The Cossack's Fear: Part Two
In which we find the Mornellys camping.
Aichear Mornelly took his glasses off and splashed his face with the cold, mountain stream. The droplets poured down his face, he wiped them off with a towel he’d brought along and then felt his chin. Hmmm I think I can go one more day, he decided. Stumble isn’t too noticeable yet.
He wasn’t particularly anxious to look like a mountain man, even if they were camping out. It wasn’t his style.
He sat back and put his glasses back on, adjusting them until he could see his surroundings. The sun was shining down merrily, doing its best to give off as much heat as it could in the late fall. Aichear guessed it to be September, he wasn’t sure what era yet. They hadn’t met anyone thus far.
He studied the stream, the trees, the hills around them. He liked wherever they were. Nothing like Ireland, but beautiful nonetheless. He appreciated nature.
The thirty-year-old immortal got to his feet and headed back to the camp, where voices could be heard either arguing or having a friendly debate. Hard telling, all their tones mixed. When he came around the bend, though, he was glad to discover nothing seemed to be amiss and all his siblings were getting along admirably.
“Don’t step on me!”
Aichear stumbled back and nearly fell over. He caught his breath and steadied himself, looking down his nose at his little sister. Aileen shot a disapproving look at him from where she lay, then continued to stare at the small hill she and Damhán were intently studying.
“Dude, I think you need new glasses,” Damhán murmured quietly.
It was unusual for him to be so soft-spoken. In fact it was strange to see the two youngest Mornelly siblings doing anything at all that was quiet. Aichear bent down next to Aileen to take a look at whatever had caught their interest.
“Ant hill,” Aileen whispered. She and Damhán were lying side by side, watching every movement from the large hill only three feet away. “Don’t scare them, or they’ll bite us.”
Aichear cast a glance at the ant hill and noted they were, in fact, fire ants. Not pleasant little creatures. “Ah. I see.”
“They’re dragging a dead praying mantis into the hill, we’re watching them do it,” Damhán explained. He was mesmerized by the small creatures. “Dang those little things are strong.”
Aichear patted Aileen on the head and stood up, stepping over both of them. Ants weren’t really his forte, though it was nice to see his youngest brother and sister getting along so nicely. Rare indeed. He was somewhat surprised Damhán could be so entranced by ants, but he wasn’t about to call him out on it. This was good for him, sitting still and observing. In fact Aichear couldn’t remember when he’d been this quiet in a long time. Good for both of them. I’m glad.
“Good morning, Aichear,” Breandan greeted when he approached. Breandan turned the piece of venison he had in the flame over. “What are the two troublemakers doing?”
“Not causing trouble,” Aichear replied, taking a seat at the log they’d erected the night before as their chairs. He watched Breandan stir the meat around. They’d yet to admit to Aileen Breandan had not, in fact, found the deer dead. “They’re ant watching.”
“What?” Bran sniffed. He rubbed his nose and sneezed, groaning. “Who cares about ants? That’s a waste of time.”
“I think it’s cute,” Breandan defended. He flipped the meat again, then took a second to straighten his light brown hair out of his face. “They need to be able to be kids, Bran. Even Damhán. He may look like a man but he really is a boy.”
He had that right. Aichear wished Damhán would wake up to that fact himself. “Agreed.”
“Bugs are stupid.” Ciarán emerged from the small rock cleft they’d camped in the night before, rubbing his face. Aichear was a bit surprised by the red dots all over, then reasoned Ciarán had been the victim of a vicious mosquito attack. “I hate camping.”
“As do I. I can’t wait until we find a town.” Bran rubbed his hair, growling. “I need a shower, I’m tired, and my body hurts. This reminds me of Ireland all over again.”
“Wimps,” Breandan grunted. He took the meat off the rock he’d been cooking it on and put it on another rock. “Breakfast is ready.”
“Breakkkfasssttt!” Bran hollered. “Get over here or we’ll eat it all!”
Aichear raised an eyebrow at his brother closest in age, taking in his disheveled appearance and furrowed brow. “Agitated?”
“Very.” Bran looked up at him, his brown eyes darkened. “I’m really done with this whole 'camping is good for us' mindset. We need to find a town. Besides, you said yourself Aileen could use a change of clothes. What are we hanging around here for?”
“To be mosquito bait,” Ciarán grumbled. He took hold of the venison and jerked hard, ripping himself a piece off of the hot, tough meat.
“I’ll scout for a town after breakfast,” Aichear said. He too, took a hold of the meat but quickly jerked his hand back, finding it was a lot hotter than he’d thought. How does Ciarán do that?
“What was being said about town?” Damhán asked, throwing himself to the ground and sitting cross-legged, Indian style. He smirked and put his fingers together in mock meditation. “Uhmmmm…”
Aileen came trotting up and flopped herself next to Aichear, gasping for breath. “You win, Damhán.”
“Told you I was faster.”
“Aichear’s going to scout around and see if we’re near civilization.” Bran scratched his arm, frowned, and scratched some more. “I think I have poison ivy.”
“I think you’re being a spoilsport, Bran.” Breandan slapped him on the back before sitting down. He picked up the sharpened stone they’d been using as a knife and cut himself a slice of the meat. “We’re all having a good time, aren’t we?”
Damhán snatched up the rest of the meat. “Owww hot!” He tossed it around a bit, then ripped off a slice for himself, Aileen and then threw it to Aichear. Aichear caught it and nearly dropped it. Still too hot. He set it back down on the stone. “I’ll go with you to scout, Aichear. I could use a hike.”
“Can I come?” Aileen asked eagerly. She put her meat down and fanned her fingers. “Sooo hot. Ciarán how can you stand it?”
Ciarán shrugged and took another bite of his meat. “Whatever.”
