Returning to the cabin when the sun finally disappeared behind row upon row of craggy-topped evergreens and temperatures dropped in the sudden way they have up where the air is thin, Bud and Susan began laying out gear, sorting things, preparing for the departure which they hoped to make sometime the following day. Einar was somewhat behind everyone else in making his way back inside, attempting in some small measure to make up for his earlier laziness by gathering a giant armload of firewood, pushing through the snow to the tunnel and depositing it inside before returning for two more similar loads. Ribs protested greatly, arm and shoulder on his injured side locking up on him and legs cramping so that he found himself barely able to remain on his feet at times but he did the thing, creeping triumphant if exhausted in through the tunnel at the end, and parking himself wearily beside the stove. Just in time, too, as Liz had been about to hand Susan the baby and go after him.
Already--he’d only been gone for ten or fifteen minutes--Liz and Susan had supper going, wonderful smells rising from the stove as the final bits of pepper, onion, mushrooms and cheese brought by the honeymooning couple were sautéed with thinly sliced elk steak and spring beauty “potatoes,” and Einar sat with arms crossed tightly on his stomach in an attempt to minimize its rather painful rumbling. Hoped the food might stay with him this time, instead of simply making him desperately ill and necessitating countless runs out to the trees, as his last two meals had done. Supposed he’d better start pretty small despite wanting to dig in and eat far more than his share of the meal, see how things went and give his body time to figure out how to handle the stuff.
Not that he had to worry about the meal, just yet. Food wasn’t ready to eat, the cooking process having just been started, and Kilgore, it appeared, was trying to get his attention, wanted his participation in one project or another. Einar kept his head down for a moment, staring at the floor as he struggled to get his breath and hoping the man might find another direction in which to focus his energy. Which of course he did not--could be a tremendously single-minded individual, when he took the notion--leaving Einar to hope he wasn’t intending to try once more to talk them into leaving the basin. Because that was going nowhere. Fast. And he didn’t especially want to argue with the tracker, not that night, with the weight of his own weariness sitting so heavily on his body but the relief he’d felt after successfully completing the rescue and retrieval of the tracker still leaving his mind light, easy and relaxed, a rare and precious state, and Einar--though he wouldn’t have said the thing in so many words, would have struggled even to recognize the source of his relief--didn’t particularly want it prematurely disturbed. Kilgore, however, had no such subject in mind, which was a good thing, for neither did he have any intention of leaving Einar alone until he’d had his say.
“Seeing as how our last attempt at retrieving that cache left me with a busted leg and you lookin’ like death warmed over and refried--twice--after having to haul my sorry rear all the way up this mountain, looks like you’re gonna have to be on your own when it comes to fetching the thing. You can do it. Take you a couple trips maybe, but you know where to find it, and I can tell ya right now that you’re gonna like a lot of what you find there…” “May be that you don’t like some of it so well, too. Really wanted to be here to walk with you when you discovered some of that stuff, but you can handle it, and it’s stuff you got a right to see. Should have had the chance to see years ago, and didn’t, and seeing as I’m still kinda on the inside or at least know folks who are and who owe me stuff, figured I might as well pull a few strings and make sure you got the chance to take a look at certain things. Figured it might help wrap some stuff up for you, let you…oh, I don’t know. Folks talk about letting things go, putting them behind you but you know, I think those are usually folks who haven’t been there. Certain things’ll always be with you, be a part of you, but the stuff you’ll find in that big brown envelope in the cache down there, it may at least put your mind a bit more at ease about certain things. I wouldn’t expect a lot more, but that’d be something, wouldn’t it?”
Einar shrugged. “Got no idea what you’re talking about, Kilgore. None.”
“Probably for the best. Might not like it if you knew what I’d done, and maybe it’s best for all of us if I’m not in the vicinity when you discover it! You’ll find out whenever you get into that cache. Plenty of practical things in there, too, stuff you can use up here every day and especially if a day ever comes when you get unwanted company up in here, so make sure you get down there as soon as you can and retrieve that load.”
“It’ll be soon,” Einar assured him, and he meant it, despite the shadow that had seemed to come over him at Kilgore’s references to mysterious items in a brown envelope, a certain inexplicable dread which he knew would be with him until that trip had been made, and the cache recovered.
Susan, breaking from her supper preparations now and then to make progress at sorting and packing her gear, found herself sad at the prospect of leaving, really wished there was a way for the entire family to come and be with them, as they’d all become dear to her, Liz, of course, she had known for several years at that point and the little one was no less precious to her than one of her own grandchildren. Even Einar, prickly old mountain critter that he might be, was someone about whom she had come to care deeply, and she hated leaving when he was still struggling so desperately on several fronts with forces that wanted to drag him down and end his life, and still very well might, the way things were looking. At the same time she knew they had to go, and did look forward to spending some time alone with her new husband, out of the tremendously cramped and cozy quarters which had been theirs in the cabin.
Their plan, one which they had discussed a few times since arriving in the basin, had originally involved spending the third and final week of their extended honeymoon at Bud’s house in Arizona, packing up some of his things and moving them up to the place they would now share on Susan’s mountainside, but that had been before he’d injured his leg. Plans might have to change just a bit now, that second trip delayed at the very least until the injury could be properly cared for and Bud on his feet once again. They had a long, difficult hike ahead of them just to meet the plane, and she could only imagine that Bud would probably need some time for recovery after the ordeal it was sure to be. She had hoped--each of them had hoped, though neither had dared speak much of the matter to the other--that the little family might be coming with them when they left, might be ready for a break from the strenuous demands of life near treeline in the middle of winter and would thus be accessible to her for a month or two down at Bud’s house as the baby grew and gained strength and Einar hopefully stepped a bit further back from the edge and began putting on a bit of the weight he so badly needed, but she could see that no such was going to be happening. Neither of them wanted it, and despite personal reasons for wishing the contrary, she knew they were probably correct. Too risky. Which left her with one final evening to spend loving and getting to know little Will, the newest member of the tiny mountain tribe, visiting with his parents and doing what she could to improve things there for them all ahead of her departure.