Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

1636: The Ottoman Onslaught: Chapter Fourteen

       Last updated: Tuesday, October 11, 2016 19:02 EDT



Vienna, capital of Austria-Hungary

    “So that’s him, huh?” Denise and Minnie studied the Austrian archduke across the room. He was engaged in an animated discussion with another man. “His Royal Highness Damn-My-Balls-Hurt,” Denise continued.

    Judy Wendell, the young lady who had been responsible for that emphatic rejection of the archduke’s advances, shook her head. “He’s not that bad a guy, actually. Most of the time, I enjoyed his company well enough. It’s just… You know. Monarchy. I mean, real monarchy, not that show business stuff we had with Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana and all them back up-time. These guys get raised really weird and it goes to their heads. The girls too, although I don’t think they get as screwy. Women are more sensible than men under pretty much any circumstances.”

    Denise and Minnie nodded, indicating their full agreement with that proposition. They then went back to studying the royal person in question. “And he’s a bishop on top of everything else?”

    “I’m not actually sure about that,” Judy said. “Everybody refers to him that way, as the prince-bishop of Passau — he’s also the prince-bishop of Halberstadt and Strassburg and Bremen, too, they say.”

    “Hey!” Denise protested. “He’s got a lot of nerve. We control Bremen and. Strassburg.”

    “That’s not how it works,” Minnie corrected her. She wasn’t exactly what anyone would call a studious girl, but she did pay more attention to what their employer Francisco Nasi explained to them about the political situation in Europe than Denise usually did. “The pope hands out those bishoprics like candy, whether he actually controls them or not. They call it in partibus infidelium, which is a fancy Latin way of saying ‘in the land of the unbelievers.'”

    She cocked her head toward Judy. “What did you mean when you said you weren’t sure about that?”

    “I’m not sure he’s actually a bishop — the way the church means it. Somebody told me that technically he’s just the administrator of the bishoprics. That way he gets to collect the revenues — from Passau and Halberstadt, at least — but he hasn’t taken any holy vows or anything.”

    “As he proved when he tried to stick his tongue down your throat,” snorted Denise.

    Judy grinned. “Oh, hell, girl, we’re in the year 1636. The freaking popes in this day and age will try to stick their tongues down your throat.”

    “And stick you elsewhere with other parts,” Minnie agreed. She said that with no outrage or indignation; just the way she might have said roses are red, violets are blue. She had the seventeenth century’s pragmatism in full measure. “He’s kind of cute,” she added, still examining the royal fellow across the room.

    Denise frowned. “Are you kidding? With that long bony nose and the Habsburg lip?”

    The three girls spent a few more seconds in study.

    “I gotta say I’m pretty much with Denise on this one, Minnie,” Judy said. “I mean, Leopold’s not ugly or anything, but I’d hardly call him ‘cute.'”

    Again, they resumed their critical examination. Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, the brother of the current Austrian emperor, Ferdinand III, was a young man — he’d turned twenty-two a few months earlier — and on the tall, slender side. He had dark and wavy hair parted in the middle of his head, which was long enough to spill over his shoulders. His narrow face was decorated with a Van Dyke beard.

    In all fairness, Denise’s accusations were not wide of the mark. The prince did have a long and bony nose and his heavy lower lip could have been put on display in a museum with a caption saying: If you ever wondered what the famous Habsburg lip looked like, this is it.

    “Come on,” Judy said, starting across the floor. “I’ll introduce you.”

    Even as brash as she was, Denise lagged behind. “You sure? I mean…”

    “Relax,” Judy said. “The emperor himself laid down the terms of the peace treaty between me and Leopold. Of course, nobody said anything to me directly. But he’s been on his best behavior ever since and everybody here at court pretends like nothing ever happened. The French call it sang-froid.”

    “Cold blood,” Minnie translated. Despite — or perhaps because of — the little formal education she’d received in Grantville’s school system, Minnie spoke several languages quite well. Her wanderings with Benny Pierce had been linguistically fruitful. Minstrels tended to be a migratory bunch.

    The parquet floor they were moving across seemed about the size of a basketball court to Denise and Minnie. The chamber — it might be better to call it a reception hall or even a ballroom — was almost entirely devoid of furniture. Down-timers, at least those in the upper classes, were more accustomed than Americans were to spending large amounts of time in social occasions on their feet rather than sitting down.

