30 September, 2012

30 September 2012

Juni, when finally Liz found her by the increasing sheen of an almost-full moon which was just then beginning to show itself through the spruce-tops, was not lost in the snow at all, but had instead found her way over to the series of trees where they kept their winter’s supply of meat, and was staring up at the stuff as if taking inventory.  Which would have made Einar terribly suspicious, no doubt, had he been there to see it, and Liz was glad that he was not.  As for herself she was somewhat less suspicious; Juni struck her as someone who was genuinely curious about their life in the wilderness with all of its intricacies and challenges, and a moonlight inspection of their food supply seemed not out of line with such curiosity.  Still, hanging back, she watched silently for a time, not wanting to reveal her presence until she was absolutely certain that no foul intention existed on the part of the young journalist, hand straying down to her knife at the thought that here, should any such nefarious purpose show itself, might at last be her chance to do away with the unwelcome guest whose presence she had come to see as threatening in so many ways.

The next moment, watching Juni lift her arms to the sky and do a little dance in the moonlight beneath their food-hanging trees, she was sorry for having harbored such thoughts in the first place for though unwelcome indeed and certainly making a mess of the tidy little existence they had managed at last to secure for themselves that past winter, surely this girl possessed no evil intent in showing up as she had done, and could not be so harshly dealt with as Liz had been seriously contemplating.  Not yet, at least.  She would bear close watching, and for a few minutes Liz watched, but Juni, growing quite cold without her parka, hat and gloves which had remained inside as hostages against her return, soon tired of her explorations and headed back towards the cabin, Liz hurrying to keep ahead of her and avoid detection.

Despite the events of the past day, everyone slept surprisingly well that night, Einar with weapons close to hand and one ear open for any movement in or around the cabin, Liz with an arm around him so she could be sure of knowing if he went anywhere in the night and Juni curled up in her sleeping bag beside the water barrel, Will quite oblivious to the world and Muninn keeping silent watch from his perch.

Early in the morning before anyone else was stirring Einar gently freed himself from Liz’s grasp and rose to greet the bitter chill of the not-yet-day, taking in a great breath of the sharp air and deciding that they needed a fire, had better have one before Liz got up and he began moving quietly about the cabin, seeking kindling and arranging it in the stove.  Had, despite the sound sleep of the night, known it was past time to rise when he had wakened to the sound of a hovering helicopter which proved upon careful listening not to be there at all; had he allowed himself to return to sleep at that point, he knew what would likely have followed, and the cabin was too full of people for such shenanigans.  Which was why he really belonged outside at night and always had--preferably tied to a tree for everyone’s safety, and he grinned fiercely at the thought, tucked already-chilled hands beneath his arms for a bit of warmth--though regrettably Liz could seldom be prevailed upon to see things his way in that regard.

Soon Einar had a fire going in the stove and stood shivering over its rising warmth, limbs so stiff and uncooperative that he thought for a moment he’d be compelled to huddle against the warming stones for a time before he would be able to get himself limber enough for any useful work, but he didn’t want to do that, did not want to display any such weakness in the presence of their uninvited guest--though she remained undoubtedly still asleep at that particular moment--and with a great effort of will he breathed his hands steadier, still shaking after several minutes of effort but their circulation much improved, and he fed the fire, took down the remains of the meat Liz had used for their supper and began carving up a breakfast stew.  Still no one stirring, and it was a good thing.  He wanted to have it ready before they woke.

Liz was in fact awake, though lying so still as to prevent Einar recognizing the fact, warm in the bed as she watched him shiver his way through the breakfast preparation and wanting to go to him, talk him into coming back to bed where he could enjoy another hour or two of warmth. Often as she had seen it and much as she knew he really did not only welcome the challenge but experience it in a far different way than she or most others would have, she still could scarce stand to see him struggle so with the cold, especially now when he could so little afford the expenditure of so much energy when it could have been avoided.  Yet, watching, she realized he was doing something about that, and the discovery came as a great and unexpected encouragement to her.

Whether due to an acute awareness of their coming move from the basin and his need to be stronger before that time or because of what he saw as a threatening presence in the cabin and his need to avoid showing weakness in the intruder’s presence--or perhaps a little of each--Liz noticed that Einar was definitely taking a more active interest in eating that morning, no longer simply forcing himself to do it by way of keeping his word to her, but actually snacking on bits of the meat he was slicing to add to their breakfast stew, and she was immensely glad to see the change, hoped it would continue.  He had never done anything like that during one of Bud and Susan’s visits, had, if anything, only become more reticent and stubborn in his resolve during them, but then they had at least to some extent been “friends,” whatever that meant to him; perhaps he had needed the presence of a real enemy, a real threat, even if in the person of this harmless-looking girl, to jar him out of the pattern that had so marked his life for the past year or more and get him taking an interest in the things needed for his own long term physical survival, once again.  A good thing, for she had been greatly worried about his ability to complete the change in location she knew he’d be wanting to accomplish as soon as they parted ways with Juni, had certainly seen him do things in the past which any observer would have reasonably believed beyond his ability, but even unshakable resolve and an endurance and resiliency beyond anything to which she had previously been witness must have their limits, and in loading up a good number of their earthly possessions on his back and striking off into the snow to find a new dwelling place for his family in his current condition, she feared that he would finally and irreversibly be surpassing that limit.  She must, then, hope despite her better instincts that Juni would somehow manage to stick around for a while, a good long while as Einar continued to build his strength, and lying there in the predawn chill as she watched him prepare the breakfast, Liz determined to do all she could to see that come to pass.

29 September, 2012

29 September 2012

No new chapter for tonight, but I will post one tomorrow morning, before heading out for the day.

Thank you all for reading!

28 September, 2012

28 September 2012

Liz found Juni to be remarkably proficient not only at cording the bundle of prepared nettle fibers when they were handed to her from their supply up in the rafters, but at preparing the raw stalks, as well.  Deftly breaking the rigidity of a small bundle of the stalks by pounding them softly with a rounded rock, Liz showed the journalist how to remove the white inner pith from centers of the stems, stripping the long, sturdy fibers which would later become cordage from the woody stems, themselves, and further cleaning them before beginning the twining process.  Even before she had gone through the entire operation one time, Juni was not only making her own attempts but nearly keeping up with Liz, a feat which Liz knew from experience was only possible for a person with a fair amount of familiarity with the skill.

“That’s pretty good!  How did you learn to do this?”

“Oh, I did some experimenting on my own, mostly with things like dog hair and plastic bags cut into strips and other things that were readily available where I live, but most of it I learned at a two week course I took in Arizona.  We covered fire, cordage, shelter, building traps and processing game, a little tracking, all sorts of things.  For cordage we mostly used yucca, either scraped while it was green and fresh off the plant, or cut and then left to rot in some stagnant water for a few days.  The green ‘plant’ part rots off and leaves the fibers behind, and then it’s real easy to scrape and prepare and gives you a nicer, cleaner cordage, in the end.  Probably not too exciting to you, since you get to live out here and do it all the time, but to me, it was quite a revelation!  I was really proud of myself for learning it, and the other things, just to be able to really do and produce something for myself, starting with…nothing!”

“Yes, it is a good feeling, isn’t it?  Cordage and some of the other things we make and do out here are more chores for me now than anything, just a part of our daily living, but I do remember the excitement when you successfully complete your first coil of the stuff, or tan your first deer hide, all by yourself!  It’s pretty good to know that you can come out here and really make it, without any outside help.  Most of the time.  You’ll have to tell me more about this class sometime.  It sounds interesting.”

The conversation echoing dull and distant in his ears, nearly intelligible but seemingly coming from too far away for him to really make out many of the words, Einar woke before too many minutes and lay blinking in some confusion at the maps spread before him, sweating and feverish in reaction to the tea and wanting very much to be in a less crowded location as the walls seemed to be closing in on him, ceiling descending until he could hardly breathe.  Really had to take a break from those juniper berries, water or no water.  Reaction seemed to be getting worse, and he carefully folded the maps, stared at the floor and tried to swallow the cold, sick feeling that had been rising in him, attempting to slow his racing heart with a few deep, deliberate breaths.  Helped a little, and a good thing, for he had felt himself about to lose his supper, and really didn’t want to do so.  The intense unpleasantness began to subside some after that, heart rate slowly returning to what passed those days as normal and the sensation of overheating replaced by a dull, pressing chill that crept into his bones and soon left him clamping his teeth to prevent their rattling.  Glad that’s over.  Last time I use the stuff for a while I figure, if Liz can be convinced that it’s good for me to take a break from it.  Which she probably would be, if I told her about all of this.  Results are getting just a little too interesting… 

Though glad to be done with the juniper-sweating and all the increasingly unpredictable effects that went along with it Einar found himself soon bitterly cold and barely able to work his hands as he gathered up the maps there in the chill air way from the stove, but at last he finished the task and stowed them in the rafters--warm up there; he could feel it--checking to be sure his yellow envelope remained in place and untouched, which it did, and quickly sitting back down to prevent either of the women from seeing the way his hands were beginning to shake.

They saw anyway, though careful to keep this knowledge from Einar, and Juni, seeing that darkness was complete outside and knowing from her own recent experience that the night would be growing rapidly colder after that point, rose and took up her winter things, wanting to make her last trip to the outhouse for the night.  Einar objected--one thing to have her out there poking around during the daylight hours when they could keep an eye on her, but at night…well, if he’d misunderstood the situation, what was to say that she couldn’t use the cover of darkness to slip away and meet whoever it was that she was working for?--seating himself firmly in front of the tunnel door.

Juni regarded him with crossed arms and the same fierce demeanor he remembered seeing when, after their first meeting, she demanded he return the camera he’d confiscated from her.

“I just want to spend a few minutes outside.  Is that a problem?  Am I a hostage here?”

He considered it for a moment.  “No, but your…ski suit and gloves are hostages. You’re free to go wherever and whenever you want, so long as they stay here in the cabin while you do it.”

