The third book in the internationally bestselling Hangman's Daughter series takes readers to the imperial city of Regensburg, where the hangman has been accused of murder.
The third installment of the international best-selling Hangman’s Daughter series
1662: Jakob Kuisl, the hangman of a village in the Alps, receives a letter from his sister calling him to the imperial city of Regensburg, where a gruesome sight awaits him: her throat has been slit. When the city constable discovers Kuisl alongside the corpse she locks him in a dungeon, where Kuisl will experience first-hand the torture he’s administered himself for years. As nightmares assail him, Kuisl can only hope to prevail on the Regensburg executioner to show mercy to a fellow hangman.
Kuisl’s steely daughter, Magdalena, and her young doctor paramour, Simon, rush to Regensburg and try to save Jakob, enlisting an underground network of beggars, a beer-brewing monk, and an Italian playboy for help. Navigating the labyrinthine city, they learn there is much more behind the false accusation than a personal vendetta: there is a plan that will endanger the entire German Empire.
Chock-full of fascinating historical detail, The Beggar King brings to vibrant life another tremendous tale of an unlikely hangman and his tough-as-nails daughter, confirming Pötzsch’s mettle as a storyteller at the height of his powers.
AUGUST 13, 1662 AD
TWENTY-FIVE YEARS LATER
THE WAVE CAUGHT JAKOB KUISL HEAD-ON AND swept him off the bench like driftwood.
The hangman reached frantically for a handhold as he felt himself slip across the raft boards, feet first, toward the gurgling, swirling river. Slowly yet inexorably, the weight of his body dragged him into the cold water. His fingernails scraped along the planks as he slid, and he could hear frantic shouts nearby, though they were muffled as if by a thick wall. He managed at last to grab hold of a carpenter’s nail jutting out of a plank and was hauling himself up just as someone came sliding past him toward the churning water. With his free hand, he lunged, seizing a boy by the collar. About ten years old, the boy thrashed about and gasped for air. The hangman pushed him back into the middle of the raft, where his relieved father grabbed the boy and hugged him.
Wheezing, Kuisl crept back to his seat in the bow. His linen shirt and leather cape clung to his body, and water streamed down his face, beard, and eyebrows. Looking downriver, he realized the worst was yet to come. The raft was drifting helplessly toward a towering rock wall over forty yards high. Here, in the Weltenburg Narrows, the Danube narrowed abruptly, transforming this part of the river into a roiling cauldron that had cost many a raftsman his life, especially in times of high water.
“My God, hold tight, hold on tight, for heaven’s sake!” The forward helmsman leaned on his rudder as the raft plunged headlong into another whirlpool. The tendons in his arms stood out like knotted roots, but the long pole in his hands didn’t budge. Heavy thunderstorms had caused the river to rise in the last few days so that the otherwise tranquil gravel banks along both shores had been swept away entirely. Branches and uprooted trees raced by in the white foam as the huge raft sped faster and faster toward the rock face. Next to him Kuisl heard the terrifying sound of the raft’s timbers scraping the limestone cliff that now loomed directly above, casting its shadow over the small group of passengers like a stone colossus. Sharp rocks cut deep into the port side of the raft, slicing through the outermost logs lengthwise like they were butter.
“Holy Saint Nepomuk, patron protector from the flood, be with us! Hail Mary, full of grace, help us in our distress! Blessed Saint Nicolas, spare us . . .”
Kuisl looked sullenly to one side, where a nun sat, clutching an ivory rosary and wailing incessant prayers into the clear blue sky. So, too, the other passengers sat on the wooden benches, crossing themselves and mumbling petitions, their faces white as chalk. A portly estate farmer awaited his certain demise with eyes shut tight and drops of sweat on his brow. A Franciscan monk appealed in a cracked falsetto to the Fourteen Holy Helpers, orphan saints who couldn’t have been much older than him when the Plague made martyrs of them. And the lad whom Kuisl had just saved from drowning now clung to his father and sobbed. It was only a matter of time before the rocks would rip these timbers apart and grind them to a pulp. Most of the passengers were unable to swim, but in such turbulent waters that wouldn’t have saved them anyway.
“Accursed water! Blast it!” Kuisl spat into the river and heaved himself toward the bow, where the helmsman still struggled to redirect a rudder fastened to the raft by rope. With legs spread, the Schongau hangman braced himself beside the raftsman and leaned into the pole with his powerful torso. It felt as if the rudder had snagged on something far below in the ice-cold water. Running through Kuisl’s head were the horror stories raftsmen told about malevolent, slimy monsters lurking at the bottom of the river. Just the day before, some fishermen had told him about a catfish five yards long that supposedly lived in a cave near the Danube Gorge. What in heaven’s name could be down there, holding fast to the rudder’s pole?
