When Einar woke the cabin was empty, quiet, a golden ray of late afternoon sunlight slanting in through the slightly cracked front door to illuminate the stove-stones, floating, blinking bits of dust hanging in the brightness of the sunbeam and leaving it to appear almost a solid object, a thing with clearly defined, geometric sides, a path, perhaps, upon which one could have almost walked, if greatest care was taken not to tread too heavily. Which he was certain he would not have done, just then. Might have almost been able to make it from bottom side to top of that golden road.
Watching the lazy wanderings of the buoyant and multitudinous dust particles, floating orbs, planets and stars, perhaps, in a cosmos infinitely smaller yet no less fascinating than his own, Einar was held transfixed at the wonder of it, the magnificence which could be contained in such tiny things and nearly fell asleep again, dreaming of other worlds, before the thought occurred to him--wandering, slippery thing, directionless as the drifting dust and he had to grab hold of it and hang on with all his might before he could pin it down, make any sense of its meaning--that perhaps something was wrong, almost certainly something must have happened to cause everyone to take leave of the cabin. Especially Kilgore with his injured leg. And Liz with…yes, the baby was gone, too, bed empty where he had slept beside Einar, even the rabbitskin blanket missing, and for a brief moment of near-panic Einar wondered if perhaps the visiting couple had somehow prevailed upon Liz to come away with them, abandon the place and seek a new life down in the more civilized and certain confines of Bud Kilgore’s Arizona mountain house. It would not have been the first time they had attempted to make such an argument, though previously--when spoken within his hearing, at least--the offer had always included both he and Liz, and with their leaving-time rapidly approaching, it seemed very possible that they might have seen his untimely slumber as their best and perhaps final opportunity to carry out a plan which must have been solidified between them well in advance of their ever landing in the basin.
Or perhaps, unable to talk Liz into such action as he seriously doubted they would have proven able to do, they had taken it upon themselves to force the matter, taking Liz and the little one against her will and marching her up to the spot where they were to meet that plane in a day’s time, in which case the only hope was for him to hurry after them, catch up and mount a rescue before the deed could be accomplished…a difficult proposal, no doubt, as Kilgore surely would have taken, hidden or otherwise removed from the premises all of his weapons…but one in whose pursuit he would expend every last ounce of the strength that remained in him, succeed or die trying. Better succeed. No other option. Can’t leave them to a life they didn’t choose, no matter how well-intentioned their abductors. You can die afterwards if that’s what you’ve really got to do, but first you must free your family.
Ready to spring from the bed and take action, waiting only on his scattered mind to come together a bit and provide him something of a plan of execution before he moved, Einar found himself suddenly less certain about the entire thing, questioning it, doubting. Kilgore had not been play-acting about that leg, was in no shape to be taking any part in the forcible abduction of a strong, agile mama wolverine of a mountain woman such as his Lizzie, even had he wanted to do so. And Susan, he was pretty sure, would never go along with such a plan in the first place. Though that last one was questionable, she being Kilgore’s new bride and thus at least somewhat trusting in his judgment…
In any event, there surely would have been a monumental struggle before they ever got Liz unwillingly out of the cabin, and there was little chance he would have been able to sleep through such a racket, even in his present state of…well, of not doing so great. If Liz had gone anywhere with them, it had been of her own free will, and if she wanted of her own free will to abandon the place and their life there and seek shelter down in civilization, well, who was he to prevent her taking that path? Did wish she might have found it in her to say good bye, though, give him a chance to see his son one more time and…what are you thinking, man? She’s not going anywhere, and you ought to be ashamed of yourself for thinking it of her. What would she think, if she knew these thoughts were in your head? And besides, hear that? Those are voices. The lot of ’em are sitting out there in the sun, no doubt, enjoying the warmth of the afternoon and probably talking over old times, or new ones, or for all you know just discussing what to have for supper. Mighty suspicious critter you are, that’s for sure. Suspicious indeed, and not in the least inclined to change anytime soon, but he was happy to have the current dilemma resolved, at least to some extent, relaxed back into the warmth of the bed and closed his eyes.