Juni opened her mouth to object, closed it, got out of the warm things that made up her outer layer, folded them neatly and tossed them down in front of Einar with an air of defiance that he found quite satisfactory, perhaps even admirable.  He struggled to suppress a little hint of a twisted smile at the fact that she’d thrown her hat in at the last minute, even though he hadn’t asked for it.

“Will that do, or do you want my boots, too?”

“It will do.”

She left in a hurry then before he could change his mind, scrambling out through the tunnel as Liz collected her parka and other things and stowed them beside the water barrel.  Einar had been freezing before but now after the big draft of icy evening air that entered through the tunnel with Juni’s departure he couldn’t stop shaking, was beginning to get that cloudy, distant look in his eyes which Liz had learned to take as a warning, and with a bit of convincing and a promise that she would check on Juni after a few minutes she got him into bed, working to warm him before the deep cold of the night could finish setting in and leave him in all probability unable to stop freezing all night.  While she knew he might not have minded that too terribly--might have even benefited some from such a night, or so he would claim, if he managed to live through it--what he really needed was to rest after their long trek through the snow and the previous near-sleepless night, they both needed to rest, and she knew this would be best accomplished for them both if he was a bit warmer going into the night.  Einar did not care too much for her insistence, for being pushed closer to the sleep which he had been struggling so to avoid, but finally he began to relax slightly, stopped trying to pull away from her and allowed the warmth to do its work.  After a while Liz began to think he really might be asleep, completely still aside from the occasional shivers with which his body strove to complete the warming process, but when she attempted to disentangle herself and ease from the bed, he caught her arm.

“Why do you think she’s here?”

“You’re asking me?

“Asking you.  Real tired.  Probably…missing things.  Details.  Need to know what you think.”

“I think…you’re a mystery she wants to solve, and she’s probably been wanting to do this ever since your first meeting.  Find you again, and see what you’re up to, and who you really are.  That’s why she’s here.”

“That’s pretty…absurd reason, don’t you think?  Must be…other reason.”

“Oh, there are probably several other reasons, but I really do think that’s likely to be the main one.   I don’t think she’s scouting for the feds or anything like that, but I guess you must have already come to that conclusion, mustn’t you, or she probably still wouldn’t be with us…”

Further conclusions, though, would have to wait, for Einar, reassured somewhat by Liz’s concurrence that the reporter wasn’t there to betray them to the feds--he had indeed come to be pretty sure of it himself, but had at the same time ended up rather too exhausted and befuddled to fully trust his own judgment, that evening--had finally allowed himself to sink into a deep and much-needed sleep.  Liz slipped from the bed and into her parka, figuring she had better go make sure Juni didn’t get lost in the snow outside.

27 September, 2012

27 September 2012

Scurrying to snatch the scattered papers back up before Juni could get hold of them as he was sure she, as an investigator, would probably try to do, Einar was only partially successful, managing to get everything scooped back up in pretty short order, but of course greatly arousing her curiosity in the process, and before he’d got all the pages stuffed back in the envelope, she managed to get a glance at the title at the top of one of the pages.

“What are…”  Question died in the air, Einar’s silent wolverine-snarl and a sudden frenzied rasping from the raven--the creature had appeared asleep, oblivious, but Juni was quickly learning that it was acutely tuned in to Einar’s existence, sometimes seeming to know his moods and anticipate his coming actions before he was himself aware of their approach--precluding further discussion of any sort

Maps.  Liz had laid the finally-sleeping Will on the bed and was working busily to spread them on the floor, Juni crowding close to her as if in quickly shifting the focus she could plausibly deny having ever seen the transcripts in the first place, busy with other things, I wasn’t looking, for clearly he did not want her to have been looking, and the gleam in his eye was a dangerous one, accusatory; she wanted no part in whatever might lie behind it.  Documents securely stashed back in their ceiling hiding place Einar joined the pair on the floor, crouching over the maps and watching as Juni traced out the borders--as well as she remembered them--of the areas where the search had not yet been focused.  He got her a pencil.

“Here, go ahead and draw them in.  Only the ones where you really remember landmarks and can be pretty sure.”

“Where did you get a pencil out here?”

“Got it from the doggone corner store.  Can find just about anything there.”

“The corner store.  If I should find myself in need of a pencil later, or maybe a new pair of snowboots or today’s newspaper to read, just where would I find this store?”’

“On the corner, of course.  Down on the doggone corner.  Up the ridge and through the giant cornice at the top, thirty paces to the left and over the thousand foot drop just beyond, that’s where.”

“Right.  Where else?   I’m surprised, actually, that you didn’t make the pencil out of a willow stick filled with charcoal for the lead…but that’ll be next year I guess, after whatever you have now is used up.  I’ll just have to come up again next year and do a story on the booming cottage industry of primitive pencil manufacturing.”

A silent glare from Einar told her that she had in mentioning a potential future visit perhaps been joking about the wrong thing, her presence there not only an annoyance but a real threat to their way of life, and, as he probably saw it, to the continuation of their lives, in general.  Back to the maps.  Maps were safe, and besides, she had real information to offer then, information which even Einar in his silent, brooding intensity seemed to recognize as valuable, and appreciate.  Probably a good thing.  Maybe the only reason she was still alive, even.  As difficult and dangerous an interview subject as the wild man had proven at their first meeting, there seemed about him this time a certain differentness, a hard, dangerous edge to the wildness in his eyes and a gravity about him that she struggled to define, but it alarmed her.

Perhaps, she told herself, she was seeing only the results of the pressure put upon a man by having a wife and child to worry about providing for under such difficult conditions, but she doubted that was the whole of it.  Nor could she reasonably ascribe the entire change to the obvious strain of getting through the unrelentingly demanding requirements of daily life in what was visibly a seriously compromised physical condition.  Though she had to admit that the extent of the change--deterioration, she would have to call it, except that he surely wouldn’t care for the characterization--had shocked her at first, physical struggle was nothing new to him; he’d been soaking wet, ill-clad and struggling with what had sounded like a pretty serious case of pneumonia when she and Steve had spent their night in his mine tunnel shelter, yet had at the time appeared surprisingly well adapted to life on the run.  There was something else, something internal, and the investigator in her wanted to plumb those depths until she’d found and understood its source, but such exploratory peregrinations were, for the time, solidly beyond the realm of the possible, not to mention the remotely safe and survivable.  Maps.

“Here,” she showed them, “is the only one I hadn’t explored yet when I ran across you folks up here.  It was going to be next.  They seemed to have different reasons for not focusing on each of the different areas they covered, but these two--yours and the last one--seemed least interesting to them of all, though without actually coming out and asking, I never really was able to find out exactly why.  Whether they thought the terrain was too high and open and the cursory flyovers they’d done from time to time were plenty to have revealed any human activity, or for some other reason, the current leadership there just doesn’t see these spots as worthy of too much effort.”

Einar thanked her, and meant it, and retreated with the maps to the corner f`rthest from the stove, spreading them out on the bed and losing himself in study, seeking their strategy, needing to get inside the minds of his would-be captors and appearing entirely lost in the lines of those maps.

While Einar worked Liz made him a pot of the juniper berry tea whose absence had proven such a challenge over the unplanned night and day out in the basin, and he drank it while continuing his study, finishing the pot, dozing over the maps, knowing that he would within a few minutes likely begin experiencing the less pleasant effects of the tea, the sweating, brief rise in body temperature and the weird things it did to his heart rhythm--hadn’t told Liz about those, knowing she would want him to stop having the tea if she knew and lacking a good alternative--but unable, in the meantime, to prevent himself drifting off to sleep.

Juni, curious about the purpose of tea made from the berries of her namesake tree, watched as Liz poured them from the pot and carefully dried them for the next use, knowing that they had few left.  “What’s that tea do?  Help him sleep?”

“Oh, no!  He’d never drink anything that he suspected might make him sleepy.  Not even yarrow.  I think he’s just sleepy because he’s worn out, and finally starting to get warm.  The tea’s to help with swollen feet.  Helps get rid of extra water.”

She nodded, had seen the struggle involved in removing Einar’s boots.  “Edema?  From the…starvation?”


Why?  You seem to have plenty of…”

“It’s got nothing to do with how much we have.  He’s a good provider.  We never lacked, all winter.  It’s a complicated thing, and I don’t think he would like us talking about it.”

“Sorry.  Maybe you could show me how you make cordage, instead.  Are those nettle stalks up there that you’ve got bundled up near the ceiling?  I’ve made dogbane cordage and some from yucca at a class I took one time, but never tried nettle…”

26 September, 2012

26 September 2012

For a long and terrifying moment Einar, waking, had no memory of the events of the past two days, knew only that a stranger had somehow gained entry to the cabin, had hold of his son and had managed to separate him from his rifle but had not taken the knife, and in that moment fortunately he did not act, but kept perfectly still where he lay on his stomach, scanning the room, making his plan.  Rifle was right there, leaned up against the wall in its usual corner by the bed, and Liz…appeared not at all disturbed that the stranger had Will, and then he really saw the intruder’s face for the first time since waking, and he remembered.  No stranger, exactly.  That was Juni, enterprising reporter, student of the primitive life and all-around invader of the quiet and somewhat secure life they’d scratched out for themselves there in the basin…and he had to ask her about some maps.  Get her to show him what she knew, what she’d seen in the federal documents to which she had been witness, and he was glad he hadn’t been quicker in going for the knife and attempting to “save” Will.  Really needed that information.  Wished she wasn’t there though, not for the night at least, for weariness lay on him like a load of bricks, and he wanted nothing more than to sleep, lie face-down on the good, solid floor, abandon himself to the soft, pressing silence that seemed rising all around him even then and not wake again for a very long time.

