After Einar told Liz, in short, clipped sentences with sometimes rather too much time between them as he struggled to put the words together, the role Muninn had played both in initiating his long absence and bringing him safely through it, she wasn’t entirely sure whether to bring the bird in and give him a share of their supper stew by way of reward, or stew him up and add him to it. She opted for the former, seeing as Einar very likely would have found some reason or other to wander down and scout out that camp even had not the raven kept bringing him scraps of cloth and wire and such, would have sensed its presence and spent even more time wandering in search of the offending human intrusion, more than likely freezing himself to death during the night in the process, the way he was looking. So the bird got let in and treated to a few rabbit bones with the meat still clinging generously to them, sat there picking and chortling in the corner as Liz wolfed down her supper and Einar poked sleepily at his, appearing unsure what to do with it and nodding over the pot, twice nearly upsetting it until Liz saw that much as he needed to eat, his demand for sleep appeared more immediate and pressing. She took the pot, set it aside and suggested they go to bed. It wasn’t dark yet, had only been early afternoon when finally she’d made the decision to go searching for him but the outside the shadows were certainly lengthening, day already growing cooler as the sun sunk lower, and she hoped Einar, despite his usual aversion to napping during the daylight hours, would not have to wait for night to do some sleeping. Certainly didn’t appear so; as she helped him into a set of clothes drier than those in which he’d spent the first half of the day slogging though the damp timber--ribs were all bruised and swollen again, and after watching him spend a full ten minutes struggling to get out of his damp clothes, she’d had to step in and offer a hand--it was all he could do to keep his eyes open, despite the obvious hurt of moving his arms.
“Did Kilgore do this?”
“We had a bit of a disagreement down there, yeah. Mostly because he managed to get the drop on me once yesterday, sneak in and get way too close before I knew he was there. Or who he was. Not good to startle a man like that. Guess he mashed my ribs in pretty good, but can’t say I really blame him. Had him pinned to the ground and was about to…well, anyhow, he was just defending himself. But didn’t do the ribs any good.”
“Well. I’ll wrap them for you, and then into bed, how about? And you can tell me the rest of the story there. But first you drink some more of this broth. You look like you haven’t had anything to drink since you left here, and that can’t be good. Didn’t you run across any creeks or seeps or anything?”
Einar shrugged--long story, the one about the cameras and search team, and he didn’t much want to tell it just then--blinked, shook his head slowly and accepted the broth, wanted to say something about how he intended before bed to make his way up to the overlook and scan the surrounding valleys and ridges for any sign of smoke that would indicate the continued presence of Kilgore and his companions, but by the time he got the words strung together and ready to come out, Liz had finished with his ribs and was all but dragging him to the bed. No matter. If Kilgore had some devious plan in mind, he’d never allow a stray puff of smoke to give him away. He knew better than that, and Einar supposed he might as well get some sleep. Had the trapline to run in the morning, and needed to be able to stay awake while doing it, needed to… Next thing he knew he was waking from a sleep into which he had no memory whatsoever of falling, Liz attempting to rouse him so she could help him up off the floor and onto the bed. He grinned, made a sleepy apology and hauled himself up onto the heap of bear hides and fir boughs, lying down only because he found himself too dizzy to sit up, once again briefly pondering a walk up to the overlook but supposing it would have to wait. Hurt to lie there in the bed, his body seeming nothing but a mass of sharp angles and barely-covered bone that couldn’t get comfortable no matter how he turned and contorted himself, but he didn’t bother about it for long; the bed was warm, insulating, and he so far beyond weary that it was all he could do to stay awake until Liz joined him, which she did as soon as she’d banked the fire for the night and set the leftover stew in a the cool corner behind the water barrel to stay fresh for the morning meal. Seeing Einar not yet asleep and curious to know more about what had transpired during his absence, Liz rolled close to him and tucked the hides in around the two of them.
“What was Kilgore doing up here? Or down in the valley, or wherever he was?”
