Literature / Sienkiewicz Trilogy

Binion's translation of With Fire and Sword

The Wild Lands. The young (but distinguished) commander Jan Skrzetuski rescues from a bunch of brigands a Mr. Abdank. Or so the man says, before admitting Abdank is his coat of arms, and his real name is Chmielnicki. But he's not famous yet, so Skrzetuski doesn't give this much thought and goes on his way.

Along it, he meets Vitriolic Best Buds Zagłoba and Podbipięta (who really wants to serve under Skrzetuski's superior, the famous prince Wiśniowiecki), and shortly afterwards, helps out two ladies whose carriage has broken down on the road. The older's a harridan, but her young niece...

Unfortunately, turns out, her hand has been promised to Bohun. Fortunately, she cannot stand him and likes Skrzetuski quite a lot. He does convince Helena's aunt to go with her to Wiśniowiecki's capital, Łubnie, and to let them marry when the war is over. In the meanwhile, Skrzetuski gets sent to the Sitch as an envoy.

And the rebellion breaks loose.

Known simply as "the Trilogy" in Poland, this series of novels by Henryk Sienkiewicz covers the lives and adventures of a group of Polish and Lithuanian nobles in the 17th century Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, against the real historical backdrop: while the protagonists are made up (if based on real people), you'll find many a Historical-Domain Character there.

The Trilogy consists of: With Fire and Sword (Ogniem i mieczem), which takes place during Bohdan Khmelnytsky's 1647 Cossack rebellion; The Deluge (Potop), occurring during the 1655 Swedish invasion of Poland; and Pan Wołodyjowski (lit. Sir Wołodyjowski, sometimes translated as Fire in the Steppe), which concludes the saga during the Polish-Turkish wars of the 1670s. They were originally serialized in the newspaper Słowo (of which Sienkiewicz was the editor at the time).

Written between 1884 and 1888 with the intent of "lift[ing] the hearts" of the Polish people, "the Trilogy" immediately became a sensation in its homeland, where it was eventually adapted to film, the most famous being Jerzy Hoffman's versions of the saga, and is now seen as one of the masterpieces of Polish literature. It has received considerable acclaim outside its country. Its author won the Nobel Prize in Literature, after all. In some countries, though, such as Ukraine, and perhaps Lithuania, it is disliked, if not reviled, for its negative portrayal of the Commonwealth's opponents.

This saga gives examples of:

  • Abduction Is Love: So Bohun (and Horpyna...) seems to believe. Helena disagrees. Azja Tuhaj-Bejowicz is also of this opinion, but his target of choice proves more difficult to abduct.
  • Abusive Guardians: Helena's aunt (her uncle's widow) is emotionally abusive. Aside from regularly disparaging Helena's father, consider what she says to Skrzetuski - with Helena right there:
    "When the young men go on an expedition I stay at home with him and this young lady, with whom I have more suffering than comfort." The contemptuous tone with which the princess spoke of her niece was so evident that it did not escape the attention of the lieutenant.
  • Accidental Hand Hold: Skrzetuski and Helena's hands touch by accident because a falcon perched on Helena's hand pulls them together.
  • Action Girl: Basia from Pan Wołodyjowski is as much of an action girl as a 17th century woman in a 19th century book can get. Not only has she a passion for fencing, is a good shot and accomplished rider, but knocks her almost kidnapper out with the butt of his own gun and goes back home through the wilderness on foot. By herself. In the middle of winter.
  • Adaptation Personality Change: Jeremi Wiśniowiecki, for one. In the film, his character changes from an involved Badass In Charge to more of an aloof but ruthless authority figure who doesn't get a single scene actually directing a battle.
  • Agent Peacock: A villainous one in Potop - Bogusław Radziwiłł.
  • The Alcoholic: Chmielnicki turns into one in With Fire and Sword, due to stress.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Bohun's for Helena, Ewa's for Azja (tragically so), Wołodyjowski's for several girls, but he's a better loser.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Or more than ambiguously. Horpyna the witch in the 1999 film adaptation of With Fire and Sword. She nearly molests Helena, implying that she would were it not for her fear of Bohun. Crossed with Bury Your Gays when she gets shot, and then stabbed through the chest with a stake, a few minutes later. Which happened in the book, too.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Basia makes one towards Michal, who's completely baffled at first, then realises he reciprocates. Aww.