    As if to compensate for the absence of chairs or tables, practically every square inch of the walls — and they were tall, too, since the ceiling was a good twenty feet above the floor — were covered with paintings. The great majority of them were portraits, and the great majority of the portraits seemed to consist of representations of various members of the centuries-old and far-flung Habsburg family.

    As they neared Leopold and his companion, the prince spotted them coming and broke off his conversation. When they drew up next to him, his expression was simply one of calm and relaxed attentiveness.

    Despite herself, Denise was impressed. Sang-froid indeed!

    “Your Serene Highness,” the archduke said politely. Whatever he might have personally thought about his older brother’s decision to elevate all the Barbies to noble status at the end of the previous year, nothing showed but affable courtesy. Of course, the grandiose titles they now held — Denise had to keep herself from spluttering at the idea of Judy Wendell as a “serene highness” — carried a lot less weight than they sounded. It was a court title and didn’t mean you ruled anything.

    “May I introduce my companions, Your Royal Highness?” Judy said. After she’d done so, the prince gestured at his companion, a good-looking fellow who appeared to be about thirty years old. “This is Adriaen Brouwer, a Flemish artist who arrived here in Vienna recently. He was recommended to me by my sister Maria Anna.”

    Again — and again, despite herself — Denise was impressed. The sister being referred to was now the queen in the Netherlands, having married her Habsburg cousin Fernando less than two years earlier. Fernando was the younger brother of the king of Spain, who was — to put it mildly — less than pleased at Fernando’s presumption in declaring himself “the King in the Netherlands.”

    It was easy for up-timers to think lightly of the Habsburgs, with their odd-looking lower lip and their inveterate habit of marrying their own cousins. But if Denise had gotten nothing else from the tutelage of Francisco Nasi, it was that only an imbecile underestimated the Habsburgs.

    There were now three separate powerful realms in Europe ruled by Habsburgs — Spain, Austria and the Netherlands — and their monarchs were no farther apart from each other than one degree of separation. King Philip IV of Spain was the older brother of King Fernando I in the Netherlands, who had married Maria Anna, the sister of Ferdinand III, the emperor of Austria-Hungary.

    Austria and the Netherlands got along quite well, these days. Spain and the other two… not so much. Like many big and sprawling families, there was a lot of what you could call dysfunctionality involved. Being fair about it, the Habsburgs weren’t nearly as screwed up and dysfunctional as Grantville’s very own Murphy family — as Noelle would be the first to tell you. There was a reason she’d changed her last name to Stull.

    There was this difference, though, Denise had to remind herself. When the Murphys fell out with each other, the worst that happened was that Francis Murphy tried to shoot Noelle’s mother Pat at the funeral of Pat’s new-except-he-was-really-old-boyfriend Dennis Stull’s mother because Pat was his ex-wife and she hadn’t paid her respects to Francis’ father after he died. In any case, he missed and the bullet hit the body of old Mrs. Stull so he only got charged with mutilating a corpse.

    If the Habsburgs fell out with each other, a good part of Europe would go to war with casualties likely to be in the hundreds of thousands.



    It would have been hard for Archduke Leopold Wilhelm to have chosen between Judy Wendell and Denise Beasley with regard to which of the two young women was more beautiful. Perhaps for that very reason — reinforced by his still vivid memory of Judy Wendell’s knee coming up to his groin — he found his interest drawn more to the third member of the female trio.

    She was quite a contrast. To begin with, Minnie Hugelmair was clearly a product of his own seventeenth century. Leaving aside her accent, quite different from the distinctively American accent of the other two girls, Minnie had any number of subtle behavior traits which made her origins clear in ways that Leopold could not have specified exactly but which were unmistakable.

    Except for one trait, now that he thought about it. The girl’s face had been disfigured at some point in her life. Judging from the scar that ran from her hairline down through her left eyebrow, she’d been struck by some sort of object which had destroyed the eye as well. In its place she had a remarkably well-made glass eye which, however, neither moved with her good eye nor had an iris of the same color. Her good eye was hazel; the glass one, blue.

    An up-time girl would have been devastated by the loss, not so much due to the practical difficulty of having only one eye but because of the distortion of her appearance. They were odd that way, the Americans. They didn’t hesitate to spout the most outlandish opinions and comport themselves in sometimes exotic forms of behavior. But any deviation from what they considered proper bodily standards was viewed with unease, sometimes verging on horror. That seemed to be especially true of the women, from what he’d been told and what he’d seen himself.



