Susan had gone out looking that past evening when, after nearly two hours, Einar had not returned, Liz wanting to do it instead but the older woman insisting that she must stay inside, concealed, had to be there for Will and must not be spotted about the place. A less experienced tracker than her husband, Susan had found no sign of Einar on the crusty snow over which he had ascended, and near dark, she had given up the search and returned to the house. She and Liz had spent a restless night, worrying somewhat that Einar might have met with a federal patrol and been captured or worse, but perhaps even more concerned that he could very well have simply run out of energy somewhere on the slopes above the house, and be lying there dying on the snow. In either case, there was not much they could do other than to pray—and to increase their own watchfulness, should someone decide to raid the house—and this they did, keeping vigil through the night.
It did not take the women long, watchful as they had been, to hear Einar on the porch, Susan quickly checking to see that the guest was not an unwelcome one before easing open the door and letting him in. Quite a sight in matted, partially frozen clothing with dried blood caked along one cheekbone and down his neck, he nearly fell with the support of the door taken away, caught himself, bracing gloved hands against the back of a chair until Liz could set Will safely on the floor and run to him, and then he was in her arms.
“Where were you all night? What’s happened?”
Freeing himself from Liz’s embrace he took a step back, hesitated, words coming with difficulty. “Captured me, and they tried…but I didn’t…” With which he collapsed on the hard tile floor of the kitchen, triumphant smile stretching frost-cracked lips even as a tear rolled involuntarily down one cheek at the hurt, on top of everything else, of his hard landing, consciousness rapidly fading…
Liz was kneeling beside him then, raising his head and trying to get him to take some water while Susan brought a blanket, seeing that he was beginning to shake and look very cold as the warmth of the room crept in around him and began loosening chilled muscles. Einar choked on the first sip of water, managed to get the next one down and then gently pushed Liz’s hand away, not wanting to try any more just then. Took too much effort. All he really wanted was to sleep, but the women wouldn’t let him, insisting that his wounds must have attention. He wanted to tell them that everything was fine, that he’d had worse, but they didn’t really seem to be listening. That, or he wasn’t actually speaking, which latter possibility he finally concluded to be the case, but could not seem to remedy the situation. No matter. Let them do their work, since they seemed so determined that it must be done.
Susan—determined, indeed, as Einar might also have been, had he been able to see himself at that moment as they were able to see him—filled a glass bowl with warm water and added a few drops of tea tree oil to act as a disinfectant as they began cleaning the dried blood from his face and working downward, trying to assess his injuries. As they worked, they discussed the situation, agreeing that it made no sense at all, the notion that someone would have captured Einar only to release him. They never would have taken that risk, not even in the hopes of capturing others to whom he might potentially lead them. And certainly had Einar been accosted and somehow managed to escape, the house would have been the last place he’d ever think of going, no matter what his captors might have done to him, or threatened to do. Of this, Liz was certain. While neither spoke the notion aloud—communicating it instead with nods and whispers—the likelihood seemed to exist that Einar had inflicted the injuries on himself in some sort of dream-struggle during the night, a possibility which both considered fairly likely, until after much soaking and loosening they eased the bloody, badly torn and partially frozen shirt from him, and saw the rope wounds on his arms.
Susan shook her head. “He couldn’t possibly have done this in some dream-induced state…”
“I wouldn’t be so sure. Probably not during a dream, but if he woke…”
“But why? And how?”
Liz shrugged. “No telling, exactly. But it wouldn’t be the first time.”
The burns however, when they found them, told a different story. Liz knew he never would have done that, and needing to know the truth of the situation she pressed him some, who did this, who had you? But all he could do was to mutter indistinct words about the VC, the dai ta behind his metal desk in the Big Hooch, and something about a tractor battery… Seeing that such questions were fruitless at the moment, Liz soon abandoned trying, went back to helping Susan dress his wounds.
With his lower arms badly abraded and purple-black from the cold and extended lack of circulation, Susan decided soaking would be the best treatment for them, scrubbing a basin quite clean and filling it with water which Liz made certain was barely even lukewarm before lowering his arms in up to the elbows. Einar made no sound, no objection, face remaining a mask, furrowed, still, unchanging, but Liz could see from his eyes how it hurt him, wished there was some other way.
Susan, too, saw his difficulty, saw other things also, taking his pulse at the neck, examining the membranes under one eye—white, rather than a healthy and typical pink—and looking worried, leading Liz away into the pantry.
“Looks like he’s lost a fair amount of blood, Liz. He’s in shock, dehydrated, fairly seriously hypothermic and the pain can’t be helping, either. We need to get him some energy real quick, a spoon of honey or something, and water. Start him warming. And I’d like to maybe crush up some pain tablets and get him to swallow that, too. I think it would help him get through this. Help stop him slipping downward so fast like he’s doing right now. Things are really going to start crashing, if we can’t reverse the shock.”
Liz knew she was probably right, was pretty sure she could get him to drink some honey water, knew how to help him get warm, but wouldn’t allow the rest of it. “He wouldn’t like it, being tricked into something like that. Might never know the difference, but it just wouldn’t be right.”
Susan nodded. You two are a good match. You’re every bit as stubborn as he is, in your own way. Lucky guy… “We’ve got to get some water into him, then. A lot of water. If you can get him to drink, that may work, but otherwise, we’re just going to have to set aside his objections—no tricking him; we’ll tell him exactly what’s going on—and do an IV, if you want him to recover from this. If you want him to live. That’s what we’re really talking about. He was barely hanging on before, just trying to get through daily life, and whatever happened last night would have been awfully rough on the healthiest and most robust person, let alone someone…”
“Yes, I know. I know. I’d like to know what did happen. Obviously it wasn’t the feds, or we never would have…well, he’d be gone. Do you think Bud came back and did this? Or sent one of his friends…”
Susan had been wondering the same thing, only Bud had called the house at nearly half past ten the previous night, to wish her a good night and let her know it was looking like he’d be gone for several days. They had not, of course, been at liberty to discuss the situation at the house, but she highly doubted he would have left Task Force headquarters or wherever they had him staying, returned home to “visit” with Einar for the night, and gone back to work. Would have been too risky, possibility of his employers following him to the house, and she did not believe for a moment that he would have done that. Which left a lot of questions, and some potentially hostile force out there waiting to seize people who wandered into the woods, only to release them hours later. Bud had friends, she knew, who might be called on to do such a thing, that pilot Roger, several of the others who had been at the wedding, but how Bud could have contacted one of them and got them there so quickly was quite a mystery to her. Only when, several minutes after and in a great hurry to be allowed into the house, the raven returned, were they to get a definitive clue as to the identity of Einar’s captor.