Einar wasn’t given much time to think of his “something else,” the strategy by which he hoped to further his plan to somehow re-set his will, his ability to endure, while keeping inviolate the agreement he’d made with Liz, and from which she was so stubbornly refusing to even temporarily release him. He did not have much time because before his mind could go very far down that path Liz was busy enthusiastically pushing more food into his hands to go with the stew, determined that he at least go into the night well fed, should he go on insisting that he stand some sort of ordeal. That much at least she could assure, thanks to his so-far rigid adherence to the promise he had made her in that regard. The rest…
For the rest, I really wish Bud Kilgore was here. He’d know how to set things right… And she wanted to mention the thought to Einar in the hopes that word of the tracker might jar him out of the unshakable certainty with which he seemed to be pursuing his current intent, but of course she couldn’t speak it aloud. Juni’s presence, though largely accepted by both of them and regarded with a good deal more trust than it had been afforded in the early days after her arrival, required a level of caution designed to protect any with whom they’d had contact, and especially such as Kilgore, of whom the young reporter was already aware and who, through her earlier survival courses, Einar was firmly convinced she’d met. The possible connection was too dangerous, almost too unlikely to be purely coincidental, and she knew that all wrapped up with the other reasons which compelled Einar out into the winter mountains to run his survival course for Juni was surely just that question, he determined to pry from her, one way or another, the answer—why was she really up there, and did it have anything to do with Bud Kilgore? That particular pursuit she had no problem with whatsoever. Wished him luck, actually, in determining the answer, as it might prove very important in deciding their future course and protecting their friends. But that wasn’t terribly relevant just then, not so long as he remained in such grave danger of not making it through the remaining dark hours. Best try something else. Appeal to his sense of logic and reason—if he had any left, at the moment.
“About this thing you want to go and do tonight…part of survival is knowing when it’s time to quit at one thing or another, move on, knowing when something is no longer working and a new thing needs to be tried. You know that. You taught me the importance of being able to improvise, change plans while in the middle of carrying them out if the circumstances require, yet right now I see you being completely inflexible and utterly refusing to consider that maybe there’s another way, here. That you really don’t need to kill your body—which is what you’re headed for, and in a pretty efficient manner, even if not intentionally—in order to get your mind in line. Think about it. That doesn’t even make sense! Does it?”
Too weary to argue, to try and explain any more of it to her; had to use what little strength remained—for if not quite agreeing with Liz’s assessment of where he was headed that night and the associated peril, he did feel himself dangerously short on energy—to get himself out there into the darkness away from camp and climbing that ridge in search of the spot where he could pass the night doing one of the few things he was absolutely certain would help in such situations. Was going to be enough of a stretch just to physically get himself up the remainder of that slope, without first wearing himself out in argument. Besides, he had no words. Nothing to say, even if he’d wanted to participate. Which, he knew, would only have served to help reinforce her point, had he mentioned it. She was staring at him.
He shrugged. Wondered what was next. She looked pretty mad. Though it was hard to tell sometimes, in the firelight.
“Well, I’m not doing it anymore,” she said with an alarming finality. “I could knock you in the head with the rabbit stick—goodness knows you’re not moving quickly enough right now to dodge it, if I plan things right—tie you into the bear hide and sit on you for the night, but I don’t want to do that. Just don’t want to do it anymore. I’ve never really felt right about pushing you into one thing or another against your will like that, have only done it for little Snorri now and then, but at some point…you’re just going to have to decide for yourself whether you’re staying here with us, or not. I can’t keep deciding that for you.”
“You never decided…”
“Oh, I know you probably don’t see it that way, but yes, I have. More than one time you almost certainly would have frozen in the night if I hadn’t stepped in, in a way I probably shouldn’t have done. And I’m all through with that. You’re on your own.”
“Done with it. You’re released from it. Go and starve, if that’s what you want to do. It’s no good, that sort of agreement, unless at some point you come to see the sense in it, take some interest yourself in changing what you’re doing. I appreciate your sticking to that agreement so faithfully, because I know what it cost you, sometimes, to do it, and you certainly stuck to the letter of the law…but it’s pointless. You were only doing it for me, and that’s pointless, so it’s done. If you can’t take some responsibility, yourself, when it comes to making sure you’ll be around to see Will grow up—or even to see the winter end—then I guess you really might as well just go out there right now and sit in the snow until the end comes, because it’s going to happen sooner or later if you keep up this way, and it would spare me a lot of pain—and certainly would spare you a lot; I can’t even imagine what it must be like, going on as you are day after day with practically nothing left of your body, nothing to power your mind, just struggling desperately to find a little energy somewhere, some other part of you it can start dissolving and absorbing in the hopes of keeping itself going for a few more hours—so if that’s how it is going to be until the end, it would probably be better for everyone if you went ahead and got it over with. Don’t you think?”
“Aw Lizzie, I’m not going anywhere. Got no intention of leaving the two of you anytime soon. You ought to know that by now. Besides, it’s really not as bad as all that. Life’s pretty good, spring is coming and I’m doing just fine, really, not nearly as bad as I guess it must look..”
This time, staring at him almost in disbelief—he really doesn’t get it. Doesn’t realize—she did not have any angry retort, no argument, nothing….she simply slumped down by the fire and wept.
Einar did not know what to do, had only seen her a time or two display her emotions in such a way and he glanced from her to Juni as if hoping she’d know what to do, but the reporter-turned-survival-student just looked away.