In fourteenth century Europe, a respectable woman was expected
to marry at a young age, often to a man many years older whom she
did not love. The remainder of her days would be spent managing a
household and enduring a yearly visit to the birthing chair.
Christina Kohl, the sixteen-years-old daughter of a wealthy
merchant in Lübeck, Germany, has no
desire to lead such a life. She longs for adventure and
independence, free to make her own way in the world without
conforming to the expectations of men.
But she is
a realist, she has no allusions her life will be any different from
the other women of Lübeck.
series of tragedies befall her family, her life takes a most
unexpected turn as she is left to fend for herself in an evolving
world of trade and social upheaval where things are not always what
they seem, least of all Christina herself.
Christina realized she could not directly defy her father’s
command. She walked toward her quarters, pushed back the flap, and
Trudi looked at her with questioning eyes.
Christina said, “They’re still coming,” the simple statement
The two young women sat down, each deep in her own thoughts.
I can’t just stay here like a dumb cow waiting to be
slaughtered, Christina thought sourly. I’m strong and I’m
fast and I may not be the best with a sword on this damned ship,
but I’m certainly not the worst! They need me!
Her father’s order was clear, however, and he had made it clear
he would not tolerate any disobedience.
But he’s wrong, she thought, I’ve got to do
Suddenly, a bold thought occurred to her.
She asked Trudi, “Have you returned those garments to Father
that he asked you to mend?”
Surprised at such a mundane question being asked in their
current circumstances, Trudi stammered, “Uh, what? Well, no. Sorry,
Christina. Do you wish to have me do it now?” “
"No. That’s fine, Trudi. I have something else for you to do.
Get the scissors from the trunk, you’re going to cut my hair.”
Her maid gazed at Christina dumbfounded, as if she’d asked her
to sing a song or do a little dance. The fierce expression in her
mistress’s eyes conveyed that she was completely serious. Trudi
rummaged in the trunk until she found them.
Turning to Christina, she asked, “Where do you wish me to
Christina replied, “Here,” indicating just above her
The maid was so surprised she dropped the scissors on the
“But you’ll appear to be a man, milady.”
In obvious shock at Christina’s request, she lapsed into a
formal voice, one she never used with her mistress.
“That’s the idea,” Christina said. “Just get on with it.”
Trudi began, cutting long lengths of auburn locks and letting
them fall to the floor. Tears filled her eyes as she had always
believed Christina’s hair was one of her most beautiful features.
When she had finished, she gawked at her mistress with surprise on
her face, almost as if she had seen her like this before.
“Now, help me get out of these clothes and into Father’s.”
When they had finished, Trudi stood back to examine the
transformation of her mistress. Although the clothing was
ill-fitting, it very successfully concealed the truth about her
sex. Thomas Kohl had been slender as a young man; however, an ample
table had added several inches to his girth in middle age.
Consequently, his tunic hung loosely about Christina’s upper frame,
completely concealing the swell of her small
the other hand, his braes were quite a tight fit around her hips
and were almost comically short on her long legs, an effect
accentuated by her bare feet. Despite the shortcomings of
Christina’s garb, a casual observer, especially one whose attention
was fixed on fighting for his life, would readily believe it was a
young man who stood beside him and not Thomas Kohl’s
“How do I
look?” Christina asked.
man, like… like…” Trudi stammered.
roar of thunder filled the air outside their canvas walls. Several
men shouted and the ship gave a perceivable lurch. A drumbeat of
rain began to tattoo the canvas separating them from the world
outside. Christina wanted to rush on deck to gauge the approach of
the pirate vessels, but caution held her back.
Father sees me, he’ll go mad, she thought. He’ll have me
tied up to keep me out of the way or, worse still, put under guard
with a man whose loss the defense of the ship can ill
it was killing her to remain inside, she knew she could not risk
discovery until the heat of battle drew everyone’s full attention.
