Finally, morning nearly come, Einar did sleep, though not where Liz or his hostess might have wished, and not entirely as a matter of choice on his part, either. Through the long night hours he kept watch, having returned to the house with Bud and drank the tea Susan reheated for him, maintaining, though some supreme effort of will, his wakefulness even as the warm liquid seemed to seep into every corner of his body and push him almost inexorably towards sleep, remaining upright against the log wall, rifle propped on his knees and eyes staring off into a distance which was for him alive with dangers that at times had nothing at all to do with his present location surrounded by timber in the secure log house on the mountainside. This position he maintained even after Susan went back to bed and Bud rolled up in a blanket on the couch, silent vigil through the night. Towards dawn though, Bud up again to make his rounds in that, the most likely time for an attack if one was to come, Einar’s exhausted body finally took charge and he fell into an unconscious slumber in a rather awkward position halfway behind the living room sofa, against which he had been bracing himself in a last-ditch attempt to prevent just such an occurrence. Kilgore, getting into his boots for a trip outside, let him lie. He would wake, given time. Or the women would find him, leading to one tremendous ruckus, no doubt, but everyone would survive it. He hoped.
Maybe better hurry a little with the outside chores, try and be in here when he wakes. No telling where he’ll think he is at first, and I’d hate for Sue to get her nice tidy house trashed by some wild critter trying to make his escape through one of the walls or windows or some such. Yep, best if I’m around for that. He ought to sleep a while though, now that he’s out. Could be a very long while even, though I sure won’t count on that, not with him. As an afterthought, Kilgore carefully approached Einar, set the rifle aside—not an easy task, tightly as the unconscious man still gripped the thing—, freed his knife and laid it on the table, and pushed him further behind the sofa so as to delay his being seen when Susan and Liz got up, before slipping out the door, quickly climbing the ridge adjacent to the driveway to begin his morning’s surveillance of the property.
For a long time Einar did not wake, struggling, in the dreams that came after an initial period of blessed, silent blackness, to return fully to the world and to rise—hip hurting terribly, the cold seeming to have sunk in and replaced his bones with ice and a knowledge of their precarious situation on the edge of civilization gnawing at him, prodding him to be up and doing—but meeting with no success, and then the blackness swallowed him again, and there was nothing.
Nothing, and then sunlight, a golden, shimmering shaft of sunlight falling across him, touching his face, loosening cold-stiff muscles so that he trembled and shook and the hip pained him worse than before but he did not care, for it was a wonderful dream, the kind that came so seldom, those days, and he meant to do nothing to disturb it. Gradually inexorably, time creeping, the sunlight moved, and as through a great muffling wall he began to hear sounds, the soft speech of his Lizzie, a happy chortling and prattling of the little one learning to use his voice, the sizzle—and eventually also the smell, glorious, but how it twisted his insides; must be hungry—of frying bacon, and he smiled, drifting, would have slept again but then he remembered, and the remembering left him wide awake and in a cold sweat as he stared wild-eyed at the back of Susan’s brown plaid sofa.
Daylight. Not good. How long had he been out? No way to tell for sure, but one thing was for sure, which was that he must be up and having a look at things. The sun had shifted again, golden dreams of the past minutes vanishing as it left his little hiding place, left him cold to the bone and very nearly too stiff to collect himself for movement, but he managed it, rolling to one side and lifting himself with his arms. No luck. Soon as he raised his head it took him again, a sudden coldness at the base of his neck, and then the blackness. This time, not entirely disconnected from the world as he had been before, Einar fought, and thus it was that he managed to get himself into a state of near wakefulness by the time the others became aware of his absence and came looking.
Hurrying and out of breath, Kilgore burst into the house, arriving just ahead of the breakfast being prepared by Liz and Susan, the two of them joking that he must have smelled it and come running, but they exchanged worried looks when Einar did not follow him into the kitchen. Their concern was not allayed by the puzzlement on his own face when he glanced around and saw that they were alone.
“Where’s Asmundson? He give you any trouble? You have to run him out of here with that rabbit stick? Meant to be in sooner, decided at the last minute to go check along the high ridge, make sure nobody had been there. Which they haven’t.”
Liz was on her feet, distress showing in her eyes. “We thought he was out there with you. His boots are gone, and…”
“Doggone fool’s wearing his boots. Never took ‘em off after we came in. Had to be ready, he said, and there was no talking him out of it. Look behind the couch. But let me be the one to wake him, why don’t you?”
Not a good way to wake, especially out of the sort of dream which had occupied the last few minutes of Einar’s restless sleep, and he froze at froze at the sound of the voice, eyes open just enough to give him a fuzzy view of the world—dim and confined, near as he could tell, which didn’t surprise him, and he felt around for his rifle, knife, anything, but nothing was there—but not so far, he hoped, as to alert his adversary, and then he was moving, somehow managing to shoot nearly straight up from the confinement of his little sleeping area and getting a deadly serious arm around the tracker’s neck before the man threw him off, taking a quick step back in the hopes of giving Einar time to recognize him before he made his next move. It worked, more or less, Liz’s voice doing more than anything to bring Einar back to the present, where he stood swaying and dizzy, arms braced on the sofa, wishing to be somewhere else. Anywhere else. They were all staring at him, and he couldn’t stand it, so he moved, hurrying over to the table where rifle and knife stood awaiting his waking, reclaiming them.
Kilgore agreed, nodding, sitting and motioning for Einar to do the same.
“Yeah, it was a long night, and now before we go and have another one like that, let’s get some things real clear.”