Mehmed-beg Ahmed Pasha, Sanjak of Avlonya and, rather reluctantly, proxy for the Sublime Porte in the “Pork War” (he was at at least notionally a good Muslim. There were certainly people in the army he had been
stuck entrusted with that were good Muslims. What on earth were they doing fighting about Pork? These silly westerners would go to war at the drop of a turban) looked glumly at the interior of his campaigning tent. Yes, it was nice and comfortable, for a tent, well furnished with cushions and silks. He grumbled about the tent to himself, anyway. His evening meal had been a very pleasant dish of stuffed grape leaves, fresh cheese and olives. He had grumbled about it, too, pushing it around the plate in irritation.
He was self aware enough to realise that nothing was going to be pleasant (and that he was going to be pleasant about nothing, not that he was full of the milk of human kindness normally) until this military travesty was safely and successfully concluded. After a moments thought, he focussed on this. “Safely and successfully” he mused, should be more accurately be stated as “without physical harm to Mehmed-beg and in a manner where he could be apportioned no blame. Or at least no blame that could not be rapidly and believably re-apportioned to some other poor zavalliyi.” Satisfied with this formulation, he considered how to bring it about. First thing was to stay as far away from the border with Kietlen Pusztaság, nearest of the hostile coalition, as possible. Unfortunately that border was close to Avlonya; and he was concerned by the amount of time the news (and “his” army) had taken in getting from Istanbul to him. He suspected that the Ottoman beaurocracy had moved at it’s usual glacial pace, and he might be starting off at some time disadvantage. He had done his best to remedy this by ordering an “advance” on Mladenovac. It was some distance away, but once they got there there would be a river, a forrest, and some quite nasty hill passes between him and any ill-inclined whitecoats who might be headed in his direction. In fact, they should have crossed the river today. Mehmed-beg’s thoughts wandered for a moment… He could not remember a river crossing today; he had been dozing in his sedan chair, but he would have thought he would have noticed it. He must ask his secretary when they spoke: Faisal would be on top of such matters.
Some sort of commotion outside the tent became apparent. People were having an argument… No, not really, some sort of “urgent discussion” in a language he did not understand. A moment of fear, provoked by years of useful paranoia, was banished by the thought that not even a Turkish army could be vanquished without making enough noise to disturb his dinner. While he did not speak the language, from the gutturals he thought it to be German. German speakers always sounded to him as if they were in the last stages of a terminal catarrh attack, but who… Oh yes, that Von Frecthling fellow, some minion of the Aga of the janissaries, who had shown up just as the force marched out. Finding his patron umm… indisposed (Mehmed-beg made a mental note to have Faisal deodorize the guest quarters, probably using sulphur) he had joined the janissary component in the army. Baker Pasha, Avlonya’s military commander, had professed acquaintance with him from some previous opportunity for glory (or slaughter, it all depended on your viewpoint) in Germany. They had been as thick as thieves since (Mehmed-beg understood what that expression meant, but could never fathom how it came to mean it. Any thick thieves in his domain really would not last very long, either their brethren would get them, or the locals, or in extreme cases, the Mehmed-beg’s guards, if someone important enough had been upset by a crime. Any of these events would result in an abrupt termination of the thief’s career, and probably the termination of an assortment of body parts.).
A rustle at the tent entrance, and Faisal was in front of him, murmuring that a man had come from Crveni Lopov, the commander of Avlonya’s foot levies. Actually Lopov was a thief, brigand, one time pirate (a career terminated by seasickness), kidnapper, murderer, and blackmailer. And anything but thick. He owed his exalted military position to Baker Pasha’s complete ignorance of the local sub-cultures and the fact that Mehmed-beg was sure that the brigands who formed the foot levies would do as he said, as they knew who he was, and what the result of causing even a minor inconvenience for Lopov would be for the inconveniencer. The Sanjak always liked to be sure, and Lepov was surely one of the most malignant individuals he had come across. You really knew where you were with him.
While the phlegm gargling competition continued outside, coming closer, Mehmed-beg listened to the messenger, an engagingly scruffy individual who made up for his lack of teeth with the profusion of weapons stuffed into his sash.
“Excellency” the man lisped, “the pus-bags approach Grocka with a great force. They confuse the locals by paying for their supplies, so their movements are well reported throughout the countryside.”
Mehmed-beg distractedly asked Faisal to thank the man suitably and show him out, ensuring no small items had fallen into his pockets during his short visit. The “pus-bags” was the charming local nickname for the residents of Kietlen Pusztaság, and the news that they were near Grocka meant his concerns about other forces getting an earlier start than he had were well founded. Deeply fortunate that in marching on Mladenovac they had been marching away from Grocka. They were much too close to the enemy on any case. Good thing there was that river between them. Umm yes, that river… He was about to summon Faisal again, and ask about the river crossing, when a guard stuck his head through the entrance and told him that Baker Pasha and Von Frecthling begged admittance. More distractions, but at least the mystery of the mucus-fest outside was solved, these two must have been having a military discussion of deep import.
