Einar wanted to go for her, charge down into the midst of the smoke and confusion that still reigned and carry her away, but knew it was useless, she was gone, or would be within moments… Wanted to avenge her, then, redden the snow and the trees and the sky above with the blood of her murderers, take scalps and leave no one alive to return and tell the tale, and he probably could have done it, between knife and spear and rifle and having the advantage of knowing every nuance of the terrain, and would have, but for the child, her child. Snorri must live, and Einar knew his chances of evading the enemy at that point were slim to none even if he left immediately and employed all his skill, and knowing, he ran. Crawled, actually, inching back from the cluster of trees which tenuously shielded him from view and then, back in the heavier timber, took to his feet and ran for all he was worth, Will tucked snugly against his back and body soon close to failing him as he was forced face-to-face with the reality of his physical condition. It didn’t matter, none of it did, the white-burning pain in his legs and the agony of exhaustion which soon came over him nothing to the knowledge that he’d done it again, he’d left someone behind, and once again there was no remedy, no way to trade places, no chance even for him to go back and end his life valiantly battling the ones who had done the deed, for the child must live, and in order for that to happen, so must he… If he could. Did not like the feel of his own heartbeat beneath his ribs, weak, fast, chaotic, prayed that it might go on doing its thing as he pushed himself with all he’d got left to put some distance behind him…
Running, plotting, he had no time to mourn Liz, a great emptiness within whenever he thought of her; he’d lost people before, knew what it meant, but never had anyone been as close to him as she’d somehow mysteriously become, a part of his soul and now she was gone, and whenever his mind strayed in her direction he very deliberately turned it another way; there would be time later for mourning--if he lived through the next few hours.
Choppers in the air, terror all around, and he knew they’d see his tracks, if he left them, no timber heavy enough to prevent that snowy trail being spotted, even if it effectively covered his retreat as seemed to be happening, but because of a most fortuitous combination of spring snow conditions--hard as cement in the morning, at least on the surface, mushy and rotten in the afternoons once things had warmed--and Einar’s low weight, he was able to skip across the surface like a fox, passing as a soft-footed lynx, barely leaving a mark. Miles he covered in this way, brain refusing to acknowledge the fact that his body was tiring, failing, driving him onwards and somehow managing to keep him on his feet until he’d climbed well over a thousand feet above the cabin-plateau and crossed four rocky, near-vertical couloirs, pressing himself into one of them, hands and feet at times braced against its walls to prevent his falling out, and following it higher still, coming out on a slope so densely timbered with gnarly, close-growing little firs and spruces that he could in places scarcely weave his way between their black-barked forms. Only then, far from the action and out from beneath the bulk of the air activity, did he finally allow himself to fall to his knees for the first time since the raid, breath rasping painfully in his throat and heart skipping and thumping with such erratic chaos that it made his chest hurt, seeming to compress it from all sides and render him entirely unable to get his breath. He got it though, somehow, stumbled back to his feet and went on, falling at times against the trees for support and making far less progress than he’d done before, but he was still moving and that was what counted, snow still hard as cement there beneath the deep, cold shade of the evergreens as he moved without leaving track or trace of his passage.
Will was hungry, had taken to setting up a thin, questing wail whenever Einar stopped moving, which was happening with increasing frequency, and at his next stop he fished about in the pocket of his pants for the fragments of jerky he always kept there, found one and broke off a piece to soften in his mouth, sliding Will around to the front and freeing him from his shirt, keeping the mountain goat hide around him for warmth. The jerky was soft. Not the sort of food the child was used to living on, but Liz was gone--gone…don’t go there, not now. Little guy needs you--and Will had to eat, so when he had got the jerky chewed to a pulp he took some on his finger and gently offered it to the child, letting him smell it, touching it to his lips and silently rejoicing--or as near as he could come to it, at the moment--when Will enthusiastically recognized the stuff as food, experimented with its texture in his mouth and swallowed, wanting more. Einar gave it, chewing and sharing nearly half a slice of jerky before the little one began losing interest, apparently satisfied for the time.
“Just like a wolf, little one,” he croaked, voice a dry rasp after all the desperate miles that lay behind him. “This is how a young wolf gets his first taste of solid food, and it’s gonna have to work for you, too.”
