1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 51

Chapter 24

Freising, Bavaria

When Mike awoke, he saw that Rebecca had risen before him. She’d already brewed some tea and was sitting at the small table in the corner of the bedroom writing something in her notebook. That would be her manuscript she was working on. The deadline she’d set herself for completing it was approaching and she was becoming increasingly twitchy on the subject. Mike thought that was a little silly, since the deadline was entirely a self-proclaimed one, not something her publisher had established.

Even if the publisher had established a deadline, it wouldn’t have mattered that much. Book publishing in this day and age was quite unlike what it had been in the world Mike had come from. There, an author signed a contract and got an advance against projected royalties, in return for which she or he promised to deliver a complete manuscript by such-and-such a date.

None of that applied in this case. The publishing house they planned to use was simply the largest publisher in Magdeburg — and the distinction between “publishing house” and “print shop” was essentially non-existent. The publisher/printer, a man by the name of Martin Gemberling, was an Alsatian from Strassburg who’d gotten his start working with central Europe’s first newspaper publisher, Johann Carolus. He’d agreed to print Rebecca’s book whenever it got finished, but that was the beginning and end of his commitment. No money had been advanced, no contract had been signed, no publication date or manuscript deadline had been established.

Rebecca had received a lot of money in the form of a loan advanced against her projected royalties from the book. That loan had not come from any publisher, however, it had come from her massive and extended Abrabanel family. Mike wasn’t even sure which specific members of the family had come up with the money. The Sephardic Jews who’d been driven out of Spain at the end of the fifteenth century had their own methods and customs when it came to record-keeping, which were obscure to outsiders because they had been designed that way to make it more difficult for gentile rulers to extort money out of them. It was often unclear which members of the family were wealthy and which were not.

Under normal circumstances, Rebecca was a heavier sleeper than Mike was. He was usually the one who woke first and had the tea or sometimes coffee ready for her when she arose. But between his weariness due to the rigors of the campaign and her own edginess regarding the book, she’d gotten up first both mornings since she arrived in Freising.

It hadn’t taken her quite as long to get here as she’d expected. Once she got to Ingolstadt, she’d found that the Pelican was there and was about to relocate to Freising. By then, the Third Division had taken over the town and set up a protected airship base just north of it. The Bavarian resistance that Mike had expected had never materialized. Apparently, General Piccolomini had decided not to contest the territory north of Munich any further and had withdrawn his forces into the Bavarian capital in preparation for a siege.

Mike was delighted that she’d been able to squeeze in an extra day on her visit. He’d be leaving on the morrow, since he wanted to get the siege underway as soon as possible. If she’d arrived on her original projected schedule, they wouldn’t have had time to do much except deal with pressing political affairs. As it was…

He stretched languorously and began the lengthy and arduous process of getting out of bed. The night before had been eventful in its own way and he was feeling the aftereffects.

His wife, sadly, was not sympathetic to his plight. “You’d think you were the one who was pregnant, the way you’re grunting like a sow and moving about like one.” To pour salt into the wound, she hadn’t even looked up from her notebook. “I somehow managed to perform my wifely duties last night –”

“‘Duties!'” Mike scoffed. “You sure didn’t seem all that –”

Rebecca drove right over him. “Despite being somewhat encumbered from the results of a fairly recent wifely-duty performance — quite an excellent one too, I was told, from someone who ought to know since it was you — and yet I still managed to rise with the sun and get to work while you slumbered half the morning away.”

Mike looked at the one window in the room. Judging from the angle at which the sunlight was entering, it was still shy of eight o’clock. “You’ve got a harsh definition of ‘half the morning,’ my dear.”

Rebecca finished whatever she was writing and finally looked up. There was now a gleaming smile on her face. For perhaps the thousandth time since he’d met her, Mike felt a little stunned by how beautiful she was. Granted, some of that was the bias of a besotted husband. But only some of it.

“There is some tea,” she said softly. “Not too bad, either.”

“What kind is it?”

“Probably best not to ask. Trust me, it is really rather good. Fairly good. Well, not bad. Not actively bad.”

“My hopes are falling by the second,” Mike muttered. But he got up, got dressed, and made himself a cup. He still much preferred coffee to tea, being in this respect an unreconstructed American. But in the years since the Ring of Fire he’d grown accustomed to the hot beverages that generally served the seventeenth century in its stead.

