"Pretty good, huh?"
Richart let out a genuine chuckle. "I'm glad that you feel prepared for our journey."
"Well, no offense to Adso, but I wish I could face a few more experienced swordsmen first, but I know there won't be time" she admitted.
"No offense taken," Adso mumbled next to her.
"You know, most pilgrims don't have swords to carry. They only have a walking stick to defend against robbers and wolves."
"Well, I'm glad I'll have something a bit more sturdy in case we face any trouble."
"Yes, me as well," Richart nodded. "Do you feel confident with everything else, as well?"
Hildegund aused to think. So much had happened over the past few months. A long moment passed before she spoke. "I feel very confident in how I look," she glanced down at her riding pants and boots. Her hair had been shorn and all her clothes were male, "I am excited to see new things, but can't imagine going on an adventure of this magnitude without Adso! I'm going to be so lonely," she glanced at her cousin, biting her lip.
Adso toed at a stone stuck in the hard-packed earth. A thoughtful expressed passed over his face. "Hey, Have you thought of your new name yet?" he asked.
"You're right, Adso, she needs a pseudonym to go with her disguise! I've been so occupied with making travel arrangements that it hadn't occurred to me. How about you, Hil, have you thought about it?"
She hesitated, continuing to worry at her bottom lip. "Yes," she finally answered.
"Well, what is it? Why keep it a secret?" Adso prodded.
"It's just so strange, naming oneself. I mean, a name is something you should be given."
"Your mother named you Hildegund. You know?" Richart almost whispered. "It is a beautiful name," he trailed off.
After a moment of silence, Adso nodded encouragingly, "So, what have you thought up?"
"Well," she began, looking between her father and Adso uncertainty, "I am going on a pilgrimage, so I was thinking..."
"Spit it out, come on!" Adso said impatiently.
"So, I was thinking, Joseph. That was your grandfather's name, right Papa? The one who went on the first Crusade?"
"Yes, true," Richart nodded, "It is a fitting name. I'll be sad not to call you Hildegund for the next few months, but I know it is best for everyone's safety."
"That's a great name! Should I start calling you Joseph? See if you like it?"
A sparkle returned to her eyes. "Yes, let's see if I respond to another name! And if you can remember!" she shrieked with joy at the thought. Then, self-conscious of her high-pitched laugh, stopped her squealing and just smiled. Maybe it was beginning to feel real after all and her stomach buzzed with anticipation.
"Okay, Joseph, let's have a rematch!" he picked up his sword, grinning his lopsided smile.
. . .
Before Hildegund knew it, the time had come to leave. She stood tall in riding pants and handsome boots. A broad-brimmed hat covered her blond locks and shaded her eyes. Under her dark brown wool cloak she wore a leather vest which bound her tightly, concealing her emerging feminine form. And she wore a steel blade on her belt. Although the metal was rusty in places and the hilt was not as fine as the wooden one, this new sword was sharp and could kill a man.
Her Aunt Anna, all of her cousins, and two of Grimbert's sisters came to the shop to see them off. Everyone stood around outside, somewhat awkwardly, under the shadow of the half-timbered frame building. Hildegund watched as birds flew in the sky and strangers walked down the street, completely unaware of how momentous an occasion this was in her life.
She and Adso tried to chit chat casually. "Wow, I can't believe you have a real sword," he reached over and touched the hilt.
"Yes, I can't believe it either," she bit her lip out of habit.
"The weather is nice today," he glanced up at the blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds that were slowly and silently passing overhead.
"Yes, I hope it continues to be warm. I've never had to sleep outside in rain or cold," her voice trailed off. The two cousins remained quiet. Adso cracked his knuckles and kept shifting his weight between feet. Hildegund fiddled with her belt and scratched her ear. They avoided making eye contact; avoided saying goodbye before they had to.
Soon however, Grimbert and Richart had finished packing up the horses. Grimbert mounted his ride as Richart walked over to his sister-in-law and his nephews to bid farewell. Hildegund followed her father and approached her aunt. The woman smiled, her eyes brimmed with tears, "We will pray every day for your safety. Say a prayer for us when you reach the Holy City, my dove," she pulled Hildegund into her bosom and kissed the top of her head, "Your mother smiles down on you and sends you all of our love."
As they embraced, Hildegund could feel a trembling begin to overcome her. All the days of practicing and preparing had led to this moment. And as much as she was looking forward to riding off on her steed, there was a part of her that didn't want to leave. Didn't want to say good-bye.
She peeled herself away from her aunt, blinking back tears and forcing a brave smile. Next she walked up to her older cousins, who in turn jostled her hat, patted her back, and gave hardy words of encouragement.
And then it was finally time to say goodbye to Adso. He stood next to his older brother, looking at the ground and shuffling his feet. "Thank you for the wooden sword," he mumbled and wiped at his nose.
She stood facing him, a lump in her throat preventing her from speaking. So, she just nodded, staring at her own hands. But as her gaze shifted she realized that his eyes were wet and blinking. It was too much for her. She grabbed him and pulled him close, burying her face on his shoulder, not ashamed of the tears that came so easily. His body was strong and familiar. He was her brother by bond, even if he was her cousin by blood. She squeezed him with all her strength and he held her tight in return. "You better keep up your practicing, because when I get back we will go off on our own adventures, cousin," she said in his ear.
"I will practice every day. And when you return we will hunt down dragons and rescue damsels in distress, just like in the stories."
"Farm boys in distress, you mean," she half-laughed half-sobbed.
"Yes, them too, of course."
They straightened out and looked each other in the eyes. With a hand still on his shoulder, Hildegund promised, "Cousin, I will miss you while I'm gone. But, I will be back."
"And I will be here when you return." After a brief hesitation, Hildegund took a deep breath, and walked to join her father and Grimbert. She noticed that her father's friend also had tears in his eyes, but instead of wearing a face of sorrow, he seemed to be burning with anger.
She mounted her horse with the help of her father. It was a beautiful chestnut with a dark black mane, and once sitting in her saddle she felt almost as powerful as a young knight. She waved a final farewell to the people and the town that she had always known.
She hadn't ever spent much time on a horse, but there would be hundreds of miles for her to ride before crossing into hostile territory. They took off for the Rhine River, which they planned to follow for the next several weeks. As she rode alongside her father and Grimbert she practiced introducing herself by repeating her new name under her breath, "Hi, I'm Joseph. My name is Joseph."
YOU ARE READING
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...