  • Anyone Can Die: Sienkiewicz wasn't above killing a popular character to remind the readers that the danger faced by the heroes is real.
  • Artistic Licence History: Sienkiewicz may have "tweaked" some things here and there, for a better, more edifying story. Modern Ukrainians aren't pleased.
  • Asleep for Days: Basia's illness, complete with babbling in her sleep when she relives what happened.
  • The Atoner: Kmicic starts out as brash, boisterous, utterly selfish Jerkass who doesn't bother with thinking too much. This attitude causes him a world of trouble, leading to a snap and HeelĖFace Turn... by seventeenth century standards. He still kills and burns villages, but now he's doing it for Poland.
  • Awakening the Sleeping Giant: Before the Swedes started besieging Częstochowa, they were winning the war. Afterwards, not so much.
  • Badass Adorable: Basia is a small, blonde, cute as a button Plucky Girl, who likes sugary treats and playing matchmaker, and is capable of sulking very adorably. Also fully capable of killing someone with a shotgun.
  • Badass In Charge: Prince Jeremi Wiśniowiecki is not only marvelous strategist, able to defeat fifty thousand oponents with only FOUR thousands (historical fact), but also leads personally charge in the battle of Beresteczko.
  • Badass Mustache: Though most, if not all of the male characters have mustaches, and many are badasses, Sienkiewicz pays special attention to Wołodyjowski's badass mustache.
  • Badass Unintentional: Zagłoba, time and again (and again).
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Helena for Skrzetuski.
    Helena: "Because you had pity on me, drew me to you, took my part, and spoke words such as I had never heard before."
  • Been There, Shaped History: See Nice Job Breaking It, Hero. True, the rebellion was brewing anyhow...
  • Betty and Veronica: Jan Skrzetuski and Bohun for Helena, although she professes to only care for Jan. Although both are deeply in love with her, Bohun is more of a Bad Boy who's Troubled, but Cute - especially after he kills her relatives, burns down her home, and then manages to kidnap her. Oh well..
    • In the film adaptation, Jan's blond while Bohun stays canonically dark-haired, making it even more archetypal Betty and Veronica.
  • BFS: Longinus's hereditary sword. Normal people require a demonstration to believe that fencing with this is possible. This became Running Gag.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Jan Onufry Zagłoba — much more 'boisterous' than 'bruiser' but still.
  • Bring Help Back: Podbipięta and Skrzetuski are sent through enemy lines to do this during the siege at the end of With Fire and Sword.
  • Bumbling Sidekick / Hypercompetent Sidekick: Yes, at once. It's not that Skrzetuski is incompetent, but without Rzędzian - a Closer to Earth Combat Pragmatist, loyal to a fault and perfectly willing to go on a dangerous mission at a moment's notice - he wouldn't get much done, except suffering dramatically and fighting. At the same time, Rzędzian's attempts to tell his master about his exploits are hilariously rambling and he pays zero attention to the big, political picture, which makes him look rather foolish. Although...
  • Call to Agriculture: After the events of the Fire and Sword Jan Skrzetuski and Helena get married and settle down with a constantly growing family. This is historically accurate, since the nobility were landowners cum warriors, rather like in Ancient Rome which they saw as a spiritual ancestor of sorts.
  • Challenge Seeker: Wołodyjowski.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: Podbipięta's body gets tied to a siege engine to horrify the besieged.
  • The Cavalry: In an aversion of Deus ex Machina and a possible deconstruction, Podbipięta and Skrzetuski have to go through a virtual suicide mission to call for it at the end of With Fire and Sword. Podbipięta actually does die, but Skrzetuski makes it.
  • Celibate Hero: Longinus Podbipięta, who is sworn to celibacy until he decapitates three enemies at once with his sword, as one of his forefathers did. Though with his sword it's technically possible.
  • Compressed Adaptation: Of "With Fire and Sword". See also Pragmatic Adaptation.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: When it turns out Krzysia and Ketling have fallen in love (quite innocently), Wołodyjowski suddenly becomes one. Then he decides Ketling wasn't really at fault for falling in love, but it's Wołodyjowski's own rotten luck, and forgives him, which is a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming.
