1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 59

1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 59

“So why the fuck are we all the way down here in Brussels?” she demanded.

That being a purely rhetorical question, Rita moved right on to providing the answer without giving either Bonnie or Heinz so much as a second’s pause in which to insert a response. “I’ll tell you why. Because in the seventeenth fucking century — no offense, Heinz; you’re okay but your time period sucks — you can’t chew gum without getting His Royal Uppitiness to sign off on it.”

She paused for a breath of air, her hands planted on hips, and surveyed the train they’d arrived in. It consisted of a very primitive more-or-less open air steam locomotive hauling five equally primitive if not quite as open air coaches, all of it traveling on a single heavy wooden rail with — in some places; not others — thin iron plates attached to the top of the rail to cut down on wear and tear. The locomotive and all the coaches had outrigger wheels which ran on the side of the road to maintain balance. They reminded Rita of nothing so much as the wheels on Conestoga wagons she’d seen — once in a museum; a jillion times on TV.

Heinz had told them that the design was a variation of the nineteenth century Ewing system that had been briefly depicted in one of the books in Grantville. It moved very slowly, not more than ten miles an hour and usually less. But even at that speed, if you keep it up around the clock, a train can travel quite a ways. The distance from Amsterdam to Brussels was less than one hundred and fifty miles. Theoretically, they could have made it less than a day.

In the real world, it had taken them a little more than two days. The steam engine had had problems. One of the outrigger wheels had broken, almost derailing that coach — not theirs, thankfully. At several places along the way the track had gone askew. Still, it had been kind of interesting and it beat riding horses or (still worse) being hauled in carriages.

They hadn’t intended to make the trip on a train at all. The original plan had been to use one of the hot air dirigibles built by the same consortium that was building the hydrogen one. But there were only two of the airships, one of which was in Copenhagen, and the one that was available had promptly suffered engine failure — and of a fairly catastrophic sort. They’d managed to get the problem under control before the boiler exploded, but two of the crew had been hurt and the engine was pretty much a complete write-off.

They could have waited for the airship in Copenhagen to return, but that would have taken a few days and in any event none of them were too keen on riding through the air in a small basket right after seeing how another basket had just gotten partially parboiled.

There was this to be said for the seventeenth century. It made you reassess the way you calculated risks. Riding halfway across the Netherlands on a dinky one-rail train that was kept from falling over by a wooden wheel sounded just peachy.

“Oh, quit crabbing, Rita,” said Bonnie. “You’re just cranky because you’re nervous.”

“Well, yeah. No kidding. The last time I got dragooned into being Ms. Well-Connected Ambassadress, I got pitched into one of the world’s most famous prisons. They kept me there for a whole year. I wonder what’s waiting for us here in the Netherlands. That stands for ‘Low Countries,’ you know. They say it’s on account of the elevation but you gotta wonder a little. Dungeons have a low elevation too. ”

“Speaking of ambassadors,” said Heinz, “here comes your greeting party.”

Rita looked in the direction he was indicating. “Jesus H. Christ,” she said. Rita had little truck with down-time sensibilities on the subject of blasphemy. “That mob needs a damn train their own selves.”


A mob they may have been, but they were a courteous one — excessively so, in Rita’s opinion, although she didn’t make any objection. She didn’t, for two reasons. First, because despite her frequent complaints and protests, she understood that her job on this mission was to be a di-plo-mat, the dictionary definition of which included: “a person who is tactful and skillful in managing delicate situations, handling people, etc.” Second, because it is hard to be rude to people who are being nice to you. A few people can manage it — more than a few, if they have the benefit of New York or Paris training — but most can’t. Rita was in the latter category. There were some disadvantages to being brought up in a place like West Virginia.

When she — she alone, Bonnie and Böcler having been deftly peeled away by courtiers — was brought into the presence of Archduchess Isabella, Rita found herself being quite disarmed. Most people can manage to be polite, with a little effort. The archduchess, when she was inclined to do so — which was not always, by any means — could turn it into an art form.

She was one of the Grand Old Ladies of the European aristocracy, as grand as it can get short of being an outright queen — and for most of her life, Isabella had actually wielded more real power than all but a handful of queens in the continent’s history.

She was known as Isabella Clara Eugenia of Austria, although she’d been born in Segovia and was an infanta of Spain. Her father had been King Philip II — yes, that Philip II, the one who launched the Armada against England and whose reign was considered the heyday of Spanish power. His empire had included territories on five of the seven continents, lacking only Australia and Antarctica, and the Philippine Islands had been named after him. The reference to an empire upon which the sun never sets, which most Americans attributed to the English empire of a later day, was originally coined to refer to Philip’s.

Isabella’s mother had been no slouch in the royalty department herself. She was Elizabeth of Valois, the daughter of Henry II of France and Catherine de’ Medici. Isabella’s other two grandparents had been Emperor Charles V and Infanta Isabella of Portugal, on her father’s side.

