After their nearly-violent encounter with the federal assault team at the bottom of the driveway, Bud and Susan Kilgore approached Bud’s mountainside cabin with great caution, he still fuming over the incident and Susan doing her best to keep him calm lest he decide to drop her off at the house, further arm himself and barrel back down that hill to take care of business. She could see he was thinking along those lines, storm clouds gathering over his head, and she just didn’t want to see things go any further downhill, especially on their honeymoon. They’d handled the situation at the bottom of the driveway, had done quite well with it actually, she thought, and that ought to be the end of it, at least for then. They reached the house--the term “cabin” was hardly an adequate description, to Susan’s mind, for it was of quite a good size, full basement, upper story and loft--after a fairly long, slow grind up the driveway, Bud seeming to stare with suspicion at every rock and tree as they passed, half expecting more agents to jump out from behind them. He was, in fact, expecting trouble, but figured it would take the electronic form. Not a chance those men hadn’t already been up to the house, he figured, and they would have left things behind. Kilgore meant to find those things--cameras, heat sensors, bugs, each and every one of them--disable them and file a series of formal complaints with his employers. What better way to assert one’s innocence than by outrage, and besides, he really was outraged at the intrusion! Never would have happened, had he been at home where he could keep an eye on the place on a daily basis.
Well. He was home now, at least temporarily, and would set things to right. Beginning with the removal of several cameras and a well-hidden but not completely invisible antenna installation on the little rise just before the cabin, designed to monitor, he supposed, any and all traffic that might be coming or going, whether it be vehicle or foot. Though the property could be approached from several directions by foot, that particular spot was one where heavy brush on one side and a series of steep, cliffy rock escarpments on the other definitely made the driveway itself most practical, a natural traffic funnel for anyone or anything that might be attempting to draw near the house site. Bud had planned it that way.
Leaving Susan to watch the truck--she got out and inspected the ground while he was gone. Large patches of ground still had the dull, dusky, spider web-covered look of terrain up until recently covered in deep snow, the first little green shoots just then beginning to emerge and show their bright faces in the sea of brown, spurred to life by lingering melt water in the soil. They looked to Susan much like the avalanche lilies she saw every spring at home, and their existence there surprised her; she hadn’t realized they were up so high in elevation, the drive having been deceptively long and level-seeming, when in reality they had been climbing fairly steeply the entire way--Bud hurried up a slight rise to the spot where camera and antennae were concealed in a low-growing stand of oak brush, staring into each camera for a good ten or fifteen seconds before systematically destroying it with a good, solid thud with a piece of granite. Feds back in Culver Falls at Mountain Task Force headquarters--or wherever the monitoring might happen to be taking place--would have had no doubt, anyway, who was responsible for the destruction of their little spy center, so why not let them see it happen? He’d deal with them when he got back, and if there were some ruffled feathers over the incident…well, the upset certainly wouldn’t be one-sided. And, they would expect no less of him. Appear too passive, and he would only arouse suspicion. Further suspicion, for clearly they already had some…
· · · ·
Despite the fact that he remained quite cold and was shaking hard enough not only to wake the average person, but to send him scurrying for the stove in an attempt to mitigate the ferocity of the chill, Einar might well have gone right on sleeping all night, had it not been for the feet. Things hurt. Willow bark couldn’t even begin to touch them--Liz had indeed given it to him with a dual purpose in mind, both to increase circulation in the hopes of saving his feet, and to hopefully ease the hurt some as well, though of course she had no intention of admitting to him the latter--and now, having drunk the stuff, his stomach hurt, too. Drawing hands in closer to his core and huddling around them, he made a sleepy effort to protect them against further frostbite damage, the last thing he remembered being the raven prying him awake and demanding his breakfast. Seemed he could feel a bit of warmth now, though, felt it on his face and in the thawing agony of his frozen feet, strange but perhaps the sun was up and shining on him, easing the iron grip of the past frigid night. Wouldn’t be such a good thing though, to have the sun shining on him. Would mean that not only had all his bedding been scattered in the night but the sleeping bag as well…taken, gone, somehow missing, and his ability to make it through the coming nights on the trapline without that thing was questionable at best, at the moment. Needed its protection, was reluctant to move at all but knowing he must further assess the situation he finally pried one eye open, glancing about in momentary panic before realizing where he was, and beginning to remember how he had come to be there. Liz was on her knees beside him, steaming pot of broth in hand, and he met her with an easy smile, uncoiled himself slightly from the tight huddle in which he’d been sleeping, and stiffly sat up.
“Morning? You’ve only been asleep for ten or fifteen minutes, you goofy guy! It’s probably not even midnight yet.”
“Oh. Seemed like…long time. Almost midnight, you should…get some sleep.”
“I will. But I was hungry, so first we’ll have a snack. It’s almost ready. Very thinly sliced elk meat cooked up in a shepherd’s purse mustard sauce… Are you ready to eat? How’s your stomach doing?”
“Stomach? Little…sore I guess. Not too hungry.”
“Well no wonder it’s sore, after all that willow solution! You really ought to take it a little slower next time.”
“Willow…?” He didn’t think he would have knowingly drunk any such thing, did not remember doing so, but seeing that Liz thought he ought to remember, he said no more about it. Wondered what else she might have poured down him in his chilled, half-asleep state, watched her suspiciously for a moment and figured he might later begin to recall. For the moment she seemed quite intent on talking him into the consumption of some of the highly aromatic conglomeration that sat simmering slowly on the stovetop, sipping some of the stuff out into the shallow coal-burnt bowl which had become his favorite and sitting down beside him with the rest of it cradled between her knees in its pot, tasting, nearly choking and taking a quick gulp of water to prevent Einar from seeing her distress. Wouldn’t do to have him refuse the meal before even trying it…and she really hoped he might be able to keep at least a bit of it down, just in case the mustard might have some chance of at least temporarily increasing his circulation and helping the ailing feet.
Not that Einar would have done so. Liz had worked hard to fix the meal, and he intended to eat it, try it at least, which he did, bite after bite disappearing and Liz watched him, somewhat incredulous. So strongly permeated was everything with mustard--the fumes themselves, rising in its steam, were nearly smothering--that it had been all she could do not to spit that first bite back out, yet Einar sat there and slowly but steadily devoured his entire portion, wiping sweat from his forehead with the back of a hand when he was through.
“Pretty good stuff. Can’t even feel the…feet after that. Got any more?”