Holy Warrior by Angus Donald

Holy Warrior by Angus Donald

Author:Angus Donald
Language: eng
Format: mobi, epub
Tags: Fiction, Medieval, Historical, History
ISBN: 0751542091
Publisher: Hachette UK
Published: 2009-12-31T16:00:00+00:00

Chapter Ten

The whole of Robin’s force - just under four hundred archers, cavalry and spearmen - was drawn up at the harbour side to witness the punishment. It was a gloomy day, the fat grey clouds lightly spitting rain from time to time, a weak sun only rarely peeping through. The prisoner, a sailor called Jehan from my own hated ship the Santa Maria, had been gambling with a local fisherman. He had lost his dice game and owed the Griffon five shillings; more than he could afford. And so he had refused to pay the man, claiming that, as a pilgrim heading for the Holy Land, his debts should be frozen until he returned from his sacred journey. It was a cheeky way to avoid his debt, for it was true, the Holy Father, the Pope himself, had ruled that the debts of anyone on this Great Pilgrimage should be suspended until the debtor returned home. But that was a move designed to encourage knightly landowners with great mortgages to go off to fight for Jerusalem. His Holiness clearly did not intend his words to allow shifty gamblers to welsh on their agreements. The Griffon fisherman had complained to the Knights Hospitaller, who controlled his part of Messina, and they had reported the matter to the King; and Richard was determined to make an example of the poor man. Jehan should have paid up or, better still, heeded King Richard’s decree that outlawed gambling with the Griffons.

He was to be keelhauled - a harsh punishment that involved dragging the prisoner’s living body under the keel of a ship from one end to the other. And it is much worse than it sounds: after months at sea the keel of any ship is covered with tiny barnacles, sharp rock-like structures less than a quarter of an inch in height but rough and spiky enough to cut through skin and muscle if a naked body is dragged against them. The second danger, of course, is drowning. The man must hold his breath under water while undergoing the agony of being dragged over the keel-barnacles. Many drowned during this punishment; and those who did not were left appallingly lacerated. King Richard had ordered that this man must undergo keelhauling three times on three successive days. It was, in effect, a death sentence.

The man was stripped down to a pair of linen breeches, his hands and feet tied and attached to long ropes. He lay forlornly, eyes closed, skin puckered with cold, at the prow of the Santa Maria, which was moored about twenty yards from the quay, while a priest recited prayers over his thin, shivering frame. The rain began to fall harder.

Our men stood there in silence. Nobody had complained too much about the punishment: Jehan had been stupid and the consensus was that the punishment, while brutal, was not unfair. We had all been warned about gambling; Jehan had ignored that warning and then, much worse, had tried to welsh. The men hated a welsher.


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