Detailing the failed expedition in broken little snatches between shivers, Einar told Liz the story--not that there was much to tell, really--she keeping him talking as much to monitor how he was doing as to learn about the trip. Was doing none too well so far as she could see, speech all slow and drifty and his eyes trying their best to drift closed, too, whenever she would leave him alone for more than seconds at a time, and she supposed the best thing, really, would probably be to let him sleep just as soon as he’d warmed a bit more and had something to eat. The hike down to the basin was not a terribly long one, but would have been hard work for anyone in that deep, fresh powder, and based on the way she’d seen him struggling over the past few days simply to keep awake, on his feet and doing simple tasks around the place, it would have taxed him very nearly beyond his limits. She had to wonder what Kilgore could have been thinking, insisting that he go. That cache must be mighty important business, and now they might or might not get another opportunity to visit it together. The day was fast approaching, she knew, when Bud and Susan must go meet their plane, and the thought of their leaving made her throat go a bit tight.
She wasn’t to have much time to contemplate the upcoming parting, as Will woke just then to send his thin but strengthening wail skyward, protesting the lack of ready food but quickly quieting when she picked him up from his little nest of mountain goat wool and rabbitskin blanket. Occasionally--with the occasions becoming fewer and farther between--she was still trying carefully depositing him either in his own little bed or in the larger one when he fell asleep, hoping to snatch a few minutes here and there with her arms empty, but the attempts never seemed to last very long, and she was beginning to doubt that they ever would. She was fated, it seemed, to have a baby glued constantly to her side for the next year or two, and though the realization differed some from what she had expected--and from what she had seen of other babies and their mothers; perhaps they had the same needs, but if so, they must have simply given up after a time of not having them met, ceased protesting so much when deposited in one device or another for safe keeping--she figured it was probably for the best, anyway. The time would come all too soon when the little one would be out on his own wandering the timber and in all likelihood giving her every bit as much grief and worry as his father must have given his own mother, as a child. Which, if it was half as much as the man gave her on an almost daily basis, must have proven a sore trial indeed for the poor woman! And having a great time doing it, too. Might as well keep little Will close and safe while he was still willing. Baby fed, content and amenable to being handed off to Susan for a while Liz stirred the broth again, repositioning it slightly lower over the flame of the oil lamp to speed its warming.
Einar wasn’t getting warm there in the chilly cabin, not even with the bear hide wrapped snugly about him, shivering heavily and looking dreadfully exhausted in the flickering glow of the candles and Susan’s improvised oil lamp, didn’t much seem to care but Liz did, knew he hardly had the energy to spare on that kind of shivering and would only further exhaust himself--very possibly without raising his temperature significantly enough to do him much good--if she couldn’t come up with some supplemental source of heat. Hot rocks would have been good, but they weren’t available and would not be until sometime after everyone reached a consensus that it was safe to build a fire, once more. She wished he’d just hurry up and get some meat on his bones already, so he’d be able to produce his own heat again like a normal person. Like he used to be able to do before becoming such a skeleton, and suddenly she was very angry with him, angry with the entire situation and wanted to tell him so, but knew it wouldn’t do any of them much good. Swallowed the anger, checked the heating broth and found it still not quite ready. Slow process.
They needed a qulliq if they were to be doing too much cooking without the stove, but hadn’t got around to making one for that winter. Which was beside the point at the moment, and she returned her thoughts to the immediate situation, and to Einar, who appeared to be fading fast, trembling growing visibly weaker despite the fact that he was still freezing. Barring his immediate and rather impractical gain of some thirty or forty pounds--which would, itself, only be a start on what he needed to do--the easiest solution seemed to be simply to get him in bed and join him there but he looked little inclined to go, all stolid and stubborn and immovable as stone as he watched Kilgore out of the corner of one half-opened eye--still thinking, she was sure, about the helicopter, weighing the probability that it might come back, that it might, even, have something to do with Kilgore’s presence; with Einar, even in trust, there was doubt, and he wouldn’t be willing to sleep for a good while--so she guessed the broth would have to do. And would have done quite nicely, at least as a start, had the tracker not interfered in a most untimely manner.
Kilgore was restless, pacing about the cabin and stopping now and then to glare at Einar, looking rather as though he wanted to give the man a good hard kick or two or three, but restraining himself on account of the womenfolk. And the baby. And the fact that the doggone fool had just taken quite a tumble and appeared barely able to hold his own at the moment against its effects and those of the cold on his undeniably and grotesquely emaciated body. Best leave him be for the time, let him recover a bit of his physical wherewithal and get his wits back about him if he was able, for he was going to be needing both in a big way, just as soon as conditions allowed for a return trip to the basin. While recovery of the cache had been a primary goal of the day’s failed expedition, Kilgore had gone with another mission in mind, as well, and with the time fast approaching when he must leave, he found himself impressed with a growing urgency on both accounts. But especially the second one. And in that case, the sooner we can go back out, the better. Don’t want to do the fella in, but it wouldn’t hurt to come mighty doggone close. Get to him while he’s down, vulnerable, pound him into the ground and see if from there, things might look a little different to him. Seems the only way to get through to the stubborn old buzzard, really, and he definitely still needs some getting through to before I clear out of here, or he’s liable not to see the end of winter. Yep, might as well take advantage of his current state of exhaustion and befuddlement. Means less work for me, and that’s always good. Good for both of us, in this case.
Passing Einar again in his pacing Kilgore gave him a hard kick in the shins, kept walking. “On your feet, Asmundson. Wind’s howling up another storm out there, and soon as we’re sure it’s really gonna snow enough to cover our tracks, we’re heading out again to get this thing done.”
Though confused at the tracker’s sudden outburst--confused in general, actually, the world not making a great deal of sense since his return to the cabin--Einar nonetheless recognized its commanding tone and was on his feet before Kilgore made another pass, swaying, leaning heavily on the wall for balance and rubbing his bruised shin as he blinked a bit dazedly into the lamplight, wondering if he had heard correctly that the tracker wanted to head back out that night--into a storm--but not surprised in the least that such might be the case. The man never had been afraid of a challenge, and had always possessed a unique style and drive that others tended to find baffling. Einar could respect that in a fellow, for sure. Listening intently, he could hear that the wind was indeed beginning to pick up, and after the way the clouds had been looking just before they came in, a storm seemed quite likely to be in their near future. Guessed he’d better get his boots back on