31 January, 2012

31 January 2012

Kilgore couldn’t smell any storm coming in and neither could Susan, but Liz knew exactly what Einar was talking about--more a feeling than a smell, to her, but unmistakable nonetheless--and agreed. The prospect of a fresh storm moving into the area with all of them crammed together in the small space of the cabin seemed a bit daunting to her just then, but Einar and Bud appeared, for the moment at least, to have settled whatever it was that had very nearly brought them to blows moments before, and she hoped the quiet might prevail at least until the storm had passed and they could take the dispute outside. Meanwhile, Einar was on his feet again, staring a bit absently at his parka and working to get feet into boots for a trip out to the woodshed. Wanted to be sure they had plenty in the cabin before the winds and snow hit, and though he supposed their guests might have been willingly enlisted to carry out the task, it really was his job, and he intended to do it. Kilgore, much to Liz’s relief, let him go, remaining seated as he crawled out through the tunnel.

“Fella can smell storms coming in, can he?” The tracker asked, once Einar had disappeared out into the tunnel. “Like the wild critter he is.”’

“Yes, and he can hear through walls, too,” Liz retorted, “so you’d better watch what you say! I don’t know what you two had going a minute ago, but I’d hope it might not come up again for a while…”

“Oh, that was just him remembering some of the things I said this morning when I was trying to bring him up out of that half conscious slump he’d fallen into, had to be done but truth is I’d really hoped he wouldn’t remember a word of it, after it had its effect and brought him round. Didn’t, for most of the day, but looks like it did come back to him and now he’s wondering--and rightfully so--how I happened to know some of them things. That knowledge puts me in a place he didn’t know I was in, at a time when I shouldn’t have been there, and now it’s no doubt got him wondering whether I’m friend or foe. Whether I was, anyway, at a real critical time. And whether I ought to be trusted, or run through with an atlatl dart. Which I will admit to wondering myself a time or two over the years, but I got over it.”

“I don’t understand what you’re saying, not the details, but it sounds like a dangerous game to be playing and I really wish you wouldn’t.”

“Yeah? Well so’s slipping into a starvation-induced coma up at eleven thousand feet in the middle of a snow-choked basin with a wife and a brand new kid and no way for anyone to get you out of there or get any nutrition into ya before you wither up and die, so I was just aiming for the least worst of two pretty doggone bad options, as I saw it. Sorry if it rocked the boat.”

Liz shook her head, quieted little Will, who had awakened and begun whimpering softly, seeking food. “No. I’m sorry. I’ll try and keep out of it. You know what you’re doing.” And believe me, I know how hard it can be to reach him, at times. That’s why I’ve got the rabbit stick…I just don’t like to see people hurting him, making things worse. But that isn’t your intention, and you’re right--he couldn’t just be left to slip further away, earlier. I was so wrapped up with the baby that I didn’t realize just how far things had gone, I think. It’s good that you’re here.

The energy that had come over Einar during the confrontation in the cabin was all gone by the time he reached the woodshed, dizziness returning with a vengeance and the cold seeming to pierce him through as if he had no clothing at all, no substance, whistling through his bones as it might through the boughs of a bare, dead tree with its leaves all gone standing out there in the wind, and it put him in mind of the twisted old evergreen that stood up near the edge of the dropoff there above the spring, stolid, blackened, unmoving, strong, but the thought of it reminded him of other things, of the time he’d spent with his back to that tree, hands behind him and the wind seeming to lash him from all sides until he could hardly remain standing--a good thing it had been, and necessary, a cleansing of body and soul, a strengthening, and he remembered that other time too, with Kilgore up near the spring, when the man had with the help of a dead, leaning aspen and fifteen feet of parachute cord led him rather forcefully through the darkest passages of his innermost being and out again to a place of strength from which he could look that darkness square in the eye and tell it, I’m still here, you don’t have me, but now all he could think was yeah, no wonder he knew what to do. What they would have done. Why did I never wonder how he knew? And as he stood there braced against the far wall of the woodshed with the storm rising around him, wind beginning its furious descent on the little plateau, Einar tried to find a way to reconcile the discrepancies, to make sense of the thing and sort out what might be fact, and what the contrivance of his own occasionally rather ill-behaved mind.

The words. They had been real. He knew it. Words one of his interrogators had used, phrases, word for word, for there are some things a man never forgets, things he had not forgotten, though they had not occurred to him for years, and the realization that those words--mix of languages, quite unique in its execution--had come from Kilgore, and not from the dark turmoil of his own half-conscious dreaming was proving a greatly unsettling thing. Didn’t understand it, and wasn’t sure he wanted to. He shivered, scooped up a great handful of snow and scrubbed it into his face, feeling himself slipping into that dream-darkness once again and wanting very badly to avoid it if at all possible, seeing as he had to turn around in a few minutes and go back in there with his family and their guests, and couldn’t very well do so if he was in the grips of that thing. Snow helped, but not too much, left him keenly aware of the wind and scrambling to fill his arms with firewood before his fingers became too insensible to grasp the stuff.

There. Done. Back in to deal with Kilgore, now. He was tired. Wanted to forget about the whole thing, leave the firewood in the tunnel and turn back to the dimming light of evening in the evergreens, throw himself into the teeth of that oncoming storm and push his way up the slope until his body could be forced to move no longer, which likely wouldn’t be long at all, if the past couple of days were any indication, but of course he couldn’t do it, not really, not with Liz and little Will waiting for him in there and winter not even half over. Not, that was, unless thoroughly convinced that they really would be better off heading down the mountain with Bud and Susan as they would almost certainly do in his absence. Permanent absence. It was a thought, not a very good one but it grew in his mind as he stood there, took form and substance and began looking pretty doggone reasonable, all things considered. Let them go, let them spend the winter down there at Bud’s house where life would be a good deal easier and its continuation a more certain thing for them both, down where they would be out from under the shadow of the search and could make a life for themselves. Perhaps that really was the better solution, and he might have done it, too, headed right up the slope to sleep in the snow--it was calling him--had not the thought entered his mind that in so doing he would be taking the easy way out--mustn’t do that, not ever; he had no right--turning his back on a duty to whose faithful execution he had willingly agreed, and leaving Liz alone to figure the entire thing out. Which he could not do, even if she truly would be better off under such circumstances--and what was to say that the journey would go well, that they would not fall, somehow, into the hands of the enemy on the way or be discovered later at Kilgore’s house with him not there to protect them, and taken? Shook his head and rested it on the woodshed wall, asking for strength to go back in there and do the things he needed to do--really didn’t have it at the moment, doubted he had the strength to make it back to the tunnel on his feet, and from that perspective the winter was looking mighty long as it stretched out before him--forgiveness for allowing his mind to wander off in the direction of that snowy slope.

Now. Time to be getting back inside. The strangeness, at least, seemed to have passed to some degree, that flood of impending memory and image pushed aside by the raw, immediate reality of the thing he’d been so seriously contemplating, and in dismissing them both, he supposed he was ready to rejoin the liveliness inside. The living. Could hear them, Kilgore’s booming voice and Susan’s soft one as they described to Liz the excitement of their jump into the basin. Still had to settle the matter of Kilgore’s words, but no longer found himself compelled to do it immediately. Snow was beginning to fall--and so was darkness--as he worked his way back around the cabin, heavy, large flakes, and Einar was glad. Would cover the tracks of their guests, about which he had been somewhat nervous since their arrival, lest they be spotted by the aircraft which would inevitably come over at some point, and he liked the security of the storm.

30 January, 2012

30 January 2012

Einar had the wary, watchful look of a trapped predator with one leg crushed and held firmly in the steel jaws but all his faculties still about him, teeth sharp and ready, dangerous as ever as he faced his tormentor, and Kilgore didn’t like that look, edged back and crouched against the wall, hoping to let the moment pass so they could carry on a semi-civilized conversation. Einar just went on staring, and it was beginning to be a bit unsettling, even to Bud. At least he was awake, and looking a good bit more alert than he had all day. Yeah, alert enough to jump at a man and rip his throat out , that’s how alert the fella looks, and he could probably do it, too. Be one heck of a way for all this to end, the two of us doin’ each other in like that, and the ladies left to clean up the mess. Can’t have that.

“What’re you thinking, Asmundson? Looks like some pretty intense stuff you got going on, there.”

“I think you know.”

“Was a dream, man. Only a dream, though I do know how it can be, sometimes. You’ve been out.”

Which might have been true, all of it, but Einar did not think so, memory telling him that the words he now recalled--Kilgore’s voice, if not his language--had come from outside of him, not within as such things so often seemed to do, as the rest of the sequence surely must have done, for he wasn’t there, at all, was right at home in his own good snowy cold mountains… Though one can seldom be entirely certain, when time is as fluid as it had been for Einar of late, just what belongs to the realm of dream and what to reality, he was as sure as he could be that the words had been the tracker’s and he did not like it. Did not like what it implied.

“I may be a little slow to respond at times today but I’m not brain dead. How did you know those things? Tell me.

