1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 06
The year 1632
“Home,” Boris sighed, then waved at the red brick walls of the Kremlin which stood sixty feet tall and dominated the mostly wooden city of Moscow.
Bernie Zeppi, after the long trip, didn’t care if it was home or not and certainly didn’t care about the view. He just wanted in out of the cold. The Russian winter had stopped both Napoleon and Hitler in Bernie’s old timeline. In the new one, in the middle of the Little Ice Age, it had almost killed Bernie. He looked out from not-quite-frozen eyeballs under completely-frozen eyebrows, at a snow-covered town. A big town, granted, but it was made of log cabins, not the concrete buildings Bernie remembered from pictures of twentieth-century Russia. What surprised Bernie was that the log cabin Moscow that was before him looked even dirtier and less inviting than the concrete monstrosities of the Soviet Union looked in the pictures he’d seen. “Where do we go first?”
Boris pointed toward a street. “My townhouse first, then I must make a report and get instructions.”
Boris burst into the house roaring something in Russian. Bernie thought it might be “I’m home” or “we’re here” or something like that. But Bernie’s Russian was still very poor. A short plump woman responded with “Da something,” in a tone that said she was less than impressed. Boris deflated and gave the woman a kiss on the cheek.
Bernie, not understanding what was going on, looked around. It was a moderate-sized room with a few very small windows One corner had several of the religious paintings that were called icons, and the other had about the biggest stove he’d ever seen.
Then Bernie was introduced to Mrs. Boris whose name turned out to be Mariya. There was more Russian, including the words “Natalia Gorchakovna,” which Bernie knew was Vladimir’s sister. So Boris was probably telling her about the plans. Bernie was to stay with Boris and his family for the next day or so while introductions were to be made.
Mariya spoke a little English with the weird Russian-Shakespeare combination accent that Boris and Vladimir had, but even stronger on the Russian part. Even that little was more than Bernie was expecting. There were, it turned out, English merchants living in Moscow and in other places in Russia. Also English mercenaries hired to modernize the Russian army. At least, that was the impression Bernie got from Mariya’s accented comments. Honestly, most of it flowed by him without delivering much in the way of meaning.
They got him seated, then switched to Russian while Bernie sat and thawed a bit.
Boris looked at Mariya, feasting his eyes. “Vasilii said I was to report directly to the patriarch. Otherwise I would have taken the outlander to the Gorchakov townhouse. Vladimir, I wrote you about him, has arranged for his sister to house him rather than putting him up with the other outlanders.”
“Is that wise?” Mariya asked as a servant busied himself at the stove. “The bureaus are in an uproar.” At Boris’ curious look, she explained. “They didn’t want to believe that the miracle was real. They especially didn’t want to believe that God would leave us on our own in the Time of Troubles, then give the Germanies a miracle in their need. The monasteries especially disliked that part.” Then she snorted a laugh. “I wasn’t pleased by the implications myself. Even with the letters and books you sent. It seemed, still seems, as though God cares more for Germany than Russia. So there are factions that were arguing that it was a fraud right up until Vasilii arrived to say you were on your way. Some still are.”
Boris shook his head. “I didn’t want to believe it either, but after the reports we’ve sent, I would have thought –” At his wife’s look, he hesitated. “I guess it is an unbelievable story. But you can’t not believe after you’ve seen the glass-smooth cliffs of the ring wall.”
“Is it really that special?” Mariya sounded a bit wistful. Unlike Boris, she had never been out of Russia. “I got your letters but . . .”
“Yes and no.” Boris tilted his hand back and forth. “In some ways it is the most miraculous thing you could imagine and in others quite everyday.” He shook his head. “Enough of that for now. I will tell you all about it later. Now I need to know what is going on in the bureaus.” So they discussed the different factions that were shifting around the miracle in Germany. The fraud faction, the work of the devil faction, the God’s will faction. Which bureau chiefs were leaning which way. How the great families were lining up. The most common reaction was “wait and see,” then “how can my family benefit or be harmed,” followed closely by “how will it affect my bureau?” All of which was flavored with the question: What’s wrong with us that God would leave us to cold harsh winter and give the Ring of Fire to the Germanies?”
“From what I hear . . .” Mariya lifted the pot of water. “. . . the czar wants to see the outlander as soon as he can but the bureaus want a chance to talk to your Bernie first so they can formulate policy. They have managed to fill the czar’s schedule for the next week or so to give them a chance to do so.”
“And the patriarch?” Boris asked.
“The czar’s father has made no public statements and he’s even been quite reticent in private, at least according to rumor. I imagine that’s part of the reason you’re to report to him.”
Half an hour into the conversation with the patriarch, Boris felt wrung out. Patriarch Filaret apparently remembered every fact he’d read about Grantville, not to mention every bit of the history he’d read. They’d already been through the butterfly effect and every bit of Boris’ knowledge of the spies in Grantville. Now, Filaret changed the subject.
“So, this Bernie, he has come to work for us?”
“Ah . . . not quite.” Boris twitched in his seat. “In fact, he has come to work for Prince Vladimir. Who has paid — and is paying — his salary, so far. And there is a personal contract.” Boris produced the contract for the patriarch’s perusal. Filaret took it and read through it rapidly. Several times during the reading he gave Boris sharp looks.
His brow creased. “A rather large salary. Do you feel it will be worth it?”
Boris was surprised at the choice of first question. By custom, outlanders were always hired to work for the czar, not members of the court or the bureaus. “I can’t say for certain. The up-time knowledge is worth a thousand times that salary. Patriarch . . .” He paused. “They could fly up-time. I have seen the movies, heard the stories — they could fly. And I have no doubt they will again, if they survive another five or ten years.”