The Heart of the Hussar
Exploiting Muscovy's Times of Troubles
Poland is at war. He must choose between his lifelong ambition and his heart.
Exploiting Muscovy’s Time of Troubles, Poland has invaded the chaotic country. Twenty-two-year-old Jacek Dąbrowski is an honorable, ferocious warrior in a company of winged hussars—an unrivaled, lethal cavalry. When his lieutenant dies in battle, Jacek is promoted to replace him, against the wishes of his superior, Mateusz, who now has more reason to eliminate him.
Jacek dedicates his life to gaining the king’s recognition and manor lands of his own. Consequently, he closely guards his heart, avoiding lasting romantic entanglements. Unscathed on the battlefield, undefeated in tournaments, and adored by women eager to share his bed, Jacek has never lost at anything he sets out to conquer. So when he charges toward his goals, he believes nothing stands in his way.
Upon his return from battle, Jacek deviates from his ordinarily unemotional mindset and rescues enemy siblings, fifteen-year-old Oliwia and her younger brother, Filip, from their devastated Muscovite village. His act of mercy sets into motion unstoppable consequences that ripple through his well-ordered life for years to come—and causes him to irretrievably lose his heart.
Oliwia has her own single-minded drive: to protect her young brother. Her determination and self-sacrifice lead her to adopt a new country, a new religion, and a new way of life. But it’s not the first time the resilient beauty has had to remake herself, for she is not what she appears to be.
As Jacek battles the Muscovites and Tatars threatening Poland’s borders for months at a time, Oliwia is groomed for a purpose concealed from her. All the while, Mateusz’s treachery and a mysterious enemy looming on the horizon threaten to destroy everything Jacek holds dear.
The following midafternoon, the detachment trudged single-file into dense wood through humidity so heavy it seemed to steam from the ground beneath wheel and hoof. On one side, the trees rose up a hillock ten feet above the track, while the other side was forested flatland. Long shadows fell over their path, creating pockets of stifling darkness.
An outrider abruptly motioned a halt and unsheathed his sabre. The signal rippled through the troop, and a fire sparked inside Jacek. Any illusion of languidness vanished as men and horses snapped into a practiced mass of motion.
Urging Jarosława toward the back of the line, Jacek barked orders to servants encircling the wagon. He came alongside it, hauling Oliwia from his saddle and depositing her atop the heap of equipment in its bed.
“Stay here! Get low, and stay here! Do not let them see you!”
Marcin appeared beside him. Jarosława danced in a circle, Jacek holding her reins loosely as he pivoted with her.
“They will protect you!” Eyes fixed on Oliwia’s, he gestured toward the servants swarming the cart, his hand reaching up to snatch an oncoming projectile flying through the air, seemingly of its own volition. Without looking, he grabbed the sheathed pałasz Marcin had plucked from the wagon and tossed at him. Jacek unwound it and seated it swiftly, belying his racing pulse.
“Oliwia! Do you understand?” Jacek boomed as Marcin handed him his nadziak—the war hammer.
Dazed and wide-eyed, she dropped into the bed and nodded. Jacek turned Jarosława and galloped toward his brothers-in-arms, kicking up clods of earth as he went. They tensed on their horses, bristling with armaments as they faced the sloping woods. From the corner of his eye, he saw Henryk riding for the wagon as if he ran from the devil.
What in blazes?
Ah, Christ! Filip!
Henryk tossed the lad to his sister, turned, and spurred back, falling in beside Jacek. The group drew together in formation. Jacek gripped his nadziak and drew in a steadying breath.
Horsemen erupted from the wall of woods, sweeping down the rise. More men followed on foot, tattered men, scrabbling down the slope like agitated, overgrown beetles. They bore down, swords glinting. Hussars fired wheel-locks into them, the thud of gunfire reverberating off the walls of trees. Heavy puffs of white-blue smoke spread an opaque haze over the scene.
Jacek surged into the onslaught, swinging his nadziak as men came together. The hammer head landed on the snout of an adversary’s horse with a reporting crack, reverberating the impact up Jacek’s arm. The force from the strike carried into the next beast. Its inertia spent, the weakened blow still caused the animal to turn its head, exposing its rider.
Jacek arced the nadziak and buried its claw in the man’s cheek. Bone split, and the man screamed as flesh tore away. Muscled meat flashed, dark red, blood pouring from the gaping wound as Jacek wheeled away. Rooted in his saddle, he swung the war hammer into an enemy shoulder, connected with taught gristle, then backhanded it across another’s midsection, slowing them both.
He pulled away, readying for the next assault.
Come on! Come get me!
