Liz wanted to shout out loud at the news, grab Einar, dance around the cabin with him and tell it to everyone, but of course she did not, instead simply burying her face against his chest and silently weeping, tears of relief and of joy so that at last he put aside his worry about chilling her with his icy hands and held her, chin resting on the top of her head as he stared wide-eyed at the ceiling, invisible in the bitter darkness, and asked himself, what have I done...? She slept after a while, planes apparently having finished their round for the night and gone silent, but he lay long into the morning hours contemplating, questioning, finally just wishing a storm would hurry up and come so they could get on with it. Now that he had made the decision to follow Kilgore to the valley he found himself increasingly anxious to get moving as the night wore on, straining his ears through the remaining hours of darkness not only for the sound of approaching planes but for any hint of a rising wind outside that might foreshadow the approach of a storm. By morning, though, he found himself half-hoping Liz might have forgotten, deemed the entire thing a dream so he would have more time to think, to consider. It was not so. He could see it in her eyes when she looked at him upon waking, in the way she moved about the cabin preparing a cold breakfast, smile seldom leaving her lips despite the difficulty of the morning, and he knew there was to be no going back.
Will, who she had left in the bed with him fast asleep upon her own rising, was stirring, waking, wanting to go explore, and Einar dressed the little one and helped him to the floor, where he took off at an enthusiastic crawl for the spot where Liz crouched over a newly-lighted candle, hanging some water to begin warming. Einar followed, getting himself with some difficulty to his feet and standing there for a moment swaying, dizzy, bracing himself against the ceiling with upraised hands. Should have tried for a little sleep, he supposed, though he knew it likely wouldn’t have made too much difference. Energy was his real problem, or more accurately the lack of it, and he pushed the thought aside, squinting hard until the cabin quit spinning around him and joining Liz over the candle. By that time the others were up also, Kilgore rubbing his leg, stiff after a night on the floor and Juni blinking like someone who had not got very much sleep, at all. She glanced anxiously at the ceiling as if half expecting to hear another plane, but Liz shook her head.
“Haven’t heard one since sometime in the night. They quit for a while, or moved on altogether. Hope that’s the end of it, so we can have a fire again soon! In the meantime, how about some tepid tea to go with your breakfast of jerky and dried berries!”
“Sounds great!” Kilgore remarked enthusiastically, and seemed to mean it. He, at least, was always ready for a meal, if Einar was not.
Speaking of Einar, Liz was staring at him as they sat huddled around the candle over their breakfast, trying to catch his eye, and he knew what she wanted him to do. Wanted him to make it official, and he didn’t blame her, reluctant as he had been in the past even to consider a trip to the valley. Might as well end her waiting, for he could see the strain of it on her face, hated to be the cause of that for her. Snatching up a granite flake from beside the stove he chucked it at the tracker, hitting the man in the shoulder and getting his full intention in a hurry.
“Looks like you’re gonna have company when you head down out of here, you two.”
“Yeah? What sort of company?”
“Ours, that’s who. Three of us.”
“Kilgore was silent for a moment, squinting at Einar, scrutinizing, and then he turned to Liz, a hint of hilarity beginning to creep into his eyes, and nodded.
“Is that right?”
That was it, all either of them had to say about the matter, until nearly half an hour later when Liz went out into the tunnel to clean the cookpots in the snow near its mouth. Kilgore followed her, speaking softly so as to avoid being overheard.
“Now look, for your safety and mine, I’ve got to know, ma’am. What’d you do to him to get him to agree to a thing like that? He sure ain’t the sort to be intimidated by threats of any kind so far as I’ve ever observed, not any kind at all, so I figure you must’ve drugged his soup or something, to get him to agree to a thing like that. He don’t act like it, but far gone as he’s been here lately, not real sure I’d be able to tell. So that must be it. Only I don’t remember seeing him have any soup, last night. Better come out with it, because I sure don’t want to get him all the way down to the trailhead or something, only to have him come to whatever’s left of his senses and finger me as an attempted kidnapper. No way. Don’t want to be on that side of him. If that’s what you’ve done, and you really want to go through with it…well, I’ll tell you it’s mighty risky, but I’m in, so long as we’re really sure to somehow restrain him down there near the bottom before he realizes what’s what, but you’ve got to agree to that, be willing not only to see it happen, but to help. Desperate times, desperate measures, but I don’t want to…”
“Will you stop! He’s going to hear you, and then who knows, he might start wondering, and this would all be over... It’s nothing like that, nothing at all. You might do that, though I really, really don’t recommend it…but I wouldn’t. Never. It was his idea, his decision, and that’s all I know about it. Go talk to him, if you want to know more.”
“Huh. Wonder of wonders. And you’re agreeable to it, yourself?”
She nodded, eyes sparkling. He didn’t need any further answer from her.
“Well, Sue sure will be glad to hear it. Assuming we make it and can pull this all off without a hitch. I know she was hoping there might be some way to make that happen, but I was real doubtful myself, short of using some sort of force on that crazy old fool. Which I hardly would have dared to do, let me tell you, ‘cause I knew after a thing like that I’d never be able to turn my head on you, lest I risk losing it to that war club of yours…. Quite a pair you two make. Quite a pair.”
“We’d better get back inside. I don’t think Einar is particularly at ease with what’s coming, here. I want to be with him.”
“Yep. Better do that.”