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1636: The Kremlin Games: Chapter Forty
Last updated: Wednesday, June 6, 2012 21:44 EDT
On the road to the Swedish Border
Bernie shivered. Theatrically, Natasha thought. She exchanged an amused glance with Anya. Anya rolled her eyes and Natasha had to struggle not to giggle.
Oblivious to the byplay, Bernie went on, “Well, at least it’s not a horse. It may be colder than a witch’s . . . ah, never mind. It may be really cold, but at least we aren’t riding horses.”
“Indeed, we aren’t.” Natasha smiled. “And you must admit that it’s a very nice sleigh, Bernie, very nice.”
And it was, in fact, a very nice sleigh. It had special springs for the skis. Outside it was bitterly cold and the snow was still pretty deep, but the streamlined sleigh had double-walled construction and a lacquer polish job that acted as sealant, as well as making the whole thing shiny. It was relatively warm inside, even if it did look a bit peculiar. The sleigh needed high road clearance because even the improved roads weren’t exactly highways in the up-timer sense of the word. They were reasonably well-graded dirt roads with a bit of crushed rock spread over them. Plus, at the moment, a layer of snow.
Only a relatively small part of the design for the coach was from up-timer information. More of it came from a Russian coach maker who had joined the team after the czar had seen some up-time car magazines. Czar Mikhail had liked the idea of cars and smooth rides. He’d decided that if he couldn’t have an engine, he at least wanted a streamlined design and shock absorbers.
The coach maker, Ivan Egorovich Shirshov, had taken note of that desire. The czar had seen to that. Ivan Egorovich had arrived at the dacha with a medium-sized chip on his shoulder over the whole mess. Then he talked to Bernie and found that Bernie agreed with him. But it was no more up to Bernie than it was to him. They had gone over Bernie’s car magazines, then over sleigh designs and coach designs, trying to figure out what they could do. Ivan Egorovich now had a permanent dent in his forehead from pounding it against the wall in frustration. And Czar Mikhail had a new coach. So did Bernie.
Bernie grabbed the edge of the seat. “Hang on. We’re about to hit another rutted bit. And I still can’t figure out why you wanted to come on this trip, ladies. You’re probably going to get frostbite on your noses.”
“The ‘advance team’ as you call it has made arrangements, Bernie. We will be comfortable. And I like traveling. Vladimir and I did quite a bit of it, you know, back when our father was alive.”
Aunt Sofia grinned widely. “The weather, it is not so bad.”
Bernie shuddered. If it hadn’t been for the long johns, he’d have had frozen b . . . ah . . . parts by now.
The trip to the Swedish border had several purposes. One was to investigate the road work. Road work had been continuing apace since a few months or so after Bernie’s arrival. Since he had worked on the road gangs around Grantville and had a mechanical turn of mind, he had a good knowledge of the horse-drawn grader and other horse-drawn road improvement equipment. The equipment he had helped design for Russia had been used extensively for more than a year now and was showing real effect. The czar’s highways mostly went south and east, roughly toward China. One, however, went north and west toward the coast of the Baltic Sea.
That was the highway they were traveling. It was a fairly slow trip. They stopped occasionally to examine the road work. Most important to Bernie, though, was that the trip’s second purpose was to pick up his car. It had been shipped from Grantville by way of the Baltic Sea to the Swedish-owned coast.
Russia had lost this particular bit of land to Sweden a couple of decades before. Thankfully, relations between the two nations had greatly improved in the ensuing years. This was mostly because both Sweden and Russia disliked Poland more than they disliked each other. But, also, Czar Mikhail Fedorovich Romanov was honestly impressed with the charismatic Swedish monarch.
Natasha had decided to join the party and she brought Sofia and Anya, so there were more women than Bernie thought there’d be. The amount of advanced planning needed to travel just a couple of days was mind boggling to Bernie. And this trip would take at least a month, new coach or not.
“I can’t believe it.” Bernie knew his voice was harsh and his nose bright red from chapping. He was also angry. “I can’t believe it took five freaking weeks to get here and the ship still hasn’t made it.” Which wasn’t what he’d started to say but was more politic. He stomped around the room for a bit, working off some excess energy and tying not to say what he wanted to say.
“Now, Bernie.” Vladislav Vasl’yevich Vinnikov, Natasha’s captain of guards, tried to soothe him. “It was a long way, a hard trip at this time of year. I would imagine that it was even worse on the sea. Your friend will be here. You must just be patient.”
“Why can’t we just go to the coast to meet him?” Bernie asked, in spite of his better judgment. The truth was Bernie was pretty sure he knew why. He wasn’t going to be allowed to leave Russia. Not for the foreseeable future, anyway. They had their up-timer and weren’t going to chance losing him. That had become obvious once they got to the Russian/Swedish border and stopped. He threw his hands in the air.
Bernie knew Vladislav Vasl’yevich wasn’t about to answer his question directly. It wouldn’t be the correct thing to do.
“The villages in the area, Bernie. We should look at the villages. The soil is a bit different, perhaps. You could take notes; it would help with the development of the plows and reapers, I’m sure.”
Bernie brightened a bit, not much. “Well, it’s something to do anyway. Sure, we’ll go take a look.”
Natasha, who had been quiet for a few moments, added, “As well, Pavel Andreyevich would like you to design your plumbing for his home. He is most interested in it. And you are invited to utilize his sauna, if you wish.”
Bernie grinned. The word Natasha had used was banya. The Russian sauna was certainly a way to get warm. Overly warm, if the truth were known. Bernie hadn’t quite been able to make it to the third level back at the Dacha, not yet. Nor had he quite had the guts to roll around in the snow afterwards, although he had progressed to dumping buckets of not-quite-cold water on himself. They also involved a massage with leafy twigs which was called venek, that had been sort of a revelation. Bernie didn’t know of the reports up-time that venek worked better than Viagra, but if he had he would have agreed with them.
“Sounds like a plan.” Bernie sniffed. Cold always made his nose run. “After four hundred miles in this kind of freaking cold, a sauna sounds really good.” And as pissed and, tell the truth, Bernie, he thought, scared as you are. Now is not the time to make an issue of it.
Natasha smiled as Bernie left the room. “That might have been more difficult.”
Vladislav Vasl’yevich shook his head. “He knows. He just doesn’t want the confrontation any more than we do. I wonder what delayed the ship.”
They had planned not to reach the border till after the car was already there, but didn’t want it waiting too long. Natasha had spent a worried week thinking up things to keep Bernie occupied. As yet, Russia had been able to recruit a total of one up-timer. That up-timer was Bernie Zeppi. Cass Lowry was a temporary hire.
Czar Mikhail and Patriarch Filaret were quite insistent that Bernie not leave Russian territory. At the same time, Mikhail Romanov expressed a personal desire that Bernie not be made to feel abused or trapped. Natasha was stuck with the job of keeping Bernie from leaving Russia while keeping him from realizing that he couldn’t. A task which, if Vladislav was correct, she had already failed at.
It was important that Bernie remain willing to stay in Russia. Bernie was in regular correspondence with Brandy Bates and his own family in Grantville. A sudden end to those letters would be reported to the government of the USE, most likely. Russia, decidedly, didn’t want to annoy the USE at the moment.
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