1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 04

1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 04

Father Yulian scratched his beard, then nodded for Stefan to continue.

“If I made the parts themselves it would make our plans obvious, especially if I made several sets of bearings, say. On the other hand, having the stamp forge and the dies wouldn’t, because the dies could be used as needed over the course of years.”

Stefan continued before Father Yulian could interrupt again. “I need some reason to make the dies, Father. I need an order for the parts for a wagon, preferably two or three wagons. A farm cart, a troika, something else. I don’t know. Just enough bearings and hasps, brake pads, springs . . . enough so that it’s plausible that I would take the extra time to set up the dies for the drop hammer. Then, when we’re ready, I can make the parts for the rest of the wagons quickly.” For that matter, if he could manage it, Stefan wanted to take the dies when they left.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Father Yulian said.

***

Izabella crept into her father’s office and stole his seal. Colonel Utkin was literate, but barely, and he did as much as he could with stamps and seals. Generally, orders and legal documents were written by a clerk, or often Father Yulian, and then the colonel would pull out his stamp to make it official. The colonel’s signature was a scrawl that was omitted as often as it was included. What was necessary to make a document or instructions legally binding was the seal, and there was a spare seal in his desk.

***

“It’s a letter from Papa,” Izabella said, holding up the letter. “He says you’re to build a troika-harnessed carriage that has ball bearings and leaf springs.”

Stefan wiped his hands on his trousers, then took the letter. Stefan couldn’t read. At least, he wasn’t what an up-timer would consider literate. But with effort he could make out words one at a time. And by now he could interpret design drawings of the sort that were published by the Dacha. These designs were particularly clear to him because he had worked with Father Yulian in making them. He wondered how Yulian had gotten the seal, and it didn’t occur to him that Izabella might have something to do with it. He made something of a show of examining the sheets.

Then he called Anatoly from the wood shop and discussed the possibility of getting a troika made, casually mentioning that he was going to make dies for several of the metal parts.

Anatoly wasn’t thrilled, but Izabella stomped her foot. “These are my father’s orders. He says we’ll be going to Moscow after harvest and we are to have a modern carriage with springs.” She turned on Anatoly. “And it’s to be double walled for insulation. Like Czar Mikhail’s.”

***

They learned a fair amount from making the troika carriage. They learned to make two-walled wooden panels that were lightweight and provided excellent insulation. The wagons they had decided on were roofed and walled like a gypsy wagon. They had easier access to wood than cloth this year, but they did use strips of cloth, painted with rosin, to cover gaps. They had never heard of a prairie schooner or a Conestoga wagon. The wagons they knew were freight wagons for carrying grain or gypsy wagons for carrying people. That lead to a new set of instructions from Colonel Utkin.

***

“. . . so the modules are to be made a consistent size of four feet by eight feet, double-walled with an air space of four inches. All as shown in the accompanying diagrams.”

“Why do we need to build a new barn?” complained Kiril Ivanovich, but not until the colonel’s lady was out of earshot.

“I haven’t the faintest idea.” Stefan shrugged. “But the orders are clear.”

Even Stefan didn’t know how those instructions had gotten into the pouch. He was fairly sure that they had been written by Father Yulian, but the priest hadn’t been anywhere near the packet that the messenger handed to the colonel’s daughter.

Ruzuka

June 1636

It was, Stefan had to admit, a really stupid way to build a barn. On the other hand, with the materials for the barn, it would take only a couple of weeks this fall to build a dozen wagons and run. He watched Anatoly splitting a log to make planks then handed the newly sharpened plane to Petr, Anatoly’s ten-year-old.

“Thank you, sir,” Petr said, with less than full enthusiasm. The plane blade was case hardened and sharpened on Stefan’s grinding wheel, but pushing the plane along the planks wasn’t going to be fun. Stefan knew that and sympathized with the boy, but not too much. They were all working hard. He heard a horse and turned to see a rider coming into the village. “That’s Konstantin Pavlovich, the post rider from the telegraph.”

Anatoly looked up from the log he was splitting. “That horse has been ridden hard.”

Stefan began to worry.

***

Elena held out the papers to Father Yulian with shaking hands and he took them with concern. The document was purportedly from Czar Mikhail, and according to it, Sheremetev was attempting a coup d’etat and had committed treason. That was a disaster for the colonel and their whole family, because the colonel was a client of the Sheremetev family. What she had barely noticed in amongst the papers was the grant of liberty to all serfs who joined the czar in the east. In fact, it — by royal decree — freed all the serfs in Russia. Not that the decree was going to hold sway here. But if they could get to the east. . . . Elena was wringing her hands, wondering what was going to happen to the family.

