Biographies & Memoirs


FOR days the village buzzed with the news of Joan’s beating. The canon had lashed his daughter to within an inch of her life, it was said, and would have killed her had his wife’s screams not attracted the attention of some villagers. It had taken three strong men to drag him away from the child.

But it wasn’t the savagery of the beating that caused people to talk. Such things were common enough. Hadn’t the blacksmith knocked his wife down and kicked her in the face until all her bones were broken, because he was tired of her nagging? The poor creature was disfigured for life, but there was nothing to do about it. A man was master in his own home, no one questioned that. The only law governing his absolute right to dispense punishment as he saw fit was one that limited the size of the club he could use. The canon had not used a club, in any case.

What was really interesting to the villagers was the fact that the canon had so far lost control of himself. Such violent emotion was unexpected, unseemly, in a man of God—so naturally everyone delighted in talking about it. Not since he had taken the Saxon woman to his bed had they had so much to gossip about. In little groups they whispered together, breaking off abruptly when the canon passed by.

Joan knew nothing of this. For an entire day after the beating, the canon forbade anyone to go near her. All that night and the following day Joan lay on the floor of the cottage unconscious. Dirt from the beaten earth floor clung to her lacerated flesh. By the time Gudrun was permitted to tend her, the wounds had corrupted and a dangerous fever set in.

Gudrun nursed her solicitously. She cleaned Joan’s wounds with fresh water and bathed them with strong wine. Then, working with utmost gentleness to avoid further damage to the raw flesh, she applied a cooling paste of mulberry leaves.

It’s all the fault of the Greek, Gudrun thought bitterly, as she made a hot posset and fed it to Joan, lifting her head and trickling the liquid into her mouth a few drops at a time. Giving the child a book, filling her head with worthless ideas. She was a girl, and therefore not meant for book study. The child was meant to be with her, to share the hidden secrets and the language of her people, to be the comfort and balm of her old age. Evil the hour the Greek entered this house. May the wrath of all the gods descend upon him.

Nevertheless, Gudrun’s pride had been sparked by the child’s display of bravery. Joan had defied her father with the fierce, heroic strength of her Saxon ancestors. Once Gudrun too had been strong and brave. But the long years of humiliation and exile in an alien land had gradually drained the will to fight out of her. At least, she thought proudly, my blood runs true. The courage of my people runs strong within my daughter.

She stopped to stroke Joan’s throat, helping her swallow the healing broth. Get well, little quail, she thought. Get well, and return to me.

THE fever broke early in the morning of the ninth day. Joan woke to find Gudrun bending over her.

“Mama?” Her voice sounded hoarse and unfamiliar in her ears.

Her mother smiled. “So you have returned to me at last, little quail. For a time I feared I had lost you.”

Joan tried to raise herself but fell back heavily onto the straw. Pain pierced her, bringing back memory.

“The book?”

Gudrun’s face tightened. “Your father has scraped the pages clean, and set your brother to copying some new nonsense onto it.”

So it was gone.

Joan felt inexpressibly weary. She was sick; she wanted to sleep.

Gudrun held out a wooden bowl filled with steaming liquid. “Now you must eat to regain your strength. See, I have made you some broth.”

“No.” Joan shook her head weakly. “I don’t want any.” She did not want to get her strength back. She wanted to die. What was left to live for? She would never break free from the narrow confines of life in Ingelheim. Life had closed her in; there was no further hope of escape.

“Take a little now,” Gudrun prodded, “and while you eat, I will sing you one of the old songs.”

Joan turned her head away.

“Leave such things to the foolishness of priests. We have our own secrets, don’t we, little quail? We will share them again, as we used to.” Gudrun stroked Joan’s forehead gently. “But first you must get well. Sip some broth. It is a Saxon recipe, with strong healing properties.”

She held the wooden spoon to Joan’s lips. Joan was too weak to resist; she allowed her mother to trickle a little broth into her mouth. It was good, warm and rich and comforting. Despite herself, she began to feel a little better.

“My little quail, my sweetheart, my darling.” Gudrun’s voice caressed Joan softly, seductively. She dipped the wooden ladle in the steaming broth and held it out to Joan, who sipped some more.

