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.