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Literature / Sienkiewicz Trilogy

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"It was a remarkable year, the year 1647, in which various portents in the heavens and on the earth foretold calamities and unusual occurrences."
—Binion's translation of With Fire and Sword

The Wild Lands. The young (but distinguished) commander Jan Skrzetuski rescues a Mr. Abdank from a bunch of brigands. 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 the way, 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, as it turns out, her hand has been promised to Bohun. Fortunately, she cannot stand him and likes Skrzetuski quite a lot. He's able to 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 and what would become Ukraine, 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.

Several adaptations have been made, most notably the 1969 Pan Wołodyjowski (along with a TV series), the 1974 film The Deluge and the 1998 With Fire and Sword (starring Izabella Scorupco as Helena Kurcewiczówna among others), all three being directed by Jerzy Hoffman. Both The Deluge and With Fire and Sword are among the most expensive Polish films ever made.

This saga contains 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 (because she loses the horse on the way). By herself. In the middle of winter.
  • Actionized Sequel: Pan Wołodyjowski ditches the overall pretense of being an important and moralising historical novel and instead focuses on personal adventures of the titular colonel, with historical events used only as a far-away backdrop. It's also significantly shorter than either With Fire and Sword or The Deluge. Tropes Are Not Bad, since this makes it far more digestable as a simple adventure novel and it's Pan Wołodyjowski that ended up having countless copy-cats, both contemporary and modern ones.
  • Adaptation Personality Change: Jeremi Wiśniowiecki, for one. In the film, his character changes from an involved leader to more of an aloof but ruthless authority figure who doesn't get a single scene of actually directing a battle.
  • Adaptational Wimp: Zagłoba, believe it or not. In the books, while having a healthy concern for his own hide, he's still a skilled swordsman, is mentioned to have no reservations about duelling his fellow noblemen, and legitimately captures an enemy banner during a battle in With Fire and Sword. In the films he's... none of that; and the banner literally falls down on him while he's hiding in a ditch with a bottle of wine.
  • Agent Peacock: A villainous one in Potop - Bogusław Radziwiłł.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Janusz Radziwiłł doesn't quite manage a Death Equals Redemption but his last moments are a somber affair, and evoke a measure of sympathy even in his erstwhile enemies.
  • 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 didn't happen in the book, where Horpyna does hit on Rzędzian and Bohun's men, and treats Helena with her own brand of sympathy, but nothing more. Her death, while still violent, is less gratuitously so (Rzędzian shoots her, then uses some consecrated chalk to draw a cross on a heavy stone he drops on her chest to keep her from coming back to haunt him).
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Basia makes one towards Michał, who's completely baffled at first, then realises he reciprocates, resulting in them going to Chreptiów as a Happily Married couple. 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. Podbipięta gets killed in With Fire and Sword, Wołodyjowski pretty much commits Heroic Suicide in the last book.
  • Arch-Enemy: Bogusław Radziwiłł for Kmicic in Potop.
  • 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.
  • Asshole Victim: Kuklinowski, who sided with Swedes for his own personal benefits and helped them besiege Częstochowa. He tortures Kmicic more for his amusement than to get any information out of him, burning his side with a tarred torch. After managing to escape, Kmicic pays him in kind, and leaves badly injured Kuklinowski suspended by arms to a ceiling joist. By the time rest of the traitors check on the shed where Kmicic was tortured, they find Kuklinowski still tied and dead from sustained injuries.
  • 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 Heel–Face 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 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: Right in the beginning, Skrzetuski saves the life of Chmielnicki, the man soon to lead a major rebellion. True, the rebellion was brewing anyhow...
  • Before I Change My Mind: Chmielnicki basically tells Jan this when letting him go:
    Chmielnicki: Hasten to take advantage of my favor, lest I change my mind; for it is my kindness and belief in a just cause which makes me so careless as to provide an enemy for myself, for I know well that you will fight against me.
  • 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, Zerwikaptur ("Hood-Tearer"). 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.
  • Born Lucky: Kmicic often mentions no daring venture's ever gone wrong for him before. In a way, Informed Attribute, because when he becomes The Protagonist, things do start going sideways for him.
  • 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. All four friends volunteered, but their commander decided it's more prudent to send them one by one.
  • 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 With 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.
