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What would Easter mean to an 8th century Saxon peasant who converted to Christianity with no education whatsoever? Especially if she was a slave in a foreign land and still learning the language? These are among the questions I explore in The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar as my heroine, Leova, experiences the holy day for the first time.

Her children are the only thing she has left. During Charlemagne’s first war in Saxony the previous summer, she lost everything—her husband, her home, her faith, her freedom.

At this point in the story, Leova and her children have wound up in Nevers, where her master, Ragenard the merchant, lives. In that time, the folk spoke Roman, a form of Latin but not the language of the Church and very different from the Germanic Saxon language.

I chose to call the holiday Pasch for a couple of reasons. The word Easter is close to Eostre, a pagan goddess of spring. Pasch is similar to the French name for the holiday, and it comes to us from Anglo-French and Latin.

Johannes Gehrts' 1901

Johannes Gehrts’ 1901 “Ostara,” another name for Eostre (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

With all this in mind, here is my imagining of how a new Christian and foreigner would perceive the Feast of the Resurrection:

The Christian rites continued to puzzle her. The week before a holy day called Pasch, which Sunwynn explained was the day Jesu rose from the dead, chanting monks and priests led a procession through the city and received long, thin leaves. Leova and her children followed with the rest of the faithful holding yew and willow twigs.

Two days later, a priest visited the house, and for the next few mornings, Ragenard managed to dress and come to the hall. Yet it seemed as if even that small effort exhausted him. He spoke only a few pleasantries to Leova before returning to bed.

Will he ever show fondness for me again?

On the feast day, Ragenard attended Mass along with everyone else in the city, and the crowd overflowed down the steps. As the priests gave altar bread and wine to the faithful, Ragenard seemed barely able to stand. Another procession with priests holding crosses, censers, and several golden jeweled boxes followed. Ragenard looked like he would collapse.

In the procession, the Roman buzz of gossip deepened Leova’s loneliness. On the temperate days like this in Eresburg, she and other wives had talked about their husbands and children and the upcoming Feast of Erda. The return of spring was empty here without the goddess. Leova longed for Derwine. He would have comforted her. Even if she and Ragenard were speaking to each other, Ragenard would not have understood.