Certainly couldn’t sleep for more than moments at a time with this new person in the house, though.  For several reasons, not least among which was the fact that she might not survive it.  Not if he should happen to wake again as he had just done, disoriented and missing details of recently-past events but ready for action and that stranger anywhere near his little boy…no, not good for Juni’s long-term health and survival prospects--or for the general peace and tranquility of their household, either; Liz, he was quite sure, would much prefer to sleep at night without the intrusion of such concerns--and he needed her to stick around at least long enough to go over some maps with him.  So.  Had to stay awake for a while, that, or sleep out in the tunnel where he would be away from people but within clear earshot of any danger that might approach the cabin in the night; sounded to him like a fine solution, but he didn’t figure Liz would go for it.  Probably wasn’t part of the program, his freezing all night in the tunnel, even if it did allow all of them better sleep and a higher degree of security.

Well.  They were staring at him again, both of them.  Hated to have people staring at him, and he wondered what the trouble could be, this time…until he glanced around again and came to the realization that he had, after flipping over in waking, frozen in some odd state of suspended animation, entire weight supported on one arm and the opposite knee.  And it wasn’t working so well, anymore, leaving his limbs shaking and close to failure, and no wonder they were staring, for he must be quite a humorous sight at the moment, indeed.  Enough of that, and he collapsed to the ground, rolling over and quickly assembling himself into something more nearly resembling your average wakeful, sitting human critter.  Which attempt only left him somehow looking more awkward and out of place, Juni, having recovered quickly from the alarm of nearly being on the wrong end of Einar’s alarmed awakening, barely managing to suppress laughter.  She managed, especially after a severe glance from Liz, to do it, quickly looking away and studying Muninn the raven, who sat shifting uneasily on his perch after all the uproar.

“So,”  Juni spoke up, wanting to break what she took as a rather uncomfortable silence, “what’s with the raven?  Did it just stray in here and stick around for the free food, or what?”

Einar shifted position once again, crouching beside the bed and getting his spear into his hand as much for balance as for anything else.  “This is Muninn.  He started following me a few months back, sticking close even before I started feeding him, and hasn’t strayed too far since.  Good to have eyes in the sky, sometimes.  He’s warned us more than once about trouble in the area, skiers, other human activity.”

“And has an uncanny way of being able to find either Einar or me if we get separated,”  Liz added,  “and lead us back to each other.  I like having him here, even though he is a terrible beggar, and clever enough to usually get what he wants, even if we have no intention of giving it to him!  We have to really watch when we have jerky drying, or he helps himself to entire strings of it.”

Juni looked thoughtful, then she smiled, holding out  piece of meat left from her supper stew, waiting patiently until the raven hopped forward and seized it from her fingers.  “Muninn, the Old Norse raven of mind and memory, if I remember correctly, sailing over the battles and movements of mankind and returning every evening to his master to report the happenings of the day.  Who does that make you then, Einar Asmundson?  Raven on your shoulder, grim look on your face, spear always in your hand, a wanderer over the earth…”

“Hey now, at least I still have both of my eyes,”  Einar growled, dismissing the reporter’s reference to the mythology of his ancestors, “and my tree is a pine, not an ash.  Old dead limber pine.”  Which left a question in Juni’s eye--what tree?  What are you talking about, now?  I was just joking around with those myth-references, but you don’t really seem to understand about jokes, do you?--but she did not ask it.

Good thing, too, Einar silently scolded himself, that she didn’t ask.  Gonna get yourself in trouble here, unless you’re prepared to tell her that yeah, you do on occasion find yourself with a pressing need to spend some time in silent communion with the harsh elements of winter while attached rather firmly to a certain dead pine up at the dropoff.  Sounds like a real good thing right now, actually.  Wish I was there.  But she sure doesn’t need to know about any of that, and neither does Liz, ’cause she’d surely cave my skull in with her rabbit stick if she knew it was harboring such thoughts.  Huh.  Really gonna miss that  place once we’ve had to move on.  Have to find a new one, I guess.  Shook his head, got creakily to his feet and braced hands against the ceiling for stability.

“How about those maps?  You ready to show me what you know?”

“If you have the maps, I’m ready to show you what I remember.”

“Yeah, we’ve got the maps,” and he searched, found them tucked away above one of the rafters where he and Liz had taken to storing papers and other flat items, pulled them down. Only to have the large, flat envelope containing the transcripts of his debriefing tumble down after them, spilling its contents all over the floor as the well-worn yellow paper split down one side.

25 September, 2012

25 September 2012

Despite valiant efforts at keeping himself awake--tried biting his tongue, sitting on a sharp rock and several other sometimes-effective tactics but none of it was enough, and there was only so much he dared do while in the presence of Liz and the reporter--the warm stew and warming air in the cabin soon had their way with Einar and bowed his head in sleep.  Liz, who had seen it coming and reclaimed Will some minutes before, tried to ease his grasp on the rifle so it could be propped safely back in its corner--or perhaps taken to bed with us; he seems confident that this Juni doesn’t mean us any immediate harm, but I’m not sure just how much faith to put in that, especially seeing as he felt it necessary to keep hold of the rifle all evening--but his grip was too tight, and she had to let it be.  Perhaps later when his sleep had grown deeper, she would be able to make some headway.  For the moment it seemed most important to relieve him of boots and outer garments which had inevitably become damp with the melting snow of afternoon during the latter portion of their travels, but she wanted to avoid waking him in the process if at all possible, and with a still very active Will in one arm, the task proved something of a challenge.  Juni saw, crouching beside her and reaching out for the child.

“He wants to be busy.  Let me take him for a minute?”

Liz gladly assented, figuring there was little danger of their guest making off with Will or otherwise causing him harm, with Einar sleeping across one doorway and the other having been barred from their outing.  “Sure, you can hang onto him for a second.  Be prepared for a fight.  He really wants to get down.”

“Can he crawl yet?”

“Almost.  Here, let’s spread the goat hide out on the floor, and he can be on that.  I think he’ll be crawling any day, now.”

Juni took one end of the warm, brilliantly white hide, inspecting it as she helped Liz prepare a place for the baby.  “Goat hide.  Must be mountain goat, I guess.  The only mountain goat hide I ever saw up close was the one from that baby goat Einar had with him that time when I did the first interview…it wasn’t nearly this white or thick.  This is like sheep wool!”

“Warmer, even.  It’s made a great bed covering for this winter, for when I have to set him down and it’s cold in the house.  About this interview, now…how, exactly, did you find Einar that time?”

“Oh, it was an accident.  Or at least, I certainly wasn’t out there looking for him.  My friend Steve and I were just out taking wildflower photos, and ended up stumbling on a wild man, instead!  I snapped a picture and he grabbed my camera, only it wasn’t my camera, it was Steve’s and it was expensive, and there was no way I was just going let him run off with it.  So I followed him, and then Steve caught up, and because of a giant thunderstorm we all ended up under the same spruce tree for a while.  He didn’t really want to do the interview, as I remember, but finally agreed as a way for him to get to tell his side of things.  And after we gave him a chocolate bar, and some freeze dried pasta, or something.  He talked a little, and finally gave the camera back and even let us keep that picture I’d taken, but I don’t think he ever really trusted us at all.  He left that night while we were asleep, and took Steve’s shoes just to slow us down getting back to our car!  Which worked far too well, by the way.  Poor Steve…”

“You were lucky he let you leave at all.  Not many have, after something like that.”

“Oh, I know it.  There were a few moments when I was almost entirely certain we wouldn’t be walking away.  Like the time I had a question about his atlatl--didn’t even know what it was called, then--and made the mistake of reaching for it.  Innocent mistake, but boy, was he quick to snatch that thing back out of my reach, and I was just sure we’d had it, then…”

Liz just shook her head and filled a pot with water, set it on the stove for tea.  Yep, that was dangerous business alright.  I guess it can’t be denied that she’s brave, whatever else she may be.  Einar respects courage.  That’s probably got a lot to do with why she made it up out of the basin alive, yesterday.  Lots of other people might not have.  What a mess, though.  This is a mess, and I don’t yet see a good way out of it.

Will, on hands and knees on the goat pelt, was making his best effort to crawl away, rocking back and forth and straining forward in an intensely sincere effort to launch himself onto the dirt floor ahead, and Juni gave him her full attention as Liz began working to free Einar from his boots, the journalist keeping her eyes lowered and trying not to stare in shock at his dreadfully emaciated appearance, once he was out of some of his winter clothes.

The sight reminded her of the time when, as a summer intern for a small local newspaper a number of years ago, she’d gone along on an investigative report they’d done on a half dozen neglected horses that had been found abandoned in a cramped dirt paddock with nothing to eat and only minimal water, the animals’ coats all dull and patchy and skin stretched tightly over ribs and hips that stood out in sharp relief.  At the time the event had thoroughly outraged her sense of justice, and she’d been glad, several months later, to be in the courtroom when sentence was passed on the negligent horse owners.  It had been the starving horses’ eyes that had really stuck with her, though.  Dull, lifeless, devoid of hope as if the animals had simply been waiting to die, nothing to live for, no expectation that the situation could or would change…it had been a horrible thing to witness.  Einar did not have those eyes.  His, though slightly yellowed with jaundice and sinking into his skull for lack of the basic reserves of fat necessary to keep a person’s face looking really human, were when he was awake full of life and fire and a keen, questing intelligence and joy for life which had, perhaps, been somewhat dimmed by his current condition, but by no means extinguished.

Several of the horses had, despite the best veterinary care available, not made it.  There was still hope for Einar.  Though only, she could not help but think, if he managed to get some good food and rest in pretty short order, and she wondered why Liz had not been insisting on such, seeing as they clearly possessed an abundance there at the cabin, frozen meat, dried starchy roots and two or three different kinds of berries; there was clearly something about the entire situation that she did not yet understand, and though curious, she sensed from Liz’s actions and demeanor that she had best not go prying too insistently after those missing bits of information.  No insistent prying, then.  She would have to use other tactics, and fully intended to do so, at the first opportunity.  Which was to come sooner than either she or Liz would have thought, for Einar, having been parted from the rifle in Liz’s efforts to free him from his damp clothes, woke suddenly and completely, whirling about in search of the weapon.

