Chapter 28: Bread

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Corbin and Joseph had spent the night gorging on bread and cheese. After days of not eating, Joseph had found it difficult to control himself in front of the bounty of food, and Corbin had encouraged this display of gluttony. The bread would only go stale, so might as well enjoy it fresh. Besides, Corbin insisted, by following his advice, Joseph would never starve again. They would go out looking for food again the next day. Foraging, Corbin called it, not stealing. They would split up and then share their finds.

It was now midday in Tyre and all of the merchants had closed shop to eat a small meal and take a nap. Corbin was right, Joseph thought. The sun was high and hot and men avoided being out at this time if they could. Many of the streets were empty except for a few stray dogs laying in the shade, flies crawling on their fur and by their eyes.

Joseph hated the heaviness of the air, the sweat clinging to his skin, and the dust that invaded his lungs, but he heard Corbin's voice in his mind: this was the time of day that people made mistakes. Left things behind because the heat made them lazy.

Joseph still didn't like the idea of stealing. He didn't know if it was a feeling that he could get used to. But what Corbin had asked him eased his guilt. Was it really stealing if the object in question was left out in the open with no one to watch over it?

Joseph turned the corner and noticed one of the vendors had left his cart in the street when he had gone inside. The cart stood starkly alone in the narrow side street. Its contents were covered by a piece of cloth. Maybe the vendor was visiting a friend and would be back out shortly. Or he could be just around the corner, pissing in the alleyway. Merchants knew better than to leave their wares untended, and if the owner had left it alone, he may still be keeping it in his view. Joseph watched the cart intently from the shadows. This was his opportunity, and he needed to be quick, but he also needed to be smart.

A light breeze raised a cloud of dust and a man coughed in the distance. Joseph turned his head to look, but no one was coming.

Not wanting to rouse the dogs from their slumber, Joseph took slow and deliberate steps towards the cart. His once white cloak was now streaked with dirt, his face and hands were deeply tanned, and he was perfectly camouflaged against the bleached exterior of the mud-brick houses that lined the streets in this area of the city. One tone of beige simply faded into another. Joseph knelt down into the shadows, keenly aware that while the street was empty of traffic, there were many men nearby but beyond his sight, sitting in the darkness behind open doorways.

He slipped his hand under the blanket and groped around for anything edible. Or at least something he could grab and later barter for something edible. It had been days since he had enjoyed a real meal, and his stomach grumbled at the thought.

His fingers brushed against what felt like fur. Sweeping his arm back and forth he felt short bristles spring up as he went in one direction and then smooth down when he went back in the other. It must be the hide of a goat, Joseph reasoned. The merchant must be on his way to the tannery, and he left this cart because there wasn't anything easy to steal inside it. He hoped Corbin was having more luck on his outing. Joseph was just about to slink away when he heard someone coming.

"Hey, you!" A harsh voice yelled out, shattering the silence. "What are you doing?" And Joseph began to hustle. He didn't dare turn around. He was just a street rat, an urchin, he could fade into the background as long as he could get down an alley. He hadn't taken anything, and chasing him wouldn't be worth the trouble.

Joseph turned off of the side street that he was on and crossed to one of the busier roads. The buildings here were made of stone and there were horses tied up in a stable. He continued down the street, keeping to the shadows. At the next intersection he made a quick right and then veered to the left when there was a fork in the road. He thought he still heard footsteps, and he darted down a tight alleyway and pressed himself behind some clay casks. He held his breath and could hear his heart pounding against his rib cage. After a few moments he let out a sigh and slumped against the wall.

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