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July 17, 1634
"Oh!" Judy the Younger Wendell heaved a great sigh. "She's beautiful."
The bride was beautiful. Brandy Bates wore a flowing white angora/wool gown with a Chinese silk veil. The veil was attached to a wreath of white roses mixed with baby's breath and myrtle leaves. The leaves were said to bring good luck to the marriage. Brandy carried a bouquet of more white roses, baby's breath, ivy and pale pink carnations.
"She's probably melting in that wool," Vicky Emerson muttered. "God knows, I am."
The Barbie Consortium were bridesmaids at the wedding of the season. Wedding of the year, more like. And in spite of Vicky's every effort, the skirts were long and the dresses modest. Not her favorite look.
"Shh!" Millicent hissed. "She's almost here."
The wedding was being held in the formal garden of the Residentz, the home and offices of Vladimir Yaroslav's Russian delegation. Father Kotov had pushed for the wedding to be held at St. Vasili's Russian Orthodox Church, but there were just too many people who needed to be invited. And most of them had shown up.
"Brandy is just gorgeous," Tate Garrett said, then wiped her eyes.
"The groom isn't bad, either," Kseniya said. Vladimir had suffered the indignity of Grantville's eclectic fashion mix—with Russian tradition thrown in—but somehow, magically, it had all come together in a cohesive whole. He wore a Russian style fur hat and cape and trousers that were so tight they might almost have been hosiery. The ceremony was nice, too . . . if a bit long and convoluted with the greater part of it in a language hardly anyone understood. The reception was more interesting.
The wedding cake Tate had worked on decorating for two days stood tall and gleaming in the center of a table, flanked by molded Russian Creams on each side. Every kitchen maid at the Residentz had learned to make mints whether she wanted to or not, because there were literally thousands of them. Tate blessed Vladimir several times for choosing an afternoon reception. She might have had a nervous breakdown if she'd had to do a formal dinner for all these dignitaries. Instead, they'd set up an informal buffet. People were circulating freely, murmuring to one another about various things.
Tate began to relax. It was going well.
"No, it's not that simple," Kseniya Kotova said. "The czar can't make laws, not without the consent of the Assembly of the Land or at least the Duma. It's not just that it would be unadvisable; he literally doesn't have the authority to change the law on his own."
"So if he wanted to end serfdom, for instance," Reverend Green asked, "the Duma would stop him?"
Kseniya gave him a look then glanced over at Colonel Leontii Shuvalov. She was by now fully aware of the up-timer's attitude toward serfdom but this was not the place. While she was still trying to figure out how to guide the conversation to a safer topic, Colonel Shuvalov spoke up. "It probably wouldn't be the Duma, royal council, that stopped him but the Assembly of the Land. The ah, middle class I believe you call it. The great families have never been the ones pushing to limit the rights of departure."
"I would have thought they would want it most."
"Yes, I know you would. You up-timers tend to simplify things." Kseniya was a bit annoyed at Reverend Green. "It isn't a conflict between the evil lords and their suffering serfs. It's K-mart versus the mom-and-pop grocery on the corner. The great families can afford to . . . what is it you call it up-time . . . go head-hunting? Though in the case of serfs it's more back-hunting."
Reverend Green snorted.
"I'm not sure that Boyar Sheremetev would agree with you," Colonel Shuvalov said.
"Of course not. He's K-mart." Kseniya regretted saying it as soon as it came out but the truth was she despised Fedor Ivanovich Sheremetev though she had never met him. From all reports he was ill-tempered and not very good at dealing with the bureaus. Still, the news that the Smolensk war would have been a disaster had brought him back into politics. So she explained a bit more. "Russia lacks labor and the weather conditions that make it the next thing to impossible to work the land for half the year don't help. If the serfs were released from the land, the only people in Russia who could afford to hire the labor needed to run a farm would be the great families and the big monasteries.
"Don't forget the new innovations," Colonel Shuvalov pointed out. "While there is truth in what you're saying, there is less of that truth now than there was before the Ring of Fire."
Kseniya hesitated. What she wanted to say was unsafe, more for her family than for her. But spending time in Grantville had made it harder to keep her mouth shut. "It takes time to put those innovations into production, Colonel. Can you afford to lower your—" A quick glance at Reverend Green. "—tenants' rent?"
Colonel Shuvalov grinned at her. It was a surprisingly friendly grin. "Actually, yes. Though I will admit that it's only because Boyar Sheremetev has been quite generous with my family." Then the colonel turned back to Reverend Green. "Kseniya's father in-law and I aren't really in the same boat, not quite. We are both Russian officers. He a captain, I a colonel, but the larger difference is that aside from the lands granted me by the czar, Boyar Sheremetev provides additional support. So while my financial boat is hardly a yacht, it is a bit bigger than his and less likely to be swamped by changing economic tides."
"Speaking of the army, how are the negotiations with the PLC going?" Kseniya asked.
"Negotiations?" Reverend Green asked. "What are you negotiating with the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth?"