All of a sudden he could feel the rudder moving just the tiniest bit. He pushed harder, groaning, feeling that at any moment his bones might break. With a final grinding sound, the rudder came free. The raft spun out from the whirlpool and, with one last shudder, was catapulted away from the rock face.
Moments later they were shooting swift as an arrow toward two small rocky outcroppings on the right riverbank. Some of the travelers carried on screaming, but at this point the raftsman had gained control of his raft. They rushed past the foam-splashed rocks, plunging headfirst into the water until at last they’d made their way out of the dangerous gorge.
“Thank you very much!” The helmsman wiped the sweat and water from his eyes and reached out a callused hand to Kuisl. “The Long Wall might have had us for supper. Do you have any interest in rafting yourself?” He smirked at Kuisl, reaching out to feel the hangman’s biceps. “You’re as strong as two oxen, and you sure can curse like a natural-born. So, how about it?”
Kuisl shook his head. “Bless you for that, but you wouldn’t enjoy having me. One more whirlpool like that and I’d throw up right there in the water. Solid ground under my feet is what I need.”
The raftsman laughed, and Kuisl shook his wet, matted mop of hair so that droplets flew in all directions.
“How long before we get to Regensburg?” he asked the helmsman. “This river is driving me crazy. I’ve thought our time was up at least ten times now.”
Kuisl looked back at the rock walls that overshadowed the river on both sides. Some reminded him of stone beasts, and some of the heads of giants who stared down at this swarming mass of tiny mortals far below. Just a moment ago they had passed by the Weltenburg Monastery, now little more than a ruin consumed by war and high water. Despite its sad condition, many travelers on the Danube still stopped there to offer silent prayers. After a heavy rain, the narrow gorge below was considered a challenge for even the most experienced raftsmen. It certainly couldn’t do any harm to pause for a few Hail Marys beforehand.
“The Long Wall is, by God, the worst stretch along here,” the helmsman said, making the sign of the cross. “Especially when the water is high. But from here on out it’s a calm ride, I promise. We should get there in a few more hours.”
“I hope you’re right,” the hangman grunted, “or I’ll give you a good paddling with that damned rudder.”
Kuisl turned away and padded cautiously along the slippery narrow aisle between the rows of benches, toward the back of the raft where the cargo was stored. He hated traveling by raft, even if it was the fastest and still the safest way to get from one town to the next. The hangman preferred to feel the solid forest floor beneath his feet. Tree trunks were good for building houses and tables and even gallows, if you like, but they surely weren’t meant for this tumbling around, pitching, and tossing in raging river rapids. Kuisl would be happy when this was all over.
"The Beggar King is a richly appointed historical novel, a compelling tapestry of violence, intrigue, and tenderness. Pötzsch drags you into his beautifully rendered and dangerous seventeenth-century Europe and doesn't let you escape until the final climactic page."
—Glenn Cooper, international bestselling author of Secret of the Seventh Son
"Twists and turns enmesh both the characters and the reader in this absorbing tale that captures, with an authenticity that is truly rare, the sounds and sights and smells of seventeenth-century Germany. A gripping story of love, betrayal, and long-delayed revenge."
—James Becker, author of The Moses Stone
"The Beggar King weaves a fascinating web of intrigue that invokes much more than just the intricate politics of 17th-century Germany. Oliver Pötzsch has brought to life the heady smells and tastes, the true reality of an era we've never seen quite like this before. The hangman Jakob and his feisty daughter Magdalena are characters we will want to root for in many books to come."—Katherine Neville, bestselling author of The Eight and The Magic Circle
Praise for The Dark Monk
"Swift and sure, compelling as any conspiracy theory, persuasive as any spasm of paranoia, The Dark Monk grips you at the base of your skull and doesn't let go."
—Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked and Out of Oz
"Oliver Pötzsch takes readers on a darkly atmospheric visit to seventeenth-century Bavaria in his latest adventure. With enough mystery and intrigue to satisfy those who like gritty historical fiction, The Dark Monk has convincing characters, rip-roaring action, and finely-drawn settings."
—Deborah Harkness, author of A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night
"Weaving together the mystery of a murdered priest, a Templar treasure, and a kind-hearted hangman, Oliver Pötzsch's The Dark Monk is a labyrinth of clues and rich characters in seventeenth-century Bavaria. Pötzsch keeps the action boiling, the clues intriguing, and the history fascinating and authentic."
—William Dietrich, author of The Emerald Storm
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