1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 38
Vladimir was running late. He had just about given up on doing his own research. There wasn’t time. There wasn’t really even enough time to provide supervision of the researchers. Not with the sources Francisco Nasi pointed out to him. Yet here he was, because someone in Russia had found something about mica capacitors and wanted to know more because apparently Russia had the best mica in the world. At least, so he was told. He was looking around trying to decide where to start, when he heard a voice.
“Well, hello, Prince Vladimir. What brings you here?”
Vladimir looked around and saw a vaguely familiar young woman. He couldn’t quite place her though she was clearly an up-timer.
While he was trying to figure out what to say to the young woman, she spoke again. “I thought you master-spy types had minions to do this sort of thing.”
Her knowing that he was a spy wasn’t much help, but it did offer something to say. “I think you must be thinking of Boris, who has gone back to Russia. I’m just a journeyman spy. Besides it’s amazingly hard to find minions for this sort of work. Do you know some of them actually insist on having their eyes open when reading the books?”
“How horrible for you,” the young woman said. “Why, someone might actually find out what they were learning about for you. Now I understand why you hired Bernie for your Dacha. He can read the entire encyclopedia without learning anything.”
Bernie? Yes. This was Natasha’s correspondent that Bernie had recommended to her, the one that wrote to her about bras and things. Brandy . . . yes, that was it. This was Brandy Bates. “Regretfully, Miss Bates, you do Bernie an injustice. From all reports he has proven to be both hard-working and capable.”
“So Natasha keeps saying in her letters. But I’ve known Bernie all my life and it’s a bit hard to believe that he’s taking anything seriously for more than a couple of months.” Brandy shrugged “Maybe he’s grown up.”
Actually Brandy’s assessment of Bernie would have fit Vladimir’s perfectly, when he’d sent Bernie off to Moscow. He’d thought they’d have had to use much more stick to keep him at his work. “Apparently things changed this spring in Moscow.”
“Yes, Bernie wrote me about that. I hope you can get plumbing in before it happens again next year.”
Vladimir felt his head shaking before she had finished her sentence. “It’s most unlikely. Frozen ground is almost as hard to dig as stone. I do understand that there will be some rather draconian punishments for emptying chamber pots in the street and they are going to have barrels and workmen to move those barrels out of town.”
“To empty the chamber pots into.”
“It might work as a stopgap measure. Is that what you’re doing here, looking for new kinds of barrels or ways of carting them off?”
“No, the Streltzi of Moscow, who have apparently taken Bernie to their bosom after last spring, are taking care of that. I am in search of information on mica, muscovite, or Muscovy-glass. It’s sometimes used as glass in Moscow windows and someone at the Dacha seems to have discovered that it is an unusually good insulator. It’s a potentially high profit export for Russia.”
“So, why don’t you have your minions doing it, Prince Vladimir? Surely a prince has minions?”
“It’s that same problem again. The minions insist on reading with their eyes open. Plus the fact that my main researcher just got hired away by a French marquis who may be working for Cardinal Richelieu or the king of France’s little brother Gaston. But what are you doing here? Surely no one could hire away your minions. Besides, you’re an up-timer. Probably you already know all of this.” Vladimir waved at the thousands of books casually.
“No minions, I’m afraid. I’m a researcher. Have card catalog, will cross-reference.”
“Ah!” Perhaps I can get back to work. Vladimir felt himself grinning. “A minion for hire. I pay standard rates.”
“Yes, but you see I read with my eyes opened,” Brandy said, grinning back.
“Well, in this case it doesn’t matter. Poor spy that I am, I’ve already let you discover that I’m seeking information on mica. Are you sure you’re not a spy?”
Brandy giggled. Then quickly regained her composure and asked what he wanted to know about mica. He told her and they discussed hourly wage, the cost of copying and other fees involved. They reached an agreement and Vladimir was free to get back to his organizational duties.
Brandy went to work on the mica research, but her tummy was jumping a bit. Well, maybe not her tummy. But something inside her was jumping a bit about something.
