1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 23
Chapter 8: Fortifying the Volga
“The first thing we have to do is take Kruglaya Mountain,” Ivan told Tim. They were in the Kazan kremlin, a fortress of pale sandstone. The room was large, with a square table and benches along one wall. It was occupied by the commander of the Kazan streltzi, Mikhail Petrovich Kolumb, who was Russian Orthodox, as were most of his men and all of his officers. He wasn’t smiling. The Kazan kremlin had been taken without a shot, by virtue of the dirigible Czarina Evdokia and the presence of Mikhail the czar. But between being placed under the command of General Tim and Czar Mikhail’s pronouncements about religious toleration, the officers were regretting at leisure the decision made in haste.
“That is easier said than done,” Colonel Kolumb told them. “I doubt Metropolitan Matthew will give over all that easily.”
“You may be right, Colonel,” Tim said. “But so is Ivan. That’s where Ivan the Terrible staged his conquest of Kazan from and it would be just as useful for Sheremetev. On the other hand, if we hold it, we can block the Volga far enough upriver so as to seriously hamper any attack on Kazan.”
“What makes you think that he will object, Colonel?” Ivan asked, “Is he disloyal?”
“The Metropolitan has a duty to the faith,” Colonel Kolumb insisted.
“General,” Ivan said, “should we consider an airborne assault?”
Tim blinked, then saw Ivan’s eyes shift to the colonel.
Then Ivan was continuing. “I know it was something that we were holding in reserve, but if we drop a small army in on top of Kruglaya Mountain in the middle of the night . . .”
“I’ll consider it, Captain,” Tim said repressively, finally catching on to Ivan’s ploy. “But not until we’ve given the Metropolitan a chance to be reasonable. Besides, at the moment Czar Mikhail is using the dirigible to make a goodwill tour down the Volga to the Caspian.” It was an important use of the dirigible. Having Czar Mikhail fly in on his dirigible and assure you that his government in exile was the real government and that he held the Volga all the way to Kazan was really useful in getting food and supplies needed by the new industries in Ufa — and the factories in Kazan, for that matter.
“What’s an airborne assault?” asked Colonel Kolumb.
“It’s an ability that they used extensively in the twentieth century,” Ivan started explaining enthusiastically.
Tim cleared his throat, and Ivan subsided.
Colonel Kolumb looked over at Tim resentfully. “Am I not trusted, General?” It was clear to Tim that Kolumb had to force the title of rank out. And the truth was that Tim didn’t trust the forty-year-old, two-hundred-twenty-pound man as far as he could throw him.
“That’s not it at all, Colonel. However, the facilities at Bor are still there and the dirigible they have there is three-quarters finished.”
“Why on earth didn’t you destroy that place?” Colonel Kolumb complained.
“It was a political decision made by Czar Mikhail, and as much as I dislike some of its consequences, as a political statement it was effective,” Tim said. “It pointed up the fact that Czar Mikhail is more interested in the long-term welfare of Russia than short-term military advantage. At the same time, it drew a sharp contrast between the way Czar Mikhail and Director-General Sheremetev will treat the skilled artisans and experts that build and maintain our technological base.”
Colonel Kolumb’s snort was derisive. “Marvelous. While Mikhail makes his noble political statements, Director-General Sheremetev will be dropping bombs on us from the sky . . . and apparently troops as well.
“That is Czar Mikhail, Colonel.” Tim said coldly. Tim, on the inside, didn’t know how he sounded when he said it, but suddenly the room got awfully quiet. He held the colonel’s gaze, and the colonel looked away. It was a tactical victory, but with strategic costs. The colonel, who had been resentful, was now likely an enemy. They went on with the meeting.
“You want to tell me what that crap about airborne assaults was?” Tim asked quietly, once he and Ivan were in Tim’s suite in the Kazan kremlin. It was a nice suite, and until their arrival had been used by Colonel Kolumb. Just another reason for the man to hate Tim. But Czar Mikhail had insisted, and Natasha had backed him up. “There are what — three parachutes — in Russia?”
“There are twenty-eight parachutes in Russia, and Valeriya Zakharovna has actually used one. We also did several tests using weights and dummies. By now we know how to pack a parachute and — most of the time — have it deploy. But I will grant that we don’t have anything like a force that can be deployed that way.”
