Murad Can't Be Bothered With This Siege Shit Anymore

The Löbl and Burg Bastions
4 September 1683

12 minutes read

The earth was shaking. It was throwing itself all around Murad’s unit, spraying into the air, making what wasn’t grey from smoke and hazed from sweat, brown. Slices of morning sun cut down onto their forward trench. Murad couldn’t hear himself think, but through the erratic crumpling of land and exploding of air around him, he could just make out the horns of the mehter band as they rose with the kettledrums’ steady beat, inching their efforts forward to the walls.

His orta was calmly busying itself, methodically checking muskets, daggers, swords, pistols, bandoliers and adjusting one thing after another as the noise thumped them to the core as cannon from every side maintained steady fire at each other.

Suddenly, their batteries behind them stopped.

It was coming.

Everything – the trench, the dirt and all the soldiers living in it – went silent and still for a brief second until, once again, the earth lurched and groaned and humped, shaking a helpless Murad as he gripped his musket, his eyes squeezed tight shut and could smell only earth, smoke and his own, ripe stench.

On opening his eyes, the only thing he could see in the sky above was a swirl of grey, brown, dust and debris. They had just blown another mine – but Murad, peeking over the mound of earth at the top of the trench, could see that they had fucked it up – again – and mislaid it. The bastion, or what was left of it, was still there. The bastion, the pointy, triangular bit of the defence walls jutting itself out of the corner, had been roughed up a bit, had some stones shaken loose but, more than anything, the miners’ actions had simply warned the Austrians of an impending assault.

The cannon started again from both sides but then pitifully dissipated almost as quickly as it started. He could hear, through the brief respite of the fire, strained, coughed and half-gasping laughter from on top of the bastion, the rubble of which trailed into the flat glacis, the killing zone that separated them from the fortifications and the walls.

The Austrians responded with everything they had.

Murad could feel the ground, just metres beyond the edge where his head was, light up with the crackle of lead, fire and smoke, flinging yet more earth into their trench as his orta crouched down, ignoring what they could whilst trying to distract themselves from the thought of going over the top into the spray of lead.

The batteries behind them now began a steady and syncopated firing, boom, shhh, boom, shhhhh, and the tops of the walls of Vienna belched in return with the same.

Murad stood as many of the others did, slightly hunched, leaning back against the trench, gripping his musket for dear life, fiddling with the trigger, checking his sword again and again, checking his matches, and securing the powder charges on his bandolier, and itching his ear.

It looked as if they would be going to make the assault, even though the fortifications weren’t blown like they were supposed to be.

Some muttered prayers, curses or final wishes to themselves, whilst the younger and less experienced looked right and left at their comrades, trying to nod to one another. Down the trench’s alleyway from Murad, the top edge of the improvised trench fortification exploded with earth and splintered wood as a cannon ball bounced in, ripping through the next unit. Still his orta stood, repeating the checking and muttering, all sweating, all waiting as their Çorbacı brushed through, looking each soldier in the eye, square shouldered, head held high, shouting to ready themselves for either that pay raise they might qualify for or Heaven. He then stopped and turned on his heel before the short ladder to the top of the trench

As he grabbed for his sabre, Murad took a deep breath, holding the musket up to his mouth and blowing long and steady on the wick match at the stock, concentrating on its deep, slow glow.

Everything hung quiet for a second or an hour. Suddenly, a massive volley erupted from the walls, zinging and pinging its way in and out of the trench, taking a couple of men with it. The Çorbacı nodded to his orta and exhaled, his shoulders suddenly drooping as he reached for the rungs of the ladder whilst they all filed in behind.

But then the music pathetically bonged and bleated to a sad, abrupt stop. And the cannon did that same. Then shouts from Çorbacı to Çorbacı travelled down the lines.

It was all over, just like that.

“Are you fucking kidding me? Are you really fucking kidding me?” Murad screamed into the sudden lull from the trench. “Fucking hell. Fuck. Fuck! Fuck! I’m so sick of this shit! This is the third time this fucking week this shit has been called off like this! Fuck!” He was livid, beyond reasoning with. The rest of his unit sighed and looked around, lost.

Murad swore this was his last siege. He’d had enough. He’d seen too many sieges. “No more of this digging and waiting while someone else fucks it up bullshit. Nope, not any more for me,” he thought.

He had spent years trudging across Hungary to some fort, castle or other thing with walls, put up tents, started digging and then started shooting. Explosions, more digging, more cannon, more explosions, charge this, charge that, more explosions, pillage a bit, then on to any women still alive if he could be bothered. Then, when that would was all done, trudging back across Hungary and about a hundred rivers and then a bunch of mountains and all the way to Constantinople. Ooof. “Fuck this,” he thought.

He was through.

All of this, they were always told, qualified you for Heaven, and that used to get most of them going, but he didn’t really care that much at this point. Most were in it for the money, the booty, the women and the privilege, and he was no different. Heaven was where it was, and God was where He was, and Murad and the rest of his elite shock Janissary corps were where he was, which was leaning against a trench wall made of rough-hewn timber and what looked to be part of a piece of Austrian furniture, itching his ear with his pinky, then moving on to sliding his sword in and out of its scabbard, and feeling his arthritis acting up in his knees. It smelled of pissed pants and powder-smoke.

He peeked up and over the edge of the trench again, his nose brushing the dirt. He raised his already drenched, blue felt sleeve to wipe the sweat pouring into his tired, hazel turned red, sagging eyes.

