Alternate Universe "Immortal 7"
Vin Tanner had been born in a time when less than ten percent of the population was literate. Back then Vin hadnt considered not being able to read an issue of any great concern. He was too busy learning how to survive in the wilderness of the new world his family had moved to.
Roanoke was a promise of a new beginning for them all. Unfortunately only Vin would live long enough to actualize that promise. Although, he had to die first right along with the rest, beginning his immortal life afterward, not fully appreciating who and what he was until some time later.
His second century of life was nearly complete before he felt the urge to master the previously unneeded ability to read and write. Vin was suddenly made aware the survival skills hed spent so much of his life mastering were no longer as useful as they once were. In a world dominated by an emerging dependence on machines, increasingly less emphasis on verbal communication, and a growing appreciation for the reduced focus on localized issues in favor of global ones.
When the time came, Vin asked the one man he knew could help him; Ezra Standish. Hed known the green eyed immortal longer than hed known anyone else. Ezra was the first other immortal Vin had met, although he was far the last. It was Ezra whod explained the rules of immortal existence to him and found another to teach him to master the art of swordsmanship.
Ezra had never explained why he wouldnt teach him how to use a sword, but hed been adamant about finding someone else to instruct Vin. The younger immortal occasionally wondered if Ezra had ever had a student, but had never asked. It was just one of the many things about his friend he didnt know.
It often seemed as if what he didnt know far outweighed what he did. Hed decided a long time ago it didnt matter. All that really mattered to Vin was theyd managed to become friends when by all rights they should have been enemies. Vin trusted Ezra as much as he trusted anyone. And even though he really could never pin down why exactly he should trust a gentleman gambler who occasionally dabbled in cons, the simple fact remained, he did.
It could have been the fact that Ezra hadnt been working as a gambler the first time theyd met. But then, Vin hadnt been a wanted man when they met the first time either. Living a long life had certainly taught him the transitory nature of things and people. Most things, he amended with a smile, and most people. He was beginning to think Ezra was a permanent fixture of the world, like the mountains and oceans, ever constant and never quite the same.
Ezra did have his phenomenal vocabulary when they met. And the man never seemed to be without a book of some kind. Until meeting Ezra, the only book Vin had ever seen was the bible. Having more than one book marked Ezra as being wealthy even when he wasnt dressed any better than Vin. Although more common by the beginning of nineteenth century, books were still a rare commodity on the frontier were Vin preferred to live.
Uncertain of Ezras reaction, Vin had screwed up his courage and asked the man if he could teach him how to read and write. Green eyes had studied him for several seconds, making Vin feel decidedly uncomfortable but he held his ground and waited for Ezras answer. The simple, certainly I can teach you was almost anticlimactic.
It had taken longer than Vin expected and he often found the whole process frustrating. Silent es, words that were spelled differently but said the same way, words spelled the same way but said differently, i before e except it was also so damn confusing at times. Hed nearly given up more than once. But Ezra would not allow it.
Vin smiled to himself remembering the way Ezra would lightly slap the back of his head in a gentle reprimand. "Reading and writing are skills, Mr. Tanner. Like any other, they require time and practice to develop any degree of expertise. Persistence will provide its own rewards."
"You make it look easy." Hed complained once, shoving the book Ezra had loaned him away, taking care in spite of his rising frustration and anger to make sure the precious volume was not damaged. "Didnt think it would be this damn complicated."
Ezra arched an eyebrow. "If everything were as easy as they looked, none of us would ever need instruction."
Persistence had paid off just as Ezra promised it would. While he could never lay claim to a vocabulary as vast as Ezras or even pretend to be anywhere near as erudite, Vin considered himself to be at least on par with most of the population. He sometimes wondered how hed managed to live for nearly two hundred years without being able to read and write.
Vins fingers reverently ghosted over the volume of the first book Ezra had used to teach him to read, somewhat surprised to feel like he was saying hello to an old friend. He traced the gilded letters that graced the leather binding. It was the collected works of Thomas Paine, something Ezra had deemed he would find sufficiently interesting to focus on for the duration of his lessons. He wasnt at all surprised to see Ezra had kept the book. The man seemed to have amassed a substantial library over the years.
Vins blue eyes took in the floor to ceiling bookshelves that covered two walls of Ezras current abode. Given that Ezra had chosen to renovate the upper floor of an old warehouse for his living quarters, floor to ceiling meant needing a ladder to reach the upper shelves. The wooden ladder affixed to brass rails for just that purpose had to be an antique of some kind. The whole set up always reminded Vin of a public library, just a bit smaller.
He pursed his lips wondering just where his friend kept his books when he was living a nomadic existence. When the seven of them were not together, he knew Ezra rarely settled in one place for long. The older immortal seemed to enjoy traveling hither and yon, usually with little more than one bag to see him through. The upside of all that travel were the stories Ezra would sometimes regal them with over drinks. Vin had yet to meet anyone else who could tell a tale quite as well as Ezra did.