“Aw, you know how it is with languages, Asmundson. You use one every day for four, five years, use it more than your own during that time, almost, and it’s gonna stick with you over the years. I know three or four more, if you want me to go ahead and demonstrate the fact…”

“You know that’s not what I’m talking about.” Voice hoarse, growing angry, sitting up and bracing himself with his arms lest he sag back down to the bed. “Not the language, the words. No way you could have know those things, unless…”

Einar was on his feet, Kilgore going to the floor as he dodged what might well have been a fatal blow with a chunk of spruce firewood, the thing clattering off across the floor as Einar’s hand cramped up and he lost his grip--doggone dehydration, gonna be the end of me if I don’t somehow get things turned around here pretty soon--and Kilgore regaining his feet, going for Einar and Liz wanted to step in but Susan shook her head, steadying hand on the younger woman’s knee, stay, let them handle it, they’re going to be alright

Which they were, more or less, not due so much to any great restraint on either of their parts as to a sudden and insistent commotion outside the front door, Susan on her feet and both men whirling to face whatever danger was about to make its appearance, Susan opening the door before either of them could move to prevent her. In through the open door burst a bluster of black feathers and harsh, angry rasping as Muninn--who had been hanging back since the arrival of the guests, unsure of their intentions and not wanting to enter the over-crowded cabin--announced his presence, flying straight for Bud and giving him a tremendous lashing with his wings, coming to rest on Einar’s shoulder when the tracker finally escaped the bird’s wrath by throwing a deer hide over his head. Set too far off balance by the bird’s weight to go on pursuing Kilgore and struggling terribly simply to remain upright and drive back the blackness that seemed always on the verge of overwhelming him that day Einar stood, panting for breath and gritting his teeth as the raven twisted a sizeable clump of his hair so violently that it came out in his beak.

“What’s the…deal, you old vulture? Had enough of being closed out there all by yourself, or what?” To which the raven answered something that either Susan or Liz could have very easily interpreted for Einar had he needed such service, but he didn’t, nodding, closing his eyes for a moment and allowing his head to droop in exhaustion. “Yeah, I know it. Foolish…humans. But there are some things that not even a…real wise raven-critter like yourself can know about, you see? And this was one of them. And will have to be finished, but not now. For now we can just…” Sank down onto the bed, legs unwilling to go on supporting him and breath coming hard, but he never did take his eyes off the tracker, who was peering warily out from beneath his shield of deer hide, watching the raven for any sign that he might not be finished with his rampage. Muninn, for all his earlier bluster and fury, appeared at the moment entirely content to go on sitting there serenely on Einar’s shoulder, re-arranging ruffled feathers and chortling softly into the fugitive’s ear, Einar nodding periodically as if understanding the creature’s intent, if not his words.

“Bird’s your guardian, isn’t he? Knows just when to show up. I knew the critters were intelligent, but wouldn’t have guessed at this. Almost makes you wonder why anyone has a dog, don’t it?”

Einar glared at the tracker, silent for a moment, rubbing the spot where Muninn had pulled out a sizeable plug of hair from the side of his head. Never met a dog who would do a thing like that, so right there may be part of your answer, that, and the fact that this critter puts holes in my shoulder whenever he grabs on like this, but yeah, he and I do seem to have a bit of a common language, at times… “We’ll not…go any further with that right now Kilgore, not here in front of my son, but its…we’re gonna have to…”

“I know. And we will. Gonna have plenty of time to finish it, because the Mrs. And I, we intend on sticking around for a few days, if you kids’ll have us.”

Einar shook his head, glancing over at Liz, who was nodding rather enthusiastically--looks like she wants them to stay, for sure--dismissed the raven with a gentle shove, laughing silently when Kilgore jumped a bit at the sight of the creature coming at him as he settled on the floor. “Yeah, we’ll have you. Long way from here to anywhere much, and I can smell a new storm coming in. Not gonna send you folks out into that.”

A nearly audible sigh of relief from Susan and Liz, life seeming to return to the cabin as they rose and began bustling about preparing supper, Muninn begging for scraps as they worked.

29 January, 2012

29 January 2012

When Einar showed an interest in the supper—a stir-fry of thinly sliced sheep meat spiced up and made tremendously special with red peppers and onions the two guests had packed in—Susan was glad, but concerned, also, that he might end up having another night just like the previous one, should he try it too enthusiastically. And she was not tremendously certain that he could survive another such night. Susan needn’t have worried about the possibility of Einar’s over-indulging in the supper and making himself sick; he was barely able to get through the first two bites without nearly choking--just couldn’t seem to swallow right, couldn’t get it down--setting his portion aside after that and holding the baby so Liz could eat unencumbered.
Beautiful child. Wide awake and staring up at him with those great grey mysterious eyes, and Einar wondered what he could be thinking, what goes on in the mind of a person with no language, no context in which to view the world, and then he realized that he knew, at least to some extent, for there had been times both in the not-too-distant past and longer ago when he’d found himself in very nearly the same boat. Well, little one, enjoy the quiet. It doesn’t last. Not so bad out here, though. There’re an awful lot of wonderful and fascinating things to discover about this old world. Think you’re gonna like it here, for the most part.

Small. World seemed to be shrinking around him, or he within it, Einar couldn’t tell which but didn’t like the trend, knowing that it was his duty to keep watch on that little cabin, the basin, make sure no danger approached his little family yet here he was with his world narrowed down to the area immediately surrounding him, little bubble of silence and stillness and peace and the baby seemed quite content with the entire arrangement, but he didn’t want peace, he wanted to be alert, watchful, doing his job, wanted out of the bubble and knew only one way to attempt such an exit.

Stood, stumbled, went to his knees and fearing lest he drop little Will, he stayed that way. Liz was beside him, took the baby. Must be time to feed him, Einar supposed, but he hadn’t seemed hungry, had been so quiet and alert and he guessed maybe Liz simply hadn’t trusted him to go on holding the little one, would have asked her but he couldn’t figure out how to make the words come. Strange. He smiled, watching as Liz handed Will to Susan—not needing to be fed, then, for she couldn’t do it, only his Lizzie could do that, Mother of a Mountain Tribe, thorough, efficient, growing always, it seemed, in knowledge and grace, not to mention being the most beautifully formed human critter ever to bless the tired old earth with her presence, aside, of course, from the baby, who had to count as equally beautiful—and then Liz was beside him again, trying to talk him into lying back against the bed but it seemed a bad idea, felt as though he might never move again if he did that and he wanted to move again, for how would he take little Will on the trapline and teach him the way of the fox, marten, beaver, wolverine, if he couldn’t move? So he remained sitting, staring intently at Liz in an attempt to make some sense of her words but with no success, muddled words that his brain could not sort out, so he simply smiled again, looked over at Will where he lay quiet in Susan’s arms.

Needed to get outside. Surely a bit of fresh air would bring him out of it, this miry clay which seemed to have seized hold of his senses, drawn him down and largely shut him off from the world around him, yes, fresh, cold air would be just the thing and he made an attempt at regaining his feet but nothing happened. Nothing. Couldn’t be a good sign so he tried again, beginning to grow agitated but he couldn’t seem to do much about it, legs entirely unwilling to respond and when Liz offered him some more of the broth he accepted, hoping it might help. Which it might have, had he been able to get any of it down. Choked on that first mouthful, gagging, coughing and coming dangerously close to inhaling the stuff into his lungs before he managed to get it spit back out. Liz looked worried, and Einar didn’t like that. Tried to reassure her that everything was alright--really is, nothing to worry about, more success next time--but that’s not an easy thing to do when one cannot seem to speak or make too many meaningful movements. Kept trying, finally managing to draw his knees up to his chest and rise, standing there with hands braced against the ceiling and the cabin spinning--perhaps it would stop, if only he could press hard enough against ceiling and floor, pin it in place--Liz’s words shimmering and buzzing around him like so many strange, elusive insects, beautiful, iridescent, light as air and too slippery to grasp. Fell hard then--world black, hands clawing the air as he went down--and would have hit his head on the stove had it not been for Kilgore, who had been keeping a close watch on the situation and threw himself beneath the toppling man, breaking his fall and directing him away from the stove, allowing him to come to rest in a crumpled heap on the floor for a moment before hauling him up onto the bed.

“Rest for a while, Asmundson. It’ll get better. You just need to rest, man.”

Liz was a good deal less confident, wanted to talk him into taking more broth but Kilgore motioned her aside, over behind the water barrel where quiet words would not carry to the bed. “Gonna choke him if you try and pour that stuff down his throat right now. Swallowing muscles aren’t working right at the moment, none of ‘em are, but it’ll all come back. Give him some time.”
“I’ve been giving him time, and broth…and he’s just getting worse. He’s dying. We need to do something different.”
“Fella’s been dyin’ for a mighty long time, Ma’am. Sometimes it’s got to come to that, or pretty nearly, before a man can live again.”

“I know, I know that but am I wrong for wanting him to do some of that living here, with us? With his son?”

“Why, that’s just what I was talking about. This life, not just the next one. But it applies, just the same. Only way for him to live again may be to come mighty close to that edge, and you got to let him do it.”

“He’s done that already. More than once. I really don’t see how much closer he can get? How do I know he isn’t going to step right over that edge, one of these times?”

“You don’t. Didn’t say it was gonna be easy, but you stick with him, Ok? ’Cause I can see how bad he wants to be here for you and the little one, do right by both of you, and he’ll do it, I have no doubt. If he don’t die in the attempt. That fella’s not one to back down on a duty, and he’s never had a duty he takes as serious as this one, let me tell you. I see the way he looks at that kid. He’ll come out of this, and my bride and I will stick around until he does--if you’ll have us. And if he don’t run an atlatl dart through my eye socket, first. Because I figure that mangy old scoundrel’s seldom ever been as dangerous as he is, right now…”

As if to confirm Kilgore’s words Einar stirred on the bed, managed to get himself propped up on one elbow and glared in the tracker’s direction, and though Kilgore was certain his words had not been overheard, he was just as sure that Einar had it in for him, for one reason or another, and he feared he had a pretty good idea of why. You’re starting to remember now, aren’t you, fella? Remember all that stuff I had to say to you this morning to bring you out of that downward spiral you found yourself in, shrinking down inside yourself and getting pretty close to the place where none of us could reach you anymore, but that stuff reached you alright, didn’t it? Seeped right down in there and got your attention real good. Looks like you haven’t forgotten the language, have ya? And now I’m gonna have to answer for it. Too bad. Really had hoped that part would fade back into the darkness you were comin’ out of, like stuff so often does at times like that. Don’t mind going through it with you, but would’ve liked you to be in a little better shape first, maybe. Able to get some broth down, at least. Well, we’ll just have to see what’s next, here. And Kilgore rose, went over to crouch beside the bed.