    • Bohun is even a better example: when he finds out that the Kurcewicz clan has promised Helena's hand to Skrzetuski, his immediate reaction is to murder the old princess and her two sons in rage and try to abduct the girl (in which he only fails thanks to Zagłoba's wits).
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: It's easy for a casual onlooker to get the impression that Zagłoba is a fat, aging drunk with a tendency to tell shaggy dog stories. That's because he is. Just don't get him mad or desperate...
  • Crush Blush: Helena is often described as blushing furiously in her scenes with Skrzetuski.
  • The Cutie: Two of them, Anusia and Basia.
  • Darker and Edgier: The third book, Pan Wołodyjowski.
  • Dark Chick: Horpyna is a witch, so it's more or less her job. She also gives Helena relationship advice, of sorts.
  • Damsel in Distress: Helena, Aleksandra and Basia each get kidnapped in their respective books. Basia rescues herself, but the other two don't - Helena is terrified out of her wits by her kidnapper, while Aleksandra's hands are tied by politics and being outnumbered. She's a (thoroughly polite) Defiant Captive, though, and attempts to escape at least once.
  • Death of a Thousand Cuts: Podbipięta is killed with arrows.
  • Deconstruction: The third book does this to old, damsel in distress and hero tropes. Zosia Boska, a fiance of the young, strong, courageus noble and soldier Adam Nowowiejski had been captured by evil Tatar Azja. Azja butchers young man's father, rapes (multiple times) love of his life and in the end sells her along with her mother and Adam's sister into slavery. Nowowiejski never sees them again. Azja is killed, but not in the duel. He is impaled, blinded and set on fire by Nowowiejski.
  • Defiant to the End: So many, especially Skrzetuski. When captured by Chmielnicki in the Sitch, he demands that Chmielnicki recognize that the rebellion is flawed in an argument that literally ends with Skrzetuski daring Chmielnicki to kill him . Helena as well when kidnapped by Bohun (in a more womanly way). Aleksandra is very defiant, too, and don't get us started on Basia.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Skrzetuski crosses his in "With Fire and Sword" many times, always in relation to Helena. See Heroic BSOD when he arrives at Rozłogi, only to find it burned to the ground. Later when he finds out the castle of Bar, where Helena was supposedly safe, has fallen to Bohun's Cossacks and also when he hears (false) reports of Helena's death in Kiev. Altogether, Skrzetuski spends a good deal of the book numb, completely focused on doing his duty.
  • Devoted to You: Both Bohun and Skrzetuski are completely devoted to Helena. (Bohun's been obsessed with Helena for years, whereas Skrzetuski falls for her on sight.)
  • Downer Ending: Wołodyjowski's fate at the end of the third book.
  • Do with Him as You Will: What Wiśniowiecki does with Bohun - rather than prescribe the usual punishment for such situations, he decides that Skrzetuski (and Helena), having suffered most due to Bohun, deserve to decide what happens to him.
  • The Dragon: Horpyna has a dwarf, Czeremis as her dragon. She herself is sort of The Dragon for Bohun.
  • Duel to the Death: Played straight in With Fire and Sword with Wołodyjowski and Bohun. Both we and the heroes are astounded to learn Bohun survived.
  • Too Dumb to Fool: Roch Kowalski. Zagłoba still manages to confuse him into submission.
  • Elective Monarchy: Truth in Television. Elections take place in the first and the third book.
  • Expy: Zagłoba bears more than a passing resemblence to Falstaff when he first shows up. And then, he comes into his own.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: You would not want to be captured by the Turks in the 17th Century, especially if you were a woman.
  • Father to His Men: Jeremi Wiśniowiecki, particularly to Skrzetuski.
  • Fever Dream Episode: Skrzetuski has a tendency to push himself to the limit and then crash. This happens at least two or three times over the course of With Fire and Sword - the most notable being after he goes through the marsh to Bring Help Back from the King. Actually, the marsh itself can be counted as a Fever Dream Episode too...
  • Five-Man Band: With Fire And Sword, characters form one:
  • Flynning: Subverted. Wołodyjowski's duel with Kmicic shows actual skill despite what it looks like to an untrained eye. Since Kmicic is no match for Wołodyjowski, the later keeps humiliating him by easily parrying all attacks and in the process turning their fight into elaborate flynning.