    They made sure their teeth were perfect, no matter the pain and the cost involved. Their hair had to be just so. They fretted endlessly over their weight. He’d even heard that some of them underwent surgery to have features like noses brought into line with what they considered the proper form.

    Hugelmair, clearly, suffered little from that unease. Her left eye might not move properly, but since the rest of her did she wouldn’t worry about it. What was, was. What was done, was done.

    She was quite a pretty woman, the scar and the glass eye aside, with a sturdier frame than either of the two American girls she was with. He wondered who she was and where she came from.

    “Is there any new word about the Turks?” Denise asked.

    Leopold nodded. “They’re coming. There’s no longer any doubt about it. We haven’t received specific word yet, but they would have probably started their march within the past week.”

    “Are you going to try to fight them before they reach Vienna?” The American girl — so typical of them! — didn’t seem to find anything odd in her asking such a question of a member of Austria’s royal family. For a moment, Leopold was tempted to order her arrested for being a spy.

    But it was just a fleeting whimsy, probably brought on by his residue of anger at Judy Wendell. The guards standing by the entrance to the hall would certainly obey him if he gave the order — he was an archduke of Austria, after all, in direct line of succession to the throne should his brother Ferdinand and his children die for some reason. But the order would soon be countermanded by Ferdinand himself and Leopold would be soundly berated, albeit in private.

    However annoying the Americans could sometimes be, in the present circumstances the Austrian emperor was determined to stay on good terms with them. An invasion by the Ottoman Empire was nothing to take lightly, and the Austrians were going to need allies. Only the USE and Bohemia were close enough to provide assistance quickly, and relations with Bohemia were very tense. Their best chance at getting an ally was with Gustav Adolf.

    Who, for his own reasons, made every effort to stay on good terms with the Americans also.

    “Why are you looking at me funny?” Denise asked. Leopold had been told the girl was brash almost beyond belief, which was apparently true.

    “He’s thinking about having you tossed into the dungeon for spying,” said Minnie, “but warning himself not to do it because that’d cause a mess. Me, I think he ought to go ahead and do it anyway. Denise, you’re my best friend but sometimes you’ve got the sense of a chicken.”

    Denise gaped at her. “What do you mean?”

    Minnie mimicked her friend’s voice, adding what Leopold presumed was an exaggerated overlay of American dialect. “Are y’allllllll gonna go on out and whup on them there Turks right off or are y’allllll gonna wait until they mosey on up a bit before you start whalloping on ’em?”

    She then slipped back into her normal speech. “That’s what they call a ‘state secret,’ Denise. You can get yourself arrested asking those kind of questions from a cobbler or a fishwife. Much less asking an archduke.”

    “Oh.” Denise grimaced. “Sorry, Your Highness. I hadn’t thought of that.”

    By now, Leopold was quite amused. “Think nothing of it. The proper appellation is ‘Your Grace,’ by the way. The only persons in Vienna at the moment whom you’d call ‘Your Highness’ are my nephew Ferdinand and my niece Mariana.”

    He nodded toward a corner where Queen Mariana occupied the only chair in the chamber. A three-year old boy was standing next to her with a scowl on his face, presumably caused by the impertinence of his year-and-a-half old sister who was occupied in tugging at his sleeve. “You’ll find them over there.”

    “Now that I’ve put Denise in her place, Your Grace,” Minnie said, “I’m actually interested in the answer myself. Are you planning to fight the Turks before they get to Vienna, or do you figure you’d fare better to just wait until they’ve besieged the city?”

    She gave him a gleaming smile. Her teeth were very good, he saw. He wondered if that was due to nature alone or if she’d gotten help from one of the American tooth-doctors.

    What did they call them? “Dentists,” if he remembered right.

    “If you want to have me arrested,” Minnie continued, “you can probably do it without there being any big trouble. I won’t object too much unless you put me in a dungeon that’s got rats. I really don’t like rats.”

    He burst into laughter. “I wouldn’t think of it!”

    Looking around, he saw a number of curious looks being sent his way. For whatever quirky reason, that made up his mind concerning the issue at hand.

