A reimagining of the classic Mulan tale in medieval Europe, where both love and war challenge even the strongest of hearts.
When Mulan takes her father’s place in battle against the besieging Teutonic Knights, she realizes she has been preparing for this journey her whole life—and that her life, and her mother’s, depends on her success. As the adopted daughter of poor parents, Mulan has little power in the world. If she can’t prove herself on the battlefield, she could face death—or, perhaps worse, marriage to the village butcher.
Disguised as a young man, Mulan meets the German duke’s son, Wolfgang, who is determined to save his people even if it means fighting against his own brother. Wolfgang is exasperated by the new soldier who seems to be one step away from disaster at all times—or showing him up in embarrassing ways.
From rivals to reluctant friends, Mulan and Wolfgang begin to share secrets. But war is an uncertain time and dreams can die as quickly as they are born. When Mulan receives word of danger back home, she must make the ultimate choice. Can she be the son her bitter father never had? Or will she become the strong young woman she was created to be?
Praise for Melanie Dickerson:
“When it comes to happily-ever-afters, Melanie Dickerson is the undisputed queen of fairy-tale romance, and all I can say is—long live the queen!” —Julie Lessman, award-winning author
This is a novel in the Hagenheim series by New York Times bestselling author Melanie Dickerson, but it can be read as a standalone. Includes discussion questions.
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.20(d)|
|Age Range:||13 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Melanie Dickerson is a New York Times bestselling author and a Christy Award winner. Her first book, The Healer’s Apprentice, won the National Readers’ Choice Award for Best First Book in 2010, and The Merchant’s Daughter won the 2012 Carol Award. Melanie spends her time daydreaming, researching the most fascinating historical time periods, and writing stories at her home near Huntsville, Alabama, where she gathers dandelion greens for her two adorable guinea pigs between writing and editing her happily ever afters. Visit her online at MelanieDickerson.com; Facebook: MelanieDickersonBooks; Twitter: @MelanieAuthor.
Read an Excerpt
Early Summer 1423
Village of Mindius, Lithuania
Galloping her horse past the big oak tree, Mulan pulled the bowstring taut. She aimed at the knothole with one eye closed and sent the arrow flying toward the target. It struck the tree but missed the knothole.
"Don't shoot behind you!" Andrei flailed his skinny arms. "Keep the target in front of you."
Shooting from a moving horse was much more difficult than when standing still, but she was improving. At least she'd escaped, for the moment, the cooking and cleaning chores. And practicing war skills kept her from facing the uncertain future — and her mother's grief.
Her stomach churned.
"You put yourself at a disadvantage if you have to shoot behind you." Andrei was only twelve years old, which was six years younger than Mulan, but he'd accompanied her father on his last two military campaigns as his attendant. "Shoot in front of you, before you reach the target."
As an orphan, Andrei would only accept food from Mulan and her mother if he worked for it. Mulan enjoyed his company, as he liked the same things she did — horses and archery. She learned war skills from him. He'd even taught her a bit about sword fighting, although she wasn't very good at that.
Mulan wheeled her horse around. Aksoma was sluggish and awkward at turning, unaccustomed as she was to war games. Perhaps Mulan should be training on her father's horse.
She dismounted and walked toward the tree. As she retrieved her arrow, placing it in the quiver strapped to her waist, she spotted a man in soldier's garb riding up the lane toward her home.
She glanced at Andrei. He bit his lip, unease lining his face.
Mulan dropped the longbow where she stood and raced up the hill.
At the back of the house, she could see straight through the back doorway to the front. Her mother stood in the threshold and greeted the soldier.
Mulan and Andrei stepped inside and hid behind Mother's painted wooden chest. Mulan slid her gaze to the curtain covering her parents' bedchamber door, concealing what was inside even as she concealed herself from the man at the front door.
"Greetings," the soldier answered. "Is Mikolai at home?"
Mulan held her breath at the mention of her father.
"He's not here now. Do you have a message for him?"
The soldier's expression never altered. "Is he likely to return soon?"
"No." Mother hid one arm behind her back, as if she didn't know what to do with it.
