Susan didn’t have to resort to waking Liz; she was already awake, on her feet and searching with clouded concern on her face for Einar when she saw that his bed of bear hide and blankets was unoccupied, Bud not doing much to reassure her when he sent her out to “go look under a tree.” Which proved entirely unnecessary, Liz meeting Susan as she opened the door from the tunnel and hurrying out with her to the place where Einar lay stretched out on the ground, half in the tunnel and half out. While Susan had been fairly anxious to get him back into the warmth of the cabin she had hesitated to do the task herself, at least not without Liz present, not knowing exactly how Einar might be expected to react should he wake during the process. Hadn’t wanted to find out the hard way.
No such hesitation on Liz’s part--she already knew how he would react, and was ready for it--as she rolled him over, took him under the arms and with Susan’s help got him back into the cabin. By that time he was beginning to come around, twisting and fighting and generally making a dangerous nuisance of himself until Liz took firm hold of his shoulders, crouching beside him and speaking quiet, forceful words. After that he was still, blinking in confusion as he scanned the interior of the cabin and accepting the drink Liz offered him, water with honey, a bit of broth and a secret ingredient or two stirred in. Easier to maintain his grip on things after that, world less shadowy and topsy-turvy around him and he sat up, took the pot and had another long sip of the wonderful solution prepared by Liz. Stuff seemed to be unusually easy to swallow, somehow, and he wondered just how she had made it.
“Sorry for blocking the tunnel. Looks like I created quite the traffic jam, everybody trying to get in and out at once and me right in the path. I’ll try to keep more out of the way, next time.”
Liz laughed--the least of my concerns, you goofy guy!--retrieved Will from the bed and began feeding him, the little one having noticed her absence and begun to wail most insistently for a remedy to the situation. “Out of the way? Oh, no you don’t! I know what you mean by ‘out of the way,’ and I hardly want to come looking sometime only to find you curled up under a tree, well out of the way and frozen nearly to death in the snow! You just go ahead and get in the way, if that’s what you need to do. What happened, anyway? Just ran out of steam?”
“Something like. It’ll pass.”
“Only if you keep eating,” Susan insisted. “Let’s have some lunch, but first, you try this tea I’ve made for you. Nettles and rose hips. It can only help.”
Einar nodded, sat up a bit straighter, propped himself against the wall and took the baby from Liz, nestling the little fellow close against his chest and rocking back and forth in an attempt to keep him sleeping. “Eating’s my whole problem, near as I can tell. Had a bunch of pemmican last night, about half of what you sent along with us, and it’s all caught up with me now. Kind of wearing me out.”
“Well, I’m glad you ate something, at least, but let’s try and stick to things like broth and soup for a while, Ok, when they’re available? That pemmican can be hard on a person’s stomach at the best of times, so I can only imagine…”
Einar just shrugged, accepted the soup she was pressing upon him. Doubted it would do anything other than send him scrambling for the trees once again, but as hollow and shaky as he felt inside, figured he’d better give it a try, anyway. Didn’t want to wake Will with his trembling, which only seemed to be growing worse as the warmth of the stove reached him. The chill seemed, as it had done so often in recent times, to be coming from inside him instead of from without, leaving him quite powerless to resist its advances and for some reason the fact was bothering him a good deal more than it normally would have, seeming something that needed a remedy rather than simply a fact of life to be accepted, lived with and perhaps even appreciated for the challenge it provided. He wanted to live, wanted it so badly as he sat there with his nose nestled gently against the soft down on his son’s tiny head, child’s steady breathing seeming somehow to regulate his own just a bit, steady it out, easing slightly the insidious, numbing cold that gripped his middle and was trying its best to advance, seize him, take him. He closed his eyes, soup pot forgotten beside him as the two breathed in concert, father and son dreaming together in the stillness of the morning.
