The Charge

The The Löbl and Burg Bastions
12 September 1683

11 minutes read

The next morning, human skins were hanging from the bastion directly in front of Murad’s forward trench, flapping sadly in the easy morning breeze. It seemed that the Viennese had dragged in almost a dozen or more Janissaries that had lain before the palisades in various degrees of death from a failed assault a couple days before, and flayed them like rabbits – alive or otherwise, no one knew.

A couple of weeks before that, Murad reflected, their army had impaled almost two dozen wounded Austrians from a failed counter-assault. They had started to smell quite bad so they hadn’t kept them up for long.

Who had started this thing he had no idea. The siege, the war – it had dragged on long enough, and both sides were expressing their boredom and frustration in casual barbarism.

“These fucking animals! We’ll get in there and make them pay for this,” he thought. It just made no sense how you could flay a man – impaling, well, that happened now and again, sure, but flaying? How do you even skin a man, he wondered. Where do you start?

“That fucking does it. That really fucking does it. Oof ya.” He spat, then suddenly felt his age as his back cramped up.

There were the usual mutterings about an assault. The drums started again, the deep bass lower somehow than any cannon they had, pounding like an angry and aggravated heart behind them. Then the mehter music began, and it seemed like it was time again.


Murad hoisted his belt up over his paunch, without thinking. He didn’t want to be reminded of the fact, but he’d seen at least three people he knew and one he hadn’t ripped apart by freak cannon-ball incidents just the day before.

This wasn’t good. It wasn’t even midday – it was early for an attack. The promises of glory never did a lot for Murad. There was the bravery pay, the glory and all that, and you might even survive running headlong into open musket and cannon fire. You might even hope you made it past the pikes and palisades and then if, for some strange reason, you don’t get cut down by musket fire, canister shot or grenades on the way, you got hacked apart by Austrian axes and what not.

“And all of that on the shit they called breakfast today,” he thought. The bread had been stale, as it had been a lot lately; the tomatoes too soft; and the tea weak. It was all so damn unsatisfying that he could cry.

“I’m not charging any goat fucking wall on that shit you call breakfast today,” he shouted in the direction of the Vizier’s tent, puffing out his chest, “No fucking way.”

He truly didn’t give a shit anymore. Or maybe he gave too much of a shit. This was breakfast and it was at that moment very much worth dying over. More than any mythical blondes that were on the other side of the wall they’ve been banging their heads against for months.

Lead whizzed by, and they returned the shot with the large cannon pointed at the wall, blasting the Austrians’ ears and brick and stone and mortar with all the energy of the empire. They were lining up in the trenches again, white hats and blue coats in grouped lines, adjusting and plunging, loading and scratching nervously, all the while staring fixedly at the bastion that had stood before them for so long.

That, and the skins of their comrades.

Suddenly, the air over the waiting ranks shuddered, and sucked all sound up with it. Murad felt his balls pull up into his stomach.

He hated the Belyemez just as he hated many things. The Balyemez was a fucking huge cannon, but for whatever reason translated to ‘man who didn’t eat honey’. This not only never really made any sense to him and was just unacceptable before, and now thinking about breakfast, was positively infuriating.

”First off, who the fuck doesn’t eat honey?” he thought. “And, secondly, why would you publicise the fact?” It was delicious and without it they probably wouldn’t have baklava or anything else. Can you imagine? No fucking sweets?

An entire volley of Balyemez blasted at the city walls from the earthworks – the wicker and timber ramparts built up just behind the trenches – and the shockwave rumbled through with a noticeable breeze.

Murad ignored it, still unable to get his head around not eating honey – especially with breakfast being as disappointing as anything else lately.

Vienna returned with barrage after desperate barrage coming from every angle of the bastion down the long, flat plane of the glacis, the long kill zone at the end of which they had dug their trenches.

Yes, the Austrians knew they were coming.

Murad saw a tuğ – a pole twice the height of a man topped with a crescent and with sad bits of horsehair hanging just beneath – and didn’t know what to do.

It was their standard, the Imperial Standard of the Sublime Porte … a limp tuft of black horsehair. Before them the Romans had had the proud eagle – and they had this bit of horsehair from some ancient ancestors from the steppe far to the East. At that moment Murad wished they had an eagle.

His unit had a heron, which was, he thought, mainly a pussy animal, but at least it wasn’t a sad bit of horse hair. At least a heron can kill lizards, fish – loads of different things. Probably pretty big fish even. “Think of the terror you would feel if you were a fish and then a heron landed in a pond you were swimming in,” he thought. The heron was okay. The horsehair was bullshit.

But the eagle. What a noble, magical creature – and, if you’re being particular, also probably pretty prevalent on the Eastern grasslands of ages past, he bet. It was way more inspiring than a bit of horsehair.

“Who the fuck are they trying to inspire with this thing? Why can’t we have a goddamn eagle?” he screamed, barely audible above the now increasingly rapid cannon fire.

