1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 04

Father Yulian scratched his beard, then nodded for Stefan to continue.

“If I made the parts themselves it would make our plans obvious, especially if I made several sets of bearings, say. On the other hand, having the stamp forge and the dies wouldn’t, because the dies could be used as needed over the course of years.”

Stefan continued before Father Yulian could interrupt again. “I need some reason to make the dies, Father. I need an order for the parts for a wagon, preferably two or three wagons. A farm cart, a troika, something else. I don’t know. Just enough bearings and hasps, brake pads, springs . . . enough so that it’s plausible that I would take the extra time to set up the dies for the drop hammer. Then, when we’re ready, I can make the parts for the rest of the wagons quickly.” For that matter, if he could manage it, Stefan wanted to take the dies when they left.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Father Yulian said.


Izabella crept into her father’s office and stole his seal. Colonel Utkin was literate, but barely, and he did as much as he could with stamps and seals. Generally, orders and legal documents were written by a clerk, or often Father Yulian, and then the colonel would pull out his stamp to make it official. The colonel’s signature was a scrawl that was omitted as often as it was included. What was necessary to make a document or instructions legally binding was the seal, and there was a spare seal in his desk.


“It’s a letter from Papa,” Izabella said, holding up the letter. “He says you’re to build a troika-harnessed carriage that has ball bearings and leaf springs.”

Stefan wiped his hands on his trousers, then took the letter. Stefan couldn’t read. At least, he wasn’t what an up-timer would consider literate. But with effort he could make out words one at a time. And by now he could interpret design drawings of the sort that were published by the Dacha. These designs were particularly clear to him because he had worked with Father Yulian in making them. He wondered how Yulian had gotten the seal, and it didn’t occur to him that Izabella might have something to do with it. He made something of a show of examining the sheets.

Then he called Anatoly from the wood shop and discussed the possibility of getting a troika made, casually mentioning that he was going to make dies for several of the metal parts.

Anatoly wasn’t thrilled, but Izabella stomped her foot. “These are my father’s orders. He says we’ll be going to Moscow after harvest and we are to have a modern carriage with springs.” She turned on Anatoly. “And it’s to be double walled for insulation. Like Czar Mikhail’s.”


They learned a fair amount from making the troika carriage. They learned to make two-walled wooden panels that were lightweight and provided excellent insulation. The wagons they had decided on were roofed and walled like a gypsy wagon. They had easier access to wood than cloth this year, but they did use strips of cloth, painted with rosin, to cover gaps. They had never heard of a prairie schooner or a Conestoga wagon. The wagons they knew were freight wagons for carrying grain or gypsy wagons for carrying people. That lead to a new set of instructions from Colonel Utkin.


“. . . so the modules are to be made a consistent size of four feet by eight feet, double-walled with an air space of four inches. All as shown in the accompanying diagrams.”

“Why do we need to build a new barn?” complained Kiril Ivanovich, but not until the colonel’s lady was out of earshot.

“I haven’t the faintest idea.” Stefan shrugged. “But the orders are clear.”

Even Stefan didn’t know how those instructions had gotten into the pouch. He was fairly sure that they had been written by Father Yulian, but the priest hadn’t been anywhere near the packet that the messenger handed to the colonel’s daughter.


June 1636

It was, Stefan had to admit, a really stupid way to build a barn. On the other hand, with the materials for the barn, it would take only a couple of weeks this fall to build a dozen wagons and run. He watched Anatoly splitting a log to make planks then handed the newly sharpened plane to Petr, Anatoly’s ten-year-old.

“Thank you, sir,” Petr said, with less than full enthusiasm. The plane blade was case hardened and sharpened on Stefan’s grinding wheel, but pushing the plane along the planks wasn’t going to be fun. Stefan knew that and sympathized with the boy, but not too much. They were all working hard. He heard a horse and turned to see a rider coming into the village. “That’s Konstantin Pavlovich, the post rider from the telegraph.”

Anatoly looked up from the log he was splitting. “That horse has been ridden hard.”

Stefan began to worry.


Elena held out the papers to Father Yulian with shaking hands and he took them with concern. The document was purportedly from Czar Mikhail, and according to it, Sheremetev was attempting a coup d’etat and had committed treason. That was a disaster for the colonel and their whole family, because the colonel was a client of the Sheremetev family. What she had barely noticed in amongst the papers was the grant of liberty to all serfs who joined the czar in the east. In fact, it — by royal decree — freed all the serfs in Russia. Not that the decree was going to hold sway here. But if they could get to the east. . . . Elena was wringing her hands, wondering what was going to happen to the family.

Father Yulian reached out and pulled her to him, kissing her gently and murmured to her to calm down and be at peace. The world was working out to God’s plan, just as it should. It took him several minutes to get her calmed down and send her home. Then he sent for Stefan, Vera, Dominika, Anatoly, and Klara, the ringleaders of the escape plan. He also sent for Izabella.


“This doesn’t change anything,” Stefan said. “The czar is running for his life and this is just to spread chaos behind him to try and keep Sheremetev occupied while he escapes.”

“I think you’re right, as far as you go,” Anatoly said. “But so what? It will make trouble everywhere and that will make it easier for all of us.”

“But we aren’t ready, not unless you want to leave half the village behind,” Stefan was saying as the door opened and Izabella came in.

Stefan and the rest were all suddenly silent.

“Thank you for coming, my child,” Father Yulian said. “Have you read the documents?”

“No, Father Yulian,” Izabella said. “Mother started reading, then ran out of the house.”

Father Yulian passed them over, then he turned back to the group. “Please continue, Stefan. You were saying something about us not being ready to run?”

Stefan looked at the priest, then at the spoiled daughter of the colonel, then back at the priest, then over at Vera.

“So that’s how the instructions for the new barn got into the message pouch,” Vera said.

Izabella had been working through the dispatches, making slow going of it. Izabella wasn’t a reader by preference. Stefan looked over at her with surprised contemplation. In spite of the realization, he couldn’t bring himself to speak about this in front of her. For several seconds it stayed like that, Izabella struggling through the information and Stefan looking back and forth between her and the priest, with the rest of the group looking at Stefan.

“Father said that Sheremetev had taken steps to put the Dacha and Bernie Zeppi under control. I guess they didn’t work.” Izabella’s expression was half-amused, half-disgusted. “The politics have gotten weird since the czar went into seclusion. And from what we’ve heard, Sheremetev was getting everything organized just as he wanted it. Father and Nikita were both insufferably pleased with themselves, as though it was all their doing.”