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1636: The Ottoman Onslaught: Chapter Twenty Six
Last updated: Monday, December 5, 2016 19:46 EST
Vienna, capital of Austria-Hungary
The young woman on the stage finished the piece she was playing with a flourish, both vocally and with the fiddle itself. The audience in the reception chamber burst into applause.
Some of the applause was tentative, tepid, even tremulous. The audience was mostly made up of Austrian and Hungarian nobility, who were not accustomed to this sort of music. Some of them were dubious that it qualified as “music” at all. But since the performer was closely associated with Americans, even if she was not American herself, they extended her the benefit of the doubt.
Others, though, had no doubts at all. No sooner had Minnie Hugelmair finished her rendition of “The Wabash Cannonball” than Denise Beasley and Judy Wendell both jumped to their feet and started whooping and hollering to go along with their hand-clapping.
The audience stared at them for a second or two, unsure whether this unseemly display should be the cause of further applause or disapproving silence. But that issue was settled a moment later, when Archduke Leopold rose to his feet and joined the clapping — thought not the hollering and whooping — followed almost immediately by his sister, Archduchess Cecilia Renata. It took the assembled audience, most of whom were well-trained courtiers, no time at all to mimic their betters.
Minnie did a bow coupled with a curtsy of sorts — something of a truncated one, since she had both hands engaged with the fiddle and the bow — grinning in a manner than was just as unseemly as the music itself. Those who knew her well, which now included Judy as well as Denise, understood that the grin was largely derisive. Minnie Hugelmair had no illusions at all concerning her position in the eyes of Austria-Hungary’s aristocracy — and didn’t care in the least.
When her eyes — eye, rather — met those of Leopold, the grin transmuted into something a lot more friendly. She hadn’t decided yet what sort of relationship she might wind up having with the youngest of the Austro-Hungarian empire’s four royal siblings, but of one thing she was now certain. Unlike most of the people feigning applause in the room, Leopold’s applause was genuine. And unlike most of the people in the room, Leopold understood that she was an actual person.
Not very well, to be sure. He had been born and raised in a manner that made such an understanding difficult. But she was willing to give him credit for trying. He was having a definite influence on his sister, too.
All four of the siblings were close to each other, from what Minnie and her friends had been able to ascertain. That was probably due in part to the fact they were close in age. Ferdinand, now the emperor, had been born in July of 1608. The other three had all been born in the month of January — of the year 1610, in the case of Maria Anna; 1611, in the case of Cecilia Renata, and 1614 in the case of Leopold Wilhelm. Less than a six year spread, all told.
The fact that Leopold was favorably inclined toward Minnie had made Cecilia Renata less skeptical of the ragamuffin and her friends than she would have been otherwise. That lowered guard, in turn, had led her to become better acquainted with Judy Wendell. Up until then, Cecilia Renata had very mixed feelings about the beautiful young American. On the one hand, she’d been just as outraged as any other proper aristocrat at Judy’s astonishingly rude treatment of her brother Leopold Wilhelm when the archduke had made physical advances on her. On the other hand
He was also her younger brother and who knew better than his closest sibling — especially a sister! — just how richly deserved that rebuke had been. True, Judy shouldn’t have kneed him in the testicles. That was very crude. But she was a commoner, so what could you expect? Cecilia Renata could remember plenty of occasions in her childhood when she’d been sorely tempted to do the same.
Well perhaps not knee him in the testicles. But hit him on the head? Oh, surely. Punch him in the nose? Yes, that too.
Once Cecilia Renata became better acquainted with Judy Wendell, she found herself becoming friends with the girl. She was a few years older than the American — twenty-four years of age as opposed to Judy Wendell’s eighteen years. But Judy had a dry, sardonic wit that Cecilia Renata enjoyed and which resonated with her own detached and acerbic view of most of the people around her. Being a member of the royal family who lacked much in the way of direct power but had a great deal of indirect influence had made Cecilia Renata skeptical of most people’s motives. When they fawned on her they usually wanted something.
Judy Wendell never fawned on Cecilia Renata — nor on anyone else, so far as she could determine. The young American knew she was gorgeous and accepted that in the same spirit she accepted the sky being blue and water being wet. It was just a fact — an enjoyable one, in this case — but nothing she took credit for herself, any more than she’d take credit for the color of the sky or the wetness of water.
Cecilia Renata knew that she herself was not beautiful. She didn’t think she was ugly, certainly, and everyone agreed that she had very lovely red hair. But she also shared her brother Leopold’s long, bony nose, even if she didn’t have as pronounced a lower lip as most Habsburgs. And, like Leopold, she was on the tall and gangly side.
When you were royalty, of course, looks didn’t matter very much. Someone would marry you even if you looked like a troll. But that too, in its own way, strengthened Cecilia Renata’s sometimes mordant outlook. Trust nothing anyone says to you, especially about yourself, unless you know them very well.
She was becoming more and more inclined toward getting to know Judy Wendell very well.
At the reception, following the performance, most of the gathered nobility fell back into comfortable habits and ignored Minnie Hugelmair completely. This suited her just fine because there weren’t that many people there whom she had any desire to talk to anyway.
