Andy had to go. Einar needed to be able to move quickly, could not do so with the injured man on his back so he eased him to the ground, quiet, don’t make a sound, you wait right here flat on your belly and I’ll be right back for you, risky, and he knew it, was terrified at the prospect of not being able to find him again in the darkness and if more enemy should come and overwhelm their position but there was little choice. Their--at the moment still single--pursuer had to be stopped, or there would be no escape for either of them. Silent, creeping, he slowly retraced his steps, crouching with a two foot length of sharply broken spruce branch--the only weapon he’d been able easily to find--in a spot which allowed him to overlook the only really reasonable approach to the area before the rock wall which had temporarily trapped them. Crunching in the snow--snow! Get hold of yourself, Asmundson. No time for these silly illusions--the footsteps were approaching, cautious, seeking, and he held his breath, struggling to keep still and halt an increasingly violent trembling which seemed to have seized hold of him with the cessation of climbing, couldn’t possibly be cold but felt as though he was, cumulative toll of the past week catching up to him all at once from the feel of things. Couldn’t seem to feel his hands or one side of his face, something squeezing his chest so terribly that he couldn’t get his breath and his leg was…quit it. Later. Could deal with it later, but for the moment he shoved it all aside, halted the shaking through an act of sheer will and held himself steady beside a rough, angular boulder just where the slope steepened, spruce spear poised for action as he heard the steps of the enemy ease their way nearer, nearer…
Movement behind him, must be Andy for he had hastily reconnoitered the entire little plateau on which they were trapped and found it free of other human presence, a quiet, subtle roll to one side and then the man was standing, shifting his weight, moving, bad deal, get back on the doggone ground or they’re gonna hear you, man! Gonna ruin this for us. Alert them. I’ve got it. Just give me a minute, here. But behind him Andy was still moving, approaching, apparently intent on helping and though Einar was relieved to discover that the younger man could, indeed somehow walk under his own power despite his injuries he found himself in a dreadful quandary. Couldn’t both ambush their pursuer and deal with Andy, press him back to the ground and insist he stay there so he forced himself to forget the second bit for the moment--hopefully the rest of them are too far away to hear anything, won’t take a notion to head up this way and hear him bumbling around over there--turned his whole attention to the little man who was making steady progress towards their position from below. Smart, that one. Seemed to know exactly where he was going and had taken pains to avoid doing anything that would have alerted the others back in camp; wanted all the glory for himself it seemed, the prestige of having re-captured two escapees and returned them to camp before anyone else even knew they were missing. Yep, wanted all the glory, and Einar intended to let him have it. Right in the back of the neck. Come on. I’m ready.
The impact was as violent as it was sudden, knocking Einar forward over the short drop which marked the edge of the little plateau, down into the rocks where he was brought up hard between two rather solid slabs of cold granite, head down, breath knocked out and body unwilling to respond right away when he tried to twist himself about and regain some semblance of equilibrium. Ears ringing and world around him a chaos of splintered, falling fragments of light from the impact he scrabbled helplessly at his stony prison for a long moment, finally succeeding at raising himself by a few inches and drawing knees up to his chest, shoving, pushing and getting himself more or less upright. Had lost his improvised spear in the fall but still had his hands and if he could only close with his shadowy opponent, they would be enough to… Didn’t make sense. The blow had come from behind, and so far as he knew only Andy had been behind, but he must have been mistaken and now… Blackness. Fought it desperately, remembering his capture, knowing what came next and determined to prevent its happening a second time, happening to both of them, but the blow to his head had been too hard, and he slumped back down amongst the rocks.
Voices in the blackness, terror gripping his throat as he forced unwilling hands to move, groping amongst granite slabs for a weapon, loose fragment of stone, anything but there was nothing and he didn’t need anything, had his hands and they’d be enough and then he was moving, launching himself upwards towards the threat, would have closed with it but his sense of direction was still off, a great dizziness nearly knocking him back to the ground and forcing himself to use both hands against the rock to steady himself... A glow of light, diffused and uncertain at first through the impact-haze distorting his vision but then it began to clear a bit and there was a face in the light, and he knew it. Safe. Somehow they’d found him, come for him and he rose, staggering to his feet with a big grin as they took his arms, one on each side, and began helping him down through the rocks.
Water, gurgle of slowly-moving water beneath the ice and then they were in it, feet fumbling at the slick stones on the bottom and wishing his rescuers might let loose of him so he wouldn’t drag them all down when he fell, for surely he was going to fall… But they wouldn’t leave him, and he kept trying to warn them in hushed tones about the enemy, how they’d been all around on the other side of that water but his companions didn’t seem concerned in the least, kept reassuring him that it had all been taken care of, no enemy in the area anymore and he didn’t have to worry about it.
Fire. Must be back in friendly territory for sure if they could have a… Dizziness, trees swirling around him as his companions prevented his fall, lifted him and kept still until he’d regained his feet and could move forward again, suddenly very weary and conscious of being cold, incredibly, painfully cold and grateful almost to tears at the prospect of collapsing for a time beside that fire.
Andy. He was nowhere in sight. Looked back, supposing perhaps they’d had to carry him and were lagging behind, but there was no one. They’d reached the fire by that time, brought it roaring back to life with the addition of a few dry sticks, got him out of clothes as ice-encrusted as they were wet, wrapped him in dry hides and eased him down beside the flames, dead tired and wanting to curl up in a ball and not move for a month or two but he could not rest, not yet. Untangled himself and sat up, back against a tree to stave off imminent collapse, voice a raspy croak, but they heard him.
“Andy. What happened to…?” Looked from one face to the other, but found no reassurance there; care, concern and a deep sadness in those eyes, but no answers. The nearer one shook his head. Her head. Liz, and the world turned inside-out on him at the realization; no wonder he’d known that face, but now everything was crumbing out from under him, his place in the world suddenly as ephemeral and uncertain as the little tendrils of smoke which rose from the newly-stoked fire to hang silently in the bitter night air for a moment before vanishing into the darkness. Lost.
Juni. That was the name of the other one, and she was speaking. “It was me that you were carrying. All along. I came to see what was happening with you and helped tear away the branches you’d used to trap yourself in the rocks, and when you got out…well, I couldn’t convince you I wasn’t him…”
Disbelief, the deep, acerbic bitterness of loss at the realization that she was speaking the truth, wanted to rise and run back into the darkness, not stop until he’d got back up there to the plateau where he’d left Andy but then Liz had him, pressing a warm rock from the fire between his numbed palms and holding him as she began working to return some warmth to his battered and half-frozen limbs. Silence for a time as he wept silently before the fire, beginning to shiver himself warm, only Liz’s arms preventing his flight back out into the bitterness of the night, and then Juni spoke, her words barely reaching him through his haze of exhaustion and the distance that still remained, world unreal around him.
“You carried me, Einar. All the way across the river and up the mountain past it, I kept trying to get loose and begging you to put me down but you wouldn’t quit, you were literally running up the rocks and you carried me all that way,” and he heard her, and had nothing to say…
After a time they went to bed, Liz and Juni dried out after their river crossings if not quite warm, piles of hot rocks stacked between hides and stuck in the bottom of Juni’s sleeping bag at Liz’s suggestion and Einar too cold and worn out to think of resisting Liz’s insistence that he join her beneath the bear hide; through the dark hours she held him, broken body but peaceful mind, and in the night there were no dreams.