I’m writing, I really am. These points of view for The Gates of Vienna take a while. There are spreadsheets! Dates, times, maps, all of that. When you’re writing a thing like this, and one that needs precise latitude and longitude, there’s loads to sort out. How long would it take to walk from this mountain hamlet to this obscure Austrian village? Anyhow, here’s a bit of whats coming up with The Gates of Vienna.
The Baron vs. the Bakica
Bojanci, White Carinthia 17 Jul 1683
Valvasor was a kindly looking man prone to moments of prolonged and intense study producing squints and wrinkles. He considered himself elegant and learned and carried himself as such, relishing in the fact that in Carniola and the frontier, the Slovenians and Croatians had not much of an idea about much besides farming, the odd war, going to mass and schnapps. To them he was known, he assumed far and wide of course, as Janez Vajkard Valvasor.
It was schnapps that brought him to Bojanci to seek out the famed Uskoki who were said to brew it in severed Turk heads. He had in his times previously being assigned to a unit in the frontier, met and led the odd Uskok or someone who came from one of their valleys, but he had largely never spent any time with them.
The Uskoki, “The ones who leap”, were originally from the seaside town of Senj in Croatian speaking lands and had taken to piracy quite well in times past. As they were under the auspices of the Emperor in Vienna, they were cheerfully allowed to harass, sink, maraud, plunder, pillage, dishonour, castigate, embarrass the otherwise do whatever they fancied with any ship, boat or galley flying the Ottoman flag. They enjoyed this for almost a century, attacking and plundering Turkish vessels and taking to beheading in particular. Being, he imagined, of a robust nature fit for the humour of the sea air and crags, nooks and outcrops of the arid and barren shoreline; they took the job very seriously.
The Turks were keen on raiding for slaves up and down the Adriatic, and the Uskoki were very aware that there may be Christians on board, either slaves to be in transit or pressed into service on the ships. They then began roundups on board, gathering anyone who looked like they might be Turk on deck and proceeded to have them drop their trousers. Circumcision to the vehemently Catholic, God-fearing Uskoki, was not only reprehensible physically, but a quick identifier for those of the Mohammedan persuasion. Those that were circumcised were promptly liberated of their other heads which were piled neatly like canon balls.
It was reported that on one particularly foreskin-less capture the question of Jews was brought up. They apparently invented the practice of circumcision, the Muslims taking the practice from them, and were deemed potentially responsible. During this particular debate, mid-slaughter on a captured Turk slave galley off the island of Cres, the captain of the mission decided to honour his name day, his favourite and namesake Saint Robert. The only appropriate way he decided that lovely, sunny and good-winded June day, was to behead any Jews just in case.
During an unusually dry summer of piracy, the Uskoki started plundering Venetian ships, driving the already tenuous if not outright hostile Venetian-Habsburg relations to the brink of war. Vienna responded in turn, and they were banished inland and made to settle in the area of Bela Krajina, or White Carinthia. There they turned their Turk-killing skills to raids across the border into Bosnia and nearby Ottoman-held territories and as regular foot soldiers in the employ of the Emperor.
They never gave up their love of beheading but did manage to pick up the skills of the Carinthian schnapps making to tide them over. In Ljubljana reports soon followed of an incredibly potent schnapps brought up from the Uskok region and sold in dank back rooms after border clashes with the Turks. It was known as “glavovica”, or schnapps likely of plum origin, “made in heads”.
Valvasor, seeing this rare and expensive schnapps available for the first time, and having lost a bet on his Pythagorean proofs, bought round upon round of the stuff. Days later after paging through his journals, he could see the drunken scribbles of a man extolling glavovica and how he could see through time. He realised he had no hangover at all two days later and was just a bit still drunk and decided to seek the legend of glavovica. This search would mesh perfectly in theme with a planned expedition to the region to investigate reports of the štriguni, or the local variant of the undead. This is how he found himself in a small, stone cottage on a sweltering July day in the hamlet of Bojanci, extremely drunk with an 85-year-old woman.