The rumbling of cannon and fire barrelled in from every direction. He could see Muammar trying to ask a question above the din as the rest of the unit was readying themselves for an assault. He squinted at him. He knew that screaming back, “We should have a fucking eagle, we’re the goddamn inheritors of Rome, not these pussies!” was falling on deafened ears.

They waited.

“Well, if we don’t charge this fucking palisade like psychotic assholes, we absolutely are complete pussies,” Murad thought.

Murad wasn’t actually sure the big-ass drum they always insisted on playing was that fearsome, either. But it was kind of loud and ominous and all that, he supposed. Allegedly, also it too had also come from the steppe – which he thought was bullshit. The amount of bullshit they were expected to believe was insane, he reckoned. Like they could ride 3,000 miles on tiny ponies, ready to rape and kill and do whatever, and you think they’re going to lug around these big-ass drums? No – they ate whatever the people they had just killed had lying around, and maybe some nuts or something.

“But we just don’t give a shit about food any more, do we?” thought Murad. “Food is our blood, it is our order. We even carry fucking spoons in our hats!” It was true: the Janissary order had an inordinate obsession with food, not just Murad. While the origins was that of celibate brothers who had shared every meal and minute with each other, things over time had digressed a bit from there. The obsession, of course, wasn’t necessarily good for the other battle Murad had in his life lately – the one with his waist line.

First the cannon fire from the raised ramparts and gun platforms behind the trenches died down, and then the gunfire from the trenches quieted. Then there was just the eerie silence and smoke hanging thick in the air that usually proceeded a mine being blown. “Hopefully this goddamn bastion will finally be blown apart,” he thought. “I’ve really had enough. I want to go home.”

They waited. Murad looked around. Others looked around and looked back at him. Can’s replacement looked at him like he had an answer.

“What the fuck do I look like? Do I look like I know?” he answered. “Why does everyone always think I’m the one who knows what is going on? Yallah, yallah…” Murad sighed as if expelling all the annoyance in the world from his lungs. No charge over the top. No running. Many started to mill about. He could hear sunflower seeds being munched and the spitting that followed.

Murad looked about at the war that wasn’t really happening, the war that was waiting … and didn’t know what to do with himself. All he could think of then was food.

He thought of food at strange times - in times of panic, and in times of boredom. This could have been somewhere in between, but he wasn’t quite sure. He had thought at breakfast that although the bread was stale, maybe he should take an extra piece for later, for a snack if there was a lull in the fighting. Sieges were long affairs, and you just never knew when you would have some down time. But he hadn’t done it – he had caught himself reaching for it that morning, then played like he was just stretching.

“Shit, should have taken it,” he muttered.

“What?” screamed Muammar back at him. He was visibly nervous.

He should be, Murad thought, he doesn’t have long.

“Nothing. Forget it,” Murad said. “You’ll be dead soon.”

People were now actively engaged in conversation now. There wasn’t the shouting and the commands, but there were now full-blown conversations happening. This was not a battle, it wasn’t even a siege any more, this was bullshit, he thought. Many behind them were sitting on the shooting platforms, eating sunflower seeds, talking about all the rape that was to be had when the siege was over, their mother’s köfte and all manner of things generally not related to being in a siege outside the gates of Vienna.

Suddenly, the ground rumbled and everyone stopped. From trench to trench silence broke out and everyone froze where they were. They were expecting the usual big blasts to follow, the ground before them to upheave in a massive explosion, and to finally, finally, take the rest of the bastion with it.

And then would come the trumpets and drums calling them to charge.

They all sat frozen on their platforms, or crouching over their camp work or with their dick out in the latrine, but all frozen nonetheless.

There was another slight rumble and then a faint pop and then a bit of smoke seeped out of the mine entrance.

“You goat-fucking, fuck-wit Turkmen assholes!” Murad screamed at the wall – not even at the mine where those Turkmen assholes were tasked with taking down the wall. “FUCK!!!” he screamed, breaking the silence from the Sultan’s tent to St Stephen’s inside the walls.

And then he heard someone laugh from the top of the walls. And then another. And then the entire length of the walls seemed to be giggling at them.

Murad thought again about the stale bread, and the worst and possibly last breakfast he was going to ever have had and then, at that very moment, somehow through the smoke, the sweat, the piss and the gore of that flat, slight gradient leading up to the bastions and the walls, for one brief second … a buttery, doughy sweetness wafted out from the walls towards him.

There was shouting around the forward trenches and the mehter horns were bleating and the drums were pounding over the cannon and general cursing was going on all around him. But Murad wasn’t worried about that now, because he could smell Vienna calling him. It called him out. It called him to come inside. It found him like a bee. It wanted him to want it, and he didn’t care. It smelled like everything breakfast should have been.

It smelled like home.

Murad dropped his musket, grabbed the tuğ with his left hand, drew his sword with his right, and began to run at the smell, running, running, running, as fast as his fat ass could.

And he would have broken the sweat of a lifetime if four musket balls hadn’t ripped through his chest and stomach, and ripped apart his lungs and abdomen into eight different parts, only to fall onto a pile of dirt and stones.