Waking to the odor of Einar’s simmering breakfast soup Liz soon joined him beside the fire, aware that he had been absent from the bed for some time but getting some inkling of just how long he must have been missing only when she saw the way he hovered over the fire, apparently trying very hard to halt the shivering that was clearly troubling his injured ribs. Must have spent hours out there, she realized, to become so badly chilled, considering the fairly mild temperatures that morning. Not that she could ask him about it, not if she expected any answer, for she could see that he was still in his silent mode, greeting her cheerfully but without speaking. Wished she could ask Kilgore about it, whether the silence was something to be expected for a while after…whatever Einar had gone through up there, but she doubted he would have known. Wasn’t sure Einar knew, himself, and while she could have asked him, sat him down and demanded an answer, it hardly seemed the right thing to do. But she did have an idea. Waited until they had finished their breakfast, and acted.
Liz took him down to the little tarn in the basin that morning, insisted over his silent objections--need to make some more progress on the woodshed, and then I got to head up the ridge and see if I can get my eyes on a few sheep, maybe even take one if the situation’s right, but at least settle on a couple spots to return to in the evening--that he go along with her, led him down there hoping to find some way to jolt him out of his silence, get him to speak to her, to say something, anything, hoped perhaps a soak in that icy water might have the desired effect on him. She’s seen it do similar things in the past, and was concerned--perhaps needlessly, but how was she to know?--that if the silence continued too much longer it might become a permanent things, and the thought was a terribly lonely one. When Einar seemed disinclined to enter the water on his own, she pulled off his shirt--he hadn’t worn a jacket, had been refusing for the past two days to do so even in the mornings, couldn’t or wouldn’t tell her why, was consequently already visibly cold in the deep morning chill after leaving their breakfast fire and she half hated to get him into the water, but hoped it might in the end prove helpful--unlaced his boots and removed her own, breaking the still surface of the water--mirror-like in the sharply-angled morning light, reflecting almost flawlessly sky and ridge-rock and a nearby cluster of scrawny sub alpine firs--with a toe and sending a series of ripples out through the reflected world of the tarn.
“Come with me! Am I going to have to go swimming alone? Surely you wouldn’t make me go swimming alone…”
If he hadn’t got the idea before he did then, grinning and shivering as he hurried out of the rest of his clothes and stepped into the icy still-clear pool, reclining in it, sinking in past his shoulders and taking in a great quiet breath as his body reacted to the icy shock, reacted, but not in the same way Liz’s did, she barely able to suppress a scream as the bite of the water came up around her. Einar took her hands and led her in deeper, then, moving slowly, giving her time to adjust, but it wasn’t working too well and he saw her difficulty, released her hands and lay back with his head in the water, floating, or trying to, a look of such joy on his face that she could not help but smile with him, though struggling herself to catch her breath in the icy water, to slow the frantic pounding of her heart.
It didn’t take long for Einar to grow quite thoroughly chilled between the icy water, the cold morning air and his own rather pronounced lack of insulation, but as he was clearly enjoying it Liz gritted her teeth and stayed in with him, and only when he realized that she had grown rather uncomfortably cold herself, lips a faint shade of purple and teeth clamped together to prevent them from rattling--she did not enjoy such things the way he did; in her, they were a sign of distress, and he knew it--did the thought occur to him that perhaps it was time to leave the water. Liz could not have agreed more, both for her sake and his--she had almost begun to regret bringing him down there--scrambled out of the water and offered him a hand when she saw that he was clearly having difficulty getting his legs under him. Back up to the cabin, then, Einar stiff and a little wobbly after his soak in the tarn--hot water might well have been more effective at relieving some of the aches and pains left over from the past day’s ordeal, but of course he greatly preferred cold, and it had served to ease a bit of the inflammation in his ribs and shoulders, though the inevitable shivering wasn’t doing his ribs much good--but Liz feeling, now that she had begun warming some on the climb, quite thoroughly refreshed, clean. She supposed she might be able to come to like Einar’s cold water dips, given time. At least every once in a while. Could definitely begin to see the attraction. But only, she thought to herself, just then beginning to regain a bit of feeling in her toes, as long as the sun is shining and temperatures are well above freezing!
Barely noon, by Liz’s estimation, when they reached the cabin, and Einar figured he still had plenty of time to make his scouting trip up to the red ridge. Wondered if Liz would let him slip away without questioning him, wondered also if she might want to go along, figured he really ought to talk with her about it, one way or another before going, but still, in the calm, fall-angling light of later morning there beneath aspens, he could not seem to bring himself to speak the words. Any words. Laid a hand on her shoulder, encompassed in a sweeping gesture the vastness of the ridge with its fluted escarpments of red sandstone, the green-grassy cirques where even then acres of kinnikinnick berries--sparsely spread, but there for the taking--ripened to purple, awaiting the first frost that would sweeten them, ready them for the harvest, the wide, slanted tabletop of the ridge’s miles-long summit, strewn with gravel of granite and semi-translucent quartz, riverbed material, great mystery how it came to be up there, presented it to her and she took in the sight, smiled in recognition of its grandeur, but did not get the message. No surprise, for it had been incomplete; he’d lost himself in the wonder of the place, forgotten for a moment what he was attempting to communicate. Again he gestured to the ridge, pointed to himself and made the motions of stalking some great creature, stopping still, flinging an atlatl dart…
“Ah! You’re going hunting up on the ridge”
He nodded, took her hand and looked at her with a question in his eyes. “And you want me to come with you?” A nod, a shrug as he attempted to convey maybe, if you want to, and she must have understood, for she nodded.
“Yes, I want to come! Just let me get my pack and bow, the rabbit stick maybe, in case we see any grouse or ptarmigan up there, and I’ll be ready.”
Einar, though usually rather ambivalent about the notion of having company along on his wanderings, found himself immensely grateful, glad at the thought of her presence.