They all got together and built a house for the women and children from the Ignatov, Krupin and Vaoumov Families. The servants, once they realized there were no mentalists around to control them, stayed to take care of the ladies (the two abandoned Krupin women were elderly) and children (a total of twenty, the oldest just 14). Leonti hauled the oldest boys off to help with various project, Masha and Darya the same with the girls. And they all, no matter their age, started learning magic.
The Mikhailov servants figured out how to make fairly decent plate glass and got quite a stack of oddities as pay. Rudolf just shrugged. "They all come with a promise to repurchase them as soon as someone figures out what to do about money. It's a memory of home. They all want them back."
The servants built themselves a large building that had a suspicious resemblance to a restaurant across the road from Mikhailov House. All it lacked was a reliable source of groceries and a monetary system.
They laid out the road behind all the lakeside claims, and most of the families were good about hauling rocks and gravel to keep it passable as storms moved in and nighttime temperatures dropped. They salted and smoked meat, cut firewood and braced for a winter of unknown depth.
Across the lake, the Old Mentalists built fourteen large lodges. Like the south, located on higher ground. They talked often enough, as hunting parties met, to know that every Old Mentalist that still had power had built one. The seven former leaders had all been hit by the Plague, and retired in favor of the strongest Mentalist of the Family.
They were running them like hotels, with a hundred to a hundred and fifty people per lodge.
"The servants we've met, out hunting?" Ev looked over at Klim. "They act like before. Like they're still wired and stupid. Well, really less than half of us got back to normal."
Klim bit his lip. "I've been operating on the assumption that the Plague either ate Zivvy, or in the absence of zivvy messed up power collection. Either I'm wrong, or the Plague didn't spread among that group."
Benedikt perked up. "We really need to keep contact open with them."
Klim nodded. "Not that anyone has anything to trade, but you youngsters need to meet and marry, back and forth. You should invite your Viktorov and Mateev friends to visit."
And later Klim looked over at Ev. "And if it's not an effect of the Plague . . . maybe you guys should share that healing potion with the servants on the other claims. Not sure it'd be safe for the Mentalists, though."
Ev nodded, trying hard to not look astonished.
Klim shrugged. "I love how Olga's come to life, come into her Mentalist abilities. And all of you servants? You are free. Free of the wires, free of us Mentalists. It was a shock . . . but in the end, I approve."
The lake was only five miles across, so it was easy enough for Bendikt to coordinate a hunting expedition with Rodian and Svya.
They took the electric truck, and Leonti's little charger with them. Not that they didn't have enough charge, but if they had to detour . . .
Anatoly abandoned the truck for Rodian's estate car after it had eased across the crude bridge they'd built across the river below the outlet from the lake.
First stop a hilltop.
The chilly wind rattled through the thigh high dried grass and across the flat valley floor beyond them.
"Looks like the migration's over." Rodian squinted. "I think those are horses way out there."
Dimi snickered. "Look the other way."
They all turned.
"Well . . ." Benedikt eyed the hairy beasts, fortunately well to the north and across the river. Not that they can't just wade across, as low as the water is right now. "I guess that settles the speculation about whether this is an Ice Age World."
"It's got the fauna, that's for sure." Makar sounded wishful. "Maybe we can go exploring, next spring."
"More likely years from now, next spring we need to catch some mares to breed to Krupin's old stallion." Rodian grinned. "I can't believe you let the little scamp keep him."
"Steal from my brother?" Benedikt eyed Rodian and Svya. "So . . . has it come down to backstabbing over on the Northside?"
"With two hundred and fifty Mentalists? And that's not counting the Retired Mentalists."
Svya nodded. "All stuffed into fourteen lodges. It's going to be hell if we get snowed in. There's barely enough servants to keep everything clean and three meals a days. We're all stealing each others servants to wash our clothes, and like as not someone else will grab them half way through."
We have a third their population and I think we're up to forty houses. And no one steals or controls servants. I mean, I could but . . .
"And the women all bitch and the kids run wild." Rodian shuddered. "I ought to marry one of you fellows' sisters and move to southside."
Svya grinned. "Good plan."
Anatoly snorted. "Well, if we're not going to kill anything, you could come visit."
"Yeah." Benedikt waved southeast. "Let's poke around the hills back there, then head north."
A mile on, Benedikt slowed . . .
"Something's running." Dimi pulled out his rifle.
"Getting closer." Makar reached for his. Sandwiched in the middle he shrugged and stopped.
Benedikt stopped the truck and got out as a camel galloped over the hill. Dimi took him down with a single shot. The big cat on his heels leaped up on the carcass and Benedikt hit him with a mental punch between the eyes.
Rodian pulled up beside them. "Damn, Benedikt. A thirty foot punch? I'm going to have to start being polite to you."
Benedikt laughed. "As if that'll ever happen. Well, I dunno if cat is edible, but I think I just found a rug for my house."
Makar walked up and shook his head. "I don't think I've had any camel yet. I hope it's good, because there's a whole lot of it."
They bled and dressed the carcasses, and had to cut the camel up to levitate and strong arm it into the truck. Then toss the big cat on top.
Heading roughly north, they topped a hill and paused to eye the long sweep of the south shore of the lake.
"Damn." Svya walked out and started. "It looks like a real village."
Benedikt looked across the lake. The big lodges were easy to spot. He shook his head in amazement. "Yeah, depending on the weather and so forth, we'll probably expand next year. More houses . . . maybe some gardens. Pastures if we can catch horses. Or maybe bison calves and try to tame them."
"Huh." Rodian was frowning. "Who's in charge?" A side long look. "Everyone says your Father's . . . ready to retire, as they say."
"No. It's quite interesting . . . you might want to talk to your retired Mentalists . . . Father has trouble collecting power, so that limits how much he can do. But he can still do anything, once or twice. He's teaching all of us."
Rodian glowered. "Get on Uncle Serafim's bad list by strengthening Old Vlad? Do I look insane?"
Svya nodded. "My dad's bad enough. I don't want to start a war in the Family Lodge."
Just a few month ago I might have challenged my father. But he respects me, give me my freedom, his approval. He's proud of me.