Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Fiction: The Siege

How is it that I, Giancarlo, manage to find myself in the worst possible positions no matter where I am in the world, no matter what great powers are clashing? Perhaps it is sweet Fortuna who draws me there, that fickle bitch! Perhaps it is because I am like a crow, scenting the geysers of blood, the putrefaction of corpses, and the crisp smell of powder from across the world. However it may be, I found myself on the island of Corfu in July of the year 1716.

It was a hot July, and I had thought to find refuge amongst my fellow Venetians. As usual, I had spent all but a handful of ducats when my story begins and I was looking for work. I always seem to be looking for work, and it is the most brutal of work which presents itself. Over the past few years my countrymen saw their colonies in Byzantium being taken away from them by the Sultan of the Ottomans. Corinth, Navarino, all were lost one by one to the armies of the Turk. I suppose I had it coming to me, being so close to the enemy during such a vigorous war, but I was in desperate need of money and my relations on Corfu have always obliged.

Not this time. You may not know this of Giancarlo, but my family comes from a long line of Venetian adventurers and merchants. I had always counted on the good graces of my kin in the worst of times. Abrezzo men have served as podesta in Verona, Vincenza, and Corfu on many occasions. My roots on the island, or so I thought, were strong. Of course, it is true that as a possession of Venice, the native Corfans never truly thought of themselves as my kin, but that's what the Venetian families were for, after all! Not that I can claim admission to the Golden Register or any patroni on the Council, but as I said, we were not without means.

It was with some irritation, you can imagine, that I found myself turned away from Madonna Simona's estates like a common beggar! I cursed at her (she is my aunt, after all, and so I am permitted to curse at her) and spat upon her footmen (who, in all truth, didn't deserve it). I hurried back to Corfu from her sugar groves, fast as feet can carry. While I was lingering at her gate I saw an unpleasant sight: smoke from over the hills, and not the thin white smoke that speaks of cookfires nor the contended gray smoke of heating; the thick black billowing smoke that tells of encampments sacked.

The island was overrun with Austrians; the Council had decided to throw in their lot with the Tyrol, far be it from me to question their decisions, inept though they may be! Where, I ask you, was Austria when the Turk was smashing our holdings in Greece? Or when the Hungarians were raping Dalmatia...? But enough!

Suffice to say that the Ottomans were landing unopposed on our island and I knew I must hasten back to the city at once. It wouldn't do to be caught in the countryside with, as it were, my last bits of bribing money jingling lonesomely in my pocket. I cursed my aunt again, and in truth may the devil drag her down to hell for turning me away at just that moment! For I discovered only later that her cane fields were spared, while I had to endure the confines of a siege in Corfu!

Either way, I made haste back to the city only to be stopped by a surly Austrian at the gates wanting to know my identity. I have never had luck with Germans, as I'm sure you can attest, and his Germanic bearing was so bellicose as to be absolutely Prussian. I promptly slipped him one of my rapidly dwindling ducats which quieted his questions long enough for me to slip into the city. Without my knowing it, siege lines were being drawn up across the island. How I yearned to see that winged lion fluttering over the sea, but to no avail! The Sultan's ships were all that was visible from Corfu's harbor.

I hastened to the room that I had rented to discover it was no longer mine. The landlord, a foppish fellow by the name of Jacopo, had packed all of my meager belongings onto the street and left them sitting there beneath the sky! Why, there was my fine cherrywood walking stick and a brace of pistols that I won in the War of Spanish Succession dicing against a swarthy Sicilian! Anyone could've made away with them, and I was righteously angry at that toady Jacopo and his swaggering style!

I went to go find him and reclaim my room (I was not in arrears, this I swear!) but he was nowhere to be found. Instead a small contingent of Austrians was lounging in my quarters, feet on all the furniture (some of which I'd bought and paid for) and their filthy paws in all of my cured meats, which I noticed Jacopo had neglected to toss out with the rest of my things. Indignity upon indignity! I swept into my rooms at once like Alexander, peering down my nose at these barbarians.

"My dear house guests," I began at once, which instantly drew a response from the men. One of them went so far as to topple over in surprise, splintering a very fine chair from Malta (which actually, as luck would have it, belonged not to me but to Jacopo, that swine) and cracking his head against the floor. "I can see that you've made yourselves at home, which is just as I would've liked it. After all, if you can't get the lagoon then at least my rooms are the next best thing." This, of course, was in reference to the perennial greed of the Austrian Dukes and their grasping for the lands of Veneto.

One of the men, a smart fellow dressed in those ridiculous blue cuffs and white leggings, shot to his feet, put his cap on at once, and addressed me smartly in his clipped Venetian: "My friend," he said to me (and I'm positive I glared back in his direction), "My friend, we have paid for this room I'm afraid, and we must be stationed in it. It is central in the city, commands a view of the harbor, and grants us easy access to the cannon positioned on the walls if we need it. My men and I regret that we've had to oust someone already in residence, but it couldn't be helped. It truly couldn't."

In truth, it was a rather splendid building near the Fortezza Nuova, but I would never admit to this upstart of a captain that it was convenient for his military purposes. I could think of nothing biting at the time, so I did as my father always told me: If you can't think of something hurtful to say, say nothing at all. I walked out, fuming.

In the days that came, I was to find that most of the lodgings in the city were occupied by Austrians similar to this first gentleman, and so I took up residence quite discreetly in the Fortezza. By my logic, if the Austrian soldiers thought it fit to lodge in a Venetian town then I, a Venetian civilian (at least at the moment), should find no trouble living in the Austrian-occupied fort. There is a clock tower there with a small space at the base for repairmen to sit and gather their thoughts (I suppose) before attempting the climb to the mechanism, and that is where I spent most of my time.

It was on the 7th of August that I was found out. And who did the finding? Why, none other than that God-damned Austrian captain who had taken my rooms! His face was scorched black from battle; a cannon had detonated up on the battlements and taken, as I later found out, most of his men straight to hell. He alone and three other men survived, and they were rushing to the walls to repel Turkish cannoneers who were set up just beyond the fortifications. The sky was overcast, and a great storm was brewing that would ultimately repulse those damned Turks.

The captain was brought up short in surprise as I emerged, yawning, from my new rooms. He and I had encountered one another repeatedly during his stay throughout the siege, and each time we bumped into one another the animosity between us grew. I had thrown a tomato at him the last time I had seen him, knocking off his hat and sending him sprawling into a patch of mud.

He rounded on me furiously and babbled in his Godless German tongue for several seconds before switching rapidly to the dialect of Venice. "You should not be here, you damn fool!" he said. I was not one to take such an insult lying down (or yawning, as I was doing at the moment). I struck him boldly across the jaw and, as a jagged bolt of lightning streaked across the ominous sky, he said: "That is the last of this, sir! I will have my satisfaction with you!"

I grinned, for this Austrian fool did not know my reputation, and we began up the tower to settle our score...

ADDENDUM: I have been questioned, and vigorously, several times upon telling this story as to why we would duel atop a clock tower. That answer, of course, is because I requested the field be placed there. Again, you will ask me why? Perhaps this will show you...

There was a FLASH of light and I danced backwards across the tiles. The poor Austrian captain was a fool to challenge me, but he could little know my skill in a narrow space. In my youth I had spent many hours atop the rooftops of the city on the Rialto, and now it came back to my advantage. The sky split again with fulmination, and I knew I had him.


  1. I like it! Good read. I'll dig for more. :-)

  2. *even wilder applause*

    Awesome, Josh, and thanks for the heads up.