Three rushed at him. He kicked at one, connecting his metal-heeled boot with the man’s chest. The man reeled sideways. His saddle seemed to give, and it slipped. Jacek followed with a powerful blow to the man’s mount, toppling him when his horse jerked. The animal bolted into its rider’s erstwhile companions’ path, stamping, blocking adversaries as it crushed its former rider, now prone below its hooves.
While the beast flailed, the two other horses backed up, panicking, tangling themselves and their riders. Jacek seized one man’s reins, swiping the nadziak’s claw at his chest. The man twisted, and the point skittered down his side and punched into his thigh. Bellowing, he jerked his reins, but Jacek held them fast and heaved his elbow into the man’s nose with a resounding crunch. Blood gushed over the man’s unkempt moustache, dribbling into his mouth and off his chin. He grabbed at his nose, and Jacek yanked the nadziak free, turning with a shout to strike the man’s companion.
But he wasn’t fast enough.
The man’s sabre flashed as it carved across Jacek’s body, the curve slicing his middle. Fabric tore. Mother of God! He didn’t look down. Instead, he locked on his attacker’s fiery eyes and thrust the nadziak at the man’s chin. The man’s orbs rolled backward. Surging Jarosława into him, Jacek kicked out and sent him to the ground.
Jacek barricaded himself with the now riderless horses and paused, gasping. There was no pain, no burn of the blade. Sucking in air, he looked down. No blood. He brought his head up, his eyes sweeping the scene, taking in flashes. Mounted men smashed and hacked at each other with unbridled ferocity. Some battled on the ground, sidestepping stamping hooves. Behind him, Henryk dueled two from his charger. Farther off, Eryk swept his sabre like a scythe, slashing at the enemy.
Horses neighed, metal crashed and rang; shouts filled the hollow between the woods.
Jacek tightened his grip on his nadziak, ready for the next onslaught, and stole a glance at the wagon. Enemy riders peeled off, heading for it.
No, no, no!
Blood had been pumping furiously through his veins since the fight began, but now an extraordinary burst exploded. It mixed with a killing rage and coursed through him. Roaring, he swung the nadziak with a two-handed grip. Crushing and clawing, he drove into the men before him with both ends of the war hammer.
Oliwia knew nothing of warfare, yet it was apparent Lord Eryk’s men were the better trained. But they were outnumbered by the combatants engulfing them. She soon lost sight of them as the chaos became one boiling mass of men and horses shrouded in dust and smoke.
A band of foes broke from the main group, riding toward her, seizing her attention. With swords held high, they came at the men guarding the wagon.
Oliwia tugged on Filip’s tunic. “Get down!”
Filip dropped to his belly and became part of the camp supplies. She threw herself over him, covering his slight body. Squeezing her eyes shut, she hunched her shoulders, abjectly aware her linen gown was no shield.
Please, God! Protect Filip. I swear I’ll do whatever you ask of me.
As she lay atop her brother, steel clanged and men yelled. The sounds grew closer, louder. She raised her head. A leathery, lank-haired man battled Marcin beside the wagon, so close she could see him gritting yellowed teeth. They grunted and growled like two snarling wolves. Marcin’s horse rocked the wagon when its rump pushed against it.
Pulling herself up, she fumbled in the equipment, hauling her brother out. She set him at the farthest corner of the cart, motioning for him to stay low, and turned back to the struggling duo.
Men clashed all around her, but she stayed fixed on Marcin and his foe. As they grappled in their saddles, they began a slow tumble over the side of the wagon, and she stumbled to the corner where Filip had squatted a moment before.
He was gone.
Her stomach heaved into her chest, and her racing heart accelerated. She fought down the terror gripping her and scattered whatnot as she burrowed. She searched in vain. A brown blur darted on the ground, snagging her eye. With visceral dread, she turned toward the motion; her brother’s small form ran toward the screening woods.
She screamed, but Filip vanished into the greenery. Crouching in the cart, she searched the main fracas for Jacek, Henryk, Lesław—anyone she could call to her brother’s rescue—but could not distinguish hussar from enemy within the obscured turmoil.
Closer at hand, Marcin’s assailant clobbered him with a heavy hilt, doubling the pacholik over. The enemy locked his eyes on hers. In a fleet decision, she did the only thing she could.
She lit from the wagon.
Griffin Brady is a historical fiction author with a keen interest in the Polish Winged Hussars of the 16th and 17th centuries. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. The Heart of a Hussar took third place in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2018 Colorado Gold Contest and was a finalist in the Northern Colorado Writers’ 2017 Top of the Mountain Award.
The proud mother three grown sons, she lives in Colorado with her husband. She is also an award-winning, Amazon bestselling romance author who writes under the pen name G.K. Brady.