No Man's Chattel
One Young Woman Defying Societal Norms
No, what I crave is the opportunity to adventure across the sea, to behold strange and wondrous sights far beyond the city walls of Lübeck.
To do that even once would almost be worth submitting herself to a loveless marriage based solely on familial advantage.
But not quite, she admitted to herself.
For if there was one thing of which Christina Kohl was certain, it was that she wanted her independence even more than adventure.
Yet, these can only be childish dreams for a daughter of a wealthy merchant in 14th century Lübeck, Germany. Even at sixteen-years-old, Christina grudgingly accepts her existence is to be shaped and limited by the men who do and will control her life. When unexpected tragedies befall her family, however, she is presented with an unlikely opportunity to at last become her own person. The freedom of her new life is fraught with peril as she attempts to succeed in a role for which she is ill-prepared, all the while keeping secrets that, if exposed, will certainly bring shame, financial ruin, and perhaps even death. No Man’s Chattel is an exhilarating coming-of-age novel set in the medieval commercial centers of Lübeck and London, England. It is not so much a story of the societal norms of the era as of one young woman’s struggle to defy them.
Book Excerpt or Article
Christina realized she could not directly defy her father’s command. She walked toward her quarters, pushed back the flap, and entered disconsolately. Trudi looked at her with questioning eyes.
Christina said, “They’re still coming,” the simple statement telling all.
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 something!
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. Surely, she jests! Trudi thought. The fierce expression in her mistress’s eyes conveyed she was completely serious. Trudi rummaged in the trunk until she found them.
Turning to Christina, she asked, “Where do you wish me to cut?” Christina replied, “Here,” indicating just above her shoulders.
The maid was so surprised she dropped the scissors. “But you’ll appear to be a man, milady.”
In 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, 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 bosom. On 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 daughter.
“How do I look?” Christina asked.
“Like a man, like… like…” Trudi stammered.
Suddenly, a 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, caution held her back. If 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 afford. Even though 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.
Suddenly, the noise of the storm somewhat abated and she heard, “Get down!”
This was 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 no doubts.
I’ve never killed a man, nor even injured one, not counting the scrapes I’ve given Frederick. Can I really do this? she thought in sudden panic.
Without warning, the hull of the ship suddenly heeled over to starboard. It must be their grappling hooks!
Well, if I’m going to do this, the time is now! She mumbled to herself.
“Pray for us!” Christina yelled to Trudi then, without hesitation, she ran on deck.
She halted, 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. Christina 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 oozing red. She was 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 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 bone.
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. Without conscious thought, Christina leapt forward, extending her falchion beneath the mercenary’s right elbow and thrusting into the stomach of one of the pirates. Even though a falchion is primarily a slashing weapon, the broad point could do tremendous damage to 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, she told herself, cleanly 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. The 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. The mercenary raised his left fist into the air toward her 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 back.
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Lee Swanson is a retired soldier and teacher who is the author of the No Man is Her Master historical fiction series, including the titles No Man’s Chattel, Her Perilous Game, and the soon-to-be- released Her Dangerous Journey Home. His newest novel, The Calling of Alex Tate, is a departure from historical fiction, a crime drama set in Seattle, Washington in 2015.
Lee has enjoyed a lifetime interest in medieval history. Living in both Germany and England for extended periods of his life, he has traveled extensively throughout Europe, seeking out-of-the-way places with little-known stories to tell. Among these is medieval London which figures so prominently in No Man's Chattel.
Holding a Master’s Degree in European History from the University of North Florida, Lee’s thesis centered on the Hansa, a confederation of merchants from primarily northern German cities in the 12th through seventeenth centuries. Many of the colorful characters who populate his novels are drawn from the lives of these resolute wayfarers who traveled the waterways of Europe in search of profit and prestige.
Lee, his wife Karine, and their dog, Banjo now splits their time between coastal Maine and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. A return visit to Europe is hoped for in the near future.