The Janissary Section 6 September 1683
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Murad lay as still as he could on his sheepskin on the packed, dusty earth and felt his brain melting. He was pretty sure he was in an oven. He managed to roll his head to the left and then to the right to see if his tent mates were there, feeling his brains slosh around like watered yoghurt. He couldn’t remember what happened, yesterday or a minute ago. His head sounded and felt like the inside of a kettledrum stuffed with wool and wrapped in burlap. Murad wished he was dead.
With a groan, Murad got up onto his hands and knees and crawled out of the sun-bleached, conical tent head first like a very sad squirrel, slow, erratic and ready to be eaten by the day. Looking up, he saw a heron staring at him, flapping its wings in the slow, dry wind. Further down the endless avenue of tents he saw a lion, and a bear flying and dancing in the wind. He raised his head slowly, only to be blinded by the rising sun. “I’m still drunk,” he thought, as he attempted to hoist himself off his hands and knees.
His head dropped. He decided to stay on all fours for a bit. He realised, there, on his hands and knees like a dog, that he really had to take a shit, and that that position was as good as any for it.
Alcohol was a widely known contraband, one of the many spoils of war, and one that the Grand Vizier didn’t like at all. But that was okay – they didn’t like the Grand Vizier much, and they were the ones expected to give their lives for the dickhead, just because he wanted to create his own little empire apart from that fat-ass Sultan. “Everyone thinks I’m fat,” Murad thought. “But they should take a look at that lazy fuck of a Sultan.”
Anything that an Austrian may have owned before – say, his wife and kids or wine – was now the property of the Sultan and the Imperial Army. The people running the Imperial Army let a lot of things slide, mainly to keep the irregulars – who were paid only in what they could take from dead people – happy and motivated. The Janissaries were paid, full-time soldiers, which was a rarity in most parts, but they also shared in the spoils.
Murad’s head was pounding – as were the massive kos kettledrums, and as were the big guns again, the really big ones that could shoot a ball the size of a man curled up. (They had tried this out, once.) Things always started with the drums because apparently the cannons weren’t loud enough. And then the horns.
“Why do they always have to wake us up with the fucking music all the time?” Murad groused to himself. “It’s not a fucking wedding. Ooof.” He stared at the ground. He thought again about shitting like a dog.
Unfortunately, he was overheard: “The Grand Vizier likes to start assaults with the rousing music of the mehter,” said their Bölükbaşı, trying to pretend to be excited, "so get off of your knees, you fat old shit.”
Things had been going slowly lately, even without the hangover. He was old and starting to look it. He was also bordering on fat – this much he had to grudgingly admit. He was nearly 35 or so, and knew that the next charge wasn’t going to be easy, and assuming he survived it, there wouldn’t be many after.
Their Bölükbaşı made a lot of comments lately about his age and his uniform needing a bigger sash. The blue wool he’d worn for decades didn’t seem to stretch too well.
“But so early, effendi?” Murad said, looking up into the haze of the yellow, blue and white that was his commander, somewhere above him. “Does it really matter when we do this suicidal charging business? Didn’t we just do it yesterday? I’m sure we have more digging we need to do – there’s a bunch of dirt over there we haven’t dug up yet," he said, nodding to the hills to the left, in the distance.
“Well, since we are all still here chatting, it looks like it wasn’t suicidal enough, doesn’t it?” the Bölükbaşı replied.
Murad’s surviving tent-mate, Can, wiping at the beginnings of a moustache, his pudgy face a greyish-green, had a head still obviously full of wine. He wouldn’t stop swallowing.
Their Bölükbaşı gave him a sidelong dirty look and shook his head.
It was not a good day for a hangover. Their unit was mustering and gathering their weapons and, by all signs, it looked like it was their turn to charge the crumbling bastion yet once again.
Murad looked around and shook his head. “My God, do I have to shit. Fuck. Water. Please, Aral, anyone, some water.”
Then: “Oh shit,” he thought. “Aral’s dead.” Maybe he was next Murad thought, but with the way his head was pounding, it didn’t really matter.
He could smell the horses now and dry heaved. The rank smell wafted through smoking every breath. The Sipahi heavy cavalry had just set up camp next to them and their horses were shitting everywhere. He just needed to have some goddamn tea. Yes, tea. Tea would make the headache and the shit go away. Yes, tea. Tea. Just some goddamn tea.
"Would you look at that?” Murad said to the pebbles and the ants on the ground he was still only an arm’s length above. “We have thirty thousand sipahi twiddling their horses’ cunts while we dig and blast our way into these goddamn walls every day. That’s going to be really useful for a siege, isn’t it?” He rolled his eyes. “Of course, we can have them all run with their little horses into the walls over and over again until it falls down. Yeah, that’s it. And then they can just trot right in and take the city with all their little flags and shiny armour.” An ant marched by, a straggler. Murad through of crushing him, but couldn’t muster the energy. “Fucking dickhead.”
The rest of the ants continued on their way.
The drums stopped, and quickly after the batteries stopped as well, followed by some shouts and swearing. It was over for the day. There would be no assault.
Murad fell as gracefully as a sack of onions to the ground, on his face, hoping he wouldn’t shit himself, but not really that bothered if he did.