A pile of provisions lay at Ramon’s feet. Ramon stands in the courtyard, while Bernat runs hither and thither, looking for leather wine flasks. Something is in Ramon’s throat, thick and sticky. He swallows again and again, but it will not go away. So he trains his eyes on his friend, bobbing from one storage room to the next, in search of everything Ramon will need for his journey.

A tattoo of metal-tipped boots. Ramon turns. Bernat freezes. Two servants of the pope appear, scarlet and gold cloaks hung around their shoulders. As they approach, Ramon reads their faces: They wear the triumph of someone who has seen danger and misfortune but managed to avoid it.

“We have orders to accompany you to a ship, ready to sail.”

Ramon sets his jaw and looks at the men. “In such haste?”

The men nod. “Thus have we been instructed.”

They speak as one, as if they are not two men, but one man divided into two bodies. Dismay sinks through Ramon’s skin and settles, heavy, upon his chest. He sucks in air and tries for Friar Pere’s glibness of speech. “And yet I expected to trespass a little longer on His Grace’s hospitality. To drink from the waters of his wisdom.”

Bernat looks from one to the other, recovers himself and rocks up and down on the balls of his feet. He nods furiously, then speaks too quickly. “Not to mention the library. Ramon is a scholar, you understand. He would like to avail himself of the many precious manuscripts the palace library contains.”

“We have our orders.”

Orders? By the scenes that take place each night, one would have thought that the place was entirely without order or discipline or authority.

“The ship leaves by daybreak. We must set out immediately to ensure your passage.”

“But…”

There are so many thoughts flying through his mind that he cannot verbalize a single one.

The two guards link their arms through Ramon’s and begin the march. Bernat picks up the bundle of provisions and runs after them, a small figure bobbing along in pursuit.

A barrel moves through the air, passed from one pair of hands to the next, to the next, in a human chain that extends from the harbor, across the gangplank, and onto the ship. Neemias runs up and down, seeking the captain. He finds him on board, inspecting the supplies, a jug of ale in his hand. “I am an oarsman, seeking passage to Barcelona,” Neemias says.

The sailors look him up and down, assessing his brawn. For the first time in his life, Neemias is glad of his bulk. He always felt uncomfortable with his broad shoulders and square jaw; ox, they called him in the village. But now his size will find him a free ticket across the sea.

A grunt, a tip of the head, and he is part of the crew. The sailors point to the sun: When the sun is over the horizon, just after noon, they will set sail. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 568)