1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 06
Chapter 1: Taking to the Sky
Brandy struggled through the Russian documents. Her Russian wasn’t great and the Cyrillic letters didn’t make things easier. But she needed the practice. When she married Vladimir, she hadn’t quite realized the extent she was marrying Russia too. Information flowed, not just from the Ring of Fire to Russia, but from Russia to Grantville. Brandy was now working her way through a two-hundred page report on resource exploitation in Russia, compiled by the staff at the Mining Bureau and forwarded to them by Boris Petrov. Iron production was up significantly, especially in the Kursk Magnetic Anomaly area. There was a new iron mine south of Moscow, and more mines in other places, all as a result of the information provided from the Ring of Fire. Not just the information that there was a massive load of iron there, but the knowledge that the iron was going to be desperately needed all through Europe over the next decades, made the government and the new industrial class realize the investment of resources in mining was worthwhile.
The new Russian industrial class was worrying to Brandy. It was a mix of streltzi — the city guards or foot soldiers, deti boyars — the retainers of the great houses, and the dvoriane — the service nobility, soldiers and bureaucrats who kept the gears of Russia turning. Finally, there was considerable investment by the great houses and the monasteries. All of that would have been fine, but the laborers in those new mines and factories were mostly serfs, and sometimes outright slaves. It looked to Brandy as though none — or at least very little — of the economic boom that was spreading from the Dacha was reaching the lower classes.
Natasha Gorchakov had paid her serfs for their extra labor, before she fled to Ufa, but a lot of people hadn’t — and their number was bound to decline further now that Sheremetev had seized power in Moscow. weren’t. In any event, most of the Gorchakov profits had come from — and still did — selling or leasing patents on the new products, not from making them themselves.
Things seemed to be getting worse for the Russian peasants, not better.
Vladimir came into her office. “How’s it going, love?” he asked, then leaned down and kissed her neck. “Have you drowned in Ivan’s statistics yet?”
Ivan was Ivan Petrovich Lebanov, the head of the Mining Bureau. “Not yet, but he’s clearly trying. You know who I think is drowning, Vlad? It’s the peasants and especially the serfs. And worse, the slaves.”
“What makes you so sure of that?”
“It’s the costs. I have records here of the costs of the mines, including labor costs. But the labor costs aren’t being paid to the worker. They’re being paid to their landlords. Aside from your sister, no one seems to be using free people as labor.”
Vladimir grimaced. He was almost certain she was right, but when he had left for Grantville back in 1631, he would have seen nothing at all wrong with it. He did now, but that was after years of living surrounded by up-timers. Vladimir was frankly shocked that the Dacha had become as liberal as it had, just from the books and Bernie Zeppi. Tami Simmons and her family had arrived in Moscow, but had gone into seclusion with Czar Mikhail and his family, so had had very little influence on attitudes in the Dacha or the rest of Russia. How had his sister become friends with an escaped slave? He never would have believed that Bernie Zeppi, of all people, could have had such an effect.
“I hate to say it, but you’re probably right,” Vladimir said, then winced at the look she gave him.
“We have a new baby, Vladimir. I don’t want us to have to move to Russia and start a revolution!”
“I don’t either,” Vladimir said as placatingly as he could. What did she expect him to do about it? Wave a magic wand and make all of Russia’s problems vanish? He hadn’t even been able to keep Sheremetev from putting his man Shuvalov in control of the Gorchakov Dacha, Vladimir’s own property.
“I know. But unless Czar Mikhail wins the civil war and puts the new industrialists in their place, there’s going to be a revolution. I haven’t gotten a letter from Evdokia in months.”
Vladimir couldn’t help smiling a little, and Brandy grimaced. “I know. Little Brandy Bates, hillbilly from West Virginny, is upset that the czarina of Russia hasn’t sent her a letter.”
Vladimir felt his smile die. “It wasn’t that. I was just happy that you were comfortable enough in your relations to the czarina that you would call her by her name without title. But given everything that’s happened over the past weeks I’m not surprised she hasn’t written to you. For that matter, she may have composed a letter — but how would she get it to you? She and the czar can’t very well land that great dirigible of theirs in Moscow and drop the letter off to be delivered to the USE.” He placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed. “Don’t be upset about it. I know from Natasha that Evdokia holds you as one of her true friends.”
The Nizhny Novgorod militia was definitely a bit ragged. It was strange. General Boris “Tim” Timofeyevich Lebedev should have been scared and, in a way he was. But the effect it had on him was weird. He just noticed things. Every detail became intense and distinct. The stench of the air, not just the acrid smoke of the burned powder, but the smell of the river’s muddy bank, combined with the dew on the grass. The patterns the smoke made as it wafted away under the light breeze. And, most of all, the enemy across the field. It was almost as if he could see their faces. Feel the fear that was eating away at the little discipline they had. He was honestly a little amazed that they had held this long.
Then the Czarina Evdokia appeared over the roofs of Bor. It was massive and it was flying. It wasn’t the first time these men had seen it. It had made several test flights and some of them had gone over Nizhny Novgorod. But in this case, it meant that their last reason for being here was floating away.
“Next rank! Forward five paces!”
The Nizhny Novgorod force scattered. Tim let them. Honestly, he had nothing against those men. They were following the orders they had been given by their lawful lords.
Ivan Maslov came over. “So what now, Tim?”
“We go to Ufa.”
“How? The riverboats are full.”
“That’s an excellent question, Ivan. Why don’t you figure it out and tell me?”
Ivan looked at him like he was crazy for a moment, and Tim pointed to the star on his collar.
Ivan looked, swallowed and said, “Yes, sir.”
Tim tried not to smile . . . but he failed. He was only nineteen, after all. Czar Mikhail had given him the rank because there wasn’t an army to give him. It was silly and he knew it, but Tim still couldn’t help enjoying it. He wondered how the real generals, General Shein and General Izmailov, were going to respond. Last Tim had heard, Shein and Izmailov were in Tobolsk, keeping company with Siberian tribesmen. But, looked at pragmatically, Czar Mikhail didn’t really have that much of a chance. Tim was fully aware of that, and so was Ivan Maslov.
Marat Davidovich, the new commander of Princess Natasha’s guards, came over. “Well, General, what now?”
“I have Ivan Maslov working that out.”
“Lord help us, the baker’s boy,” Marat Davidovich said only half in jest.
Tim looked at him, trying to figure out what to do. Marat Davidovich was a good man and experienced. He was one of Princess Natasha’s hand-picked guards, and a skilled man at arms. But, even he was stuck with the notion that Ivan couldn’t fight because of the fact that he was the son of a baker.
There must have been something in Tim’s expression that he wasn’t aware of, because suddenly Marat Davidovich braced and said, “Sorry, General.”
It was all Tim could do to keep from letting his eyes widen in shock. “It’s all right, Marat Davidovich. But Ivan Maslov is very good at figuring things out.”
Ivan Maslov looked at the bodies laid out on the ground and tried to think. Captain Ruslan Andreyivich Shuvalov was cold, having been killed in the fighting last night. Now, he and the other casualties from the night before were joined by streltzi from Nizhny Novgorod, but it wasn’t the dead that were the problem. It was the living. The staff of the dirigible works were going to be needed in Ufa and so was a lot of the equipment. The steamboats were already overloaded, and Ivan didn’t think that the city fathers of Nizhny Novgorod were going to be in any mood to provide them with extra riverboats. Ivan took inventory of what they were going to need and realized that they weren’t going to have room. He pared down his list to things they had to have . . . and it was still way too much. Some of the equipment on the boats would have to come off. By the time Tim and Marat got back to the hangar, Ivan had a plan. He explained it.