1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 32
Chapter 12: Delays on the Volga
“Where am I going to put you?” Olga Petrovichna complained.
“I don’t see that you need to put us anywhere,” said Stefan. “Just point us to the land that Czar Mikhail has offered us and we will take care of ourselves.”
“Oh, you will, will you? What are you going to use for seed next year? For that matter, what are you going to eat this winter?”
“We brought grain with us!”
“What? How much?”
“However much, it’s ours. Not yours.”
“Perhaps this conversation might better take place some place other than a public dock,” offered Izabella.
That took a while. First they had to decide where everyone was going to stay for the moment, while they worked out the rest. After some argument, the fugitive villagers decided to stay on the boat . . . or at least on the dock. So the Ufa dock was full of running, laughing children. Two hundred people on a river boat the size of theirs were about a hundred too many. Add in several tons of grain, wagons and gear, and they had been living in each others laps since they loaded on the boat. The children went a little crazy with freedom.
Meanwhile, news of a boatload of people had reached the escaped serfs who had already arrived, and the dock where the boat was docked started drawing peasants like flies to honey.
“What’s going on?” Mikhail asked, as he looked out the window at the activity on the docks.
“I don’t know, but I expect we will be finding out soon,” Evdokia said. A knock at her door indicated that she was probably right.
“Come in,” Mikhail shouted, and Anya came in, followed by Olga, a big blond man, an older dark-haired man wearing a priest’s cassock, and — was that Alexander Volkov? Mikhail thought it was, but wasn’t sure. He had seen the young man perhaps half a dozen times on visits to the officer academy at the Kremlin. There were also two smallish women, one of whom was obviously pregnant, but for the moment Mikhail paid them little attention. “Alexander? Has your family come over to my side?”
“Your Majesty,” Alexander said, bowing, “I don’t know. I was kidnapped.” The others stiffened, then Alexander continued. “It was done to keep me and my family out of trouble, but it still kept me out of touch with the family.”
“I take it then that these are your kidnapp — ah, rescuers?”
“Yes. This is Stefan Andreevich, the blacksmith from a village called Ruzuka and the leader of a large party of former serfs wishing to take advantage of your proclamation.”
“A whole village?”
“More than that. Others have been joining us since we left,” said the little pregnant blonde.
“Two hundred twenty-seven, including the children,” said the priest.
That was the largest group not led by a noble by a factor of four. “In that case, why don’t we gather up some chairs and you can tell me all about it.”
For the next hour and more Mikhail listened and asked the occasional question as he learned about the trip across Russia of the villagers of Ruzuka. It was mostly Father Yulian and Vera, the smith’s wife, who carried the conversation.
Finally, he said, “You’ve done a very impressive thing in bringing so many. I can use talent like that. Now, ever since we got here our cartographers, with the aid of the dirigible, have been mapping the area. I think we can find a suitable place for your people to set up your new village. We’ve set up several villages so far, and to the extent I can, I am trying to keep them fairly close to Ufa so that transport will be easier.”
They went over to the map table and found a place. It was about ten miles east of Ufa, in a lightly forested area. To get there, they would be taking the river boat about five miles up the Belaya River, to the mouth of the Ufa River, then follow the Ufa back north. The lands actually included a small stretch on one side of the Ufa River, though Stefan, looking at the map, thought they would want to put the village itself about a mile and a half from the river.
“We would like to know who will own the land,” Izabella said.
Mikhail grinned and said, “What we have been doing is providing all the new arrivals with a range of choices they can make. If they wish, they can be settled on a suitable — and suitably large — piece of land owned collectively by their village. Or, if they prefer, we will give each individual refugee a stake that they can use for land or sell to someone who wants land. In the up-time America, they offered forty acres and a mule to the freed slave families, at least according to Bernie.”
“What’s an acre?” Izabella asked.
“It’s an English measure the up-timers used. Forty acres make about fifteen desiatinas. We will be offering each adult a grant of five desiatinas. That will also be the standard we use to determine the amount of land given a village, if they choose to own the land collectively. So if we can’t give you a mule, your families should get something close to the forty acres, depending on how many adults in the family. A single man or woman gets five desiatinas, not really enough to farm. On the other hand, a married couple with their parents living with them might get twenty or even thirty desiatinas. More than a single man can farm without the new plows and reapers. But not everyone wants to farm. A young man or woman can bank or sell their grant. For the most part, the grants are being combined into village corporations.”
“What’s a corporation?” Vera asked and Czar Mikhail could hear the suspicion in her voice.
“It’s not required, Vera. You and Stefan can set up your own little farm. But even with the improvements we have gotten from the up-timers and the research at the Dacha, it takes a lot of work to manage a farm. And a lot of it is better done in a group. There are the free villages –” The term Mikhail used was obshchina, which translated into “commune” and what it meant was a village that was held in common by the villagers themselves. The term had very little in common with the later idealistic communes where everyone owned everything in common, so no one owned anything. ” — but one of our scholars studying up-time law suggested corporate farms, where the villagers would pool their grants into one large grant and the land would be owned by the corporation. The people would own shares in the corporation, based on their contribution. As I said, you don’t have to do it that way, but it seems to work fairly well.”
“We’ll look into it,” Izabella said before Vera could ask another question. “What about members of the service nobility?”
“There has been some debate about that,” Mikhail acknowledged. “In fact, Bernie Zeppi and Tami Simmons suggested that members of the service nobility should be granted the same deal as everyone else. As you can imagine, the service nobility weren’t thrilled with that. What we finally came up with was somewhat larger land grants based on the rank your family held back west. But also with military or administrative duties attached. You will want to check with the land office. On the other hand, you won’t have any serfs to work your land unless you make some sort of arrangement with them.”