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Chapter Five

It was three days before everything was arranged. He picked Genadi up on the morning of the third day, having him wait in the back seat of the Mercedes while Mike went in the bank. It was a lovely clear day, the last storm having just cleared off and leaving the sky a washed blue.

In Mr. Mironov's office he found Vadim and Otar waiting, the latter looking puzzled.

"Mr. Jenkins," Mr. Mironov said, standing up as he entered. "All of the transfers have been verified." He pulled out a thick sheaf of papers and slid them across the desk. "This includes an up-to-date inventory of all the materials entailed on the farms. That includes, by the way, the Rover of the overseer."

Mike glanced at the inventory and then nodded.

"And the deed?" he asked.

"Here," Mironov said. "You sign here, taking possession, and I sign below, turning it over for the sum of one million euros. I took the liberty of escrowing that in one of our accounts and on your signature it transfers."

"Works for me," Mike said, thinking about the interest the bank had probably accrued. He doubted he was going to see it. He signed on the line and then slid the paper back to Mr. Mironov.

"And that is that," Mironov said with a sigh of relief. "You are now owner of the Keldara farm and all it entails, including the caravanserai."

"Thank you," Mike said. "Mr. Tarasova, Captain Tyurin, I think we should go inform the Keldara that they have a new landowner."

"You've bought the farm?" Otar asked, surprised. "I hadn't known you were even interested."

"It seemed like a good deal," Mike said. "Could you perhaps drive ahead? I'd like to talk to the Keldara."

As Otar left, Mike looked at Tyurin and shrugged.

"You're ready?" he asked.

"And eager," Tyurin said, grinning. "And thank you for the consulting fee. My wife appreciates it even more."

"I'm sure I'm going to be doing plenty of consulting," Mike said. He'd already arranged with Mr. Mironov to have five hundred euros a month drawn out and prepared for the police official. When in Rome . . . 

They walked out to the parking lot and headed down the pass, Mike driving his Mercedes and Vadim his Rover.

By the time they got to the Keldara village, the people were streaming out of their houses and gathering in the open area at the center. Mike parked well to the rear and got out, leaving Genadi in the car.

"Keldara workers," Otar said, standing on a stone dais that looked like a mounting stand. "I have important news. The valley has a new owner." The overseer gestured grandly at Mike and raised his hand, getting a ragged and dispirited cheer. The day was clear and cold and nobody particularly wanted to be standing in the snow. But Mike sensed that they'd have been just as wary of cheering the overseer if he'd told them it was free beer and beef for the next year.

Mike stepped up on the dais next to him and looked around at the faces of the people. Most of them had put two and two together and knew he was the lost American that had picked up . . . whatshername in the snow. With the exception of the children they looked . . . wary.

"People of the Keldara," Mike said in Russian, since he didn't speak a word of Georgian yet. "I had merely intended to live in the caravanserai for a time. But with the caravanserai comes the valley. As you take your rights and duties seriously, I take mine seriously. And I will discharge one of them now."

He turned to Otar and clapped him on the back.

"Otar Tarasova, you have run these farms well for many years," Mike said, smiling. "You have done well by their owner and treated the Keldara with fair openhandedness." The latter had been tough to translate into Russian, but Genadi had helped him, laughing the whole time. "The years have been heavy upon you and you are worn by toil. Which is why I think it's time that you retire."

"But, Mr. Jenkins . . ." Otar said, his face sliding from beaming smiles to ashen.

"Not with nothing," Mike said, reaching into his jump bag. "In the United States, it is a custom that when you retire you are given a watch. This is the best watch I could find in Alerrso and I hope that when you look at it you always think of the good days in the valley of the Keldara." He handed him the watch and then dipped into the jump bag again, pulling out an envelope. "And so that you can buy your own farm, here is a small token of my gratitude. Furthermore, you may keep the farm Range Rover in token of my esteem."

He helped the shaken man down and into the arms of Captain Tyurin. who led him over to the old, battered Rover.