Her mother’s voice rose and fell in the sweet, lilting strains of the familiar Saxon melody. Lulled by the sound and her mother’s caresses, Joan drifted slowly into sleep.

WITH the fever past, Joan’s strong young body mended quickly. In a fortnight, she was on her feet again. Her wounds closed cleanly, though it was plain she would bear the marks for the rest of her life. Gudrun lamented over the scars, long, dark stripes that turned Joan’s back into an ugly patchwork, but Joan did not care. She did not care about anything very much. Hope was gone. She existed, that was all.

She spent all her time with her mother, rising at daybreak to help her feed the pigs and chickens, collect eggs, gather wood for the hearth fire, and haul heavy bucketfuls of water from the creek. Later they worked side by side preparing the day’s meal.

One day they were making bread together, their fingers working to shape the heavy dough—for yeast and other leavenings were rarely used in this part of Frankland—when Joan asked suddenly, “Why did you marry him?”

The question took Gudrun aback. After a moment she said, “You cannot imagine what it was like for us when the armies of Karolus came.”

“I know what they did to your people, Mama. What I can’t understand is why, after that, you came away with the enemy— with him?”

Gudrun did not reply.

I’ve offended her, Joan thought. She will not tell me now.

“By winter,” Gudrun began slowly, “we were starving, for the Christian soldiers had burned our crops along with our homes.” She looked past Joan, as if picturing something distant. “We ate anything we could find—grass, thistles, even the seeds contained in the dung of animals. We were not far from death when your father and the other missionaries arrived. They were different from the others; they carried no swords or weapons, and they dealt with us like people, not brute beasts. They gave us food in return for our promise to listen to them preach the word of the Christian God.”

“They traded food for faith?” Joan asked. “A sorry way to win people’s souls.”

“I was young and impressionable, sick unto death of hunger and misery and fear. Their Christian God must be greater than ours, I thought, or else how had they succeeded in defeating us? Your father took a special interest in me. He had great hopes for me, he said, for though I was heathen born, he was sure I had the capacity to understand the True Faith. From the way he looked at me, I knew he desired me. When he asked me to come away with him, I consented. It was a chance at life, when all around was death.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “It was not long before I realized how great a mistake I’d made.”

Her eyes were red rimmed, brimming with barely suppressed tears. Joan put an arm around her. “Don’t cry, Mama.”

“You must learn from my mistake,” Gudrun said fiercely, “so you do not repeat it. To marry is to surrender everything—not only your body but your pride, your independence, even your life. Do you understand? Do you?” She gripped Joan’s arm, fixing her with an urgent look. “Heed my words, daughter, if you ever mean to be happy: Never give yourself to a man.

The scarred flesh on Joan’s back quivered with the remembered pain of her father’s lash. “No, Mama,” she promised solemnly, “I never will.”

IN OSTARMANOTH, when warm spring breezes caressed the earth and the animals were set out to pasture, the monotony was broken by the arrival of a stranger. It was a Thursday—Thor’s Day, Gudrun still called it when the canon was not around to hear—and the rumble of that god’s thunder was sounding in the distance as Joan and Gudrun worked together in the family garden. Joan was pulling up nettles and destroying molehills, while Gudrun followed after her, tracing the furrows and crushing the clods with a thick oaken plank. As she worked, Gudrun sang and told tales of the Old Ones. When Joan answered in Saxon, Gudrun laughed with pleasure. Joan had just finished a row when she looked up and saw John hurrying across the field toward them. She tapped her mother’s arm in warning; Gudrun saw her son, and the Saxon words died on her lips.

“Quick!” John was breathless from running. “Father wants you at the house now. Hurry!” He pulled Gudrun by the arm.

“Gently, John,” Gudrun reprimanded. “You’re hurting me. What has happened? Is anything wrong?”

“I don’t know.” John kept tugging on his mother’s arm. “He said something about a visitor. I don’t know who. But hurry. He said he’d box my ears if I didn’t bring you right away.”

The canon was waiting for them at the grubenhaus door. “It took you long enough,” he said.

Gudrun stared at him coolly. A tiny spark of anger ignited in the canon’s eyes; he drew himself up importantly. “An emissary is coming. From the Bishop of Dorstadt.” He paused for effect. “Go and prepare a suitable meal. I will meet him at the cathedral and lead him here.” He dismissed her with a wave of the hand. “Be quick, woman! He will arrive soon.” He left, slamming the door behind him.

