Katrina’s New New Life
Outside of Schönbrunn 12 September 1683
8 minutes read
It was deafening – the loudest thing she had ever heard. It started in the hills to the North and grew suddenly like a storm of man and horse. Louder than all of the canon she had heard for the months, put together.
By standing on the frame meant for the banners, Katrina could see over the barricade. Over on the next rise from the hill they called Kahlenberg, more horsemen than seemed possible swept down, crashing into the Ottoman army which seemed to disintegrate all at once as the once proud and brave Turk spun around in panic, looking this way and that, and was either lanced, cut down where he stood, or ran in all directions with no reason or hope. None of them knew who they were, but there were tens of thousands of them and crashed down into what looked to be a smallish provisional force of Turks thrown up to slow them down whilst the activity towards the walls intensified. The Turks were clearly desperate to get in and were going to risk everything.
The wave of horses was getting closer and closer, the tents and camp collapsed before them as they stomped through. Word spread among the women that it was the Polish Hussars, the heavy, armoured cavalry that was as close to knights as they had at that point in time, although nobody was quite sure. It seemed as though there actually did exist men of valour wrapped in steel rescuing helpless women after all. She was not helpless though. She was getting through this like she got through everything else.
As she watched, the guards of the stockade were joined by bloodied, wounded soldiers of all sorts and sizes who had fled the main part of the camp and battle and were now seeking shelter within the barricade, with the countless, weak hostages who they could use either as shields or something with which to bargain.
The Polish horsemen slowed to a trot in a semi-circular formation as they pushed, with the remainder of the fleeing Turks running, limping and dragging themselves faster and faster. A token few of them, usually Janissaries as she could tell by their white, floppy hats, were still trying to fight but didn’t do much to slow down the Poles who continued to encircle and push them towards the stockade that Katrina had called home for a time she couldn’t and didn’t want to count or recall.
Everyone now seemed to be within the confines of the stockade, the enslaved women, the remaining Turks, wounded or not, and the Polish Hussars who sealed the entrance. There was no more resistance, but the Turks held their weapons as the Polish Hussars began to form orderly ranks and neat files as their horses now stood calm and still.
The red banners with the Black Virgin bordered in gold flapped before the Poles in their shining armour ranked before them, with their bannered lances, their massive horses, and bristling with sword, axe, carbine and pistol. Dozens of the women, upon seeing this cried in ecstasy, many brought to tears, ‘Salvation is here!’, dropped to their knees to pray amidst the remaining bedraggled Turks, to give thanks for their salvation.
The Janissaries of the motley assortments of regulars and irregulars, on seeing this, for no reason other than spite and that a weakened woman on her knees was too easy a target, began to cut them down where they knelt, hacking and stabbing down on them with their swords and daggers in one sudden, random, last fury.
They didn’t get very far in their haphazard last stand and desperate ply for vengeance, as those left standing over the piles of women and pools of blood were themselves quickly cut down by the hussars on their horses. Praise went up again to the Virgin Mary, the Poles and their great, fat king, Jan, and anything else the women could think of.
For her own part, Katrina was a bit to hesitant to thank the Virgin Mary for what she saw was just straight dumb luck of old Jan Sobieski’s love of the Church, war and being right.
Elsewhere, the hussars thundered on, pushing through the tent city around the encampment, and the neighing and screams and firing all around seemed like everything was going well.
That and maybe there was a god, after all.
The Hussar squadron slowly moved forward and surrounded them. They all looked so young. Katrina swore she could hear one of the Pole’s voices crack when they asked their leader likely what was what to do next. Women around them began, at first in German, and then by motioning, pointing and waving to the horsemen to lend their swords so they could finish them off.
The women began to attack the remaining couple of dozen Turks, jumping on them like cats, screeching and screaming as they pounced in inhuman fury, those with borrowed weapons hacking and slashing as best they could and others unarmed clawing and scratching. More and more joined as the last of the Turks was attacked.
Katrina squeezed out from behind between two Hussars, careful not to spook or scare their horses lest she be also trampled and looked up begging with her eyes and her hands to a young Pole of no more than 18 for a weapon. He looked over to his senior on his right and with a nod and a bit of a look to his waist as to what he should hand over to this young Austrian girl with the dead eyes, pulled out a short sword and handed it to her. As she walked out she caught a glimpse of Ina, holding a crying woman, patting her head. They exchanged looks and Ina, looking down at Katrina’s hand with the sword, didn’t give her the nod she was half expecting. She just sat there with matching dead eyes.
There was a Janissary still standing amongst those too wounded to fight or those too terrified to think, holding his bloodied, left arm. Holding the Polish short sword in her hand, unfamiliar with the weight or how she should be holding it, but holding it as straight and as strong as she could at waist level, Katrina followed the point towards him. He stood still, stone still, but breathing heavily. He looked at her and straightened his back and lifted his chin, exposing it for her.
Katrina didn’t know how to kill someone. She had ever even thought of killing someone, even after the Perchtoldsdorf massacre, just the once after becoming a slave. She knew she had to kill now though, and thought of how to do it. He was expecting to have this throat slashed it looked like. Maybe this was for him an honourable way to die. Maybe it was quicker. She looked down at her right hand and at the sword that it held, turning it over left and then right, checking that she would even be able to swing it.
She looked him in his deep, hazel eyes and jabbed. He buckled as she looked down, but he stood as still and as straight as he could. She had stabbed him in his left leg, missing his groin. She withdrew a little pulling the sword with her, looking him in his eyes as he bled from his arm and his leg and winced silently. Katrina stepped around to the right and with a quick turn slashed as best she could, ripping through the back of this thigh, finally bringing him down. As he lay on the ground quivering and screaming she could finally hear the rest of the screams around her and like the other pounced on him stabbing, scratching and splashing herself with the Janissary’s blood.
She stopped and looked up as the last of them were finished off by those who, just moments before, had been their captors.
She picked herself up, casually wiping the blood off her hands on her dirty, brown smock.
And then everyone stopped, one by one, and stood up and looked around, not sure where they were or what had just happened, rising one by one, wiping their hands or their faces, or wiping the blood-matted hair from their eyes.
Katrina scanned the ground around her and the piles of bodies and saw a familiar half of a face. Bariş, well, he had seen better days: he was lying in his own piss, the left side of face a gaping hole and a mass of gore. It had not been pretty. None of it was, and she was not satisfied or complete.
They were still in a stockade encampment, as they had been before, still outside the walls of Vienna, just as before, but it looked as though their ‘new’ lives were over. Again.
Katrina looked about her. It appeared that she was free. She looked around to the women, crying, dead or covered in someone else’s blood and she looked to the Poles still and strong, on their horses that carried them across countries and down the hills to commands the day. She realised she had never ridden a horse, but now needed to. It looked like she might be having to learn some Polish. It seemed a queer language, but one that if she strained and stretched a bit, could maybe seem like German. And that was that. She strained to not walk fast, to walk away, to walk away from her life anymore, but to ride towards. Things were once again different, and that was that.