The Sewing Circle

Outside of Schönbrunn
31 July 1683

4 minutes read

Katrina could see the lacklustre guards doing a bit more grovelling to the stranger that showed up at the gate one morning. He had never been there before and looked less like a soldier than even Bariş did. His snivelling demeanour and utter pissiness lent itself to a couple of the women offering spontaneous prayers of thanks to a litany of saints to make all the Turks as big a pussy as this guy. He looked at the women, back at the camp, at the sky – just about everywhere – seeming to hope for something to happen or take him away from the job he clearly hated and then stretched his eyes down and out getting something out something out of the crust of his eye.

Bariş went through the stockade, trying his best to cheer up his lot, smiling at the women blankly. He realised it wasn’t an easy thing to do, them being slaves and all, but he was determined. He was always amazed at how quickly things normalised after a new batch came in. While many of the women sat about muttering their prayers, crossing themselves and holding each other, many just stood about chatting like they were in the market square buying eggs on a Saturday morning.

“So he wants those who can sew.” This was more of a statement of facts to the guard walking next to him.

“It seems so, sir,” answered one of the guards.

“Let’s see, who do we have?” Bariş asked himself as he made a mental note for the next expedition to take some better records of what the new slaves did in their former lives.

Bariş sauntered over to a group of women now, swaying his shoulders and humming a tune. The women saw him and slowly gathered.

“Now, it seems that we’re going to need some needlework done for the glory of the most Sublime Porte, his effluence, grandest of Viziers, Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa.” Bariş smiled, thinking of something else he could call him, but stopped himself. “So, who wants something to do? A little handiwork is always good for the soul. You must be quite bored sitting here in the dirt, praying most of the day. So, ladies, who can sew?”

A couple of hands reluctantly and slowly went up. The ones milling about in their pretend markets shifted from left to right leg and back in the dry dust and looked over each others’ shoulders to an uncertain future in a foreign land.

Bariş had arranged by then to have tents for the women to live in and some very crude comforts – a blanket here, a table there, and a couple of broken chairs. They had done their best to keep things tidy and arranged what little they had in neat rows. He could sense a struggle for normality and decency in the Austrian women that he admired. These peasant women were nice enough, he thought, but they weren’t for him. He imagined what sorts there were on the other side of the walls, in Vienna. He had heard of their theatre and their music and their learning.

He would keep those for himself, if he could afford it.

Bariş had been assigned, through the underlings of the vizier, to have large banners made. The banners were to have messages to the people of Vienna encouraging them to surrender, and were to be the largest banners ever made seen.

Fortunately for Ina, she could sew, and fortunately for Katrina, she was now the slave master’s favourite; unfortunately for just about everyone else, they were only as good as their skill with a needle or potentially as wide as their legs were spread.

The women who were hunched over each side of the massive, black velvet banner, inspecting their work. It was back-breaking labour, as the women weren’t used to sitting on the ground cross-legged, eyes straining with every curl, swoop and slash of the intricate lettering copied from the large parchment held up all day in the corner of the tent by the shorter guard.

Bariş swooped suddenly into the tent.

“Listen, ladies, it’s all wrong. I’m so very sorry, but it’s all wrong.”

Katrina looked panicked.

“No, no, nothing bad,” Bariş said sensing a sudden and severe unease, “Why, the work is intricate and very good, actually,” he said. “No, the problem is that somebody in the big tent finally realised that nobody in the city will be able to read it. Not your fault, ladies.”

With a collective sight of relief that they started again, this time on an even larger banner, black as night, that five soldiers struggled to bring in the massive soon to be banner and unroll before them.


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