27 October, 2015

27 October 2015

No one slept much that night, Einar relieved after his watch by Bud, but remaining near his post, listening.  The night was not quiet, but all of the sounds, so far as Einar could tell, were coming from some great distance off, from the area of Clear Springs.  Head nodding, sleep wanting to come, he fought it, struggled to stay alert.  Liz was sleeping, or appeared to be, Will with her over near Susan where the junipers were at their thickest, and he was glad to see her getting some rest.  Rose, stretching, holding himself rigid against a series of cramps which gripped the muscles of his lower legs, eased some by movement, and he moved.  A small sound in the darkness, a faint scraping of rock on rock, and he froze, listening.  Bud.  Recognized his pattern of movement, steps with a slight limp in them, probably remarkably similar, Einar realized, to his own.  Except that Bud was heavier, steps more solid, feet more firmly connected to the earth.  The tracker stopped, swiveled, froze, knew he had been heard

"What are you doing, Asmundson?  Supposed to be getting some sleep.  Your turn'll come again soon enough."

Einar said nothing, silently crouching on the rocks beside Kilgore, squinting into the darkness, past the trees and out across the sagebrush flats that lay between them and the murky glow of Clear Springs.  Bud got the message, words or not, and let Einar share the watch without further objection.  Roger, by common agreement, was to be allowed as much sleep as he might be able to manage, his being the duty to pilot the plane sometime the next day.

Morning, light barely beginning to show on the horizon when Einar rose stiff and shivering from his post and went to wake Liz, anxious to be on the move and gain, hopefully, a few extra hours during which to scout the area around the airport.

Four hours of walking, that's all it took.  Would have been less still, had they not needed to put so much time and energy into carefully choosing the most well concealed routes, sometimes necessitating an additional half mile here and there.

Einar's focus sharpening as they neared town, the world seemed to crackle around him, every detail alive, moving, imprinting itself on his consciousness without any deliberate effort at observation on his part.  Useful, this effortless alertness, but at the same time nearly unbearable as they neared town and the man‐made sights and noises increased.  Too much information, too much to sort out, and Einar wished rather desperately to be able to turn around and retreat into the quiet, concealing safety of his hills.  Could not do that, must not, paused and used his breath to slow everything down for a moment, give him some room to think.  Better.  Still nagged at him, but at least he was able to shove to the background the increasingly frantic feeling of the thing, concentrate once more only on the details that mattered.

Five minutes later they topped out on the ridge and saw through a screen of junipers the airport stretching out below them at the edge of the wide, flat basin which held Clear Springs, destination nearly reached, and Einar stopped in his tracks, wanting more than ever to turn back.  The thought of what he must do next, what they all must do...it took him right back to the moment when he had decided to walk out of the jungle after his escape from captivity, that morning three weeks into his escape when he had taken that leap of faith and stepped out into the open in front of the wire...only this time, there were no friendlies waiting for him, no hope of being reunited with the men beside whom he had fought...

It had been hard enough that first time, even though he had known logically that he was walking into the presence of friends.  He had still fully expected a bullet to rip into him the moment he was spotted, had almost been able to feel it as he took that first step out into the burnt clearing that surrounded the camp, and that bullet had been the best case scenario, because the other involved his being captured and returned over the border to that squalid swamp, to the bamboo cage for another round of interrogations...  He shuddered, hunched his shoulders against the sudden physical sensation, real and immediate as the rocks beneath his feet and the sage‐scented wind on his face, of the ropes about his upper arms, pulling them back into that impossible position, arms nearly jerked from their sockets.

He blinked, scrubbed the sweat from his face with a rough swipe of a hand, did his best to swallow the sense of rising dread.  Mostly succeeded, started moving again, but it left him queasy, unsettled, a situation not helped by the realization, as he took his turn with the binoculars before their final approach, that Roger's plane was well over on the far side of the airport near the hangars, nowhere at all near the trees or any other sort of cover...

