31 December, 2012

31 December 2012

No chapter tonight, but I want to wish all of you a blessed New Year.  We live in interesting times, and they appear about to get a lot more interesting...

Stand firm, trust in God and remember that without our freedom, we have nothing.


29 December, 2012

29 December 2012

Einar was confused at the offer of more stew.  Seemed to him pretty much all they’d done was to eat stew since returning from Juni’s survival course, that, and tend to the drifted-over chimney, a task which did not seem to him to demand the consumption of such quantities of food, nor with the frequency Liz was insisting they do it.  Indeed, she was knowingly and without the slightest reservation taking full advantage of Einar’s apparent willingness, since their talk atop the ridge, to partake more thoroughly in their meals, knowing she risked causing him uncomfortable and even potentially dangerous complications should she push the matter too far or too quickly, but considering these risks minimal compared to the inevitable consequences should he continue on his previous course. 

So, at every opportunity she prepared a fresh batch of food, and up until that time Einar had without question accepted everything she offered, mind not on their previous agreement (from which she had, after all, released him) or on much of anything else, either, just letting his hunger take over and direct him, the ready availability of so much good, warm food seeming at times like the best thing in the world.  Now, though, he found himself pausing, questioning, conscious mind once more taking an active interest in the matter, and it was not pleased.  Not in the least.  So he refused.  Backed off to his customary corner beside the water barrel to think things through, only he never got too far in his thinking because Muninn the raven, quickly sensing some disturbance, settled heavily and awkwardly on his shoulder the next moment, twisting a bit of his hair and chortling raven sayings into his ear, timeless as they were nonsensical, and Einar had to laugh.

“Oh really, you big vulture?  Is that the way it’s gonna be?  Well, why didn’t you tell me before?”  Gently he shooed the bird from his shoulder—claws dug in something terrible—and expertly fished a bit of meat from Liz’s latest stew with a sliver of cottonwood from the kindling pile, flicking it at the bird and nodding knowingly when the creature seemed satisfied.  Exactly what he’d wanted, and Einar supposed the bird’s unease had stemmed from a realization that if his human companion was choosing not to eat, supplies available for sharing would inevitably be limited if not absent, as well.

“That bird can reason, for sure,” he mused aloud, not terribly surprised when Liz responded with a slightly biting, yeah, he can reason better than you, a lot of timesnow how about this stew?

A lopsided grin, words whispered near Liz’s ear as if some great secret.  “I ate yesterday.  And this morning already, or tonight, or whatever you want to call these dark hours…”

Whispering in return, mannerism exaggerated in an attempt to match his own but not quite succeeding, she leaned in closer.  “Every three hours.  Let’s aim for that, and maybe you’ll have some chance of actually retaining some of what you eat, rather than burning every bit of it as immediate energy just to keep you conscious and your body warm enough to sort of function.  How does that sound?”


“Then consider it a challenge.  And an example to your survival student that sometimes you’ve just got to do difficult things in order to survive, and not over-think them.  How’s that for some reasoning?”

“About like the raven’s, I suppose…”

“Why, thank you.  I’ll definitely take that as a compliment. Now, your stew.  Show us how to do a difficult thing well.”

Too fast on her feet she was, taking advantage of her knowledge of his thinking processed, and he could have resisted, half wanted to do it but instead accepted the bowl, happy raven hopping circles around him as he awaited his portion of the meal.  Not over-think it.  Yeah, that’d probably make things go smoother in this case, wouldn’t it?  Only trouble being that if I don’t do the thinking now, I’ll have to do it later for sure, and the consequences will only be so much the greater.  Guess I can just deal with that when it comes though, huh?  And she’ll let me go and do what I’ve got to do at that point, pay the price and keep myself human, or as near to it as I ever come

Glumly shaking his head—not much chance of that, of her understanding, willingly allowing, when the time came, but nothing he could really do about that—he dug into the stew.  It was good.  He was dreadfully, achingly hungry.  Which immensity of need just made it all the worse that he was giving in.  Surrendering.  Breaking.  Broken.  That was just the time when he should have striven the hardest, given them all he had, shown them what he was made of, but now…  Stupid, lazy excuse for a human being.  Coward.  Could have gone on resisting, surely he could have, had he only given it a bit more effort, beaten down the clamoring demands of his body and said no, here I stand and I will not move.  Well.  There would be other chances.  Later.  Take up the resistance once more, perhaps redeem himself, even if just a little.  That was the way it worked, the thing you must do, each and every time.  For the moment he sat silent, head bowed, miserable as he ate a bowl of stew which was, in the grand scheme of things and considering his present condition, probably little less than essential to his continued physical survival. How complicated we humans can make things for ourselves, at times...

28 December, 2012

28 December 2012

Sorry, no chapter for tonight, but should be back tomorrow with another.

Thank you all for reading.

27 December, 2012

27 December 2012

Nobody was to have the opportunity to become warm enough to melt that early morning, even had they wanted to.  With winds continuing to blast the little plateau and snow being moved continually about, if not falling at a tremendous rate, it wasn’t long at all before the chimney was drifted over again and smoke beginning to back up into the cabin.  Knowing immediately the source of the problem Einar was on his feet and headed for the tunnel, but Juni beat him to it, insisting that it was her turn.  He would have objected, but Liz grabbed his arm and pressed a fresh pot of stew into his hands, steering him back to his seat near the fire.

“Let her go.  Everybody has to play a part around here, and you can’t deprive someone of that.  She’ll end up with cabin fever if she has to sit around here all through the storm.”

“Well, no need for that.  Nothing keeping her, or any of us, from spending some time out in that gale whenever it takes our fancy.”

I’m keeping you from doing it!  Better a little cabin fever than frozen fingers or toes, or worse.  It’s looking like the chimney is going to be a pretty regular chore so long as this wind keeps up, so how about we just trade off each time?  My turn next, then yours.”

A nod from Einar, who didn’t especially like her proposal, but saw the sense in it.  When Juni returned shivering and brushing snow from her clothes from a successful clearing of the chimney she was told of the plan, Liz’s turn to come next should a continuation of the task prove necessary.  Which it did, storm continuing with a fury which left smoke beginning to back up again nearly every half hour, Einar determined to find a fix which would prevent such unfortunate drifting—as soon as the storm ended.  In the meantime they took their turns at roof duty, Einar, the others thought, always seeming to take a bit longer out there than he need have done and coming in a bit more thoroughly chilled each time, but as usual this did not bother him too much, and Liz always had hot tea and a pot of stew waiting when he returned.  It was a quiet, peaceful time, that morning was, Will waking in time to entertain everyone by crawling about the perimeter of the cabin interior as if in search of something, satisfied only when he found the beaver hide which had so fascinated him the day before, and in so doing settled himself beside it on the floor, commencing a new and perhaps even more detailed inspection of the item. 

The three adults watched him, laughing—all but Einar, who could not see what was funny—and exchanging stories of times past, of adventures, climbs, hunting trips and of family.  When Einar’s turn came he gave a rousing version of the trouble he and a younger brother had once got in while climbing a pair of tall, flexible spruces that had stood in the back yard of their childhood home and which the two of them had thought offered the perfect location for an amateur radio antenna.  Needing to string the antenna from one tree to the other, they had each climbed one of the great spruces nearly all the way to their lithe, swaying tops, the young Einar swinging and tossing the antenna wire and his brother, attempting a catch, losing his hold on the tree and falling headlong from his position some forty feet above the ground…  Only to become entangled in the wire, itself trapped on a branch only a dozen or so feet beneath him.  Einar, seeing the plight of his co-conspirator, had hastily descended his own tree, hurrying to his brother’s aid and finishing the rescue just as their mother came out to call them for supper.  A near miss, and probably not a miss at all, for she had hardly believed their breathless story about having been up there trying to snare a porcupine to keep it from eating the trees…

The story was so funny the way Einar told it that it took Liz and Juni several minutes to stop laughing, but finally they did, Liz wiping her eyes and glancing over at Einar, who was staring at the floor, appearing a bit confused at the extent of their hilarity.

“This is the brother you always got along particularly well with, the one who came to stay at your cabin from time to time, later?”

“Yep, Jakob.  We always did see things in a pretty similar way, both growing up and later.  Get along fine with my other brother too, and my sister…well, I guess things were fine between us while growing up, though she did have pretty different interests than us boys.  Lot more interested in doing things with other people, all that social stuff that the three of us tended to avoid like the plague, whenever possible.”

“But things weren’t so good between you after you got back.  With you and your sister?”

“No…no, that wasn’t a real good time.  I wasn’t ready to be around much of anyone, really, and they didn’t know how to leave well enough alone.  Brothers mostly excepted.  And father, for the most part.  Mother and sister…yeah, I guess they meant well, but they kept following me around asking questions about why I was doing this, or why I was doing that, and in a lot of cases I didn’t even know, myself, was just trying to get through the day and get my brain sorted out, and I didn’t know what to do with their questions.”

