With Susan gone well into the afternoon Einar found himself growing increasingly watchful and wary as the hours went by, ears continually alert for any sign of trouble outside, despite the knowledge that the shadowy and mysterious fellow with whom he’d had his own rather abrupt and attention-getting encounter surely remained on patrol. Bill, vigilant and he clearly appeared to be, was only one man, and as such could end up surprised or overwhelmed by the chance federal patrol or—worse—lured away and then disposed of by a small team whose members had arrived to act on some evidence that their target might be hiding in Bud and Susan’s hilltop log house. The man would in such a case surely do his best to notify them of the trouble, would have plans, backup plans and probably another layer beyond that designed to ensure that some warning would be given, but under the right circumstances, each of them could well end up failing. Ultimately, responsibility for his family’s security, and his own, rested squarely on Einar’s shoulders, and he could not help but fret at a set of circumstances where so many of the variables necessarily remained thoroughly beyond his control.
Though restless, Einar managed with minimal coaxing from Liz to refrain from slipping out of the house to go have a look at the surrounding timber, himself, aware that his doing so could put them all in more danger by potentially revealing their presence at the house. Liz was glad to see him listening to reason on this matter, but at the same time hated to see that he was spending so much energy in wandering about the house, wearing himself out with watching, listening, every sound apparently magnified for him, each wind-tossed movement of a spruce bough catching his eye. She was relieved when finally Susan’s truck started up the drive, something real, at last, for him to focus upon and perhaps some lessening of the tension which had been slowly mounting since her departure.
When Susan returned from town, it was with several bags of groceries, included amongst them a jar of Nutella which she set aside on the counter as she unloaded. Soon added to the little pile were several bottles of liquid vitamin and mineral supplements, iron, potassium, magnesium and few others, a variety of fruits and berries, and—not from the store, but filling a paper sack of Susan’s own provision—a sizeable cluster of young stinging nettle plants. That last bit really got Einar’s interest, mainly because the plants’ presence did not make sense to him, did not add up.
“Where’d you find nettles, this time of year?”
“Ah, you noticed! Expect you noticed the other things too, but you don’t want to talk about them yet, do you?”
He shrugged, very deliberately keeping his eyes averted from the groceries. Especially the Nutella. Didn’t want to stare, to be caught wanting something. Needing something. Wouldn’t do.
“Oh, there are none out yet, of course, with snow still on the ground a lot of places, but a couple at my church have a greenhouse similar to mine, and they apparently ended up bringing in a load of nettle seed with some soil they dug up from the creekbank near their house, last fall. As things start warming up in there, the nettles all sprouted and when she told me about having to clean them out, I asked if I could come help her. Told her I wanted them for a spring tonic I like to make, which I do, but this first batch is going to be part of your supper!”
Einar nodded. “I like nettles. Taste a lot like spinach, only with such an intense, lively ‘green’ flavor. Not too many people use them around here, just never think about their being edible it seems, because of the sting…”
“Right, but a quick steaming takes care of that, and turns them into one of the best spring vegetables around. Many are the times I’ve made ‘spinach’ lasagna for guest out of nettles from our creek, and they’ve never known the difference—unless I’ve gone ahead and told them!”
“We ate them sometimes, up on the mountain. And I used them for Liz after Will was born. Dried ones we’d saved, to make tea. Lots of iron.”
“Yes, that’s why I brought them for you today. You need lots of iron.”
“Didn’t lose that much blood, really.”
“Maybe not, but you certainly lost some, and that’s not a terribly infrequent occurrence, is it?”
A black stare, no words, but she had not expected any.
“So between that and your eating habits, you were really deficient in iron even before your little meeting with our friend Bill, I have no doubt. Can see it in the way you look, your color, the way you have trouble getting enough air sometimes, enough oxygen. That must have been mighty rough, up there in the really high country where you’ve been living.”
No answer from Einar, who was none too pleased with the entire subject, but knew better than to argue when the facts were so far from being on his side. Susan went on, answer or no answer.
“Shouldn’t happen to a fellow whose diet consists primarily of wild-caught meat, you know…but he’s got to actually eat some of it, if it’s to do him any good! You have these nettles when I make them into soup tonight, have some more tomorrow, eat some liver once you’re swallowing a little better, and I guarantee you’re going to start having more energy, less trouble with falling asleep when you don’t want to; lots of things will start improving for you.”
“I’ll eat them.”
“Good. And about the rest of the things I brought home today…well, it can be a struggle to get enough minerals from food, alone, when you’re so far behind, especially now when eating is still a bit of a chore, so I hope you’ll take advantage of some of these supplements, too. I can put them straight in your banana milkshakes or something, to make it easier to get them down. Seemed we should make the most of the time you’re with us, since we don’t know exactly how long that’s going to be, and see just how much progress you can make. Consider it a challenge. How about it?”
Reluctance in his eyes, but remembering his struggle of several days past and not wanting to again find himself in that state—not, at least, so long as he was in the presence of others who might see it as their duty to find some remedy—no refusal. He would do it.