1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 31
They made sure their teeth were perfect, no matter the pain and the cost involved. Their hair had to be just so. They fretted endlessly over their weight. He’d even heard that some of them underwent surgery to have features like noses brought into line with what they considered the proper form.
Hugelmair, clearly, suffered little from that unease. Her left eye might not move properly, but since the rest of her did she wouldn’t worry about it. What was, was. What was done, was done.
She was quite a pretty woman, the scar and the glass eye aside, with a sturdier frame than either of the two American girls she was with. He wondered who she was and where she came from.
“Is there any new word about the Turks?” Denise asked.
Leopold nodded. “They’re coming. There’s no longer any doubt about it. We haven’t received specific word yet, but they would have probably started their march within the past week.”
“Are you going to try to fight them before they reach Vienna?” The American girl — so typical of them! — didn’t seem to find anything odd in her asking such a question of a member of Austria’s royal family. For a moment, Leopold was tempted to order her arrested for being a spy.
But it was just a fleeting whimsy, probably brought on by his residue of anger at Judy Wendell. The guards standing by the entrance to the hall would certainly obey him if he gave the order — he was an archduke of Austria, after all, in direct line of succession to the throne should his brother Ferdinand and his children die for some reason. But the order would soon be countermanded by Ferdinand himself and Leopold would be soundly berated, albeit in private.
However annoying the Americans could sometimes be, in the present circumstances the Austrian emperor was determined to stay on good terms with them. An invasion by the Ottoman Empire was nothing to take lightly, and the Austrians were going to need allies. Only the USE and Bohemia were close enough to provide assistance quickly, and relations with Bohemia were very tense. Their best chance at getting an ally was with Gustav Adolf.
Who, for his own reasons, made every effort to stay on good terms with the Americans also.
“Why are you looking at me funny?” Denise asked. Leopold had been told the girl was brash almost beyond belief, which was apparently true.
“He’s thinking about having you tossed into the dungeon for spying,” said Minnie, “but warning himself not to do it because that’d cause a mess. Me, I think he ought to go ahead and do it anyway. Denise, you’re my best friend but sometimes you’ve got the sense of a chicken.”
Denise gaped at her. “What do you mean?”
Minnie mimicked her friend’s voice, adding what Leopold presumed was an exaggerated overlay of American dialect. “Are y’allllllll gonna go on out and whup on them there Turks right off or are y’allllll gonna wait until they mosey on up a bit before you start whalloping on ’em?”
She then slipped back into her normal speech. “That’s what they call a ‘state secret,’ Denise. You can get yourself arrested asking those kind of questions from a cobbler or a fishwife. Much less asking an archduke.”
“Oh.” Denise grimaced. “Sorry, Your Highness. I hadn’t thought of that.”
By now, Leopold was quite amused. “Think nothing of it. The proper appellation is ‘Your Grace,’ by the way. The only persons in Vienna at the moment whom you’d call ‘Your Highness’ are my nephew Ferdinand and my niece Mariana.”
He nodded toward a corner where Queen Mariana occupied the only chair in the chamber. A three-year old boy was standing next to her with a scowl on his face, presumably caused by the impertinence of his year-and-a-half old sister who was occupied in tugging at his sleeve. “You’ll find them over there.”
“Now that I’ve put Denise in her place, Your Grace,” Minnie said, “I’m actually interested in the answer myself. Are you planning to fight the Turks before they get to Vienna, or do you figure you’d fare better to just wait until they’ve besieged the city?”
She gave him a gleaming smile. Her teeth were very good, he saw. He wondered if that was due to nature alone or if she’d gotten help from one of the American tooth-doctors.
What did they call them? “Dentists,” if he remembered right.
“If you want to have me arrested,” Minnie continued, “you can probably do it without there being any big trouble. I won’t object too much unless you put me in a dungeon that’s got rats. I really don’t like rats.”
He burst into laughter. “I wouldn’t think of it!”
Looking around, he saw a number of curious looks being sent his way. For whatever quirky reason, that made up his mind concerning the issue at hand.
