When Einar and Liz reached the cabin clearing, it was to find Susan occupied with sorting out the contents of her pack, which she had spread in the grass beside the morning’s firepit. Bud, from the sound of things, was inside doing something with rocks; a measured clank and thump told Einar that he was probably working on the chimney, and though he might have liked to do the work himself, Einar was grateful. Stove had been a big project, and it would be good to have it mostly out of the way. Especially with all the hunting he had to do before the snow started driving the game down lower. Tomorrow. I must get out there tomorrow and see if I can get close to a sheep, maybe spot an elk or two for future reference. Gonna be a challenge hauling it back with these ribs and all, but I’ll make a way. Susan had seen them, was on her feet but did not come to them, allowed them to close the distance. The brief shadow that passed across her face at the sight of Einar--plan, indeed! It looks like Mr. Kilgore’s plan must have involved beating the poor man half to death, amongst other things--was quickly replaced by a smile when she saw the lighthearted ease with which the two of them seemed to be moving, despite Einar’s injuries. They looked like a couple of kids in love, she could not help but think--the way he had her hand, the way she looked at him; something, it seemed, must have gone very right up there.
Kilgore saw it too, emerging from the cabin at the sound of their arrival--he’d known within minutes of her departure that Liz had gone after him, had done nothing to stop her; it had been time--saw the life in Asmundson’s eyes, the way he carried himself, and he knew. Let out a silent sigh of relief. Had not been so sure, earlier. Had been half afraid, as he crouched there in the half light of the cabin working feverishly on the stove chimney, that his actions might have proven the final straw for Asmundson--had been a real risk of that; he’d known it from the beginning, but had been at a loss as to other methods to use--more than he could handle just then, might have pushed him over the edge once and for all, sent him wandering off into the woods one final time to finish starving or freezing himself or whatever he would be inclined to do--both, probably--lost, unreachable; he’d begun wondering whether they might be taking Liz down with them when they went. Couldn’t leave her up there to deal with…that…alone, not with a baby on the way, and he’d been thinking--stacking one rock upon another, hoping, praying he was wrong about the outcome of his little experiment--that he would probably have to try and bring Asmundson down too, in that case, if he could find him, if there was any way. Which there probably wouldn’t have been. If the man was certain about anything, it was that he had no intention of ending his life in captivity, and in his mind, leaving the mountains meant acquiescing to certain captivity. A fact that Kilgore doubted he’d forget, even if he lost the rest of his mind entirely. He might not be wrong on that one. It certainly would increase the risks, no matter how you look at it, and I can hardly blame him for being so insistent on that one. Still, he might have tried, might have spent a few hours tracking the man, finding him, attempting to reason with him, if there was anything left to reason with, trying to talk him into coming down out of there. For the lady’s sake, and the kid’s, trying to get him to recognize his own incapacity to provide for them in his current state, to go on making a life for them up there, even if he had to be cruelly blunt, to do it. Which he would have had, no way around it, and still his chances of success would have been almost zero. He knew it. Asmundson would have been dead. Walking dead. Only a matter of time, and probably not very much of it. Well. No such thing. Not that day. Asmundson looked good. Looked pretty awful, actually, but in a good way. Was hope for him, yet. For them. For the thing they were trying to do up there. Still a risk, perhaps even an absurd one, with that baby and winter coming at about the same time, winter at eleven thousand feet, but at least now the pair might have some chance. Would have some. His work was done up there. For the moment. Almost done. Guessed he’d better try one more time and talk them down, see if maybe Asmundson was a bit more open to reason than he had been, before, talk them into a supply drop, If nothing else. But not yet. Give them some time, first. Looks like they’re just getting to know each other, over there, and it wouldn’t be so good to interrupt that sort of thing. Got to do to soon because if we don’t start down today we’re gonna be facing some major troubles at home, both Mrs. Goodland and myself, but it can wait a while. Few minutes, at least. Let him show his lady around, get reacquainted with the home place, here. To which end he left the cabin, nodding to the pair as he passed, went to help Susan with the packing. Susan, who really did not want to leave, but knew that they must. It was time for them to head down, time, before any more of the day slipped away.
He led her into the cabin, then, led her home, shared with her a long look about the place, familiar, well loved but, it seemed, long missed; it was good to be home. Kilgore had been busy in their absence. The stove was looking good, chimney half done, or pretty close to it. I’ll finish that today. Today or tomorrow, and then we’ll really be able to keep the place warm when we want to. Especially once I finish with the insulation. Will be almost as snug as that bear cave, by the time we get through with this place. Fine place for a little one. When finally they left the cabin, Bud and Susan were all packed up, ready to go. Late, as a matter of fact, no time for long good-byes, just as well as far as Susan was concerned, because she was about to begin crying and really did not want to do so. Didn’t want to spoil the couple’s happy moment, their reunion, for that was exactly what it appeared to be, and it seemed they both knew it, to some extent.
“I’ll make the offer one more time,” Kilgore spoke up, “before we go. You kids’re welcome to come down out of here with us, come back with me to Arizona for a few months, for the winter, if you’d like, or fly wherever you want to go with Roger--offer still stands. We can absolutely make it work.”
Einar was still silent, seemed he might go on being silent for a while, so Liz responded. Would have spoken even if he’d had the capacity to do it himself, as sure as she was of the answer, this time. “Thank you. But no. We will stay. We’ll be fine up here. We’ll be ready.”
Kilgore nodded. “Well, I expect you probably will be. May not have seen the last of me, though. I’ve kinda taken a liking to this little basin you folks got here, and when I take a liking to a place, well…” The look in Einar’s eye--that dead-cold, “you’re gonna die” kind of look, and he had no doubt that the man meant it, no doubt at all--told him they’d better have seen the last of him, and Kilgore read it plain as day, nodded in response. “Well, may not see me, then, but the plane…don’t be alarmed if you see Roger’s little green-and-white flying low and slow over this place one day, it’ll just be us, so don’t shoot it down, Ok?” Which might or might not have been Ok with Einar--his glare left little room for doubt, but Kilgore wasn’t looking. Einar disappeared into the cabin, then, re-emerged shortly with two packets of sheep jerky and an aspen bark-wrapped parcel of some sort, its strong smell leaving little doubt as to its contents. One of the jerky packets he gave to Susan and the other to Kilgore, the tracker being the recipient--grateful, for he truly did find the stuff rather tasty--of the portion of bear-stomach pudding. Time to go. No more room for delay. Susan embraced Liz, Kilgore extended a hand to Einar, which, somewhat to his surprise, the fugitive took, a rare action for him, indeed, and Kilgore--taking his life into his hands, but certainly not for the first time that day--grabbed Einar and embraced him, pressing his back so that it hurt, ribs aching terribly, but of course Einar didn’t let on, was rather too startled to do so, even if he’d wanted to.
“You take care of yourself, fella. Welcome home.”
And they were gone.