  • Folk Hero: Bohun. Dieds (old blind men who sing and beg for a living) sing his deeds.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: In With Fire and Sword, Jan is choleric, Zagloba is sanguine, Longinus is phlegmatic, and Michal is melancholy.
  • Gentle Giant: Podbipięta
  • Get It Over With: Kmicic, when his duel against Wołodyjowski turns out to be a Curbstomp Battle, begs his opponent to spare him the humiliation. It's probably the most famous Memetic Mutation from the whole Trilogy.
  • Gilded Cage: Bohun spared no expense to gild Helena's cage and she's still afraid of him. Bohun (and Horpyna) thinks she'll get over it with time.
  • Good Shepherd: Augustyn Kordecki, the abbott of Częstochowa and a veritable saint as well as skilled administrator.
  • The Good King: Jan II Kazimierz, depression notwithstanding. He hasn't got very good PR, though, which is historically accurate - his latin initials ICR (Ioannes Casimirus Rex) have been interpreted as Initium Calamitatis Regni (starting of kingdom's doom). Jan Sobieski, who's not king yet, gets unambigously sympathetic portrayal.
  • Gratuitous German: German mercenaries' dialogue in "With Fire and Sword" includes a smattering of untranslated German phrases. Also, in the opening scene of the "With Fire and Sword" movie, some German soldiers can be heard speaking their native language.
  • Had To Be Sharp: Wołodyjowski, whose in-universe nickname is "The Small Knight", was trained by his father, who didn't want young Jerzy to be laughed at for his height. It's good to have motivation.
  • Heartbroken Badass: Wołodyjowski, twice: after his first Love Interest, Anusia Borzobohata, dies, second when Basia, after the aforementioned trek through the wilderness, is at death's door. Also Skrzetuski, following his Heroic BSOD. And Adam Nowowiejski, permanently, after the loss of everyone he held dear.
  • Heel Realization: Andrzej Kmicic. That's his Character Development in a nutshell.
  • He Knows Too Much: The reason Chmielnicki refused to set Skrzetuski free after his capture in the Sitch. (Of course, if he was just willing to give his word of honor, it would've been A-OK.)
  • Held Gaze: Um.
    "Again the princess raised her eyes, and her glance met the manly and noble face of the young soldier, and his look, so full of rapture that a deep crimson covered her face. But she did not lower her glance, and for a time he drank in the sweetness of those wonderful eyes, and they looked at each other like two beings who, though they have met merely on the highroad through the steppe, feel in a flash that they have chosen each other, and that their souls begin to rush to a meeting like two doves."
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Kmicic at the end of Potop, because he's adopted a Nom de Guerre Babinicz for the duration of his Redemption Quest (because his own name had loads of bad rep attached - it had hints of a Meaningful Rename, too). Leading to the big reveal and restoration of his honour.
  • Heroic BSOD: Skrzetuski, when he finds Helena's house burned to the ground and thinks she has died.
  • Heroic Safe Mode: Skrzetuski after he finds out the fortress of Bar has fallen and assumes the worst. His friends even wonder if he's no longer in love with her, before they realize what's Beneath the Mask.
    Wołodyjowski: God alone knows what is taking place within him.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Jeremi Wiśniowiecki; the man was so brutal that Sienkiewicz couldn't write around all the unsavory details in With Fire and Sword
    • Had To Be Sharp: Let's see you try keeping relative peace in XVII century steppe...
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Bogusław Radziwiłł in The Deluge. While his cousin Janusz manages to get a Redemption Through Death, Bogusław is so evil that it's not hard to imagine him twirling his mustache in sinister ways.
  • Honor Before Reason: Several characters who take any sort of vows take them very seriously, which puts some of them in unwinnable situations.
    • An interesting example occurs in With Fire and Sword, when one of the armies switches sides during the war and a unit that remains loyal is forced into a Last Stand. Ironically, its a mercenary unit — the commander calmly informs his enemies that he will gladly switch to their side but only after his current contract has expired.
      • Not so ironically - unreliable mercenaries don't get employment, as the commander says in his Badass Boast. Then gets massacred.
    • Wołodyjowski and Ketling choose to die rather than break a vow to not let the Turks in the fortress.
