1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 26

1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 26

Chapter 10: On the River

July to September 1636, on the road

By the end of July, the villagers of Ruzuka were on the north side of the Klyazma River again, approaching the Volga. The crops, most of which had been planted before Czar Mikhail’s flight, were getting ripe and the villages were short of people. The radiotelegraph net had made rumor even faster — if not noticeably more accurate.

The operators looked out for one another. They also had a set of skills that made them difficult to replace. So the network carried the official messages but it also carried unofficial messages, what radio operators had seen or heard, private mail that was often encoded. Also, while it was by no means universal, the radio operators had what Sheremetev and his faction were likely to see as a liberal bias. They were almost universally literate, they had mostly been trained at the Dacha, so had been exposed to the corrupting influence of Bernie Zeppi and the up-timer books.

Which meant that even little villages out in the middle of nowhere were generally informed on the events of the day. Czar Mikhail had established himself in Ufa. He had sent the dirigible scouting, and even flown over Moscow. No one knew if Mikhail himself had been in the dirigible when it flew over Moscow in mid-July, but that the dirigible had done so was clear. And, according to rumor, it had sent Sheremetev into a rage.

Serfs were running east in droves and every time the dirigible went over, more ran. So at least the headman of Shalaevo, a village thirty miles west of the Volga, complained. Elena listened as politely as she could. She was, somewhat against her will, acting as the face for the village. With Stefan and Anatoly standing over her, there wasn’t much she could do except what they told her. She was really afraid now that they would leave her in the forest.

Elena, with Stefan looking over her shoulder, told the headman of Shalaevo, “Stefan, here, will negotiate with you for my serfs’ help with your harvest.” Then she retreated to the wagon.


The headman knew he needed their help in bringing in the crop, in exchange for which he offered a small part of the seed. But the bandits from Ruzuka had him over a barrel and they clearly knew it. Almost a quarter of the crop was the price they settled on. And, like any bandit would, they insisted that the seed they were taking be threshed first, because the people of Shalaevo would be able to do the rest of the threshing over the winter.

The people of Ruzuka spent two weeks in Shalaevo, then another two weeks in the next village on their way, and a week and a half in a third. By the time they were done, they had almost as much grain as they would have if they had stayed home. Harvest season was winding down. It was September now, and the villagers of Ruzuka made their way to the Volga.

September, 1636

As Stefan rode up to the shore of the Volga, he heard the boatmen singing. Born and raised in Russia, still Stefan had never heard a song more depressing. “Pull, pull, pull some more,” in tones of ultimate despair. There were now steam barges on the Volga, but they were still by far the minority. There were big boats on the Volga, almost ships, and large crews of the very poor to haul them up the river. Talking to the burlak, the boatmen who pulled the boats upriver by means of ropes attached to the boats and tied around their upper arms and chests, he learned where the boats put in. It was fall and cold, and the boats were not doing nearly as well as their owners had expected because a good number of the burlak had run off to join the czar at Ufa.


Balakhna was one of the stopping points for the boats. Stefan rode in and found Boris Petrovich, a factor for the boat owners that one of the burlak had told him about.

“Yes, we can take you downriver,” Boris told Stefan. “How many people do you have and how much equipment? Downriver is better than upriver at this time of year. It needs fewer pullers.”

They talked price and came to an agreement, some in paper money but mostly in silver and jewelry. Then Stefan went out and brought in the wagons. It would take two days to get all the gear loaded onto the ship.


Nikita Ivanovich Utkin shifted in his saddle. His butt hurt, but at least they were back in town. He looked over at Alexander Nikolayevich Volkov and grinned. The other man looked just as tired as he felt. They were followed by a platoon of soldiers, most of whom were still armed with single-shot muzzleloaders or even pikes. Nikita and Alexander each had AK4s, and Nikita wore a bandolier of chambers as a part of his outfit. Alexander insisted that uniform was not the right word when it was unique, and Nikita had to concede that there weren’t two outfits in the platoon that were alike.

