Einar set a fast pace which Liz did her best to match, following him down through the steep timber that lay just below the basin and up onto a long, spruce-covered ridge that Einar knew would take them in the general direction of Susan’s mountainside homestead, but it was miles away, many miles of alternating climbing and descent, and somewhere during the second hour Liz--vision seeming to have grown worse, ankles so swollen that her boots were beginning to hurt her and a terribly dizziness throwing her with increasing frequency off balance--began to doubt her ability to make that walk. Wanted to turn around, go back home, told Einar so, told him she’d be fine and begged him to stop long enough to hear her out, but he had his mind made up, sat with her for a brief rest and gave her water and the pot of cold, congealed stew they’d brought along, before pulling her back to her feet and continuing. She was fading, losing speed, knew he must be aware of it and was thus not surprised to see him pushing her so but she knew where it was leading, knew he’s be carrying or hauling or otherwise somehow assisting her before the day was over, at the rate things were going, and in a desperate effort to prevent things from getting to that point she worked hard to keep herself hydrated, accepting water whenever Einar offered it to her, which was, to her dismay, rather more often than he seemed interested in drinking it himself, and she wondered how he expected to find himself capable of maintaining their pace any longer than she would be.
Almost halfway there, he told her when they paused for the last time, her last time, storm beginning with a restless spitting and spattering of snow, and her strength exhausted. Tried to get up, go on, managed to get to her feet but wasn’t moving very quickly at all, found herself confused, dizzy, and when she walked into a tree Einar took her by the shoulders, gave her another drink of water and wordlessly sat her down beneath the sheltering boughs of a spruce, unlashing the bear hide from its place atop his pack and wrapping it about her shoulders, tying it in front to make sure it stayed in place. Still without a word he slipped into his pack, running his arms through the straps so it hung on his front rather than on back and crouching down in front of her, indicating that she must get on his back. Liz didn’t want to do it, insisted that she could walk and took off hurriedly into the timber in an effort to demonstrate the fact, but did not make it ten steps before she fell, losing consciousness. Einar just shook his head, checked her vital signs and lifted her onto his back, arms forward around his neck and bound there with a long strip of deerhide to prevent her slipping should he momentarily lost his grip.
The arrangement was awkward, difficult especially considering Liz’s shape, heavy as she was with child, but Einar managed it, grimacing under the combined load of Liz and his pack, which together made a burden significantly heavier than his own scrawny frame, and very nearly heavier than he could bear. But he did it, moving slowly but steadily off into the timber. Wanted, after less than five hundred yards of such travel, to pause and give himself a bit of a break, lay down his burden and allow himself a few of the full breaths he was finding himself entirely unable to take beneath its weight, but he couldn’t stop. Couldn’t afford to. Storm was only getting worse, and so was Liz, and the only help for it was to get her to Susan’s as quickly as possible. At one point, snow falling heavily and the sky a leaden grey, Liz woke briefly and realized what was happening, wanted desperately to be back on her feet, dear, dear Einar, this is going to kill you and I just won’t have that…but before she could do anything about it she fell asleep again, just barely aware, around the edges of consciousness, of Einar moving again, continuing his slow but determined walk.
Sometimes, hours blending together and the sky further dimming with late afternoon, Einar stopped to make a fire, get the two of them out of the wind for while and melt snow to refill their water bottles, but as Liz wasn’t drinking and he couldn’t seem to remember to do so himself it all began to seem a bit pointless after a while, so he just kept going, going, don’t stop, if you sit down now you may never be able to get up again and that won’t do, not at all…
Boot was gone. Didn’t know how he’d lost it, or when, but the thing hadn’t been much good anyway. Sole had been coming apart. But at least it had been something. Foot hurt. But not for long. Cold.
More time passed, and he was lonely--not usual for him; must be losing it, Einar--but Liz wouldn’t talk to him, couldn’t, so he spoke with the raven, the two of them carrying on a lively exchange of rasps, grunts, half rational words and crazed cackles until finally Einar’s throat was too dry to keep it up, and he fell silent. Should have stopped then and melted some snow, eaten some snow, anything to provide himself a bit of hydration, but the thought did not occur to him.
Missing pieces…chunks of time, more and more of them simply gone, evening and then night passing in a blur…it was morning and he was awfully cold, wet from the snow, figured she must be, too, but when he stopped to check, her hands were warm, face well protected, even, beneath the bear hide. Good. Hide was doing its job. But he was freezing, on the edge of hypothermia, over it, over the edge and barely hanging on; it was a place he knew well and the one in which, oddly, he often seemed to function most effectively, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to keep going for much longer the way he was. Not in that wind. Not without something to eat.
Found a good sheltering tree and stopped to make a fire…tried to heat some soup but his hands were too clumsy, and besides Liz wasn’t awake to partake, so why bother? He put the fire out. Didn’t want to risk being spotted, not as close as they were to civilization, to the valley. Sat there for a time, too much time, just trying to breathe, mind drifting. Ribs hurt, lungs tight…coughing up blood and spitting it out on the snow…Liz wasn’t getting any better, and neither was he. Had better get moving again, before he found himself unable to rise and they ended up trapped there in the storm…sorry Lizzie, so sorry it’s come to this…
A house. He saw a house down there, knew it was the thing he’d been looking for but he was afraid and he wanted to stop. Sit down in the snow and stop and die, if that was what was coming…would be better to die right where he was than to walk down there into certain capture…freedom or death…had never been a slogan for him, an empty phrase to toss around, it was a way of life, his way, but he couldn’t stop, couldn’t do it, because it wasn’t about his life anymore, or his way, or any of that, it was about Liz. And the baby. And they were dying and he couldn’t let that happen. Back on his feet. Couldn’t feel his feet, but it didn’t matter. They still worked. Still carried him. Down that hill.
Where am I? Snow too heavy, blowing sideways and he couldn’t see. Couldn’t feel. Had lost the house, lost his bearings, lost his balance and fell hard when he tripped over something very solid, somehow managed to get himself turned around and thrown beneath Liz in an attempt to break her fall. It worked. Darkness. Air crushed out of his lungs and dear Lord, did it hurt…losing contact with the world around him. Losing it. Couldn’t happen, not yet, but he wasn’t to have any choice in the matter. Could feel it, could tell. Managed to find his way up on top of Liz, pull the bear hide over her and curl protectively around her before passing out, sheltering her from the wind with his body…There on the steps of Susan's back porch.