This book should be available now so this is the last snippet.
1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 68
Mostly, though, Murad had ordered the executions because he was determined to use this campaign to break the resistance of the janissaries and bend them to his will. The janissaries were still a formidable military force, but in the long years since they’d been created by Murad I two and a half centuries earlier the elite corps had grown increasingly fractious and independent. They and the sipahis, the traditional Ottoman cavalry corps, had become too independent of the sultan’s control.
But if Murad’s plans worked, Vienna was going to fall like no great city had fallen in centuries. Not at the end of a protracted siege, but in a few short days — possibly just one day. Murad was an enormously powerful man, physically, and in battle his favored weapon was a mace so large and heavy that few other men could have wielded it. He would break Vienna’s resistance by using his army like that same mace — with one great blow.
The new weapons and the new military units would be the key to that victory. None of them were janissaries, and none were sipahis. Many of them were Christians and Jews, who owed their new status entirely to the sultan.
A slight cough drew Murad’s attention. Turning, he saw that Halil Pasha had arrived in response to his summons.
“Begin the sapping operations,” he ordered. Then, watched carefully to see if the former governor of Egypt seemed hesitant to obey. The man was extraordinarily capable but given to pointless tenderness.
That trait had made him very popular in Egypt. Indeed, after Murad summoned Halil Pasha back to Istanbul three years earlier, the shopkeepers in Cairo had been impertinent enough to close their businesses for a week in mourning. Murad had responded by stripping Halil Pasha of his possessions and exiling him on Cyprus.
Only briefly, though, and just to make a point. The man was too capable not to use him.
But there seemed to be no reluctance on Halil Pasha’s part to do as Murad bade him. He simply bowed and left to carry out the command. Halil was one of the few men who were privy to Murad’s plans in their entirety. He knew, therefore, that sending out sappers was sending men into great danger from which many would not return — and for no purpose other than subterfuge. Murad was going to overwhelm Vienna’s resistance by sheer force and violence, not undermine its walls by the slow underground warfare of sappers against counter-sappers.
But the Austrians would be expecting sappers. Indeed, they would already have begun their own counter-sapping operations. If they encountered no Ottoman troops they would become suspicious.
Their suspicions might not lead to anything. Probably wouldn’t, in fact. With a few exceptions, Austrian commanders were not imaginative. But there was no reason to take the risk, simply to save the lives of a few dozen sappers.
Kasim Bey was waiting for him also. Murad motioned him to come forward.
“How soon?” he asked.
Kasim Bey shook his head. “It is hard to be sure, My Sultan. The big problem is the armored wagons. If we could dispense with those…”
“No.” Murad’s answer was quick and firm. “I do not expect them to be very useful if they actually have to fight. No more than you do, Kasim Bey. But they will strike terror in the hearts of the Austrians. For that alone, I want them here.”
“That may cost us as much as an extra week, My Sultan.”
“I understand. We have to wait another week anyway, for the katyushas and the main airship fleet to arrive. An additional week will not matter. We will still only be in August. You are dismissed.”
With another hand gesture, Murad summoned the Şeyh-ül-Islâm’s acolyte. He’d forgotten the man’s name.
“My Sultan, my master is even now writing the fatwa. Given that the infidels have already been seen to use fire weapons in war, the flamethrowers and incendiary bombs may be used, provided that they are employed in a lawful manner.”
Murad was irritated that Zekeriyyâ-zâde Yahyâ Efendi had chosen to remain in his tent and send an assistant rather than present the ruling himself. The Şeyh-ül-Islâm was the empire’s greatest scholar and normally remained in Istanbul. But Murad had required him to accompany the expedition to Baghdad as well as this one. Partly that was to improve morale; partly to keep an eye on the man.
But the matter was not important enough to force the scholar to appear before him. Both Murad and the Şeyh-ül-Islâm had known what the ruling would be for the last several months. The purpose of this little exercise was simply to have it stated in public, in front of the officers and officials assembled in Murad’s headquarters. For that purpose, the acolyte would do as well as the Şeyh-ül-Islâm himself.
“And how may they be employed lawfully?”
Some of Murad’s irritation must have been evident in his tone, for the assistant seemed to twitch for a moment. That was hardly surprising, given that Murad had executed the current Şeyh-ül-Islâm’s predecessor. The man had been notoriously conservative and Murad needed a ruling that would allow him to use the new weapons his artisans had developed from their study of the American texts.
“First, the flames may only be used against fortifications,” said the acolyte hurriedly, “for Allah alone may use flames against people. But if the flames endanger infidels who fail to flee, then their deaths are on their own heads.”
That was the critical part of the ruling. For all practical purposes, it made the use of the new fire weapons legal under any circumstances likely to arise. The incendiary bombs were less useful than explosives on a battlefield and the flamethrowers were too unreliable. Their principal function was against fortifications.
But there was another matter of importance, which Murad wanted to have stated in public also.
“And what else?” he asked.
“The Şeyh-ül-Islâm also recommends that the weapons be wielded by zimmis so that Muslims are not tempted into error by the innovations in the heat of battle.”
Murad nodded solemnly — as if he had not already put that provision into place. The zimmis — Jewish and Christian citizens of the empire — who manned his armored wagons and airships and provided much of the katyusha force were completely dependent on his goodwill. Unlike the janissaries and the sipahis, they had no other anchor in the empire.
And now he had the imprimatur of Şeyh-ül-Islâm Zekeriyyâ-zâde Yahyâ Efendi on his decision to have the new weapons operated by zimmis. The janissary and sipahi officers in the headquarters had all heard the acolyte say so — and explain that the ruling was to protect the souls of his Muslim soldiers. A good and just sultan could have no higher responsibility.
“You are dismissed,” he said to the acolyte.
After he was gone, Murad climbed the stairs to the second floor of the factory. There was a large window that provided a good view of Vienna.
He spent a few minutes looking at the city. Not planning anything, just gazing and pondering a question whose answer had not yet come to him.
What would he rename Vienna, after he’d taken it?