Liz did not have to resort to using her rabbit stick that afternoon, for Einar joined her quite willingly in partaking of the stew, though as earlier, he still struggled with the more solid bits and mostly had to stick to the broth. She could see that he was trying, did not push him to go beyond his ability for the moment, knowing that if he kept up doing what he could with the broth and the other things she intended to make him, he should soon find himself able to return to eating a bit more normally, with little trouble. Already he seemed to have a bit more energy, mind more occupied with the details of their future in the basin than with the dark pull of the past which had gripped him so firmly in recent weeks, and she was glad. Concerned, though, for she knew difficult times would be coming, body and mind alike struggling as he stepped back further from the echoing abyss that had for so long been trying to claim him, and she hoped he would persist through those times to the better ones which would certainly lie beyond for him, for all of them, if only he would allow it. It would, despite his apparent determination to turn things around, be a matter of some uncertainty for a good while. Which uncertainty was to begin sooner even than she had feared, it seemed, for not long after finishing his portion of stew Einar began growing dreadfully nauseated, unable to find a position which would ease his distress and finally curling up between the wall and water barrel, eyes closed and chin pressed into his bent knees. In this way, keeping very still, he managed to avoid losing his supper, but barely, heart pounding so for a while that it quite drowned out his hearing and left him soaked with sweat despite being rather thoroughly chilled, there so far from the fire.
Aggravated and somewhat abashed at having been forced to spend so much time sitting rather uselessly in the corner while Liz cleaned up from supper--had he been alone, he would have simply run out into the tunnel and allowed nature to take its course so he could get on with things, but he knew Liz would have found this distressing--he worked to make up for the lost time, hurrying out for a load of firewood and returning without even taking the extra few minutes he might have wished for sitting in the snow. That could come later. Would have to, actually, if he was to get through the coming weeks and the thing he had committed to doing. Already it grated on him a bit, left at times him feeling trapped and just a bit like bolting. No matter. He wouldn’t do it. Back to the present, and to Liz. He could pay the price later, when she was otherwise occupied and wouldn’t have to bother about it. Perhaps what she did not know would not trouble her too greatly. Would be his task to make certain it was so.
Darkness was beginning to descend as he hauled that load of firewood in through the tunnel, Muninn protesting more loudly than ever at his exile from the warmth of the cabin--want to trade places with me, you old vulture? Think that’d work for a day or two? Probably not. We got the same sort of calculating, devious old brain, you and I have, but I’m pretty sure Liz’d see those feathers of yours and know you for an imposter if you tried to take my place, I’m sorry to say.--but Einar thought it wisest to let him go ahead and spend the dark hours outside, lest they find themselves jumping up all thorough the night to see what new trouble he’d got himself into, and how much of the half-done jerky had been lost in the process. The stuff ought to be ready to package up in the morning, and then the raven could resume his post on the perch against the wall, at least until the next batch was ready to hang. He’d be fine, had warm feathers and in the wild, would have been spending those long winter nights outside in the weather, anyway. Not good for a critter, whether man or beast, to become too soft and spoiled, “so I’m really doing you a favor here, bird. Understand? Just trying to keep you from a fate worse than death, the kind of fate where you end up a soft, lazy domesticated thing, unable to fend for yourself or take care of your own needs, because I know that can’t be the way you want to end up, can it?”
No answer from the raven, just a soft chortle and a quick twist of Einar’s hair before he hopped back out of the tunnel and launched himself at a nearby tree exactly as if he had understood. Probably did understand. Sometimes I’m sure beyond a doubt that bird has more sense than I do, and probably more brains, too. Yep, bet he knows just what I was talking about.
Hard to keep hold of that load of firewood while also opening the tunnel door, and he lost his grip and spilled it with a great clatter all over the tunnel and the cabin floor, Liz jumping to her feet at the racket and hurrying to help him pick everything back up. Einar just laughed and shrugged when she asked him what had happened, tried to brush it off but she could tell he was bothered by the incident, furious at his little failing and for having allowed it to happen right there in front of her, and though she could hardly blame him, she did hope he might in time relax just a bit about such things, not be quite so rough on himself about incidents whose cause was clear as day to everyone but himself and which, hopefully, would soon become fewer and further between as he continued getting better nutrition. She wanted to talk about it, but figured the attempt would likely only be counter-productive at the moment.
“Are you keeping Muninn out for the night?”
“Yeah, he’d be into that jerky every time we turned our backs, if we let him stay in here. You can teach a dog and some other four-legged beasts what to touch and what not to, but I’m thinking that wouldn’t work so well with a raven. Critters are always thinking, plotting, and the harder we tried to keep him from getting at that meat, the more ingenious his plans would turn out to be, I believe. That wild flapping frenzy he tried earlier was just a real rough attempt to get hold of the stuff. He won’t try that again. Next time, we probably won’t even know he’s thinking about that jerky until it’s half gone!”
“You really think he’s that devious?”
“Oh, I know it! Outside is the only place for him tonight, if we want any peace in here.”
“Well, he’ll be fine out there. We do want peace. And quiet, and sleep. In fact, I was thinking with it being almost dark out there and us having nothing really pressing to do tonight, that I’m aware of…well, it seems a good night to turn in early, don’t you think? Maybe start catching up on a little sleep?”
“Sure, sounds like a fine idea. You go ahead and do that, and I’ll join you in a couple hours. Sound good? I’ll even check the stove before I turn in, make sure it’s banked and ready to see us through until morning.”
No, that doesn’t sound so good, she wanted to say. It’s not me that needs the extra sleep, it’s you! I don’t think you’ve had six hours total over the past three or four days, and that can’t be helping things any… “What needs doing? Maybe I can help, and we can both get to bed a little sooner.”
“No, it’s mine to do. Got to head outside for a while.”
“Do you have to? Maybe take a break for a couple days, so that extra food you’re eating will have some chance of starting to stick a little?”
He smiled, shook his head. “Doesn’t work that way.”
“Let me come with you, then. Just for part of it. Will needs to eat, and then he’ll be out for a good two or three hours before he’s looking for me again. How about it?”
Persistent critter, aren’t you? Sometimes wonder if you aren’t more persistent than I am, even, when it comes down to it. Which I suppose it’s doing, just about now… And, in the interest of maintaining the understanding which had earlier that day begun growing between them again and because he was genuinely just too weary to fight her much at the moment he nodded, reluctant but consenting, and she hurried to feed the baby, not wanting to give him too much time to change his mind.