Today, I am glad to welcome my friend J. K. Knauss to Outtakes as she launches her epic story, Seven Noble Knights, now available for preorder. I got to see an earlier version of the novel and recommend it for anyone who enjoys a family saga of betrayal and revenge, with some romance. It’s set in medieval Spain, where three great religions sometimes coexisted, and sometimes conflicted, with each other. Here, Jessica explains a ritual I was curious about.—Kim
Seven Noble Knights takes place at the end of the 10th century, more than 1,000 years ago. The source materials are 600-700 years old and display a terseness that’s admirable, but leaves a bit to the imagination. I’ve written about developing characters in other places, and sometimes occurrences and customs also need fleshing out in order to make sense to modern readers.
One such need for imagination is the ritual by which Doña Sancha, the iconic mother, adopts Mudarra, the belated hero, as her son. It appears like this in the Crónica de 1344 (my translation):
The story tells that doña Sancha received Mudarra as her son according to Castilian law. She put him into a sleeve of a silk dress she was wearing, and pulled him out through the other, and don Mudarra from then on had the name Mudarra González.
I’ve heard of “rebirthing” ceremonies, and this adoption certainly brings those to mind. Mudarra is a grown man and bigger than the widest medieval sleeve. How terrified would even the greatest warrior have been to be pulled through a slim piece of silk without explanation?
The source’s mention of Castilian law is culturally important. In the 10th century, Castile was still establishing its sovereignty. Later writers wanted the historical people they wrote about to be seen strictly observing the law of the new nation, even if it required some uncomfortable observances.
Although Sancha’s husband has already recognized Mudarra, the source text only mentions law pertaining to the mother, and it appears that a woman must perform the ceremony. This is likely a holdover from Visigothic law and earlier Iberian matriarchal cultures. In spite of the preponderance of masculine characters in Seven Noble Knights, the overarching story is a feud between Doña Sancha and Doña Lambra, two women competing for men and power.
The unusual adoption ceremony takes place in Seven Noble Knights, Part II, Chapter 6, outside the cathedral in Burgos. Here’s my reimagination with a few practical details, and I hope, a lot more emotional impact.
“This way, dear boy.” Doña Sancha beckoned Mudarra inside a circle of women, each of them grinning. One of them handed Doña Sancha a folded piece of red fabric. A woman had come up behind Mudarra and begun undoing his belt, then lifted his tunic over his head. Another woman removed his leggings, but he felt naked enough and held the knots in his linen underpants, deflecting prying fingers. They gave up, and he had no time to register the cold or embarrassment because the red silk had already been unfolded. Doña Sancha accepted no help from anyone. Mudarra puzzled out that the fabric had been sewn such that it made a large sleeve, not because he had the time to inspect it, but because it tightly encased his head and shoulders and then the rest of his body. He dared not breathe in, but the long journey north and his last days in Madinat al-Zahra passed before his eyes as he waited helplessly, his arms pressed to his sides in the cocoon.
Gentle hands on the other side of the silk guided him to the cold ground, and then Doña Sancha rolled the sleeve away from his head. He could breathe again, and while Sancha worked the fabric over his shoulders, Don Gonzalo held his head off the ground, almost as if he were receiving Mudarra from Sancha.
He imagined the silk was meant to stand in for the birth canal. He was being reborn, with just as little intention on his part as the first time. He helpfully lifted his body from the ground by clenching different muscles and watched Doña Sancha pulling and tugging, past his chest and catching a little over the rings on his fingers. His knuckles retained them in their place and he let his arms flop to the ground when she delicately moved the fabric over the undergarment. He was glad the symbolic tube was made of silk, because if it had been wool, he might have suffocated inside a scratchy sleeve they would have had to cut him out of.
Doña Sancha swept the sleeve off his feet and folded it hastily into her dress.
“Now you are truly my son as well as Don Gonzalo’s. Now you may truly call yourself Mudarra González.”
Don Gonzalo said, “Now you must take revenge not only for my sake, but also for Doña Sancha’s. She is your mother by Castilian law.”
Mudarra wanted to say goodbye to his real mother, or thank Doña Sancha for accepting him, but he was pulled inside the church door as if he were a grain of sand in the great tidal winds.
Born and raised in Northern California, J. K. Knauss has wandered all over the United States, Spain, and England. She has worked as a librarian and a Spanish teacher and earned a PhD in medieval Spanish literature before entering the publishing world as an editor. She is recovering from the devastating loss of her beloved husband, Stanley, to cancer. Her acclaimed novella, Tree/House, Kindle Scout–winning paranormal adventure Awash in Talent, and short story collection, Unpredictable Worlds, are currently available.
Her epic of medieval Spain, Seven Noble Knights, will be published by Bagwyn Books on Kindle on Dec. 15, 2016. A softcover edition will follow on Jan. 16, 2017. Find out more about the Seven Noble Knights Grand Book Launch Blog Tour and Facebook party (and win prizes) at JessicaKnauss.com. Feel free to sign up for her mailing list for castles, stories, and magic.