Gudrun’s face was rigidly expressionless. “Start with the pottage,” she said to Joan. “I’ll go collect some eggs.”

Joan poured water from the oaken bucket into the large iron pot the family used for cooking and set the pot over the hearth fire. From a woolen sack, almost empty now after the long winter, she took handfuls of dried barley and threw them into the pot. She noticed, with surprise, that her hands shook with excitement. It had been so long since she had felt anything.

But an emissary from Dorstadt! Could it have anything to do with her? After all this time, had Aesculapius finally managed to find a way for her to resume her studies?

She cut off a slab of salt pork and added it to the pot. No, it was impossible. It was almost a year since Aesculapius had left. If he had been able to arrange anything, she would have heard long ago. It was dangerous to hope. Hope had nearly destroyed her once; she would not be so foolish again.

Nevertheless, she could not still her excitement when the door opened one hour later. Her father entered, followed by a dark-haired man. He was not at all what she had imagined. He had the blunt, unintelligent features of a colonus, and he carried himself more like a soldier than a scholar. His tunic, bearing the insignia of the bishop, was rumpled and dusty from travel.

“You will do us the honor of supping with us?” Joan’s father indicated the pot boiling on the hearth.

“Thank you, but I cannot.” He spoke in Theodisk, the common tongue, not Latin, another surprise. “I left the rest of the escort at a cella outside Mainz—the forest path is too slow and narrow for ten men and horse—and came ahead alone. I must rejoin them tonight; in the morning we begin the return journey to Dorstadt.” He withdrew a parchment scroll from his scrip and handed it to the canon. “From his Eminence the Lord Bishop of Dorstadt.”

Carefully the canon broke the seal; the stiff parchment crackled as it was unrolled. Joan watched her father closely as he squinted to make out the writing. He read all the way to the bottom, then began again, as if searching for something he had missed. Finally he looked up, his lips tight with anger.

“What is the meaning of this? I was told your message had to do with me!”

“So it does.” The man smiled. “Insofar as you are the child’s father.”

“The bishop has nothing to say about my work?”

The man shrugged. “All I know, Father, is that I am to escort the child to the schola in Dorstadt, as the letter says.”

Joan cried out in a sudden rush of emotion. Gudrun hurried over and placed an arm protectively around her.

The canon hesitated, eyeing the stranger. Abruptly, he came to a decision. “Very well. It’s true that it is a fine opportunity for the child, though it will be hard enough for me without his help.” He turned to John. “Gather your belongings, and be quick. Tomorrow you ride for Dorstadt, to begin studies at the cathedral in accordance with the bishop’s express command.”

Joan gasped. John was being called to study at the schola? How could this be?

The stranger shook his head. “With all respect, Holy Father, I believe it’s a girl child I’m supposed to bring back with me. A girl by the name of Johanna.”

Joan stepped out of her mother’s encircling arm. “I am Johanna.”

The bishop’s man turned to her. The canon stepped quickly between them.

“Nonsense. It’s my son Johannes the bishop wants. Johannes, Johanna. Lapsus calami. A slip of the pen. A simple mistake on the part of the bishop’s amanuensis, that is all. It happens often enough, even among the best of scribes.”

The stranger looked doubtful. “I don’t know …”

“Use your head, man. What would the bishop want with a girl?”

“It did strike me as odd,” the man agreed.

Joan started to protest, but Gudrun drew her back and placed a warning finger over her lips.

The canon continued. “My son, on the other hand, has been studying the Scriptures since he was a babe. Recite from the Book of Revelation for our honored guest, Johannes.”

John paled and began to stammer. “Acopa … Apocalypsis Jesu Christi quo … quam dedit illi Deus palam fa … facere servis—”

The stranger impatiently signaled a stop to the unsteady flow of words. “There is no time. We must leave immediately if we are to reach the cella before dark.” He looked uncertainly from John to Joan. Then he turned to Gudrun.

“Who is this woman?”

The canon cleared his throat. “A Saxon heathen whose soul I am laboring to bring to Christ.”

The bishop’s man took note of Gudrun’s blue eyes and slim form and the white-gold hair peeking out from under her white linen cap. He smiled, a broad, knowing, gap-toothed grin, then addressed himself directly to her.

