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Her Dangerous Journey Home

Lee Swanson


About the Novel

Christina Kohl has unexpectedly found love, only to have it cruelly torn from her just as suddenly. Now, another woman holds sway over her life, her loathed enemy, Katharine Volker.

In “Her Dangerous Journey Home,” Christina departs her London home, voyaging to the Baltic waters of her birthplace. She travels not to engage in trade, but for a much more deadly purpose. But what will transpire in London during her absence? What challenges will she face upon her return? Christina will need to use all of her cleverness and skill if she is to survive “Her Dangerous Journey Home.”


As they entered the yard of the manor, Christina was surprised to see four strangers standing silently just inside the gate. She followed their eyes, all locked on another man conversing with Peter, the smith. Their clothes were clearly homespun, multiple patches on them evidencing long and hard wear. The men’s footwear was similarly in poor repair, with two of the four having lengths of cloth wrapped repeatedly about their shoes to keep them from falling apart. It was clear each was a commoner, and probably from the lower end of that social class at that.

She added her bag to Ziesolf’s burden, approaching Peter as Ziesolf went inside.

“God be with you both.”

“And to you, Master Frederick,” Peter replied as the other man took a step back and lowered his head in silent obeisance.

“Is there a problem here?” Christina asked, gazing at the stranger with a neutral expression.

“No . . . no, none at all, Mi ‘lord!” he exclaimed, his pale face blanching even further.

“These men seek employment,” Peter stated. “There has been little work available over the winter and they have had a rough go of it keeping home and hearth together for their families. Alan here vows they are good men, who are willing to provide honest work for a bit of coin or food in kind.”

Christina considered Peter’s words. There had been little enough to do over the winter for the men already receiving regular pay from her. Now, with her imminent departure, it seemed highly unlikely additional hands would be needed, especially those who seemed no more than day laborers, at best.

I wish I could do more, she thought, imagining their discouragement of returning home to the hungry and sad faces of their families.  

She started to reach for her purse, hoping the gift of a silver penny each would somewhat allay their wretchedness for at least a day or two.

She paused, then asked without much hope, “Do you have any skills I might find useful?”

“Aye!” Alan’s eyes showed a faint glimmer of hope. “Gilbert was a stonemason’s apprentice for a time and Nicholas is good with beasts, nary a one he meets can resist his ways. I’ve done a bit of thatching in my day, as well. We all have strong backs and won’t give you any trouble, sir. Please.”

The man’s tone was desperate.

As I had feared, Christina thought with a sick feeling forming in her stomach. They have nothing I need, beyond the ability of moving things from here to there.

Out of the corner of her eye, Christina saw one of the other men detach himself from the group and walk toward her. He stopped a few paces before her, bowed clumsily, then straightened as she motioned with her hand for him to rise.

“Pardon me, Mi ‘lord, but have you been training with your sword on Sundays at Westminster green?” he asked.

“Yes, I have frequently visited there over the winter. Why is it that you asked?”

“Why, me and my mates have just been saying that we thought it was you,” he replied.

Christina grew impatient.

Am I now to answer to these ragamuffins as to my daily whereabouts?she thought, determined to bring this diversion to an end.

Before she could speak, however, he said, “We thought it was you watching us.”

Suddenly her mind clicked, her irritation dissipating.

“Watching you? Are you bowmen?” she asked with amazement, the image of a mass of English arrows speeding from the deck of der Greif to transfix a number of terrified Danish pirates suddenly blossoming in her mind.

“Aye, we are, all of us,” Alan resumed speaking for the group. “Godfrey here is the best shot of us all. I think we all would have starved this winter if he hadn’t taken most of the king’s prizes.”

Godfrey blushed and said nothing.

Christina looked from man to man. Each was well-formed, but with a curious overdevelopment of the right side of his upper torso. She could not believe her possible good fortune.

“Alan, meet me on the green at sunrise tomorrow. If your skill with your bows is as you promise, your families need worry no more, as you will be made men.”

Alan struggled to speak past the lump forming in his throat.

“Thank you, Mi ‘lord, thank you! We’ll be there, don’t you worry, sir! With our bows, to be sure!

“Go then,” Christina replied, dismissing the men. “I will see you on the morrow.”

Alan and Godfrey both bowed deeply and backed away from where Christina and Peter stood. They spoke a few excited words to their fellows and then all began backing out of the yard, grinning and jostling each other as they departed.

Before they could leave, however, Christina called out.


A stricken look appeared on the man’s face as if he feared his good fortune was about to be snatched away.

“Aye, Mi’ lord?”

