IT WAS THE STINK OF BURNED sugar that John would remember the rest of his life.
Word that rebels had attacked the hospital and sugar factory at Kolossi, run by the Knights Hospitaller, had reached Nicosia late on Sunday, but it had taken Lord Aimery two days to convince his brother Guy to let him go to investigate. Aimery and John had left the following morning and ridden hard to reach Limassol by nightfall. Here they had requested and received the hospitality of the Templars, staying overnight in the fortress-like commandery in the heart of the town. Aside from the obvious advantages of a clean bed, hearty food, and security, the Templars had also given refuge to the victims of the brutal attack, and Aimery had been able to interview the Turcopole commander as well as some of the Brother Sergeants from the hospital.
These men reported that a mob two to three hundred strong had attacked the Hospitaller commandery as darkness fell on Friday night. The attackers were not heavily armed, but the Hospitallers swore they must have been tipped off that the Hospitaller commander and all ten knights had left Kolossi to answer a call for assistance from a Venetian vessel in distress off the coast. At the time of the attack, therefore, only the Turcopoles, hospital staff, and lay brothers were on the premises. Furthermore, the factory had already closed for the day. Except for the night watchman, who tended the vats, the workers had dispersed to their homes in the surrounding villages.
Because the Hospitallers had taken over the factory and manor only eight months previously, they had not yet built any kind of defenses. Low stone walls marked the perimeter, while the manor itself consisted of a rectangular stone building over a vaulted chamber that was partially underground. The hall was accessed by a broad exterior stairway, but there was neither a gap nor a drawbridge separating the top of the stairs from the building. The hospital was nothing but a low vaulted chamber of fieldstone held together with mortar. The church was an old Greek structure, another low vaulted building with a single apse and narrow windows.
The Hospitallers had not been expecting any kind of aggression against them. They had established a hospital that served the poor of the surrounding countryside, and had been treating no fewer than thirty-two patients when the attack occurred. In addition, they had restarted production in the sugar factory, which had lain idle since the fall of Isaac Comnenus, thereby providing jobs to half a hundred workers from local communities. The Brothers of the Hospital were unanimous in expressing their bewilderment at the attack.
“Had there been complaints about wages or the like?” Lord Aimery asked the senior Turcopole.
“No, not at all! We pay better than the local landlords, let alone the mines! Besides, it wasn’t our workers who did the damage. The mob consisted of outsiders, for the most part. We recognized only a handful of local youths, troublemakers we had dismissed.” The Turcopole was lying in the Templar infirmary, his head bandaged over one eye and his arm in a splint, evidence of his efforts to stop the mob.
“This sounds well organized,” Lord Aimery observed dryly.
“Very well organized! They came armed with clubs and axes and they had torches, too. But they looted first. They took not just the plate and furnishings from our hall, they took the wine from our cellars, the grain stacked there, and the olives, too. They even stole the personal belongings of the patients—their own people!—before setting the building on fire!”
“With the patients still inside?” Lord Aimery asked in horror.
“No, no, they dragged them out into the yard, and then went in and searched for valuables, stuffing anything they found into sacks they’d brought with them. Then they set the place on fire.”
“Who was leading them?” Lord Aimery wanted to know.
“A monk, a Greek monk!” the Turcopole reported, spitting on the floor to show his contempt.
“Young? Old? Fat? Thin? What can you tell me about him?”
“He was young, no more than twenty-five. Not tall, but strongly built with a barrel chest. If it hadn’t been for his robes, I would have taken him for a blacksmith or a carpenter. He had a thick black beard, like they all do, and a broad, strong nose. His most striking feature, however, was his eyes: they burned with hatred.”
“Anyone else you noticed?”
“Not really. It was getting darker by the second and the torches and fires were blinding, casting everything else into shadow.”
Lord Aimery nodded understanding, and asked if there had been serious casualties. The Turcopole reported that no one had been killed and that he and the other Turcopoles had suffered no injuries more serious than broken bones and bruises, but that the patients and lay brothers serving them were traumatized. There had been four women patients, all more or less elderly women, and they were saying they would never return to Kolossi. One was even demanding admission to a nunnery, although she had not been violated, just roughly handled and insulted.
“They demanded our names—almost as if they were looking for someone, or at least Franks.”
Lord Aimery nodded. He had heard similar stories. The rebels might steal from their fellow Greeks if they were, like the workers and patients of the Hospital, benefiting in any way from the new regime, but they didn’t want to kill their fellow countrymen. Even the Turcopoles were probably spared greater violence because they were natives of Syria, Orthodox rather than Latin. The worst violence was reserved for Latin Christians—Franks and Italians, but especially Franks.
“What happened to your priest?” Lord Aimery thought to ask.
“They stripped him naked and bound him backwards on a mule. Then they hit the mule on the rump to make him run away. We found him the next morning in a field several miles away, still tied to the mule, scratched, cut, and bruised from collisions with trees and God knows what else. He was in a terrible state of mind. He had seen the fires and assumed we were all dead.”
Despite these stories, it was still the smell and sight of the gutted sugar factory that shocked John the most. It was just four months since he had visited his father’s sugar mill. His father had led him around, pointing out the equipment and explaining the process of cutting, crushing, and boiling the raw sugar multiple times until thick molasses formed and dripped into pottery molds. At the time, he had been bored and only pretended interest to please his father. Yet he understood instinctively that his father had spent so much time explaining things to him because he was proud of reopening the sugar mill. From his father’s description of all the problems encountered and costs incurred, John understood it had been very difficult. It would have been no different at Kolossi. The Hospitallers had invested time, money, and heart’s blood to get this factory working again. Now it was a charred hulk oozing foul-smelling smoke, and the floors were glazed with sticky black pools of burnt sugar.
“Why burn down the sugar mill?” John asked. “It benefited the people in the local communities.”
“And because of that, the locals are not so hostile to Frankish rule. The rebels want everyone to hate us,” Lord Aimery answered. “What I don’t understand is why the workers didn’t defend their livelihoods, their employer, their hospital. And who tipped the rebels off that the knights were away?
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish