1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 19

1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 19

Chapter 6: The Nobel Conundrum

Lothlorien Farbenwerk, Grantville

July, 1636

“I was sorry to hear about the troubles in your country,” Ron Stone said, coming around his desk to shake Vladimir’s hand.

“Thank you, Herr Stone.” Vladimir said. “Unfortunately, it means that it is unlikely I will be able to provide the products that we both hoped would become available again.”

“Never mind that. What about your sister?”

“She’s in Ufa with Czar Mikhail, Bernie Zeppi, and a court in exile. They have a dirigible, but it has very limited cargo capacity. And while they have a few of the experts from the Dacha, almost the entire industrial base that has been developing in Russia since the Ring of Fire fell into Director-General Sheremetev’s hands. As well as most of the population. Not that I believe that many of the serfs want to be there.”

“Any of them, surely?”

Vladimir shook his head. He didn’t want to disagree with this man to whom he owed so much. But Ron had never dealt with a society that truly had slavery, or even serfdom as it was practiced in Russia or Poland. “There is a term Brandy’s mother told me about people who have been incarcerated for long periods of time. ‘Institutionalized.’ Russian serfs have, for the most part, been serfs their whole lives, and their parents were serfs before them. They know no other life and the notion of freedom, of having to decide for themselves, is terrifying to them. That is not always the case, and is probably less common than I would have imagined before the Ring of Fire. But don’t fool yourself. It is much more common than most of you up-timers believe.”

Ron nodded, but the nod seemed to be dragged out of him. “Yes, you’re probably right. But you do realize that makes the whole institution of serfdom even worse, don’t you? If it’s evil to put chains on someone’s body, how much worse to put chains on their minds?”

“I don’t disagree, Ron,” Vladimir said, thinking not after years in Grantville. At the same time, he understood much better than Ron Stone ever would how good people raised to believe it could see serfdom as the natural order of the world. “And neither, it seems, does Czar Mikhail.” Vladimir pulled out a sheet of paper. “This is a proclamation by Czar Mikhail. It’s in Russian but it amounts to Russia’s emancipation proclamation.”

Ron looked at it for just a second and Vladimir passed over another sheet with the proclamation translated into Amideutsch. He didn’t have a version in up-timer English. “I’ve already given copies of the Russian and Amideutsch to the Daily News and the Grantville Times. It will be all over Germany by tomorrow, and all over Europe in a week.”

Ron had been reading the Amideutsch version while Vladimir was talking. “Isn’t this a bit self-serving? They have to run away east to get their freedom?”

“Yes, it is,” Vladimir acknowledged. “But it’s no more self-serving than the up-time Lincoln’s ‘Emancipation Proclamation.’ Probably less. And what about my sister? At least I am no longer faced with Jefferson’s quandary, abhorring slavery and serfdom, but still having my own serfs. I no longer have any serfs.”

Ron looked at him. “How do you feel about that, Vladimir? Honestly.”

Vladimir found himself smiling. “Poorer. But pleased, actually. Our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor. Natasha’s life is certainly in danger, and the better part of our fortune is gone. Almost all of it in Russia, if the truth be told. But our sacred honor? That’s doing just fine.”

“Yes, Prince Vladimir Petrovich Gorchakov, your honor is intact. So let’s see about keeping your sister alive . . . and perhaps even keeping you from ending up begging on the street.”

“I don’t see how. The Swedes control the Baltic ports, true enough. But Sheremetev controls the surrounding territory and he controls Archangelsk.”

“Well, what doesn’t he control?”

“You mean ports? I honestly don’t know. . . . Wait. There is one. Or at least, there was one. Mangazeya. On the northern sea route, it was called. A trading city. It got very rich and trade through there was forbidden in 1619, if I remember properly.”

“Any reason why the people of Mangazeya are going to have warm fuzzy feelings for Czar Mikhail?”

“Everyone knows that Mikhail had very little power back then. His mother’s relatives, the Saltykov family, had power until Mikhail’s father got back from prison in Poland. Then it was Filaret who had the power. Mikhail is actually fairly popular. Probably everyone in Russia has heard that he cried when told he would be czar. I don’t know the details. My father had some dealings with the merchants of Mangazeya, but he also had dealings with the people that wanted them shut down. Mostly because Mangazeya wasn’t paying taxes, but also they were cutting into the trade of . . .”

“So you’re saying that there is a route from some place that Czar Mikhail can control to Hamburg by sea?”

“I’m saying there might be. But if there is, it’s only going to be good for a couple of months out of the year. And we won’t be able to use it this year.”

“Do you think your sister and the czar will be able to hold out for a year?”

Vladimir lost the last of his smile. “I want to think so, but I doubt it.”

