King Stépan IV's pleasure dome at Kragoneidin, on the shores of Lake Polishov

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Defiant End



After the rout of his army at Vienna and the subsequent calamity of its retreat, Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha eventually managed, and only with the greatest of difficulty, to set up adequate defensive positions in Hungary.  He then continued south to Shozod, capital city of Borduria, in order to establish a base from which to re-establish command over the scattered fragments of the army. His re-assertion of control was no mean feat given the now-widespread resentment against him among the officers and men who had sacrificed and suffered much at Vienna and the chaos the army had been in during its retreat.  Ever obstinately proud and defiant, Kara Mustafa hoped to recover the situation but he was too experienced a politician for naïve optimism.  The Sultan, furious and egged on by senior military leaders and the Janissary commanders who harboured ancient jealousies, declared that Kara Mustafa would be held to account for the Viennese debacle.  Kara Mustafa was not at all surprised therefore when, in the throes of a late December cold snap, his servants notified him that an Imperial tribunal and a squad of Beylik Janissaries (the Sultan’s own bodyguard) had entered Shozod and were riding directly for the Pasha’s headquarters. 
 Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha

Through a frosty window, Kara Mustafa spotted the menacing column of horsemen, elaborately wrapped in furs and thick coats, winding their way though the street below and he thought for a moment about slipping away.  He had laid plans, men and money aside for an escape in the event that his own Janissary ortas turned on him. But where to go?  To end up in the hands of the infidel enemies would only mean lonely and shameful death and he could expect to find no shelter in the Sultan’s lands or those of his vassals.  To Syldavia perhaps?  An interesting idea… the country was tiny and insignificant, one could hide in the wilds of the frontier and a fat purse can always buy cooperation with the scoundrels who live there.   To disappear and spend a life of indulgent pleasure, undisturbed and safe, how sweet that would be…   

Kara Mustafa looked grimly out his window at the ice-rimed city and felt the cold seep through the glass into his skin.  A life hidden in Syldavia would only be that of a skulking urchin.  To be forgotten in the middle of nowhere, without power or importance?  That would be a living hell!  Kara Mustafa stepped back from the window with a growl.  NO!  To seek shelter amongst the heathens would be a heinous shame and probably death in any case.  And his ignominy would shame if not doom his family (he had been adopted by the extremely powerful Köprülü family).  I will not skulk away with my tail between my legs. I will face the Sultan’s minions and I will not be forgotten.  He had made his stellar career, rising from humble origins to the threshold of the throne, though his preternatural instincts of aggression and to take chances. What was left to him to win now?  Simply the reputation and the hour of his adoptive family and to be remembered as a lion of a man.  Kara Mustafa turned to face the door and drew himself up, one hand on his belt and another on the pommel of his scimitar.  Let them come, the cowards, and tremble as I show them how a real man dies!

Shortly, the sound of heeled boots pounding on floors was heard and Kara Mustafa’s last servants fled.  The doors of his chambers were thrown open and the members of the tribunal strode in, some faces hardened and uncomprising and others, those of old enemies and new turncoats, sneering or shamefaced.   Kara Mustafa glared at them all sullenly as he heard his sentence read out.  He was to die but would be accorded the honour of being despatched by strangulation with a silken rope, as befitting a person of his exalted rank.  At a command, a pair of strong Janissaries stepped forward to hold his arms while another pair looped a silken cord about his neck. “It will take more than two of you to do this job!  And be sure you do your duty as Janissaries should”. Kara Mustafa fixed the Janissary executioners in the eyes with a baleful stare as he spoke.  The man fixing the cord blanched and hesitated (he had expected lamentations and dissembling, as was normally the case in these circumstances).   “Tie that knot properly and do not pussyfoot about as you pull!  Be men, soldiers!” snarled Kara Mustafa again.  Now the executioner flushed and muttered, sweat broke out on his brow and his hands trembled. 

As the Janissaries (four of them now) prepared to pull on the two ends of the cord, Kara Mustafa caught sight of Hassan Muhtar Pasha, the governor of Borduria and until this moment his subordinate.  “I wish that this cord be given to the honourable Hassan Muhtar Pasha who I see before me, that he should better remember this day as he strives to both satisfy his duty to the Great Sultan and to resist the infidels!   Hassan Muhtar,  do you not know that it is King Ivan who will tie this cord about your neck”?
A grisly depiction of the demise of Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa, 1683 

And, with that, the tightening cord began to do its work.  Soon after, a sweating Janissary stepped up to Hassan Muhtar Pasha and, with a bow, proffered the neatly coiled silk rope.  Reluctantly and stiffly, Hassan Muhtar Pasha accepted Kara Mustafa’s troubling gift.  

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