Without a fire, supper that night consisted of elk jerky and a few dried serviceberries apiece from a supply which was, after lasting well all winter for stews, pemmican, pudding and snacking, finally beginning to run short. A quantity of bear fat still remained in its hollowed log storage vessel had anyone wanted to supplement the somewhat meager meal, but no one was feeling particularly hungry, and the stuff went untouched. Unfortunate, perhaps, considering the cold night ahead of them and the fact that already the cabin had cooled significantly without the help of the stove, but at least they were equipped with sleeping bags and furs to ward off the chill as they slept. Not that anyone was likely to be getting too much sleep, with the specter of the search hanging over their heads and the occasional plane humming up the valley and over a nearby ridge to remind any who might have begun to relax, but some, Kilgore and Juni particularly, were determined at least to have some rest and stay as warm as possible under present circumstances, using the light of Liz’s single candle—the maximum allowed by wisdom and caution, she had been pretty sure—to prepare for bed and crawl into their respective sleeping bags. Einar made no such move, even when Liz, having got little Will to sleep, urged him to join her, and Kilgore watched him suspiciously for a time, finally leaving the relative comfort of his sleeping bag to join the fugitive in his cold vigil beside the water barrel. The man remained silent, never even looking his way, and though Kilgore might have been tempted to attribute the man’s ambivalence to the effects of the cold, which had gained a visible grip on him there in the unheated cabin and was presently doing its best to shake him to death in its iron jaws, he knew better.
“What’s going on in there, Asmundson? Pretty plain to me you’re not thinking about planes and searches and such. You’re a few thousand miles away, aren’t you? At least…”
“Yeah. Thought so. Want to talk about it?”
“How about you do it anyway? Seeing as we’re all stuck in here with you for the night, it’d probably be better if you let some things out in the air rather than let ‘em keep on stewing inside until you jump out of bed at three in the morning and start chasing all of us outside into the snow in our pajamas to freeze, or something. How about it? Where were you, just now?”
“You brought pajamas?”
“Beside the point, man, and you know it. Now tell me where you were just now.”
Einar was getting angry—had tried to avert the thing, but the tracker just kept pushing—and he did not want to be angry. Wanted to be quiet, and listen for planes, but he couldn’t. Not pestering and prodding and refusing to allow him a moment's peace. Not that it had been very peaceful. In that, the tracker was correct. His thoughts had been elsewhere, wandering, traveling, caught up in a maelstrom of hot, pressing memories that had been carrying him along so that he'd barely been able to hear the planes, anyway, but now with the added pressure of the tracker's insistence, the task was appearing entirely hopeless. Again he shook his head, angrily turned away from the tracker and faced the wall. Wanted very badly to be outside, but he couldn’t go outside because of the planes, couldn’t risk going far at all, anyway, or staying out in the open for long, lest he risk being spotted. So he was stuck and he hate being stuck.
Sensing some part of Einar’s dismay and perhaps even some semblance of a muted but growing danger in the air, Muninn the raven hopped down from his perch, took a seat on the man’s shoulder and twisted a bit of his hair until Einar could hardly help but react to the assault. Kept still though, face blank as he stared through the logs of the cabin and Muninn twisted harder, until at last he freed the clump of hair and hopped down to the floor, apparently satisfied or at least unsure how to proceed. Kilgore knew how, but what must be done he could not do in the cabin in the presence of Juni and the man’s wife, and a trip up to the spring and dropoff was entirely out of the question. None of which precluded a friendly kick in the shins, which the tracker would have unhesitatingly carried out had he been wearing boots, but the man’s legs were so bony that he hardly wanted to risk broken toes delivering the blow. Used a stick instead, Liz’s rabbit stick that he grabbed up from its position beside the bed, and before Einar could get his breath back from that first blow he had delivered a second and a third, one to the ribs and the other to the side of the head, leaving Einar quite thoroughly in the present, if a bit sore and more than a little cross.
“What was that for? You started clobbering fellows just because they don’t want to engage in conversation, now? Barbarian.”
“Yep. Now how about it?”
“No way. Go get some sleep, why don’t you? I’ll be the ears for a while.”
“You gonna stay awake, then? I just didn’t particularly relish the thought of sleeping if you were doing the same, way things are looking tonight.”
“Yeah, I’ll be awake. No way I’m gonna risk going to sleep just to have you whack me with that stick again. Might wake up in a real bad place, I’m thinking… Like halfway down the mountain. Or tied up in the bed of your truck.”
Very perceptive, Asmundson. And knowing you’re thinking along them lines, I’m finding myself even less inclined to want to sleep than I was before. Looks like the lot of us may be in for a pretty long night…