A/N: Hello from the both of us! :) Thank you to the reviewers/favoriters/followers, you rock :) The explorer mentioned in here is totally made up, and the info about the animals is mostly from Wikipedia.
Vin tucked the horses as deep under the overhang as he possibly could with both the rain and now the wind making every move he made that much more difficult. Patting the horses one last time, the drenched and dripping wet saddle bags over his shoulder, he headed back to the cave entrance, stopping and staring in confusion that was quickly laced with a little vexation. What the hell was that crazy dandy doing now? Vin got them all the way to the cave and he was standing outside it letting the rain pound down on him. When he'd been complaining like he was dying the whole way here! "Ez," he said sharply, "what the heck ya doin'? Get inside."
Ezra regarded him with a look that was haughty enough to set Vin's teeth on edge, "Once Ah have completed the removal of the layer of unwanted nature that has affixed itself to mah form, Ah will gladly follow your excellent suggestion, Vin." Vin looked at Ezra for a long moment, mouth drawn, then with a shake of his head went around him and into the cave, figuring the chill and wet would make Ezra decide he was clean enough before too long. If not, Vin would just have to decide for him. As he stepped inside the cave, he tossed the saddlebags in a heap near the mouth, the simple lack of wind making him warmer as he looked out at Ezra again with a frown. He was fussy with his clothes, sure, but generally not to the point of being plain stupid. Turning to his own clothes Vin tried to shuck as much water as he could from them, ringing out his coat and shirt the best he was able with them still on. The water in his hat brim was dumped, on the ground this time. He almost started to pull off his boots, but then remembered his hard headed brother was still standing outside in a rainstorm and with a scowl left them on. Turning towards the back and the wider part of the cave Vin walked over to where it opened up to the side a few feet. Seeing the small stack of wood and brush he'd stashed around the bend in the cave last time he'd been here, Vin quickly checked a small pocket he'd found in the rock for the box of matches and relaxed a little. He could start a fire without them if he had too, but with his hands frozen from the cold it would be plenty hard. They'd be warm enough for awhile, now.
If Ezra would get his hide in the cave, anyway.
Moments turned to minutes as Vin readied the wood for a small fire and circled the tiny interior of the cave so many times he lost count. The tracker paused briefly, looking at the opening of the cave in expectation. Frowning when he saw neither hide nor hair of a little brother who by now had to look like he jumped in Ms. Nettie's pond, twice over, he started when he heard the unmistakable sound of thunder in the distance. Face darkening when his fool of a little brother still didn't appear, he made the decision. That had been plenty loud too, he thought as he marched to the cave's opening. It was the lightning that let you know how close it was, but it had still been plenty loud. Peering out through the sheet of rain he saw Ezra had taken his damn jacket off to rinse off where mud had gotten on the fabric inside, turning and lifting it to get every fold and pocket. In irritation Vin snapped out, "Ezra! The rain washed all the sense outta yer head?" Ezra hadn't even finished turning to face Vin and the sarcastic words were coming at him across the small rock ledge that levered the cave's entrance about two feet above the rest of the hill.
"If such a farcical notion were possible it would be your fault would it not?" Carrying on before Vin could do more than stiffen, he shook out the drenched jacket with a loud snap, as though it would make any difference, "As it is not, do not trouble yourself about it." Huh. Ezra was seriously trying to get under his skin like a burr stuck under Peso's saddle.
"It's thunderin' an' lightenin', an' ya should be inside dryin' off!" Vin growled out, "Get yer ass in here, Ezra."
"There was at least a four or five second interval between the lightning and thunder. You yourself instructed me that each second corresponds to a mile distance between ones location and the storm." Ezra looked as though he thought this settled the matter, and Vin was already planning to make it clear that it sure hadn't when the other boy muttered, in a whisper that Vin was sure he was meant to hear, "Though perhaps that knowledge should have been considered with a grain of salt." Growling deep in his chest, almost starting at how much he sounded like Chris, Vin marched out onto the craggy ledge, a small grin springing to his face at the look of surprise that flashed across Ezra's wet face. Without a word, Vin snagged the gambler's upper arm and turned, ready to drag his thick headed little brother out of the steady downpour.