Comments from 27-28 January

Meplat said:

I sure hope Bud and Susan can stay long enough to coax Einar far enough from the abyss that he can keep making progress on his own. Liz and Susan are both trying hard but Bud is the only one who has been to see the varmint that Einar is fighting.

Bud has indeed been to see the varmint, and I guess in his own way must have come to terms with it, over the years. Don’t know if that means he can help Einar do the same--everyone's experience is different--but at least he has some idea of when to get after him with an aspen club, and when to simply stay out of his way.

Apple said…
Lovely picture ty
if I squint that is the cabin covered in snow the

Yes, it really almost could be!

28 January, 2012

28 January 2012

No chapter tonight, but here's a photo of some of the new snow up where I've been wandering...

27 January, 2012

27 January 2012

In the soft glow of the afternoon sun as it angled through the cabin door, Susan took some time that day to examine the little one, glad to see that though slightly jaundiced like most newborns, his color was already well on its way to returning to normal. Largely a result, she expected, of the daily sun exposure his parents had been so diligent at giving him, combined with the copious amounts of milk which seemed necessary to satisfy the little person’s rather healthy appetite, also helping to flush the excess red blood cells out of his system and clear up the jaundice. With Liz’s permission and Einar watching carefully nearby, she pulled out a small hanging scale, the sort a fisherman might use for weighing his catch, and suspended a loudly protesting Will beneath it in a scarf for just long enough to note his weight.

“Babies,” she explained, handing him back to Liz for a quick feeding so he could settle down and stop his shrill protestations, “always loose a little after they’re born, but the way he’s eating he’s likely regained most or even all of it by now, so the weight we see today will probably be pretty similar to what he was at birth.” Which turned out to be somewhere around six pounds, four ounces, pretty good, Susan said, for a little one born possibly a week or two early and at such a high altitude. “He seems to be breathing well, too. His skin’s a good color, no blueness and it doesn’t seem to be taking any special effort for him to get his breath, so that’s a really good thing. His lungs must have been ready, when he decided to come. You’ve done well, the three of you. Really well!”

In addition the taking the vitamins she’d brought, Susan suggested that Liz, who seemed to be healing up quite well from the birth, begin drinking a daily pot of spruce needle tea for extra vitamin C to help the healing continue at a good pace and reduce the chance of infection developing. Liz, having carefully avoided spruce and pine tea of all sorts during the pregnancy, was somewhat skeptical about the plan, worrying that the compounds in the evergreen oils which might have caused trouble during the pregnancy might pass to the baby through the milk and do him some sort of harm. Susan reassured her, mentioning that while she’d certainly done right to avoid the tea while carrying the baby so as to avoid risk of premature labor or other harm to the little one, there was no evidence whatsoever that it would pose any risk at all if passed through the milk.

Susan moved about the cabin like a whirlwind that afternoon, preparing pot after pot of the chlorophyll solution for Liz, giving her a spoonful now and then of the iron supplement she had brought--nettles, mostly, and very mild; would have done Einar a lot of good if he’d been able to take some, too, and at her gentle insistence he did give it a try, but looked so miserable and nauseated after that she did not press the matter any further, not wanting to risk his losing all the broth they’d worked so hard to get into him--hauling firewood and fixing food. She wished Bud might take it upon himself to be just a bit more helpful, but he mostly sat back watching, examining Einar’s atlatl darts, adding a bit of sinew here and there where one of them was beginning to fall into a bit of disrepair and generally passing his time in silent observation. At one point, Susan heading back outside for another load of wood, he followed her, waiting to speak until he’d led her off into the timber where Einar and Liz would be unlikely to hear them.

“Hey Sue, I know you want to help out, but better let Asmundson do most of the heavy lifting around here, wood hauling and fixing that green juice for Liz and such, or we’re in for trouble.”

“We’ve already got trouble. The man’s exhausted, at the end of his rope. You saw him earlier. I’m just trying to ease his burden a little, maybe give him a chance to put what little energy he does have towards keeping himself alive and hopefully even starting to head in the right direction…”

“I know you are, and you’re doing a real good job, too. But if you don’t quit it, you’re gonna kill him. That work’s the only thing keeping him going right now, his realizing that he’s got to get up every day and do it, and if someone else starts doing it all for him and taking away his purpose for existing from moment to moment, he’s gonna come apart and find himself unable to go on. His body will just plain give out on him if his mind even halfway gives it permission, and then he’ll be dead. I’ve seen it before, seen it go just like that. Fella coming out of real difficult circumstances--wounded, run down, maybe even starved for a while, though seldom as bad as what we’re seeing here--seems to be holding his own just fine until you get him in where he’s safe and secure and nobody shooting at us anymore, assured of having all his needs provided for, and then poof. All the fight goes out of him, all the starch that was holding him up and keeping him together, and he’s gone. Asmundson’s that close to the edge right now it sure looks like to me, and all I’m saying is, don’t do that to him.”

Somewhat taken aback but realizing that Bud was likely correct--she certainly hadn’t thought of it that way, or she would have gone about things differently there at the cabin--Susan nodded, turned away from the woodshed. “I’ll leave the wood. Let him do it, if he must, but I’m worried about the next few days, with him. It can’t get much worse…”

“Generally I wouldn’t tend to agree with such statements--it can always get worse, and a fella like him can almost always take it, too, find some way to pull through--but in this case, yeah, looking like you’re right. I don’t like how easily the lights seem to go out for him, just look over one minute and he’s asleep, or passed out or something, and you can see that he don’t like it, tries to fight it but nothing’s working. He’d better get out here and start hauling some wood! Yeah, and try to do a little better with supper than he did with the other meals today…”

“He needs more of that broth we made him earlier. I’d better be getting back inside and starting some.”

“Easy now, remember what we were just talking about. Leave some of the work for him…”

“It’s just broth!” Susan exclaimed,” nearly laughing as she grabbed Bud’s arm and hurried him back to the cabin, all the tension of the moment somehow dispelled by his unnecessary and repetitive insistence. “He can do the rest.”

Einar did, indeed, try his best to keep up with the remainder of the chores that afternoon and into the evening, bringing in two loads of wood and splitting a good bit of kindling, which they’d begun growing somewhat short on, and it was only because he insisted upon using his knife rather than the hatchet Bud had brought for him--a gift much appreciated and surely to be treasured--that he managed to get through the task without losing any fingertips, or worse. Awfully clumsy, sleepy, and it was only through repeated trips out into the sharp, bracing air outside that he was able to maintain some semblance of wakefulness as the day went on around him, Susan, Bud and Liz carrying on a cheerful flurry of conversation and catching-up, but he only able to pick up on bits and pieces of the talk. No matter. Liz would tell him later, when his senses came back. If they did. Was becoming less and less sure about that, stuck in some strange land of between, and not quite able to get himself over entirely to one side or the other. Wondered a bit absently, kindling in splinters around him and hands idle--difficult to wonder and act at the same time; required too much energy--whether perhaps he ought to be taking his leave of the cabin and the four very lively people there, hauling himself up one last ridge or peak or maybe just onto the cliffs behind the cabin, which was realistically probably all he could manage, so he’d find himself in a suitable place when…

Never mind. Not a good way to be thinking. Would you want little Will to know his father was thinking this way? Snorri Willis, future climber of peaks, slayer of wolverines, free man and ruler of this mountain kingdom…no, wouldn’t want him knowing that. Wouldn’t want him growing up without his father, either, not if you can help it, so better get it together, Einar. Get it together, and try some supper. Not gonna get too far on this broth they keep giving you--though the stuff is awful good, and somehow quite different from anything I remember…

26 January, 2012

26 January 2012

No chapter today, but I do intend to be back with another tomorrow.

Thank you all for reading, and for the comments and discussion!

25 January, 2012

25 January 2012

Bud pushed the door open just as Liz was about to go out, dragging Einar in by the feet and depositing him in a lifeless-looking heap before the stove. “Tried real hard to wake him up, but he seems pretty resistant to the idea, which is no surprise. Fella’s pretty doggone resistant to everything, from what I seen of him.” And he gave Einar a tentative kick in the side as if still hoping to wake him, rolling him halfway over with his boot but getting no response. Sitting heavily on a rock near the stove and warming chilled hands over its heat, he nodded to Liz as she hurried over to crouch beside the crumpled form. “Was afraid it’d have to come to this, but sorry I couldn’t do anything about it, Ma’am. Gave it my best try, out there. His vitals aren’t too…vital, right now. Figure he must’ve got pretty cold overnight.”

“I should have gone to check on him sooner! He needs something to eat. Hand me that pot on the stove. The one with the broth in it.”

Kilgore gave her the pot, Liz setting it aside to cool a bit as she straightened Einar’s tangled limbs and got a bear hide over him, blinking back tears at the sight of his face so colorless and cold and nearly translucent in the firelight, impressions of his teeth showing through tightly-stretched lips. He wouldn’t wake for her, either, though she tried very hard to coax him to do so, even to the point of hoping a helicopter or plane might come over at that moment to stir him from his stupor but none came, and when the broth had cooled sufficiently so as not to burn she raised his head and gave him a bit of it in a spoon, allowing the life-giving substance to dribble down his throat and glad when she saw him swallow. More, she’d better give him more from the looks of him, give him some energy with which to begin getting warm again, return to wakefulness so he could hopefully take the pot and drain it, himself.