She started with Denise, as she usually did. “You should leave with Eddie,” she told her, in a tone that made the statement an outright command.
Which, naturally, made Denise bridle. The girl did not react well to instruction, especially coming from someone who was no farther up Denise’s mental pecking order than her best friend. Anybody except a jerk heard what her best friend had to say, but that didn’t mean you had to listen to her.
“Why?” she demanded immediately. “Are you planning to leave?”
“No. Why should I? Don Francisco doesn’t need both of us to report back to him. And while it’s true my reports are better than yours — more concise; better organized; way less commentary — yours are still good enough for what he needs to know right now.” She slipped into a slightly singsong tone, as if reciting something memorized. “Yes, boss, the Ottomans are coming to Vienna, there is no doubt about it in anyone’s mind. The Viennese are worried but they’re not as worried as they ought to be. They keep thinking that the up-time history books are some sort of magic talisman. Didn’t happen in 1529; wouldn’t have happened in 1683; so how could it happen now? That kind of silliness.”
Denise glared at her. “You just want to stay because you’re scheming. About that stupid fucking prince.”
“First, he’s not a prince. Except in a few places — I’m quoting the immortal words from The Princess Bride — that word does not mean what you think it means. Leopold Wilhelm is an archduke.”
“Same thing. Close enough.”
“Not the same thing. And to quote other immortal words, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”
“You’ve never played horseshoes in your life.”
“Of course not. It’s amazing how many stupid games you Americans came up with. Football! Thankfully, most of them didn’t make it through the Ring of Fire. Secondly –”
Minnie ignored her friend’s splutter of outrage at this grotesque denigration of American games, which was ridiculous anyway because Denise’s opinion of football was abysmal and so far as Minnie knew she’d never played horseshoes once in her life.
“– you can’t call it ‘scheming’ because a scheme implies that you’re trying to pull a fast one on someone who’d never agree to what you want him to do if you just proposed it straight up and you know as well as I do that Leopold’s got the hots for me. The problem, him being an archduke, is that he can’t figure out how to approach the subject on account of the last time he put the make on an up-timer he got his balls mashed.”
“You’re not an up-timer.”
“I’m an honorary up-timer. You’ve said so yourself about a thousand times.”
Denise looked sulky. “I don’t think I said that more than once or twice. Maybe half a dozen times. Tops.”
“Still true — and what’s more to the point, Leopold agrees with you. That’s why he’s scared of me. Which — we’re up to point three now — is why I need to stay in Vienna so I have the time to decide if I want to pursue it myself — which I probably do, since I still thinks he’s pretty cute — and, if so, I’ll need the time to educate him in the proper ways of a man with a maiden.”
“You’re not a maiden. Not even close!”
Minnie gave her friend a look of pity. “I’m speaking in poetry, not prose. I can do that because I’m a singer.”
Elsewhere in the room, two other people were having another dispute on the subject of leave-taking.
“There is no reason for you to stay, Cecilia Renata. Having one of us remain in Vienna during the siege is quite good enough.”
Leopold Wilhelm tilted his head so he could look down his nose at his sister. That did less good than it might have with someone else, because Cecilia Renata was no slouch herself in the down-nose-looking department. True, he had the advantage of four inches in height, but that was easily offset by her advantage of three years of age.
The noses being evenly matched, Leopold tried sentiment. “I won’t be able to concentrate on my duties, because I’ll be so worried about you.”
“I am not planning to stand on the walls with a musket, brother. If it makes you feel better, I can have the cellars under the outer wing stocked with supplies so I can take shelter there during especially heavy bombardments.”
That wasn’t a bad idea, actually. The cellars were deep enough to provide protection from any cannon fire, certainly. And in the very unlikely event that the Ottomans managed to breach the walls and make an incursion into the city, they would also provide his sister with an excellent hiding place. The entrance to the cellars had been disguised when it was built for precisely that purpose.
That wing was a portion of the imperial palace that was not directly connected to the rest of the Hofburg. It had been built in the middle of the last century, and its original purpose had been to provide separate housing for crown prince Maximillian. His father, Ferdinand I, suspected his son and heir of Protestant sympathies and wanted him quarantined away from the rest of the family.
In the event, Maximilian had remained faithful to the Catholic Church, and when he succeeded his father as Holy Roman Emperor in 1564, he transferred his residence to the Hofburg proper. In the years thereafter, the outer wing had been used for a variety of purposes, one of them being a place for Leopold to begin accumulating the collection of art which he intended to become one of the best in Europe. He’d only gotten started on the project, of course.
Thinking of his nascent art collection
Regardless of whether Cecilia Renata stayed in Vienna or left, it would be a good idea to move his art collection down into the cellars. A stray cannonball might do unspeakable damage.
But that was a matter to be dealt with later. For the moment, he still had an obstreperous sister to deal with.
Sentiment having failed, he fell back on logic.
“The whole point of having me remain behind in the capital while our brother and his heir leave for the safe refuge of Linz is because, being male, I can assume command of the city’s forces. You, being female, cannot. So what is the purpose of having you stay as well?”
