1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 66

Chapter 31

Outside Munich, capital of Bavaria

“How did Admiral Simpson tear down the walls of Hamburg in a few hours,” Mike Stearns wondered, “when the same guns don’t seem to be making much of a dent in the walls of Munich?”

The captain in charge of the battery got the long-suffering look common to artillery officers when called upon to explain that cannon are not, in fact, magic wands.

“First of all, sir,” he replied, “the walls of Hamburg that Simpson fired upon weren’t torn down because he wasn’t trying to breach the walls. He was sailing through Hamburg on his way to the North Sea. He just damaged them in the process of doing what he was really after, which was silencing the batteries Hamburg had on the river.”

He took a deep breath. “Second, the walls he faced on the river weren’t the full-scale star fort walls that he would have been firing on if he’d been investing Hamburg from landside” — here a forefinger waved about — “like we are. Third –”

“Never mind,” Mike grumbled. “I’ll take your word that there’s a logic to it. Even if it does seem weird.”

Christopher Long chimed in. “General, there’s a reason every big city in Europe spends a fortune — not a small one, either — surrounding themselves with star forts. The fact is that this style of fortifications works well against the kind of big guns generally available to us.” He nodded toward the nearest of the two ten-inch naval rifles, positioned in a berm about fifty yards away. “These are much better than most and eventually the explosive shells they fire will produce a big enough breach for us to launch an assault. But we only have two of the guns available so far because of the problems Major Simpson has been having salvaging the other two.”

Mike had the grace to tighten his lips and keep his mouth shut. He didn’t blush, though, which by rights he should have. Tom, following Mike’s orders, had managed to get the two remaining naval rifles out of the Danube. His men had drilled out the spikes and cleaned them up, and then shipped the guns down the Danube to the confluence with the Isar.

Where, alas — the details remained unclear, but war is well known to be hell — the barge had capsized and spilled both guns back into the river.

Mike had had the good sense, however, not to cite Clausewitz in the brief message reporting on the mishap to Gustav Adolf. Everything in war is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult…

Would not have been well received.

There was no point in Mike grumbling at his artillery officers, anyway. He was just restless. He didn’t really want a big breach opened up in the walls of Munich. He just wanted to keep the pressure on Duke Maximilian while he hoped Rebecca — someone, anyone — could finally persuade Gustav Adolf to accept a political settlement with Bavaria.

“Keep up the good work, captain,” he said, and left to make a nuisance of himself somewhere else.

Sieges were frustrating, aggravating, and most of all — boring.

Vienna, capital of Austria-Hungary

“Wow,” said Judy Wendell, raising the lamp in order to get a better view. “I’ve heard of safe rooms, but this is…” She smiled wryly. “A royal palace version of it, I guess.”

Cecilia Renata rose from the crouch she’d assumed to inspect one of the casks. “That wine is still good, I think. What is a ‘safe room’?”

After Judy explained, both Cecilia Renata and Minnie Hugelmair shook their heads.

“No, not really,” said the archduchess. “The way you describe a safe room, its purpose is to prevent anyone from breaking into it until help can arrive.” She made a little circular motion with her finger, indicating their surroundings. “This is not safe at all, not that way. If an enemy can break into Vienna, they can certainly break into these cellars. This is just a hiding place, that’s all. You would only be safe so long as no one knew you were here.”

“Speaking of which,” said Minnie. “Who does know about these cellars? Besides you and us and Leopold.”

Cecilia Renata pursed her lips thoughtfully. “Everyone in the royal family, of course. A few officials — but all of them left with the emperor. I don’t think there’s anyone in Vienna except the three of us and Leopold who knows they exist.”

“That can’t be true,” said Judy, trying to keep the exasperation out of her voice. Royalty, I swear! It seemed almost impossible for people raised the way they’d been to remember that servants were real live actual all-the-way-around people just like they were. And so were workmen.

“You didn’t build these cellars yourselves,” she continued. “It must have taken dozens of men to do it. Hundreds, probably. I mean — look at it.” She raised the lantern again and swung it back and forth, shedding light into various corners.

It wasn’t possible to see all of the area, or even most of it. These were cellars — cellars, plural, not one cellar — and there were at least four separate rooms. Quite possibly more, since there were dark areas Judy hadn’t explored yet.

“Oh, them.” Renata Cecilia shook her head. “They all made solemn oaths to remain silent. But it doesn’t matter because none of them could still be alive, Judy. This wing of the palace was originally built in the middle of the last century as a home for Maximilian II before he became the Holy Roman Emperor. These cellars would have been put in at the same time. And he died…”

She frowned. “In the year 1576, I think. That was sixty years ago — and he was fifty years old when he died. Or forty-nine, I don’t remember.”

“Doesn’t matter, either way,” said Judy. “Everyone who worked on the cellars has to be long gone by now.”

Which didn’t mean they hadn’t told friends or members of their families about the cellars, solemn oaths or not. But they probably wouldn’t have told very many people, and those people would have been sworn to silence also. Those vows no doubt got broken, too. But by the time a century went by, the well-known telephone game effect would have distorted the passed-on memories beyond recognition, and there’d be several different versions of them.

Mentally, she shrugged. The world wasn’t a perfectly safe place; never had been, never would be. But as hidey-holes went in a city under siege by a mighty and malevolent enemy, this was pretty damn good.

There were some drawbacks, of course. The lighting sucked. More precisely, there was no lighting at all except that provided by four very narrow slots in the tower near the entrance — and that light didn’t penetrate into the cellars because the disguised door that provided the entrance to the cellars two floors below those slots was kept tightly shut. Not only shut but bolted and wedged from the inside. Even if someone suspected there might be an entrance and poked and pried, they wouldn’t be able to budge that door. In fact, they wouldn’t even be able to determine that it was a door in the first place.