1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 67

On the positive side, that meant that any light being generated inside the cellars by lamps or candles wouldn’t leak out, either. On the negative side, that also meant that the ventilation was wretched. Air passages had been built into the design, but no provision had been made for circulating the air. On the really negative side, that meant —

Minnie emerged out of the gloom. “I pried open the lid and looked into it. That oubliette in the corner of the next room hasn’t been used in maybe a hundred years. So it’s not stinky. On the other hand, if we ever do have to use it…”

She made a face. “This would get really foul down here.”

Judy looked around, again holding her lamp up. “Are these barrels all full of wine?”

“Yes,” said Cecilia Renata. “They get changed every decade or so.”

Judy pounced. “By who? They’ll know about the cellars.”

“By one of the officials who left with the emperor for Linz.”

The archduchess seemed to believe it, too. Amazing. Did anyone really think a court official hauled heavy casks of wine in and out of a hidden cellar all by his lonesome?

Royalty. They’d just have to hope whoever did the actual work would keep their mouths shut — if they ever wound up having to use these cellars at all, which everyone kept assuring Judy they wouldn’t.

She found that kind of amazing too. You’d think people who’d been born and raised in a century where all cities had huge fortifications surrounding them wouldn’t be so blasted optimistic about everything.

She forced her mind back to the issue at hand. “We couldn’t possibly drink all this wine. Not even if we were holding nonstop parties down here. So if the time ever comes, we can just pour one of the casks down into the shit pit. That ought to cut down the smell and help sterilize the crap.”

Cecilia Renata shook her head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. And we don’t need to find out because” — she pointed to a small stack of casks off to one side — “those have lime in them. That’s what you use to keep the smell down.”

That would probably also reduce the danger of infection, Judy reflected.

“Bah!” she suddenly exclaimed. “We’re getting carried away here, ladies! If it ever looks like the Turks are going to break into Vienna, I vote we just evacuate the city like anybody else with half a brain.”

Cecilia Renata nodded. “I agree. There is already a provision for that, too. Leopold told me — in fact, he’s in charge of it. Him and a Captain Adolf Brevermann. If the Turks breach the walls we will evacuate everyone on barges in the Donaukanal.”

Judy was skeptical how well that would work. It was true that the Ottomans had so far made no attempt to cross over to the north bank of the Danube or even onto the strip of land between the river and the canal that formed the northern limit of Vienna. That might be on account of the steam barges the Austrians had, which had originally been built to ferry people to and from Race Track City. The Austrians had armed two of them with small cannons. But Judy had her doubts. She was no soldier, but she suspected that if Sultan Murad IV could get one hundred thousand men from Belgrade to Vienna, he could sure as hell get across a river, steam barges or no steam barges.

Most of the city’s civilians had already been evacuated, except for eight thousand volunteers — almost all of them men — who had stayed behind to support the garrison, which was now a little over fifteen thousand strong. The defenders were heavily outnumbered, but they had the great advantage of fighting behind some of Europe’s strongest fortifications.

What everyone was hoping, of course, was that the USE and perhaps Bohemia would send troops to relieve the siege. But no one yet knew if that might happen, although rumors were flying everywhere.

“Your brother is in charge of that?” asked Minnie. Her expression was a little pinched. “With a captain. Let me guess. The captain will lead the evacuation while Leopold will lead the delaying action.”

“That’s what he told me,” said Cecilia Renata.

“That’s stupid!” Minnie protested. “He’s playing at being a general! He has no military experience. He’s supposed to be a bishop, for Christ’s sake.” Minnie, from her long and close association with Denise, had picked up American habits when it came to blasphemy.

“Which is exactly what I told him,” agreed the young archduchess. “But you know what he’s like, Minnie. Well, maybe you don’t yet. Whenever he thinks his honor is involved, he becomes as stubborn as a mule and his — what do you call it? That thing that measures how smart you are?”

“IQ,” Judy provided. “Stands for ‘intelligence quotient.'”

“Yes, that thing. Leopold’s IQ drops below that of a mule, at such times. Sometimes, below that of a beetle. He says if it comes to an evacuation under fire that military skill won’t be as important as simply keeping morale steady. Which he claims he can do better than anyone — certainly a mere captain — because he’s a member of the royal family. All he has to do is not panic, he says.”

Minnie’s face got really pinched, then. After a short silence, she said: “He’s probably right, you know. The fucking idiot.”

“He’s an idiot for being right?” Judy tried to follow the logic.

“No. He’s an idiot for listening to himself being right.”

Race Track City

Four miles east of Vienna

The corpses were beginning to smell, which was all to the good so far as Murad was concerned. The Ottoman sultan had ordered the three officers in command of the janissaries who’d seized Race Track City and set fire to it to be hanged for disobeying his direct order that no captured persons or buildings were to be harmed except by his command.

He’d given that order, in part, because he wanted the buildings for his own use. He’d planned to use Race Track City to quarter a large number of his soldiers. Now, they’d all have to make do with tents, since the only edifice which had survived — a factory of some sort, making what looked like buttons — had been turned into his military headquarters.

In part, he’d also ordered strict discipline to be maintained because he had hopes of winning over a portion of the conquered population. There probably wouldn’t be many, of course. These Austrians were Catholic Christians, not Orthodox ones like the many subjects of the Ottoman Empire who provided the sultan with most of the troops handling the new weapons. But if Murad could gain the allegiance of even a few, that would be helpful. The chances of doing so would be greatly diminished if they or their families had been abused.