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.

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