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?