“You are the children’s mother?”

Gudrun nodded wordlessly. The canon flushed.

“What do you say, then? Is it the boy the bishop wants, or the girl?”

“Disrespectful dog!” The canon was furious. “You dare to question the word of a sworn servant of God!”

“Calm yourself, Holy Father.” The man emphasized the word holy ever so slightly. “Let me remind you of the duty you owe to the authority I represent.”

The canon glared at the bishop’s man, his face purpling.

Again the man asked Gudrun, “Is it the boy? Or the girl?”

Joan felt Gudrun’s arms tighten around her, drawing her close. There was a long pause. Then she heard her mother’s voice behind her, musical and sweet, filled with the broad Saxon vowels that still marked her, unmistakably, as a foreigner. “The boy is the one you want,” Gudrun said. “Take him.”

“Mama!” Shocked at this unexpected betrayal, Joan could only utter the single, startled cry.

The bishop’s messenger nodded, satisfied. “Then it is settled.” He turned toward the door. “I must see to my horse. Have the boy ready as quickly as possible.”

“No!” Joan tried to stop him, but Gudrun held her tight, whispering in Saxon, “Trust me, little quail. It is for the best, I promise you.”

“No!” Joan struggled to free herself. It was a lie. This was Aesculapius’s doing. Joan was certain of it. He had not forgotten her; he had found a way at last for her to continue what they had begun together. John wasn’t the one being called to study at the schola. It was all wrong.

“No!” She twisted sharply, broke loose, and made straight for the door. The canon reached for her, but she evaded him. Then she was outside, running swiftly toward the retreating messenger. Behind her, in the cottage, she heard her father shouting, then her mother’s voice, tense, tearful, raised in reply.

She caught up with the man just as he reached his horse. She tugged at his tunic, and he looked at her. From the corner of her eye, Joan saw her father advancing toward them.

There wasn’t much time. Her message had to be convincing, unmistakable.

“Magna est veritas et praevalebit,” she said. It was a passage from Esdras, obscure enough to be recognized only to those well versed in the writings of the Holy Fathers. “The truth is great, and it will prevail.” He was the bishop’s man, a man of the Church, he would know it. And the fact that she knew it, that she spoke Latin, would prove that she was the scholar the bishop sought.

“Lapsus calami non est,” she continued in Latin. “There is no error in the writing. I am Johanna; I am the one you want.”

The man looked at her, his eyes kind. “Eh? What’s this, bright eyes? What a mighty stream of words!” He chucked her under the chin. “Sorry, child. I speak none of your Saxon tongue. Though having seen your mother, I begin to wish I did.” He reached into a pouch tied to his saddle and withdrew a honeyed date. “Here, have a sweet.”

Joan stared at the date. The man hadn’t understood a word. A scion of the Church, the bishop’s emissary, and he had no Latin. How was it possible?

Her father’s footsteps sounded close behind her. His arm gripped her painfully around the waist; then she was lifted off the ground and carried back toward the house.

“No!” she screamed. Her father’s large hand covered her nose and mouth, pressing so hard she could not breathe. She kicked and struggled. Inside the cottage he released her, and she fell to the floor, gulping air. He raised his fist over her.

“No!” Suddenly Gudrun was between them. “You will not touch her.” There was a tone in her voice that Joan had never heard before. “Or I will tell the truth.”

The canon stared in disbelief. John appeared in the doorway, carrying a linen sack stuffed with his belongings.

Gudrun nodded toward him. “Our son needs your blessing for the journey.”

For a long time the canon held her gaze. Then, very slowly, he turned to face his son.

“Kneel, Johannes.”

John knelt. The canon placed his hand on his bowed head. “O God, Who didst call Abraham to leave his home and didst protect him in all his wanderings, unto Thee we commit this boy.”

A thin stream of late afternoon sun filtered through the window, illuminating John’s dark hair with a rich light.

“Watch over him and provide all things needful for his soul and body …” The canon’s voice assumed a singsong rhythm as he prayed.

Keeping his head bowed, John looked up and met his sister’s gaze, his eyes wide and frightened, eloquent with appeal. He doesn’t want to go, Joan realized suddenly. Of course! Why had she not seen it before? She had not given a thought to John’s feelings. He is afraid. He cannot keep up with the demands of a schola, and he knows it.

