1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 64


July, 1636

They were born poor, lived poor, and poor they died

Chapter 30

Vienna, capital of Austria-Hungary

Judy Wendell summed up the sentiments of the four young women standing on the wall of the city looking to the east. “Well, that sucks.”

“What would you be referring to, exactly?” asked Hayley Fortney. The youngest of the four pointed an accusing finger at the columns of smoke rising from Race Track City, four miles away. “The fact that they’re burning down everything we built over there, or the fact that there are about a million of them.”

“That’s a ridiculous exaggeration,” said Cecilia Renata. Her tone seemed a lot less confident than the words themselves, though. “My brother — Ferdinand, not Leopold — he’s the emperor — told me just yesterday that our spies mostly agree that Murad didn’t bring more than one hundred thousand men.

“Fewer,” she added stoutly, “than Suleiman brought the last time the Turkish pigs tried this.” Cecilia Renata shared none of her younger brother Leopold’s fine sense of the ethnic complexities of the Ottoman Empire. Like most Austrians, she figured Turks were Turks and that was all there was to it.

“It’s not the number of soldiers that matters,” said Minnie Hugelmair, “it’s what they might have with them.” Her own finger pointed to something further away than Race Track City. Further away — and further up. “Tell me I’m wrong because I’ve only got one eye even though that eye works quite well. That looks like a dirigible to me.”

“Three of them, actually,” said Judy. “My eyesight’s twenty-twenty.”

Hayley and Cecilia Renata were both squinting at the same objects. “They don’t look as big as ours, though,” said Hayley. “The Pelican, I mean. The Swordfish class. We’ve got three of them too, you know.”

Judy was never one given to false optimism. “Let’s be precise, here. Miro Estuban has three of them, only one of which is currently leased to the USE army — and it’s stationed in Munich. The Albatross and the Petrel are… wherever. Not here. We don’t have any airships. No planes, either. Not even a Belle, much less a Gustav or a Dauntless. They’re all up in Poland, doing absolutely no good flying around PoznaÅ„.”

Minnie, from her work for Don Francisco, had a much better grasp of military realities than Judy did. “Doesn’t really matter, though. None of the planes are able to shoot down airships, and they’re too small to carry much in the way of bombs, either. They’re mostly valuable for reconnaissance to find where the enemy is and” — she used her chin to point to the huge army moving up on Vienna — “that’s hardly at issue now. They’re right over there.”

She turned to Hayley. “You really ought to get out of Vienna, like you said you were going to.”

Hayley was glaring at the distant Ottoman army. Perhaps more than anyone in the world, she’d been the driving force behind creating Race Track City. Now, from the looks of it, the whole place was being destroyed by the Turks. Even the race track — the stands, anyway — looked to be burning.

“You’d think they want to keep it intact,” she growled. “Stupid bastards.”

“Why?” said Judy. “You’ve spent the last two weeks stripping everything out of there and moving it into Vienna.”

“Well, yeah, sure. The emperor made it crystal clear a while ago he wasn’t going to defend Race Track City and I sure as hell wasn’t going to leave anything useful or valuable to the fucking Turks.”

“So, they’re now burning the scraps you left. What do you care?” Judy could be awfully unsentimental some times. Most times.

A man’s voice came from below them. “Hayley, we should go now!”

Turning and looking down from the wide ledge they were standing on, they saw Hayley’s betrothed, Amadeus von Eisenberg. He was standing in the middle of the bastion, next to a pile of cannonballs. The expression on his face combined exasperation with anxiety. “The barge is already loaded! Almost, anyway. Everyone is waiting for you!”

“Off you go, girl,” said Judy.

Hayley looked uncertain. “I should maybe stay with you guys, what do you think?”

“That’s stupid,” said Judy. “Cecilia Renata’s staying here out of duty and I’m staying because she asked me to stay with her and I’ve got nothing else to do. Besides, it’s a good idea for one of us Barbies to hold down the fort, so to speak. But one is all we need for that” — here, she grinned — “and I don’t have a boyfriend fussing at me.”

Hayley still looked dubious. “What about you?” she asked Minnie.

Judy provided the answer for that, too. “She’s scheming. And since Cecilia Renata’s aiding and abetting her schemes, she figures it’d be stupid to leave. Screw the Turks.”

Minnie nodded. “It’s not every day a girl like me — especially with just one eye left — gets to hang out with royalty.”

