31 July, 2012

31 July 2012

Two days and nearly a foot and a half later, the snow finally began moving out.  Unseasonably wet and heavy, it had plastered itself all over one side of the cabin, whitening walls and further increasing their ability to insulate, closing off as it had any and every tiny crack which remained after Einar’s rather effective insulation upgrade that past fall, and by the second morning the sound of snapping branches began reaching them, entire trees giving way when particularly powerful gusts came up and further stressed their already heavily-laden limbs, wet snow failing to shake itself loose and fall to the ground as drier powder would have done.  Fortunately nothing fell too near the cabin, trees in the immediate vicinity sheltered somewhat from the full fury of the wind by the near proximity of the cliffs immediately behind, and the thunder and crash of falling timber remaining a distant thing, not too threatening after the first few incidents--except to Einar, who jumped every time and couldn’t seem to remember that he didn‘t need to leap up in response to each crack, check on its origin--and even seeming somehow to add to the coziness and safety of the cabin.  Even Muninn--repentant, perhaps, for his having dragged Einar through the snow, but more likely simply afraid that Liz would throw him out into the storm if he didn’t behave himself, which she was more than prepared to do--seemed content to refrain from his usual mischief and sleep, feathers puffed and beak tucked behind a wing, on his perch as the wind carried on just beyond the walls.

Einar’s feet had suffered some from their extended time out in the snow, the cold and damp proving less of a problem for them--he really had done a good job with his improvised boots of rabbit fur and elk hide, loose enough to allow for the further swelling which had been inevitable while still thoroughly protecting the already-damaged extremities--than had the pressure of bearing his weight up that slope and down again, and in the wake of that journey they had swollen terribly, wept, cracked and it had been all Liz could do to prevent his developing a serious infection in one of the resulting wounds.  The effort had required a good deal of soaking, berberine washes twice daily when the dressings were changed, and though Einar always sat silent and unmoving through these sessions, staring with well-practiced unconcern at wall or stove and sometimes even helping to unwrap the old bandages, Liz could see in his eyes how it was hurting him, kept offering willow, which he consistently refused.  Wanted to read, that’s what he really wanted to do, go through those documents as he’d been about to do when the raven first made off with them, but it seemed to be taking an awfully long time to translate thought into action, get his hands to respond, and even when finally he managed--come on, you can do cordage, so surely your fingers ought to be able to open an envelope, for goodness’ sake!--he couldn’t get his eyes to focus well enough on the words to make any sense of them.  Distressing, perhaps, but not surprising, at least not to Liz, who had been with him during that first night of the storm, had held him through the hours of trembling as he slowly warmed, frequently replacing hot rocks, attempting to knead some life back into bloodless purple limbs and doing her best to ease a bit of honey in between clenched teeth when twice he fell to the floor all rigid and strange and stiff, muscles locking up and brain freezing in silent protest of his lack of energy, or sugar, or something; she hadn’t known for sure, but the honey did seem to help bring him out of it…  Now, seeing his frustration at not being able to read as he wished to do, she took the papers from him, straightened the crimped folds he’d accidentally put into them with his clumsy hands and stashed the envelope once more up in the rafters where he’d first kept it, well within his view should he need it again.

Ridiculous as it seemed to Einar that he should not be able to manage so simple a thing as reading that transcript, he failed to fully realize that it had taken him well into that second day of storm to even regain enough strength to be able to sit up reliably and begin working on a little project here and there, his first evening and night back at the cabin spent fighting sleep and largely losing, Liz keeping him well supplied with hot rocks and urging hot, thickened broth on him whenever he seemed aware enough--or willing enough; sometimes she was unsure which might be the greater factor in his ongoing difficulty--to take it without choking.  Which was not near often enough so far as she was concerned, and by that late morning when the snow began moving out, the sunken, almost transparent look of his face and the wide, staring white of his eyes--he couldn’t sleep anymore, lay, when he wasn’t engaged in cordage making or some other activity, with limbs all drawn up against the cold but refusing the hides with which she kept trying to cover him, staring at the ceiling, and she thought he looked scared, though she strongly doubted that he was consciously so--told her that she’d let things come quite far enough, and had better begin doing some serious insisting when it came to mealtimes.  Was about to try and wake him a bit more thoroughly so they could discuss the matter, when another tree snapped beneath the weight of snow and wind--nearby, nearer than any of the others--and spared her the trouble.

Jarred to full alertness as if from a dream, Einar lay perfectly still for a full second, listening, waiting, but no further sound came and Liz, when he found her face in the dimness of candle and firelight, looked not at all perturbed by the crashing, so that he might have almost believed his ears to have betrayed him, had not Will set up a keening cry at the sound.  So.  It had been real.  Blinking, rubbing his eyes he rolled to his side, rose.  By a few inches.  Seemed to be all he could manage, and that would not at all do so he redoubled his efforts, moving legs with his hands when he had to, getting them under him and rising to his knees.

“It was just another tree, that crash.  Too much of this heavy snow, and then a big wind comes along…”

He nodded, felt like sinking back to the floor but forced himself to stay upright, not wanting to lost any ground.  “How much snow?”

“Couple feet, I’d say.  Speaking of feet, it’s probably time to tend to yours, but how about some lunch first?”

“Is it that late?  Lunchtime?”

“Well, I’d guess sometime near noon, but we can call it breakfast, or dinner, or a midmorning snack or anything else that would suit you, so long as you have some!”

He tried to grin, ended up shivering instead and looked away before she could get after him for not being more thoroughly covered up, but of course it was too late, and she’d already seen.  No reason to say anything, and she simply sat down beside him with a pot of that perfectly thickened stew she seemed so fond of making lately, offered it to him with a spoonful of honey.  “Have the honey first.  I want you to be able to get through the meal...”

Einar ate it, not understanding why the consumption of the stuff should be a prerequisite to eating stew, but uninterested in questioning her at the moment.  He was hungry.  Way behind after his long slog up the hill and the slow, freezing return trip through wet snow and wind, and he knew he’d better do what he could to catch up.  Slow going, stomach wanting to rebel at every bite but he kept at it, sitting all hunched over beside the stove and watching Will as he lay half upright in buckskin sling on Liz’s front, playing with the end of a heavily knotted cord she’d tied to the garment for just that purpose and occasionally stopping to look up in wonderment at the ever-changing patterns made by the firelight on the logs up above.  With Will to keep his mind from going in the wrong direction and Liz reminding him to get back to work whenever his attention seemed to be wandering, Einar managed to down a good quarter pot of stew; a small start, but a very good one.

30 July, 2012

30 July 2012

Muninn did not move as Einar approached the dead tree that loomed over the dropoff, sitting statue-still amongst its bare and blackened branches, rustling of the wind in a few wing feathers the only thing that differentiated him from the tree itself as the sky glowered black and close behind him and the first flakes began to fall, restless, swirling.  Einar picked up his pace, closing the remaining distance falling to his knees in relief and exhaustion at the base of the tree where lay the envelope, undamaged save for a few telltale indentations which roughly conformed to the shape and size of the raven’s beak, and he quickly tucked it into his pack where neither wind nor bird could gain further access.  Rising, starting to shiver in the wind as he began cooling from the effort of his climb, he wanted to be angry with the creature for having made off with his property and sent him off into the snow to recover it, but the bird had, after all, simply been doing his job and Einar knew the anger would have been misplaced.

Sinking back towards the ground--legs really weren’t much good after that climb; must work on getting them stronger--he struggled to rise again to his full height, made it, back braced against the tree and face to the wind, watching the storm as it swallowed up the adjoining ridge in its veil of swirling white, creeping down and obscuring the basin floor; soon it would reach him, and he wanted to be ready.  Hurrying out of his parka, hat, everything, he stood with arms outstretched to greet the coming fury, waves of wet snow already reaching him as they blew in long streamers across the great white gulf of the basin and up over the little plateau which held the spring, plastering his hair and quickly numbing his entire front side, the combined power of wind and wet one which he felt himself unlikely to be able to resist for terribly long.  Needed to try, push his endurance as far as it would go and then some; had been too long since he’d taken upon himself such a deliberate challenge; the trapline did not count, had challenged him, alright, but its trials had been incidental, unavoidable, and besides, he’d returned prematurely from that one even if only to save his life, had not seen it through.

Wanted to stay there, secure himself to the tree to prevent changing his mind when things began getting really difficult as they were undoubtedly about to do, read that entire document over again and remain out in the storm until he’d thought it all through--once more--and got the entire thing out of his mind for the time, out of his system, allow that gale to blast and scour him clean it its fury, down to the bone, to the essence, nothing left, shouldn’t even take long in his present state…though he knew it would almost certainly take longer than he anticipated.  He--some part of him, something more basic and perhaps more rational than his conscious mind, itself, at the moment--would fight it with all the desperate strength of a wild creature contending against tremendous odds for its very life, and the struggle prove a long, drawn-out thing before he brought himself fully into compliance; fitting and just.

Yet not wholly just, not this time, for he knew too great a delay in is return would get a response from Liz, send her out into the storm to search for him, Will with her, and he couldn’t do that to them, put them unnecessarily in a position of such danger.  Not when he had a choice, which, though almost inconceivably difficult--once started on a particular course he was used to clinging to it with all the tenacity of spruce sap in the summer, and giving up such a quest proved far more difficult for him than would have seeing it through, even to the point of his rather own rather drawn out and difficult demise--he certainly had.  Had a choice and must take it, must choose them, and he turned, put an unfeeling hand on the rough bark--later, old friend…you’ll be seeing me again--and pushed himself away from the tree, taking up pack and clothing and tucking them beneath an arm, supporting himself  with his spear as he began the descent, fury of the wind lashing at his back until he’d gone down below the level of the spring, where the timber closed in and shielded him to some extent.  Once certain that Einar was leaving the tree, Muninn the raven followed, gliding ahead on silent wings as he stared down through the storm.

