16 October, 2012
16 October 2012
Juni had no more questions just then, or if she had, she kept them carefully to herself, tending the fire and keeping out of Liz’s way when she brought Einar back within the circle of its light, a halting, stumbling creature who blinked for a moment all hollow-eyed and confused at the flames as if he’d never seen such things before, squinted, turned his head away. Juni, though silent, was watching, observing with keen eyes the results of her earlier prodding and prying, and she saw that her work was not yet done. Besides which, he had never really answered her last question, had seemed willing, more or less, to converse up to that point but then had apparently got all mired down in his own memories after the asking of it--what about Andy?; that seemed to be the key question--and things had gone no farther. Must go farther though, at some point, for if his reaction was any indicator as to how the past months had gone, she was surprised that he’d made it through the winter, even by the small margin that his condition seemed strongly to suggest. Had to find some way to get past it, as much as ever a person could, ease the grip with which these memories held him so that he could live again.
Juni sighed, added another stick to the fire and hovered close over its flames, warming chilled hands. Maybe, she thought to herself, watching as Liz worked to clean matted, dried blood from Einar’s hair--he appeared entirely indifferent, perhaps even unaware, staring vacantly at the ground--and began heating water for a more thorough cleansing of the wound, she was doing more harm than good, bringing these things up. Perhaps, but she did not think so. He had been willing to talk, had seemed to know that he needed it, and if things had gone a bit badly in the end…well, perhaps the next time would be a bit better. If there was a next time. Liz, she suspected, might not allow it, and despite the woman’s gentle demeanor and the tolerance with which she had been treating their uninvited guest, Juni knew there was a steel hidden behind her kind, longsuffering exterior--had to be, considering the life she had chosen, the man she’d chosen to live it with and the lengths to which she’d gone in pursuing it--which might prove dangerous or even deadly to anyone who made themselves even an unintentional threat to her family and way of life. Einar might have his preferences when it came to whether or not they were to carry their conversation any further, but Liz, she suspected, would have the final say.
Will was waking, whimpering, wanting to be free of his confinement in the parka and Liz had to pause in her work with Einar to give him some attention. Juni, wanting in some way to help remedy the distress she had brought on the camp, reached for the little one as Liz eased him from her parka hood. It was the least she could do. And probably, under the circumstances, also the most.
“Let me take him for a minute. Maybe I can keep him happy for a little while…”
Not necessarily Liz’s idea of a suitable babysitter, but she saw little harm in the offer, not with all of them sitting so close around the fire as they were, well able to keep an eye on her, and with a bit of reluctance she handed the suddenly very wide awake and squirming Will to the young reporter. “I think he may be hungry, but if you move a little, and let him move, he should be content for a little while.”
At which she went back to dressing Einar’s wound--wounds, Juni saw; what had he done to himself? Looked like a real mess--pressing usnea to the areas where blood now oozed freely in the warmth of the fire and finally binding everything in place with a strip of buckskin from her pack before easing his hat back in place overtop. Einar had shown no reaction as she worked, sitting stone-still even as she dug spruce needles and lichen from his forehead and staring, for the most part, straight into the fire but Liz saw that he was now watching Will, hard lines of his face easing some at the sight of the little guy standing with Juni’s help, looking almost as if he was ready to take off walking. Just a few more months, maybe. “Hey,” Liz put a hand on Einar’s shoulder, wanting to take advantage of his momentary connection with the world, good job Will, should it soon fade again. “You need that skull intact. It has a function. Take it a little easier next time, huh?”
“I did. Take it easier.”
“Sure.” He blinked, pressed a hand to closed eyes as if just realizing that his head hurt. “Lot easier than I wanted to take it…”
“Can you stand up now? Let’s give it a try.”
“Yeah, I can…” He couldn’t though, not as quickly as he’d been attempting to do it, and after a narrow miss with the fire as he dropped dizzily to the ground and a hasty scramble out of the danger zone and back into the cold shadows against the cliff he made another attempt, finally stood dizzy and swaying with one hand braced on the rock, but Liz was satisfied, figured he’d be more or less alright, after some time. She hadn’t been so sure, at first.
Now that Einar had gained the high ground and managed to haul himself his feet he hardly wanted to abandon the advantage by sitting near the fire as Liz began urging him to do; might not be able to make it to his feet again anytime soon and besides, he felt safe here holding up the wall, palm pressed hard into the solidness of granite and eyes averted somewhat from the glare of the flames; no better place to be, if indeed he had conceded, as he seemed to have done, that a night spent in camp was inevitable, if not desirable. Liz left him, satisfied also, for the moment, and began heating a pot of broth over the coals, jerky rubbed and powdered finely and fortified with a bit of honey, a badly needed refreshment for Einar and for the rest of them, a pleasant bedtime beverage to help chase away the night chill.
Sometime later Einar eased himself down by the fire, cradling his portion of Liz’s pot of broth and looking as though he were having to struggle very hard to prevent his eyes drifting shut as the rising steam warmed him, silent for a full minute and then, much to Juni’s surprise, he addressed her. “What was your last question, again?”