Vin was fairly certain what was shelved here was not even close to the full extent of Ezras collection. He walked along the shelves, reading titles and felt his eyebrows climb as he realized that more than half of what he was looking at was not written in English. He was willing to bet most were probably originals or first editions. He wondered if the ones here simply represented Ezras favorites. Perhaps they were just the most valuable. It was hard to say.
Ezras softly accented southern drawl came from the stairs that led up to loft area that served as his bedroom, interrupting Vins perusal of the shelves. "Would you care for a libation, Mr. Tanner?"
"Sure." Vin answered, turning away from the books. The workout theyd put in downstairs had left him feeling a bit thirsty. Ezra may have refused to train him, but he had no reservations about sparring with Vin on a regular basis.
The gym Ezra had installed on the first floor was a great place for all of them to practice swordsmanship as well as stay fit. The green eyes immortal made sure that the hardwood floors were always well taken care, the place kept spotless, as well as ensuring an unlimited supply of hot water and clean towels in the large, multi-unit shower room hed had installed. The aerobic and weight equipment occupied a room walled off by shatter resistant glass, leaving the majority of hardwood floor space for them to spar.
When JD had asked why hed bothered separating the equipment with glass, Ezra had pragmatically informed him that blood was too hard to get off electronic devices whereas glass was easily cleaned. JD had tried to tell him regular walls would have worked just as well. To which Ezra had replied, "Yes and they would have created blind spots I am loathe to allow."
"Your pleasure?" Ezra asked as he headed for the kitchen to retrieve a drink for Vin.
"Water will be fine for now."
Ezra pulled two bottles from the refrigerator, offering one to Vin before opening the one for himself. "Would you like to stay for lunch?"
"You gonna cook?"
"Then I am definitely stayin for lunch." Vin grinned. He was a passable cook, but Ezra was a great cook. The man didnt offer to cook very often and it was always a treat when he did.
Vin slid into one of the barstools lining the outside of the island that separated the kitchen from the living room. He rested his elbows on the counter, sipping his water, watching Ezra begin meal preparations.
"Yes?" Ezra glanced over his shoulder, attention focused more on the contents of larder than on Vin.
"See ya still got the first book you loaned me." His statement came out as more of a question.
"Naturally." Ezra smiled slightly as he began assembling ingredients. "It was a book I deemed worthy of keeping. One that I have read more than once."
Vin smiled waving a hand to the shelves. "Seems like you must have everythin ever written."
"Hardly." Ezra rolled his eyes. "Since the advent of the movable type a phenomenal amount of drivel is now foisted upon the populous at large, most of whom do not have a very discriminating palate. I shudder when I think of what passes for literature these days."
Vin chuckled. It seemed like only yesterday Ezra was making similar derogatory comments about the dime novels JD liked to read. He happened to know first hand that Ezra occasionally enjoyed reading drivel, but he honestly doubted the older immortal kept any of those books. They were read, enjoyed and probably tossed aside.
"You got the first book you ever read, Ez?" Vin asked, wondering if it was something his friend had deemed worthy of gracing the shelves.
"Yes, I do."
Vin swiveled on his stool to face the shelves. "Which one is it?"
Ezra arched an eyebrow at him, hands never losing their rhythm as they deftly chopped vegetables. Pointing with the knife he held, Ezra gestured toward the top shelf, the first book. Vin idly wondered if Ezras shelving system was chronological or alphabetical. Somehow he doubted his friend would use anything as mundane and common as the Dewey Decimal System.
Vin knew Ezra had pointed it out rather than just tell him because he was likely gauging Vins level of curiosity. With a shrug, he left his bottle on the counter and sauntered over to the ladder, moving it into position. It rolled smoothly along the brass rails, no squeaks or hesitation. Vin climbed up, intent to find out for himself just what had been Ezras first book.
Vin studied the spine of the slender, leather bound volume for a moment before daring to actually touch it. For some reason hed expected something with greater heft, something better reflective of the breadth of knowledge Ezra revealed whenever he elected to comment on a particular subject. He mentally slapped himself, remembering his own struggle to read and comparing it to his current ability. Ezra had centuries to garner knowledge. It was stupid to assume the man had learned it all at once or from just one book.
Even before his fingers made contact Vin knew he was holding something that was far older than he. It was a rare feeling, one he usually associated with natural landforms and the ancient ruins in the Southwest. There wasnt much man made in North America that could legitimately lay claim to predating Vin Tanner. Arriving with the first boatload of European colonists all but guaranteed it.
There was nothing written on the spine or front cover. Vin frowned, carefully opening the book as he leaned against the ladder casually letting it support his weight. The script he saw was beautiful but unintelligible. It was obviously something that had been written by hand, not cranked out on a printing press.