If only I could go with him.

A plan began to formulate in her mind.

“… and when life’s pilgrimage is over,” the canon finished, “may he arrive safely at the heavenly country, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.”

The blessing over, John rose to his feet. Stolid, unresisting, like a sheep before the sacrifice, he endured his mother’s embraces and his father’s last-minute admonitions. But when Joan approached and put her arms around him, he clutched her and began to sob.

“Don’t be afraid,” she murmured reassuringly.

“Enough,” the canon said. He placed an arm around his son’s shoulder, shepherding him toward the door. “Keep the girl inside,” he commanded Gudrun, and then they were gone. The door swung shut with a hollow thud.

Joan ran to the window and peered out. She saw John mount behind the bishop’s emissary, his plain woolen tunic contrasting with the rich red of the stranger’s robes. The canon stood nearby, his dark, squat figure outlined against the budding green of the landscape. With a last shout of farewell, they rode off.

Joan turned from the window. Gudrun stood in the middle of the room, watching her.

“Little quail …,” Gudrun began hesitantly.

Joan walked past her as if she did not exist. She took up her pile of mending and sat by the hearth. She needed to think, to prepare. There wasn’t much time, and everything had to be worked out very carefully.

It would be difficult, probably even dangerous. The thought frightened her, but it made no difference. With a certainty at once wonderful and terrifying, Joan knew what she must do.

IT’S not fair, John thought. He rode sullenly behind the bishop’s man, scowling at the insignia on the red tunic. I don’t want to go. He hated his father for making him. He reached inside his tunic, searching for the object he had secretly placed there before he left. His fingers touched the smooth handle of the knife—his father’s bone-handled knife, one of his treasures.

A small, vengeful smile touched John’s lips. His father would be furious when he discovered it missing. No matter. By then John would be miles away from Ingelheim, and there was nothing his father could do about it. It was a small triumph, but he clung to it in the misery of his situation.

Why didn’t he send Joan? John asked himself angrily. Black resentment simmered inside him. It’s all her fault, he thought. Because of Joan, he had already endured over two years of lessons from Aesculapius, that tedious and evil-tempered old man. Now he was being sent away to the schola at Dorstadt in her place. Oh, it was Joan the bishop wanted, John was sure of it. It had to be Joan. She was the smart one, she knew Latin and Greek, she could read Augustine when he still hadn’t mastered all the psalms.

He might have forgiven her that, and more besides. She was, after all, his sister. But there was one thing that John could not forgive: Joan was Mama’s pet. He had overheard them often enough, laughing and whispering together in Saxon, then breaking off abruptly when he joined them. They thought he didn’t hear them, but he did. Mama never spoke the Old Tongue with him. Why? John asked himself bitterly for the thousandth time. Does she think I’d tell Father? I wouldn’t—not for anything, no matter what he did, not even if he beat me.

It isn’t fair, he thought again. Why should she prefer Joan to me? I’m her son, which everybody knows is better than a useless daughter. Joan was a sorry excuse for a girl. She couldn’t sew or spin or weave half as well as other girls her age. Then there was her interest in book learning, which everyone knew to be unnatural. Even Mama saw there was something wrong there. The other children in the village constantly mocked Joan. It was embarrassing, having her as a sister; John would gladly disclaim her, if he could.

Immediately after he had the thought, he felt a twinge of conscience. Joan had always been good to him, had stood up for him when Father was angry, even done his work for him when he couldn’t understand. He was grateful for her help—she had saved him from many a beating—but at the same time, he resented it. It was humiliating. After all, he was her older brother. He was the one who should look after her, not the other way around.

Now, because of her, he was riding behind this strange man toward a place he did not know and a life he did not want. He pictured his life at the schola, trapped inside some dreary room all day, surrounded by piles of boring, awful books.

