1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 16

1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 16

Chapter 5: News from Home

Russia House

Grantville

July 1636

Fedor Ivanovich Trotsky handed over the bundle. It was from Moscow, and the news from there had been chaotic, at best, for the past week and more.

“Is it as crazy as the rumors?” Vladimir Gorchakov asked.

“The messages to me were, Your Highness.” Fedor Ivanovich had been in Magdeburg to meet the message boat. Vladimir had sent him there as soon as the first rumors began filtering over the USE radio-telegraph system. “Boris Ivanovich Petrov had nothing but the first reports when he prepared the messages. He sent one to his son in Magdeburg, one to me, and one to you. I suspect that they all say basically the same thing.”

Vladimir doubted that. He was pretty sure that Boris had sent his sons additional information and instructions. But he didn’t correct Fedor Ivanovich. Instead, he took the packet of letters to his desk and sat down to read.

Two hours later, he was still confused. But it was now more a question of why than what. He was also cursing himself for ever having sent Cass Lowry to Moscow. He should have sent the car by itself.

He got up and called in his staff, and his wife Brandy. Especially Brandy. He had come to rely on her advice even before he married the up-timer girl. And now that he and all the Russians he brought to the USE were facing their own political Ring of Fire, cutting them off from all they knew and depended on, her advice would be all the more important.

Iosif Borisovich Petrov brought his own letters to the meeting. He was nineteen, a squat, solidly built young man whose placid, even bovine, expression hid a solid and surprisingly creative brain. For the past year and more, he had been coordinating the information from the Dacha and was responsible for several industrial patents based on work done there.

“Father says I should stay here for now,” Iosif said placidly. “He doesn’t exactly think that this will blow over, but he does want me and Viktor out of the line of fire for now.” He placed a sheet of paper face down on the table and passed it over to Vladimir.

Vladimir took a quick look and nodded. The sheet said what Iosif just said, but it also instructed him to change to the third code set and to arrange a new pad to be sent to Moscow. Vladimir put the sheet back on the table, still face down, and passed it back.

“I never should have . . .” That was as far as Vladimir got before Brandy interrupted.

“Don’t be silly. It wasn’t Cass. It was Sheremetev, and you had no say in putting him in Russia. All that bastard Lowry did was bring things to a head, and get shot for it.” Brandy paused a moment then continued. “I’ll need to tell his dad, and we’ll need to write to his brother. There are a couple of the guys who were on the football team with him that we’ll need to talk to. I don’t want this to turn into a feud, and it’s going to get out that he got himself shot while trying to attack your sister.”

“I will be willing to pay reparations within reason,” Vladimir said, “but we will not take the blame for what happened. Not me, you, or Russia. From what we know so far, his killing was a fully justified act.”

“That is, I think, a minor issue compared to the financial situation this puts us in and the political ramifications,” Iosif Borisovich said. “Father would prefer it if we were to keep our relations with Moscow as cordial as we can manage.”

“In other words we should let Sheremetev screw us with our pants on,” Brandy Bates said. Sometimes, in moments of stress, her habits from Club 250 and similar places came out. It was rather less upsetting to the down-timers, who had little difficulty with profanity but were deeply uncomfortable with taking the Lord’s name in vain.

“Well, we should at least let him think we will,” offered Iosif, placatingly.

“Frankly, at this point I’m more concerned about Ron Stone than I am about Sheremetev. Ron had every expectation that we would be getting supplies from Russia eventually. Now it looks like that’s not going to happen. And totally aside from the fact that Sheremetev is in Russia and can’t hurt us nearly as much as the Lothlorien Farbenwerk could if they wanted to, Ron has dealt fairly with us and we have an obligation to deal fairly with him.”

“You’re going to have to go have a talk with him,” Brandy said, “and see what we can work out.”

Vladimir picked up the phone and had the call put through. Ron, it turned out, was out of the office and they ended up playing phone tag for a good part of the rest of that day, and arranged a meeting for the next day.

By then, another source had it that Czar Mikhail had reached Ufa and set up a court in exile. The second message had made better time, traveling a good part of the way by dirigible.

***

Iosif left, and Vladimir started reading the personal letter from Natasha. All the packets of letters had arrived on the same ship from Nyen. The rumors had come from the sailors of that ship talking before the letters could make their way upriver. They had received Boris’ version of events at the same time they received Natasha’s and Czar Mikhail’s. Suddenly, Vladimir stopped reading. “Bernie Zeppi?”

“What about Bernie?” Brandy asked. She had been reading a long letter from Czarina Evdokia.

“Natasha wants to marry him!”

“Bernie?” Brandy shook her head. “Well, from all reports, he’s changed a lot. He’s probably not the same failed football jerk I remember from before the Ring of Fire. After all, look at me.”

“Yes, perhaps. But the political consequences . . . Bernie’s a peasant, even if he is an up-timer.”

“You do remember I used to be a barmaid, right?” Brandy’s voice carried a chill.

“That’s different. You’re a woman.”

Brandy blinked. For the moment, her anger was drowned in confusion. Why on Earth would it be worse if a princess married a peasant than if a prince did? It made no sense.

