Anxious to be on her way home and hoping very much to be able to get Einar further from the red ridge before the helicopter returned for the day--if it intended to return--Liz was up early, lying wide awake on her side of their improvised bed of fir boughs, deer hide and mountain goat wool and staring up at the gently swaying tops of the little firs and the stunted, twisted orange-leafed aspens that had shielded them for the night as she contemplated their route, comfortable and hardly wanting to move but knowing they needed to be on their way. The night had been a surprisingly comfortable one considering the exposed, windy location of their camp and its lack of fire, mountain goat wool keeping them so warm that she was reasonably certain not even Einar had been awakened in the night due to the cold. He certainly did not appear cold at the moment, sprawled out on his back under the goat hide with arms crossed on his chest and the lines in his face looking just a bit less deep and firmly set than she’d been used to seeing them of late--must have found a more comfortable position for his ribs last night because it looks like he’s breathing a little easier, not hurting as badly, and I’m guessing the simple fact that he’s thoroughly warm for once and not having to shiver and huddle just to get through the night probably had a lot to do with that--seeming so exhausted yet so peaceful all at once that Liz hated to disturb him, but she knew his peace would never last past the first distant buzz of that returning helicopter, eased her way out of bed and began preparations to be on their way.
Awake at Liz’s first movement but seeming unable to quite get his eyes open--would have been able to manage it, no doubt, had there been some indication of a threat out there, but she was moving slowly, calmly; seemed all was well--Einar lay there for a time drifting near sleep, a great heaviness in his limbs and in his head that wanted to hold him down, pressing, leaden, pleasant in its own way and he would have liked to give in to it, go back to sleep but instead fought it--you’re just worn out and short on water, Einar, and it’s not gonna get a whole lot better until you get up and drink something, stir around, maybe even eat a little--got himself finally rolled over and up onto hands and knees, leaving the warmth of the bed and finding himself suddenly fully awake in the morning chill. Liz crouched over the cairn, dismantling it and removing the meat, and he joined her, moving slowly, legs still feeling the effects of whatever had knocked him off his feet and left him practically immobile for a time during Liz’s absence the day before. Fine morning, he wanted to tell her, time to head for home just as soon as we get things packed up, and it took him a long time to realize, sitting there helping with the meat and wondering why she wouldn’t answer, that he had not spoken at all. You need water. No more delays. Brain’s not working the way you think it is. But they’d finished everything the night before with their supper, Einar having poured most of his portion of their quart of shared water into Liz’s canteen so she would think they had plenty and be sure to drink as much as she needed--wouldn’t do to have her going into labor on the way back up to the cabin because she was dehydrated--which she had, and now it was all gone, but he knew what had to be done, got to his feet and started dizzily down towards the seep. Which alarmed Liz--she’d been trying to get some response from him since he’d joined her that morning, but he seemed not to be hearing her, and now here he was taking his hasty leave from the camp and nearly running into a small cluster of aspens with his first few steps--and she went after him.
Quickly as Einar was moving, walking headlong into trees but somehow seeming to bounce off them and continue without too much harm to himself--or the trees, poor things might end up dented by that hard head of his--Liz did not catch up until he’d nearly reached the seep, hung back and watched as he fell to his knees beside the entirely filled cook pot and consumed nearly half of its contents in one big, thirsty gulp, remaining there bowed over the damp granite slab for some minutes looking as though he was about to be sick as his body began absorbing the badly needed moisture. Finally Liz moved a bit closer and Einar looked up somewhat sheepishly, offered her the remaining water.
“Took all night, but the thing got full.”
“Yes. It’ll be enough. There’ll almost certainly be a little creek in the next draw, and we can fill up there. Come on now,” she grabbed an arm, pulled him to his feet, “it’s time to go.”
Not understanding the sudden urgency with which Liz wanted to be on their way and a bit puzzled at what he took to be an unusual level of crossness in her dealings with him--maybe she’s not feeling well this morning, tired from all her work yesterday and anxious to be at home--Einar hurried as well as he could back up to the cairn, Liz offering him a steadying hand now and then when he appeared likely to walk into a tree again or topple over backwards down the slope. Wasn’t bothering him much aside from the slight delay thrown into the climb, but as Liz seemed disturbed by the trend--must be in a pretty big hurry to get back to the cabin, and I can’t really blame her--Einar reluctantly accepted her assistance from time to time, and before he knew it they were on their way up the slope above that night’s camp with packs on their backs. It was always to remain a mystery to him how he’d got into that pack, and why he didn’t remember doing it, would later disturb him but for the moment he was so focused on keeping up with Liz--what’s got into that woman today? Never seen her move so fast I don’t believe, and my doggone legs just aren’t working the way they’re supposed to--that the thought did not even enter his mind.
Then the chopper came, zipping up the valley and hovering once more on the ridge, scouring the intricacies of its many adjoining basins and draws, and after that Einar had no more trouble at all keeping up with her.
Home. He knew the place long before catching sight of the distinctive granite outcropping that marked the area above the cabin itself, knew they needed to approach with caution on the chance--was always the chance, and always would be, so long as they were living as hunted creatures--that the place had been discovered in their absence, kept under surveillance or booby trapped or…Liz had paused too, was looking at him rather sharply and he realized that he’d sunk to his elbows in the prickly yellow remains of the summer’s grass there beneath his chosen evergreen, stomach pressed into the ground in an unconscious effort to give his ribs a bit of relief, and he scrambled up, back against the tree.
“Need to be careful how we do this. Circle the place. Make sure no one’s been here.”
“I already have. It looks fine.”
“You…?” Got to his feet, squinting up at the sun and desperately trying to figure out just how much time had passed since he’d last looked up, thought it looked like a good hour or two. “You really need to start kicking me if I go to sleep on my feet like that…no excuse, none at all.”
“You weren’t asleep! You were guarding the meat while I made a circuit of the cabin, checked it out. Somebody had to stay with it, or the coyotes might have moved in.”
Einar nodded, believing her but greatly distressed at having somehow lost the last few hours of the day and knowing that he almost certainly wouldn’t have consented to crouching under a tree at a safe distance while she went to recon the cabin…that was his job, but she’d apparently done it for him this time, and it seemed he ought to be glad, if anything. Grateful. Must let her think so, at least. And he tried, fought back the anger that was rising in him and kept silent instead of insisting, as he wished to do, that he must go take a second look at things before deciding it was safe to approach. She was sharp, competent, and he needed to trust her. Gonna have to in this case, because here we go…
The cabin, much to Einar’s still somewhat doubting relief, was as they had left it, door bearing no new scratches to tell them of attempted raids in their absence and the nearby trees remaining full of their bounty of well-packaged dried meat and fat, and as they worked together to hang the goat meat for the night--the afternoon was cool; the meat could be dealt with the following day--Einar and Liz could not help but think that it had never been better to be home.