“Might it be possible to round out your group with a few more men? A total of ten or twelve would do nicely.”

His expression changed to one of relief.

“Aye!” he shouted and, in a few seconds, they turned up the street and were gone.

“Thank you,” Peter remarked. “As I said, I believe them to be honest men. You have done a generous thing here, Master Frederick.”

“God favors those who do charitable acts,” Christina replied, flashing the smith a merry little wink. “If their ability as archers is as skilled as those I observed on the green, he is about to reward me several times over.”

The butts were already emplaced when Christina arrived at Westminster the next day, securing Pearl’s bridle to the rail as she had done so many times before. She saw a dozen men huddling closely together against the chilled wind, the five she had met the day prior as well as seven she did not know. Each carried a longbow in his hand, several lengthier even than the men who held them. They busied themselves stringing their bows as she neared. By the time she was within hailing distance, they were already prepared to nock their first arrow.

“Good day to you fellows,” she remarked loudly to ensure she was heard over the gusting wind.

“God be with you, Mi ‘lord,” Alan replied, the other men murmuring their agreement. “Shall we shoot now?”

Good, she thought, best to be right at it than to waste time talking.

Alan stepped a few paces away from the other men and stuck five arrows into the mushy soil beside his right foot, holding a sixth at the ready in his right hand. He looked at Christina for a second before pointing his bow in his extended left hand straight toward the nearest target, turning his head in the same direction. With a smooth, powerful movement, he drew his bowstring back with his first two fingers until the tail of the arrow was just touching the corner of his mouth, directly under his aiming eye. He adjusted his weight slightly on his rear foot and let fly at the first target, his arrow splitting the willow stave neatly before penetrating solidly into the butt.

Christina’s jaw dropped.

He neither hesitated to survey his first shot, nor celebrate its excellence. Instead, he snatched his next arrow neatly and repeated his movements, only this time raising his left hand a few degrees to aim at the next target in line. He released his arrow, which hit the piece of cloth attached to the butt squarely only an instant prior to the next arrow speeding downrange. The final two arrows were already aloft before the two prior had found their mark.

Sweet Mary, mother of mercy! Christina exclaimed softly under her breath. In less than a minute, five men would have died before Alan’s bow, with no sound to mark their passing beyond the thwack of the bowstring and rushing sound of his speeding arrow! If the others prove a fraction of Alan’s worth, der Greif will carry a surprise the likes of which these varlets of the North have never seen!

Christina was not disappointed. Each archer took his turn, sending his arrows toward the targets with a similar rate of fire. There were a couple of misses at the final target, but any foe unlucky enough to be at a hundred and fifty yards or less would have been skewered without exception. Now, there was only Godfrey remaining to take his turn.

Unlike the others, he stuck eleven arrows into the soil beside him. Christina noticed his arrows appeared somewhat different than those who had taken a turn before him.

“We were using flight arrows for the further targets. These were long, light, and winged with narrower feathers to travel longer distances more easily. His are sheaf arrows, with broad, barbed points, designed to kill rather than to look pretty. Watch this now, Mi ‘lord,” Alan said.

The speed of Godfrey’s bow was astounding. He worked up the range of target, before sighting back down again. Although Christina had not counted the seconds as she intended, so focused was she on observing the man’s skill, the elapsed time could not have been more than a single minute. More importantly, each arrow had found its mark.

Godfrey returned to his fellows, who clapped him on the back and murmured words of congratulations. They then turned and looked toward Christina, expressions of eagerness, uncertainty, and trepidation spread equally among the lot.

She stood frozen, in sharp contrast to her mind that worked feverishly.

I need these men. They will surely guarantee us victory against the pirates!

She finally managed to say, “Do you know who I am?”

The men looked at each other in apparent confusion.

After a few seconds, Alan replied, “Sir Frederick the German, Mi ‘lord.”

“Is that what the local people call me?” Christina exclaimed, digressing for a moment before continuing. “Well, Sir Frederick, at least, Sir Frederick Kohl, to be more exact. This day you have my word as a knight that I do have work for you. That is, if you agree to it.”

“For all of us, Mi ‘lord?” one of the men asked with a quaver in his voice.

He had been one of the men whose furthest arrow had strayed from hitting the cloth.

“Aye, all of you,” Christina answered, perceiving the look of relief on the archer’s face. “In two weeks, my ship will depart London, sailing to the Baltic Sea and the north German coast. We will join a fleet seeking to hunt out several pirate vessels that plague the waters there. I confess it will not be easy, as these brigands are wily, have fast ships, and know the coastline like no others. They are also merciless, and will not hesitate to kill you before you have the pleasure of ending their misbegotten lives. I believe we will be gone no more six months but, it is the sea, so who knows?”

