Anna calls the Marrok for help. Something is wrong in her pack. Bran (the Marrok) sends Charles to investigate. Charles handles the problems but gets hurt in Chicago. Then they all go back home to Montana and Bran sends Charles and Anna on another mission.
The story is exciting and there is romance between Charles and Anna. Briggs' descriptions of the forests and mountains are very good. You feel like you are actually there. I was actually getting cold because of all the talk of the snow!
Northwestern Montana, Cabinet Wilderness: October
No one knew better than Walter Rice that the only safe place was away from other people. Safe for them, that is. The only problem was that he still needed them, needed the sound of human voices and laughter. To his shame, he sometimes hovered on the edge of one of the campgrounds just to listen to the voices and pretend they were talking to him.Which was a very small part of the reason that he was lying belly-down in the kinnickinnic and old tamarack needles in the shadow of a stand of trees watching the young man who was writing with a pencil in a metal-bound notebook after taking a sample of the bear scat and storing resultant partially-filled plastic bag in his backpack.
Walter had no fear the boy would see him: Uncle Sam had ensured that Walter could hide and track competently and decades of living alone in some of the most forbidding wilderness in the States had made him into a fair imitation of those miraculously invisible Indians who had populated the favorite books and movies of his childhood. If he didn’t want to be seen, he wasn’t -- besides the boy had all the woodcraft of a suburban housewife. They shouldn’t have sent him into grizzly country on his own, feeding grad students to the bears wasn’t a good idea, might give them ideas.
Not that the bears were out today. Like Walter they knew how to read the signs: sometime in the next four or five hours there was a big storm coming. He could feel it in his bones, and the stranger didn’t have a big enough pack to be prepared for it. It was early for a winter storm, but this country was like that. He’d seen it snow in August.
That storm was the other reason he was following the boy. The storm and what to do about it -- it wasn’t often anymore that he was so torn by indecision.
He could let the kid go. The storm would come and steal away his life, but that was the way of the mountain, of the wilderness. It was a clean death. If only the grad student weren’t so young. A lifetime ago he’d seen so many boys die -- you’d think he’d have gotten used to it. Instead, one more seemed like one too many.
He could warn the boy. But everything in him rebelled at the thought. It had been too long since he’d spoken face-to-face with anyone . . . even the thought made his breath freeze up.
It was too dangerous. Might cause another flashback, he hadn’t had one in a while, but they crept up unexpectedly. It would be too bad if he tried to warn the boy and ended up killing him instead.
No. He couldn’t risk the little peace he had by warning the stranger -- but he couldn’t just let him die either.
Frustrated, he’d been following for a few hours as the boy blundered, oblivious, farther and farther from the nearest road and safety. The bedroll on his backpack made it clear he was planning on staying the night -- which ought to mean he thought he knew what he was doing in the woods. Unfortunately it had become clearer and clearer it was a false confidence. It was like watching June Cleaver roughing-it. Sad. Just sad.
Like watching the newbies coming into ‘Nam all starched and ready to be men, when everyone knew that all they were was cannon fodder.
Damn boy was stirring up all sorts of things Walter liked to keep away. But the irritation wasn’t strong enough to make a difference to Walter’s conscience. Six miles, as near as he figured it, he’d trailed the boy unable to make up his mind: his preoccupation kept him from sensing the danger until the boy student stopped dead in the middle of the trail. Read more here.