24 September, 2012

24 September 2012

Ducking into the tunnel with Muninn hopping close at his heals, Einar glanced around for anything he might want to conceal from their uninvited guest, but the only thing that obviously presented itself was the FAL, and she already knew they had the pistol, so why bother hiding the rifle?  Besides, he wanted it handy.  Voices behind him; Liz and Juni were nearing, and he shook himself from the daze that seemed always just a bit too ready to descent upon him with the cessation of movement, scrambling the rest of the way into the cabin and resisting with all his strength a sudden impulse to collapse to the floor and sleep. Mustn’t do that.  Instead, Einar got himself all the way inside, leaned back against the bed--might have tried to remove his snow-encrusted boots, but knew the task would be very nearly beyond him, swollen as his feet and lower legs had ended up over the course of those past two days without any juniper tea--pulled the loaded rifle across his knees and then he was done, couldn’t go any further and would have been hard pressed to so much as get a fire going, though he certainly would have given it his best effort should things have turned immediately dangerous and the situation required his action.

Juni came in next, crawling through the tunnel and blinking in the dimness of the cabin as her eyes began adjusting to the lack of light, Einar slouching sideways far enough to allow himself to reach a candle and light it, but not so far that he would be likely to fall over.  Still didn’t fully trust Juni’s motives, and knew he must not allow himself to give her the advantage.  Which was, in this particular case, not a big concern, as Juni found herself far too wrapped up in studying the interior of the cabin--carefully crafted stove, burnt-log water barrel, various herbs, plants, bone and stone tools hanging freely or contained in baskets or rawhide pouches from the ceiling, and the entire place, save for a few more modern implements, appearing almost as a museum of primitive life--to have posed much threat to Einar, even had she wanted to.  Since Einar wasn’t talking and appeared little inclined to begin doing so, Liz took over as host, offering Juni water from their barrel--shouldn’t have shown her where that was; she’ll contaminate it if we don’t watch out, Einar thought to himself, but he was too tired to put the objection into words--and getting her snow things hung above the stove where they could begin drying just as soon as they got a fire going.  Juni, in return, helped ease Will from his parka-pouch and watched attentively as Liz changed his diaper, replacing a layer of damp and soiled usnea with fresh.

“It looks like that works really well!  How did you figure out to use it?  Trial and error?”

“No, we probably would have ended up settling on it or something similar through trial and error, but Einar knew to use it.  It’s what the Utes and some of the other  tribes used, I guess, and we’d already used it for wound dressings so we knew it was good stuff, and pretty plentiful.  In the weeks before the birth Einar collected a hug basket full, and since then either he or I have to go out every couple of weeks and re-fill it.  A lot of things have required experimentation out here, so it’s always good when we’ve had some knowledge to give us a head start.  It’s hard enough work just providing for your basic needs and staying alive, let alone having to re-invent the wheel at the same time!”

“Yes, I guess it’s really valuable to have a knowledge of the tribes that used to live in your area, whoever and wherever you may be, if you’re anticipating having to strike off on your own and live this life.  That’s something anyone could study and learn, if they put their mind to it, and it would really give them an advantage!”

“That’s what Einar always says…”

Einar wasn’t saying anything just then, however, for the careful position in which he had propped himself against the bed had turned into a spreading sprawl, head down and eyes barely seeing if wide open, but rifle still firmly in his grip as he kept watch over the two women, paying special attention to Will.  Liz saw, saw also that she was likely to have a real challenge getting him out of his boots and keeping him awake long enough to eat and warm up a bit, and she had an idea, crouched beside him and put a hand on the rifle.

“How about we trade, for a little while?  I need to get a fire going, and some supper, and Will isn’t really interested in sleeping right now.  Wants to talk with his daddy, instead.”  Einar wouldn’t relinquish the rifle, no way, not with that intruder in the house and the possibility, still, that more might be following, but he did ease it off to the side some, the right side, ready to grab, making room in his lap for Will and wordlessly accepting his son, who was wide awake and quite lively after his day of confinement in the parka.  Had no desire to lie down, and it took all of Einar’s strength and concentration to keep the little one from escaping his lap and going toppling and flopping happily to the floor.  While Juni helped Liz chop elk steak for the evening stew Einar spoke softly with Will, showing him a stray raven feather, letting him feel the texture of a bit of nettle cordage that was always in his pocket and generally having such a calm and relaxed time as he slowly began to warm from the long night and day out in the snow that he might almost have been tempted to forget the trouble that had come upon them, seeing Juni as a welcome guest and their future at the cabin secure.  But, he knew better.  It was over.  Just a matter of time.

Liz wanted him to eat.  Did not sound the least bit interesting just then, smell of the simmering meat revolting to him at best, but in this case he knew he must, not only by way of keeping his promise to Liz, but so that he might have whatever strength was available to him in this time of danger and uncertainty, be ready to fight, run or do whatever the developing situation might require.  Not to mention that he needed to find himself able to repel the inevitable questions he knew would be coming just as soon as Juni settled in a bit and got over her wonder at their rather unique surroundings.  They would be coming, he had no doubt.  It was in her nature.  Besides--and in this hope he might have been fooling himself somewhat, for the fact that he was in major trouble and had been for a long while was painfully obvious to anyone who saw him--he intended not to let her know of his difficulties with eating, for they represented, he supposed, another vulnerability of sorts, so far as the world was concerned.  Soup, then, and he ate with them, still silent, observing, hoping Juni might be content regaling Liz with questions about the day-to-day details of their life up in that high, desolate place, rather than turn her attentions to him.  The warm food was making him sleepy, head drooping once again and only Will’s frequent shifting and babbling serving to keep him awake and alert, as he knew the little guy would fall without constant attention.  A real problem, this irritable weariness, as he had intended to keep awake and watch through at least part of the night, but not a problem that would be troubling him for too much longer.

23 September, 2012

23 September 2012

There was to be no further discussion just then, as Einar scrambled to his feet, took a quick moment to check on Will, who remained sleeping comfortably in Liz’s parka hood, quite oblivious to any disturbance that might be going on around him, and started off up the slope.  Despite his recent shakiness and the difficulty he’d been having so much as keeping his feet beneath him, it was all Liz and Juni could do to match his longer-legged gait, once he got going.  Up through the timber Einar led them, his route winding and wandering in a manner than led Juni to wonder if its chief influence might be his own dizziness and an increasing difficulty maintaining contact with the world around him, but Liz knew better.  Though certain that they’d lost the cabin as a safe dwelling place—Juni’s mere presence in the basin had been enough to do that, her awareness that they were in some way connected with the area—he was still doing all he could to protect it, making certain that their guest would arrive so disoriented at the little plateau as to have difficulty finding the place on her own, in the future.

Unless, of course, she was either willingly or under some form of coercion carrying a tracking device of one sort or another, something which couldn’t be easily detected by the sort of search he’d had Liz perform on their uninvited guest.  Definitely a possibility, and though Einar doubted, based on his observations of her demeanor and actions, that she was knowingly hosting such a device, there remained a distinct chance that she might have received it without her knowledge, especially considering her close and prolonged proximity to the nerve center of the search.  Perhaps she hadn’t been quite so clever as she’d taken herself to be, and they had found her out, discovered her true purpose in the place and allowed her to remain only so they could take advantage of her presence to let slip a few key bits of information while also ensuring that she could be readily tracked when she went out to act on said tidbits.  Would not be unheard of, as a tactic, but aside from disposing of her in one way or another, there seemed little he could do to protect further against the possibility.  Could definitely interrogate her in more depth as to her activities while in Task Force headquarters, try to determine if and when she might have been compromised without her knowledge.

A good activity for a stormy evening, should one come along over the course of the following few days.  If they made it that long, any of them.  Probably wouldn’t if Juni was unwittingly working for the enemy and he…well, he wasn’t entirely sure he’d be seeing the top of the slope, the way things were going.  Heart was decidedly misbehaving itself, leaving him increasingly short of breath, faint, fighting a welling, billowing blackness that threatened to obliterate his world and leave him face down in the snow to miss whatever misadventures were to come at the top, but he mustn’t give in to it, and did not, seeking through tight control of his breathing and an intense focus on the trees ahead some semblance of relief from the growing difficulty.  Managed it, managed to stay on his feet, at least, and as he had wished, he emerged first out into the clearing before the cabin, fighting for breath but clear-headed enough to glance up at Muninn, who had returned some time before the straggling humans, and read in his demeanor an assurance that all was well there on the ground, no intruder present at the cabin and no sign of any such in the area.  Frail reassurance, considering the situation, but better than none at all, and it was with confidence that Einar stepped out into the snow and made his way to the woodshed, leaning heavily against its rough solidness as he waited for Liz, Will and Juni, surprised to find them a good five minutes behind him.  Appeared he could still maintain a pretty good pace, when required.

Juni’s eyes lit up at the sight of the cabin standing there so solid and sheltered against its overhanging cliff, arch of evergreens above providing full cover and the snow piled reassuringly against walls and door as Einar stood there beside it looking quite the wild man in his fur parka and wolverine claws, and she wished very much that Liz hadn’t insisted on confiscating her camera.  Despite her delight at the scene, it did seem quite odd to her that snow should be piled so against the door, as though no one had visited the place in a good while, and for a brief but terrifying moment, she suspected a trap.  Perhaps this was not their home, at all.  And if not, why had they brought here, this wild man and his equally wild and clearly somewhat protective wife…?  Stopping at the edge of the timber, glancing at ground, sky and trees as if half expecting some great force to come sweeping down upon her Juni hesitated and then it struck, a whirl of black feathers and feet and sharp, searching beak descending upon her like a miniature hurricane and knocking her from her feet with its first heavy blow.  Juni came up fighting, lashing out blindly at the silent fury that was doing its best to pummel her into the ground and had already drawn blood on her face and one shoulder, but it was only when Einar let out a strange rasping cry that the assault ended, Muninn sailing obediently over to land with a triumphant flourish on his shoulder.

