1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 34
Czar Mikhail was watching him. “What’s the problem? Is it that little blonde? What’s her name? Izabella?”
“No! Of course not. You . . .” Alexander trailed off. Maybe it was Izabella. But if it was, it wasn’t only her. He was concerned about the villagers. He wasn’t sure how that had happened in just the few days it had taken to get here. But it had. “I’m concerned about the villagers.”
“Well, the best thing you can do for them is keep Sheremetev’s army away from the village they are trying to build right now.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“Meanwhile, go have a talk with the girl.”
“Anya says that there should be more grain shipped up from the area around the Caspian Sea in the next month or so,” Izabella was saying. “She thinks that while there is going to be a market for grain next year, she’s not at all sure how good the market will be.”
“That assumes that the Volga stays in our hands,” Alexander said. “I don’t see how Lebedev is going to hold it with the forces he has. Czar Mikhail’s proclamation got a lot of serfs to come join him, but not that many soldiers.”
“But we have the dirigible and more of the steamboats!”
“We have the dirigible, but they are working on their own. As for the steamboats, we have a few more, but not many. And the steam engine factory is in territory controlled by Sheremetev. So are the gun factories, especially when it comes to cannon. With the new gun carriages, they are going to be able to move the cannon more easily. The cannon will still delay Sheremetev, but not as much as they would have.”
Izabella was starting to look frightened. Well, that made sense. Alexander was pretty frightened himself. Their biggest advantage was simply the amount of time it would take Sheremetev to get his forces into position. Moscow to Ufa was seven hundred miles as the dirigible flew. Over a thousand on any reasonable marching route. Even more along the rivers, but with steamboats they could travel fairly fast along the rivers. That was why Sviyazhsk and Kazan were so important. They blocked the river route and would have to be taken before the river could be used to attack Ufa, or even to supply an army marching on Ufa. “Don’t worry. It’s going to take them a long time to get here, and I think time is on our side.” That wasn’t true, but it sounded good.
Izabella was giving him a careful look, but she let it pass. Suddenly she quirked a smile. “Then I guess you at least are some use to the former serfs of Ruzuka. Your job is to protect them while they grow the crops and build the machines. Now all I have to do is figure out what use I am.”
“It has always been the job of the nobility to protect and govern the common people. It’s your job too.”
“I don’t think I’m going to be leading any gallant charges.” She patted her increasingly prominent belly. “And they seem to be able to govern themselves quite handily.”
Alexander wasn’t at all sure what to say to that. So he just sat there like a lump and she looked at him. Then she leaned forward and kissed him hard. Before he could react at all, she jumped up and ran off. Leaving Alexander — as uncountable young men before him — totally confused.
There was too much on Alexander’s mind. There was the money and the new military assignment and that kiss. Alexander had to get on the road to Kazan, but he couldn’t take this . . . whatever it was . . . with Izabella any longer.
He was tempted to leave and concentrate on his duties, but he had to face it. If he went off to Kazan, what would she do? She was pregnant. She wouldn’t have a lot of options, and she was worried about what she was going to do in the village. She might even get desperate enough to marry that damn horny priest.
That thought galvanized Alexander. He didn’t want Izabella marrying Father Yulian, his baby or not. He rented a horse and headed for the village of New Ruzuka.
“Izabella . . . Look, why don’t you marry me?” Alexander said. “We’re of the same class and I have all this money because Czar Mikhail decided that I now own my family’s lands, so you will be a proper member of the nobility. I’ll even forgive your dalliance with that randy priest of yours.”
“You’ll forgive?” Izabella felt her face going red and didn’t care. “You arrogant ass! I hadn’t even met you! What business was it of yours what I did with who? And you’re going to buy me with your family’s money and lock me back in the same cage that had my mother running off to Father Yulian in the first place! I never want to see you again!”
She turned and ran into the wagon, slamming the door behind her and not sure whether she wanted him to follow her or not.
As it happened, he didn’t. And by the time she had gotten herself together and realized she might have overreacted, just a little bit, he was gone.
Bernie was snuggling up to Natasha on the couch when the door opened. Not even a knock, just flung open with the little blonde from New Ruzuka, Izabella, charging through, followed by Anya. Every single time, he thought. Every damn time.
“He’s run off to Kazan, the cowardly bastard!” Izabella screeched.
“Father Yulian?” Natasha asked, sounding confused.
“No! Alexander! Why would I care where Yulian went?”
Bernie blinked, now totally confused. What did Alexander have to do with anything?
“What did you say to him?” Natasha asked, this time sounding irritated, but not at all confused.
Bernie looked back and forth between the women, trying to figure out what was going on. Suddenly Anya started to giggle.
Natasha and Izabella looked at Anya, Natasha looking curious and Izabella looking betrayed. Anya pointed at Bernie. Both the other women looked at him and clearly saw something funny in his expression. Even the little blonde was starting to smile.
“Why don’t you go check on the progress of something,” Natasha suggested. “The girls and I are going to be a while.”
Since all that giggling had, er, reduced his circumstances, Bernie stood up and left. Muttering about “the female conspiracy” all the way.
“Now,” Natasha said, not actually any happier than Bernie to be interrupted again, “what did you say to Alexander to make him run off to Kazan?”
They told her. Izabella, now upset at herself, but still blaming Alexander for his presumption, and “the way he messed up everything and made me so mad!”
“Wait a little while, then send him a radio message and apologize,” Natasha suggested.
Izabella immediately bridled.
“Do it, girl,” Anya told her.
Natasha said, “Don’t blow your chance with him out of pride.”
Izabella couldn’t bring herself to send that sort of radio message. Partly because she wasn’t real good at apologizing in the first place, and doing it where the radio operators could overhear . . . “Bunch of gossips . . . the lot of them . . . would be a public humiliation.”
And that was how things stood as the steamboat took Alexander into the front lines of a war.