Today I am happy to host an excerpt from Beloved Pilgrim, by Christopher Hawthorne Moss. I’ve been looking forward to this book ever since I read the blurb!
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.
If you want to buy the book (released January 23rd, 2014), just click on the book cover to go right to the publisher, or there will be another link after the excerpt!
In BELOVED PILGRIM by Christopher Hawthorne Moss a young noblewoman who has known all her life that she was born in the wrong body frets at being limited to her female role. She takes the sad opportunity of her twin brother’s death to adopt his identity as a knight bound for the Crusades. Now as Elias, he has traveled to the court of the Margrave of Austria to join one faction headed over the Alps. As he and his brother’s former squire, now his own, he is amazed that he is accepted for what he presents to the world. He is about to test this in a rowdy tavern.
Glancing about, Albrecht spied a tavern sign and pointed to it. “The Pig in Barley, I’ll warrant,” he interpreted the wordless sign that hung over the door. “Let’s see if we can even get a place to sit.”
In the dark tavern, the two peered about at the noisy, smelly crowd until their eyes adjusted. “The only places I see are over there on the far wall, my lord. With those rather disreputable-looking men.”
Elias did not have to stretch to see over the heads of other customers. His height gave his that advantage. He had trouble seeing the men clearly, however, as they were in a far corner with no lamps or candles. “Let’s go introduce ourselves.”
Elias used his presence, his elbows, and sharp looks to force his way around to the corner, Albrecht sailing along in his wake. He stopped at the side of the table nearest the wall and bowed his head briefly. “Good sirs, may I beg a place on the bench for my squire and me to rest our journey-weary arses?”
Four pairs of eyes looked up from tankards to stare back at him. Only one set did not look openly hostile. This man looked wary, but there was a spark in his gaze that promised friendliness. In a merry voice, he said, “I think I can persuade my companions here to welcome you both. Can I not?” He was a muscular man of some height, from the look of him, though he was seated. He had long brown hair, a close-cropped dark beard, and a moustache that was waxed and pointed at the ends. He surveyed his companions with dark, clear eyes.
The grudging nods came from an assortment of men of seemingly disparate origins. One was dark of skin, hair, and eye, and wore a thick beard and a hat with a long pheasant feather in it. The next was clearly a Northman, with pale, unkempt hair adorned with gold and ivory beads. His ice-blue eyes glared at Elias. He had a drooping moustache but no beard. A scar across his face only cemented the permanent scowl Elias suspected he wore. The final man was drawn in on himself and looked away as soon as their eyes met. He was clean-shaven and had long, lank brown hair. His squint did not permit anyone to see the color of his eyes. He was not in armor, and his developed chest, shoulders, and arms suggested an archer.
“They are delighted to have you join us,” the first man said humorously. “Sit and make our acquaintance that we may make yours.”
As Elias slipped onto the bench next to the friendly man, he looked up and saw the man with the feathered cap glaring at him. He growled.
“Now, is that any way to treat our new brothers, Sebastiano?” the cheerful man asked.
Elias grinned. “The blackguard doesn’t frighten me, my good man.” He jumped at the blow in his ribs from Albrecht’s elbow.
The dark Italian man, Sebastiano, growled again and started to rise, his hands on the table before him, his elbows bent and his foul breath making Elias wince as he leaned menacingly across the space between them.
Albrecht put a strong hand on his shoulder. “Please, my good fellow, forgive the rash words of my master. He is beyond reason with fatigue.”
Sebastiano continued to glare at Elias but slowly subsided back to sit on his bench. The Northman next to him smirked at Sebastiano.
“My name is Ranulf. I am the leader of this illustrious band of former mercenaries. You have incurred the wrath of Sebastiano Orso Marrone. That nasty son of a whore there is Leif Haraldsson from Daneland, and that taciturn fellow is Thomas the Silent.”
Elias nodded to each man. “I am Elias von Winterkirche, and this is my squire, Albrecht.”
Elias wondered why the grizzled men frowned at him when he introduced Albrecht. He was sure Albrecht would inform him later of his faux pas. Albrecht waved to a serving wench for wine.
Elias turned to the smiling leader of the troop. “You have no nickname, my lord?” he asked, earning a snort of derisive laughter from Sebastiano and the Dane.
The latter explained in a gravelly voice, “He is called the Peacemaker.”
Ranulf the Peacemaker scowled at the man with pale hair and eyes. “It is a jest, I assure you,” he said menacingly. Turning to Elias, he said, “So I see by the red cross sewn to your tunic that you are a crusader. As young as you are, you must be newly pledged to that endeavor.”
The wench arrived with the wine for Elias and Albrecht. Elias started to reach for his purse, but Albrecht grabbed his wrist under the table. He withdrew a coin from his own purse and put it into the woman’s hand. Elias appraised the woman’s considerable cleavage and
made a smacking sound with his lips. The wench shook her head and walked away. Elias caught Albrecht’s rolling eyes as he looked away. He decided he should tone down the crude male act.
