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.