That slight pause gave Prince Vladimir time to realize that his foot was lodged in his mouth with the leg poised to follow it down his throat unless he started extracting right now. “I’m just concerned about the political consequences.”

“What political consequences? Czar Mikhail is in Ufa, which is so far east that I had never heard of it. And Sheremetev is probably raising an army right now to go fetch him back, dead or alive. And you’re worrying over the political consequences of your sister marrying a peasant?”

“It could affect how some of the other great houses respond. . . . Besides, it’s Bernie Zeppi we’re talking about. I don’t think that I ever remember seeing him when he didn’t have at least a light buzz on.”

That stopped Brandy again. Because after the Ring of Fire and the battle of the Crapper, Bernie had spent most of the rest of the time before he went off to Moscow drunk.

“I remember. But he changed after he got to Moscow. You know that. Especially after he ran into the annual typhoid outbreak and saw all those people die.”

“Maybe, but he’d have to have changed a lot.”

“Well, it’s not your choice. Or it shouldn’t be. It’s up to Natasha.”

Vladimir wasn’t convinced but wisely kept his mouth shut and for now, at least, Brandy let him. “So what happens now? About Russia, I mean.”

That was a good question. Within a few months of his arrival in Grantville back in 1631, Vladimir Petrovich Gorchakov had realized that Russia had to change. But he had imagined that change as a gradual thing, a tweak here, and then an adjustment there. He hadn’t expected to see the end of serfdom in his lifetime. And at first he had assumed that the up-timer experts were right, that serfdom and a technological society couldn’t coexist. That the machines themselves and the skills needed to run them would preclude it.

 

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Comments

4 Responses to 1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 16

  1. Lyttenburgh says:

    “Fedor Ivanovich Trotsky handed over the bundle.”

    Trotsky…

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    Trotsky?

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    Trotsky!!!

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    You know what? I have a strong suspicion that thins one was done not by our perennial duo of “junior authors”, but by Eric himself. Due to, well… you know. This reason will surely trump any logic or diligence when it comes to conducting basic research just to learn, what is appropriate and what is not to this or that language naming conventions.

    The last name “Trotsky” is a toponym based one, deriving from the castle Troki in the modern day southern Lituania (and back then – in the PLC). First noble Trotskis were descendants of the Hetmanate’s Cossack colonles, ennobled in early 18 c.

    ““Yes, perhaps. But the political consequences . . . Bernie’s a peasant, even if he is an up-timer.””

    The political consequences no one is discussing here are that if both Natasha and Vladimir marry commoners, then their children would never have a chance to inherit their lands and titles. Simple as that.

    ““Well, it’s not your choice. Or it shouldn’t be. It’s up to Natasha.””

    No, it is up to him as the eldest surviving male member of his princely dynasty. Right now, at this very moment, he risks losing the last holdings his family still has. The laws of inheritance could not be re-written to suit the up-timer mores overnight.

    • Terranovan says:

      About the political consequences – this situation is precisely what a morganatic marriage is for. Or the tsar could make Bernie a noble. (Yes, there would be political consequences for that, too, but just the ones that Vladimir lists immediately following). If Vladimir’s concerned about those consequences… he’s in TROUBLE with Brandy.
      About it being “up to” Natasha or Vladimir – why should Brandy care about Vladimir’s choice? They’re married, but there are limits to what you put up with from your spouse. And even if Vladimir has the legal right, if he says “No”, how can he enforce that decision? He’s in Grantville, and Natasha’s in Russia – Ufa, IIRC.

      • Lyttenburgh says:

        Right now their family – that’s Brandy+Vladimir Gorchakov – is in dire straights, facing financial ruin and very, very uncertain future cuz there is no guarantee that Sheremetev might not replace Vladimir as an ambassador. One thing that still remains, which they still own and can use as bargaining chip when dealing with Ron Stone is the fact, that Gorchakov’s are still high-rank noble landowners. Vladimir married commoner already, if his sister will follow suit, then this bargaining chip (no matter how small and improbable – the law is still on their side) is gone. They will have nothing to their name.

        So it comes to this – lofty ideals and uptimer principles versus harsh downtime reality of potential financial ruin.

        P.S. Czar Mikhail could (and, probably, should) ennoble Bernie – but that would mean for him to become Russian subject. But this does not change the fact, that even with that his marriage with Natasha will be a morganatic one – he’d be a low-tier service dvoryanin while she’s from the dynasty of the princes of old.

  2. A Russian Jew says:

    Prince Vladimir could, in fact, marry whoever he wanted and keep the inherited property. Rare but not unheard of. A wife inherited her husband’s legal status (a freeborn woman who married kholop became kholopka herself, but not vice versa). As far as Bernie/Natasha (darn, it is Natalia) union is concerned, the obvious solution would be making him a foreign noble. Peter the Great asked Vienna court to bestow a rank of Count to several of his men (including Menshikov, who was either low-born or an offspring of very minor nobility). Would Gustav Adolph think twice before trading a friendship with Russia (which, in this world, develops a bit too fast to make Swedish control of Baltic sea comfortable) for a noble title for one more uptimer? I don’t think so.

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