“Let me think about it. Meanwhile, see what you can come up with that we might be able to buy from your people.” Ron Stone pointed at the sheet of paper that held the Emancipation Proclamation of Czar Mikhail. “I want to help. I really do. But there needs to be something profitable in it.”

Nizhny Novgorod

July, 1636

The steamboat Danilov was tied up at the dock and its paperwork said it was owned by a merchant from Samara. Which everyone in Nizhny Novgorod knew was nonsense. But it was nonsense that gave them cover, as the men on the boat sold furs and bought grain, cabbage, and beets.

A few hundred feet away, in a bar just off the docks, Petr Viktorovich sat with the first mate of the steamboat and bargained for a copy of the latest dispatches from the radio-telegraph network. Each radio station was equipped with a typewriter, and Petr was using his as a profitable sideline. Petr set down his wooden mug and tapped the leather bag on the table. “That’s right. It’s transcripts of everything that’s gone through the station in the last week. Even the coded commercial stuff. Not that I have the keys for any of that.”

“That’s fine,” said the first mate. “What do you want in exchange?” Then he took a drink of the potato beer.

“Twenty rubles.”

The beer spewed across the table and everyone in the bar looked around. Wiping his mouth on an already dirty sleeve, the first mate glared at the radio man. Who had the grace to look at least a little embarrassed. Twenty rubles was enough to buy out a serf’s debt.

“Don’t get excited. Make a counteroffer?”

“Two kopecks!”

So it went. The first mate ended up paying three rubles, and the sniveling little thief of a radioman insisted on real silver. No one was taking paper rubles since the czar ran to Ufa and the printing presses were left in Moscow. No one trusted paper money. That in itself was important news. Loaded with news and food, both of which they had paid too much for, the Danilov headed back to Ufa.

On the Volga River, between Bor and Cheboksary

July 1636

“Look over there,” said the first mate.

“Well, if it isn’t General Tim and his army,” said the captain.

“Should we stop and say hello?”

“Frankly, I’d just as soon wave as we go by,” the captain said. He was a forty-year-old who had been on the river since he was twelve, and didn’t have much use for a teenaged general. But he was loyal to Czar Mikhail and to Princess Natasha so, somewhat disgustedly, he pulled over to the shallows close to the riverbank and used the engine to keep station on the small mob while the baker’s boy, Ivan Maslov, rode out on a pretty fair horse.

“Is there any place nearby where you can dock, Captain?” asked the redheaded youth.

“What for?”

“We have some injured.”

“We don’t have room.”

“Captain, I can see that you’re loaded, but surely you can find a place to put four people so that they can get to Ufa and decent medical care.”

The horse was walking along in the river, keeping pace with the slow-moving riverboat.

There was a cough from behind him and the captain looked around at his chief engineer, another of the youngsters who seemed to be taking over the world. But it was a reminder that even if he didn’t say anything, Princess Natasha would hear about it. “Oh, very well. Up about half a mile, we can anchor in close and you can bring out your injured.”


While they were stopped, Ivan got a chance to read most of the unencoded messages that the captain had bought. The army also managed to get a couple of wagon loads of beets.

After the riverboat was gone, Tim looked over at Ivan and said, “I think Czar Mikhail made a mistake. Four men injured in falls, no supplies worth mentioning, more camp followers than . . .”

“No, he didn’t,” Ivan said. “Look, General . . .”

“Call me Tim, for God’s sake,” General Boris Timofeyevich Lebedev said.

“No, General, I don’t think I will,” Ivan said. “I grant that you never learned to be a lieutenant all that well, and you’ve never been a captain or a colonel. But you were in the Kremlin studying to be a general for over two years, then you were a general’s adjutant. It’s true that for the last few months before this you were your cousin’s keeper in Murom, but even there, with your cousin drunk most of the time, you basically ran the city guard.”

Tim started to interrupt, but Ivan pushed on over him. “You don’t know as much as Shein, but that’s not all bad. A lot of what the old generals know is wrong, or at least outdated by the new weapons. Besides, you have me to advise you and I’m much smarter than you are.”

That at least brought a smile to Tim’s face.

“All right, Ivan. Let’s see about getting this –” Tim looked around “I have no words.”

“Cluster fuck!” Ivan offered. “That’s what Bernie Zeppi would call it.”

“Fine. Let’s get this cluster fuck moving.”


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7 Responses to 1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 19

  1. Lyttenburgh says:

    “A trading city. It got very rich and trade through there was forbidden in 1619, if I remember properly.””

    As told previously – no, in 1620. And not that rich. First mention of the settlement in that area dates back to Anthony Jenkinson’s mappe, incorporated later into Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. First trade post was established by the order of Ivan IV in 1572, first fortress and garrison – in 1600 during the reign of Boris Godunov. The building of the town ended in 1603 when it was deemed big enough to have a priest dispatched there. Still, the “port” had feeble activity when it came to the international trade (hint – look at the map where is Mangazeya). It wasn’t rich by any stretch, and its existence was very, very short.

