25 May, 2012

25 May 2012

Huddled in the bearskins with little Will and seriously contemplating a second visit to Einar despite what she knew would be his likely-strenuous objections--he wouldn’t want her leaving the tracks, deepening their trail, but if the wind was any indicator a major storm was on its way in, snow already scouring the cabin walls, and besides, none of those objections would matter too much if he froze out there in the night--Liz thought she heard something bump and scrape against the woodshed-side of the cabin.  Might have been the wind, bending and bowing a tree until it touched the cabin, or a load of lingering snow finally breaking loose and falling from an overhanging bough as the storm increased, but she was by that time quite familiar with all the little nuances of sound and movement common to the place, and this did not fit the pattern.  The sound, though, did not come again, and after a period of intent listening, she went back to feeding Will, wishing she had a light and finally deciding that the way the wind was raging outside, driving before it a constant swirl of new snow, she ought to be safe at least lighting one candle.  Could probably get away with the fire, too, for who would be flying in such weather?  But until she got back outside and did her best to study the sky and ascertain that the current squall was not likely to be merely a passing thing, it seemed safer to stick to the single candle.  Its light would be a tremendously welcome thing, would help her stay awake, for she was weary, and with the cabin cold and the bed wonderfully warm, she was at times having difficulty preventing herself from nodding off with Will.  Did not want to do that.  Had to go check on Einar, and soon.

She lit the candle, blinking after so many hours in the darkness, shielding Will’s face when he startled and squinted in his sleep.  “It’s Ok, little one.  I just wanted to be able to see, a little bit, maybe get myself a snack so I can keep having lots of energy to make food for you, because you’re sure not slowing down, are you?  You’re just growing and growing…”

Moving the candle to the little ledge-shelf above her side of the bed, Liz thought she heard something out in the tunnel as its light fell across the door, a slight shifting and scraping, and while she might have been inclined to dismiss it as yet another trick of the wind, she knew better.  Wind never found its way that far into the tunnel, had never happened, and this had been right up near the door.  Easing Will down into a warm little nest of hides she got into her parka, for it was cold in the cabin after so long without a fire, took the candle and eased open the door, Einar’s spear drawn back and ready in her right hand, should the scrapings be those of a wolverine or some other less-than-welcome animal wishing entry.  It was no wolverine that lay crumpled against the tunnel wall, and she dropped the spear, left the candle on the floor and hurried to him.   Einar!  Have you been out here all that time?  Why didn’t you say something, bang on the door, let me know you were here?   She already knew the answer, though, had it confirmed for her as soon as she got him rolled over and could have a look at his face; he’d apparently expended his last bit of energy reaching the cabin, had ceased at some point to have too much influence over what happened next and had, upon reaching his goal, had likely breathed a great sigh of relief and curled up to sleep there in the relative shelter of the tunnel.  It had nearly been the end of him, and Liz, knowing they would need a fire, hurried to check the state of the storm.  She found the tunnel mouth heavily drifted already, new snow piling up quickly and knew there was little danger in their having a fire that night.  Looked like the storm was there to stay, and if she wanted to be able to say the same about Einar, she’d better be getting him out of his snowy clothes and warming, in a hurry.

Turning, Liz was surprised to see Einar sitting up, watching her in the dim, flickering glow of the candle with a smile that told her he must have regained at least partial awareness of his surroundings, and then he began talking, voice all strange and strained and hollow with words missing here and there, but definitely his own.

“Skiers still there but…snow so heavy I wanted to make my tracks now, let the snow cover them.  Won’t find us now.  Think this one’s gonna…turn out Ok.”

“Yes, yes it sure is, and now why don’t you come on in and I’ll get the fire going?  I know you’ve got to be needing sleep pretty badly, but this isn’t the place to do it!”  Which indeed it was not, but Einar hadn’t heard her, having slumped over in sleep as she spoke, and she took him beneath the arms, started dragging, but didn’t get too far at all before Einar was awake again and struggling to get to his feet--wish you’d either stay awake or asleep, one or the other, until I can get you in there!  This is not easy--not quite making it but managing to keep to his hands and knees without falling flat on his face, again.

