After a time Einar got to his feet, still flooded with relief at the thing he had so narrowly avoided and wondering all the while why his tormentor had not yet returned to bash him upside the head and get him moving again, but not particularly interested in waiting around to find out. Not that he could go much of anywhere, as it was. Stumbled the moment he attempted to take a step, legs going out from under him and spilling him right back into the snow where he sat for some time, mind drifting and head bowed against the wind. Sure was howling. Some night to be out wandering in the snow. Seemed his keeper would have wanted to be getting to some shelter, as most sane people would on such a night, would have returned by then to hustle him along to such a location. But he had not returned, and so far as Einar could tell, he was all alone out there in the storm. A good way to be, as such things went, and he supposed he really ought to be making some effort to escape. Wouldn’t get too far. They’d seen to that, marching him until he was dropping in his tracks and it seemed they’d done something to his side, too, for even in the bone-numbing cold he ached fiercely from hip to shoulder all along the right side, ribs catching and burning when he breathed and his body wanting very badly to curl up into a position which carefully favored the injured side, protected it. Well, it couldn’t have what it wanted, not yet, for he must escape.
They’d never be able to track him in this blizzard, and it was looking like his one chance. Rose again, this time managed to remain upright with the aid of a gnarly little limber pine that stood bent and wind-twisted beside him, and he squinted into the storm, trying to get his bearings, decide on a direction in which to begin moving. Up. Was almost always good to go up, because they wouldn’t expect it of you. Would expect you to do the natural human thing and seek the easy path, follow creeks, end up in the valleys and that’s where they’d go and wait for you, wait to capture you, but they’d never expect you to start climbing. Especially in a storm like the one that lashed the landscape that night, and after they’d succeeded very well at marching you to the point of exhaustion and beyond it, taking so much out of you that you no longer even remembered your own name or much of anything else, other than the need to escape. No, they’d never expect it. Would figure you’d die if you tried a thing like that, and would expect you to know it, too, and would look along the creeks and in the sheltered areas of the valley. They had a point, too, because you probably would die up there in that wind, but really, what choice did you have? Couldn’t let them get ahold of you again. Anything was better than risking that possibility, so anything it was, and you started climbing.
Climbing, Einar. Be climbing. But he wasn’t climbing; he’d sunk to his knees once again, the entire scenario playing out in his head but body refusing to respond in the slightest. He was done. One way or the other, done. Might as well admit it, and he grinned fiercely into the storm, suddenly filled with a wild, bounding joy at the knowledge that where he was going, they would have no way to follow him. Free at last. Only something wasn’t quite right with the whole thing, something bothering him and he tried to remember, to get his flitting, floating brain to be still for a second or two and ponder the matter before he lost entirely the ability to do so. Should have lost it already, long ago, and the fact that he knew this and was able to sit there pondering it struck him as rather odd, if not particularly relevant, and then it came to him, the thing that had been troubling him so and interfering with the peaceful and happy departure which would otherwise have been his very shortly, and again he was on his feet, moving towards the tiny and mostly snow-obscured beam of Bud Kilgore’s headlamp. Confused, not understanding why the beam should be pointing straight up Einar slowly worked his way towards the light, its glow disappearing entirely at times as the snow blew in blinding curtains from the escarpments above and leaving him to wonder if the entire thing might be an illusion of some sort, contrived escape of his weary and failing mind but the snow was real, its icy, scouring bitterness far more true and present than the nightmarish scenes through which he’d found himself intermittently traveling over the past hour or so, captors driving him mercilessly through the jungle and taking out their wrath with sticks and canes whenever he sank to the ground out of pure exhaustion, and he knew the world he was currently seeing represented the real one, which left Kilgore over there at the end of that beam of light, unmoving and apparentlx in a very strange position indeed.
Working his way slowly over to the spot where the light stood as beacon, stumbling sometimes in the dark on rocky protrusions that stuck out from beneath the snow and thinking to himself more than once that it was probably a trap, some scheme to draw him in and bring him down, again, Einar finally reached the tracker, found him sprawled out and unconscious in the snow, partially covered by a drift that had tumbled down the steep slope behind him. Removing his snowshoes as quickly as he could Einar maneuvered in beside him, checking to be sure the man still had a pulse which, fortunately, he did.
“Done this…done…done it intentionally, haven’t you, you old buzzard? Here, come on, let me…got to get this snow dug away from your face so you can breathe, and then maybe you’ll be alright.”
The tracker wasn’t alright though; Einar could see the blood trickling down the side of his head, sluggish and slow in the cold, knew he must have hit it in the fall. Fumbling with the headlamp until he got its band stretched around his own head and the battery pack tucked down beneath his parka where the cold could not as readily reach it and drain the life from its batteries he looked the situation over, seeing through the swirling snow the spot from which Kilgore must have tumbled, no more than ten or twelve feet above but the descent had been rocky, providing numerous opportunities for a man to whack his head.
Making a hasty inspection to be sure Kilgore was losing blood only from the small gash to his head Einar proceeded to try and wake him, rubbing snow in his face and applying a bit of pain in an effort to bring the man round but he made no response, leaving Einar to make a quick survey of the area in the light of the headlamp. Just above the spot where the tracker had come to rest a small ledge of granite overhung, no more than a foot or two but it was something, had prevented the snow from accumulating quite so deeply just there and he thought it would be a good idea to move Kilgore over beneath the ledge, get both of them out of the wind for a few minutes. Hurrying--already he’d remained still for too long could feel the cold tightening its grip on him--he got his hands under the tracker’s shoulders and tried to lift him, move him, at least, out of the deep drift of powder in which he’d come to rest but the strength simply wasn’t there, arms shaking and cramping with the effort but little movement occurring.
You better…wake up pretty soon here man, and get to your feet. Because if I have to drag you all the way back up there we’re both gonna be… He shook his head, dropped to the ground beside the unconscious man, very nearly too exhausted to take a breath, let alone make another effort at moving the much heavier Kilgore beneath the semi-shelter of the little ledge, right side on fire where he’d bruised himself in his own fall, earlier that day. No sign of stirring from the tracker, and Einar knew he must act. Rolled the man to the side, got into his pack and found the portions of jerky and pemmican Liz had packed for them, the little wax-sealed bark vessels full of a precious ounce or two each of honey, and fumbling with one of the packets he managed to bits off its seal, retrieving some of its cold-slowed contents with a stick and choking them down. Needed more, knew there would be consequences later, but it didn’t matter; if he wanted the strength to do the thing before him, he’d got to have a significant amount of food, and set to work consuming it, washing globs of frozen pemmican down his throat with gulps of icy water from Kilgore’s bottle, choking, gagging but managing to get the stuff down, and keep it that way.
Ok. Energy. Hope it’ll be enough. Now we’re gonna have to either…build a fire here real quick and get some sort of shelter set up to cut down a little more on the wind, or get moving again, because I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty nearly done in when it comes to the cold. Body’s not working anymore. What do you say? The tracker, of course, said nothing, being blissfully unaware of the entire predicament and of his fractured leg, besides, a state to which he would no doubt finding himself frequently wishing he might return, over the following days. Einar didn’t know about the leg, had been too numbed and slow to inspect Kilgore that thoroughly once he’d determined the man was not losing blood at a dangerous rate, but he did know it would be dreadfully unwise to remain too long beneath the barely-there ledge in whose shelter they had taken refuge. Had no idea what the tracker had been thinking, leading them up that particular slope in a major snowstorm, nor where his mind had been when he followed, but it was clear to him now that the slope presented a major danger of avalanche, wind-loaded and unstable as it would almost inevitably be just then.