"Then tell him Butautas requires his service. He is to report to Vilkavikis to join the army in fighting the Teutonic Knights who have besieged his ally's castle in Poland."
"Duke Konrad of Zachev."
Mother inclined her head in a nod. "Very well."
"His service is required."
"You said that already."
Mulan ducked her head out of sight, but she imagined the soldier giving Mother a sullen look.
"I shall return three days hence so Mikolai and I can travel together."
"In truth, Mikolai has been unwell. He may not be well enough when you return."
"Three days is all I can give him. See that he is ready, or else this property is forfeit to Butautas."
Mulan's stomach twisted. A wave of cold came over her now that she was still. The hose and long shirt, cinched at the waist — men's clothing that she wore when she rode her horse and practiced shooting — didn't keep her as warm as her layers of skirts. And her long black hair was tied at the back of her neck, allowing a breath of cool air to send a chill across her shoulders.
A few moments later, a horse snuffled and hooves sounded on the path, plodding away from their long, one-level stone-and-timber house.
Mulan and Andrei emerged from their hiding place. Mother met Mulan's gaze, then walked past them. She pushed open the chamber door and sighed as she stared in at the body they still had to prepare for burial. "Mikolai could not have chosen a worse time to die."
xEvening had fallen and Mulan was helping Mother clean the kitchen when someone called out, "Ponia Feodosia!"
Mulan ran to the front door. Her friend Agafia was trotting up the lane, breathing hard.
"Jankun is badly wounded."
"Motina!" Mulan called over her shoulder.
Mother came as fast as her bad hip would allow. "What is it?"
"Jankun ... needs your ... healing salve," Agafia huffed out, bending forward slightly, gulping air.
Mother grabbed a flask, closed the door behind her, and joined them on the lane. "Jankun has returned home?"
Agafia spoke quickly about her oldest brother as they walked, her face stoic and pinched. "His friends brought him home a few minutes ago. It took them a week to make the trip from Poland."
"How bad is he?"
Agafia stared at her feet. "The priest gave him the last rites."
"What happened?" Mulan spoke in a hushed voice as they made their way to the main road splitting the village in half, with homes and fields on either side of the rutted dirt path.
"He was captured by the Teutonic Knights. They tortured him, and when they felt he had told them everything he knew about the troops' position and plans, they left him to die. Some of the other Lithuanian and Polish soldiers found him."
They soon arrived at the small home Agafia shared with her family. Mulan steeled herself to see the worst.
Jankun was stretched out on a bed, unmoving. Swollen and bloody and bruised, his face was unrecognizable, though she had known him all her life. One of his eyes seemed to be missing, only a black hole remaining. Agafia had been her closest friend, and Jankun had been almost like a brother, once even defending her against the other boys in the village who taunted her because she looked different.
Jankun's mother was unwrapping bloody bandages on his legs. Her eyes were big and round, her mouth agape. She stepped back to let Mulan's mother approach his bedside.
While Mother attended the young man, Agafia and Mulan went to sit in the corner of the room. Three young men from the village who had also gone to fight stood nearby. They must have brought him home.
Everyone silently watched as Mother held out the flask. She and Jankun's mother used their fingers to smear on the foul-smelling salve.
Tears streamed down Agafia's face. Mulan placed a hand on her shoulder. The only sound was the quiet crackle of the cook fire.
Mulan caught the eye of one of the young men. "What's the news of the battle?" she whispered. "Are we winning?"
He glanced at the door and moved in that direction. Mulan followed. When they were outside in the dim light of sunset, he said, "Our army retreated and is hoping for German reinforcements." He shook his head. "The captain fears the Teutonic Knights may continue conquering Polish territory and expand here next. They're brutal, stealing people's food, killing farmers and peasants if they tried to resist. And when they take prisoners, instead of trying to exchange them or putting them in prisons, they torture them."
His eyes took on a vacant look. "It's a miracle Jankun isn't dead. And they say when their grand master Rusdorf comes with more knights, there will be no stopping him."
The name Rusdorf was familiar. Her father and Andrei had told her stories about his fierceness on the battlefield, as well as his grudges toward certain people and his hatred for women.
"We will defeat him." Why had she said that? But she didn't want to take it back.