"People of the Keldara," Mike said, loudly. "Three cheers for Otar Tarasova! Hip, hip, HOORAY! Hip, hip, HOORAY! Hip, hip, HOORAY!"

Mike kept the cheers up, dispirited as they were, until the former overseer, accompanied by Tyurin, drove out of the compound and towards town.

"Now that that jerk is gone, I have another overseer you might recognize," Mike said, waving to the Mercedes.

There was a buzz of excited conversation as Genadi stepped out of the car and over to the stand.

"This is your new overseer," Mike said, waving at Genadi. "I understand that there is some water under the bridge. It's over as of now. Genadi, in matters related to the farm, speaks with my voice. I know nothing of farming. I was a warrior, a commando, for the American military. Then I was a maker of communications gadgets. When it comes to farming, I will trust in Genadi to make the decisions. If you seriously disagree, and can explain why, you may meet with both of us and lay out your reasoning. But it had better make sense to a five-year-old, or I'll go with Genadi's opinion.

"I spoke a moment ago of rights and responsibilities. I understand that you have your opinion of what those are. In general, we see eye to eye so far. But I will make a few statements. I am not a farmer, I am not a Keldara, I am not a Georgian. I am an American and I was an American fighting man. We have what we find to be our responsibilities. I can't think like a Kildar, whatever that is. All I can do is think like an American fighting man. So I'll lay down a few rules that are going to violate your customs as I know them.

"One: No women will be sent to town. I understand that sometimes there are too many women, that sons are needed to run the farms. Fine. We'll figure something out. But sending women to town violates my honor. You touch that honor at your peril. I have worked very hard to save women on occasion. I will not see any of the women of the Keldara sold to town.

"Two: No person will go hungry. Not the old, not the young, not the men, not the women. You fear debt. I can understand that. I will tell you a story.

"I had a friend whose grandfather was the owner of a store in a small town like Alerrso. He died, as old men do, and my friend went to his funeral. After the funeral an old farmer, from a situation like your own, came up to him and told him that he was going to miss my friend's grandfather. 'Why once,' the man said, 'I was surely low on money. And I asked your grandfather for ten dollars as a loan. He told me he'd never ask for that ten dollars as long as I paid him a dollar a week. I've been paying him a dollar a week for the last few years and he never did ask for that ten dollars back.' "

Mike nodded as there were a few snorts. It appeared that not only was his Russian comprehensible but they had similar ideas of humor. Both were good signs. The faces of the people were beginning to thaw.

"The story was to show you that I understand your fear of being in debt," Mike continued. "But I'm not a commissar or a Kildar, I'm an American fighting man. I can only think of you as my troops. And you do not let your troops go hungry if you can avoid it. This, too, touches my honor. You will violate it at your peril. If I find that people are going hungry and I have not been told, I will take the most severe action. One way or the other, we will work it out. If I say there is no debt, there is no debt. If Genadi makes a mistake and there is too little food, there is especially no debt. I think that you'll find the changes we will make will ensure that no one will go hungry. But if we are wrong, I will assume the responsibility. And for that there is no debt.

"Third. Medical care. Right now there is none in this valley. I will see what can be done about that. But medical care, as of now, is my responsibility. For that, there is no debt. We will need to figure something out in the long term. But until we do, there is no debt. If anyone needs serious medical care, tell me and I will move heaven and earth to get it to them.

"A wise old general once said that you should never promise your troops anything you can't guarantee. I think you'll see some changes for the better but I promise nothing. You will have to see what I deliver and make your minds up about me on the basis of that. It's cold and you've been standing out here too long. I'd like to meet with the senior members of the Six Families as soon as possible, preferably in one of the houses where it is warm. I thank you for listening to me and hope to get to know each of you as time goes by. Now let's get inside!"

* * *

The men gathered around the table ranged from probably in their fifties to one that looked to be seventy. But he was a tough old bird, short but as hard-looking as the mountains that ringed the valley. He'd taken the seat at the far end, opposite Mike, as his due as senior.

"Genadi," Mike said to the overseer at his right. "I think introductions are in order."

