A detail of daily life, like how medieval people washed clothes, is a great way for the historical novelist to give readers a sense of place and time. Sadly, the novelist sometimes realizes the manuscript is a rather overweight 154,000-plus words and needs to cut scenes that are repetitive or not essential to the readers’ understanding of the story. In other words, she must take the “murder your babies” approach.
This deleted scene is from my second novel, The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar. I share it here to show how grateful we should be for our washing machines. But this method would have provided quite a workout and maybe a little stress relief.
Some context: Acha, a peasant Saxon woman, and her children, Leofwin and Sunhilde, ages 12 and 9, have lost everything in Charlemagne’s first war in Saxony in 772. Acha’s husband, Derwin, died in battle, her faith lies in the ashes of the Irminsul, and her sister-by-marriage, Ealdgyth, sold her and the children into slavery. The family is then taken into Francia. Here’s the excerpt:
Acha and Sunhilde accompanied other maidservants carrying baskets of dirty clothes and linens to the bathhouse, a wooden structure near the manor. Just outside the bathhouse were wooden troughs, where menservants were adding water to the lye and white clay.
The maids dropped the clothes and linens in the troughs, then retrieved wooden bats to beat the laundry. In Saxony, Acha would have washed laundry at the river, and she did not have the luxury of boiling the laundry in scented water or drying it over rosemary plants. But she was filled with longing for her home and for Derwin. Acha pictured Ealdgyth’s face in the laundry in the trough and beat it with all her strength. Greedy traitor! Herbert’s farm would have been more than enough for you and your sons! You don’t deserve Herbert’s land!
“Mother,” Sunhilde asked over the pounding of the bats, “are we ever going to return to Eresburg?”
“I hope so,” Acha answered. She couldn’t bring herself to tell Sunhilde they might never see Saxony again, let alone Eresburg, that she was now struggling to keep the three of them together.
Sunhilde use her sleeve to wipe her forehead. “Will Leofwin get the land back?”
“Of course,” Acha said, sounding more confident than she felt. “Why do you ask, Daughter?”
“All Leofwin talks about is Eresburg and how he will return and seek vengeance.”
“I know,” Acha said softly, pausing to take a breath.
“I hate them, Mother,” Sunhilde said.
“Who?” Acha asked.
“Aunt Ealdgyth and Cousins Wybert and Ingram. They stole our land. And I hate the men who killed Father and Uncle Herbert.”
“I know,” Acha raised the bat over her head and smacked the laundry again. “I hate them, too. And we shall have our vengeance.”