Why couldn’t Father understand that he didn’t want to go? I’m not Matthew; I’ll never be good at book studies. Nor did he mean to be a scholar or a cleric. He knew what he wanted: to be a warrior, a warrior in the Emperor’s army, battling to subdue the heathen hordes. He had gotten the idea from Ulfert, the saddler, who had gone with Count Hugo on the old Emperor’s campaign against the Saxons. What wonderful tales the old man told, sitting in his workshop, his tools temporarily forgotten by his side, his eyes lit with the memory of that great victory! “Like the thrushes that fly over the autumn vineyards, pecking at the grapes”—John remembered every word exactly as old Ulfert had spoken them—“we flew over the land, a holy canticle on our lips, ferreting out the heathens hiding in the woods and marshes and concealed in the ditches, men and women and children alike. There was not one of us whose bucklers and swords were not red with blood that day. By sunset, there was no soul left alive who had not renounced their godless ways and sworn eternal allegiance on their knees to the True Faith.” Then old Ulfert had brought out his sword, which he had wrested, still warm, from the dead hand of one of the heathens. Its handle shone with glassy gems; its shaft was a gleaming yellow. Unlike Frankish swords, which were fashioned of iron, it was made from gold—an inferior material, Ulfert explained, lacking the solidity and bite of Frankish weapons, but beautiful nonetheless. John’s heart had swelled at the sight of it. Old Ulfert had held it out to him, and John had grasped it, feeling its balance, its weight. His hand fit the gemmed handle as if it were made for it. He swung the sword over his head; it sliced the air with a thrumming sound that kept rhythm with the singing in his blood. He had known then he was born to be a warrior.

There were rumors, even now, of a new campaign in the spring. Perhaps Count Hugo would answer the Emperor’s call again. If so, John planned to go with him, no matter what Father said. He would be fourteen soon, a man’s age—many had gone to war at that age, even younger. He would run off, if necessary, but he would go.

Of course, that would be difficult now that he was to be imprisoned in the schola at Dorstadt. Would word of the new conscript even travel so far? he wondered. And if it did, would he be able to get away?

The thought was upsetting, and he put it out of his mind. Instead, he called up his favorite daydream. He was in the front ranks of the battle, the silver banners of the count gleaming before him, drawing him forward. They were driving the scattered and defeated heathens before them. They flew from him, desperate and frightened, the women’s long, white-gold hair waving in the wind. He ran them down, wielding his long sword with great skill, slashing and killing, offering no mercy, until finally they submitted to him, repenting their blindness and showing themselves willing to accept the Light.

The corners of John’s mouth lifted in a drowsy smile as the steady beat of the horse’s hooves signaled their progress through the darkening forest.

THERE was a whirring sound, followed by a heavy thud.

“Unnhh.” The bishop’s man jolted backward. His shoulder rammed into John, jarring him from sleep.

“Hey!” John protested, but already the man was falling, the weight of his pendulous body dragging John irresistibly from the saddle.

They dropped to the ground together. John landed on top of the bishop’s man, who lay unmoving where he fell. As John put his hand out to raise himself, his fingers closed around something long and round and smooth.

It was the shaft of an arrow, yellow feathers at the end. The tip was buried deep in the middle of the man’s chest.

John rose to his feet, all his senses alert. From the thick trees on the other side of the path, a man emerged, dressed in tattered clothes. In his hands he carried a bow, and on his back a quiverful of yellow-feathered arrows.

Does he mean to kill me too?

The man came toward him. John looked around, seeking a path of escape. The trees grew dense in this part of the woods; if he ran, he might be able to elude the attacker.

The man was almost upon him, close enough for John to read the menace in his eyes.

John tried to run, but it was too late. The man grabbed him by the arm. John struggled, but the man, taller than he by a head and powerfully built, held him fast, lifting him slightly so that his toes barely touched the ground.

John remembered the knife. With his free hand, he reached inside his tunic; frantically his fingers sought the bone handle, found it, gripped it. He pulled the knife out and plunged it home in one swift motion. With an exhilarating rush, John felt it sink deep into the man’s flesh, striking bone before John withdrew it with a wicked twist. The man swore and grabbed his wounded shoulder, letting go of John.

John ran into the woods. Sharp branches tore at his clothes and scratched his skin, but he kept running. Despite the moonlight, it was dark under the canopy of trees. Looking behind him to see if he was being pursued, John bumped into a beech with low-hanging branches. He leapt for the bottommost branch, caught it, and started to scramble up quickly, his lithe young body snaking expertly through the branches, stopping only when the limbs became too small and pliant to support his weight. Then he waited.

