Talk. Susan wanted time to talk, to try and reason with the fugitive, reassure him as to their motives and while the whole idea went against Bud’s better judgment--didn’t look to him as though Asmundson had much time, wind picking up, energy given him by the little tube of icing fading fast and another incident seeming all but inevitable; sometimes nothing less than swift and certain action is sufficient to do a job, and Bud never did see the sense in trying to reason with someone who’s not themselves reasonable--he decided to let her give it a try. For a few minutes, at least. She was brave, for sure. He had to give her that. Kept edging closer to Einar as she spoke, putting herself inside the safety zone he’d established for himself and thus all but forcing him to listen, heed her, and though Bud figured her method had at least a fair chance of succeeding, he kept wary eyes pinned to Asmundson’s face, watching for clues that the situation might be about to turn more dangerous, ready to take immediate action should he make a move.
Icing, Susan was saying, trying to convince him that the poison with which they’d somehow managed to knock him out was nothing more than cake icing, given him as an act of kindness to bring him out of what had been looking rather like the beginnings of a coma following his last unfortunate encounter with whatever force kept tossing him flat in the snow, stiffening limbs and scrambling his brain. Made some sense, when he thought about it, and though he had no memory of the latest incident he certainly did remember those of the previous day, and knew Susan might well be right about the direction he’d been headed when they’d given him…whatever it was they’d given him. Einar sniffed suspiciously at the residue in the little tube, yeah, sure, looks like what you say it is but I know you, Kilgore you clever old buzzard. Who knows what you may have put in this stuff before giving it to me. Could still be a trap. Whole thing could be a trap, especially now that you’re married and got something to lose. They may be blackmailing you. Threatening your bride, and what would you not do to protect her?
It was a riddle he could not solve, a matter of trust, and Einar couldn’t afford to trust. Which left him…a bit baffled, and very cold. Freezing. Hands not working right, rest of him soon to follow, and icing or not, he knew he must act pretty quickly if he was to avoid becoming incapacitated due to the forces of nature, alone. Knew he ought to be getting back into his parka, and if not that then at least the shirt; Liz, had she been there, would have seen to it that he did so quite promptly, rabbit stick enforcing her edicts if he was found to hesitate, but she wasn’t there, and somehow the idea remained stuck in his head that Kilgore must have used darts on him, must have tried, thick hide and fur layers of the parka stopping them before they could sink into his flesh and so of course he could not wear the parka just then, not before giving it a painstakingly thorough inspection, as the trapped darts might very well then be able to release into him their poison. Far better to remain a bit chilly--ha! Yeah, just a bit--than to risk such a thing, and very gingerly he rolled up the garment, wrapped it in his shirt for additional protection and tucked it beneath an arm, rising. Susan didn’t understand his apparent decision to remain exposed to the elements and would have liked to protest, try and convince him that he’d never make it if he allowed himself to freeze like that, but figured she’d better stop while she was ahead. Which she did seem to be, Einar appearing to have accepted, at least on the surface, her explanation about the icing, situation for the moment diffused somewhat and all of them ready to proceed.
Except for Einar, who was still having his doubts. The plane that morning had certainly taken its time surveying the area and disgorging its cargo, and while Einar had only seen the two sets of tracks in the basin, there seemed to him little guarantee that they were Bud and Susan’s, particularly with the gap that had taken place in his tracking as he’d traversed that icy little ledge below the dropoff. What if the pair had walked in, their presence masking that of the two men who had jumped from the plane and were waiting out there to follow them, seize him, take Liz and the baby…didn’t make a lot of sense and he knew it, but couldn’t quite seem to shake the idea or bar from his mind images of the cabin under attack, set afire, his little family trapped inside and then Muninn--the raven had been cautiously hanging back in the presence of the intruders, but was beginning to grow accustomed to them--swooped in and perched on his shoulder, talons digging into the skin until they brought blood. Einar, bowing slightly under the bird’s weight and brought rather forcefully back to the present by the hurt of that grip on his bony shoulder, took a sideways look at the bird, greeting him with a stiff grin. “What do you say, critter?” But the bird had no words for him, simply tilting his head and fixing Einar with the unfathomable liquid black of his eyes.
No help there; Einar was on his own. “I want to see your chute, Kilgore. Where’s your chute?” Some confirmation, at least, that the pair had jumped in, that the tracks had indeed been theirs.
