1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 12
“Perhaps. But you know it would be better with Elena. Talk to her again, would you?”
“I told you, she’s not going to cooperate.” But at his look, she nodded. “It won’t work, but I’ll talk to her again.”
Three days later, they arrived at a small village that had gotten considerably smaller since the stories about Czar Mikhail. “It’s been horrible, miss,” the village headman said, wringing his hat. “Half the farmers have run off and I don’t know how we are going to get the harvest in.”
It probably won’t matter, Izabella thought. The village, Rogozhi, was part of the pay of the Slavenitsky family, who were deti boyars, clients of the Gorchakovs. So there was a good chance there wasn’t going to be anyone to collect the rents for a while. Then she had second thoughts. If this was happening all over, there were going to be a lot of crops not harvested. And that meant famine. So far, they had done all right, between hunting, gathering, and trading. They had enough to eat, but she didn’t have any idea what was going to happen when they got to the east. She commiserated with the headman and got permission for them to camp next to the village for the night. Her mother was in their wagon, with Vera watching her. Rogozhi was a little village that had moved a couple of times and merged with another village called Bogorodsk, and then separated again. Now there was argument about which village got which name. Nothing unusual. There were a lot of villages, and they lived and died and were reborn and renamed all the time.
They left early the next morning, and reached the Klyazma River that evening. Across the river was the village of Vokhna.
Leaving the wagons and most of the people in the forest, Stefan and Father Yulian rode up to the river to find out about the availability of boats, because it would do them no good to decide to use them if they couldn’t find any. They rode up to the edge of the river and waved to get attention. It wasn’t much of a river, more a creek, and looking over it, there were clumps of grass in the creek. After looking around a bit, they pulled up their feet and rode across the creek, which came almost to the bellies of the little Russian steppe ponies they were riding.
“What brings you here?” asked a man in a cassock, as they rode up the opposite bank.
“We’re looking for boats to travel downriver,” Father Yulian said forthrightly.
“We don’t have any for sale, I’m afraid. We do a little fishing and a shallow draft boat can get you to the next village sometimes, but you’re going to have to go downriver a good distance before you can travel on it.”
They had dinner in the village and got the news, then went back across the river and rejoined the wagon train.
“Good morning.” Stefan snuggled closer to Vera and moved a hand around to cup a breast. She snuggled closer.
“Hello in the wagons,” came a voice that Stefan didn’t recognize.
“You’d better find out what that’s about,” Vera told him and Stefan groaned.
Stefan tried to snuggle up again and Vera elbowed him in the ribs. It didn’t hurt. Stefan was a big man and Vera was not a big woman, but it did make it clear that the opportunity was gone.
Still complaining, Stefan crawled out of the bed built into the wagon, and went to see what was going on. There was, about twenty yards from their camp, a farm wagon piled with boxes and barrels and two men, four women, and five children.
Father Yulian was out of his wagon too, and Elena Utkin was peeking out the curtained window of the wagon she shared with her daughter.
“What can we do for you?” Father Yulian asked as more people came out to look at the strangers. “Don’t I recognize you from Rogozhi?”
One of the men nodded. “I’m Maxim Ivanovich, and this is my wife, Anna. We want to come with you.”
“Is that legal?” Father Yulian asked, not sounding condemning, just curious.
“Czar Mikhail’s proclamation says it is. Besides, our village is pomestie for the Slavenitsky family and Colonel Nikita Slavenitsky is the commander of the airship. So we are almost obligated to go.”
Stefan almost wanted to smile, even if these people had ruined his morning.
“You should be ashamed!” Elena Utkin came storming out of her wagon. “You are tied to the land, not to Nikita Slavenitsky, and you know it. You get back to your village before I have you whipped.”
Their guests were starting to look frightened.
“Oh, Mother, shut up!” Izabella came into the center of the camp, and Stefan didn’t see which wagon she was coming from. By now, Vera was out of the wagon and the children were peeking out of the windows. In fact, just about everyone in camp was watching. “You know perfectly well that Papa will kill you if he catches us. We’re all heading for Ufa and it’s pretty clear that — Ah, what was your name again?”
“Maxim, Lady,” said the man differentially. Running or not, they weren’t prepared to beard a noble in her lair.
“Maxim and his family and, who are you?” She looked at the others.
“I’m Oleg.” He pointed at one of the women. “This is my wife, Eva, and her sisters, Klara and Kseniya.”
“Maxim, Oleg and their families want to go with us. And I for one think that if they can pull their own wagon they should be allowed to.”
That set the pattern. They were joined by at least one or two people at every village they had contact with. People who hadn’t been willing to run on their own, but wanted to go if they had some sort of protection.
The wagon train followed the river down a few miles before crossing it and heading east again. None of them knew the way to Ufa in any detail, so it was a case of scouting each day and looking for paths that could take the wagons.
Sofia Gorchakovna waved at Marta. Marta had been her maid for years and was — or had been — a serf of the Gorchakov family. Between Natasha and Czar Mikhail, she was now free. But she was in her fifties and was comfortable with Sofia. She made her own way to the monastery to take up her duties, and she was now being paid. Marta came over with the tea service.
“What does Lev tell you?”
Marta looked over at Sister Elena and hesitated, but at Sofia’s nod she spoke quietly, giving Sofia a rundown of the recent events in Russia. Lev was a Dacha-trained radioman, and he had strong sympathies for the Gorchakov clan. That wasn’t at all uncommon. Almost all of the radiotelegraph operators had been trained at the Dacha and most of them had sympathies for the clan. That had come as something of a boon to the ladies of Goritsky Monastery. It gave them better access to the radio.
Sofia listened to the reports and watched Elena nodding at the interesting bits.
After dinner, Elena went back to her room. She then sent a note to Ludmila, who had ended up here after a rather torrid affair with a groundskeeper offended her husband. The groundskeeper, with her help, had escaped execution and run off to be a Cossack. Ludmila was a smart woman with a good grasp of the politics of Russia and little respect for them. A network was developing here in the monastery, not exactly secret, but certainly private. Women who knew Russian politics analyzing the events of the day, and trying to make predictions about what it all meant.