Only then, stowing the remaining jerky carefully back in his pocket, did he think to wonder what might have become of Muninn the raven. Had seen no sign of him. The bird would have been badly stunned by the blast, overcome, most likely, by the gas and smoke which followed it and he was probably dead on the floor of the cabin, trampled under their boots…and without wanting to he saw Liz where she had fallen, vivid as life, only there was no life in her, closed his eyes and scrubbed the back of a hand across them, but to no avail; it only intensified the image, left him seeing her eyes, the last glimpse he’d got of them when she saw him hiding in the trees, saw Will and made her decision… It might have been a good thing if Einar could have cried then, allowed himself to acknowledge his loss just a bit, but instead he sat with his own eyes dry and glazed, stone-faced and silent, empty, calculating, planning their next move as he stoically chewed more jerky for Will, never thinking to swallow any for himself…
He nearly froze, that night. Finally, dark upon them and the terrain too treacherous to allow for nighttime travel, he sought shelter beneath a particularly dense grouping of spruces whose boughs had led to a sparseness of snow beneath, digging down through the drifted whiteness until he found a pile of cone fragments left by squirrels in the summer, deep, soft and mostly dry, and in it he placed Will for what he supposed would be a sparse two or three hours’ rest before starting out again. Will was restless, coughing a bit from the lingering effects of the gas and, Einar was certain, missing the warm comfort of his mother’s presence--that makes two of us, little one--and he did his best to ease the little guy’s distress, feeding him all but the last little fragment of the jerky and melting snow between pressed palms, dribbling it into the corner of Will’s mouth until he’d had a fair amount.
Time to sleep. Will had settled down, Einar himself barely able to hold his head up now that he’d quit moving, and he spread the heavy warmth of the mountain goat pelt beneath the little one, tucked it over him for shelter and curled his body around the little nest like a shield. Large and overlapping, the pelt’s edges served somewhat to protect Einar from the cold that night, but it was nowhere close to enough, and he shivered dreadfully in his single-layer wool shirt through the entire rest, forcing himself to stay awake, listening, watching in the darkness and ending up nearly too stiff to move by the time a faint greyness began creeping down the sky and he was ready to start out again. Will was warm, but unhappy even after Einar fed him, and it took some time for Einar to realize that his diaper was wet and soiled, had probably been so for some time and he stared for a moment in helpless frustration at the protesting child, not knowing what to do. Only he did know, had helped Liz with it a hundred times and began searching the overhanging evergreen branches for the soft dry usnea with which she had been stuffing his diapers, found and collected a good fist full of the stuff and proceeded to take care of the problem, tearing a patch of cloth from the bottom of his shirt to replace the damp piece of hide which had held the moss in place.
They were out of food, and the child must eat. Frequently. Tucking Will into the back of his shirt and rising stiffly to feet that seemed to have partially frozen in the night--he dared not remove his boots to check, not just yet, but an odd insensible woodenness in the lower halves of both feet spoke of the likely damage--he hobbled out from beneath the night’s sheltering trees and squinted at the flat, grey light of a heavily overcast and restlessly windy morning; storm coming, was almost upon them, and he was glad. Some hope for us, Snorri. Our only hope really, for your father is slow, a clumsy, halt-footed creature with half a brain and they’d have us eventually, but the snow gives us a real good chance.
Fresh-looking rabbit scat marked a place where the animals passed without more than a faint scratch here and there over the hard surface of the snow, and Einar followed the trail hopefully, right time of day, and it wasn’t ten minutes before his eye was caught by a slight motion in a tangle of willow scrub over on his right, flicking of a rabbit’s ear, and he froze, watching, easing his knife into his hand and, when the animal hopped tentatively out from behind the screen of brush, spun it across the snow, taking the rabbit in the side of the head with its heavy handle and temporarily stunning him. Einar was on the fallen rabbit with all the speed he could muster, wringing its neck before it could wake and take off again and crouching right there in the snow to skin it with trembling hands. Will was voracious in the absence of his accustomed meals of milk, and Einar fed him some of the rabbit’s fresh, warm liver, chopping and mashing it very finely, melting and warming snow against his own body with which to mix the paste--shivering, praying for his meager warmth to be allowed to go on, life continuing in his body, for Will needed it--and using the rabbit’s hide, flesh-side up, as a vessel in which to mix the meal. The remainder of the animal he slung over his shoulder for later, again forgetting to eat any, himself, as he made a slow, stumbling return to their shelter-tree. What had begun early that morning as a few wind-driven flakes had progressed quickly to a near-whiteout, closing in all around them and rendering safe travel in that terrain all but impossible.
They would travel later, when the wind slacked off some but snow still continued to ground aircraft and cover their tracks, and he rejoiced at the fury of the storm, knowing that it dramatically increased their chances of successfully evading detection and capture. Secure in this knowledge, he would have curled up for an hour or two of much-needed and reasonably satisfied sleep…had it not been for a keen and growing awareness of their situation. Freezing under his tree as the whiteness swirled more and more heavily around them outside, Einar did his best to shield Will with piles of cone debris and with his own body, pondering, assessing, enumerating their possessions, which included nothing more than his knife, rifle--heavy, carried with much difficulty on the climb, slung over his shoulder but too valuable to abandon--pouch around his neck with its fire starter and tinder, wolverine claw necklace and the coil of cordage he always kept with him…hadn’t even had time to grab his parka, gloves, hat, and figured he was blessed indeed to have slipped into pants, shirt and boots before prowling about the cabin that past night. Not that the rather inadequate clothing was likely to make too much difference in the end, not against the blinding, freezing fury of this storm…