    • Skrzetuski's still fighting in Ukraine for a good portion of the time though.
  • Can't Kill You, Still Need You: The proud Janusz Radziwiłł often wants to make Kmicic pay for questioning his orders or calling him out on lying. But because Kmicic is essential to keeping Radziwiłł in power, he has to leave Kmicic alive (and willing to cooperate).
  • 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.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Both Jeremi Wiśniowiecki and Chmielnicki are shown angsting over their responsibilities as leaders.
  • Challenge Seeker: Wołodyjowski in the first book, being young and totally harmless-looking enjoys needling people into Mugging the Monster. Grows out of this later, more or less.
  • Compressed Adaptation: Of With Fire and Sword. See also Pragmatic Adaptation.
  • Conveniently Placed Sharp Thing: How Zagłoba escapes his captivity by Bohun's men.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: If Kmicic had just written to Oleńka to let her know that he'd realized he was on the wrong side all along and was beginning to make reparations instead of deciding he didn't deserve to write to her until he's done something to make up for it, both could have been spared a world of angst. Oleńka eventually believes Bogusław's lie that Kmicic is not only a traitor, but set out of his own accord to sell the Polish king to the highest bidder, dead or alive. She's brokenhearted and horrified. Her confidence in herself and her judgement takes a pretty heavy blow as well. Of course, the letter could have been lost during the war.
  • 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.
    • Bohun is an even 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 (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...
  • Crucified Hero Shot: Podbipięta's body gets tied to a siege engine to horrify the besieged.
  • Cruel Mercy: Kmicic decides to leave Kuklinowski, a man who just tortured him, alive, but not after paying him back in kind with the exact same torture method. It actually fails - when Kuklinowski is found by his co-conspirators, he's dead from the extensive burn damage.
  • Crush Blush: Helena is often described as blushing furiously in her scenes with Skrzetuski.
  • Cry into Chest: After Skrzetuski snaps out of his Heroic BSoD at Rozłogi and breaks down, Prince Jeremi "said not a word; he only opened his arms to him and waited. Skrzetuski threw himself into those arms with loud weeping."
  • The Cutie: Two of them, Anusia and Basia.
  • Darker and Edgier: The third book, Pan Wołodyjowski.
  • 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.
  • Dead Guy on Display: Longinus' body is displayed to intimidate the besieged.
  • Death of a Thousand Cuts: Podbipięta is killed with arrows. Lots of arrows.
  • Deconstruction: The third book does this to old, Damsel in Distress and hero tropes. Zosia Boska, the fiance of the young, strong, courageous noble and soldier Adam Nowowiejski had been captured by evil Tatar Azja. Azja butchers young man's father, rapes (multiple times) the poor girl 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 a duel. He's impaled, blinded and set on fire by Nowowiejski.
    • More specifically it reads like a deconstruction of the previous two novels. Nowowiejski is a young, heroic nobleman, just in the mould of Skrzetuski and Kmicic, so he's going to valiantly serve Poland, have many adventures, then a brush with death, and ultimately be rewarded a Happily Ever After with his love, right? Hell no.
  • 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 - apart from her Bungled Suicide, she flat-out tells him that he can do whatever he likes to her, but she'll never love him. 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.)
  • Doorstopper: Both With Fire and Sword and The Deluge are pretty thick and usually published in two tomes to make it comfortable to just handle them. There are also editions that get the entire Trilogy into a single tome and it's big and heavy enough to be used as a bludgeon.
  • Downer Ending: The third book ends with Wołodyjowski dead and the political situation crumbling. Which is a Foregone Conclusion if you are familiar with the real history behind the events of the novel.
  • 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 Depraved Dwarf, Czeremis, as her dragon. She herself is sort of The Dragon for Bohun.
    • Kmicic becomes one for Janusz Radziwiłł.
  • Dueling Scar: Kmicic has one on his forehead from when he was struck down in his duel with Wołodyjowski. It serves as a Distinguishing Mark later.
  • 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. Later, in The Deluge, same thing happens with Kmicic. Generally, if someone duels Wołodyjowski and isn't an established character, they'll die. If the other duelist isn't even of Nominal Importance, their death will take one, two lines, tops.
