Camp quiet during the early morning hours after Einar and Liz sank into their exhausted sleep beside the smoking tent, a coyote slunk through the timber beside the cabin, ribs showing, fur patchy and not as thick as it ought to have been considering time of year, made bold by hunger and the coming of winter and encouraged in its boldness by the hush that had fallen over the clearing, human scent still strong but no one stirring. Tempted by the smell of all that fresh, partially smoked bear meat the wary creature--head cocked strangely to one side, for he had that summer lost the sight in one eye due to an unfortunate run-in with a downed spruce--edged towards the tent of skins, beneath which the fire had all but died, emitting only the occasional faint wisp of sweet, willow-scented smoke. Not enough to deter a hungry coyote from poking his nose in under the tent and doing his best to make off with some of that meat. Fortunately for Einar and Liz, the hapless coyote was even then under surveillance, and the next moment the raven dived at him, leaving his fir-perch at great speed and making quite an intimidating spectacle as he closed with the coyote, a sight lost on the sleeping pair beneath the bear hide, but certainly not on the wiry little canine.
Einar was wide awake in an instant at the harsh, excited scolding of the raven, wanting to jump to his feet but holding himself rigidly still for a fraction of a second until he could get some sense of the situation--not a good one; they’d gone to sleep right out there in the open near the edge of the clearing, and would be clearly visible to anyone who might be watching the area, had no quick cover to dart behind, and nearby only the flimsy concealment of the smoking tent--and holding Liz still, too, and then he was moving, knife in one hand and Liz’s arm in the other as he hurried her into the timber, got her behind him and looked back just in time to see the coyote fleeing up into the rocks behind the cabin, raven still hot on its tail, scolding and diving and making a general nuisance of himself. Einar’s action-readiness dissolved then into a relieved conglomeration of laughter and coughing, Liz holding him, leading him back to the bear hide as he struggled for breath. Inside its tent the smoking meat remained intact; the coyote had not been given the opportunity to enter. Einar put away his knife, worked to slow his breathing so he could get out a few words.
“Quite a start to the…morning, that was! Glad it was…coyote, and not bear!”
“Yes, me too. I didn’t really intend for both of us to go to sleep, but guess we must have been pretty tired, after that night…”
“Yeah, tired enough to sleep right through pretty nearly having the place raided by a mangy old one-eyed coyote, it looks like. One more good reason to sleep cold if you’re gonna sleep at all, nights like this when you’ve got to keep both ears and one eye open. Should have just curled up directly on the ground if I had to go and sleep, and I’d have been a lot more inclined to wake real easily and…”
“You almost certainly would have been waking up dead this morning if you’d have insisted on sleeping that cold. Look at you. You can’t stop shaking as is, and you’ve only been out from under the bear hide for a few minutes.”
“Nah, it would have been fine. You wouldn’t have let me wake up dead. You’d have kicked me over to the fire and poured some more of that bear broth down me before I could do that.”
“Doggone right I would have! And locked you in the cabin for the rest of the day, too, all tied up in the hide so you couldn’t freeze yourself, and maybe left you that way for the following night, too. And I may still do it. But if you were alone, I mean. You’d not have made it through the night sleeping out on the ground like that, not as frosty as everything is this morning…”
“Well in that case, it wouldn’t have mattered too much about my losing the bear meat to the coyote in the first place, now would it have?”
“You’re impossible! Maybe I’d just better go ahead and lock you in there today, for good measure…”
“You’d better not.”
“I wouldn’t dare!”
Having tired, apparently, of harassing the fleeing coyote, the raven returned, landing on the arm that Einar held outstretched for it. “Good job there, critter,” he addressed the bird, rising and reaching inside the smoking tent, cutting a good sized strip of meat from one of the hanging sections. “Guess it’s a good thing one of us was awake, isn’t it? Here. Have a bite of this bear meat you saved for us. Pretty good, huh? Well, you earned it. Looks like I will have to call you Muninn, if you insist on staying.”
Moving slowly so as not to frighten the bird, Liz offered it a second piece of bear. “Why Muninn? That’s a strange name. What does it mean?”
“Muninn,” Einar replied, standing again and launching the large bird up into the air with a flick of his arm, “is one of the two ravens in Norse mythology who spent the days flying out over the earth gathering news to bring back to Odin in the evening, among other things. The name translates roughly to mean ‘memory,’ and he was a messenger, too. This guy is just a confused bird that seems to have taken a liking to our camp for some reason, but I figure if he’s gonna stick around, we need to call him something…”
“Yes, I guess we do, assuming you’re not going to decide to turn him into supper, one of these nights. I’d just as soon he not have a name, if that’s going to happen.”
“Nope, Muninn’s not gonna be supper. He just earned the right not to be supper--for a good long while at least--by keeping that coyote from making off with a ten pound chunk of smoked bear. That would have been a big loss, especially after all the work we’ve gone to smoking the stuff. Guess we’d better test it, by the way. See whether or not it’s had enough time in the smoke yet.”
“We can’t eat it raw though, can we, not even smoked?”
“Not bear. Too much risk of trichinosis. Bear is one that just has to be cooked. Want to fry us some up on a rock? Don’t seem to be any planes around this morning, and I need to get busy rendering fat to fill that log we finished last night, so I’ll get the fire going again…”
Liz of course very much wanted to fry them up some of the smoked meat, being quite hungry herself and anxious to see how the smoke might have altered its flavor, and finding Einar’s apparent enthusiasm for the meal rather encouraging. Perhaps he would manage to eat a good bit of it, himself, to help fuel what was bound to be a very busy day as they took care of the rest of the fat and meat, and prepared to go after the elk they had both agreed they needed before the snow set in for good.