1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 05
“What will happen now?” Father Yulian asked.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out, and I’m not sure. A lot of Director-General Sheremetev’s power had to do with the fact that he had the czar in reserve. It’s likely that there were troubles in the duma when the news hit. I don’t know if the Director-General has kept control. For all I know, he could have proclaimed himself czar by now. Or he could be out of power and another faction may be in charge. Father is with the Moscow garrison and, from his letter, he doesn’t expect to be released anytime soon. There may be fighting in Moscow between the factions. . . .” She stopped, her face going white. “Oh, my God. With the radios, the Poles and the Swedes already know, or they will within days. Invasion!”
The location of their village, as it happened, wasn’t quite on the direct line between Smolensk, the Polish border fort, and Moscow. Not quite. But they were considerably too close to that direct line for comfort.
“We can’t afford to panic,” Stefan said, feeling more than a little panicked just at the moment himself. “We will need wagons. We should wait, just as we planned.”
“In a month this place could be garrisoning a Polish army,” Anatoly said. “And it will be more than a month before the rye is ready for harvest.”
“What would you have us do? Try and pack the whole village on our backs?”
“If we have to,” Anatoly said. “Better than still being here, putting the finishing touches on our preparations, when the Poles arrive. Or having the colonel show up with his whip.” Anatoly had been severely beaten by the colonel’s order on his last visit.
“What about a compromise? We spend the next week getting ready as fast as we can, building wagons and loading them with everything we can carry, especially food . . . what there is of it. Then we go,” Father Yulian said.
“I don’t think we can build even eight wagons in a week, Father Yulian, even using the drop hammer to make the iron parts.”
“We will make what we can.”
“What about the ones who don’t want to go?” Vera asked. “As soon as we get started, everyone in the village is going to know what we’re doing.”
“We tell them the Poles are coming. Or that Father thinks the Poles are coming. Or might be coming. And he wants us to get ready to evacuate if they get too close,” suggested Izabella.
“It’s worth a try,” Stefan said.
“I’ll write the instructions, and we will insert them into the package that the colonel sent,” said Father Yulian.
For the next five days, the villagers worked like demons. Stefan’s drop hammer turned out flanges and bolt blanks and bearing facings and axe heads. The ax heads were to chop the trees to make planks for the bottoms and sides of wagons.
The “new barn” was torn down to the modules, which would be used to make wagons. The six teams of ponies were set to work dragging lumber to make construction easier.
“We don’t have enough ponies to pull the wagons,” Vera said.
“I know. But I can’t forge a pony!”
“What about one of those steam engines?”
Stefan looked at Vera, then shook his head. “I don’t know enough. You know that some of them blew up on the river? And those were the ones designed by the big brains in the Dacha.” Then he looked at her again and said, “Some of them are simply going to have to pull their wagons themselves.”
“Them? We don’t own a pony! Stefan, you’re a blacksmith, not a farmer.”
“We own one now,” Stefan said. “I traded some parts of the wagons for it. We only have the one, though, not a team. It’s going to be slow going and we will have to share them out when we’re going up hills.”
Kiril Ivanovich watched the preparations with an increasingly troubled heart. He didn’t like the idea of leaving, and the fact that the modules from the new barn just happened to be exactly the right length to make the new wagons struck him as highly suspicious. He was slowly becoming convinced that the whole thing wasn’t the colonel’s instructions at all. That fornicating priest and Stefan — who was an arrogant bastard, well above himself — were behind the whole thing. He considered going to the colonel’s lady, but that had done little good in the past. She was wholly under the priest’s sway, and Kiril didn’t think that it was because she was especially pious.
No. If he were to put a stop to this, he would have to get a message to the colonel. He knew where the radiotelegraph station was, and five days after the meeting in the priest’s house, he left the village on foot, intending to warn the colonel of dangerous goings on.
It took Dominika a few hours to realize that Kiril wasn’t where he was supposed to be, doing what he was supposed to be doing. Then she rushed to see Father Yulian. It took another hour to confirm that Kiril was nowhere in the village.
“Where do you think he’s gone?” Stefan asked.
“Wherever he can do us the most harm,” Yulian said. “Kiril is a man always ready with a knife for his neighbor’s back. Full of suppressed rages and desires that keep him from God.”
Time had run out. Father Yulian, Stefan, and Anatoly went to the big house to inform Elena that they were leaving to join Czar Mikhail at dawn, and she was coming with them. Although initially somewhat startled and unbelieving, thanks to her relationship with Father Yulian, she became very pleased and helpful. Her relations with her husband hadn’t been great for several years. She went into the house and brought out silver and a lot of the new paper money, which was apparently what the colonel had received for the work of his serfs at the factory in the neighboring village. Then she and Izabella started packing, as did the rest of the village. They took every wagon in the village, the new ones they had just built, and the older ones that they had used to manage the farming village and bring in the crops. They stripped the village of Ruzuka clean. Every animal that could pull a wagon, and they stripped the big house of every valuable.
They traveled well the next day, with Elena informing the headman of the neighboring village that her husband had told them to evacuate in advance of the approaching Poles. “Yes, he’s very close to Prince Sheremetev, my husband is,” Elena explained. They tried to buy extra horses, but after hearing about the evacuation, the beasts were not for sale. A bit of bad strategy that Izabella complained about the rest of the day and all that night.
For the next week and a half, they traveled without great difficulty. There was enough confusion that no one had much time to look for them and they had the letters and the colonel’s seal. They also had the colonel’s lady and daughter to act as cover for them by putting on their airs as a boyar’s retainer family. Airs that Elena never actually took off, but the villagers accepted that. She was being useful, and they were used to her acting that way, probably wouldn’t have known what to do with her if she had acted human.
Russia wasn’t like Europe. It was sparsely populated, even in the more civilized western portion around Moscow. After a few days, village headmen started sounding like they might be interested in holding them there. So, after considerable discussion, they started avoiding the villages. It made travel slower, but kept them out of conflicts. And, for that matter, it kept the colonel from knowing where they were.