Just then little Will, waking and discovering his food source to be nowhere within reach, sight or smell, and apparently finding the fact tremendously disturbing, set up a high, thin wailing which immediately demanded Liz’s response, and she hurried back over to the bed, scooped him up. “You do know how to make sure your needs are met, don’t you little one? It’s too bad your father doesn’t have some of the same instinct left…not that we’d want two of you wailing and crying like this all at once, but he could at least say something! Here. Yes, I know you’re hungry. It’s been fifteen minutes since your last meal, so of course you’re hungry…”

Susan, seeing that Liz intended to attempt feeding the baby and caring for Einar all at once and knowing her capable of both but certain also that the baby would be better off with her full attention, steered her back to the bed. “Let me do part of this. You just concentrate on the little one, I’ll see that he gets plenty of broth. He ought to be coming around in no time.”

For a full minute Kilgore crouched beside the stove silent, observing as Susan slowly worked to get a bit more of that broth into Einar--not exactly the way I’d be inclined to go about this; fella needs a good pounding if you ask me, pound this foolishness right out of him, but he knew he would do no such thing, not in this particular case--finally rose and turned to the stove, figuring someone had better be tending to Susan’s pot of oatmeal, and since she wasn’t doing it and Liz seemed pretty busy feeding the baby, that only left him. And I’m mighty hungry, too. Can’t hardly wait for this stuff to be ready! Sure for the life of me cannot figure how Asmundson manages to go day after day up here with next to nothing to eat, when he’s got plenty of stuff all around him. Done it myself more than once in the jungle and the bundu and even in my own home from time to time, just to keep in practice, but out here in this cold? Whew! No way! Fella must be mad to try a thing like that. Me, I’ll stick with the oatmeal and then maybe in an hour or so, a nice thick elk steak or some such! Smothered in bear grease and fried up with wild onions. Utter perfection! And if Asmundson’s still alive and kickin’ by that point, maybe I can even talk him into joining me. Fella’s got to be alive. He’s too doggone sturdy and stubborn to go like this, lying all sprawled out on the floor with a bunch of uninvited guests standing over him. He wouldn’t care for it. Not one bit. Not a lot of dignity to an end like that, not for an old warrior like him. Maybe I ought to at least drag him back outside and hand him a grenade or a satchel charge, or something. Kilgore didn’t have any grenades, though, having left all such destructive devices down in the well-hidden white duffel in the basin, so he did the next best thing, which was to try once more to wake Einar so the man could have some chance at the kind of end he surely would want.

Kneeling on the floor beside the unconscious man, Kilgore motioned Susan aside. She handed him the pot of broth, thinking he wanted to take a turn at trying to get some of it into Einar but he set the pot back on the stove, bent and whispered something in his ear. Einar moved, stirring and grimacing, not waking but it was the most activity Susan and Liz had seen from him all morning, a sign of life, and they found it encouraging, watched intently as Bud repeated his words, delivering Einar a sharp blow to the shoulder at the same time. More movement, a groan and a toss from Einar and when Susan returned and again tried to give him broth, he opened his eyes--wide, staring, strange--and began to cough. Seeing that Einar appeared distressed, confused, liable to scramble up and leave the cabin at a run or a crawl or whatever he could manage, Susan quickly took the baby from Liz so she could go to him, speaking softly and encouraging him to take a sip of the broth.

Bud was sitting back on his heels, looking satisfied. Susan sat beside him, baby in her arms.

“What did you say to him?”

“Best not speak of it. Was a cruel thing I did just now, and there’ll be consequences later if he remembers it, but seemed not fitting to just leave him lying there like that, slipping deeper into a place where we can’t follow. Had to try and bring him back if I could.”

“I’m glad you could. I know the longer he stays like that, the less likely it is that he’ll come back…like we last saw him. Or that he’ll come back at all. You did a good thing.”

For the next while Liz sat with Einar, the two of them talking quietly as she worked to get him to finish the broth--it was a slow process, the stuff threatening to make him sick if he took it too fast--and then he went on sitting, alone now and rather in a haze while everyone ate their big, steaming bowls of cinnamon and peanut butter-laced oatmeal, shaking his head and smiling when Liz offered to fix him a bowl. Not yet. Not ready. Perhaps he would try later. Had things to do that morning, wood to gather, wanted to make a quick trip up to the cliffs above the cabin and observe what he could see of the basin, the valley below, make sure everything looked alright, but none of it happened, the morning passing as if part of a dream and Liz opening the door to let in a bit of fresh air and early afternoon sunlight, shadows moving and shifting, unconsciousness trying its best to reclaim him and it might have won out, had it not been for the baby.

Little Will found his voice that day, crying, it seemed, whenever he wasn’t eating, and Einar, barely able to stand, himself, but quite unwilling to lie still like everyone seemed to want him to do--goofy people, they were looking at him so strangely, watching him out of the corners of their eyes as if he was some odd, fantastic creature that they’d never seen before, and he neither understood nor cared for the attention--comforted him by walking, pacing the length of the cabin with the child cradled carefully in his arms, back and forth, back and forth, resting, at times, his forehead against the wall, nose on the baby’s head, the contact seeming to do them both some good, and when the time came for the midday meal, he was ready to sit with everyone and attempt to work on his share.

24 January, 2012

24 January 2012

“Found Einar all curled up in the tunnel just now,” Susan began, “and it looks like he must have had a pretty rough night out there. Don’t think my supper worked out too well for him, but at least it seemed like he was trying, last night. I’d like you to seriously consider what Bud was saying yesterday, Liz. About his house in Arizona. I see how hard Einar works to take care of you and the little one, and he does a great job, but you know, I really don’t see how he can make it too much longer if things keep going the way they have been, and to expect him to survive the winter…well, he’s near the end of his rope right now, physically. All it’s going to take is him having one of his little incidents out in the snow when he’s up collecting firewood or running the trapline, and he’ll be gone.”

Liz was sitting up in bed, gently easing the baby down onto the hides beside her and facing Susan. “However things may look, he’s had it a lot worse, and I’ve seen him come through it. Like the time with his toes, the frostbite, amputation and blood loss, nearly losing him to infection and a fever so high he went into a coma for three days…and after that he was right back up on his feet, working on his balance and struggling to get his legs strong again…he’s going to get through this. He’s going to fight.”

“The difference,” Susan was gentle, her voice hushed so as not to be heard by the men out in the tunnel, “is that he wanted to get through those things, to get past them. This one’s coming from inside him in a way, not from outside forces that he can devote himself to resisting as he’s done in the past, and I’m not so sure he really does want to get past it right now, despite his being so devoted to you and the baby and obviously wanting very badly to be here for you. Seems to be hanging onto it pretty tightly, actually, despite occasionally making an effort in the right direction like he did last night. And that may make all the difference between this time and those past difficulties he’s overcome. You need to get him out of here for a while, Liz. Need to help us talk him into it.”

Liz knew she was at least partially correct, had seen his struggle and knew there existed some chance of his present difficulty proving too powerful for him, not stronger than his ability to resist, but than his desire to do so. It was not an easy thing to puzzle out, but Liz knew what the answer must be, at least in this case. She shook her head.

“He’ll never agree to leaving here. And I don’t know that I’d want to, even if he could somehow be talked into it. If we got down there to Bud’s and somehow ended up being found out…there’s no fixing what would happen then! It would be the end for all of us. And besides, I don’t really see that it would be likely to make a difference. If he’s going to continue on this path--and believe me, I’ve tried more than once to talk him out of it--well, chances are he’d be doing it down there just the same as he is here. He certainly doesn’t lack for food up here. None of us do.”

“Might make a difference for you and your son, though. Especially if Einar ends up not…”


“But you’ve got to realize that he’s…”

“Oh, I realize it every day, and I think here lately he does, too. Which would be a good thing. Either way, we’re not leaving.”

“Well I do hope you’ll reconsider. Bud’s good at all this spook stuff, and besides, he’s got an inside position at the Task Force and a good idea of what’s going on with the search at any given time--the ability to influence it, even, to some extent--so if he says he can get you safely to that house, I believe him. Think about it. Talk with Einar. And in the meantime, how about at least letting me try and get him started on eating, again? Get him past this rough spot if we can. Otherwise I really don’t think he’s got too many more days with us. He’s gone too far. Too far gone.”

Liz nodded. “Of course you can do that. If he’ll do it. What do you have in mind?”

“Hopefully just getting him re-hydrated for starters, then a little broth every couple of hours with some honey, maybe little bits of liver mashed into it, too, from that frozen liver you’ve got in a tree out there. What is that, anyway? Elk? Deer?”

“Sheep. Bighorn sheep.”

“Ah! You really did get ahold of a variety of game for the winter. That’s great. Sometimes I wish Bud and I could move up here with you, build our own stout little cabin next door and watch that boy of yours grow up, have Roger Kiesl airdrop us a bunch of canning jars and my big kettles so we could can together in the summers--wouldn’t that be nice, to have some of this meat all canned up and ready to go?”

“It keeps just fine frozen, but yes! I hardly think Einar is looking for neighbors, though, and if it’s hard for two and now three people to keep off the feds’ radar, a small community would be even more difficult! That, and the fact that Bud’s employers would surely miss him and wonder where he’d gone off to, all of a sudden…”

“I know it isn’t practical, but a person can dream… Now. I don’t know what’s taking Bud and Einar so long out there, but I’d better be getting a batch of that broth going, and some breakfast for all of us, too. Would you like some oatmeal? That’s what I packed for our breakfasts, and thickened up with a bunch of raisins, walnuts and a good scoop of peanut butter, it’s pretty filling!”

