28 October, 2012
28 October 2012
The water was icy, barely above freezing, Juni felt it if Einar did not, wanted to get loose and drag him back to the bank but hardly dared move lest she unsteady him and they both go down; he was slipping enough as it was, barely able to keep his feet beneath him on the slick rocks of the river bottom, and kept still, hoping desperately that she would be able to disentangle herself in time if they did fall and prevent them both from drowning, for surely he wouldn’t be able to regain his feet again with her on his back. She must, she knew, weight a good deal more than he despite her own small stature, would pin him down and they’d both be lost. To which end she strove to ease the tied loop of her arms up and over his head but he grabbed her hands and held them in place, whispered something about steady, steady, almost there, and then, momentarily distracted by the effort, he did go down, rounded rock shifting beneath his foot and spilling the two of them into the black, icy water.
A struggle, silent, strangling as Einar shoved at the rocky river bottom, could feel Andy fighting and thrashing on his back and knew the injured man must have gone under, too, would be drowning if he didn’t do something in a hurry and then, shoving hard at the rocks beneath him, inexplicably he was on his feet again through a strength definitely not his own, bent nearly double as he coughed and then vomited river water, terrified lest the enemy hear but elated to hear Andy coughing, too. Which meant he was breathing. Would be alright. Now out of this water before they hear you, come and find you, get into the bush where you can hide… And he was moving again, blackness looming before him with its promise of concealment but something was in his way, slippery fallen log of some sort, encrusted with…swamp slime of some sort that was crusty and bitingly cold to the touch and he couldn’t seem to lift his legs high enough to step over the thing, not with Andy on his back and his strength seriously taxed after the effort of raising the heavier man up out of the water. Had better go around.
Went to his knees then when he tried to move, legs unwilling to respond when he tried to rise again and suddenly he was aware of a dreadful, pressing cold all around him, squeezing the breath from his lungs and leaving him to tremble uncontrollably; the change might have frightened him but he knew what it was; going into shock, aren’t you? Not the first time over the past week or so and you can get through it, no significant blood loss this time, not today anyway, just breathe, man, and you’ll be Ok. It’s all in your head this time. A few deep breaths and he was struggling to his feet again, balance poor and legs trembling terribly but it didn’t matter, for he was already there, stumbling over rocks that now rose high and jutting above him, some strange feature of the land and he was scrambling, struggling for purchase with leaden feet and hands which for no good reason at all had lost all feeling, wedging elbows, knees between the rough slabs of granite as slowly, inexorably, gasping and straining he lifted the two of them up out of the water and onto dry land. Trees. Had to get to the trees and up that hill behind, over onto its back side where they’d be further from the enemy and he might have a chance to stop and let Andy catch his breath, see what he could do for the kid’s injuries, for surely they wouldn’t be making it too far on one set of legs, not if there was any other option.
Rocks kept on going, didn’t want to end, and that wasn’t right. Shouldn’t be so steep; he’d been studying that slope for days through the slats of his cage and it just hadn’t appeared that steep. Neither did he remember open, exposed rock at all but perhaps the canopy had been concealing it; hoped so, for that meant the two of them would now likely be concealed to some extent as they struggled up away from the water… Footsteps behind them again and this time there were voices, too, shouting, and he picked up the pace, scrambling up through those rocks with a speed which would have quite surprised him, had he taken the time to think about it but it wasn’t enough, enemy gaining on them as the breath rasped hard in his throat and before him all the world was a haze of red. Andy. He was saying something, softly, trying not to be heard by the enemy but insistent, leave me, you’ve got to leave me here and Einar wanted to do it, wanted so badly to be rid of the crushing weight on his back but he shook his head, tightened his grip on the younger man’s hands to prevent him slipping them over his neck and falling to the ground as he seemed determined to do, hang on, just a little further and I’m gonna get us out of this…
Andy was struggling now, trying to free his legs, get them down to the ground and Einar might have let him but he knew it was little use; they’d broken one of his legs during capture, compound fracture from what he’d seen of it and without treatment it had only grown worse from there, the entire limb horribly swollen and infected those past several days… No way he’d be able to walk, not without a serious splint and a crutch of some sort and there certainly wasn’t time to arrange any of that just then.
Had to keep moving, and they did, Einar quelling Andy’s pleadings with a harsh, guttural grunt and taking a course straight up the hillside, which instead of rising two or three hundred feet and then beginning to level off as it had appeared from back in the camp seemed to go on endlessly, increasingly rocky as he climbed but he knew this might simply be a matter of perspective, the doing of the thing an awful lot harder than the thinking had been, especially considering his own injuries which while nowhere near as severe as Andy’s certainly couldn’t be dismissed entirely… But he did dismiss them, body an alien thing which, though responding somewhat to his demands and reminding him with frequent sharper stabs through a by-then constant and oppressive haze of hurt that it was still there, and was not happy, seemed not entirely attached to the rest of him and he kept going, even managing to increase his speed as he sensed a slight leveling in the ground, a decrease in the angle of ascent, allowing him to hope that perhaps they were nearing the top. A hope which was dashed seconds later when he came up square against what felt to be a wall of solid rock, gritty and loose beneath his hands like sandstone, not quite vertical but certainly too steep for him to successfully scramble up with another man on his back. Andy must have understood the situation as well, for again he was struggling, managed actually to free his legs from Einar’s weakening grasp and get them onto the ground but with a surge of strength born of sheer desperation Einar got him under control again, hoisted painfully back up onto his back and started moving along the wall of rock, simply to discourage the injured man from trying again to get away.
“Let me down! You’ve got to let me down or you’re going to kill yourself. Wake up! Don’t you see what’s going on? You’re taking it way too far. That’s enough!”
The voice was loud, unfamiliar, didn’t sound like Andy at all and his words didn’t make an awful lot of sense but Einar simply shook his head in the hopes of clearing it--been having weird hallucinations for days, voices, critters, choppers, even a full Thanksgiving dinner that one time; you know better than to start putting any store in them now--and tightened his grip, speaking in a whisper on the chance that Andy really had been saying something to him.
“We’re Ok. Gonna be Ok, but you got to keep quiet or they’ll hear us. Now settle down and let me move. Have to find a way around this doggone wall.”
Had to do something else, and he did it, stopping for a moment and breathing slowly in an attempt to slow the frantic pounding of his heart and give him some chance of hearing something of the world around him. Were they still being followed?
Yes, they were, but unlike before, it seemed their pursuer was only one, a lone individual moving quickly and Einar knew there was no way they were going to be able to continue to outrun him, especially up against a dead end as they seemed to be and needing time to pick their way around it to safety. And he knew what to do.