Bud and Susan had decided to go up, hoping they might somehow make the meeting place before Roger’s second planned pass the following morning and hoping also that the storm would have quieted sufficiently for him to land, by that time. When they began having to hang onto the small, twisted forms of wind-bent firs--their tops, only, poking out from beneath sometimes hip-deep drifts of snow--just to avoid being knocked off their feet and pressed into the mountainside by the wind, they began seriously questioning the wisdom of their decision. Though dressed and equipped for the weather they found themselves really struggling to make much progress between Bud’s injury and the incredible force of the wind, which seemed increasingly bent on ripping them from the mountain the more closely they approached the ridge, and sending them airborne with the furious streamers of snow and ice crystals that already trailed far out into the sky. Seeing through the near-blinding swirl of white that the trees appeared to run out ahead of them, wide open slope yawning menacingly in the scouring gale, Susan stopped, secured herself to a tree and grabbed hold of Bud’s coat.
“Stop for a minute. We need to talk about this.”
Kilgore turned, sat down heavily in the snow and brushed some of the accumulated, wind-driven snow from his balaclava. “Do we?”
“I think we need to go back down! This is turning into a real blizzard up here, and we’re running out of trees.”
“Yep. Looks like we’re gonna have to catch Roger some other time. This is madness, up here.”
Together they turned, started back down in search of heavier timber in which to ride out the storm, Susan tremendously relieved that Bud had put up no protest and Bud simply struggling to stay on his feet. The leg was becoming a real burden, paining him quite significantly now with each step and he was sure its swelling had worsened significantly on the climb. Wished they could simply dig in right where they were, wait for the storm to end and then finish the climb up to meet Roger, but he knew their position on that slope was highly precarious at best. Needed to get down to a place where things would be less steep, less avalanche-prone as the wind-packed snow continued to deepen, and gritting his teeth against the hurt, he followed Susan, who not only seemed glad of the change in direction, but seemed to have a very definite destination in mind.
· · · ·
Einar appeared more energetic than Liz had seen him in a good while, animated, joyful, even, as he packed for the walk down the basin, and as he had been struggling so in recent days simply to remain conscious and carry out his daily tasks, the sudden liveliness struck her as somewhat unusual. She hoped nothing was wrong. Which it wasn’t, really, Einar simply anxious to be heading down to the basin and relieved almost beyond measure that the storm had come to end his enforced waiting. The longer he’d sat around the cabin re-hashing Bud Kilgore’s words the more anxious he had become to discover the nature of whatever document the tracker had so strangely included in the cache, theories on its possible subject and contents so filling his mind that he had been tempted a time or two simply to plan a nighttime excursion to the site before too long, storm or no storm, to settle the question. So it was with a tremendous sense of relief that he prepared to set out with Liz and their son to do the same, and he sang under his breath as he worked, gathering a few items of warm clothing, food and other essentials to take on the expedition, but leaving his pack mostly empty to save on weight in the knowledge that he’d have a major job on his hands, hauling the contents of the cache back up that hill. Liz thought she recognized his song.
“What’s that you’re singing? It sounds like the same thing you and Bud sang together, and I’d never heard it before.”
“Was I singing?’
“Yes…sure sounded like it. Unless Muninn has suddenly learned a bunch of words, and started stringing them together in song!”
“Huh. Wouldn’t be surprised if he starts doing that, one of these days. I know they’re capable of mimicking speech. That was me, though, and no, I don’t guess you would have ever heard that one before. Just an old marching tune from my days in the bundu of Rhodesia, informal marching tune, I guess you’d have to say, because I’m pretty sure no one ever sanctioned it, but it was one you heard the guys singing, a lot of times. Based off the old song about how “It’s a “Long Way to Tipperary,” only we substituted “Mukumbura” for Tipperary, because it was, indeed, a long way from just about anywhere to the town of Mukumbura! Anyhow, I’ll quitsinging it. Just got stuck in my head while Kilgore was here, I guess.”
“Oh, you don’t have to stop. It really seemed to make you happy, while he was here. Like you were sharing some good memories.”
“You know, it’s a funny thing. A lot of the memories from those years really are good ones. Sure, it was pure…well, unpleasantness…out there a lot of times in the bush with all that was going on, but I was there standing with a great group of guys, and we were fighting for something. For their homes and their entire way of life, and it was a cause…well, I was proud to be there with them. Was one we could have won, for sure, and were, until…well, I’ve told you the story of some of the treachery behind how all of that ended. Powerful men far away pulling the strings like they seem to do so many times, and that was the end of it. But yeah, a lot of good memories from those days, and I guess having Kilgore around tends to bring it all back, just a little.”
“Do you think that’s the “surprise” he left for you down at the cache? Something to do with your days in Rhodesia?”
“No, I do not.”
Which was the end of that, Liz seeing that he plainly didn’t want to discuss the matter any further, and she got into her parka, preparing little Will for the trip.