Friday, January 18, 2008

Two Young Men

...every man wyth one voys cryed that the toure sholde be dylygentely and manly kepte; where afterward the knightes bothe of Latyn tonge and Grekys tonge dyd worshipfully as ever dyd Achylles or Hector. But two yong men soldyers of the sayd toure threwe downe their harnesse in the see to th'entente to be Turkes. And afterward, when thys was knowen, they for their synnes and defawtes were byheded.

That's all John Kaye, in his 15th Century account of the Siege of Rhodes, has to say about them. Two young men, soldiers of the Tower of St Nicholas. "Young" probably meant "very young," by our standards -- not twenty-year-olds, but fourteen-year-olds.

The story is very strange. It haunts me, and I keep trying to piece it together. Were they simply cowards, who despaired of winning the battle? But what good, in that case, was throwing their armor into the sea, unless the Turks saw them do it? And if the Turks, why not anyone else? Why was it only known later? It sounds more as though it were a conversion. Or were they raised as Muslims? Were they returning to their faith? Perhaps to someone better up on the history of the Levant the motives of the young men would be obvious, but to me they are obscure.

We can be confident that it happened. It's not the sort of thing Medieval writers made up.

It brought a vivid picture into my mind: the two young men -- boys -- at night, tipping their shields and swords and breastplates over the walls into the moonlit surf, full of fear, or of unknown devotion. How did it become known? When they were summoned to arms in the morning, and appeared in their shirts?

And I think of all the boys, haled into the adult world and made to start killing each other, over the centuries, by men who were absolutely sure that it was necessary, beautiful, and fitting, that they should do so.

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