He closed the book carefully, sighing softly. Ezra had to have known he wouldnt be able to read it. Which meant hed pointed to it not just to gauge Vins level of curiosity, but also to have him bring it to him. Vin chuckled, thinking his friend could have just asked, but then words had really been unnecessary to achieve the desired result.
"Bring the one next to it as well." Ezra called from the kitchen, voice carrying easily although he spoke at no more than a conversational level.
Vin carefully removed another slender book. He was somewhat surprised to find this one was lighter than the first. Opening it revealed it was hand written just like the first. Even though he couldnt read either one, he easily recognized them as being different languages.
He glanced at the rest of the shelf and realized for the first time that the top shelf of books bore little resemblance to those further down. These were all individualized volumes, hand-written, bound with leather and sinew, parchment made from rags and not pulp. His fingertips lightly caressed the two he held, astounded to realize the privilege Ezra had so easily granted him.
As he descended the ladder, Vin got the feeling he was moving forward in time. The books within easy reach were obviously newer volumes. They could be replaced far more easily than those on the top shelf. First editions, like the first one Vin had learned to read from, would be expensive to find, but they were still available. The two books he held were obviously not something that could never be replaced.
He briefly wondered if Ezra had place the priceless tomes above eye level and out of easy reach to keep Buck or JD from inflicting damage to them in one of their many food related accidents or bouts of boyish roughhousing. Josiah would treat them with due reverence, but the big man would likely ask more questions than Ezra cared to answer. And the green-eyed immortal probably felt it best to avoid any discussion with Nathan related to the social and cultural mores of the time when the books were written. Vin didnt blame him there. Chris had never shown much interest in Ezras library. The informal leader of their little band, while very intelligent, didnt seem inclined to place the same value on written word that Ezra did.
He walked back to the stool hed vacated. Vin eyed the counter for a moment wondering if it was a safe place to rest the books he held. Ezra smiled at him, clearly pleased at Vins foresight. He nodded slightly and waved a hand giving him permission.
"The counter is clean. No harm will befall them."
Vin laid both book down, side by side. He lightly tapped the first one hed picked up with his index finger. "What is this?"
"Beowulf." Ezra answered. "That particularly copy was written about 1215."
Vin blinked. Although hed never read Beowulf he was vaguely familiar with the story. Vin remembered it being about some Viking warrior who fought a monster, Grendel. There had been a movie, The Thirteenth Warrior, that was loosely based on the story.
If this was the first book Ezra read .Vins eyes widened realizing the implication of just how much older than he Ezra really was. JD had told him hed asked Ezra once how old he was. Ezra had responded by telling him he predated the discovery of North America, but somehow Vin doubted JD realized Ezra had meant he was older by quite so much.
He swallowed hard unable to believe Ezra had actually let him touch something so venerable. "1215?" He asked, wondering if hed heard wrong.
Ezra nodded. "The only other copy of comparable age is in the British Library. I believe theirs may well older than mine, but not by much." Ezra grinned wolfishly. "The curator there would give his eye teeth to be as close to it as you are now to validate their presumption of seniority."
"Shouldnt this be like under glass or somethin?"
Ezra shrugged one shoulder. "Under glass, I would be unable to read it."
Vin stared at him. "You could get another copy for that."
Ezra laughed. "I could. In fact I have." He sobered. "But somehow I think my granddame would be appalled if I did not make use of her gift and occasionally read the original."
"Your grandmother gave you this?"
Ezra nodded. "Penned it with her own hand as well."
Vin frowned. "Thought women werent taught to read back then." He muttered more to himself than to Ezra.
"Most could not." Ezra agreed reminding Vin that his hearing was just as good as it ever was. Green eyes were bright with amusement as he continued speaking. "But my granddame was Welsh. They had a more enlightened view of the position a woman should have. Being married to a Marcher lord did not alter her view of what she should be able to do one bit."
"The title bestowed on those Norman knights who controlled the border between Britain and Wales."
He made a small sound of comprehension even though he really didnt understand. Vin made a mental note to do some digging in the local library. A brush up on his history was definitely in order.
He pointed to the second volume. "And this one?"
"The Song of Roland. Its more of a poem really." Ezra continued with meal preparations, eyes once more focused on what he was doing. "I learned to read both when I was a boy."
"They aint in the same language." Vin commented quietly.
"Isnt the same language." Ezra corrected him just as Vin knew he would. "And you are correct. Beowulf was written in old English, anglo-saxon if you prefer. Roland was written in French."
"Songs of deeds, like Roland, were the preferred literature of the Frankish nobility." Ezra took a sip from his bottle of water, eyes focused on some point in the distance. "Although composed by different cultures, both Roland and Beowulf were written with the intent of being sung or spoken aloud for an illiterate audience. So they were not written in the same style as books of today. Rather ironic, given the disparity of the two cultures whose virtues they were extolling that in some ways the two stories should have so much in common."
