I've temporarily lost my internet connection here at home due to a heavy storm (snowy April!) so my apologies if postings are at random times for the next few days, while I get that resolved.
It was too dark for Einar to get much of a look at his captor, so dark, in fact, and so silent that he wondered at first if he might not be dreaming the entire thing, having fallen asleep in the snow and woken in the sort of nightmare that often plagued the passage of the dark hours, but he knew that were this the case, he almost certainly would not be capable of asking the question in the first place, but would find himself wholly lost in the thing. Which made it real, and meant that he must escape. Difficult to do, knowing so little about his situation, but it was plain that first he must free his arms, which upon a bit of cautious experimentation he found to be bound tightly behind him, lashed at wrist, elbow and above, entirely immobile save for his fingers and rapidly becoming a source of some rather significant pain. That presented a challenge. Not easy to fight when you can’t move, and at the memory of how he’d come to be in such a predicament a brief wave of panic passed over him, for he knew what came next. The sudden and unexpected knock in the head, capture without any chance to resist, and then, the cage. Well, they weren’t there yet, and weren’t going to get there, if he had anything to do with it.
First, he had to locate his captor. Struggled to slow his respirations, still an involuntary trembling that had seized him in response to the pain and the cold, and when after some time he succeeded, he heard breathing. Someone was over there. And approaching. Shifting position as much as his current situation would allow, Einar prepared to spring at the man, take him under the chin with his head and hopefully knock him out, but he was never allowed the chance.
Apparently able, at least to some extent, to see in the dark, Einar’s unseen assailant knocked him onto his back in the snow and kicked great heaps of the crusty, re-frozen stuff over him, but instead of gasping and cringing as others might have done, Einar just lay there and grinned.
“Oh, so you like the cold, do you…?” The voice came low and gravelly from somewhere very nearby, and Einar did not recognize it “Like it even though it’s killing you right now, or is about to be. Is that your deal? Don’t care if you do die? Thought you had a family down there.
Einar shrugged, shook his head. Not falling for it. Not being tricked into admitting his identity, no way. Though of course, the man almost certainly already knew.
“So, you do like the cold. Seems we’ve established that. Though with proper time, I believe I could change your mind. But we don’t have that kind of time. What about heat, then? Probably just the opposite, isn’t it? Bet you can’t stand too much heat…” The man had a lighter. Knew how to use it for things other than its intended purpose—and in places not yet beginning to be numbed by the cold—and Einar very decidedly did not like the heat, but managed to keep silent. Would take more than that to get whatever it was this man might be wanting.
“Tell me. Who’s been helping you? Sheltering you? We know somebody must have been, not just now, but earlier. Names. Give me two names.”
Nothing. He made no response. Question came again, and with it, a tightening of the ropes. A twisting. Cutting into his wrists, exposing bone, but no blood came. He would have felt that, warm in contrast to the increasingly bitter chill of the night, but did not. The tightening continued, and he was able to separate himself, for the moment. Remain detached, observing the unfortunate man’s torments from a distance, regretting but not really feeling them, not as others might have done. Knew it couldn’t last, and it did not, trance broken by a heavy boot on his back, bound arms pulled up nearly over his head from behind until he was sure they were about to come out of the sockets, only he knew they probably wouldn’t, because they hadn’t before… Wished they would. Might ease the strain of it. Still he said nothing, and the man raised his arms higher. He vomited—not much in there, probably a good thing—wanted to scream, but kept silent. Could last longer than this, and intended to do it.
Just when Einar was certain he was about to pass out, the man gave him a hard shove with his boot, released his arms and sent him face-first into the snow. Sprawling. Relieved. Able to breathe again.
That didn’t last, either.
“Don’t think I haven’t read your file. Know all about you. All of it. Now talk. Give me the names.”
It went on all night, stand up, sit down, a quick twist to the ropes on his arms if he did not comply with suitable speed, and then sometime many hours into it, when he no longer had the strength to stand, even had he wanted to do it, his captor unwound the ropes binding arms behind his back, allowing the blood to begin returning and bringing with it an excruciating hurt the force and presence of which Einar had quite forgotten could exist.
And in the midst of this, the only thought that would come to Einar’s addled brain was, yeah, good, nothing’s frozen, may not lose my arms… But even the cold comfort of that thought was soon wrenched from him as the man—not even allowing time for the blood to make a full return, let alone a few blessed minutes of respite after the pain would have begun subsiding a bit—returned, barked a few questions whose words Einar could not begin to untangle or understand, and immediately set about trussing him up again, back bent, wrists bound to ankles behind him in a position all too familiar to him. Didn’t think he could take it, not a moment of it, not after what he’d already experienced that night, but he did, silent and staring as he was raised off the ground, rocks heaped on his back for weight, unable to breathe.
How long this went on Einar could not begin to estimate. After what seemed like hours of it he felt himself weakening, a tremendous sense of physical despair welling up and threatening to drag him under, body reaching the end of its endurance even though his mind was willing and able to stay the course, and gradually, that feeling of despair began creeping over from body to mind until he thought surely he could go on no longer, did not want to go on any longer, wanted it to end. Wanted to talk.
But, he did not. Even when the man gave him the opportunity, once more repeating his questions. And then, after a time of silence, Einar lingering somewhere on the border of unconsciousness and knowing he had to stay awake lest he die in the snow, a strange thing happened. Without a word, the man lowered him to the ground, loosed the bindings on his arms, ankles, rolled him over, hoisted him up into a sitting position, and draped a coat around his shoulders. Shivering and dazed, Einar turned away when the man offered him a sip of water from his canteen. His captor laughed, tone entirely changed, easy, relaxed.
“Aw, come off it. You can trust this stuff. I’m not really the feds. Or those other guys, either. Just having a little fun with you, here. Testing you out. Didn’t mean any harm. Well, not too much. You can call me the Watchman.”
“Hey, you really think ol’ Bud Kilgore would leave this place entirely in your care while he was away, right now? Not a chance in deepest, darkest Hades,my friend. Nope, I’ve been watching. Watching you, watching the watchers, making sure this place stays as safe as can be expected. I’ve been around. And will be. Good thing, too, ‘cause you’ve gone way off course, here. Ought to be able to bring a one-man army of doom and destruction to bear on any group of guys—feds or otherwise—who might threaten the place, really ought to, with your experience and all, but instead here you are barely able to walk ten paces without falling down all dizzy and useless. I ought to be able to snap you in half with one hand, you know, skinny and scrawny as you’ve let yourself become. Must have some steel in them ragged bones of yours, that’s all I can say, or you’d never have survived tonight. But steel or no steel, you’d be useless against an invading force or any size. Yep, good thing I been around. Better get it together, Asmundson. Now. On your feet, and let’s get you down to that house, before you really do freeze.”
Light was just beginning to show when the man led him down the hill, arms freed but nearly useless, bloodless as Einar fought hard just to keep on his feet, his erstwhile captor from time to time supporting him when he seemed about to fall. At the bottom, just before the timber began thinning and the house came into view, the man handed Einar back his knife and pistol—magazine was empty; he could tell by the weight—and helped him, when he seemed quite unable, to get the knife back onto his belt.