  • Hope Is Scary: Skrzetuski eventually tries to distance himself from the emotional roller coaster of 'news about Helena'.
  • Hope Spot: Right before a soldier appears informing them that the fortress of Bar, where Helena is staying, has fallen to the Cossacks, the army is toasting Skrzetuski and Helena's future marriage.
  • Hordes from the East: The Tatars.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Wołodyjowski, Basia and young Nowowiejski all respect Azja and treat him kind believing that despite his Tatar origin he is now an honest citizen of the Commonwealth and their friend. It turns out he's been resentful towards Nowowiejski's father and plotting to avenge himself all along, and to reclaim the rule of the Tatars that was once belonged to his father, Tuhaj-bej.
  • Hot-Blooded: Bohun, Wołodyjowski, and others. Also Skrzetuski before Heroic Safe Mode hits.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Podbipięta falls in love with tiny Anusia Borzobohata. Of course, this is mocked by Zagłoba.
  • I Am Not Left-Handed: Bohun in his duel with Wołodyjowski.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Used (historically) as a form of death penalty — many mooks and several named characters die this way.
  • Inspired By: Apparently, there was a real Jerzy Michał Wołodyjowski once, who died at Kamieniec Podolski in 1672. Sienkiewicz took these facts and wrote the whole trilogy around them.
  • Inscrutable Oriental: Azja Tuhaj-Bejowicz (being a Tatar).
  • Impoverished Patrician: Helena and her family.
  • It's All My Fault: Skrzetuski did save Chmielnicki from certain death at the beginning of the book...
    "He had seen everything, endured everything, and suffered the more because the thought was in his bosom and brain, like the stab of a knife, that he himself was the remote cause, for he and no other had cut Hmelnitski loose from the lariat."
  • Karma Houdini: Bogusław Radziwiłł
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Azja Tuhaj-Bejowicz's execution is extremely brutal and written in the most graphic detail, but whatever sympathy the reader had for him is long gone by the time it happens.
  • King Incognito: In Potop Jan II Kazimierz goes kind of missing. Turns out he was fleeing the country out of sheer dejection over what's happening. Kmicic rescues him from bandits and convinces his majesty to come back.
  • Lady-in-Waiting: Part of the background whenever the protagonists visit any sort of court, notably Anusia Borzobohata.
  • La Rťsistance: The Poles and Lithuanians rise up against the Swedes in Potop. Also, from a different point of view, Khmelnytsky's rebellion might be counted as this.
  • Last of His Kind: Podbipięta is the last of his clan.
  • Long Hair Is Feminine: Which is why Helena's has to be cut during her and Zagloba's escape, in order to dress her up as a boy. They're both reluctant to do it.
  • Love at First Sight: Jan Skrzetuski and Helena Kurcewiczówna, Andrzej Kmicic and Aleksandra Billewiczówna. Subverted in the third book with Wołodyjowski and Basia.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Bohun's fallen for Helena, head over heels. By hard work and befriending her relatives, he was promised her hand (but this is not treated very seriously by anyone but him, driving Bohun over the edge somewhat). Also, Azja.
  • Love Potion: Horpyna the witch claims to be able to make these, but she tells Bohun that they won't help him with Helena because if you give one to someone already in love with someone else, all that happens is that the existing love becomes even stronger.
  • Maiden Aunt: Wołodyjowski's older sister is still married (to a rather forgettable husband), but she acts as one towards Krzysia nad Basia, fussing over them and trying to find them husbands.
  • Marital Rape License: The character-based sort. Ironically, Bohun absolutely rejects the idea of raping Helena but plans on marrying her against her will - probably the most unforgivable thing Bohun says in the book. It's debatable whether or not he'd actually go through with it though.)
    Bohun: "Then what? It is a sin not to love your husband."
  • Master Swordsman: Wołodyjowski. Also, every other hero, and good chunk of the supporting cast, but Wołodyjowski especially. It's 17th century Poland, people.
  • Meaningful Rename: Jerzy (George) Michał (Michael) Wołodyjowski normally goes by his middle name, since "Saint George only slew a dragon and saint Michael leads the entire heavenly cavalry". But in the third book, while depressed by Anusia's death and staying in a monastery he calls himself Jerzy. This doesn't last.
