The book should be available now so this is the last snippet.

1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 41

Alexander raised an eyebrow, but subsided and sipped at his vodka. Luckily, Chaplygin had been too absorbed in his declaration to notice.

“Perhaps. But we are getting more warriors coming to our side every day.” He waved at Alexander.

“What got into you, Alexander? I thought you had better sense than to go over to the revolutionaries.”

“It’s the czar, Petr,” Alexander said. “How can it be treason to serve the czar?” Alexander, Ivan knew, was a friend of Petr Chaplygin. They had lived in Moscow, serving together, the young men of the royal court.

“Hah! Mikhail is a nothing. Weather vane turning with the lightest breeze. It’s the boyars and the great families that matter. And us, the deti boyars and the dvorianes who run the empire. That’s what you are. A traitor to your class.”

“And how is Sheremetev treating the deti boyars and the dvorianes? Like we are peasants, that’s how,” Alexander shot back.

“Gentlemen, let it pass,” Ivan said, and Petr Chaplygin sneered at the upstart baker’s boy promoted above his station. Ivan found it hard to let that pass, harder than it had been when he was back in the Moscow Kremlin. But he kept his mouth shut, by remembering that his side had won. “As to your comment about General Birkin, we have more men every day and the differences in range and rate of fire of the new weapons means that the balance of force has shifted in the direction of the defender.”

“You and your war games.” Chaplygin snorted. “Little cardboard cutouts aren’t men, and calculations aren’t battles. Battles are won by courage and willingness to get in close and rip out your enemy’s guts. Birkin will go right around you. And what will you do then? I’ll tell you what you’ll do. You’ll sit on your hill and lose, or you’ll come out of your fort and be slaughtered by real men.”

“And how will General Birkin supply his army with us sitting on his supply route?” Ivan asked, letting some of his irritation show.

“He’ll draft peasants and have them carry the supplies. It’s all they’re good for.”

Ivan couldn’t help it. He snorted a laugh of his own. “So he’s going to stop his boats upriver of us and carry his supplies by land three hundred miles. That’s going to take a lot of peasants and a lot of horses. And where is he going to get the wagons, carry them on the riverboats?”

“Maybe,” Chaplygin insisted, sounding belligerently uncertain.

“He might even be able to do it,” Alexander cut in. “But the time, Petr, the time.”

Ivan Maslov listened with half an ear as the conversation continued. It was a race now. They had to get enough troops into Kazan and the top of Kruglaya Mountain to hold them and block the river. As long as they held the river, any progress that Birkin’s army made after that would be at a snail’s pace. They weren’t ready to do that yet, but if Birkin gave them a couple of months they would be. They would have a thousand men and more guarding the mountain, and ten times that in Kazan.


General Ivan Vasilevich Birkin’s army was refitting in Nizhny Novgorod when they got the news of the loss of the steamboat flotilla. He didn’t curse, at least not much. He hadn’t had great hopes that the steamboats would take Kazan, but it had been a chance and it would have made his life easier. He looked at his cousin. “Well, that decides it. Unless we get orders to the contrary, we’ll wait here till hard winter, then proceed to Kazan. In the meantime, I want to turn Nizhny Novgorod into a supply base. I want all the food, shot and sundries needed to support an army of fifty thousand for four months in place here.”

The war and the rest of the world were just going to have to wait.

Goritsky Monastery

October, 1636

“I don’t believe it. The riverboats didn’t even get to Kazan. They were stopped at Kruglaya Mountain,” Elena said.

Several of the new arrivals chimed in. When husbands had been shot or even tonsured, their wives had been sent off to the nunnery.  Goritsky Monastery probably held more women who had been married to boyars than any place outside Moscow. Some were widowed, some forcibly divorced, some had taken their divorce well. In two cases, even thankfully, but many were highly resentful of the Sheremetev government. And every last one of them was a political animal.

The conversation quickly turned into an analysis of which great house was going to switch sides now that Czar Mikhail had proven much harder to handle than predicted.

Sofia listened with half an ear. She was preoccupied with the mica industry just now. A great deal of the Gorchakov family wealth was tied into the delivery of Muscovy mica capacitors to the USE. And here she was, not very far at all from major mica mines. She looked over at Tatyana Dolmatov-Karpov. She was the widow of Lev Dolmatov-Karpov, who was an ally of Sofia’s family on the duma, and been executed in the weeks after Czar Mikhail escaped. Tatyana was the low end of the great houses, but her family was deeply involved in the mica mines.

Hamburg, Germany

October, 1636

The hammer hit with a dull thud. It was a weighted wooden mallet and it drove the rod holding the paddle in place four inches. Two more blows knocked the paddle out and it landed on the floor. Guy Sayyeau grunted as he lifted the replacement paddle up to the tread and the hammer worked again, this time pounding the new paddle into place on the caterpillar tread. It was a big paddle, a yard tall and two yards wide. It took two men to manhandle it into place and a third to drive in the oak stays. Or to knock them loose. The chain and the sprocket wheels were working well.

Captain John Adams had just about given up on his original design. The main issue was weight distribution. The Russian kochi were built more for ice traversing than ice breaking. They had a false keel to protect the ship during portage over ice floes. John had wanted to run his caterpillar tracks in front of the ship to break up the ice, but testing had shown that the weight-forward design was going to cause a series of problems. On the other hand, if the caterpillar tracks were placed back — but not quite all the way back — then they would lift the bow. The bow, as it pushed up on the ice, would raise the front of the tracks so that they would be able to bite into the ice and push the boat still farther.

“You really think we are going to have to do this much?” asked the man with the hammer, wiping sweat from his brow.

“I don’t know. I know that we are going to have to make adjustments as we shift from in the water to on the ice.”

“We always had to do that.” Which was true enough. The kochi were constantly dragged up out of the water, then across an ice floe into the next stretch of water. In fact, the steam winches would make that easier. Which was essential, because this ship would be more than twice the size of the largest kochi John had ever seen.

Meanwhile the hull of the “fluyt and a half,” Brent Partow’s nickname for the oversized fluyt-style sailing ships, had been modified so that below the waterline it was much more like an uptime icebreaker’s hull shape. And reinforced with heavy oak. The ship was coming along fine and the steam engine was being custom built by a shop in Magdeburg, while the chains were being built here in Hamburg. The chains were modified heavy roller chains, the sort used on motorcycles up-time, only much larger. There were two sets of chains, the drive chain that would transmit the power from the drive shaft down to the caterpillar tracks, and the caterpillar tracks themselves, which were actually only triple-wide roller chains with attachments on which a variety of treads could be placed. The treads could be spikes for a grip on ice, or even to rip up ice if it was weak enough, or paddles to push the boat through the water like a paddle wheel, but considerably lighter for the thrust delivered.

In testing, the system had worked moderately well and caused some modification in how the paddle-treads were made, and also a decrease in the number of paddles on the treads. It turned out that extra paddles gave diminishing returns once they got too close together. The other thing that had changed was the shape of the paddles. They had started out as simple flat panels. Now they were T-shaped with supports, so that the water pressure didn’t push them flat or break them off.

Still, John had no illusions about how well those paddles would stand up to mud or ice, which was why they were detachable and why they would be taking lots of extras in the cargo.

Different parts of this ship were being built by different companies, even in different towns, so that they didn’t have to wait on one part to be finished before starting on the next. It was going to save them time, but it was still not likely that the whole ship would be ready before January at the earliest.