1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 55

“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 — 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?”