Chapter 27: Oranges

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GRIMBERT WAS SITTING in a tavern in Jaffa. He'd been in the tightly packed city for only a few days, and most of that time had been spent sitting on this stool. He felt like himself again, sipping on ale and surrounded by the thick greasy smoke of tallow candles.

Jerusalem had not been what he had expected. He didn't feel cured from his pains or released from his sins. If anything, he felt Richart's absence more acutely. Everyone seemed to travel on pilgrimage in groups, and there he was all alone. But even beyond that, the whole experience had been more irritating than enlightening.

First, there had been the climb. Four leagues from Jerusalem the path began a steep ascent toward the Holy City. He had to lead his horse, and it was slow going. Other pilgrims seemed to relish the hardship. They climbed on their knees, clutching crosses, praying loudly. Grimbert just poured sweat. Gross, stinky, alcohol drenched sweat. And his thirst was unquenchable. Water didn't satisfy him. He felt shaky, his hand tremored, and he developed a headache more severe than anything he had ever experienced before. When he finally reached the city, it was crowded and loud. All he wanted was a drink. A strong drink. The desire was so overpowering that he couldn't appreciate that he had actually succeeded in his journey.

Grimbert had stabled his horse and found a monastery that offered room and board for pilgrims. His quarters were so cramped that he found himself jealous of his horse's accommodations.

He had tried to feel pious. He really did. He walked to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, he visited Jesus's tomb, he looked at relics and statues and altars. But after all that, the only thing that felt lighter was his purse. Every destination required a donation. You had to pay good money to free your soul. The whole thing left a sour taste in his mouth.

His thoughts were blasphemous, he knew that. All he wanted was to feel inspired, but he couldn't force it. He knew that he was in the presence of the holiest of relics - the true cross, the bones of saints, the literal footsteps of his savior - yet he just felt like he was stuck in another busy and over-crowded city. The thought nagged at him: Maybe if he had had someone to share the experience with it would have been different.

All around him he heard people whispering about how incredible everything was. How they were in the actual location where Jesus and his disciples preached. People had come from all across Christendom and beyond to experience these holy destinations. Grimbert saw Easterners, Africans, people with fair skin and dark skin, and he heard more accents than he could recognize. Yet, Grimbert had no one to turn to in amazement. He was alone.

Most pilgrims stayed in Jerusalem for a month or more. Grimbert left before two weeks had passed.

He had ridden west until he came to Jaffa, with its tight winding alleyways lined with sandstone brick buildings. He had found comfort on the stool he was currently sitting on. But as he finished the last swallow of his ale, Grimbert decided that it might be nice to get some fresh air. He would be back shortly.

Nodding to the barkeep, Grimbert pushed back from the counter and stood. His legs were wobbly at first, but he soon gained his bearings. He brushed the wrinkles out of his pants, straightened out his shirt, and adjusted the heavy gold necklace that he still wore prominently around his neck. As he walked across the threshold to the outside he was met with a warm evening breeze.

Jaffa was built on a long high ridge, and from the promenade he could look out at the expansive Mediterranean Sea. The sky was clear, and he had an unobstructed view up and down the coastline. As Grimbert strolled down the city streets, passed open store fronts and under thick archways, he came upon a city square. Men stood clustered in small groups. Small bits of conversation floated on the air. Everyone seemed in a pleasant mood, and no wonder, the temperature was cooling down as the sun dipped towards the horizon.

A man was selling oranges from a cart, and Grimbert reached into his coin purse for a copper. He had never eaten an orange before traveling to the east, but he had made a point to eat several since coming to Jaffa. He found the juice to be delightful, and he knew the exotic taste would be one of the few things he would miss about this miserable place once he was back home.

As he paid for his orange, the merchant accepting his coin with a smile, Grimbert saw that there were notices plastered across the main wall of this square. He wandered over to look at the various postings, peeling the orange and casually dropping the bright rind on the ground as he walked. He sucked on a slice as he curiously scanned the various signs. Several were written in a script he didn't understand, but most were in French or Italian.

And then he froze.

One of the posters had a detailed drawing that looked strikingly similar to the jewel-encrusted pendant that he now wore around his neck. It showed a thick golden cross with rounded blue sapphires at all four tips. In the center of the cross was a detailed picture of two lions standing on either side of a golden fleur-de-lis. "REWARD," the poster screamed, "For the murderer of Sir Hugh of the House of Rallac." There was smaller writing below, but Grimbert didn't read it. In one swift motion he ripped the poster down and tucked it inside his collar, simultaneously hiding the necklace under his shirt too. He backed up as inconspicuously as possible and then darted out of the square and down an alleyway. He briskly walked until he found himself on an empty street.

Grimbert leaned heavily against the stone wall. In his rush to retreat he had crushed the remains of his orange in his left hand. He violently threw the massacred fruit to the ground and wiped his juice-covered hand on his pants.

Ignoring the sticky-residue that remained between his fingers, Grimbert took out the poster and examined it more closely. He removed the pendant and compared it to the picture. It was an exact match. Could it be possible that there were more than one?

With a deep breath he read the remaining text on the poster:

Sir Hugh of the House of Rallac was returning from pilgrimage with four of his vassals. They were attacked while en route from Tyre to Tripoli. They were ambushed in the middle of the night, and Sir Hugh lost his life. His assailant stole the above pictured pendant, which bears his family's coat of arms, and then escaped. A substantial reward to be granted to whoever shall help bring this man and any of his possible accomplices to justice!

Cold sweat beaded Grimbert's brow. He read the posting again, but the words remained the same. It was obvious that he was the murderer in question.

He felt a squeeze in his gut and for a moment and he thought he might be sick. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

A million questions ran through Grimbert's mind. Who had posted this reward sign? The man he had killed had been a bandit. He had certainly not been noble. Right? Grimbert had looked into the man's face and was certain that he was the man responsible for Richart's death. Unless this "Sir Hugh" person also played at being a bandit. Maybe the reward sign was a trick. Were the bandit's companions setting a trap for him? Were they in Jaffa right now?

It didn't matter if the man who Grimbert had killed was a bandit or a noble. What mattered was that this sign meant someone was looking for him. And he had been foolish enough to be parading about with that pendant displayed prominently on his chest! How foolish.

Grimbert didn't know what to do. The buzz of alcohol still swam through his veins. The sticky scent of oranges clung to his fingernails. All he knew was that he wasn't safe anymore. He stuffed the crumpled poster back down the front of his tunic, made sure the pendant was still hidden out of view, and made his way to the stables where he had left his horse. He didn't know where he was going, but he was going to get himself out of this town. Now.

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