Kilgore rose, muttering under his breath. “Packed it up and left it down in the basin. You can have it, but we’ll have to make another trip down there to retrieve it. Want me to take you right now?”
A trap, that, if he’d ever encountered one, and Einar had no intention of following the tracker down into the basin just then. Had no intention, actually, of leaving Liz alone a moment longer than he had to, and his mind was made up, launching the raven into the air and taking up his pack. “Another time. I’m headed for the cabin. You folks coming, or not?”
No choice, as Einar saw it. Had to take the couple with him back to the cabin--they already knew the way, location of the place no secret to them, and at least this way he could watch them, make sure they made no attempt to contact anyone. Which, he knew full well, they probably wouldn’t even have to do, if they had indeed been sent to bait and trap and finish him off. Their packs, clothes, boots, any and all of their possessions could be rigged with GPS transmitters to broadcast to their handlers exact latitude and longitude, but it didn’t make sense, really; if Kilgore had been compelled to work with the feds, deliver him for destruction, why risk putting boots on the ground, at all? He’d been to the cabin, could have simply given them coordinates, flown over and shown them the place, at most, and let them do the dirty work. Sounded a lot more feasible than jumping into the snowy basin with his new bride to do the job himself. The pair could probably be trusted. But he still insisted on walking them along ahead of him in the hopes of preventing any unwanted surprises, an arrangement which--despite a few misgivings on Bud’s part; scalp prickling at the thought of the danger that stalked heavily armed and arguably quite dangerous some ten yards behind them--they seemed quite willing to accept.
Only problem with the plan was that Einar, starting out, found himself so exhausted after the hike, the strenuous traverse of the dropoff and his longer than usual episode in the snow that he could not at times make it more than three or four steps without finding himself momentarily stuck in some sort of weird suspended animation, willing his legs to move but getting little response and it quickly became a problem, slowing his progress and making it all but impossible for him to keep up with Bud and Susan as they broke trail to the cabin. Susan tried to help, stopping several times to offer him food, water, a little pouch of energy gel from her pack--its composition somewhat similar to the icing that had so quickly revived him earlier--but each time Einar refused, simply shaking his head--couldn’t trust the stuff, no way--and declaring, “no, don’t need it, I’m fine…” To which Bud muttered under his breath and Susan just rolled her eyes, kept walking, hoping he might change his mind. Which, of course, he did not, but they finally made that quarter mile, anyway, approaching the cabin. Einar caught up to them at the edge of the timber just before the cliff that protected the back of the place and took the lead, wanting to be to be the first to get a look at the cabin, wanting to make sure things appeared alright. There it was, faintest hint of smoke curling lazily from the chimney and no strange tracks showing around the place, and Einar--though not tremendously pleased that Liz had gone ahead with a fire so soon after the appearance of the plane, no matter how carefully she was managing it to reduce the smoke--breathed a small sigh of relief.
“Let me go in first, tell her you’re here. You folks wait here with the bird.”
Einar crawled in, wave of warm air hitting him like a solid force as he pushed open the tunnel door, knife ready and every sense alert for trouble though he knew he’d have seen sign in the snow outside had anyone approached the cabin, tremendously relieved nonetheless to see Liz sitting there on the edge of the bed with little Will in her arms, looking entirely unharmed--looking great, actually, a bit of strain and worry showing in her face but otherwise she appeared very well rested, her color better than it had been that morning--and with a pot of stew going on the stove. She laid the baby gently in the bed at the sight of him, on her feet, arms around his neck in silent greeting.
“It was Kilgore,” he managed, breath nearly crushed out at the strength of Liz’s embrace and already beginning to shake in the warmth of the cabin. “And Susan. They’re out there.”
“What happened to you? Where are your clothes?”
He gave her a sheepish grin through chattering teeth, produced the parka and shirt from under his arm but stopped her when she tried to unroll it, meaning to get him all bundled up in a hurry. “No, don’t touch it. It’s…uh, I’ll tell you later. Just let it be for now.”
“Well then let me get you…wait, what did you say? Kilgore and Susan? Where?”
“They’re right there out back. Told them to wait. You want them to come in?”
“Yes, I want them to come in! Right away! This means we don’t have to leave, then, because of the plane…”
“Not right now we don’t,” and he ducked back into the tunnel before Liz could make any more fuss over him--she’d been heading his way with the rabbitskin blanket--returning to Bud and Susan, who stood quietly conversing near the tunnel mouth.
“Come meet our son…”