This time, knowing the place even through wind-blown snow, Einar did not long hesitate upon reaching the mine entrance. Did not have time to hesitate, with the storm swirling so about them and Liz already showing signs of being fairly seriously affected by the wind and cold. If he was, himself, showing the same signs he didn’t feel it, entire being engaged in guiding his little family up through the timber and over to spot where he knew shelter could be had, keeping alert all the while for signs that the enemy might have got there first. Which they seemed not to have done, no disturbance in the snow around the small, well-concealed side-entrance to which Einar led them and nothing, when briefly he left Liz in the shelter of a cluster of small firs and circled around, at the main entrance, either.
They ran for it, then, Einar taking Liz’s hand and leading her across the narrow open area before the timber which sheltered the entrance, running, stumbling, leaning hard on one another and gasping for breath in the still, windless silence of that underground place as the storm raged on outside and they began shivering as some of the heat of their quick escape started to leave them. Will was whimpering in his blanket and Liz brushed the snow from it best that she could, unwrapped him and put him to her breast for the meal that he surely needed after their run through the cold, child growing calm as he warmed against her.
Einar, meanwhile, was doing his best to shake the remaining snow from the blanket, wanting to keep it as dry as possible and seeing—could not feel, fingers numbed with cold—in the diffused light finding its way in through the low opening through which they had entered, that already it was damp in places with melted snow. They had no light, and no means, save the fire flint and bits of tinder in the pouch round his neck, to produce it, and he knew that soon they must be moving even deeper into the mine, both to prevent their heat signature being picked up by anyone outside and—more urgent at the moment—to reach a spot where less of the outside air was finding itself in and temperatures were a bit higher in order to keep them from freezing and ensure that those heat signatures went on existing, in the first place.
It would have to wait a minute though, all of it, for at that moment Einar found himself feeling terribly ill, heart racing, erratic, chest hurting and breath coming only with difficulty so that he had lean hard against the rocky wall and lower his head simply to remain conscious, all the while fighting to keep his eyes open and ears sharp so he might listen for sounds of pursuit from outside. Seemed a near impossible task, against the howl of the wind and the hollow, roaring blackness that rushed up at him from all around, assailing his senses, and he sank to his knees, upper body held rigid as he gripped the pistol for all he was worth, still guarding the mine entrance, waiting for any pursuit that might be coming. It had been too much, that desperate dash up through the timber, and if ordinarily he would not have liked to admit as much, there was no concealing it now. Liz was at his side, one hand on his shoulder as she cradled Will with the other and her eyes showing white in the dim light seeping in through the entrance. She was saying something, telling him to lie down, but he didn’t want to do it. Could not leave his post, not yet. She tried to insist, but he shook her off.
“No, no…I’m ok. Happens sometimes. Just got to…” he went silent, face drawn and grey in the dimness as he strained his abdominal muscles, pressing, attempting to gain some renewed control over the chaos in his chest and restore something like a normal heart rhythm. The exercise worked, more or less, allowing him to stand up straight once more, sight and hearing slowly returning. Even as his senses returned he found himself feeling dreadfully cold all of a sudden, drained of the energy that had allowed him to guide them with such speed up to that spot, but still he fought the urge to sit down, to let his legs collapse under him and to close his eyes for a while. Still had work to do.
Liz was beside him, looking into his face with concern as she took his pulse. “What was it? Are you Ok?”
“It was nothing. Better get Will in a little further where it’ll be less cold and drafty. Looks like you may be here for a while.”
“I may be? What about you? What are you saying?”
“Got to go back and see what’s happening at the house. Storm’s still blowing real good, should cover me.”
She had hold of his arm then, could feel how hard he was trying not to shiver and she wanted to give him a coat, another layer for warmth, but had nothing to give. “You’re not leaving us…”
“Not for long. Be back as soon as I can. Hour or so, I hope. And if not…here. Take this.” He handed her the pouch from around his neck. “Flint, tinder, some elk jerky…ought to keep you for a few days.”
“What are you talking about? Stay with us. Stay with your son.”
“I’ll be back, Lizzie. Have to see what’s happening. Useless as I am right now, I’m real sure you can make it that long without me. Probably better than you could with me.”
“They’re probably just talking. We weren’t there, so there’s nothing for them to find. Nothing to hold him on. And suppose for some reason they’re not just talking…what are you going to do? I don’t agree that you’re useless, but if that’s what you think, what could you possibly do?”
He checked the pistol, stuffed a spare magazine into his pants pocket and slipped the knife onto his belt. “I don’t know. But I’ve got it to do.”
“What if you leave tracks, and lead them back to us?”
“If that happens…won’t be leading them here.”
“Einar…let me come with you. They’re my friends too, and I don’t want…”
She nodded, in tears, brought the child to her shoulder so he could see his father, see him off, and Einar wrapped his arms around them both, feeling their warmth, not wanting to take too much of it. “You go deeper into the mine. Been there before, kinda know your way around. You’ll be alright. Way above freezing in there, once you get in far enough. Mid fifties, just like a cave. Stay in that blanket with Will. You’ll both be Ok.”