Kilgore broke the silence, grumbling to his feet and taking a tentative step on his injured leg, letting everyone know in no uncertain terms when Susan’s improvised split did not quite do an adequate job protecting the injury from the weight he was attempting to put on it. “Doggone thing won’t hold me up! Gonna be a long walk through the snow with this thing. Have to see if Roger can commandeer a chopper and lift us right up out of here…how about it?”
That got Einar’s attention, left him wide awake and staring at the tracker with a murderous look in his eyes for a moment before he realized the man had been joking. “How about you get used to the idea that you’ll be spending the rest of the winter here, in that case? If you can’t walk out to wherever you were planning to meet him, I guess that’s what you’re gonna have to do. No chopper comes anywhere near this place, not if the pilot, crew or anyone unfortunate enough to have hitched a ride on said vehicle care about living through the incident!”
“Knowing your kill ratio on them things--and all with an atlatl and improvised bows of one sort or another, if I’m remembering correctly--I have no doubt you’re right about that one, Asmundson! Roger’s not up for liberating any choppers most likely, anyway. Not for a simple retrieval like this. Would have to be a little more at stake to make it worth his while. Not a whole lot, maybe…but that’s another story. Nope, I’ll walk out. Just have to come up with a better way to secure this doggone leg, protect it…”
“Got a little experience with that one, myself. I’ll see what we can come up with. Need to leave it alone until some of that swelling goes down, though. Hey, if we can’t get anything else to work, I can just have you lie down in the snow, tie a rope around your feet and haul you up there to the meeting place, myself.”
“Right…seems to me you done more than enough hauling of that sort, for the time. I’ll get myself up there. We can work on the leg tomorrow. Swelling’s already seeming a little better. Maybe the darn thing ain’t actually fractured. Not much chance, but maybe. We can hope.”
With which Bud got himself to his feet once again, taking a few careful steps with Susan’s help before returning to his seat. A good start, and things were really beginning to look up as far as his ability to get around. Weren’t going so well for Einar, it seemed, who had sunk once more into a stupor of sorts, head sagging towards his knees and body slumping towards the ground. Liz hurried to take the baby, helped Einar up and onto the bed. Under other circumstances he might have objected--it was, after all, still light outside, the afternoon still quite young--but found himself too weary and numbed even to contemplate such resistance. Was too numb to do much of anything, in fact, couldn’t seem to begin to get warm even tucked in beneath the hides and he mentioned the fact to Liz, voice sounding to her all strained and strange.
“What do you mean? That’s not like you. I thought you didn’t even care about being warm, most of the time. Usually it’s me who has to remind you to try and keep from turning into an icicle overnight, and usually you don’t even want to hear it.”
“This is…different. Got such a grip on me. Need to go…climb something or…run in the snow until I…”
“No you don’t. That’s not what you need, at all. You’re just worn out from last night. You stay right here with me and I’ll get you some rocks from the stove. That’ll help. That, and some honey so your body can produce some quick energy to warm you up.”
Bustling about the cabin as she rounded up the things she hoped would help Einar through the difficult patch that seemed to have seized hold of him that day Liz could not help but think that the very thing which she had so been hoping to see in him and which he so desperately needed before he could begin to head in the right direction again--the recognition of just how serious his condition had become and a willingness to do something about it--might end up doing him in, if she didn’t watch out. His immensely powerful and all consuming need to resist, to fight had, she knew, been the only thing keeping body and soul together for him at times--many times--over the past months, and she recognized the very real danger that existed if ever his mind or body should get the idea that he no longer needed to fight, that he could ease off. He’d be gone, just like that, if such happened in his current condition. She had little doubt. Didn’t know how to communicate these things to him, though, without sounding as though she was speaking against the change she saw in him, the willingness on his part to finally begin doing the things he’d been needing to do for so long and allowing himself to eat, heal, which of course she was not.
Too complicated. So she simply mixed a strong solution of honey, warm water and a bit of milk she’d earlier set aside, fetched three hot stones from beside the stove, and returned to the bed.