Chapter 3: Plans

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As they neared the shop, Hildegund noticed that Father Cristianus was standing outside, seemingly waiting for their arrival.  The priest was a tall and slender man a few years older than her father.  Streaks of grey had dulled his flaxen hair, but his face was still boyish and round.  He stood there, scratching the sandy-colored stubble on his chin absent-mindedly until he noticed Hildegund and her father walking towards him.

Richart approached the priest, "I am sorry to keep you waiting, Father!  Please, let's sit inside." Then he turned to Hildegund,  "Hil, grab us a round of ale before joining us."

"Thank you for your hospitality, Richart," the priest responded as he crossed the threshold into the one-roomed shop.

Hildegund was truly befuddled.  As she stepped around the loom that dominated the floor space and went to the back of the shop to grab three steins of beer, she wondered why the priest was here, but not the woman who her father wanted to marry.

The two men were still exchanging pleasantries as Hildegund took a seat at the wooden table that often doubled as a sales counter.

"Richart, my son, have you shared the good news with your lovely daughter?" the priest asked. Hildegund inwardly cringed at being called lovely.

"Well, no," her father began, but Hildegund interrupted.

"Good news?  Are congratulations in order?  Where is she?  Will I get a chance to meet her, to get to know her, before the wedding?  Or is she someone I already know?"  The words tumbled out, and the men's mouths fell agape.

"What? What you are talking about, Hil?  What woman?  What wedding?"

"The woman you are marrying, Papa.  The woman who will be my step-mother."

"Oh goodness! That's not why Father Cristianus is here!" her father laughed.  But then his smile fell, and in a hushed tone he said, "I know you miss your mother, and God knows that I do too.  I sometimes wish my heart would allow me to re-marry so our family would feel more complete.  But that's not what I've been called to do.  God has other plans. At least for the moment."  He looked over at the priest.

Hildegund only had a moment to feel a rush of relief before the priest revealed the truth of the matter at hand.

"As you may recall from Sunday's sermon," the priest began, speaking in the same commanding tone he used when speaking from the pulpit, "The Archbishop continues to call for pilgrims to the east.  Our brothers in arms need more men to populate the holy cities. The Frankish knights have enough soldiers to hold the walls for now, but who remains inside the walls with them?  The Italians have an army of merchant ships that deliver goods, but who owns the markets?  Greeks?  Jews?  Moors, even?  They need more Latins. Ideally to settle permanently, but even a continual flow of Christian pilgrims will help fortify our holdings. And those who travel to the Holy Land, who kneel where Jesus walked and who kiss the relics of the saints, well, they are blessed.  They are forgiven of sin. It is not an undertaking for the weak. Your father is not weak.  And he has vowed to take on the burden of this pilgrimage," Father Cristianus finished with a nod towards Richardt.

Hildegund tried to absorbed this information.  "You're moving to the Holy Land?"

"No, no. I-I have vowed to take a pilgrimage for your mother." He looked down at his large hands and began to pick at his thumb nail. "To pray for her soul. And your brother's. It's-it's the least I could do." His voice trailed off.

"You father has been called by God. He will honor the memory of your mother, and in doing so, help save her soul." The priest gave Richart's forearm a reassuring pat.

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