Father Yulian reached out and pulled her to him, kissing her gently and murmured to her to calm down and be at peace. The world was working out to God’s plan, just as it should. It took him several minutes to get her calmed down and send her home. Then he sent for Stefan, Vera, Dominika, Anatoly, and Klara, the ringleaders of the escape plan. He also sent for Izabella.

***

“This doesn’t change anything,” Stefan said. “The czar is running for his life and this is just to spread chaos behind him to try and keep Sheremetev occupied while he escapes.”

“I think you’re right, as far as you go,” Anatoly said. “But so what? It will make trouble everywhere and that will make it easier for all of us.”

“But we aren’t ready, not unless you want to leave half the village behind,” Stefan was saying as the door opened and Izabella came in.

Stefan and the rest were all suddenly silent.

“Thank you for coming, my child,” Father Yulian said. “Have you read the documents?”

“No, Father Yulian,” Izabella said. “Mother started reading, then ran out of the house.”

Father Yulian passed them over, then he turned back to the group. “Please continue, Stefan. You were saying something about us not being ready to run?”

Stefan looked at the priest, then at the spoiled daughter of the colonel, then back at the priest, then over at Vera.

“So that’s how the instructions for the new barn got into the message pouch,” Vera said.

Izabella had been working through the dispatches, making slow going of it. Izabella wasn’t a reader by preference. Stefan looked over at her with surprised contemplation. In spite of the realization, he couldn’t bring himself to speak about this in front of her. For several seconds it stayed like that, Izabella struggling through the information and Stefan looking back and forth between her and the priest, with the rest of the group looking at Stefan.

“Father said that Sheremetev had taken steps to put the Dacha and Bernie Zeppi under control. I guess they didn’t work.” Izabella’s expression was half-amused, half-disgusted. “The politics have gotten weird since the czar went into seclusion. And from what we’ve heard, Sheremetev was getting everything organized just as he wanted it. Father and Nikita were both insufferably pleased with themselves, as though it was all their doing.”

 

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17 Responses to 1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 04

  1. david ossar says:

    Making ball bearings is probably beyond the skills of a village blacksmith. And springs require steel, not iron. And where are they going to get enough charcoal to make all these parts?

    • Bret Hooper says:

      Iron plus carbon (charcoal) makes steel, but can Stefan reliably add just the right amount of carbon for spring steel? Does he even know approximately how much?

      Given plenty of time and fuel, he might keep trying until he hits on the right amount just by luck, but fuel and time are both in short supply. Seems like his only real hope is for the authors to grant him a whole lot of good luck!

    • John says:

      You can make ball bearings by hand, they just require a ton of filing and patience. They’d be unsuitable for most industrial or powered application but for a wagon bearing they’d work fine. Depending on the application you can actually make them out of wood.

      Charcoal wouldn’t be a problem at all as he can probably requisition some from the estate since its an official order or make it himself with the same authority since as a blacksmith he’s almost certainly done it before.

  2. Cobbler says:

    The Slavic peoples, including the Russians, like odd numbered teams of horses. Three rather than two. Five rather than four. The troika is a carriage designed to be drawn by three horses.

    I grew up near the estate of a citizen diplomat. He had helped broker some agreement between Khrushchev and Eisenhower. Khrushchev rewarded his help with the gift of a troika. My family took a tour of the estate. I got to see a troika. Not hooked up and in in action. It was just parked in the stables. But it was a pure quill Russian troika.

  3. Cobbler says:

    To split a log into planks you use a froe and a frame to hold the wood you’re splitting horizontally. It’s called a riving break. Working on logs, that gives you a wedge shaped section of wood. To further shape it, leave it in the break. Use the froe to remove the sharp point of the wedged lumber. Trim it back to the thickness you need.

    To further shape it, you use an adze. A good adz man can quickly turn the split wood into a plank. One so smooth than the guy pushing the jointer plane only has to touch up the work.

    • Mark L says:

      This was the technique used by the Vikings to build ships. One advantage of using radially-split planking was it was stronger than planks milled the modern way. No cross-grained pieces. Of course to get nice wide planks (12″ to 18″ wide) you needed really big trees.

      • donny says:

        I just spent the spring in Finland. There are no large trees there, and presumably none elsewhere in the Taiga.

        • Alex Filonov says:

          That’s now. After hundreds of years of logging. In 1630s there was a lot of old growth forests in Russia.

          • Mark L says:

            Exactly. You cannot make an authentic 10th Century Viking longboat today because there are no authentic three-foot to four-foot diameter old-growth climax forest oak trees left anymore, like there were back then.

  4. Courtenay says:

    I hate to say it, but so far this story has me uttering the Eight Deadly Words: “I don’t care WHAT happens to these people.”