Her tension was palpable and she began to sweat despite the chilly
air. She wiped her face but remained focused on the flap of canvas
directly in front of her face. The roar of the wind, the incessant
rain, and the intermittent rumble of thunder made the shouts of the
men on deck unintelligible, leaving Christina vexingly ignorant of
how close their attackers’ vessel had come.
the noise of the storm somewhat abated and she heard, “Get
instantaneously followed by the unmistakable “thunk” of a crossbow
quarrel imbedding itself deeply into oak wood. The wind then began
to shriek once more and any attempt to discern the progress of
battle was lost. She only knew she had not yet heard the
unmistakable clang of blade on blade; consequently, she knew it was
not yet time for her to enter the fray. She sat still, sword in
hand, worried, but without fear. Yet, that was not to say she had
never killed a man, nor even injured one, not counting the scrapes
I’ve given Frederick. Can I really do this?
warning, the hull of the ship suddenly heeled over to
be their grappling hooks! Well, if I’m going to do this, the time
us!” Christina yelled to Trudi then, without hesitation, she ran on
mesmerized by the scene that unfolded beyond her. As she had
suspected, their ship had been grappled on the starboard beam. The
heavy seas, however, made it difficult for the pirates to secure
the two vessels together and their hulls rhythmically crashed
together like the tolling of a church bell. A second ship had
worked its way to port and was attempting to get close enough for
its crew to board der Greif as well.
cast a swift gaze ahead only long enough to see Heiligen
Maria was similarly engaged. A wounded man cowered beneath the
starboard bulwark, seeking to avoid another of the lethal quarrels
such as the one that protruded from his shoulder. A couple of
others had not been so fortunate, their bodies lying about the deck
relieved to see none of the wounded or dead figures appeared to be
her father. She was shaken from her inaction by the triumphant
cries of the crew of the starboard pirate vessel, who had finally
succeeded in lashing the two ships together. The fighting became
fiercer as they attempted to get on board der Grief, swords
and axes seeking to counter the frantic thrusts of boat hooks that
sought to keep them at bay. Soon, one and then another closed with
the Hansa men and heavy steel sought out flesh, blood, and
One of her
father’s mercenaries was being beat back, two pirates slashing at
him simultaneously. He parried desperately, the only thing saving
him was that they kept getting in each other’s way in the small
space of the crowded deck.
conscious thought, Christina leapt forward, extending her falchion
beneath the mercenary’s right elbow and thrusting into the stomach
of the other pirate. Even though a falchion is primarily a slashing
weapon, the broad point did tremendous damage to his soft tissue.
She took another small step forward, driving her weapon deeper into
the man until it found the bone of his spine.
Remember, straight back
and into guard.
disengaging her weapon as her target crumpled to the deck, crimson
already beginning to soak the front of his tunic. The surprise of
seeing his fellow pirate’s swift transition from on the attack to
mortally wounded temporarily distracted the other man and he gaped
down at the soon to be corpse.
father's mercenary suffered no such compulsion, however. His sword
swung in a heavy arc. Unopposed by a counter, the blade cut deeply
through his opponent’s shoulder, half-severing the man’s head. Her
ally raised his left fist into the air in a brief salute of thanks.
His eyes and sword stayed to the front, however, ready to defend
the ship against the next onslaught of attackers.
She had no
time to reply, however. Just as she was about to move forward to
fight at the side of the man she had saved, she heard the clatter
of a grappling hook seating itself into the portside railing. The
men on the starboard side of der Greif were certainly
hard-pressed, but they were holding their own. This left few
defenders to man the other side, however. She sprinted to the left
veering to where she saw the grapnel biting deeply into the oak. An
immediate course of action formed in her head. She swung the
falchion down over her head with all her strength, as if she were
chopping a tree. The dense blade sang through the air, biting
completely through the rope attached to the hook. It recoiled
harmlessly into the water, leaving the cursing men aboard the
attacking ship to glare at her hatefully as they pulled it
Reviewed in the
United States on May 26, 2019