Sorry for the long delay in posting here. My laptop finally died and while waiting for a new one to arrive, I was writing and posting with an ipod. Unfortunately, I found it very difficult to navigate this blog on said device, and was posting only on my forum during that time. You can find the link to the forum on this page on the right, just under the photo. I will now post all three missed chapters in the following post. Thank you all for reading!
As soon as Liz set him down Will began dashing excitedly about the house exploring everything, wanting to touch each of the fascinating and highly varied animal hides and furs which sat draped over furniture and mounted in willow frames on the walls, the turtle shells bolted to the loft-post, and soon doing his best to climb said timber in an attempt to make contact with an armadillo shell which had especially captured his attention and sat just out of reach. While Susan and Liz kept an eye on the little one, Einar joined Bud back out at the truck, retrieving their packs and taking them, at the tracker's instruction, up to the loft.
Cozy little place, bed in the corner, a few tall bookshelves, windows looking out on the nearby peaks and railing of hand-hewn fir timbers allowing an open view of the living room below and out onto the wraparound deck where Muninn had settled on a post and was straightening his feathers after what had to have been the longest, strangest flight of his life.
"You and your lady and the little one can stay up here if you like, have the whole place to yourself while you're here. Sorry it don't quite live up to the standards you're used to, no slushy snow or tangle of prickly old brush for you to sleep on, but we can kinda remedy that by filling the bathtub with ice cubes for you to sleep in, tossing in an old roll of barbed wire or something, if it turns out you just can't abide a soft, dry bed at night..."
Einar nodded, grinned, said nothing, beginning to grow a bit dizzy in the warmth of the house, hearing muffled, eyes blurring, nothing seeming quite right.
"Ok then, ice cubes it is. Looks like you could use a good hot stove and about a gallon of steaming soup right now though. Take a minute, get settled in up here then come on down and we'll see what we can do about all that."
Bud left, Einar bracing himself briefly against the wall and catching his breath before moving both packs over against the wall and making a hasty examination of his own, somehow feeling a pressing need to be certain that everything was still there and as he had left it, ready to go should the situation demand. Thus assured, he put his knife back on his belt--Roger's Air Taxi and Smuggling Service boasted no regulations prohibiting carry-on weapons; they were, in fact, highly encouraged, but the cramped quarters had rendered wearing the knife somewhat impractical--and headed for the stairs.
Einar liked the loft, wanted to stay and explore the bookshelves--containing, he could see, numerous volumes the tracker must have brought back with him from Rhodesia--but could tell he had better get back downstairs in a hurry, lest he end up falling down them when he did try. The warmth of the place was leaving him increasingly dizzy, and he barely made his stumbling way to the bottom of the spiral stairs before the blackness overtook him.
Kilgore, mercifully, had gone straight to wash up and help Susan finish preparing the supper, leaving Einar to his own devices as he hastily wedged himself into a narrow space between the sofa and end table and sank to the floor, rifle propped between his knees and badly chilled body beginning to shake hard as the warmth of the house crept in around him. Though not pleased with this seeming inability to stay on his feet at a time when he would have very much liked to explore and inspect the entire house and grounds, Einar took some small measure of satisfaction in the fact that he had, at least, come to rest in a spot which allowed him to observe the door and the deck outside. Which at the moment meant a bird's eye view of the bird, Muninn doing plenty of his own exploring, hopping, flapping and taking flight to explore the area beneath the deck.
Looking past the raven, Einar studied the terrain below the house, aspen giving way to scrub oak and the driveway visible here and there through the brush, winding its way up towards the house. Even more of it, he was sure, would be observable from upstairs; clearly a site chosen by, and a house designed by, a man who had seen the elephant more than once. And wanted advanced warning should it ever happen to be approaching, again.
Though giving him plenty of space and allowing him to maintain for a time the illusion that no one had noticed his situation, both Bud and Susan were in fact closely watching Einar from the kitchen, which was separated from the main part of the downstairs only by a long counter with aspen wood cabinets beneath, everything wide open and airy, just the way the tracker liked it. After a few minutes Susan left Will in the charge of Bud, motioned to Liz and went to attend to Einar, whose face and hands had remained a rather unhealthy shade of purple, and who--though he would have vigorously disputed the assertion, had his shivering allowed for intelligible speech--seemed entirely incapable of beginning to warm up on his own.
Einar, having for the time accepted the place as reasonably safe and seeing, himself, no problem whatsoever with his current state of being, just shook his head in response to Susan's urgent words, smiled, and went back to watching the raven, the budding aspens, the world beyond.
