1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 21

Chapter 7: Buying Kazan


August 1636

Ivan sat in the coffee house and sipped the strong, dark, sweet coffee. It was horrible. Truly horrible. Abdul Azim sat across from him and smiled. Abdul was a business associate of his father’s, and though Ivan had never met him before that morning, he knew that Abdul was a secret Muslim. After Ivan the Terrible had taken this city he had killed, run off, or forcibly converted the populace. The forced conversions had not exactly taken, at least not completely. The same thing had been tried two more times in the last eighty years and until a month ago the Muslims in Kazan had made it their practice to keep their heads down. But, this morning, as he and his guards had been riding into town, they heard the mullah calling the faithful to prayer.

None of them had recognized it, but Ivan had an educated guess. While not of the nobility, Ivan’s father was a wealthy businessman with connections all over Russia.

Abdul put his glass of coffee down and said, “No one is in control right now. There was a strong initial push to declare independence like we did in the Time of Troubles, but seeing the dirigible going by overhead slowed that down. And everyone knows that Czar Mikhail is in Ufa and to get to Ufa, or to get back from Ufa, the armies are going to come through here. Everyone is scared.”

“How do you feel, Abdul? I know Father always respected your judgment.”

“I would declare independence right now.”

“You think you can hold Kazan against Director-General Sheremetev and Czar Mikhail?”

“If we are lucky, by playing them off against each other.”

Ivan tilted his head. He didn’t even realize he was doing it till he saw Abdul’s bitter smile. “I know it’s more likely that we will be ground between you like grain into flour. But it is hard to deny your faith, and it becomes much harder when the hope of freedom is offered.”

Ivan hadn’t told Abdul which side he was working for, or even that he was working for one of the sides. Abdul had probably known that he was studying in the Kremlin and possibly that he had been assigned to the dirigible works at Bor, but nothing more than that. And Abdul hadn’t asked. For the next several hours, Ivan and Abdul talked about the politics of Kazan. That afternoon, Ivan and his guards strolled around the city, noting the placement and height of the walls and by mid afternoon they had watchers of their own. The local streltzi, city guard, were watching them like hawks. Hungry hawks.

That night they rode out of Kazan, thankful that no faction had enough control of the city to order their arrest. And, even more, that none of the factions had decided to act on their own.

Ten Miles From Kazan

August, 1636

“I’m fairly sure we could take the town by allying with one of the groups,” Ivan said as he drew a map on the ground next to the campfire with a charred stick. “Assuming we could get them to trust us, which is by no means certain. All we would need is for one group to hold the gates open, then between us and them. We could almost certainly get control, but it would be control of a powder keg. The arrival of a force of any size and half the population would switch to their side, just to get back at us for backing another faction.”

“So it’s hopeless?” Tim asked, looking at the map of Kazan that Ivan had drawn on the ground. “Why the map then?”

“Because if we could get the support of most of the population and keep it, it would be a very defensible position. We could hold out for months. That overturned-pot-looking hill that the city is built on is a great place for artillery. With the right guns, we would control the whole of the Volga.”

“So what we need is something to bring them together.”

“Something to bring them together on our side, anyway,” Ivan said. “My father’s friend is ready to throw us all out and declare independence.”


“He’s a Muslim. Which, aside from that horrible coffee they drink, I don’t care that much about. My father has always assumed that he was secretly still a Muslim, in spite of the forced conversions after Kazan’s rebellion in the Time of Troubles. They never talked about it, but most of their acquaintance was by mail anyway. Now he’s openly practicing Islam and he’s afraid that whichever side wins there will be a cracking down after it’s over.”

“We ought to introduce him to Bernie,” Tim said, then stopped.

Ivan was still talking. “The only reason his faction didn’t manage to get the city to declare independence was the Czarina flying over.”

“Yes. We ought to introduce him to Bernie and Czar Mikhail, and very much the czarina,” Tim said. “Both czarinas. Ivan, what if Czar Mikhail were to grant Kazan the right of freedom of faith? Make a proclamation? Make a law? What would your friend do then?”

Ivan looked at Tim, at first in shock, then thoughtfully. Tim waited while he worked it out. “I don’t know. There is a great deal of bitterness there, now that it’s out in the open. I don’t know if a proclamation would be enough to rein it back in.”

“We’ll be in sight of the city tomorrow, and we will stop, not try to enter or go around it. I want you to go back, this time officially. Talk to your father’s friend, and to the other leaders too. Meanwhile, the next time that steamboat comes by, I have a new message for Czar Mikhail. If he wants us to take and hold Kazan, he needs to come here and talk to the leaders of the city.”

