1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 42

Chapter 35

June, 1633

“Well, let’s see.” Bernie said, pointing. “The acquisition is recorded here and here because it’s a . . .” He continued doing his best to give Anya an idea of what the accounting book said about how to prevent or catch different ways of cooking the books. By now Anya was better at accounting than Bernie was or wanted to be. But the expertise was in English and while Anya was learning accounting, English and the way of thinking that went with modern English was still mostly foreign to her. By now Bernie had gotten really good at translating between modern English and seventeenth-century English. And not bad at taking the next step and translating from modern English to seventeenth-century Russian. So he explained about the esoterics of accounting, and neither he nor Anya noticed Filip Pavlovich standing in the background listening. Not till Filip cleared his throat.

“What?” Bernie looked up. “Oh, hi, Phil. What are you doing up at this –” Bernie looked at his watch. “– ungodly hour?”

“The bathroom woke me,” Filip said sardonically. “Chamber pots are quieter and they can be emptied in safe ways.”

“Can be,” Anya said, “but rarely are.” Which, though Bernie didn’t notice it, brought Filip up short.

“That’s an interesting observation, Anya,” Filip said. “And not the sort of thing a maid would say.”

Bernie felt himself stiffen and Filip waved a gentling hand. “I wasn’t criticizing. I know I often sound like I am even when I’m not.” Filip grinned at them. “Which is rare enough.”

Bernie’s lips twitched.

“It was simply an observation. What drew me up short when Anya spoke up wasn’t that she was getting above herself, but that I didn’t mind that she was getting above herself. If that makes any sense?” He looked between them. “Bernie, before you arrived in Moscow I would have been offended. Deeply offended. Offended enough to have her dismissed or seriously punished. I would hazard a guess that before you arrived, Anya would never have thought to say such a thing in my presence.” Filip looked to Anya for confirmation and got it from a clearly anxious woman.

“There is nothing to worry about, Anya, at least not here,” Filip said. “What it did was bring into focus something that has been bothering me for some time now. Petr was explaining to me yet again how everything was an interaction of forces.”

“For the hundredth time,” Bernie said

“Oh, much more often than that,” Anya said.

“And I couldn’t get him to shut up about it. ‘Fine, yes, water flows downhill because of gravity. I understand already’ I told him. ‘No you don’t’ he told me ‘It’s not just water and it’s not just gravity, it’s everything. Magnetism, electricity, alchemy . . . it’s all forces acting on things.’ Well, naturally, I didn’t pay all that much attention to it, but still there was something about it that bothered me. Something I couldn’t quite figure out or get out of my head. Not till just now.” Filip paused, lost in thought again.

“Well, go on!” Bernie said.

Filip looked over at Anya and there was something in his expression like he was, well, almost scared. Certainly cautious. Then he visibly squared his shoulders, and went on. “If a rock doesn’t keep going on and on forever because of external forces, if rocks aren’t lazy by their nature as Aristotle said, what about serfs?”

“What about serfs?” Bernie asked.

Still looking at Anya, Filip said. “Are serfs tied to the land because it’s their nature to be so or because some external force like social drag or social gravity is holding them down?”

“Because they are held in serfdom, of course.” Bernie was more than a little confused. There were laws in Russia that prevented a serf from leaving the land he was bound to. Filip knew that. Hell, Filip was the one who had told Bernie. Bernie looked at Anya and she was looking at Filip like she was seeing a ghost.

“Okay, guys,” Bernie said slowly. “I’m clearly missing something here. Serfs are serfs because they are forced to be. There are laws that tie them to the land. Slaves are slaves, again because they are forced to be. Once again, there are laws that allow them to be held against their will, bought, sold, and generally abused.” Bernie hesitated, then went on. “I know I’m a stranger in a strange land here. I know I was not hired to change your society or your laws. But the laws that make people be treated like property are wrong. They are self-evidently wrong. But they are there and I can’t change them and if I try it will destroy all the good I’m trying to do here. I figured that out before I left Grantville and I was drunk as a skunk then. That’s why I’ve never made an issue of it. I knew it was wrong, and, to be honest, I figured you had to know it was wrong too. But you weren’t about to give it up, so what was there to say?

“So, now you’re both sitting there shocked as hell about something as simple and obvious as water flowing dow . . .”

Filip was looking at Bernie like yes, go on, shove your foot the rest of the way into your mouth.

“But there are laws,” Bernie said “Clearly an external force. Right?”

“Yes, Bernie, laws,” Filip said. “But laws to do what? To force the serfs and slaves into a state of servitude or to keep those whose nature is servitude from misbehaving and causing trouble?”

“I have, you know,” Anya said, “always believed deep in my heart that I should not be a servant . . . but I never really thought that forced servitude was wrong. I just felt that it should be forced on someone else, not me.”

Bernie looked at Anya and Filip and they were looking at each other like they were both watching a horror movie and couldn’t look away. Servant and master, not directly, not to each other, but the odds were pretty good, Bernie knew, that Anya was actually a runaway serf or possibly a slave. She’d been working as kitchen help, and whatever else she could find, when the job at the Dacha had come up and she’d gotten it because she was pretty.

Bernie was still confused. He knew something important had happened, but he didn’t know what. Another truth, as important, or perhaps more important, than the change from Aristotle to Newton had occurred in this candle-lit room, and somewhere deep down inside Bernie sensed that this was a lot more dangerous than Newton’s three laws. He wondered how long it would be before the pebbles dropped in this room started an avalanche.