As Einar had only recently made the trek and well knew the paths upon which he wanted to lead them, the descent went fairly quickly, he in the lead with Juni just behind and Liz bringing up the rear. Einar had insisted upon this configuration, still not entirely trusting the reporter’s motives and figuring that it would be wisest to plan the journey so that she could be closely watched, especially as they approached the valley. Timbered walls growing above them and the river becoming occasionally audible, Einar’s steps slowed, pace becoming a creeping, halting thing which allowed him plenty of stops for listening, testing the wind; a necessary change but not a welcome one, as he’d been having difficulty enough maintaining his balance. Had been managing so long as they were moving at a steady pace, but now, pausing, it was all he could do to remain on his feet. Too bad. He’d simply have to find some way to keep going. The most critical part was still ahead of them, as they scouted the valley for potential danger and established a camp for the night--and for the days they would be spending in the valley.
They would, he knew, have a lot of work to do in retrieving the traps and snares he’d abandoned at the end of his last failed week of work down in the valley, the things surely frozen solid beneath the ice by that time, and wanting to save time and effort that evening, he decided they ought to make camp in the spot he had chosen on that previous expedition. A good place, nestled close against a cliff for security and windbreak and heavily sheltered by timber from view of anyone who might pass by in the valley, near enough to the river to make for a handy base as they came and went to the traps, but not so near that the rush and gurgle of the water should fill their ears and render them incapable of detecting the approach of danger. Guiding the little party towards the spot he continued his careful descent, glancing back now and then to be sure that Liz wasn’t having any trouble with Juni, but they seemed to be getting on just fine. Valley floor not too far below them, and the time had come for Einar to go on alone, have a look before the others followed, and he waited for them to catch up, handed Liz his rifle and told her he’d be back directly.
No sign of danger along the river, no ski or snowshoe tracks, and in watching Muninn, it seemed the bird saw nothing of concern, either. Einar’s previous camp was just as he’d left it, almost no sign of the nights he’d spent there, aside from the heaps of spruce duff between which he’d struggled so hard to stay warm and alive through those long, frigid hours. Giving the place one final glance he turned to go, shuddering at the knowledge of just how close it had come to being his grave. No need to mention that bit to Liz. She would, he expected, like it just fine for the security of the cliffs up behind, the heavy timber which shielded them from the wind. This would be especially important considering that he did not intend that they should light a fire, not so close to the river where the smell of their smoke, if not the fire’s actual glow, would be all but certain to reach anyone who might be traveling the valley. Shelter from the wind would make a huge difference. Stopping to break the thin ice at river’s edge he swallowed a quick gulp of its icy water before returning for Liz and Juni, leading them into camp, slipping Will into his own parka for the final descent. Liz had carried him long enough, it was his turn, and now, after his drink from the river and giving the water a bit of time to be absorbed, he was a good deal more certain of staying on his feet.
“Well,” he declared, sinking to the ground with Will, “this is our camp for the night. Think it’ll do?”
Mutual affirmations from Liz and Juni, seemed the place would do just fine, which pleased Einar, as he had no intention whatsoever of seeking out another, and that bit of business out of the way, the time seemed right to go and retrieve some of the traps and snares he’d left, as the ice would only be frozen harder come morning. Giving Liz the axe and directing her upriver to an area where he had previously snared several muskrats, he took spear and pack and set out down the river after beaver snares and the Conibear traps he’d been so disappointed to have to leave, on his last visit. Juni, given no direction, followed Liz for a time, helping her retrieve several muskrat traps before wandering off to see what Einar might be up to. Some minutes later she found him crouched somewhat precariously on a little outcropping of brittle ice, having already retrieved several snares and apparently deciding to re-set them, while he was at it.
Removing parka and rolling up sleeves in an attempt to keep them somewhat dry as he worked in the icy water, Einar lowered one double-snare beaver set and then another, checking the snares and adjusting the shape of one which had been somewhat deformed in the lowering. Juni, crouched beside him, was watching. Gathering her courage.
“Those scars on your arms aren’t all from the wolverine, are they?”
Making a subconscious effort to pull his sleeves down a bit further and crossing his arms Einar shrugged, turned away from her. “Life’s rough out here. Leaves its marks, sometimes. No problem. Skin heals, scars fade.”
“Some of them are a lot older though, aren’t they? More faded than the others.”
Another shrug. “Been trapping for a long time, climbing even before that, fighting the occasional bear or wolverine or wildcat. Decades, off and on.”
“Trapping and climbing and fighting wild animals. Really?”
He gave her a sideways glance, not at all liking her line of questioning or her apparent refusal to be content with the answers he was providing. “Yeah, trapping and climbing and…well, I told you the story of the wolverine.”
“I read the papers…the debriefing.”
Einar froze, wanted to whirl around on her with his spear but kept still, voice a dry rattle like the wind in the few winter-ravaged leaves still clinging brown and withered to a nearby patch of scrub oak. “None of your business, those papers.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I was curious.”
“No, I am not happy. Nobody should have to endure those things. Or see them. And I’m sorry that you did. But I think it…explains a lot, maybe. I do have some questions. Would you be willing to answer a few questions?”
Einar shrugged, turned away, viciously shoved his sleeves back up above the elbow--they wouldn’t stay, but he neither noticed nor cared, letting them hang down in the water--and went back to arranging the beaver set. When Liz returned several minutes with later several ice-encrusted snares and one Conibear, it was to the sight of Einar crouching all stiff-backed and steely-eyed beside the beaver set, Juni carefully avoiding him on the far side of the clearing.