Liz’s eyes sparkled at the offer, their customary soups and stews providing good solid nutrition but the variety sounding very appealing. “Alright, I’ll start the oatmeal and broth, but you know what? It would really increase the value of that broth, add to its digestibility, maybe, if we had some milk to stir in…”

About to shake her head and make a quick comment about how they hadn’t quite managed to tame a mountain goat and get it to show up at milking time, Li caught herself when she realized just what Susan might mean. Sure. Why not? I do seem to have an abundance, these days. So long as we don’t tell him where the milk came from this ought to work, because I hardly think he’d go for that, would consider it stealing from little Snorri, which it isn’t, but I’d be hard pressed to convince him…

Susan working on a big batch of oatmeal in one pot and Einar’s broth in another, Liz--who had just added the precious ingredient the two of them hoped might help get Einar turned around and eating again--began to grow concerned at Einar and Bud’s continued absence, handed little Will to Susan and ducked into the tunnel to check on him, suddenly fearful lest all of their efforts prove just a bit too late…

Comments from 23 January

Philip said…


Thank you for your E-Mail Offer, I have caught up, using my new for 2012, note book, paid with my returned deposit from the Mobile Home park, since I thought they were going to stiff me, I was happy to use the $$$$, I will get the old one cleaned out, and send it in for repair!

The story line is fantastic, I am just loving the five of them being together!

Glad you’ve got a computer now that’s working. Good to hear from you, as always!

Nancy1340 said…
I like the direction this story is headed in now.


Not sure what direction that is, but glad you like it. : )

AlaskaSue said…
Wow ~ Einar's own strength of will, determination, and force of personality have conspired against him to bring him to this state and YET he continues. Wonder if Kilgore didn't deliver a worse blow that all those hard knocks he'd given him before. The guy needs a break, yet will not allow himself one. Oh, that lovely supper would have been so good for him too but guess he wasn't quite up to it.
Agree with Philip and Nancy, great place you're taking the story! Thank you! And really glad you got more snow - ours is too deep to see over the road medians now, but what gorgeous views of an alpenglow-lit Mt McKinley we have!

Sure sounds beautiful there right now! We did get some snow, but still not enough. I wonder if you’re going to be seeing increased auroras with this ongoing solar storm over the next few days?

Yep, Einar isn’t any good at quitting, once he’s got his mind set on something. Kilgore’s words really got to him, though.

Sixfifty said…
I think the light bulb is starting to burn dimly over Einar's head! He is starting to see the reality of his situation and he is NOT liking the conclusions he is reaching about his physical condition. Finally. I've got my fingers crossed that he will set his feet onto the path of healing himse;f- both spiritually and physically.

A dim bulb, is it? :) Maybe that's been the trouble, all along!

Yes, I guess his starting down that path would probably be a good thing.

Thanks for reading!

23 January, 2012

23 January 2112

Kilgore didn’t say much, just stood waiting for Einar to settle down and get his breath back before moving a bit closer. Einar was breathing hard, already shivering in the late evening chill as he leaned on a spruce for balance--ribs and shoulder blades showing sharply through the wool of his shirt; no wonder he was freezing--and it appeared to Kilgore all the man could do to keep on his feet. Better be real straight with him. The tracker never had been one to beat around the bush, anyway, and at the moment he had a mission--and a history of ruthlessly pursuing his objectives, whatever they might be.

“Asmundson, if you were a dog, I’d have no choice but to just put you out of your misery right here and now, man. Only merciful thing to do. Can’t you see what you’re doing to yourself?”

“I’m not your dog, Kilgore.”

“Nope, and you don’t want to be put out of your misery, either. Do you? And I don’t mean, ‘you don’t want to die like a dog, do you,’ because of course you don’t, but I mean that you want the misery. Need it. You don’t want it to end.”

“Not really.”

“Well I know where you’re coming from with that. Kinda. There’s places you been where I haven’t, so I can’t say I entirely understand your need to keep on pushing so hard in that direction, but for the most part, yeah, I get the idea. And if you want to live your life that way--and lose it that way, too--that’s your business, but don’t you think the kid ought to be given a chance? Better one than he’ll have up here trying to live out the winter with his father dead and gone like you’re about to be and mama struggling just to keep the two of them going, after a while? I was dead serious about Arizona. Think we can do it safely if we’re wise about it, let you finish out the winter there, get some of your strength back, you know, take a few steps back from death’s door…you ought to jump at the chance, really, the kid and your lady and all aside, because the stronger you get, the more punishment you’ll be able to dish out to yourself before ending up mostly dead again, and I know good and well the attraction that seems to hold for you. And then you can be right back out here whenever you want to be. Whenever you’re ready. We’ll drop the three of you right back in that basin or on the ridge, or wherever you see fit. And you can take up right where you left off, only with a much better chance of being around for the long haul. Will ya at least give it some consideration?”

No answer from Einar; Bud had certainly not expected the proposal to be met with much acceptance, but had wanted to get it out there, anyway, so it could be under consideration for the remainder of the visit. Things can take an awfully long time to sink their way through a skull as thick as Asmundson’s, especially when a fella’s actively trying to prevent their doing so. I ought to know. Done plenty of that myself, in my lifetime, but this fella’s got a wall a mile thick built around that head of his, and I don’t know if there’s any way in, besides talking him into opening the doggone door. Which probably takes more skill than I got. So we’d best give this one plenty of time. Doubt he’ll ever come around to thinking my idea a good option or even a remotely feasible one, and he might even be right, but I got to try because it really don’t look to me like he got much time left, the way things are going. And that would be a shame. Mighty shame for a fella to reach the end just as he’s starting a family and taking on all these responsibilities, yeah, kinda hope he may listen to me, this time. And in one last effort to get the fugitive’s attention, force him, perhaps, to pay a bit more heed to his words, Kilgore grabbed Einar hard by the shoulder and gave him a hard shake as he turned to go back in.

“I oughta just knock you to the ground here and now and give you a good stomping, pound some sense into that numb skull of yours one way or another and I sure would do it, but you know what? I don’t think you’d survive it right now. Really don’t. Wouldn’t be anything close to a fair fight, and then I’d be crawling in there with my head all bowed and having to explain to your bride and mine why that little boy didn’t have a father, anymore. You’ve really let yourself go, Asmundson, to get to that point. Pitiful.”

Which dismissal angered Einar far worse than any physical stomping possibly could have done, left him whirling about on the tracker with the intention of challenging him to put his money where his mouth was without further delay, right there in the snow, but Kilgore had already gone in and Einar followed, stomping and stalking in a silent rage, beginning his bedtime preparations, angry and sullen and barely saying a word to Liz or their guests as the evening wound down. No need to do so, anyway. Liz had plenty of company with Susan there, and probably preferred her conversation, anyway.

Couldn’t sleep. Despite the initial sense of immense physical relief and relaxation that had been brought him by the evening meal--had felt as though a spring was slowly uncoiling, tension easing as he began absorbing a bit of that food and the desperate conflict that seemed always in the forefront of his mind those days quieting--Einar’s body didn’t know what to do with such a sudden influx of food, and he spent a good portion of the first hours of the night out behind the cabin dreadfully sick as he crouched in the snow beneath a spruce. Finally, seeing that the difficulty showed no sign of easing and concerned about disturbing Liz and the others with his frequent need to hurry out the door, he hauled an unused deer hide out into the tunnel and spent the remainder of the night huddled weary, shivering and increasingly dehydrated against one of its walls, scattered snatches of sleep interrupted by his need to dash out under the trees.

All the while--during the wakeful periods, the ones in which he was conscious, and they were growing fewer and farther between--his mind churned over Kilgore’s words, wondering just what Liz had thought of the proposal, whether she would want to go, make an effort to convince him. Twice in the past she had roundly rejected such suggestions before he’d even had the chance to comment on them, himself, but that had been before the birth of the baby, and things were different, now. She was different. He could see it. No telling how her perception might have changed, her priorities. And then--inevitably; it happened every time he returned to the tunnel weak and shaky and near passing out from exhaustion and lack of fluids--his mind would return to Kilgore and his absurd dismissal out there in the snow, his flat-out refusal to deliver the beating that seemed his usual means of communication and which Einar had come, on some level, to almost expect when the two of them met, and the remembering would set off a fresh wave of fury--of course I’d survive it, what’s the fool think he’s talking about? He’s just trying to scare me. It’s not so bad as all that, and I think he’s using some pretty lowdown tactics here, trying to tell me I’m not up to the challenge, not ready to face him on my own two feet and take what’s coming. Without that ability I’m worse than dead, and he knows it--which left him sitting bolt upright in the chill air of the tunnel, hide cast aside and his limbs trembling convulsively as he tried to prove to himself that he was, indeed, still able to stand whatever the world might manage to throw at him. Had to be. But he wasn’t. Passed out sometime in the early morning hours when the cold was at its deepest and the sky still an inky black outside the tunnel, body having lost in those overnight hours more than it had gained through the evening meal, and unable to go on providing his brain with enough energy to remain conscious.

Susan found him there in the morning on her way outside, pale and cold and barely responsive beneath the terribly inadequate cover of the deer hide, and she did her best to warm purple hands and brush accumulated snow from his clothing, hurrying back inside to retrieve one of the bear hides from Liz’s bed and several hot rocks from beside the stove so he could begin thawing while she woke Bud to help her get him back inside.

Susan had an idea, a plan, waited until Bud had ducked into the tunnel to attend to Einar before sitting down on the bed to make her proposal to Liz.

22 January, 2012

22 January 2012

Sitting on packs, hides and blankets around the stove the newly married couple and their somewhat awestruck hosts enjoyed Susan’s large, luxurious supper, Susan--remembering the tremendous value of such small breaks from her own child-rearing years--holding little Will for the duration so that Liz could have her hands to herself as she dined.

