Grimbert's mother coughed, nearly choking on the stew she had been about to swallow, but she quickly recovered. "And how will you pay for such an endeavor?" Grimbert heard the unspoken accusation. You didn't even think about the cost, did you, you stupid boy!
"We will wear the robes of pilgrims and can depend on the charity of others. Monasteries also provide food and lodging to the weary pilgrim," he replied, dodging the truth.
"Oh, so you will be walking to Jerusalem begging for alms the whole way?" she mocked.
"Well, not quite," Grimbert admitted sheepishly. "We will be traveling by horseback and will probably seek some comforts along the road. However," Grimbert's stomach began to clench, and his words became uncertain, crumbling under his mother's intense gaze, "Richart has assured me that the cost is of no concern. He needs the help and would prefer to have me, a man he trusts, ride beside him."
"So, you will be his servant?" she sneered.
"Traveling companion, mother." His stomach turned in anticipation of her next jab.
His mother was never silent. She always had an opinion to share or unrequested advice to give. But minutes passed by without a word spoken. Just the sounds of slurping and chewing filled the space between them. When she did finally respond, her tone dripped with sarcasm, "That's very kind of Richart. Well, there are worse ways to earn one's way to the Holy Land."
"It's not kind. It's practical," Grimbert tried to interject.
But by then the floodgates had opened and she continued to monologue without acknowledging that he had spoken, "I would assume you have much to do to prepare. I will need to make arrangements for myself, I would suppose. Greta might be happy to have me. She is my youngest, and her baby is so new. But it might feel inappropriate barging in on a couple that has been married for such a short time. Still newlyweds, practically. I won't consider Marta. Her house is too crowded! Maybe Boda. Her children are getting older, but that doesn't mean they are getting easier." She continued like this for a while, naming relatives who might take her in when her son abandoned her, and then she finished her rant, "I am fortunate to have such a large family who can support me when my only living son will not."
"Richart is taking care of the expenses, mother, I will not be taking any gold with me. We have enough so that you can stay here comfortably in my absence."
"I could never! I would be so lonely! And who would help me with the garden? I am too old to do it all by myself."
"There is no doubt in my mind that Johann will do his best to be helpful," he started, but as Grimbert spoke he took a moment to really see his mother. This woman whom he had lived with all of his life. When had she gotten so old? Her hair was white and wispy, thin lines etched every inch of soft skin, and her knuckles were swollen with arthritis. He didn't know how long his journey would be, but when he returned, would his mother still be alive? None of his friends still had living parents. That idea hadn't dawned on him before, and he was washed over with an unexpected wave of sadness and something else. Guilt. "You are right, mother. I am sorry. I didn't think everything through."
"Well, you never do," a condescending smile spread across her face, "but maybe this will be good for you. You'll lose some weight, toughen up, and when you come home you might have enough gold to get married and have a family."
Grimbert swallowed hard. "Yes, mother."
Dinner was over and the two began to clean up before bed.
"What of Richart's little girl?" the old woman asked.
"She will be coming with us," Grimbert answered absently as he rinsed their dishes.
"On such a dangerous journey? Surely she can stay here with her aunt?"
"That's what I said, but Richart wishes her to join us on this pilgrimage. He can't imagine leaving her behind. Since his wife's passing, his daughter is his entire world," the man reasoned.
"That is quite unwise, if you ask me. Too much of a risk!" she countered.
"Father Cristianus proposed dressing her as a boy in order to protect her virtue."
"Blasphemous! A priest suggested this? I don't believe it!" she said, the outrage evident in her tone.
"He assured us that it had been done before. That it was sanctioned by the church. The costume is only to protect her from potential harm. It takes more than a pair of riding pants to turn a young girl into a rogue! But yes, I agree, it does seem to be an unnatural solution." Grimbert dried their bowls and dishes and placed them away in the cupboard.
"Yet you are supporting the decision by taking part in it," she condemned.
"I suppose." He paused as he walked over to open a wooden chest and remove his sleeping gown. "Although, she is an odd girl already."
"I don't know her well. How do you mean?"
"Ever since her poor mother's death she spends all her time with her cousin Adso. You know which boy I speak of? He is a few years younger than Johann."
"I know the one."
"They are always running around town like a pair of vagabonds. Wrestling in the streets! It drives Richart mad!" Grimbert shook his head.
"The girl doesn't have a mother. But that's a poor excuse. It would seem to be that dressing her up like a boy will only encourage her odd behavior!"
"But maybe the dangers you face will awaken her feminine sensibilities!" the old woman harped.
"That is a possibility. However, she is strong willed and I can't envision her demurring in the face of a fight!"
"Fighting is for men. What would a girl know of swords?"
"Well," he began, "I may have offered to teach her a few moves for self defense."
"How much ale have you drunk? You are only encouraging her behavior. God protect your soul for taking part in this." She then huffed away and went to bed, pulled the blankets up to her chin, and closed her eyes tight. The conversation was over.
Grimbert poured himself a drink of honey wine and sat outside under the cloudy night sky. The chilly night air nipped at him through his thin tunic. He felt conflicted. He knew his mother wouldn't be happy about his leaving. That's why he hadn't told her about his meeting beforehand. But he was leaving with Richart, regardless of what his mother might say! He had assumed that underneath her fears of him leaving that she would be proud. He would prove to her that he was a man. Not just a man-sized boy. But the news of his upcoming pilgrimage didn't seem to frighten her. It seemed to shame him even further in his mother's eyes. He saw himself as a brave soldier of Christ, marching off to the east. But she saw him as a servant. And his willingness to support a cross-dressing girl, well, that might even be a worse mark against him in his mother's eyes.
Grimbert took a long drink from his mug. He felt the sweat nectar burn his throat and warm his stomach. Heat radiated out to the tips of his toes and down the length of his fingers. It felt as if the comforting fire from the hearth had been injected into his veins. A dull feeling of contentment eased his mind. He would not let that girl do anything to jeopardize his honor. He didn't know what would happen, but he would make his mother proud. He took another long draw of wine, and sitting in the grass while leaning back on the side of his hut, he fell asleep.
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Journey to JosephHistorical Fiction
Hildegund is always getting in trouble for acting too masculine. If it was up to her she would have been born a boy, but that's not how the world works. Or, at least that's what she has always believed. Then, Hildegund gets the opportunity to dress...