Laundry hung and the soup ready everyone sat down to a most welcome meal whose warmth and richness helped drive away some of the chill that lingered in the cabin after the storm, Bud describing the route they planned to take back up to the red ridge in some four days’ time for their next scheduled meeting with the plane and Einar nodding somewhat absently when the tracker asked whether he thought the plan would help them avoid areas where avalanche danger might be highest after the storm. Not satisfied with a casual nod when it came to matters of such import Bud pressed him, needing to know and not, himself, being nearly as familiar with either that territory or with avalanche danger and behavior as was Einar.
“Yes,” he finally replied, setting aside his mostly-empty soup bowl—he’d been hungry, had finished the soup in an attempt to chase away some of the hollow, hurting urgency that had seemed to be tightening its grip around his middle over that last hour or so, for he knew where it would lead if left unanswered—and looking up at the tracker, “you’ll definitely be better off avoiding those steep, open slopes you ran across on your first attempt, and especially some of the chutes and couloirs that I seem to remember seeing over in that area. Those can be real death traps after storms like this one.”
“Figured as much. Wasn’t real comfortable out on that stuff the first time, neither of us were, and this time it may have even less time to slide before we get up on it, so I think we’ll definitely try and stick to the spines and ridgelines as we go up this time, see if we can’t avoid most of that open country. Be better for not leaving tracks that way, too. No need to get it all hashed out right this minute though, is there? Got a few days to work out the details, and right now, we got stew to eat!”
Extra hungry from the storm and from their recent treks through the snow everyone enjoyed several good, hot helpings of stew as they sat together around the stove, but Einar wouldn’t take more than one, saying something about not wanting his legs to start swelling up as they’d done in the past and his need to be careful about how much he ate at once, with that in mind. Liz knew he was right about that, but knew also that it wasn’t the entire story. Despite saying he intended to eat more and probably even despite meaning it, he really hadn’t been taking in enough to cause him any significant problems as far as swelling in his legs, had not, in fact, been allowing himself enough to even begin replacing what he’d been expending in slogging up and down the mountain, hauling men and materials up from the basin through the deep snow and cold, and so had managed to lose a good deal more weight over the past week or so, a thing which Liz would hardly have regarded as possible, had she not seen it in the increased sharpness of his features, the alarming degree to which the upper portion of his spine stuck out when she lay close to him at night, shoulders sharp and unprotected, the way he could shiver endlessly and not seem to grow any warmer, often sitting all drawn in on himself in what she knew must be his body’s unconscious efforts to conserve some warmth, unconscious, for he never would have made the intentional decision to do so.
Liz wasn’t having it. Einar had expressed his intention to try and eat more, to make every effort to go on living, and if in the fog of his weariness and whatever state of mind had been brought on by reading that transcript he was abandoning the effort…well, that was just too bad, because she had no intention of doing so, and could be every bit as hard-headed and determined as he, when circumstances called for it. Which they certainly did at the moment. Not even bothering to ask again she took his bowl and refilled it, sat down beside him, set on not leaving until he’d finished. Which might have worked out alright—Einar truly not at the moment being intentionally mule-headed—had he not fallen asleep. Hot soup will do that to a fellow, especially when he’s so weary as Einar had become and rather unused to either food or warmth, the combination leaving him so sleepy that he found it all but impossible to keep his eyes open, soon giving up the effort after a quick glance up at the rafters to make certain his hidden documents remained secure in their stash and slumping over against the wall, head on his knees.
Thinking at first that perhaps Einar’s lapse into sleep might simply represent an attempt on his part to avoid being told that he must have more stew, Liz considered doing something to wake him back up again, even thought about having Kilgore do it, as his methods tended to lead to rather a good bit more wakefulness than hers, but she soon thought better of the idea, and let him be. Tired as he’d been of late it was no wonder that he might need a little nap, and spotty and uncertain as sleep had been for him in recent days, she figured he might as well get the rest while he was able. Which he was not, for very long, Will seeing to it that his father was soon wide awake again and staring somewhat confusedly about the cabin in search of the source of the racket. Not even waiting to finish quieting the baby Liz hurried to refill Einar’s bowl, sitting down beside him, and it, feeding Will, who seemed to be hungry every time he was awake and must, she supposed, be growing pretty quickly to need so very many meals.
Einar looked at the soup as if it was some foreign substance, wanted to offer it to Kilgore, who was always hungry, it seemed, even when he’d just finished a meal, but the way Liz was staring at him, he knew there existed little chance of his getting away with that. Better just eat as much as he could, and deal with the swollen legs later. And with the rest of it. He ate, and Liz was happy, and so was Will, who had by that time finished with his repast and gone back to sleep.
After that he retreated again to his corner, taking the new rifle and crouching with it as before, aiming this time at the front door instead of the tunnel, only this time his eyes were clear and present, Kilgore seeing, when he checked--had been somewhat concerned there for a moment, even with the weapon still unloaded--that there was about him none of the earlier strangeness which had nearly led to a dangerous misunderstanding upon his and Susan's return to the cabin. The man was all there, was simply, Kilgore could only assume, relishing having his hands on a firearm once again, getting used to the feel of it. In which assumption he was only partially correct, Einar indeed liking to be armed with something more than the quite adequate but hardly rapid-fire weapons he'd constructed for himself during his years on the run, liking the memories contained in the thing, seeming to reach him through its metal, ground him, somehow, but there was something more at work, something apparent in the iron in his eyes and the resolution with which he flexed what was left of the cramping, trembling muscles of his arms, wasted sinews straining against the weight of the thing, but holding. Einar was working his way back, determined, after his earlier difficulty so much as shouldering the weapon for a few seconds and nearly as alarmed by the experience as he had been humbled, to begin building back up his strength, returning himself to his full ability and usefulness. How he was to do that without the intake of anywhere near an adequate amount of nutrients was still an unknown; the thought process had not yet got that far.