Einar, initially sitting off to the side in an attempt to avoid getting too warm near the stove and thus too sleepy--he was only managing to stay awake just then because of the intensity of his shivering, he was pretty sure, and hardly wanted to upset that delicate balance--hoped he might be overlooked when it came to the serving of the supper but of course he wasn’t, Susan giving him only half the portion she gave everyone else but still it looked enormous to him. And awfully good, too, smelled good, her use of the powdered garlic, soy sauce and cilantro she’d brought along as gifts for Liz adding to the savory odor of the already-wonderful meal and despite his reluctance he found himself taking a little taste, another, eyes on Will all the while where he slept peaceful and perfect in Susan’s arms, and before he knew it he’d devoured nearly his entire supper. Would be sorry for it later, he had no doubt, but for the moment was sleepy and full and very much at peace, listening as if from a great distance to the ongoing conversation around him.. Such a dramatic departure from his usual course of action at mealtimes that Liz didn’t quite know what to make of it--thought, perhaps, some particularly disagreeable portion of his journey down to the basin had convinced him that he must make a serious effort at regaining his strength--but she did not especially care why the change was taking place; she was simply glad to see him getting a good meal and hoped he might find himself able to continue eating that way.

Kilgore, much restored after his afternoon of napping and resting, was in fine form after the evening meal, entertaining his hosts with lively, animated tales of the wedding and the festivities that had followed, describing in detail the shooting, explosions and general ruckus-raising that had marked the day, repeatedly declaring that it would have surely been a lot more fun had Einar been there to demonstrate his prowess with the atlatl, spit in the eyes of any and all feds who might have managed to slip unnoticed past his security and the Sheriff’s--right, Einar responded, would have been great fun until they put about six dozen holes in me and your wedding party degenerated into open warfare between your buddies, Sheriff Watts’ men and the feds; hard to say who would have come out ahead in that one, but not real hard--and generally frighten the more gentle and sheltered of the guests with his wild mountain man appearance and demeanor.

“And then,” the happy groom continued, “to top things off, we jumped, that next morning! Last morning. My bride’s first time to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. How long’s it been since you jumped with a full combat load, Asmundson? Or since you jumped at all? Probably quite a while, yeah? Well let me tell you, it don’t lose any of its appeal with the passage of time, that’s for sure. A real fine way to see some country, feel the freedom of falling through the air like that with the world rushing up at you, and you know? It’s a lot more enjoyable when folks aren’t shooing at you from the ground, too. Less exciting, though. Definitely less exciting, and I’m sure the shooting could have been arranged with a few appropriate phone calls made in plenty of time, but didn’t figure my bride would care too much for that bit--or that you would, in such close proximity to your home, and all--so decided to skip that part. So how long’s it been, Asmundson?”

Einar looked thoughtful, distant, perhaps even a bit annoyed at the tracker’s antics, Liz not sure at all that he was going to answer, but he did, rolling the Nutella jar between his hands as he spoke. “In combat? Thirty, thirty two years or so, I guess. About the same as you. Less than that if you count little undeclared conflicts and almost-wars where we never even had a presence or fired a shot…officially. Wouldn’t mind doing it again someday, but there seem to be just a few little problems with arranging that at the moment…”

“Oh yeah, you think? Why, we’ll just get Kiesl’s little green-and-white--the small plane, not the one we flew up here in--outfitted with skis, land it up there on that red ridge and pick you kids up, circle around a few times then drop ya over the basin! What do you say? Never too early for the little one to make his first jump…”

“Oh, it’s too early alright!” Liz insisted, before Einar even had a chance to speak up. “Way too early, and I hardly think we’d want to be risking that sort of exposure just for a good time, anyway. Would we?”

“Aw but it wouldn’t be just for a good time,” Kilgore insisted. “Though if you have any doubts as to the pure joy of falling unhindered through the high, thin air just ask my bride, here…but no. This would have a purpose. Would be a training jump for Arizona.”

“Arizona?” Einar was up in a crouch, looking all wild and wary once more, the quiet contentment that had seemed to come over him with the consumption of his first full meal in many, many days gone in an instant. “What’s going on in Arizona?”

“My house is sitting there empty, that’s what. All empty and alone and gonna be that way for the rest of the winter it looks like, ‘cause my bride and me, well, we kinda like it here in these mountains, and besides, I got work for the rest of the winter down at Task Force Wild Goose Chase there in the valley. Don’t like leaving my house and shop all alone like that for so long, and I’m lookin’ for some caretakers. You know, young couple with a kid or two, maybe, who are quiet and responsible and looking for a change of scenery… Fella would need to be good with his hands and able to go for weeks at a time without needing to run down into town and such, because the place is pretty remote and no one plows that long, long driveway in the winter, access by ski and snowmobile only for a couple of months every year and not too many are willing to go for such an arrangement. What do you say? Not nearly as cold and snowy down there as you folks are used to but it does snow, and I figure you’re both pretty doggone good at adapting and overcoming, by this point. Ought to be able to make it work. So. Sound like a good deal?”

“For the feds, yeah. Sounds like a real good deal for the feds.” Einar was on his feet, the unsettled feeling that had been creeping over him for the past minutes growing and becoming all but intolerable so that he had to be moving, going, could no longer stand the confinement of the cabin walls around him and had to dive for the tunnel door, Kilgore close behind.

Comments from 20 January

Nancy1340 said…
Well at least Liz is getting some backup in encouraging Einar to eat more and take better care of himself.

Yeah, poor guy can’t seem to get away from it.

Eric said…
Ahh, snow. We have had a lacking year here for moisture this year. Thanks again for all the hard work. Hopeful to see improvement in Einars nutritional intake. Enjoy the snow!

Thanks! Hope you soon get some more moisture, too.

21 January, 2012

21 January 2012

Thank you all for reading!

No chapter today, but I'll be back with another tomorrow.

It's snowing again here today, great big flakes and coming down hard. We're still far short on snow for the season, so hopefully this one will continue. Hope everyone is having a good weekend.

20 January, 2012

20 January 2012

Einar heard the crunch in the snow behind him, did not particularly care for being followed but didn’t suppose it was any more reasonable to expect their guests to remain cooped up in the cabin all the time than it was for he, himself to do so, and with that in mind was mostly able to keep his displeasure to himself as she matched his pace around the cabin and met him beside the woodshed.

“Need any help with the firewood? This sure looks like a nice setup you’ve got here, and a good bit of wood set aside, too.”

“Wanted to have plenty before the baby came. So I wouldn’t be wandering all over in search of it during those first weeks. Setup works a lot better when we’re using the front door and can step out and grab an armload of wood, but we’re not using it much right now. This way leaves less tracks.”

“Yes, I guess it would,” she replied, beginning to choose logs and stack them in the crook of one arm, Einar’s silence on the matter taken for consent.

“I noticed…” really getting down to it, the reason she’d insisted on joining him out there, “that you didn’t really have much of the stew a little while ago…where do you think this goes from here, if you keep it up?”

Einar glared at the woodshed for a long minute, considering which logs to take on that first trip and hoping Susan would drop the matter if he didn’t say anything, but he could feel her staring at him. “Where does what go?”

“Your refusing to eat.”

“I eat.”

“What, a tiny bite every six or seven days when you get so near to death that there’s no other choice? Big tall fella like you who spends most of his life doing hard physical work outside in the cold can’t get by on a little bite here and there, every few days. Not for months on end, anyway.”

“I do just fine.”

“You do not. You’re having seizures because your blood sugar is so low--yes, I know you can go and have gone for many days at a time without any food in the past with no problem at all, and I think that’s a good thing to be able to do, but right now you’ve so completely exhausted your resources that your body doesn’t have anything at all to draw on for energy when you try to do that--and you know what? Seizures like that don’t happen until your sugar drops to a level just above where you go into a coma, and if that happens--especially if no one’s around to give you a tube of cake icing like Bud and I were yesterday, because that’s exactly where you were headed--you may never come out of it. Certainly won’t if you’re up in the timber when it happens, and you end up lying in the snow… Surely you can see that this particular road you’re on doesn’t go much further, without running you over a cliff. You’ve very effectively starved yourself to within an inch of your life, and unless you’re determined to finish the job, you’re going to have to find another way to deal with life. This one’s taken you as far as it can, and it’s not working anymore. Can I show you something?”

A noncommittal shrug from Einar. Figured she was going to show him, whether he liked it or not. Susan took his hand--left one; she knew from experience not to grab the dominant hand of a man as tightly wound as Einar appeared to be that day, got to leave it free--pushed up the sleeve and pointed out to him the numerous bruises that covered his arm, some fresh, others fading to yellow.

“Now unless Liz goes at you every day with that rabbit stick, which I highly doubt, this looks to me like a sign that you’re pretty severely anemic. A person shouldn’t bruise this easily. And if I had a mirror I’d be able to show you that your gums are nearly white, which isn’t a good thing, either. Liz tells me she lost a pretty significant amount of blood after the birth, yet it seems she’s less anemic than you are. This shouldn’t be happening, not out here where you’ve got plenty of meat and blood and other animal products just literally hanging from the trees waiting to be eaten…what are you doing?

“Doing what I have to do. Anyway, when I start eating again, my legs swell up with water and I can barely move, can’t get my boots on at all. I’m pretty useless like that, especially out here. This is better. I can live with this.”

“This is going to kill you. Real soon. The only way to get through that swelling is to keep eating, to eat more, and your body will adjust to it again. You know that. I wouldn’t have taken you for the type to try and come up with excuses, but that’s exactly what I see you doing right now. The swelling is an excuse you’re using because you want a reason to go on exactly as you have been going, but this isn’t going to work for you, long term. Your heart will give out, your organs will fail…”

“Haven’t done it yet.”

“Maybe not. You’re an awfully resilient fellow, there’s no denying. But you’re human, too, and very intelligent, so you have to know the eventual result of going on like this.”