Time swirling about him like the storm, awareness fading in and out more frequently than his ability to make out the nearby spruces through what had become near whiteout conditions, Einar made his way slowly down towards the cabin, stumbling, falling at times, finding his way far more by instinct than sight and feeling himself occasionally in his old trail, deep trough created by his feet not yet entirely swept over by the new snow.  At times he found himself running headlong into trees and crouching stunned in the snow, knowing he must get up, continue, and each time managing to do it, but the intervals were growing longer, energy fading and when during one of these incidents a particularly sharp gust of wind briefly pierced the shadows which were gathering in his brain, he knew he must either soon reach shelter, or reach the point of no return.  Didn’t have too many more steps in him, let alone the strength to pull himself another dozen or two times up out of the snow and back to his feet.  Looked around, blinking slowly at whitened timber and blowing snow, but did not know the place.  Knew he had been descending and that--unless he’d managed somehow to pass the cabin between the whiteout and the cold-haze in his mind and start down towards the river, in which case he was wholly lost--he should before too long be emerging out into the cabin-clearing itself, and bumping into the house.  Hoped he would recognize it, face contorted into a wild grin-grimace at the thought of his possibly mistaking the cabin for yet another tree, picking himself up and carrying on…

Must not do that.  And must not return to the place the way he was, either, staring down at his knees, barely visible through the swirling snow, and realizing they were still uncovered.  Liz would cave his head in with the rabbit stick if she were to find him like this, and would be justified in doing it, too.  Must get back into his parka and the rest of it before approaching any more closely to the cabin, or the cold would surely prove the least of his woes.  Trouble was, he couldn’t find the thing.  Which worried him, for neither could he locate his pack, the entire bundle having been beneath his arm--having lacked, apparently, the sense to carry the pack on his back as was intended--and now everything was gone.  Somewhat frantically--though one wouldn’t have known it to watch him, slowly as he was moving--Einar began searching the snow in his immediate vicinity, knowing he was in some serious trouble should he have to retrace his steps in an attempt to find the stuff and nearly sobbing with relief when, plunging hands beneath the heavy, wet new snow up to the elbows, they encountered something solid; the pack!  He drew it out, fumbled about for his parka bundle, which lay immediately beneath, and struggled to get back into his clothes, legs purple-grey and insensible where he’d used them to push his way through the snow and the rest of him not too far behind.  His feet, at least, had remained covered by their carefully-wrapped layers of fur and hide, and ought to be alright…he hoped.  Muninn, who had been circling him the entire time and letting out a rasp now and then when the man had seemed to be losing his way, did not like the delay, swooped down to light in front of him and set up quite a fuss, rasping and hopping and taking violent swipes at his legs until Einar acknowledged the bird, struggled into the pack and began moving once more.

Liz had been listening, heard him in the tunnel and hurried to open the door, help him in, rejoicing at his return but very anxious to get him dry and warming, as she knew how the wet snow and wind surly would have got to him.  About which she had not been mistaken, snow plastered so thickly to one side of him that she was tempted to drag him back out into the tunnel to prevent its falling all over the floor--so thickly, in fact, that she never even suspected the garments of having spent nearly the entire walk rolled up beneath his arm--but she did not, simply urging him down in front of the stove and beginning the removal of his wet, icy clothes, but having some trouble as he would not let the envelope out of his hands.  Finally she persuaded him to let her take it, arguing that the icy water currently dripping from shoulders and hair and running down his arms in increasing quantity would only serve to further dampen and damage the documents, and he saw the sense in that, easing his grip and allowing her to spread the pages carefully near the stove to dry.

As for himself he had no desire to be rid of the snowy, sopping things he’d worn through the storm, being quite content that they should dry on his body and--to the best of his ability; speech was coming none too easily--saying so.  Seemed perfectly reasonable to him, quite the right way to finish the day, but seeing that Liz found this concept alarming at best and perhaps even mildly horrifying, he allowed her to help him off with everything, accepting the warm, dry heaviness of the bear hide with which she draped him and not resisting when she took several hot rocks from the stovetop--ready, waiting, seemed she must have anticipated needing to use the things--wrapped them in socks and in scraps of buckskin, and placed them here and there against his shivering form.  Blinking hard, she tried her best to hold back tears at seeing the state in which the storm had returned him to her, knowing she had done the right thing in allowing him to go and thankful beyond measure that he had come back, at all.  And, with the envelope.  Just in time, considering the fury of the wind and snow.  Those documents would have been lost forever.

Trembling harder as the warmth of the stones radiated in and began thawing some of the ice from his bones Einar’s body seemed to lose all of the starch that had been keeping it upright through the climb and descent, weariness hitting him so hard that he was all but obliged to sink to the floor, curling up against the water barrel and closing his eyes, wholly exhausted.  Liz was glad.  Hoped he would sleep until he was good and thoroughly warm and all notion of heading back out into the storm--it was there, she could see, calling to him so powerfully that she found herself somewhat surprised he had returned at all, before heeding its direction and freezing himself nearly to death out in the snow--had passed from his mind.  Speaking softly to Will as she scooped him up from the bed she retrieved another batch of hot rocks and pressed herself close to Einar where he slept beneath the bear hide, wind raging outside and the small family ready to ride out the storm together.

29 July, 2012

29 July 2012

Liz watched him go, waiting until he’d disappeared into the timber before turning back to the cabin with Will, ready to get out of the fierce and growing wind.  He was moving slowly but with determination, and would, she had little doubt, find some way to push himself until he reached his destination; she could only hope he would then have enough energy remaining to reverse the process and return home.  And that he’d remember to stick to the course they had discussed, in case he ran out of energy and she had to go looking for him in the storm, which seemed determined not to be too long in coming.  She wondered if it would bring in its wake a return of the bitter cold which had gripped the basin after their last big storm, temperatures plunging far below zero and the best efforts of their rather ample stone stove barely adequate to begin keeping the chill driven from the cabin.  Though greatly inspired to stack the interior walls deep with firewood against such possibility, she really did not expect to see a repeat of the last storm.  There was something different in the wind this time, a certain moisture and a warmth which spoke of the coming of spring, big flakes and heavy accumulation, but not the deep cold they had recently endured.

The season was shifting, warmer weather coming, but she knew enough not to allow herself to be deceived.  They would see many more snows before the thaw came for good, and any one of those could turn heavy, wind whipping up a blizzard which would make travel next to impossible and very quickly wipe out the tracks of anyone who insisted upon making their way through its fury.  Shivering at the sound of the wind in the trees she shook her head, planted her feet firmly on the well-trodden path to the cabin.  No sense dwelling on any of it.  At least he’d come to her before setting out on his own, even asked her, though with noticeable reluctance, for her leave, her blessing on the trip. That, at least, was progress.  She wondered how he knew…what he knew, what was leading him to the spring…or whether it was perhaps simply a vain contrivance of his weary mind--a possibility, but not the most likely one, so far as she was concerned.  He had a sense for such things, ways of seeing which were mysterious to her and seemed at times even to baffle him, yet she could see that he knew better than to turn a deaf ear to their whisperings.  Something of this nature, she expected, must be at work in his need to check the area around the spring, and to do it alone. Lead him, show him, if You’re willing, where he might find that envelope.  Or how to do without it.  How to let it go, and still return to us…

At times as Einar slogged along through the deep snow, the raven seemed deliberately to be leading him, others, apparently sure of his knowing where to go, the bird would soar and circle overhead, silent aside from the occasional soft call, watching.  Einar watched, also, finding some small measure of comfort in the constant presence of his feathered companion, even if the raven was, ultimately, the one who had necessitated his snowy trek in the first place.  No, he wasn’t.  That would be you, Einar, with your inability to let the thing go, let it fade into the past with the fading and rotting of those pages under the snow…would have been the perfect opportunity, you know?  But you couldn’t.  Wouldn’t.  So.  Your fault that you’re out here, but you are, and you’d better make it work, too, because this sure as heck isn’t worth dying over and the way things are feeling right now, it wouldn’t take much at all for that to happen.  One little slip, one little lapse in your concentration, and you’re gonna collapse like one of those little wooden toys with elastic in the joints, and be face down in the snow without the strength to get yourself up again.  Only you won’t be back on your feet again in an instant, like those things are.  Will possibly even be unconscious, because it’s happened before, and while the average person might have hours and hours under such circumstances before they ended up too hypothermic to reasonably be brought back by a fire and some dry clothes…well, it’d probably take you about twenty minutes or so right now, wouldn’t it, before chances started becoming pretty slim that you’d ever wake up on your own?  Can’t be doing that.  You got to stay sharp on this one.

One thing was for certain, which was that Einar stood little chance of falling asleep and losing touch with the world so long as he was moving; feet saw to that.  He’d thought he remembered what it was like traveling on a frostbitten foot, had certainly covered many, many rugged mountain miles in that condition after initially sustaining the injury which had ultimately lead to the loss of his toes, but apparently time and circumstance had conspired somewhat to lessen the impact of those memories--funny, wonder why it can’t do so for some of the older ones; seems to work the other way round, with them--so that the impact of the thing surprised him, the hurt of it leaving him at times quite breathless.  At least the snow in which he traveled was soft, squishy, indefinite; not particularly helpful when it came to keeping his balance, but easier on the feet than would have been a hard surface, he was sure.  Still progress remained quit slow, storm moving in around him as he traveled and the wind pushing mercilessly from behind, sheering through the timber to leave him at times stumbling to his knees with the force of it, almost wishing he might be wearing a heavier pack just to have something to pin him in place, add a bit of bulk to his frame and leave him less impacted by the strength of the gale.  No snow yet, nothing but the rather crusty bits that blew in rough showers from evergreen branches where they had clung, half melting and re-freezing in an endless cycle, since the last storm, but he knew it was coming, had to be coming, and the knowledge lent a bit of speed to his failing frame.

