23 April, 2012
23 April 2012
Breakfast served and everyone sitting around the stove Einar wanted to eat, knew after the way he’d felt negotiating the steep descent from the ledge--all shaky and distant, as if he hadn’t even known who he was and would have been just as well served by letting go his grip on the rock and launching himself into space in his effort to reach the bottom, and he still wasn’t sure what had prevented him from doing it--that he needed something and Susan’s creation smelled different than anything he’d had of late and awfully good, but the thought of doing anything more than enjoying the odor turned his stomach. After the first tentative bite--looks like you let it go too far again, didn’t you Einar? Couldn’t do this if you wanted to, couldn’t get that stuff down your throat, and that really ought to scare you a good deal more than it does--he knew this was going to be one meal he was going to have to enjoy from a distance, if he didn’t want to end up wasting it. Which he did not, couldn’t bear the thought so he sat watching as everyone else enjoyed the feast and trying not to shiver, hoping they wouldn’t notice his lack of participation and then gently taking the sleeping Will from Liz’s arms after a while so she would have free hands with which to enjoy her own breakfast; a help to her, and besides, a good excuse. Kept his hands occupied. But didn’t work.
Liz took Will back just as soon as she’d finished her portion, saying something about needing to feed him and pushing Einar’s bowl closer just to let him know that he had not escaped her notice, and had better do something about it. Which he did want to do, really did and tried again, needed that stuff awful badly at the moment but he gagged on that first bite, feeling terribly nauseated and unable to get it down, and he did not try again. No sense spoiling everyone else’s breakfast, and he’d be fine in a minute, anyway. Probably just needed some water. Yeah, that was it, and when finally he managed to get a bit of the stuff into his mouth without spilling it all over himself as he did on the first two tries, the fluid did help some. Good. Got that settled. Far as he was concerned, at least, and though the others didn’t seem to agree, neither did they press the matter further, Susan and Liz exchanging glances but leaving him be.
Meal finished and Liz helping Susan clean up while Bud did a final check of their packs and gear ahead of the coming departure, Einar silently excused himself to retrieve a load of wood from the shed, the thin breeze that rolled down from the snowy ridge high above a bracing, steadying force, and he welcomed it, felt that it would help keep him on his feet, and a good thing, too. Just in time. Made it around to the woodshed but then forgot what he’d come for, bracing himself between a spindly spruce and its outermost wall, watching with a bit of a smile as Muninn did his goofy raven-dance out in the clearing. Maybe the bird knew. Why’d I come out here, you big buzzard? What am I doing here? What am I? But the bird did not answer, flapping and flopping and finally--tired of waiting for a response from the half-conscious human--returning to his perch high up in the dead tree across the clearing, watching, head tilted and beady black eyes curious, intelligent, waiting.
Wood. He remembered, now. Had come to get firewood, replenish the indoor supply which had been depleted in the cooking of breakfast. Must have taken him a while to reach the point of remembrance, for already he was very cold, knees numb where they rested in his half-crouch against the snow bank, and he shook himself, heaved creakily to his feet and used the wall to pull himself around and into the shed. Still in there. Must have been windy outside for him to observe the contrast, but he hadn’t noticed. Pile it up, one stick after another, aspen, fir, a few pieces of spruce and he was done, but someone was coming, crunch, crunch through the snow, and he felt like hiding, concealing himself as well as possible amongst the broken, splintery piles of split wood so as to avoid being seen and spoken to by whoever it was, but instead he kept hold of his load of firewood--too much trouble to recover it later, should he let it fall to the ground--and pulled himself back out into the wind. Kilgore. Grabbed up some firewood of his own, three or four logs, stacked them in his arms and kept pace as Einar started back for the tunnel.
“Taking off out of her later, Asmundson, and to get right to the point, I’m offering to take that envelope with me, if you like. Or if you need. Not sure I did you any favors by bringing it here to you. Figured it might do some good, but hard to tell sometimes with that sort of thing, until a fella tries it. What do you say?”
Einar crouched with his back to the wall, sinking lower, not wanting Kilgore to see him fall. “The envelope stays.”
“Figured. Mule-headed numbskull like yourself, what else could you say? But look, I didn’t bring that document up here just to give you one more thing to beat yourself up with. Another club. You got plenty of those already, and it shows. So if that’s how you’re gonna use it, well, better I be carrying it on out of here with me.”
“Out of your hands now, Kilgore.”
The tracker nodded, set down his firewood and scrubbed a palm across two weeks’ worth of grey-mottled growth on his chin, rubbed thoughtful hands together. “Does look that way, don’t it? But you see, I got a bit of an obligation to you, and therefore to that woman and kid of yours, because they’re your family, which means that if I think by leaving them papers with you I’m doing them a bad turn, well, might be I just got to request ’em back from you. Come on, we both know what I’m talking about, here. You gonna be Ok, man, when you go to read the rest of that, or do we need to figure something else out? Gonna be able to hold it together?”
Einar’s voice was flat, the entire conversation an intrusion, a thing best left un-discussed. “Sure.”
“Yeah, sure. Easy as can be, you say. Easy as heck. No problem. Well then, let’s see you do it, if it’s so doggone easy. Right now. Go get that envelope, and let’s be settling this thing. We’ll read it together.”
Einar had been working hard to prevent himself losing patience altogether, had no intention of allowing the tracker any idea of where he’d stashed the papers, let alone reading them in his presence, and the man’s persistence was really beginning to grate on him. Wanted to get up and leave, but stood his ground. Kilgore could see it, the trouble that was coming, but did not care. He was running out of time.