Einar shrugged, kept stacking wood until he could barely stand under its weight, liking the hurt of it, the focus required to keep himself on his feet under that load, balanced in the deep snow as he began retracing his steps back towards the tunnel. Susan was following him, deposited her own load of wood beside his in the tunnel and waited while he ducked inside to retrieve his parka, not wanting to search it for darts in there where Liz could see and question, should she wake. He was sure it had to be done, the searching, but found himself less certain that he could explain why, if questioned on the matter. Better do it where he could be by himself. Only he wasn’t by himself; Susan was still there. Well. Nothing to do about that. Better just go ahead. He was going to need that parka. Spread the thing out in the snow, began a meticulous examination, blinking hard in an attempt to clear his rather uncertain vision and beginning to grow cold as he sat virtually motionless there in the shadows, searching. Again, Susan was there. Too close. Asked him what he was looking for. Tell her? Why not? Chances were she already knew about Bud and the darts, and if she didn’t she ought to.

“Darts. Tranquilizer darts. Skinny little things with an orange tuft on the end. Unless he went for something more stealthy this time, and took off the orange tips. Don’t want the little buggers poking me when I put this thing on.”

Susan kept her face still, not showing any reaction, nodding, not wanting to mess things up. “Is that why you couldn’t wear it on the hike back up here earlier?”


“Let me help you look.”

A suspicious glance from Einar, several possible scenarios flashing through his head but he dismissed each of them, allowed her to take a sleeve and begin searching. They didn’t find anything, and by the time Einar had satisfied himself with the search, he was freezing, far beyond needing to get back inside. Liz was awake again when they returned to the warmth of the cabin, Bud beginning to stir, also, with the smell of the supper Susan had been cooking up--onions, red peppers and thinly sliced elk steak, fried up in the iron skillets to be served with cheese, avocado and cilantro on a batch of tortillas she’d brought along, and the odor was incredible--and Susan greeted them, returning to her supper preparations.

In addition to the food she had brought for herself and Bud on their honeymoon trip, Susan had included as many items as she could fit to leave as gifts, and as the supper sautéed merrily in the skillet, she took time to bring these out, much to the delight of all present. Having figured the little family would likely have plenty of protein set aside for the winter by then, with both Einar and Liz being decent hunters and trappers--Einar had, at his last brief meeting with Bud, assured him that they were pretty well set, meat, bear fat and even honey from a bee tree set aside for their use--Susan had focused her packing on things she expected might have been a bit more difficult for them to come by--dried fruit, seeds for sprouting so they could have fresh greens through the winter, and some wax-dipped cheese rounds, just for variety. In addition, she had brought some items specifically for Liz, a big jar of prenatal vitamins which would help correct any deficiencies she might have experienced through the pregnancy--though seeing the quantity and variety of foods available to them there in the cabin, iron-rich meats, broths of boiled bones very high in calcium, dried nettles and lamb’s quarters added to stew on a regular basis and rose hips, chokecherries and raspberry leaves for tea, just to name a few--she was very hopeful that no such problems existed--and a liquid iron supplement made from nettles and other herbs, to strengthen her after the inevitable blood loss of birth.

For Liz also she had included a bottle of fish oil, not so much for its fat content--bearfat, she knew, likely provided them with all they needed in that regard--as for the beneficial fatty acids it contained and for which they would be unlikely to find good substitutes in their mountain diet, such compounds being helpful to Liz in those weeks after delivery as well as helping provide her milk with elements which would benefit the infant’s rapidly growing and developing brain. In addition to the food items, Susan pulled from Bud’s pack a small Bible for the pair, and with it a little book full of blank, lined pages--something for you to record the little one’s first year if you want to, write down your thoughts, anything you’d like--and several pencils, which she said she figured would be more practical than pens, since they could be sharpened, wouldn’t dry out and ought to last longer.

Specifically for Einar, Susan had packed along three jars of Nutella. She had remembered how much he’d liked it during his brief stay at her house that previous year, including it in the hopes that it might be something he would and could eat, even if he wasn’t eating too much else. Perhaps not the ideal food, but not a bad one, either, for a man badly needing to catch up on some basic nutrients and provide himself with ready energy to get through the cold of winter. When she handed him one of the jars, she could see the conflict in his eyes. Wanted it so badly, she could tell, but was at the same time terribly reluctant, and she could only hope that in this particular case, nature might prove the more powerful force. Not likely, though. That man has an unnaturally powerful spirit to him, a will that just doesn’t bend so looks like if anything’s going to change here, he’ll have to want it to. I’m trying, but not sure he heard me.

Comments from 19 January

Sixfifty said…
Oh goodie, nice solid cookware and warm clothes for everybody. And uh-oh! Einar is about to face Susan with nobody to protect him :O. That lady seems so soft and sweet but I get the impression that she has a backbone of solid steel and no 'back up' in her. I'm sure she will lay out some hard facts for Einar and hopefully get him to start getting it together.
I can't say thanks enough for all the effort you put into these stories FOTH.

Thanks for reading! Yep, Einar may find himself unable to escape the things Susan has to tell him.

Russell H Whyte said…
I get the feeling that Susan doesn't need a rabbit stick - she's got more than enough experience knocking a clue into a stubborn male's head!

She certainly knows how to handle herself in difficult situations and with difficult people, yes. Good thing, since she’s now married to Bud Kilgore…

19 January, 2012

19 January 2012

With Einar and Liz sitting together by the stove and the baby sleeping quietly enough that Susan was able to carefully ease him into his little basket-bed of willows and mountain goat wool she again dipped into her pack, pulling out her rolled up sleeping bag. The thing clanged and clattered when she set it on the floor, causing Einar to jump and Liz to look up sharply.

Susan grabbed the sleeping bag, glancing apologetically at Liz and checking to make sure Will had not been awakened, which he hadn’t, sleeping soundly as ever. “We had to maximize space, you see, when packing for the jump, so I stuffed my stuff sack into this pot to help make everything fit. Here!” And she pulled out the sleeping bag, handed Liz a stainless steel stock pot whose capacity Liz was sure had to be somewhere upwards of three gallons, far larger than the little one and two quart pots in which they had been doing most of their cooking to date. Though they had larger wood burned vessels--the water barrel, even--which could be used for cooking with the hot rock method, the new pot could be placed directly on the stovetop, allowing for far larger batches of stew and the simmering of roasts, even, which until then had been a project quite out of their reach.

Liz was on her feet, tucking the rabbitskin blanket snugly around Einar and easing him to the ground there before the stove, asleep or something very close to it as he continued to warm. “Oh, it’s perfect! Just what we needed! That’ll really ease the chore of melting snow for water, and sometimes it would be nice to make a bigger batch of stew than what we usually do, too. Have it around for a few days. I think I’ll get started real soon, empty this stuff I already had going into there and add to it so we can have a meal big enough for all of us tonight!”

“Oh, maybe you can wait a little bit on that, until you see what else we’ve brought! Thought maybe I could fix supper for everyone tonight, give you something a little different for a change. Glad you like the pot. I thought you might like something to add to your kitchen. Bud thought I was crazy, I think, for hauling this all the way up here, but he deferred to my judgment when it came to matters of cooking, so I managed to smuggle this along with me, too…” Unpacking her sleeping bag Susan revealed protected amongst its folds a half-sized iron skillet, heavy, for certain, but such a prize that Liz’s eyes lit up at the sight of it. Next came a stuff sack filled with a variety of wool clothing for the baby, two tiny one-piece sleepers, socks--a bit large, but with room to grow--tiny mittens and a wool hood for when the child was slightly older, made in the style of a balaclava to protect head and neck, with only face exposed. Along with the clothes were several cloth diapers--“I knew you would have come up with a solution by now,” Susan said, “and the usnea lichen held in place by a rabbit hide looks like a good one, but still I thought these might come in handy”--and a pair of quilted wool overalls, hand-stitched by Susan, which could be adjusted for size to fit the baby throughout his first year.

“I debated whether or not to bring bottles and all, but you know, I never did use them with any of mine, and I’ve seen them really come between a mother and child and make things more difficult for everyone, sometimes, as far as the feeding goes, so figured you might be better off without them. And it seems both of you are doing just great with the feeding, too.” A sentiment with which Liz heartily agreed, Susan not telling her that she had brought one bottle and a can of formula, both, just on the chance that something terrible had happened during or after the birth, and they arrived to find Liz no longer there to provide milk for the little one. A grim scenario if not a wholly unlikely one, and she thought it best not to bring it up, seeing as things appeared to have gone wonderfully throughout the entire process.

Continuing to empty the bag, Susan produced another stuff sack. “Brought some things for you and Einar, too, though I can see from the looks of those fine parkas, mittens, snow pants and all the extra hides you’ve got waiting to turn into more clothes that you hardly need the extras, and could have got through the winter just fine on your own! But it never hurts to have spares, when it comes to warm things.” With which she pulled out a set of heavy woolen tops and bottoms for each of them, three pairs of socks each and as many sets of undergarments. “It isn’t a lot, but is what I could fit in my bag. I considered bringing synthetic fleece instead of wool since it really is lighter, warmer for its weight and dries a lot faster, but you know, it just isn’t as durable under these conditions. And this wool won’t get big melty holes in it every time a spark from the stove lands on your arm or leg, the way fleece will. So I thought it was the better choice. There’s more in Bud’s pack, some boots and seeds and tools and things, and food, but with him sleeping on the pack like that, we’ll have to wait a while to reveal the remainder of the gifts!”

Still admiring the baby clothes Liz thanked Susan again, folded them up, stowed them back in their bag and carried the wool top over to Einar, who seemed stuck somewhere between sleep and wakefulness there on the floor, still shivering despite having spent a good half hour in front of the stove, staring wide-eyed but unseeing at their guests. After much coaxing and convincing--he didn’t seem to be entirely present, needed sleep and a good meal, for a start--she talked him into trying on the garment of soft, black-dyed wool, Einar grinning at the warmth of it, rubbing his arms and sitting up a bit straighter, seeming to return somewhat to the present.

