Together they stood and watched as Bud and Susan disappeared up into the timber, leaving nothing more than a few visible tracks in the snow before their path led them beneath a cluster of close-growing spruces which served to obscure even that, Einar nodding in approval at Kilgore’s choice of route. They would be careful, do their best not to leave a trail which could lead enemies back to the basin, but Einar knew that such was all but impossible in the snow, no matter how skilled and cautious a person might be. Would have rather seen them make the trip in a raging storm, but there was no storm, and of course, would have been no plane to meet, had such a storm descended on the basin. The going would not be easy for Kilgore; Einar could see already the telltale signs of exhaustion beginning to set in as he struggled up through the deeply drifted snow and into the timber, and he knew the journey might well be too much for a man less persistent and determined than the tracker. As it was, the two of them would really have their hands full making the meeting with Kiesl, but it seemed they had backup plans, and they would be alright. In the meantime, the wind was picking up, flowing sharp and piercing down from the snowy heights, Liz was urging him to come with her back into the cabin, and he went.
Dark in there. Place needed some windows; come summer, he’d make them some. Stretch them with thinly-scraped, greased rawhide to let in the light without letting in the mosquitoes and such. For the moment, Liz lit a candle, partially opened the stove door to let out some light. He stared into the flames. Cold. He couldn’t seem to shake it, though certainly not for any lack of trying, on his body’s part. Was trembling so hard, in fact, that he dared not even help Liz ease the baby out of the parka-pouch which had so snugly held him during their little outdoor excursion, so he crouched against the wall and watched as she did it, expertly lifting him and swinging him over her shoulder as if she’d done it a hundred times before, and once again Einar found himself marveling at the way his wife seemed to have taken to motherhood, so naturally, as if she’d already known what to do.
Will, when Liz got him out and onto her lap, was quite warm, if Einar was not, the parka having done its job quite admirably on this, its first real test, and Liz was delighted at the discovery. She was now assured of having a means to warmly and securely carry the little one with her in the timber, keeping him close and sheltered through the worst of weather and the comfort and relief this brought her was very nearly beyond words. Her greatest fear and one she had really struggled with, from time to time, since giving birth was that they might at some point in their uncertain lives up there in the basin be forced to flee the cabin under conditions so adverse that the child would not survive their escape, even if they did manage to once more lose their pursuers. The parka’s success gave her a good bit of peace on that front. Now, to see that Einar got himself back into a state in which he would be at least as likely to survive their hasty exit through the snow as the little one. At least he finally seemed willing to cooperate in the process, which was an enormous and somewhat unexpected step in the right direction, but despite his having allowed her to wrap him in the bear hide since coming in he seemed to be really struggling to get warm, making little if any headway against deep chill that had seized him out there in the wind, and she supposed she’d better get some broth going, before things went too much further in the wrong direction. Better attempt to wake him up a little too, if possible, for he appeared either deep in thought or very near sleep, and she took the baby in her lap, sat down beside him.
“What’re you thinking? Do I dare ask?”
He glanced up, looking startled. “What? Not too much. Not thinking too much, really. Just tired.”
“I don’t see how you could help being tired for a few days, after the thing you did out there in the snow hauling Bud up all that way. I hope you’ll take advantage of the tiredness and let yourself rest, for a change, eat, recover a little bit…that was quite the ordeal.”
Einar shrugged dismissively, all in a day’s work, though he knew she was right. The rescue had taken him right to the limits of his endurance, and rather beyond them, and he was, in the quiet moments when he allowed himself to cease moving, still rather in a daze from it all. “Well anyhow, I’m enjoying the quiet. Even with all of Will’s occasional wailing and carrying on, he doesn’t come close to making this place as loud and crowded as Bud Kilgore makes it! Fella’s like a one-man hurricane.”
“He does have quite a presence, doesn’t he? But I’d say it really takes the two of you together in one small space for the hurricane to be fully formed. By himself, I imagine he’s a fairly civilized and decent sort of fellow, or a wise and perceptive woman like Susan never would have married him.”
“Hey, you married me. What’re you saying about yourself?”
Liz was laughing as she fixed the bear hide, which had slid from his shoulders. “Oh, what are you talking about? You can be incredibly decent and civilized, when you really give it some serious effort.”
“I hope they make it up there alright…Bud’s leg seemed pretty bad.”
“He’s seen worse, I can assure you. They’ll be fine…” With which Einar returned to his silence, seeming once more tremendously distant and Liz didn’t believe it could all be attributed to the cold, and his persisting weariness.
“You’re thinking about the cache, aren’t you? I heard what he said about some of the things you’ll find there…what do you think they are, really?”
“Don’t know exactly what that old scoundrel’s up to, and I’m just a little bit…well, I have a few ideas about what I may find, and though I can’t make much sense of any of it, I’m pretty anxious to get down there and see.”
“Give it a few days, will you?”