Quarter mile.  Should have been there already. Should have been there long ago, and he blinked hard against the sting of the wind, willed legs which had long ago passed from weariness to near-nerveless exhaustion to go on moving, carrying him step by step up through the timber, familiar course, and when the height of the trees began diminishing, he knew he was at last drawing near.  Raven was nowhere to be seen, had disappeared some time prior, soaring off up the slope in the apparent assumption that the man could be trusted to complete the journey on his own, and Einar had accepted the absence; he’d expected it.  Raven had other business.

Spring over on his left, he saw the spot, but did not detour to more nearly approach it; his business, also, lay elsewhere, and he continued to climb, passing the spring, overlook not far ahead of him.

Reached it, raven sitting still and silent in the topmost branches of the dead, blackened tree-carcass whose contours he had come to know so well one rainy, windy evening that past fall, and he bent creakily to tighten the failing wrappings on one foot, continued, almost there, understanding.  Was exactly what he had expected to find, and he nodded grimly at the rightness of the thing, closed the distance, squinting into a sudden gust of wind as he sought to get a better look at the base of the tree.

28 July, 2012

28 July 2012

Liz had not gone far, sensing the coming storm and wanting to stay near Einar, not be gone long from him, had wandered down to the willows in the hopes that a second look at the basin might prove more productive in the search for the missing envelope and also simply to give Will some time outside, as she made an effort to do everyday.  Already his mysterious grey-blue eyes were following the tree-patterns overhead as they walked, staring up contentedly from the warmth of her hood and answering with soft baby sounds when she spoke to him of what they were seeing, and she knew the walks must be good for him, the fresh air and varied sights.  “Perhaps,” she spoke softly to the child, pushing through the last thicket of willow and out into the semi-clearing beyond, from which one could look down into the basin, “you will especially like the smell of willow, as your father does.  I’ve seen him smile whenever he picks up a bundle of willow wands, the way he looks at me when I come back from being in a thicket like this…yep, maybe the love of willows will turn out to be genetic.  Hard to say.”  And she broke the end from one of the nearby stems, winter-dormant but still carrying a strong sweet tang that spoke of riverside thickets, browsing deer and the cheerful songs of chickadees in the snow, held it near his face where he could catch the scent.  Will responded by wanting to taste the thing, of course, which she allowed him to do, laughing at the face he made in response.

“Bitter, isn’t it?  Well, hopefully you won’t have need of it anytime soon, and can just enjoy its smell and the way these long stems bend and dance in the wind.  Speaking of wind, have you noticed what it’s doing here lately?  Getting awfully strong, and when it starts sweeping down from the mountains like this, you know it usually means something’s blowing in.  It’s so warm today that I have to wonder if it will be a very heavy, wet snow rather than the powder we’ve got used to seeing all winter.  Wouldn’t surprise me.  Sticky stuff, hard to move through.  Let’s take one last look for your daddy’s papers, and then we’d better be getting back, carry in that firewood we were planning to get, don’t you think?”

No success in her search for the envelope, basin appearing flat and grey beneath the increasing cloud cover, but yielding nothing.  Again she tried calling the raven, imitating to her best ability the harsh, nasal call with which Einar sometimes communicated with the creature, and to her surprise and relief, the fourth such call brought an answer!  Rasping back at her, Muninn sailed down from a tree not too far away at the edge of the steep dropoff which lead down to the basin, floating to her and circling, but instead of stopping for a greeting and the customary bite of jerky which normally accompanied it, he surprised her by taking off roughly in the direction of the cabin.  Now what can that critter have in mind?  Maybe he wants more food than he thinks I have on me?  Or is he just anxious to see Einar?  Or get in ahead of the storm?  Either way, it’s definitely time for us to be getting back.  Even warm as it is, this wind is starting to get pretty wearisome, and it shows no sign of slacking off.

Past the woodshed, across the clearing and into the timber beyond Einar had made it before the raven showed up, following Liz’s tracks, wanting to find and tell her before he took off in search of the envelope.  Had a good idea of where he needed to look, could see by the changing weather that he had better be getting on with it and hated to waste time in traveling the other direction, but needed to speak with Liz before setting out.  Get her leave.  Sounded strange; wasn’t one to think about getting the leave of others before going about his business, but he’d told her he was not going, and if that was to change, it needed to be a mutual decision.  Thus the need to see her in person, rather than simply leaving a few words on paper back at the cabin, and taking off.  Even keeping to Liz’s tracks and leaning fairly heavily on his spear for strength and balance, the walk was proving a difficult one for Einar, feet hurting and legs wanting to buckle beneath him, but he kept going, face a hard mask of determination and eyes unwavering as he sought out her trail.  The raven upset everything, swooping down out of the timber with little warning and landing so heavily on his shoulder that he could not help but topple forward into the snow, on his knees and working hard to keep himself from falling the rest of the way and ending up face down in the snow.  With some effort he righted himself, shooed the raven from his shoulder so he could have some hope of staying that way.  He was a long time catching his breath.

“So, you’re back.  Where is it?”

No answer from the bird, who might, from the intelligent gleam in his shiny black eyes, actually have understood the question--or so Einar thought--but had not intention of giving anything away.  “Not gonna tell me, are you?  Well, will you lead me to it?  Least you can do, don’t you think, especially with this storm coming?  We’re gonna test that out, but first we got to find Liz.  So keep off my shoulder, and I’ll try to do some more walking, here…”

Nearly to the willows by the time he met her, Einar was by then struggling hard just to keep on his feet and prevent their hurt from showing.  Didn’t want Liz to see it, to try and send him back as he knew she would likely do, protesting his lack of boots and the increasing limp which slowed his pace to that of a snail and threatened every moment to dump him in the snow…he was doing the best he could, had wrapped his swollen feet in rabbit furs and then in tough elk hide, and would be able to make the walk to the spot where he suspected the raven might have deposited that envelope.  As could Liz, but she had already been out once; it was his turn, the thing his to do.  Liz saw him coming, hurried to meet him, took his arm.

“We were on the way back.  It’s going to storm…”

“I know.  Big one, maybe.  Warm as it is, up near freezing almost…sometimes that’s when you see the heaviest snowfall.  Might snow all night.”

“You’re wanting to go looking after all, then.”

A nod.  “If you’d…well, figured I’d better see what you thought about it, first.”

“I think you’re not going to be able to rest until you either find that thing, or give it a good effort like I did.  You should go.  Your feet will suffer, but the way you’ve got them wrapped, and at these temperatures…Einar, I don’t like to see you hurt anymore than you already do, but I know the extra damage probably won’t be permanent, if this is what you need to do.  I just don’t want you going so far that you’re still gone when the storm hits, and it covers your tracks…”

“I know my way back.”

“Yes, of course!  But I don’t know my way to wherever you’re going…”

“Aw Lizzie, I won’t…”  but he knew that he might, and much as he hated to admit it, she was right.  If he disappeared into the storm with no way for her to find him, and something went wrong…well, not a bad end at all, as ends go, but he wasn’t looking for an end out there.  Not this time.  Just wanted those papers back.  “Yeah, guess you’re right about that one.  I won’t go off course.  There’s just one place I want to check, and that’s above the spring.  Quarter mile up, quarter mile back, stick to the trail, or as close as I can to it depending on the snow, and that’s it.”

The spring.  Why do you think you’ll find it up there?”

“Just a suspicion I’ve got.”

“I have water.  Take a drink before you go.”  He drank, nearly choking on the stuff, and it worried her.  Didn’t know how he was supposed to do that slog through the deep snow, when he could barely keep himself upright or make his swallowing muscles do their job on a consistent basis, but the spring wasn’t that far, and she knew he had to try.  Just as long as he would stick to his appointed course.

“Will you take the raven?”

Einar cast a sideways glance at the bird, who had perched himself on a snow-covered rock and sat watching, waiting.  “Sure, might as well.  Maybe the scoundrel will decide to show me something, give something away.  Come on, critter, we got a job to do.  Go a lot smoother if you’d just lead me to the thing, how about it?”

Muninn tilted his head, chortled softly as if at some private joke, and took flight, skimming the first hundred yards of Einar’s course before returning to circle the trio, rasping loudly.

27 July, 2012

27 July 2012

Einar wanted to go.  Wanted it so badly that his frostbitten toes itched, which ought to have been better than the pain he’d been dealing with for the last couple of days, but wasn’t.  Did not understand why the raven had flown off with his envelope, nor could he comprehend the creature’s delay in returning, could see Liz was telling the truth when she said she’d done her best to try and recover the documents, but he knew the raven was more likely to respond to his call, and even if the papers were already gone, perhaps the direction from which Muninn flew would give some clue as to where the search ought to begin.  Liz had known the urgency with which he would likely regard the endeavor, knew also that, in light of her failure, she would be wrong to try too hard to prevent him from going on his search, but was well aware also of the fairly high probability that it would, in the end, kill him.  Even if he managed to make it back after the conclusion of his wild raven hunt—hardly a sure thing, seeing as he had barely been able to hold his head up for more than minutes at a time since returning from the valley—the further damage done his feet would likely lead to an infection which he could not survive.  Still, she had no intention of trying to stop him.  Likely as it seemed that the expedition would do him in, who was she to say that the untimely loss of those papers might not do the same thing?  Ought not; a man really should be able to survive such a thing, but with life and death hanging in such a fine, mysterious balance just then for him…well, she did not want to be the one responsible for his not making an effort to recover that envelope.  She could at most offer to go with him, hoping desperately, of course, that he might accept her company but never letting on how strong was her wish that he not go alone, and as he crept from his position beside the bed and began packing a light bag, she retrieved her parka and prepared to stow Will for the hike.

