Each taking only a few essentials on their back, most of their gear was packed back into the drop bag as they prepared to leave, Einar rigging a pulling harness from some of the parachute webbing and—Liz carrying Will—insisting on taking the first turn at the hauling.
Having studied the map again as Liz packed the bedding, he’d settled more firmly on a course, allowing himself to suppose for the moment that he knew for certain their position on the map and base his calculations on that supposition, hoping its truth—or lack thereof—would become plain once they started moving. First, they must traverse the long valley in which they’d landed, head for what appeared on the map to be a low saddle or pass at its upper end which ought to allow them fairly easy access to the series of low ridges and ill-defined draws which lay between their present position and the big canyon in which he hoped to find Liz’s caves. If they were right, anywhere close to right, and if not…well, nothing terribly wrong with losing themselves in the vastness of an unknown land, now was there? Would be better than staying so close to their last known location. Had to finish breaking their ties with that last contact, with any possibility that it could be used at some point in the future as a start to a new search. Einar trusted Kiesl and his intentions, but life is an uncertain thing, and without knowing what had happened when he’d landed that plane, wherever he’d landed it…well, there simply weren’t any guarantees.
Liz was ready, and he took one last look at their camp, making sure nothing was being left behind, checking Will where he snuggled down in his mother’s hood, snug, warm and appearing as anxious as anyone to be going, to see some new territory. Gonna see lots of new territory in your life, little one. No doubt about that… And he would have started out, but Liz had him by the arm, was offering him some of the bread and cheese she’d had for breakfast. He shook his head, pulled the jar of Nutella from his coat pocket with a grin, but she wasn’t satisfied, would not release him until he’d actually opened the lid and had a big bite of the stuff, possessed of the notion, it seemed, that simply looking was somehow not enough…
“It’s going to be a long walk. I don’t want to end up having to roll you out of the trail and go on without you, about halfway through.”
“Don’t worry.” That wild grin again, Einar in fine spirits despite the already-intensifying hurt of his wrenched leg, glad to be going, to have a goal. “I’d find a way to drag myself over to the side and unhitch the harness, first roll over an embankment so I’d be out of the way…”
“Not funny. Have some more.”
“It’s not a limitless supply, you know. We’ve got to make it last.”
“You’ll set up a trapline when we get there, won’t you? Wherever we’re going? So we can look at this food as fuel to get us where we’re going, help us get set up so we can start producing out own. And I’m not going anywhere until you have some more.”
“Hey, you should have seen how much I had earlier this morning, when I got up,” and he showed her the dent in the jar’s contents, Liz somewhat impressed but still insisting he take another scoop. She could see the weariness in limb and feature, its lines not as effectively hidden as he might have hoped by the glee with which he was facing their departure. She knew he’d not yet had time to begin building up any sort of reserve after his long hunger, on top of which his body was struggling to begin healing whatever damage he’d done to his leg in falling, along with the other injuries incurred in his bad landing. Of those, none were as outwardly obvious as the leg, but they had traveled together too long for him to entirely conceal them from her, and she knew that the more energy he could take in just then, the better.
On the move then, Einar pulling and Liz out front, reasoning that being the more lightly burdened, the least she could do was to break trail, a theory which worked reasonably well until Einar decided that he simply must be out front in order to better choose their course around the valley. Through the timber he led them, heading for the pass he hoped to find some two miles distant and keeping his eyes open all the while for his main chute, the finding of which had taken, over the past two day, second priority to their efforts to place themselves on the map.
While he did not want to track up the open snow of the long valley floor, neither did he wish to have some hiker stumble across that still-packed main chute someday in the following months and, likely as not trying to do the right thing and return it to its rightful owner, rouse the curiosity of the unknown party from whom Roger Kiesl had seen fit to borrow the rig. Finding it, he had known from the beginning, was likely to pose some difficulty, everything having been white, drop bag, chutes, the ski suits with which Kilgore had so kindly equipped the two of them, and though he had searched some that first morning after the jump and scanned the valley on his descent from the ridge, he had seen no sign of it. Now as they traversed the valley he searched, scanning the open, snowy landscape near the center and seeking for any sign amongst the trees, a streak of white where none should have been, damage that appeared caused by a falling object, but he saw nothing.
Startled out of a trancelike focus intense enough both to keep him on his feet and facilitate the constant scanning of their surroundings for danger and for the chute—no small feat, under present circumstances—Einar whirled about at the touch of Liz’s hand on his shoulder, accepting the water she was offering him and sinking quite without any volition on his part to the snow beneath him. Head bowed, fighting for breath, he said nothing as Liz loosed the harness and fastened it around her own waist
“My turn for a while. You can still go out front if you need to pick our path, but Will’s asleep, and it would be a good time for me to pull for a while.”
Shook his head, pressed the knuckles of both hands briefly into his forehead in an attempt to ease a pounding which seemed increasingly to be settling there as they traveled, and looked up at her. “You can have the lead for a while. Just don’t forget to keep an eye out for…”
“Yeah. Haven’t seen it, and would rather not have to come back to this valley at all, after we leave. But if we don’t find it, we may have to.”
“What would it look like? Possibly a white backpack-thing with lots of straps, hanging in a tree?” She was doing her best to suppress a smile.
Einar did, and though relieved and rather surprised to see the chute hanging there above their heads, his heart sank some at the realization that the thing had come to rest some thirty five feet above the ground, hanging by a strap far out from the trunk of a massive spruce.