"Hunger is insolent, and will be fed" - Homer
The cage swung gently as the Traveller crawled to the far corner, into the small smudge of shade. The heavy chains attaching the cage to the scaffold creaked, and the crow perched on the crossbeam turned his black eye towards him.
The hunger is not the curse, he thought, it’s the thirst.
If not for the rain the night before last he was sure he would already be dead.
Six days now. Christ, even Jesus wasn’t on His knoll this long.
He squinted into the bright sunshine and was sure he could see the vague outline of the Inn. How he wished he had never crossed its threshold.
* * *
After shaking the rain from his cloak the Traveller hung it on the hook near the snug.
Approaching the bar he called to the Innkeeper, “A brandy if you would, sir.”
He looked about the small public room of the Inn, and sighed. Fifteen more miles to Cambridge, but the day was fading and now the storm was laying claim to the night.
“And, Innkeep, would you have a room for the night for myself and a stall for my horse?”
“No trouble, m’lord” replied the burly Innkeeper. The dress of the Traveller showed him to be a man of some means. No, not a Lord, but… a University man, a Lecturer of renown, no doubt.
The Traveller took his brandy, but remained standing at the bar. Again he looked about the Inn. Seated alone at a table in the far corner, drinking a pint of dark porter, was a young lad.
“Ah”, thought the Traveller. “They grow them pretty about here.”
The lad was obviously a local farm boy. Seventeen, maybe eighteen. Blue-eyed with straw lanky hair and the athletic build of a labourer. Their eyes met, and the Traveller felt the familiar hunger rising in his loins. It’s not the hunger, he thought, it’s the hiding of it. It’s the need for a “public” face. It was the keeping of secrets, that was the curse.
He smiled at the Boy.
The Boy smiled back. The Traveller gently wet his lips, and the Boy nodded.
* * *
The Traveller rested upon the bed, content and languid. The memory of the Boy’s soft caresses and gentle kisses lay unsullied in his mind. He dozed.
The storm moved away, and a tender moonlight edged it’s glow through the window. A sudden sound woke him, and in the soft light he could see a figure bending over his luggage.
“Boy, what are you doing?”
As the Boy turned, the Traveller could see a purse in the Boy’s hand.
“Why! You’re robbing me. Stop thief!” he cried as he sprung from the bed.
The two grappled and the Boy fell. As he did, his head hit the edge of the ironwork bedstead.
The Traveller bent over the now still and bloody Boy. The door crashed open and the Innkeeper rushed in.
* * *
They say that things move slowly in the English countryside. But Justice moves swiftly.
After a brief fifteen minutes of hearing, the Magistrate found the charge of murder proved. Grimly he sentenced the traveller.
“The Gibbet. “ the Magistrate intoned.
The Traveller looked blankly at the Magistrate. Sternly the Magistrate addressed the Traveller. “In these parts we desire to deter others from committing crimes such as yours. You’ll be placed in an iron cage, which will then be hauled to the top of the scaffold, the Gibbet on the knoll outside the Village. There you’ll be left to starve and rot.”
* * *
The local populace had long ago learned that throwing rotten vegetables at criminals on a gibbet somewhat defeated the purpose of the punishment as many a malefactor sustained themself on the scraps longer than the law thought prudent.
The entertainment in this particular shire now took the form of the locals gathering on the knoll for the noon day meal. A teasing picnic beneath the starving man was an even greater punishment.
The crow swooped to snatch up a dropped bread crust and returned to his perch on the cross beam. The bird finished its portion. Instinct and experience had taught the bird that hunger is not a curse if you have patience. The bird knew that before the next full moon there would be a feast. The crow cawed and again turned towards the Traveller.
The Traveller thought of the meal which would be now being served at the High Table. He remembered the shared cheese and wine with Boy at the Inn. He remembered other appetites, too…
The hunger is not the curse, he thought.