“Six months, from our families, sir?” another of the archers asked hesitantly.

“If the king had required us, we would have been freezing our ballocks off chasing the Scots in the north for just as long or longer,” Godfrey muttered. “At least it will be the summer now. You can do without a belly-warmer, Will!”

“And the pay, Mi ‘lord?” asked Alan, changing the subject.

“Will you consent to being your men’s captain, Alan?” Christina asked.

Alan gazed back at the group of bowmen. They looked at each other for a second before voicing a unanimous chorus of “ayes.”

“I guess so,” Alan chuckled.

“Well, that will be six pence for you each day between now and when we sail. Three for everyone else, except four for Godfrey. I will pay half now, and half when you show up at dockside. At that time, I will also advance you two months’ pay for while you are at sea. Ensure your wives are there, so your families will want for nothing while you are away. Alan, you will be responsible for ensuring every man comes with extra staves, bowstrings, and side weapons. Are we in agreement?”

Again, Alan looked to the men who had just acknowledged him as their leader. They nodded vigorously; grins spread across their mouths revealing a varying number of teeth.

“I guess we belong to you, Sir Frederick. And arrows?” he asked.

“Let me know when you have made arrangements. I will send a cart to your fletcher to fetch them, as well as to render payment. Any other questions?”

The men voiced nothing further. Christina provided directions to der Greif’s moorage and counted out the archers’ advancements, handing them to Alan for further disbursement before bidding them farewell and beginning to cross the field back to where Pearl was tethered. After a few paces, she stopped and took a longing glance back at the Palace of Westminster.

If only Cecily would appear. Seeing her, even from a distance would make my happiness with this day complete.

There was no movement, however, other than that of the sentries posted at the gate. Certainly not a flash of crimson hair tousling in the wind. Christina chided herself to be content with what fortune had already provided her. She walked the rest of the way with a spring in her step.



Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers’ Favorite

A Dangerous Journey Home is a work of fiction in the historical subgenre and is the third novel in the No Man is Her Master book series. It is best suited to mature readers owing to scenes of graphic violence, scenes of a sexual nature, and explicit language throughout, and was penned by Lee Swanson. Set during the brutal age of the 14th century, we find ourselves following the continuing adventures of Christina Kohl as she returns to London in the guise of her dead brother, Frederick. Leading a precarious life already, matters are complicated for Christina when the woman she loves has to leave and assume her duties as a married woman. Torn between warlike duties and getting back to Cecily, Christina finds herself face to face with a figure from the past who could destroy everything she’s worked for.

I adore queer fiction and interesting twists on patriarchal historical structures, and Lee Swanson delivers on these themes again and again during this exciting and dramatic novel. I picked up the storyline easily despite entering the work mid-series and was immediately enraptured by Christina’s spirit, her bravery, her complexity, and her utter courage to stand up for what she wants in a world that would have her head for it. I would certainly love to explore the entire series more deeply and cannot wait to see what more Swanson has to offer in terms of cinematically rich historical fiction and deeply emotive, action-packed adventure tales. I would not hesitate to recommend A Dangerous Journey Home for LGBTQ+ historical readers seeking thrills on every page.

Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers’ Favorite

A Dangerous Journey Home by Lee Swanson is the third in a series of stories set in and around fourteenth-century Europe and Britain. Christina Kohl was a young woman perhaps destined to adopt the life of most medieval women, that of subservience to a man. Fate intervened when her father, her brother, and she traveled from their home of Lübek in modern-day Germany to London to marry a man her sister Marguerite was supposed to have wed. When her sister died, Christina was sent as a replacement wife instead. Attacked by Norse pirates and with her father dead and her brother missing, presumed drowned, Christina takes the daring step of assuming her brother’s identity and continuing to London to report the unfortunate death of her “sister” Christina. In England, the now “Frederick” Kohl assumes her father’s role as a successful merchant and trader. Building a life for herself, as Frederick, she is involved in several actions on behalf of the English king who knights her for her services to England. As Sir Frederick, Christina has fallen madly in love with Lady Cecily and although Cecily is well aware of Christina’s true gender and she is already married, the love is deeply returned. For Christina, she must constantly walk a fine line between the English monarchy, her Aldermen masters back home in Lübek, her intense desire to rid the Lady Cecily of her ne’er-do-well husband and wed the beautiful lady, and her daily battle to ensure her deepest, darkest secret, her true identity, is kept hidden from all but a few closest confidantes.