A thin broth was the most common beverage people drank, in the here and now, when they weren’t drinking something alcoholic. Tea was now available, too. Mike was hoping coffee use might keep growing, but he feared the worst. Tea came from the Far East, along routes which the Ottoman Empire couldn’t easily cut. Coffee, on the other hand, was either grown in areas under Ottoman control or areas which the Turks could interdict. He was fairly sure that the availability of coffee in Europe was about to take a nosedive.

“Stupid war,” he muttered, as he took his first sip of tea.

Which was… not actively bad.

“Which one?” Rebecca asked. “War, I mean.”

Mike used the cup to point to the window, which faced to the east rather than the south but would serve the momentary purpose. “This one. Against Maximilian.”

Rebecca closed her notebook and laid down her pen. “He is — and has been for years — a malevolent force in Europe’s affairs.”

“Yeah, he’s a complete asshole, duly certified as such by the Pan-Europe Asshole Registrar’s Office, which — gee, what a surprise — is headquartered in Munich since that city had the highest concentration of assholes per capita in the entire continent.  But he’s still a piker, nowadays. Without its traditional alliance with Austria, Bavaria just isn’t big enough to threaten anyone. Not seriously.”

“The city council of Augsburg — and for certain the commander of the city’s militia — would beg to differ with you,” she pointed out.

Mike drained his cup and set it down on the narrow ledge that served the room for a kitchen counter. “Yeah, sure, but Augsburgers are always twitchy about Bavaria because they’re right on the border. The fact remains that they’re one of the USE’s officially recognized imperial cities, they’re well-fortified and what difference does that make anyway seeing as how the nation they’re a part of is about to lay siege to Bavaria’s own capital?”

For all the banter in their exchange, Rebecca had been listening closely. “I know you are concerned about the Ottomans, Michael. What I do not quite understand is why you are so concerned. They did fail in 1529, after all. And your own history books say they would fail again when they tried to take Vienna a second time –”

He waved his hand as if he were swatting at an insect. “In 1683. If I’ve heard that once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. But here’s what I also know.”

By then, he’d taken a seat on the bed and was leaning forward with his forearms on his knees. “People get so enamored with those damn up-time history books that they forget the other guy knows how to read too. By all accounts I’ve ever heard, Murad IV is the most capable sultan the Turks have had in a long time. Probably since Suleiman — whom they didn’t call ‘the Magnificent’ for nothing. What are the odds that a man like that won’t have been examining the records and drawing his own conclusions from it?”

Rebecca was no stranger to playing the devil’s advocate, whenever her husband wanted to seriously discuss something. “By those same accounts, Michael — each and every one of them, so far as I am aware — Murad has decreed that the stories of people from the future are malicious fables, a sign of witchcraft, and cause for summary execution should anyone repeat them. That hardly sounds like a man determined to squeeze every drop of knowledge that he can from your history books.”

Mike chuckled heavily. “Yeah, I’ve heard the same reports. But let me ask you something, sweetheart. If you were Murad and you wanted to launch secret weapons projects based on up-time knowledge and you didn’t want your enemies to realize you were doing it, what sort of decrees would you make?”

His wife’s expression remained exactly the same. Calm, still, attentive — and rather detached. “I would decree that the stories of people from the future are malicious fables, a sign of witchcraft, and cause for summary execution should anyone repeat them.”

“Exactly. So would I. Well… if I was a ruthless despot, anyway. Which is exactly what Murad is.”

Mike rose to his feet and went to look out the window. He did that from long habit, not because there was anything to see except the wall of an adjacent building. “I don’t believe it for a minute,” he said softly. “I think the Ottomans have been working around the clock, preparing for this assault on Austria. However authoritarian their government might be, it’s also probably the most efficient one in the world. This side of China, anyway. Their empire is huge and they have enormous resources and manpower.”

Rebecca went back to playing devil’s advocate. “Somewhat cruder technology than Europe’s, though, as a rule. At least, cruder than the best Europe can produce.”

Mike’s shrug was as heavy as his chuckle had been. “I’ve heard that also, and although I’m a bit skeptical I’m willing to accept the assessment. But I’m not all that impressed by it, either. The Russians who fought the Nazis in World War Two also had a cruder technology than their enemy did. But guess who won? That’s because the Russians played to their strengths. Their weapons may have been crude, but they worked and they made a lot of them and they were willing to take the casualties to wear down their enemy.”