Now Colonel Shuvalov did look shocked. "Surely you knew! Poland and Russia are at war! We have been since the Truce of Deulino expired over a year ago. The negotiations are an attempt to prevent the shooting war from resuming." Then he looked back at Kseniya. "Not well, when I left Russia. King Władysław is insisting that he is the rightful czar." He snorted. "And I believe the rightful king of Sweden, as well. Boyar Sheremetev is convinced that he, like we, has read the history of the other time Smolensk war. So he knows, probably, that it is unlikely that he can actually gain the throne. But considering the degree to which he trounced us in that other time, he seems to expect to receive the war indemnity without actually having to fight the war."
"How likely is he to trounce you this time if it comes to a shooting war?" Reverend Green wanted to know.
"I wish I knew," the colonel said. "The Patriarch was sure that we would win before Prince Yaroslav sent his letter, and we might have been in a shooting war before now if Sigismund III had died this time around when he did in that other history. But he lasted six months more. Boyar Sheremetev was less convinced of our chances in a shooting war and remains so. At the same time, we have learned a lot from the Dacha and the Gun Shop. Even from those silly board games they are playing in the Moscow Kremlin now. Still, it will be better for all if we can reach a negotiated settlement." Which was, Kseniya knew, the Sheremetev party line. None of them had any way of knowing it but just then a young lieutenant named Timrovich was reporting to his general in a place called Rzhev.
"So how was the wedding, Colonel?" Boyar Fedor Ivanovich Sheremetev asked.
"I found it quite interesting, sir." said Colonel Leontii Shuvalov. "Though I will admit I was a bit disappointed to find that the Poles had held a war while I was gone and I wasn't invited."
"Rzhev made things much more difficult," Boyar Sheremetev said. "Filaret is back on his invade Poland hobby horse. And without Shein we probably couldn't hold him back. Shein figures we are getting stronger faster so time is on our side for now. But he will switch back as soon as he figures we're ready." Boyar Sheremetev shook his head in disgust. "None of them can see that Poland is not the real enemy. The real enemy is Gustav and his new USE. So tell me about the USE, Leontii?"
Leontii made his report. That the USE was rich and powerful and becoming more so every day was beyond question. He had seen several different kinds of airplanes. The largest of which was dwarfed by the Test Bed but the slowest of which made it seem a snail by comparison. Dirigibles were not a viable weapon of war when airplanes flew. But the real danger was the factories which turned out hundreds of items in the time it would take a craftsman to make just one. Yet Russia had factories too. "While we are behind, we aren't that far behind. A year maybe two. I took a steamer from Rybinsk, one of the ones that they were using to resupply Rzhev. I was amazed by the factories along the Volga." He acknowledged the corrupting influence of the up-timers but pointed out that Vladimir and the Dacha were proving incredibly valuable and were probably essential. "I understand that King Władysław and some of the magnates have recruited up-timers of their own. By the way, how are they taking the events at Rzhev?"
"The Sejm seems deeply offended at the outcome. More offended than cautioned, unfortunately. It must be our fault and we must have somehow cheated. Made a deal with the devil something, anything, other than that they attacked us and we outfought them. They seem especially offended that we uncultured eastern barbarians had such things as breach-loading cannon and that the walking forts proved so effective.
"It hasn't made things any easier on the diplomatic front. About the only thing keeping them from a full scale invasion is Gustav on their western border. The Truce of Altmark expires next year and the way that Sweden and the USE have been going, Poland simply can't afford to be involved in a war with us when Gustav gets around to them. What concerns me is I don't see any particular reason for Gustav to stop at the Russian border."
Through the fall and winter of 1634 the Duma debated. And talks with the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth went nowhere. In the winter of 1634 Patriarch Filaret became ill and much of the heart went out of the "invade Poland" faction. Meanwhile more factories came on line. most of them using forced peasant labor. This upset the peasants because winter was their traditional light time. It also upset the Great Families because they couldn't hire the peasants without their landlords' permission.
Since the Ring of Fire, the anti-serfdom movement in Russia had slowly grown from two directions, top down and bottom up. With the service nobility caught in the middle. The top down part was a mix of morality and self interest. It was fairly small because the top of the Russian pyramid was small. There were fourteen to twenty great families depending on how you counted and a similar number of really large monasteries. A few hundred people in the great families and no more than a few thousand in the monasteries.
On the other hand, there were over thirty thousand members of the service, or bureaucratic, nobility—people whose livelihood depended on serf labor. And they were the people holding down the vital mid-level military and civilian posts. They were the tax collectors, the construction supervisors and the managers. In the Russian army they were the captains and the colonels, but rarely the generals. It was the service nobility, bureaucrats and soldiers alike, that had kept Russia from collapsing into chaos during the time of troubles. They had stayed on the job and mostly out of politics, serving whichever czar was in power, and kept the wheels from coming completely off. They were generally non-political, but threatening to take away their serfs would change that in a hurry. As had been shown in 1605, the last year when peasants leaving the land hadn't been forbidden.
Then there were the serfs themselves, the largest proportion of the Russian population. While many, perhaps most, resented their status as serfs, darned few of them objected to the institution. It wasn't that they found the social order objectionable—just their place in it. They ran to the wild east, they ran south to the Cossack lands, they even ran west into Poland, hoping for a better deal. What they didn't do was stand where they were and say "This is wrong!"