Dismissing at first Liz's quiet hints and Susan's much more emphatic assertions that perhaps he ought to think about moving a bit nearer the stove and working to get warm, Einar might have been content to go on sitting there wedged in safely between pieces of furniture for a great while, had it not been for Will. The little one, having squirmed loose from Kilgore's grasp and gone dashing through the house in a joyful rampage of exploration and discovery, soon found Einar and joined him in his erstwhile hiding place. Not content to sit and be still with so many fascinating new things to explore, he grabbed his father's finger and insistently declared that he must "come! Come see bird!" This got Einar to his feet, following the boy over to a window and bracing himself against its sill as the two of them watched Muninn pick apart the remains of a Ponderosa cone which had some months ago been packed with peanut butter and rolled in bird seed as a winter treat for the jays and chickadees. Will wanted to go out and visit with the bird, chase him along the deck and perhaps borrow one of his irridescent tail feathers to see how it sparkled and shimmered in the sunlight, dragged Einar over to the door and pointed rather emphatically at the knob when no one made a move to let him out. Amazing, Einar thought, that the boy had already been able to figure out what door knobs were for, when he had never lived in a house with a proper door.
"No, not going out right now," Liz explained, when Einar just stood there staring out at the bird. "Maybe another time. Muninn is just having his supper, and soon we will have ours. So we have to stay in right now."
This did not particularly satisfy Will, who, once his mind had been made up on a particular course of action was all but impossible to distract, sway or dissuade. Rather, Liz could not help but think with a sideways glance at Einar, like his father. A trait which surely would alternately serve him well, and serve to trip him up in this life, as Einar's present determination to remain on his feet and away from the stove seemed to be doing for him, just then. Almost literally, for he was close to losing his balance, hanging onto the windowsill with white knuckles and a sort of resigned determination in his face which seemed to leave open no possibility of another course of action. Liz knew better, even if just then he could not, handed Will to Susan and took him firmly by the elbow--briefly he twisted away from her, face blank but body indicating that something hurt, and she resolved to investigate later, as he would be highly unlikely to let her know had he sustained any injury on the journey--led him over to a stool beside the stove before he had time to make any objection.
"Sit. You've been freezing for two days and two nights now, and I know the plane ride didn't make it any better. You might as well get warm while you have the chance. I'll bring you some tea."
Einar was about to mention how he was fine and really would prefer that tub full of ice cubes Kilgore had promised, but he was shaking too hard to make himself understood. Well. Time for that later. For the moment, perhaps the fire really was best. Though he had maintained a dogged grip on his rifle since arriving at the place, he was operating under no illusions as to his present ability to use it accurately should the need arise. Body was not working very well, not responding to his demands as quickly as he would have liked, everything seeming a bit foggy. Instead of gaining ground, he seemed to be losing it. Alright, perhaps, had they been out in the safety and seclusion of their own hills, but here... Lots of unknowns in this place, so many things that could go wrong, and he must be ready. Leaning the weapon against the nearby wall he clasped hands in front of his knees, pressed his elbows to his sides and allowed the heat of the fire to begin doing its job.
Not wanting to give Einar an excuse to leave the fire right away now that she had got him settled near it Liz dropped for the time the idea of making tea, sat with him, followed his gaze out the nearby window.
"Quite a view from this place, isn't there?"
He nodded. "Good place. Need to...get out and..." nodding at the door he encompassed the surrounding hillsides with an expansive sweep of his hand, somewhat frustrated with his seeming lack of ability to communicate verbally. Maybe the fire would loosen things up, after a while. For the moment though, Liz did seem to understand, more or less.
"You want to get out and explore the place?"
He nodded. "Got to borrow...Kilgore's hat or something. So it looks like him. So no one knows."
Uproarious laughter from nearby, Einar startled to his feet and nearly falling over before Liz caught him. "Oh yeah? You think it'd be that easy, do you?" The tracker crouched in front of the stove, adding another log. "Got to tell you fella, you'd need a lot more than a hat to pass for me right now. You're not even the same shape, man. Better stick to the house for now."
A good point, Einar supposed, though he would have been a good deal more at home with the present arrangement had he been able to scout the surrounding forest and decide on the two or three best exit routes from the house, the property. Not happening. Would simply have to wait, and Einar waited, inhaling with each breath the warm, living odors of rising bread and baking turkey from the kitchen, eyes nearly drifting closed despite his best efforts, not seeming to get any warmer despite the closeness of the stove and not understanding the fuss people seemed to be making when he drifted slowly sideways and fell off the stool.
