After sleeping through a quiet and somewhat hasty breakfast shared by the four adults Will woke and began making his presence known, Susan taking a few minutes to walk with him as Bud and Einar wrapped up the last of the packing and preparations. Most of the work having been done the previous evening few chores remained, the time of their departure drawing near. Outside the light was strengthening, sun beginning to show golden white on the snowy timber of the far ridges, and the time had come for leaving.
Susan slipped Will into the back of Liz’s parka, making sure the strap was securely tied beneath his little pouch beneath her hood so he couldn’t slip down any further and marveling at the construction of the thing, much like, its fit and function very closely resembling, she could only imagine, the original garment from which he had drawn his inspiration. Amazing innovation for one who had, presumably, not been raised in the culture from which the baby-carrying garment came, and yet another sign to Susan that between Einar’s brilliantly innovative nature and dauntless if at times slightly less than rational determination and Liz’s calm, practical influence, the little family ought to really flourish. Snuggled down secure and warm against his mother’s back the little one was asleep again within moments, leaving Liz with both hands free to help haul the couple’s gear out through the tunnel and into the snow.
Done. Packs sitting beneath the trees, snowshoes all lined up and ready to go and nothing left to do, really, nothing to detain them any longer but Susan remained reluctant to take her final leave of the place, knowing that there was a very real possibility she might never see the little family again. Shook her head, tried to put that thought out of her mind and focus on the climb before them. They’d better be going, as it was bound to be quite a challenge for Bud, making his way through that deep snow with his leg hurting him so badly and snowshoes all but essential if they were to make any progress.
Einar, too, had been pondering the problem of Bud’s upcoming climb, had quite a bit of experience, himself, with winter travel when struggling with an injured--or broken--leg, and had made a point to remind Bud several times of the importance of changing socks frequently on the injured side in the hopes of preventing the cold damage which would be a much greater risk for him, due to compromised circulation and swelling.
“You still got all your toes and believe me, you want to keep it that way if at all possible. Would never have lost mine if I hadn’t broken that leg and then had to cover a lot of winter miles in an improvised cast…that was the start of the trouble. Reduced circulation in the leg, the foot, and then the cold did the rest. Just be sure you keep an eye on it. Stop and get the thing warm now and then, if circumstances allow.”
Liz wanted to add that yes, the broken leg and cast were certainly factors, but it seems very likely to me that you probably would have managed to keep the toes if only you hadn’t been so starved and depleted that winter that your body wasn’t able to produce enough heat to begin keeping your extremities warm…that was a bit part of the problem too, you’d have to admit. That, and your wanting to spend so much time sitting out in the snow freezing yourself…seems to me one of those little excursions was the final straw for the toes you did have left on that foot, after the initial injury. But you’d never admit to that, would you? So she kept the matter to herself.
“Yep,” Kilgore took a tentative hop, sat down heavily on a snow covered log and began donning his snowshoes. “Will do. Already got a busted leg on my honeymoon, don’t figure I need frostbite to go along with it. Man! Now I guess I know why so many folks just go spend a few days at the beach! What do you say, Sue? Trip to the warm waters and white sand beaches of Koh Chang for our first anniversary? Sound good to you?”
“Where’s…is that in Thailand?”
“Yep. Genuine tropical island, that one. No chance of frostbite, there.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Sounds like an interesting place, but I think I like mountains, best.”
“That’s my girl. Guess I’d gladly take frostbite over Dengue fever and malaria, any day. Don’t you think, Asmundson?”
“Sure, it would be my preference. Seen plenty of that part of the world, and I’m guessing you have, too. Rather have an icy little tarn surrounded by snow-covered granite than a beach, anyway! But I do know that not everyone shares my preference on that. Doggone good thing, too, or all my favorite places would be crowded with tourists just standing in line to feel the soft powder snow between their toes and happily soak in these frigid mountain waters until they turned purple…my mountain waters, I’ll have you know, and that’d just ruin the entire thing for me! Doggone tourists. I’m awful glad most of ’em prefer beaches. But that’s all beside the point. My point was that you can probably avoid the frostbite as well as the malaria and Dengue, if you’re careful. Suit yourself, though.”
“I will. You did, when it came to your own toes, and I see how it’s turned out for you…but I figure I’ll be a lot safer suiting myself than you’ve been suiting yours. You’ve got a pretty doggone strange self, Asmundson, and it’s a wonder you’re still breathing. Anybody ever tell you that?”
“Get off my mountain, you addle-pated, slub-skegged old scoundrel of a wingless buzzard. You’ve way more than worn out your welcome here.”
“Ain’t your mountain, Asmundson.”
“Want to bet?”
Laughing, shaking his head, the tracker rose, took a hobbling step in his single snowshoe--nope, that’s one bet I’d lose sure as anything, and wouldn’t live to see the other end of it, either--grabbed Einar and the two of them embraced.
“Take care of yourself, man. Family’s counting on you.”
“You too. Safe travels.”
That was it, Susan thinking they ought to have more to say to each other after the rather dramatic events of the past several days but so relieved that Einar hadn’t seen fit to run her husband through with his knife in response to his rather forward gesture--had been a moment there when she hadn’t been so sure, that dangerous gleam showing in Einar’s eyes, but it had passed--that she couldn’t concern herself too greatly over what had or had not been said. Bud was having trouble strapping on his second snowshoe, the one that was to go on his bad leg, and she knelt to help him. Wondered if it might be better to have him try and keep the weight off of that leg, altogether, but she had done enough traveling through deep, drifted snow herself to know that trying the hike one-legged would be a sure recipe for disaster. The leg, while clearly still paining him a good deal, did appear less swollen that morning, and she was growing more and more hopeful that what she had initially taken to be a fracture might prove no worse than a bad strain, sprain or perhaps even a damaged ligament of some sort…bad enough, for sure, but perhaps not something that would be tremendously worsened by the bearing of a bit of weight.
Einar had disappeared into the cabin by the time Susan straightened up and began working on her own snowshoes and she thought they had perhaps seen the last of him but he re-emerged as she was saying her good-byes to Liz, wordlessly handing Kilgore his spear. The tracker took it, and they were off.