07 February, 2012

7 February 2012

Breakfast was done, pots cleaned up and everyone reclining around the fire, and neither Bud nor Susan wanted to be the one to bring it up, this matter which they had silently agreed to broach as they’d sat watching Einar struggle with his meal. Bud finally took the initiative, turning to Einar and getting his attention with a good-natured fist to the shoulder.

“Look, I know we’ve made this offer before, mentioned about my house and how you kids’re welcome there anytime you want to come, but at this point we can really only stick around here for a few more days, so there can’t be any more beating around the bush. You coming with us, or not?”

Einar’s eyes were flat, emotionless, his voice carefully controlled. “Already discussed this. We’re not.”

Kilgore snorted, turned to Liz. Never had been the diplomatic type, and wasn’t about to start being. If Asmundson wouldn’t listen, maybe his lady would. “Mighty high, forsaken place to be raising a baby all winter, all by your lonesome…”

Einar was on his feet, eyes looking a bit wild as he glanced at the tunnel but he wasn’t going anywhere, had every intention of standing his ground as he faced the tracker, spear in hand--necessary, perhaps, to help his balance and prevent him toppling over but also a formidable weapon, especially in such an enclosed space--and Susan could feel the tension in the room, danger level rising. Fool men. If they go ahead and kill each other as they look so much inclined to do, we’ll just have to walk out on our own, Liz and the baby and I…

“Einar, please. We don’t mean any disrespect by this. I know this is your home and I see how well you’ve fixed it up and provided for your little family. It’s wonderful. They’re all set for the winter, and you couldn’t have done a better job setting things up for the baby and making sure they’d have everything they needed, but you, yourself are having a real struggle right now. It may not be obvious to you, but it sure is to Bud and I, and with your permission we just want to help you get to a place where you’ll be better able to carry on, out here.”

“Life’s a struggle. Never asked for it to be anything else.”

“Sure, Asmundson,” Kilgore spoke up, “but what the lady’s really trying to say is, you’re dying. Right now, right in front of us all, falling apart and dying. Be surprised if you make it two weeks, the way things’re going. You’re strong and resilient and stubborn as heck and all that, able to resist to the end and right on through it, and I appreciate it, know that stuff’s served you well and wouldn’t ask you to change it a bit, but you’re also flesh and blood, and your flesh and blood are failing you, man. Right now. Nearing the end. Can’t eat, can’t afford not to eat, would probably get your head all messed up and deliberately quit again in a few days even if you did manage to get some good meals in you, and you’re just not gonna make it unless something changes, real big and real fast. Now what we’re suggesting, to get specific, is that we help you get this place all sealed up and winterized so it’ll be here when you get back, then take you out with us to the spot where we’re supposed to meet Kiesl and his plane about five days from now. He’ll pick us up and head straight down there for Arizona, and my house. Where you can stay for as long as you need and want to, and no longer, at which time Roger drops the three of you right back into your basin same way he did with us. That’s the deal. Pretty good deal, if you think about it.”

Einar was angry, wanted out, needed to get outside as much for Kilgore’s sake as his own, but the man was sitting directly in front of the tunnel, wouldn’t move. “Where’re you going, Asmundson? Out there to sit in the snow, finish the job you started earlier on your fingers, maybe? Freezing yourself within an inch of your life, which I have no doubt wouldn’t take long at all right now, might make you feel better for a while but it’s no substitute for rational thought and honest discussion, don’t you think? Now how about you stick around for a minute, and give me some answers?”

“Already given you the answer. Nothing’s changed.”

Susan could see things going downhill in a hurry, was on her feet, retrieving her snowshoes and handing Bud’s pair to him, suggesting the two of them go out for a little walk. Einar and Liz, she knew, needed some time alone, a chance to talk things over if there was to be any chance whatsoever of their proposal being given any consideration, and Kilgore fortunately heeded her, getting into his snow things and following her out through the tunnel. Alone with Liz and the baby all the fight went out of Einar, legs buckling and dumping him on the floor beside the bed. Liz squeezed his shoulder, tried to rub a bit of the tension out of his back and offered him some water, but it just made him cough and splutter and nearly gag.

“What do you think? They’re right, you know, about something having to change… You’re trying so hard, I can see it, but sometimes…well, there might not be any harm in considering their idea.”

Einar might have been angry with her too, after that, had he possessed the energy, but he did not, simply laid his head in her lap and allowed her to drape the bear hide around his shoulders. “I can’t trust Kilgore. Some of the things he said yesterday morning when he was trying to wake me up out of that…slump I’d fallen into. Can’t trust him at all.”

Which seemed to Liz a convenient way to change the subject, but she figured she might as well go along with it, at least for a moment. See where it might lead. “I still don’t understand what that was all about. What did he say?”

Suddenly sitting bold upright, all sign of weariness gone, Einar drew away from her and pressed himself against the wall, arms clasped around his knees as he stared up at the ceiling. “He…the words are immaterial, but I knew them. Had heard them before, that exact accent and inflection, same questions repeated over and over, day after day until I heard them in my sleep and still do, sometimes… Some things you just don’t forget. There’s no reason he should have known those words, those questions, certainly no reason on earth why he ought to have known to deliver them with that odd Russian twist to the local accent--and sometimes local words, too; it wasn’t all in English--he was using…like a man who had learned his English from a Russian-speaker. Just like one of my interrogators, the officer who seemed to be running things there at that camp during my ‘visit…’ Evil little man, really seemed to enjoy his job. How could Kilgore have known him, known to speak like him, words, accent, all of it?”
“I don’t know what you’re suggesting…”

“Me either! Just that something’s not right, and it’s got me all off balance and questioning who he really is, where he was and what he knows.”

Liz was quiet for a moment, needing to say something but not wanting Einar to take it the wrong way, to think she was doubting him. “Is there any chance…I mean, you were in and out of consciousness all morning, having a pretty hard time, and I’m wondering if there’s any chance you might have dreamed parts of it?”

“No. I know what I heard. He was talking to me.”

“I know he was talking to you. I saw him. And I heard him tell Susan he’d said something that was sure to disturb you, just to try and keep you from slipping further into unconsciousness. But the accent and all…is it possible your mind latched onto whatever he was saying, and added things? Got your memories all tangled up with whatever it was he really said?”

Einar looked uncertain for a brief moment, doubtful, but shook his head. “Not a chance of it. Not even a chance. He knows things. Can’t trust him.”

“Well, let’s ask him about it.”

“I did! He wouldn’t say much.”

“Maybe that’s because you were going at his head with a heavy chunk of spruce wood at the time, if I’m remembering correctly… Seems only the sudden appearance of Muninn saved him from his fate.”

Einar rubbed the back of his neck, studied a coal that had been spit out of the stove, pressing it into the dirt of the floor and nodding. “Yeah, that may have been the case. Guess I’d be willing to try again asking him.” Which wasn’t the same, exactly, as saying that he might consider Kilgore’s proposal, was potentially disastrous even, depending on what Kilgore might reveal, but at least it seemed to Liz a possible step in the right direction.

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