“What sorts of questions?”

“Oh, things like why I wasn’t eating, why I’d leave the house in the night to go sleep in the woods, that sort of thing.  Started out sleeping in the carport out back, but then when they found me there and insisted I come in and use a bed like a proper, civilized human being…well, I took to the woods so they couldn’t find me.   How was I going to tell them that I couldn’t stand it, the feeling of four walls around me while I was trying to sleep, bed under me blocking my ability to hear and feel approaching vibrations through the ground like I needed to be able to do, that it made me feel trapped and desperate and tended to lead to real bad situations when I woke in the night and found myself in such a way…  Couldn’t tell them any of that, because they would have wanted to know why, and I couldn’t tell them why.  Couldn’t talk about it.  Didn’t want to, anyhow.”

“Didn’t you want someone to know?  To understand?”

“No!  I didn’t want to be understood, I just wanted to be left alone.  They’d been told I was missing in action, and then when I turned up again that was changed to wounded in action, that was all they knew, no details, and I wanted so badly to keep it that way.  So couldn’t talk about any of it, which made me not want to talk about anything much at all, so I didn’t do that, either.  Some days I couldn’t seem to get the words to come even if I wanted them to—any words at all—others, I chose to be silent, but this bothered them too, and they kept prying and pressing, just trying to get me to talk.  You can maybe imagine how that seemed to me.  So, not a good situation at all.”

Liz appeared near tears as she moved closer, put a cautious hand on his shoulder and then, when he didn’t violently object, embraced him.  “I wish I’d been there, then…”

“I’m glad you weren’t.”

She nodded—there was a bite to his tone, a bitterness which precluded further challenge to the notion—supposed he was right, but still wished it.  Wished somebody would have been.  “You eventually left though, didn’t you?  I mean, before the time later when you went over to Rhodesia…”

“Yeah, about two months after I’d come home I’d finally had enough of their tampering—this was after they had a guy come out to the house to talk to me, try and talk me into ‘going away somewhere’ for a while—and I walked out of there in the middle of a snowstorm one night with nothing but the clothes on my back, and stayed gone for the next six months or so.  Just went up the ridge back of the house, and kept going.  Lost myself in the timber.  Nearly lost my life a few times, too, but it was a good time.”

“What happened, to make you almost lose your life?”

“Oh, I was still in pretty rough shape physically, bad limp, left arm that didn’t work much at all, brain that tended to go absent on me from time to time and lingering effects of my time on the run in the jungle, so that kind of slowed me down at the start.  And I didn’t have as much experience in the woods then as I do now.  Had grown up in and around them of course, but that was different.  Just camping out as a kid, spending sometimes a week or two on my own wandering the hills practicing skills or hunting, but never walking off with nothing and trying to make a go of it, in the middle of winter like that.  Lived like an animal a lot of that time, just holing up under big spruces and undercut banks where I could dig through the snow, freezing over a tiny fire at night and coming real close to starving a time or two, before I got better at snaring squirrels.  Ate a lot of usnea and roasted inner bark from pines and spruces during those days, filling but not awfully nutritious, but for the most part, I just didn’t care…”

“Didn’t have any contact with my family or with any other human for nearly six months after leaving.  My family told me later that they’d thought I was dead, that I’d walked out into the snow to die, and was gone, and I was sorry they’d thought that, but at the time it had seemed like the only good option.  Walking out into the snow, that is.  Not dying.  I didn’t do it to die, I did it to live.  But they wouldn’t have understood that, I think.”

“No, I don’t think they would have.”  And I—there have been times when I did not understand that either, haven’t there?  That you go out there not to die, but to live.  That you’re managing all of this the best that you’re able—though lately for whatever reason, you do seem to me somehow less and less able—and putting up one heck of a fight doing it, too.   I may never fully understand, but I promise you I’ll keep on trying.  Now though, it’s time for some more stew.  Got to keep up with the stew.

26 December, 2012

26 December 2012

Snow had, indeed, managed to blow and drift over the chimney opening so as to very nearly seal it off and cause a backup of smoke into the cabin, a fact which Einar, in the darkness, was able to ascertain with some certainty only after he’d got himself hauled up onto the roof and stretched out full length in the snow that lay white and billowy over its surface.  Stand up, and he knew he’d likely as not be sliding before he could do anything to stop himself, snow blasted and polished by the wind until it was hardly deep enough to give any significant traction, so he had to stick to creeping.  Feeling his way, finding the chimney and clearing, best as he could, the drifted and icy snow away from around it he began carefully inching back towards the edge of the roof, finding it rather suddenly when a particularly ferocious blast of wind and its attendant fury of airborne flakes temporarily caused him to lose all sense of equilibrium and go slipping over the rim of the roof before he could do anything to stop himself. 

Well, that was one way to get back down, and at least he’d been done with his task before it happened.  Would have found himself somewhat dismayed had he needed to climb back up there to finish digging the thing out, especially with blowing snow having already plastered itself against one side of his face and all but cemented that eye shut.  Not so easy to find one’s way under such circumstances and with darkness still deep over the world, and Einar knew he’d have more than the simple furies of the storm to watch out for, should he remain too long outside.  Was half surprised Liz hadn’t already come out in search of him, but supposed she might still be sleeping, in which case perhaps he could scramble in through the tunnel before she ever realized he’d been gone.  Good thought, but not remotely possible, as she met him at the door, headlamp casting fragmented splinters of light out into the storm, where they danced fitfully between whirling flakes of snow and didn’t seem to make much of a dent at all in the thick, churning bluster of blowing snow.  Einar grinned, took a halting step towards the door in an attempt to meet her there, at least, but it felt as though he was attempting to move through mud, through half-frozen water which was in the act of congealing around him, and his motions were in consequence slow, jerky, not at all what he was aiming for.

Must not have been moving quickly enough, for she grabbed him, all but dragged him into the cold, still air of the tunnel and began brushing snow from him.  “Well, you fixed it.  Smoke isn’t backing up anymore, but what were you thinking?”

“Thinking I…couldn’t breathe, and pretty soon nobody else would be able to, either.  Had to fix the chimney.  That’s all I was thinking.  Isn’t that enough?”

She took his hands, numb, insensible but for the growing sting of returning circulation, warming them between her own.  “Enough would have involved maybe throwing on some boots and a parka before charging out into the snow, but you just wouldn’t be yourself if you stopped to worry about such things, would you?”

“Nope.  And you wouldn’t have anyone to holler at.  Which wouldn’t be real interesting, I’m guessing.”

“Oh, sure I would.  I’d still have your son.  He may be sleeping all quiet and peaceful right now, but he’s starting to show some definite signs that he’s going to take after his father in a lot of ways, so believe me, I’d still have someone to holler at, even if you could manage to be a bit more sensible about snow and cold and all that.  It wouldn’t be a problem.”

“Maybe…next winter.”

“I hardly think so!”  With which she gave him a big shove in through the door, seeing that he apparently intended on crouching right where he was in that wet, snow-caked deer hide until he froze solid—not wholly a vain concern under present circumstances, for he appeared barely able to move as it was—should nothing intervene.  Thawing, at Liz’s insistence, over a stove come roaring back to life with the clearing of its chimney Einar listened to the keening and buffeting of the wind outside, shivering as a little gust found its way in around the stretched deer hide he’d earlier put up as windbreak.  Clearly not well-insulated enough, any of it, between the wind and the snow it seemed intent on dragging inside as it puzzled out every little crack and crevice, taking full advantage as it went. 

The cabin floor was a mess now that the place was starting to warm and thaw things some, ridges and riffles of snow which had escaped Einar’s broom now melting to muddy the floor and leave them all seeking refuge on rocks, hides and on the bed.  The problem could be solved, and he knew how, though as it involved his heading back out into the storm, the thing was to prove easier thought than accomplished, seeing as Liz had rather strong objections to his going anywhere else just then.  Something about the wind, and his purple hands, and it being time for more stew, none of which made a tremendous amount of sense to him, as it had been windy all night, his hands were always one shade of purple or another, those days, and as for stew…well, hadn’t they all eaten just before bed.  Seemed certain they had, yet here she was bustling about the stove with the remainder of Juni’s rabbit, a healthy portion of bear fat and some dried, pounded chokecherries, working to make another meal.  She saw him watching in some dismay, the way his glance wandered from stew pot to walls to the slightly muddy mess that had recently been their good, dry dirt floor, smiled, shook her head.

“No need to go out there and do anything about it right now.  See?  The snow’s not coming in anymore.  Not hardly, and soon not at all.  I think the storm’s one by one sealing the cracks for us, from the outside.”

