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.

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