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In The Cross and the Dragon, my heroine, Alda, is frustrated that she hasn’t been able to conceive a child. The stakes for her are higher than an emotion, as you will see in this excerpt.

TCATD_FINAL_SMALL“I have something to give you,” Bertrada said. Halting her steps, she reached into an embroidered pouch on her girdle and withdrew a small gold disk on a chain. “It is a medal of Saint Andrew. I did not conceive for the first three years I was married, but after I prayed to him, Charles quickened inside me.”

“I … I … thank you,” Alda stammered.

Alda gazed at the medal in her hand. It showed an image of a haloed, bearded man with an odd-looking cross in the background. She picked out the Latin words for “saint” and “pray” in the inscription along the edges. She kissed the medal.

“You have been a good wife to Hruodland,” the queen mother said, “and I pray that his seed takes hold in your womb. But if God does not answer our prayers, perhaps He is calling you to a vocation. Taking the veil would be honorable and richly rewarded.”

Alda’s cheeks burned and her spine stiffened. Should I not bear a son, she wants to free Hruodland for another marriage by offering me an abbey. Alda chose her words carefully. “I thank you for the medal and your prayers. I will heed God’s will, whatever it may be.”

Closing her fingers around the medal, she tried to push aside the doubts creeping into her mind. Is Hruodland trying to set me aside?

Although Alda is fictional, her circumstances are not. Marriage was not a sacrament, but ending the relationship the wrong way could result in a feud. If the wife willingly took the veil, both families could walk away with something. The woman would have land and people to rule and could maintain an influence in politics. This brings up another question: was a medieval woman better off as a countess or an abbess? Visit Annie’s Whitehead Casting Light upon the Shadows for my perspective.