The last thing she’d ever expected was to feel this way about a down-timer. Down-timers were . . . well, down-timers. They didn’t quite get civilization.
Over the next few days, she saw Vladimir quite a bit. And that jumping feeling became rather more intense.
Prince Vladimir had his own sensations. And the more he saw Brandy Bates, the more interesting those feelings got.
It was hard to know what to do about them. Up-timer women were . . . different. Not suitable for a casual dalliance. And, by Russian standards, not suitable for anything else. Still, he couldn’t help wanting to see her.
He kept finding jobs for her. And then, when he’d worked up the courage, he suggested they have lunch. And lunch led to dinner. And without really realizing it, he had become involved.
“Vladimir.” Brandy waved the letter. “What precisely is a clan?”
“Your sister is talking about clans. I’m not sure what she means.” She handed him the letter and waited impatiently as he read it.
“Clan seems a fairly good word.” He pursed his lips like he wasn’t quite sure. “I think I would say family connections, but I am not sure. From what I understand, your government frowns on what you call nepotism, right?”
Brandy nodded, wondering where this was going.
“Russia is different. Nepotism is an institution of government.”
Brandy giggled, thinking he must be exaggerating to make his point. But Vladimir was looking serious, even concerned. “You don’t mean literally?”
Vladimir nodded. “Yes. If a person whose extended family is of lower rank is placed over a person whose family is more highly ranked . . .” Vladimir hesitated.
Brandy had seen it before, both in Vladimir and other down-timers. She had even done it herself, trying to explain things like the Goth-style of dress. It wasn’t just that the concept was missing; it was that there were half a dozen interrelated concepts that were all a bit different from the down-time concepts.
“A person’s rank in Russia is determined by three things,” Vladimir finally continued. “His personal rank in the bureaucracy, his family’s rank and his inherited rank. However, they are all at least somewhat mixed together. My family is small but descended from independent princes. Because it is small and doesn’t have a lot of connections to other great families, it’s fairly weak. In my case, that is somewhat counter-balanced by the fact that I am the prince. But a cousin of mine, if I had one, would be of significantly lower rank than a cousin of Ivan Borisovich Cherkasski, because the Cherkasski family has connections by marriage to many other great families. Also, because the Cherkasski family has served in the government of Russia for many generations and counts several boyars among its ancestors.
“So, say my cousin and Ivan Borisovich’s cousin both get jobs in the bureaus. My cousin, through talent or luck, advances more quickly. So my cousin is placed as section chief over a section in which Ivan Borisovich’s cousin serves.”
But Vladimir was shaking his head. “Because the Cherkasski clan is higher ranked than the Gorchakov clan, it would be against the law for my cousin to be placed in authority over Ivan Borisovich’s. He could have higher personal rank, but still could not be put above Ivan Borisovich’s cousin in the same chain of command.”
“Like, say, he’s a prince?” Brandy tilted her head to the side.
“No.” Prince Vladimir got a bit red in the face. “I was talking about his rank in the bureaus or the army. Say a colonel in command of a battalion . . . a captain with the higher family rank could not be placed in command of one of the companies of that battalion because that would put him under the orders of the colonel. If the colonel was also a prince, it would be all right because his personal rank would trump the family rank, sort of. It gets a bit complicated. It’s the rank of the family as much as that of the individual. The family’s situation must be considered first. Before individual wants. Which is one of the things that has made it so hard for our people to accept your innovations. It’s common knowledge that you’re a ‘peasant village’ from the future.”
“We’re not, you know,” Brandy said. “I know that’s the way we have been portrayed and even how we tend to present ourselves. A village from a nation that didn’t have nobility. In a way, it’s true, but it would be just as true to say we were a nation of nothing but nobility. What we really don’t have, Vladimir, is the distinction.”
“And that, Brandy, is even harder for my people to accept,” Vladimir said, though in his heart he had accepted it. Accepted it because he had to. The proof was here before his eyes and before his heart. In the person of Brandy Bates who was as noble as anyone he had ever met and as common as the barmaid she had been before the Ring of Fire. All classes, all in one beautiful young woman.