Spring was coming to the aspen groves and patches of dark timber that ringed Bud and Susan’s mountainside home, snow beginning to disappear from the sunnier slopes and the remainder developing a hard crust every morning which allowed all but the largest and heaviest of animals to walk over its surface without so much as leaving a mark, except to the trained eye. Einar, watching from a window that morning as Bud traveled almost effortlessly across the crust between garage and greenhouse, wished they, too, might take advantage of conditions to make their escape and return to the vast freedom of the high country. It would work just fine down low, he knew, but once they got up into the timber up higher, snow would be a great deal less crusty, might very well still exist in a good many places as powder, and they’d leave tracks.
Not worth the risk, especially if the house and surroundings were being watched. Of course, if the place was being watched it would possibly eventually be raided and searched as well, at which point they would surely have been better off taking their chances up in the timber… Einar shook his head, lowered himself so that he was sitting beneath the window, back braced against the wall. Really shouldn’t be looking out the windows, anyway, on the chance that the place was being watched. Not unless he’d first gone to some effort to disguise his appearance, which, apart from wearing a bulky and unbelievably warm olive green alpaca wool sweater over his elkskin vest after Susan’s repeated insistence that she wasn’t going to have any guest of hers freezing to death in her living room—which he’d had no intention of doing, but his continuous shivering and the purple hue to his face had told her otherwise—he had made no attempt to do. Best be very careful then, with the windows. Which made it difficult to properly watch the place, leaving him to rely far more heavily than he might have wished on Bud’s word that things were quiet outside, when he reported in after his frequent patrols.
Only the knowledge that Kilgore was rather beyond competent at such tasks—had tracked him down, after all, and more than once—and also that he would be just as concerned about Susan’s safety as Einar was about that of his own family, allowed Einar to relax somewhat and let him take care of security. This, though, was acceptable to Einar only because he saw himself as having little choice, and with every passing hour, he found himself wishing more strongly to be out of that situation, his restlessness growing.
The past night, at least, had been quieter than their first, Einar’s exhaustion overcoming, at last, a rather dedicated determination to stay awake and watchful. When Liz, after feeding Will and getting him settled in for the night, had realized that her husband seemed little inclined to wake that night, she had left Will tucked cozily into the bed and joined him where he lay curled up on the floor, dragging a heavy quilt over the two of them and rejoicing when morning had come without any major disturbance. Einar had been somewhat less joyful, hating the thought that he’d been sleeping on duty and scrambling up as soon as he did wake to make his rounds of the house, checking to be certain that they were still alone and finding, in the process, the spot where Kilgore had stashed his knife and rifle.
Delighted at the recovery of the weapons and only slightly concerned that the tracker would again attempt their removal—the man, after all, had perhaps not been entirely unreasonable in having some concern; best remove a man’s means of resistance, after all, if you’re planning on sticking him with a bear dart and being around when he wakes—he had carried them with him, the entire situation seeming slightly less disturbing for their presence.
Still he paced uneasily about the place, stopping frequently to listen, to feel for vibrations that might be coming up through the ground and avoiding, as a rule, not only Susan with her frequent if gentle offers of food and drink, but his own family as well. Didn’t like that last part, especially when Will crawled excitedly in his direction from time to time, anxious to tell him, in a stream of babble which was increasingly beginning to resemble words, about one fascinating discovery or another, only to reach the spot and find that his father had moved on, not wanting to be distracted from his watchfulness. Not good. Not the way he wanted to be with the little one, and when next Will headed his way, he made a point of keeping still, lowering himself to the ground and allowing the little one to climb up on his knee.
“What is it? What’re you trying to tell me? Want to see out the window, is that it?”
To which the child gave something that sounded most definitely like confirmation, reaching and straining for the windowsill so that he very nearly lost his balance. Bracing himself against the wall so as to help maintain his own equilibrium, Einar lifted the child so he could see out. Momentary contentment, and then Will was fumbling with the window latch, making clear attempts to get it open as he had seen Susan do earlier that day while dusting in the living room. Einar chuckled, showed him how it worked.”
“Hands aren’t strong enough yet to do it on your own, I’m guessing, but you tuck that bit of information away in your head, and it’ll be there later when you need it. Always good to have more than one way out of a place, isn’t it? Yep, never too early to learn that one.”
Will wasn’t listening, though. He’d watched with rapt attention Einar’s demonstration of window latch mechanics, had given it a try himself, but now his focus had been drawn to something outside, but when Einar looked, he could see nothing out of the ordinary. It was, he suspected, the outdoors itself which was drawing him, the newness and fascination of the house having worn off somewhat and the child wanting to be out and in contact with a world which was the only one he’d ever known in his brief life, so far.
“Don’t blame you, kid. Rough on us wild critters to be confined like this, isn’t it? Don’t worry. We’re gonna get out of here sooner or later, and back to what we know. Just waiting on a snowstorm, that’s all. Waiting for the weather to change.”
And, thought Liz, who had been listening in from the next room, hopefully waiting on a few other things, too...