Many who have been to sea will have seen that great prodigy Nicholas Pipe, the so-called Man of the Sea. For long periods, a month or even a year at a time, he would frequent the depths of the sea, living with the fishes, without the need to breathe air. Sailors valued him because he could predict storms and, when he felt one coming, would go down to the harbour and forbid anyone to put to sea. He would even swim out to those already at sea and warn them to return. After seeing what happened to those who ignored his warnings, captains did not need telling twice but would heed him. Yet he was known to be a real man, there was nothing non-human in his form. When he was voyaging out to sea, in order to stay there he would take old horseshoes, worn out utensils or other pieces of old iron to weigh him down and which could be released when he wished to return to the surface. As he could not live away from the land forever, neither could he live away from the sight or smell of the sea. However, William II, king of Sicily and son-in-law to king Henry II of England, heard of this phenomenon and, like many of his kind, thought only of what advantage such a man could give him. He therefore sent some of his soldiers to ask Nicholas to visit him. When the guards knocked on his door and explained the reason for their visit Nicholas laughed. “That’s impossible for me. I cannot leave the sea.” The leader of the contingent was not used to being laughed at when in service to his lord. “You don’t understand. Out of courtesy I frame it as a request. In reality it is an order.” Nicholas still refused so the soldiers grabbed hold of him, tied him up and unceremoniously threw him onto a packhorse. For the first part of the journey Nicholas moaned, then he shouted that he must be freed. Then, to the relief of the soldiers, he fell quiet. When the men arrived at William’s castle and came to release Nicholas they were horrified to find that he was dead. Separated from the sea he could not survive. William was furious but soon got on with his life, uncaring that he had deprived a good man of life for no reason and many sailors of their chance to be saved from shipwreck.

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