Einar woke partway back to the cabin, violently freeing himself from Kilgore’s double-handed grasp and springing to his feet with a speed which surprised them both, immediately sinking past his knees in the deep, fluffy snow and standing there somewhat unsteadily glaring at the tracker, at the sky, rubbing a sore shoulder and trying to remember just how he had come to be in such a position, but without too much success.
“What’s this? What did you do to me?”
“Shoved you over the cliff, Asmundson. What’d you think?”
Gazing up at the rocks above, at the spot where he’d landed--and having a limited ability to recognize sarcasm even at the best of times, let along just after a thirty foot head-first fall--Einar nodded, seeing by the disturbances in the snow that he had, indeed, gone over. “What for?”
“For your own good, that’s what. And I shoulda picked a higher one.”
Which Einar, strangely enough, seemed to accept without question--sounded like something Kilgore would do; perhaps he’d be able to recall the exact circumstances, later--taking off for the cabin, falling, trying but failing to regain his feet and immediately beginning a slow but enthusiastic crawl through the deep powder. Kilgore shook his head, grabbed him by the shoulders.
“Come on, let’s see if you can stand up. Almost home, but you still got to get there if it’s gonna do you any good, and it’ll take a mighty long time, this way. You’re already half frozen, and while myself, I think you tend to get along better with life in that state, I don’t know that anyone else,” nodding significantly towards the cabin, “will think so. And get that blood wiped off your face, too, or your wife’s gonna kill me.”
Complying as well as he could with Kilgore’s barked demands Einar swiped at his cheek with a handful of snow, rose heavily with the help of his spear and took a few tentative steps towards the screen of firs which currently separated them from the cabin, managing this time to keep to his feet despite a fair amount of dizziness. Didn’t like being out in the open as they were, standing there just waiting for the next aircraft and leaving a jumbled mess of sign that would look to anyone who might be observing rather like a half-asleep bear who had been stumbling about on a little hiatus from hibernation; not unheard of, but probably enough to get the attention of searchers, should they get a glimpse of the mess. Good thing another storm was coming, for--squinting hard in an attempt to right his blurring vision--indeed a major change in the weather appeared fairly certain, low, heavy billows of grey having replaced the swift-moving streamers he and Kilgore had been watching scud across the deep blue morning sky on their descent to the cache location, and shivering in the piercing wind as he struggled his way to the fir-screen and through it, Einar hoped the storm might hurry up and arrive.
Inside, the cabin was cold, dark save for the single candle that Liz had allowed them in the wake of the chopper’s visit but to Einar it felt quite warm, absence of the wind providing him relief he hadn’t even realized, in his numbed state, that he might be needing and he sank to the floor in a snowy heap against one wall as Kilgore pushed his way through the tunnel door, dragging the remainder of their weapons and gear. Liz was on her feet in an instant, lighting another candle and taking Einar’s snow-encrusted parka, Susan doing the same for Kilgore.
“Did it pass right over the basin? Were you hidden? It came here but I barely had the fire going at that point and got it put out in a hurry, so I really think we’re Ok. You’re back early. Did you call off the trip?”
Einar nodded--yes to all of it, and good job on the stove--too weary and befuddled to find words but glad Liz had been on top of things there at the cabin as he had trusted her to do; indeed they ought to be alright, if past history was any indicator. Someday though, it wouldn’t be. Someday the variables would…vary just a little too much, would all align just right, and things would catch up to them. But not that night. Storm was coming, and everyone could rest for a while. He couldn’t rest though, not just yet, for Liz had discovered the gash on his cheek, the fact that he still had snow packed in one ear and matted rather disproportionately in the hair on one side of his head and she set to inspecting him--bruised shoulder, arm, ribs along one side--shaking her head and not, apparently, liking what she saw.
“What happened to you out there? Is all of this from diving under a tree to hide from that chopper, or what?”
“Slid off a little cliff, I guess.”
“What are you talking about? What cliff? There aren’t even any cliffs between here and the basin, yet somehow you managed to slide off of one?”
“The cliff. Back behind the cabin. Was up there to check things out, make sure the cabin looked Ok before we approached, and then…” Then his memory ended--perhaps Kilgore really had pushed him, but he hadn’t wanted to unnecessarily subject the tracker to Liz’s sometimes rather substantial wrath--and, brain grinding along far too slowly to provide him with further embellishments to the story in a timely manner, he sat silent, smiling up at Liz and beginning to shake harder as the warmer air of the cabin reached him and loosened up cold-stiffened muscles, hands and feet tingling with the deep, stinging ache of returning circulation.
Seeing that she was somewhat unlikely to get a straight story from either of the men and recognizing in Einar the signs that he was beginning to be in serious trouble of one sort or another--whether from the fall, the cold or simple exhaustion after his exertion in the snow she could not know, but suspected a fair bit of each--she hurried to get him into dry things and sitting near the stove, whose stones still radiated some warmth, while she lit several more candles and got a pot suspended above the group of them for some hot broth. The stuff would, she knew, take a good while to heat over the three small flames but as she had not got the fire going again after the chopper pass and highly doubted Einar would be amenable to its lighting anytime in the near future, the improvised heat source would have to do. Susan had another idea, scooping a portion of bear fat into the mess kit she’d brought along and had been using for her meals, adding a fat-soaked piece of cloth as a wick and lighting the improvised lamp. Its flame and heat greater than the other three candles combined, the lamp soon had the pot of broth simmering as Susan hovered over it, adding bits of meat, bear fat and starched from crushed lily roots.
Einar had in the meantime managed to wriggle free of both Liz’s rather too attentive grasp and the bear hide in which she’d wrapped him and wedge himself between the water barrel and the wall were he hoped to find some solitude for a long enough time to begin sorting out what had happened up there on the cliff. No such luck, Liz following and all but dragging him out, over to the bed where she got the bear hide around him and threatened action with the rabbitstick should he make any further attempt to escape its warmth. Half laughing but knowing he’d better be taking her pretty seriously Einar stayed put, Liz sitting down beside him.
“Now tell me about this cache you two were going after. Where is it? Or did you not get that far before the chopper came over?”