Though reasonably certain that she could manage the trapline herself without any trouble--things had been more settled for her that day, the episodes of tightness in her belly less frequent, and it seemed the rest had done her some good--Liz did not want to leave Einar, concerned that he might decide at some point to attempt following her, and end up spending another hour or two lying out on the frozen ground before she returned. Seemed he’d probably had enough of that for one day--especially with the storm worsening outside, snow blowing at times nearly sideways so that it plastered itself against the wall of the woodshed, turning it white--so she stuck close to the cabin, bringing in firewood so they’d have plenty should the storm continue for several days, working on the mukluks and preparing a big pot of soup which, Einar existing largely in a state somewhere between stupor and sleep, she ended up consuming a large portion of, herself. Einar had sat somewhat reluctantly with Liz for a time in front of the stove after coming in, allowing her to warm him and coax him into drinking some hot broth with honey, but had refused to go back to bed when she gently suggested it--was bad enough that he’d had to abandon his plans to run the trapline; he wasn’t about to laze about in bed all day, on top of it all--crouching instead against the back wall near the stove, and Liz had been glad that he was at least allowing himself to remain where it was warm. Trouble was, the warmth was leaving him dreadfully sleepy, eyes trying their hardest to drift shut whenever he wasn’t consciously focusing on keeping them open and an almost overwhelming dizziness urging him to the ground lest he fall and strike his head on the stove, and he fought it, but dozed in snatches here and there despite himself.
When awake Einar busied himself with preparing more of the sinew thread Liz was using to sew the boots, as he had greatly depleted their supply of prepared thread in finishing her parka. Having saved the round tendons from the legs of all their larger kills and the long, flat strips of backstrap sinew as well, they had plenty of raw material with which to work, and Einar stuck to the leg tendons, saving the far longer and more valuable backstrap strips so they would be available later for special projects of one sort or another. Working slowly, dizzy and for the most part not entirely sure of himself, hands wanting to cramp up on him, he gently pounded one tendon after another with a rounded rock until they went from clearish, solid snakes to masses of white fibers, rubbing, separating and then pounding a bit more until he could pull apart the individual fibers, setting them aside for Liz to use in her sewing. During this time Liz tried now and then engaging him in conversation, but the best he could seem to do in response was the occasional shrug or nod, words having apparently entirely fled him, and eventually she gave up, let him work in silence. It took Einar all of an hour and a half to process two of the tendons--not that he had much concept of time at the moment, but could tell from watching Liz and what she was accomplishing that he was dreadfully slow, and by the time he got done his hands were cramping up so badly he could no longer hold the pounding rock, let alone pull apart fibers and straighten them the way they needed to be, and finally he heeded Liz’s repeated urgings and crawled into bed, face down on the hides with one hand trailing on the floor as if still not quite willing to give up, but his body was more than willing, leaving him asleep almost instantly when he allowed himself to relax and stop fighting it. Liz just shook her head, pulled the bear hides up over him for warmth and returned to her work, watching out of the corner of her eye as his breathing slowed, hard lines that creased his face easing a bit in slumber.
Took you long enough to get there, didn’t it? And I don’t know how long you’ll be able to stay like that lying on your stomach with your ribs hurting you again…but for the moment, this is good. It’s a stormy, windy day out there, a perfect one to spend inside by the fire. Be warm, sleep, and when you wake, I’ll have more soup waiting for you.
Outside the wind howled on, plastering snow against the sides of the woodshed and cabin and drowning out the soft rasping with which Muninn was asking to be let in, but the bird was persistent, croaking and squawking and finally beating at the door with his wings until Liz eased it open, pushing several inches of newly fallen snow ahead of it--dry, fluffy; the first snow that hadn’t fallen wet and heavy and quick to melt, and she expected it would be with them a good while this time, perhaps for the winter--and let him in.
“Unhappy with being left out there in the storm, were you? Wanting food and a dry, wind-free perch for the day? Well, I can’t say I really blame you. Here. Shake the snow off your feathers though, why don’t you? Or you’re gonna get everything wet in here!” Muninn did shake his feathers--scattering bits of snow from one end of the cabin to the other; he was a big bird--but surprisingly showed little interest when she offered him a rabbit bone with bits of meat to pick off, hanging back by the door, pacing, glum and standoffish until finally Liz moved back over to the stove, out of his way, and he hopped over to the spot where Einar slay sleeping. Chortling softly and twisting a bit of Einar’s hair, the bird became increasingly agitated at his lack of response, flapping and rasping and twisting harder until Liz, worried that he would eventually succeed at waking Einar--she was somewhat worried, actually, at how very soundly he appeared to be sleeping; it wasn’t at all like him--and not wanting that to happen, shooed him away.
