The Demons of Constantinople – Snippet 12
Chapter 4 — Vienna
Location: Danube River, Approaching Vienna, Austria
Time: 7:25 AM, September 22, 1372
Two and a half days after leaving Donauworth, Joe Kraken saw the walls of Vienna. He stopped the barge and grabbed a couple of rocks on the riverbottom to hold him in place.
Joe Kraken didn’t own his body. Roger was the kraken’s master — his pilot, it might be better to say — but the creature itself was owned by Pucorl. The twenty-firsters had received payment from Pucorl before the kraken was invited into the barge. That meant that Pucorl could land on it, even if it was slightly out of place.
Over the last couple of days, Joe Kraken had experimented with his bladder and was learning to use it to propel himself through the river water. But it was easier to use his tentacles to hold himself steady.
Pucorl said, “I see Vienna.”
Annabelle answered, “Yeah, me too.” She was sitting on Pucorl’s roof, enjoying the cool breeze as they floated down the river. The rest of the party were on fifteen river barges, enchanted partly by sea spirits that Themis introduced to them, and partly by Danube River sprites. They carried the cargo and some of the horses. Other horses and their riders rode along the banks on either side of the river, scouting their path. Having the barges to rest the horses meant that they could switch off and keep their horses fresh. It still delayed them, but not nearly as much.
After the brief stop, Joe Kraken pushed off and used his jet to shift out to the center of the river as Pucorl used his speakers to let the outriders know they were in sight of Vienna.
Wilber Hyde-Davis looked up, then back down at the computer screen. The spell he was working on could wait. He closed Merlin and climbed out of Pucorl, but his mind didn’t let go of the spell. It was to enchant a printing press, but spells were more complicated than simply calling a demon into a thing. The shape of the thing mattered. The demon mattered. And, finally, the way it was called mattered. It was the combination of all three things that made a spell work. And that last one, the manner of the calling, was subtly important to the results. It was also something that demons did to each other, on what amounted to an instinctive level. They did it automatically, like people breathing, or the beating of their hearts, or eating and digesting. And that made it difficult for the demons to understand why what they did affected the magic.
The spell in question was an example of that. It used a rope to hold a bag of ink, and the demon was supposed to move the rope like an arm and ink the press after each page was printed. But making a rope into an arm involved more than tying the rope to the press and calling a demon. The demon had to be fitted into the whole contraption in the right way, because the rope by itself lacked the definition needed to become an arm or tentacle.
The spell was for a printer in Paris. Wilber would receive a sum of money deposited in the new Royal Bank of France. He still wouldn’t be able to spend that money anywhere but France, since as of now there was not much in the way of international banking. But the twenty-firsters had — without wanting to — introduced the concepts of fiat money, fractional reserve, and so on. They didn’t have any of the details, but they did know that Banque de France was the national bank of France in the twenty-first century and that it controlled monetary policy and was part of the European Central Bank, sort of. They knew that the money wasn’t gold or silver, but paper notes that weren’t even backed by gold or silver, and they knew that printing too much money was a bad thing. That information was enough to get things started. So Wilber and all the twenty-firsters had accounts in the Royal Bank of France. They weren’t the only ones. Bertrand had an account, and so did Pucorl and several other demons.
It wasn’t important in the here and now, but like the other seeds of knowledge the twenty-firsters dropped in their time in France, it was continuing to have an effect even after they were gone. And they were seeing that effect because of the communications link provided by Pucorl, Merlin, and especially Themis and the links she provided.
“What’s up?” Wilber asked Joe.
Jennifer had her eyes shaded with a hand. “I can see what I think is the tower of Saint Stephen’s cathedral ahead.”
“What’s going on?” Leona meowed.
“We’re apparently in sight of Vienna,” Wilber told her in cat. Then he climbed the ladder to the landing on the roof of the cabin. Halfway up the ladder, he turned and saw the tower. “Yes, I think you’re right.”