“A fine, lusty young fellow you are, my friend!” Ranulf clapped him hard on the shoulder. Elias silently thanked Albrecht for his insistence he wear padding to make his shoulders look broader and more masculine. “I would be careful with Greta, though. If you piss her off, you are likely to find a dead mouse in your potage. As it happens,” he went on, changing the subject, “we are bound for the crusade as well.”
“All of you?” Elias asked, taking a swallow of his wine.
It was the Italian who supplied, “Si, tutti.”
“We have plenty to wish absolution for,” added the Dane. The beads and rings in his hair clattered as he shook his head. “Not Thomas there. As far as we know. He’s not saying.”
The silent man lowered his head even more as Sebastiano and Ranulf laughed.
“He may be as white as the fairest virgin’s character or the very Beast himself, for all anyone knows,” the leader observed, fingering one waxed moustache tip.
Lifting his cup in a toast, Elias proclaimed, “Well, here’s to all of us on our holy quest. May the paynim piss themselves with fear when they hear we are coming.”
Even silent Thomas lifted his cup to share in the group’s toast, “Death to all enemies of God!”
Elias was relieved to catch approval in Albrecht’s look. “Where are you all from?”
Ranulf’s eyebrows hitched as the other men scowled at him. “Young lord, men like us have no country, no family, and no past.” He responded to Leif’s noise of protest. “Except Leif. He is a proud son of Harald Some-Bastard’s-Son and a Dane. Or so he claims.”
Repressing his curiosity to know why these men were so loath to speak of their pasts, Elias asked instead, “Are you all waiting for the constable to the emperor to arrive?”
Ranulf signaled for more wine. “Just so,” he affirmed. “We hope to attach ourselves to the imperial faction.”
The wench brought a pitcher of wine and refilled all six cups. As she passed by Thomas, she attempted to veer away, but he caught her by the waist, put his nose down into the cleft of her breasts, and made a slobbering sound. Greta punched him in the side of the head and swore like a sailor. Thomas pulled his head away and grinned evilly. The woman complained, “Disgusting!” as she swabbed out her bodice with the rag she carried.
Ranulf turned back to see the young knight’s puzzled expression. “Thomas likes mice in his potage,” he explained. Lifting his cup to his lips, he commented, “You cannot be staying at this tavern. There is no room.”
Elias shook his head. “No, we are bedded down in the castle.”
Leif and Sebastiano made mock-approving noises as they glanced at each other. Ranulf looked sincerely impressed. “My lord, you are indeed a nobleman, then.” He cast a questioning eye at his companions. “Being a landed man, I trust you will be willing to cover the cost of our wine?” He made a signal to his men with his head.
“Of course!” Elias proclaimed. “Are you going?” Ranulf and the other three men had downed their wine and were standing.
“We have urgent business to attend to. My deepest gratitude to you, my young lord. May we meet again.”
Leif chuckled. “Deus lo volt.”
Elias looked after the band as they jostled their way roughly through the packed tavern to the door.
Greta hurried over. “Who is going to pay for their wine?” she demanded.
“How much is it, my saucy lass?” Elias asked. He paled as the woman answered, holding out her hand. He nodded to Albrecht. “Pay her,” he grumbled.
Albrecht sighed and pulled out his purse. He counted several coins into the woman’s dirty palm. “That was almost all we had left,” he revealed when Greta had sidled her way back through the press.
“I have a lot to learn,” Elias observed.
“You said it, not me,” Albrecht responded, adding a rueful “my lord.”
Elias and Albrecht did not see the band of former mercenaries again as they waited for the constable and the ensuing departure of the imperial and Austrian contingent to the crusade. Albrecht somehow managed to come up with a few more coins, and if they stuck to the castle, they had all the food and drink they wanted.
Elias was watchful of all the new arrivals in Mölk. As each band rode in or boatload alighted, he began to think perhaps he and Albrecht had gotten clean away. He was still uneasy, wondering how he would manage to maintain his ruse for the foreseeable future. He had Albrecht shave him every morning, a treatment he did not enjoy, but he was oddly pleased at the result. His chin became rougher and some bristly hairs began to grow out, though not remotely like a beard. Being that they were in a castle, bedding down in the hall at night, and that no one undressed to sleep, he had few worries about his disguise being seen through. There were garderobes about where he could relieve himself. No one bathed. He was happy just to be one of the stinking company.
Albrecht lectured him soundly after the near disaster at the tavern. “The squire always pays. You do not serve yourself. You do not acknowledge me to others. In fact, I should not have even sat down with you.”
“Tell me one thing,” Elias begged as he acknowledged his correction. “Why did I get in trouble when I used crude language with that Italian fellow?”
Albrecht winced. “You only talk like that with men you know and have been accepted by. You insulted the man. He would have been in his rights to call you out to defend your assertion that he was a ‘blackguard.’” He shrugged. “Just go slow. Watch men and how they interact. That’s the best way to learn.”
BELOVED PILGRIM is available in paperback and ebook form from Harmony Ink Press http://www.harmonyinkpress.com.
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. He welcomes comment from readers sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and can be found on Facebook and Twitter.