Einar went and Bud followed, leaving Liz and Juni to stand staring at one another in the dim glow of the candles they’d lit upon waking, Juni full of questions that she was almost afraid to ask and Liz fearing for the future safety of her friends, now that Kilgore had been “discovered.” Juni broke the silence.
“That’s my survival instructor. Kilgore. He ran the class I took down in Arizona. They act like they know each other pretty well, but of course he’s the one who they hired to track Einar down a couple of years ago, who nearly got blown up in that rocket strike and testified before Congress about the whole situation....”
Liz nodded, unwilling to volunteer any information, wanting instead to hear what the reporter already knew, or had surmised.
“It sounds like they must have served together in one place, maybe both, which means they already knew each other when Kilgore was hired as part of the search…”
Just thinking out loud, didn’t require a response, and Liz did not give one.
“But how did he know where to find you? Can’t have just stumbled upon the place. He’s been here before, hasn’t he? Has to have been, it’s looking like. That’s where you got the rifle, some of the things that…”
The severity of Liz’s countenance stopped her in her tracks at that point, some speculation clearly much better done in silence, and she hoped she had not already gone too far…
The two men did not go to the woodshed, Einar instead leading Bud to a spot in the timber where they were out of easy earshot of the cabin but where a heavy screen of small, close-growing evergreens shielded them somewhat from the bitter wind of the early, still mostly dark morning. Hard to talk out there, the cold almost enough to take a fellow’s breath away, but Einar hadn’t wanted any more of the conversation to take place in front of Juni. Already she knew too much, and as he was not yet certain of her ultimate fate, he wanted to exercise at least some measure of caution.
“You really came up here to deliver that news? Risked a trip to my basin for that?”
“Sure. Thought you ought to know. May have an impact on this thing with you, and pretty sure will have an impact on us all, long-term. And I really want you to consider coming down there and doing your duty as a soldier and as a leader of men, if things really do head in that direction. But mostly I came for that girl, Juniper. Didn’t figure she’d actually be able to find you, so I guess I underestimated her a bit, there, but knew she’d be trouble and figured I’d better warn you. Figured she had designs on coming up here to look for you, from the first the day I saw her in my class and recognized her as the writer of that previous article. Clever and determined, that one is.”
“She didn’t exactly find us, and almost certainly wouldn’t have. We found her, but she was already a little too close for comfort at that point, couldn’t be allowed to wander freely about until she saw something, and besides, we didn’t recognize her until we’d already made contact.”
“Real surprised she survived that initial contact. Must be slipping, Asmundson.”
Einar glared and the tracker grinned. “Don’t you try and deny it. That won’t work with me. Might work some with your Lizzie just because she cares so much for you and wants to believe in you—though I doubt it; she’s awful sharp—but I can see it, have seen it plain as day last couple times I’ve been up here. Slowing down, losing strength on a curve so steep that you can’t begin to keep up, but this time—well, it’s amazing you’re still on your feet, really. Never quite seen anything like it, and that’s no compliment. Don’t have to be that way, you know. All in your hands. You can fix it, and probably should.”
“Not sure it’s that easy.”
“Did I say anything about easy? Gonna be anything but easy, and it’s gonna hurt like heck, both body and brain and you may not get through it at all, but knowing you, that’s not something that ought to bother you too much, is it? Any of that.”
A noncommittal shrug, eyes going distant and grey, and Kilgore knew what he was thinking, let him alone for a long minute to be with the thoughts. Long enough. Wind was a fearsome, killing thing, even broken by the considerable shelter of the trees. He could feel the heat leaving his body at an alarming rate under its lashing, and, in the slowly strengthening light of morning, all but see it leaving Einar’s, as well.
“You’re freezing, man. Why don’t we go back inside? What’s your bride gonna do to me if she finds I’ve let you freeze solid out here while we were talking? Wouldn’t be pretty, I can guarantee you that! Contents of my brain pan splattered all over them nice clean cabin walls with her war club, and you folks left with a major cleanup job…though I’m pretty sure the raven would help, wouldn’t he? Either way, I’d rather not find out, not today.”
No response, the other man lost in thought or, more likely, in an increasingly impenetrable haze brought on by his falling body temperature and soon to be quite unreachable if something wasn’t done, and Kilgore was on his feet, hands beneath Einar’s arms as he helped the much lighter but somewhat resistant man to stand, gave him a rough shove in the direction of the cabin.
“Got some stuff for you. You’re getting lax about that, too. Didn’t search my pack.”