“I didn’t find him the last time, but how about Will and I come along?  Two sets of eyes are probably better than one when it comes to spotting things in the snow, and maybe with both of us, he’ll be more likely to assume there’s food along, and come when we call…”

For a long while he sat silent, staring at the ground or at his feet or perhaps at some third thing that only he could see, and then a strange thing happened.  Never even looking up, Einar quietly began removing the items he’d stashed in the pack.

“I’m not going.”

Unsure of his intent, she said nothing.  Which was foolish, and she knew it—the un-sureness, at least.  His intent was almost always exactly what it seemed, very straightforward, and she doubted this occasion would prove to be any different.  She wanted to be glad, jump about the cabin rejoicing at the good sense and wisdom of his decision, but she didn’t like the way he looked, all slumped over and defeated, not at all the way she liked to see him.

“You’re not going?’’

A little shrug, eyes still on the floor and the look on his face one which she wasn’t entirely sure she’d ever seen there before, a certain apathy which surpassed his obvious weariness and left his eyes all dull and dead, spark gone.  She didn’t like it.  Wanted him to change his mind, insist on going, be his usual, cantankerous self even if it nearly killed him, for this new thing, she could not help but think, certainly would.

Einar did not share her concern.  Knew he had made the right decision, though it crushed something inside him to admit as much, and with the decision done and final, he sought to busy himself with other matters, forget the loss of the transcript, picking up his half done coil of nettle cordage and concentrating hard on the task of getting his fingers coordinated, working in concert.   Managed it, added an entire foot to the rope as Liz sat watching him, wondering if she ought to offer to go out for another search but keeping silent, not wanting to seem to be questioning his decision.  Somebody ought to question it though, for instead of the peace which she expected might come with a readiness and resolve to let the thing go, let it be gone, buried in the snow to rot and return to the soil and perhaps allow its contents to fade once more to the shadowy corners of his mind where they might have a bit less impact on his daily life, he had the look of a man being forced by circumstances into something he did not at all want.  Just as she had refused to burn the documents for him when he had clearly not yet been ready to release them, she hated to see him give up on their retrieval when he had seen a need, apparently, to revisit them for some reason that morning.  She shrugged, left him to his cording.  Let him figure it out.  I don’t know what’s best, on this one.  Just don’t know.

The day went on, Einar barely pausing long enough in his cordage-making to eat the lunch of stew Liz made for the two of them--thickened to just the right texture with lily root powder, something he ought to be able to swallow without choking--limiting himself to three or four tastes, and she hoped his appetite was simply off a bit due to the hurt of his frostbitten feet and the two soakings they’d already necessitated that day, but somehow doubted it.  Wanted to take the rabbit stick to him, give him a good knock in the head before he could sink any more deeply into the thing and kick him out of the house until he either found the envelope or accepted its loss and came home ready to eat and live and go on, yet she really had no justification for doing so.  He had, after all, made the decision she would have hoped him to make, decided without her urging to stay in the cabin where his feet could go on healing and he would have a far better chance of making it through the day, not to mention the coming night…  She was frustrated.  Turned away from him--he wouldn’t look at her, anyway, had hardly looked up once from his project all morning, not even stopping when she changed the dressings on his feet, a slight change in his breathing being the only sign he gave of feeling the procedure, and she wondered once again how he did it--and scooped up little Will.

“What do you say, little one?  Time for you and me to go outside for a little while?  I’d like some fresh air, that’s for sure, and we could use a little more firewood for the afternoon, too.  Let’s take a walk!”  Will tucked safely into his parka-pouch, Liz stashed a few pieces of jerky in her pocket, put a hand on Einar’s shoulder by way of leave-taking, and ducked into the tunnel.

He could hear them out there, Liz going on about one thing and another, telling Will about the trees, the wind--yeah, windy; he’d been hearing it pick up for the past while--and pointing out to him the great overhanging cornice of snow on the cliffs back of the cabin, and he almost smiled at the hearing of it; she sure was a good mother.  Then everything was quiet, Liz evidently wandering a distance from the cabin, and Einar was left alone with his own thoughts--keep twining this stuff, just keep going; the work left his mind free to wander while very usefully occupying his hands, getting something accomplished--and with the increasingly wild buffeting of the wind against the stout logs of the wall.  Storm coming, he was pretty sure.

After a while Einar went out and smelled the air--Still no Muninn; was strange that the bird had not returned--an almost electric sharpness, spruce-laden and humid, saw the clouds scudding across the sky and read in these signs the telltale coming of a storm.  Big one, and that settled it for him.  Had to try and find that envelope.  Make one last try before the sky opened up and it was lost forever.  Again he sniffed the air, stared up at the barely-swaying tops of the spruces and firs, a restless motion, portending, and he set off to find Liz.

26 July, 2012

26 July 2012

Anonymous said…
It takes a long time to turn a huge ship around. A huge ship is almost a force of nature, and so is Einar.

Yes, he can be pretty slow at changing, alright…

Philip said…
And Mike, remember, on occasion, Einar tells the ~Light House~ to steer off ~his~ Course of direction... as He ~is~ under way!
Chris, Great Posts last Two Days.... was going to write that "last night" but the modem......
Today, I think I figured out the modems signals, as to ~me NO workee~ unplugged it four times, until it changed its mind!!!

Sounds like an ongoing conversation you’re having with that modem…hope the two of you come to an eventual understanding without your having to resort to a sledge hammer!

About that light house--sometimes it actually moves when he demands passage persistently enough!  Or at least it seems so to him…  Could be wrong about that.

Won't be a chapter tonight, worked very late last night and just didn't get any writing time today--but will be back with one tomorrow.

25 July, 2012

25 July 2012

Half an hour later and with no sighting of the raven, Liz finally made the decision to return home.  Much as she hated to do it--“giving up” was hardly more a part of her vocabulary than it was Einar’s--there seemed little point in continuing to wander the snowy woods in search of a flying creature which obviously had no intention of being found, and besides, Will would certainly be incredibly keen to eat by that point, and Einar…well, she’d better be hurrying back.

Everything was quiet as Liz approached the cabin, and somehow this worried her more than the sound of crying might have, her concern only compounded when she noted the complete absence of smoke at the chimney.  Had he decided to take Will and go out on his own simultaneous search for the bird?  She hoped not, but prepared herself to take off following his tracks, should then tell such a story.  He would be slow, not too difficult, perhaps, for her to catch up with, and probably a good thing, too.  Now they would both be needing food, and probably a fire, too, judging by what she had observed of Einar’s reaction to the cold since his return from the valley, and it wouldn’t surprise her if all three of them ended up camping out for the rest of the day and the night wherever he had fallen.  Assuming he had fallen.  Could be an awfully persistent fellow at times, despite the physical obstacles that might stand in his way, and there was really no telling how far he might have managed to travel.

Not far at all, for there were no tracks, and she breathed a little sigh of relief, hoped the discovery would prove to be good news.  Quiet in the cabin and pretty cold, no light save for the faint glow that followed her in through the tunnel entrance, and she hurried to search out a candle, light it.  There they were, the two of them, Will appearing to sleep contentedly on his father’s chest, warm beneath a doubled-over fold of deer hide and Einar fast asleep beneath him, head back and limbs all sprawled out as if he’d fallen from some great height, hardly appearing alive.  At first, Liz wasn’t entirely sure that he was still breathing.  Then he shivered, and she relaxed, sitting down beside the two of them on the bed and gently lifting Will, not wanting to accidentally wake Einar and have him spring to his feet as he was sometimes in the habit of doing, with the baby still atop him.  A very real concern, for he came awake as she lifted Will, tried but failed at first to sit up, kept at it until he was up on his elbows and blinking at her in the candle light.  Will was eating hungrily, content and quiet and satisfied at last, and the pleased Einar so much that he forgot for the moment to ask about Liz’s success in retrieving the envelope, simply watching them together, mother and child, everything right with the world once more…

Liz had to wake him.  Not an easy process, and she might have simply let him be, had he not been so very cold.  The spot on his chest where Will had been sleeping felt warm to the touch but he was otherwise quite icy, needed to get over by the fire, and she hurried to bring it back to life, slipping the soft buckskin sling over her shoulder so Will could continue to eat while allowing her the use of her hands.  Einar woke as she worked on the fire, rolled to his stomach and then onto the floor.  No chance of going back to sleep after that, not for a while at least, the way his injured feet had hit the ground.

“Got away, didn’t he?”

“I looked and looked, called him, but there was no sign…”

“Doggone mangy vulture.  Thief.  He could be in…could be over the ridge and gone by now, if he wanted to.  Only he won’t want to, because he’s got so used to the food around this place.  He’ll be back, but the chances of him carrying that envelope all this time…”

“I know.  I’ll go try again in a while, but I knew Will would be needing to eat.”

“Yeah, he was.  Wouldn’t quit howling after a while.  Felt bad for the little critter, but wasn’t too much I could do, once the swinging and such quit working.”

“It looks like you found something, though, the way you were both sleeping when I got back.  You found exactly the thing he needed.”

“We were sleeping ‘cause we were so worn out from the crying…”

Whose crying?”