The young man's lip curled as he peered down at her. "Rusdorf wants land, castles, power. Thousands of trained fighters do his bidding, and his men are either hired mercenaries with no conscience or think they're taking other people's land in the name of God. How can our smaller army defeat them?" He turned and went back into the house.
Mulan's heart sank. How indeed?
But a strange yearning stirred inside her. She wanted to fight against cruelty and injustice. The threat might be coming to her small Lithuanian village. She had to protect herself, her mother, and her people.
For now, though, the fight was far away. She could almost see that foreign land of Poland, the fields and forests that had become battlegrounds, where innocent people were starving and being killed by the invading force. She longed to help them, to defeat the enemy so they never came to endanger her own people.
But how was that possible? A woman, eighteen years old, was expected to marry, to have children, to cook and clean and sew, not fight.
* * *
Marriage was the only way Mulan could take care of her mother.
She hastened to clean the crumbs of her breakfast roll off the table, avoiding her mother's gaze.
"Algirdas is healthy and strong, does not drink too much wine, and you'll never starve with him as your husband."
Mulan understood why her mother wanted her to marry Algirdas. But he smelled of his profession — bloody meat. He was not as old as her other prospects, and he was wealthy enough to take care of her and her mother when Butautas cast them out of their home. Except ... she had always dreamed of leaving her village and seeing other places, doing something important.
But dreams could not keep her or her mother dry, safe, and fed.
"Algirdas is a hard worker," Mother said. "Try not to judge him until you've spent some time with him." She limped to the cupboard where a small barrel of spiced beer was stored.
Mulan placed the bread on the table, along with a knife and some butter. She took the cup of spiced beer from her mother's hand and carried it to the table, then ran back as Mother filled the other cup from the barrel's spout.
"There's no need to hurry." Mother got that look on her face — pursed lips, brows drawn together.
"Yes, Mother. I shall walk as slowly and gracefully as a swimming swan when Algirdas comes calling."
"Hmm." Mother still wore that worried look.
Mulan said a quick prayer and then saw the pigs wandering into the front entryway of the house.
"Shoo!" She bounded toward them and swatted the air with her hands. But the pigs were not as eager to leave as she was to get them out. As she pushed the sow's shoulder, one of the piglets darted between Mulan legs. She tried to step over it, but her foot caught on its portly body. She pitched forward and landed on her hands and knees on the stone floor.
Mulan jumped up and looked down at her pale blue kirtle. Her heart thudded at the mud stains marring the beautiful fine linen fabric of her best dress. Her wide headband had fallen askew, and she pushed it up.
A heavy sigh sounded behind her. Mulan turned to see her mother standing there, hands braced on her hips.
"It's not so bad. I don't think he'll even notice." Mulan snatched up a cleaning cloth. "Perhaps I can wipe most of it off." Why was she so clumsy?
Her stomach churned at the memory that sprang to mind of her father yelling at her. She must have been only about six or seven years old, and her mother had been teaching her to make cepelinai. She was carrying the bowl of curd with which to fill the potato dumplings and spilled the creamy cheese all over the floor.
"Clumsy! Wasteful!" her father yelled. "Can you do nothing without spilling?"
His words still stung, even though twelve years had passed. Was it true? Was she so clumsy she could she do nothing without spilling?
Mother seized the broom and used it to guide the pigs out the door while Mulan rubbed furiously at her dress with the wet cloth. But her rubbing did little to get rid of the stains. She didn't have another gown nearly so fine. Her next best one had a stain from spilling soup on it, and another had a hole burned in it from when she'd stoked the fire a little too vigorously and a hot ember flew out. She did have the green gown that was so tight she could barely breathe in it. "Should I go change?"
"No time. I see him coming up the path." Mother gestured toward the door. "You go greet him."
Mulan threw the cleaning cloth behind the cupboard, adjusted the embroidered belt that encircled her waist, and hurried to the door. Move slowly. Take a deep breath.
She jerked open the door.
Algirdas wore a plain gray shirt that laced up in the front and was open at the throat. His hair was slicked back with some sort of grease, and he carried a bulging hemp-cloth bag.
