Chapter 20: Realizations

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As she walked down the street, Hildegund noticed an open doorway that was crowded with a group of men, laughing and drinking. This seemed like the type of place where Grimbert could have spent the night. These men might have the answers she was looking for. "Excuse me?" she said, the words coming out meekly. No one turned around. Hildegund bit her lip, took a deep breath in through her nose, and gathered herself up. "Excuse me?" she said more assertively.

"Yeah?" a portly dark-haired man slurred in response, "What can I do for you, sonny?"

"I'm looking for someone. He didn't make it back to the inn last night, and this seems like the sort of place where he might have stopped for some, um, entertainment," she borrowed the innkeeper's turn of phrase.

"This is a fine establishment," the man nodded in agreement. "But I wasn't here last night, so I couldn't help you," he paused and turned his head. "Hey, Lorenzo, you were here last night?" he called over to a friend.

"Yeah, what of it?" an olive-skinned man with bright green eyes and a scarred cheek turned and walked over to join them.

"This little boy is looking for someone. Did you see any, uh," the man turned back to Hildegund, "What did you say he looked like?"

"He's German, darker hair to his shoulders, bearded," she said, looking back and forth between the two men.

"I didn't notice anyone new last night. I know most of the regulars," Lorenzo told her. "There are lots of men in Tyre, and nearly as many barstools. Keep looking my young friend, he'll turn up."

Hildegund thanked the men before continuing down the street.

She stepped through the doorway of each bar or tavern that she passed and spoke to many people, but she learned no new information. Her shoulders slumped, she began to shuffle back towards the city gates. Maybe the guards would have information to share.

"You looking for your daddy, sweetheart?" A rouged woman called out as Hildegund passed.

It was like being struck by an arrow, the pang of mourning hit her so sharply. Her father would never have left her on purpose. After a brief hesitation, Hildegund responded, "He's not my father, but I am looking for the man who I traveled here with."

"Are you all alone?" the woman purred.

Something tensed inside her stomach. A warning not to reveal too much. "No, I have other companions," she lied, "we split up to go looking for him."

"Well in this city, if a man doesn't want to be found, there are plenty of places for him to hide," she raised her eyebrows suggestively.

"I'm just looking for information. Maybe you could help me."

"The one way I can help you is by giving you some advice, sweetheart," the woman leaned down and whispered, "by asking so many questions, you might be giving some people the idea that you need their protection."

"What do you mean?" Hildegund whispered back.

"A sweet thing like you, in a place like this? Forget your man and move on," she winked, "Trust me."

"I'm not ...," Hildegund didn't know what to say. She almost said not a girl, but then thought better of it. She wasn't used to being spoken to in this tone, in this way. Sweet thing? That description did not fit the way she saw herself. Joseph was not a sweet thing. And Hildegund had never been called a "sweet thing," even when she had dressed like a girl.

"Honey, look around. You will see plenty of beggar boys, but there are no beggar girls. But being a boy doesn't make you safe. Someone might notice how pretty you are. Your delicate hands, your soft cheeks."

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