Einar nodded, somewhat disappointed to be robbed of the only halfway legitimate reason he’d currently had in his possession for leaving the cabin once more to contend with wind and snow, but unable to deny the logic in her statement.  “Yeah, snow’s…pretty good insulator.  All those air spaces.  Front of the cabin gets plastered over with snow…we’re all set.  Be so warm in here soon that you’ll…you’ll melt me and have to sweep me the side with the melted snow, so you don’t end up with more mud.  Big problem.  Don’t want more mud.”

“Oh, it’s not something that I’m particularly worried about right now.  I doubt you’ll even thaw thoroughly over the next day or so, let alone melt!”

“Would sure hope not…”

23 December, 2012

23 December 2012

Before afternoon passed into evening and the last of the fitful, cloud-filtered light began to fade outside, the storm had descended in full fury, wind continuing to blast the cabin and this time the distinctive scouring sound of dry, icy snow accompanying it, the stuff forcing its way most insistently in between logs where the chinking had been blown out by the previous buffeting of the wind. Hitting the protective deer hide Einar had set up as an extra layer of insulation, the snow was halted from creating a minor blizzard in the cabin, fell to the ground beneath the hide as a small but growing drift. This drift Liz diligently scraped up as it accumulated and deposited into the water barrel, fine for adding to their drinking water supply—very well did Liz remember times when, because of the presence of aircraft, they had been unable to have fire for several days at a time, freezing solid the contents of the water barrel and forcing them to melt snow in containers pressed up against their bodies, and they, particularly Einar, had grown woefully deficient in water during those times—but not exactly the sort of thing one wanted to leave melting on the floor.

Despite good stout walls, a roaring fire and the additional protection of Einar’s deer hide tapestry, the storm’s icy tendrils found their way with increasing insistence into the little shelter, leaving its occupants to crowd closer about the stove, sipping tea and holding pressing chilled backs against the large granite slabs which leaned, near enough to be more than warm but not so close as to burn a person, against the wall beside the stove, and in some cases against the stove itself. 

Einar might for himself have liked to resist this emphasis on staying warm. He had, indeed, put up the deer hide for the benefit of the women who he knew would so greatly appreciate its relief and to a lesser extent for little Will—kid had to get tough, and he figured the process could really never start too early—not believing himself to have any business taking advantage of such things. But now with the good solid warmth of a stomach full of fresh rabbit stew easing its way through him, returning feeling to cold, battered extremities and lessening some of the tense, almost frantic energy which—body seeking in one last desperate effort to urge its owner out to find it some sustenance—often is the lot of the starving man, this resistance seemed less important.

Easily and almost at peace, he allowed Liz to lead him over nearer the radiant heat of the stone stove. Observing almost in disbelief this change in his demeanor, Liz decided to take full advantage of the situation while it lasted, and promptly brought Einar another portion of stew, which he found himself very nearly too sleepy to eat. Not entirely a bad thing so far as Liz was concerned, and she helped him, holding the bowl lest he drop it and pressing the spoon back into his hand whenever, from sheer weariness, a late, futile attempt at resistance or some indefinite combination of the two, he let it fall from his fingers.

In this way, his eyes barely open and Liz sitting patiently beside him as Will continued his seemingly unending and fascinated inspection of the beaver hide, Einar ended up finishing his second bowl of stew, perhaps nothing more than routine for most under such circumstances--cold, hungry and definitely behind on energy--but for him, a major accomplishment, and Liz was glad to see it. Glad, and grateful also to Juni for bringing home that rabbit, and though the girl had said nothing of it and probably would not, Liz suspected that he entire reason for leaving the cabin and venturing out into the coming storm had been simply to obtain some such fresh food. She knew as well as Liz what was at stake for Einar that night--better, perhaps, able as she was to look at the situation clearly and with eyes unclouded by the necessary if somewhat blinding optimism with which Liz had somewhat unwittingly come to regard her spouse in his ongoing struggle--had been doing her best to help improve his chances.

After the consumption of so much warm, rich stew Einar hardly had any choice but to doze a bit, eyes mostly closed and chin resting on his knees as he started at the flickering light of the fire through a crack in the stove door, every inch of him weary, aching, but it was not wholly an unpleasant sensation, strength lent him by the good nourishing stew already making itself felt from head to toe and bringing with it an enormous sense of relief and relaxation, if not quite of well-being.

Next thing he knew he was waking, Liz lifting him as she tried to finish getting him onto his side of the bed, and he glanced about in some confusion but at her assurances that everything was alright, Will already asleep, the fire stoked and night come to the world outside, he stopped struggling, rolled over and fell into a deep sleep amongst the insulating warmth of the hides, warmer already than he'd been in days and soon to be warmer still, as Liz joined him, one final glance at the stove, at Juni climbing into her own sleeping bag and Muninn on his perch with beak tucked beneath a wing telling her that all was right with the night, each of them snug and as well-protected against the coming storm as they could be.

No more than two or three hours had passed--Einar sleeping like a dead man and Liz, waking periodically to check on him, almost unsure until she'd felt for and found a slow but reasuring heartbeat that he was still amongst the living--before the storm's fury woke them all again. Howling and pounding against the cabin walls, the wind seemed to have taken on a new rage as it blasted the logs with hard, icy snow and send spin-drift skittering across the floor to lightly cover Juni's sleeping bag and hiss against the still-warm stones of the stove.

Rousing himself with some difficulty to movement, fighting against a heavienss which seemed to have settled in his very bones to all but prevent his so much as lifting an arm up and out of the hides, Einar struggled out of bed and landed with both bare feet in the good half inch of snow that had settled against the bed, standing for a moment of stillness as the shock of the sensation passed and left him grinning, shuffling about and pushing snow ahead of him as he went. Might be to his liking, this icy carpeting, but Liz would definitely not care for it and neither would he, actually, when the stove was brought to life and the entire floor turned to slick mud. With this in mind he found the bundle of carefully-tied dry grass which Liz used as a broom, scraping and sweeping at the unwelcome whiteness until he'd got it all herded over against the door where it could be collected and more appropriately dealt with.

Juni was up by that time, shaking snow from her sleeping bag and crouching before the stove, which though still hot was sputtering with the pressure of the wind outside, not drawing well at all and smoke beginning to back up through the door and into the cabin. Einar, wrapped somewhat haphazardly in a deer hide and still barefoot, hurried out through the tunnel to check the chimney opening, which he expected might well have drifted over in the ferocity of wind and blowing snow which had consumed the night. Coughing, covering her face with a bit of damp cloth, Liz soon joined Juni beside the struggling stove, blinking through the smoke and working to correct the situation for a good minute or so before realizing that Einar was no longer in the cabin with them.

21 December, 2012

21 December 2012

Wall secured as well as possible against the unwelcome intrusion of the wind and the place beginning to warm, Liz was able to turn her full attention to other matters, such as seeing that a good, hearty stew began making its way towards readiness.  Not even Will competed for her attention, his entire world currently consisting of the beaver pelt with all of its wonders and intricacies to be explored, textures to be studied and mapped, whirling patterns in the fur followed and replicated with tiny hands in the smoother portions and, Liz was sure as she watched him, individual hairs to be counted, had he been capable of such.  She smiled, shook her head and went back to the preparation of stew.  They would have quiet the time together, those two, as the years went by.  Two of a kind, at least in some ways, and already they seemed to enjoy spending time with one another.

Except that just then, Will was wide awake and engaged with the world, and Einar very plainly was not.  Had managed, while Liz watched their son, to thoroughly lose his place in the world and slump over against the water barrel, either quite fast asleep or unconscious, and watching for a moment Liz decided it did not entirely matter which, for either way he was clearly growing dangerously cold in a hurry, and she went to him, rabbitskin blanket in hand, tentatively touched his shoulder.  No response, no so much as a stirring in his face to let her know he was aware of her presence so she tried again, this time a bit more insistently.

“Einar.  Hey, are you in there?  I know you’ve got to be awfully tired after that walk and I want you to rest, but how about waking up for just a second?  I’ll have some stew ready in a while, and it would be good for you to eat before you sleep…”

Still no answer, and she was beginning to be seriously worried, knew he really had to eat before he slept, this time, as he must be just about entirely out of energy after that long trek through the cold, and there seemed to her little guarantee of his waking, should he slumber too deeply without some prior fortification.  A notion which was only reinforced by her present inability to rouse him, ample evidence, light a sleeper as he tended to be—ha!  An understatement if ever I heard one—that this was something more than sleep.  Wanting to resort to more definitive means in her efforts to produce some wakefulness but concerned what might happen should he suddenly come to himself under such circumstances with Will so nearby, she scooped up the little one, beaver pelt and all, depositing him on the bed and causing no minor consternation on the part of the young explorer, who in being moved lost his place in what had become a rather methodical sorting and categorizing of individual strands of fur, and was forced to start all over again…

If Will’s ruckus did not wake his father—the little one was not pleased at the uninvited interruption, and did not mind letting the world know about it—Liz figured no noise she might make would be likely to have the desired effect, either, and so resorted to more physical means. Shaking him, rolling him to one side, she finally got some response when she took him by both arms and attempted to lift him.  The eyes that met hers were wide, angry, perhaps a bit frightened, but despite the startlement of waking it did not take Einar too long to figure out who he was staring at, meeting Liz’s concerned look at last with a bit of a twisted grin, freeing himself from her grasp and sitting up under his own power.  He looked confused, didn’t have anything to say and made no objection when she drew the blanket well up around his shoulders.  “I’ve got some stew on the stove, how about you stay awake and eat some before sleeping again, Ok?”

