No Amount of Scrubbing Could Sort Out This Siege

5 minutes read

Franz’s house was a mess and he couldn’t stand it. It was one thing to be inconvenienced and have his sensibilities insulted by all the swearing and cannon fire, but it was another to have to deal with the sort of mess his Vienna had become from the non-stop barrages and bombs dropping from the sky. Holes from artillery damage pockmarked his house’s walls, which like just about every building he could see also had suffered some sort of fire damage. The city was a burnt husk, burned to its core by fire and death, riddled with holes as if slowly being eaten alive.

Franz’s neighbourhood was a nightmare zone: defence positions, redoubts and barricades had been thrown up at every turn. Everywhere he looked there were palisades, barriers thrown together with stone, wood and cotton bales, each position a miniature fort for what looked to be at that point the inevitable breaching of the walls. Massive iron chains an arms width were just recently strung across the streets and junctions of the city. They were a pain to get around and that was the point: to slow down the onslaught of soldiers that would pour through the streets and alleys, devouring the city as they charged without rest or mercy. It was not a good sign.

The pair of soldiers that were boarded with him and his barren and merciless Gertrude were townspeople, Otto and Gerd. Otto was over 50, grey and weary with age, but living it up “one last lead ball up a Turk’s ass at a time” as he put it. He was known for often shooting himself to exhaustion, and also for excitedly throwing rocks down at the Turks when he ran out of ammunition. He was a shoemaker. Gerd was a 15 year old boy who was now missing an eye, and who always dressed in a very fine, tailored coat, as if his mother had dressed him for Mass. He said he had killed three men already. He was apparently a better shot than the old man who, it turned out, was now his father-in-law. His mother having hurriedly remarried after his father had been killed in the tunnels that were being furiously dug to intercept the Turks digging like worms and maggots with their mines into the fine, white cake that was Vienna. He shuddered thinking about it.

Otto was originally from Saxony and had a full and rich beard which he seemed to rather enjoy stroking while he talked about killing. The boy was desperately and patchily trying to do the same. The two left every day together for the morning hate the Turks thew at the city every day after breakfast.

Beards were a new siege fashion. They had never been as popular before: a finely trimmed goatee or moustache perhaps, but not full beards. They had appeared at first on the soldiers, likely the ones garrisoned on the walls and bastions. The beard growing had spread like dysentery: it seemed that for every person who shit themselves to death, another grew a beard.

The beards were a sign of the pragmatism, pride and defiance of the Viennese. Word was that in Mohammedan lands, a beard was a sign that you were a free man; slaves had to shave. No one was quite sure of the fact, actually, especially since it didn’t make a lot of sense that a slave would have the time or would be given razors. Nonetheless everyone that could inside the city walls grew what they could on their faces, first on the bastions in defiance, showing that they intended to remain free against the onslaught of the Turks, and then in the remains of the city, as civilians took it up as a show of support. There was also the idea that if the city fell, the Turks would mistake them for Muslims and not kill them. Along the same line, some also prepared names and documents for themselves, hoping that the papers prepared in a hodge-podge flowing script would sort of look like Arabic to what they assumed were largely illiterate would-be rapacious killers.

Franz stood for a second, thinking, scratching his cropped, sandy blond hair as he pulled up his white-powdered trousers more securely. There was another matter that made him feel distinctly uneasy, remembering the burning eyes from his dreams.

Similarly, since 15 July when the siege began, blond hair had disappeared from the city. It was understood that the Mussulman had a thing for blondes, unknown generally in their environs, and that they were encouraged by their commanders in thinking that there was an insurmountable amount of blonde ass on the other side of the walls for the taking. He scratched his sandy blond head and knew in his heart from his dreams they wouldn’t stop with the women.

At first, black ink had been used as a hair dye, but supplies had quickly run out. Soon just about anything that could colour light hair was used: black oil – and even tar – for the desperate, resulting in rats’-nest hairdos throughout the city.

Their compact, two-storey house above his cellar bakery and ground floor shop on Kärnten Strasse was in a state that drove his wife crazy. It barely had a roof or much of a top floor at this point as much of the tile was hauled off to rebuild the defences that the Turks had blasted to bits the day before. This was what they Viennese were – an industrious lot, shitting themselves with dysentery whilst hauling their barrows full of bits of their destroyed homes and lives to rebuild the walls.

‘Cleanliness is paramount, though,’ Franz thought. It was the only thing he and his wife seemed to agree on. Cleanliness was dysentery’s greatest enemy, and people were shitting themselves to the grave at a rate of about 60 a day or so.

He was otherwise satisfyingly proud of how tidy Vienna was considering they were under siege. It didn’t smell like most cities: Vienna had sewers, while most – ironically enough, those enema-loving French traitors – didn’t. He supposed they just let their shit flow into their streets. Vienna’s streets were clean, even now. Rubbish and the dead from dysentery were collected and hauled to the walls, placed in large baskets – and thrown on the invaders. It seemed only fair with the mess the Turks were making for all of them.