Back on his feet as the door swung open, wouldn’t do to have them carry him and besides, he had to help get Kilgore inside but it didn’t last long, not even long enough for Liz and Susan--rushing out as soon as they saw the situation--to reach him before he was on the ground again, Liz’s eyes wide and scared in the lamplight as she looked down at him. A time of confusion, then, words rushing back and forth over him without making much sense, light growing brighter as Susan brought a candle outside and hurried to disentangle the straps that had served as hauling harness and he tried to tell Liz what had happened, but she didn’t seem to be hearing, simply cradling his head in her arms as she worked quickly and efficiently at the fast-frozen ties and allowing her tears to overflow only when she had freed him and could begin easing him into the cabin. Which was when, trying again to make her understand that everything was alright, was so very right and everyone would be fine now that they were home, Einar realized that he hadn’t been speaking at all, had merely been thinking the things, and no wonder she hadn’t heard him… So he gave his best attempt at a smile to let her know everything was alright, tried to rise in the hopes of reinforcing the point, and promptly passed out on the floor in front of the stove.
By that time Susan had got Kilgore largely untangled and begun doing her best to drag him through the snow to the door but he was a good bit heavier than Einar, the well-attached snowshoe contraption which had served as improvised neck brace and helmet on the journey further impeding her efforts and Liz rushed to help her, depositing the rather groggy but increasingly conscious tracker beside the stove, also, and shutting the door to preserve what warmth remained inside. Will, who had been hastily deposited in the bed when the commotion started outside, was rather uncharacteristically sleeping all by himself and very peacefully where Liz had left him, and she made a quick check on him, adjusting the rabbitskin blanket to keep out the cold drafts that had entered with the door being open and prayed that he might remain for a time quiet so she could tend to his father.
Muninn, who had grown increasingly restless as Susan and Liz kept their long vigil through the night, had proved inseparable from Einar since first lighting on his shoulder as Liz dragged him inside and now he sat overlooking the barely conscious man, black eyes deep and quiet as he silently observed. Einar was awake again, or something like it, eyes wide and glassy as he stared at the raven perched on the side of the bed near him, a dazed smile gracing cracked purple lips and then he lost contact with the world again, out cold but with such a peaceful look on his face--hard lines relaxed, the strain that appeared always not far below the surface there eased--that for a moment Liz feared him actually gone, his struggle ended for good but he was breathing, if barely, beginning to shiver in stove’s warmth and she knelt beside him, struggled to get him out of snow-encrusted clothes and wrapped in a blanket so he could continue warming.
The movement had roused him sufficiently that Liz was able to get him to swallow a quick spoonful of honey and a bit of water so his body would have some energy to work with as he began warming--he was dreadfully dehydrated as well as being seriously hypothermic; she could tell by looking--and then he was asleep again, or unconscious--must have been unconscious, she decided, for he didn’t even stir when she cleaned him up, treated and bandaged the open wounds on his hips and collarbone where the harness had apparently cut into him as he walked, and for his sake, she was glad. She was sure she saw exposed bone in one spot, hardly understood how such could have happened when he’d clearly been wearing the parka, but did her best to thoroughly clean the wounds, hoping to prevent infection. Though a good dry blanket and the heat of the stove were helping, Liz could see that the measures she’d already taken were not going to be enough, and with Susan working over Bud and little Will mercifully remaining asleep in the bed she stripped down and crawled in beside him, dragging the bear hide over the two of them to add extra warmth as she curled herself around his half frozen frame, sleep, Einar, sleep and get warm. You’ve had a long night.
Kilgore, meanwhile, had finished waking and was none too happy about the situation, sitting up while Susan had her back turned to add wood to the stove and bellowing loudly, “Hey now, what’s all this? What’d that bloody, blasted buzzard do to me, this time? Knew something like this’d end up happening if I turned my back on him…”
Which drew a bout of relieved laughter from both Liz and Susan, who had been growing increasingly alarmed at his lack of response but had known little they could do--other than to keep him warming--to help improve his condition.
“What the heck you girls laughing about, anyway? Doggone scoundrel busted my head, feels like, and my leg don’t…” a groan as he tried to move the leg, Kilgore quickly lowering his head, lying back down to prevent passing out at the hurt of it, “yeah, looks like he managed to bust my leg, while he was at it.”
Susan was at his side, offering him a drink of hot broth, which he eagerly accepted, beginning to be aware of just how cold he’d somehow managed to get. “We don’t know what happened. I was hoping you would remember! All I know is that a little while ago we heard somebody at the door, and it was you and Einar, and he’d hitched himself up to you with paracord, had it all tied around your middle under your arms, and looked like he’d been hauling you. He hasn’t really been awake yet for us to ask him about it, but it looks like the two of you had quite a night out there.
“Well that kinda explains why my shoulders are killing me like this, then. Wonder where it…aw, yeah, guess I do remember that part… You know, we were way up on the ridge other side of the basin when it happened…”
“The ridge on the other side of the basin?” Liz asked, sounding somewhat alarmed. What were you doing way over there? I thought the cache was a lot closer than that…”
“Ma’am, that cache had very little to do with my reasoning when it came to getting your man out there last night, if you hadn’t yet figured that out. Very little at all. Was just trying to get the poor fella’s head on straight, before we had to leave out of here in a day or two. Don’t look like things went exactly according to plan. Guess my…foot got caught on something under the snow because the last thing I remember is seeing that big black space yawning all wide open and full of falling snow below me in the headlamp…remember thinking, oops, hope I don’t get hurt down at the bottom of this, because that fella’s in no shape to mount a rescue…and then nothing. Guess I kinda…gosh, am I cold! Kinda hit my head down there on the rocks, lost the rest of the night somehow.”
“Yes,” Susan began checking his leg, noticing a good deal of swelling down near the ankle where the majority of the pain seemed to be centered, “I’d say you did, and it looks like you did something to your leg in that fall, too. Looks like it would have been a long walk back up here, if you’d have had to walk it. I’m glad Einar was able to bring you back to me, tonight. We’ve only been married for…what? A little over a week now if I’ve got the days right, and I’m really, really not ready to lose you yet!”
“Crazy old buzzard…yeah, guess he did me a pretty good turn, here. Can’t hardly figure how he did it. Kept trying to fall asleep on me during our little hike…found him crouched in the snow one time trying to dig a hole with his snowshoe, shelter, grave, who knows? But when I asked him about it the stuff he said wasn’t making any sense at all, and he had to be getting pretty near the end of his rope by the time I fell. Crazy buzzard.” He dropped his voice, speaking confidentially to Susan. “He gonna make it?”
“He’s pretty bad off it looks like, but you know him. He’s a tough one. Now hold still, why don’t you, and let me take a better look at this leg.”