“Not really sleeping.  Just…”

“I know.  All the more reason to have something to eat.”   

Juni, meanwhile, had disappeared out into the teeth of the increasingly stormy day as Liz had worked to waken Einar, neither of them  thinking too much of it until she failed after what seemed a reasonable amount of time to return.  Despite many months at the cabin, neither of them had taken it upon themselves to construct anything which resembled indoor toilet facilities, such needs still necessitating a hasty trip out into whatever weather might be prevailing at the moment, which in this case meant a quick scramble through the snow to to spot where they had, at least, erected a rough shelter which served to block some of the worst of whatever storm might be raging at the time. 

It was not to this outpost Juni had been headed, however, as Liz began to suspect when well over a quarter hour passed without her return.  At first this did not concern her terribly; if the young reporter wanted to head out minus almost all of her gear and her sleeping bag onto what was shaping up to be one of the fiercest storms in recent memory and try to walk out…well, that would almost certainly solve the problem of what they were to ultimately do with her.  Not that Liz wished to see the matter end this way; she had become somewhat fond of the girl, despite her initial misgivings.  Anyhow, Juni was too smart to attempt such a foolish enterprise, especially without nabbing key items of gear which had been left strew about the interior of the cabin.  Which left the possibility that either she had been somehow delayed against her will out there—injured, perhaps, or turned around in the whiteness of the blowing snow, and lost—or was up to some project at whose nature Liz could not quite guess.  Before too many more minutes passed—and the storm had time to further intensify—Liz might have gone out looking, but presently a stomping and shuffling in the tunnel announced Juni’s return as she beat snow from clothes and boots before pushing her way in through the door.

“It’s really starting to storm out there!  Windy!  Here!”  With which she shoved a good-sized furry object into Liz’s hand, a rabbit, as it turned out, and proceeded to give the account of how she had been going for some frozen venison which she knew still hung in the trees outside, thinking it might do all of them good if added to the stew, but on her way there had happened upon a rabbit run with what appeared to be very fresh tracks, hardly drifted over at all by the wind.  She’d pursued them, found the creature and taken it with a rock…

So they had fresh rabbit stew that afternoon, the two women thoroughly enjoying the change from the dried, reconstituted meat and berries which had been their fare for the past several days—tasty and satisfying enough, in its own right, but nothing beats fresh, especially after it has been absent for a time—and Einar consuming rather more of the stuff than he would have done if left to his own devices, Liz a source of near-constant insistence which he would not have found terribly difficult to resist had he been trying…but he was not trying.  Was trying, rather, to remember some of his past resolve, the realizations which had come to him up at their last camp after Juni’s halted survival training, and though they seemed rather distant now, not so certain as they’d done up in that little cluster of evergreens—he was, after all, doing a bit better, and could easily begin to convince himself that nothing had been terribly wrong in the first place, the second thoughts he’d had up there merely the product of momentary weakness—he managed to remember enough of it to convince himself that eating a bit extra probably wasn’t the terribly bad idea which it seemed.

20 December, 2012

20 December 2012

While I hate to miss posting two days in a row, it seems that my writing ability has entirely abandoned me for the moment, and anything I'd written last night wouldn't have been worth reading.  Will post a chapter later tonight if I can remedy this, otherwise it will have to be tomorrow.

Thank you all for reading, and for your patience.

19 December, 2012

19 December 2012

No chapter for today, back with another tomorrow.

Thank you all for reading!

18 December, 2012

18 December 2012

While he knew that replacing the layers of usnea lichen chinking between logs in the walls would ultimately solve the draft problem that was currently letting so much cold air into the cabin, Einar believed he had a quicker solution, if only a temporary one.  Taking a pile of folded hides—two deer, part of an elk, numerous beaver and muskrat pelts and those of a few other small animals—which had been scraped and tanned but not yet put to any particular purpose, he chose the two nicely-tanned deer hides.  Spreading them out to their full size he studied the hides, choosing the larger and holding it up against the front wall, where most of the offending gaps were allowing bits of the storm into their little shelter.  Ought to do the job nicely, he thought, and finding the rawhide bag in which he stored a number of the small tools he’d made over their years living in the backcountry, he retrieved a quartz point which had seen service in the past as a drill bit, turning it this way and that as he briefly considered going to the trouble to rig up a little bow-drill for the task, but decided against it.

Working by hand, then, he bored three nearly inch-deep holes in the logs atop the door, crouching by pile of firewood and searching until he’d located an appropriate stick from which to whittle pegs.  Hated to make holes in the nice buckskin on the assumption that they might someday wish to use it whole, thought for a moment and carved the pegs smaller, blunting their tips.  He then held the hide in place once more—dizzy, catching himself against the wall, glad that Liz appeared not to have noticed—and eased the middle peg into place, pressing a bit of the hide into the hole behind it.  In this way he secured the hide without the necessity of punching any holes in its good, smooth surface, logs leaned against the bottom of the drape to hold it in place against the wall, and their draft problem was almost entirely solved.

Liz rose, holding up a bare hand to the newly-covered wall and seeing that the draft had been repaired.  Already the room seemed warmer, heat of the fire more efficient as it was no longer having to compete so fiercely with the intruding cold.  “Thank you!  This is so much better, and I know you did it for us, because you’d probably just as soon take off all your clothes and sit out in that wind for an hour or two if there were no reason not to do it, wouldn’t you?”

He nodded, grinned, “Sure.  Sure I would.”

Which he would have, but in truth it had come to hurt him as never before, the cold that he had always loved, knifing its way in between ribs and up through whatever part of him might be touching the ground of late until his bones ached with it, his very being, muscles—what little remained of them—tightening up and threatening continually to cramp, body seeming unable to produce much warmth of its own most days, no matter how he worked and moved to get his blood flowing.  It was a relatively new thing, this agony, and seemed to continue no matter how hard he might work to acclimatize himself to the cold, all his prior methods proving of little avail.  Body had finally reached a point, he was left to conclude, where it could no longer compensate, where a lifetime of training and discipline and genuine enjoyment of certain things which others might have viewed as discomfort were being finally and inexorably overcome by the undeniable realities of the last stages of starvation.  So, he had compelled himself to come to love the pain, if it was to be all that remained, to give himself over to its power without resistance and without fear as he had done so successfully with the cold, and he had managed, but it was not the same, brought with it little of the fierce, all-encompassing joy which had attended the other and left him at times—though ashamed to admit it—wishing only for a respite, a lessening, even temporarily, of the intensity of the struggle.

And now here it was, all but being forced on him, and he didn’t want it.  Found it pretty terrifying, actually, the very prospect of it.  Well, fickle creature.  Got no choice this time, have you?  Got to settle in and make the best of it, and you’d better be doing it in a hurry, too, with this storm coming.  Got the feeling we’re all gonna be closed up in here together for a day or two, the way things are sounding out there.  Once the snow really starts, if these winds keep up, it’ll be a whiteout all around us, with nobody going anywhere much, unless they don’t care too much about finding their way back again.  He sighed, shivered, held numbed hands over the stove just long enough to restore some flexibility and began folding the remaining hides, stacking them back where Liz had stored them. 

Will was awake by then, uninterested in eating—which was normally his first thought upon returning to wakefulness—and fascinated, instead, by the deep shining black-brown of the beaver pelts his father was stacking at the top of the hide pile.  Before Liz realized what he was doing he had hoisted himself to hands and knees and taken off across the bed, reaching its edge and seeing no reason to stop.  Only when he reached his destination, not getting the descent quite right, flipping over and landing almost head-first on the floor, did everyone see what he was up to.  Liz rushed to him, gently freeing him from the tangle in which he had ended up, checking to see that he was alright and, seeing a lump on his forehead where he’d impacted the floor, waiting for him to cry.  Will did not cry, however, did not very much appreciate Liz’s efforts to restrain him as she checked him over, either, eyes still fixed on the pile of hides across the room, struggling and squirming until, baffled but somewhat reassured about his physical condition, she released him as he was clearly so very much wanting. 