"Unhand me! Ah have already informed yah of the rationale for mah delay in joining yah, this jacket will be soiled, disfigured if every speck of mud is not thoroughly rinsed off. Yah clearly do not understand the value of this garment." Vin, who'd looked up as he felt the raindrops start to sting, the already huge drops coming down rapidly, didn't hear Ezra's last sentence, more concerned with getting his younger brother inside than listening to him whine. Vin could tell just by looking at the soggy gambler that he was as cold and miserable as he was. He wondered why his brother was so intent on standing in the rain and wind over a coat when he had more back in town than Vin had clothes. No matter, he had no desire to explain how Ezra'd caught his death to Nate when they got back. He stepped forward and reached out to grab hold of the gambler's soaked arm again, determined to save them both from one of Nathan's lectures, but Ezra stepped back, keeping just out of reach. As lightning flashed again in the sky, the thunder coming three seconds later showing the storm was moving fast, and Ezra staying as stubbornly defiant as he had been, Vin fixed his eyes on that jacket. Hand shooting out, he yanked it away from Ezra with a snarl and flung it as hard as he could towards the cave, it sailing in as Eza let out a horrified screech, like Vin had tossed away his precious Ivanhoe.
"Yer coat's in the damn cave, yer turn." He heaved at Ezra's arm, but his solid for his size brother leaned back, refusing to budge. "Ez-ra." Vin ground out his brother's name in a tone so dark, he thought for sure the stubborn gambler would listen, and was shocked when instead, Ezra shoved him. Vin staggered back a half step, his grip on Ezra's arm pulling him with him as he slipped on the slick and muddy ledge. Ezra, seeing that Vin was losing his footing, pulled back again, though whether he was trying to keep him on his feet or just not get pulled down himself he wasn't sure. Glaring, rain streaking in front of his face and making it hard to grab anything, Vin readjusted his grip so he could yank Ezra towards the cave and out of the rain. Once he had his footing, he opened his mouth to snarl at him to quit his fighting when Ezra grabbed hold of his hand with frozen fingers and pried it off with force, shoving it and his arm back. Vin's boots slid back with Ezra's unexpected push, sliding across the rain soaked ledge like a deer on ice. Digging his heels into the rock, Vin stopped his backward motion, shoving back at Ezra without really thinking about what he was doing. Ezra's fancy boots reacted the same way, sliding, but the gambler managed a quicker retort than Vin had, one hand shooting out to shove again, hard, against Vin's shoulder. "Pigheaded brat!" Vin exclaimed as he stumbled back towards the cave, wet hair whipping at his face as a gust of wind blasted at them.
"Flea-bitten desert rat!" Fighting mad now, Vin gripped tightly to Ezra's water logged arm and gave a mighty heave, intending to get Ezra moving, so he could pull him into the cave for good, but the only thing that accomplished was Vin almost sliding forward smack into Ezra as the gambler set his weight firmly against the ground. Having enough, more than enough, he planted his feet squarely and quickly wrapped one arm around Ezra's back, hooking a foot behind Ezra's left knee, and gave one quick pull, grinning when Ezra's knee bent. With the arm around the younger boy's back, Vin tugged and Ezra stumbled forward, snapping things Vin pretended not to hear. It would have been a lot easier if the rain wasn't making his brother about as slick as a catfish. A quick glance over his shoulder, checking the distance to the cave through the falling sheet of water, proved to be a bad move, as Ezra used the moment to try to wrench free from Vin's hold. The unexpected jerk had Vin's foot skating across the ledge and this time, it was too far to recover. Within a second, Vin was slipping, unable to control his wayward feet, curses falling from his mouth like the raindrops from the sky. He felt his boots going out from under him and did his best to turn his fall into a roll, grunting as he hit the stone, the way he was tangled up with his brother not helping. The bumpy roll finally came to an end with them both sprawled across the mud ridden stone, Ezra's weight pressing him into it. Groaning quietly, Vin took stalk of the bruises and bumps he'd just collected, surprised when Ezra's frustrated voice jolted across his ears. "You did that deliberately!"
