A Chapter by Peter Rogerson

A conflict between faith and medicine that seems to have raged for ever.


A trickle of those who hadn’t actually died in a conflict that raged sporadically in the fields across the seas that separated England from northern France eventually returned from Normandy, some wounded whilst others were proudly singing songs of victory until their voices were hoarse and their throats sore. Yet not everyone was happy.

Simon was far from happy. He hadn’t wanted to go in the first place, but once there he’d seen a few things he never wanted to see again. Things involving bloodshed. Things involving the sounds of men dying in unbelievable agony and left to rot on foreign souls. That kind of warlike things.

And he had been wounded, too, not that anyone cared. He was there as sword-fodder. He was a target for Norman arrows. He was worthless once an enemy blade had bitten deep into his thigh and rendered him incapable of further combat. So, along with others in a similar plight Simon found himself being returned home, limping and almost immobile.

And once on English shores he was left to fend for himself. He discovered pretty rapidly that wounded soldiers, even damaged conscripts like himself fighting a battle he didn’t understand, were of little worth back home because, as they made their way to their own doors, slowly and in unbelievable pain from a wound that became increasingly infected as day followed day, they were a drain on anyone who might want to help them but couldn’t really properly help themselves.

But he had one dream, one hope, that forced him to put one foot in front of another, and that was the healing balm he knew old Martha Swinefest would have in her cottage. She was the wise woman of Brickly where he’d been born and expected to die when his time came, and she knew stuff.

She knew how to soothe pain. She knew how to heal wounds.

Yet when he finally dragged himself back to the familiar fields of home and collapsed outside the old woman’s one-room home it was to discover that the church in the form of a priest had forbidden her to use her kind of natural magic in order to do the devil’s work and heal the sick and wounded.

I could help you, I really could,” she said regretfully, almost weeping, “but I’m forbidden to use herbs and the like on pain of death, and all my cures use herbs of one sort of another. It’s what nature gives us to battle against pain and death, but I’m forbidden. And I’m sorry, but I don’t want to die, not yet awhile...”

But how can this be?” asked Simon weakly

Because he says prayer does it all,” she mumbled, shaking her head, “he said all he has to do is pray, and everything will be put right, and what I do is the devil’s work.”

Then he can pray for my leg,” wept Simon, “for the way it’s going it’ll kill me. I’ve seen it before, badness spreading through a body until that body’s heart gives up...”

And he lay there where he was until someone sent for the priest.

That priest was only feebly educated, though he knew a few Latin phrases and had learned the more important prayers off by heart. But in the country in those times there were many tiny parishes and thus the priesthood was diluted by some who were of varying abilities, and the weakest ended up in particularly tiny parishes where the tithes added up to little more wealth than the peasants earned from long days toiling on their bits of land.

The priest at Brickly was one like that. The third son of a bullying father he had escaped to the church when he was still young enough to sing a fair soprano psalm and built his way into the priesthood from there, using a mixture of fear and hope to better himself degree by small degree. In the end he arrived in Brickly and swiftly started moulding it in order to better his income. Which is where Martha Swinefest came into the story. She was a wise woman with inherited abilities from a whole line of wise women, and it was obvious to that priest that she was engaged in the dark arts and darker magic when she prescribed herbs as curatives for those who fell to the more virulent diseases that hardly ever left the people in peace.

So he imposed a tax on her use of herbs, effectively destroying her self-appointed task. She was left with either crippling and unpayable duties she would be forced to pay, or death for failing to do so. His Christian ethics permitted that, for it was to the glory of his God.

When the holy priest arrived to pray for the wounded soldier it was clear that the man was certainly going to die if his infection was allowed to race through his body. But God, thought the priest, was in his Heaven and possibly all would be well, unless, of course, the wounded wretch was a sinner and thus unworthy of aid from his Father on high.

So he chanted prayers. Several of them, all in Latin (of a sort) and all totally incomprehensible to the victim, the wise woman and to…

...Robin Hood with his companion Friar Tuck, who arrived together as the prayers began.

What are you doing, priest?” he asked, poking the holy man in the back with the sharp tip of an arrow.

The priest looked up, and scowled, for even if he didn’t know Robin Hood by sight he guessed that this man with a bow and arrows was an outlaw and thus had escaped the noose using criminal guile.

I am praying for this poor man, and you are interrupting me!” he snapped.

By beseeching the good lord that his monthly vaginal discharge be lessened?” asked an incredulous Friar Tuck.

I was praying that his wounds be cleansed and healed,” replied the priest, somewhat hesitantly.

Then you were muttering the wrong phrases,” Tuck told him, a light in his eyes. He was a man of faith and he felt nothing but contempt for those that claimed to be but lacked true knowledge or perverted their calling to their own ends.

I … I was doing my best?” stammered the priest.

By telling your God that your patient was a woman suffering her monthly curse?” mocked Robin Hood. “I tell you, priest, I have heard your disgraceful attempts at self aggrandisement! I have heard the threats you have issued to mistress Swinefest! And I know that however hard you pray for this poor soul, who was fighting a dire battle on behalf of your prince and received wounds that might yet prove to be fatal, he will not recover. Prayers never seem to heal wounds, do they? Or cure ailments? Or mock diseases? All prayers seem to be, from my observation, are wasted words...”

Careful Robin,” muttered Friar Tuck.

I’m sorry, but I speak of things as they seem to be,” murmured Robin to the friar, “now tell me, priest, why have you prevented the good woman here from doing what she is best at, and healing the sick and wounded?”

I haven’t,” stammered the priest, “if she pays my taxes and duties she can do what she likes, though I fear her magic is Satanic and of no use to our Lord.”

So you have turned the healing of the sick into a private little account with you as the sole beneficiary?” said Robin, “and all at a great cost to those unfortunate enough to suffer illness or injury?”

It’s in the name of God,” whispered the priest.

So, priest, I’ll tell you what,” said Robin, a light in his eyes, and he pushed the arrow tip that was still firmly pressed against the priest’s back until it penetrated his skin and cut deep into his tissues. The holy man yelled out at the sudden pain, but Robin merely twisted the arrow, increasing the pain.

I’m a priest of God!” wept the priest.

And I’m Robin Hood,” said Robin, pulling his arrow out of the torn and bleeding flesh of the other. “And I tell you what, man of God: take yourself to your church and pray for the cut in your back to be healed before the winds blow infection into it.”

I might die,” wailed the priest.

If you mumble powerful prayers?” asked Robin.

Even so...”

Then let me suggest that you can always rescind the taxation you have levied on the use of herbs, and beg Mistress Swinefest to attend to you,” suggested Robin Hood, “and meanwhile, you can advise her to ignore your wretched prayers and rub a healing salve into this poor fellow’s wounds before we need to send for a surgeon to remove his leg altogether!”

All right, all right...” wept the priest.

© Peter Rogerson 24.10.17

© 2017 Peter Rogerson

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Added on October 24, 2017
Last Updated on October 24, 2017
Tags: Robin Hood, Friar Tuck, healing, soldier, wounded, priest, faith, prayer


Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 75 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..