  5. Lyttenburgh says:

    “Izabella crept into her father’s office and stole his seal. Colonel Utkin was literate, but barely, and he did as much as he could with stamps and seals. Generally, orders and legal documents were written by a clerk, or often Father Yulian, and then the colonel would pull out his stamp to make it official. The colonel’s signature was a scrawl that was omitted as often as it was included. What was necessary to make a document or instructions legally binding was the seal, and there was a spare seal in his desk.”</em

    That’s completely wrong – the authors have no idea about the running of the noble estates in 17 c. Russia. Lets start with the fact that there were no “offices” or such in typical estate houses of the time. Next – the whole management of the estate was a personal affair relying on landlord’s relatives who remained at the estate during his absence (i.e. usually his wife) and trusted personal servants. There was no great need for any paper trail (“orders and legal documents”) back then, because most of the people were illiterate. If there was no paper trail therefore there was no need for seals, personal or not. Third – having a personal seal would presume for Utkin to have his own distinct heraldry, which he, as mid-tier Russian noble of early 17 c., simply did not have. Even if we DO entertain this crazy notion for a sec – which we shouldn’t – then this seal could amount to something like a personal signet ring. Key words here are “ring” and “personal”. He had no reason to have wither copies or leaving it behind while conducting state service – the only time and place where he’d be really required to produce a paper trail and sign/seal documents.

    The whole premise is completely wrong. Because coming this:

    ““It’s a letter from Papa,” Izabella said, holding up the letter. “He says you’re to build a troika-harnessed carriage that has ball bearings and leaf springs.””

    Would not require anything plot-wise. No need to steal a seal that shouldn’t exist/be there in the first place. There was no need for any great subterfuge from the landlord from ordering his serf peasant to produce this or that particular product – if it was his personal bondsmen. But because Stepan (that’s how his name should be written properly – not some “Stefan”) is a peasant from pomestye, not votchina, and a blacksmith to boot, he can’t just order him to do something for nothing. There must be a whole document written and approved saying ,e.g., that by producing a carriage he’d get his obligatory natural rent (“obrok”) reduced. That’s how these things were done – not what the novel tries to show us.

    “On the other hand, with the materials for the barn, it would take only a couple of weeks this fall to build a dozen wagons and run.”

    It’s June already. And you – you, Stepan, and others – are building a barn. Who is building a barn at the height of the harvest season, where all efforts are devoted to the fields?

    “In fact, it — by royal decree — freed all the serfs in Russia.”

    *Sigh*

    But this totally stupid thing happened in the previous book, so no need to discuss it here.

    “Elena held out the papers to Father Yulian with shaking hands and he took them with concern.”

    How many times should I repeat that this is totally anachronistic? The answer is – as much as I like. It’s very jarring to have to read ultra modernistic pop ideas inserted so sloppily into a book set during that period.

  6. Randomiser says:

    Interesting alternative viewpoint

    However, ‘no great need for a paper trail’ is not the same thing as ‘never needs a paper trail’ as you demonstrate when you talk about needing an authorised written agreement (contract) to get the blacksmith to do some extra work. How would that be authenticated? Come to that, how did peasants prove they had paid the estate their dues (rent or whatever) for the year if the landlord or his agent tried to demand them again?

    Seals were often heraldic in western Europe, but there is no need for them to be, they just need to be distinctive. I have a ‘home office’, like lots of other people. Maybe the Colonel does too. He has to keep his rent book and estate accounts etc. somewhere, after all. Would you like to comment on the typical size and layout of houses for this class at the period? Would the ‘Lord’ have had a ‘den’ for himself or not? His Lady needs some means of authenticating the occasional document on his behalf when he isn’t around. Were they literate enough to sign? Or what?

    • Lyttenburgh says:

      “How would that be authenticated?”

      You missed the important part I was talking about – all ties, connections and dealings were very personal. That meant – having enough witness present at the moment, who, when there would arise a need for that, would be capable to cross themselves, kiss a crucifix and say: “Yes, I was present during this dealing, and that’s what was promised…”. The village community (“mir”) dealt with virtually all of its transactions like that.

      “Come to that, how did peasants prove they had paid the estate their dues (rent or whatever) for the year if the landlord or his agent tried to demand them again?”

      Again – personal factor. It is theoretically possible for a noble lord to ignore the witness accounts of the orally made deal. It is also possible for murder of all witnesses, who could possibly confirm to be present at the moment of the making of the deal. Only completely brain-dead/sociopathic nobles would resort for that, becayse:

      A) Among the witnesses were always present big and respected people of the village, including the parish priest (killing whom would immediately rise the Church’s ire), the village headman and assorted elders.

      B) Doing that left the peasants with no option to run away, seeing as their noble lord does not respect the basic tenets of the feudal system of vassals and their patron. And without serfs – what he gonna do? It is 17 c., and the free trade in serfs does not exist. Once you peasants run away you have, well, only your meager (for “deti boyarskie”) votchina. You also prove to be an awful custodian of the peasants entrusted to you by the state (the Crown) as the form of “salary”. Who wants that?

