FRISBYS AND FRUITCAKE
NOTE: this is a Magnificent Seven story, featuring Ezra, Nathan and JD... and also Buck
It answers the December 2005 Challenge, offered by Violette: The guys all have plans to meet for Christmas, but fate is conspiring against them. You can focus on one or all of the guys, but each of them must be included at some point, and each must have some kind of trouble getting to their Christmas celebration. It can be humorous or serious (or both!). Bonus points if you include fruitcake, eggnog, Yule log, snowman, chestnuts, and sleigh bells. -- okay, it doesn't answer the challenge exactly, but at least I get close.
"It should be right up there," Nathan said, bringing Badger to a stop and lifting a gloved-hand. He pointed upward, toward the start of a trail that led off from the old cabin, wending into the brush.
"Close by, I hope," Ezra muttered. The chill made him curl his fingers and duck his chin into his jacket.
"Won't be far," Nathan told him. "Lars promised it was just up here a piece."
"Well, come on then!" JD declared enthusiastically as he maneuvered his horse around the two. "Let's go see it."
"Yes," Ezra echoed, grinning a little, "Let's check out your inheritance." And he looked almost hungry.
JD glanced over his shoulder as he kept moving. "Sooner we check it, the sooner we can get back."
"Don't expect it to be too quick," Ezra commented. "There's no tellin' about how much we will find. A careful assessment will be necessary."
"Heck, it'll be great if we see anythin'," JD responded. "I just aim to be back in time for the celebration!" He gave Toby a kick, and the little bay responded, trotting up the indicated path. "Buck promised all sorts of good eatin'."
"Wonderful," Ezra muttered, and then smiled toward Nathan. "There will be whiskey, at least," he stated. "That's somethin' to hurry home for."
Nathan returned the grin. "I'm lookin' forward to it," he responded, and directed Badger to follow Toby. "Let's get this done with and get back."
Ezra fell in behind. "Very well. We'll do a quick survey," he decided, "See if you have anythin' of worth. If your prospects seem worthy of prospecting, then, we may want to spend a little time."
"I'm not going to spend all day here," Nathan stated. He turned, to find Ezra looking behind them. "Anyone following?" he asked, gazing beyond the gambler.
"Not that I can tell," Ezra told him, facing forward. "I thought I'd heard something for a moment." He continued to look behind them, toward the old abandoned shack. "No. Nothing. Well, you can't be too careful."
Lars Frisby had been well known around Four Corners. He was the crazy old man who lived in the hills with his brother. They came to town from time to time, spending little nuggets of gold, and then disappearing again back to work their mine.
And people were interested, for where there was gold well there was bound to be more gold.
Locals had tried to follow them, but the old Danes were wily and had managed to lose their tails. Nobody had been able to ascertain the secret of their mine's location.
The Frisbys came to town regularly, until suddenly the younger Frisby stopped visiting a year-or-two-back. People questioned Lars about his brother Lusk, but the old man was tight-lipped and gave nothing away.
"Lusk is gone," was all he'd said on the matter and the matter was dropped.
Two weeks ago, Lars appeared in town again, wheezing and coughing from some awful disease of the lungs. It had been creeping up on him over the years, but he'd kept it quiet until it became too much to bear. He came looking for help, and had spent his last days in Nathan's care, allowing the healer to tend to him.
And, knowing that he was going, he gave up little bits of information.
The Brothers Frisby had been born in this country and had moved out west at their first chance. Lars had no idea what had happened to the rest of his family. He had been married once, but wife and child were gone. He used to be a shopkeeper. He'd gone all the way to Oregon and came back when he found the weather too wet. He'd run supplies during the war. He could play the banjo and the harp. He knew the Bible back to front because there'd been a year in the wilderness where the great book had been his only companion.
He met up with his brother again after the war and together the two had tried guiding wagon trains west, but they didn't care for it. They hadn't minded the wide openness, but the griping of their fellow travelers had worn on them. Finally, they'd settled here, near Four Corners and tried their luck at mining.
And they'd eventually become lucky. After years of finding nothing, they must have stuck a vein because when they came to town, they had just enough to get them what was needed. It wasn't as if they were rich, but they weren't wanting.
Lars couldn't say what happened to his brother Lusk. The man had disappeared following a drunken argument, and Lars would shrug off any further comment.
As Lars struggled for breath, he had only Nathan to comfort him. And in his final days, he bequeathed the mine to the healer giving up it's long sought location.
And Lars passed over to the great beyond.
That night, Nathan had explained the situation to the others, and Ezra nearly leapt out of his seat in excitement.
"The Frisby mine? Nathan, you are a rich man!" Ezra had crowed, "Well, richer at least than you were yesterday. I have seen some of the gold they brought down, and it is fine indeed. Certainly, there is plenty more where that came from, and I'm just the man who will aid you in claimin' everything that is yours." And Ezra had rubbed his hands together, his eyes gleaming. "Tomorrow! Tomorrow we will set out to examine exactly what you've won!"
"I didn't win it," Nathan had said solemnly. And tomorrow is Christmas Eve. I'm not sure I want to be traispin' into the wilderness on Christmas."
"But, what better present for you," Ezra responded, and he slapped Nathan on the shoulder. "You and I will soon be living in the lap of luxury."
Josiah shook his head. "The mine is Nathan's, Ezra."
"Yes, yes, of course," Ezra had replied. "But there is a consultation fee, correct?"
