when he had left Loconge. His shoulder would bare a scar, and worse, his soul would too.
He had done it for revenge. For justice. Hadn't he? Didn't that make it right?
But he had caused another man's death not in the heat of a battle, but in the cold silence of night. He had snuck up and surprised a man and took his life.
He didn't regret it, though. The bandit had deserved to die. He had caused Richart's death, after all. A death that could have been avoided if only they had slept through the robbery. And they would have slept through it if Hildegund had just stayed quiet!
His anger began to rise again. He played the night on a loop in his mind. She should have at least joined the fight. Why didn't she join the fight? It was her fault that Richart was dead. It was her fault that he was now a murderer. She was the cause of every bad thing that had happened since. Why should there be a black mark on his soul for using his sword in the name of justice? The black mark should be on her soul for not using her sword when the time called for it.
Maybe he was being ridiculous. She was only a child, after all.
But was that really an excuse? At thirteen she was old enough to be a married woman. Yes, she was young, but she was not innocent.
Acid boiled in his chest.
This was not how things were supposed to be for him! He was a good man, he didn't deserve this. He had done everything he was supposed to: took an apprenticeship, worked hard at his craft, honored his mother.
Hadn't she warned him? "You know what an oath of pilgrimage means, don't you?" she had scolded right before his departure.
"Of course I do!" He had been incensed. Why did she never trust his judgement?
"It is a holy vow, and a pilgrimage could save your soul, but it is a double-edged sword. If you fail to complete your journey you will be forever damned to hell. It's breaking a promise to God!"
"Mother, I am well-aware of the sanctity of my vows."
"You are going to get drunk and forget your vows. You never complete anything. You never made master status. You never followed through with a courtship. You never finish what you start."
"Mother, please." He had held out his arms in supplication.
"No, you are abandoning me in my old age, and for what? Not for salvation, that's for sure. You are not going to find glory, you're only going to find damnation." She had turned and walked away. No, "goodbye," no, "I love you, son." She had left him with those words. And he hadn't chased after her either, he was so committed to the upcoming journey. Instead, with tears burning his eyes, he had walked towards Richart and Hildegund, mounted his horse, and rode towards this ill-fated adventure.
And, now here he was. Shattered on a beach. Directionless and lost.
A large cloud drifted overhead, blocking out the sun and creating a dark shadow that seemed to mirror his misery. And then, suddenly, a beam of sunlight came streaming down. It was a beacon of hope.
No, he wouldn't let his mother be right. He absolutely refused. Just because Richart had died, that didn't mean the pilgrimage was over. He still had the opportunity to fulfill his vows, complete his pilgrimage, and save his soul.
The clouds parted and Grimbert was showered in a flood of sunlight. He took it as a sign from God.
As Grimbert straightened up he felt a cold lump against his chest. The necklace that he had taken from the bandit! He stared at it. It was a thick gold chain with a large handcrafted, jewel-encrusted pendant that hung in the middle. The detail was impressive. It was a fine example of craftsmanship. Whoever had commissioned it had come from a very wealthy family. But the metal of the clasp was bent out of shape from when Grimbert had yanked it from around the bandit's neck. Using his fingernail he carefully tried to fix the damage that he had caused. Finding success, he put it around his neck.
Grimbert placed the empty waterskin back in his saddlebag, placed his foot in one stirrup, and hoisted himself onto the horse's back. He headed off to find Jerusalem, and with it, salvation.
A nice and short Grimbert chapter...
Please let me know if Grimbert's decision not to go back to Tyre makes sense based on his reasoning and personality. I did play with the idea of having him go back and unsuccessfully look for Hildegund, before then continuing on to Jerusalem. I'm still not convinced I chose the right path for Grimbert, and this is something I may later revise. Your feedback is appreciated! (Plot-wise they need to remain apart a bit longer...)
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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...