  • Too Dumb to Fool: Why Radziwiłł picked Roch Kowalski to convey our imprisoned heroes in The Deluge. Zagłoba still manages to confuse him into submission.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Both Skrzetuski and Kmicic suffer inordinately (as well as their love interests!) over the course of their respective books, and are eventually compensated with marriage and happiness.
    Wołodyjowski (of Jan): Well, because the country was in need, in humiliation, because the terrible Chmielnicki was triumphing, he did not go to seek the girl. He offered his suffering to God, and fought under Prince Jeremi in all the battles, including Zbaraż, and covered himself with such glory that to-day all repeat his name with respect. Compare his action with your own and see the difference. Then God rewarded and gave him the maiden.
    • Kmicic actually invokes this trope in The Deluge once he sets out on his redemption quest. At first, his feelings for Oleńka (and hopes to be with her) are mixed up with his sense of patriotism, and he even sees her as a symbol of the country he betrayed. Then things change when he has to make the choice to put the country's interests before his own happiness.
    • Also invoked when Kmicic is prescribed harsh penance to atone for his sins when he goes to confession.
  • Elective Monarchy: Truth in Television. Elections take place in the first and the third book.
  • Expy: Zagłoba bears more than a passing resemblance 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...
  • Film of the Book: Three of them, filmed in reverse order. Pan Wołodyjowski first, The Deluge second and, twenty five years later, With Fire and Sword. Their popularity borders on Adaptation Displacement despite the books being compulsory reading in high schools.
  • 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. Somewhat exaggerated.
  • Gentle Giant: Podbipięta, of the BFS. He takes Zagłoba's mocking good-naturedly and buys him drinks, because why not? It's not like he's poor.
  • Get It Over With: Kmicic, when his duel against Wołodyjowski turns out to be a Curbstomp Battle, begs his opponent to finish it and 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 (the beginning of kingdom's doom). Jan Sobieski, who's not the king yet, gets an unambiguously 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.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Although there's still a lot of bias towards the Polish side in With Fire And Sword, the author tries to show that both sides of the conflict have good points - and that both commit atrocities. Not so in Potop, where Swedish conflicts with and invasion of Poland are very much seen as clear-cut Black-and-White Morality by both the author and the main protagonists (Kmicic, Aleksandra, Wołodyjowski...)
  • Guile Hero: Zagłoba is the obvious one, but there are more: Rzędzian, Skrzetuski's servant in With Fire and Sword even impresses Zagłoba with his schemes; Kmicic is no slouch in the cunning department, aided by being brave to the point of recklesness; Wołodyjowski, as a famous "zagończyk" (a military commander who was tasked with raiding deep into hostile territory to harass enemy army) is one militarily, if not exactly personally (in fact, outside of his fencing skills and command ability he's pretty endearing).
  • 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.
  • Have We Met?: Tyzenhauz asks Kmicic this when Kmicic arrives at the king's court in exile under his Nom de Guerre Babinicz. This ends up being a plot point when Tyzenhauz tries to convince the king not to trust "Babinicz" later.
    Tyzenhauz: Have we met somewhere in Lithuania? I cannot remember your name, for it may be that I saw you when a youth, and I myself was a youth then? (...) Your face is surely not strange to me, though at that time it had not those scars. Still see how memoria fragilis est; it also seems to me you had a different name.
  • 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, so of course it takes him half of the book to even cotton on he's in the wrong.
  • He Knows Too Much: The reason Chmielnicki refused to set Skrzetuski free immediately 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's 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 Downgrade: Minor example, but still - Jan Sobiepan Zamojski really did "offer the Netherlands" to Carl Gustav during the Polish-Swedish war but he did it entirely of his own volition, and he came up with the line himself.
  • 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. The upgrade is so extensive people tend to openly ignore his historical "deeds", instead taking Sienkiewicz fan-fiction at face value. It doesn't help he's entirely skipped in History curriculum, while Trilogy is a compulsory read in Polish schools.
      • Conversely, Jeremi's more straightforwardly noble actions - saving a decent portion of the local Jewry from the Cossack genocide - are omitted entirely, due to Values Dissonance.
    • An interesting case with the historical counterpart of Kmicic in The Deluge, one Samuel Kmicic - while he never actually joined the Radziwiłłs and the Swedes, he was a far more self-serving and opportunistic character than the misguided and hot-headed,but fundamentally decent, hero of the book.
