1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 03


Life moved on. Gradually, other villagers were brought into the plan, each one adding to the chance of discovery and making Stefan more nervous. He was still arguing for a small group. But Vera seemed to be assuming that the whole village would be coming.

“We don’t have enough wagons for the whole village,” Stefan insisted. “And if we start building wagons, everyone is going to know that something is up.”

“Well, think of something,” Vera said.

Stefan’s mouth fell open. What does she expect . . . ? Never mind. . . . He knew perfectly well what Vera expected. She expected him to come up with some device or plan so that the needed wagons would just appear when needed.

She gave him a hard look. “That’s your job.”

Grumbling, Stefan went off to think of something.


Izabella failed to notice the first period she missed. Her cycle wasn’t all that consistent. She had a tendency to notice them when they happened, but was able to mostly ignore them. When she missed her second, she stopped and counted back. Her last period was over sixty days ago. And she had had no appetite in the morning for the last month and more. She didn’t want to believe it, but she was adding things up and they were working out to a baby on the way. Izabella didn’t panic.

She started thinking about how she could get out of this mess. Papa wasn’t going to be understanding. Part of the reason she had started up with Yulian was that Papa was so busy trying to figure out where he was going to sell her virginity to get the most value out of it. That, and the fact that Mama was already fucking Yulian. She paused in her thinking. That, in a way, was good news. There wasn’t much Mama could do, considering that Papa would likely just send her to a convent . . . but he’d kill Mama. She mulled the whole matter over for a day or so, then went to talk it over with Yulian.


“Father Yulian?”

“Yes, my child?”

“You’re going to be a father.”

Father Yulian felt his eyebrows lift. Izabella had come over to relieve herself of lustful thoughts, so that she might free her mind for more spiritual matters and they had spent an enjoyable hour on that endeavor. She was lying on his bed with a blanket half over her and giving him a very straight look. This wasn’t the first time that Father Yulian had heard such news. For instance, it was fairly likely that Kiril’s daughter, Irina, was in fact his. But Irina’s mother was married, and so matters could be managed fairly straightforwardly. And Liliya, when she had realized, had quickly married young Makar, so that had worked out. But that wasn’t going to be an option in this case. Izabella was of the lower nobility and her father wasn’t a reasonable man.

“What do you want to do, Izabella? Don’t wonder what is possible for the moment. Imagine that everything is possible, and tell me what you want. We will work from there.”

“I’m not sure. I don’t think I can separate what I want from what’s possible. I want to not be pregnant, I guess.”

“That is possible, but dangerous,” Yulian said. He was reasonably well educated, had spent a couple of years at a monastery before he took up his duties here. He could read, write, and figure. He even had a fairly decent little library with no less than eleven books, including the Bible, of course. And for the past few years he had been reading every technical pamphlet that came out of the Gorchakov Dacha. There were pamphlets on medicine. “Some of the pamphlets discuss pregnancy and both what you need to do if you want to keep the child and what to do if you want to lose it. None of the options to lose the child are safe, not done here on our own. The techniques that are discussed in the pamphlets might work, but if something went wrong, you could bleed to death.”

Izabella shook her head. “It’s not that I am afraid, but as much as I wish I wasn’t pregnant, the idea of killing it. . . . No, I don’t want to do that.” She thought for a minute. “I don’t know what is going to happen when I start to show, though. Father is going to want to know who the father is.”

Yulian looked at the girl. She was vain and self-centered, but beneath that, of good heart he thought. More importantly, she was smart. Surprisingly smarter than either her mother or her father. And, in a way, her situation was just as perilous as a serf’s, if rather more comfortable. Bringing her into the conspiracy was a risk, but it might well be the least risky option. Besides, if she was on their side, there were opportunities there. He wasn’t sure what those opportunities were yet, but he could smell them. “There might be another option. I will need your oath that what we discuss will not be shared with anyone. Lives are at stake.”

She nodded and he explained about the plans to escape.

“But why?” she asked.

And, for a moment, Father Yulian really wanted to hit her. “You know about the factory and that many of the men were sent to work in it over the winter. You know that it decreased the cloth that the village could make.”

At each statement she nodded, but still looked uncomprehending.

“You know that the excess cloth the village produced was traded for things like food and boots, for tools, and vegetables that the children, especially, need to grow up healthy.”

The nod came more slowly.

“Because of that factory, half the children in the village are sick or have been. And the whole village is malnourished, often hungry. We are running because your father is treating us worse than animals — like tools to be used up and thrown away.”

“I didn’t realize.”

“You chose not to.”


As she walked through the village on the way back to the house, Izabella noticed the thinness of the villagers and the slowness of their movements. She had seen the same thing yesterday, but now she noticed it and — combined with her own troubles — it started a change in the way Izabella looked at the world.


Stefan, as instructed, thought of something. “Father Yulian, can we talk?” Sunday services had just let out and for a moment Stefan thought the priest would put him off. The colonel’s daughter, Izabella, was hanging back, probably hoping for some “private instruction.”

But Yulian must have seen something in his face. “Give me just a minute, Stefan.”

He went over and said a few words to Izabella, then to the colonel’s wife, and they headed back to the big house.

“What can I do for you, Stefan?” Father Yulian waved Stefan into the priest’s cottage.

“Vera wants me to make sure there are enough wagons for the village, but if I make the parts for a bunch of wagons it will quickly become obvious . . .”

“I understand. But how can I help you?”

“The factory we worked in last summer used a stamp press. That’s basically a big hammer that was cranked up and then let fall. It was very efficient, and much more flexible than it might seem. What it made depended on the shape of the dies on the hammer and the anvil. In Poltz, the dies made shaped iron plates, which could then be used to make the shells for oreshki, which were sold as far away as Moscow. But the same techniques could be used to make clamps and bearings and a variety of other metal parts needed to make a wagon.”

“Excellent, Stefan. But, again, what do you need me for?”

“I’m getting there, Father, but you need to understand how this works for it to make any sense.”