Greeting were exchanged. Mehmed-beg noticed that the two looked a little… what? Sheepish? Certainly the usual exclamations were missing from Baker’s speech, but that had been the case since they started out with the army, Baker suddenly developing unsuspected cases of seriousness and intelligence, which seeming only showed up when he was “on the job”. Leaving aside the interesting intellectual puzzle of an individual who devoted little of their attention and intellect to “having fun” but for whom the prospect of mass murder was “serious and deserving of ones best efforts”, Mehmed-beg was pleased with the change.
The source of the sheepishness rapidly became apparent.
“Excellency, there appears to have been an error” said Baker, Von Frecthling nodding enthusiastically by his side. Mehmed-beg had no idea if the German could understand the Italian they were speaking, or was just going to agree with whatever Baker said.
“Yes?”, answered the Sanjak.
“It appears that some misunderstanding has arisen between the guides and the army. For the last two days we have been marching toward” Baker consulted a scrap of paper in his hand “Grocka, not Mladenovac. I am unsure how this will affect the campaign, but we will find out as soon as possible.”
Apparently, Mehemd-beg had eaten enough of dinner to give the queasy feeling that rushed over him real teeth. Holding his head in his hands, he gently vouchsafed to the pair of westerners that he had a pretty clear understanding that the campaign would be altered by this, and suggested they speak with Faisal to get a good clear understanding of the depth and rankness of the cess-pit they had dropped him in.
His voice may have risen slightly toward the end of his discourse, and the two westerners bowed and left with commendable rapidity, with no more than a side glance at the long knife the Sanjak had produced (Von Frecthling later swore, in his memoirs) from thin air, and thrown so that it stuck quivering in a tent pole, rather closer to Von Frecthling’s ear than he was entirely comfortable with.
Mehmed-beg looked at the curtains closing on the entrance. He would kill them both, if they were not the closest thing to competent military commanders he had. Anyone else would lower his chances of survival significantly.
He was going to be in a battle. He had avoided them for years, scuffles in back alleys and the dark spaces of the world did not count. And now he was going to be in one, bause a bunch of soldiers did not know right from left.
The day had not improved.
Mehmed-beg Ahmed Pasha, Sanjak of Avlonya, sat in his sedan chair and regarded the peasant huts that made up the outskirts of Grocka with disillusioned dyspepsia, and decided to tax the place into oblivion if he survived the day, and was still in some position of authority. Neither seemed likely.
Near him, Baker Pasha finished issuing orders to the assembled commanders, followed by the mutter of the assorted translators making those orders unclear. Not that it would matter, thought Mehmed-beg glumly; they had already managed to be surprised by an enemy with significantly less cavalry and limited local knowledge. It did not bode well for the future.
Over the next hour, Bakers dispositions took shape. In the centre, the artillery, certainly the most competent looking part of the force. On the artillery’s right, besides one of the outskirt hamlets of Grocka, lining a stone wall, were the janissaries, with the much reviled battalion of Nizam’i’cedit seething in the back rank, confined there by the janissaries’ allegation that “they were not real soldiers, just barrow boys”. Further right, the hamlet was full of Crveni Lopov’s
bandits umm local levies who, he was sure, had already stolen everything not nailed down. The levies who had lost the stuggle for business opportunities held the ground to the right of and behind the hamlet.
On the left of the guns milled the mass of the sipahi and deli cavalry, an impressive sight, stretching into the distance. Until one looked a bit closer, and saw in greater definition, that the milling mass consisted of men falling off spavined horses, dropped lances, desperate attempts to fix broken tack, and in one outstanding case, the explosion of a clearly overloaded firearm causing an entire regiment to flee in terror. Not terribly encouraging.
Baker returned to him, to review the Kietlen Pusztaság dispositions. They had massed their infanty opposite the hamlet, with some impressive looking cavalry on their left. The rest of the enemy horse stood behind the infantry, ready to spring out when it advanced. Two units of enemy infantry and their artillery were left at the rear, as a flank and baggage guard. Baker sent Frecthling off to supervise the janissaries, and suggested at the enemy plan was to move straight forward to assault the hamlet, beating the Sanjak’s infantry. The horse on the Avlonya’s far right would thunder through Lopov’s bandits and an unfortunate janissary orta lurking behind the village. The cavalry in he enemy’s rear would cover the flank of the infantry from the mob of Avlonyan horse.
Mehmed-beg Ahmed Pasha nodded, and asked politely what Baker Pasha’s plan was. Baker paused a moment, looked into the distance, and said:
“Move our cavalry up on the left, and hope the infantry and guns hold long enough for an opportunity to appear.”
With that, he grimaced, nodded, and went off to yell at someone for attempting to emplace a gun facing in the wrong direction.
Mehmed-beg looked speculatively at his retreating back, and waved Faisel over.
“We will probably be needing fast horses at some stage today.”
“The Arab and the white gelding are saddled and ready nearby, Excellency”
“Good. And see to it that Lopov ‘let’s slip’ that the pus-bags were paid yesterday, will you?”
