Between the blowing, blinding snow that accosted them there at the edge of the timber and the significant accumulation which had taken place since Kilgore’s stashing of the thing, it took Einar and Liz a fair amount of time to locate the cache site, and took Einar a good while longer to prepare the cache, itself, for freeing from the snow. Cautious despite his having come to trust Kilgore, Einar wouldn’t let Liz and the baby anywhere near the cache at first, warning her off to wait for him beneath a distant tree which was shielded from the location by a large granite boulder and creeping close to the thing on his stomach, reassuringly insignificant weight spread evenly as he went. Inching his way forward until he was near enough the thing to reach, he began the slow, meticulous process of brushing the snow from atop the white nylon of the bag, continuing until he’d brought to the surface a point to which he could securely attach a cord.
Rolling slightly to the side and shoving numbed hands against his bare stomach he waited for them to warm a bit, sweating despite the chill that seemed to creep more deeply into his bones with every minute that passed lying there in the snow. Good enough. He tied the cord in place, gingerly retreating the way he had come until, enough distance covered, he let out a great sigh and rolled to his feet. A bit of a search, then, as he sought the right tree, found it in a smooth-barked fir around which he bent the cord that he’d trailed from the cache--extra leverage; knew he’d be needing it--wrapped the free end of the thing about his hips, checked to be sure Liz was still in her safe spot behind the granite boulder, and threw himself to the ground beside the tree.
The bag moved, sliding a foot or two beneath the snow but not surfacing, and Einar got to his feet, tried again. Put more force behind it, this time. Bag rolled, flipping out from beneath its remaining cover of snow and landing some two feet from its original location, and Einar found himself somewhat reassured at the resulting lack of a major explosion. Always a good start. Rubbing a sore hip and hobbling a bit as he made his way through the snow he approached the thing once more, this time using a long stick to lever it over to its other side.
Time, it seemed, to take a look inside, but first he wanted to move the bag a bit further from the openness of the meadow, a bit uncomfortable with his proximity to that space despite the ongoing storm. Trouble was, but the time he’d got the cord wrapped about his hips once more and was ready to begin hauling, he had grown stiff and so cold from the long period of near-immobility that he could barely keep himself on his feet, let alone hope to effectively drag that bag through the snow. Liz, peeking out from behind her rocky hiding place, saw his difficulty, wanted to go to him but had given her word that she would stay there in the safety of the boulder until he gave her the “all clear.” Which he might have been just about ready to consider doing by that time, had he been thinking of it, but he was not. Was really just trying very hard to remain upright and fight off a wave of dizziness that had seemed to come out of nowhere to try and knock him to the ground, his own increasingly violent shivering only adding to the confusion. Get it together, Einar. You need to finish clearing that bag, take a look inside and make sure it hasn’t been…tampered with since Kilgore… Fell to his knees, would have fallen farther had it not been for the cord wrapped tautly around his middle, and for a minute he hung there, head down, exhausted but then he was on his feet again, moving, dragging, bag coming along with him until he got it to what he considered a reasonable distance from the meadow.
Safe. Could look inside, now. About which he felt reasonably safe, as well, as it was obvious to him by then that if anyone had touched the bag, they had to have done it very soon after it was buried by Kilgore, as many wind-drifted layers of snow as had formed over the thing. Which someone could have done, but not likely without the tracker’s knowledge and complicity, as they would either have had to make their landing in the basin shortly after he made his own, or meet him up there. Not likely, either one of them. Tracker would have warned him. Dragging at the bag’s cord he got it rolled beneath a big spruce where the snow had accumulated less deeply. There was, in fact, a bit of a pit, a wide tree well on one side of the spruce’s trunk, and into this he rolled the duffel, knowing the high walls of snow would help a bit to break the wind. Which would be a very good thing indeed, and coming just in time, if he wanted to retain the use of his hands.
Ok. Open up the cache. Take a look. Then if everything seems alright and you’ve still got all your fingers and toes…well, as many toes as you had to start with, at least…you can let Liz know that it’s safe to come out from behind that rock, because I’m sure she’s pretty nearly as curious as you are to see what’s in here. Couldn’t do it, though, fingers too numbed and insensible to work the strap-buckles, even after an extended time pressed to his stomach. Not going to get any better with him crouching there, of that he was becoming pretty certain, none of it was going to get any better and really, he’d better be up and moving if he wanted any chance at reversing the swiftly advancing cold-haze that seemed to have begun getting its claws into him just a bit too tightly over the past several minutes. Made it two steps before he went to his knees, brought up short by the cord that remained bound about his hips from his hauling of the duffel and he freed himself with some difficulty, stumbled clumsily in Liz’s direction. She was saying something, asking, it seemed, if it was alright for her to come out from her safe spot behind the rock now, and he admired her for taking him seriously about the potential danger and the need for her to remain there until he said otherwise, wished he was able to get the words out to tell her that yes, it’s fine to come out now, but when he tried to speak nothing really happened, and he figured he must have been out in that wind for just a bit too long. Liz got the message, anyway, interpreting his nods to mean yes and hoping she was right, hurrying to him.
He nearly fell then and Liz caught him, thought he was beginning to look pretty badly chilled, checked, alarmed that he was so cold to the touch, even beneath his parka where the wind could not reach him. She rubbed his back, shoulders, trying to get some warmth into him--the mere fact that he stood there and allowed the attempts alarmed her even more; it was not at all like him--but her efforts didn’t seem to be doing much good. They needed a fire, and quickly.
Einar wanted to object, not liking the idea of starting a fire down near the wide open expanse of the basin floor, even in such a storm as they were currently experiencing, but he knew there was, for all practical purposes, almost no risk in doing so, and with that in mind couldn’t deny Liz something he knew she, and the baby, might need. Temporarily he abandoned the duffel, searching instead for bits of dry firewood as Liz stomped out a spot beneath a close grouping of firs, putting down a wide strip of bark from a nearby dead tree to keep the new fire out of contact with the snow. With Einar dragging over a snowy log and setting it up as a hasty windbreak Liz--whose hands were in far better shape than Einar’s, warm, almost, and certainly flexible enough to strike sparks--arranged the handful of tiny, dry sticks he’d managed to collect, and soon had a fire going. Knowing his initial offering of sticks had been woefully small Einar continued for a time stumbling about in search of more, breaking off a dry, dead branch here and kicking at the leaning remains of a long-dead aspen there in his quest for more firewood, and he might have kept this up for a very long time had not Liz left the little fire as soon as she was certain it would continue to live, gone to him and taken his arm.
“It’s enough. You’ve got enough, there. Come sit with me now and get warm, have some tea and then we can see what Bud and Susan left for us.”