Vin raised both eyebrows. He was hard pressed to see how the two stories had much of anything in common. But then he had no idea what the Song of Roland was about.
He tapped the counter near the Song of Roland reluctant to touch the book again since he suspected both volumes were close to the same age. "Whats it about?"
Ezra smiled fondly. "Roland was a warrior who served with Charlemagne. He died in Spain fighting the Moors. So as you can well imagine the story involves tales of daring-do."
Vin nodded. Hed heard of Charlemagne, but didnt really know much about him. He made another mental note to add Charlemagne to the list of things he needed to look up later on. It looked like hed be spending some quality time in the library.
"Hell of a spread there old English ta French." Vin observed.
"Not really." Ezra shrugged. "Normans were really just French lords whod crossed the channel, despite their later protestations to the contrary."
"Not what I meant." Vin waved a hand. "Meant you knowing both languages. Being able to read them both." He knew he sounded impressed and he was. Vin could speak several Native American languages and knew enough Spanish to be considered fluent, but even with Ezras tutoring he still read only one language, English. In his defense, most everything had been translated into English so it wasnt like he HAD to learn anything else.
Vin tipped his head toward the shelves. "Not to mention all the others you got over there. Pretty sure I saw some in Greek and Latin."
"There is also Arabic, Russian, Polish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish, Japanese, German and a few on Egyptian hieroglyphics." Ezra smiled and winked at him.
Vin blinked. He shook his head. "Damn, Ez, there a language you dont know?"
"Several." Ezra laughed lightly. "It wouldnt do for me to become bored."
Vin laughed. "Heaven forbid."
"If you would be so kind as to return those to their former resting places." Ezra nodded toward the books on the counter. "Stir frying can be messy at times."
Vin nodded. He carefully picked up both books and moved to reverently return them to their shelf. He knew their entire conversation could easily have taken place without his having removed the books or even knowing of their existence, but he was glad it hadnt. Ezra letting him handle the books, allowing him to know even a bit more about his past was his friends way of relaying his level of trust.
And being able to touch something tangible always added significance to events and conversation for Vin. It just made things more real for him to be able to touch, made things seem less abstract and more concrete when he could picture it. Being able to envision things was always easier for him to do when hed actually made contact with it. Somehow being able to associate Ezras age with the books just made it easier to comprehend a life span so much longer than his own. Vin suspected Ezra knew that when hed allowed Vin to handle them in the first place.
Vin lightly stroked the spine of each book as he put them back where they had come from. He couldnt imagine what it was like to be able to read English before it was English. He was, however, beginning to appreciate what it was like to witness the evolution of ones mother tongue. English was no longer spoken the way it had been when he was growing up. The transition had been so gradual, so constant Vin couldnt honestly say he noticed until he stopped to think about it. He wondered if thats what it was like for Ezra.
He also wondered if Ezra kept something so valuable within easy reach not just to please a woman whod been dead for centuries, but to remind himself of where hed come from. Vin nodded to himself. He was suddenly very pleased to know his first book graced Ezras shelves. Maybe hed borrow it again some time.
"There are modern versions of both stories on the second shelf from the bottom." Ezra told him, voice carrying easily to him as Vin descended the ladder. "You are free to peruse them if you like."
Vin stepped off the ladder, locating the books Ezra referred to, not at all surprised his friend would know where each and every single book he owned was placed. He held them up, amazed to find they were far heftier than the ones hed recently returned. He raised an eyebrow. "They the same as the originals?"
"You will find that the authors took pains to explain the culture the stories originated from and their significance in later times." Ezra smiled. "But the stories are essentially the same."
"Essentially?" Vin frowned.
"Meanings change over time." Ezra shrugged, adding oil to the wok. "I have written once or twice to several scholars explaining their errors in translation."
"They appreciate being shown the error o their ways?" Vin grinned as he returned to his seat, books left safely on the coffee table as he passed by. Hed pick them up after lunch.
Ezra smirked. "One did. The others," he rolled his eyes, "wanted proof of my credentials." He snorted. "I gave those up as a lost cause."
"Well, you know some fools just cant help themselves."
Ezra chuckled. "Indeed."
"You think maybe after I finish the English ones you could teach me to read the originals?" Vin bit his lip worried he might have overstepped his bounds, but his curiosity was piqued. He definitely wanted to know the original story, not just one that was essentially the same.
Ezra looked at him, clearly surprised and then pleased. "Certainly, Mr. Tanner."
Vin grinned, a feeling of déjà vu hitting him hard for just a moment. Constant and ever changing that was Ezra Standish. Vin couldnt imagine a world without Ezra and he didnt really want to.
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