05 May, 2012
5 May 2012
As the elk quarter thawed, Einar and Liz worked together to slice and hang a batch of jerky on a length of nettle cordage run from one side of the cabin to the other over the stove, an occasional drop of moisture escaping from the thawing meat to hiss and sizzle on the heated stones of the stove. It was a good quiet, cozy sort of work with the stove going and little Will sleeping there in his sling on Liz’s stomach, and as they hung slice after slice of elk to begin drying, Einar’s mind wandered back to one of the first batches of jerky he had made during his time on the run, hung on a network of salvaged parachute lines in the rock crevice that was providing him some minimal shelter at the time, the project going along just fine until one day that wolverine had found his way in and eaten everything he could get ahold of, while he was out harvesting berries.
That one had nearly ended in disaster, as he’d really needed that meat, had been depending on it to fend off the starvation which had been so closely stalking him across the timbered miles of his flight that summer, and he’d had to go in and save what was left of the meat, climbing in through the top of the rock shelter, through the long, narrow chimney of rock and dropping down on that wolverine, finding himself, missing with his spear, in the fight of his life. Still bore the scars from that one, upper portion of his right arm torn to shreds at the time and he rubbed it, remembering the old hurt. Still ached sometimes, but then, so did a lot of things. Still wore the critter’s claws around his neck, too, hadn’t once taken them off since, and had given one to little Will just after his birth, gently tying it about his little neck on a cord of soft buckskin, not yet earned, as his had been, but a promise of things to come.
It was a strange thing thinking back to that battle with the wolverine, desperate struggle to hold onto those half-dried bits of snared deer that he’d had in the shelter, and he was struck with the paradox of the thing, how he’d fought so hard then just to secure his next meal, and now here he was sitting in the middle of plenty, and could hardly bring himself to consume enough to keep body and soul together. Couldn’t actually, when it came down to it, for he had for quite some time been living on his meager reserves, body consuming its own muscle and organs and marrow in an increasingly futile and failing effort to keep him alive, and when he looked at it objectively--hadn’t been allowing himself to recognize the signs, sometimes a man must simply keep pressing ahead without more than a passing nod at the things which might slow him down, lead him to despair if given too much weight; he had over the years become very good at that, but they’d been there, and the others had certainly seen them if he had not--he knew that process had been seriously winding down over the past weeks, slowing, almost out of fuel. Even the stuff that was never meant to be burned, heart and liver and kidneys, and had he kept it up, the level of activity he’d been steadfastly been maintaining over the past weeks while permitting himself the intake of almost no energy at all, his heart would have soon stopped on him, for good. Would, so far as he could tell, have had to; he could feel it. Shook his head, busied idle hands once more with the jerky-slicing, hanging one strip but taking the next for himself, chewing slowly, strange, strange thing, this life. The elk strip tasted good, and he had another.
Quietly they worked until the area above the stove was hung with four separate cords of drying jerky, a beautiful sight to both of them as it meant the more secure preservation of that portion of their food supply, ease of transport and of caching, and somehow they both found it a wonderful thing simply to be working on such a project together as they had not done for what seemed quite a long time, between the coming of the baby and all the rest of it. Job done for the time the cleanup fell to Einar, as Will, lulled into extended sleep by Liz’s motions as she carried him in the sling, had woken rather hungry and demanding a meal, and as he cleaned he added bits and scraps of meat to the pot Liz had started as they worked, enhancing what was to become their supper stew for the night. Out of the corner of her eye Liz watched as she fed the baby, glad to see him taking more than his usual theoretical interest in the meal, for he was stealing little tastes of the broth here and there, testing it, appearing very much to anticipate its completion, and that was something she had not seen him do for a very long time. Perhaps not since they had last taken a grouse while out away from the cabin, and he had kept sneaking close to the fire and robbing the sizzling bird of bits of skin and meat when he’d thought she wasn’t watching. Smiling at the memory, she realized how much she missed that light-hearted, mischievous side of him, hoped it might be starting to return, just a bit. Not that she would let him know she was thinking any such thing. He hardly needed any encouragement in his mischievousness.
Speaking of mischievous, Muninn had found his way into the tunnel and was putting up a most insistent rasping and flapping so that Einar practically made a dive at the tunnel door to let him in before he could disturb the almost-sleeping Will.
“What do you want, you big old vulture? Smelled this stew cooking, didn’t you? You finally getting more comfortable with coming in this place again, now that the company’s left? Not really room in here for more than a few living critters, is there? Unless some of them happen to be insects, and I haven’t seen too many of those around, since the snow fell. No, I don’t blame you, retreating to that big old dead spruce for a few days. Fella’s got to have room to breathe.”
The raven tilted his head, chortling in agreement before he flapped up to Einar’s shoulder, twisting a bit of his hair and settling in to watch the supper preparations but then something caught his eye, the bounty of food suspended over his head slowly drying in the warmth of the fire, and he watched, fascinated. Einar knew that was going to be trouble. A raven is an incredibly intelligent creature as well as being quite bold and forward when it comes to the attainment of food, and Muninn was certainly no exception. The bird would probably have to go back outside until the jerky-drying was finished, but Einar was curious and let him be for the moment, just to see what would happen. Not a full thirty seconds had passed before the raven finished contemplating the situation and sprung into action, flapping for the ceiling and creating a great ruckus when he became entangled in the nearest string of jerky, flapping and rasping and pulling the entire thing down around him in his struggle to free himself. Within moments Will was awake and crying, Liz turning away to try not only to comfort him but to shield him from the large bird’s wildly beating wings, and Einar making a dive for the trapped creature, pinning his wings and quickly freeing him from his entanglement, laughing hysterically all the while. Muninn did indeed make quite a sight, glad to be free but clearly incensed at the audacity of that cord for having got hold of him in the first place, strutting about the cabin and scolding as he worked to straighten his feathers.
Serves you right, you big thief, Einar wanted to say, but he was laughing too hard to speak, tears running down his cheeks and this only seemed further anger the bird until at last he hopped up to Einar and gave him a hard peck in the side of the head where he lay curled up on the floor with laughter. Which, for some reason, only made Einar laugh harder until Liz feared he might pass out for lack of breath as the scene continued for some time, repeating itself, Einar laughing, the bird attacking, Einar laughing some more and making feeble attempts to fend him off until finally Liz stepped in and shooed Muninn over onto the bed, separating the two. Breathless and exhausted--she was not entirely sure how much of the rather unaccustomed carrying-on had been laughter, and how much might have been tears, and she had no intention of asking--but appearing the better for it, Einar uncurled himself and got a bit shakily up into a crouch, wiping his face and grinning over at Liz.
“Well, guess that’s what happens when you let a raven too near the meat…”
“Is it? I think you did that on purpose, didn’t you? Just to see what would happen?”
“Which part?” And he started laughing again, Liz joining him this time and Muninn, in something of a conciliatory gesture, hopping carefully over to perch on his shoulder. Einar offered him a piece of the meat he’d worked so hard to obtain, went about salvaging and re-hanging the remainder.