Bud and Liz thoroughly enjoyed Susan’s big home-cooked meal after their long, cold days on the trail, Einar doing his best with a few bites of ham and some sips of the thick green juice she’d made from broccoli sprouts, pineapple and banana, wonderfully refreshing, and though it made him want more, he knew he must be cautious. Unlike with the largely meat diet on which they had all subsisted in the high country, there was enough starchy food there on the table—on his own plate, even, for Susan had served him—to send him right into a bad episode of the same unfortunate trouble he’d encountered that winter at Liz’s when he’d eaten the entire loaf of bread after weeks of very scant rations. Body unable to compensate for such a rapid change from subsisting on its own protein to largely burning carbohydrates again for fuel, things had got all unbalanced, resulting in a crippling and progressive muscle weakness which had affected his legs, respiratory system, even his ability to swallow, and had nearly done him in before he’d managed to get it turned around.
Sure didn’t need that again, especially not just then when he must be more alert and ready than ever to meet the dangers which were all but certain to arise with such close contact with civilization. Would be better off, he could not help but think, simply staying as he was, getting by on next to nothing and—he now had to admit—doing an increasingly poor job of it, than risking such paralysis, which would surely be worse this time than it had been the last. Liz, while having no intention of letting him go on as he had been, also knew the dangers of his having too much of the wrong things too soon, so did not too strongly push the issue, simply urging him to keep at drinking the juice and having a bite of ham here and there. Will, for his part, seemed perfectly contented to sit on Liz’s lap and sample bits of everything that came his way, delightedly remarking at the newness and wonder of it all.
Full darkness outside, blinds drawn, and though Einar wanted to have a look outside, he dared not frame himself in one of those windows. Needed to get outside, have a look around the place, and when Kilgore tried hard to dissuade him—the less exposure the better, sit tight her for a while, especially with me having just brought Juni down—he immediately took that as a sign that the tracker was working for the other side, seeking to entrap them. Of course he’d want them to sit complacently inside, not risk the possibility that they might discover the teams which were likely even now being put into place… Einar shook his head, scrutinized the tracker for any sign of guilt. Not that he would give any. He was too good for that.
You’re being ridiculous, Einar. Can trust these folks, and had better start giving it a real honest try, or these are gonna be some mighty long days, while you’re down here. Look at Liz. He doesn’t’ have any doubts, or no way would she let Will crawl about like that, nearly out of her sight and definitely beyond arms’ reach… She feels safe here. Yeah. But she hasn’t been all the places you been, is just glad to be amongst friends and may not be looking at the whole picture. You’re anything but safe here, even if Kilgore doesn’t have anything but the best of intentions. If the feds don’t yet know you’re here, they soon will, I should think, and then it may be too late. Can’t stay here. Not much beyond the night, anyhow. But Bud’s right about tonight. Can’t be out and moving, when he’s just returned with Juni. If they suspect him of anything, they’ll really be watching the place now, the approaches, waiting for people to come or go, so all you can really do now is to lie real low and wait.
He didn’t like it, but saw no immediate way around the situation. Best let Liz relax then, catch up on her rest and introduce Will to the civilized world of the valley for a couple of days, the bit of it, at least, contained in Bud and Susan’s good sturdy log house… Stove was warm, Einar beginning to be warm, as well, now that he’d been near it for a while and got some food in him, if still rather less than the others might have liked, and next thing he knew he was dozing, head nodding and a sudden terror seizing him when he woke, certain he must have missed some important event, some clue as to the particular precariousness of their situation. A glance at Liz reassured him that either there had been no such event while he dozed, or that she had missed it, too, no great reassurance, and he scrambled to his feet, taking up a position against one of the great upright beams that supported the half loft above. Liz left Will to his play and joined him, whispering something about sleep, but that was just about all he got out of it, words reaching him all muffled and confusing, and sleep sounded like a very bad idea, indeed. She insisted.
“Bud says he’ll keep watch for a few hours so we can get some sleep. There’s a place all ready for us. Come on now, I think Will’s getting tired.”
