Tilting its head suspiciously at Liz as she stepped out of the timber, the raven took one final taste of drying chokecherries before launching off the rock and flying to a respectful distance, settling on a bare and barkless branch high up in a dead section of one of the firs that overlooked the clearing, watching, waiting.
The shadows had shifted as the afternoon wore on, a small stand of aspens shading Einar entirely so that Liz did not at first see him when she entered the clearing, lying flat on his back and mostly concealed by one of the large, flat-topped boulders that dotted the place, but she saw the drying cherries, and knew he had been back. The cabin door stood open, and she hurried inside, hoping to find him there but instead discovering the note--a quarter sheet torn from the little spiral-bound notebook Susan had left her on her last visit, printed along the top edge with a tiny and painstakingly neat block text, as if, knowing the value of the paper, he’d been striving to leave as much of the sheet as possible for other projects--that he’d left secured to the stove with its granite paperweight. Gone up to the spring, be back in an hour. So. He had not disappeared without informing her, not exactly, and she shook her head in frustration at her failure to have found the note earlier, perhaps sparing herself the last several hours of searching and worry. Only it wouldn’t have, not really, for she would have in all probability still felt a need to go looking for him when he hadn’t re-appeared after that hour away, and wouldn’t have found him along the trail, just as she hadn’t that morning. But it was all over now, he was clearly back, and she told herself to let the whole thing go, find him and make sure he was doing alright, hadn’t managed to further injure his ribs with the exertion.
After some searching Liz came across Einar lying there in the shadows behind the boulder--she’d been checking each one, seeing that he had obviously visited them to spread out the fruit for drying--limbs all sprawled out like he’d fallen there from some great height, head back and mouth open as if he had at some point been struggling for air, but had stopped, and, his face looking all grey and purple and pinched beneath its deep tan, it took a moment before she realized that he was, indeed, still breathing. And shivering, though weakly and not very often. He was cold, unresponsive to her touch on his shoulder, and when she pictured him struggling back down there after his time in the spring--hiding from her as she searched for him, or surely they would have run into one another--and deliberately lying down in the shade of those trees while obviously still dangerously cold, she was filled with a great anger at his seeming disregard for the continuation of his own life when so much was depending on him--she was depending on him, and so was the child, and half the time he didn’t even seem to care, and suddenly she very much wanted to wake him with a swift kick to the ribs.
That ought to get your attention, alright. You want to hurt, do you? Is that what this is all about? Well, I’ll show you what it is to hurt…but she restrained herself. Would never really do such a thing to him, much as she might in the moment wish to, and felt bad for even allowing herself to think of it. Forgive me. You already know what it means to hurt, in a way I’ll never quite be able to comprehend. I know you’re just doing what you think you have to do to go on existing, to keep yourself going, but sometimes I really wish you could see just how counterproductive some of your decisions are. How they look to me, anyway. Maybe I don’t quite understand what motivates you, sometimes. I don’t want to keep you from doing what you need to do, I just don’t want to lose you…
Perhaps sensing in some way his momentary danger Einar woke then, hand going to his ribs as he looked up at Liz through a haze of confusion--must have gone to sleep, didn’t mean to go to sleep--shivered, and tried but failed to sit up. Glancing around, he saw that the sun must have left his resting spot while he was asleep, leaving him awfully cold once again. Figured he must not have ever thoroughly warmed up from his time in the water.
“Einar. What are you doing out here?”
Needed a minute to think, shook his head, tried to grin but his teeth were chattering too hard. “Guess I was…uh…being scarecrow. Horizontal scarecrow, so they’d…see shape from the air and stay away. Didn’t it work?”
“No, it didn’t work. Does that crow look scared? That one, up in the tree right up there.”
“Not…crow. That’s a raven.”
“Well, raven, then. That raven was sitting right here on the rock above you when I got back, eating chokecherries.” And probably just waiting for you to expire so it could add some variety to its diet, too. How long would it have been? Would you have gone on lying here all night if I hadn’t come back?
“Ah…” he half groaned, finally making it up to a sitting position so he could get a look at the berries, shivering harder as he scooted back to support himself against the boulder. “Goofy birds. They ought to…realize what a…th-threat I am to…”
You’re not much of a threat to anything but yourself at the moment, though I’m sure you wouldn’t want to hear that, so I won’t say it…
“I came looking for you a while ago. Why did you hide from me on the trail?”
“Didn’t hide, I…left…note for you.”
“Yes, I know you did. I found it just now. Didn’t see it before, because the door was barred and I didn’t go inside, but I know you left it for me.”
“Was gonna tell you about it before I went, but this morning…figured I’d…better just go ahead and get started. Have to get back to my cold training.”
“Is that what you call it? What’s the point of such training, if it nearly kills you every time?”
“Not supposed to…do that. Doesn’t usually. You know, because you’ve…been there before when I…and it was fine. Real good thing. I just got…little tired this time, but I’m Ok.”
“No, you’re not! You’re half frozen, mostly starved and you can’t get enough oxygen to allow yourself to think straight. That is not Ok.”
He couldn’t much dispute any of that, guessed she had a point but found it all tremendously funny for some reason that he could not quite explain--still here, I’m still here, even if you’re right about all of that--saw the spark in Liz’s eye just in time to think better of laughing--a very good thing indeed, as she was not in the mood for humor--instead devoting all of his energy to getting himself to his feet. It took everything he had.
“Meant to get some more skins sewn together for your parka, but looks like I’ll have to do it this evening. Got the…berries spread out to dry, anyway. Stopped them fermenting any further.”
“We’d been needing to get them out in the sun. I don’t suppose you’ve stirred them at all, turned them over since getting them spread on the rocks? No? Well, I’ll do it, now.”
Einar followed her, turning aside and choosing his own boulder full of berries to tend to, sure he had not yet seen the last of the Wrath of Liz, and anxious to be of some use while he awaited its full fury.