Einar was warm, finally and for the first time in what seemed like many days, the result, no doubt, of Liz’s work with the hot rocks, and he found himself ashamed for having mentioned his difficulty to her in the first place, knew she had remained with him even after he’d drifted off into an exhausted sleep and continued to exchange the stones for fresh, hot ones as they began to cool, and wished he’d kept the matter to himself as he was used to doing. Didn’t know what had got into him, what moment of weakness had allowed him to confide such a thing in her, and in such a way that she took it as a plea for assistance. Which he never would have intended. Well. He’d do better in the future, that was for sure. For the moment though he found himself almost comfortable despite a catch and burn in his breathing where his bruised ribs had been further aggravated in the long haul up from the basin, an incessant ache in the shoulder on the same side and a hungry, hollow hurt in his middle that left him feeling as though he hadn’t eaten in days, despite a rather distinct memory of consuming far too much pemmican, soup and broth over the past twenty four hours.
Not wanting to disturb the rather unaccustomed feeling of repose he remained for some time unmoving, wondering vaguely what everyone was doing outside and what chores he was himself neglecting by remaining so immobile as the day drew to a close, but weighed down too heavily by his own weariness to rise and find an answer. The wind, which had been whispering through the spruces outside and carrying the conversation away into the timber shifted then, slacked off and nearly died, allowing the words of the small party outside to reach him loud and clear, and it seemed Kilgore was doing most of the talking.
“Be an interesting life, that’s for sure, just the three of you and this high, wide-open country up here, mighty interesting as the little one gets older and starts wandering around a little more but a good life too, I would think. Good place to raise a kid. He’ll grow up strong and stubborn as a mule no doubt, just like that bull-headed father of his…yeah, just look at that little guy. All small and cute and harmless right now, but how long do you figure that’ll last? Six, maybe seven months before he’s crawling all over this place wreaking havoc and knocking choppers and small planes down out of the air with rocks and a sling…yeah, probably a good thing that you have to raise him up here, because he’d be a holy terror down there in town, no doubt. I can’t for the life of me figure how Asmundson ever made it through his childhood years in civilization, not seeing the sort of fellow he is, now.”
“Oh,” Liz laughed pleasantly, opening the blanket that covered little Will, letting some of the sun’s rays reach him, “the way he tells it, he spent as much of his time as possible in the woods, even then. He’s told me stories of how by the age of six he was spending most of his spare time out on his own exploring the woods around his house, hiding from his brothers and sister if they came looking for him and sitting motionless so long under the willows that the chickadees would come and perch on his mittens, in the winter…so I think he’s always been a little different, and I have little doubt his son will be similar. There are times when I think I can already see it in him, in his eyes and in the way he holds his body, though I may be mistaken…but like you said, this is a good place to raise a little one, and especially good for one who may end up being as unique as our little Snorri! Up here he can get to know the mountains, the world his father loves so much, spend most of his time out wandering the hills and you know what? It really won’t matter if he isn’t so much like everyone else his age, because he won’t really have any of those pressures around him. I don’t know why I’d want him to be like everyone else, anyway! Because then he wouldn’t be Einar’s son, and that’s exactly who I want him to be, and no one else.”
Susan nodded approvingly. Lucky kid. Blessed, more like. He’s blessed to have them, and them to have him, and if Einar can just pull through this rough patch that’s got hold of him right now and they can keep off the feds’ radar, life is going to be a grand thing for this little family, indeed. Liz, she could see, would do just fine as a mother, was already doing better than fine at not only meeting the little one’s physical needs but in perceiving the future needs and challenges which would mark their life together in the high, remote fastness of their little mountain kingdom, the difficulties of that life proving at least as much blessing as burden.
Sun nearing the tops of the trees and the air beginning to cool, even there in the sheltered and nearly wind-free cove between woodshed and front wall, Einar came hobbling out into the sunlight to join the little group for the last few minutes of the day.