Location: Archducal Palace, Vienna, Austria
Time: Two Hours Past Dawn, September 22, 1372
The scout had dust on his boots and dirt on his cloak as he burst into the throne room. “They’re here! We spotted that enchanted barge of theirs.”
“Good.” Archduke Albert III of Austria looked to Karl von Richter, his new chief counselor. “Do you think we will be able to succeed?” By now the events in France were well known from one end of the Danube to the other. Bargemen had brought the news that the twenty-firsters were building a new kind of river barge that would be enchanted by a tame demon almost a week ago. The plans were in place.
“I don’t know, Your Grace. We can but try.” The counselor looked at the starling on his shoulder.
It looked back and said, “Remind them.”
The counselor laughed. “Swift is unimpressed by royalty and wishes me to remind you again that these are people of great power, with strong alliances. We must be careful of them. Don’t offer them insult!”
“Human royalty,” Swift clarified.
“Shush. Don’t be rude.”
“We remember, Swift,” Archduke Albert told the starling. He shook his head. Karl was his favorite teacher at the University of Vienna. The university was started by Albert’s older brother Rudolph the same year that Rudolph died.
After the veil between the worlds was rent and demons started appearing in the world, the interest in magic in the university had increased. Then, with the news out of Paris — especially the paper by Gabriel Delaflote on the proper means of summoning an informational demon or familiar to teach one magic — Karl summoned Swift to a starling. Since then, they had been studying magic and picking up rumors from the netherworld.
The lands of Themis in the netherworld were fairly near Austria, so the rumors of events in Paris were transmitted to Vienna more quickly by way of the netherworld than by land or sea in the real world.
“Very well. We will remember. Call out the guard. I want them greeted as royal guests. After all, aside from Roger McLean who bears the Sword of Themis, there is Bertrand du Guesclin, the former constable of France, and there is also a cardinal of Mother Church.”
The docks were festooned with banners and the city guard were lined up in rows with their pikes held in salute as Joe Kraken pushed up against the dock. Four huge tentacles came up out of the water and seized various posts and such on the dock to hold the barge in place. Seeing that, the city guard did an impromptu rearward scuttle before their officers held them steady.
Unfortunately, the dock was wooden and a bare eight feet across. Getting Pucorl onto it and down it to the shore was impossible.
For the other barges, it wasn’t so bad. The horses could be guided and the wagons could be manhandled. Still, the first impression was not what Albert III was hoping for.
“It is no great issue, Your Grace,” Tiphaine de Raguenel offered with a curtsy. “Sieur Pucorl, Chevalier du Elysium, is large. The more so now, with his armor. A little later, Joe Kraken will move over next to the beach and run out a ramp for Pucorl to use.” She waved at Bertrand du Guesclin. “My own dear husband has similar difficulties, albeit on a smaller scale.”
Bertrand was a big man and so broad that he almost seemed deformed. The twenty-firsters were all tall and comely, even — perhaps especially — the lovely dark-skinned young woman with the shiny black hair and glowing black eyes, introduced as Lakshmi Rawal, whose family, he was told, were diplomats from far off India.
His guests were nobles. That much was certain.
The banquet hall was well lit with torches and lamps. The tables were covered with cloths, so the diners could wipe their hands between courses. Wild boar and fruit compotes, as well as other savories, filled the tables, and there was conversation throughout the room as the minstrels played in the corner.
Albert looked over at Lakshmi again. His eyes found her of their own accord. He dragged them away from her. The twenty-firsters were not peasants, to be taken at one’s pleasure. They were nobles with an armed retinue of considerable size, and magic beyond any he could bring to bear. Lakshmi did not look back, but continued her conversation with a musician.
Johann of Vienna was nervous after the woman called him over. She asked him about his lute and the song he was playing. She seemed to know a lot, and if she were a servant girl he would be enjoying himself. But she wasn’t, and he wasn’t. The ballad that he played was old and well known but not, apparently, to her.
“Let him go, Lakshmi,” said a young man, “before you ruin his life. This isn’t the twenty-first century. Entertainers are not considered royalty of any sort.”