“Doggone it you big vulture,”  Einar spoke softly to the bird, attempting to calm him,  “I do like your way of thinking.  Yeah, she’s an intruder, but a welcome one of sorts, at least for the moment.  I got a lot of things to ask her, and how am I gonna do that if you tear her all to shreds before she can get in the door?  I appreciate the sentiment and all, but unless you really do know something about her that I don’t and we’re in immediate danger, I’m gonna have to ask you to lay off for a while, Ok?”

Muninn chortled his reluctant assent and Einar, dismissing the bird with a little shove from behind, hurried over to the spot where Liz knelt beside Juni in the snow, doing her best to stem the bleeding from a nasty gash to the forehead.  Getting out of his snowshoes, Einar crouched next to the pair.  “Sorry about that.  He doesn’t see too many strangers around here, and can get a little possessive about his place.  He does consider it to be his, you know, from the meat stored up in the trees to the nice little spot where he perches beside the fire.  You Ok?  Lose any eyes or anything?”

Juni was on her feet, brushing the snow from hair and clothing and dabbing at her wounded forehead with a clump of usnea Liz had pressed into her hand.  “Why, is he in the habit of going for the eyes first?  Nope, I’m fine.  At least it wasn’t a wolverine!  Have you got a pet wolverine stashed around here, too?”

“Maybe.”  And he led the way around back, heading for the tunnel.

Comments from 22 September

Cimarron said…
yes, we're still here reading and waiting in breathless anticipation for the next installment.

Well, here goes!  : )

Anonymous said…
I've been reading since the beginning on the tree rat forum. I'll keep reading until you stop writing. ^_^

Glad you’re finding continued value in Einar’s story.  I appreciate that.  Who were you, by the way, over on the other forum?  Just out of curiosity.  (Unless of course the answer is “Anonymous,” in which case I will certainly understand…)

Philip said…
I was thinking An Air Drop Delivery of Nutilla was needed for writer....
But the C-130 already had a delivery schedule Two Months out...
Don't you worry Chris, we are willing to wait...

That’s alright, Philip…the fewer of those things that come rumbling over here in the night, the better!  Really.   Nutella or no Nutella…   : )

Perhaps you could send it by carrier pigeon?

Thanks for your patience!

22 September, 2012

22 September 2012

I'm very sorry to say that once again I don't have a chapter for tonight.  Started it last night, but did not have time to get it finished today, as I was wrapping up a major project.  That's over now, and I should be able to get back to regularly-posted chapters...if anybody's still reading!

21 September, 2012

21 September 2012

Einar did not want to stop, but with his feet seemingly unwilling to stay beneath him anymore and both Juni and Liz insisting rather strongly that he sit for a moment, he had little choice in the matter.  Better take advantage of the situation, he figured.  Had hardly been able to communicate while on the move, anyway.  Had barely been able to breathe, actually, that last little while, but that was one he did not care to admit, even to himself.  The swollen legs and feet were one thing—tremendously uncomfortable at times, but he was accustomed to discomfort, and been able to live with the difficulty—but if fluid was beginning to leak into his lungs, or whatever it was apparently doing…  No.  Not letting his mind go in that direction.  Had to keep focused.  He wished they had maps with them.  Would have liked secure from Juni whatever knowledge she might have about the about the alleged “white box” areas where she claimed the search had not been active, nor was to her knowledge likely to be.  Whether to regard these spots as areas of refuge or as potential future targets for more intensive searching should leadership change down at Task Force HQ, he had not yet entirely decided.  The matter could be viewed either way, but that could be settled at a later time.  He needed that information.  But they had no map, having seen no need of it on what was to have been a short excursion after a long-frozen elk, and such details would have to wait until after they reached the cabin.  Which they were not going to do just sitting there, and he wanted to get to his feet and continue the climb, but not while he was being watched, on the chance that it might take more than one try.

They were staring at him, these women, and he didn’t like it.  Muninn, you big old vulture, where are you when I really need you?  I know you’re kinda shy of the new person, and are probably back there feasting on that elk and guarding whatever’s left of it, besides, but maybe you could take a little short break and swoop in here for a minute, anyway?  The bird did not come though, and Einar wished he could be invisible, or, barring such unlikely possibility—had tried all his life, invisibility being a tremendously beneficial skill considering some of the locations and situations in which he’d spent good portions of his time, only occasionally meeting with success—that he could at least stop swaying and trembling so, as it seemed to be alarming them some, and he did not want to alarm them.  Really just wanted to talk about white boxes.  Best give it a try.

“Need to know some specifics on those areas they’ve searched, and the ones they haven’t.  Said you saw them.  Think you’d be able to show us on a map?”

“Yes, I’ll be able.  Told you I had them pretty much memorized, from the time I’ve spent out here wandering and exploring them.  Do you have a map?  I’ll show you.”

“You don’t have a map?”

“Not with me.  Like I said, this place was my second-to-last to explore, and I only do one per outing, so I’ve been able to get in the habit of not carrying a map, most of the time.  Including this time.  I’ve got things all charted out on my maps, and was afraid what they’d think if they ever met me out here, searched me and found one of those maps on me.  You may think it’s foolish, trying to travel out here without a map, but I’m pretty new at this, and that was the only really secure way I could think to do it.”

Einar was, though a bit bemused at the young journalist’s strategy, at the same time somewhat impressed by her courage and forethought. Travel through that high, rough country, in the winter and without a map must not have been an easy thing in the least, but the fact that she had taken security considerations in mind at all he found to be a rather unusual and encouraging thing, hoped he wasn’t making a mistake by believing her words, for he was more and more beginning to believe.

“No, not foolish coming without a map in this case.  Pretty rough I’d imagine, but not foolish.  Only way to do it, especially when you’re operating off a stolen map whose contents are way above your pay grade…  Would have been better just to leave well enough alone, though.  They could have followed you.  Could have caught on to your strategy and started shadowing you whenever you went out, which means they may be watching right now, just waiting for us to lead you up to the home place and stop moving for a night or so before they close in and strike.  This is dangerous stuff up here.”

“I know it is, but I’ve taken every precaution.  Every time I’ve gone out, I’ve camped the first night down low and watched my back trail, mostly avoided fires, and this time, I started out on a popular cross country ski trail for the first few miles and only left it when it went through some heavy trees.” 

Einar remained silent, face a non-committal mask, and though Liz knew his answer would in no way reflect the fact, she could see from the lack of disgust and disdain in his eyes that he did have some appreciation for Juni’s efforts, perhaps even a measure of respect.

“You’ve taken every precaution?  You really think that’s enough?  Taking every precaution?  Got no concept of how these searches work, have you?  Your precautions probably look like big neon signs to those federal boys, if they’re taking the trouble to look in the first place!  Big blinking arrows.  ‘Here she went!  Here she went!  And she didn’t want anybody following her…’  And what do you think that means to them?  Yeah.  Means you know something, suspect something, means you’re a target and now we’re targets too, and you got no right to go painting a target on my son’s forehead!”

“That’s not why I’m up here.  Not what I’m trying to do.”

“Intentions.  It’s not always about intentions.  Lot of times it’s results that count, and nothing more.  Nothing else.  Fella can have the best of intentions, but…”

Liz did not like the sudden hollowness in his voice, the dangerous direction in which such a conversation could potentially head.  The deed was done, their little paradise invaded and though she was, when she stopped to think about it, every bit as angry at Juni’s having taken from them the only stability and security they’d had in a very long time—more, perhaps, for in addition to worrying about Will during the move that was now inevitably coming, she had Einar to think about, for he surely wouldn’t think about himself, and though he would pour every bit of himself into the effort, it might in the end prove more than he could take, just then—she saw little purpose in stewing over it.  They needed whatever information Juni could provide, but as for her questioning Einar or getting into deep discussions with him on one subject or another…well, she saw little good that could come of it.  But Juni was curious.  Seemed to have sensed that Einar was not talking about the present situation anymore, not solely, anyway, and she was drawn to that strange ambiguity, that hint of a riddle and a puzzle to be solved like a shark to blood, keen instincts telling her that here, if she could dig deep enough and question in a manner subtle enough never to be mistaken for questioning at all, was the real story.  And she meant to find it.

20 September, 2012

20 September 2012

Not going to be able to post a chapter tonight, but I will have one for tomorrow.

Thank you all for reading!

19 September, 2012

19 September 2012

By the time Juni returned with her load of firewood, Einar and Liz were all packed up and ready to go, Will hastily fed and tucked into Liz’s parka and the fire not only extinguished, but its former location thoroughly concealed beneath a small and artificially created bank of snow.  Juni was impressed, couldn’t help but wonder if their intent might have been to abandon her there, make their break and disappear into the morning.  It probably would have worked, for the snow was hard-frozen as cement after the relative warmth of the past day followed by a night far below freezing, and it was with relative ease that she moved across its surface, leaving hardly a mark.  Though she supposed a much heavier creature--elk, for instance--might have broken through with every footstep, Liz appeared to be very close to her own size and Einar--she winced at the realization, couldn’t see how he kept going the way he did, in that condition--surely must weigh a good deal less than either of them, despite his height.  They easily could have abandoned her, lost her, likely as not, yet they hadn’t tried.  Why?  Well, she guessed she would be finding the answer to that, as she fully intended to go with them.  Which meant that she’d better hurry and stow her things, but when she stacked the newly acquired firewood against the tree’s trunk and went to do so, it was to the discovery that it had already been done, whether by Einar or Liz she did not know, but she did have her suspicions as to why, thinking they would still be suspecting her motives and wanting a final look at everything before allowing her any deeper into their territory; a reasonable precaution, and seeing that Einar closely scrutinized her every move through half-open, unconcerned-looking eyes from the spot where he crouched against a tree clearly attempting to save energy for the climb, she made no attempt to re-arrange anything, slipping into her pack and joining the trio.

