Chapter 29: Decisions

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Grimbert had left Jaffa in a bit of a frenzy, but at least he had thought about supplies. He had taken his horse from the stables, filled up his water skins, and checked his saddlebags to make sure that he had enough food for an evening meal. He then took to the road and headed north. He thought he might ride to Acre. It was a large port town and he felt confident that he could blend with and fade away in the crowds.

The road was overrun with sand, which made for slow going.  After the first Crusaders had swept through the area, many locals either retreated or were killed for their refusal to convert to Christianity, and as a result, much of the surrounding farmland had been sacrificed to the desert. As the ale left his system, Grimbert became increasingly groggy, and he soon decided to rest for the night. He could still see the evening lamps of Jaffa, a smudge of light down the coast. As he lay on the soft sand he noticed that the moon was still bright. It was nearly as full and round as it had been on that fateful night he had killed the bandit and taken the necklace, which he still wore, an albatross around his neck.

As he stared up at the stars he found the same constellations in the sky as he had known all his life. Even though the land was strange, the sky was familiar. It made him miss home. He missed knowing his routine, coming home to his mother, having an evening meal, and sleeping in his own bed. He missed his nephews and his garden and spending time at the tavern. Those things would still be there when he returned, even if Richart would not be. And he had fulfilled his pilgrimage. Against all odds he had made it to Jerusalem. Maybe his mother would be proud of him after all. If she was still alive.

He suddenly had a strong urge to get home. To be back in the city of his youth, on streets that he knew, and surrounded by people who spoke his tongue. This land had become inhospitable. Even without this whole mess with the necklace, it was time to return. But how would he go? Could he travel overland all by himself? Was his horse even capable of such a journey. The beast had been with them since the beginning. Had carried Richart for thousands of miles. The thought of selling it gave him an unexpected ache in his heart.

He slept fitfully, the moon stared at him accusingly. His stomach was a ball of knots.

Once the sun rose, Grimbert returned to his trek, but he soon regretted not riding through the night. There were few shady places to stop and rest. Both Grimbert and his horse were sweaty with exhaustion by the time they reached Caesarea, which was only about halfway to his intended destination of Acre.

Caesarea had tall walls made of thick sandstone and a strong iron gate that he had to pass through. As he entered the city, Grimbert adjusted his collar to be sure there was no glint of gold, and he shook his hair forward to shield his face. The guards hardly gave him a second look.

Once past the gates, Grimert couldn't help but stare in wonder. The streets were lined with palm trees. Citrus trees bloomed in courtyards, perfuming the air with the sweet tangy scent of oranges. The air was also filled with the gurgling sounds of fountains. Water seemed to flow in abundance, which stood out in stark contrast to the arid desert that lay just beyond the city walls.

Grimbert took the opportunity to refill his water skins and then he stabled his horse and started to walk through the city. After the excitement of the day before he could use a good drink.

He found a tavern near the port. Unlike the dark and dank establishments he was used to, this place had a wide open front entryway that was covered by a red and white striped awning. Grimbert walked under the shade to take a seat, appreciating the fresh air. He got the attention of the barkeep and ordered an ale. The man was tall, lean, and moved with an almost feminine fluidity. Everything about this place seemed exotic. Grimbert glanced out at the rolling waves while the barkeep filled a mug for him. Maybe it would be best to sell his horse and purchase passage across the Mediterranean. "Do ships regularly sail between here and Christendom?" Grimbert asked as the man gracefully set the beverage on the counter.

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