    • By all accounts, king Jan Kazimierz was a horrible ruler, failing at diplomacy (the main reason the Commonwealth bothered with having kings in the first place), popular support, any kind of decision making and even entry level of politics in his own court (ultimately being forced to abdicate thanks to a court plot). And one of his first decisions upon learning about Swedish invasion, all while still having troubles in Ukraine going, was to just pack and leave the country to its own devices. With the exception of this running-away episode, you won't find any of this in the books, where it's all either completely glossed over or heavily downplayed, portraying the king as kind and wise, if melancholic.
    • In reality Paweł Sapieha had all the flaws Sienkiewicz attributes to him in The Deluge but few, if any, of the virtues he is given.
  • 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.
  • Holy Ground: Monastery of Jasna Góra.
  • 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 Crusher: Bogusław Radziwiłł is one, most notably for Kmicic.
  • 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 kindly believing that despite his Tatar origin he is 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. And let's not forget about Kmicic. Really, being hot-blooded is sort of a trade mark for Sienkiewicz heroes.
  • 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.
  • Identical Grandson: Thirty years after casting Daniel Olbrychski as Azja in Pan Wołodyjowski, director Jerzy Hoffman cast him again as Azja's father, Tuhaj-Bej, in With Fire and Sword. As a result, Olbrychski is the only actor to star in all three movies.
  • I Kiss Your Hand: Quite often in Ogniem i Mieczem - especially Skrzetuski towards Helena and his boss Jeremi Wiśniowiecki.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Used (historically) as a form of death penalty — many mooks and several named characters die this way.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Helena and her family.
  • 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.
    • Also, both Wołodyjowski's and Kmicic's exploits are apparently borrowed from the biography of Kazimierz Pułaski, who lived about a century after these books are set and was a duel-prone Pintsized Powerhouse in his youth.
    • There were actually two different gentlemen by the surname of "Wołodyjowski." Jerzy (the one who died in Kamieniec) and Michał, who was an officer in Jeremi Wiśniowiecki's army, but died several years before Chmielnicki Uprising even started.
  • Inscrutable Oriental: Azja Tuhaj-Bejowicz (being a Tatar).
  • Interrupted Suicide:
    Helena: (to Bohun) "The knife would have killed me, but you wrenched it from me."
  • I Owe You My Life: Kmicic feels he owes Wołodyjowski the world for having given him the officer's commission which saved him from execution.
    • Chmielnicki feels he owes Skrzetuski a debt in Ogniem i Mieczem for having saved his life, but he declares that after he's freed Skrzetuski later on, they're at quits.
    Chmielnicki: You know that we are even now. I liked you in spite of your insolence, but if you fall into my hands again you will not escape.
  • 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."
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Kmicic at the beginning of The Deluge does some really awful things aside from just helping the war effort (and his lack of restraint is legitimately terrifying), but, the problem: he doesn't realize those things are wrong. He's so cheerfully unabashed he doesn't mind spending most of his intro scene chattering ingenuously over dinner about he and his friends' mostly-illegal exploits. To his fiancée.
  • 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.
  • Ladykiller in Love: A female example from Anusia, the court flirt, when she falls for Longinus.
  • La Résistance: The Poles and Lithuanians rise up against the Swedes in Potop. Also, from a different point of view, Chmielnicki's rebellion might be counted as this.
  • Large and in Charge: Chmielnicki and Janusz Radziwiłł are both described as large and physically imposing.
    • Subverted with a foil to both characters, Jeremi Wiśniowiecki, who's a badass leader liked by his soldiers, but described as slight in build and "delicate".
  • Laser-Guided Karma : Krzeczowski, who switches sides after massacring a German mercenary regiment that remained loyal to the Commonwealth. He ends up defeated by Radziwiłł's German regiment and impaled.
  • Last of His Kind: Podbipięta is the last of his clan.
  • Last-Name Basis: Bohun's first name is used once. It's Jurko. "What is Bohun's first name?" has been used as a question in "how well you know the Trilogy" contests.
    • Ditto for Zagłoba, although his first name "Onufry" is more well known probably due to being unusual in modern times.note 
  • 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, since she's immediately interested, but he's Oblivious to Love and making the moves on her best friend ( who ends up with his best friend).