Staring up at Ezra in disbelief from where the still grumbling gambler was sprawled halfway across his chest, pinning him to the rock Vin snorted and tried to shove his brother off him. "Why would I want yer heavy ass fallin' on me?"
Ezra glared frustratedly down at him, but couldn't seem to come up with an answer, finally tossing off, "Ah haven't the faintest idea-perhaps the rain has finally driven us both mad." Vin blinked, more in an effort to get the excess water from his eyes than from what his brother had said, the tired sounding words making him quirk a grin as he gave another, gentler push, sending Ezra onto the rocky surface next to him.
"I reckon that might not be too far off, Ez." Vin started to push himself up, and after a moment Ezra did the same. With a glance, Vin realized that Ezra didn't notice how close he was to the drop off and was about to push himself right off it. He reached out to yank him away from it, and Ezra, expression bewildered, pulled back right as Vin's hand clamped on his shirt. They both went sliding over the edge, landing with a thump in the thick build up of mud below. Perfect!
"Well, isn't this familiar," Ezra breathed out, following it with a heavy groan. Vin, grateful that he'd at least landed on top this time, had to hide a snort and used the side of the ledge to roll himself off his brother without squishing him further into the mud. Landing in it with a plop he decided that it was time for a truce.
"Don't know 'bout ya, but I'm plumb worn out from this tusslin'." Moving to a sitting position as the thick sludge pulled at his clothes, he looked at Ezra, waiting on the younger boy's response.
"The unusual clash of our soused persons does seem to have sapped away most of mah vigor." Ezra's voice was grumbly, but in a placid way as he propped himself up first with an elbow and then heaved himself upright.
Watching as Ezra uselessly wiped at the raindrops shoving his hair into his eyes and plastering it to his forehead, Vin wondered if the gambler's hat was lost in the mud somewhere. Suddenly Ezra quirked his lips slightly and said, "In light of our current circumstances, Ah suppose Ah should be grateful for your previous unwanted attentions to mah jacket."
Vin threw a smirk at Ezra, "Unwanted attentions, huh? Weren't for me all that time you spent cleanin' it woulda been for nothin'."
Ezra rolled his eyes slightly, "Yes, yes, thus the extension of mah gratitude." Standing slowly as rain continued to pelt around him, glad the hail hadn't lasted but a minute, and keeping his feet solid and in one place under him, Vin looked at the ledge, which was just above his knees. Ordinarily it would be an easy jump but when they and it were this wet and muddy they were more likely to wind up smacking right back down into the mud than anything.
Turning to Ezra, he held out his hand. "Ya gonna come in now?"
Ezra spluttered for a moment, clearly debating another biting retort, then gave a huge sigh, accompanied by a nod of his head. "Indubitably." Ezra grabbed hold of Vin's outstretched hand and let Vin pull him upright, doing his best to keep his feet under him. Once Vin knew Ezra was about as steady as either of them could be, he released his hand and turned around. Using the ledge as a guide, he led the way back up and around the mud slick trail, carefully maneuvering through ruts and around rocks the rain had uncovered in it's harsh pelting of the earth. He heard a small grunt behind him and cocked a head over his shoulder in time to see Ezra pushing away from where he'd slid right into the side of the ledge. "Careful."