“Ha!  Yeah, probably would have been both of us if it’d gone on too much longer, that’s for sure.  Guess we got to talk about…well, if you were ever late returning someday when I’d stayed here with him, and he started getting hungry like this again…”

“You’d need some way to feed him.  There’s the bottle Susan brought.  I packed it away about a week after he was born, just so I’d never be tempted to try and use it, no reason to use it so long as he has access to the real thing, but yes, I’ll show you where it is, and so long as we’ve got snow and below-freezing temperatures to help keep it fresh, there’s no reason I can’t save milk and cache it outside like everything else, so you’d have a little something to put in the bottle, until you could get something else figured out.”

“Until I could rope a mama mountain goat and press her into service?”

“Something like that.  You’d figure it out.”

“You’d come back before I did.”

“I hope so!  I’ll get started saving milk though.  Later today.”

He nodded.  Seemed a wise idea.  The little one was definitely more content when he had regular access to food, and besides, he needed the stuff.  Had a lot of growing to do, and here lately, seemed to be in a pretty big hurry about it.  Eat, sleep, grow.  Smart little critter.  And ready to get back to the sleeping part, from the looks of things.  Finished with his meal, he was already dozing in Liz’s lap, and she eased him down into his warm nest of furs, joined Einar on the floor.

“You’re cold again.  Come sit by the fire for a while?”

“Always cold.  Not a problem.  When summer comes and…we start having to worry about things spoiling in the heat, you can probably just throw me in a hole with whatever it is you’re trying to preserve, toss a foot or so of spruce duff over the whole lot, and you’ll have instant refrigeration!”

Liz shook her head, sat down behind him, holding him—even then he seemed fairly intent on getting away, resisting her efforts to warm him—and got the two of them wrapped in a bear hide.  “Sometimes you’re really not as funny as you think you are…  I don’t want to use you as an ice block!  I want you to get warm and stay that way for a while, rest and eat and let your body get back to a point where it can produce its own heat again.  Though you certainly could pass as an ice block right now, couldn’t you?  Hey, quit trying to get out from under the hide and wriggle away from me, why don’t you?  I intend to get you warm one way or another, so we might as well do it the easy way, don’t you think?”

“Do I ever do anything the easy way?”

“It wouldn’t hurt you to try, every now and then…”  

24 July, 2012

24 July 2012

Liz had been gone for what seemed to Einar a dreadfully long while, and the baby was screaming.  Hungry, no doubt, as he seemed to eat nearly constantly when she was around, but Einar of course had nothing to give him, resorted to checking and then changing his diaper, instead, in the hopes that it might make him a bit more comfortable as he waited for his snack.  Didn’t work.  More screaming, the thin, shrill sound nearly proving more than Einar could bear after the first ten of fifteen minutes, as it seemed to set his teeth on edge and leave him a bit frantic to be somewhere else, but he simply gritted his teeth and got the child back into his arms, rocking, swaying, hoping movement would suffice.  He wanted very much to get up and walk with the baby, pace the cabin as he’d done on many nights during those first few weeks of his life, when Liz had needed a bit of a break, a bit of sleep, but he feared the dizziness that threatened to overcome him every time he rose, could not bear the thought of potentially hurting Will in his clumsiness.  So he remained sitting, cradling his son in his arms, draping him over one arm on his stomach--he’d seen Liz do this, a usually-successful attempt to alleviate gas pains for the little one--and propping him up against his shoulder, trying everything that came to mind.

Still, the child cried.  Shrieked.  Face red, eyes pinched shut and forehead wrinkled, angry and uncomprehending at his sudden lack of warm, plentiful food on demand, he used his strengthening voice to wail his displeasure to the world, wanting, needing an answer, and though Einar tried his best, he could not seem to provide one.  Food.  Little one needed food, but he’d never had anything other than Liz’s milk and that wasn’t available, Einar wondering with a sudden cold fear what he would do should Liz fail to come back that night, fail to come back at all, how he could ever keep the child alive should something happen to her.  They’d talked about it before the birth, but head aching, echoing with those ceaseless wailings, he struggled to remember the details.

Liver.  Was pretty sure his plan had involved liver, mashed to a fine gruel in deer or elk broth, enriched with bits of bear fat and marrow, some spruce needles for vitamin C and then strained, fed to the child drop by drop if necessary in what would surely be something of a desperate effort to keep him alive…  Also remembered Susan bringing a bottle and can of formula when she came up before the birth, but he hadn’t seen them since, and did not know where Liz might have stashed them.  Should have kept track of such things, he supposed.   Please, please come back Lizzie, let her come back, this little guy needs her awful badly if You’re willing…

Likely, she would come back. Weather was fine, skies clear, she was strong and healthy and knew her way around the place, could always follow her own tracks back home, if nothing else, and he told himself to settle down, stop worrying so much. Try again to comfort the child.  It was a temporary thing, the screaming.  He could live with it.    “Snorri, Snorri, what else can I try?  I’d walk with you, run with you but my legs…just can’t trust them now little one, hate that but it’s the fact, so here we are, and the swinging and bouncing don’t seem to be doing it for you anymore, do they?  What do you need?  What can  I give you?”

Perhaps, despite the woolens brought by Susan--the baby had only just recently grown into them, and Liz had been using them for him nearly constantly, since--Will had grown chilled there in the rather cool air of the cabin; Einar realized with something of a start that he hadn’t even thought about the fire since Liz’s departure, and it had surely begun to go cold in that time.  The child felt warm enough to him, warmer than his own hands, for sure, but then most things tended to be warmer than his hands, those days, most living things, at least, so that was not a good measure.  Couldn’t think of a good measure, and with the wailing continuing unabated, he decided to give something a try, slipped the child down the front of his shirt and lay back on the bed so that Will rested stomach-down on his chest.  For a few moments he rooted about frantically for food, unhappy and slightly confused when he found none but eventually relaxing, warm and feeling safe there where he could her the beat of his father’s heart, feel his breathing, and, exhausted, he slept, Einar pulling the corner of a deer hide over the two of them and sleeping, also, totally spent.

Muninn was gone.  No sign of him in the great high blue arch of the sky overhead, no telltale black hulk in any of the surrounding spruces, and he would not respond to her call.  Perhaps he would have to Einar’s; the two of them did seem to have some special understanding, and as she continued searching, wandering here and there through the snowdrifts in search of any sign of the bird, she began to second-guess her quick decision to try and keep Einar in the cabin.  The raven might fly for miles if he really wanted to, and she knew their chances of finding the documents after such a flight had to be quite small.  Up the trail towards the spring she traveled, calling, hoping that with an elevation gain and the thinning of the trees she might have a better chance of seeing something, but no sign of the bird made itself obvious, and after struggling halfway up to the spring through deep, drifted snow, she turned back, seeing little point in continuing.  He could have just as easily taken off up to the rocky buttress of the cliff, or sailed silently down to the valley to drop the envelope in the river…  She could, at least, make a trip down through the willows and to a spot which overlooked the basin--her initial goal in heading for the spring, but the snow had proven too deep to reasonably continue without snowshoes--before returning to the cabin.  Sticking to the heavier timber around the willows would help keep her out of some of the deeper snow, and perhaps if the bird had tired of carrying that thick envelope in his beak and dropped it somewhere in the open on the snow, she might have some chance of spotting it.

Still nothing.  Liz stood at the far edge of the willows, the low edge where the land fell away sharply and there existed something of a gap before the timber closed in again, perfect vantage from which to view a good portion of the basin, but still she saw neither raven nor envelope, not a sound in response when she called, first using the bird’s name and then the harsh, nasal note with she had occasionally heard Einar summon the bird; either he was too far away to hear her, or was deliberately remaining quiet and unwilling to respond.  She wouldn’t put it past him.  The bird was bright, clever and incredibly willful--a lot like Einar, really; no wonder the two of you get along so well--and might well have his own agenda that day.  Strange, for his usual agenda that winter had seemed to focus rather heavily on food and the obtaining of it, and all the food was back at the cabin.  Well.  The bird would return, eventually.  That was not her concern.  And if they never saw those documents again…maybe Einar would be able to accept it.  Breathe a sigh of relief at their departure and be glad that he hadn’t been called on to make the decision, himself.   She shook her head, squinted out at the snowy expanse of the basin, scanning.   Doubted it.  Couldn’t really imagine his being content with such an outcome; he’d run himself ragged, freeze what remained of his feet and likely as not die out in the snow looking for that thing.  She had to bring it back.  Kept looking, following the edge of the willows and continuing to scan every open area of which she could get a glimpse, climbing, following the increasingly steep break in the land until finally she reached a spot where the timber closed in and cut off her view of the basin.  Not much point in continuing on her current course, and she cut off through the timber, heading in the general direction of the cabin but with no intention of giving up, just yet.  Must try one more vantage point, first.

Having been out for well over an hour--probably close to two, judging by the position of the sun--Liz knew she really needed to be getting back, needed to feed Will, her body plainly giving her the signal that it was long past time, but she kept on, wanting very much to get up to a high point, give a few more raven calls and see if the bird would show himself, give her some idea of where he was and what his flight path might have been.  Cliffs up behind the cabin seeming the best option she headed for them, going far up and around the cabin and not allowing herself to pass near enough to hear, should Will be crying inside.  That would have ended her mission for sure, and she feared the consequences should it end without success.  Cliffs ahead of her, she climbed, searching, calling, hoping…

23 July, 2012

23 July 2012

Having grown restless with confinement in the cabin and demanded exit, Muninn the raven soared high above the cabin clearing, rasping loudly as with a slight tilt of wing and tail he swooped down for a closer look, watching, waiting, wondering what could be taking the man so long to get up and out and join him in the fine, cold air of morning.  Giving it a bit more time he waited, circling, sailing off over spruce and fir to survey the basin itself--snow-covered, nothing out of the ordinary visible down there--returning, wingtips nearly brushing the treetops as he glided in for a landing before the tunnel entrance.  Seemed the man in his charge must be in some sort of trouble again, and the raven meant to take action.