Nikita looked back at the docks, and saw a crowd of peasants with wagons and ponies. It looked like this group of runaways had stolen their master blind. Well, he and Alexander would harry them back the way they had come. And if some of their goods got left here for him to pick up, so much the better.

Nikita pointed, and Alexander looked. “More game. And right here in Balakhna.”


“They are going to have to be disassembled, Father.” Stefan was talking to Father Yulian about the stowing of the wagons. “They take up too much room. We will pull off the wheels and take off the sides and roofs . . .”

“Oh, my God,” Izabella said. “It’s Nikita.”

Stefan looked up and felt his face pale. Nikita was a stuck-up little bastard. Full of himself and convinced that his lordly birth entitled him to pretty much anything he wanted. He had been a pain in the ass and a real danger from the day Stefan had met him . . . and he was riding in their direction, armed and with troops behind him.

On the other hand, the villagers of Ruzuka weren’t the same people they had been. They hadn’t been attacked since Gorki, but that was only because ever since Gorki they had maintained an alert guard. By now, every adult in the wagon train was armed with something and those who were carrying guns at least had a decent idea how to use them.

Stefan wasn’t any good with the guns, but he had a large knife in his belt and he could use it. It was hidden by the coat he wore, but he could reach it if he had to. And, knowing Nikita, he was very much afraid that he was about to have to.

As he watched, Nikita’s face changed as he recognized them. Nikita kicked his horse, ignoring the rest of the troops that were with him and rode at Stefan and the rest like he was going to ride them down.

He pulled up when he got to them and leapt off the horse, shouting, “What the hell are you doing here? Father has been worried sick ever since he got the message from Kiril Ivanovich.” He grabbed Izabella’s arm and that opened her coat, making the fact of her pregnancy blatantly apparent.

“Oh, my — Izabella, Father’s going to kill you,” Nikita said. “How could you betray the family this way? You have disgraced us all. Who did you give yourself to? One of the peasants? I’ll kill him myself.” He swung to look at Stefan.

Stefan held up his hands, disclaiming any responsibility . . . not that he thought it would do any good.

“You brute! You animal! You defiled my family.” Nikita reached into his jacket and pulled out a pistol. It was a chamber-loading flintlock pistol, and it used the same chambers as his chamber-loading rifle. Nikita cocked and opened the pan. Standing not more than six feet from Stefan.

No flintlock, chamber-loading or not, is a quick draw weapon. The pan must be charged before the weapon can be fired, and it is impractical to carry the thing around with the pan charged. Generally, the pan is charged just before a fight and with hope that it doesn’t have to be fired more than once. Standing next to the target while charging the weapon isn’t the best option.

Stefan saw what Nikita was doing, and knew time had run out. As soon as the pan was charged, the little idiot was going to shoot him just to prove he could. Stefan pulled his knife and lunged. The knife went in just under Nikita’s breast bone and angled up. It didn’t reach the heart, but it ripped the hell out of both lungs. Stefan clamped his left hand over the pistol in Nikita’s right, as he pulled the knife out for another thrust.

Izabella screamed and the battle was on.


Alexander was surprised when Nikita rode ahead. He knew Nikita well enough, but didn’t know his sister or his serfs. So he had no idea what had gotten into Nikita till he heard the shouting. His first response was amusement. That would take the little prick down a notch or two.

Then he saw Nikita draw his pistol and kicked his horse into a gallop.

The big, burly peasant moved a lot faster than a man that size should, and when the girl screamed, Alexander charged. It wasn’t a conscious decision. If he had thought for even a moment, he would have known that when you have rifles and the enemy have knives, you stand off and fire. But he was a member of the service nobility, born and bred to be a warrior. When under attack, you charged. So that’s what he did, and the troops charged after him.


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18 Responses to 1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 26

  1. Lyttenburgh says:

    “Elena, with Stefan looking over her shoulder, told the headman of Shalaevo, “Stefan, here, will negotiate with you for my serfs’ help with your harvest.” Then she retreated to the wagon.”

