How to refute it? Einar supposed he could try logic but that, much as he hated to admit it, appeared solidly on the side of the tracker just then so he considered attempting to change the subject but there were no other subjects, nothing his brain could get hold of, not with the things Kilgore had just been discussing and it seemed he was lost, immensely, entirely lost with nowhere to turn. Muninn, wary of the tracker but having wanted to stay near Einar roosted on a rock nearby and Einar looked to him for an answer but the raven just looked back, tilting his head and blinking those wide, wise jet-black eyes of his, silent. Wise, perhaps, to be silent and Einar tried it--was his way, anyhow, at most such times--but the tracker was growing impatient, appeared very nearly ready to knock Einar another hard blow upside the head with his aspen staff, and Einar knew he could hardly afford the risk of ending up unconscious on the ground with the two searchers so close and him having no clear idea of when they might be waking. Cautious, he took a step back, recovered his knife from the place where it lay half buried in spruce needles, crouched against a spruce and returned the tracker’s stare with a defiant one of his own. Ribs hurt, and he was beginning to grow awfully cold with the extended lack of motion, muscles tightening up and tugging even further on the damaged area, adding to the hurt. He needed to move, put some distance between himself and those searchers before they woke and realized something wasn’t quite right, and didn’t want to have to earn the right to leave by talking to Kilgore. He’d already said enough. More than enough. More than he’d wanted to say, more than he’d wanted to think, even, because every time he allowed his mind to go down that road…
“Answers, Asmundson. I want answers, and your lady deserves ’em. Her and the kid. Got to think about what’s most important in your life right now. Where your real duty lies, and how you’re gonna live with yourself if you walk out on that by not doing the things you need to do to give yourself a fighting chance of sticking around for a while in this life. And now don’t you go telling’ me you won’t have to live with it ‘cause you won’t be here anymore, or anything like that, because I just know that’s what you’re gonna say, and you know it’s beside the point.”
Which had, indeed, been something like what Einar had intended to say--though only as a way to let Kilgore know he had little intention of engaging in the discussion, as he did not of course really believe the answer lay in any such direction--which left him with nothing, nothing at all and he just kept silent, kept staring.
Kilgore was having none of it. “Come on, man. You’re not gonna go all silent on me like you did the last time. That’d be taking the easy way out, and when have you ever chosen to take the easy way out of anything? I need to know that you’re gonna consider what I said just a bit ago, work things around in that scrambled up head of yours however you need to work ’em so you can come on back and be amongst the living by the time that kid of yours gets here, or I just don’t see how I’d be doing the right thing in leaving your family up here to take on the winter all by themselves. Way things are right now, they’d be better off if I just knocked you out, went down there and woke them Boy Scouts and handed your scrawny carcass right over to them because you know what? With you out of the picture at least that woman of yours would feel free to head down out of here and spend the winter in a spot where she and the little one would have some chance of seeing spring. It’s a hard life up here as you know better than anyone, and if they’re gonna stay and make a go of it, they need you, man. All of you. So. Is any of this getting through that thick skull of yours, or does it need to be pounded in with a stick? Sometimes that seems to be the only and solitary thing that can get through to you. What do you say? Want to blink or something just to let me know you’re hearing my words, if nothing else?”
Einar shook his head, let out a great breath of air while trying hard to prevent the tracker seeing the extent of the fresh damage to his ribs. “Yeah, I hear you.”
“Ok. Good answer. How about you get started right now then, and help me finish this beef jerky and cheese and chocolate and stuff that I’d set aside for my lunch today. It’ll do you some good.”
Einar stood, glanced anxiously down towards the sleeping men in the meadow, who appeared not to have stirred. “No, no I can’t do that. Got plenty of food back up at the cabin and may even come across something on the way, but this stuff’s likely as not doctored up with sleeping potions and bear tranquilizers and such, so I’d just as soon skip that part.”
“Sure do hope you’re joking about all of that, but it’s mighty hard to tell with you, sometimes. Ok, have it your way. But it’s gonna be an awfully long, cold walk back up to the cabin without any fuel on board.”
Too pushy. The tracker was being far too insistent, and it had Einar worried. He took another step back, eyes darting across the meadow, scanning the timber around and above them. “I’m used to it.”
Picking up on something in Einar’s voice, a certain strain that he had learned could only mean trouble the raven ruffled his wings, left his safely distant perch on the rock and took a heavy seat on his shoulder, twisting a bit of his hair and letting out a series of quiet little sounds that seemed meant for Einar’s ears only. Acknowledging the bird with a nod Einar went back to watching the meadow, Kilgore studying the raven.
“What’s this now?” Don’t believe in such things myself, but some would say that a raven hanging around a person like this is a sign that they’re not long for this world, on their way out and the bird can somehow tell, waits with them…that it? That what he’s doing here? Keeping the death watch with you?”
“Him? Nah, this is Muninn, and he’s been hanging around the cabin for some time now. Wouldn’t be right at all to call him a pet, but he’s kinda attached himself to us and sticks pretty close now, keeps watch on things and sometimes gives us pretty important warnings, too, when we’ve got intruders in the area.”
“Yep, we’ve met previously, your scout raven and I. Critter’s been hanging around our camp for two days staring and stealing and generally making a nuisance of himself. That’s how come you knew to be lurking around down in here, isn’t it, in the first place?”
Einar nodded. “Followed him here.”
“Well you’d better go on and follow him back up the hill pretty soon here, because them partners of mine are gonna start waking up from their naps, and I wouldn’t want you to be too close and get yourself stuck under a spruce mat while we eat our supper like you did with breakfast this morning…man, that must’ve been awful, hungry as you are, to just have to lie there on the cold ground and smell our breakfast cook with no hope of getting any for yourself…or is that the sort of stuff you do for entertainment, these days?”
“You’d be surprised, Kilgore.”
“No, I wouldn’t. Go on get out of here now. And think about what I said. Or I’ll be back sooner than later to see that you do.”
“Better not, not with that wedding coming up. Would hate to have to give you a bashed in head and a nice atlatl dart through the gut to go with that fat lip you’ve already got. Just wouldn’t look right with your wedding clothes.”
“Yeah, well seeing as I plan on getting hitched in my Selousie greens, that might not be too far out of place, but guess I’ll avoid it if at all possible. Take care of yourself, Asmundson.”
Einar lifted a hand, took off into the timber, Muninn following close behind him.