Never missing a beat, the little one was back on hands and knees and scrambling quickly for Einar, who watched him with a hint of a smile in his eyes.  Over a stack of firewood, around Muninn—iridescent feathers which had so often proven a source of endless amazement entirely forgotten for the moment—and over to the water barrel he hurried without hesitation, eyes all the time on the gleaming glint of those freshly tanned beaver pelts.  Reaching the stack, he was rewarded by his father with the largest of the specimens, plopping down on his stomach to study in individual detail the fine, silky hairs which made up its sheen, satisfied.  Careful not to disturb the little one’s rapt perusal of the hide, Einar took a look at the bump on his head, smearing on a bit of the balm of Gilead salve he’s been using on his own cracked and occasionally bleeding fingertips, gently feeling along his spine until he was satisfied that no serious damage had been done in the fall.  Good.  Lowering himself to his stomach on the floor so that he was no higher than the now completely contented child, he spoke in a soft voice.

“Next time, little one, maybe you can try coming off the bed feet-first, for a change?  I’ll show you.  It’s not too hard once you get the hang of it, and spares a lot of hassle when it comes to tumbling down onto the floor and such.  That stuff just slows you down, as you’ve discovered.  Now, about this hide.  Pretty fine one, isn’t it?  Now, we were planning on making these into mittens, hats, maybe trimming a parka or two with them, but it seems to me maybe this one ought to be yours, don’t you think?  Figure maybe you earned it just now, and that way it can help keep you warm at night, maybe provide raw material for your first project later on when you’re ready to start learning such things.  What do you think?”

Will did not answer, never even looked up, entirely absorbed in the wonder that came of rubbing a bit of the hide between thumb and forefinger, feeling its texture, its smoothness, seeing the way the individual hairs rippled and moved and caught the light, before moving on to the next portion and starting all over again.  A fine answer so far as Einar was concerned, and he nodded, returned to his work.

17 December, 2012

17 December 2012

A storm was indeed on its way, last fury of the dying winter preparing to spend itself amongst the soaring peaks and hanging basins of the high country; Einar could sense it as they made their way back to the cabin, stopping to gather the stacks of wood they’d retrieved from the woodshed and staring up at the barely-moving spruce tops which swayed with small, restless movements in a rising wind.  Hearing the wind long before he felt it and—ears perhaps representing the keenest of his senses at the moment—long before its approach was audible to Liz, he instinctively ducked his head, drew elbows in close to shield his body, and then it hit them, boundless, buffeting, nearly knocking Liz from her feet and leaving Einar to lean hard in the direction from whence it came, willow bending in the gale.  Breathless beckoning, Liz took off around the cabin, shouting to him, when he showed no inclination to movement, to follow.

“Come on, let’s get in out of this.  Going to be a big one, you think?”

Einar shrugged, teeth gritted in the face of the wind, got himself turned with some difficulty and followed. 

Big enough, I guess, and too bad about our having decided to keep Juni for a while, because this would give us a real good opportunity to lose her, take off without track or trace.  But, other storms will come.  Looks like I’ve managed to get myself mostly stranded in the cabin, for this one.  Talked myself right into a doggone corner, and now can’t get out.  Not the way I’m used to doing it, at least.  Got to see this one through.  And, as if bidding farewell for a time to the icy, biting force of the wind—a temporary leave-taking, only—he turned one final time before rounding the corner of the cabin to the relative shelter behind its bulk, grinning into the teeth of the storm, head up and eyes keen, alive.

Inside, the storm’s force shook the little shelter to its roots—had no foundation, of course—and left little bits of lichen insulation falling from wall-gaps where it had served all winter as fine chinking, littering the floor and admitting rather more air than had previously been able to find its way in between carefully-chinked logs.  Liz pulled down a basket from its rafter-hook and gave to Juni the task of retrieving the wayward scraps of insulation, gathering them up so that they might be secured back in place.  Meantime, the gusting gale took full advantage of every tiny gap in the cabin’s shell, sending icy little tendrils curling and fleeting about the interior of the place, gnawing and knifing their way through all but the most insulating of clothing so that sensible creatures such as Liz and Juni crowded in around the fire, seeking mitigation for what was seeming the otherwise-unshakable chill of the advancing storm.  There where the stone stove, already thoroughly warmed since their return, radiated a fair amount of heat the stray drafts seemed a good deal more tolerable, less ominous, and the two women were glad.

Einar, of course, having his own rather different ideas of what constituted common sense when it came to such situations—why waste a good opportunity, for one thing?—stayed right where he was, sitting with back to the door and arms stretched out at the sides, listening intently to the changing pitch and timbre of the gusting storm and appearing almost relaxed, quite oblivious to the fact that everything from extremities to face were rapidly going a rather unhealthy-looking shade of mottled purple.  Rather than chastise him upon discovery of the situation Liz--who knew that while often such circumstances were the result of incorrigible stubbornness on his part, nearly an equal number really could be attributed to his somewhat unique perception of the world, an unusual interpretation, perhaps, of the things his senses were telling him—simply draped the rabbitskin blanket about his shoulders and handed him a pot of steaming nettle tea, believing that he would drink if presented the opportunity and gratified to see that she was correct.

“Kind of a chilly wind out there, isn’t it?”

No answer from Einar, who was busy shuddering over his tea and thawing numbed fingers as he rather gratefully breathed in its rising billows of steam, but Juni nodded, added a stick to the stove.  “I guess we’d better work on replacing this insulation, hadn’t we, in case the storm sticks around for a while?  Or we’ll end up burning too much of our wood just trying to keep the place warm.”

Liz nodded in agreement.  “The way it’s blowing, I’d say we need to get right on it.  You can be responsible for that, if you like.  Einar and I were talking…I don’t know what you had in mind as far as staying here, but we’d be glad if you’d like to stick around with us for a few more weeks.  Pick up some more skills, maybe help out with things from time to time, that sort of thing.  How does that sound to you?”

Juni’s usually-guarded features lit up with a rare grin at the proposal, her gathering of fallen insulation gaining speed as she worked in silence for a moment before nodding her assent.  “If you’re both agreeable…I’d really like to do that.  Still have lots to learn up here, if you’ll have me.  And,” staring pointedly at Einar, who didn’t even look up, “ if I can live through the lessons…”

“Yeah,” Einar finally glanced up, lowering the steaming tea-pot so as to be able to get a sideways glance at the young journalist, “you’ll live through them.  Probably.  Guess I’m more or less agreeable, and Liz already had her say…what about you, Snorri?  What do you think about having company for a while more?”

Will, still fast asleep, made no answer, but as he did not actively object and Muninn—definitely amongst the more sensible creatures in the room—remained where he had been for the past hour, fast asleep with beak tucked beneath a wing for warmth, Einar figured the matter might as well be considered settled, and went back to his tea.  It was, he could not help but think, bound to be one long, slow storm if he was to spend it all cooped up in the cabin with three other people, and a bird.  Better find himself a project, or one would surely come to him, and it might not be the sort of which Liz would too readily approve.

Glancing about the cabin’s dimly-lit interior and seeing the increasing problem with wind-loosened chinking escaping from between wall-logs as the strength and duration of the gusts outside intensified—winter, indeed, seemed to be having a last go of it, and sparing no effort— he had an idea, drained the last of his rapidly cooling nettle tea and rose a bit creakily to begin his work.

16 December, 2012

16 December 2012

Once they were mostly out of earshot of the cabin—not entirely, for Liz wanted to be able to hear should Will wake—she stopped, found the mostly snow-free trunk of a fallen aspen, and motioned for Einar to sit beside her.  “We have to decide what to do about Juni.”

He was surprised.  It wasn’t what he had expected.  “Now?”

“Yes, now.  Because…well, some of the things we talked about up there earlier, about you needing to get stronger, start heading in the right direction again so you’ll be able to stay here with us…I hate to say it, but some of those things are probably going to be easier done while she’s here, and I want to know how long I have.”

“Why should it matter if she’s here or not?  Don’t really understand.”

“No.  Just believe me.  If she can help with Will now and then, or with chores like firewood, this thing will go faster and you’ll be ready sooner to take back over where you left off.”

“I’m ready now.  Never yet left off in the first place.  Not making a lot of sense, al of this.”

She sighed, drew the parka closer around his neck, for he had begun to shiver after less than a minute of stillness.

"I know you’ve never left off yet, but you’re going to have to.  That’s part of what I wanted to discuss with you out here.  You’ve said you can’t just lie around and let me take care of things, and I understand that, but if you go on using up all the energy you take in, and more, you’re never going to make any progress really, and the first time we have to leave the cabin for any extended period of time, you’ll end up right back where you are right now.  Where you were up on the mountain yesterday.  And you’ll die.  So that’s why I need to know what we’re going to do about Juni, and when.  So I can plan what we need to do with you.”

