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.