Though finding it rather a struggle--but what isn’t, these days?--Einar did work very hard that day to do as he’d told Liz he would, resisting several times the urge to go sit out in the cold and eating nearly everything she brought him, even spending a good bit of the day in bed despite such enforced repose going against every fiber of his being and leaving him, at times, barely able to breathe with the cabin closing in around him and feeling very much like jumping up and running through the wall. If his mind wasn’t pleased with the rest his body seemed a good bit more content, the exhaustion which had been following close at his heels since his most recent trip to the valley finally catching up in full after an hour or so of resting there in the bed--often it happened that way, he’d observed in the past; he was able to keep going, pushing himself far beyond all reasonable physical limits so long as he held himself to a set of rigid standards and did not give in in the least, but then the instant he relented even a bit, he was done for--and leaving him at times barely able to keep his eyes open or lift an arm, let alone rise should he have so desired. During these times he slept fitfully beneath the hides for stretches which surely would have been significantly longer had he not been always conscious of the need to be awake and listening, aware of what was--or wasn’t, one could hope--going on in the skies. Even stretched out beneath two bear hides it seemed he spent a good half of his time shivering uncontrollably and without much effect, bitterly cold and seemingly unable to produce enough heat to warm himself. Not a good thing, and at that point he might have insisted on getting up and moving about in an attempt generate some heat and prevent the situation further deteriorating, had not his exhaustion been so great as to prevent him stirring sufficiently to take such initiative. Liz, concerned--how you ever made it through the day yesterday sitting still in the frigid air in just a single layer of clothing when you’re having such a struggle now even with the hides is a mystery to me, but it sure would be a shame to lose you now that you’re trying to do everything right, an I’m going to make sure that doesn’t happen--tucked the rabbitskin blanket in around his neck and shoulders for extra warmth and, when that failed to have the desired effect, periodically rejoined him in the bed to lend a bit of warmth.
The knowledge that they needed to take great care not to leave tracks, that he couldn’t have gone far from the cabin that day even had he wanted to do it, was at times the only thing keeping Einar in bed and making the enforced rest even marginally tolerable; without that necessary restriction, he was reasonably certain he would have found--or created--one reason or another why it was imperative for him to take off into the snow for the day, even if he’d had to crawl the entire way. When he slept--mind in conflict, pulling him both ways--his dreams were troubled and violent, frequently waking him.
Liz could see what the effort was costing Einar, found herself regretting at times having requested such a thing of him rather than leaving him to conduct his days as he saw best, even if such conduct did involve nearly freezing himself from time to time, but the regret never lasted long; too fresh in her memory were the events of the past day, the fact that she’d very nearly lost him to the cold, brought him back only with the greatest difficulty, and the knowledge that without some major cooperation on his part, such was likely to be their life together that winter until finally one time he went a bit too far--it would be an accident, she knew; he had no intention of leaving them but sometimes found himself a bit less aware than he ought to have been of how far he was slipping, the cold seeping in, his mind wandering, and it would be all too easy--and ended up beyond all help, sleeping that last sleep over behind the water barrel or out on the snow beneath a spruce, gone. The horror of that possibility--probability, really, for she hardly saw how it could be realistically avoided should the current course of things go on interrupted; here he was behaving himself that day, keeping beneath the blankets and still very nearly freezing just because he’d got to a point where his body was entirely unable to compensate for the heat he was inevitably losing--left her caring a good bit less about any discomfort Einar might be experiencing due to her insistence that he rest and keep warm. It would pass, and he would still be with them, which was what counted. Ought to count. Could only hope he continued to see it that way.
In the meantime, Liz wished there was some way to provide him with hot food, as a person--no matter how great his need--could only be expected to consume so much cold-congealed bearfat and mostly frozen sheep meat before tiring of such fare, at least for one day. Broth was what he really needed, pot after pot of rich warm broth with bits of meat and perhaps some nettles simmered in it to add iron and other minerals, but the best she could do was to crumble nettles into the mixture of fat, honey, meat and chokecherries which was for the time sustaining them--a sort of green pemmican, and tasting a whole lot better than it looked, so far as she was concerned--and keep urging Einar to eat it, hoping it wouldn’t do too much to aggravate his already swollen legs and therefore convince him that he needed to stop eating again.
Towards afternoon, exhaustion somewhat mitigated by hours of sleep and more food than he’d allowed himself to partake of for many days, Einar woke and could no longer stand lying in bed, rose, slipping into his parka and squinting into the dimness of the cabin in search of Liz, who he realized was nowhere to be seen. Neither was Muninn, whose scruffy black form he remembered seeing dimly during his wakeful periods, feathers gleaming with a soft, iridescent radiance in the light of the single candle Liz had at times kept lit during the sunny late morning hours, and he wondered if she’d gone outside with the raven, perhaps having to coax him out through the tunnel as he was unfamiliar with using such an exit.
Taking a quick inventory of the cabin--sun shining brightly through the small cracks in the front wall; time to open the door pretty soon it looks like, and let some of that warmth come in--he saw that Liz’s parka was gone, her boots, and the momentary thought occurred to him that perhaps she had decided to make a quick run of the trapline, while he was asleep. Too soon, it was too soon for her to have done such a thing with the risk that choppers might still be coming back--small, he knew, but still a risk, and they couldn’t be making tracks out there yet in the fresh snow for any passing aircraft to see--and he dashed around the cabin in a bit of a frenzy, not seeing her snowshoes and believing their absence to be confirmation that she’d headed off on the trapline. Hadn’t gone out the front door, of that he was certain, for no snow had been swept in as he knew it would have been had she opened it, so he dropped to hands and knees and scooted through the tunnel, pausing at its mouth to squint into the harsh sunlight outside, casting about somewhat desperately for any sign of Liz but not seeing her. Saw tracks though, boot tracks, not snowshoes, but he supposed she would have waited to put on her snowshoes until clear of the tangle of spruces that overhung the back door, so as not to get hung up on fallen branches beneath the snow, and he followed the tracks, limping up into the trees to the side of the cliffs that backed the cabin and reaching a high point badly out of breath and still searching for Liz, not understanding why she would have headed that direction if running the trapline but still certain almost beyond doubt that she must have left the cabin with the intent of doing so. It was to his great relief and surprise, then, that he discovered her the next minute, sitting in a melted out spot on the south-facing side of a large spruce, face upturned to catch the heavily angled rays of the afternoon sun, no snowshoes in sight, her entire mission, apparently, having been to go for a bit of a walk and enjoy the afternoon. She saw him, smiled a greeting but the smile faded when she caught sight of his feet, bare and red-purple in the snow.
“Where are your boots?”
Einar looked down, gave her a bit of an embarrassed grin and shrugged, balancing on one foot as he attempted to warm the other against his leg. “Well, I remembered the parka, got to give me a little credit for that, at least…”
She shook her head, laughed, could be worse I guess…can’t ask for too much at once, the goofy guy… “Come sit with me for a while. Sun’s warm here, and the ground is even dry.! I was very careful working my way around to this spot, kept in the heavy timber so I wouldn’t leave too many tracks so I hope it’s alright, but I really needed to get away from the cabin for a little while.”