      “He has to keep his rent book and estate accounts etc. somewhere, after all.”

      First of all – Utkin is a member of the military aristocracy. He needs not to know how to run his estate – he has professionals (and a wife) for that. My several gripes with this whole premise are the following:

      – We are not shown the activity of the noble estate manager. He would be having his own spies in the village reporting on everything to him (for the greater profit of his noble lord, of course!).

      – We are not shown that it would be the nobleman’s wife authorizing EVERYTHING in his name. Important note – his wife, not his daughter.

      – So-called “Izabella” (absolutely unbecoming name for a Russia) is frolicking without chaperone. It is impossible, simply impossible. She could not just come to the village elder and say – “My father demand so and so”. First of all – she’d be accompanied by her servants. Second – any such trip (i.e. be accompanied by servants) would not be possible without estate manager and her mother’s knowledge. Third – the village headman desiring, obviously, to do as little as possible for his lord, would of course come knocking on the doors of the estate demanding whether these new instructions delivered in the unusual way (i.e. not through one of the personal servants of the lord – whom they already know – but through his daughter instead) are the wailed ones, i.e. we would be recompensed for that? The estate manager having equally great desire not to pay anything at all to the villagers will do his utmost to get to the bottom of the thing, so that he’d have absolutely legal reason to say “No”. First of all – he’d come to the lady of the house and ask her – was she instructed in the personal letter (who else if not her?) to do this and that? If not – then something fishy is happening here.

      “Would you like to comment on the typical size and layout of houses for this class at the period?

      If you want a “lightweight fiction” peek into Russia of 17 c., I’d recommend Alexei Tolstoy’s “Peter the Great” multi volume novel. Albeit starting in the later half of the 17 c., it, nevertheless, portrays the mores of the time, including the dealings of (middling level) nobles with their peasants.

      The size of the noble estate (“pomestje”) varied greatly and depended on the amount of the immediate land around it. In 1633 there was a notable incident, when a large group of Moscow gentry (low tier and most numerous members of nobility – “pomeshiks”) filed a collective complaint to the crown, that they can not fulfill their service obligations, because over the years, some of them lost the land, others – the peasants, and those who retained both had just couple of families of serfs. Afterwards it’s been decided (not sure if it was so in the post RoF universe) that all members of nobility should be guaranteed at least 15 serf “souls” (i.e. male serf peasants). This did not really help the gentry, and by mid 17 c. nearly 40% of them turned up to be landless, and nearly 58% – with negligible amount of holdings.

      No original 17 c. Russian rural noble estate have survived to this day. Still, we can reconstruct them by the accounts and evidence of the contemporaries. Typical estate house of the rural gentryman back then would look like an oversized Russia peasant log hut – “izba”. The size would be the chief (but not the only) difference. Such estate would consists of the entire courtyard with stables and other important structures. The “residence” itself would have several chief improvements unavailable to ordinary peasant families – a brick stove, a wooden (not earth) floor, and several rooms within (about 3, usually), some of which even allowed a degree of privacy for their occupants (usually – the landlords bedroom). Obviously – there were no such absolutely unnecessary addition as “office” within.

      “Would the ‘Lord’ have had a ‘den’ for himself or not?”

      No. The only privacy for him would be at his personal tent at the battlefield.

      “His Lady needs some means of authenticating the occasional document on his behalf when he isn’t around. Were they literate enough to sign?”

      Literate enough to sign – yes. Also, to understand that these letter (delivered by the courier you can trust) is indeed from her husband.

  7. Al Viro says:

    “Izabella” is not just unbecoming – it’s 100% impossible there and then. Check the orthodox church calendar – not a single saint with that name, in any plausible variant of spelling. Elizaveta – sure, and very popular ones, at that (starting with the mother of John the Baptist), but the forms with final ‘l’ simply had not appeared early enough to be shared. There’s no way for the personage to have been baptised into anything other than orthodox church, i.e. no way to get that name at baptism. And it does not work as a shortened form either – that’d be “Lizaveta” or “Liza”. Which leaves what, Spanish/French/Italian nickname, used in 1630s Russia by a daughter of strelezkij polkovnik?

    It’s an absolutely gratuitous anachronism. It doesn’t even work as authors deliberately taking a piss, like e.g. “Share-Thy-Skunk-With-The-Elders Jones” would (in 17c Bristol, not 20c Haight Ashbury or century of bat Ankh-Morpork, that is).

    Sure, it’s an ARC, so that probably can be fixed before the final version, but… it’s not as if it was hard to get names remotely plausible ;-/

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