  • invoked Memetic Badass: While prince Wiśniowiecki is unquestionably Badass, the stories about him tend to be completely fantastical.
  • Multiple-Choice Past: Running gag with Zagłoba's lost eye and forehead scar. It gets lampshaded during his first apperance.
    "[...] this hole the bullet of the robber made in my forehead when I was on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in penance for the sins of my youth."
    "You said yourself it was knocked of you with a tankard in the Radom?"
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Although Skrzetuski is willing to admit that the Commonwealth is flawed, he maintains this attitude throughout all of "With Fire and Sword".
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Bohun when he thinks he's accidentally killed Helena when she faints after he promises to kill Skrzetuski.
  • My Greatest Failure: To some extent. Wiśniowiecki often recalls with regret the day years ago when his pride led him to overrule a court dispute between himself and another noble by showing up with his army, one of the main reasons his political motives are doubted throughout "With Fire And Sword".
    • This rejection of his past mistake leads the once-more-excluded-from-military-power Wiśniowiecki to contemplate personal pride and the importance of the law/authority, creating a Moral Dilemma that goes on for several pages in a variant of If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him.
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: Kmicic and Radziwiłł in The Deluge.
  • Never Learned to Read: Bohun has to ask Zagłoba to read aloud the letters he confiscates from Rzędzian because he is illiterate himself - adding to the drama of the scene. It's a mark of class differences. (Subverted in the movie, where Bohun reads the letters silently and then interrogates Rzędzian about the contents afterwards.)
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Jan Skrzetuski rescues a random man from brigands. The random man promptly turns out to be Bohdan Chmielnicki, and goes on to organize a rebellion of Cossacks. No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.
  • Not Evil, Just Misunderstood: Bohun is actually a rather sad character.
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: Bogusław Radziwiłł. The book informs us about his fighting competence. But in the movie, this info never shows up, making him look like an effeminate spoiled nobleman... until he manages to shoot his would-be kidnapper with his own gun.
  • Occupiers out of Our Country: Especially in The Deluge
  • Parental Substitute: Zagłoba for Helena.
  • Passed-Over Promotion: Jeremi Wiśniowiecki. Sienkiewicz presents him as not only just a ruthless tactician and leader of his men but as the only man who can save the Commonwealth from the rebellion. And yet, because of the fractious politics of the Commonwealth, he isn't chosen for the post. Again and again (and again).
  • Patient Childhood Love Interest: In the third book, everybody knows Azja is one for Ewa, only stopped by Parental Marriage Veto. Except he got over her a long time ago.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Andrzej Kmicic and Aleksandra Billewiczówna. After a whole book worth of angst from both parties.
  • Poles With Lances: And sabres. On horseback.
  • Politically Correct History: In the film version of The Deluge, released in Soviet-dominated Poland in 1974, not one mention is made of the Russians, who were at war with Poland in the original novel and in Real Life.
    • Well, duh. The original novel did not mention Russians at all, since it was written in Russian-dominated Poland. Instead, they mention Septentrions whom Kmicic fights at Smoleńsk.
  • Post-Victory Collapse: Skrzetuski after he gets through to the King. See Asleep for Days.
  • Proud Warrior Race: Everybody!
  • Proper Lady: All the main love interests: Helena, Aleksandra, Krzysia who turns out a Romantic False Lead, but still. Also the wife of Jeremi Wiśniowiecki and the queen.
    • Played with for Helena since although she is traditionally feminine and of noble blood, she doesn't have court manners due to her rude upbringing and Skrzetuski is pleasantly surprised that she knows how to read and write at all. Moreover, she has to make her way through the steppe and the mob disguised as a boy.
    "For a long time he had been in doubt whether in the most favorable event Jendzian would bring a letter, for he was not sure that Helena knew how to write. Women in the country were uneducated, and Helena was reared among illiterate people. It was evident now that her father had taught her to write, for she had sent a long letter on four pages of paper. The poor girl didn't know how to express herself elegantly or rhetorically, but she wrote straight from the heart."
  • The Proud Elite: To some extent, Skrzetuski at the beginning of "With Fire and Sword". He refuses to so much as shake "Abdank's" hand until he knows Abdank is a noble. His prejudice isn't unique because it's part of the Proud Warrior Race society, but definitely gives more credence to the injustice behind the rebellion. (However, over the course of the book, Skrzetuski changes.)