“Leading a search team.” He laughed softly. “Yeah, leading ‘em around and around and taking down all the cameras and sensors and all that they were working so hard to put up…looks like the search is in high gear right now for the time leading up to winter, but he says they’ve got no idea of where we are. And haven’t come any closer than where I ran across them down in the valley. We got to be careful, get some more caches out there, but for now, we’re staying.”
“That’s a good thing. A very, very good thing, and I’m glad he was able to tell you all of that, but I do wish I could have a word with Mr. Kilgore, because every time the two of you meet, it seems you come out a little worse for the wear, and you sure could have done without any additional damage to your ribs, right now.”
“Oh, I gave as good as I got, or pretty nearly so. He’s gonna have a busted lip for his wedding now.”
“So he says. Ornery old uncivilized mountain critter like him, I can’t see how that ever came about, but I guess stranger things have happened.”
“That's for sure! I’ve seen them with my own eyes… When is the big day? The wedding?”
“I don’t know. We sure didn’t talk about anything like that, but he did threaten to make another trip up here in the near future, and if that happens you can ask him yourself. If I don’t put an atlatl dart through him, first.”
Liz shook her head, was about to make a joke about the atlatl but could see that Einar wasn’t in a particularly humorous mood. Looked like he was about to pass out again, actually, and she gave him a bit of the remaining honey water from earlier, which seemed to revive him, some. “I take it your visit wasn’t particularly friendly?”
“Nah. He…well, some folks just can’t stick to minding their own business, and I don’t care for a fella digging around in the deep dark recesses of my past and clubbing me in the side of the head with privileged information just to try and…exert undue influence on me. Don’t like it one bit, but that’s exactly what he was up to.”
“What was he trying to get you to do?”
“Ah, stuff I probably ought to be doing anyway…he wasn’t entirely wrong, but I sure didn’t much care for the way he went about it. And then he went and…well, after they’d all gone and I was ready to head back up here I saw a bag that had been left behind in camp, and it could have only been left by him because he was the last one out of there, and I real carefully approached that thing and checked inside, and what do you think was in there?”
“I don’t know? What?”
“A radio! And a note, but not in a language those jokers along with him could have very likely deciphered, had they got ahold of it. Was him telling me to contact him if at any time we need his assistance, or Susan’s, and he’d have his friend Roger Kiesl fly ‘em over the general area, and let them jump in. Not a good idea. Not any of it. But that’s Kilgore, for you. He’s always…” And Einar was asleep, words dwindling away and Liz rearranging the bear hides one final time before joining him, herself quite weary, as well.
The next morning when Einar woke to the soft sounds of Liz working on the stove while carrying on a quiet conversation with Muninn, or perhaps the baby--couldn’t tell which, but she certainly wasn’t speaking to him--he could barely lift his head when he tried, a great heaviness seeming to hold him down. Probably just needed some water, and he reached out from beneath the hides in search of it but this hand wouldn’t respond to grasp the container, fumbling and shaking and finally knocking it over, out of his reach. Liz hadn’t heard, the container falling on the soft, cushioning edge of the bear hide, and Einar pulled his hand back in, used what felt like every bit of his remaining strength to roll to his side, facing towards Liz so he could watch her as she moved quietly about the cabin. Must have been talking to the baby, as Muninn was nowhere in sight, and he wanted very badly to be out there with her so he could bring in some firewood, go run the trapline and generally make himself useful, but his body seemed entirely unwilling to respond, wanting very badly for him to go back to sleep. Made him angry.
You’re supposed to be a warrior, Einar, and what’s this? Can’t even get your head up off the bed? What would you do if they came right now?
I would fight.
You would die, and they would take her, and she’d be raising your child in captivity. Except that she wouldn’t, because they’d take the child the second he was born and send him off somewhere to be raised however the state saw fit, while she spent the rest of her life in a federal cell. You know that’s the way it works. What are you thinking, letting it get to this point?
Thinking I’d better get up and chase off this doggone weakness, that’s what. Climb up to the overlook and check on things, run the trapline and prepare a couple more caches. Been lying around plenty long enough.
With which he made another effort--rather a monumental one, under the circumstances--and finally managed to roll himself off the bed, get to his hands and knees and rise, braced against the wall for balance. A start, at least.