1636 The Kremlin Games

Part One

The year 1631

Chapter 1


October 1631

Vladimir Gorchakov pulled his horse up as he saw Boris Ivanovich Petrov stopping to look around. “Apparently Tilly’s tercio commander wasn’t the liar we thought he was.”

“This place is worth the trip,” Boris said. “See the cuts in the earth where the land was changed? Look at these hills. The structure is different from those outside the ring. Everything inside this Ring of Fire is different.”

Most of their entourage was still on its way from Jena, but neither he nor Boris had wanted to delay long enough to sell all their trade goods or drag what was left along with them. They had left the matter in the hands of Fedor Ivanovich and ridden on ahead, with just two attendants.

“I was convinced it was a fraud of some sort.” Boris was shaking his head in wonder. “But anyone who could fake this kind of thing would have too much power to need to fake anything.”

Vladimir nodded to the bureau man and patted his horse. “I believed it was a preposterous lie right up until we got to Jena. It was the up-timer and that APC that made me start to suspect it might not be. Once you’ve seen one of those ‘cars,’ well, you must believe that something has happened.”

“For me it was the view from Rudolstadt.” Boris grinned. “But I am a cynic. Cars can be made by men. Not this!” He waved at the circle of inward- and outward-facing cliffs.

Vladimir remembered his first sight of over a mile of mirror-smooth cliffs. It had been beyond impressive. It was as though God had taken a scoop out of the earth and replaced it with a scoop of something else. He could see Boris’ point.

Vladimir looked over at Boris. Boris Ivanovich was an unassuming little man, the sort of man who could blend in anywhere and not be noticed. He didn’t look at all impressive. Appearances lied. Boris was a bureaucrat of Russia, specifically of the Posol’sky Prikaz, the Embassy Bureau or State Department. He was an experienced spy and a well-traveled agent. He spoke, read, and wrote Russian, Polish, Danish, German, English, and, of course, Latin and Greek. He had been assigned to accompany Vladimir Petrovich on this “fool’s errand” by the czar’s father in an attempt to keep the czar from looking any more foolish than could be avoided. And probably, Vladimir acknowledged, to keep me out of trouble.

Vladimir was sure Boris had his own thoughts about the situation. He could even make a good guess about what Boris was thinking. Not that any of it showed on Boris’ face. Boris, at the moment, was wearing his I’m-too-dumb-to-pound-sand look. No, it was the situation; any bureau man would be thinking the same thing. Boris’ rank in the bureaucracy that ran Russia was higher than Vladimir’s, or had been. He had been demoted without prejudice for this mission since Vladimir was a kniaz, a prince. Vladimir, as a prince with almost independent lands—combined with his friendship with the czar—was almost certain to end up as a boyar of the cabinet. It would be totally inappropriate to have him under the orders of someone with Boris’ lack of pedigree. But without prejudice or not, it was still a demotion. And if things went wrong it would be really easy to leave Boris demoted. That had been a major concern on their way here, Vladimir knew.

The fact that Grantville wasn’t a hoax presented Boris with both problems and opportunities. Powerful people didn’t like to be proven wrong, and there was more than a little bit of a tendency to kill the messenger in the Russian government. On the other hand, the fact that Grantville was not a hoax meant that keeping the czar from looking foolish in sending the mission became much easier. Certain people at court were not going to like that, either.

Moreover, since Grantville did exist, a network of spies would have to be put in place to watch it. Boris was in an excellent position to end up an important figure in that network. And the politics of the situation meant the Grantville Office in Moscow would be an important one. Poland was Russia’s great enemy at the moment and Germany was just the other side of it. Now a section of Germany was peaceful and relatively prosperous instead of being torn up by war. The up-timers, as the locals called them, had to be encouraged to take Sweden’s side. So far they had