“I guess you decided to move on!”

A nod from Einar.  “Easier travel if you go early in the morning like this.  Spring snow’s pretty tricky stuff.  A good friend if you use it wisely, but if not, you’re gonna bog down awful badly, leave all sorts of tracks and wear yourself out for no reason at all.  Best keep up with us, and don’t stray from the trail.  We move pretty fast.”

With which he took off at a pace whose speed thoroughly baffled Liz, seeing as he had been clearly struggling with the simple task of staying upright while sitting not too many minutes prior, and she supposed the breakfast meal must have done him some good, despite his difficulty with eating it.  His apparent energy notwithstanding she wanted to keep close to him on the climb, monitor his progress and hopefully catch things before they got critical so she could arrange for a break and prevent his passing out in the snow, if it came to that.  She didn’t want their uninvited guest seeing such a thing, and was sure he wouldn’t care for it, either.  Einar did not pass out though, did not slow in the least as he picked a winding, indirect route up through some of the heaviest timber he could find, Liz on one side and Juni just behind until, with a special effort, she pulled ahead and was beside him, too.

Running out of breath but pushing himself harder despite the fact, not wanting Juni to see any vulnerability on his part and operating, somehow, under the delusion that she had not already observed his struggle, Einar only pushed himself harder when she drew up beside him, not wanting to have to speak but knowing that she was probably about to start asking questions.  Doggone reporters.  Well.  If there were to be questions, let her do the talking.  Better that way.  And he didn’t wait for her to speak.

“Tell me…about these boxes.  White boxes.  How’d you see those papers?  How’d you get access?”

“Oh, the white boxes…  Well you see, the feds don’t like me much, not after what I wrote before and especially after my refusal to answer certain of their questions in what they felt was a….wow, the air’s thin up here!  How do you do it?  In a reasonably thorough manner.  So there was no way I was getting in there to that Mountain Task Force building to do a story.  But my friend Annie did.  That’s Juni with a really good quality blond wig, southern accent, no nose ring and a pants suit.  They like Annie.  She follows all the rules, and is duly horrified at the hardships they have to endure in carrying on this search.  They seemed to enjoy talking about it.  So I let them talk, recorded a lot of things and prepared a story that was sure to please them, making them all out to be a bunch of heroes sacrificing their personal lives, careers and certainly their safety in an attempt to bring in the most dangerous wild man in America, scourge of the backcountry and an all-around horrible guy who definitely needs bringing it.  They liked the article, so they let me come back.  Even took me out on an aerial hunt or two, let me stay in the barracks for a week one time, sort of an “embedded reporter” type situation, and sometimes when they weren’t paying as much attention…I got to look at things.”

“Up at our cabin…got maps.  You show me these white boxes.  Think you can do it?”

“Oh, yes I can do it.  Got them committed to memory.  Had already looked in a bunch of them, before coming here.”


“Because they weren’t doing it, and…I don’t know.  Guess I just wanted to confirm that you guys were still alive out here.  Still going.  I believed it, lots of people believe it--there’s a whole legend by now, you know, sort of like the Robin Hood legends, or something--but nobody really knows, and I had to know.”

“Anybody knows…we’re dead.  My little boy…dead.”

“Nobody will know.  This isn’t one I’m doing a story on.  You have my word.  And you’d really better sit down for a minute, don’t you think, or you’re going to be dead before we reach the top of this hill, and then who’ll help support your wife and little boy?  What keeps your heart going, anyway?  Other than sheer orneriness, of course.  Is that really enough?”

“Too many…questions.  Done with…”  Done with all of it, apparently, and Liz reached his side just in time to help Juni ease him down to the snow before he fell.  Yeah, sitting was looking like a pretty decent idea, at least for a minute.  Just until the world cleared some, and quit spinning.  Would be able to ask more questions of his own, if they were all sitting.

18 September, 2012

18 September 2012

When Liz--alone, as Will had remained sleeping--sat down without a word on the log beside Einar, he was left even more confused as to the source of her apparent displeasure, did not even notice when she nodded in response to a brief shake of Juni’s head, yes, I was asking him questions, but not the sort you didn’t want me to ask…I don’t think.  The matter settled for the moment and both Einar and Juni spared a meeting with Liz’s rabbit stick, she began preparing breakfast, determined this time to do it in Einar’s full view and without any help from their guest, so he would have no reason whatsoever to claim its potential contamination and get out of eating.  He wanted to keep his word to her, she could see, was trying dreadfully hard to do so but the events of that past day and evening had been too much, and he’d simply had to take a step back from the whole thing.  She knew he could not afford another night like the last one, must have some good meals that day if things were to go any better for him.

Einar was preoccupied with no such concerns, his entire attention being consumed with the matter of the cabin, their supplies and how they were to manage Juni’s presence while preparing their exit from the place.  Clearly she had to be taken up there with them to the cabin if they were to be sure she wasn’t walking out to where she could potentially betray their presence, and though he hated the fact that an outsider would thus get such a close look at their dwelling and gain insight into their lives over the past year, but couldn’t see any way to help it.  They would, he supposed, have to protect Bud and Susan by claiming to have been down near town and raided someone’s cabin, should she start asking questions about the otherwise-unexplainable clothing and other gear in their possession.  Pots, pans and rain jackets could be explained by saying he’d cached them over the years and subsequently visited those caches to re-supply, but what possible reason could a single hermit living way up in the hills have had for caching baby clothes and diapers?  Not a plausible story in the least, and he supposed they would have to stick with cabin-raiding as the source of these items.  Perhaps the matter would never come up, but he had to assume it would, curious and questioning as their uninvited guest tended to be, and knew he’d better be sure and have a private discussion with Liz before heading up to the cabin, so they could get their stories straight.  First, though, events being unpredictable and the future uncertain, he wanted to speak with Juni, do some questioning himself and find out what she might know about the course of the search.

The time was not right for questions, Juni busy eating and Liz, for some reason which he could not understand, appearing to work her hardest to keep her from any communication with him, and thinking her motivation might revolve around making sure he got his breakfast finished without interruption, he hurried as well as possible to finish it in a timely manner.  Easier said than done, needful of food though he was, as ever since first standing up that morning he had been increasingly troubled by a most uncomfortable swelling in his feet, lower legs and now even a bit in his abdomen, which quite put him out of the mood for eating anything at all.  Not a good development.  Figured they’d better be getting up the hill pretty soon, if they intended to do it that day at all.  Having intended only to be going out for a short day’s trip in search of the fallen elk they had not carried along any of the cedar berries with whose tea Liz had been attempting to minimize the excess water that inevitably accumulated in his feet and legs as he started eating a bit more normally, and without that tea he was finding himself, as the day went on, barely able to fit in his boots.  The discomfort he could handle, but out of concern for the continued existence of his already somewhat frostbite-damaged toes and foot, he wanted very much to be out of those boots before too many more hours.  Had to talk to Liz then, and without delay.  Juni had finished her meal and was off gathering firewood, and the time seemed as good as any was likely to be.

“Ready to have company at the cabin?”

“I guess we have to, don’t we?”

“Don’t really see any way around it, if we’re to start getting things ready.”

“The nights will be easier up there.  It’s pretty cold still.”

“Gonna be crowded.”

“Not as crowded as when Bud and Susan…”

He silenced her with a quick motion of his hand.  “Better not say those names.  Got to protect them, and we’re gonna have enough trouble as it is explaining some of the things we’ve got in there, stuff we didn’t make here in the timber.  Need to get straight what we’re going to say, in case she asks about it.  I went down and raided some cabins, understand?  Down near town.  Don’t need to provide any details, and if she asks you about it, you can just refer her to me because you didn’t go along.  It was when you were close to giving birth.”

“But you didn’t do any such…”

“I know, and wouldn’t.  That’d be a terrible security risk, just to get ahold of some warm clothes and such.  Hope she’ll buy it though, because we can’t mention you-know-who.”

Liz nodded, unable to think of a better idea and willing to go along with the fabrication in the interest of protecting their friends, and in the interest of getting Einar moving towards the cabin, as well.  She had hated the thought of seeing him try to endure another night out in the open, the three of them trying to share the single too-small rabbit fur blanket and he likely insisting on patrolling the area half the night, when they could instead be back at the warm cabin with all their bear hides and a pot of soup simmering away on the stove…  All of which, she reluctantly reminded herself, they were about to have to walk away from, anyway, so she had better be getting used to the idea of doing without, once again.  Hoped they could at least save most of the hides, cache them somewhere and return for them at some point, even if they must be carried one at a time out of the area and to wherever they ended up settling, next…  Perhaps it ought not have surprised her how attached she had become to their little home, site of so much hardship, sweat and sorrow, but a place of joy as well, shelter that had given them many warm nights, birthplace of their first child, but she knew there would be other places, another home waiting for them out there in the vastness of the timbered wilderness; Einar, to whom the entire high, wild place was home, would find them a spot just as he had found this one, and in the meantime, they had a lot of work to do, preparations to make and a hill to climb.

17 September, 2012

17 September 2012

Morning, and no enemy had come sweeping down out  of the sky or creeping up through the timber to take them, and Einar figured this was a pretty good sign that Juni had been speaking truly when she asserted her innocence of any plot or complicity with the enemy.  He could not imagine why they would have waited.  Would surely have seen the party stop moving for the evening, and made their own move.  Especially--he narrowed his eyes in disgust--with their big, bright cooking fire acting as beacon all evening.  At last Liz had put it out for the night.  A very good thing, as he had himself been far too weary and addle-brained to insist it be done, had really been pushing the limits of his ability just to keep watch the way he had done, and by the time he’d thrown all his energy into that…well, there just hadn’t been much of anything left for other matters.

