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.