Sunday, 4 September 2011

Beloved Pilgrim, by Nan Hawthorne

Adventure and romance with a twist.

Beloved Pilgrim is the story of Elisabeth on Winterkirche, a young Bavarian noblewoman who in order to escape a brutal marriage and the llimiting life she was born to, chooses to adopt the identity of a man , her own late twin brother.  What follows is a well-researched and realized story of the disastrous Crusade of 1101 full of rich characterizations of both historical and fictional figures. and vivid descrriptions of the settings and battles. 

     "God, it's heavy!" Elisabeth cried as Albrecht and Magdalena struggled to redistribute the weight of the chain mail coat on her shoulders.
"You get used to it," Albrecht reassured. "Wait until you try the helm!"
It was the next morning, and Elisabeth and Albrecht were readying to leave Magdalena's tiny hermitage. The rest of the day before Magdalena had plied her needle making adjustments to Elias's clothing so they would fit his sister, though in fact there had been less need than she anticipated. Harder was how to deal with the armor, something becoming apparent now that Elisabeth had the mail coat on.
"Your arms are too short," Albrecht said as she shook out her arms so the links would fall into place. "And your legs too, even though you are almost as tall as Elias."
"Women are shaped differently from men," Magdalena  observed.
The squire gave her a look. "No, really?" There was a humorous sparkle in his eye.
"Can they be shortened? Not my arms and legs, the mail?"
He looked at the older woman. "Do you have any sort of metal cutters?" When she shook her head, he went on. "We will have to wait until we can get some. I had not thought of it. In the meantime, let's hope you don't trip, my lady."
"Now the helm?" Elisabeth asked.
He shook his head. "We should wait until you are on your horse."
"I think you should let her try it while she still has two feet on the ground. On the horse she might lose her balance."
"You are right," Albrecht responded. He leaned to lift the heavy metal helm from where it sat on the ground. "No, don't lean over. You could break your neck."
Magdalena had shorn Elisabeth's hair the evening before. The young woman exulted in how cool and free she felt. Now she stood with the mail hood covering what was left. She stood straight, as the man had advised.
He lifted the helm over her head and slowly lowered it as far as it would go.
"Ouch! The mail is biting into my scalp!" Elisabeth cried.
Magdalena quickly snatched up the quilted coif that lay nearby. "She needs this under her mail hood."
Already taking the helm off her, Albrecht apologized. "I forgot that. I am so sorry, my lady."
Elisabeth chided, "You better start calling me 'my lord' so you get used to it."
She pushed her mail hood back so Magdalena could fit the quilted head covering over her hair, tying the strings under her chin.
"No, bring the strings around to the back of her neck. Otherwise the knot will get uncomfortable under her chin." Albrecht lifted his own bearded chin to show where the strings crossed and wrapped around to the back.
With her mail hood back in place, Albrecht lifted her helm over Elisabeth's head again. "It is heavy. I don't have to wear it every minute, do I?"
"No, just in battle, or if you anticipate battle. And I will put the gorget on next time. That will even out the weight. Mostly you just carry the thing, strapped to your saddle."
Elisabeth tried to shrug her shoulders but the helm was weighing too heavily to allow her to do that. Nevertheless she felt exhilarated. "Why do I feel like I've done all this before?"
Magdalena smiled. "Perhaps it's not so much that you have done it before but that you were meant to."
Albrecht stepped back to survey his handiwork. He took a deep startled breath. The two women looked quizzically at him. "You look so much like Elias." He turned and walked a distance away to cover his sudden surge of grief.
She did look just like her brother as she stood there in his clothes and armor. She did not have Elias's short beard showing between the cheek plates of his helm, but her form, already angular and now sheathed in the thick layer of clothes, padded jerkin, and mail, and the bearing with which she held herself made her truly her brother's twin. She looked like a very young man.
Looking from Elisabeth to the squire, Magdalena said, "Wait here. I have something for you."
Albrecht took the minute that Magdalena needed to retrieve some items from her cottage to regain his composure. He turned back just as Magdalena came out.
"Here, if you are a pilgrim, then you need a pilgrim's cross." Magdalena reached out a hand and put a cross on a leather thong into Elisabeth's. "And you need a cloak."
Albrecht and Elisabeth stood and gaped at the item the woman held up and shook out. It was a cloak with armholes and which must be pulled on over one's head. As she held it by its shoulders, the two were able to see that it was very white wool with a red cross sewn onto one side of the upper breast.
"A crusader's cloak!" Elisabeth cried. Her eyes lifted to Magdalena's, full of gratitude and awe. She had already removed her helm carefully, and now she strung the cross around her neck. Magdalene bunched up the cloak so she could put it over her head. She let it fall, and Elisabeth slipped her arms in the armholes. Magdalena stepped forward to shake out the garment so it would hang right.
"Why did you make me a pilgrim's cloak? You know I am not planning to go on crusade for real."
Magdalena shook her head. "Let's just say I wanted to see you in one." Her look was unreadable.
Elisabeth raised her arms as Albrecht reached around her to put the heavy sword belt on her. Buckling it he looked up into her eyes. "You truly are Elias," he murmured. He shook his head as though to clear it. He stepped back and tried to joke, "Except you are missing something important."
Elisabeth twisted from side to side examining herself. "What? The gorget?"
Albrecht and Magdalena exchanged conspiratorial looks. "You have to be born with what he is talking about," Magdalena chuckled. "Oh, that reminds me, how are you going to pee?"
Elisabeth stood nonplussed. "I suppose I could be a very shy young knight?" she proposed.
"You wouldn't be the first," Albrecht responded. "I can let it out you have some sort of disfigurement . . . down there . . . and are ashamed to let anyone see it."
Magdalena had a most un-nun-like look on her face. "You could tell others the disfigurement is that it is massive!" she quipped wickedly.
The other two stared at her surprised, and then both fell into laughter. "No, I'd better not. Then everyone will want to see it."
Elisabeth's lips spread in a smile of complete satisfaction. "This feels so right. I feel like I am fully dressed for the first time." She swung one leg and then the other, reveling in the freedom of no skirts. "I feel like I am completely me for the first time."

Read it now on Kindle.

"Hawthorne remains absolutely loyal to the facts of the crusade while her characters bring exotic and fresh angles to the story."  Crusades novelist Richard Warren Field.

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