1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 20

1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 20

Chapter 5

Vienna, official capital of Austria-Hungary

Now under Ottoman occupation

“I can’t play another word game today,” said Judy Wendell–Judy the Younger, as she’d been called in a previous existence, since she had the same first name as her mother.

That existence seemed almost a fantasy now, after two months living in cellars lit only by a few candles. Fortunately, since the cellars beneath an unused wing of the Austrian royal palace had been designed as a secret shelter, there had been a big supply of candles. Judy didn’t want to think what it would have been like if they’d had to hide down here in darkness. Day after day after day–which would have seemed like night after night after night.

“I just can’t do it,” Judy said. She tried to glare at the young woman leaning back against a nearby pile of grain sacks, comfortably nestled inside the arm of a man not much older than she was. “Minnie, when you went out there with your cart whose contents I will not get into, why didn’t you bring back a deck of cards instead of that stupid radio?”

Minnie just smiled in response. The accusation was wildly unfair as well as ridiculous, and the four people present knew it including Judy herself. Minnie had risked her life for all of them weeks earlier, when she’d sortied from the cellar disguised as a night soil worker in order to bring back the radio she and Denise Beasley had hidden. Hidden halfway across Vienna. It had been a harrowing journey.

The man who had his arm protectively around her did not share Minnie’s blithe indifference.

“You should be ashamed of yourself for saying such a thing, Miss Wendell! That stupid radio, as you call it, is the only thing that might someday save our lives.”

“The two operative words in that statement are ‘might’ and ‘someday’,” Judy retorted. “In the meantime, I’d give my right arm–okay, left arm–to be able to play hearts, spades or whist instead of Ghost and Botticelli. Hell, I’d even be happy to play Old Maid.”

The man who’d chided her bore the august title and name of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria. He was the youngest of Austria’s four royal siblings. Since the death of their father two years earlier, his older brother had assumed the even more august title of Emperor Ferdinand III of Austria-Hungary.

“My brother’s right, Judy,” said Cecilia Renata, the fourth of the people in the cellars. She was Leopold’s sister and bore the title of an Austrian archduchess. “Like he says, you should be ashamed of yourself.”

There was no great energy is the words, though. Despite being, at the age of twenty-five, considerably older than Judy, the two women had become good friends in the course of their adventures. As much as anything else, Cecilia Renata had only said it to give herself something to do.

Yes, they were all in a very perilous situation, hiding from ruthless janissaries in a city occupied by one of the world’s greatest powers. But that had only lifted their spirits for a short time. They’d been in the cellars long enough by now–more than long enough–to be forced to confront the greatest horror of all.

Boredom. Judy thought of it as a dentist’s waiting room on steroids. Tedium cubed. They were adrift on a great ocean in the lifeboat Ennui, with no land in sight.

“It would be nice to have a deck of cards, though,” Cecilia Renata admitted.

“Be nicer still to have one of the up-timer board games,” said Minnie. “I don’t think you two royals have ever played them. I learned when I was in Grantville.”

“Which one?” asked Judy. “I’m partial to Monopoly, myself. But I’d settle for Clue.”

Monopoly and Clue are okay. But if I had to pick one for the desert island scenario, I’d either go for Backgammon or Parcheesi. Preferably Backgammon.”

Judy frowned. “That’d be anti-social. Backgammon can only be played by two people.”

“Two people at a time,” Minnie qualified. “All the better. While two of us played, the other two could be doing the exercises that we’ve all agreed we ought to be doing.”

“You’re not doing them either, Minnie,” Leopold pointed out.

“‘Course not. Exercise is boring. Just what I don’t need. More boredom.”

“You’ve got a lot of nerve complaining,” said Judy. “You and Leopold get to… Well, you know.”

“They do it a lot, too,” said Cecilia Renata. “It’s quite reprehensible.”

Silence followed for a minute or so. The topic they’d wandered into was one they normally tried to avoid.

That was not due to ethics, though. When it came to sex, Minnie Hugelmair was the embodiment of hard-boiled seventeenth century pragmatism. Judy had the usual romantic attitude of up-time teenage girls, but the attitude had been tempered by the fact she was so good-looking that teenage boys–adult men, too, plenty of them–had been buzzing around her since she was thirteen. She’d become so distrustful and cynical that she’d held onto her virginity to the present day–not out of any deep moral concerns but simply because she was damned if she’d let some lying slob get it from her.