    • It's arguable whether or not Kmicic and Aleksandra fall in love at first sight - they're definitely attracted to each other from the first, and Kmicic impulsively claims to love her, but it seems to be over the next weeks that they fall in love for real. As Kmicic keeps making visits to Wodokty, he returns each time "more in love", and eventually Oleńka trusts him enough to say she loves him as well.
  • 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 somebody 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 and Basia, fussing over them and trying to find them husbands. Played straight with Oleńka's Aunt Kulwiecówna, of the staunch moral guardian variety.
  • 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 be able to go through with it though.)
    Bohun: Then what? It is a sin not to love your husband.
  • Master Swordsman: Wołodyjowski. Also, every other hero (well, Zagłoba tends to use his tongue more than his sabre), and good chunk of the supporting cast, but Wołodyjowski is the Master Swordsman. 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.
  • Men Don't Cry: Subverted. When Skrzetuski overcomes his Heroic BSoD at Rozłogi, he completely breaks down - and the rest of the army weeps with him. Other male characters cry throughout the book, especially when mourning Longinus' death.
    • Played with in the Rozłogi scene: Skrzetuski attempts to control his violent sobs, and Wiśniowiecki tells him to forget his personal suffering because he must dedicate himself entirely to his country. Then again, later, even characters like Jeremi himself shed tears for the Commonwealth's misfortune - apparently Real Men Cry, but only when it's to do with something greater than "their own loss".
    • Also subverted with Kmicic in Potop.
  • Middle Name Basis: Nobody calls Wołodyjowski "Jerzy" until the third book, and even then, it's just because he's trying to turn his life around. "Jerzy", incidentally, is not an embarassing name in any way, he just thinks "Michał" is more badass.
  • Misery Builds Character: Or it did for Skrzetuski, anyway.
  • Multiple-Choice Past: Running gag with Zagłoba's lost eye and forehead scar. It gets lampshaded during his first appearance.
    Zagłoba: [...] 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.
    Someone who's drinking with him: You said yourself it was knocked of you with a tankard in the Radom?
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Bohun threatens to torture and kill Skrzetuski in an outburst of rage after kidnapped Helena continually spurns his advances. Although Helena's something intimidatingly sacred to him, whom he can't seem to intentionally harm and barely touches without her consent, he has no such compunctions where her lover Skrzetuski is concerned.
    Bohun: But I will reach this Pole, and I will order him torn out of his skin, will nail him up. Do you know that Chmielnicki is marching on the Poles, and I go with him; and I will find your dove even under the ground, and when I return I will throw his head at your feet as a present.
  • 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(/s) 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 to the Radziwiłł clan 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.note 
  • 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: Particularily in The Deluge.
  • Old Retainer: Czechły, a Tatar servant in the Kurcewicz household, who's been there since the days when it belonged to Helena's father and to whom Helena's care was entrusted when her father was forced to flee in exile when she was a little girl.
  • 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 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.
  • The Penance: When Kmicic goes to confession, the prior Kordecki prescribes harsh penance to wash away his sins - which ends up including Kmicic ordering his colonel and friend Soroka to whip him on a daily basis. Kmicic is actually happy now that someone has shown him a clear-cut path towards redemption, but the description of the violence is still pretty disturbing.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Andrzej Kmicic and Aleksandra Billewiczówna. After a whole book worth of angst from both parties.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Michał Wołodyjowski. His in-universe nickname is "The Small Knight".
  • Pistol-Whipping: Basia, while defending herself from her Stalker with a Crush Azja, with his pistol.
  • Please Spare Him, My Liege!: Kmicic begs Janusz Radziwiłł for Wołodyjowski's life. It starts out as more of a threat, really, but Janusz's pride forces him to beg in earnest. Kmicic uses flattery to get him to promise to spare Michał's friends as well.
  • 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.
  • Privileged Rival: Skrzetuski in comparison to Bohun.
  • Proper Lady: All the main love interests: Helena, especially 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 Rzędzian 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."
  • Proud Warrior Race: Everybody!
  • Punished for Sympathy: Everyone expects this to happen to the boy Żeleński after he mercy-kills the Cossack envoy impaled on Prince Jeremi's orders, since the prince does not tolerate any sign of disobedience, but in a Pet the Dog moment, Jeremi instead rewards the boy for being brave enough to risk his life for his humanity and promotes him to his personal service.
