1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 02
Life went on in the village, with Father Yulian ministering to the needs of his flock. To those with a need to learn, he taught reading, writing, mathematics, and other things. Increasingly, political philosophy found its way into his teachings, both from the pulpit and during his private counseling.
Stefan looked out at the fields. The crops were in the ground, but the children weeding the fields had a gaunt look about them. With the end of winter, the men had finally gotten to come home from the factory in Poltz to do the necessary work in Ruzuka.
Stefan stayed busy at his forge, and whenever he could he made the bits and pieces for a wagon and hid them away. He looked around again. Anatoly was working in his shop, making handles for the new reapers. It was a hot day for April which was part of the reason Stefan had stepped outside. Vera waved as she lead Vasily and Eva to the well. He’d almost told Vera about his plan a dozen times in the last few months, but he held back. The truth was that he was afraid that she would not want to leave her friends. Afraid that if he gave her time, she would talk him out of it and they would wait till it was too late to run. They were one of the wealthier families in the village, in part because Stefan had built his own drop hammer and that had saved him a great deal of time in the repairing of farm equipment, which in turn meant that there was more time to gather the iron ore and make the wrought iron. It let them trade for more food, more clothing, and they would be even better off if Vera didn’t insist on feeding half the village children.
Things were especially bad this summer. Sheremetev had taken power in Moscow, apparently with the acquiescence of Czar Mikhail. And the colonel, as one of Sheremetev’s deti boiarskie, wanted to prove himself by making the village produce. The only good news was he was doing it by mail, being busy in the army and his son, Nikita, with him. That meant that only his wife, Elena, and daughter, Izabella, were here. Father Yulian seemed to have a great deal of influence with them. Stefan grinned at that thought, because Vera had told him how that influence came to be. Father Yulian was a man who had plenty of stamina, Stefan had to admit. He’d been ministering to the women of the village for a long time. Even to Vera, back before she had decided to marry Stefan.
There was one other thing that Stefan had to respect about Father Yulian. He didn’t coerce the women of the village. They went to him. Once Vera had decided that she didn’t want to play anymore, Father Yulian had been fine with her decision.
“Might I have a few words with you?” Father Yulian asked Stefan as he was leaving the church one Sunday.
“I guess so, Father. Do you need new hinges for the church door?” Stefan looked at the door in question. The hinges were a bit rusty, but seemed in good enough shape.
Father Yulian just smiled and waved him toward the cabin next to the church.
“So,” Yulian asked, in his deep baritone, once Stefan was seated on a wooden bench by the stove, “when are you planning on running and where do you intend to go?”
Stefan blinked. “What?” The priest was grinning at him, his left eyebrow raised. He had dark hair and rough-hewn features. There was just a touch of gray at his temples. His beard had a little dash of gray too.
“I’m not blind, man,” Father Yulian said as his grin mellowed into a smile. “You have been making extra parts for a wagon and squirreling away dried meat and vegetables. At first I thought you were just preparing for the winter like any industrious man should, but then it came to me that your choice of goods are as light and compact as you can manage. You want things that you can carry with you.”
Stefan’s hand, almost of its own accord, crept toward his belt knife. This was a disaster. The priest might tell anyone — the colonel’s wife, the headman, Kiril Ivanovich. And Stefan would be strung up and beaten half to death, maybe all the way to death. Then what would happen to Vera and the children?
“You realize that leaving would leave the whole village in peril? Your debt would be applied to everyone left in the village. How do you think that’s going to make Vera feel?”
“Better than burying our children would,” Stefan said angrily, but his hand had stopped its creeping toward his knife.
Father Yulian nodded, but continued. “Probably. But better is not the same as good. Wouldn’t it be best to take the whole village?”
“The whole village! You’re crazy. There is no way. Besides, what makes you think that they will all want to go?”
“You don’t give me credit for knowing my flock, Stefan. There are a few who will actively oppose any attempt to leave. Kiril Ivanovich, for instance. Aside from the fact that he hates me personally, he believes that some are made to be serfs and some to be boyars, and that as a serf, his goal should be to be a good serf. At least, that’s what he tells himself. The truth is, he is a horrible coward who will yield to anyone with a whip.” Father Yulian went through the village, telling Stefan who would be willing to run when the time came but couldn’t keep their mouths shut, who wouldn’t want to go but would continue on if they started, and finally those who he thought they could trust to be a part of the preparations. Mostly women, Stefan noted, in that last group.
But, in spite of it all, Stefan wasn’t convinced. “Look, Father, that’s all fine, but how do you expect to move a whole village through Russia without anyone noticing? And the ones that we force to go along . . . they will turn on us the first chance they get. How do you plan to deal with that?”
“No, not most of them. Once we leave, their only choice will be to go with us. They will already be Cossacks, runaways, according to Moscow. Especially with Sheremetev in charge. You know what the colonel has been doing since Sheremetev ‘retired’ the czar.”
And it was true. There had been whippings on each visit by the colonel since Sheremetev had taken power, and two girls of the village had been forced by the colonel’s son, Nikita.
They didn’t come to any agreement that day, but when Stefan got home, there was Vera waiting for him, and it was clear that Father Yulian had told her of his suspicions before he had brought the matter up with Stefan. She had many of the same questions, but she also wanted to know just where he planned on dragging her and the children.
“I’m not entirely sure,” Stefan admitted. “The Cossacks to the south, or east to the goldfields. I figure I can make us a good living making mining tools. The Cossacks are closer, and once I prove I can take it, they will leave you be.”
“We are not going to live with those animals. They have no law but strength and that’s not how I want Vasily growing up.”
“East to the goldfields then,” Stefan agreed. “After the harvest.”
“And we will take the looms and spinning wheels. The miners will need clothing as well as tools.”
“Are you crazy? Do you know how big a loom is?”
“No, tell me. I spent all of last winter in front of one. Do tell me how big they are. A loom may be taken apart and the parts can be stowed in a wagon, just like a blacksmith’s tools.”