Though the dreams did not return, the first half of Liz's night proved somewhat restless, the past night's shadow meeting her every time she neared sleep and leaving her once more wide awake and not wanting to allow sleep to come, not wanting to risk it, and each time Einar would quietly remind her that it was alright, he was standing watch for her and eventually she slept, and so did he. In the night the storm moved out, a deep cold coming with the departure of the clouds and settling over the basin, seeping into the cabin and setting Einar's bones to aching, even curled up snug beneath the bear hides as he was with Liz. He stirred, shivered, snugged the hides more tightly around his neck to close out the draft--was going to be a long winter, and he was once again reminded of his need to get out and deliberately acclimatize himself to its advancing cold, if he wanted to be anywhere near the usual standards he required of himself--and would have tried to go back to sleep but for a strange, not quite identifiable series of noises that seemed to be coming from the outside wall of the cabin, just opposite the woodshed.
Listening, the best explanation he could come to was that some small creature out there was doing its very best to find a way in, chewing and scratching and gnawing for all it was worth, but then came a series of angry rasping notes, a beating of wings and he knew it must be Muninn, having apparently taken offense at not being allowed in to weather out the storm and subsequent cold snap. Too bad, you spoiled old vulture. I see it doesn’t take long at all for a critter of your sort to go all soft and lazy and start begging for things...well, you’re not gonna get much sympathy from me, because I know your sort make it through arctic winters without any trouble at all--and without cabins to stay in. So you’d better just settle down out there, flap back up to your sleeping tree and give us another couple hours, here, because I sure don’t see any daylight out there yet. The bird wouldn't leave, though, kept struggling and flapping against the wall and the door, rasping and screeching with increasing volume and persistence until finally Einar rolled out of bed and crawled shivering in the deep morning chill to the door where he stood listening, suddenly sensing that the raven might be upset about more than his own comfort. In addition to pounding and flapping against the door it seemed he was making frequent flights over in the direction of the trees where most of their meat was hung, including the freshly killed goat, and Einar took his spear, slipped out the door.
Muninn met him there in the darkness, settling on his shoulder and twisting a bit of his hair rather painfully as if to say, what took you so long? before leading him off into the not-quite darkness of the crystal clear quarter moon night, Einar’s breath puffing and frosting and forming clouds around him as he went. Dark in there under the spruces where Muninn seemed to be telling him the source of the trouble lay, too dark to make out the intruder’s shape but Einar knew it, anyway, had no doubt whatsoever what manner of beast had made itself at home there amongst their winter stores and he wrinkled up his nose at the smell of it, stopping, suddenly very cautious. Wolverine. Sniffing, turning his head this way and that in an attempt to get a better fix on his opponent’s location, his hand went to the string of claws around his neck, right arm aching where he would forever be missing a good chunk of muscle from his last close encounter with a wolverine back there many seasons prior in his crevice-shelter where he’d leapt on the creature and fought it hand-to-hand--when his spear had broken--for the precious scraps of dried meat that had stood between him and complete starvation, and he’d won, had kept the meat, added the wolverine’s to it and had since never been without the beast’s claws about his neck, but the victory had come at quite a cost. Might well cost him his life if he had to go up against such a creature in his present condition, although with circumstances as different as they were, he knew he would have to work awfully hard to corner the wolverine sufficiently to allow for such a struggle.
Not a good goal Einar, tempting as it does sound. Would like to leave the thing alone, actually, rare as they are around here, and let it live its life just like we’re living ours, but it’d never give us peace, not now that it’s discovered this place and figured out that it’s a potential food source. Wolverine has to go, but not necessarily tonight. Best will be to trap it, set some of this goat meat out for bait and take the critter when he comes back. Too dark to be sure of taking the critter now if I was to go at it the sensible way with the atlatl or an arrow…rather than cornering it and going at it with hands and teeth and maybe a knife as I’d be most inclined to do…but I do need to make it go away for the night, if nothing else! Can’t have it tearing into our meat supply. With which he let out a great yell, throwing his spear in the wolverine’s direction and coming very close to hitting it, despite having been entirely unable to make out the animal’s shape there in the pitch-blackness beneath the spruces. He’d aimed at the little scratches and scrabblings of the beast’s claws in on the tree bark, and had certainly come close enough to give it a scare. Though always more inclined to fight than to flee, the wolverine, somewhat alarmed at the ferocity in the human’s voice and already annoyed almost to the breaking point by the persistence of the raven, decided to call it a night and hurried down on the opposite side of the tree, loping off through the snow with the intention to return again the following night and finish the job, help itself to a nice share of the good fresh meat hanging in those trees.
