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.