A plague-era tale of murder, friendship, and fine ale...
by Elizabeth R. Andersen
* Book Spotlight *
Publication Date: January 16th, 2023
Publisher: Haeddre Press
Genre: Historical Cosy Mystery
Colmar, 1353 CE
Gritta, Appel, and Efi managed to survive the Black Death, only to find that they are in desperate need of money. With limited options and lots of obstacles, they band together to become alewives - brewing and selling ale in the free Alsatian town of Colmar. But when an elderly neighbor is discovered dead in her house, the alewives cannot convince the sheriff and the town council that her death wasn’t an accident, it was murder. As the body count piles up, the ale flows and mystery is afoot!
Set in the tumultuous years after the most devastating pandemic the world has ever experienced, The Alewives is a playful romp through a dark time, when society was reeling from loss and a grieving population attempted to return to normal, proving that with the bonds of love, friendship, and humor, the human spirit will always continue to shine.
Chapter 1 – Hochsommer
In which a hoe has gone missing
It was only the second day of the holy feast of Saint John the Baptist, and Frau Gritta, the wife of Jorges Leporteur, was sure that her children would not survive until Michaelmas. She had twelve of them, you see. Frau Berthe, the pious, primping hussy two doors down, only had four (those that lived), and they were the pride of Colmar – sweet, hardworking, intelligent, and beautiful, each one of them. Gritta’s lank-haired children were all destined to be grifters, from Lisette, the eldest, to what’s-her-name, the youngest, who Gritta only recently managed to detach from the teat.
It didn’t matter. None of her children would survive anyhow. If Gritta didn’t thrash them into oblivion, then starvation would get them first. She pondered this as she scattered a pile of weeds and barley hulls for the hens that scratched alongside her large but shabby house on Trench Lane in Les Tanneurs.
Colmar, known for its fine wines and rich, abundant soil, was a pretty city full of fine people…except those who lived in Les Tanneurs – the tanners’ quarter. Les Tanneurs contained the city's dyers, tanners, and leatherworks, conveniently located downstream and downwind of the wealthy burghers’ homes near the church and the abbey of the Dominicans, and the poorest occupants of Les Tanneurs lived on Trench Lane, which took its name from the deep-walled ditch that furrowed the center of the street. In dry times, the ditch filled with dung and other refuse that tripped passersby, but when the rains fell, it became a temporary stream that shunted filthy water into the canals.
Those that didn’t live in Les Tanneurs called it “the stinkards.”
People told Gritta she was fortunate. No one in her family, including herself and good-for-nothing Jorges, had died of the Great Pestilence, the plague of buboes that had ravaged the whole of the Rhineland, from Annecy to Frankfurt. Some even claimed that the pestilence stretched throughout the whole of the earth, like a demon from hell, holding all of God’s creatures in its grip of death and horror. The intact survival of such a large family was an immense rarity, even in her city, which had not had the worst of it. Not like Strassburg.
Her children – those that were old enough – worked odd jobs around the city, running errands, mucking out stalls in the innkeeper’s stables, or swindling kind-hearted traders on market days. Her eldest daughter, Lisette, worked as a washerwoman at Lord Frider’s castle in the hills, keeping the old nobleman distracted while he waited for Lady Marguerite to give birth. Gritta always knew Lisette’s pretty face would serve her well someday, and she didn’t begrudge the girl this little indiscretion. It would never come back to benefit them, but it couldn’t hurt them either. After all, how far could they sink below their present station? Jorges worked as a porter at the docks in Vogelgrun when there was a need, and after the pestilence, there was far less need. Sometimes he helped move barrows of foul, stinking animal soil used by the tanners, or worked in Lord Frider’s fields, but most of the time he spent his days curled up in a pile of straw near the fire, snoring in a cloud of wine fumes.
One of her children strolled lazily into the dooryard, kicking up little puffs of dust at each step. But which one was it? Gritta mentally listed her children’s names, trying to assign the correct one to the long-faced lad. Urbe, Anstett, Mattheus, Egilhard…ah, of course, it was Lonel.
Tall and lean as a barley straw, with a perpetually bemused expression on his face, Lonel was the pebble in Gritta’s shoe and the fly in her porridge. Always in trouble, just like his father, but with the quickest laugh and the easiest smile, Lonel always seemed to be telling a joke or laughing at one. But while he charmed and flirted with his golden tongue, he was usually stealing food or money with his roving hands.
Gritta planted hands on hips that were once round and soft, now bony and sharp from years of sorrow and starvation, and narrowed her eyes in her sternest fashion.
“Well then, my best garden hoe has gone missing. I suppose you did something with it, did you?”
“Ma,” Lonel laughed, “why would I take your hoe?”
“Why indeed. I shouldn’t have asked, for I know you’ve never done a lick of work in your life.”
Lonel shrugged in acknowledgment. He wore his notorious laziness like a badge of pride in Les Tanneurs. When a tanner asked for help lifting the hides from one of the soaking pits, Lonel just laughed.
When a goodwife struggled beneath a load of firewood or a basket of vegetables, Lonel would slink away. The only time he ever seemed to present himself amongst his neighbors was to observe one of the many illegal games of stones and bones, or else he would show up when a tinker or a new trader came to town, brandishing coins that Gritta knew were ill-gotten.
“It’s washing day and the girls are down at the riverbank, so I’m going round with Gerhard to find me a wife. Don’t mind, do you?” Lonel drawled.
“What? Better you had catch eels instead of a wife, or we’ll have no supper tonight.”
“Thanks, Ma!” Lonel retreated before Gritta could question him further.
“No young maid would want you for a husband until you learn to show your ma some respect!” she shouted after him.
Gritta understood the futility of this complaint but felt she must voice it all the same, to assert herself as someone who had a few years of experience above this child. Lonel stopped and laughed.
“You’re funny, Ma! The washing girls aren’t maidens – they can’t even clean their reputations.”
“Hi! Your sister is one of those washing women!”
“Aye, that’s how I know!” Lonel called back without looking over his shoulder. As he retreated, his slim silhouette wavered in the late afternoon heat.
Elizabeth R. Andersen's debut novel, The Scribe, launched in July of 2021. Although she spent many years of her life as a journalist, independent fashion designer, and overworked tech employee, there have always been two consistent loves in her life: writing and history. She finally decided to do something about this and put them both together.
Elizabeth lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest of the United States. On the weekends, she usually hikes in the stunning Cascade mountains to hide from people and dream up new plotlines and characters.
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Elizabeth is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Alliance of Independent Authors.
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