Though the raven seemed willing enough to lead Einar to the spot where he had, presumably, found both the scrap of camouflage cloth and the electronic components that had comprised his latest gift, Einar found himself struggling to keep up. The bird seemed to understand, kept doubling back and landing heavily in the lithe, swaying tops of the little firs or spruces and waiting while Einar caught up but still the going was a good bit more slow than Einar had hoped. While at first he’d had in mind to try and swing by the cabin on his way down, check in with Liz and let her know what he was about the course set by the bird took them nowhere near the little clearing, and he abandoned that plan in favor of following the raven with as much speed as he could muster, taking a look at the source of the strange things the bird had been finding and if at that point no further action was required on his part, hurrying back up to the cabin to tell Liz about all of it. Seemed the best plan considering the circumstances; only wished he could keep himself moving a bit more quickly. Seemed the climb must have taken a good bit more out of him than he had initially realized. Well. One foot in front of the other, keep your eyes out for that bird and soon enough this’ll all be settled, and you’ll be on your way back home. Hopefully. Sure don’t want to leave Liz alone for too long at this point, but neither can I return to the cabin right now and carry on as if nothing’s the matter, with the possibility that there’s an active search being initiated right here in our area.
Darkness. It snuck up on the busy pair, stalking them from behind the enclosing ranks of dark timber and finally caught up to them as Einar struggled up the steep side of a little gully--doggone raven must think I have wings, the way he’d leading me straight across country like this--and there was no way he could hope to keep track of the bird in the darkness, no way to follow him. After much effort and a badly failed attempt at keeping track of the creature by securing him with a length of cordage tied around a foot--Muninn had hated the confinement and had, besides, ended up tangled so badly in the branches of a spruce that Einar had been forced to climb up and cut him loose--he decided to hole up for a few hours, perhaps try for a bit of sleep and continue again at first light. Choosing a sleeping spot more by feel than by sight, Einar curled up beneath a spreading spruce, scraping together as many needles as he could for a bed and draping himself with the deer hide, which Liz had fortunately insisted he take along on his cache-placing trip. Wasn’t enough, that hide, but he hardly noticed, asleep within moments of allowing himself to lie down. Through the clear, frigid night Einar slept there growing colder and colder, dreaming of food as he lay shivering beneath the inadequate cover of the deer hide--could almost smell that mustard-basted goat roast, could taste it, tried to take a big bite but it stuck in his throat and he couldn’t swallow, was choking, dream turning bad--pressing his stomach against the hunger-hurt, curling himself into a ball and wishing for one of the bear hides, for Liz, for a bit of warmth and perhaps something to eat but it was all out of his reach and, body exhausted and near its limits after the exertion of the day, he never did wake to do anything about his worsening situation, wind whispering along the ground in its nightly wanderings, whispering him back to sleep.
Up in his treetop perch the raven stirred, ruffled feathers against the chill night breeze and was about to settle once more into sleep but instead opened an eye, soundlessly drifting down to alight beside Einar’s makeshift bed, tilting his head, curious. Something had changed, the man’s breathing slow and soft almost to the point of silence, and the bird was curious.
When Muninn ventured a bit closer and gave Einar a hard peck on the side of the head just above the left eye, he reacted with a speed rather greater than one might have expected of his badly chilled and sleep-fogged brain, hand darting out and coming away with a few iridescent black tail feathers, gleaming softly in the starlight as the startled raven hopped back, scolding. Stiffly, groaning a bit at the effort despite himself, Einar got up into a sitting position, wrapped arms around his knees and berated the bird in a voice rough and a bit unsteady at first with cold, but very definite in its intent.
“Hey now! With all the meat scraps and nights in out of the cold I’ve given you, can’t you perhaps extend me the common courtesy of waiting until I’m dead to start pecking out my eyes, you bloodthirsty old scavenger? Looks may be deceiving, but I’m not dead yet. I’m still here. Haven’t you ever heard the expression…surely you’ve heard it, growing up in the mountains like this…that a fella’s not dead, until he’s warm and dead? It’s true, you know. Proven that one to myself more than once. Now, do I look warm to you? In the least? Didn’t figure. So hold off on the eye pecking, won’t you? Choice morsels, I know, and probably just about the only thing left on this scrawny old carcass of mine worth making into a midnight snack, but I still need those things. Gonna get light here in a few hours, and then you and I got to be on the trail again, finding where all these little clues are coming from that you keep bringing me.”
The bird didn’t answer, and Einar had no more to say, either. Was starting to shake too hard to do much speaking. Wanted to curl up and go back to sleep, but knew he must not. Wanted a fire, too, but still doubted the wisdom of risking any such, with the location and exact nature of his quarry still in question. and didn’t even want to burn a few of the pitch coated pellets he always carried in the bag around his neck, lest the smell of their smoke carry and alert someone who might be camped nearby. Which left him few options when it came to getting warm, but he had to do something, could feel it, knew he’d be in major trouble should he allow himself to go to sleep once more, cold as he presently found himself. Knowing what he had to do he rose, legs cold and cramping and very nearly refusing to support him but he stuck it out, arm twisted somewhat desperately amongst the soft and flexible branches of the nearest fir until the worst of the cramping passed, and he was able to stand on his own, taking at first a few slow, shuffling steps and then increasing his pace until he was very nearly running in place, swinging his arms, trying hard to generate some heat. The exercise worked as he had known it would, should he be able to keep at it long enough, left him a good bit warmer for the moment but also entirely drained of what little energy he’d had left, dead tired and a bit nauseated, and he knew it wouldn’t be long at all before he was in serious trouble once again, if he allowed himself to lie back down.
If--silently laughing at the thought--that bird was a dog or some such, I’d get him in here under the deer hide with me and curl up next to him, try to share some warmth but I’m guessing that wouldn’t go over too well with a raven. Wouldn’t do much good at all. Looks like I’m just gonna have to try and get some more of theses fir needles scraped up and piled around me, deer hide up over my head to trap some of my breath and wait for morning. Though not much use in directly providing warmth, the raven did once again bring Einar at least a partial solution to his dilemma when he hopped over to the pack and began doing his best to disassemble the thing in an attempt to get at a most wonderful odor that seemed to be emanating from within its confines, Einar hearing the fuss and crawling over to see what the creature might be up to.
“Trying to rob my pack, are you? Let’s see, what are you after?” Fumbling, he got the pack open, felt around inside with clumsy-numb fingers. “Ah! This! Must’ve been this you smelled, the goat roast Liz sent along, and yeah, you’re welcome to have some as long as I can share in the feast. I was dreaming about this stuff, you know. This and a big loaf of freshly baked wheat bread, slices all dripping with butter and honey and…oh, wow. Lizzie did mention something about lily flour fritters, or something similar, that she’d been experimenting with, and that must be what I just found here. Look, Muninn! You smell this? Looks like she must’ve cut the things open and spread them inside with bear fat and honey, and this is all so much like that dream of mine I can hardly believe it. Here, you big thief. Have some. Some of each. You earned it just by reminding me it was all there!”
Together the travelers shared a meal of cold goat roast and the dense, starchy bread-like creations Liz had made by pounding the roots of dried avalanche lilies and mixing the resulting powder with water and a bit of fat before baking them on a hot rock, the results tasting to Einar like the best bread he’d ever in his life had the privilege of eating, and the combination of protein, fat, starch and sugar in the meal giving him such a surge of warmth and energy that he felt he would have been quite safe to stretch out on the ground and sleep the remainder of the night away, but wanted nothing of the sort. Wanted to be up and moving, finding that camp so he could return to Liz and let her know what a very unbelievably good cook she had become.
But first he must wait for daylight.