Chapter 31: Chance Encounters

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He was safe. He had made it back to Christendom. But despite this, Grimbert hadn't been sleeping well. Nothing in his body felt settled and his mind was in a constant whirl. Even after two weeks back on solid land, his stomach still seemed to be roiling from the fifteen days he'd spent asea. The ship that had taken him from Jaffa to Venice had been cramped and putrid. Now that he was here, in this city built on a lagoon, with its tidal smells of excrement and decay, he just wanted to go home. But something had anchored him here. He'd gaze off across the Adriatic Sea and feel incomplete, like he'd forgotten something.

Maybe he was still mourning for Richart. Afterall, it had been less than two months since his friend's death. Or, maybe he was getting sick. Who knew what disease infested filth had accompanied him on his voyage. Or, maybe it was something else entirely.

He refused to consider that he felt any guilt towards leaving Hildegund behind. Thinking about her was like staring at the sun. It was glaringly obvious, but also blinding.

So, after another restless night, Grimbert rose early from his bed and ventured out in search of some comfort. The inn was located in an alleyway so narrow that he could easily stretch out his arms and touch both of the bordering buildings; he was grateful there were no other pedestrians to squeeze past this morning.  Soon enough, he emerged onto a still empty boulevard. A blush of dawn cut across the gray morning twilight and the air was so still it was as if the city was holding in its breath.

As he wandered along looking for an open tavern, the sky warmed and the quiet cooing of pigeons floated down from the rafters. He then noticed the distant shouts of fishermen preparing to head out for the day, and he decided to head towards the ports, hoping to find an available barstool.

After crossing several small bridges he found what he was looking for. An open doorway was crowded with salty-looking sailors. A few men were leaving and heading towards the docks, a bit of a stumble in their step. Grimbert shouldered past them and found a corner to sit in. He ordered a strong drink, and eased himself into the burning sensation that it left in the back of his throat.

The hours melted away into his goblet. The sun pierced through the doorway as waves of fishermen and merchants and sailors poured in and out with an almost tidal rhythm.

Grimbert had settled into the malaise of inebriation when he heard two recently-arrived sailors mention a name that made his heart freeze, "Sir Hugh."

Not this again, he thought bitterly as his hand migrated to his collar, patting the cloth to check that the necklace was still hidden. It was. Grimbert then cocked his head slightly and tried to covertly cup his ear so he could better eavesdrop.

"Sir Hugh? Which one is he?" Grimbert heard clearly through the shouts and laughter of other men.

"Sir Jean's third son." The man answering was leaning back on his stool, both hands behind his bald head, his fingers knitted together.

"If it's only his third son, who cares," snorted a skinny fellow with unfortunately large ears.

"Jean Rallac certainly seems to care, given the size of the reward he's offering."

"Rallac, you say?" The name obviously held a significance that Grimbert wasn't familiar with. He shifted uncomfortably, a pit forming in his stomach.

"The one and only. And with the amount of ships he controls, you know he has the gold to back up his claims." The bald man sat forward, taking a mighty drink from his cup and then wiping his bearded mouth with the back of his hand. Grimbert followed suit, hoping the buzz of alcohol would calm his nerves.

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