There was no sound except the soft rustle of leaves. Twice a night owl called, its cry echoing eerily in the stillness. Then John heard footsteps crashing through the forest. He gripped the knife, holding his breath, grateful for his plain brown cloak, which merged so well with the blackness of the night.

The footsteps came closer and closer. John could hear the man’s ragged, uneven breathing.

The footsteps stopped directly beneath him.

JOAN stepped out of the silent darkness of the grubenhaus into the moonlit night. Shapes of familiar objects loomed eerily, transformed by shadows. She shivered, recalling stories of Waldleuten, evil sprites and trolls that haunted the night. Gathering her cloak of rough gray hemp around her, she moved into the shadows, searching the changed landscape for the entrance to the path through the forest. The light was good—it lacked only two days till full moon—and in a moment she was able to make out the old oak, split by lightning, that marked the spot. She ran quickly across the field toward it.

At the edge of the woods she paused. It was dark in there, the moon filtered by the trees into pale threads of light. She looked back at the grubenhaus. Washed by moonlight, surrounded by the fields and animal pens, it was solid, warm, familiar. She thought of her comfortable bed, the coverings probably still warm from the heat of her body. She thought of Mama, to whom she had not even said good-bye. She took a step toward home, then stopped. All that mattered, all she wanted, lay in the other direction.

She entered the woods. The trees closed over her head. The path was strewn with rocks and underbrush, but she moved ahead swiftly. It was fifteen miles to the cella, and she had to be there before dawn.

She concentrated on keeping a steady pace. It was hard going; in the darkness it was easy to stray toward the edge of the path, where branches tore at her clothes and hair. The path became more and more uneven. Several times she tripped on rocks or broken roots; once she fell, bruising her hands and knees.

After several hours, the sky began to show light above the roof of trees. It was nearing dawn. Joan was exhausted, but she quickened her pace, half-walking, half-running down the path. She had to make it before they left. She had to.

Her left foot caught on something. She tried to regain her balance, but she was moving too quickly and she fell, breaking her fall clumsily with her arms.

She lay still, the breath knocked out of her. Her right arm hurt where a sharp twig had scraped it, but otherwise she did not seem to be injured. She pushed herself into a sitting position.

On the ground beside her, a man lay with his back to her. Sleeping? No. He would have wakened when she stumbled over him. She touched his shoulder; he rolled onto his back. The dead eyes of the bishop’s emissary glared up at her, lips frozen in a gap-toothed grimace. His rich tunic was ripped and bloody. The middle finger of his left hand was missing.

Joan leapt to her feet. “John!” she shouted. She scanned the woods and the ground nearby, afraid of what she might find.

“Here.” A patch of pale skin showed faintly in the darkness.

“John!” She ran to him, and they embraced, holding on to each other tightly.

“Why are you here?” John asked. “Is Father with you?”

“No. I’ll explain later. Are you hurt? What happened?”

“We were attacked. A brigand, I think, after the emissary’s gold ring. I was riding behind when the arrow struck him.”

Joan said nothing, but hugged him closer.

He pulled out of her arms. “But I defended myself. I did!” His eyes glittered with a strange excitement. “When he came for me, I struck him with this!” He held up the canon’s bone-handled hunting knife. “Got him in the shoulder, I think. Anyway, it stopped him long enough for me to get away!”

Joan stared at the blade, discolored with blood. “Father’s knife.”

John’s expression turned sullen. “Yes. I took it. Why not? He made me go—I didn’t want to.”

“All right,” Joan said briskly. “Put it away. We must hurry if we are to make it to the cella before dawn.”

“The cella? But I don’t have to go to Dorstadt now. After what happened”—he thrust his head in the direction of the murdered emissary—“I can go home.”

“No, John. Think. Now that Father knows the bishop’s intentions, he will not permit you to stay at home. He’ll find some way to get you to the schola, even if he has to take you himself. Besides”— Joan pointed to the knife—“by the time we get back, he will have discovered that you took this.”

John looked startled. Obviously he had not thought of that.

“It will be all right. I’ll be there with you, I’ll help you.” She took his hand. “Come.”

Hand in hand, under the steadily brightening sky, the two children made their way to the cella, where the rest of the bishop’s men were waiting.

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