I just finished watching The Green Mile (for about the 15th time I believe... I love that film) and I realized that this story might make a very good source of inspiration for Ars Magica. I'm thinking of making John Coffey into a prisoner in some castle, awaiting execution. But in the Ars Magica story, he might not be a human being after all, but someone touched by the Divine. Maybe a Nephilim or even an angel in human form. Either way, he stays there in his cell, and the story could revolve around the guards, the nobles and the magi who realize that the prisoner is more than he seems.
But, I wanted to ask those who know a bit more about medieval history than me. Would non-noble prisoners be locked up like this? If they were to be executed, was there any reason to wait if they had already been sentenced to death? How would they carry out the executions. I remember reading somewhere that beheading was only for nobles.
Anything else that would work for or against using a story like this in medieval times?
Beheading was generally reserved for nobles, but as in almost all things there were exceptions. Hanging was the most common method of execution but there were a variety of other, more gruesome methods used throughout medieval Europe. And the "long drop" wasn't employed until the mid- to late-1800's (which caused a relatively quick death by severing the spinal cord, usually), rather medieval hanging usually involved standing on a cart, tying one end to the condemned and the other to a tree branch or similar support, then removing the cart--the mode of death in these cases was asphyxiation. Icky.
And typically sentences of any sort, from maiming to execution, were usually carried out immediately after trial and sentencing. Again, that's a usually, so there's plenty of historical room for your poor condemned angel to wait a sleepless night in the gaol before going to the hanging tree. Cool story idea, BTW.
Of course, being an angel or some sort of divine being, the prisoner could easily escape. But he doesn't want to. Instead, he wants to see how the people around him acts. When someone, like the prisoner, is at the mercy of people around him, it can bring forth the really best in then, or the worst. And of course, when the sentence is carried out, it's all revealed.. in quite a epic way (divine light, judgement, etc etc.)
Trouble is that a story like this, which will involve character-to-character interaction and roleplaying, is generally lost on my current group. But I'll save it for later, if I get a different group.
I would suggest that you read a good book called, "The Medieval Underworld" by Andrew McCall. It's not about Hell, but the underbelly of society in the middle ages. It has a chapter on criminal prosecution. During various times, an execution might be held on a Saint's Day or other holiday. The idea being that a crowd is a nice thing to have and not everyone can take Tuesday off work to watch the execution. The execution provided a form of entertainment to the crowd, and it also reinforced to those gathered that, if you violate the law, you'll end up with a noose around your neck. So there is a reason for a condemned criminal to be held, but not for years or even months.
If for some reason there was a large period between suitable holidays or there was a surplus of criminals to be executed, some might be held for a time. You might come up with ideas to delay his execution to suit the story. There were too many criminals to execute on one holiday, so he gets pushed over to the next. Maybe there's a powerful storm and the execution is rained out the next time. Maybe the executioner gets sick at the last minute and can't perform his duties or some local official wants them to be delayed until he can preside over them. Maybe the Divine is protecting him until the players find a way to get his execution commuted?
Hanging was the most widely used for of execution for non-noble criminals, and beheading was generally reserved for higher social classes.
I wouldn't make him a Nephilim or Angel. It would be hard to explain why they wouldn't just walk out. God doesn't send Angels to act as martyrs. They are heavy hitters, punishers who bring His wrath. I think someone touched by the Divine, True Faith, and other Virtues is more appropriate. Maybe the jailer is an infernalist and the prisoner is going to be martyred for his beliefs. Or maybe God is simply testing someone to see if they will save the innocent person. For example, if he was accused of committing a heinous crime and it is very, very unpopular to argue he is innocent with potential serious consequences for disagreeing with the lord who sentenced him to die, God could be testing the characters to see if they will see justice is done no matter the personal price. You could keep the same end scene, with the executed vanishing in a blinding light or his body doesn't decay and smells of flowers, or other indications of sainthood and Divine favor. These will all let the parties involved know that they just gacked a vessel of the Lord.