He turned away from the window to look at her directly. “And that’s exactly what I think Murad is planning to do. I think he does have airships. Not planes, no. But planes aren’t really that useful in fixed, siege warfare. Not the ones we can build today. For that, airships will do just as well and they can be primitive as all hell — as long as the Turks have plenty of them. Understanding that ‘plenty’ is always a relative term. We’ve got a handful at our disposal. All they need –”

“Is a few handfuls,” she finished for him. “And you think the same will be true with other weapons.”

“Yes. We know they have Hale-design rockets. They used them in massed barrages against the Persians. You can expect plenty more where those came from. By now, I’m as sure as I am of anything that Murad will have equipped thousands of his troops with rifled muskets. Once you understand the principle of a Minié ball, designing a gun that can fire one isn’t hard. I’m sure they’ll be cruder than ours or the French Cardinal, but they’ll do. They’ll do.”

He went back to looking out the window. “I don’t know what else the Ottomans will bring to Vienna, but there’ll be something, you can bet on it. Maximilian of Bavaria is a vicious son-of-a-bitch but he no longer poses any major threat to anybody except people dumb enough or unlucky enough to work for him. Murad IV, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire… he’s something entirely different. He could pose an existential threat to us. Or his successor could, if he succeeds in taking Vienna and keeping it.”

“You think we should close down the war with Bavaria, if we can get some sort of acceptable political settlement,” she said. It was a statement, not a question. “And then move at once to aid Austria.”

“Yes. In a nutshell. That’s what I think we should do.” He shrugged again. “But Gustav Adolf doesn’t agree with me and he’s calling the shots, at least for now.”

Rebecca rose. “Michael, if you are right then you will be proven right within a very short time. Three months, at the latest. We are already in the second half of May. By now, the Ottoman march will be well underway. They have to seize Vienna rather quickly or they will be caught by the coming of winter. Which means that if Murad’s plans are as you suspect, we will see them unfold at some point over the summer.”

He knew his wife very well by now. She was leading him somewhere. Part of the reason Mike loved Rebecca was that he knew she was smarter than he was. At least in terms of what he thought of as raw brainpower. He suspected he was her equal and probably her superior in some aspects of what people called emotional intelligence.

“What are you getting at?” he asked.

“I think it should be obvious. Go around Gustav Adolf’s back. Without directly defying him, lay whatever plans you can that will help you get to Austria as soon as possible, and will keep you from getting any more entangled here in Bavaria than is absolutely necessary.”

“Can you find a reason to go to Prague?” he asked her.

“I am sure I can find one. Why?”

“I want someone close to me — closer than anyone else — to clinch the deal with Maximilian’s brother Albrecht. I’m sure that by now Wallenstein and Morris Roth have raised the matter with him. But they’re not directly involved. I am — which means you are.”

She nodded. “If we are to do this, you will need to construct an airfield outside Munich. Francisco Nasi owns his own plane –”

“With his own pilot and he’s already shown he’s willing to fly royalty around for a good cause.” He grinned, quite cheerfully. “Just ask Princess Kristina and Prince Ulrik. Consider it done. What else?”

“It seems silly to have Major Simpson go to all this trouble to bring four naval rifles to Munich when two would serve the purpose, while the other two remain where they can be brought into Austria quickly. Even ten-inch naval rifles can be floated down the Danube on a barge.”

“Already thought of that. What else?”

“I would devote a lot of thought to the subject of barges. Flat-bottomed boats even more so. Marching an army takes time. Floating them down the Isar and then down the Danube seems much more efficient.”

She had a point. But…

“How many flat-bottom boats and barges can there be in Bavaria?” he wondered.

“I have no idea. But I think the better question is: how many boat-builders are there in Bavaria — the southern Oberpfalz too — who might be available to make more?”

The area had been ravaged by war, lately. That always produced a lot of people who were looking for work. Only some of them needed to be experienced boatwrights, just enough to guide the others.

“You’re right. I’ll get David Bartley working on it right away. I love you.”

Rebecca got a long-suffering look on her face. “I foresee more wifely duties in the near future.”