    Nothing happening in this snippet makes any sense. First of all – what’s her “legend” for travelling with 100+ serfs in several wagons and being far off her own estate during the harvest season? Such “caravan” would immediately raise much suspicion and alarm. Second – what about local lawmen? Gubniye starosty (from the word “guba” – rural district) were local elected (from the gentry) law-enforces, similar to Western European sheriffs. What are the chances that the word about arrival of enormous number of alien peasants accompanied by a noblewomen without the usual entourage would have reached them… Nth times over all those weeks? They are already on the high alert because the serfs are trying to escape. What, they won’t go on and check, or increase the patrols along the roads, or employ more informants?

    Third, and most important – by taking ¼ of the harvest from the people Shalaevo, our runaways are dooming the locals to starvation. Because afterwards, they’d have to bay their dues to the landlord, tithes to the church and any other special and extraordinary taxes to the state (which, for them, is Sheremetev in Moscow). Once again – why should we sympathize with them?

    “As Stefan rode up to the shore of the Volga, he heard the boatmen singing. Born and raised in Russia, still Stefan had never heard a song more depressing. “Pull, pull, pull some more,” in tones of ultimate despair.”

    What’s so depressing in it? Just ordinary working shanty, which, originally, had nothing to do with the boatmen. Besides – this particular rendition of this song was unknown till 1860s.

    “Talking to the burlak, the boatmen who pulled the boats upriver by means of ropes attached to the boats and tied around their upper arms and chests”

    Calling them “boatmen” would be wrong, as they were just seasonal workers, same peasants as him, still connected to their own villages and communities.

    “Nikita and Alexander each had AK4s, and Nikita wore a bandolier of chambers as a part of his outfit…It was a chamber-loading flintlock pistol, and it used the same chambers as his chamber-loading rifle. Nikita cocked and opened the pan.”

    This quote is as good as any other for the opportunity for me to wonder the following. Can someone explain to me how, just how, did they manage to set up the mass production of the – rather sophisticated for the time period – flintlocks in Russia prior to 1636 IF there were no gunsmiths there prior to that, let alone the industrial capabilities?

    Why the need to set up the domestic production of the firearms in the first place? Russia had been buying European firearms by bulk since 16th c. The coming of the uptimers will impact this practice only by making a lot of matchlocks and even wheellocks obsolete, thus cheapening them greatly, which would allow to flood Russian market with them. Boom! Immediate problem solved, and this still would be an improvement, compared to the situation in which Russian military found itself in the post Times of Troubles period. What, was it only because the authors longed to have an “AK” based pun, seeing as they already have H&Ks? That’s it – all of this for the pun?

  2. Robert Krawitz says:

    I don’t believe anyone is forced to read either the snippets or the full novels against their will.

    • Lyttenburgh says:

      Dear Robert!

      Apparently, no one forces YOU to read either the snippets (of this upcoming novel) or the full novel (or any other work by Huff&Goodlett) against your will. What are the reasons, why you, Robert, read these… “things”? What you enjoy the most? What was the most memorable for you?

      • Robert Krawitz says:

        I don’t believe I have to answer to you — or anyone but myself — whether and/or why I choose or not to read any particular work in this canon.

        These are works of fiction. They are not intended to reflect perfect historical accuracy, they are intended to tell a story that some people may enjoy reading. You very evidently don’t. So why do you insist on putting so much effort into tearing them apart as you do? No, you don’t need to answer to me either, but it’s quite apparent that I’m not the only one who finds these comments tedious.

      • Bret Hooper says:

        Apparently, no one forces YOU to read either the snippets. . . .[bolding added]

        This seems to suggest that some, including you, Lytt, are being forced to read . . . . Can this be? Who has the authority to so force anyone? (I suppose parents have such authority over their minor children, but why would any parent want to do so? I can understand why some parents would try to prevent their children from reading about Izabella and Yulian, but not why any parents would force their kids to read that.)

