1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 30
In a sudden mood swing that made no sense even to her, Izabella found herself on the edge of tears. “I don’t know,” she said, answering Alexander’s first question and ignoring the rest. “I saw my mother with Father Yulian and decided that if she could, I could. Then I got pregnant, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in a convent. And now I’m the size of a dirigible and I have to pee all the time.”
She looked over at Alexander and belatedly realized that she was providing more information than he really wanted. She managed to backtrack to the rest of the questions he asked. “Papa . . . my father . . . is evil, I guess. So was my brother. And, I guess, so was I. After I got pregnant and Father Yulian got me to look around and see what my father was doing to the serfs of our home village, I realized how bad things were. And they were bad.” She found herself looking at Alexander like it was his fault.
He held up his hands and said, “I’m not doubting you.”
“The children were on the edge of starvation because the men in the village had been forced to work in a neighboring factory for nothing. Since I was already pregnant, they brought me into the escape plan. Father Yulian and Stefan and the rest. Well, Father Yulian did. I don’t think Stefan knew anything about it till Czar Mikhail escaped. But we were already pretty close to ready. We had been planning to run once the crop was in, but we rushed to get ready and ran for it.”
“How have you managed to keep all the serfs with you?” Alexander asked and Izabella wanted to laugh because she understood the question perfectly.
“I didn’t. I couldn’t possibly have kept them together. Father Yulian, Stefan, and Vera are the ones keeping all of us together.”
She saw him try to assimilate that and she had to give him credit for really trying. Last summer she wouldn’t have. She simply would have assumed that peasants would scatter like dust in a wind without a noble to keep them working together. It wouldn’t have occurred to her to consider any other possibility. She looked out at the river, flowing black beside the boat in the night. She could hear the ripple of waves as the Volga flowed past the stationary boat. “They don’t need us, you know. They don’t need us at all. Not you or me or Papa or Nikita. None of us. Do you realize how terrifying that is?”
Izabella looked back at Alexander saw him watching her. Considering what she said, but mostly looking at her. She felt herself start to blush.
Then his expression changed. “You really think that the peasants — serfs — can get by without the nobility?”
“We still need them,” Stefan said. “At least till we get to Ufa.”
At the other end of the riverboat from Alexander and Izabella, the council of the runaways was in session. It included Father Yulian, Stefan and Vera, Anatoly and Zoya, Dominika, and Afanasy, the leader of the burlaks. The rest of the people who had joined them, either singly or in small groups during the course of their travels, were not represented directly. The council members were seated on the deck, chatting quietly.
“No, we don’t,” said Anatoly. “We have the boat and we have guns. We snuck past Nizhny Novgorod. Word is that Czar Mikhail is holding much of the Kama River.”
“We will still have to get past Kazan,” Father Yulian said. The Kama was the main eastern tributary of the Volga. It connected the Belaya River to the Volga river system and so put the town of Ufa on the Volga system. It joined the Volga a few miles southeast of Kazan. None of them, not even the burlak, knew how many miles. The burlak knew the river intimately. They were, after all, the people who had to pull the boats off sandbars when they got stuck, which they did with depressing regularity. Something that had already happened to the Liberty twice since they had stolen it. “With Alexander and Izabella fronting for us at Kazan, we should be able to get past the town. Perhaps even stop and do some trading. The people we picked up in Balakhna don’t have much, even if we give them the Liberty once we get to Ufa.”
“They also don’t have much money,” Anatoly said. “I don’t see why we should be supporting all these late additions. We were the ones who prepared.”
“That ‘we’ includes Izabella,” said Vera.
“And we are working our way. You would still be stuck on that sand bar not five miles past Bor without us,” Afanasy said.
“I’m not talking about you,” Anatoly said, rather unconvincingly Stefan thought. “I’m talking about all the villagers that joined us in dribs and drabs as we went along. There are more of them now than there are people from Ruzuka, and they all seem to think they are entitled to a share of what we built and brought. As to the colonel’s little slut, we got her out –”
“Anatoly, your greed is blinding you!” Father Yulian said, hotly.
“Calmly all of you,” Stefan said, not feeling all that calm himself. “We don’t want to draw a crowd.”
“In fact, Izabella is a fairly accomplished young woman. She can read some and she understands politics.” Father Yulian said, but in a quieter tone. “We are going to have to deal with Czar Mikhail’s representatives once we get to Ufa and we don’t know what we are going to find there. It may be that we will need her even more once we get to Ufa.”
“Czar Mikhail said we would be free, not serfs.”
“Fine. If we are free, not serfs, what will we do for land?” Vera said. “The czar is just going to give it to us?”
“That’s what his proclamation said.”
“No. He said new lands would be granted,” Father Yulian pointed out. “He didn’t say to whom. It could mean us, or it could mean the service nobility. It could be dependent on service in the army or the paying of taxes. Who knows? And we can work with Izabella. Don’t burn our bridges, Anatoly. We may need to cross the river again. We don’t know what we will find downriver.”
Kruglaya Mountain, Sviyazhsk, confluence of the Volga and Sviyaga Rivers
Major Ivan Maslov looked out the window, then back down at the map. The czar’s army didn’t have very many cannon and none of them were breech-loaders, so none of them would have great rates of fire, even if he could get new carriages for them. Also, none of them were rifled, so they weren’t going to be very accurate. Worst of all, most of them were in Kazan or on their way to Ufa. Here on the mountain, he had just two of them. And he was supposed to interdict the Volga River with that. Since Metropolitan Matthew had persuaded the local garrison to side with Czar Mikhail last month, several river boats had passed in both directions. And all Ivan had been able to do was send out small boats to ask them for news. He needed a new weapon, something that they could make here. He thought of rockets, but those needed venturi. It said so in all the books and Ivan didn’t have a way of making venturi. He wasn’t even sure what they were or what they did.