Ezra looked at him in annoyance, mouth opening as though to snap out a comment, only to close again after a moment, nodding slightly as he did. "I will strive to do so. This quagmire has unsettled the ground so that it is hardly as though we are on terra firma." Figuring that terra firma was some fancy word for the earth, Vin watched to make sure Ezra had his footing. Confident that he wasn't going to be falling on anything in the next minute or two he headed forward again. A few more treacherous steps and they were at the spot where it went from a ledge to a slope. Slippery, but no less passable than earlier, especially if you used the rock face to the side to keep your balance. Sticking his foot on the slope and bracing himself on the rock wall, Vin pulled himself up with relief and walked carefully to the mouth of the cave, hearing Ezra behind him. As they stepped into the hollow, he sighed. It may be cold and dark in the rock cavern but it was dry, and with any luck they'd have a fire soon. It'd be small and the wood would only last a little bit, but it was more than they'd had in hours.
Looking back at Ezra, who'd snagged his hat somewhere along the way, but not put the mud covered thing on, Vin said, "Should probably take off yer boots, I don' know 'bout ya but there's water swishin' in mine." Ezra set his hat near the entrance and murmured something about valuable advice, but instead picked up and inspected his coat. Vin grit his teeth slightly, then let it go with a shake of his head. Ezra was just peculiar about his clothes, there was no getting around that.
Leaning his back against the wall so he wouldn't fall on his backside, Vin pulled and wrenched at his sodden boot, the damp leather stubbornly keeping his foot captive. Finally the first one popped off, his sock half going with it. Tipping the boot upside down water ran in rivulets into the cracks of the cave floor as Vin thumped on the bottom to get out as much as he could. Dropping the boot lightly to the ground, he repeated the process with his other foot, tugging harder when the boot simply refused to release its prisoner. "Once lit, the heat from the fire will aid in your footwear difficulty." Ezra's voice was quiet, almost…sad and Vin looked over at him, wondering if more than just being wet and cold was wrong.
Deciding not to press, Vin said, "Yea, ye're right, mite strange having one on an' one off, though." He smiled a little, but Ezra had looked away, busy wringing out the bottom of his shirt and didn't notice, only nodding to Vin's statement. Vin looked him up and down once, it easier without his jacket on to check him for anything more than the bumps and bruises their tussle had left Vin with. That was one thing that would hush Ezra up, for all he'd gripe his head off over over a splinter. Shrugging after a moment, and leaving Ezra to his fussing once he determined he was fine, Vin limped, one boot on and one off, to his saddle bags. He pulled out the gutted, fresh fish, wrapped in a scrap of cloth he'd found in his saddle bags, that they'd never had a chance to eat before the storm. Next, some beef jerky, a few apples and his canteen. Crossing back to where he'd been, Vin started at the loud pop that echoed throughout the cave and glared across at Ezra, realizing as he did, that the gambler had given the jacket another rough snap. A little annoyed because the younger boy could've at least warned him, he barked out, "Ezra!" Ezra looked up at him startled and when Vin gave him a pointed look, he raised an eyebrow, as though asking him what he was supposed to do about it now. Grumbling, he turned towards the teepee of wood and the brush stuffed underneath it, the box of matches sitting next to it. They'd both be a lot happier with a little bit of heat and light. And food.
Looking away from Vin, Ezra began carefully examining the specially tailored, dark cherry colored jacket once more, brushing bits of soggy leaves off the shoulder, sure they'd ended up there on the jacket's impromptu flight into the cave, Ezra sighed heavily. He was unsure the jacket would recover from the misfortunate adventure it had gone through. Maybe Mary would have some suggestions he thought, as he moved across the small space and retrieved his saddle bags. Setting them near, but not too close to the small fire Vin was working on, Ezra first pulled his canteen out and set it aside, then lay the bags flat, kneeling next to them and draping his coat neatly over the top, frowning when the sleeves were still laying on the floor. He didn't want to fold them on themselves or onto the jacket, as that would encourage mustiness, or, Lord forbid, cultivate mold. Picking them up he debated the matter to himself, not sure what his course of action would be, but well aware both that he probably looked ridiculous and that he certainly couldn't continue to hold them aloft indefinitely. The cave was devoid of any rocks or other materials he could use to elevate them. Just as he was concluding that they were unlikely to be in the cave for a prolonged enough time for mold spores to set in and that mustiness would be easier to launder away than dirt stains, the loud thwacking sound of wet leather smacking onto the ground next to him had him startling up straight, his weight no longer resting on his heels. Immediately he tried to act as though the motion had been purposeful, but Vin, already walking away, only called over his shoulder, "Ya can use that, prairie dog boy."
