Gebirga is a blind woman living in 12th-century Flanders. Her mother was elevated to sainthood soon after her untimely death, quite probably at the hands of her noble father. When he returns from the Crusades with his sins forgiven and a new wife in tow, Gebirga is displaced as de facto mistress of the family’s castle. She escapes her family and finds new purpose as companion to a troubled young noblewoman. When a new Pope is elected and the political winds shift, Gebirga is charged with bringing the girl to her betrothed, a Spanish king she has never met. The two women pose as pilgrims to avoid capture or worse by political rivals who want to prevent the marriage and the alliance that goes with it. Along the way, the journey steadily turns from an undercover political mission to a pilgrimage; in fact, by the time they reach the cathedral at Compostela, the pilgrims have experienced several miracles, some more obvious than others.
Gebirga is an intelligent woman and an intrepid traveler, resilient to hardship, and usually the most sensible person in the room. Her blindness serves as a great expository device; her struggles to serve herself from platters she can’t see or embroider with mixed-up threads give the reader insight into day-to-day life in her era. The plot surrounding the pilgrimage is extremely complicated, with churchmen and nobles vying against each other in an ever-shifting web of alliances and deceit. Pick nicely hangs a lampshade on this problem by having several of the characters admit that they can’t keep it straight either. A good read with a very satisfying ending. Recommended.