    Why the ban on the sea trade there? Several reasons, no need to get conspiratorial:

    – For the state it was next to impossible to control (read: tax and maintain customs servie) the sea route in Mangazeya, while at the same all the ways along the Ob river and its tributaries were blocked by customs posts, and it was impossible to move any shipment of furs through them without paying to the treasury.

    – Merchants lobbies the state to issue the ban, because they were loath to have their monopoly violated by Pomors.

    – There was a real, grounded in facts and precedents fear, that either the English and the Dutch (or both) might use the port as a staging ground for their own colonization of Siberia (see: A Letter to James I Concerning the English Plan for Military Intervention in Russia by C. Dunning, 1989).

    But the whole issue is a moot point, because throughout 1620s the town was in constant decline. Moreover, in 1629 there was a short but bloody conflict between two military governors (voivodes) sent to rule over the town, which significantly reduced population and damaged the town.

    The authors are trying too hard to connect all their lousy plot points. The results looks even worse.

    “Mikhail is actually fairly popular. Probably everyone in Russia has heard that he cried when told he would be czar.”

    … No.

    “Each radio station was equipped with a typewriter”


    There are currently not enough typewriters for them to be an easily affordable item in the USE, but – SOMEHOW – they are all over the place in literally each of the hundred odd radio stations (which is am improbable thing in itself) in… Russia?


    No, no, no, no! Let others speak here – not me!

    “Resources. What do you need? Where do you get them? How do you pay for them? Those are all questions that need to be answered for any real industrial project. And in the 1632 universe, those same questions also need to be answered for the technological developments that the writers in the universe want to develop, want to see brought forward so they can tell the stories they want to tell. No handwaving allowed. Eric Flint’s mantra from the very beginning has been “realism and probability,” not “theoretically possible.”
    – GG75, Time May Change Me, Part 2, by Charles E. Gannon, Ph.D., and David Carrico.

    “Then he took a drink of the *potato beer.*”


    Why not the Mountain Dew, hmm? You already shown how you don’t give a rat’s ἀφεδρών when it comes to caring about accuracy?

    “But you were in the Kremlin studying to be a general for over two years, then you were a general’s adjutant.”

    AFAIK, neither “Butterflies in the Kremlin” series, nor the book which was composed later based on them, really explained how all the sudden Russia (of all other European countries!) got itself in 1630s a real officer school. And here lies the problem of these whole “side-plot series” – it was impossible for Russia to have a professional regular army so early on. It was really hard for all other European countries to have them. But the authors decided before hand – “We need something, which will look like mid 19th c. recycled in time!” And damn the logic, damn to laws of case and consequences.

    • Terranovan says:

      I don’t know what you mean by “Let others speak here – not me!”, but this is obviously and profoundly not true. Unless – are you speaking sarcastically?
      In any case, have you considered applying for a job as a copy editor at Baen?

      • Terranovan says:

        Okay, on second reading, you seem to be announcing that you’re about to be quoting someone else, but you’re still saying that after speaking at great length yourself.

      • Lyttenburgh says:

        “In any case, have you considered applying for a job as a copy editor at Baen?”

        This book does not need an editor – it needs to be rewritten. Completely. And the previous one as well.

    • A Russian Jew says:

      how all the sudden Russia (of all other European countries!) got itself in 1630s a real officer school
      Actually it is quite possible, if you consider a course of events IOTL. The Time of Troubles left Russian ruling elite with a deep understanding that something is definitely wrong with Russian military, but without a shred of understanding what to do with that. Couple it with the fact that foreign mercenary units (mostly of Germanic origin) distinguished themselves fighting on both sides of the “Russo-Polish” war, IOTL it lead to relatively widespread copying of Western military organization. Russian army had about 20 “soldier” regiments in 1630s, copied from Western “pike and shot”, plus several “Reitar” (Reiter) regiments. Now take into account that RoF happened in the middle of this process and uptimers demonstrated that their military is infinitely superior over the existing Western European armies. What would Russians do? They’re copying anyway, there’s no tradition to dictate them “how the things should be” (and greatly slowing the adoption of uptime organization by Western armies) and, by a quirk of fate, they’re in USE’s and Sweden’s good books by virtue of having a common foe (Poland). It is not impossible that they’ll switch to copying uptime military machine (in the same fashion as IOTL, keeping existing Stretsi and feudal cavalry intact and creating a sort of parallel “New Order” military organization).