Three days later, Kazan

Asad Korikov stood on the wall of the Kazan kremlin and watched the great airship float gently toward the ground. It was bigger than any riverboat he had ever seen, and it looked like you could pour a whole army out of it. Asad had no way of knowing that almost all of that space was taken up by lifting gasses, cells full of hydrogen and cells full of hot air. What he saw was just the massive form of a whale that swam through the air. He crossed himself unconsciously, and muttered an Islamic prayer that his grandmother was fond of. He could hear a sound. He didn’t know that it came from the propellers. Then a short, heavy spear was dropped from the front of the behemoth. It fell quickly, pulling a line after it and plunged into the earth.

A rider from Czar Mikhail’s little army rode up to it, then used a hammer to whack the dart farther into the ground. Other men rode up to catch other ropes that were dropped. Once the airship was tied to the ground, a rope ladder was lowered and people started climbing down. Several men and then, surprisingly, three women.

By now the walls on the east side of the kremlin were packed with watchers. Horses were brought and the party mounted.


Czar Mikhail glanced around to be sure everyone in the procession was ready. Then, with Tim on his right and Bernie Zeppi on his left, he rode to the gates of Kazan. Not the gates to the Kazan kremlin, which was to the west of where the dirigible landed, but the gates to the city proper to the east. His wife, Princess Natasha, and Anya were riding behind him, and there were other functionaries, as well as officers and soldiers of his small army behind them. This was a diplomatic mission so the guards were — hopefully — just there for show.

Czar Mikhail waved to the guards as he led his party through the gates of Kazan and up the street toward the seat of the local government.

A few minutes later, he and his party were seated in a large hall in what on other occasions would have been the central market of Kazan. They were offered wine, beer or coffee. Bernie took coffee and Mikhail took beer, the rest made their own choices. Then they got down to business, starting with Mikhail asking everyone to speak their minds freely. “I will take no offence nor hold any liable for anything said here.”

They didn’t believe him, of course. They talked around their worries. The questions were there in the background, but all in a way that would let the townspeople backtrack and deny that they meant any such thing. Their concerns were many, but two dominated the discussion. Could Mikhail win? And if he did, could they trust him to keep the promises he made while in need of their help?

Mikhail tried to reassure them without lying outright. But how reassuring he was, he wasn’t sure. He could be firm on the issue of keeping his word, but winning was less certain. “At this point no one knows who will win. Not me, or Sheremetev, or any of the other factions. Kazan, however, is not large enough to survive for long as an independent nation.”

“We could, if you would refrain from attacking us.”

“No. Even if I were to do so, that would only mean Sheremetev would take Kazan. And that means I can’t do it, because it would be giving that advantage to him.”

Mikhail could tell from their expressions that they didn’t like hearing that last part, but they couldn’t deny it. The discussions went on and got around to religion. Bernie argued for religious toleration and Father Kiril, as gentle as the man usually was, argued against it. But, as a pragmatic political matter, it was clear to Mikhail he needed the support of the Muslim factions in Kazan and the surest way to get that support was to give them religious freedom. And Mikhail was insistent that if the Muslims got that freedom, all religions would have the same.

That lead to the question of sharia law. “No. The worst penalty that any church will be empowered to invoke is excommunication. The laws under which our people will live will be civil laws. You can throw people out of your church, refuse to talk to them, but you may not imprison them or impose any physical punishment. Those must be imposed by the civil authority.” Mikhail’s court had worked this out in advance. It was the only way if there were going to be two or more religions coexisting. Anything else led to one part of his people living under one law and another living under another law.

After a long argument with Bernie and Filip on one side — and just about everyone else in Mikhail’s court on the other — it had been decided that religious freedom should be given to Kazan and to Ufa, because for now Ufa was the capital and people ought to be able to practice their faith when they came to the capital to participate in their government. However, it would not be a general liberty. If Muslims in the rest of Rus wanted to practice their religion freely, let them move to Kazan.

“Hey, folks,” Bernie said about that point. “I argued on your side, but in political terms they are right. Czar Mikhail is pushing the politics of this about as far as he can. He’s already facing a backlash from the service nobility over the serfs and if he were to make freedom of religion the law throughout Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church would go over to Sheremetev en masse. As it is now, the great monasteries can look the other way and say it’s only in a couple of places.”

There were looks back and forth on the other side of the table, and then nods. Some reluctant, and some enthusiastic. Mikhail noted the enthusiastic nods. Those were the smart ones and the ones to watch. Those were the ones who had realized that such a law would be a magnet for Muslims.

They negotiated for two days and Mikhail then made a series of pronouncements. Meanwhile, Tim had quietly infiltrated the Kazan kremlin. With some hesitation, the garrison had come over. The garrison soldiers were mostly Russian Orthodox, and not thrilled with Czar Mikhail’s proclamations of religious toleration. On the other hand, Czar Mikhail was right here . . . and the duma was way off in Moscow. By the time Mikhail and the rump court he had brought with him climbed back into the dirigible, Tim was, at least theoretically, in command of the military forces of both city and kremlin.