“Raven got me, came and got me, I…”  shook his head, weary, blinking in the light of the candle as Liz closed the door behind them, losing the thought.   Right.  That’s it.  Lost my way.   “Lost my way and couldn’t find the trail.”

Liz nodded, brushed more of the snow from his parka and busied herself with the fire, knowing she’d better have some warmth coming when they took his snowy things off.  “I thought ravens didn’t fly at night…”

“This one did.  Kept thinking it was just the wind, but then he…” put a hand to the side of his head, came away with blood and showed it to Liz.  “Critter flew in and took a seat on my shoulder, kept hitting me in the head until I paid him some mind, started following him.”

Einar was not being very cooperative, Liz, fire lit and flames beginning to climb up through the kindling, trying to remove his icy parka but he held it firmly in place with crossed arms, shaking his head.

“No, got to…”

“Got to nothing!   You can do it later.  Now let me get this thing off you, before all this ice and snow start melting and you get the floor all wet, not to mention finish freezing to death, which it looks like you’re about to do if we don’t change things pretty quickly, here…”

“Raven.  Got to let him in.”

“I didn’t see him out there.  He wasn’t in the tunnel.”

“I’ll go look.”

“You sit right here.  I’ll find Muninn and let him in, if he wants to be in here.”  Taking the candle Liz hurried back out into the tunnel, shaking her head at Einar’s stubbornness but realizing that in addition to being dangerously cold and not quite in his right mind--whatever that is supposed to mean--he was certain that the raven had just saved his life by leading him home, and considering his rather active sense of loyalty, she knew he would be unlikely to rest until he knew the bird had made it back alright, as well.

With Liz gone Einar-- doing surprisingly well at staying aware, all things considered--began struggling out of his snowy parka, fumbling with the thing for what seemed like a very long time before realizing that the rabbitskin blanket, sodden with melted snow and now mostly frozen, was impeding his progress, and once he got it out of the way things went much more easily.  Felt pretty good to be out of contact with the wet, squishy blanket, a relief even though he was too numb to feel much of anything at all, and as soon as he’d managed to scrape equally soaked and freezing boots from his feet he curled up in front of the stove, ready to sleep again.  Caught himself.  No, not right.  Might feel like sleeping, but must not, not yet, with Liz on her way back and sure to object to his idea of comfort and bliss, and besides, there was the little matter of his actually making it through the next hour or so.  Back up, then, crawl over to the bed and squint in the darkness until he located the baby.  Couldn’t do much with his hands, could not, in fact, seem to do much at all and felt himself constantly on the verge of drifting off, but managed to ease the bear hide off the bed, careful of the sleeping Will, and get himself more or less wrapped up in its warmth, slumped back against the wall to avoid getting too near the stove, waiting to begin feeling warmer, feeling anything at all.  No matter.  It would come, and at least he had not left Liz too much work, when she returned from finding the raven.

Speaking of which, he heard a rustle outside the door and then there she was, brushing the wind-blown snow from her parka and holding open the door as a somewhat sleepy-looking Muninn blinked in the firelight, hopping over to Einar and muttering something rather disagreeable about the weather before grabbing a bit of his hair and giving it a hard twist.  Einar smiled, and so did Liz, surprised to see the progress he’d made in beginning the warming process and knowing that just a few weeks ago, he would have all but insisted on allowing himself to sit there and go on freezing until she took matters into her own hands.  A small change, perhaps, but a tremendously welcome one, and she had little doubt that he was--despite the long night ahead of them--going to be alright, and so was she, and their entire little family.

A few quiet minutes passed, Liz building up the fire and making some tea to which she added a generous scoop of honey and some bear fat, Einar simply watching her and doing his best to stay awake, mostly managing it and knowing that the task would grow easier as he thawed some, muscles loosening up and starting to shiver him warm.  Before that happened--and communication became all but impossible for a time--he wanted to be sure and get something across to Liz, make sure she would help him remember it.

“Should get some…stuff packed up, go over our regular bags in case this thing ends up…going bad somehow and we have to get out of here in a hurry later.”

She wrapped the hide more tightly about his shoulders, made sure he took another sip of tea.  “Already did it.”


1 comment:

  1. Anonymous26 May, 2012

    Great Chapter, Chris.... and Munion deserves a flank steak off an elk!