    • Obelix says:

      Actually, I am only reading the snippets now to enjoy Lyttenbergs comment. They are educational and sometimes more funny than the story, which really belongs into the fantasy section, as the authors really fail to understand feudal Europe. Even where they get the facts right, the mentality is completely alien to them.

      • Obelix says:

        I wonder if the authors have ever read “Uncle Tom’s hut”
        If not, I recommend reading …
        Combined with “To kill a mockingbird”, mixing, matching etc. … they should a get a better feel for mentality in a feudal culture, regardless of specific conditions

        OK, there is lots of other possibilities to fill the gap.
        But apparently whatever fact research the authors did for the story did not do the job – or they are ignoring it purposefully in order to push the storyline ahead :(

  3. Chuck G says:

    Lyttenburg: If you would shorten your comments, they would be easier to skip. I am reading an adventure story, not a history book. If you would collect all of your comments, you could try to publish it as a history book, but I don’t think it would sell.
    Maybe you should try reading an adventure story, like Treasure Island or Call of the Wild. You may find historical inaccuracies in them, but you might find them fun to read.
    Good luck-

    • Lyttenburgh says:

      Dear Mr. G!

      Yes, of course, while growing up I read not only The Treasure Island and Call of the Wild, but also many, many other truly timeless, excellent works of the “adventure” genre, like Robinson Crusoe, Ivanhoe, The last of Mohicans , Three Musketeers, The Legend of Thyl Ulenspiegel, King Solomon’s Mines, Captain’s Blood Odyssey, etc, etc, etc. And all these books will surely be read and re-read in generations to come.

      Because they are good. They are really, really good. Because they are well-written. Because they induce the much needed “wow-factor” that triggers the suspension of the disbelief. That’s what makes them “classics of the genre”.

      Now, these works by Huff&Goodlett passed as “alternative-history fiction”? Not so. And various low-star reviewers (have you seen the ones to the 1636: THE VATICAN SANCTION?) from the Baen agree with me. Here, allow me to quote one such review, which, while describing a different co-author, could be applied to the present situation as well:

      “I applaud Eric Flint for opening his Ring of Fire universe to aspiring writers and mentoring them – truly a win for both readers and wannabe writers. As the more experienced partner, Mr. Flint *should* be guiding and editing the work into a well crafted, tight and engaging story. I say should because that’s what we readers want and hope to happen… which in this case, didn’t. I would hope that if my name was on the cover of a book, that it would be the best possible version of that book that could be made. Its possible that Mr. Flint was having a bad day (year?), or napping (the sleep of death?), or was possibly expecting the school of hard knocks to dissuade [Name redacted] from any future writing endeavors.

      I really WANTED this story to be good! I was looking forward to discovering how Julie Sims and Alex Mackay would turn Cromwell’s life and reputation around for the good of the US of E. What I got was more a sophomore history essay based on a mashup of a travel-log and a sit-com. It was confusing, disjointed and frankly painful to read.

      Mr. Flint – you are a great writer, please, PLEASE impart your experience and talent to your co-authors. At the very least, be bloody ruthless editing so that we who PAY $ for the stories don’t attribute any further negative feedback to your well deserved positive reputation, which would result in a lot le$$ $.”

      Precisely. Just because the genre is “adventure” does not mean that the book itself must be dumb, full of errors, lack any substance or take the readers for morons. You see, the first step to overcome the problem (of the constantly slipping quality of the literary work of the RoF franchise) is to admit that it exists.

      Are you still in denial?

      P.S. Oh, and one more thing:

      “If you would collect all of your comments, you could try to publish it as a history book, but I don’t think it would sell”

      I have no plans of publishing any of my comments here, given freely for everyone to see, as any kind of book. You are absolutely write – nothing that I say is some arcane wisdom. Which just shows that the authors either didn’t know such basic, trivial facts, or they didn’t care. At all.

