That evening after supper the five of them sat around the stove, Will sleeping in Susan’s arms and Bud going over the contents of his pack for a third and final time, trying to find additional items he could leave behind in an attempt to further reduce its weight. Difficult as he knew the climb was to be with his injured leg, every ounce would count. Which was how Einar became the proud if temporary new owner of a vintage canteen cup and stainless steel mess kit, the ones Kilgore had carried with him through all his years in the jungle and in the Rhodesian bush, as well.
“You take good care of these things for me and don’t go losing them if you have to take off running, Ok? Because I’ll be back someday and expect to find them in good repair. No more dents and dings than they already got. Been a lot of places with me…”
Einar nodded, set the things on the granite shelf beside the stove. “Bet they have. The stories they could tell…”
“Oh, yeah, that’s for sure! Like the one about the time Roger Kiesl and I mixed up a batch of very hastily improvised C-4 in that mess kit because we had to…” took a look around, saw Susan watching with rapt attention and thought better of the narrative he’d been about to give, laughing and glancing at Einar.
“Yeah, I bet you had to! How’d that work out for you, anyway? You and Roger were legendary over there for those ‘hastily improvised’ little projects, and seeing as the two of you are still around…more or less…I’m guessing you must’ve got it down pretty good. No second chances with a lot of that stuff.”
“No indeed!” After which Bud launched into an exhaustive and heavily detailed narrative of several of the rather hairy near-misses he, Roger and a few of their Rhodesian associates had endured over the years. Listening, Einar reclined against the water barrel with arms crossed behind his head, appearing warm and something close to relaxed for the first time in what seemed to Liz many months, the quiet, almost contented expression on his face disturbed from time to time by a slight smile, but then Bud--reaching, apparently, a critical point in his story and needing to illustrate his point with something more powerful than mere words--broke into song, Einar joining him, much to everyone’s surprise.
For several minutes the two of them carried on their raucous merriment, on their feet and proving somewhat a comical sight, as neither of them were able to stand too well and ended up having to brace hands against the ceiling in a quest to keep their balance as they sang out a rather lively story of the long march to a place called Mukumbura--Susan remembered it from the festivities after the wedding--Einar doing the “talking” portions of the song in such a strange, out-of-character voice that he had Susan and Liz laughing out loud before he’d got halfway through, even though they really had no earthly idea what he was talking about. Muninn even added his own unique rasping notes to the cacophony, and by the time the song was over not only was Will wide awake but left staring in wide-eyed wonderment at the two men and the big, awkward bird who seemed to be enjoying the merriment nearly as much as they.
Song ended, Kilgore reclined happy and out of breath against the wall by the stove, Einar laughing but exhausted, holding his injured side and fighting for breath through a bigger grin than Liz had seen from him in some time
“I think that’s only the second or third time I’ve ever heard you sing, and the first time ever when we weren’t descending through bands of broken cliffs in a howling blizzard, as I recall... You’ve got a good voice! You ought to do it more often.”
“You call that a good voice?” And he started laughing all over again, Muninn lighting on his shoulder and cackling with him until, seeing how the laughter hurt his bruised ribs and side, Liz shooed away the bird and did her best to quiet him.
“Yes, I call it a good voice. Not the talking parts, so much--those were just plain goofy--but the singing ones. You should do more singing!”
No more singing that night, though, for everyone was getting tired, ready for bed and Bud and Susan especially knew they needed their rest ahead of the long hike that awaited them in the morning. They didn’t have to meet Roger until the morning after that, but had agreed that they’d better begin the climb at least half a day early so as to give themselves a better chance of reaching the rendezvous point in a timely manner, taking into consideration the deep snow and Bud’s leg injury. Bud, also, wanted some time to look the place over, make sure he wasn’t leading his new bride into a trap when they went out in the open to meet that plane. Trusted Roger, knew he’d never willingly participate in any such operation but the enemy could be awfully cunning and clever, as well, and one could never be too cautious. Which meant they really needed to leave the cabin sometime in the morning hours, that next day.
The night, thankfully, was a quiet one for everyone, Bud stirring some in his sleep with the hurt of his leg but still managing a fairly restful night and Einar, once he allowed himself to lie down and close his eyes, falling into an exhausted sleep so deep that Liz, waking to switch sides with the baby, became alarmed and had to check to make sure he was still breathing. As the night wore on she had less reason to worry that he had ceased to breathe, as the cold of the night crept in beneath the hides and set him to trembling so hard and so incessantly that she found it all but impossible to sleep for worrying, tucking the hides around him and moving closer in an attempt to provide a bit of extra warmth, allow them both to get good sleep. Liz’s efforts were effective after a time, and she slept.
A frosty white half moon hung low in the sky early that morning as Bud and Susan rose and began their final preparations to leave the basin, Einar disentangling himself with some difficulty from the pile of hides beneath which Liz had securely tucked him for the night--guess she wanted to make good and sure I wouldn’t be going anywhere, and it’s a good thing I didn’t have to!--fighting his way through the wave of vicious cramps that seized both lower legs upon attempting to place his feet flat on the floor, and joining them. Liz was not far behind him, first feeding little Will and easing him down into the bed for what she hoped might be a reasonably long nap, so she could have a bit of time to help the couple prepare for their departure.