John returned to watching the entertainment offered by the waves and the boats in the harbor until a big dog with a thick coat of shaggy brown hair came around the corner from the nearest alleyway and stopped to stare at him. John had always wanted a dog, but after they were driven out of Ibelin and had to live in cramped quarters, his mother firmly prohibited dogs from the house. He’d tried to befriend some strays, but they all disappeared somehow. This dog immediately captured John’s sympathy, because the wind was blowing hard enough to reveal his scrawny skeleton underneath his fur. Furthermore, he looked at John with large, intelligent eyes. After a glance over his shoulder, he padded forward to sit three feet away from John. From here he watched John solemnly—until the proprietor arrived with a dripping bowl, a wooden spoon, and the mug of ale. Immediately the dog ran a dozen feet away before stopping to look over his shoulder. No sooner was the proprietor gone than the dog returned. Reading John’s mood correctly, he now risked coming closer, his ears half cocked, his nose lifted, and his tail swaying slowly from side to side, hopeful but wary.
John reached into his bowl of stewed pig’s feet, removed one, and tossed it to the dog. With practiced ease the dog snatched the morsel in his teeth, but rather than gulping it down and waiting for more, he darted with his prize around the corner to the alley. John was sorry to think people had made him so afraid. But he soon returned, and since the pig’s feet weren’t very good, John shared another one and then two. Each time, the dog disappeared around the corner to eat.
Having given most of his meal away to the dog, John was still hungry when he’d finished, so he ordered a loaf of bread and sausage. The proprietor put his hands on his hips and looked down at him. “You’ll have to clean pots for two days to work that off!” he warned.
John indignantly showed the proprietor his purse to prove he could pay, and the man shrugged and retreated. Too late, John noticed that the man at the next table had also seen him show his purse, and he started to feel a little nervous. He’d been so absorbed in the dog that he’d failed to notice that the establishments around him were starting to come to life as the sun went down. The tables were filling up.
To distract himself from his own foolishness, John looked for the dog again. He was waiting as before, watching with big solemn eyes what John would do next. John patted the side of his thigh. “Come here, boy!”
The dog took a step closer, and then another, but then lost his courage. A moment later the landlord returned with John’s second order and the dog retreated in guilty haste. As soon as the latter was gone, John tore off the end of the loaf of bread and tossed it to the dog. The dog at once disappeared around the corner, only to return shortly. John cut off a piece of sausage and held it out to the dog, trying to get him to come closer. He stepped nearer, his ears lifted and his tail thrashing the air, but he could not actually eat from John’s hand. John gave up and threw it to him, and again he disappeared with it.
By now all the tables were full, and the men at them were starting to make John feel uncomfortable. John didn’t like the looks the women were giving him, either; they were both patronizing and predatory. But the men were worse. John saw or imagined that some of them were eyeing him like “easy pickings.” When he noticed the man who had watched him show his purse to the proprietor elbow the man beside him, he put his hand to his hilt. This only made a man with an ugly scar on his neck and a mouth full of broken teeth smirk at him condescendingly; his expression implied contempt for both John’s sword and his ability to wield it.
It was time to get out of here, John concluded, shivering as the first drops of rain sprinkled from the now overcast sky. He called for his bill, paid off the proprietor with an (unintentionally excessive) tip, and rose to return to his lodgings. To avoid the clientele on the dockside, he decided to return through the town, and so turned into the same alley where the dog had always disappeared. Almost at once he tripped and nearly fell headlong over a man wrapped in a blanket.
The dog was beside him and jumped up with a defensive bark, followed by a hopeful wagging of his tail as he recognized John. John found himself looking down into the face of a skeletal man. Although his hand was completely covered by the blanket he was clutching around himself, it still held the half loaf of bread John had given the dog. The dog had been feeding him, John registered in amazement. Embarrassed by the whole situation, John turned and hastened back the way he’d come.
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