Liz heard Muninn out in the tunnel, the soft, chortling call that had come to represent the bird’s request for entry, but there was this time an edge to the raven’s voice, and she did not want to let him in.  Had just finished trying very hard to distract Einar from his seeming determination to start all over again reading the transcript of his debriefing, an activity which he had somehow managed to decide might provide suitable accompaniment to the eating of his breakfast--couldn’t be more wrong so far as she was concerned, for she knew that once he got himself immersed in those details eating would be the farthest thing from his mind, a near impossibility for him, at least for a time, and she wondered if somehow, perhaps even subconsciously, this knowledge had played a part in leading him to pull down the envelope and start reading--and it seemed that the raven might provide just the distraction that Einar would need to drop the conversation in which they had been engaged, and take up his reading once more.  Raven might as well stay outside, for the time being.

Too late.  Einar, also, had heard the bird’s soft calls, set aside his breakfast pot and gave the raven entry.  “You certainly weren’t out there long, you old vulture.  What’s your trouble?  Wanting your breakfast?  No?  Never really seen you turn down food before.  That’s strange.  Got something to tell me?  Well, out with it.  You see something out there?”

Muninn’s chortles and rasps, though, insistent as they were, did not quite sound to Einar like the alarm calls he’d previously given when discovering potential danger and wanting his people to come and take a look.  Seemed he was simply anxious for some company outside, wanting, perhaps, to go on one of the rambles the two of them had so often taken, perhaps hoping Einar was ready to go back out on the trapline for the morning.  Well.  The bird had seemed to enjoy being in the valley, following the river and picking bits of meat from the odd muskrat carcass now and then, when the trapping was most successful, and Einar supposed he couldn’t blame the raven for wishing to return to that arrangement.

“Patience, critter.  We’ll all be heading down there, soon enough.  That is what you want, yeah?  Head down to the river, spend a few more days running that trapline and tossing you the occasional muskrat?”

The bird tilted his head, stared at Einar with his bright, unblinking black eyes and let out a series of soft chortles which sounded almost like agreement, but not quite.  Then, in a move too quick for Einar to effectively counter, he hopped closer and seized the envelope into which the transcript had been tucked, flapping his way to the main door, which Liz had briefly opened in order to eject the little pile of  wood chips, spruce needles and other debris gathered up in her routine morning sweep of the cabin floor, and quickly disappeared through the opening, envelope in tow.

Einar was on his feet, sharp intake of air at the hurt of putting weight on them once again but then he was moving, diving after the bird and narrowly missing losing a hand to Liz’s quick slamming of the door.  Brought up short by his rather sudden and forceful encounter with the stout logs of the front door, Einar sat stunned for a moment, rubbing his head and trying to get back some feeling in battered hands but before he could get himself together and on his feet again Liz was already taking action, bolting the door and heading for the tunnel.

“I’ll stop him.  I’ll get it.  You stay here with Will!”

“He may not listen to you.  Let me go.  I need that stuff back.”

But she was already gone, Will awake and crying after the commotion, and what was Einar to do?  Stood hesitating by the door, wanting to dash out there after her and do his best to talk the raven into returning the envelope, or at the very least follow the bird so he might see where he dropped the thing, when he tired of carrying it.  Ravens leave no tracks, and the papers might be lost forever if no one watched carefully to see what his course might be.  Yet, he could not go.  His son needed him, needed someone, and there was no one else around.  He turned, swallowing the near-frantic urge to flee after that departing bird, sat down on the bed and carefully took little Will into his arms, rocking and bouncing him until both father and son were quiet, settled, breathing in concert and finding themselves better able to get through the present moment and see what the next one might bring.

Silence.  That was what it brought, the passage of time, no sound of Liz crunching back through the snow and he wanted to go out there and help her search, follow her tracks and call for the bird.  She’d left her parka, and though its arms and torso were, he knew from trying previously, far too short for him, he would indeed be able to fit himself into the garment and still have room for Will to ride in the hood all snug and warm, and he laid the child down on the bed, struggled into the parka and stood, prepared to lift the little one into position.  And promptly fell to his knees, legs turning to jelly and a great blackness welling up before his eyes.  Blinked it away, taking in great ragged gasps of air that suddenly seemed far too thin, not enough oxygen, not doing the job, got back up onto the bed, staring hard at Will’s face in an attempt to get his bearings.  Could do it with enough concentration, knew he could keep himself on his feet…but what if he was wrong?  And fell on or against something hard, or even on his back in the soft snow, passed out and did not wake in time to prevent the child smothering?  Shook his head hard to clear it of the horror brought by such a thought; no way he could risk it.  Not unless both their lives should depend on his making a timely escape and Liz was herself not there to do the job, and that certainly wasn’t the case just then.   You’re not going anywhere with this kid right now, not over a few scraps of ancient old yellow-edged paper.  No way.  “Looks like it’s you and me here, little one.  Guess we’re just gonna have to manage it, somehow…”  And the child answered with a series of soft, repeated sounds, finding, as usual, something to smile about in his father’s demeanor and manner of speech, and Einar, still blinking hard against the blackness, smiled back.

The raven was gone.  Liz at first ran after him, ran, at least, in the direction she thought she’d seen him take in the lone glance she’d got out the front door as she slammed it in Einar’s face, eyes scanning the treetops and searching bits of open sky as she went, but he was nowhere to be seen.  Winded from slogging through the deep snow and knowing there was no sense in haste, anyway, when she really had no idea whatsoever in which direction she ought to be going, she finally slowed to a walk, chewing on a bit of compacted snow and calling softly for the bird, and then more loudly.  Nothing, no response at all.

She half hoped the bird might carry the envelope so far before dropping it that they’d never see sign of it again, or of its contents, or that by the time they did stumble across it, everything would be rotted by the action of a few freezes and thaws, beyond reading if not beyond recognition…but quickly pushed that thought aside.  Einar had already offered to allow her to burn the documents, and she had--rightly, she still believed--refused.  He, alone, ought to be the one to destroy them, and only when he was ready.  For now, she must find and retrieve those papers.  And do it in a pretty timely manner, too, so she could get back to the cabin before Will grew too hungry, or…well, never mind about the “or.”  They’ll be just fine, the two of them.  You just hurry up and find that bird!

22 July, 2012

22 July 2012

I won't have a chapter for today, but did want to post this article--not as an example of someone who did everything right, because this young man didn’t, but of the importance of attitude, determination, persistence and an ability to look at things in a different way than most people might, when it comes to making it through difficult situations.

I like that that after all the difficulty he came across during his adventure, he's still able to say that it “wasn’t even a bad experience.”  I’d go wandering the backcountry with this guy, any day.


ST. GEORGE — At 6 feet 4 inches tall, William LaFever's weight was down to a near fatal 128 pounds when he was rescued July 12 after spending several weeks in the remote desert of southeastern Utah.

Thursday night, he was released from the hospital after being treated for severe malnourishment and was headed back home to Colorado to be reunited with his family. He has remained independent since his rescue. He did not want his family to visit him in the hospital and declined their offer to come to Utah to take him home.

LaFever is a 28-year-old man with autism. In early June, he left his home to come to Utah on a "mission." He felt he had to answer the call of the desert, he said, and he felt he needed to come to Utah to be reborn.

"I didn't think I was going to die out there," he said. "I never believed that. It just wasn't time."

As he prepared to board a bus to head home for Colorado Springs Thursday, he admitted that his adventure turned into a situation of life or death, but he believes his mind overcame his body.

"In total, I was about 35 days in the desert. My journey began on June 3," LaFever said.

A few days into his adventure, he called his father from Boulder to say that some of his hiking gear had been stolen and he had run out of money. LaFever's father told him to get a ride to Page, Ariz., where he would send him a money transfer.

LaFever, who was accompanied by his dog, apparently decided to hike down the Escalante River to Lake Powell to find a boat ride to Page. That was all but impossible, especially considering the limited food and equipment he had with him. During the hike down the river, his dog ran away and LaFever ran out of food.

"It was the most honest meditation I have ever done," LaFever said. "It wasn't even a bad experience."

He kept cool during the day by sitting in the river, but at night it was a different story. "At night I had just a thin sheet to curl up with, and I would be in a ball," he recalled.

He survived with really nothing but his own will power, and he used his mind to dream about foods he wanted to eat as he really ate snakes, frogs, plants and roots.

"I've eaten things that would probably gross you out," he said. "I was 128 pounds in Panguitch; and before that, a few months ago, I remember weighing about 165 pounds."

Around 3:30 p.m. on July 12, searchers in the helicopter spotted LaFever sitting in the river waving his arms. Officials said he likely would not have survived another 24 hours.

He was flown to an area hospital in stable condition. LaFever was quick to thank his rescuers and the medical team who nursed him back to health over the past week.

As for why he ventured into a very remote wilderness by himself, he said it is something he can't express in words. "I just had to do it. I can't explain it. I knew what I was doing."

"My mind didn't suffer. My body and my spirit didn't suffer," LaFever continued. "I have never felt such weakness, but weakness was only for the body."

21 July, 2012

21 July 2012

Before the stew was ready Will woke and needed tending, sparing Einar from receiving too much scrutiny when eating time came, and he was glad.  Liked the smell of the breakfast, wanted some and knew how badly he needed it, but had to keep the entire process tremendously slow and deliberate lest he risk gagging and coughing on the stuff, which surely would have gained him unwanted attention from Liz, in addition to putting him in some real danger.  That gulp of water had nearly done him in, and the last thing he needed was to go inhaling something into his lungs, just then.  Second bite.  Chew it real well, gulp it down…success.  Had felt that momentary hint of panic when the stuff had tried to stick on the way down, but it had gone, and perhaps the next would be easier.   What a mess, Einar.  Shouldn’t even have to be thinking about things like this.  It’s supposed to be a pretty automatic process, from what I remember.  When everything’s working right.  Ridiculous. 