“Ha!  I don’t like the sound of that, you know?  Not easy for me to…doggone it, Liz.  You’re really serious, aren’t you?”

“Yes.  Dead serious, and I don’t want you to forget how serious you were about it this morning, either.  Because I know you were, or you wouldn’t have been willing to shut down your week of instruction with Juni to come back down here with me.  Even if just for a little while, you were starting to admit to yourself just how far you’ve let this thing come, and how badly you need to start down a different path if you’re going to stick around.  Weren’t you?”

He shrugged, felt trapped and wanted to run but knew he had no business doing that sort of thing to her, particularly seeing as she was correct in everything she was saying.  Had heard his thoughts plainly as if he’d spoken everything aloud, somehow, and intended to hold him to all of it.  Well, wasn’t that what he had wanted?  What he had known must be done?  It was, he supposed, only he’d intended to do it himself and without any interference from her, or from Juni or anyone else.  Was the way he did everything, and he simply couldn’t fathom responding with anything other than strong and immediate resistance should anyone try and push him to do such things, from the outside.  Especially now that Liz had given him release from the agreement he’d had with her.  Had his freedom, meant to keep it but sensed that she was asking him in her somewhat indirect way—tended to confuse him, and he wished she’d just come straight to the point, state whatever it was she was wanting him to do, and let him say yes or no—to allow her once more to have some say over the course of his day-to-day life.  Some surrendering of his liberty which, though surely temporary, would prove to him no less intolerable, and this confused him also, for he’d thought she said not twenty minutes ago in the cabin that she was intending to do no such thing.

He rose, leaning on a tree and staring off into the snowy woods for a good minute before looking back in her direction.  “What is it you’re wanting me to do here, Liz?  You said we were out here to talk about Juni, and now…”

“I want you to consider letting Juni stay for a while longer, if you’re willing and if she is.  I know at some point we have to decide how to part ways with her for good, but let’s not even be too concerned with that right now.  How about another three weeks or so for starters, and then we’ll see how things are going at the end of it?  Maybe your day of ‘instruction’ yesterday has changed her mind, but I know at least prior to that she would have jumped at the chance to stick around for a while longer, and I really think it would free me up some to focus on improving things for you and getting you to the point where…”

He squirmed uncomfortably, didn’t like to hear her talk in those terms.  “It’s not safe.  If I do this, and really keep up with eating and all…well, you’ve seen in the past.  Things can tend to get a lot worse before they get better, I get all sick and legs swell up and all that goes with it, and if she decided to make a move while things were like that…I just wouldn’t be too well equipped to protect the two of you or to make a hasty exit from this place if things got bad in a hurry.”

“You’re not prepared to do that now.”

Silence.  Wanted to disagree, but couldn’t.  Well, he could have, and could have made a pretty good argument of it, too, could have taken off up the mountain to prove her wrong, but instead he sat back down, met her eye.

“She can stay, and I’ll do it.  Whatever it is.  But you may have to keep reminding me from time to time that I said so.”

A smile from Liz, an embrace, a whispered prayer of thanks as she pulled him back to his feet and led the way to the cabin; have to get that firewood carried inside, because I'm pretty sure a storm’s coming…

15 December, 2012

15 December 2012

No chapter tonight, but back with another tomorrow.

Nice snowy day here.

Thank you all for reading!

14 December, 2012

14 December 2012

Silent, observing, sensing Einar’s discomfort with the subject and so attempting to make herself as small and unobtrusive as possible during the telling of the thing, Juni had listened intently, her journalist’s brain making, almost without her willing it, lists of questions which she wanted to ask him about this new bit of information, this new piece to the puzzle which was the story of Einar.  Only, she did not ask, silently reprimanded herself for so much as thinking of the thing in those terms. 

This isn’t a story, this is a man’s life, and though he might very well tell you more if you were to ask…well, you’d better be ready for the consequences of dragging him through all of that, before you do it.  If you do it.  For now, you’d better just be quiet and let Liz do her thing, because it looks like she’s pretty good at it.  A good thing she came along when she did, I guess, even if it does mean losing the rest of my week of survival training, for now.  That was some pretty tough stuff, and though I would have got through it…I’m pretty sure…there seems to be no guarantee that he would have.  So, things are working out pretty well, all in all.  I just hope Liz gets the message here that he’s trying to give her, or he may end up taking off up the mountain again, way too soon…

Liz got the message, or thought she did.  Einar was trying, intending to do things a different way for a time, had come to see the wisdom in some of her words but must, to some extent at least, make the change in his own way and without feeling that he had lost all say in the matter of what was to happen to him, day to day.  Understandable, if perhaps not the most efficient path she could conceive, especially given his propensity to forget after a meal or two—or a dream, or the over-flight of a distant, rumbling helicopter—the ongoing direness of his situation and resort once more to sitting and freezing himself in the snow to make up for the supposed weakness represented by his having conceded for a moment that he was indeed human and must, on occasion, rely on some form of physical sustenance if he was to go on living…  Yes, with these things in mind she would have found herself much more thoroughly reassured had he shown a willingness to commit himself to some plan which would have assured his continued progress in the right direction even should he forget, in a day or two, that such was in any way necessary, but that clearly wasn’t happening, and under the circumstances, she was more than happy to take whatever she could get.  Which seemed to involve his avoiding any situation in which the course of his daily activities was too heavily influenced by anyone other than himself.  

Alright then, she would not push him too much, would be content if he simply managed to remember his current resolve when it came to allowing himself to grow healthier and stronger, ate a bit more, rested now and then…  If even those things could be accomplished, she was sure the difference in him would be quite significant, might, perhaps, even be enough to get his mind working a bit better so he’d have some chance of staying on his present course, and see him alive and safe through the remainder of the fading winter.  She could not ask for anything more and did not intend to do so, took his hands—he could object later if he wanted to, but for the moment she simply wanted to avoid his falling against the stove when he rose—and helped him to his feet.

Reptile hands, they were, cold, all hollow and sunken between the bones, like the hands of a lizard.  And, she told herself, he was probably about as warm-blooded as one just then, too.  How he had managed to stay alive at all over those past months, let alone maintain the amount of work he had many times set for himself was a source of complete bafflement to her when she really stopped to think about it; stubbornness and strength of will could carry a man an awfully long way, but in the end one’s body had limits, had to have, and he’d found and surpassed his so long ago that he probably didn’t even remember what it felt like to be living on the other side of that thin, wavering line of division…

Yet, somehow he’d kept going.  The grace of God, maybe—definitely that—combined, perhaps, with a belief, firmly held if never quite articulated even in his own mind, that to give in and to die—as his body surely must have numerous times come rather nearer doing that he would have liked to admit—would have been too easy, too quick a release from the self-appointed and sometimes rather elaborately-devised routine of torture and deliberate deprivation which marked so many of his days.  And in his own mind he didn’t deserve that, such an end, the rest and respite it would provide him, so he hung on, day after day and continuing absurdly past all reasonable limits of bodily endurance, if for no other reason than that it would have been too easy for him to leave, too gentle an end.  Or so she imagined.  Figured it must be something like that, and though the thought of it made her sad for him, she was grateful at the same time that something had helped him to stick around through all those tenuous months, even if the motivation ­­was not what she might have hoped it to be.  Enough.  I’ve got to quit this, or he’s going to hear me speculating, and start worrying that I’m plotting something.  That wouldn’t be real helpful right now, would it?  She shook her head, smiled at the puzzled look in his eyes as he watched her.  He’d half expected, upon being hauled to his feet, to have her start right back in again about his getting in bed, staying there, despite his just having told her in rather more detail than he would have preferred to remember exactly why he could do no such thing.  But she did not, instead simply draping his parka over him and glancing at the bed to be sure Will was still asleep.

“Alright, I hear you.  No more trying to get you go anywhere near the bed during daylight hours…though I still think you’d get better faster if you would allow yourself more rest…so how about you come and help me bring in some firewood, instead?  I didn’t do that before heading out to follow the two of you up the mountain yesterday, and it shows..”

“Firewood.  Sure.  That, I can do.  Can do it all by myself actually, if you’ve got other things you need to take care of…”

“Nope.  Nothing.  Let’s go.”

Muninn, always wanting to be helpful, or at least to be in the middle of things, hopped and then flew along with them, taking up a position atop the woodshed as they filled arms with broken branches, split logs and the bundles of short, dry twigs they’d taken to using for kindling, Liz pausing once to listed for any sign that Will had awakened inside and was anxious for food, but hearing none.  Good.  That would give her time, and nodding to Einar, follow me, she set off into the spruces, away from the cabin.