    But the haughty young man did not stir from his place, and was in no hurry to give his hand; instead of that he said, "I should like to know first if I have to do with a nobleman; for though I have no doubt you are one, still it does not befit me to accept the thanks of a nameless person."
  • The Purge: When Chmielnicki denounces the 'suspected traitors' in the Sitch, handing them over to be killed by the mob. Right before Skrzetuski enters the scene.
  • Quantity vs. Quality: Chmielnicki's army of Cossacks, the masses of peasants, and his Tatar allies simply cannot beat Jeremi Wiśniowiecki's (hopelessly outnumbered) Elite Army in the siege of Zbarazh. Or in the battle with Krzywonos. Or...
  • Race Lift: More like Nationality Lift. Wołodyjowski is in fact a Ruthenian, like duke Wiśniowiecki, but no one pays much attention to it. This is mostly Polish version of Hollywood History - they tend to forget, for example, that king Sobieski was also half-Ruthenian.
    • Truth in Television - they were noblemen first and foremost. The Commonwealth wasn't called "noblemen's democracy" for nothing.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Even a slightest suggestion of trying to force himself on a lady is a sure sign of a major villain. Notably - Bohun never does it, despite kidnapping Helena.
  • Real Name as an Alias: Chmielnicki uses the name of his coat of arms as an alias.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Janusz Radziwiłł
  • Redemption Quest: Kmicic undertakes one (to go to Częstochowa and prevent its taking by the Swedes), leading him into many opportunities for Character Development and almost single-handedly turning the course of the war.
  • Reed Snorkel: Near the end of the film adaptation of With Fire and Sword.
  • Resentful Guardian: Helena's aunt dislikes her. The disgrace of her father (who's since turned out innocent, but good luck getting Helena's relatives to tell her that) is probably less of a factor than the fact that aunt and her sons have free reign in the village as long as nobody remembers it's not really theirs.
  • Reunion Kiss: Helena kisses Skrzetuski when they reunite in the film adaptation of With Fire and Sword.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Chmielnicki's rebellion.
  • Rhetorical Question Blunder: When Helena asks Bohun if she's the "only girl in the world" (questioning why he has to be so obsessed with her in particular) he responds, "You are for me.".
  • Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: More like Noble Suitor, Commoner Suitor for Skrzetuski and Bohun. Although Bohun supposedly has piles of money from his various adventures, Jan is Polish and has noble blood, whereas Bohun is a Cossack. Although Skrzetuski really got Helena's abusive relatives to agree to their marriage through a combination of threats and blackmail, Bohun doesn't know that. He immediately sees the situation as a case of Jan being picked over him because of his bloodline and social class:
    Bohun: I loved them and served them like a slave because I thought Iíd earn the girl that way and they sold me out like a slave. They drove me out like a peasant thatís done his work and deserves no thanks. So alright, Iíll go. I donít belong among them anyway. But first Iíll bow to them, down to the ground like a Cossack, and thank them for their bread and salt. And Iíll pay them for it like a Cossack before I go my way.
  • Serial Romeo: Wołodyjowski used to fall in love all the time, with all the seriousness usually displayed by an adolescent jackdaw, but by the third book, he's really given up (see Heartbroken Badass). Then Krzysia appears...
  • Shown Their Work: Sienkiewicz did an incredible amount of research when writing his novels, delving into memoirs and chronicles of the time, even shaping the dialogue to resemble 17th-century Polish rather than its 19th-century successor, though he fell short of that mark. He did, however, sometimes fudge historical accuracy in favor of epic plots and heroism, and the fact that he modelled the Ukranian steppe on the American West, even borrowing some stuff on Native Americans for his Cossacks rather than actually look into the Ukranian side of the story, might count as a Critical Research Failure.
  • Shipper on Deck: Zagłoba supports Jan and Helena's romance. Later on, he spots the feelings Basia is developing towards Wołodyjowski, while the latter remains blissfully oblivious, and nudges him a bit. Similarly, both Zagłoba and others at Lubni support romance between Anusia and Longin, solely based on their height difference.