      • Lyttenburgh says:

        “The Time of Troubles left Russian ruling elite with a deep understanding that something is definitely wrong with Russian military, but without a shred of understanding what to do with that. Couple it with the fact that foreign mercenary units (mostly of Germanic origin) distinguished themselves fighting on both sides of the “Russo-Polish” war, IOTL it lead to relatively widespread copying of Western military organization.”

        Yes, the so-called “New/Foreign Type Regiments”, the first of which were created starting 1631 for the expressed purpose of fighting PLC in the upcoming war, after the expiration of the Deulino Armistice in 1632 (what in the OTL became known as the Smolensk War of 1632-34). SOMEHOW, the events of RoF prevented that, but we are not given much details. I.e. – was there a new armistice? What happened to the European merc commanders who were hired specifically for participating in upcoming war or for a fixed number of years (3-5)? According to 1635: A Parcel of Rogues, the man responsible for the hiring and training of these new troops for Russia – Alexander Leslie – was by 1635 already out of the country, serving Swedes again. If not him, then who was left in charge of training locals? Oh, and what about Crimean raids of 1632-33 – how many of these new troopers were “consumed” by them?

        As future examples of training new “New Type Regiments” in preparations for war with PLC in 1654-67 (said preparations began in 1649) it took several years for European ranking and experienced commanders to whip these new Russian rank-n-file into a proper shape and, most importantly, to train a cadre of capable junior commanders from Russians. Most command positions in these regiments were still filled by foreigners, and such situation would not improve till 1680s.

        In short – the presence of lots and lots of New Type Regiments in 1630s Russia, with command position filled exclusively by natives in impossible. “Officer school/academy” is off the books, but a proper, talented European commander might train those under him in a very non-scholastic hands-on approach.

        And I’m not even touching the impossibility of logistics and maintenance of really big force of such “modern” type of soldiers, as compared to the service gentry (who had estates to sustain them) and streltzi (whose salary was laughable, so they were allowed to trade and do crafts).

        “Russian army had about 20 “soldier” regiments in 1630s, copied from Western “pike and shot”, plus several “Reitar” (Reiter) regiments”

        Yes, I researched that bit lately, given that it has everything to do with the time period and the book. Infantry regiment had (on paper) 1600 troopers (8 200-men companies, 120/80 split of musketeers/pikemen), a reitar one – 2400 (14 companies of 125-130 cavalrymen). A. Gordon commanded the one and only dragoon regiment – 1440 men, 12 companies. Leslie hired c. 3500 foreign mercenaries before coming to Russia in 1631. So, right before/immediately after RoF (i.e. during the Smolensk war of the OTL) there were c. 18-19 000 of these New/Foreign Type Regiment soldiers.

        Right after the Smolensk war Russia was in no shape to maintain such big standing army. It could hardly afford (cuz mercs) it in the first place, and its creation – as was the custom of the period – was for the specific purpose, i.e. war with Poland for Smolensk and other lands. Russia could not afford such expenses for no reason, i.e. without war.

        Yes, some of the mercenaries were retained as well as the troopers who were already trained by them in the new (for Russia) ways of war. Next attempt to kick start a “modern” army won’t happen in Russia till may 1638, where there was issued a czars order for muster of 4000 troopers for New Type Regiments v. 2.0. There were consequent “drafts” in the years after that, which (very slowly!) increased the number of these regular soldiers by 4-8000 yearly.

        But that would require a central effort, a plan, a number of (foreign) specialists and economic and undustrial base to support even 10 000 of these new regular soldiers on the constant basis… and still they will remain a tiny minority compared the Old Type military, like noble cavalry and strelzi for years to come.

        The authors simply wanted Russian regular army in 17th c. because they could not be bothered to learn basic facts on feasibility of that. So they had it “transplanted” fro, 18-19 cc. Like a lot of their anachronistic ideas – see they description of the serfdom.

  2. A Russian Jew says:

    The steamboat Danilov was tied up at the dock and its paperwork said it was owned by a merchant from Samara.
    Not too realistic, to put it mildly. 5 short years after the ROF, steamboats on Volga must still be a novelty, attracting all kinds of attention (and, most likely, owned by government as a mean to secure Middle and Lower Volga, which at this point was eastern frontier for all intents and purposes). And Samara is a bordertown in 1636. At the very least, the paperwork should make somebody from Nizhny or Yaroslavl an official owner. Old Russian cities, commercial centers of the day in the middle of densely populated area.
    bar just off the docks
    “Kabak” is the word for a drinking establishment then and there.
    potato beer
    Potatoes could not spread that fast from Grantville in 5 short years, and Russians NEVER made any drinks from it. In a kabak they would drink either hard liquor (“bread wine” was the name) or, if they don’t want to get too drunk too fast, mead (for more affluent) or mash (for those with limited means).

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