13 December, 2012

12 December, 2012

12 December 2012

When the cabin came into view it was with great relief that all three travelers viewed its rough logs, nestled as they were up against their protective cliffs, five travelers if one was to count the raven and little Will, though Muninn had no strong opinion on their return home, having been fairly content merely to shadow the mobile series of camps, scout out ahead and receive at mealtimes his allotted portion of scraps, and Will lacked an opinion entirely, being fast asleep on Liz’s back.  Einar’s relief was tempered with the usual apprehension he experienced upon approaching the place after an absence, the need to watch, determine whether anyone might have been around while they were away, but at Liz’s urging he was able to content himself with only an hour of watching and scouting , rather than the more usual three or four.  Inside—everything was, indeed, exactly as they had left it—she and Juni got a fire going, driving off some of the chill while Einar, himself rather desperately fighting sleep, entertained Will with some pieces of elk bone and a few ptarmigan feathers. 

Later, an afternoon meal simmering on the stove and the cabin comfortably warmed, even if Einar was himself still white, pinched and shivering with chill, Liz sat down beside him, determined not to allow the momentum she had seen building in their earlier talks fall by the wayside.  Determined to keep it going.  “Now that we’re home, how about you let me get you comfortable in bed for a while, see if you can’t manage a little sleep before it’s time to eat?  What do you say?”

He gave her a weary grin, don’t push it too far, Lizzie… and gently freed his arm from the rather insistent grasp with which she sought to aid his rising.  “I think…it’s quite enough that I’m back here at the cabin with a warm stove going and soup bubbling over it, instead of out there finishing a week-long course as I was supposed to do.  No need for me to go anywhere near the bed, not until sometime well after dark.”

She looked a bit exasperated, and he figured he’d messed up.   “Why won’t you just relax a little and let me help you?  You want to get stronger, don’t you?  Now that you’ve kind of realized the situation and seen that you’ve ended up pretty far in the wrong direction, physically…”

“Sure, I want that.  But can’t…  Well, it won’t work for me to just sit around and let you do things for me like that.  Won’t work”

“Why not?  And besides, I was hoping you’d actually lie around for a while, instead of sitting.  You’d get more rest that way, recover faster and maybe give those sore spots on your sitting bones a chance to heal, too.”

“No, no, can’t do that either.”

“Why not?

“Well, it’s…uh… I don’t really like to talk about it when…”  he nodded in Juni’s direction, Liz understanding, but at the same time dismissing.

“You can talk about it.  I need to know, and she’s been around for some of this.  It probably won’t be entirely new to her, you know…”

“Yeah.  See I can’t let you do it because in some way, reasonable or not, the whole idea sort of reminds me of…well, after I found my way back out of the jungle all those years ago and they put me in the Field Hospital to patch up my leg and various other wounds and stuff…it wasn’t a good thing.  Not a good thing at all.  They…chained me down, fed me through a tube, wouldn’t let me leave.”

“They chained you down?  With chains?”

“With…I don’t know.  Maybe not.  Probably not.  They were more like heavy cloth things, I think, but it didn’t make any difference.  Might as well have been chains.  Or the thin, twisted cords my captors had used.  Wrists and ankles, I couldn’t move and couldn’t leave and just lay there in the day with the fever coming and going—pretty nasty case of malaria, they told me; happens out there—wanting to be out and back with my unit so I could lead them to Andy, and in the night the dreams came and I was right back in that bamboo cage with my arms all stretched out behind me, couldn’t move, couldn’t free myself, and then when I woke and I really couldn’t get free, well, that just confirmed everything and sometimes I’d struggle and fight until my wrists bled again and they’d send a couple guys to try and hold me down…it was not a good time.”

“I can’t even imagine.  Why did they do that?”

“Because I wanted to leave.  Tried to leave.  First day or two in there I was too dehydrated and doped up on whatever they’d given me when they cleaned out and sewed up my leg—thought I was going to lose it for a few days there, far as the infection had gone—to really know what they were doing, but after that I took real active interest in what was going on.  Watched their every move, pulled out my IV when nobody was looking—I knew the right way to do that­, from some of my training over there—and headed at kind of an awkward limp for the door, thinking I could re-join my unit and lead them to Andy, lead a rescue before it was too late…"

"Well, that didn’t get me very far, just got me forcibly dragged back and tied to the bed until they could be sure I wasn’t going to try it again, which of course I was, but didn’t let them know that because it would have been real counterproductive.  Meantime I’d also started refusing the pills and stuff they were trying to give me—never did take too well to that sort of thing, and I was Ok by then on the mend and I knew it—and this didn’t please them very well.  So they started hiding some of the stuff in my food, knowing that I really, really wanted that food, because at that point it’d been well over a month since I’d had anything like a decent meal, or even a good-sized bowl of rice…  Needed it awful bad but trying to avoid those ground up pills and things I quit eating what they brought me, so it was back to the tube again—they’d done that when they first got me, because I was in and out of consciousness so much and I guess pretty badly in need of some nutrition, but I’d pulled it out as soon as I was awake, and gone in search of some real food—and this time I couldn’t do anything about it because they chained me down.”

He shuddered, jaw working as he stared into the shadows over behind the water barrel, and Liz thought he looked as though he was going to be sick, but the moment passed.  “It was like I’d…like all the effort I’d put into escaping, evading, finding my way back…like it was all for nothing.  Not a reasonable way to look at it, I know, but to me at that time, it was almost like I got to spend a couple extra weeks in the hands of my captors.  That’s what it seemed like.  Felt like.  And at night…well, it really might as well have been, for all the difference it made to me.  Finally after about two weeks of constant struggle this guy came to talk to me, this Colonel who had been at my debriefing, ­­wanted to try and talk some sense into me I guess, but instead I ended talking him into helping me appeal the medical discharge they were intent on giving me, and he did, but it didn’t do any good in the end, and they sent me home.  After all that, just stuck me on a plane and sent me home.”

Liz was quiet.  They had to send you home, you know?  Couldn’t have let you stay, not like that…  But she didn’t say it.  “They were only trying to help you in there, you know that, don’t you?”

“Yeah, guess I do now.”

“And you know that I want to help you, and that I’m not them, any of them, and this has nothing at all to do with what happened there…”

Shook his head.  “Afraid it does though, and probably always will.”

11 December, 2012

11 December 2012

It surprised Einar, once they’d started down, to discover just how far he had climbed that previous day, ascending thousands of feet above the basin in what must have been only a few hours, judging from the time he knew he’d spent waiting in ambush for Juni and then waiting some more, while she sat trapped in the rock crevice.  Rather a major feat it must have been, but the time had passed in a blur, legs carrying him somehow up and over that immensity of steep, snowy rock and timber and mind managing to stay sharp enough through the whole thing to allow for an effective evasion and ambush of his student.  He shook his head, resumed following Liz as she led the way down through an especially gnarly band of timber, legs trembling and threatening to give out beneath him.  Would be better if he was still climbing, still measuring his own steps and in control of…yeah, that would really be better, wouldn’t it, if you were directing this thing?  So you could go right back to pushing yourself up that ridge until you were all used up and fell down for the last time, and that was the end of it.  Yeah, lots better than this.   Now be quiet, won’t you, and pay attention to the rocks before you really do fall and go tumbling down this thing, right to the bottom.  Fine mess that’d be, and besides, it’d delay Liz’s plan for the day, whatever that may be…

Far from the devious qualities Einar’s mind strove so hard and entirely without his bidding to ascribe to it, Liz’s plan was very simple, and extended, for the time, no further than getting all of them safely down the slope and back to the cabin.  This would, she knew, quite thoroughly disrupt any further hopes he’d had for finishing Juni’s survival course, and though this did concern her, by far the greater concern in her mind was the strong likelihood that the instructor would not, himself, have survived the remainder of the course.  If he didn’t see it yet, she could only hope Einar might at some time in the future come to see the futility of such an exercise if actually carried to its finish, and forgive her interference.  Seemed to be doing it so far, following with what appeared to her almost a disturbing level of meekness and compliance; she would perhaps have found herself reassured by seeing a bit more resistance from him, a bit of fight from time to time, but rather than stop and make a try at determining just how serious the situation might have become—she already knew, of course, but feared things might at last be nearing their end, had he entirely lost the desire or ability to resist, which as she had observed, always tended to grow stronger in him , rather than the opposite, as the struggle became more desperate—she decided to take advantage of it to make as much downward progress as possible, not knowing how long the unfamiliar new trend might last and well aware that whatever its origin and ultimate portent, she would be much better equipped to deal with the situation once everyone was back at home safe and secure in the (soon to be) warm cabin. 

