Staring for a moment at the tracker as though he’d never seen the man before, shaking his head and letting out a humorless chuckle, Einar would not immediately enter the cabin as Liz so wanted him to do--we made it, we’re here and the place is safe, so let’s go in without anymore delay and get warm!--wanted to go back to the edge of the timber where he’d left the duffel and finish hauling it in and besides, he was hardly ready to be cooped up in the cabin with people who he had only moments before been convinced beyond doubt were his enemies. Wouldn’t be a good idea, for any of their sakes. Liz thought the benefits of getting him warm well worth any potential risk at that point, assured him they could go out later and retrieve the cache, but Einar’s mind was made up and he motioned her towards the cabin.
“Go in…get warm, get yourself and…little one out of this wind. I’ll be along in…minute. Need a minute.”
“Take your minute, then. Just tell me…” she took his arm, tried to get him to look her in the eye so she could perhaps judge a bit more accurately his intentions but he wouldn’t do it, was seeming a bit frantic to get loose so she let him go, not in the least reassured. Would have to keep watch, make sure his “minute” didn’t turn into something much more, as his tracks would soon be lost in the storm should he decide to take off for some reason into the timber, he would be lost, and she didn’t want that. Wouldn’t have it. Hoped perhaps Kilgore would grasp the seriousness of the situation and go with him but the tracker seemed little inclined to do any such thing, soon reappearing from the timber and joining Liz outside the tunnel, casting a wary glance this way and that for any sign of the atlatl.
“Where’d he go? Crouching up there on the roof I guess, waiting to drop on me when I get close enough?”
“No, he had to go finish hauling in the cache. It’s just over there in the timber, where he left it when he first smelled the smoke awhile ago and thought the place had been invaded…”
Kilgore snorted. “Invaded. Fine invasion we’d make, me down to one leg. Dragged that thing all the way up here in this storm, did he?”
“It wasn’t easy.”
“Why did you do it?”
“Leave you all sorts of goodies in that drop? Well, seeing as there’s not a store anywhere near here and you kids don’t get out much, I thought maybe you could use…”
“You know what I’m talking about.” Her voice was low, deadly. Kilgore figured he’d better quit trying to make light of things.
“Yeah. I know. Did it because the fella has a family now and you folks need him to stick around here for a while. I’ve seen him. He’s barely here even when he is physically present, which a lot of times he isn’t lately, off wandering around after one thing or another, and if something don’t change, he won’t be around at all, before long. Trying to prevent that. Do a good thing for you folks.”
Liz shook her head, wanted to respond angrily but managed to restrain herself. “He spent most of the night sitting out in the storm without his clothes reading that stuff, you know, had some sort of weird incident and left crazy, bloody tracks stumbling all over the timber before I found him at daylight sprawled out in the snow, having nearly frozen himself. He can’t afford to be doing that right now. You’re going to kill him with all of your ‘help.’”
“Maybe. Yeah, could well be, if that’s the way he’s gonna go about it. Shoot. Hoped this might go a little different. Fella needs somebody to sit on him for a week or two, don’t he? That’d do it. If either of us lived through that week, which is real, real doubtful… Now what’d you say about him going to get the cache? Do you think he’ll…?”
“I don’t know. He might. He wouldn’t look at me, so I couldn’t really tell which way his mind was going, but if he gets started reading that file again...”
The tracker nodded, cinched down his hood against the wind. “You go on inside, Ma’am, and I’ll check. Tracks’ll still be there right now, fresh as they are. Won’t come back without him.”
Liz squeezed his arm, ducked into the tunnel. “Thank you.”
Only minutes behind Einar it was not at all difficult for the tracker to locate him where he crouched struggling to hitch himself up to the duffel for hauling; he’d tried simply dragging it by hand, lifting it, even, but between the deep snow and his own weariness nothing was really working. He made no acknowledgement of the tracker’s presence, and not wanting to walk right up on him unseen--dangerous proposal--Kilgore deliberately snapped a branch. Einar whirled around and got to his feet, atlatl in hand and a question in his eyes.
“As you were. Is only me. Just coming to see if I need to scrape you up out of the snow and thaw you over the fire for a while. What’s going on, Asmundson?”
“What’re you talking about?” He was shivering, not at all steady on his feet, but thoroughly present at the moment, and none too pleased at the intrusion. “Nothing…going on here, just want to get this thing into the tunnel before it ends up all…covered in snow again and lost.”
“Right. Good plan. And then what?”
Einar shrugged, leaned into the traces and strained forward until his burden began to move, Kilgore trudging along silently by his side until they reached the cabin. Looking like Sue and I might have been better off spending the night up on the mountainside being scoured by the wind and all, but maybe it’s a good thing we did come back. Yeah, gonna turn out to be a good thing.