This is actually similar to a faerie trope that is often repeated where someone poor, rude, dispicable, hideous etc. needs the character's assistance. If the character ignores the social status and appearance of the faerie and helps anyway, the faerie returns later in the story to assist the character or grant him some prize. If he treats the faerie poorly, he comes to regret it later. So maybe the prisoner is a faerie?
Thanks, these are really nice ideas. I might save the story for a group that can roleplay well enough, though.
Could not an Angel play the part of a prisoner waiting to be executed, to see if someone wanted to help and prove his innocence? Of course, when the execution comes, everybody will be suprised when he just walks out of there.
A faerie is also an interesting idea. I hadn't thought of that
You can have God do anything you want in your story. Though John is technically correct, as far as Christian doctrine goes, remember the Bible says very little about angels, actually (only 3 are named in the entire Bible, if one count's Lucifer, though more are named in the apocrypha). "God works in mysterious ways" is the classic line used to explain all sorts of apparent contradictions and seemingly unusual behaviors, so the same can apply to your angel. Your story would seem to be a rare case, but with a little thought it should still be workable. For instance, a "nephilim" is a dubious choice; they are mentioned in the Hebrew Bible and many scholars (modern and medieval) have conflicting views of their origin and nature: some say they are the offspring of fallen angels, some say they are the offspring of the sons of Cain (giants), and still others purport them to be true angels. In any event, they are not among the Choirs of the Angels in Catholic dogma. Just sayin', cause really "only God knows for sure."
It is very unusual for God to use an angel in the testing of mankind, at least insofar as the documentation of angelic-human interactions is concerned. Angels are primarily messengers of God, then avenging forces. But the real bottom line is, as SG "you" are God, so only you can say what is right or not.
Of course an Angel could play the part . . . but instead of having an innocent about to have his neck put in a noose, you've got an Angel pretending to be (lying about being) an innocent. I think it's a more compelling and interesting story having an innocent person imprisoned. If you use the Angel, you've got to explain why it was convicted wrongly in the first place. Did God let the real criminal go free and have an Angel convicted just to test the characters? It makes it a weaker story in my mind. You also have an Angel prevaricating, which I don't think is angelic. I think if it's an Angel the characters will feel like there was a gotcha at the end if they fail, and they might even feel justified in their failure. "Why bother saving him, the angel wasn't going to die anyway."
If you really want to have the dramatic finish, have an Angelic Host appear just as the noose tightens around the innocent person's neck and cut the rope with the flaming sword of righteousness, lift the innocent man into the sky, and castigate the onlookers for condemning him. Maybe you could strike them all blind for a time, if you want to go Old Testament on their butts.
I like there to be consequences for poor choices in my game. That's why I would let the innocent die, and send the message to the characters that they messed up through him disappearing in a flash of light or whatever. If the characters are really callous about the death, give them an Infernally-gifted Confidence Point. If you allow him to be saved, you send the message that the characters' actions don't matter. God will protect the innocent or some other NPC will come along and fix the characters' screw ups.
Yes, in keeping with the source of the inspiration, the condemned should die, and he shouldn't even want to be set free. It's because he's so tired of all the wickedness in the world, as he sees it. I think, a person with True Faith could play the part, and maybe some holy powers. Maybe he looks like a brigand and he was at the wrong place at the wrong time. A crime was committed, and he was arrested because he looked like someone who could have done it. I think this works better to underline the theme in a story like this.
It is funnier if the one delivering their message for their wickedness is a demon, clapping cheerfully at their actions after the innocent (grant hem a pair of Faith points) dies. GFod can also show his preferences indirectly through the actions of demons after all.
Well, maybe the innocent person is not innocent according to medieval law - maybe she broke the law but in doing so did the right thing.
poaching for the poor
preventing the "droit the seigneur" (with an old lecherous brute in the role of the nobleman; and a feeble old widow ruining his plans by spending her last money on sending the young couple on a pilgrimage to be married in Rome)
castrating the priest who liked the choir boys too much
ignoring a holiday to do charitable work (and the heir trying to speed up the process of getting the money)
the inncocent beauty imprisoned for disobeying a lord (lecherous again)
a cook imprisioned for refusing to cook meat on Friday for his Lord