Almost too fatigued to keep his face from showing his slight annoyance against his will, Ezra responded, "Thank you kindly," as he grabbed the saddle bags and pulled them close, adjusting the jacket even as he quipped, "At least I don't adorn myself with the animal kingdom's version of a masked robber...racoon boy." Technically, he'd never witnessed his brother's racoon skin cap anywhere but hanging from the back of Vin's wagon, but such minor details were inconsequential.
Sliding to a stop, mud splattering up his pants to his knees, JD darted up the steps to the church, stopping long enough to shake himself off just inside the doorway. He pulled the door open, grabbing his dripping hat off his head. Squinting as water ran from his hair into his eyes, he quickly stepped inside, a small oomph leaving him as he smacked into something solid.
Taking a fast step back, JD shook his head, flinging water everywhere, and grinned up at the big man. "Hey, 'Siah!" Bemused, Josiah quirked a smile back at him, eyes looking down at the small circle of drips that was forming on the ground around him, even with JD having shaken like a dog to try and leave most of the wet outside. Still grinning, a little ruefully now, he shrugged, following it with a quick, "Sorry."
"That's alright, but now I'm thinking the church needs some coat pegs by that door." Holding his still dripping hat as he slid the equally wet slicker off his shoulders, JD moved around Josiah just slightly and tossed the slicker over the back of a pew. As he turned back to Josiah, the Preacher asked, "Have you been keeping busy with this rain, JD?"
Idly twirling his hat with one hand, little bits of wet dropping here and there, JD plunked onto the bench near his slicker. Giving a shrug and an exaggerated pitiful look in Josiah's general direction, JD half whined,
"Ain't nothing to do, 'Siah. Dang rain..."
Chuckling softly, Josiah moved to where the teen sat, leaning a hip against the pew in front of the dark haired youngster. "I always found that days like today were excellent for reading a book. Didn't you just recently receive a new one? Ezra's birthday present to you?"
Straightening up at Josiah's words, JD nodded, a grin replacing the grumpy look he'd been wearing. "Yes! And it's really nifty! It's by that same author as the book you and Nate got me for Christmas, only in this one they go down deep into the ocean instead of into the earth."
"I've always found Verne's works to be fascinating." Though, that they were far better in the original French, Josiah would keep to himself. "The ocean, hmm? And what brings this miraculous journey about?"
JD bounced a little in the seat, dropping his drenched hat next to him. "A sea monster! Well, the government sent them on a mission to find it, only instead of a sea monster, they found a submarine!" Pushing damp hair up from where it fell into his eyes, he continued, "Only at first they think it's a reef. One of the coral ones, you know? But a giant moving one!"
Looking dutifully surprised, Josiah said, "That'd definitely be a sight to see!" The preacher crossed his arms lightly over his chest and gave JD an encouraging smile, not that he needed it to carry on.
"Yeah, wouldn't it? Only it turns out it's not a reef, and then they think it's a narwhal! Have you heard about narwhals, Josiah? I only did when I read the book. Or krakens? Didja hear about them?" Cocking his head to the side with his question and relaxing into the pew for a moment, fingers drumming absently along the top, JD listened intently to Josiah's answer.
Nodding slightly, pleased with his interest, Josiah answered, "I have run across mention of them a few times. Kraken's in Tennyson's poem of course, and I briefly had in my possession some journals of an Icelandic explorer."
Forgetting all about his own book as his jaw dropped, JD asked, "Really? An explorer? What happened to the books? Did he discover anything amazing?"
Relaxing into what Ezra had dubbed his academic lecturer tone, Josiah explained, "Yes, Freydar Tviet was a Norwegian explorer in the late 1600's, his studies were on the traits of animals that live in extremely cold environments."
