By the 15th century, the Templar Knights had disappeared, but deep in the bowels of the British Museum in a case well sealed and protected lies a strange memorial to their impact on the city of London.
London of the early 12th century was on its way to becoming an impressive city, but its life and its blood was the Thames River. Without the river commerce would grind to a halt as the people of London discovered to their horror in 1216. There was a monster, similar to the one from Loch Ness, living in the Thames River in London. It terrorized the city’s inhabitants.
The first boats seemed simply to have disappeared, but the monster wasted little time in this caution. Soon, many Londoners had seen the gaping maw licked by flames dragging a hapless crew to its death. It was a fire salamander, and in the Autumn of 1216 it was estimated to be 40 feet long with jaws that gaped 10 feet wide.
By the spring of 1217, the monster was no longer a nuisance, it was a deadly plague. No boat could navigate the Thames… no raft was small enough, no ship was large enough to resist the demon of the Thames. Worse, the beast was growing! The latest reports called it 70 feet long with jaws opening 15 feet. Our instinct is to discount this absurd growth, and yet few could impeach its source.
He, our source, enters the story in August of 1217. London had begged, prayed, blasphemed, and killed in desperate attempts to exorcise or appease their curse; to no avail.
On June 14, four men painted themselves with the Devil’s Cross and proclaimed themselves the Dark Priests of the Beast. They built a ship and doused it in oil; then, they sailed it down the river. Dark Priests they may have been, but they died screaming like any other man.
On July 28, London sent three virgins (the youngest not yet 13) down the Thames to the monster. It was thought that this would appease the evil god: the monster’s hunger exceeded even this atrocity.
On August 23, our source received his summons. His given name is lost in his chosen name: Honorus. He was a Templar Knight and possibly a saint. That morning, he was commanded to destroy the beast.
London in fear and desperation had turned to their most jealous weapon, the Templars… warrior monks who fought with the fierce, perhaps fanatic, frenzy of the devout. The city had exhausted all other options; the monks were its last hope, and Honorus was the greatest of the Knights.
The battle was truly a footnote to his preparation… Honorus ventured into the woods upstream from London. He forsook shelter, clothing, food, and sleep for four days, meditating on the coming struggle. When the four days ended, he stalked and killed a stag without weapon or aid. With the skin of the stag he made clothing; from its flesh he regained his strength; and with its entrails, he lashed five logs into a raft fit for his purpose.
Honorus set the raft in motion. He had outfitted himself with the only item he would use in this fight that had not come out of the forest with him. A sword of Spanish steel, blue with the sky, lay in his lap.
Soon, he felt the swell of the water disturb his raft: the monster was coming, yet he sat unmoving. The beast broke the surface.
No human is perfect; a splinter of the collapsing raft clipped Honorus’ left foot as he leapt into the water. He had timed his jump slightly too late, but no matter, the injury will not be important until after the battle.
The monster was above the water only momentarily; time enough for Honorus to drive his sword between two of its scales. The monster thrashed in pain, turning its exposed flesh from the steaming water.
Honorus was lifted from the water as the beast rolled. He gauged his stroke and leapt, striking the monster’s eye. Angered and half-blinded, the beast threw Honorus into the river and grasped him in its immense jaws.
Honorus swam quickly past the teeth into the monster’s mouth. Inside, the questing tongue scalded his feet as he searched for purchase again, and we shall ignore this injury for now.
Once he had braced himself inside the beast’s mouth, pushing with all his strength against the slowly rising tongue, he took aim. Honorus had time to make only one thrust.
When his journal recalls these events, it attributes Honorus’ “luck” in this battle to aid from the Divine. We do not wish to detract from the glory of God, but surely He will not envy His servant.
Is it coincidence that Honorus’ blade struck true to the brain? Honorus had already studied carefully the anatomy of the salamander a week before he was summoned to fight the beast. Did Honorus not know that the water’s rush against the beast’s exposed flank would cause it such pain?
In his journal, “August 24: And once I am atop the beast and it has rolled from the water, where then to strike?”
Two weeks after Honorus was told to lift the curse of London, the beast was dead. The next day London celebrated Honorus; the town would live because of him. Three days later, gratitude had disappeared.
The body of the beast had lodged itself firmly in the mire less than half a mile downstream of London. Although it was yet intact (perhaps due to its incredible armor), it would surely soon rot. While not so great a terror, the rotting beast would be almost as dangerous as the live beast, attracting disease and scavengers. No ship could move the carcass. The people of London called upon Honorus.
Honorus’ solution was difficult but practical, and he began as soon as he had retrieved his sword. He fasted for two days; then, he ate the cooked meat of the huge salamander and fasted for a third day. When he suffered no ill effects, Honorus began dissecting the beast. With the help of London, Honorus soon had all the usable meat and intestines of the dead beast transformed into sausage.
A bizarre solution it was, but a good one. The sausage was soon discovered to be excellent and to keep easily for very long periods of time. Even more important, the sausage fast became incredibly popular throughout England and much of Europe. It began to reestablish the fame of London’s trade after the Hiatus of the Beast.
Still, Honorus has one final contribution to this history… It became vital that everyone knew from whence the incredible sausage of London came, and thus we return to Honorus’ injuries.
After the battle with the live beast and the crisis of the dead beast, Honorus took time to recover . Six weeks after he was first summoned, he was dressing the injuries on his feet. The problems of London were known to him. As he dipped a strip of paper like gauze into a healing salve, he had a thought.
One week later, each sausage shipped from London carried a fascinating new development: a label. Just as the gauze dried and closed on Honorus’ foot, the parchment around these sausages was attached; and all would know the fame of London from each link she sold.
In the end, despite all his other feats, it was this idea, the product label that survived Honorus. In tribute to this advance, the British Museum houses the only known surviving label from Honorus’ sausages.
And although even the tough gut of the Beast has long since faded to dust, the label may still be read. If our reader could go to the Museum and enter the Medieval wing’s most treasured collection, she could still read, in faint letters, the Label of Honor: …” It Was The Beast Of Thames, It Was The Wurst Of Thames.”