After the great victory before the city gates during  the Second Siege of Vienna, King John III Sobieski of Poland, whose hussars had helped to carry the day, captured the Ottoman baggage train. He wrote effusive letters home about wagons heaped high with the wealth of the Orient that had attended Kara Mustafa Pasha and his troops.

One of his letters never made it to the Polish court at Warsaw; its courier was waylaid and robbed, either by Ottoman stragglers or the troops of Imre Thököly of Hungary, who had tried to profit while Poland was virtually bereft of troops. The letter made its way to Budapest, where it was lost in the former royal archives until a researcher uncovered it in 1916.

The king’s letter described the contents of Kara Mustafa Pasha’s personal saddlebag, with particular attention paid to a small object described as a “spiral of black obsidian or other polished black mineral.” None of the prisoners could identify the bauble or recalled seeing it before, but its place so near the Pasha, intermingled with mementos of home and family and precious jewels, intrigued the king. He declared his intention to take it with him to Warsaw.

That same researcher, granted access to the Polish archives after the fall of Warsaw the previous year, was able to trace the obsidian talisman’s path. It had followed Stanislaw II August into Russian captivity, been held at the Tsar’s court, and then captured by a German unit.

The object, whatever it was, seemed to presage the decline and eventual doom of whichever realm held it.