Sixteen-year-old Anna and her widowed father, Gunther, lead the life of a trading family in 11th-century Germany at the outset of the First Crusade. When her father takes her with him on a journey to the Jewish quarter of Worms, the teen encounters Leah, daughter of the spice merchant. Anna is intrigued by the differece in their lifestyles despite the prejudicial viewpoint of many of her fellow villagers, including her aunt and naively ignorant cousin, Martin. In search of excitement and glory, the boy runs away to join a Crusader army unit, while a renegade group of soldiers storms through the Jewish area in a rampage of destruction and massacre. Anna discovers Leah as the sole survivor, hiding and clutching her father's silver cup, used to bless wine for the Sabbath meal and other holidays. Ignoring the jeopardy she will cause herself and Gunther, Anna takes the girl home and eventually helps her to seek a new life in a distant Jewish community. This well-crafted novel juxtaposes historical events and the cruelty of religiously based politics with the human qualities of courage, fortitude, and, most of all, hope. Leeds provides mystery and authenticity about the period's lack of tolerance for the misfit or imperfect child through the disappearance-and implied murder-of Martin's mentally slow, mute younger brother while on a walk in the woods with his mother, who had "often scared him into tears." An intriguing and suspenseful portrayal of Europe's early medieval days.
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