As for Leopold and Cecilia Renata, their sexual mores were the inevitable result of knowing since they were children that they’d eventually be married off to someone for purely political reasons. A complete stranger, often enough. Or, which could be even worse, a close relative. Their older sister Maria Anna had been shipped off to Bavaria not long ago to get married to her uncle Maximilian I. She’d been twenty-four and he’d been in his sixties. In the event, Maria Anna had decided not to go through with it and had fled to the Netherlands, thereby precipitating what had become known since as the Bavarian Crisis. But in the history of the world the up-timers came from, she had married her uncle–and borne him two sons.

Although they looked at the matter from the top down instead of the bottom up, as Minnie did, the two Austrian royals were just as cold-bloodedly practical as she was.


Had been, at any rate. To his surprise and his sister’s outright shock, Leopold had developed a genuine attachment to Minnie, never mind her low birth, orphan status, and glass eye. He’d never used the word “love,” but he had declared that after they were rescued he’d insist his brother keep him as a bishop so he couldn’t marry anyone and could maintain his liaison with Minnie.

She had also developed an attachment to him–but thought his plan to remain a bishop was foolish sentimentalism. There was no reason he couldn’t get married to someone of suitable lineage and maintain his relationship with her. As had been royal custom from time immemorial.

After allowing the silence to last just long enough to restore propriety, Judy rose to her feet and beckoned to Minnie.

“Come on, girl, let’s go. I’m pretty sure it’s time for our weekly radio message.”

Minnie rose from her pleasant snuggle. “I think it’s probably still too early, but maybe you’re right. It might even be later than we think. It’s too bad you brought one of those clever up-time battery watches instead of an old-fashioned manual wind-up one.”

Judy raised her arm and glanced down at the watch on her wrist. “Yeah, I just wear it out of habit, these days. The battery died almost a year ago.”

Leopold brought forth a large pocket watch. An impressive one, too–it had jewels embedded it. “I have one!” he pronounced. “Just wound it not two hours ago.”

Minnie and Judy made no effort to consult the archduke’s watch. “And when was the last time you calibrated it?” asked Judy.

Leopold made a face. “Well… It was before we had to come down to the cellars. How am I supposed to calibrate it here, with no way to gauge the sun properly and no functioning up-time watch to check it against?”

“What I thought,” said Judy. “And what time does it claim to be now?”

Leopold studied the dial. “Two and a quarter hours past noon. Or maybe midnight.”

“Or maybe any time of the day and night,” said Minnie. “Leopold, you know perfectly well that watch loses at least ten minutes every day–and we’ve been here–I keep a record, you know–for exactly–”


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15 Responses to 1637 – The Polish Maelstrom – Snippet 20

  1. donny says:

    Flint is so busy introducing characters he barely has time to move the story forward

    • Hanseat says:

      This is the Sequel to The Ottoman Onslaught, so they are not new, but it was time for them to appear. History is made by many people at many places.

    • John says:

      This group is the focus of much of the last novel. Nothing new about them.

      • Douglas Lampert says:

        They are new to this novel, and you have to write on the assumption that not all readers have read the entire saga. Which means that they need an introductory scene, which this entire snippet was, we didn’t learn anything new, it was just introducing another viewpoint character for this novel. Later they’ll need a close-out scene showing where they are for the next story.

        There is overhead for every character you use as a PoV character in each book where he acts as a PoV character. David Drake has a rule of thumb that the length of a given story is proportional to the number of viewpoint characters.

        Flint and company have a lot of viewpoint characters, this does slow the story down. There’s nothing inherent about the situation that requires that we follow everybody in every book. In the last four snippets we’ve had sections from the PoV of Judy, Gretchen, Eric Krenz, Jozef Wojtowicz, Kucharski, and Jeremi Wiśniowiecki.

        Prior to that we have a dozen or so other viewpoint characters.

        If I had to guess, Gretchen and Wiśniowiecki are likely the only two where we actually need to know anything about what they’re thinking beyond what we get from other viewpoints in order to understand the action of this book.

        For example: Did we need the two paragraphs or so of Kucharski’s PoV? It had already been made clear that there were servants present and that the Prince was giving them no real reason to be loyal. Maybe Kucharski is somehow vital beyond simply being a servant who sells out his boss’s secrets, but I doubt it. That’s a couple of paragraphs we could have lost without harming the story at all. I could question the entire snippet and the Prince’s PoV, again, that some Polish nobleman will scheme is a given of the setting, and we’ve already had an assassination to show that such scheming is happening and willing to kill based on the future-history.

  2. Anonymouse says:

    Make your own playing cards.

    Make your own backgammon board and pieces.

    • Terranovan says:

      I don’t understand what you mean, Anonymouse.