“Were they, Excellency? I ask not for information, but to ascertain how enthusiastically the rumor must be spread.”
“I have no idea, Faisal, lie your behind off.”
Mehmed-beg regarded his departing secretary with admiration. Truly, with a mind that twisty, Faisal should be able to see behind as easily as in front.
Baker Pasha’s assessment of the Kietlen Pusztaság intentions were rapidly proven correct. The immaculate lines of white clad infantry surged forward remorselessly. The janissaries on the wall grew a lot less raucous as two spotless battalions of giants in bearskins approached. On the far right the equally immaculate enemy Guard du Korps cavalry trotted toward some local levies who appeared to be clad entirely
in mud and twigs. On his left the huge wing of Avlonya cavalry surged roughly forward, to be matched by the precise ranks of Kietlen Pusztaság cavalry. Just as he was about to gesture Faisal over to start to arrange a departure, he noticed Lopov’s men raising a ruckus on the right.
It turned out that the nice green meadow separating the Guard du Korps from its prey was, in fact, the huge cesspit used by generations of
Grockanians, a bottomless pit of poo. The immaculately groomed horses of the guards dipped a hoof in the morass, looked at their riders (most of them being better equipped in the brains department than the cavalrymen) and refused to go further. This left half of Lepov’s men confronting one lone (and recently paid, they believed) infantry battalion. The unfortunate whitecoats disappeared in a hail of musketry, old vegetables, and some of the contents of the cesspool.
To the Sanjak’s front, with Baker Pasha screaming at them, the turkish artillery had discovered that hail shot could be fired at the guards infantry on their right, engaged with the janissaries along the wall, and other guns could sling roundshot at the enemy cavalry to their front.
Through his glass, Mehmed-beg Ahmed could see a cluster of beribboned officers on a rise, the three in the center gesticulating vigorously. A rider raced away from them to the mass of white coated infantry ahead. The bearskins surged forward, charging the janissaries on the wall. The battalion in front of the hamlet, however, finding itself under the enthusiastic fire of many of Lopov’s sweepings of the gutter, stood their ground.
The previous bravado of the janisarries has turned to howls of terror from the forward two orta, accompanied by howls of derision from the Nizam’i’cedit, as the janisarries fled to the rear. The laughs from the nizam tapered off rapidly as they realised they were now facing guards infantry which was behind a stone wall.
While gesturing to Faisal to get the horses ready, the Sanjak saw white coats streaming to the rear…. the right most grenadier battalion had broken, under surprisingly accurate fire from a unit of janisarries. This leftmost foot guards was now isolated (but still guards, and behind a wall). One of the infantry battalions in front of the hamlet had fallen back too. As he looked forward, he saw one of the Kietlen Pusztaság cavalry units had broken under steady artillery fire.
The nizam stood in front of the guards. Thier fire was erratic, but they stood there, aided by the janissary orta which no longer had an opponent. Every time it looked like they were about to head for the hills under the punishing fire of the guards, some
idiot hero in the back ranks would start a obscene song so full of Istanbul street argot that no one in the army could understand it, and they would not run away. Even Lepov’s crowd on the right appeared to be giving as good as they got, and had not run off yet.
Baker had already noticed the destruction of the enemy cavalry. The Turkish cavalry surged forward, striking the guards in the flank as they fired to the front. In some form of wild excess of military enthusiasm, or huge overestimation of their actual prowess, two units charged the Kietlen Pusztaság foot at the rear as well.
All three of the attacks were thrown back, but the guard was clearly floundering. The nizam started singing some obscene version of The Calif’s staff has a knob on the end, involving weasels, cow manure, and baggy pants. The bandits were still shooting. The Guard du Korps, apparently, were contemplating their laundry bills if they advanced.
And Baker ordered the sipahi and deli forward again. The unit close to the front charged the Guard. Another, in the distance, thundered into the Kietlen Pusztaság guns. And this time they did not fall back. The whitecoats broke. Looking back at his opposition (not his enemies, they were to be found in Istanbul ) on the hillside, he could see three figures. One appeared to be holding his head in his hands, one appeared to be having a nice lie down, and blowing the tops of dandelions. The third, ripped the wig from his head, threw it on the ground, and stomped on it. Then he appeared to dance around on one leg; maybe some form of western penance ritual?
The Kietlen Pusztaság were falling back, their cavalry trying to cover them, though it was badly outnumbered by the victorious, and now enthusiastic, deli.
Mehmed-beg signaled Faisal over. The Sanjak grimaced. Faisal, wise to his master’s moods (and to the deviousness of his mind) forestalled the congratulations on his lips.
“We are in trouble, Faisal”
“Before this, we were the poor man in this war, we would be defeated, routed, and generally ignored. We could have sat in our corner, no threat to anyone, and be left alone. Now, the eyes of Christian Europe swivel in our direction. Baker Pasha’s reputation is much enhanced, but we are in deep, deep, trouble because now they are going to come and fight us, and beat us, until we are a threat no more.”
“And added to that, how do we explain to Baker Pasha that now, in the eyes of Istanbul, there is an expectation of victory….”