Liz, too, was alarmed at Einar’s ferocious, wolverine-scaring shout, came up off the bed in a terrified instant when she realized he was no longer there beside her, no longer keeping watch but gone out in the frigid morning after the storm, unsure whether the cry had been real, or a figment of her dream world. Couldn’t tell, knew it mattered whether or not the cry had been real but either way she had to find Einar, and in a hurry, before he could wander off and freeze out there in the snow. Scrambling into her boots and lighting a candle--Einar hadn’t taken any of the hides in which to wrap himself; they all hung in their places by the door, only adding to her worry as to his intent out there--she hastily wrapped the deer hide about her shoulders, taking that of the sheep for Einar and hurrying outside with her bow, on the chance that the shout had been real and Einar was in some sort of immediate trouble out there. As opposed to the slow, insidious kind of trouble which would leave him standing with his back to a tree, face to the wind as he waited to begin freezing and probably, if something or someone did not intervene, stuck with it through the shivering and into numbness as the night crept in and took him…just to prove that he could…which was rather more what she expected to find. But didn’t. Einar met her halfway between the cabin and meat-cache trees, Muninn flapping along close behind him and still making such a fuss as to leave Liz with no doubt as to his exact location and, she expected, Einar’s too, long before they ever reached her.
“What is it? Was that you yelling a minute ago?”
“Doggone right it was me yelling. Had a wolverine in the meat--you smell that? That stink’s real unmistakable, if you’ve once caught scent of it.”
“Did he get anything? And did you get him? Where is he?”
“He didn’t get much, not with Muninn on his tail and me nearly knocking his head off with my spear… nope, he took off out of here in a real hurry after that! Good thing for the raven though, because without him beating on the door and making such a fuss that I couldn’t help but wake and hear him, wolverine would have had another couple hours, I guess, to do his damage before either of us would have stirred and come out here to find him. There’s a lot he couldn’t have got at because of how we’ve hung it, but as persistent and agile as those critters are, you can bet he would have been feasting on something! Gonna get all set up today to trap him, hope to get him tomorrow night when he comes back as he’s bound to do. Whew! Exciting start to the day, that’s for sure!”
“Yes, I say we’d better give Muninn a big breakfast today in appreciation for his having warned you. He’s sure earned it. And now come on, let’s head back inside and I’ll get a fire going. I don’t even need to see you to know that you’re freezing. I can hear your teeth rattling from all the way over here, you goofy guy!”
“Nah, that’s just me letting that old wolverine know that I’m still here and watching for him, not gonna stand for his coming back and getting after our meat, if he might have anything like that in mind… It’s a fine morning, real fine weather and I’m enjoying it, being an arctic critter and all. Was thinking of heading up to the spring for a little swim, and then…”
Liz interrupted him by giving the nearest aspen a good solid thump with her rabbit stick, the blow ringing out sharp and clear in the frigid air. “Right, an arctic critter without an ounce of blubber on it, at the moment. How do you think you’re going to get through the winter like that, especially when you keep wandering outside without so much as a hide wrapped around you? Arctic critter, indeed! Now get inside before I have to give you a good whack with this rabbit stick and drag you there myself. It may be early, but we’re awake, so that makes it time for some breakfast!”
Einar went, the two of them laughing all the way as they crunched over the freshly fallen and hard-frozen layer of new snow, Muninn making little circles over their heads as they went, swooping and rasping in anticipation of his own share of the meal.