“That’s pure twaddle. The command of the city’s forces will actually be in the hands of General Baudissin and other experienced commanders. I know it, you know it, every soldier knows it — or they’d be sleeping a lot worse at night, not meaning to disparage my little brother’s non-existent military reputation — and probably every street urchin knows it as well.”
A low blow. Accurate and true, but low.
Happily, at that very moment the oldest of the four siblings appeared at their side. Cecilia Renata, despite being a woman, did not actually have to obey Leopold. But she did have to obey Ferdinand III, emperor of Austria-Hungary, King of Croatia (and still formally King of Bohemia as well, at least until Drugeth returned from Prague and a new treaty was signed).
“Brother,” Leopold said, lowering his nose just enough to indicate with disapproval their sister, “who is also the emperor of Austria-Hungary and holder of at least two pages worth of additional titles when written in Chancery copperplate, tell Cecilia Renata she has to leave Vienna when you do.”
“Brother,” said Cecilia Renata, “tell Leopold Wilhelm he’s being an officious ass. I’m staying. That’s all there is to it.”
Ferdinand III, emperor of etc., etc., etc., had simply come over to enquire as to their respective states of health. He looked at Leopold, then at Cecilia Renata, back at Leopold, back at Cecilia Renata, shook his head and walked off.
“You see?” The female nose elevated in triumph.
“He’s a fucking prince #8212; fine, archduke. Same difference. He’ll take advantage of you.”
“How does ‘advantage’ come into the simple matter of whether I screw him or not?”
“He’s up here” — Denise raised her hand high — “and you’re way down here.” The left hand waved about as low as she could place it.
“Only if that’s the position we assume. I could be on top of him, instead. Or he could be –”
“Cut it out!”
Minnie smiled. “I appreciate your concern. But I can’t help wonder where that concern was hiding when I was cavorting with the hostler in Dresden who built the airstrip for us.”
“That was different. Godeke was a commoner. Like my boyfriend Eddie. Not a damn prince — fine, fucking archduke — taking advantage of you.”
Minnie squinted, as if she were trying to decipher very fine print. “You Americans are just plain weird, sometimes. If the hostler had gotten me pregnant, I’d have been in a difficult position since Godeke was a nice guy but I had no desire to marry him. So I would have had to raise the kid with no help beyond what little I could squeeze out of him in a court of law, which was maybe three turnips. Nineteen-year-old hostlers earn what you call squat and I wouldn’t even go that high.”
She turned her head to contemplate the person across the room who was the nexus of their quarrel. “Whereas if he sires a bastard on me I’m sitting what you’d call pretty for the rest of my life.”
“He’ll abandon you! He’ll say the kid isn’t his!”
“Why in the world would he do that?” Her squint got even squintier. “Royal scions always have bastards, everybody knows it — including and maybe even especially their wives. If anything, it’s an advantage all the way around. From a prospective bride’s point of view, it proves he’s fertile. From an established wife’s point of view, it means maybe he won’t be pestering her except when he needs an heir.”
Minnie shrugged. “But it’s all a moot point, anyway. First, because right now I’m still just thinking about it. Second, because I have the needed supplies to avoid getting pregnant if I decide to go ahead — as you know perfectly well, since I got them from you in the first place. And, thirdly, because I don’t give a damn — no, let me expand that into full blasphemic proportions: I don’t give a good God-damn — what the theologians say about birth control.”
All Christian denominations in the seventeenth century except some of those imported by the Americans disapproved of contraception, and had since the second century of the Christian Era. It wasn’t just Catholics, either. Both Martin Luther and John Calvin had weighed in against the practice.
Minnie, however, was a free-thinker on this as on pretty much any and all questions of a cosmological, cosmogenic, spiritual, theological, doctrinal, sacerdotal, ministerial, sacred, sacrosanct and sanctified nature and didn’t care what any establishment had to say on the subjects. She figured her glass eye gave her all the authority she needed to make up her own mind.
She brought that glass eye to bear on Denise, to drive home the point. While, with the other — the one that actually worked — she glanced around to see what Archduke Leopold Wilhelm was doing.
At the moment, he was trying to pretend he wasn’t looking at her.
Splendid. The likelihood that the answer would wind up being “yes” moved up a notch.
When she brought the real eye back to Denise, she saw that her friend was still being sulky.
“And what about you?” she demanded. “What if you get pregnant?”
“Eddie would do the right thing,” Denise said stoutly.
“Well, of course he would. But that’s the whole problem in a nutshell, isn’t it? What’s the ‘right thing’ for a pilot to do when he hasn’t got a pot to piss in except that empty bottle Eddie keeps in the cockpit for when he can’t hold it in?”
“That’s not true!” Denise said hotly. “Eddie’s got — got — lots of stuff. Well, his family does, anyway. And besides, I don’t care. Neither should you. It’s the principle of the thing.”
Minnie was back to squinting. Very, very fine print.
“How did you Americans get so weird? I’ve read that famous Constitution of yours. Three times. I don’t remember any place where it says that it’s forbidden to ever be practical about anything. Is there a secret amendment, maybe? Written in invisible ink or something?”
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