“What’s your trouble, fella? Just missing Einar‘s company, or do you need to tell him something? Surely there can’t be too much going on out there with this storm, can there? No one hanging around here or…” Briefly the thought occurred to her that Einar, weary as he’d been on his return from the valley, might not have been quite so careful of his trail as was his usual custom, might have been followed if one or both of the men who had been with Kilgore had grown suspicious, turned around or even returned later, without the tracker, but she dismissed the idea almost as quickly, knowing that the storm ought to have more than adequately concealed by that time any trail he might have left. Still the raven’s behavior unsettled her, left her pulling on her parka and heading out into the storm for a quick survey of the area. Not that she expected to be able to see or hear much in all that howling, blowing snow, but it seemed better than simply remaining inside and discounting the bird’s antics. Muninn could not be persuaded to follow her outside when she tried--evidence, she supposed, either that nothing was wrong out there or that he believed only Einar capable of doing anything about it, if there was, and she did not know how to interpret his actions--so she left him in the cabin, hoping he wouldn’t take a sudden interest in the food strong enough to temp him to upset the soup pot all over her mukluk project…
Incredibly windy was the afternoon when Liz squeezed out the snow-drifted door to take a look, so windy that she found her breath snatched away, quickly ducking into the woodshed until she could get her parka hood pulled up and tied in place, after which she ventured once more out into the gale, using her feet and a piece of split firewood to scrape some of the piled snow out from in front of the door, knowing that they’d have a real job of it by morning, should things keep up at their present rate. In that storm there was little point in doing much listening, and, standing for several minutes watching the tall flexible spruces--what she could see of them, with visibility so severely limited--bend nearly double through the swirling snow, any concern she might have had regarding their safety and solitude there in the basin was greatly lessened; if anyone had been following Einar, he certainly would have lost the trail in all of that, and would be struggling simply to keep himself sheltered and alive until the storm slacked off. Good enough. Gathering an armload of wood she stomped and shook off as much of the snow as she could from her boots and parka, returning to the warmth of the cabin. And a terrible scene inside.
Muninn, apparently unhappy with Einar’s lack of response, had returned to his hair-twisting and loud, rasping demand-making the second Liz was out the door, but still the man had not stirred, leaving him to tap lightly at the side of his head and then, when still no movement resulted, to keep at it, harder and harder until finally he drew blood. Einar, somewhere in the shadowy territory between sleep and unconsciousness, had felt the strikes in his dreams, but had been unable to rouse himself sufficiently to respond but had somehow managed to throw off most of the covers and smear blood all over his arms in trying, leaving things looking a good deal worse than they were when Liz got her first look. Diving at the raven she caught hold of his tail, pulling out a feather as the startled bird hopped as gracefully and quickly as he was able over out of her reach behind the water barrel, Liz quickly turning to Einar and attempting to ascertain the source of all that blood. Seeing, after some frantic searching and wiping and pressure-holding on various areas of his upper body, that it all seemed to stem from a relatively small injury to the area just above his cheekbone she cleaned him up, stuck a small mullein leaf to the side of his head and re-arranged the bear hides, all the while scolding Muninn and silently fretting to herself over the fact that Einar had not once stirred during the entire process. The bird, it seemed, must have somehow recognized that he was not simply sleeping, taking it upon himself to remedy the situation and while Liz could see that such behavior might be useful or even life-saving under certain circumstances, she could hardly have Einar ending up a bloody mess every time she went out to bring in a load of firewood.
Cutting a wide band of elk hide just longer than was necessary to go around the bird’s leg she punched holes in either end of it, wrapping the anklet just above Muninn’s foot and securing it in place with a length of nettle cordage whose loose end she tied securely to the branch they’d stuck into the cabin wall for a perch, allowing him to move freely on it and reach the water barrel, but preventing his reaching the bed. An unnecessary precaution so long as she was in the cabin, but wise, perhaps, when she went out for any length of time. Simpler perhaps might have been to take the bird with her, but she had already found that shooing him out the door against his will could be quite a task, and she didn’t want to wake Einar with the clatterment that would likely result. Immensely unhappy with his new restraint when Liz left it in place for a few minutes’ trial run, the raven immediately began studying her knots as if trying to plot their undoing, as Liz had absolutely no doubt he was.