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.

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