Kilgore--sitting there almost frighteningly calm and quiet on the log as he waited for his breakfast--had told her to wait when she started out to find Einar, to look for him along the trail and make sure he was alright after the terrible noises they had heard, the angry words, the silence--especially the silence; it worried her more than anything--had sent Susan to grab her hand and bring her back when she went anyway, insisting once again that Einar needed time, had better be given some time along up there. Though she’d feared for him, Liz had waited. Had taken Kilgore’s word and waited, something in the steady, ice-calm dead-eyed look with which he’d fixed her as he spoke demanding her attention, reminding her, she could not help but think, of something she’d seen in Einar’s eyes from time to time, and at those times she had always done well to heed him… Waiting, watching for him to return, expecting to see him, for Kilgore had said he would be coming when he was ready, the time passed slowly as she cleaned up after breakfast, worked with Susan to gather up and package the dried raspberry leaves from their past day’s expedition, gathered armloads of wood for the newly completed woodshed, and when another two hours had passed with no sign of Einar’s return, she began to grow increasingly concerned. Kilgore wouldn’t tell her what had happened up there, what might have passed between them, other than the angry words she had heard, but his silence said a great deal, the quality of the silence--it was quite unlike Kilgore, his usual tendency towards jovial talk and general merriment entirely absent--and finally, worried that Einar might be in bad shape and unable to make his way back even if he wanted to, she slipped away while Kilgore was busy seeking out rocks to begin constructing a chimney for their stove, and went to search for him.
Making his way down from the spring, moving slowly because of what seemed a growing difficulty in drawing anything close to a full breath the way his ribs were aching, Einar reached once more the spot where he and Kilgore had spent several hours that morning, a slight shudder passing through him as he laid a hand on the nearly horizontal form of that leaning aspen, saw the rope burns in its white bark, the black-dried drops and spatters of blood on the carpet of last year’s fallen leaves beneath it, but he did not stay long thus contemplating, did not need to, gave the tree a solid thump with his fist--I’m still here--and went on, rubbing an aching shoulder and grinning at the thought that he was--hopefully--about to see Liz. For what felt like the first time in ages. Unfathomable paradox, the magnitude of it very nearly beyond comprehension. Life can be a very strange thing, indeed.
Searching, moving slowly lest she miss him somewhere along the path, for she had no reason to believe that the two of them had remained on the path, no reason aside from the sounds she had heard, and the fact that they seemed to originate from somewhere near the trail’s course, Liz made her way up towards the spring, wanting to call for Einar but afraid to do so lest Kilgore hear her, come and stop her search. It was thus that Einar ended up seeing her not only before she saw him but before he heard her, too, his ears still ringing a bit after Kilgore’s solid hit with that aspen club, saw her coming up through the timber before he’d had time to take so much as two steps down from the leaning tree, seeking, searching, scanning the brush and the trees as she went, the little sheltered spots behind the fallen trees, and he stopped still, watching her, full of wonder that she had come for him, but a bit uncertain, unsure that he ought to go to her, waiting to see what she would do. Nearing, she glanced up, saw him standing there and--having no doubts herself--came to him, running, held him, and he her, forgive me, Lizzie. Forgive me…he wanted to say it, to tell her all of it, but still, badly as he wanted, he had no words. Not yet. Stood there silent as one of the spruces and swaying rather like one, too--blood loss, weariness, his relief and joy at seeing her, they were all beginning to get to him, just a bit--as she looked him over, noticed the angry red blood-oozing welts on his wrists, patches of dried blood stiffening the back of his shirt where he had been unable to reach to clean them, saw the way his arms hung all stiff and half useless at his sides when he wasn’t making a supreme effort to move them, the hollow, haunted look about his eyes, despite his obvious joy at seeing her.
She knew what it all meant, had some hazy idea of it, at least, grabbed him, held him again, squeezing so that it hurt his ribs, but of course he didn’t tell her, tears dampening his shoulder as she wept for him, relief and sorrow and a love that wanted to take on his own pain, take it for herself, or some portion of it, share the burden and remove it from him, if she could, ease its weight on him, not realizing that it was already gone--a good deal of it--in the only way that really mattered, and he wanted to tell her not to cry, that it was alright, was so very, very right but instead he found himself weeping right along with her for no good reason at all that he could think of. The two of them ended up on the ground after a while--his legs still weren’t terribly steady--sat there for a time in one another’s arms, there in the spruce needles in the shadow of that leaning tree as morning slid towards afternoon around them and the good warm steady rays of the sun flitted and whispered down between fall-yellowing aspen leaves to keep them warm despite a cool breeze that rose up out of the basin.
Liz got ahold of herself at last--Einar had been quiet for some time, still, exhausted, head resting on her shoulder--held him at arm’s length, looked at him, and he dried the tears from her cheeks with a clumsy but well-intentioned swipe of a hand, returned the smile she gave him, and he wanted to get to his feet then, take her back to the cabin but she wouldn’t let him, insisted on tending to his wrists first, bandaging them with some of the gauze from Susan and Bud’s medical kits, which was amongst the items she had brought along in the pack with her, cleaning and bandaging and, when she thought to look, doing the same for his ankles, for the raw, chewed-up patches on his back where the rocks had sat, and in doing so noticed the angry swollen-purple bruised patch on his ribs. Gently feeling, probing, inspecting, she realized just how tender the area was, suspected at least one break and shook her head.
You should have told me…stubborn as ever, aren’t you? I’d like to wrap these for you once we get back down there, make them feel a little better, but had better not because I’m afraid that would just lead to your having breathing trouble again like you ended up having the last time, and besides, looks like you won’t have any trouble making the walk just as you are, will you? It’s been all I could do to keep you off your feet long enough to let me have a look, just now. Which indeed it had been, and as soon as she finished he was up, stumbling a bit, catching himself once on the leaning tree but then standing straight, taking her hand, gesturing towards the trail, towards home. So much he needed to do down there before the year advanced much further, before the snow began to fly, and he was ready to get started with it, all of it, and without delay.
Silently, then--but the silence was good, was best--they made their way down the path to the cabin, hand in hand. When things got too narrow for them to walk that way, trees encroaching too closely on the path, one led the other, sometimes Einar in front and other times, when he tired and began lagging, Liz taking the lead, going home.