1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 31

The truth was that Ivan was in here working on the problem of interdicting the river mostly because he didn’t want to be out there being scowled at by Captain Sergei Viktorovich Lagunov, the commander of the garrison. He was a member of the service nobility who was loyal enough, but not happy with Czar Mikhail’s policies in regard to serfs . . . or Ivan himself. Captain Lagunov had objected to Ivan being put in command over him because of birth and experience. He was, or had been, of the same military rank, a captain, and of nobler family, being of the service nobility while Ivan’s father was a baker. And he had been a captain longer. So, by all the rules, he should be in command.

Tim had promoted Ivan to major right in front of Captain Lagunov. In essence, telling Sergei to shut up and soldier. It was pretty threadbare, especially considering the issues of mestnichestvo, but unless Captain Sergei Viktorovich Lagunov wished to complain to Czar Mikhail, he was stuck with Major Ivan Maslov. And Ivan was stuck with a resentful staff.

There was a knock on the door, and after no appreciable delay the door was opened, and Lieutenant Vadim Viktorovich Lagunov came in. Vadim was twenty-three and owed his position to the fact that his brother commanded the garrison. He, even more than his brother, objected to having to deal with the son of a baker on anything like equal terms. Also, he had never been to the Kremlin or seen the war games played there in the last few years. Like his big brother, he didn’t imagine that they could be of any use. He had a thick black beard and beady eyes. “So have you figured out how to interdict the river yet?”

“Not unless you can make venturi.”

“I’m not a smith and they wouldn’t work anyway. What we need is a galley with a strong force so that we can get out and board ships that pass us.”

“Fine,” Ivan said. “Do you know how to build a galley full of soldiers?”

“Well, I know how to make the soldiers. It takes girls and about twenty years. The galley? You put the serfs to work on it.”

“Right. You go out and find a bunch of blind girls. That way they won’t see you and run away. If that works, we’ll be fine in about twenty years. Assuming the Director-General gives us twenty years. Meanwhile, is there any word from Bernie?”

“No,” Lieutenant Lagunov said in a voice that made Ivan realize he should have kept his mouth shut. Then Lagunov continued. “But there is another boat sailing down the Volga. Sergei wants to send out a couple of small boats to ask them for news.”

“That’s fine. I’ll be down directly.”


Ivan Maslov thought about standing gallantly in the prow of the little oared boat that was making its way to the riverboat. Then he thought about falling into the river and gave up on the notion. It wasn’t a new thought in any particular. Instead he waited in the center of the boat as they rowed out to meet the riverboat. He looked up and saw Alexander Nikolayevich Volkov on the rail. “Oh, shit.”

Alexander wasn’t one of his favorite people. He had been at the Kremlin back in ’33, and Ivan and Tim had won a fair amount of money off the stuck-up snot. Ivan pulled his fur cap down to cover his face. It wasn’t calculated, more the automatic reaction of a nerd when encountering a jock. Having reacted though, he realized it was useless. He was going to have to climb up onto the boat and face Alexander. Still, having pulled the cap down, he wasn’t willing to push it back up. So he waited. When the rowboat came alongside and a rope ladder was tossed down, Ivan and his men started boarding. There was a girl Ivan had never seen being introduced as Izabella Utkin. Then Alexander was introduced and Ivan’s head came up. Alexander Orlav wasn’t Alex’s name. Then Alex saw Ivan’s face and his went pale.

“Hello, Alexander Nikolayevich,” Ivan said, then started to smile.

The smile died as Ivan noticed all the peasants holding weapons. There was a big man with a chamber-loading carbine that looked like it came out of the factory at Murom. In fact, it looked a lot like the one Tim had sent Ivan.

“Everyone calm down,” Ivan said, looking around. “You can always shoot us in a minute if you decide to. And whatever you do, it’s going to be seen by the people on Kruglaya Mountain. So it probably won’t do you a lot of good if what you’re after is sneaking by.”

“Which side are you on, Ivan?” Alexander asked. “You were always with Boris Timofeyevich, and he’s . . .”

“That’s right. General Tim now, appointed okolnichii by Czar Mikhail.” Ivan said. “Why are you running, Alex?”

“It’s complicated.”

“Tell me about it. Or better yet, let me tell you about complicated. Are you trying to reach Czar Mikhail?”

Alexander looked at the girl. She looked at an older priest. The priest looked at the big peasant and the big peasant shrugged. “Yes.”

Ivan looked around. There had been peasants coming down the river since he and Tim had left Bor, but always in ones or twos. The largest group Ivan had seen till now was ten. But there were at least two hundred, possibly more, people crowding this boat. “How? Never mind. You’re in Czar Mikhail’s territory, at least for now.” He wished he’d left that last part out. It was true but bandying about that you don’t think you’ll be able to hold the ground you’re standing on isn’t a good idea.

Alexander looked at the mountain then back at Ivan. Ivan waited for Alexander to make some comment but, surprisingly, he didn’t. Alexander had done well enough in the war college at the Kremlin and Ivan could see that he was following Ivan’s logic now. Sviyazhsk was a guard post, little more than a trip wire. Kazan was defense in depth, expected to be lost. All to keep Sheremetev and his forces away from Ufa for as long as they could.

“So, you control the Volga below the Kama?”

“Yes,” Ivan said, and could hear the next question before Alexander asked it. For how long? But Alexander didn’t ask.

Instead he just nodded. “Well, you’ve been more successful than I would have expected. We’ll go on to Ufa then. What can you tell me about Czar Mikhail’s position on the granting of new lands?” He waved his hands at the gathered serfs.

“As I understand it, that’s been pretty catch as catch can. Up till now it’s only been small groups and they are mostly just expanding the farmland around Ufa. They are mostly villages owned by the villagers, but there has been someone put in charge. You’ll have to ask when you get there.”

They talked a bit more and then the boat went on. Ivan went back to trying to figure a way of interdicting the river.