"This is Father Makanee," Genadi said, pointing to the man on his right. "He is head of the Makanee family." Father Makanee was medium height with brown hair and eyes and broad shoulders. He was just about the youngest of the "elders." His hands looked like hams. He nodded at Mike warily.

"Father Devlich," Genadi said, pointing to the man to Mahona's left. This was the man Mike had met on the night of the blizzard. He, too, was watching Mike warily, but nodded.

"Father Devlich I've met," Mike said in Russian. "But we weren't introduced. A pleasure to see you again."

"Kildar," the man said, nodding again.

"Father Mahona," Genadi said, pointing to the man on Mike's left. He had short-cropped blond hair shot with gray and a graying beard. Another nod.

"Call me Mister Jenkins," Mike said, smiling.

"Father Shaynav," Genadi said, continuing to the man across from Devlich. He was in his sixties with red hair gone almost completely gray and a gray beard that hung to his chest. He watched Mike with interest, though, out of bright blue eyes. Mike noticed that he looked more like Genadi than the man who had the same last name. Either there was some fooling around going on or he didn't understand the family structure.

"Father Kulcyanov," Genadi said, leaning over to point to the second to the last man. Kulcyanov had once been hugely big, Mike could tell, but time and age had shrunk him. He looked in worse health than the man at the end of the table.

"And Father Ferani," Genadi concluded, pointing to the septuagenarian at the end of the table.

"Pleased to meet you all," Mike said. "First things first: Within my duties, which means responsibility to equipment and the homes as I understand it, is there anything that you need?"

The men looked at each other for a moment, then at Father Ferani.

"One of our houses needs the roof repaired," Ferani said in Russian, eyeing him warily.

"What do you need to do that?" Mike asked. "And do I pay you to do it or farm it out or what?"

"We need nails and roofing materials from the store," Ferani said, frowning. "And our men should be paid. We will do the work."

"Any other roofs that need repair?" Mike asked.

"Two of our houses leak," Father Kulcyanov said, wheezing slightly.

"Genadi, get a list, take a look at full replacement for all the roofs," Mike said. "Next."

"We have two plows that need to be much repaired or replaced," Father Devlich said, frowning at the apparent largesse.

"Pass," Mike replied. "I won't promise new equipment for the spring, but it's likely. I'll be looking at that with Genadi. Next."

"Our well has to be redug," Father Mahona said. "We will do the work, but it's the responsibility of the Kildar to provide for the wells. The Kildar owns the water. We should be paid."

"Can you do that in winter?" Mike asked, frowning.

"With difficulty," Genadi replied. "The ground is hard."

"What are you doing for water now?" Mike asked.

"Melting snow," Mahona said, shrugging. "What else?"

"Genadi, put that at the top of your list," Mike replied. "Figure something out. If it has to be redug by hand, it has to be redug by hand. But if we can get equipment in to do it, get the equipment."

"I'll look into it," Genadi said.


The meeting went on for about an hour and it was apparent that the bank had been neglecting its duties, at least from the point of view of the Keldara.

"I'm not going to guarantee to get all of this fixed this week," Mike said as the list grew. "Or even this month. But it will all get worked on. If there is anything that you can do by yourselves, do it and bill me. If there is something that needs fixing that falls in my duties, get it fixed. Work out the payment and arrangements with Genadi. There is a large operating account with the bank for just this sort of thing. We should be able to cover everything that needs doing. Now, a few things that I need. I'm going to be moving into the caravanserai but the place is so huge I'll need servants. Notably, I'll need a cook, a housekeeper and some yard help. The housekeeper may need some help as well and there are repairs to do on the grounds and on the interior. I'd also like to get some of the junk moved out of the cellars, especially since I have materials I'm going to be moving in. I would prefer the housekeeper be capable of reading, writing and basic bookkeeping. I'll also need some foodstuffs. All of this, obviously, will be paid for."

"We can do all of this," Father Ferani said, nodding. "What is the planting schedule for the spring?"