Einar saw no sign of this, the little one presently on the gallop from Susan to another of her quilts which she’d laid out for his inspection, moving almost as quickly on hands and knees as he could have done had he been upright, and it appeared that sleep must be the last thing on his mind. Liz insisted though, and after his third time dozing off in as many minutes—just seemed to have lost the ability to stay awake, somehow, and though sleep still seemed like a terrible idea in this strange and threatening place, he knew he’d not be good for much until he’d got some—Einar consented, following Liz as she scooped up the loudly protesting Will and headed up the stairs. Susan followed, bringing the quilt that had so interested Will.
The loft consisted of a large open space where Susan did her quilting, baskets of cloth squares and bolts of material proving an almost irresistible temptation for Will, who also stared in wonder at the black-shiny surface of an old Singer treadle sewing machine that had belonged to Susan’s grandmother and which still saw occasional use in her quilt making. Over to one side was a good sized room enclosed in yellow pine paneling, top open to the slant of the roof but a door giving it some privacy, and into this Susan led Liz and Einar. The room, cheery with the glow of a single lamp on rough walls of yellow pine, was equipped with a bed, table and two chairs, as well as a bookcase as high as the top of the wall, heavy laden with volumes on everything from gardening to military history, one of many such scattered about the house. Opposite the bed stood a dormer window, and beneath this, back to the wall and front to the door, and the stairs, Einar took up his position, rifle resting on his knees and eyes wide open against the possibility of further sleep. Liz deposited Will on the bed to start his exploration of this new place and hopefully begin settling in for sleep, joined Einar on the floor.
“Come sleep for a while. You have to sleep.”
“Yes,” Susan chimed in. We’ll keep an eye on things while you’re out.”
But for a long time he did not leave his post at the window as Susan and Liz watched Will and caught up on various things, curling up now and then for a brief rest on the floor—cold, always just on the edge of shivering, but he liked that, for he knew the shivering would wake him if he dozed for too long—but never in the bed.
“Can’t sleep in a bed,” he explained to Susan when she kept pressing him. “Keeps me from hearing things, feeling…vibrations that come up through the ground, and might alert me to trouble coming. Haven’t slept in a proper bed for several decades, and sure can’t be doing it here, in a house, where layers of wood and carpet and such already separate me from the ground and the mattress and bed frame would only serve to further distance me from any hope I might have of hearing the approach of danger…but I do thank you for the offer, and maybe Lizzie…”
“Oh, this is why you wouldn’t sleep on the air mattress when you were here before, I guess. Down in the basement. Why I found you jammed under the storage shelves in the basement, sleeping on bare concrete, instead.”
She left, then, assuring them once more that she and Bud would take care of the place for the night so they could get some rest. Liz, who did like the idea of a night spent in a proper bed but knew Einar was telling the truth about his need to have some contact with the ground, the floor, decided not to insist that he join her there for the night, hoping instead that he might relent only for a little while, if he could, just long enough to thaw some of the remaining ice from his bones. And if he fell asleep in the process and didn’t wake until morning…well, no harm done.
“Looks like Will’s asleep for a while, so why don’t you just come in for a little bit, to get warm and to visit before sleep time. It might be a good thing. And besides, I miss your company…” And she all but pulled him into the bed, Einar laughing and making a show of resisting as she pulled the covers up over him and helped him off with his clothes.
“Miss my company, do you? I’m nothing but a sack of bones, Lizzie. Can’t imagine you find me particularly good company in this sort of way, at the moment.”
“Oh,” she traced his collarbone, the sharp, hollow contours of one shoulder, everything sparse, scooped out, skeletal, “you have no idea. You are…beautiful. Your bones are beautiful, the way I can see how everything’s assembled, how it works, fearfully and wonderfully made…”
“Ha! You’re crazy.”
“No, I’m serious.”
“Everything’s messed up. Nothing but scars. Scars over bone.”
“They’re beautiful, too. They mean you lived through it, all of it…” and she took his hands, pressed them to her lips, his wrists where they were crisscrossed with angry purple-white scars, rope burns, some faded, old and nearly invisible, some less so; he closed his eyes, turned away.