At the time of the earliest Crusades, young noblewoman Elisabeth longs to be the person she’s always known is hidden inside. When her twin brother perishes from a fever, Elisabeth takes his identity to live as a man, a knight. As Elias, he travels to the Holy Land, to adventure, passion, death, and a lesson that honor is sometimes found in unexpected places.
Elias must pass among knights and soldiers, survive furious battle, deadly privations, moral uncertainty, and treachery if he’ll have any chance of returning to his new-found love in the magnificent city of Constantinople.
Elisabeth found herself left out of the boys’ preparations. She could only stand on the periphery and watch glumly as the three men in her life spent every waking moment arranging to leave her behind, to a fate she could not comprehend. She realized how much more her mother must dread this parting. Though they had rarely talked, mother to daughter, she Elisabeth sought her Adalberta out and confided her fears.
“Mama, how will we bear it?” she sighed while the two sat together in Adalberta’s solar.
Adalberta put a comforting hand on her daughter’s supple one. “That is our lot, my dear. Women wait while men go abroad.”
“Men are so selfish!” Elisabeth could not restrain her outburst.
Her mother shook her head. “Nay, it is not selfishness. It is duty. Theirs is to obey their masters. Ours is to obey them.”
“I don’t understand why it has to be like that. Peasant men and women work together in almost everything. I have seen them, side by side in the fields, planting or harvesting. Why can we not do the same? And why do they have to go to war anyway? It seems to me that life would be so much better without going to war.” Elisabeth’s face held a petulant sort of challenge.
Elisabeth seemed pensive. Her mother finally prodded, “What else bothers you, my daughter?”
Elisabeth raised bleak eyes to her mother’s face. With a hushed voice, she asked her, “Mama, do you think since Elias and I are twins, I might be more like him than if I had been born separately?”
Adalberta’s frowned, her forehead furrowing. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, what if I am not entirely a girl? What if being twins means Elias and I share some of each other’s, um, manliness and womanliness?”
“What in the Virgin’s name are you talking about?” her mother said querulously.
Elisabeth would not meet her eyes. She did not share her thoughts about her brother’s “unmanly” love for his friend. She was uncertain how to describe her own feelings of being in the wrong body. “I don’t know. I just don’t feel like a girl. I don’t want anything of a woman’s life. I don’t enjoy sitting and sewing and waiting for the men to do all the living. I want to live too. I want what boys have.”
Sighing, her mother shook her head. “I have failed you, my daughter, and for that I am most heartily sorry. I have not spent the time with you that I should. You spend all your time in your brother’s company, never learning what it is to be a woman. I hoped Marta would fill my place, but she is even more indulgent than I.” Reaching to cradle Elisabeth’s chin in her palm, she drew Elisabeth’s reluctant eyes to her own. “Perhaps it is best if my lord does go to the Holy Land and prays for my health. Perhaps it is not too late for me to spend the time with you I have neglected. There is so much you have to learn before you are wed.”
Fear clouded Elisabeth’s eyes. “And that is another thing! I hardly know Reinhardt. What I do remember, I did not like.”
“He is strong and can provide for you and your children. He is an honorable man you can be proud of.” She let go of her daughter’s chin. “It is for the best.”
Elisabeth stood and stepped stiffly to the window embrasure. “I shan’t need to be provided for. I will die giving birth to his brats just like his other wives. That’s all women are for. To have babies, then die.” Her thoughtless words hit her like a slap. She whirled to face her mother. “Oh, my dearest Mama, I am so sorry! I did not mean….”
Adalberta shook her head compassionately. “I know you did not mean to hurt my feelings. And truly, darling, I understand your fear. You cannot know the joys that make it all worthwhile. The companionship of your husband, the satisfaction of running your household, and, most of all, the love for your children.” She put out her thin arms to Elisabeth, who went to her, knelt, and leaned into the embrace.
“You have Papa. He loves you. That is why you endure it all.”
Pressing Elisabeth’s head to her breast, she Adalberta reassured her, “Your Papa and I love each other very much, and it is true. But we did not even know each other when we were wed. Love came over time. And from our union came you and your brother. Just think, if I had thought like you do now, none of that could have ever come about.”
Elisabeth nodded against her mother’s body. “I don’t understand how Papa can go and leave you suffering.”
“It is because I am suffering that he is going!”
Looking up at her mother’s strained expression, Elisabeth shook her head. “I know that, Mama, but it is more. He wants to go. Almost as much as Elias and Albrecht. Why do they want to go and leave us behind?”
Adalberta pulled her daughter Elisabeth up so she could sit beside her on the settle. Putting her arm around Elisabeth’ Elisabeth’s waist, she chuckled. “I think you know why the boys want to go. As for your father….” She paused. “Let me see if I can explain it. Your father was ever a loyal man to Emperor Henry, in spite of the great man’s petty quarrels with the Holy Father. Over the years, he has become disillusioned. He says that he now believes that the emperor has used the disputes simply for his own arrogant purposes.” She leaned he
r head on Elisabeth’s. “You know your father is a brave and honorable knight. He needs to turn his energies to a worthy cause. He needs… redemption.”
Elisabeth subsided. “I know, Mama. But I will miss them all. And I will worry as well.”
“As will I, dearest. As will I.” She lifted her head and leaned to look into Elisabeth’s face. “But think of it, liebchen, we have a wedding to plan! Is that not exciting too?”
Without conviction Elisabeth answered, “Yes, Mama.”
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Christopher Hawthorne Moss wrote his first short story when he was seven and has spent some of the happiest hours of his life fully involved with his colorful, passionate and often humorous characters. Moss spent some time away from fiction, writing content for websites before his first book came out under the name Nan Hawthorne in 1991. He has since become a novelist and is a prolific and popular blogger, the historical fiction editor for the GLBT Bookshelf, where you can find his short stories and thoughtful and expert book reviews. He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his husband of over thirty years and four doted upon cats. He owns Shield-wall Productions at http://www.shield-wall.com. He welcomes comment from readers sent to email@example.com and can be found on Facebook and Twitter.