In attempting to plan for their trip to the valley several things proved problematic, chief among these the difficulty posed by the ongoing threat of scrutiny from the air. Einar wanted to get busy caching things, not only dried meat and other foodstuffs but weapons, tools, raw materials, all the things which would so greatly ease the process of starting life anew in the timber whenever they managed to find their way back, but because of the clear weather and the possibility of further flights, he could not. Would, it was appearing, have to take care of these things on the way down; Juni would never remember where they had placed things along a course so unfamiliar to her, so no particular danger there, but still he did not at all like the circumstances. Needed several weeks to plan and execute this series of events, if they were to happen at all. A month, maybe, and he could almost be ready. The thing needed thought, planning, rehearsal, several weeks’ surveillance of Susan’s house or wherever it was they were going, to make sure the feds weren’t doing the same…but it wasn’t going to happen. Better set aside all thoughts of attempting to manage every little detail as he would have so preferred to do and treat it as he would any other evacuation, speed and flexibility nearly as important as having a plan, if not more so. Seemed all wrong under the circumstances, situation not quite rising to the level of emergency, but with search for Juni threatening to escalate things to that level with little warning and perhaps little time to come up with an alternate plan, what else could he really do?
Alright then. Priorities. Had to make sure at least some of the remaining bear fat—not a tremendous amount, after the long, cold winter months—was stored in a way which protected it as well as possible from both elements and scavengers, leaving it available for use upon their return. Had few containers to use in storing the stuff, some portions already stashed in tight-seamed rawhide containers and hung in trees along what had seemed one of the likely routes they might take if forced to leave the place in a hurry, so that was a good start, but he hated to lose the remainder of the stuff, valuable as it was in ensuring both their ability to come up with enough calories on a day to day basis during the high-country winter, and to heat and light whatever space in which they ended up sheltering. Some, at least, could go into the zippered plastic bags he’d seen in Kilgore’s pack, brought, no doubt, with the intention of keeping gear dry and organized, but surely put to much better use holding some of the bear fat for placement on their way down. Weapons would be hidden as well, raised up into trees to await their return, and with them some of the tools that made daily life a bit easier up in the high country, and with this in mind Einar began loading one of Liz’s larger pitch-coated baskets with such items, granite flakes used for carving, half-finished bone dart and arrow points, lengths of coiled nettle and dogbane cordage, the stuff and substance of their life.
The others largely left Einar alone as he worked, giving him the space he clearly needed as they made their own preparations, Liz largely filling her pack with necessity for Will, diapers, the clumps of dry usnea lichen with which she stuffed them to cut down on washing, warm clothes and—experimentally; she took it back out again for daily use until they should actually depart—the woven rabbit fur blanket which had served to keep him warm through so many icy nights that winter. By the time midday arrived, not only were Liz, Kilgore and Juni packed, but Einar had prepared a series of baskets, bags and pouches which he intended to cache on their way down, and they were nearly ready to go. Einar, though, still needed to load his own pack, a matter of which Liz reminded him after taking a careful look at the stack of cargo he’d been amassing between the tunnel door and the bed.
“What about your stuff? When are you packing that?”
“It’s already in my pockets, most of it. Sling the rifle when we leave, but other than that…pretty much ready to go. Got to leave room to carry the cache stuff.”
“We can help some with that,” Kilgore spoke up. “Hang a basket on my pack frame maybe, couple pouches on Juni’s, distribute the load…”
Wanting to object but unable to think of a good reason—other than that the entire thing was madness, pure madness and certain to get them all killed or worse, but that was beside the point now—Einar nodded his thanks.
“What about Muninn?” Liz asked.
Einar glanced at the bird where he sat tilting his head curiously on his perch beside the water barrel, overseeing the goings-on. The bird had become part of their family over the past months, watchdog, hunting companion, guardian, friend to little Will and to himself, companion through some pretty difficult times, but he saw for the bird no future with them. “Time to say good bye to our old friend, I guess. Can’t take him with us. No way. He’ll probably hang around here, and when we come back…”
He didn’t finish it, and Liz remained quiet also, for both of them knew their chances of coming back to the place that had sheltered them for so long were looking pretty slim indeed, future uncertain and the way ahead a dark, hidden one. But they had to have the hope, leave open the possibility, or they wouldn’t have been able to stand it, this decision they were making, the thing they were planning to do.
Einar waited until the others appeared thoroughly occupied with their own matters, Kilgore and Juni poring over a map and Liz feeding Will as she sorted one more time through a basket of items she was leaving, and when he made his move it was furtively, not wanting to be seen as he fetched down from the rafters the envelope left him on Kilgore’s last visit. Through the day as he’d prepared the caches, Einar had debated off and on with himself about the fate of the documents, whether he ought unceremoniously to toss them into the fire before heading out—if they had another fire—simply leave them where they lay, for time and dust and eventually, should they not return, moisture to claim…but in the end, he had not been able to let go. Hastily, as if afraid he might at the last moment change his mind, the envelope went into the pocket of his buckskin vest, concealed beneath the parka where no one would see or know. Perhaps later, he might find a way to dispose of the thing, but it was not yet time. Was time to take a look at the weather, however, for over the past hour or so there had been a faint but growing sigh of wind outside, portent, he believed, of a coming change, and he left the little group to their preparations, crept out through the tunnel, resisted a suddenly strong urge to take out the transcripts and do some reading, and stuck his head out into the early afternoon light.
No sunshine greeted Einar, sky a flat, leaden grey, snow already beginning to conceal the tops of the highest peaks where they were visible through the black teeth of the timber, blurring their sharp outlines and promising to descend to the lower ridges, rises, to the basin itself as night descended. He sighed, turned, crept back through the tunnel.
It was coming, the storm, the time, the end, and he must go to meet it.