05 June, 2012
5 June 2012
Taking the pistol Bud Kilgore had left or him but leaving everything else, Einar retreated to the tunnel without a word, a long, lingering look at Will on his way out, but he couldn’t meet Liz’s eye, and she was afraid for him, but made no move to prevent his departure. Wanted to be alone and figured he probably did, too; best that way, at least for a while. It was the only thing for them to do; if he hadn’t left, she would have had to. She didn’t start a fire. Had intended to go without for a day or two after the departure of the rescuers, anyway, just to be safe and make sure they had no intention of returning, and had no reason to change her plans now. Besides, she hated to think of Einar sitting out there and seeing the smoke, knew what it would mean to him. If he was even in a place where he could have seen it. She didn’t know where he had gone. Had left the tunnel some time ago, of that she was sure, his need to put some distance between the two of them apparently growing greater than his fear of leaving tracks, but she knew that wherever he had gone, his route would involve heavy timber, concealment surely remaining highest priority, no matter his state of mind. Some habits simply don’t fade, regardless of the circumstances.
Silence in the cabin, and only when Will made a noise, stirring and whimpering in her arms, did she realize how intently she had been listening, straining her ears in the silence, and she took a deep breath, turned her attention to the little one…
It was getting dark. She lit a candle. Figured they could afford a candle, a single candle, and the darkness was becoming terribly oppressive, the aloneness there in the cabin, the silence. Will was asleep again. She half wished he would wake, so she could talk to him. Which was silly. He couldn’t answer. Couldn’t carry on a conversation, not yet, and it was conversation she really wanted. But Einar was gone, and she wanted him to stay that way. At least for the moment. Until she’d had a little time to think things through. Better get started thinking, then. It was cold out there, and he hadn’t taken much of anything with him.
Darkness was near complete. Windy outside, and Liz sat listening to its howling against the walls, scouring of wind-driven snow as it was lifted from the ground and hurled against the timbers. She shivered. Wanted him gone, but didn’t want him dead, and though he certainly knew how to take care of himself out there, she had little confidence that he possessed either the will or the strength to do so, that night. Warmed some soup over the candle, wrapped the pot in a fur to keep it warm, folded up the smaller of the two bear hides and slid Will into the carrying pouch at the back of her parka, went to find him.
He’d gone up the cliffs, up there where he could overlook the cabin, wanting to watch it, she supposed, to watch for the enemy or for her or maybe for both, and she followed him, boots in his tracks where they stumbled stricken and crooked up through the timber, slumping to his knees now and then but always rising again, climbing the precarious, icy rocks, surprisingly sure-footed once he’d got into the really difficult stuff. He always had been good at the really difficult stuff. The top. A bit lighter up there; less timber, and there he was, all hunched up at the edge of the cliff, just far enough from its lip to avoid crunching through the bit of icy snow that clung there and going down, but not so far that it would be any great surprise should he slide those extra few inches and take a fall. Figured he probably wanted it that way. She sat down at a safe distance, spoke to him.
No response, nothing, no sign that he was even aware of her presence. Might as well have been made of stone. He wasn’t even shivering, though she expected he must have been, earlier. Not a good sign, but what could she do? She left the soup and the hide within his reach, pushing them out carefully there to the brink of the cliff with him, returned the way she had come and made ready for the night. She did not sleep much, still listening, tears flowing after a while as she poured out her prayer for him, wordless, for she did not know what to say.
Einar’s self-imposed exile continued through the night as he sat up there in the cliffs, and she went to him the next morning, once more following his tracks through the snow, half afraid that she would find him to have frozen in the night.
Which she did not. Should have known. He was an awfully sturdy fellow in a lot of ways and had certainly been through worse, was still upright and, though she had her doubts at first, still breathing, though it appeared he hadn’t moved an inch since first taking his seat up there in the snow. Not only was the surrounding ground undisturbed, no sign of the shuffling and stomping that would have been necessary to keep him even marginally warm through the night, but the wind had blown a thin skiff of snow up and over his boots, coating pants and parka with white where he sat with arms around his knees, unmoving. She crouched beside him, tried to catch his eye.
“I want you to come back inside with us.”
Took him a long time to respond, brain all slow and sluggish, voice coming cracked and hollow from somewhere very deep inside him. “No…can’t do that.”
His face was pale, purple, haggard, eyes red-rimmed as if he hadn’t slept at all and mouth a thin white slash, grim, set, pained but stoic, in it for the long haul; looked bad. He hadn’t touched the food she’d left him; soup was frozen solid in its pot, bear hide remaining folded neatly beneath it.
“You haven’t been eating.” Stating the obvious; not much else to say. “It’s cold. You’re going to die.”
He nodded. Didn’t even bother disputing it as he normally would have done, the sincere objections of no, I’m fine, would take a lot more than this to freeze me solid, I like the cold, need the cold, thrive in it, where’s the tarn? I want to go for a swim! No point in pretense, now. In pretending. He lacked the heart for it.
“Or.” she went on, wanting to scare him, jolt him, reach him and get some sort of reaction, “you’ll live, and lose the rest of your toes. Or your hands. Or both.”
Yes, probably both.
“Come inside. I want you with us. I want you to live.”
No answer. He didn’t have any answer for that. Wished she would go away, for he could not face her. She did not go. Inched closer, and he shifted a boot, sending a shower of ice and snow into the emptiness below. She didn’t want to push he luck.
“Just to the tunnel, then. Come to the tunnel, where you’ll be out of the wind.” Will was waking, squirming and demanding his breakfast, but she couldn’t tend to him just then. Einar heard, head on his knees as he listened to the soft, alive sounds of his son greeting the day, and he didn’t know what to do.
He would have fallen, would have surely toppled forward over the edge had he tried to stand just then, and she could see it, crept up close behind him, talking all the while so as not to take him by surprise, and took him beneath the arms, hauled him back away from the abyss, inch at a time until he was on more stable ground and could rise without too much danger, helped him to his feet.
“Let’s go home.”