"That will be up to Genadi," Mike said, firmly. "I think you'll find that we will be buying more, and more expensive, seed than you are used to. If any of you find this excessive, I'll be glad to take up the slack. Again, I'm not promising anything, except to promise that there will be changes. On that note, I'm bothered by the security situation. I intend to fund a militia with both arms and training. Is this going to be a problem?"

"No," Father Kulcyanov wheezed. "Give us the guns and we'll show you what we can do."

"There is more to it than giving you the guns," Mike said. "Some of you might have been soldiers or talked to soldiers. I'm a professional. And there are going to be changes I know you won't like. Among other things, I'll be bringing in female soldiers to train the women."

"What?" Father Mahona snapped. "You're mad!"

"No, I'm a professional," Mike snapped right back. "Women, by and large, aren't good field soldiers. But they can hold fixed positions just fine if you give them training. And that is how this militia is going to work. The men won't just be sitting on their butts but patrolling and finding the enemy before we're struck by them. Then they'll maneuver in the field and strike them from the flanks and behind while the women hold the farms. That's the way to win, not just survive. I intend to make this region a no-go zone for the Chechens because that means they never get to the farms. But if they do, they'll find them bristling with guns, guns served by women."

"In the Great Patriotic War many women fought alongside men," Father Kulcyanov wheezed. "And the women of the Keldara have always been the last line of defense of the homes. This is nothing new."

"There will be new things," Mike promised. "But the training, weapons and equipment that they get will be top of the line. There's no reason for it not to be. If you're in agreement, and Captain Tyurin already is, I'll begin rounding up trainers, weapons and equipment immediately. For the time being, we'll store it in the caravanserai."

"As you wish, Kildar," Father Mahona said. "But if you think women can be taught to fight, I think you are mad."

"What about Mother Lenka?" Father Devlich said, grinning.

"I was thinking that she would make the Kildar an excellent housekeeper," Father Mahona said.

"Woe is the Kildar!" Father Shaynav moaned.

"I think there are better choices than Mother Lenka for a housekeeper," Genadi said, firmly. "Almost any other choice."

"Who is Mother Lenka?" Mike asked, smiling at the interplay.

"Mother Lenka is . . . Mother Lenka," Genadi said, sighing. "She is a force of nature. I think you will like her, but not as a housekeeper."

"You will be staying here," Father Ferani said. "Not returning to America?"

"I am not unwanted in America," Mike said, frowning. "Okay, honesty time. I have enemies. It is one of the reasons I want to train you as militia. Not to defend me, but to defend yourselves if my enemies come for me. But, for now, this is a good place for me to be. It is out of the way and defensible. And with Captain Tyurin's tacit approval, I can purchase weapons for my defense. I can do this in America as well, but this place, I think, is better." He paused and grinned. "Even with the friends I have in America, and they are powerful friends, if I kill a bunch of ragheads there will be questions and problems—"

"And here we have shovels," Father Kulcyanov said, then choked and laughed.

"And here we have shovels," Mike said with a nod. "And it is a reason for me to get a backhoe. Be joyous."

"It is good there is a Kildar again," Father Ferani said, considering him carefully but smiling. "And you are a good Kildar for us. Better than you can know."

"We should bring you to each of the houses if you will, Kildar," Father Shaynav said. "I understand you have a taste for beer. You should try each Family's brew and decide which is best."

"I don't think my first day on the job I should get hammered," Mike pointed out. "But I'll try a bit."

"We shall start here," Father Kulcyanov said, raising his voice in Georgian.

The meeting had been held in the main room of the house with everyone chivvied out except the elders. Now the rest of the Kulcyanov family began pouring in from the back rooms where they must have been packed in like sardines.

"Bring food and drink for the Kildar," Father Kulcyanov said in Russian. His tones were formal and for once he managed to not wheeze, sitting straight in his chair, his face firm. It gave him a trace of what he must have once been and Mike was sorry he'd never met that man. "We greet our new Kildar. Let him be proud of the peoples he now leads. And let us give thanks to the Father of All that a true Kildar has returned."

