Examining by firelight the thin black strip of webbing brought him by the raven Einar knew he had seen it before, knew it--even before he’d turned it over and got a look at the roughly embroidered cheetah head, hand-done, marking its end--by the unusual zigzagging yellow stitches which had once held it in place and now dangled freely in places, torn loose, he had little doubt, by Muninn in some odd attempt to be helpful by bringing him an object to which he would normally give a good bit of attention, had he stumbled upon it in the wild. The bird paid attention, knew what he was doing. Only this time Einar wished he might have seen fit to leave well enough alone. Liz, seeing his intent focus and curious herself, came near and crouched beside him, running a finger over the bit of nylon.
“What do you supposed it is?”
Did he have to tell her? Didn’t want to, but yes, supposed he had to do it. “Strap from a radio bag. Kilgore’s radio bag, the one he left for me after our last little visit down there in the valley, and why this bird chose to work it free and bring it up here right now--and how he found it in the first place--I cannot fathom, but here it is.”
“He was along with you when you went down there, and probably watched you hide the radio, didn’t he?”
“Yeah, he was in the area, so I suppose that’s possible. Knew the general location anyway, and for some reason decided to go back there today.”
“Do you think he’s trying to tell you something?”
“He’s a bird.”
“He’s a messenger. You’ve said so yourself.”
“I know.” And I know what you’re probably thinking he means to tell me, too. That I need to go get that radio, contact Kilgore or at least have it handy so we can contact him if we need to. Is that right? Because you know what I think about that. Think it’s a dreadful idea that would probably lead to at least the two of us being captured…three of us…and maybe Kilgore too, and then where would everyone be? We’ve got a balance here, real delicate balance and if we go messing with it, reaching out into the world where we got no business, well, it’s all gonna come toppling down. But he never said it aloud, so she didn’t answer, and hadn’t really been thinking any such things, as it was. Didn’t want the risk any more than Einar wanted it, though there were times--the past few days included--when she definitely wished Kilgore might be briefly available for another of his little talks with Einar. They seemed to help, to reach him in ways she was not always able, but usually left him with a significant amount of bodily damage as well, which it seemed he could definitely do without at the moment. All of which was neither here nor there, for she wouldn’t be in favor of using that radio even if they did have it in their possession, which they didn’t; they were separated from it by what she expected must be miles and miles--Einar would never bring such a thing close to the basin, let alone the cabin--of snowy and therefore forbidden or at least restricted territory over whose unspoiled covering of white they could hardly afford to leave random and careless trails for any passing aircraft to observe and report. Suddenly a very lonely feeling, that connection out there but unavailable to them for so many reasons, and she turned away from Einar to prevent him seeing the tears she felt welling up at the thought of Susan, that cozy, homey house of hers, the quiet and reassuring way she had with everyone she met.
Einar knew something wasn’t right, saw right through her attempts to hide it and in that strange and uncanny way he sometimes had--other humans and their ways so foreign to him most times that they seemed almost an alien species, yet on rare occasions he could almost see their thoughts as they formed, sense intentions that they didn’t even yet know they had, especially with Liz--knew exactly what was troubling her. “You wish he’d brought the whole radio, don’t you? So we could talk to them.”
“I know it’s not a good idea, not good at all, but yes. I wish I could see Susan. I…I’m sorry, it’s just the baby, the hormones and all and I try to set that aside and just look at everything logically, keep in mind that we’ve got to do what it takes to keep from being discovered and I know it would be a terrible idea to try and contact anyone with the search still going on and choppers flying over this place now and then, but sometimes…”
He grabbed her, held her close. “I know it, Lizzie. I know it. Isn’t fair you being out here all by yourself with an ornery old mountain critter like me who isn’t fit company for man or beast at the best of times, especially when I’m not even here myself, half the time lately. Isn’t right.”
She shrugged free of his embrace, held him at arm’s length. “Now don’t you be saying things like that! This is exactly where I choose to be, where I want to be, and with whom, and you couldn’t make me do any differently if you tried, you ornery old mountain critter.”
“I did try. Numerous times over the course of a good year or so, if you’ve forgotten. For your own good, as well as for mine. But you kept on following me and after a while I let you do it and I’m afraid managed to get pretty attached to you somehow after a good long while, and now here we are with a little one about to arrive and no two ways about it but to plow straight ahead and do the best we can at all of this.”
“You’ve got that right. And I think we’re going to do just fine, too. I really do. This is a wonderful, secure little spot you’ve carved out for us, and you don’t give yourself nearly enough credit for that. And for a lot of things. But you’re right, I would like it if you’d be here with us more of the time, all of you, your whole self, especially once the baby comes. We’re going to need you.”
“Aw, I’m not going anywhere.”
I hope not…seems every time we have this conversation, or one like it, you make a great effort for a few days, do a little better and then something comes up--helicopter, one of your dreams, who knows what--and you’re right back where you started, starving when you really can’t afford to be doing it and looking at me like you’ve never seen me before, and I just don’t know why I should expect this time to be any different. I know you want to be here for us, but I’m just not sure you’re able. Well. We’ll see, won’t we, and pretty soon? I have a feeling this baby isn’t waiting too much longer, the way I’ve been feeling these last couple of days. Definitely something changing, but I’ve got to try and hold on for another week or two, give him more time to get ready before the big day. And give me more time, my dear Einar, try to get you fed and healed up a bit so you’ll be ready, too. If only you’ll be able to cooperate, as I know at least part of you really wants to do…
Silent words. She’d probably have to speak them, but not just then. Supper was ready, and she didn’t want anything to get in the way of their eating, nothing at all. Neither did Muninn. He was practically hanging over the stewpot, balancing himself comically on a protruding log in the wall just to the side of the chimney and hanging out as far as he possibly could without actually falling into the meal--raven stew; seems we’ve had that before--and letting out a constant stream of low chortling sounds the entire time as if singing the praises of the supper he just knew he was about to enjoy.
“Alright, you old vulture,” Liz scolded, swatting playfully at the bird lest he end up adding a bit of feathery chewiness to the stew, “back off some, and you’ll get your share. But I’d better not see you getting any of Einar’s, you understand, or it’ll be out the door with both of you, and you can either find your own separate trees to spend the night in or share one, doesn’t make any difference to me, but you won’t be sleeping in this cabin.”
Einar laughed, followed the bird as he retreated over towards the water barrel, wary of Liz’s mock wrath. “Pretty scary I got to say, especially as cold as it’s fixing to get again tonight, and I got the message, whether or not the bird did…”