With the smoking fire to attend and his body soon chilled and uncomfortable where it pressed raw-boned and un-insulated against the aspen trunk, Einar’s sleep did not last long. Probably a good thing, considering the dreams which seemed to assail him as soon as his eyes began closing, bamboo ridges hard against his ribs, humid, stifling stench rising from the fetid water beneath his cage as shoulders and hips burned with an agony which seemed certain to tear the limbs from their sockets and the interrogator shouting, shouting, repeating his demands, adding weight to his prisoner’s back when the man did not speak, and the man, though Einar tried to break contact, send his mind off in another direction and observe the scene from a distance, was himself.
More weight on his back, breath crushed from him, sinews tearing, he could feel it, tried to resist, lash out, failing, attempting once more to distance himself, but he could not; trapped in the moment he screamed, a wordless cry of animalistic rage, terror, and Liz held him, spoke quiet words, waited for his struggling to cease. It did not cease, grew more violent, so she held him tighter, speaking his name, calling to him, scooping up a handful of crusty snow and pressing it to the back of his neck, his face, keeping at it until at last he stopped fighting, sank to the ground with forehead pressed tightly against his bent knees and seemed to sleep, trembling, exhausted. Liz added a few sticks to the smoking fire, curled herself around him and tried to get them both warm.
Bud, Roger and Susan had been aware of the commotion, Susan wanting to go to Liz and help if she could, but Bud had shaken his head, whispered to give ‘em time to sort it out, and Susan had waited, glad when things quieted down.
By morning, Einar and Liz having taken turns through the night adding wood to the smoldering fire, the jerky was thoroughly smoked and dry enough to pack away for storage. They were up before the others, having spent a fairly chilly night out in the open, Liz preparing a breakfast of buckwheat ash cakes with some of the flour and other ingredients Susan had packed in while Einar began checking over the other jerky drying racks, removing what was ready and repositioning other strips to speed their drying.
Going about his work that morning Einar was beset by a strangeness which would not leave him, remnants, perhaps, of the previous night’s dream, everything seeming too loud, too busy, motions of those around him too quick and no quiet anywhere, even—or perhaps especially—inside him. No getting away from it. Busy with the jerky, checking, turning and removing it from racks as it dried and stashing it away he kept himself under careful control, tried hard not to let any of the strangeness show to their guests or even to Liz, and with a fair measure of success, but he could feel himself slipping, losing contact, becoming increasingly frantic and frenzied behind the deceptively expressionless mask into which he had disciplined his face.
Before the world could finish going strange around him and he entirely lose his place—and, incidentally, before Liz had time to serve breakfast—he slipped quietly off into the timber, knowing he needed to be alone.
Laughter in camp as Einar stalked up into the timber, Susan singing to Will as she carried him on her hip, Bud and Roger engaged in an animated conversation about some past adventure as they moved drying racks to take advantage of the soon-to-be-rising morning sun; quietly, Muninn left the lively scene and glided on silent wings after Einar.
Not until Liz set out her breakfast of molasses-smothered buckwheat cakes and called everyone for the meal did anyone—other than Bud, who noticed everything—become aware of Einar’s absence. Susan suggested perhaps someone ought to go after him, but Liz, having some idea of the cause of his absence, insisted they let him be. Not an easy thing for her to do, considering the way he had passed the night, and the strange distance she’d seen in his face that morning, but she knew that was the way it must be. Muninn was gone, too; Liz knew he had gone with Einar, was somewhat reassured by the fact, and soon joined the others and did her best to enjoy the breakfast.
All day the little group worked, talked and stashed away batch after batch of jerky, a pleasant way to pass the hours, all things considered, but towards late afternoon Liz began to seriously worry about Einar, who had taken no provisions for a night spent out in the cold.
Bud finally went after Einar with Liz’s permission, found him high above the camp, pressed down between the trunks of two fallen evergreens, staring but not seeming to see. Kilgore could see that something was not quite right with him, face unnaturally pale and blood smeared along one cheekbone where he’d apparently swiped a hand across his face at some point. Bud hardly needed a close inspection to read the remainder of the story, wounds on Einar’s wrists and the frayed remains of a length of nettle cord trailing from one arm telling him what the man had been about.
The ropes were, Kilgore knew, Asmundson’s way of handling things when the memories got to being too much, a bit unorthodox, perhaps, arguably rather harsh, but the memories were harsh ones, and he had no grounds on which to dispute the man’s methods. They’d kept him alive so far, even if sometimes just barely. Only it appeared as though something had gone a bit wrong this time, the precise control with which Asmundson normally carried out these sessions perhaps failing him some, and now he was in a bad way, having apparently lost a lot of blood and not even realizing it. The cords, Kilgore could see, had cut into his wrists and ankles, and his blood, depleted by lack of nutrition, had refused to clot as it should have done. Bud sat down on a log at a respectful distance, pointed out the fact, and Einar, looking down as if seeing the scene for the first time, realized that he was right, that something had to be done. He moved to rise, got halfway to his feet and slumped back down between the tree trunks, world starting to go black around him.
“What’d you do here, Asmundson? Kinda lose track of things?”
Einar opened his mouth as if to speak, shut it again, uncertain how to form his thoughts into words. The tracker moved closer, pressed his stocking cap to the most profusely bleeding of the wounds. Einar watched him for a moment before getting the idea, taking the hat and applying pressure.
“It…ropes usually…kinda help get things back in balance again, give me some sort of…control over the whole thing, but this time…” He shrugged, looked away.
“Didn’t work out so well this time?”
“Didn’t work at all. I…instead of directing things myself and finding the exercise useful I just completely lost my place, ended up in the jungle with no idea of where I really was, broke the ropes, took off running and…” he stopped, eyes looking wild and tormented in his white face. “It’s all I’ve got, Bud. Only way I have to manage things, keep on top of the memories and all the stuff that comes with them. If I can’t rely on the ropes anymore, can’t know what to expect from them…” He let out his breath in a great rush, looking empty, hollow in a way Kilgore had not seen before, and did not at all like. “Well, kinda lost, here.”
“Yeah, Asmundson, you sure are. But I know the way back to camp, so what do you say we head on down there together?”