The women began to prepare food as the younger men of the household lined up to be introduced. Mike had a hard time keeping up with all the names but he figured he'd learn them in time. There were four married men in the household, some of them old enough that their sons were of marriageable age. One of the younger ones, Oleg Kulcyanov, hadn't fallen far from the tree. He was a monster, at least six foot six and broad in proportion, heavily muscled and blond with clear blue eyes. A couple of others had the same general build and look.

The meal was simple and light, bread, cheese and a little sava, which seemed to be the local equivalent of a hamburger, probably because everyone knew he was going to be visiting the other families. And he was given a small tankard of beer to sample. He thought it would be much the same as the beer in the village, but when he tried it he was amazed. He'd thought the beer in the tavern was good until he tried this stuff.

"That's great," Mike said, setting down the tankard carefully. The beer was a trifle more bitter than that in the village, but excellent. And, again, with a hint of something he couldn't quite place. "Do you all brew your own beer?"

"The women of the Families brew the beer," Father Kulcyanov answered. "Each family has its own recipe. Every spring they have a contest to see who has the best."

"I can't imagine any of them being better than that," Mike said, shaking his head. "Who is the brewer?"

"I am," one of the older women said, curtseying. "I am Mother Kulcyanov."

"You have an excellent house, Mother Kulcyanov," Mike said. "And a fine brew."

"Thank you, Kildar," the woman replied, curtseying again. "But I know that I do not make the best beer in the valley," she added, sighing. "That would be Mother Lenka. The witch."

"If Mother Lenka's beer is better than this, she must be a witch," Mike said, shaking his head.

Through the rest of the day Mike was taken from house to house. In each he had a small meal and tested the beer. After the first two he realized he was never going to be able to tell which was better. He just praised them all to the heavens. He met dozens of men and a few of the women. In the latter case, he was introduced to married women only, generally the family "Mother." It was apparent that the Families were more like small clans. He wasn't sure what the total population of the valley was, but there were enough young men to make up at least a company of infantry.

The last house they visited was the Devlich household, the one that he'd come to in the blizzard. Father Devlich seemed the most unsure about him but Mike could handle that.

He was seated at the end of the table while the women served and was handed the usual glass of beer. He was a bit tipsy by that point, but he tried it cautiously. And then he shook his head.

"This must be the house of Mother Lenka," he said, grinning. "I'd been warned that Mother Lenka's brew could make an alcoholic of any man." The beer was flat out fantastic. Strong, full and rich—it was truly "liquid bread."

"Hah, you've heard of me already!" one of the older women said with a cackle. She still had a trace of great beauty buried in a mass of wrinkles, and her hair was still black with only a trace of gray.

"Of your amazing beer and great beauty," Mike said. "Also that you're a meek and kind individual."

"Who has been lying about me?" the woman said. Her Russian was excellent; he knew enough to detect a trace of a Leningrad accent, and Mike suspected she was not from the Families originally.

When he was finished with the meal and beer at the Devlich house, Mike and Genadi stumbled out to the Mercedes and made their way up to the caravanserai. While he'd been being introduced, a group of the Keldara had already headed for the castle and when Mike arrived, wanting nothing more than to have a brief nap, the house and grounds were full of bustle with the courtyard filled with colorfully painted wagons.

"Kildar," a woman said as he entered, "I am Mother Savina. If you accept my services, I will be your housekeeper." Mother Savina was a short woman with black hair gone mostly gray and a strong face. "Mother Griffina would be your cook. She is in the kitchen, cleaning. Would you like to meet her as well?"

"Not at the moment," Mike admitted. "Right now, I'd just like to lie down and sleep off the food and beer. And what beer!"

"I will ensure that there is beer in the house," Mother Savina said with a smile. "Will you be wanting dinner?"

"The way I'm feeling now the answer is no," Mike said. "Maybe something light. Are there any beds available?"

"The master suite has already been cleaned and the linens changed," Mother Savina said, nodding. "Please rest. We will try to keep the noise down."



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