The Cross and the Crescente
10 minutes read
The day was overcast. So was the city. Vienna’s walls had been blasted non-stop for weeks and everywhere people were dying. The mortars were getting more accurate by the day and the city was visibly crumbling, and half the time somewhere was on fire. It wasn’t very inspiring for baking at all, Franz thought – but for some sort of epic painting, it would have been magnificent: the washes of the sky, its blues and greys bleeding to red in the haze and pain on the ground, which was no more than swirls of humanity with the occasional sword or severed hand lying about.
Bakery had been quite simple for the past couple of thousand years, and there was little room for innovation. Bread was squarish or roundish. The Romans had done it like that, the Greeks probably before them and the Egyptians or whoever else before them. Franz had decided, however, that he needed a new, zingy form – something with some flair, something with movement, something with a delicate and hearty nature. And, above all, something that could inspire the men on the wall, something that could rouse the Holy Spirit within them, which would invigorate their hands, their arms and their hearts to kill more Turks.
The Ottoman flag in the besieging camp’s centre, where the Sultan looked to have his headquarters, was as big as a house. He remembered it from his revelation on the defences. It floated and fluttered and took up most of the sky in the distance, to the west. And there was always gun smoke, too – you could only see that seat of Islam on the horizon when the Turks grew tired of shooting for the day and went for dinner. Turk smoke was white, Austrian more or less black. “It should be the other way around,” Franz thought. “If that’s an omen or symbol or something … we’re the good guys, not the ones sent from Satan. We should have the white smoke.”
Either way, he remembered the great sail of a thing swung there in the light, a late summer breeze rippling the flag to an annoyingly good effect: it was a deep and rich red, stamped proud in the centre with a large, white crescent.
Yes, it was a good symbol – he gave them credit for that. It was easy to draw, unlike the Habsburg crest of eagles, lions, shields, stripes and flourishes everywhere. Sure, they also had the black and yellow thing they flew most of the time, but the Turks were simpler about things. They were direct. And it looked better when the flag was doing what it was supposed to be doing – flapping – which lately a lot of times it hadn’t been. The Turks even had an answer to that, as Franz saw as he strained his eyes into the distance. He could just make out men below the flag heaving large, flat sheets to try to make it flap some more.
The Turks still scared the living daylights out of him. They may have been sent from the Devil, or even led by the Devil himself, or maybe they just wanted to conquer and rape blonde women, and take other people’s stuff so they didn’t have to work. Obviously they were incredibly lazy – they came from the south and the east, after all … but somehow they had enough energy to rape, kill and pillage their way halfway across the world.
Now his baking was his war. It was what God had put him there to do, and finally he had found a use for what God had given him to get back at the Turks.
Franz had just sat down with Otto and Gerd for a breakfast of freshly baked cross rolls.
“Listen, you got this all wrong,” Otto said, concerned.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I’m sure everyone appreciates the effort. But you’ve been giving the men crosses. They’re eating crosses – like they’re eating us. What the hell were you thinking?”
“I don’t know. I thought that it would be like the cross was entering their stomachs, that they were eating their salvation. Like communion – but tastier, and more invigorating.”
There was a short pause. “I never thought about it like that.” Otto looked a little ashamed.
Little Gerd sat silently munching, eyeing the other two. “It should be like we’re eating them,” he finally blurted out. “They should be like little Turk men that you eat, head first. You would have to make the head really sweet maybe, so the men would always eat their heads first.”
“What about if we make crescents?” Franz blurted out. “Like on their flags and standards?”
“What do you mean ‘we’?” Having taken to a soldier’s life pretty easily, Otto was quick to jump on any idea of doing anything that looked like not actually killing Turks. “I’m doing the fighting up there, remember? I’m there on the walls while you putter around here in your powder, fantasising about ways to bake your way out of this shit.”
“I mean, me.” Franz amended, quickly.
“But wouldn’t that be like the crescent of Mohammed is then entering our stomachs? I don’t want Mohammed in my stomach,” Gerd replied. “Its blasphemy, isn’t it or something?”
“No, it’s our conquering them.” Franz spoke more quickly as he warmed to his theme. “We’re consuming them. Imagine that each crescent was a hundred Turks, or a thousand. Each one you eat is like killing them, and also fortifying you to actually kill them in real life, not just metaphorically.” Franz beamed as he finished, even if it was all a bit confusing. But he knew he was on the right track with something.
