Chapter 14: Mercy

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Lunch had been a relatively quiet affair. Everyone sat in the tall grass as the horses grazed nearby. They sat with the forest to their backs, gazing off at the patchwork of fields and the river beyond. The rushing water twinkled in the bright daylight. The road curved its way down towards Worms. Its red brick walls stood in stark contrast to the surrounding greens and blues of the rest of the scenery. A few dark shapes were visible moving about closer to the city, but they were too distant to be seen with any clarity.

The midday meal of bread and hard cheese had helped to further ease Grimbert's stomach. He squeezed the last drops of water from his waterskin, knowing that a fresh water supply was nearby.

"Do you think we will reach Worms before nightfall?" Hildegund asked after they were done eating and had finished packing up.

"Yes, definitely," Richart began.

"But we are traveling beyond the city. Tonight, we will seek shelter at a nearby monastery," Grimbert finished.

"A monastery? I wonder if we will meet other pilgrims," the girl mused as she easily mounted her horse. It hadn't taken her long to become a confident rider.

"I would think so. The Lorsch Monastery could be a destination in and of itself. The relics of St. Nazarius are there, and many miracles are said to have occurred at his shrine." Grimbert pulled himself onto his horse.

"What kind of miracles?"

Her question went unanswered as Richart quipped, "Maybe if I pray at his shrine he will ease my headache." Obviously still feeling groggy, he was the last to reach his saddle. They then started towards the city.

As the trio rounded the first bend, they noticed a man on horseback stopped ahead of them. Richart gave the signal to slow their mounts, and they continued warily. Grimbert could smell trouble.

The man ahead wore a dark hood that blocked his face from view, but before the group was able to make a move, another cloaked man, also astride a horse, appeared behind them. Grimbert realized that they must have been being watched as they ate lunch.

"We are in desperate need of charity," the first man said, his face still draped in shadow.

Grimbert touched the hilt of his sword.

"We are but poor pilgrims ourselves without alms to spare," Richart replied, mimicking Grimbert and touching the hilt of his own sword. Next to them, Hildegund did the same.

"Pilgrims, you say?" Came the voice of the second man.

Grimbert refused to break his forward stare, but in his periphery, he noticed Richart pull on the reins of the horse in order to face the second man. Hildegund was turning her head back and forth between the two men, eyes wide with worry. "Then you must have ample supplies for such a long journey. Surely you can afford to have some mercy on our souls?" the man finished.

"We understand your plight, brothers, but you must seek solace elsewhere," Grimbert answered sternly, his eyes unwavering on the first man.

Some secret signal must have passed between the two hooded men because in that moment they both charged simultaneously.

Without hesitation, Grimbert unsheathed his sword. Richart and Hildegund also drew their blades. Grimbert kicked his horse, urging him forward. He could hear Richart yell, "Run, my child, take the pack horse and meet us down the road."

Grimbert didn't have time to worry about Hildegund following her father's directions or not. The first man was fast approaching, his black mare snorting loudly. The man swung his sword out wildly and without true aim. Grimbert easily blocked steel with steel, pushing the rider back with enough force to knock him down to the ground. The mare continued to trot towards the field where they had had lunch.

Grimbert quickly dismounted. The cloaked man was grasping for his sword, which he must have dropped during his fall. Grimbert reached it first and kicked the lost sword clanging into the bushes.

In that moment the second bandit, followed by both Richart and Hildegund, galloped by, momentarily distracting Grimbert. He guessed that the bull-headed girl had ignored her father's direction. Where was the pack horse? They better not have lost their belongings all because that girl wanted to prove herself with a sword!

The cloaked figure was now getting to his knees, but Grimbert kicked the man in the ribs, an animalistic rage taking over. "Who are you?" Grimbert screamed, "Why did you attack us?"

The man only moaned as Grimbert kicked at him again, this time in the stomach. The man's cloak came off, revealing the face of a boy not much older than his nephew Johann. Wisps of a new beard darkened the boy's cheeks, and a streak of blood dripped down his chin. Instead of softening his heart, this only made him angrier. Grimbert leaned down and hauled the boy to his feet by his shirt collar. He threw him against the trunk of a tree and shook him, "What are you doing? You should be ashamed of yourself!"

The boy's eyes flickered, contempt in his voice, "Who are you, my mother?" He spat, droplets of blood mixed with saliva sprayed Grimbert's face.

"What kind of mother would raise a worthless waste of flesh like you? Attacking pilgrims?" Grimbert balled up his first and punched the boy's face in order to shut him up. He felt the cartilage of the kid's nose crack. The boy howled. Blood dripped thick and heavy down over the boy's lip, chin, and onto his chest. "I ought to kill you," a steely ice overtook Grimbert's words. "You are only making this world a worse place. I ought to kill you, but it isn't worth the mark on my soul."

He pushed the boy to the ground and remounted his horse, which luckily had not strayed far, and headed off to find Richart and Hildegund.

He found Richart and Hildegund down the road by a small stream, and he was relieved to see that the pack horse was there too. The first bandit nowhere to be found. "Are you two okay? Where'd he go?" Grimbert asked.

"He rode right between us, swinging at Papa, but I was able to scratch him with my sword. We then rode after him until we reached this stream. He was turning to charge at us again, but..." She was shaking. Her eyes were wide and her sword was smeared with blood.

"I was slow to react. I... I... Thank God Hildegund moved with such speed," Richart stuttered, shaking his head.

"Where'd he go?" Grimbert repeated.

"He ran off when he heard your man scream," Richart finished.

"So, we're not necessarily done with them yet? We'll have to be careful." Grimbert could feel the adrenaline draining from his body. What would he have done if his attacker had been more experienced? He shivered reflexively at the thought. They were lucky. This time.

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