Having been without detailed maps of the area since arriving there, Einar took a keen interest in the topo sheet produced by Kilgore, scrutinizing every detail of its contours and nodding approvingly when they matched up, more or less, with the image of the place he’d developed over the months in his head. When Kilgore showed him the resting place of the cached supply drop, able to be certain of its exact location due to a steep-walled draw which dumped out into the basin exactly opposite it, Einar liked his choice of placement. A good, heavily timbered area which offered more than one well-concealed approach and prevented their having to cross any open ground in order to reach it.
Despite his approval of Kilgore’s cache location and a very active sense of curiosity which left him anxious to go and explore the drop’s contents, Einar remained somewhat apprehensive about the expedition, a cautious little voice in the back of his mind--would, several days prior, have been the only voice in his mind, but two days of broth and food had done him some good and there was at least now a bit of internal competition--telling him that the entire thing might well be a trap. Might be some elaborate scheme by which to lure him away from the safety of the cabin, from Liz and then take them both when they were in separate locations and unable to come to each other’s aid. Wouldn’t, on second thought, even have to be a very elaborate scheme in order to have a good chance of succeeding, and the worst part was that Kilgore wouldn’t necessarily even have to know about it. Could have been arranged without his knowledge, he and Susan acting as unwilling pawns in a snare designed to trap and destroy them all as sensors and tracking devices were imbedded in some of the gear he’d dropped, recording devices and transmitters even, which could alert the enemy to the precise moment when Kilgore returned for the stuff, and let them know who was and wasn’t with him, too. At which point, nowhere to go in all that fresh snow without leaving tracks that could be followed, the choppers would be launched, assault teams put on the ground and the two of them wouldn’t even make it back up to the cabin before the end came. If they even had reason to risk mens’ lives; seemed to him the most certain way of handling things would involve something in that bag acting to incapacitate the two of them, remotely activated gas canister deployed to render them unconscious until the team could land and secure the situation, and the thought of it was very nearly enough to prevent his wanting to go. But not quite.
“Where’d you pack this stuff, anyway,” he demanded of Kilgore, the urgency of his words pulling the tracker from his squint-eyed map study in quite a hurry.
“Pack it? Well, the final packing I did up at Susan’s the night before the wedding so I could take it down the hill in the morning, but some of the stuff I’d been assembling for weeks, keeping it in the toolbox of my truck. Nobody touched it. Any of it. I’d stake my life on it, and my new bride’s…oh yeah, I already have, haven’t I? So you know how sure I am. Not looking to get you captured here, Asmundson, any more that I’m looking to get the two of us tangled up in a thing like that. Come with me or don’t, but if you don’t, I’m sure not gonna be able to haul everything back up here by myself, and besides, I might leave tracks where you’d rather not have ’em.”
“Oh, I’m coming. Just trying to figure out exactly how roundabout I need to make our path, and how heavily armed I should travel…”
“Yeah, we could take ’em, you and I. Would be a real interesting day. But they’re not coming. Not likely.”
Liz, listening, tended to agree with Kilgore’s assessment of things and was glad to see Einar taking things slowly and reasoning through them, but much as she wanted them to get their hands on whatever extra supplies the couple had managed to smuggle into the basin, she was not particularly excited about the prospect of Einar making that journey the next day. Not unless he was able to get thoroughly warm in the night, sleep soundly and have a breakfast somewhat more substantial than the slivers of gelled broth on which he had been subsisting that day but she knew there would be little talking him out of it, especially with Kilgore fully on board. She must simply hope the tracker would have the sense to realize how close Einar remained to succumbing to the cold and his own depleted condition, and act accordingly on their expedition. Not terribly likely, perhaps--Bud seemed more likely to beat him half senseless for one reason or another than to take any special care in seeing that he ate and remained warm, and was perhaps simply waiting for a time and opportunity to do so--but at least she knew she could count on him not to return alone. Einar would be coming along with him, one way or another, and that was some reassurance, at least.
Determined to see that Einar stay warm through the night, at least, she urged him into bed rather against his wishes soon after the others had gone--despite an immense and all-encompassing weariness Einar hesitated to commit to spending that particular night in such close proximity to her and the baby, knowing the sorts of dreams into which he seemed so apt to sink every time his eyes began drooping in slumber that day--and got him tucked in beneath the bear hides, near the end of his strength and finally too weary to go on resisting, limbs not even cooperating when he tried to draw them into the bed after him. He would, he told himself by way of justifying the concession, roll out of bed sometime after Liz was sound asleep and curl up on the floor for the night, safely removed from everyone and content, more or less, in his self-imposed exile. A plan which never came to fruition, Einar so exhausted that his last glimpse of the day consisted of the blurry image of Liz’s face hovering over his own, her words having something to do with worrying that he wasn’t breathing, asking him if he was breathing, which of course he was. Had to be, even if not too often, but found himself too far gone to stir and tell her about it, and then he was out, world going all black and soft and silent around him, sleep coming at last. Liz, unsure whether he’d passed out or simply fallen asleep but hoping he could finally get a decent amount of rest, either way, tucked the bear hide in carefully around him, pressed herself close for extra warmth and got little Will all settled in for the night, hoping everyone could have a long, quiet night for a change.
That night did indeed prove quiet, silence interrupted only by Will’s occasional soft whimperings as he sought another meal and the cracking and snapping of the cabin logs as temperatures plummeted outside, all slumbering soundly in sleeping bags, beneath bear hides and, in the case of Muninn, perched cozily near the water barrel, feathers fluffed against the encroaching chill and beak tucked beneath a wing.
Morning, and the cold in the cabin was intense, biting as Einar shivered his way over to the stove and dug about for live coals with which to restart the fire, pressing quickly numbed hands to the still slightly warm rocks surrounding the firebox--had been half numb when he woke, entire body stiff with cold despite a night spent tucked snugly beneath the hides; seemed it just wasn’t enough--and keeping them there until they’d regained some feeling and flexibility before breaking up bits of kindling, arranging and giving them some air, glad when the heat of the coals proved enough to ignite them. Wasn’t sure he would have been able to manage striking sparks that morning, between his shaking, the numbness of his fingers and their still somewhat swollen and tender state after the slight frostbite damage of the previous day. Would have to take care on the hike, he knew, if he was to prevent worsening the damage and having it seriously interfere with his ability to use his hands for a few weeks, or worse. Really couldn’t afford that, but ought not have to worry too much, so long as he kept his mittens on, elk hide on the outside, lined with rabbit fur and very warm.
Hoped it would be that simple, anyway. Cold as he’d been over the past several days--chill seeming to come nearly as much from inside him as it did from out, a strange, slightly disconcerting sensation if only because he seemed so powerless to shake it off--he wasn’t sure just how much difference the mittens might make. Well. They’d have to do, because he sure wasn’t going to be carrying any twenty pounds of stove-heated rocks in his clothes just to keep his hands from freezing, not a chance of that, and he figured he’d be just fine as soon as he really got moving. That had to be half the problem, as it was. Not enough movement. Too much sitting around, stagnating. Needed to get his heart pumping, body generating some heat. But he knew that wasn’t the only thing at work, could sense slowing within him, a winding down, and though most times this only made him want to fight harder, strengthen his resistance and his resolve, there were moments when the undeniable weight of the thing would seem to sit solidly upon him, nearly crushing out his breath, and he would be afraid. Such moments were few and far between, however, which was a good thing, he told himself. There was little he could do about any of it other than to push right on through, as he always had done. And for the moment--fire crackling merrily, others beginning to stir and wake--it was good to be going somewhere, good to have a plan.