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.