  4. Robert Victoria says:

    Lyt, nobody asked you to comment. Comment if you want, but trying to show off your first year russian history knowledge isn’t helpful. Other people may write what they want also.
    Blivet, why am I thinking of blivets??

    • Daryl Saal says:

      I’ve mentioned this before, he/she writes only to try and display their knowledge and by implication lord it over the mere mortals who read these snippets. It comes across as a painful undergraduate thesis full of absolute certainties, and basically just rude to all others. I’m a bit suspicious about Obelix as they could either be a class mate or the same person.
      Have a care as you may be surprised to find out the true identities of some of those others commenting here, some of whom are leading authors. (Not me, I’m a retired CEO).

      • Obelix says:

        I think you should fight your paranoia if you even me possibly identical with Lyttenburgh – writing style alone should tell you this much.

        I am a central European, biologist with amateur interest in history (from dawn of humanity to 19th/20th century) and only very broad knowledge of 30 years war, but at least in my job – and I assume here too – I am good at connecting points seemingly far apart.

        I have no idea wo Lyttenburgh is. And part of the entertainment I get from him is his arrogant “know it all”. But I assume that he has his facts right, and I completely agree with his opinion that the authors really, really fail to >understand< the society they are writing about on the gut level – even if (as I assume) the did a lot of research on the basic facts (though more and more I start doubting they did near enough research …).
        I don't mind the occasional character acting "out of character" – humans are very diverse after all, and it can be needed to push ahead of a good story.
        Therefore I really liked the part about Benny in the Datcha, and the parts playing in Grantville, even though even in that parts it bordered on the unlikely (but see above getting the story to go on).
        The whole russian society the authors paint here is far too willing to accept changes – agricultural societies are generally very conservative, for very good reasons. Therefore: A whole village with children, even if desperate, starting out to leave their village – which most will not have left all their lives, except a few kilometres away – to travel some thousand(s) of kilometers, with no significant knowledge where to go, how to get there, road conditions inbetween, how to get sufficient food for the approx. 100 people underway, with no knowledge where the upper crust has their troops, knowing these are far mobile than themselves ? Please ! And they are going towards an area where we now have been told that there is nearly no food production …
        And a not married orthodox priest (hu ?), pimping not only one or two woman but nearly half the village women, plus the wife of his absent boss, and even his daughter ??? PLEEEAAASE !!!

        • Daryl Saal says:

          Apologies. You are obviously not Lyt, much more mature and sensible. No excuse (except for possibly single malt), however don’t forget about many peasant’s revolts in many countries at different times. Most failed, but they were more common than some imply.

    • Lyttenburgh says:

      ” Comment if you want, but trying to show off your first year russian history knowledge isn’t helpful.”

      1) The question is, obviosuly – “If that is just “first year russian history knowledge” (c) what are the authors excuses for failing to know that?”

      2) “Other people may write what they want also.”


      Then why so many people here have trouble with me writing comments?

  5. Chuck G says:

    Although I work in software, one of my degrees is in psychology. Asperger’s Syndrome appears to be more common in those I work with. Lots of Asperger’s folks come off as Mr. Know-it-all, when in reality they have problems seeing themselves as other people see them. Some succeed by building elaborate mental constructs of the unwritten rules of society, others don’t. Trying to point out that the first hundred pages of criticism is probably enough to make a point may or may not result in a change in behavior, but I thought it was worth a try. Alternatively, perhaps the folks running the site could add what many other sites have, namely listing the first 200 words or so and adding a “read more” button.
    Just a thought-

    • Daryl Saal says:

      Looks like you’ve scared him away?

    • Lyttenburgh says:

      “Although I work in software, one of my degrees is in psychology. Asperger’s Syndrome appears to be more common in those I work with.”

      Good thing that I’m not wowrking in IT industry like you and those people then ;). Btw, does your degree say that you can diagnose people on-line, just by reading their posts and comments? If yes – why are you not earning billions by this?

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