Einar had heard it, all of it, though in strange, distorted snatches which left him filling in the blanks as he struggled to wake, sure that Kilgore was about to stick him with an IV full of poison that would paralyze him all over again and leave him unable to resist whatever was to come next. At least Liz, his own dear Liz had objected, refused to go along with whatever nefarious plot the tracker was now attempting to implement; he’d heard her do it, loved her for that, wished he could wake up and tell her so—and stay awake, too, lest while she wasn’t looking, Kilgore should sneak up and stick him with a needle of some sort. Gave it all his strength then, the effort to wake, to rise, succeeding only in partially swinging one leg off the couch and painfully wrenching his already injured hip. Good. Progress. Sure not going to sleep again with things hurting like that, and he didn’t, but had not counted on the effect brought upon him by the effort of raising his head. World went black, one fleeting glimpse all allowed him between first getting his eyes open and the darkness swallowing him once more. Fighting it all the way down he struggled to hang onto just one thing, the sound of Will babbling and playing in the background, hoping this might help keep him in the present, allow him a quicker return to wakefulness, but eventually it, too, faded, world silent as well as dark.
Waking, knowing something was wrong, not entirely remembering what, but he was pretty sure it had to do with the guards, and the fact that they would soon be returning. Had to keep still. Make sure they didn’t know he was awake, preserve the element of surprise, for in it lay his only hope, and a slight one at that. Would probably be more than one of them, and even if he succeeded at taking the first one out, the second would have him. Unless he could seize the first man’s pistol. That might give him a chance, though it would also attract unwanted and potentially unaffordable attention. Well. No good option, must take the one before him, wherever it led. And soon, too, for he heard the approach of footsteps, slow, measured, sounding strangely soft, muffled, and with them was no swish and splash of water, as he had grown accustomed to hearing. Nearing. Almost time. Silently, keeping still, he gathered himself. Ready to make his move….
When the raven stretched out his wings and began sounding his rasping alarm, he tended to make quite an imposing figure, and this is exactly what he did as Susan approached the couch where Einar lay, the bird taking some objection to her sudden presence and making his voice heard quite clearly there in the confines of the house. Several things then happened simultaneously, Susan backing off so as to stop alarming the bird, Liz hurrying towards the source of the commotion and Einar surprising everyone by quite literally leaping to his feet, making a sudden and startlingly agile dive across the living room, rolling and ending up flat on his stomach behind a chair. After this nobody moved for a moment, Kilgore watching attentively as both women, one youngster and a raven stared at Einar, the latter blinking, shaking his head and quickly suppressing the incongruous hint of a grin that began creeping across his face at sight of the bird. Moving cautiously as if more than half expecting one or more of the other humans in the room to rush him at any moment, he slowly got to his feet, limping over and holding out an arm to the raven.
Chortling a soft greeting the bird hopped heavily onto Einar’s outstretched arm where he would have easily knocked the man over, had he not been ready.
Fighting to catch his breath after the sudden exertion of waking at a dead run as he had done, Einar grinned at the bird, shaking his head. “Where’ve you been, you old vulture? Could have used you here, you know? Stick around for a while, why don’t you?” The raven, sensing Einar’s unbalance and the fact that he was not far from falling even before the man recognized the trouble, took a quick hop back over onto the top of the couch, chortling happily as Einar sank down and sat. The family was whole and entire again, everything right with his world.
Einar sat silently, surveying the room, looking suspicious. Liz knew he had heard, feared for a moment what he might do should he be able to make his way over to the chair where Kilgore now sat over beside the kitchen island, but she need not have been terribly concerned, for the raven made his move before Einar could gather the strength to make one of his own, hopping onto his shoulder and chortling in his ear. Einar smiled, slouched a bit and leaned back, looking more relaxed than he had done since arriving at the house. Everyone—other, perhaps, than the tracker, who had never been particularly worried in the first place—breathed a sigh of relief, trouble averted at least for the moment, and when Susan brought Einar a cup of water, he took it and, after a brief but thorough inspection, drained it in one big gulp.
“Good stuff. Thanks.”
“Later. Right now need to…just need to get up and try to…”
On his feet again, moving a bit unsteadily about the room, Einar headed for the spiral staircase, climbing it as quickly as he was able before heading down to do it all over again. Five times he repeated this exercise, more determined than ever to work off whatever remained in his system of the dart-poison, wanting to eliminate it before Kilgore could hit him with anything else. Wanted to try for a sixth ascent, but at the bottom of number five found himself so dizzy and out of breath that it was very nearly more than he could manage to lower himself quickly and unceremoniously to the floor at the bottom of the stairs, narrowly avoiding a fall. Will, having given up for the moment his quest to remove one by one the tail feathers of the raven, hurriedly crawled over to his father, using him as a support as he pulled himself to his feet.
“Walking better than I am, aren’t you, little one? Funny thing this life is. What do you think? Lots to explore here in this new place, isn’t there? Especially for a fella like you, who’s never seem most of this stuff before. Long way from our basin, aren’t we? Not where I really want to be right now, but until it storms real good so we can move on without leaving too many tracks…well, you might as well settle in best as you can and enjoy it, because it looks like we’re gonna be here for a little while. Yep. Might as well try and be patient, you and me. And the bird. Got a deal?”
Will did not answer, having climbed onto his father’s lap and settled in for a nap, worn out by the excitement of so much exploration and discovery, and Einar watched him in wonder for a moment before laying a reluctant hand on the sleeping child’s head, his own eyes distant.