Franz had then gone that morning to deliver his crescents to the soldiers cleaning their muskets, collecting stones and anything else to prop up the fortifications and looking down at the ground muttering prayers for the endless and now almost daily assaults on the wall to stop. It was going to be a long day.
Franz passed out the crescent rolls, solemnly making the sign of the cross to the soldier with each before giving it to them.
“With this roll, my son, may you eat the hearts and soul of your enemies, and fuck them hard.”
Some accepted the gift of leavened Communion in reverence and then sat on the ground, backs to the battlements. They closed their eyes and entered a place in their minds that had slowed down, and had no noise or smoke. Others would stand proud and clear in between the battlements, relishing what the baker had brought them, eating them as slowly and as exaggeratedly as they could, showing the Turks spread below they were being consumed to be greasily shit out later. The rolls had a lot of butter and caused the shits, so much so that many feared it was laden with dysentery.
Franz ran into Kulczycki as he was making his way to the stairs down from the wall. Kulczycki was there to meet Stahremburg, the garrison commander, to relay messages from the outside. They had met while Franz was searching the black market for supplies. Kulczycki was from Poland or somewhere like that, had been a slave in Beograd, and had used his keen languages skills to make it through the Ottoman camp. Word had spread. The relief was on its way, but still might not get there in time. It was going to be close.
“Hey, these are pretty good.” Kulczycki eyed the fat man in front of him with something approaching respect. “The Turks would love these, actually. And know what? It would be really good with coffee.”
“Really, you don’t know what coffee is?” Kulczycki asked.
There was a short silence.
“Okay, makes sense I guess. The Turks, well, anyone over there basically – Greeks, Armenians, Turkmen, whoever – everyone drinks it. Its good.” Kulczycki took another bite of Franz’s creation, loudly munching away.
“What does it taste like?”
Kulczycki picked pieces of flaky pastry out of his beard as he thought. “Hard to describe, really. Sort of like really bitter chocolate, maybe. Slightly like the aftertaste of eating almonds.”
“Yes. Very bitter.”
“It doesn’t sound very nice.” Franz wondered what would make these people drink this foul bitter substance. Perhaps it wasn’t bitter to them because they didn’t have souls.
“Man, I would kill for a cup!” Kulczycki widened his eyes at the baker. “I’ve had a headache for days.” He yawned. Coffee was a strange powder made into drinks that caused addiction, and was rumoured to cause palsy, but he still craved it. Life was kind of flat without it he was convinced. "You should try it. They still have loads of it in the camp. Bags and bags of it. When this is all over, I’m going to start making it for people. We could go into business, you and me, when this is all over. That is if we aren’t all killed today.” Kulczycki flatly said looking out into the city.
Things were beginning to turn around for the fat baker from Graz, that much was for sure. There were rumours that a relief army was almost there, already engaged in battles north of the city and whispers that the largest ever assembled host of Poles on horseback was nearing the city to save the day.
Why they would want to do this was the cause of much discussion, but apparently the Emperor Leopold was doing more than just fluffing and primping his wig after fleeing to Linz, and was in fact busying himself with learning the harpsichord and negotiating with generals, electors and basically anyone who was supposed to be Catholic, hated the Turks, liked battle a lot or was worried about the future of Christianity and civilisation and all that.
Franz knew that there was no need to worry any more: his prayers seemed to have been answered. The soldiers on the wall were inspired now: they had a reason to fight, and every night Franz baked more and more, swearing and praying, swearing and praying. Each soldier was given a crescent roll in the morning fresh out of the oven, and many still ate them on the walls, showing the Turks taking their morning shots at them that they were eating them.
“Look at us, you fuckers – we’re eating you!” they would shout, laughing with abandon.
Most of the Turks would look curiously, shrugging at them and wonder what was so special and amazing about these funny-shaped breads they were eating, and what the hell they were saying about them. And then shoot them.
That morning was special, and they all knew it.
There was a lot of movement in the Turkish trenches and every baker – from Kärnten Strasse where Franz Backerei baked the passion of Christ and hatred of the Mussulman into every crescent, to the far walls where the soldiers stood and waited for bombardments – reported more noise from below. There was so much digging going on below the walls and the city that it seemed the city itself would collapse.
That morning the ramparts by the tent city seemed to have doubled in size, and Turkish heads and caps bobbed around with haste, throwing piles of dirt on top of piles of dirt, emptying out the land with a ferocity the Viennese hadn’t seen in months.
Something was happening. “Today is the day,” Franz thought. He signed himself with the cross, and knew he had to go back to use his last bag of flour.