“We’ll wait until they invest the city,” he said quietly. “They outnumber us badly and the terrain to the southeast is often marshy. Our troops would be likely to get bogged down and we’d suffer bad casualties. Here…”
He looked around the chamber, as if he could see the walls of the city beyond. “Vienna withstood Suleiman a century ago and according to the American history books we will — would have — withstood the Ottoman Empire again in 1683. We’ll take our chances with a siege now, as well.”
He bestowed a big smile of his own on the girl. “You’ll pass that information along to Don Francisco, I assume?” It wouldn’t do to let her think he was ignorant of her association with the Jewish spymaster in Prague.
“Yes, I will.” The gleaming smile didn’t fade a bit. “But I’m sure he knows already.”
That… was probably true, Leopold had to admit. By now the “secret” plans of Austria’s high command had spread through enough of its notoriously sieve-like court that he could only hope the Ottomans still didn’t know as well.
Partly in order to deflect the discussion onto a safer topic, but mostly because he wanted to continue talking to Minnie, Leopold said: “You should really get out of the habit of calling them ‘Turks,’ you know.”
The gleaming smile was replaced by a slight frown. “Why? They are Turks, aren’t they?”
“Not exactly — and it also depends on what you mean by a ‘Turk.’ It’s true that the Ottoman Empire had its origins in the Turkish tribes who migrated into Anatolia after the Seljuks defeated the Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert. But what really holds it together is the Ottoman dynasty — and that dynasty by now is more Balkan than it is Turkish. It you wish to give them any specific tribal identity, you’d do better to call them Albanians.”
By now, Denise and Judy had frowns of puzzlement on their faces as well.
“Huh?” said Denise. “How does that work?”
“Their royal customs are very different from ours,” Leopold explained. “The Ottoman emperors sire their children on the women of the harem — who are often recruited from the Balkans. Succession is usually passed on to the oldest son, but not always. There are powerful factions in the Ottoman government, who often use one or another of the younger sons to give themselves more leverage. The disputes can become so contentious that they threaten the normal rules of succession — as we saw recently in the years leading up to Murad becoming sultan.
“It’s not just a question of lineage, either,” he added. “For the past century — at least — a good half of the Ottomans’ grand viziers have been Albanians and most of the rest have been of devşirme origin.”
“Devsh –” Denise fumbled with the term. “What’s that?”
“It is the custom by which the Ottomans recruit Christian boys, almost always from the Balkans, and then convert them to Islam and indoctrinate them to serve the dynasty. Most of them become janissaries. Others enter the civil service. They provide the Ottomans with a body of capable and loyal servants who have no ties to the Turkish nobility. To be honest, that’s one of the big advantages they have over us. Their government is better-organized; more efficient.”
Leopold looked around the chamber again. His expression must have become a bit sour, because Minnie laughed and said: “Getting envious, are you?”
When he looked at her, the gleaming smile was back. “I don’t blame you,” she said. “If I had to deal with noblemen all the time I’d go mad.”
“Absolutely bats,” her friend Denise agreed.
Leopold wondered what bats had to do with the matter.
They were interrupted shortly thereafter by one of the very noblemen in question, a ponderous and pontificating fellow who buried Leopold under a litany of woes involving the depredations and criminal activities of Wallenstein and his accomplices. Leopold didn’t doubt that the woes were woeful and that Wallenstein indeed behaved criminally — he was a traitor under sentence of death, was he not? — but it was never made clear what the nobleman wanted Archduke Leopold to do about it.
Soon after the fellow began his peroration the two American girls and their one-eyed companion politely took their leave and departed for greener or at least less voluble social pastures. Leopold was sorry to see them go — even Judy — but didn’t blame them in the least.
Eventually, the nobleman left also. Only the Flemish artist remained behind.
Since Leopold had already agreed to place Adriaen Brouwer on a retainer before the three girls showed up, he felt no hesitation in employing him for a non-artistic purpose. And why should he? The Habsburgs had a long tradition of employing artists in other capacities, as witness the many times Peter Paul Rubens had served as a diplomat for the dynasty.
“I’m curious about that one girl, Adriaen.”
“One of the Americans?”
“No. The girl with one eye. Who is she? Where did she come from? How and why is she so closely attached to the Americans?”
The artist’s nod was so deep as to almost constitute a bow. He understand how these things worked.
“I shall find out, Your Grace.”