“I’d welcome your help,” Aichear responded to Damhán. He looked down at Aileen, somewhat doubtfully. He’d prefer not to bring her along, she’d slow him and Damhán down. “I think you’d best stay here, little sister.”
“We can go fishing,” Breandan offered to her.
“Oh okay. That’s fine then.”
“When do we leave?” Damhán bit his meat and ripped it apart with his teeth, somewhat savagely. Aichear thought about telling him to mind his manners, than decided against it since they were, in fact, roughing it. No need to be polite.
“After breakfast. I’d like to get started right after you’re done.”
“You got it, bro. West or north?”
“We’ll find you your town, Bran.” Damhán chuckled. “And then you can quite complaining.”
“Thanks, Damhán.” Bran rolled his eyes.
Aichear almost agreed with Damhán out loud, but refrained from joining in. It was true, though. Bran could use a little “manning up”.
Four hours later found Aichear and Damhán back to tell the others they had indeed spotted a town just on the other side of the eastern hills. There wasn’t anything to pack up, so the six siblings doused the fire, marched their way out of their campsite and headed in the direction of civilization.
“Well, this gives me an idea as to what our era is,” Bran observed aloud. He glanced around the buildings, the mercantile, the schoolhouse, and nodded. “Somewhere in the early nineteen hundreds, would be my guess.”
The walk had only taken an hour for them to reach the town, scouting had taken longer simply because Damhán and Aichear hadn’t known what they were looking for. The small side streets, horses tied in front of the mercantile, the white church and presence of one motorcar made Aichear inclined to agree with Bran. He was positive it was early nineteenth century. As to when, exactly, they wouldn’t know, or where. It looked American, though.
The siblings turned around to find behind them—Cossack? Aichear did a double take. I was pretty sure we were in America…
The Cossack was wearing rather plain clothes, but the papahka on his head bore the insignia of the Kuban Cossacks. He was unsmiling and expressionless, something the Mornellys knew to be a character trait of the Slavs, not a sign of unfriendliness. “You are strangers in town, da?”
He spoke to them in English. He must be an immigrant, Aichear realized.
He felt better he hadn’t made a mistake as to what country they were in. That would be embarrassing.
“Vy Russkiy?” Aichear asked in Russian.
The Cossack stared at him, his light brown eyes lighting up. He laughed and stepped of closer, slapping Aichear on the shoulder. “Da! Vy Russkiy?”
“Nyet, vy Irelandskiy,” Aichear replied. “But we speak Russian. You are a Cossack.”
Now the Cossack man seemed overjoyed. He let a smile break across his face, turning to take in all the Mornellys. “Da! It is good to meet those who speak my language. I am not used to such pleasures. Welcome to Hamilton. You are new, da?”
“Yes,” Bran said shortly. He seemed irritated they’d been interrupted from his pursuit of cleanliness by this Cossack. “Just got in less than five minutes ago.”
“On foot?” The Cossack man, who Aichear guessed to be in his forties, seemed a bit taken back by this.
“Well we don’t have horses,” Breandan tried. “So we walked here.”
“Nearest town,” Bran grunted. There was little else they could say that would make sense, there was no telling a stranger they had been thrown here by a time warp and didn’t actually belong in this dimension.
The Cossack man nodded, more relaxed. “Oh, da, not too far. What brings you here? Can I help you with anything?” He glanced at Aichear. “Vam nuzhna pomoschch’? Informatsiya?”
“Just need to pick up some supplies,” Breandan offered. Aichear was glad he was along, Breandan had the ability to be friendly and get information across. Bran could be demanding and Aichear too abrupt. “By chance, is there a boardinghouse around here?”
“Right down there,” the Cossack assured them. He gestured down the street near the church. “Talk to Mrs. Reed. I think she has guests from out of town, so maybe not so much room, I do not know.” He stroked his dark brown beard and cast a sideways glance at Aileen, who had scooted close to Aichear and stood partially behind him shyly. “You are little. Is she a daughter?”
“Our sister,” Aichear responded quickly. “We’re siblings.”
He had learned long ago to make that clear early on, otherwise people assumed she belonged to one of the Mornelly boys, which always begged the question as to where their wives were.
“I figure that, because you all look alike.” He stuck his hand out, pushing the papahka on his head back. “I am Yuri Dmitrievich Melnikov. I live up there in the hills.” He waved his hand to the north to illustrate his meaning. “You are welcome to come visit us, I tell you, come visit! It is good to make new friends, especially those who speak Russkiy, da?”
Breandan smiled. “Spasibo, we appreciate the offer.”
Yuri nodded, pleased. “Good day do you, I hope you stay a while.”
“Maybe, we’ll see.” Bran made his tone clear that he wasn’t thrilled about the prospect.
“Have good day, do svidaniya.”
“Do svidaniya,” Damhán called back. He turned to his brothers with a grin as soon as Yuri was out of ear shot. “V Amerike, vy naydete kazaka. V Sovetskoy Rossii, Kazachiy nakhodit vas!”
“Not funny, Damhán.” Bran went up the steps into the mercantile. Breandan, Damhán and Ciarán followed suit, but Aileen lagged behind.
Aichear stopped and waited at the top of the steps, watching while she investigated a beetle of some sort. “Aileen?”
“I hope there’s kids here.” She poked the beetle with a stick, then looked up at Aichear. “Do you think there’s kids? I would like to play with some girls. I haven’t gotten to in a long while.”
Aichear stepped down and ushered her up the steps. He wasn’t sure what playing with girls had to do with poking beetles or lollygagging, but he’d roll with it. Somewhere this was all connected, even if he didn’t understand. “I’m sure there are children. Let’s not fret.”