With supper soon to be ready and Einar clearly still struggling to get warm and regain full used of his limbs, Susan enlisted the help of Bud and Will to get the table ready, sending Liz and Einar to wash up in the hopes that some warm water might speed up the process. Einar, who harbored a good deal of antipathy towards warm water under the best of circumstances, was very uneasy about the idea of spending any amount of time in the bathroom, despite Liz's quiet insistence that it would only be polite for the two of them to do so after their long journey, before joining the others at the table. He assumed the place would have no windows, would not allow him to maintain the watch he had been keeping since their arrival, but Kilgore had, of course, designed it as he had designed the rest of the house, room in a corner with tall, narrow windows looking out in two directions, after which discovery Einar had little excuse and Liz talked him into taking a shower. He insisted on letting her go first, though, knowing she looked forward to it a good deal more than did he, and, though not wanting to admit to any such thing, needing some time to let his dizziness pass and hopefully avoid any more falls.
Happy to be clean after the long hike, flight and their dusty ride in the truck, Liz wanted to stay and help Einar off with his clothes, seeing that he seemed to be keeping one arm pressed tightly against his side whenever he moved in a way which indicated some sort of injury and wanting to get a better idea of what that might be. He insisted, though, that everything was fine and she really ought to go check on Will. Glancing back as she left, she saw that his entire left side was a mass of bruises along the ribcage, the result, she could only think, of the bumpy ride in the bed of Bud's pickup truck. Finally alone where no one could see and question him on the state of his physical existence Einar got down to the business of washing up, knowing better than to use water that was too warm unless he wanted to find himself losing consciousness and, as a result of this caution, only seeming to end up colder and shakier when he was all done. He managed eventually to get his clothes back on anyway, and join everyone at the dining table.
Supper that night was a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, wild turkey from Kilgore's freezer, Susan's mashed potato casserole with butter, cream cheese and chives, home-made cranberry sauce and buttered rolls, everyone rejoicing, feasting, Liz thoroughly enjoying it and Will getting his first taste of many things he'd never tried before. The cranberry sauce seemed especially to please him, somehow ending up all over one side of his face and up into his hair, as well as in his mouth, much to Einar's consternation when once he looked up had the momentary impression that his son was covered in blood. The situation very quickly became clear to him, fortunately, leading to a fit of silent laughter as he wiped the boy's face and dabbed with a napkin at the sticky redness in his hair. Will just squealed with delight and began applying fresh smears of cranberry.
Einar, wisely left by Susan to serve himself, had a tiny bit of turkey with gravy and a few bread and butter pickles which he chopped up very small before attempting to eat. Really did want to have more, cold as he was and knowing he needed fuel to get things headed in the right direction again, but he didn't want anyone to see that he was again having a difficult time swallowing. Had been a problem off and on out in the high country of late--could be any number of different causes, he'd told himself, but knew likely as anything was muscle wasting from his ongoing lack of food--but he'd been able to largely conceal the fact--or so he thought--by turning away from everyone while he ate. Not so easy to do at Bud Kilgore's big pine dinner table. So, he mostly stuck to the pickles.
Later, Bud and Susan gone to bed downstairs, the house quiet and Liz all clean and relaxed, she sat on the bed with Will and paged through a Field Guide to North American Mammals from one of Kilgore's bookshelves. It was the first time the boy had seen photos of animals he had grown up seeing in person, as well as many he had never seen, and the book held his rapt attention from the first page to the last. He wanted to see the book again, demanded in no uncertain language that his mother show him once more, but she gently refused, lowering him to the floor and beginning her preparations for bed.
Einar was dead tired, back braced against the good solid log wall as he watched Will play with a jar of marbles on the blue, white and green rag rug beside the bed and the gentle light of a single lamp radiating through its stitched rawhide shade to illuminate the scene, dead tired, but he did not want to sleep. Not in the bed with Liz and Will, anyway, not as jumpy and alert as he found himself here in this new place. Did his best to explain it to Liz, who had the bed turned down and was clearly looking forward to getting some sleep, rested his forehead briefly against hers in silent appreciation when she said she understood, smiled at the sight of Will already asleep lying sideways across the rug on his stomach, both fists full of marbles, and retreated to a corner near the top of the spiral staircase. Here he crouched against the wall as Liz turned out the light and hoisted the sleeping Will into bed, crouched and waited, watching the last of the light fade from around the peaks and stars start blinking into being as the sky blackened. The place was dark and quiet, both inside and out, Kilgore not one to put up with lights or noise from fans, clocks or anything else unnatural at night, and after a time, soothed by the silence, Einar's head began sagging in sleep, mind letting go for a time its constant vigilance, body gratefully accepting the reprieve.
Liz found him some time later sprawled out on the floor and covered him with a quilt, wishing she could get him up off the hard boards and prevent the inevitable stiffness and chill that would settle in his bones overnight, but grateful simply to see him sleeping.