A Dangerous Journey Home is a novel with an interesting premise, that of gender identity at a time when men truly were men and women were treated as mere chattels. Author Lee Swanson has created a fascinating character in Christina and one that allows a full examination and discovery of gender identity and the difficulties that would be faced by a woman assuming a man’s role in the fourteenth century. This story is full of humor and tricky situations in the gender identity switch and that is in part what makes it such a compelling read. On top of that, though, it is a fascinating adventure at a time when sea travel was extremely dangerous and fraught with difficulty. Pirates, weather, tides and currents, excessive time spent at sea, not to mention rebellious crews were just some of the problems these early mariners faced. There is action aplenty for the adrenaline-junkie readers but those with a romantic heart will enjoy the compelling love story, as well as some pertinent comments on the social structure and conditions in medieval Europe. The story weaves its way through these perilous social, political, and geographical waters beautifully and I loved the conundrums the author left in readers’ minds as to where the next iteration of this tale will take us. What will Christina do with Jost, for example; is there possibly a future together for Christina and Cecily; and what evil machinations does Katharine still have up her sleeve to thwart Christina? I, for one, cannot wait for the fourth installment of this adventure to have these questions answered. I can highly recommend this book.

Reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers’ Favorite

The machinations of late medieval England form the backdrop to A Dangerous Journey Home by Lee Swanson, which is the third installment of the No Man Is Her Master series. Picking up in the aftermath of No Man's Chattel and Her Perilous Game, the gender-bending Christina Kohl remains disguised as her late brother and retains control of her business as Frederick. Christina/Frederick is separated from her married lover, Lady Cecily. She departs London soon after to deter pirates in Northern Europe. Three years have passed since the pirates murdered Christina's father and brother. The trip back to Lübeck to visit her mother could be as dangerous as ferreting out pirates. Christina/Frederick's cousin Katharine is also a threat who shows her hatred without restraint. “She waits like a poisonous adder for the opportunity to strike, to deal him a deadly blow. Do not trust her... Ever.”

When A Dangerous Journey Home crossed my desk it was the first time I had heard of the No Man Is Her Master series, but Lee Swanson had me sold with two simple words: Medieval lesbian. I admit I started with book three but have since gone back to read books one and two as the writing is excellent and the historical detailing is among some of the best I've read. Christina is a compelling character and her motives do not stretch credibility. She is anatomically incorrect to be a knight, a merchant, and - if a way is found for her heart to find contentment - a husband. Her male identity is not optional but a lot of the situations that she sticks her sword into are. Swanson has made Christina a fallible character but not in the “I'm just a silly little woman” sense, but as a woman who is a man by default. Katharine is an intriguing enough character to have her own series and I'd love to explore her backstory in depth. Until then I am happy to carry on with Christina/Frederick and am sure others who set sail with the series will feel the same. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers’ Favorite

A Dangerous Journey Home by Lee Swanson is a historical novel that revolves around a young woman named Christina Kohl. This is the third book in the No Man Is Her Master series, preceded by book one, No Man's Chattel, and book two, Her Perilous Game. Following the murder of her father and brother by pirates, Christina has taken on the identity of her brother Frederick to preserve her wealth and independence by disguising herself as a man. She is intelligent, cunning, and exceptionally skilled with the sword, which is proven as she maneuvers through the court of King Edward and holds her own in a barrage of attacks. She is less successful in love, attaching her heart to a married woman, Lady Cecily, who she pines for even as she is accosted on multiple fronts, including by the vulgar and devious Katharine Volker.

Historical fiction where women assume the identity of a man had its most recent heyday in the 1980s and 90s, soon falling by the wayside as readers turned to female heroines who stuck to the gender trappings of their sex. A Dangerous Journey Home returns to the realities of 14th-century Europe where by law, and not just by culture and custom, women were not entitled to anything. No amount of robust spirit can change this and Lee Swanson steps back as authentically as possible into the period. There is some convenience in Christina spending a great deal of time in trousers, given her sexuality and the fact that she could, under the protection of her assumed identity as her brother, marry a woman and live happily ever after - if her lover wasn't married and people weren't constantly trying to kill her and steal from her. I was most satisfied by the fantastic period details and enjoyed the moments where a betrayal of Christina's sex was at risk. In one brief scene, Christina is shown a room in a tavern that turns out to be a medieval hostel, a dormitory complete with rope-strung mattresses and a couple “coupling”. These are the small but rich encounters that lend proof to Swanson's skill as both a historian and storyteller and to me these are even better than all of the fight scenes and political intrigue combined. Lovers of historical fiction will no doubt rejoice.