1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 33

Chapter 28

October, 1632

The Ring of Fire had happened a year and a half ago and Bernie had been in Russia the better part of a year when he was given the first official pronouncement on the Ring of Fire. It was far from the first pronouncement. Monasteries had pronounced first that it hadn’t happened at all and later that it was the work of the Devil because if God had done it He would have put it in Russia, not the Germanies, for not even God could care much for those barbaric people. Certainly not more than he cared for Holy Russia.

Through it all, the office of the patriarch had made no pronouncement, taking a wait-and-see attitude. From what Natasha had told him, that had been a very near thing. But here it was. In Russian, of course. Bernie could struggle through Russian writing by now, but not well. Natasha read it to him.

Patriarch Filaret’s Advisory

on the

Ring of Fire

It is clear through multiple sources that God, in his infinite wisdom, has chosen to take a hand in the conflict among the German States. He provides through this example clear evidence of both His infinite power and His will, that the Roman Church and the Protestants, whether Lutheran, Calvinist, or other peculiar sects, are wrong. God has endeavored to make clear to them that which of their errors is most wrong is not a matter worth fighting over.

That is clearly God’s message to them. But what is God’s message to us? It is obvious that we are not in need of the sort of correction the German States required, else surely God would have placed the Ring of Fire here, in Holy Rus. While His admonishment, gentle as it is, is for the Germans, the gifts which He sent with it are clearly for all the world. Willingly or not, the knowledge the up-timers bring is spreading to all the world. To their credit, the up-timers themselves seem willing enough to share most of the knowledge that God gifted their ancestors and our descendants with. This is an especially gracious gift to Holy Rus. For, while we have been strong in our adherence to scripture and the true faith, circumstances have left us behind the more western nations in some of the more mundane and earthly matters. We have been blocked by Poland from sharing in the technical advances made in the west.

The czar, in his wisdom, has long had a policy of trying to correct that problem so that we, the true heirs of Christianity and the Roman empire, could maintain the faith in relative safety, while at the same time limiting the corrupting influences from the west. God has smiled on Czar Mikhail’s endeavor by providing new skills developed over time; many of them developed right here in Holy Rus. Yet like greedy children we complain “Why an American village? Why not a Russian village?” We know, after all, that in the twentieth-century Holy Rus was one of the two great powers. After studying the history, it is obvious that God chose an American village to protect Holy Rus, especially the church. The Russia of that time had fallen into corruption. For most of the twentieth century the Russian Orthodox Church, in fact all Christianity, had actually been banned. It was to protect us from this corruption that God chose an American village.

He placed it in Germany to remind us that He sees the whole world and cares about even those who have fallen away from the true church. More than that, He placed it in Germany to remind us not to be too proud to listen and learn from others and to protect us from too much of their direct influence, so that we might learn from them without becoming them. To protect our great Russian culture and still allow us the benefits of the good things they brought with them.

“That,” Bernie said with a grin, “is the work of a top-flight spin doctor.”

“What’s a spin doctor?” Natasha asked.

“Someone whose job it is to spin the facts so that the best possible face is put on them.”

Natasha looked at him.

“God didn’t put the Ring of Fire in Germany because he likes Germany better but because none of the faiths the Germans are fighting over are the right one,” Bernie said, shaking his head in admiration. “I never would have thought of that.”

“Do you think God cares more for Germany than for Russia?” Natasha asked quietly. Natasha had never struck Bernie as all that religious but the notion that God didn’t think you were worth worrying about had to hurt.

“No,” Bernie said with more conviction than he really felt. “What I think is that if the Ring of Fire had showed up anywhere where there was just one established religion, that religion would have landed on it with both feet. If the Ring of Fire had landed Grantville, say, here in the Time of Troubles, then we would have been hit by Russian troops with Russian Orthodox priests urging them on before they knew anything except that something strange and scary had happened. And by the time anyone really figured out what had happened, it would have been really hard for them to backtrack. The Russian Orthodox Church would have been stuck with a policy of kill the daemons.”

Natasha slowly nodded, thinking it through. Russian civilization had come apart in the Time of Troubles, but the church wasn’t seriously challenged. If something like the Ring of Fire had happened, people would have looked to the church for answers and there was a very real chance that the church would have seen the town with Catholics, Protestants, and even atheists — but no one from the Orthodox Church — as a threat.

“Yep. Would have scared the hell out of just about anyone. The difference between here and there is just that there, there was nothing strong enough to hit us before they got to know us at least a little. And they had Lutherans, Calvinist, Catholics, some killing each other, some running each other out of town, and a few sort of getting along. We were easier for them to take.”

“So not virtue or vice, but circumstance?”

“That’s the way I figure it, but I ain’t God. Not even a priest. But, as to that bit about ‘gift to all the world’? Come see the balloon tomorrow.”


Natasha watched the balloon as it lifted into the air. Petr Nickovich was doing “a preliminary experiment into the lifting power of hot air.” In other words, he was playing. It was his third balloon so far, each larger than the last. This one was as tall as a man and as wide as it was tall. And it trailed a series of lead weights. Lifting first one, then the next into the air below it. It lifted five of them, then stopped rising, proving that hot air is lighter than cold air. Which any five-year-old in any peasant village in Russia could have told him. Natasha knew there was more to it than that. The weights told Petr how much lift he was getting from that volume of heated air. There was also a thermometer in the balloon which told him how hot the air was. A thermometer by the wall told him how hot the outside air was so he would have the difference.

Petr Nickovich was holding his experiment in a corner behind the main building of the Dacha where it would be out of the wind. Which also meant out of the sun. It might have been prettier if his balloon was in the sunlight. It would certainly have been warmer.

What had really brought her out into the cold to see it was the idea that, some day, a much bigger thing like this might let people fly. Petr Nickovich wasn’t looking at the balloon; he was writing out calculations. Then he looked over at Filip Pavlovich. “I was right. The heated air lifts a little more than a quarter of an ounce per cubic foot.”

Filip Pavlovich just nodded.

“I must have the hydrogen you promised me,” Petr Nickovich insisted.

“Yes. Fine. We’ll talk about it, but inside.” Filip Pavlovich was visibly cold even in the heavy clothing. “Where it’s warm.”

Natasha smiled, though she didn’t let it show. Petr Nickovich was not one to take being laughed at well and keeping the peace was part of Natasha’s job.

As they blew out the candles that were heating the air for the balloon, Natasha thought about what was going on at the Dacha. It wasn’t just Bernie, the person that this was all about. There was Lazar Smirnov, a member of a cadet branch of a great house, who was sitting in one of the buildings, winding wires in a coil. Slowly, carefully, making what he said would be a generator of electric. He carefully painted the wire with lacquer and laid one circuit around the coil, then waited for it to dry before he did the next. He was a volunteer, here because he wanted to be. Sure, he and Bernie had talked about insulation and electromagnetic fields but he was the one doing the work. And Lazar could have hired a small army to do any work he wanted done. But he wanted to understand electric power, so was doing the work himself.

It was a strange attitude in Lazar and it had come from Bernie. “You want to learn how a machine works, build it yourself. Set someone else to doing it and they’ll learn it instead of you.” Bernie had said that more than once and clearly it was having an effect. Servants here were treated better, talked to, not at. You might need the expertise they had gained on your next project.