“Nice stuff. Take a lot of gathering, cleaning, spinning and processing of mountain goat wool to be able to make something this nice. Appreciate it.”

“Well it’s not mountain goat wool, but ought to help keep you warm on some of the*chilly mornings that I’m sure you must get up here, at least.”

Einar nodded, stretched, got shakily to his feet and braced himself against the ceiling as he scanned the cabin, finding his boots and setting them to dry near the stove. Wasn’t sure what had happened since he’d returned to the cabin--time had gone all fluid, difficult to grasp--but he knew he’d clearly been neglecting his duties around the place, leaving things on the floor and forgetting to maintain the stove. Got to quit that, Einar. Can’t be letting things slide just because you got people here. Sure can’t. Still got to do your best to make things easy on Liz, here, and looks like right now that means bringing in another load of firewood. Got plenty in here right now, but that won’t last, especially since Liz seems to be finding it good to keep the place just a little warmer, so the little one doesn’t have to always be wrapped up so tight. Now, get to work.

There wasn’t to be any work for him though, not just yet, as Liz took his arm and insisted he sit back down by the stove, rest for a while. No need. Been resting since we got back. Why would I want to go on doing it? But he did, recognizing a certain firmness in her voice and finding himself suddenly very dizzy, besides, having a difficult time telling which way was up. Wouldn’t do to fall in the presence of their guests, figured they must already be thinking pretty badly of him after his unfortunate episode up near the spring.

With Susan having promised to prepare them an evening meal the likes of which they hadn’t seen in many, many months just as soon as Bud woke and made his pack available to her, Liz decided they might as well go ahead and eat her small pot of mountain goat stew as an afternoon snack, expecting their guests must surely be hungry after their long hike and knowing that Einar was really hurting for some nourishment, hoping he might eat if he saw the rest of them doing so. Using the two small cooking pots and two coal-burned aspen wood bowls to serve everyone--Bud woke quite readily and with an enormous appetite at the smell of that heating stew--the four of them shared the meal that Liz had on the stove when they’d arrived, Einar only taking the tiniest taste here and there and Susan noticed it, knew he wouldn’t likely be able to handle too much of it in his condition, but thought surely he could do better, if he wanted to. No need to belabor the point just then, but she hoped perhaps the opportunity might come up--before supper.

Later that evening, Bud napping again in his sleeping bag in front of the stove--hike had really taken a lot out of him, and he seemed to be greatly enjoying the cozy comfort of the little cabin--Liz asleep in bed with the baby and Susan working on supper Einar found himself restless, wanting to keep busy lest he, too, succumb to sleep when he most wanted to be awake and watching over things, and he glanced at his parka--darts; he was still concerned about darts, couldn’t wear the thing until he’d had time to more thoroughly search it--headed out for some firewood. Quietly, Susan followed him.

Comments from 18 January

Sixfifty said…

Great chapter! You make it seem so real, I could almost
feel the coziness of the cabin. I really hope the guests have
Some nutritional aids with them, Einar needs some help
getting his food intake jump started. Once he gets going, the
increase in vitamins and minerals will help clear his head and
make him want to continue to recover.
Great stuff, FOTH!

Yeah, it may get a bit too cozy for some folks, with so many people crowded in there!

Bud and Susan did bring some food items which them, some of which will probably be helpful to Einar, if he’ll accept them.

Thanks for reading!

18 January, 2012

18 January 2012

After a flurry of greetings, hugs and congratulations--both on the new little life sleeping there in Liz’s arms and the new life upon which Bud and Susan found themselves embarked--the visiting pair sat down with Liz on the bed, weary from their long day of travel through the snow and cold and relieved to have reached their honeymoon destination at last, making it past not only the feds, the weather and the uncertainty of the jump but the guardian of the basin, himself--though Susan had some inkling, only Bud knew just how great had been their danger--and ending the day by being invited into his house.

Said guardian was rather absent from the conversation which followed--rather absent, in general, silent, watching the scene with sharp, wary eyes which belied his state of near complete exhaustion--Susan marveling over the baby, watching him as he ate and remarking that Liz really seemed to be settling very well into motherhood, seemed very natural at it.

“Later when things are settled down some and the place is warmer, maybe I can take a look at him if you don’t mind, just check him over and make sure everything seems to be going alright for him, but right now I’d have to say he looks just great, real intent on eating and growing and not only is that good for him, but it’s probably helping you to be more comfortable, too, these first few days with your milk just come in. Speaking of which, I brought you a few things…wasn’t able to pack too much on the jump, but there’s more down in the basin that we’ll go get later. For now though…” reaching for her pack only to discover that Bud, more weary than she, by far, after his rather strenuous meeting with Einar, had fallen asleep with the pack as pillow, and she attempted to ease it out from beneath him, slowly, gently, but he woke, sat up.

“Now what’s going on in here? Can’t a fella even get a couple winks without having his pillow nabbed and carried off? I tell ya…”

“I was just trying to get at the things we brought. Here. Let’s trade.”

“Aw, you can have the pack. I don’t need to be sleeping yet, anyway. Got to get out of these boots, set stuff to dry by the stove and generally make myself useful around the place, right, Mrs. Asmundson? What do you need done around here, anyway? Looks like you kids ended up real well set as far as supplies go, place all insulated and winterized and tucked in before the snow came, and you even got a tunnel installed, like it’s a doggone igloo or something! Bet that really saves on heat loss when you’re going in and out on these real cold days, don’t it?”

Liz smiled, the place seeming all warm and cheery between Susan’s gentle presence and Bud’s big, blustery one, and she was finding herself very glad of the company. “Yes, it does do that, but best of all it lets us go in and out under the trees where our tracks won’t show. As for things that need doing, I don’t know that there’s too much, really. Einar brought in a bunch of wood before he left this morning, supper’s on the stove and you guys have got here all safe and secure, so I guess all that really leaves to do is being careful not to wake the baby! He’s been pretty quiet so far, but I understand that’s somewhat likely to change pretty soon here…”

Bud looked a bit taken aback at the notion that the tiny creature, full, fast asleep and nestled close to Liz in his little cocoon of rabbit skin might actually wake and make noise, studied the tiny face for a time, his own softening.

“Well he’s sure not making too much noise right now, is he? Real cute little fella. What do you say, Sue? Want to get us a little critter like this of our own?”

Susan laughed, shook her head, wishing she had a rabbit stick just like Liz’s to be brought out and used on such occasions.

“You seem to be forgetting, Mr. Kilgore, that you just married a fifty nine year old grandmother of three, and there aren’t likely at all to be any little ones coming along!”

“Oh, yeah. Forgot about that bit, my lady. I got to say that the way you jump and hike and move around in the woods and all like someone a third your age, I guess you kinda had me fooled! Well then how about we just take this one back down with us and call him our own, what d’you say, Asmundson?”

“I say,” Einar growled from his corner over behind the water barrel, his tone agreeable but voice so low and weary that Liz glanced up at him in some alarm, “ I say you’d better get your hands off my boy if you want to make it down out of this country alive, Kilgore.”

Einar had been watching the goings-on from a distance, hanging back beside the water barrel and regarding the pair with a good deal of suspicion still, struggling all the while to stay upright as the warmth of the cabin began seeping into him, relaxing tense muscles and leaving him dizzy, disoriented, braced against a wall for balance. Needed to be doing things, stoking the fire now that he was reasonably certain the plane’s appearance had been the work of friend and not foe, making sure Liz had a pot of chlorophyll solution to be sipping on, some stew to go with it and perhaps some for their guests, too, and meaning to get started he let go his vise grip on one of the logs in the wall, headed for the stove but fell after a single step, going to his knees. Susan, who had been busy unloading her pack in search of the gifts she’d brought, saw the trouble, reached for the still-sleeping child.

“How about you let me hold that little one for a minute, can’t wait to get my hands on him anyway, and you go take care of your husband? He’s had a bit of a rough day…”

Liz handed her the baby and then she was holding Einar, steering him over to the stove, getting a blanket around his shoulders and working to warm him, not even needing to ask what had happened out there in the snow; she could see it in the sidelong glances he gave their visitors, the purple knot on the side of his head where Kilgore had defended himself and she had little doubt that the morning had been pretty rough on him, particularly with the new troubles he’d been having, the possibility that he might have experienced one of his strange and somewhat alarming incidents while out there in the snow. Was pretty sure he must have, actually, by the look of him, and in light of all that, she was simply glad to have him back in one piece if not appearing entirely unharmed. Appeared frozen half to death, actually--his fingers were cracked, torn and abraded as if he’d spent half the day scrabbling about on frozen rock, and she rubbed bearfat on them for some relief, somewhat alarmed when the stuff wouldn’t even begin to melt on his skin, it was so cold--and barely able to keep awake, head sagging and limbs giving out now that he’d allowed her to get hold of him and she knew the solution, the first step, anyway, stirring a good portion of honey into the bit of rich green chlorophyll drink that remained on the back of the stove from that morning’s portion, holding it up and urging him to drink.

Didn’t want to do it, turning away and mumbling something about sticky green poison and how he wasn’t going to be forced to drink anymore of it--the idea somewhat outlandish, Liz thought, even for him, until he showed her a bit of the residue--but Liz was persistent, assuring him that while the drink was indeed green it certainly contained no poison, only honey and the nettles he’d put in there that morning, and after much sniffing and tasting and watching her take drinks--you shouldn’t, you’ll poison the baby through your milk if you drink that stuff--he became adequately convinced as to the safety of the liquid, allowed Liz to give him a bit. Helped a lot, that potent dose of honey and iron, brought Einar sufficiently out of his fog to realize that he needed more of the stuff, and the second sip was far less of a struggle. Good to be home.