Nathan just felt tired, knowing that the eyes that followed the Frisbys would be tracing his travels now. He didn't know if he wanted that sort of scrutiny. It seemed as if it would be more trouble than good. And the mine seemed to be stingy, giving up only bits and pieces at a time. It would be hard work when he had plenty of other things to keep him busy.
Wasn't it enough that he was a lawman and a healer? Did he have to add miner to the list?
But Ezra was nearly levitating in his excitement, and JD was getting worked up along with him.
"How much gold do you think is in there, Ezra?" the kid had asked enthusiastically.
And dammit, if Nathan wasn't excited as well as Ezra brought up everything that he might purchase with the spoils -- the idea of new medical books and surgical gear, enough money to rent a different room for the infirmary, money for new clothing and extravagant trips. Food and drink and women and so many things.
The sweet-talking southerner certainly could paint a picture.
And so they'd set out that morning, Christmas Eve, to see exactly what Nathan had won.
"Well," Ezra drawled as the three horsemen stood side by side at the mouth of the little cave.
"Huh," Nathan commented.
JD squinted. "Looks like just a hole in the ground"
"Mines usually are, Mr. Dunne," Ezra said, academically.
JD smirked at him. "I meant, it don't look like much. Kind of a small entrance, ya know?"
"Exactly what I was thinking," Ezra stated.
"It was only Lars and Lusk working on it," Nathan stated, "and they were trying to keep it quiet. I suspect they didn't need to enlarge the entrance much."
JD dismounted, bringing Toby to a little space that had once been used by the Frisby mules. "So, you think there might not be a lot of gold in there?"
"Hard to say," Ezra admitted, bringing Chaucer into the little pen. "But the promise of it is quite enticing. We should go in and see what we can see." He gave the horse a pat and untied a lantern from the saddle.
Nathan frowned a little when he saw it. "I should have thought of that," he stated.
"Well, at least we have one," Ezra said. "It should be all we need. It's just going to be an examination of the site today. Perhaps will be able to bring out a few samples." Unconsciously, he patted at one pocket as if giving away exactly where those samples would end up. "If our search proves fruitful, we'll bring plenty of equipment for our next journey."
JD looked down the trail. "Bet there's a lantern or two at the cabin. We should go get some more."
"Which would mean backtracking," Ezra said tiredly.
Nathan nodded. "Might as well keep going," he said. "We're just going for a look today. We can come back with picks and shovels if it good. Bet they have some tools in the cabin. Should have dynamite too," Nathan added.
And Ezra grinned a little at that thought.
"Well then, let's go," JD stated, slapping his hands against his sides as he moved closer to the entrance. "We'll turn into snowmen soon if we don't get out of the cold."
"I doubt it'll be much warmer in the cave," Nathan stated.
Ezra shrugged. "It'll be better than this frigid air. I've found most caves I've been in to be cool, but not unbearable within."
"You spend a lot of time in caves, Ezra?" JD asked.
"They make wonderful hide-outs," Ezra said, "When the law is on your back." He looked contemplative. "Something I should remember next time we are on the trail of some ne're-do-well."
Nathan slapped his hands together, feeling the cold leaching into him. "Let's get moving," he said.
Ezra smiled, struck a match, and lit the lantern. It was a hearty looking device, obviously meant for exactly this purpose -- searching through a mine. Nathan wondered how long Ezra had the thing -- maybe since his ill-advised attempt to explore the mine at the Seminole camp.
Ezra lifted a hand, inviting Nathan to go first.
Nathan nodded and moved forward, stepping into the dimness of the mine entrance with Ezra came in close behind him. JD took up the rear.
"Wow!" JD said as he moved in. The entrance was fairly well lit, but the back of the cave was quickly swallowed up in blackness. It was a long tunnel, leading into the hill, with hardly any features at all. "How far back do you think this goes?"
"Hard to say," Ezra said. "Nathan, did Mr. Frisby give you any indication?"
"Said it went on for a long ways," he said.
"And the gold, "Ezra went on. "Any idea on how far we'd have to travel before we found it."
Nathan let out a sigh. "Can't say he specified."
Ezra grumbled, "Honestly, Nathan, do you know nothin' about interrogating a potential mark?"
"He had a lot of trouble talkin' so I couldn't exactly quiz him much on it. The man was dying. I wasn't going to wrestle him for that sort of information."
Ezra glanced over his shoulder to JD, giving him a pointed look that seemed to say that Standish would have had no trouble doing exactly that.
JD chucked and they kept walking. "Think there'll be lots of good stuff to eat at Buck's get together."
"That is certain," Ezra said. "The man likes to eat."
"I hear there'll be fruitcake," Nathan commented.
Ezra looked hopeful. "Mrs. Potter's?"
"Nettie's?" JD inquired.
"Josiah's," Nathan said with a sigh.
And the other two groaned. "Maybe we should take our time," Ezra grumbled.
They moved, crunching at the loose rock beneath their feet, and the darkness closed around them and the three stayed within the halo of the lantern. They searched the barren walls of the cave for gold.
JD turned to gaze toward the entrance of the cave. It had grown smaller as they moved away from it. It looked like a little circle of light, like a lantern in the distance.
He faced forward again, looking for flecks, looking for veins, searching for gold to make Nathan rich and to make Ezra happy.
And he totally missed the silhouette of a man stepping into the circle of light to gaze in at them.
dun dun DUN!!! I'm sure this isn't a problem