  • Shoot the Messenger: Jeremi Wiśniowiecki does this to a Cossack envoy from Chmielnicki. And he expects his own envoys to be treated as per the laws of diplomacy.
  • Signature Move: Wołodyjowski sometimes trolls his opponents by parrying in a specific way that makes their swords fly out of their hands.
  • The Siege: Zbarajh in With Fire and Sword, the monastery of Jasna Góra (in Częstochowa) in The Deluge, Kamieniec Podolski in Pan Wołodyjowski.
  • Single-Target Sexuality: Bohun for Helena.
  • Smug Snake: Azja Tuhaj-Bejowicz
    • Also, Bogusław Radziwiłł who, despite a Badass act of shooting a man with his own gun, blows his opportunity to make northern Poland into his family's own personal duchy, just so he can try—and fail—to get Aleksandra.
  • Sole Survivor: Skrzetuski after he's sent to the Sitch.
  • Swamps Are Evil: Skrzetuski has to go through one to reach the King's army. Filled with corpses. In the dead of night.
  • Taking the Veil: Wolodyjowski, almost, after the first of his heartbreaks. Skrzetuski also plans to do this after the war when he believes Helena has been raped. Also Krzysia, when she becomes a part of the Love Triangle with Wołodyjowski and Ketling finds this an honourable third option. Aleksandra's grandfather has left this route open for her if she, for whatever reason, doesn't want to marry Kmicic.
  • Tall, Dark and Handsome: Jan Skrzetuski is tall, dark and handsome enough to pass for an Armenian merchant.
  • The Tease: Anusia loves being adored. Being very, very cute, she has no trouble fulfilling this need.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: After Skrzetuski's time spent in captivity, witnessing the horrors of the war firsthand, Chmielnicki can hardly stand to endure his gaze.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Basia and Krzysia, respectively, in Pan Wołodyjowski. Basia remains a complete cutie, though, while Krzysia is more ladylike. Aleksandra and Anusia have similar, Elegant, Proper Elder Sister and Cutesy, Impulsive Little Sister sort of dynamics whan they meet.
  • The Trickster: Zagłoba. Witty comments, zany schemes that get him in trouble as often as out, once escaped captivity using nothing but Insane Troll Logic...
  • Undying Loyalty: Prince Jeremi tends to inspire this in his followers.
  • War Is Hell: Skrzetuski ruminates on this throughout "With Fire and Sword", with plenty of graphic imagery.
  • Worthy Opponent: Poles used to see the Ottomans as this. While the common Cossacks are savages, their leaders are unquestioned Badasses - even today, in Polish slang, 'Kozak' means a Badass. This is definitely how Wołodyjowski sees Bohun during ther famous duel.
  • Women Are Delicate: Helena, Krzysia and Ewa are (which is part of their appeal), but living in the borderlands takes guts. So, even if Basia is the only girl who learns to fence in the Trilogy, messing with a XVII century Polish noblewoman (or even sufficiently determined peasant women) was not to be undertaken lightly.
  • What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: Basically what Skrzetuski tells Helena when she expresses worries about him going to the Sitch.
    Skrzetuski: Have no fear; the person of an envoy is sacred, even among pagans.
  • Wrong Side All Along: It takes Kmicic considerable time and distance from the Radziwill cousins to realise this.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Zagłoba enjoys teasing Podbipięta, who, as lithuanian (sterotypically calm and quiet) Gentle Giant, invariably responds with imperturbable calm. Zagłoba does break down in Manly Tears upon Podbipięta's death.
  • You Fight Like a Cow: During Wołodyjowski's duel with Kmicic, the former calls out the latter on all of his shabby fencing techniques. A less trashy example than usual, but there are a few comments along the lines of: "Alright, that one? Good for chasing off stray dogs."
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Chmielnicki for Jan Skrzetuski when they meet again in Pereyeslav, where, after a few "I like you" comments, Chmielnicki proceeds to list every time Skrzetuski inadvertently helped him out. Whether it's intentional or not, Skrzetuski's left feeling guilty and completely disoriented. Especially considering he was expecting punishment for having walked out on a ceremony honoring Chmielnicki just a few days earlier.
  • Zerg Rush: Thousands of "disposable" soldiers die trying to storm Zbarazh - this after livestock and captives were forced to rush the walls as well.