While still in her twenties, Isabella Clara Eugenia had been a contender for the throne of France, being advanced for that position by the Catholic party that controlled the Parlement de Paris. In the end a different contender seized the throne, the Protestant Henry III of Navarre, who converted to Catholicism after supposedly making the famous quip “Paris is well worth a mass” and became Henry IV of France, the founder of the Bourbon dynasty.

As if in compensation — it was really just another move in the constant strife of dynasties — Isabella was given in marriage to her cousin, Archduke Albert of Austria. The representatives of the two Habsburg branches were given the Netherlands over which they would rule jointly. She was thirty-three years old at the time.

The marriage was a happy one, except for the fact that all three of their offspring had died in childhood. Their joint rule inaugurated a period of relative peace and prosperity in the southern Netherlands, and it was during that period that the great age of Flemish art began, with their patronage of such figures as Peter Paul Rubens and Pieter Brueghel the Younger.


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13 Responses to 1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 59

  1. Randomiser says:

    The art of the infodump is alive and well, and not confined to David Weber, I see.

  2. Lyttenburgh says:

    “It consisted of a very primitive more-or-less open air steam locomotive hauling five equally primitive if not quite as open air coaches, all of it traveling on a single heavy wooden rail with — in some places; not others — thin iron plates attached to the top of the rail to cut down on wear and tear. The locomotive and all the coaches had outrigger wheels which ran on the side of the road to maintain balance. “

    Still not buying into this explanation of miraclous appearance of the trainline in the Netherlands. One only has to turn to several back issues of GGs to see no mention of any kind of trains or railroads between Amsterdam and Brussels. So – “out-of-a-thin-air-handwavium” is applied here.

    “His empire had included territories on five of the seven continents,”

    There 6 (six) continents. There are no “European” and “Asian” continents – they are part of one whole aka “Eurasian continent”.

    • dave o says:

      Most geographers recognize Europe and Asia as separate continents, despite the fact that they are parts of the same land mass. By the single land mass theory, the Americas could be considered one continent, at least before the Panama canal was dug. And some consider Australia as nothing more than a big island.I wish I were as certain of anything as Lyttenburgh is of everything.

    • Jeff Ehlers says:

      Listening to you grouse about the fact that you don’t like the train being introduced in this book is not a whole lot less irritating than having to wade through ‘helpful’ typographical corrections was in the Wars on the Rhine snippets. I don’t really care about your pretentious claim that it’s “out of thin air handwavium”, because it’s quite clear that your real complaint is because Eric Flint – you know, the main author of the series? – dared to introduce something that hadn’t been mentioned in a previous book.

    • Johnny says:

      For one, we are talking about 1630s Europe. You bet your butt that Europe and Asia were considered separate continents.

      For another… the definition of “continent” is pretty nebulous. Is it simply based on lands connecting? Well, that is silly, as it would mean that Africa and Europe and Asia are one continent. Is it based on flora and fauna? Well, partially, but there is certainly some fuzzy regions at the confluence points. Is it based on politics, history, and culture? Partially, certainly, and it’s the major factor today, but that doesn’t explain North and South America or really the division between Africa and Asia, or the lack of division between northern Africa and southern Africa. Is it based on geography and geology (as in tectonic plates)? Well, partially, but if it totally were then Arabia and India would be their own continents.

      In reality what we call a continent is a mix of political geography, history, geology, flora and fauna, and connectedness. It makes sense to divide Europe and Asia based on political, cultural, and climatic divisions. It makes sense to divide Africa and Asia along the same lines- and, remember, classical scholars considered Egypt “Asian” and just thought that “Africa” was about the size of Libya. It makes sense to divide North and South America based on geography, geology, and flora and fauna but not so much by history (or at least after Columbus, dividing North and South America in pre-Columbian times does make sense).

      So what I’m getting at is this argument of there being a definitive number of continents based on objective criteria is rather silly

    • Lyttenburgh says:

      Are you quite finished? Good. We can talk about the continents in the geological sense and get 4. Or we can talk about artificial divide between Europe and Asia (invented by Europeans in the time it’s been considered posh and racially correct to distinguish one from the “sawages” living elsewhere but in Europe). Or we can talk about 6 continents as they are.

      “Europe” and “Asia” are human constructs, imaginary concepts. Eurasia is the continent.

  3. Cobbler says:

    “It consisted of a very primitive more-or-less open air steam locomotive hauling five equally primitive if not quite as open air coaches, all of it traveling on a single heavy wooden rail with — in some places; not others — thin iron plates attached to the top of the rail to cut down on wear and tear.”

    Early American railroads used the same trick. The constant vibration would shake loose the spikes fastening the bar stock to the wooden track. Eventually, as a train passed over, one end of the plate would shake free and curl up. They called it a snakehead.

    A Victorian joke ran, “In a railroad accident, what Is better than presence of mind?” The punch line was, “Absence of body.” You want to be absent the day a snakehead busts through the floor of the passenger car while the train keeps going.

    That’s a big reason America switched to all iron tracks. I think a better fastening system would have solved the problem. And it would use a lot less iron. Iron is expensive, hard to make, and is needed everywhere.

    OTOH those iron caps would be high maintenance.

    OTOH wooden rails are high maintenance anyway.

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