"Like penguins?" JD asked, straightening up in the pew.
"Well, actually yes, though today they've gone extinct. The Great Auk bird, which is a black and white flightless bird that lives near water, much like penguins, were found in many places including Iceland, and your own North Eastern coast and Tviet certainly saw them. Though his commentary on them was limited to a lament that people used their nesting period to take them as easy prey-for pillow down of all things." JD's eyes had widened a bit at the idea of penguins near his hometown, but Josiah saw his attention wander towards the window with his last sentence and supposed that was his signal to gain JD's interest again, with an exciting fact perhaps...still, Josiah couldn't leave the lecture unfinished, "Actually, I believe they were called penguins first, and then when explorers saw what we think of as penguins today in exploring the southern hemisphere, Antarctica, etc, they looked so similar they called them penguins as well and it stuck. But, we were discussing Tviet, and you had asked a question-his research was mainly focused on Iceland and the waters surrounding it, and he also spent some time in Greenland and Ireland. The journals had to be left behind when I moved on. But he discovered many amazing things, and though he wasn't the first to discover any of them he still added much to the knowledge that was there."
JD's eyes remained wide as he asked, "Things like narwhals?"
"Yes, though he only saw them closely once. Did you know they call them the unicorns of the sea?" JD nodded vigorously, face still alight with curiosity.
"Yeah, the scientist in the book calls the narwhals unicorns, 'cause they have that really long horn." Suddenly wistful, he murmured, "My mam always said she wanted to see a unicorn."
"Something I imagine many of us have imagined with delight over the years," Josiah moved himself off the pew he'd been leaning on, turning and settling himself onto the pew next to JD, facing his young brother's side until JD shifted sideways to see him better. "And the fairer of the sexes are so often told in legends that it is only them that unicorns will approach that I can see why it might become a lifelong wish." Josiah sighed slightly, remembering briefly a time when he had believed in unicorns, JD studying him curiously.
"You don't believe in unicorns, do you Josiah? My mam didn't either, not really, but she wanted too…used to tell me stories about them, and fairies, things like that, when I was a kid." Pleased that for all his wistfulness JD seemed to receive more contentment from the memories than longing, Josiah nodded, answering honestly even as he chose his words carefully.
"Not in the sense of a living, flesh and blood creature, no, but the idea of a unicorn-innocent nobility, the healing power of a pure heart, mysteries beyond what man is meant to comprehend, that I believe in. There are some
things a person needs to believe in, even if they aren't really factual, men and women. And a mother knows that all children deserve a few years to believe in fairyland." Seeing that JD's eyes threatened to spark with tears, the lad doing his best to hide a small sniff, he carried on, a little hastily. "And a good book can take us back there. How exactly did the explorers in your book figure out that their sea monster was a submarine?"
JD swallowed before he started talking, but he was only a word or two in when the excitement caught up to him again, "Well, the whole reason they were supposed to go after it in the first place was that it was attacking things, downing ships and stuff, and so the U.S. government sends them all out, including this one whaler guy who thinks that it being a giant narwhal is completely stupid, and Arronax and him have all sorts of conversations where he tries to convince him, and Ned laughs at him, but without actually laughing, like Ezra does sometimes, you know?" Trying not to laugh out loud himself, because he knew exactly what JD was talking about, Josiah nodded, unable to help the chuckle that escaped. JD grinned before he continued on, "Only then they see it and it really looks like one, like a giant narwhal? And it's glowing, which makes no sense, narwhals don't glow-though," JD trails off for just a second, eyes alight, and Josiah was certain his mind was full of the possibilities of brightly glowing sealife, "And they run from it, 'cause the captain doesn't want to attack at night, and everybody's scared, and excited too, 'cause they think they discovered a new kinda whale. Then, Ned tries to harpoon it, and the harpoon bounces off, and it starts attacking them! It spouts water so hard it knocks the main guy into the ocean! And…"