1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 10
Chapter 3: On the road
Sofia Gorchakovna got off the steamboat and looked around. Sister Sofia, that is, she thought. And she was in the company of Sister Elena, Dimitry Cherakasky’s widow. Elena was dealing not just with the prospect of being forced to take holy orders, but also the death of her husband.
They were escorted by a small contingent of oprichniki under the command of a seventeen-year-old lieutenant, Vasilii Golitsyn. The boy had been polite enough. Sofia looked at the stiff little snot with the wisps of beard and the silver dog head collar tab and said, “Remember. Tell your grandfather I said he is being foolish.”
The boy didn’t sigh, not quite. Instead, he waved Elena and Sofia to the carriage that would take them to the monastery. Convent, as the westerners would call it. Goritsky Monastery was halfway to Archangelsk from Moscow as the crow or dirigible flew, and considerably more than halfway as the steam boat floated. It was in the hinterlands and a good place to put inconvenient upper-class women of all sorts.
Sofia looked over at Elena. The woman had been taken from her home the day after her husband’s death, shipped to the dacha where Sofia had been picked up, then shipped by steamboat downriver to the Volga and then upriver to the monastery. Over a thousand miles and twelve days. The shock had worn off and all that was left was the fury. Fury at Dimitry for getting his fool self killed, fury at Sheremetev for killing him, fury at Mikhail Romanov for not staying in the hunting lodge, fury at just about everyone.
Vasilii Golitsyn had caught the brunt of that fury. There had been times that Sofia suspected that he was going to react with violence, but he hadn’t.
Now Elena sniffed at him as she climbed into the carriage. It wasn’t a long ride. They could see the walls of the monastery from the docks. Sofia wondered as she climbed into the carriage, What is going to happen to me now?
She looked at the monastery and next to it saw a wooden framework she recognized. It was a radio tower. Sofia remembered the chain of radio stations that stretched up to the Swedish territory in the Baltic had a link here. It was also a link in the chain of radio stations that went to the port of Archangelsk.
Several hours later, Sofia was seated in a private room. This was a prison in all but name, but it was a prison for the daughters of great houses, not for peasants. And there was always the possibility that the political winds would change and this year’s prisoner would be next year’s boss, so you didn’t want them pissed at you.
Sofia and Elena had been treated with respect. And gotten the latest news. Czar Mikhail was in Ufa and had sent a message to the king of Sweden. They got that from the radio station in Swedish territory. Aside from that, the news was still very confused. Sofia decided that the rest could wait. She was tired.
The steamboats arrived late. Aside from a very small amount of gear on the Czarina Evdokia, Czar Mikhail’s party had been having to work with whatever the locals had on hand. Five years after Bernie had brought plans for the Fresno scraper to Russia, they hadn’t reached Ufa. There were no roads in Ufa. There were trails, gaps between buildings And aside from Filip Pavlovich Tupikov, Bernie, and a couple of others who had arrived by way of airship, there was no one who knew how to make a scraper or even how to use one. Worse, Ufa had proven to have even less privacy than the dirigible. People had seen the Czarina Evdokia in the sky and headed for Ufa to see what was going on. Hunters and trappers, farmers and delegations, crowded every building in the town. And Bernie and Natasha were just too busy to go riding off in the country. Not that Natasha’s guards would allow her to go off alone, even if there was time. She might get et by a bar or somthin’, Bernie told Filip. And then had to explain the reference.
“What took so long?” Bernie asked with frustration in his voice.
“We had a breakdown. And besides, with your damn dodge we were overloaded,” complained Maxim Andreevich. “It overstressed the engine.”
“Oh, bull crap. Even I know more about steam than that. What broke?” For the next few minutes, as the two steamboats were tied up and the unloading began, Bernie and Maxim Andreevich argued companionably about steam engines and torque versus horsepower. Filip Pavlovich came down from the Ufa kremlin and started asking about equipment and personnel.
“General Tim insisted that he and the troops could march,” Maxim Andreevich explained. “The techies at Bor had to have their hydrogen generators and their –” He stopped and waved his hands. “They wanted to bring the frigging curtains on their windows.”
Bernie wasn’t as upset by that as the steamship captain. They need that gear.
Olga reached the docks in time to hear Bernie and Filip talking with this new man and tried to understand what she was seeing. There were bales and boxes, and iron and steel parts, copper tubes and even glass. It was a fortune in goods that simply could not be had here. Stanislav Ivanovich, her husband, was drinking less. He was still drinking, but it was more beer and less vodka, at least. And now there were all these new people with all this equipment and she didn’t know where she was going to put them or all these things.
She looked over what was coming off the boats, and she started to notice something. She walked over to where the three men were still talking. “Did you bring anything useful?”
The three men looked at her.
“What do you mean?”
“Axes, saws, hammers, hand drills, looms, spindles, needles, pins? Platters, cups? Food?”
She got blank looks. “Crazy people,” she shouted. Then she turned and stalked away. She had to find Anya, someone with some sense.
Anya was in the tax warehouse, going over the records. On Czarina Evdokia’s instructions — and against her better judgment — Olga had explained her methods of recording the furs and their quality to Anya and Anya had been translating the records into writing for the last several days.
“They didn’t bring anything useful.”
“What? Who?” Then Olga saw realization on Anya’s face. “You mean on the steamboats?”
“It’s all useful, but you may have a point about immediate utility. What do you need?”
“Everything. Axes, ham . . .”
Anya held up her hands. “Wait a minute.” She turned to the table she had been working at, and gathered up a notebook, a pen, and a bottle of ink. “Come sit down and we will make a list.”
Before Olga had gotten more than started Anya was asking, “Why do you need that? What’s this for?” and Olga found herself explaining, “We’re going to need food and housing for all these new people.”
For the rest of the day Olga and Anya talked.
“We’re going to have to send the riverboats after supplies,” Anya told Princess Natasha and Czarina Evdokia.
“Is that safe?” asked the czarina.
“I don’t know, but it’s necessary. I have been worrying about it since I started on the books here and talking with Olga clarified things for me. There’s not enough reserve, not nearly enough for the sort of influx of people we are expecting, much less hoping for. If we don’t get more food and basic equipment, we are going to freeze to death this winter . . . if we don’t starve first.
“And we especially don’t have enough to rebuild Ufa as a modern city, the way the czar and Bernie want to.”