Feeding the raven bits of meat from one of the muskrats--the others he’d hung securely from a high branch, knowing the meat would freeze overnight and be preserved for later use--Einar pondered his own supper, considering simply chewing on another strip of jerky and leaving it at that, but the muskrat was looking awfully tempting, smelled good, even raw, and though he knew it must remain that way in the absence of fire, he decided the fresh meat would probably do him good, help provide energy for the remainder of his trapping endeavor. Decided also that there simply wasn’t enough left on that first rat, tossed it to Muninn, retrieved a second, and ate it. All of it. Every shred. Hadn’t really intended to do so, figuring a few bites really ought to be plenty, but once he’d got started he found it very difficult to stop, carving slice after slice of the rich meat, and then he decided there was no reason to stop, body screaming for more of the stuff and he realizing that realistically, his chances of making it through another frigid night out there in the open were an awful lot better if he started into it with a full stomach. Ended up full alright, sitting there with half-closed eyes and bowed head as his body began the slow and laborious process of digestion, seemingly lacking the energy to both keep him awake and deal with the aftermath of the feast at the same time.
For a time he fought it, the intense weariness that had come over him, focusing intently on Muninn as he picked the bones of the first rat and began cracking them for their marrow, and jarred somewhat from his drowsiness by the sound of cracking bones, he took a rock and did the same with his rat, retrieving the thin strips of jelly-like marrow and consuming them with as much relish as he had the meat. Wanted more, staring up at the third rat where it hung slowly freezing from its branch, shook his head and pressed his stomach and told himself to wait. Better be saving some of that meat in case the traps were unproductive the following day and besides, the meal he’d already devoured was rather larger than anything he’d been used to eating of late, and he would surely end up in some pretty dire straits should he do it all over again so soon. The third rat must stay, and did, but as Muninn was still busily cracking bones on the first carcass and had not yet found his way over to the spot where the fleshing had been done, Einar hurried to do so, scraping up all the little bits of fat and meat that he’d cleaned from the pelts and scarfing them down like a starved coyote. Could barely move when he got done, limbs feeling leaden and head drooping, and despite an aversion to lying down while light remained in the sky he retrieved his sleeping bag from its tree, made a cursory examination of the area and checked to see that his weapons were easily accessible, crawled in and slept.
Cold was the evening in those long, dim hours after sunset, Einar entirely unaware of the fact as he slept so soundly that not even the nearby sound of Muninn cracking and snapping the few bones he’d left untouched on his muskrat carcass could stir him to wakefulness, and before darkness was full he was shivering again in the bottom of the sleeping bag. That muskrat got Einar through the night, if barely, body having some fuel with which to keep itself going, and it was a good thing, too, deeply as the cold settled in the valley that night. When finally he woke--vivid dream, trapped, barely able to breathe, struggling to escape and it didn’t help any that he found himself bound securely in the confines of the sleeping bag when finally he managed to reach wakefulness--he was very nearly too stiff to move. Moved anyway, clawing and crawling his way up towards the draft of air that entered breezy and unrelenting through the spot where he had quite forgotten to finish zipping the bag upon crawling in that past evening, frigid and sharp with frost but terribly, achingly welcome.
Reaching the opening he lay gasping and trembling in the darkness beneath the spruces, head and shoulders halfway submerged in powder snow--he had, in his struggle, managed to roll entirely free of his bed of insulating branches--and eyes wide and wild as he stared up at a billion hard, unblinking points of light that seemed in the high, still air to hang mere feet above the treetops. Took him a minute to fully realize where he was, and why, and in just what sort of trouble--significant, if he didn’t get himself together and find his way out of the snow that was beginning in places to melt slightly beneath him--and with the realization came movement, slow and stilted though it was, back into the bag with arms and hands tucked beneath his body and knees all drawn up as he tried to begin warming himself. It was little use, thoroughly chilled as he’d managed to become after a night of stillness and oblivion down in the bottom of that half-open sleeping bag and with the wind whispering all around him the way it had done, and for some reason--perhaps it was the muskrat, brain and body liking the presence of more fuel than they were accustomed to receiving over what might sometimes be as much as a week’s time--he was alert and aware enough to realize his danger that morning, and to recognize the need to remedy it.
Fire. But, he could not have a fire. Oh, he could probably build one, supposing he could work his way out of that bag and into his parka and boots to go search for a bit of dry wood and provided his hands would cooperate, had successfully made fires under far worse circumstances in the past, but trouble was that one of the conditions of his coming down to the river valley had been that he must take the utmost care to avoid doing anything that might attract the attention of the random backcountry skier or other traveler who might happen through the area, and in his mind, this entirely precluded the use of fire. Perhaps, given the circumstances, he would have been wise to reconsider, allow himself a bit of leeway but he had seen enough to know that leeway is what gets a man killed--or worse, discovered and captured--and his mind would not allow him to go there. So, fire was out. Which left…well, he could go on as he was presently doing, huddling in the damp sleeping bag and hoping it remained capable of trapping enough heat to get him through the remaining dark hours, and he himself able to produce such, but those odds were not looking particularly good.
On your feet then, into the boots and parka and best get moving. It’s not entirely dark. See? Just the tiniest hint of grey over there through the trees, and once you get out of the heavier timber it’ll be lighter still, and you may be able to go ahead and do the trapline. That’ll get the blood flowing. That, and you can eat the third rat when you get back. Really helped, last night. Except for the part where it put you so soundly to sleep that a helicopter probably could have landed on you without disturbing your rest…that wasn’t so good. Maybe stick to half of one, this time. And you could use some more water, too. Stuff you brought back from the river last night seems to have frozen again. Just not putting off enough heat in the night to keep the thing thawed out. Might manage if I could remember to tuck it in right up next to me, but wasn’t thinking about anything like that last night. So really need a trip to the river.
It took Einar a painfully long time to get himself up and mobile enough to work his way into boots, parka and mittens, temperatures having dropped dramatically in the night. He could tell by the way that air felt in his nose that is was significantly below zero, and by the time he finally slung the bag up and over a tree branch and set out, the sky was growing noticeably pale with morning. Not bad. Got through another one. Little stiff this morning, but no further frostbite. I can do this. Got to keep eating if I want it to work, but can do it. Stumbling, he nearly ran headlong into the bare white trunk of an aspen before catching himself. Who’re you fooling, Einar? You nearly died last night, would have, without all that meat in your stomach, came mighty close the night before, too, as I recall, and here it is dropping down to be as cold as it’s been all winter up in the basin. This isn’t looking good. Got to figure something else out, and you better do it pretty quick here, while you’ve got your head on more or less straight and can reason through these things. Good plan, but first he must have water, must avoid being too deep in thought as he approached the river, too, lest he miss some sign of human presence. The planning could wait, if not for long.