1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 14
Father Yulian considered. “Find us a village and I’ll talk to the priest, see if we can buy some guns or at least some swords.”
Stefan snorted a laugh. “Swords! What use would we have for a sword? Find us axes if you can’t find us guns. At least we know how to handle them.”
Finding a village didn’t prove particularly difficult. Gorki was on the Klyazma River, which was just a creek at this point, but it helped with the gardens. The village had a dozen households, not including the village priest and a summer house of the local nobility who were, at the moment, in Moscow. Or perhaps . . . nowhere. They had been associated with the Cherakasky family, who had come out on the bottom in the recent power struggle, so they might well be dead. If so, the village was at least potentially in a great deal of trouble, because they were likely to end up owned by the Sheremetev family. And the Sheremetev family was not known for the gentleness with which they treated their serfs.
“We were attacked by some raiders yesterday, and Madame has decided we need guns,” Father Yulian said, once they were seated with tea.
“You won’t find them here, I’m afraid. We’ve had over a dozen young men and two families run off, and the only thing keeping the young women here is knowing how dangerous it is for a woman alone in the forest.”
“What does that have to do with guns?”
“What we have, we need. And it’s not like we had many to begin with.”
“What’s the news?”
“Sheremetev has announced that Czar Mikhail has been enspelled by Bernie Zeppi, who is a demon, and the new patriarch has confirmed it. But the new patriarch is in Sheremetev’s pocket and everyone knows it. Most of the monasteries have refused to acknowledge him. There are rumors that the Poles or the Swedes are getting ready to attack, but I don’t believe them.”
Father Yulian sighed at the inequities of the world and got back to business. “We have a good blacksmith. If we could get some iron…?”
“What do you have to trade?”
And they were off. The wagon train wasn’t overly well-supplied, but they had done some hunting enroute, so they had some meat. And there was the pony that the raiders had killed. On the other hand, they were in the market for a new pony.
Which, after some serious bargaining, they managed to buy. The local village would send a message to Moscow telling of a pony dying in a raid on the village. Elena’s jewelry box would be a bit lighter. The villagers were in no hurry to take the paper rubles. The Sheremetev faction was using them to pay its debts off, but not taking them when they sold something. In the days since the czar’s flight, the paper rubles were losing value all over Russia.
Izabella looked at her mother, who was sitting in the wagon staring off into space. At Gorki she hadn’t actually done anything to cause a problem, but she hadn’t been very helpful, either. And she was sitting there, with her hair undone, and not wearing any makeup. Izabella didn’t think she had ever seen her mother without makeup in the middle of the day before she had caught Izabella and Yulian in the wagon. She shook her head. “Mama, you have to snap out of this. You were no help in Gorki and if you keep this up, they are going to dump you on the side of the road and let the bandits have you.”
“What difference does it make? They could do no more to me than you have already done, you little strumpet.”
Izabella was tempted to leave her mother on the side of the road herself. Not that the others had actually threatened that, though there had been some grumbling. Everyone worked, even Izabella. And Mama’s job was to provide them with a reason for being on the road. She wasn’t doing it. “Did you ever listen to what Father Yulian said?”
“He said he loved me!”
“He said he loved us all. That it was our duty to love one another, and that the way to reach God was not to suppress our desires, but to sate them so that they wouldn’t interfere. Don’t try to pray when you’re hungry or when you’re horny. It gets in the way of caring for God and your fellow men. That’s what he said.”
That at least got Elena’s attention, in the form of a disgusted look.
“I know. I know. Yulian probably adopted that doctrine because that’s where his dick was leading him. But he never lied about what he was doing. And he never told you that you were the only one, I bet.”
“He implied it.”
“You wanted to hear it.” Izabella shook her head. “Never mind. It doesn’t matter now, anyway. These people are desperate, Mama. We’ve lost children to bandits, and we’re all risking our lives. And you have no right to endanger the rest, just because you’re upset.”
“After your betrayal, you think I owe you?”
“Yes! But never mind that. What about the rest? Stefan and Vera, Makar and Liliya, and the others? Especially the ones who have joined us on the road.”
“So what? If that means anything, it means you owe them more, not less.”
Nothing was really settled, but Elena did start taking a little better care of herself.
On the Volga, Approaching Kazan
General Boris Timofeyevich Lebedev, known to his friends as Tim, looked out at his army and concluded that an army did not in fact march on its stomach. It slithered on its stomach like a snake. A particularly lazy snake. Not that what Tim commanded could within reason be called an army. Mob was closer. Aside from the core of troops that were Gorchakov retainers, Tim and Ivan Maslov had been picking up odds and sods since they left Bor after Czar Mikhail escaped.
“They aren’t that bad,” Ivan, the baker’s son, said.
“Yes,” Tim said, “they are, Captain.”
Ivan scratched his scraggly red beard in clear consideration. “Yes,” He conceded, “they are. But they aren’t as bad as they were.”
Tim nodded. It was true. The Gorchakov retainers were good troops, well trained, well supplied, and disciplined. To an extent that was rubbing off on the odds and sods. Especially the small contingent from Bor that had come with Ivan. They were soldiers, at least, though a large number of them were more technician than soldier. They were the people that had built the dirigible, Czarina Evdokia, some of them, anyway. Those who had declared for Czar Mikhail.
“We should have burned the dirigible works at Bor,” Marat Davidovich said again.
“We couldn’t. We would have lost half the soldiers who declared for Czar Mikhail and most of the techs. They may be loyal to Czar Mikhail, but they love the airships.”
Tim and Ivan watched as a family passed them on the road, walking beside a wagon. It was the family of a streltzi from Nizhny Novgorod. After the battle, Tim’s force had gained a good chunk of the garrison, partly out of fear of Sheremetev’s response to their defeat. The streltzi, a man of about forty, tipped his cap as he went by. Tim nodded encouragement. The streltzi of Nizhny Novgorod had brought their families because it wasn’t safe to leave them, and the other groups they had picked up on the road had done the same. The camp followers outnumbered the camp by a considerable margin.
On a good day they would make five miles. On a bad day, two . . . or none. Tim wondered what was happening with Czar Mikhail.