Will was not only wide awake but was staring at him as Liz carried the child, upright against her shoulder with his head barely supported by a gentle hand from the back; the little one was growing strong, doing more for himself every day, and Einar supposed he would soon be finding ways to move across the bed or floor, when left to his own devices.  Then they’d really have to watch him.  Eyes were still blue, the soft infant blue with which he’d entered the world, and Einar wondered if they would harden into a deeper ice-blue as he grew--like his father; wild, scary eyes, he’d been told on more than one occasion, unreadable, though somehow he doubted that had a lot to do with their color--or if, over time, they might take on the mysterious color-shifting green-grey of his mother’s eyes, gentle but firm and courageous and sometimes full of fire, which--when Einar could bring himself to look at them--seemed a different shade each and every time, something to do with the lighting and the season and perhaps even her mood.  He hoped they might end up more like Liz’s.

Will was not happy.  Crying, wriggling, not hungry when Liz tried to feed him--he’d already eaten not too long ago, but usually the offer of more food left him content and quiet--and Einar could see that he was making it difficult for Liz to enjoy her own breakfast, took the little one and sat rocking and bouncing him, trying to find the proper combination of movements.  Found it, finally, the quick, rhythmical motion which seemed best to suit the child--somewhere between a swing and a bounce, repeated endlessly and in precisely-timed series--serving well to keep his father content, also, ease what had become through the morning a growing restlessness and discontent with sitting still there in the cabin.  Good thing it served that purpose as well as quieting the little one, for it was about all Einar could manage, the activity fairly soon leaving him worn out and struggling for breath, black spots before his eyes but he drove them back, deep breaths and his gaze locked on the content little face of his son as the child slowly relaxed, slipping back towards sleep.  At last Einar stopped, sweating, trembling a bit, glad to see that Will remained asleep despite the lack of movement.  He was beat.  And somewhat discouraged, too.  Did not at all like the fact, undeniable and now witnessed by Liz, as well, that he couldn’t seem to handle more than five or ten minutes of baby-swinging, without completely wearing himself out.  Shouldn’t be.  How was he to go back down after the traps, in such a state?  Perhaps he should have just stayed down there, gone on with his planned week of trapping.  He had, after all, been managing an awful lot of work during his days on the river; returning to the cabin and its comforts had made him weak.

Ha!  Who are you fooling, Einar?  It was just the adrenalin keeping you going down there, the knowledge that you’d got to either keep moving or die, and every time night came and you stopped moving, you pretty nearly did die.  One more night of that cold, and you would have, almost for certain.  Or would have started losing limbs that you really can’t do too well without, here where you live.  Yeah, you’re a mess right now and not good for much, can barely hold your head up and that’s mighty aggravating, but you know the solution to that.  Eat.  And then do it again, and again, preferably each and every day, foreign as that concept has come to seem to you.  It’ll all work out.  You’ll be down there on the trapline again real soon. In the meantime...  he looked down at the sleeping child,  just try and enjoy getting to know your son a little better. 

Will remained asleep, and Liz, finished with her breakfast and wanting to see Einar able to make a bit more progress on his own, gently took the baby and eased him back down into his little bed of incredibly warm, insulating mountain goat fur, fast asleep.  Einar saw her shift her attention in his direction, grabbed up his cordage project and tried his best to look busy.  She wasn’t fooled.

“Eat.  Your stew’s going to get cold.”

“Had some.  It’s good.”

“You had two bites.”

So.  She had been watching.  And now would think he was deliberately being stubborn and refusing to have more, which while not without precedent, certainly was not the case that morning.  Guessed he had to tell her.  “Can’t get it down.  Keeps choking me.”

She looked concerned, which was exactly what he had been trying to avoid, brow all wrinkled and eyes more stormy-grey than green.  “Will you try again?  Let me see?”

Didn’t want her to see, but she was insistent so he took another bite.  Same result.  Mostly resolved it with a gulp of water, but barely in time.  Couldn’t quit coughing.

“Drink the broth, then.  Just drink the broth.  Then in a few hours, maybe you’ll be ready for the solid stuff.”

“Broth does it too.  Water does it.  That’s why…” panting for breath, sure didn’t want to pass out, “why the water made it worse.”

“I have the solution.  Here, let me take your pot, and I’ll fix it up and bring it right back.”  She snatched the pot from his hands and quickly turned away, as much to conceal from him the tears that stung bright and un-falling in her eyes as to provide herself access to the stove.  He was really in trouble, then.  Which she had known since he’d got back--since way before that, of course; it had become a part of their daily lives, almost routine at times--but if he couldn’t even get that broth down when he clearly wanted to do so…well, it wouldn’t be very long then, would it?  But she really did believe she had an answer, a temporary one at least, which might allow him to get past the present difficulty.  Setting the stew on the stove to begin reheating, she rummaged amongst the various dried berries and roots they’d stashed aside for the winter, settling on the rawhide bag which represented their dwindling but still sufficient supply of starchy, potato-like spring beauty roots.  Choosing a small handful she began crushing them to as fine a powder as she was able to manage between two pieces of granite.  Sifting the powder to remove most of the larger root chunks and pieces of skin that had not been ground finely enough, she dumped the resulting dust into Einar’s leftover stew, stirring and cooking and adding an ingredient now and then--bits of honey, bearfat and, once when she was sure Einar wasn’t looking, a small amount of milk--until the broth thickened to a texture which most resembled a thin pudding.  This, she hoped, might be thick enough to reduce the risk of Einar’s accidentally inhaling it as he drank, while also being soft enough to prevent his choking.  A difficult balance, but she had to try something.  Allowing him to simply give up on the meal and wait was not an option; things would only continue going downhill until he’d managed to secure himself some serious energy and nutrients.

Einar accepted the pot when, having allowed it to cool a bit, she returned it to him, would have been content to simply stare into it as he’d done before but on her insistence he tried a bite, cautiously, water nearby just in case--not that it would be much help--but had little problem; her idea had been a success!  Ready to settle in and finish as much as he could of the meal, Einar first hoisted himself up with the help of the water barrel and pulled down the orange envelope from its place in the rafters; still things he hadn’t read too thoroughly, had skimmed over, and if he couldn’t be out trapping, climbing snowy cliffs or soaking in ice water…well, at least he could be reading.

20 July, 2012

20 July 2012

Morning, so early that no light yet showed anywhere, and Einar lay wide awake listening to the slow thump of his heartbeat in the silence, perturbed and perhaps even a bit frightened because he couldn’t remember how many days had passed since his return from the valley.  Had it been one, or two?  He was pretty sure more had not passed, but could not be absolutely certain, the way time seemed to alternately drag out, compress and otherwise distort itself of late.  Tried to reconstruct the days by counting the dressing changes they’d done on his frostbitten feet—memorable events, for sure--but could not remember how many they had passed by.  Which only served to further disturb him.  Really losing track of things.   Not that he cared too much about the day, itself; days of the week, knowing the precise date at any given time, these were things which had largely ceased to hold any import for him with his final and complete severing of all ties to the civilized world down below.  What really concerned him was his seeming lack of ability to keep even the most basic details of day to day life organized to any useful degree in his mind and memory.  If he had lost entire days, what other potentially details might have he missed, sights and signs which otherwise might have served as warnings of coming danger?  No way to tell, no way to know, and the thought nearly sent him scrambling from the bed to hurry outside and test the wind, scramble up the cliffs to watch, listen and do his best to find remedy for his negligence…provided it wasn’t already too late.  Probably would have done it, but for the logs that held him firmly in place beneath the bear hides when he attempted to rise.  Had forgotten about those, also.

By the time he’d wormed his way out of the bottom of the bed, evading the logs, he’d had time to rethink his resolve to make a trip up the cliff, and had talked himself out of it.  Wouldn’t do the feet any good, and he seemed to remember promising Liz that he’d take care to keep them healing.  Give them a chance.  Which it seemed as though they might still have, for despite pain that hit him like a white hot, smothering wave when in rising he inadvertently put a bit too much pressure on the blistered portions of the extremities, there remained that morning no telltale odor of rot, decay, and certainly no hint of the horrid, sickly sweet stench which almost certainly would have spelled the end for him, as well as for the feet.  Good news, and he’d better do his utmost to keep things headed in that direction.   The cliff was not a necessity; he’d simply got a bad case of the jitters due to spending so much of the last…well, he still couldn’t remember, for sure…in a shadowy state somewhere between unconsciousness and sleep.  Might well be other reasons for the not-quite definable anxiety he was feeling that morning, and he knew better than to fail to investigate, but it was in all probability not the pressing thing he had earlier taken it to be.

Liz was watching him.  He could feel her eyes on the back of his neck even if he could not see them in the pitch blackness of the early morning, and he stopped moving, hair standing up as he wondered how greatly he might need to fear the imminent application of the rabbit stick.  It did not come.  Finally he moved, and she moved also, hides rustling around her as she slid from the bed and crouched beside the stove.  Her voice was soft in the darkness.

“Where are you going?”

He didn’t answer right away, breath still ragged from the agony of putting his weight on the feet, instead shuffling over to the water barrel and gripping its side with all his strength as he lowered himself to his knees on the floor, Muninn taking an opportunistic swipe at his hair and coming away with a good chunk of what was left; not much, and he wished the critter would find another target for a while.

