19 May, 2012

19 May 2012

The remainder of Einar's day passed in relative quiet as he kept watch on the valley below and did his best to conserve what little warmth and energy he had left, exercising to generate more heat whenever he felt himself slipping dangerously near no longer caring; that was always a clue.  It was a difficult balance, and he knew that despite having many years' practice at maintaining it under conditions often worse than the ones on the plateau that day, there was a fair chance that he would in his starved and weary condition make a fatal miscalculation, one of those times.  But it must not be this time.  Not this day.  Not with Liz and little Will back at the cabin depending on me to keep these people, and the ones who may eventually come to aid them, far from the home place.  Sure, they don’t know they’re depending on me for any such thing, have no idea where I’ve gone and Liz is probably starting to really wonder, but that doesn’t make it any less so. 

Evening coming and Einar having progressively more trouble with the cold as the sun left his slope entirely, he thought of going back, taking a break from the whole thing and going to Liz, letting her know what was going on and perhaps gulping down some hot tea or broth before returning to the dropoff for his night and morning of watching, but it did not take him too long to dismiss the idea.  While there seemed little chance to him that the man who had begun skiing out could have got anywhere that afternoon where he would be likely to come into contact with others and summon help, there was a fair chance that his intention had simply been to try and reach a spot from where he could make phone contact with potential rescuers--though in that case, perhaps he would have begun climbing, instead of descending--and Einar had no solid idea of where such a place might be.  Which, not knowing how soon they might be having additional, potentially airborne company, made it a very bad idea for him to leave his post.  That, and the fact that Liz, once she saw him, would almost certainly make some objection to his returning, might want to come with him, even, and he couldn’t have the two of them so near the potential action.  Best that he stay where he was, keeping his lonely vigil, and he did, sun setting and darkness sweeping down over the basin

Einar’s vigil was not to prove so lonesome as he had expected, for the woman, crouched beside her injured companion as she kept the fire going, kept him company as the dark hours dragged on.  She sang.  She cried.  For long periods of time, she sat silent, firelight flickering on her bowed face as he watched it through the binoculars, and then she ran out of fuel, and did not get up in the darkness to go look for more.  It was a mistake.  She should have kept that fire going.  Einar wanted to go down there, gather a load of wood and leave it beside the little camp before quietly retreating up to his position, but he could not.  Tracks would give him away when morning came.  Wanted also to invite the pair up to the cabin, give them refuge for the night where the stove would keep them warm and he and Liz could perhaps do something for the injured man, give him a better chance of making it through the frigid night, but of course he could not do that, either.  So he watched, staring into the darkness and sleeping here and there in little snatches, waking each time after a few cold minutes to turn numbed face up to the sky, hoping to find there the promise of snow, but seeing only stars.  Billions upon billions of the things, stark, still points of light that did not even twinkle in the thin, clear atmosphere up there above eleven thousand feet, and he stared off into infinity, marveling at the sheer vastness of creation and wondering if the woman down below, quiet now, might be doing the same thing.  Hoped so.  Winter nights spent half frozen out in the snow could be mighty lonely things, and the stars were, he had learned over the years, pretty good company at such times.  Still, glad as he was for the companionship of the heavens, Einar wished very much that it would snow.  A good, solid snowfall would allow him to forget worrying about his tracks and the possibility that they might be spotted, and return to the cabin.  Trip would be no easy thing, even if that snowstorm came pretty soon.  His legs, whenever he tried them, were not much caring to support him, but he knew he could do it.  Not that he would be getting the opportunity, from the looks of things.  Not a cloud showed itself to obscure the shimmering, star-silvered night sky, and he had no reason to think snow might be on the way.  Too bad.

The parka wasn’t enough.  Cold had long ago seeped in, surrounded him, and he could feel his body weakening in its efforts to resist the onslaught, feel himself slowing down, and he knew he would be hard pressed to see morning, at that rate.  Which simply would not do, as his entire purpose in being there was to watch the situation in the valley, take whatever action became necessary to defend Liz and the little one against detection and capture.  Needed to move, yet found himself half afraid to rise and exercise as he had done before, seeing as it had landed him flat on his face in the snow, the last couple tries he’d made.  So far he had always come out of those little episodes in time to save himself from serious consequences, but he had no guarantee that it would always be so, and seemed to remember waking one time at the cabin with Liz trying to pry his mouth open so she could give him some honey, and best as he’d ever been able to determine, she had been doing this out of concern that one of those incidents might be going on too long, might not resolve on its own.  Hated that he had ever put her through such a thing, certainly never would have done it intentionally but he’d been out there in the tunnel, and Susan had found him…  Right.  Back to the honey.  Seems it helped, that time.

Only then did he think to eat.  He had not packed food that morning, had not packed much of anything, actually, simply grabbing atlatl and darts and tucking them into his parka, but there were certain things which he always carried on his person, flint rod, striker and waterproofed tinder in the pouch about his neck, knife on his belt and, he remembered, a little pouch of wax-treated rawhide in the interior pocket of his parka, containing a pemmican and, at Liz’s insistence, a little container of honey.  Should have thought of it sooner, but food had been the furthest thing from his mind.  Fumbling with cold hands--had to stop and beat them on his knees, press them to his stomach and then repeat, before they would do the task--he got into that inner pocket, fished out the food packet and broke off the wax seal by which Liz had secured the two ounces or so of honey she’d insisted he carry.  Stuff made an immediate difference, Einar almost at once feeling a great deal more awake and alert, and he finished the portion, grateful to Liz for once again saving him from what had become a rather difficult situation.  Not saved yet, though, for while the honey had given his brain and body the immediate boost of energy they had needed to keep him awake and possibly allow for a bit of the exercise he so badly needed without bringing on dire consequences, he was still greatly lacking in energy, and knew there was some question about his being able to keep it up long enough to really do him much good.

On to the pemmican, then, partially frozen despite having been stored within his parka--not a good sign, he could not help but think-- and for a time he crouched there gnawing on the stuff, using bits of snow, melted in his mouth, to help get it down.  Better.  He could move again, and did, swinging his arms and stomping up and down there in the snow until he was breathing hard and a bit of warmth had begun returning to his dead-cold limbs, disaster for the moment averted, but he would have to plan it well, the coming night, if he was to stretch his meager resources through the long, dark expanse of its hours until the coming of daylight would help him keep awake and alert.

Little did he know, Einar would not have to wait nearly so long for an event which would leave him quite wakeful and without any doubt of staying that way.

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