Good thing the enemy hadn’t come.  He’d have done his best, taken some with him and just perhaps given Liz and the little one time to make their escape, but it sure wouldn’t have been much of a fight.  Disgusted.  Got to make some more changes around here, and in a hurry.  Only now, he wouldn’t have time to do it.  Not the way it needed to be done, food and rest and a few weeks of abject misery and near uselessness as his body began adjusting to the fact that it was being adequately nourished once more, began repairing itself…nope, not with the upcoming evacuation of the cabin, he wouldn’t be doing any such thing.  Well.  Perhaps none of it really mattered, in the end.  Not to any great extent, at least.  He’d been muddling his way through for the past long while, and could continue doing so.  Only muddling was in no way acceptable, especially when it came to dealing with those who wanted to take one’s own life and those of one’s family--not that Juni was likely one of these, but she could have been working for them, with them, for all he’d known--and he’d simply have to find a way to do better.

Had better start with getting up and having look at the morning, but when he squirmed loose from Liz’s rather insistent grasp and tried to open his eyes, it was to the unfortunate discovery that one of them was stuck rather firmly closed, and any movement produced a dreadful, splitting headache and a dizziness which had him leaning his shoulder hard against the tree that had sheltered them for the night, simply to avoid toppling back over.  His first thought was the poison that he’d been half afraid Juni would have added to their supper stew and to the water she’d prepared for them by melting snow, but surely she wouldn’t have simply poisoned them and gone to sleep, even if her only role there had been to render them incapacitated to soften them up for the intended federal raid--surely she would have put some distance between herself and the impending action, yet there she was, curled up in her sleeping bag beneath the tree where he’d heard Liz directing her to stay.

Besides, there had been no federal raid in the night, and he knew the answer to his current malaise was likely much simpler than all of that.  Not enough water.  He couldn’t remember drinking much of anything over the course of the past day, and certainly hadn’t had more than a sip in the evening, when he had needed it the most, so it was no wonder that his head was all thick and fuzzy, and he leaned a bit more heavily on the tree, experimentally removed a hand from beneath him and used it, when he did not fall, to scrape up a bit of the hard, icy snow that stood as crust in a nearby undisturbed area.  The stuff tasted good, left him shivering so hard he could barely finish chewing it but that didn’t really matter--blood would only go on thickening without some serious hydration, leave him far more susceptible to frostbite and life-threatening hypothermia--and when it was gone, he took more.  Needed water, and he’d already been pretty cold to start with, all stiff and crinkly and bloodless when he’d first tried to move, and he knew his survival of the night had been an awfully near thing, probably due in large part to Liz’s insistence upon sharing her own warmth.  Which was fading fast with his leaving the bed, and he knew he was going to have to get in some pretty strenuous movement before too long, if he wanted to remain mobile and useful that morning.

Fire would help, too.  They needed fire, and he crept further from the bed, hands numb in the snow by the time he reached the fire-spot of the previous evening, fumbling with the good dry sticks Liz and Juni had collected and saved for the morning fire and finally managing to get some sparks to catch, climb, cheerful orange glow illuminating the near-darkness of early morning.  Juni was up, stirring in her bed and then rising, slipping into her ermine-fur coat and jumping up and down to warm herself before hurrying over to the fire.

“Awfully cold place you picked to spend the winter, that’s for sure!”  She spoke in a low voice, not wanting to disturb the still-sleeping Liz and Will.  “Chilly morning, isn’t it?”

Einar nodded, mildly annoyed at her presence and trying hard but without the least bit of success to prevent her seeing his shivering.  “Yeah, little chilly I guess.  Not too bad.  You get used to it.”

“Yes, I’m sure you do.  So why aren’t you?  What’s really going on, here?”

“Why aren’t I what?  We’re getting through the…winter just fine.”

“Right, that’s why you can’t quit shaking and were having trouble staying conscious for more than minutes at a time, yesterday…”

A sullen glare from Einar, but no response.

“They’ve been leaving you alone all winter, haven’t had a solid lead for months, and I’ve seen your skill out in the woods.  It seems to me you’d all be well established by now, little cabin in the trees, deer and elk frozen outside ready to eat and a pretty comfortable life, all things considered, and instead here you are starved nearly to death and looking a decade older than the last time I saw you.  So, what happened?”

Drawing back from the fire and appearing for a moment as if he was going to get up and run--seriously considered it, only he didn’t want to give this intruder the satisfaction of seeing him fall face-down in the snow--Einar instead settled in on a nearby log, balancing precariously while trying his best to retain some air of dignity, authority, as he addressed the reporter.  “In any modern war zone where major powers are involved, roughly half of all so-called reporters and correspondents either started out as intelligence operatives, or will at some point in their careers be recruited as such.  So.  Which are you?”

“First of all this isn’t a war zone.  It isn’t even a foreign country, and secondly…”

“Isn’t it?  Just ask those feds if it’s a foreign country up here, and see what they’ve got to say.  They don’t know the language, terrain is rough and the natives are hostile, and they take scalps.  And other things.  That’s about as foreign as it gets.  And I’d say anytime you’ve got rockets and missiles flying around and helicopter gunships chasing folks on the ground with lethal intent and getting shot down with improvised bows and covered by avalanches of suspicious origins…well, that’s a war zone.  So, which are you?  The recent recruit, or the old hand?”

“Neither.  You should know that, after our first interview and the resulting articles…and the danger I put myself in just to tell the story the way you told it to me, though I guess living up here, you have a pretty good excuse for not knowing about all of that.  But quite frankly I doubt your numbers, and find them a little insulting to my profession.  Most of us, believe it or not, really are out there to provide an objective take on whatever event it is we’re covering, an our neutrality in a war zone provides…”

Einar laughed, a gravelly, unpleasant sound that ended in a cough and was due more to his dehydration than anything else.  “You doubt my numbers, do you?  Have you ever been in the middle of a knock down, drag out proxy war between two of the world’s greatest powers, everything at stake but no one able or willing to admit it and the very makeup of the world in play, the future of freedom hanging in the balance?  Everyone’s your enemy when the stakes are that high, especially the ones who claim neutrality.  Can’t trust any of ’em.  I know, because I been in it.  On either side of the equation, at one time or another.  Now tell me--which are you?”

“You really want me to believe that you’ve been tangled up in all that international intrigue and cloak and dagger type stuff?  You, the wolverine-slaying, raw goat-eating mountain man?  Sorry, that just doesn’t sound like you.  And I’m neither one, to answer your question for the last time.  And I still think your numbers on compromised war correspondents are bunk.”

He glared silently at her.  Trick question, that one she’d asked.  Trying to provoke him, get him to say more.  Typical.  He wasn’t falling for it.  Was falling off the log, though, and caught himself just in time to see Liz wide awake, heading their way and not appearing too happy.  Now what?

16 September, 2012

16 September 2012

With supper eaten and Einar off to make a circuit of the camp area and have a look at the basin before darkness became complete, Liz and Juni worked together to gather firewood for the night, Liz also setting some snow to melt in the cook pot she’d brought, hoping Einar might consider the resulting water safer to drink and not go into the night so badly dehydrated.  Returning with her last load of wood and seeing that Liz was struggling a bit with Will, who was quite fully awake, wanting to move and beginning to grow a bit frustrated with his continued confinement in the parka hood, Juni crouched beside her.

“Can I hold him for a minute?”

Einar, who had taken a brief pause in his scouting to check in on things in camp, looked doubtful, wary, but Liz nodded, waiting until Juni had seated herself before easing Will, wide awake and appearing not the least bit apprehensive in the presence of this stranger, into her arms.  Rather than studying her face as Liz had expected him to do, the little one stared in fascinated wonder at the white sheen of the visitor’s ermine-fur coat, reaching out a tiny but increasingly sturdy hand and testing its softness, marveling, apparently, at the way the firelight glinted and sparkled from it with a most enticing radiance.  After a while Juni moved, shifted position so that her stance would be more secure, and Will, frustrated that the spot on the coat which had most drawn his interest was suddenly out of reach, arched his back and retrieved it, getting a death grip on that particular handful of ermine pelt to which he had first staked his claim.  Juni, a bit startled at the force behind his movements, struggled for a moment to keep hold.

“Wow, he’s strong!  He almost got away.”

“Yep, just like his father.  Before long, I suspect I’ll be having trouble keeping up with him!”

Juni glanced over at Einar, who had wandered some distance from camp and taken up a position on the slight rise above it, staring out over basin and shelter and the ridges beyond, atlatl at the ready, keeping watch.  And well out of earshot.  “It doesn’t look like you’d have too much trouble keeping up with his father, right now.  What happened to him?  He’s starving.  Looks like he’s been in a prison camp, or something…”

Liz sighed, looked away, wanted to say, yeah, that’s not too far from it, and he’s been there for way too long, and I don’t know how to get him out, but it wasn’t her place to do the saying, and besides, she hardly knew this woman, this intruder who had just cost them the only stable home they’d known since going on the run together.  “You’d have to ask him about all of that.”

“Will he be angry with me if I do?  I’m sorry, I can’t help but be curious.  It’s in my nature--and my profession.  And because he seemed willing to tell me so much of his story before, I thought maybe…”

Liz could see where it was going, the sorts of questions this reporter might ask, regretted having said anything at all.  “You don’t have any right to this part of his story.  This is his life we’re talking about, and we’re having a hard enough time of it as it is.  That little boy there needs his father to be here for him as he grows.  You can be here with us for a while, you can share our food and see how we live or whatever it is you’re wanting to do, but…he’d give his life for me, you know.  And just about has, a time or two, and I’d do the same for him.  Give a life, or take a life.  Please don’t forget that.”