“Nowhere much.  Just…getting some water.”

She lit a candle, said she could use some water, too—had wanted to point out to him somewhat indignantly that they had plenty of water sitting right there on the shelf by the bed where it could be easily accessed without a fellow blundering about the cabin in the dark and freezing himself half to death in the process, but had thought better of it—and sat down beside him where he had ended up, back against the water barrel, legs out straight and hands clenched into tight, white fists in his lap.  She didn’t like the way his hands were all drawn up towards the wrists, elbows pressed hard against his sides; it didn’t look entirely natural, somehow.  Feet were hurting him—whole body appeared to be hurting, actually, judging by the odd way he held himself, and she wondered what was troubling him, how serious it might prove to be; perhaps he was simply sore and stiff still from his climb, but somehow she knew that wasn’t the entire story, and the uncertainty of it worried her—but she could see he wasn’t about to admit it.

“Want some more willow stuff to go with the water?  To help your circulation…”

Silence, eyes closed and head back, appeared to require a lot of effort to lift it, and when he opened his eyes to look over at her, he seemed to be having trouble getting them to focus.  Blinked and shook his head, gulped a hasty mouthful of water and nearly choked getting it down.  “No need.  Did all it’s gonna do in the first twenty-four hours or so, and the feet…think that stuff must have helped.  Feet seem to be doing better.”

“Well, how about for…there’s nothing wrong with having a little more of it just to…”

Einar smiled, shook his head.  “Not my way, Lizzie.  Not doing things that way.”

“No.”  She understood.  Did not necessarily agree, but it was his decision, and not one in which she had any business interfering.  Unlike some of his other recent decisions.  She had insisted upon the logs, the second helping of broth; he could refuse the willow if he wanted to.  He was more than likely right about the feet, she knew.  The blood-thinning and clot-reducing properties of the willow had probably done as much good as they were capable of doing, within the day or so after the initial thawing of the feet.  In offering him more, she’d simply wanted to reduce his pain.  If he did not want the same…

“Well, that’s up to you.  Breakfast is not.  I intend to see you eat a good portion of it just as soon as it’s ready, to be clear about things, and if you claim not to be able to eat due to the feet hurting…that’s when I just may have something more to say about the willow!  Either that, or do some talking with the rabbit stick.  Fair enough?”

Not really, so far as he was concerned--couldn’t help thinking that he would prefer the rabbit stick to more of the willow under the circumstances, figured if he refused the one he’d be pretty sure to meet with the other, and it was good to have a backup plan--but he certainly didn’t have the energy to challenge her just then, nodded and tried another sip of water.  Could barely get the stuff down without choking himself.  Stew was going to be a major challenge, but she didn’t need to know that, just yet.  Figured he might as well help her with the preparation, make himself useful around the place any way he could, and he crept over to the stove, began taking thin slices from the half frozen chunk of elk she’d set out to thaw.  Which reminded him.  He needed to get out and take inventory once more of the frozen meat that remained hung securely in trees outside the cabin, keep the two of them working to slice and dry it before temperatures warmed to the degree that spoilage became a concern.  Unlikely as it seemed after several nights of temperatures so far below zero, spring was indeed coming.

19 July, 2012

19 July 2012

No chapter today, but I will be back tomorrow with another.

Thank you all for reading, and for your words.

18 July, 2012

18 July 2012

Next thing Einar knew it was dark, entirely dark save the faint coal-glow on the wall opposite the stove, his feet hurt and he couldn’t find the coil of cordage he’d been trying so hard to finish.  Something definitely not right, bear hides weighing unusually heavy upon him and his eyes barely opening when he tried, feeling all sandy and slow in their sockets.  Needed water, that was pretty clear, remembered having a few sips of broth, urged upon him by Liz and all but poured down his throat when he’d professed his satisfaction with breathing the steam rising up off the stuff—foolish notion, would take you an awful long time to get an appreciable amount of water, doing it that way—but that had been hours ago, he was sure, and he needed more.   Tried to turn over, wanting to get himself over to the water barrel and satisfy his thirst before he managed to fall asleep again or simply to forget how badly he needed the thing, but he couldn’t seem to make any headway against whatever held him down. 

Beginning to feel trapped and a bit frantic, he wanted to fight it, flip himself over with as much force as he could muster, but was afraid that in doing so he might injure Liz or the little one, particularly if the weight that held him down proved to be as great as it felt.  Had to go about it another way, and he tried wriggling out from beneath the weight but found that the hides seemed held firmly by it on the only side from which he might have exited, Liz blocking him on the other.  He nearly gave up then on getting his drink, didn’t want to wake her but could tell further sleep would be a rather unwise idea should it happen before he got some water in him, edged a bit closer to Liz in the hopes of being able to crawl over her without causing a disturbance.  No deal.  Instead of Liz, he ran straight into another heavy weight like the one trapping him on the other side, and a bit of exploration told him it was a log.  Big one.  Could hardly roll it, when he tried.  Well.  He’d go out the bottom.  Only Liz woke before he could accomplish it, and instead of  helping him move one of the things, she sprung from the bed and added another log to the load.  This left Einar to shake his head and close his eyes, certain that he must be dreaming and wanting very badly to wake, as he really did need water and had little hope of getting himself up and moving so long as he was stuck in that goofy dream.

Liz wasn’t dreaming, placed the third log carefully and hoped Einar would fall back asleep before he figured it out but he did not, still struggling to sit up when she slid back in bed beside him.  He was wide awake by then and had no doubt about it, frustrated to think Liz might have intentionally done something to keep him trapped in the bed but his feet were keeping him from moving as quickly as he might have hoped, having to take care not to bash them on things in the effort, and before he could worm his way free, Liz had hold of him.

“Stay.  You’ve only just gone to sleep a little while ago, and there’s nowhere to go right now”

“Need water.  And what’s…”   He shoved at the logs, still trying to roll them out of the way without endangering Liz.

“I’ll get you the water.  Got some broth right here, actually.  Drink.  It’s not warm anymore, but not frozen yet, either, and neither are you, which is why I put the logs there.  You keep wandering away.   I wanted to have some warning this time…”

Einar did not understand, thought he probably ought to be indignant at her efforts but he was too dry and thirsty to be indignant, eyes clicking in their sockets now when he moved them, and he knew the rest of it must wait until after he’d had some water.  Or broth.  Would have to be broth, and he sipped it at first, gulping when he was able, until the pot was empty and he lay back exhausted and nearly sick with the sloshing weight of the water inside him, but confident that he was going to live, after all.  At least for the moment.  It would have to do.  Liz didn’t agree, was taking the longer view and in doing so, found herself inclined to leave the logs in place, especially seeing as they’d done their job the first time around, and continued to do so.

Revived significantly by the broth, Einar gathered himself and pushed away the log on the outside of the bed, sending it to the floor with a crash as he fumbled about for a candle, which he found and lit, squinting at the situation, at Liz, shaking his head.

“You were trying to …kinda keep me tied down here, huh?   Don’t need to do that.  I’ll stick around.  I’ll stay.  Not going anywhere.”

She moved the remaining logs, quickly contemplating the best course of action.  Had never wanted to force things on him, really, to coerce him, and she knew he was likely to react badly to any such attempt, but something was different that night, and she knew she’d better be sticking by her original plan, if she wanted to be able to discuss the matter with him in the morning.  He’d be unhappy, but would be alive and hopefully rational, and they would work it out.  “You always seem to be going somewhere, even when you’re not awake.  Can you really be so sure you won’t?”

He shrugged.  “All I can give you is my...intention.  Intend to stay right here.”

“Nope, that’s not enough.  You need to let me use the logs.  It’s either that, or tie a rope around your wrist and the other end around mine, but all things considered, the logs really did seem the better option…”

A shudder from Einar, hand drawn across his eyes as if in an attempt to clear away an unpleasant vision.  “Yeah, let’s skip that second one, why don’t we?  Let’s just skip the whole thing, actually.  Gonna have me afraid to sleep in the cabin here pretty soon, and seeing as I gave you my word I’d do my best to try and let the foot heal this time, that seems kinda counterproductive.  You’re a pretty light sleeper, with Will here and all, so how about you just yell at me if I do something you don’t care for in the night, and I’ll remedy it real promptly.  Ok?”

“But that’s just the problem!  You’re so sneaky.  Don’t make a sound when you leave, and here lately, you hardly even move the bed at all, so how am I to know you’re leaving?”

“Being sneaky is good.  Keeps you alive.  How about just don’t worry about it?  I’ll be here in the morning, just like I said I would.”

“You’ll be frozen in the morning, if you get up in your sleep and press yourself into the corner by the water barrel, or stretch out on the floor…frozen solid.  You’re not too far from that right now, just opening up the hides and letting in some cold air.  I can see you.  You can’t hide those chattering teeth from me, no matter how hard you try to clamp your jaw and talk all carefully and precisely, like nothing’s wrong…frozen solid, I’m telling you.  And that’s something I can’t fix.”

“Sure you can.  Just pour…pot or two of boiling water over me in that case, and I’ll be fine.  Reconstituted.  And mighty grumpy, besides, ’cause I don’t like hot water.”

“You’re awful.  Now lie back down so I can get those logs in place where they need to be, and if you haven’t disturbed any of them by morning, we can talk about doing something different tomorrow night.” 

Much to his own surprise as well as Liz’s, Einar went ahead and allowed himself to sink back down in the hides without further resistance, back towards sleep, even accepting the additional broth and the bitter drink of willow solution she insisted he swallow, not some doggone domesticated critter, here, not all tame and compliant, and don’t like being treated as though I am, but if he was going to protest it would have to be in the morning, for his awareness of the world had once more ceased.