After a few minutes of sitting near the fire and gulping Liz’s hastily-made tea of raspberry leaves and honey Einar was beginning to come round just a bit and regain some use of his hands, thankful but frustrated at having allowed himself to sink so far into a dangerous hypothermic haze without at all intending to do so.
Looks like you’re not quite as sharp as you might like to think here, Einar. Got to be more careful. She hadn’t been here, you might have just kept heading in that direction--sure all the while that things were going just fine, of course--until you didn’t have any way to know what was what, and you sunk down in the snow and went to sleep. You know that’s how it happens, and to think you’re immune from having it happen to you, just because you’re used to living out here and for the most part consider yourself to be on friendly terms with this terrain and weather…well, that’s just plain foolishness, and it’s gonna get you killed one of these days, if you don’t take a little more care. Just a little, mind you. Not too much. Now. Kilgore said something about stashing a couple of white chutes around here somewhere, and I don’t recall seeing anything like that, yet. Need to find them, both to get them out of the area and because they ought to prove mighty useful to us, up there.
With which he was on his feet, far more steady and wider awake than he’d been, before, scouring the area until he came across two snow-covered lumps situated beneath a fir, thinking them a bit out of place and finding, when he checked, the two hastily-stowed snow-white canopies. Good find.
Time to turn his attention to the cache, itself, and when Einar pulled it some distance from the fire and looked inside--still not quite trusting, not wanting to do the initial opening in Liz’s immediate presence--a slow smile creased his face at the note Kilgore had pinned to the outside the zippered soft case which was the first thing he encountered. I know this bright chicken poo green-yellow isn’t the right color for wintertime in the high country, but spring is coming so I figured I’d better just leave it as is. A little peek inside the zippered soft case confirmed Einar’s suspicions as to the nature of the gift, and he was grinning as he zipped it back up, began a cursory inspection of the bag’s remaining contents. Liz could contain her curiosity no longer.
“What is it? What did he leave for you?”
“Old friend of mine, right arm of the Free World and one of the most reliable thirty caliber battle rifles ever built. Must be one he brought back with him, from the looks of it. Still got its original rough two tone camo job. Kilgore’s got the thing--and everything else, too--so well packed that I think considering the storm and all this snow, we’ll be best off just leaving it all intact for the haul up the slope, and opening things up at the cabin. This bag ought to drag pretty well. I can handle it, if you’ll haul the chutes.”
“Oh yes, I can do that,” and indeed she could, unable to strap the parachutes to her back because of little Will but supposing she ought not have too much trouble dragging them behind her, and to that end she began rolling them up, anxious to be moving again and glad beyond words that Einar had decided to wait on unpacking and sorting through the cache until they had once more regained the safe, sheltered space of the cabin. She had been dreading the hours such a task might require of them out there in the freezing wind and snow, the toll it would inevitably take on Einar, he most likely quite unable to realize his danger, focused as he would be on the contents of the cache. Most of all though, she was relieved that whatever “surprise” Kilgore had left for Einar--documents of some sort, from the sound of it, and for some reason she found herself really dreading their discovery--would wait, as well. Or so she had allowed herself to hope. A bit prematurely, it appeared, as Einar, ready to cinch and strap the bag closed for the trip, had paused, catching sight of something else inside and loosening the ties, pulling it out, shielding the large brown envelope with his body to prevent its being covered in snow and removing from it a sheaf of typed pages, yellowed around the edges with age.
Glancing over the documents Einar appeared to Liz as if he’d been kicked in the gut, turned away from her and stalked stiffly over beneath a spruce where he crouched against its trunk, arms around his knees, all drawn in on himself, reading… For a time Liz wisely left him to his own devices, watching as he sat there scrubbing a hand repeatedly across his face and trembling as he looked at page after page, but finally she went to him, sat down nearby and tried to catch his eye. He wouldn’t look at her. She wanted to put a hand on his knee, but could see that it would probably be a very bad idea to touch him in any way, just then. Better try words, instead.
“What is it? What are you reading?”
Silence for a long time, and then he answered, voice all strained and strange, barely his own. “It’s my…it’s the notes from my debriefing after I was in the jungle…”
“After you escaped?”
He nodded, went on reading for a minute before he stopped, staring off into the timber.
“I didn’t remember this. A lot of it… tried over the years to piece together the details, but there were always gaps, big blank spots in my memory…”
Watching him, trembling hands and anguish in his eyes, Liz could not help but think, with a bit of possibly-unwarranted resentment towards Kilgore, that perhaps it would have been better for us all had those spots remained blank…
After a few more minutes she took his arm, tried to get him to his feet but he didn’t respond, did not even seem to know she was there. Gently she shook him, attempting again to get him to rise. “Hey. Can you finish reading that up at the cabin? This wind doesn’t seem to be dying down at all, and I really need to be getting Will home now…”
Einar looked up at her in startled confusion as if jarred from a trance of some sort, rose shakily and laid a gentle hand on little Will’s sleeping form where it bulged comfortably beneath Liz’s parka, breathing, his breaths gradually slowing to match those of the resting child. “Yeah…yeah, I can do that.”