  • 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 Men Hate Affection: Subverted entirely - Sienkiewicz's male soldiers kiss and embrace each other joyfully throughout the Trilogy, and very often. Truth in Television at the time!
  • 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 (eventually going to Częstochowa to 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: In the film adaptation of With Fire and Sword.
  • Releasing from the Promise: Michał releases Krzysia from their engagement after he learns she fell in love with his best friend Ketling (and after he cools down from his initial resolution to kill Ketling in revenge for the betrayal and humiliation).
    Michał Wołodyjowski: All three of our hearts are being torn apart — I thought — better for one to suffer and bring joy to the other two. May the God give you happiness with Ketling, dear Krzysia. (…) I prefer you to bless me rather than curse me.
  • The Remnant: Kmicic and his followers at the beginning of The Deluge - Smolensk has been captured by the Russians after the Lithuanian forces suffered a defeat, but Kmicic and company continue the fight alone.
  • 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.
  • Revenge by Proxy: Kmicic is terrified Janusz Radziwiłł will take revenge on Oleńka (who remains in his power) for Kmicic turning against him. (This turns out to be justified - Janusz is only prevented by Bogusław hastily informing him that Kmicic's sent a letter which essentially blackmails them into keeping Oleńka and her family safe.)
    Janusz: We will find him! We will dig him out! We will get him, even from under the earth! Meanwhile I will give him a sorer blow than if I were to flay him alive.
  • 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 of 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 I’d earn the girl that way and they sold me out like a slave. They drove me out like a peasant that’s done his work and deserves no thanks. So alright, I’ll go. I don’t belong among them anyway. But first I’ll bow to them, down to the ground like a Cossack, and thank them for their bread and salt. And I’ll pay them for it like a Cossack before I go my way.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Of all the characters Zagłoba has the most impressive one in With Fire and Sword when Podbipięta is killed trying to sneak past the enemy lines during the siege of Zbaraż. The cheerful braggart usually preoccupied chiefly with keeping his hide intact completely flips out and charges into the enemy ranks without so much as a backwards glance. Granted, the whole section of the wall promptly follows but from the description it's not hard to assume he could've taken the siege tower on which his friend's body was dsplayed singlehandedly.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: King Jan Kazimierz, both in With Fire And Sword and The Deluge.
  • Rugged Scar: Kmicic gets a messy scar on one side of his face, going across his mouth up his cheek, from when Bogusław shot him in the face with his own pistol - from about two feet away.
  • Sarcastic Confession: The antagonist of Pan Wołodyjowski (before he properly outs himself as the antagonist) does this constantly, to the point that the heroes discount it as him just being a bit strange.
  • Say Your Prayers: When Kmicic is captured by the Swedes and handed to Kuklinowski to be finished off at his leisure, he prays fervently, certain nothing else can help him at this point.
  • Screw the War, We're Partying: The crowds of nobles who gather to lend their support to Jeremi's small and worn-out experienced Elite Army end up making the camp into more of a carnival than any serious war effort.
    • This trope is present throughout With Fire and Sword and the surrender at Ujście in The Deluge in a number of ways and often turned up to eleven to emphasize the corruption, decadence, and ineffectiveness that characterized a good portion of the Commonwealth's szlachta at the time.
  • 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.
  • 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, Zagłoba and a lot of others at Lubni court support the romance between Anusia and Longinus. They are, arguably, cute together.
    • He jokingly supports the romance between Wołodyjowski and Anusia in The Deluge also based on height: Anusia and Michał are both short.
  • Shoot the Messenger: Jeremi Wiśniowiecki does this to a Cossack envoy from Chmielnicki. And expects his own envoys to be treated as per the laws of diplomacy.
    • Admittedly the whole Skrzetuski-in-Sitch arc happened before the impaling. It's more that messing with representatives of a proud, ruthless, and powerful magnate is a REALLY bad idea.
  • Shut Up, Kirk!: Bogusław Radziwiłł gets a pretty good one, after Kmicic (who currently has him captive) rallies against the Radziwiłłs' alliance with the Swedes:
    Young sir, I'm in your hands, you can kill me if you want to but I would ask one thing of you - don't bore me.