"Greetings." Mulan forced a smile.
He nodded and held up the bag. "Two fresh hares for your larder."
"My mother and I thank you." Mulan took the bag from his hand. "Please come in."
His gaze flickered over her dress, pausing a moment on the stains. Then he stepped inside.
So he saw the stains on my dress. Men didn't care about such things, did they? Perhaps she could impress him with something else.
Algirdas sat at the small table, where Mother, who was all smiles, directed him.
"Feodosia, it is good to see you looking well," Algirdas said, but his words were stilted, as if he'd practiced them. "And how is Mikolai?"
"Mikolai has not been feeling well." Mother stared down at the table while she spoke, something she did when she was not being forthcoming. "But we want to hear about you, Algirdas. All is well with your mother, I trust?"
"Thank you, yes. Mother complains of a pain in her shoulder, but she is otherwise well, and business is good."
Mulan sat beside Mother, across from Algirdas, and he stared at her face. No one spoke. What did one say to a butcher? Ask him about his favorite cuts of meat?
"Your sister just had a baby, is that not true?" Mother asked.
"Yes, her fourth. Mother only had two survive beyond infancy, but she is very pleased that all of my sister's babies have lived."
"Children are a gift from the Lord." Mother said the words cheerfully enough, but then an almost imperceptible grimace flickered over her face. Her mother had never been able to have a baby.
"Mulan is from the Orient, is she not?" Algirdas was still studying her face. "I think I've heard a story about Mikolai finding her as a small child after a battle and bringing her to you. Is that right?"
"Yes." Mother looked down at the table again.
"Why did you never give her a Lithuanian name? Mulan doesn't sound Lithuanian."
"The first time I saw her, I asked her what her name was. She said 'Mulan.' And Mikolai said, 'If the child knows her name, then we'll not be changing it.' So Mulan has always been her name." Mother smiled.
Queasiness flipped Mulan's stomach. Was her Oriental appearance — black hair, slightly darker skin, and almond-shaped eyes — unpleasant to Algirdas? Certain boys in the village had taunted her, calling her "Mongol," and even some women looked askance at her, as if they disapproved of her. But Mother always told her she was beautiful, and even her father when asked had grunted and said, "You are not an ugly girl."
But when Mulan was around twelve years old, she discovered that the story her mother had told her about being found as a child by her father after a battle had been false. She heard her parents arguing, and the next morning she asked her mother about it.
"Truth is, your mother was a woman Mikolai met when he was fighting east of here, a woman from the Orient. And when she died, she left a child — you — about three years old. Your father brought you to me, knowing how much I longed for a child."
Mulan and her mother had agreed not to tell anyone else the truth. Let them believe she'd been a foundling, the result of war.
Algirdas eyed the tankard of spiced beer nearest him. Mother looked at Mulan, raised her brows, then looked at the cup.
Mulan extended her hand and plastered on a smile. "Please, have some of Mother's delicious spiced beer."
"Mulan helped me make it." Mother was quick to point out.
They all picked up the cup that was in front of them and took a drink. Mother glanced at her, then the bread on the table.
"Have some bread." Mulan stood and reached for the knife. "I shall slice it for us." Holding the loaf of bread in one hand and the knife in the other, she sawed through the bread. As she encountered the tough bottom crust of the loaf, she sawed extra hard. She broke through, and her elbow bumped into her cup and it tipped over. Beer splashed on the floor and her feet — and Algirdas's too.
"Oh, I'm so sorry." Mulan ran to get a cleaning cloth. She came hastening back, and when she had almost reached where Algirdas was sitting, her foot touched the puddle of beer and shot out from under her.
She flailed her arms, trying to grab anything that might keep her from falling. Algirdas reached out, and she grabbed for his arm but missed. She hit the floor on her back.
"Are you all right?" Algirdas stood over her.
She blinked up at him. He reached toward her. She took his hand and pulled herself up.
"That was not as graceful as a swimming swan." She tried to laugh but her face was warming. How could she make a fool of herself with Algirdas there to speak about marriage? And her dress was certainly ruined now, covered in spiced beer.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Warrior Maiden"
Copyright © 2019 Melanie Dickerson.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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