“Because that colonel is going to tell Metropolitan Matthew that we can drop a battalion of troops on him in the night. Which will probably make him easier to negotiate with. Then he’s going to tell someone who will tell Sheremetev, and Sheremetev will spend the next six month or a year trying to produce a battalion of paratroopers because he is convinced we already have one.”
“Possible, I guess. But you know Kolumb is now an enemy?”
“Now or tomorrow or next week,” Ivan said. “Kolumb was going to hate you sooner or later, even if you rolled over and showed him your belly. Except then he would have hated you and despised you.”
Tim considered that. Ivan was probably right. “So who do we get to talk to Metropolitan Matthew?”
“Father Kiril,” Ivan said. “And probably by steamboat. The dirigible would be better but it’s busy on the good will tour. And, frankly even if it wasn’t, I would rather keep the Czarina in her hidden valley, except when we really need her.”
Ivan was referring to the news they had received two days before, while talking with Nick Slavenitsky. While Czar Mikhail and the big diplomats were making nice to the citizens of Kazan, Ivan had gotten a chance to talk to Nick and learn about the search for, and finding of, a valley that had little wind. The Czarina was mostly safe as long as it stayed in Hidden Valley and they had a crew out there building a hangar to keep it even safer — and potentially build more dirigibles in a couple of years. “Fine, then. A steamboat and Father Kiril. How accurate do you think Colonel Kolumb’s estimate of the Metropolitan’s response is?”
“I think that the colonel was giving his own motives to Metropolitan Matthew, but the monasteries under his authority have land under Sheremetev control.”
“A fair chunk of the diocese’s lands are in territory that Czar Mikhail controls,” Tim said, then snorted at Ivan’s look. The truth was that two months after the escape, Czar Mikhail controlled perhaps as much as twenty miles around Ufa, one small valley in the Ural mountains, and whatever piece of ground that Tim’s army happened to be standing on at the moment. Which was in Kazan right now, but how long they could hold Kazan was very uncertain.
“Anyway, put out a flag and send the Dolgorukov to Ufa after Father Kiril.”
Ivan nodded and left. Steamboats could steam right past towns in a way that was difficult for the riverboats that were pulled by burlaks and sailed. To get them to stop at a town you needed an indicator. Ivan would go to the docks and raise the Romanov flag and the Dolgorukov flag, and that would tell the steamboat that it should stop here on Czar Mikhail’s business.
Two days later
Father Kiril arrived in Kazan, and proceeded directly to the Kazan kremlin to talk with Tim and Ivan. After a short conversation, he reboarded the Dolgorukov and headed for Sviyazhsk and Holy Dormition monastery atop the Kruglaya Mountain.
Metropolitan Matthew welcomed Father Kiril with all due ceremony, then led the priest into his private offices and waved him to a seat. “How is Czar Mikhail?”
“Very well, actually. But he would still rather be something else. Czarina Evdokia seems to be blooming under the new circumstances, though.”
“I’m a bit surprised by that. She always seemed such a self-effacing woman.”
“I think it was more circumstances than character, Metropolitan,” Father Kiril said. “Still, I am not here to chat about the imperial family. This fort is crucial to our control of the lower Volga.”
“Yes, I understand that. At the same time, Mikhail’s recent pronouncement of religious freedom in Kazan is, I feel, ill advised.”
“I wasn’t thrilled by it myself, Metropolitan. But, under the circumstances, he had to give the people of Kazan some reason to support him.”
Metropolitan Matthew stood and walked over to the stove. It was cold and unlit, but finely made of ceramic tiles with icons of the saints painted on the tiles. “I am concerned that the Muslims will attempt to use this to turn back the clock and force a return to sharia law. Or at least to coerce the converts to Christianity to revert to their previous faith.” He turned to face Kiril. “I like Mikhail and I had the greatest respect for Patriarch Filaret’s abilities. But I have to be concerned with the spiritual, as well as the practical, realities. You know I have used a light hand in regard to the Muslims and outright pagans in my diocese, focusing on encouraging the converts to be comfortable in their new faith.”