1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 54

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.