Hayley’s dubious look got a little cross. “That’s pretty gross, if you ask me.” She gave the young Austrian archduchess a look from beneath lowered brows. “And why are you a party to this? Your own brother!”

Cecilia Renata sniffed. “My little brother. A sweet enough boy, but he needs to be seasoned. Far better he should get seasoned by Minnie than by one of the airheads” — the Austrian archduchess was quite taken with American slang — “who loiter about my brother’s court. Minnie will be good for him.”

Hayley stared at her for a moment. Then, shook her head. “There are times I don’t think I’ll ever adjust to the seventeenth century. Especially seventeenth century royalty.”

Cecilia Renata gave her a pitying look in return. “I’ve known since I was five or six years old that I’d eventually get married to someone purely for reasons of state. The same is true for my brother Leopold, most likely. There is not much room in there for the sort of sappy soap opera mush you Americans love to wallow in.”

Hayley’s sniff was almost as good as the archduchess’ had been. “‘Sappy’ and ‘soap opera’ and ‘mush’, is it? You’re never seen any of the three of them. Well, the first two anyway. There might be some Austrian version of mush, but you wouldn’t make it with cornmeal.”

“I have great powers of imagination, as befits a many-times-great-grand-daughter of the Swiss count Radbot of Klettgau, who imagined his line becoming a great dynasty named Habsburg.” She smiled cheerily and spread her arms. “And look, here we are.’

“Besieged by the Turks,” said Hayley.

“That was unkind.”

“Hayley!” shouted Amadeus. “We have to go! Now!”

“All right, all right!” she shouted down. She gave each of the three other women on the rampart a quick hug and hurried down the stairs — or started to hurry, rather. The staircase was so steep that it was more like descending a ladder. After she’d taken two steps, Hayley stopped, turned around, and went the rest of the way facing backward.

Thirty seconds later, she was out of sight.

“So it’s just us now,” said Minnie. “What should be call ourselves? We need a name. Neither Cecilia Renata nor I could possibly be a ‘Barbie.’ The whole idea’s ridiculous.”

“The Sopranos,” Judy immediately proposed.

“What’s a soprano?” Cecilia Renata asked.

Hoorn, province of Holland

The Netherlands

“That is just so cool,” said Bonnie Weaver admiringly. “It’s an ingenious idea, too.”

Staring at the huge object moored just offshore — pair of objects, rather — Rita had to agree with her. It was both cool and ingenious.

One of the big problems with airships was where to keep the enormous things when they were on the ground. You could tether them with ropes in a large enough open area, but that only worked if there wasn’t much wind. What you really needed was a hangar, and the problem that posed was twofold. First, in order for even a small airship to fit inside, the building had to be gigantic — and it couldn’t have any internal support structure or the whole purpose of the edifice would be negated because the airship wouldn’t fit inside.

At a bare minimum, the interior dimensions of the hangar had to be five hundred feet long, sixty feet wide and sixty feet high — and it would be much safer to have the width and height be around eighty feet to a hundred feet instead. That meant, given the resources available in Europe in the 1630s, erecting a seven or eight story wooden building with no internal supports and only such bracing as could be kept out of the way of the airship.

Hard, though certainly not impossible. But you still faced the problem that getting the airship in and out of the hangar could only be done if the wind was very weak. Any sort of wind — even a gentle breeze — would make the project difficult and dangerous.

The Dutch consortium that was building the airship they’d come to the Netherlands to buy or lease had found a solution to the problem. Their hangar floated on the water… The base of the hangar rested on what amounted to big barges, with access to the airship when it was inside the hangar being provided by gangplanks.

The hangar was moored by anchors set down by the barges. But whenever it was time to bring an airship in or out of the hangar, the anchors could be lifted and the hangar’s orientation changed so that the long axis was directly aligned with the wind.

“Is there any place we could build a floating hangar like that in the USE?” Bonnie wondered.

“Certainly. The Bodensee,” said Heinz. “It’s formed by the Rhine, in Swabia.”

Bonnie frowned. “I never heard of it.”

“Yeah, you have,” said Rita. “It’s usually called Lake Constance in English. It’s on the border between Switzerland and the USE.” Her voice began to rise a little with excitement. “Heinz is right, too. It’d be perfect! It’s not that far from Munich, either. Maybe… I don’t know…”