11 October, 2015

11 October 2015

Doubts, as they traveled, Einar remembering some of the more difficult times during their years in the high country, those first months when he'd been virtually unable to move from the dark, cold recesses of old mines due to the intensity of the air search, no food, no way to have a fire, nowhere to go, standing and stomping his feet all night just to keep from freezing—until he'd hurt his hip, and couldn't stand at all, and was left to huddle shivering over a single bearfat lamp all night, hoping he'd get to see one more morning.

Rough times, but here he was.  Had not given up, walked into town and surrendered, not then, not when they'd shot him in the leg during one of his near escapes and he'd faced weeks of serious  infection as he attempted to clean out and care for the wound, nor during the agonizing months after the frostbite injury which had ultimately cost him all the toes on his right foot.

That one had nearly meant the end, numerous times, yet not once had he seriously considered doing what they were about to do, putting themselves in the hands of another and venturing willingly down into the territory of the enemy.  Liz.  Maybe she had wanted to do it, wished they had done it long ago, had been waiting for him to agree to the thing...he looked back at her, watched for a moment as she walked, Will on her back.  No, didn't think so.  Even during her pregnancy, when things had looked uncertain and she had struggled at times until they had figured out just how much protein she needed.   He had asked her, then, had offered it, but she had refused.  Had even insisted that, no matter what happened, they needed to stay out where they were free and were safe.

Doubts, and he put them aside, kept moving.  Different times, different situation, and this time he had agreed to it.  Advantage, which he had always found in the familiarity of his chosen territory, in the certainty that he knew the area better than his enemy ever would—he knew it could be had in a dramatic, unexpected change, as well.

The course they had mapped out took them with an efficiency not common to previously untried routes down out of the high country and into a series of lower, timbered hills, subalpine fir giving way to endless acres of blue spruce interrupted here and there by patches of aspen, leaf‐buds swelling with spring sap.  The breeze that whispered up from the valleys as morning stretched into afternoon was a warm one, soft with spring, alive with scents of the awakening world, and Einar was hungry.  Wanted to hunt, to stop and make camp for a few days here where the timber still concealed their paths, seek out the deer whose tracks he was seeing with increasing frequency, feast on fresh meat and show Will how to tan a buckskin...

Dreaming, drifting.  Stumbled over a rotted stump, realized his eyes had been closed.  Later.  The opportunity would come, would have to come, but not that day.  That day, they must cover distance.

Knowing the press of time everyone moved quickly, Einar traveling beside them and sometimes taking the lead, not wanting to be an obstruction to progress, but after a few hours of this his legs began hurting so badly that it was at times all he could do to continue putting one foot in front of the other.  He tried stretching each out to its full length between steps, leaning more heavily on the stick he already carried for balance, even tried standing still for a moment here and there, but nothing seemed to have any impact.  Silly thing, and he told himself it would pass, gritted his teeth and kept moving.  When it did not pass, he allowed his mind to wander back to the jungle, to the ropes, and the pain became that of returning circulation, and his anger carried him onward.

Stopping only twice that day, once to eat a hasty lunch and obtain water from a little limestone seep and the second time because Bud could see that Einar was near falling over with exhaustion and would likely benefit from a few minutes' forced rest, the little group made good progress, a faint reflected glow creeping across the sky as darkness fell and telling them that the lights of Clear Springs were not too many miles off.  They camped that night on a low, juniper‐studded rise above a sagebrush flat, no human habitation in sight, but the faint, unsettling rumble and hum of distant civilization reaching them as the night quieted.  It was a thing barely noticed by Bud, Susan and Roger, accustomed as they were to such background noises even in the relatively rural environments which they called home, but Liz noticed, the distant bustle imposing on her subconscious, and was troubled.  To Einar the change was not nearly so subtle, he hearing it as a clamor, a chaos, as the roar of impeding destruction.

This is it, then, Einar told himself as he took up a position beneath the most densely needled of the juniper clusters just below the ridgecrest.  Here they were, and  in the morning, they would go down there, and they would prepare to leave.  Muninn settled on his shoulder, twisted a bit of hair and rasped softly, helping him keep watch.