April 9, CY 3, 2014 AD
Eugene Fitzherbert crouched over a large cauldron of boiling water. It was hard to see its contents, but that really wasn't necessary yet. Boiling leather tended to work best when the whole thing was under the water. Doing it with thick cow-hide was one thing. Lizard skin—broad-snouted caiman, to be precise--which was then to be laminated in layers, was something else. Besides, it smelled bad.
“Are you sure this is going to work, Grandfather?” asked Hermann. He was the second son of Eugene's second daughter Agatha.
“Of course it will!” said Eva. She was Hermann's daughter. “It worked with anacondas. It worked with sharks. It'll work with a lizard. People used to make shoes out of them, so how hard can it be? I thought we'd been over this.”
“And,” added Wolfgang, Eugene's great-grandson via his first daughter Sophia, “we're fresh out of cow-hide and crashed aircraft sheeting.”
“Sheet metal's heavy anyway,” said Eugene, “even the aluminum stuff...and it'll turn the wearer into his own personal oven...and skins like this have their own natural camouflage...and it's easier to repair.”
“Besides,” said Rapunzel, stepping up behind him and wrapping her arms around his sweaty neck, “our Eugene makes absolutely the best leather armor in the entire Western Hemisphere.”
Eugene shrugged. “Well,” he said sheepishly, “I have help.”
“You're just being modest.”
Eugene raised an eyebrow. “Modest? You're boiling the water. Hermann does the shaping. Wolfgang does the preliminary tanning. The twins do the skinning. We all hunt it and kill it. It's a team effort. I just supervise.”
“Well,” she said, guiding his mouth toward hers, “then supervise this.” She closed the remaining distance and they were quickly engaged in a passionate embrace.
Wolfgang rolled his eyes. “Alright, you two,” he said, making little effort to keep the exasperation out of his voice, “get a room.”
Eugene and Rapunzel ignored him.
“Guys?” said Hermann. “I still have to shape that...” He indicated the cauldron. “...and I'd like to get it done before supper.”
A week later, the Fitzherbert family was ready to break camp and head toward Bolivia. All their gear and a small amount of food had been bundled up and strapped to their slowly-increasing herd of llamas. They'd divided their main herd before leaving Lake Rosario, a few of the animals remaining there, a few coming with them, and most driven by the second group of Fitizherberts through the higher Andes.
Eugene his second son Frederick had put the finishing touches on the last of their family's armor. They all stood around in a circle, looking at one another. They each wore full Inka fiber armor over legs, arms and torso, overlain with a melange of plate—a little metal from crashed aircraft they'd found during the first year and a lot of hard boiled-leather plate made from various skins...some cow-hide, but mostly shark, snake and caiman...and turtle-shell helms lined with more of the fiber armor.
“Well?” said Hermann. “What do you think?”
“We look like Mad Max,” said Wolfgang.
“Or Conan the barbarian,” added Sophia's grandson Karl.
Sophia stared at them. “Grandchildren,” she said with a roll of the eyes. “What is it with you and the twentieth century?”
“At least we blend in,” said Rapunzel with a shrug.
“Blend in with what?” said Eva. “The Bronze Age?”
“Historical re-enactors?” said Rapunzel helpfully.
“More like pre-historical re-enactors,” muttered Agatha.
“Seriously, mother?” said Eva.
“Honey,” said Eugene, placing a gauntleted hand on Eva's shoulder, “the whole world has been full of historical re-enactors for the last two years. Besides, your great-grandmother and I never really left the nineteenth century anyway...you know that.”
“Nineteenth century?” said Karl sarcastically. “You two didn't leave the seventeenth century!”
“He learned the Internet and computer programming,” said Eugene's youngest son Jethro, coming to his father's defense.
“Only because he's the only one of us who could touch that stuff without frying it,” said Karl.
“I think he deserves a lot of credit for tolerating twenty-five years of, 'Father, take dictation for me,' 'Grandfather, load Windows onto my computer,' 'Father, check my email for me,' 'Grandfather, MapQuest this for me,' 'Grandfather, log me onto my Facebook,' etcetera, etcetera, etcetera,” said Sophia.
“Well,” said Eugene, changing the subject, “this is positively the best use of leather I've ever seen.”
Rapunzel sighed dreamily. “Actually,” she said wistfully, “It's the second-best use of leather.” She grinned mischievously at her husband.
“Hmm,” he said pensively, settling his hands on his wife's hips and leaning his face close to hers, “if you're thinking what I think you're thinking...”
Thorin smacked his hand against his forehead. “Must you? I've been trying to get that image out of my head for more than forty years! Every time I almost succeed, one of you reminds me. Have mercy!”
Jethro groaned. “Could you at least get out of armor first?”
“Out of armor?” said Jethro's twin brother Eli, making no effort to hide his sarcasm, “I'd settle for out of ear-shot.”
“Children,” said Sophia, “siblings...this is all quite humorous to be sure, but might we remind you that we're still trying to go to North America. There aren't hardly any trails, much of the ancient Inka highway system is too close to what used to be civilization, winter is coming to the high Andes, and we're still having to work hard to avoid attracting attention. Let's just say we'll all be more or less eating a swath through the rainforest's wildlife.”
Rapunzel looked at Eugene. “It'll be like our honeymoon all over again,” she said with a lilt to her voice.
“Oh, great mother of pearl!” said Wolfgang. “And I thought they were bad before the earth cooled.”
Everyone laughed. Rapunzel rolled her eyes and planted a big, juicy kiss on her husband.
“Fine,” said Eugene in exasperation, “but when we get to camp tonight...”
“Or,” said Eli, “we could hike ahead and you could catch up later.”
“Or you could just deal with us,” said Rapunzel flatly, raising an eyebrow.
Minutes later, they all moved out, walking steadily to the muffled clank of aluminum, the dull rustle of hardened leather, the soft padding of llama feet and the patter of rain.