She hurried, then, setting a pace which proved a challenge to Juni and left Einar grabbing at trees and bracing himself against boulders in an effort to keep on his feet as he all but hurdled himself down the mountain, less than steady but entirely focused on the task at hand, using the terrain to his advantage and managing, more or less, to keep up.  Until he bounced off of one too many boulders in the barely-controlled slalom that was passing as his descent, lost his footing and took a spill down between an angled slab of lichen-encrusted granite and the trunk of an enormous (for that elevation) and long-fallen spruce, the broken stump of one of its remaining branches getting all wrapped up in the parka Liz had insisted he wear for the descent.  Dizzy and a bit disoriented after a pretty good knock to the side of his head as he went down he flailed about for a time trying to free himself, but not wanting to damage the garment, he managed to stop after a bit, still himself and look at things a bit more objectively.  Not too badly tangled, really, was able to work his way free after a good minute of effort and get somewhat shakily to hands and knees, squinting out across the boulder field for any sign of Liz or Juni and hoping they hadn’t noticed his absence.  If they had noticed, they were not yet giving any sign of it had not—thankfully—doubled back in search of him and determined to keep things that way he redoubled his efforts at speed, hop-limping across the remainder of the rocks before collapsing in a crumpled heap beneath the cover of the nearest tree, world spinning thickly around him even as he fought it with all the energy he could summon.  On his feet, eyes pressed shut in the hopes of quelling the dizziness as he swept up the little spruce in a big bear hug, hanging on, swaying, sick. 

Up.  Stay  up.  She’s gonna come back any minute and see you here like this, and then…  Then what?  What’s the worst that can happen?  Afraid she’ll realize that you’re not too steady on your feet, or what?  Oh, she knows that already.  Quit fooling yourself, you numbskull.  She knows all about it, knows more than you do, and while she may not mention it every time because she’s trying to spare your dignity, you know there’s no fooling her.  And you’re not gonna gain anything by trying.  True, all of it, yet there was no way he could simply sink back to the ground and lie there waiting for her to come and find him, so after a time he eased his hold on the tree, took a few uncertain steps forward and soon settled into a rhythm which seemed likely to go on carrying him forward.  Which it did, but only for a few yards, vertigo overcoming him once more and this time jerking the ground most inconsiderately out from beneath him when he tried to rise.

Tried again, similar results, and he was about to start crawling when he realized that he could almost certainly walk with a stick, something to help steady him and keep the ground in its place, and though the idea did occur to him that he absolutely must not resort to any such thing, lest Liz see and realize that something was amiss, he quickly dismissed the objection as so much mindless, prideful prattle, dropped back to hands and knees and searched about until he found the appropriate implement, which turned out to be the lower two thirds of a long-dead baby aspen, barkless and blanched a smooth, sparkling grey by several years of high-altitude sun.  On his knees, testing the thing for sturdiness, Liz found him.

“What are you doing?”

He looked up—busted—gave her a lopsided grin and lowered his head, exhausted.  “Gathering firewood.  What’s it look like?”

“Looks like you’re bleeding.  What happened?”

“Bleeding?  Where?”

“Your head, right here.  What’d you do, run into a tree?”

“Oh.  Didn’t realize…”  raised a hand to the growing knot on the side of his head, came away with cold-congealing blood.  Well, she’d seen.  Might as well be honest about it.  “No, no tree.  Just had a little fall in the rocks.  No problem.” 

“No.”  She gave him a hand, pulled him to his feet and retrieved the stick when he dropped it, started off down the slope without another word.  Einar, breathing a sigh of relief, followed.  It would be good to be home. 

10 December, 2012

10 December 2012

Liz, it seemed, meant to get Einar walking this new path without too much delay, as upon waking she rose with an urgency that somewhat baffled him and left him looking to the sky in search of some storm-sigh which surely he must have missed in his half-awake morning musings, but there was nothing, no restless breeze, no scud of slate-grey cloud wreathing a distant peak or scurrying menacingly across the sky, no apparent cause for the near-frenzy with which she appeared to be going about camp as she brought the fire back to life, put on a pot for melting snow and added to its quickly liquefying contents a generous portion of bear fat, dried serviceberries and elk jerky.  A mystery then and though not ready to speak—still reflecting on his earlier musings, trying to get set in his mind some of the things he knew he must do to begin seeking remedy for a situation no less dire for the fact that it was almost entirely of his own making, but he watched her intently as she went about her work, and she must have seen the question in his eyes, for she nodded, glancing decisively at the less snowy, less steep lands down below.

“Yes, we’re going down.  We need to go down.  If you will.”

A nod.  I will.  I’m with you.

“Ok!”  Smiling with her eyes, face grave but joyful as she returned her attention to the now-simmering breakfast stew, stirring furiously as if the stuff could not be read soon enough.  Which, so far as she was concerned, it could not, for a variety of reasons.  Ready, and they ate, for Einar a struggle despite his willingness, for the raven, an opportunity to snag a bite or two of meat from ready hands and for the two women, energy for the day ahead…

Down the slope, then.  Liz had said they must go down—wouldn’t have needed words to hear that one—and he, every fiber of his being wanting to resist, to refute her, forced himself to be still inside, to turn away and to follow.  Which—and this, to his somewhat unique way of thinking, did provide some measure of consolation—was rather a great challenge in itself, nothing seeming to want to cooperate that morning, limbs having stiffened up terribly during his long night of stillness beneath the bear hide.  Though passing the dark hours in a great deal more warmth than he would have done if left to his own devices, his general condition had nonetheless suffered rather greatly due to the extended period of motionlessness, and now—though perhaps rather more willingly than Liz would have liked—he must pay the price.  Which he did, moving about quickly as he was able in helping to break down camp and prepare for their departure, rolling hides and gathering the few items Liz had brought along and stashing them in her pack, which he then proceeded to strap to his own back, quite unwilling that she should be required to carry both the entire load—for he and Juni had brought next to nothing—and little Will as well.  And he knew she probably wouldn’t let him carry Will.  Probably shouldn’t, for certainly there were times when he had been a great deal steadier on his feet than that morning.  Would be doing well to get himself down the first few hundred yards of descent without a nasty fall or two, and there was no way the little one ought to end up in the middle of that.  Irked him to no end to admit this, even to himself, but he knew it was true, and knowing, would have had to refuse the charge of Will, had Liz attempted then to give it to him. 

Somewhat alarming, when he stopped and thought about it—that’s your problem, you know, this morning?  This stopping and thinking.  Would get a lot more done if you kept moving, saved the thinking for later—that only hours before and in exactly the same situation, or perhaps even worse for not having had the benefit of Liz’s hot breakfast, he would have quite willingly taken the little one on his back and started down—or more likely up—that mountain without a second thought.  The idea of his slipping on the steep, snowy rock, tumbling, falling, breaking things on the way down and ending up a bloodied wreck at the bottom of a rockslide somewhere held little fear for Einar, was, at worst, perhaps even mildly amusing for the images it put into his head—vultures circling, diving, briefly reconnoitering before dismissing his emaciated and by-then already half frozen carcass as hardly worth the trouble; it gave him a bit of a chuckle—but the idea of Will coming along for such a ride, no choice, simply dragged along because his father had lacked, at the moment, the judgment and agility to successfully navigate such terrain…  Einar shuddered, quickly looking away from the spot where happy, safe and entirely unaware of his recent danger, his little son sat snug in the hood of Liz’s parka, playing with a raven feather   Thank You for keeping him safe…  And now, on with his work.  Prepare to leave, to follow Liz down the mountain.  Only, he had stood still for too long.  Could hardly move.

The cold.  Now that he had given up resisting it to the degree required when one is contemplating spending a night out in it with so little protection, the bitter chill of that alpine morning seemed to have gained on him a greater hold than ever, gnawing, twisting, seizing with teeth of iron so that every movement hurt and before too long he found himself wanting very badly to curl back up in the comparable warmth of the hides—hey, he’d done it for the night, hadn’t he?  Made that concession, why not go all the way?—tell everyone to go on without him, and sleep.  Just to spare himself for a while the agony of movement, the bitter struggle of forcing unwilling limbs to bend, flex, bear his weight.  Might have done it, too, had it not been for that thing within him—subdued somewhat, in his willing desire to bend to Liz’s wisdom, but not wholly tamed—which bade him keep going, take advantage of every opportunity for challenge and use it to his advantage, as way to increase strength, endurance.  And for Liz, herself—had her own expectations of him, she did, and he’d no intention of disappointing her again, not this time—who knew he needed the struggle and did not try too hard to intervene, eyes mostly remaining averted as she made her own preparations.  So, he kept on his feet, kept moving, and soon they were ready to head down.

All this time Juni had remained quite silent and kept herself somewhat apart, watching both instructor and spouse as if at times unsure to which she was supposed to look for direction, but observing after a time that they were of the same mind--or at least that Einar had laid aside the demands of his own mind in favor of Liz’s wishes for him.  A challenging accomplishment, indeed, for one whose strength of mind and stubborn will came anywhere near equaling Einar’s, and she found herself surprised and somewhat impressed that he had been able to do it, for however brief the stretch of time might in the end prove to be.