  • Signature Move: Wołodyjowski sometimes trolls his opponents by parrying in a specific way that makes their swords fly out of their hands.
    • In 1999 With Fire and Sword movie, Bohun is shown to use a deadly feign, where mid-slash he tosses his sword into the other hand, then slices the unsuspecting opponent open. He demonstrates it early in the movie when he's slaughtering the Kurcewicz clan. Later he uses the same move during his duel against Wołodyjowski, which fails catastrophically when the latter counters it.
  • The Siege: Zbaraż in With Fire and Sword, the monastery of Jasna Góra (in Częstochowa) in The Deluge, Kamieniec Podolski in Pan Wołodyjowski.
  • Silly Rabbit, Cynicism Is for Losers!: Stefan Czarniecki gives Skrzetuski a speech to this effect when they're both in captivity - the first mention in the book of the idea of forgetting yourself in the service of the country. (Although it's worth noting that Skrzetuski's far more despairing than cynical.)
    Czarniecki: To sink into despair because your pride’s been shamed, and because you feel humiliated by some passing triumph of a mob, is just as bad as treason! Faith in God’s justice and in the ultimate triumph of our People’s spirit would serve your country better.
  • Single-Target Sexuality: Bohun for Helena. When she rhetorically asks whether she's the only girl in the world, he says "yes".
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Oleńka Billewiczówna.
  • Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter: After all the horrors Skrzetuski's seen during his time trailing the course of the rebellion in captivity (and believing it's all his fault), when he thinks of what could be happening to Helena if she falls victim to the mob, he begs God to kill him - then realizes he's blaspheming and falls to his knees praying for forgiveness and mercy on Helena and the country.
    "When he asked himself what was happening to Helena, and when he thought what might happen if an evil fate should keep her in Rozlogi, he stretched his hands to heaven and cried in a voice in which quivered deep despair, almost a threat: 'God! take my life, for I am punished beyond my deserts!'"
  • 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 Lithuania into his family's own personal duchy, just so he can try—and fail—to get Aleksandra. There's also the fact that Kmicic's Heel–Face Turn comes about because Bogusław divulged the entirety of the Radziwiłłs' collaboration with the Swedes with nary a second thought.
  • Soldier vs. Warrior: Basically the difference between the Polish soldiers and the Cossacks fighting in the rebellion, at least as portrayed in With Fire and Sword.
  • Sole Survivor: Skrzetuski after he's sent to the Sicz.
  • Staff of Authority: Truth in Television. Almost every character in authority has a bulava or bulawa, a baton representing their position.
  • Straight Man and Wise Guy: Longinus and Zagłoba, in that order.
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Oleńka is warm, trusting, and open, and lets herself be emotional, around people she likes and, more importantly, trusts. But when it comes to those she judges to be morally wrong or those who have lied to her, she acts cold, aloof, and emotionless. Part of it's to show her contempt, or because she feels it's what she's obligated to do by her strict code of morals, but it's also a defense mechanism. Since she's also always borne a great deal of responsibility, her strict control of how she expresses her emotions doubles as Tough Leader Façade.
    • Over the course of The Deluge, Oleńka ends up getting colder and colder due to her perceived betrayal by Kmicic and her isolation and prolonged exposure to Bogusław Radziwiłł. Especially after she learns that he's lying to her too. By the end of the book, before Kmicic returns and the reveal that he's been a good guy all along (more or less), her cold, emotionless exterior isn't even a defense mechanism anymore: it's simply all she feels.
  • Suicide is Shameful: More like "suicide is selfish." Throughout a good portion of Ogniem i Mieczem, Skrzetuski certainly wants to die, but the way he sees it, he doesn't belong to himself, but rather to the country and Prince Jeremi. He can't kill himself (or give way to his feelings) when he's still useful. And, of course, suicide is a sin.
  • Suicide Mission: First Longinus Podbipięta and later Skrzetuski volunteer to go through enemy lines to Bring Help Back during the siege of Zbaraż. Everyone knows the chances of survival are basically nonexistent especially after Longinus is killed trying.
  • Swamps Are Evil: Skrzetuski has to go through one to reach the King's army. Filled with corpses. In the dead of night.
  • Sword of Damocles: The siege gun that arrives during the siege of Częstochowa.
