Bud and Susan had, indeed, worked up an appetite on their hour-long jaunt though the snowy timber, Bud still struggling with the hurt and limited mobility of his injured leg but beginning to believe more strongly all the time that he had not in fact fractured it; the swelling seemed to be down a bit that day, despite the heavy use to which he’d put the limb in their hasty, storm-driven descent from the ridge and he could, taking some care, even put some weight on it without extreme pain. Good news for the couple’s eventual meeting with Roger the pilot, and both of them encouraged by it, they had extended their walk past the ten or fifteen minutes originally planned to give Einar a bit of breathing room. Adding bits of chopped meat to Liz’s broth Susan worked to turn it into a meal while Bud hung hats and gloves to dry near the fire. Einar, weary and not especially wanting to be in the way, had retreated to his corner over by the water barrel, pressing himself into the narrow space between it and the wall, and Liz did not like to see him there, remembered an occasion some time prior when he’d spent far too much time wedged behind that water barrel freezing and unwilling or unable to communicate with her, until finally she’d had to resort to some fairly drastic action to get him moving again. Which she really did not believe to be the case this time; the cabin was small, and there simply weren’t many places to go. Muninn, who had at last dared venture into the cabin despite the presence of their visitors, hopped over to join Einar in his little refuge, taking a seat on the perch they had created for him and rasping a series of quiet greetings. These harsh notes served somewhat to jar Einar out of the dazed silence into which he’d begun sinking, events of the day catching up to him in full force and leaving him barely able to keep his eyes open there for a few minutes.
Liz and Susan occupied respectively with the baby and the meal, Bud was left staring with a somewhat slantwise gaze at Einar and at the rifle, wondering a bit idly where he might have stashed the magazines and how far he might have got in his exploration into that duffel. Kilgore couldn’t tell just what might have transpired in the cabin in his absence, still not entirely buying that Einar had simply been “testing the rifle’s balance” as he crouched there pointing it at the door. Things seemed pretty calm in there at the moment though, going reasonably well, aside from Asmundson’s apparent inclination to curl up in a corner and go all silent, and in the hopes of interrupting that trend before it had the opportunity to become something serious, he sat down across from the apparently barely-conscious man, dragging the duffel over so it sat between them.
“What do you say we go through the rest of this stuff?”
That woke Einar up, his response so swift and sudden that Muninn left his perch and attempted to take flight, nearly slamming into the opposite wall before getting ahold of himself and fluttering to a stop on the bed beside Liz. Einar had hold of the duffel-strap by that point, regarding the tracker for a moment with wide wild eyes before remembering that the documents were no longer in there, having been securely stashed up in the rafters. Wasn’t much comfort. Kilgore didn’t know that, and had probably been going for them, deciding to take them back and Einar had no intention of allowing anyone to do that, not before he’d got them thoroughly read and re-read, pondered out, and somehow he had not yet managed to do that. No reason it should be taking him so long, really, and he determined that the next time he should have a minute or two to himself in which he could sit down with those papers, he would get them finished. The first reading, at least. After which he would go back and do it again, over and over, as often as need be so that he would find himself able to read those details, every last one of them, in the same calm, detached manner with which he regarded most such things, and always had. Must get it back, the sense of logic, of distance and calculation which had served him so well over the years, as it seemed to have been quite robbed from him over the course of the past one, and he did not at all care for himself in its absence. So, Kilgore must not be allowed to take back those papers. He needed them. Speaking of Kilgore, the man was staring at him, watching his every move as if expecting him to spring.
“Easy there, Asmundson. What’d you think I was tryin’ to do, anyway? You’re the one with the rifle…”
“Rifle’s not what I’m concerned about.”
“No, it’s not, is it? You only got one thing on that mind of yours. I can see it. I know you ain’t really one for exchanging many words on such things, and I’m a good bit better with actions than words, anyhow, but if you ever want to talk about some of that stuff, well, looks like we may be here for another day or two.”
Einar nodded, the look he gave the tracker not entirely ungrateful despite his muttering under his breath about the doggone fool, what good’s he think talking’s gonna do? Be better off just giving me that pounding he was talking about, earlier. It’s a language the both of us speak, and pretty fluently.
With nothing more to say but having grown rather discontent with sitting cramped away in his little corner much longer after the exchange with Kilgore Einar rose, pacing the floor from one end to the other of the tiny cabin and chafing at the fact that he had nowhere to go just then, not even a trapline to run and couldn’t do anything to remedy the situation as he’d promised Liz he’d give it a few days, and he intended to keep his word to her. Nothing for it. He was trapped. Kilgore could sense his misery, the danger in keeping such a creature confined against its will but figuring he’d done more than enough to interfere of late, he kept his silence, tried his best to keep out of the way.
Liz saved the situation without even knowing she was doing so, needing both hands to do a quick batch of laundry—boil water in the largest pot, remove from heat, add clothes, take outside, rinse, wring, hang—and handing Will to him so she would be able to better manage the task. Wide awake and more inclined to fuss and squirm than to lie contentedly and wait to see what would happen next—I know where you’re coming from, little one. I surely do—the baby took all the focus Einar could scrape together, set him to pacing at an even quicker pace simply to avert a storm of high-pitched wailing and wore him out so thoroughly that he was left quite breathless by the time Liz returned from her laundry-wringing, exhausted but a good deal more content, having just quietly expounded to his tiny student all the benefits of dwelling in a basin so high and remote as theirs, as opposed to other places where one might choose to settle, and going into some detail on how one might best go about defending such a place, should the need arise. Never too early, he figured, to start the little critter thinking in such directions. Seeing Einar where he reclined in a half crouch against the wall, too weary by then to both pace and lecture at the same time, Liz smiled as she hung the clean clothes to dry on their line above the stove, thinking that despite the significant and seemingly growing challenges life was presenting them of late, a person could not help but be hopeful and perhaps even a bit joyous at such a sight.