It was a subtle but important distinction. There was no Harriet Tubman sneaking back into the Moscow province to smuggle other serfs out to the Cossack territories where they could be free. No Russian Frederick Douglass standing proudly and articulately to decry not just his serfdom but all serfdom. At least, they hadn't done that before the Ring of Fire.
The Ring of Fire changed all that, though it took a while for the change to take root. It took a while . . . but not that long a while. Rumors fly on the wings of eagles, they say. They fly even faster on wings made of mimeographed paper, and the more radically inclined of the boyar class could afford lots of paper. Russia might not have had its own Frederick Douglass, at least at first. But the writings of the original made their way into Russia and into Russian, along with Uncle Tom's Cabin and other such works. And they resonated. Resonated like jungle drums, like liberty bells. Soon enough, there were Russian serfs putting those thoughts in their own words. By 1635 Russia was starting to look like a powder keg.
But only starting to. And if it was a powder keg, it was milled powder not corned powder. And a poor mix at that.
No one wanted a return to the Time of Troubles. No one wanted Polish troops flooding into Moscow again. Then there was Rzhev. In military terms, Rzhev wasn't very significant at all. But in emotional terms it was. In Rzhev Russia defeated the Poles. And the army that did it had a good number of serfs in it, with a lot of them involved in the fighting. In Rzhev, the Russians showed themselves to be technologically superior to the Poles. Rzhev brought a new feeling of confidence to Russia, and a great deal of political capital to the czar.
Patriarch Filaret wanted to spend that capital invading Poland and retaking Smolensk. But Czar Mikhail Fedorovich had a different idea. He lit a match . . .
In an unprecedented move, today Czar Mikhail decreed that "Forbidden Years" are now limited, with some qualifications. Anyone who wants to buy out and leave his current lord may do so, provided he is willing to move to Siberia and look for gold or other metals and resources that are now known to exist.
Treasure Maps For Sale Here! Up-time sources used! Mine for GOLD, SILVER, COPPER! Find OIL!
Fedor shoved the paper at Igor. "And what are we going to use for labor now, Igor? The czar has betrayed us!"
"Shhh!" Igor hissed. "You want to get us killed!"
"I'm as loyal as any man," Fedor insisted, though more quietly. "But that doesn't get the crops in. Without our serfs my family will starve . . . and so will yours."
Which, Igor thought, was overstating the case, probably. It was true that members of the "service nobility" like himself and Fedor needed their serfs. There was never enough labor. "They claim that the new machines will take care of the labor problem," Igor said, still trying to calm his friend.
"They claim! If we could get them. You know how long the waiting list is and you know the boyars will all have them before we even see one. Which is probably a good thing, because who knows if they will work?"
Igor considered bringing up the increase in pay, but he was very much afraid that Fedor would start yelling again. Fedor had already made his opinions on the new paper money quite clear, many times. And honestly, Igor tended to agree with him. How could a piece of paper with printing on it have value? It just didn't make sense. Whenever he could Igor spent the paper as quickly as he could and saved the silver. He wasn't the only one. By this time a silver ruble—which nominally had the same value as a paper ruble—was buying three times as much. It didn't occur to Igor that the new paper rubles were worth three-quarters as much as the silver rubles had been before the paper rubles were introduced. Silver rubles were disappearing into holes and hidden compartments all over Russia, in a classic example of Gresham's Law.
Igor and Fedor had recently been transferred to Moscow to appointments within the Bureau of Roads, because the Bureau of Roads was expanding with the introduction of the Dacha Scrapers. They had both gotten raises but those raises hadn't been in the form of more lands as had been usual. The raise had been more of the new paper money. They didn't see Pavel Borisovich sitting in the next cubical with a friend.
"Papa, have you heard about the new proclamation?" Pavel asked Boris. "I was having lunch with Peter Ivanovich over at the Bureau of Roads and a couple of the new hires were talking. They seemed pretty upset."
"Yes. I imagine they were."
"How bad is it?" Pavel asked.
"It probably won't be too bad for us. We have new plows, a seeder, a reaper and a thresher. But it will ruin a lot of the lower nobility. How many are ruined depends on how many of the serfs can buy out and how many decide now is a good time to run." Serfs running away had been a major problem for years. Often aided and abetted by the upper boyars and the church, who always needed more labor.
Whatever Gustav Adolph thought, Americans didn't have a lock on bureaucracy. Russia had had a well-developed bureaucracy for many years. What Russia hadn't had when it was developing that bureaucracy, was the money to pay the bureaucrats. So whether it was a clerk in Novgorod, a manager in the Bureau of Roads, the Konyushenny Prikaz, or a cavalry trooper, most of the pay for his service was in the form of land granted on a semi-permanent basis by the czar.
Even at this late date the knots of law and custom that turned a free man into a serf weren't quite absolute. If you could escape and stay gone for five years, you were free. And the government wouldn't hunt you; that was up to the person that held the land you were tied to. Also, in theory, there were times when you could buy your way out of your chains. In theory. The last thirty or so years had been "Forbidden Years." Years during which even if you could come up with the cash you weren't allowed to change your status.