  • Take Me Instead: Kmicic offers himself in exchange for his sergeant and old friend Soroka when the latter is captured.
  • Taking the Veil: Wołodyjowski, 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 movie makes him blonde, though.
  • The Tease: Anusia loves being adored. Being very, very cute, she has no trouble fulfilling this need.
  • Tender Tears: Wołodyjowski and Podbipięta are remarked to have "sensitive hearts", and both weep for Skrzetuski when he falls into despair at Rozłogi. When they get drunk to celebrate Bohun's defeat in the duel, Wołodyjowski and Zagłoba break into tears repeatedly over Helena and Skrzetuski's misfortunes and even Bohun's supposed death.
  • That Old-Time Prescription: Mouldy bread with cobwebs (which contain antibiotics) is a go-to first aid treatment for wounds (even if they're not infected, for some reason).
  • That's an Order!: Prince Jeremi declares that instead of all four of the friends going as a group through enemy lines to bring help back, they will be sent one at a time. This is the only time in the entire book Skrzetuski protests Jeremi's judgement:
    Skrzetuski: Your Highness...
    Wiśniowiecki: Such is my will and that is my order.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: After Skrzetuski's time spent in captivity, witnessing the horrors of the war firsthand, Chmielnicki can hardly stand to endure his accusing 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...note 
  • Undying Loyalty: Prince Jeremi tends to inspire this in his followers.
  • Unwilling Suspension: Kuklinowski orders Kmicic stripped and hung on a ceiling beam.
  • Warrior Prince: Bogusław Radziwiłł is many things, most of them pretty unpleasant, but he's neither a coward nor a weakling; whenever the two directly come to blows, Kmicic barely has a prayer until the end of The Deluge where he trained up under the tutelage of Wołodyjowski.
  • War Is Hell: Skrzetuski ruminates on this throughout With Fire and Sword, with plenty of graphic imagery.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Women Are Safe with Us: Subverted after a fashion. Helena makes her way more-or-less safely through the mob by disguising herself as a boy in a month or so of travel, then later stands up for herself when kidnapped by Bohun by threatening suicide, then escapes from the Tatars chasing she and her rescuers down to sell as slaves, and returns to the safety of the Polish-controlled areas - only to still face the threat of potential rape by a Polish officer, pan Pelk.
    Rzędzian: I was afraid that the princess, who had escaped harm from the Cossacks, would be worse treated by her own.
  • Wrong Side All Along: It takes Kmicic considerable time and distance from Janusz Radziwiłł to realise he's been on the wrong side.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Zagłoba enjoys teasing Podbipięta, who, as a Lithuanian (stereotypically calm and quiet) Gentle Giant, invariably responds with imperturbable calm. Zagłoba does break down in Manly Tears upon Podbipięta's death.
  • Vow of Celibacy: Longinus Podbipięta has sworn to never marry until he replicates his ancestor's feat of cutting off three heads with one blow. This becomes relevant once he falls in love with Anusia. He does succeed - minutes before his 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.". And there is of course a highly famous and just as highly insulting "You, sir, swing that like a flail". Wołodyjowski essentially equated Kmicic with a peasant, the worst kind of insult a Polish noble could receive.
  • 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 all the ways Skrzetuski inadvertently helped him. 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.
    • Also to some extent Kuklinowski's very vocal approval of Kmicic and his actions pre-redemption arc. (He doesn't know that the soldier he's talking to, Babinicz, is actually his idol and rival himself, now reformed.)
  • You Said You Would Let Them Go/I Lied: When Kmicic's sergeant Soroka is captured by Bogusław, the prince prepares to exact Revenge by Proxy. Kmicic shows up to negotiate, even offering himself in exchange. Bogusław toys with Kmicic for most of a scene before demanding he prostrate himself before him, in front of an audience. ("You do not know how to beg with sufficient humility...") Usually-proud Kmicic is badly shaken, but complies. Then the prince tries to have Soroka executed anyway.
  • You Wouldn't Shoot Me: At different points in With Fire and Sword, Skrzetuski flat-out dares opponents - Helena's entire family, and later Chmielnicki himself - to cut his throat when they draw on him. In both cases, he's not even holding a weapon.
  • Zerg Rush: Thousands of "disposable" soldiers die trying to storm Zbarazh - this after livestock and captives were forced to rush the walls as well.