    “We’ll wait until they invest the city,” he said quietly. “They outnumber us badly and the terrain to the southeast is often marshy. Our troops would be likely to get bogged down and we’d suffer bad casualties. Here…”

    He looked around the chamber, as if he could see the walls of the city beyond. “Vienna withstood Suleiman a century ago and according to the American history books we will — would have — withstood the Ottoman Empire again in 1683. We’ll take our chances with a siege now, as well.”

    He bestowed a big smile of his own on the girl. “You’ll pass that information along to Don Francisco, I assume?” It wouldn’t do to let her think he was ignorant of her association with the Jewish spymaster in Prague.

    “Yes, I will.” The gleaming smile didn’t fade a bit. “But I’m sure he knows already.”

    That… was probably true, Leopold had to admit. By now the “secret” plans of Austria’s high command had spread through enough of its notoriously sieve-like court that he could only hope the Ottomans still didn’t know as well.

    Partly in order to deflect the discussion onto a safer topic, but mostly because he wanted to continue talking to Minnie, Leopold said: “You should really get out of the habit of calling them ‘Turks,’ you know.”

    The gleaming smile was replaced by a slight frown. “Why? They are Turks, aren’t they?”

    “Not exactly — and it also depends on what you mean by a ‘Turk.’ It’s true that the Ottoman Empire had its origins in the Turkish tribes who migrated into Anatolia after the Seljuks defeated the Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert. But what really holds it together is the Ottoman dynasty — and that dynasty by now is more Balkan than it is Turkish. It you wish to give them any specific tribal identity, you’d do better to call them Albanians.”

    By now, Denise and Judy had frowns of puzzlement on their faces as well.

    “Huh?” said Denise. “How does that work?”

    “Their royal customs are very different from ours,” Leopold explained. “The Ottoman emperors sire their children on the women of the harem — who are often recruited from the Balkans. Succession is usually passed on to the oldest son, but not always. There are powerful factions in the Ottoman government, who often use one or another of the younger sons to give themselves more leverage. The disputes can become so contentious that they threaten the normal rules of succession — as we saw recently in the years leading up to Murad becoming sultan.

    “It’s not just a question of lineage, either,” he added. “For the past century — at least — a good half of the Ottomans’ grand viziers have been Albanians and most of the rest have been of devsirme origin.”

    “Devsh –” Denise fumbled with the term. “What’s that?”

    “It is the custom by which the Ottomans recruit Christian boys, almost always from the Balkans, and then convert them to Islam and indoctrinate them to serve the dynasty. Most of them become janissaries. Others enter the civil service. They provide the Ottomans with a body of capable and loyal servants who have no ties to the Turkish nobility. To be honest, that’s one of the big advantages they have over us. Their government is better-organized; more efficient.”

    Leopold looked around the chamber again. His expression must have become a bit sour, because Minnie laughed and said: “Getting envious, are you?”

    When he looked at her, the gleaming smile was back. “I don’t blame you,” she said. “If I had to deal with noblemen all the time I’d go mad.”

    “Absolutely bats,” her friend Denise agreed.

    Leopold wondered what bats had to do with the matter.



    They were interrupted shortly thereafter by one of the very noblemen in question, a ponderous and pontificating fellow who buried Leopold under a litany of woes involving the depredations and criminal activities of Wallenstein and his accomplices. Leopold didn’t doubt that the woes were woeful and that Wallenstein indeed behaved criminally — he was a traitor under sentence of death, was he not? — but it was never made clear what the nobleman wanted Archduke Leopold to do about it.

    Soon after the fellow began his peroration the two American girls and their one-eyed companion politely took their leave and departed for greener or at least less voluble social pastures. Leopold was sorry to see them go — even Judy — but didn’t blame them in the least.



    Eventually, the nobleman left also. Only the Flemish artist remained behind.

    Since Leopold had already agreed to place Adriaen Brouwer on a retainer before the three girls showed up, he felt no hesitation in employing him for a non-artistic purpose. And why should he? The Habsburgs had a long tradition of employing artists in other capacities, as witness the many times Peter Paul Rubens had served as a diplomat for the dynasty.

    “I’m curious about that one girl, Adriaen.”

    “One of the Americans?”

    “No. The girl with one eye. Who is she? Where did she come from? How and why is she so closely attached to the Americans?”

    The artist’s nod was so deep as to almost constitute a bow. He understand how these things worked.

    “I shall find out, Your Grace.”

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image