It was midday and the field of battle was a mess: all around a dry soup of ash, dirt, spent lead balls of varying sizes, the odd, indecipherable body part, random wreckage, and trenches. Trenches as far as the eye could see, all packed with enough never-ending humanity humping around in their half-dug grave.

He pushed his long white flapped hat, the length of which reached between his shoulders, a bit further back over his shaved head. It was hot, very hot; he could feel his balls dripping in his cavernous red trousers.

“Fuck this place,” he muttered again at the battered walls of Vienna, still looming across the flat, deadly expanse he would be expected to run across again at some point in the next couple of days.

The trenches surrounding Vienna were dug in rows, one in front of another, with other trenches connecting them longitudinally. They went from the end of the no-mans-land of the flat approach to the walls to what seemed like miles back to the main encampment. Each crack, corner, and slice of earth was rammed with every sort of sapper, camp follower, messenger and porter, all busily doing anything but battle, their various coloured caps, hats, helmets, flaps and flags bobbing above the lips of the trenches as they scuttled about like very busy mice – on their way to sit around and wait to be killed, or for something else to happen.

Judging from the scattered posts and trellises still about, they were likely in what used to be a vineyard or a suburban estate burned to the ground before they came. “Grapes would have been nice,” Murad thought. He hadn’t had one since they marched out almost a year ago. He would buy them sometimes off of this old man who was also from Smyrna, and who had only one ear. He had never asked how he lost the ear, but now, thinking about it all and seeing a severed arm a couple yards away, it seemed to matter.

Why one ear? Why not cut off both if you’re going to cut off someone’s ears? He would have. You just can’t leave things uneven like that. He tried to think of a reason that he would cut off someone’s ears. Maybe he was already deaf. Or maybe he got into an argument – they were all were drinking or something, and then things got a bit out of hand. Or maybe he raped his sister or insulted his mom or something, and then really insulted him but didn’t listen. That might work. Or maybe the guy just had a bum ear. It could have been infected. Maybe he just hated that ear because the neighbours always made fun of how that ear was bigger than the other, and then he said fuck you, I’ll show you. Yeah, that was probably it.

So now it looked like they were going to have to head back to camp. The camp was a canvas city, and seemed bigger than the city they were trying to take. At its core was the Grand Vizier’s tent with his pretty fountains, pleasure gardens, barbers and who knows whatever the fuck else he had so he could pretend they weren’t in the middle of the biggest siege in history. Then the various units of engineers, baggage handlers, artillery, horse and everything else radiated out in neat rows. It was – until recently, anyway – more orderly than any city he’d ever been in; certainly more organised than that last place they had ploughed through. That place had been a bit of a mess. “Sacking a place and putting the inhabitants to the sword does make a mess of things, sure,” he thought.

But the siege of Vienna really had been going on too long now, Murat realised, and things were breaking down in the camp. There would soon be disorder and things would start to fade and waver. When that happened, then nobody would want to fight. The Austrians just had to hold out in their damn city no matter what. They were organised, he would give them credit for that for sure. Out in the field, they all marched around with each other, in unison, like dickheads. All of them would move left, form a different line or something, and then move all at once to the right like they were dancing. Pikes and muskets, horse, cannon, everything. When things got bad though, they kept it together, he had to give them that.

Murad stood in the middle of the trench, legs spread solidly, and scratched his head for about an hour. When he was satisfied with that, he itched his ear. It would be time to eat he realised, nodding approvingly to himself.

“Oof ya, I’m getting too old for this bullshit,” he bellowed, pinching the bridge of his nose and then rubbing his eyes. It was all as tiring and boring as a trench in the middle of a siege could be. The rest of the men gathered there yawned and twiddled moustaches, and got to the pressing business of polishing brass buttons and making intricate tulip patterns out of sunflower seed shells spat out everywhere on the ground as they waited.

“Yeah, Murad, this place is fucking boring,” Aral said, having a bit of stretch and a yawn like a cat, with his arms up, as the crackling of a fired volley sounded from the Austrian bastions.

No sooner was Aral done complaining, he took a bullet in his eye – the crossed one. Slumping backwards into the trench wall, his tall, white cap which had for a split second held the back of his skull in, burst open, and his brains bubbled out. Aral then slumped forward, twisting onto his left shoulder at Murad’s feet.

Murad stood still, legs still planted firmly apart, and looked down shaking his head and tutting his teeth.

The rest of them had hit the ground.

“He was a good looking kid, even with the crossed eye,” thought Murad, as his now-dead tent mate stared at his soft, dusty, tan boots. The half of his face that hadn’t been caved in was still pretty, his skin still smooth, his good eye still wide open, almond and beautiful, looking at Murad’s right foot tap the ground decisively.

“Ooof,” Murad said, shaking his head. Aral had been a good guy. Young. His father was from somewhere around Smyrna as well, which meant he wasn’t so bad of a guy probably.

“Not even a decent breakfast,” he thought. Guns were now a lot more accurate and shot a lot farther than they used to, and people were getting careless. They weren’t even digging trenches correctly any more. “Not that Aral had it coming,” Murat continued to himself, “but these kids just think that they can go and dig a trench however they want, or go and build a bench so they can sit and keep their stuff under it and all that.” They were spoiled and lazy. And being killed daily for it.

Unable to comment on this, Aral lay there on his side, half of his face stewing in his own brains in the sun.

The heavy batteries behind the trenches shot a couple of random shots for no apparent reason, followed by some shouting back and forth between rival soldiers and then everyone, just like that, packed up and headed back to camp to eat.

Murad joined the surge winding its way back to the camp to eat.


Next: Grapes and Seeds →