      • Terranovan says:

        OK, scatterbrained of me. A little thinking, and it’s obvious what you meant.

        • Randomiser says:

          I guess it depends how the secret hideout was stocked. Writing paper/card usable to make playing cards may well not have been a high priority in the 17th century. For Backgammon the problem would be the dice. OTOH these 4 are awfully smart for us to believe they haven’t been able to work out something to keep themselves occupied.

  3. Allan Vogel says:

    I agree with Douglas Lampert about PoVs in general, though I suspect his example of Kucharski may have more significance than he suggested in his post, but we shall see after the novel is released. I would also note that Minnie was mentioned in the previous snippet, so this is a logical place to include an update on what she’s doing at present, i.e., being terribly bored other than having sex with Leopold. Plus we’ve already had a snippet on what Gustav Adolph and Mike Sterns are doing to take some pressure off the Austrians by planning to open up a second front on the Ottomans, so this snippet is a good reminder as to why that action is ultimately necessary.

    Yes, it’s not a combat scene, so less exciting than many of us want, but it’s necessary ground work for when such happens, what some of the positive consequences might be. Murad is probably the most immediate threat to all the Westerners, both uptime and downtime, pro-Spanish and absolute monarchists as well as more moderate Christians and proto-republicans, not to mention the Americans. And he’s smart enough to use the ideas coming from Grantville to his advantage. He’s got to be stopped now or there won’t be an early “European Age of Enlightenment”. Poland at this point is mainly going to be a bloody side show as much of the current leadership there is incompetent; the Ottomans are the main act, so what’s happening (or not, as in this individual snippet) with regard to them is going to be key to the series, even if it isn’t resolved in this novel. Europe is a big mess right now, in some ways worse than it was in our own history, and the Ottomans just took Vienna, which they didn’t in our timeline. GA’s still around this time, but he’s not going to be enough to block the Turks by himself, and the Americans are too few in numbers, even with their German allies, to make up the difference by shear force of arms or clever “inventions”/Grantville adaptations of modern military weaponry.

    The question is “What rabbit in which hat are we missing?” to get our fellow Americans and their downtimer allies out of the major danger posed by the Ottomans, and only Eric Flint knows the answer, which is why we’re all here reading snippets and eagerly awaiting the release of the next novel in the series.

    • donny says:

      It may be worth remembering that the Sultan is going to drink himself to death by 1640, and that his successor is a weakling. It may also be worth mentioning that Shah Abbas II succeeds the same year, even though he’s still a child.

      • Allan Vogel says:

        Let us hope that Murad’s behavior repeats, donny, but Eric Flint’s been foreshadowing the fact that he knows he can’t keep drinking. OTOH, if Mike Sterns hands him a bad defeat in the Levant, Murad might just keep on drinking, or alternatively, quit altogether. Now that would be a fine pickle for the Westerners..

        I really like your idea about Shah Abbas II possibly messing things up though. But might Abbas decide to head for India, which is now becoming another big mess like Europe instead of being a large stable state lead by a strong leader, so deterring would-be adventurers?

        And what’s developing in Japan? They’re expanding towards the Philippines. If they continue on through the Straits of Malacca, they will find an India in chaos. We could see the Persians and the Japanese fighting over India like the English and the French did in our time line, giving Murad a free hand to continue his attack on the West. Just engaging in a little speculation on my part, but there’s certainly room for a lot of unforeseen complications.

        • donny says:

          I read the scene in OO to indicate that Murad know that booze will kill him, but he won’t stop.

          I would prefer a different scenario: that the Persian and allies defeat the Ottomans. Persia ends up with Anatolia, and one or another of the allies ends up with Danubian Principalities. If Wallenstein takes the Ukraine, that will keep the Russians in the frozen north


  4. Randomiser says:

    This is the sequel to The Ottoman Onslaught? I know everything in history is connected but it would be a lot easier to follow things if the individual books had a little more focus.

    Does anyone know, offhand , how long Judy et al have been down there by this point?

    “[Minnie] and Leopold get to… Well, you know. … They do it a lot, too,” The natural results of such behaviour are not likely to be very happy. Minnie is a very strong-minded young woman , but the Rhythm method is partially successful at best.

    • donny says:

      Presumably Gretchen got pregnant just after the siege of Dresden was broken and has not yet delivered. in the depths of winter. Vienna was taken, probably in July or August of the following year. So Minnie and Leopold have been at it for a few months at most.

  5. donny says:

    Sorry, two clauses reversed/ Shoold read “…broken in the depths of winter, and has not yet delivered.”

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