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Ziska, The Blind Warrior
by [?]

Sigismund, Emperor of Germany, had sworn to put an end to the Hussite rebellion in Bohemia, and to punish the rebels in a way that would make all future rebels tremble. But Sigismund was pursuing the old policy of cooking the hare before it was caught. He forgot that the indomitable John Ziska and the iron-flailed peasantry stood between him and his vow. He had first to conquer the reformers before he could punish them, and this was to prove no easy task.

The dreadful work of religious war began with the burning of Hussite preachers who had ventured from Bohemia into Germany. This was an argument which Ziska thoroughly understood, and he retorted by destroying the Bohemian monasteries, and burning the priests alive in barrels of pitch. “They are singing my sister’s wedding song,” exclaimed the grim barbarian, on hearing their cries of torture. Queen Sophia, widow of Wenceslas, the late king, who had garrisoned all the royal castles, now sent a strong body of troops against the reformers. The army came up with the multitude, which was largely made up of women and children, on the open plain near Pilsen. The cavalry charged upon the seemingly helpless mob. But Ziska was equal to the occasion. He ordered the women to strew the ground with their gowns and veils, and the horses’ feet becoming entangled in these, numbers of the riders were thrown, and the trim lines of the troops broken.

Seeing the confusion into which they had been thrown, Ziska gave the order to charge, and in a short time the army that was to defeat him was flying in a panic across the plain, a broken and beaten mob. Another army marched against him, and was similarly defeated; and the citizens of Prague, finding that no satisfactory terms could be made with the emperor, recalled Ziska, and entered into alliance with him. The one-eyed patriot was now lord of the land, all Bohemia being at his beck and call.

Meanwhile Sigismund, the emperor, was slowly gathering his forces to invade the rebellious land. The reign of cruelty continued, each side treating its prisoners barbarously. The Imperialists branded theirs with a cup, the Hussites theirs with a cross, on their foreheads. The citizens of Breslau joined those of Prague, and emulated them by flinging their councillors out of the town-house windows. In return the German miners of Kuttenberg threw sixteen hundred Hussites down the mines. Such is religious war, the very climax of cruelty.

In June, 1420, the threatened invasion came. Sigismund led an army, one hundred thousand strong, into the revolted land, fulminating vengeance as he marched. He reached Prague and entered the castle of Wisherad, which commanded it. Ziska fortified the mountain of Witlow (now called Ziskaberg), which also commanded the city. Sigismund, finding that he had been outgeneralled, and that his opponent held the controlling position, waited and temporized, amusing himself meanwhile by assuming the crown of Bohemia, and sowing dissension in his army by paying the Slavonian and Hungarian troops with the jewels taken from the royal palaces and the churches, while leaving the Germans unpaid. The Germans, furious, marched away. The emperor was obliged to follow. The ostentatious invasion was at an end, and scarcely a blow had been struck.

But Sigismund had no sooner gone than trouble arose in Prague. The citizens, the nobility, and Ziska’s followers were all at odds. The Taborites–those strict republicans and religious reformers who had made Mount Tabor their head-quarters–were in power, and ruled the city with a rod of iron, destroying all the remaining splendor of the churches and sternly prohibiting every display of ostentation by the people. Death was named as the punishment for such venial faults as dancing, gambling, or the wearing of rich attire. The wine-cellars were rigidly closed. Church property was declared public property, and it looked as if private wealth would soon be similarly viewed. The peasants declared that it was their mission to exterminate sin from the earth.