13 November, 2012

13 November 2012

Though Einar did not take a direct route back up to the cabin, keeping to the heaviest timber and choosing a course bound to confuse any who might manage to try and follow them from the valley, he did manage to maintain a pace which put them at the rim of the basin well before dark.  Pausing in the trees at the edge of the great open expanse of the basin he was quiet, listening, watching Muninn as he glided low over the snow as if reveling in its wideness, soaring higher, circling and returning with no sign of consternation or alarm to perch heavily on Einar’s shoulder.  A more reliable test than that provided by his own eyes and ears at the moment, Einar could not help but think, and he turned away from the basin, skirting it in the timber as he led them towards the cabin-plateau, and home.

Studying the ground, giving special attention to the areas where the snow was less and tracks not as likely to show plainly if in existence, he led them slowly up towards the cabin, around its side and into the cliffs up behind it where he sat, still, silent, listening until slowly the sun sank behind the spruce-spears bristling along the opposite ridge.  All was quiet.  Time to move.  Not an easy thing to do, muscles having gone all rigid in his hours of cold waiting but Liz was there, helped him to his feet and took the lead down the steep rock which lay between them and the cabin, Juni taking up the rear.  At the base of the cliffs Einar touched Liz’s arm, nodding, pushing past her and leading once more, making a final wide circle of the cabin before allowing anyone to approach.  All clear, and they went home, opening the place up, breath hanging white in the dark, frigid air inside, lit by a single candle as Einar worked to get a fire going in the stove and Liz fed Will, who had just wakened from an hours’ long nap.

Fingers not working, flint nearly impossible to hold with enough force to prevent it falling to the ground when he struck and in frustration he pulled some of the finely shredded bark tinder from the stove, wadding it up on the floor and preparing to hold the flint with his foot, striker in both clasped hands.  Juni saw, took it from him and lit the fire, Einar silently grumbling the entire time but not wanting to disturb Liz by making a scene.  Best if the matter simply be allowed to fade quietly away, as he really did not wish Liz to see just how much that climb and the long, cold wait at the top had taken out of him.  Felt as though he had absolutely nothing left, and sincerely hoped they wouldn’t have to go anywhere that night in any sort of hurry, for he would simply have to remain behind armed as well as he was able, hold the line for as long as he could and give the others some time.  Would never be able to keep up, and the realization distressed him, but he was far too weary to do anything about that distress.  Fire was going good.  Shut the stove door, leaned back on the water barrel and closed his eyes.

Talking.  Someone was talking, seemed to be aiming the words at him, and he wished they’d just leave him alone.  But they didn’t, and struggling to make some sense of the words and place their origin--Juni, it seemed--he opened his eyes.

“Where did you learn your tracking skills?”  she was asking.   I can tell that the ground speaks to you in ways that it doesn’t to the rest of us …”

He looked at her strangely for a moment, half inclined to refuse an answer.  “Picked them up while out hunting the most dangerous critters around, that’s where.  You learn pretty quick.”

“You didn’t have any formal training, then?”

“It was formal enough.”

“When I was in Arizona attending one of those survival courses I told you about, one of the guys running it was a tracker.  He’d been in Rhodesia, too, with an outfit called the Selous Scouts, and that’s where he had received some of his training and experience in tracking.  I thought maybe you were a Scout, too?”

“Nope, never was a Selousie.  Very few Americans ever were.  Worked with some of those folks from time to time though, went through one of their training courses once when they opened it up to guys in my unit.  A cross-training sort of thing.  So yeah, guess you could call that some formal training.  Wasn’t just a series of classroom exercises, either.  All took place out in the field under real conditions and with real enemy, too.  ’Course I already had a good bit of experience trailing dangerous game by that point, before I ever came in-country there.  Did real well with that training, mostly because of that past experience and because, according to one of the instructors, I was ‘insanely intense and focused.’  Which he did mean as a compliment, and I took it as one.  Certain things that were real challenging for some of the guys during that course were just matter of fact, get it done, for me.  Like what we ate.  And if we ate.  Left my brain more free to focus on other things.  Like the trails we were supposed to be following.”

“Yes, I suppose the food, or lack of it, was even pretty routine to you?  Not as disturbing as it would have been to some of the others?”

“The food, yeah…no big deal.  Was for some of the guys.  This fellow in Arizona--did he have you eat week old green-rotted monkey meat, just to see who could do it and who couldn’t?”

“I believe it was actually a raccoon…”

“Good for him!  Did you do it?”

“I did.  He let us boil it first.  I was glad of that.  But I was going to eat it either way, maggots and all.  I was there for the full experience.  He just kept pointing out to us that the maggots had even more protein than  the meat, and were fresher, too.  A lot fresher.  He seemed to find that pretty funny.  Four students quit the course at that point, and two more the next day when we found out that the raccoon--and of course its maggots--was to be all we got for the week…”

Einar was laughing aloud at the image of Bud Kilgore--for it had to be Kilgore--expounding on the virtues of fresh maggots, laughing though he knew this innocent-looking girl was almost certainly attempting to entrap him, trick him into saying something which would establish a connection between the two of them, and he had absolutely no intention of allowing that to happen.

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