If true heroism is characterized by an individual’s decision, instinctive or not, to overcome fear and risk one’s life for the benefit of another, then it could logically be concluded that Crispin, the 13-year-old protagonist in Avi’s novel Crispin: The Cross of Lead, is indeed heroic. Orphaned upon the death of his mother, Crispin, then known only as “Asta’s Son,” is forced to flee the village of Stromford where he has lived after the ruling Lord’s steward, John Aycliffe, accuses him of theft and orders that he be killed. What Crispin cannot yet know, of course, is that he is the illegitimate son of that Lord, Lord Furnival, and that Aycliffe needs the young boy dead lest he pose a threat to Aycliffe’s political ambitions – ambitions that become clearer following Lord Furnival’s death. Merely running for one’s life is not, however, heroic. Crispin’s journey becomes heroic when he is forced to make decisions that could cost him his life. Such is the case when his friend and mentor Bear, the large, hulking jester who Crispin stumbles upon and under whose wing he is taken, is captured by Aycliffe and his soldiers in the corrupt steward’s efforts at tracking down and killing Crispin. Crispin and Bear have, by this point in the story, grown very close and have developed a father-son relationship. A hint of the heroism to come occurs at the Green Man tavern, where Bear calculates Crispin can hide from Aycliffe’s soldiers. Bear and Crispin both know that Bear is not the target of these soldiers per se; rather, he is the key for Aycliffe to find Crispin. When Crispin spots the steward’s men approaching, he notes that they appear to mean business:
“They were such as I had seen by the town walls,’ armour on their chests and rusty metal caps on their heads. Broadswords were m their hands. Daggers were at their hips.”
Rather than running and hiding to save his own life, Crispin returns instead to the tavern to warn his friend:
“Wasting no time, I plunged down the narrow passage between the buildings, clambered up the wall and slipped down into the garden a second time. This time, however, I didn't pause at the rear door but yanked it open. I looked in upon a small room tilled with benches upon which sat some seven men, Bear among them. Standing before them was John Ball.
'Bear,’ I shouted, ‘soldiers are coming!'”
So, this is an indication that Crispin is prepared to act heroically. The defining moment, however comes following Bear’s capture by Aycliffe. Bear’s imprisonment in a torture cell in a dungeon forces Crispin to make the decision that defines heroism:
“Frantic, but hardly knowing what to do - go to the aid of Bear or take care of myself - I hesitated. Guilt and fear engulfed me equally. Unable to abide not knowing what had happened, I climbed back upon the wall and looked into the garden.”
Crispin, of course, places the rescue of Bear above concerns about his own safety. Like most true heroes, he was afraid. Fear is a natural human emotion, especially in the midst of armed combat. He does not, however, let his fear paralyze him or cause him to run away. Rather, he overcomes his fear and proceeds to rescue Bear. Crispin’s journey, therefore, can be said to have involved heroism.