Juni nodded, did not understand the strength of Liz’s warning and wasn’t exactly sure what it was she wasn’t supposed to ask about, but her curiosity had definitely been aroused, and she would be looking for clues, and for an opportunity…

Her opportunity to interview Einar was not to come that night, she could clearly see, for aside from his frequent checks to make sure things were going smoothly in camp, most of his time was spent prowling the timber above, eyes averted from the fire-glow, mind busy with the things he must do to secure his little family’s future existence and ears straining to pick up on any sound which might give away the approach of the enemy which--though he’d gone back, himself, and sorted through every piece of Juni’s gear until he had been as satisfied as possible under the conditions that no tracking devices were attached--he was nearly certain must be following her.

Long into the night Einar kept watch, and when finally--through some combination of repeated searching, checking and an analytic process of sorts which took into account all the information he had on the situation and combined it with a not-quite definable sense of intuition which had seldom let him down--he managed to assure himself that all was as well as it was going to be for the night, no enemy was following Juni, encircling the camp and waiting the best opportunity to attack, he found himself very nearly too cold and weary to move.  Moved anyway, stumbling back to camp and taking a heavy seat beside the bed where already Liz and Will were resting warmly.  It took Liz a good while to talk him into the bed and out of the idea that he must sit there awake though the night watching, and more convincing still before he would take a careful sip of the snow she had melted for him and carefully kept thawed with her body heat.  When finally he did settle in and allow her to begin warming him, it was to a prayer of thanks on her part, and a plea that he find it possible to refrain from heading back out there to wander any more of the night away, lest he erase all the meager gains he’d made since beginning eat again, or worse.  As time wore on, she knew she’d be doing well simply to see him make it through the night.

Badly wanting to help and not knowing what else to do, she found all the places where the bones were too near the surface, shoulders, hips, spine, the barely-covered slats of his ribs which protruded so both front and back that he never seemed able to find a comfortable way to position himself for the night anymore, gently striving to ease from him the deep chill that appeared to have settled in his very core, but it did not work.  As she lay long into the night listening to the cold-ragged whistling of his breath and feeling the warmth progressively leave him despite all her efforts combined with the valiant ones being made by his own exhausted body to maintain something like a normal temperature, she began to fear that perhaps in the end it would prove to have come too late, all her striving and reasoning and the final acceptance which had left him willing to give her way a try.  Perhaps he really was too far gone.

What Einar needed, she knew, was to fight, fight as he had been doing all winter; a dreadfully meager existence made all the more difficult by the extremes of his self-deprivation and not, she was pretty sure, at all a pleasant one, but she feared that in attempting to save him from it and from the finality towards which it had seemed inexorably dragging him, she had taken something of his will to fight on his own behalf.  He had not been in a position to afford such a loss.  Yet, what else could she have done?  She’d been losing him, the thing spiraling quickly and progressively out of even his own control and he seeming unwilling or unable to recognize the fact and do something to reverse its course, and had she not insisted that he start eating again--and he committed to following her direction on the matter--she wasn’t at all sure he would still be living, just then.  Not considering the rate at which his condition had been deteriorating.  So, she had done the right thing, and so had he in going along with it, and now she would just have to find ways to get him through this time.  Beginning with that night, and she drew the blanket more closely around the three of them, glad that Will, at least, seemed to be enjoying a very quiet and comfortable night, the camp quiet, their guest remaining in her appointed sleeping spot on the other side of the little clearing and the world, for the moment at least, going on.  Sometimes, that was all one could ask.

15 September, 2012

15 September 2012

Liz knew something of the seriousness of the situation, knew they had, unless they found a way to quickly and thoroughly do away with the intruder and conceal her body in such a way that no trace would ever be found, almost certainly lost the cabin and would have to be leaving soon, and she dreaded the departure, knew they weren’t ready for such a step, Einar--though he would never admit it--least of all.  Yet, what could they do?  Perhaps he really was considering...murder?  The term startled her, the realization that she was thinking of it potentially applying in this situation, for never in their years together had she for a moment considered any of the men who had perished in their pursuit of Einar to have been murdered.  They had been at war, and they had lost, and Einar had lived.  But this seemed different, for a number of reasons.

Would it be murder, if the decision was made that Juni must not leave the basin alive?  She wasn’t sure.  Self defense could be argued, the danger that woman was able to bring down on them simply by saying the wrong thing down below--let alone the possibility that she might be up there as part of the federal operation to track them down--undoubtedly enough to end the lives of each and every one of them, and in defense of one’s own life and that of one’s child, the taking of another life was certainly at times more than justifiable…  Yet if Einar had intended to do this, surely he would have done so already, demonstrating the swift decisiveness with which she had so often seen him act in the past, but he had not acted, and the reporter remained alive, back there tending their fire while they contemplated her fate.  Of course.  He would want her alive at least for a while, as he would have to know how she had managed to find them.  For if she could do it, another could as well, and there was some weakness in their strategy which would have to be discovered and remedied.  Well.  Enough speculation.  Einar was right there in front of her; best speak with him directly, see what he had in mind and go from there.

“You said we have decisions to make…”


“Are you planning to kill her?”

“Thought did cross my mind, but no.  Someone would eventually come looking for her, though possibly not for a good long while.  She’s a reporter, and is off investigating something, and it would really surprise me if she told anyone where she was headed.  But eventually, they’d be looking.  Just don’t figure it would be right, though.  Either way, dead or alive, we got to move on from the cabin eventually, whether out of concern for her telling someone or in the knowledge that her friends would eventually come looking.  Cabin’s gone.  But we need time, if it’s there to be had, and the only way I can see that happening is to take her with us while we get ready.”

“You mean as a hostage?”

“Not exactly.  But sure, that’s the basic idea.  We don’t have to tell her that, though.  Can just ask if she’d like to consider spending a week or two with us, up at our shelter.  Not a chance she’ll say ‘no,’ the way I see it.  And if she does…well, then it gets interesting.”

“You really think she’ll agree to that?”

“Aw, you saw her.  She’s been studying the life, learning the skills…looks like she must’ve been out here in the snow for a couple weeks at least, already, to be hungry enough to tear into that old fossilized elk carcass the way she was doing.  So you know she’s got to be pretty serious about this whole…primitive lifestyle thing.  What would be better than an opportunity to study the natives in their natural habitat?  Yeah, she’ll go for it.”

“Are you quite sure that’s the only reason she’s up here?  To improve her primitive skills and study the natives?”

Einar laughed a dry, humorless laugh.  “I’m not quite sure of much of anything, anymore.  That’s why we watch her, and why we don’t head right up there.  Got to camp down here for a night or two, make sure she hasn’t been followed and isn’t emitting any sort of electronic signal we don’t know about, leading them here to us. If the choppers are gonna come, I’d rather they come here than to the cabin.  Then if nothing’s happened after a couple days, we take her up there, keep an eye on her while we get ready to clear out of here, dry the rest of the meat, pack things up.  Then make our decision about what comes next, for her and for us.”

“Yes, there is that, the possibility that she’s up here to find and betray us, but I can see that you don’t really think so, and neither do I, and besides, that’s not what I meant.”

Einar shrugged, not understanding her secrecy or the unfamiliar sharpness in her voice and figuring that if she wanted him to know what she meant, she would eventually tell him.  Which she did not bother to do just then, knowing it would have been wasted breath on her part.  For all his wisdom about the world and the way it worked, there were certain things of which Einar simply seemed to have no concept whatsoever, and this was one of them, and was better off left alone, for the moment.  But she would certainly have her eye on that Juni.

When they returned to the fire, it was--somewhat to Einar’s surprise--Liz who made the proposal.  “Einar and I were talking, and if you’d like, you’re welcome to come with us for a few days when we go back to our home cabin tomorrow or the day after.  We’re in the middle of turning some deer, elk and bighorn sheep meat into jerky ahead of the warm weather, and there’s always cordage to be made, firewood to collect, all sorts of things you could help out with, if you’re interested.”

Juni accepted immediately and with a barely-suppressed enthusiasm, willing hostage of the tiny mountain tribe whose continued existence she had  spent much of the past year of her life attempting to confirm, and while she could hardly have been happier, Einar and Liz exchanged rueful glances at one another over the fire, silently bemoaning the impending loss of the home that had served them so well for most of a year.  Well.  They could mourn, later.  The stew was almost ready, and Liz could already see from the look in Einar’s eyes that she was going to have a real job on her hands, convincing him to eat any of it after Juni had been left alone with the stuff to add poison or worse.  Which neither of them really believed she would do, but that didn’t stop Einar’s mind from bringing old familiar suspicions to the forefront and leaving, to his way of thinking, the integrity of the entire food supply they’d brought with them gravely in question.

Einar wanted to do as she asked when Liz, despite knowing his likely objection, pressed into his hands the pot containing his portion of the stew, had promised to do it and so far had not once since that time resisted her efforts at getting him to eat, but this was different, and he told her so, told her why and she understood--on some level--his concern, agreed not to compel him to eat any of that night’s fare.  Which left nothing other than the bits of jerky Liz carried in her pockets, and even these he did not want to take any way other than exactly as they presently were, any water which had been melted from snow over the fire while under Juni’s watch immediately suspect, too.  Juni did not entirely understand the problem but did grasp enough of it to realize that for one reason or another, Einar could not eat the stew, and she tried to be helpful by offering to go and carve off some frozen steaks from the long-dead elk.  Which only confirmed Einar’s suspicions and left Liz shaking her head, no, no, shouldn’t have offered, only making things worse, and you’re going to kill him if you end up sticking around too long, but unable to tell their guest the reason.  Dry jerky it was, then, and though Einar consumed his portion with a resigned determination she could not help but admire--it was clear to her that he very much wanted to skip eating altogether that night, and he wasn’t, and it was because of his promise to her--the portion available was small enough, far smaller than what he needed after the exertions of the day, but it was all they had, and she knew he was in for a mighty cold night.