The remainder of the day passed fairly uneventfully, except for Little Will’s surprising everyone by standing on his own for fifteen or twenty seconds when he let go the couch and held himself in perilous-looking balance as he watched the raven. Einar, who had silently drawn Liz’s attention to the happening, was sure the little guy was about to take off tottering across the room in pursuit of the iridescent black tail feathers of that bird, but instead he sat heavily on the floor a few seconds later, ready to stand, but not quite to walk. That time would be coming, and then, Liz had to think, she had no idea how she would keep up with him. Already he could crawl so quickly as he went from one fascinating sight to another that she hardly knew where he’d gone, half the time, and once he was up and walking, and running…well, she’d just have to assign Einar to watch him, sometimes. That ought to keep the both of them busy, and out of trouble. Or, more likely, in it together. She smiled, shook her head. Life was destined to be interesting, that was for sure.
Only first…she glanced over at Einar, still staring in fascination at Will as the little one struggled to pull himself upright once more, we’ve got to make sure we’re all going to be there together to see it.
Through the day Liz and Susan kept urging food on Einar, who at least made an effort to try everything they put before him, though both he and they knew he must be cautious, take it slow, lest their efforts end up doing more harm than good. While he continued struggling from time to time with a propensity for gagging an choking when he tried to swallow, this difficulty was far less pronounced than it had been the day before, leading Susan to suspect that his problem in that regard had related more to muscular dysfunction brought on by severe electrolyte imbalance than to advanced wasting of the muscles, themselves. Good news, more or less, as it meant he’d probably begin to improve fairly rapidly, if he could be convinced to continue taking in nutrients at a reasonable pace.
Already Liz thought she saw a bit of color returning to his face, cheeks perhaps slightly less sunken, hands not quite so hollow and skeletal—a result, she knew, primarily of his having finally managed to take in a bit of water—and the silent desperation she had seen staring back out of his eyes whenever they met hers fading just a bit, beginning to lose its intensity. Though cheered by the improvements, she knew he had rather a long way to go still, weeks before he was out of danger and a month or two before he might begin resembling, either physically or in slightly less tangible areas, the robust and spirited mountain man she had first come to know. For the moment, though she did not like to admit the fact, he remained on the brink of physical dissolution and might still very well succumb to the damage which had already been done.
Though eating, Einar went on refusing to take other steps which would have allowed him to be warmer, and after a time Susan gave up pressing him on the matter, seeing its futility and knowing that the nutrients he continued taking in were more important than just about anything else, at the moment. No sense aggravating him too greatly with continued arguments over whether a person was better off shivering all day, or not. If he wanted to freeze, let him. So long as he went on making an effort to eat and drink.
The following day was Sunday, and Susan, though reluctant to leave her guests, thought it wisest to go to church as usual, followed by her usual weekly meal at the house of her son and daughter-in-law. Considering what was at stake, it seemed unwise to change her routine in any way which might make those around her ask questions, so Liz, Einar and Will were left alone for the morning.
* * *
Meanwhile, Bud was having a fairly eventful day up on the mountain with members of the Task Force, who were busy searching the slide path, probing for any additional evidence and, to Bud’s dismay, finding a fair amount. In his violent tumble down the mountain he had inevitably managed to lose a thing or two which had been on his person for the descent, and though the three of them had searched the slide path before heading down that fateful day, they had not found everything. Thus it was that searchers discovered an atlatl dart—broken, but well enough intact to clearly show its workmanship and origin—and below it by some fifteen feet, a section of torn wolverine hide with stitching that appeared to all involved to be some sort of natural sinew.
All fascinating discoveries which indicated—though the final proof would come only with the DNA and other tests planned when they returned to the lab—that the dead reporter had at some point in her wanderings had contact with the fugitive, had been carrying things that he made and which had belonged to him
Their biggest discovery though, and the one which really turned the focus of the investigation, involved a scrap of fairly freshly blood-stained green plaid cloth picked up by one of the searchers…on the far side of the slide. The downhill side. Since Juni had been found in the middle of the conglomerated mess and had not been wearing anything of that description, it seemed highly unlikely to everyone that the bit of cloth had been hers, and though not equipped to do the tests there in the field, the general consensus was that the blood would prove to be the fugitive’s. Which meant, of course, that not only had the reporter managed to contact Asmundson, but had in all probability been traveling with him at the time of her death. The recent closeness of their target—and the possibility that he might still be out there somewhere in the immediate area, lurking, watching, likely as not planning another slide or some other nasty surprise with the intention of taking out as many as possible—made the hair stand up on the back of more than one neck that morning as they went on with the search.
Bud, wanting very badly for another slide to come, in fact, and save him the trouble of having to try and reclaim that cloth before the agents could reach Task Force Headquarters, and their lab, watched the search with a face expressionless, revealing nothing as he went from group to group, offering advice here, doing a bit of digging there and generally gathering information as he worked on an already half-formed damage control plan. Not the best of situations, to be sure, but he was fairly confident he could handle it, steer the interpretation of the newly-discovered bits of evidence, and thus the future course of to search, in a direction which would be favorable to the fugitive family
But then they found the tracks.