09 July, 2012

9 July 2012

Sometime the next morning, frigid sunlight spreading itself slowly over a fast-frozen world, Muninn the raven tired of sleeping all puff-feathered in his tree, shook himself, straightened a few ruffled wing-pinions, and hopped down to see what was taking his human companion so long to wake and give him his daily allotment of muskrat.  The man wasn’t moving.  Wasn’t even visible, body buried deep beneath a sheltering mass of spruce duff and the cone-leavings of what might well have been generations of squirrels, head thoroughly concealed by the hood of his parka.  Muninn saw something, though, a good-sized strand of grey-streaked black hair, long and wild and matted with spruce needles and sap, that the man had apparently neglected to pull into the shelter with him, and the raven took full advantage of the oversight, grabbing and twisting for all he was worth.  Nothing.  He tried again, harder, and the hair came out in his beak.  Not his intended result.  He couldn’t very well eat the hair, and now he was left with no way to get the man’s attention.  Well.  He would make a way.  Employing all his ravenly skill and cunning, the hungry bird mounted a fresh attack, rasping and croaking and tearing at Einar’s carefully-constructed bed until the man’s hat was exposed.  He pulled off the hat, twisted some more of the hair thus revealed and, still receiving no response, went to work on the parka hood, searching for the man’s face.  Found it, a dreadful shade of mottled purple-grey which would have brought him a good deal of alarm had he been human, but of course he was not, and being a hungry raven, simply wanted the man to be able to return sufficiently to his senses to be able to snag the two of them a bit of breakfast.  He knew life when he saw it, and wasn’t about to go giving up on the man, while there was still breath in his body, however faint and slow those breaths might prove to be.

Head exposed, Muninn went next for a spot just behind Einar’s left eye, pecking hard enough to have drawn blood, had much of it been circulating at the moment, and this time he was rewarded with a muted groan and a great, wracking shiver as a bit of life began returning to the man’s half-frozen body.  Encouraged, Muninn went in for another attack--no sense losing the ground he had worked so hard to gain; he could see this was going to be a long process, and meanwhile, he was only growing hungrier--twisting another lock of hair and this time, securing a stir of movement, a half-coherent growl as Einar tried but failed to go for his knife.  Too stiff to move, he opened both eyes and glared at the bird, relieved beyond belief that his attacker was none other than the raven, for in any other case, he would have been quite lost.  Still couldn’t seem to get much response from his body when he tried moving, one arm finally flopping to the side a bit after a great deal of effort, but that wasn’t much use, and deciding it had been a good deal better off in its initial position, he put out an equally exhausting effort returning it there.

Just beginning to become aware of his surroundings--the raven had made absolutely certain he did not begin again drifting towards sleep--Einar slowly began to take stock of his situation.  Had fallen asleep in the night, clearly, despite his efforts to stay awake, and it had indeed been far too cold in the night for him to safely have done so.  Quite a wonder he’d ever wakened again at all, after that one, and he was pretty sure that without the raven’s timely intervention--greedy vulture, you just want breakfast, and I know it--he almost certainly would have gone right on sleeping right through his own almost-inevitable demise.  Was probably still fairly inevitable, but being awake and more or less alive, he figured it was time to see what was left.  Tried moving his hands, discovering, much to his surprise and gladness, that he was actually able to do so, fingers numbed but not entirely immobile, and it seemed that, whether by blind instinct or grace or some generous combination of the two, he had managed to protect his hands reasonably well in the night, tucking them into the very center of the desperate little sinewy ball formed by his freezing body.

Feet hadn’t fared so well, it seemed.  Couldn’t feel them at all, would have to further explore the damage at some later time, once he was able to get himself up and moving.  Which was not going to be an easy task.  Incredibly stiff he found himself, starting to shake pretty bad now that he was awake and moving a bit, and Einar knew he must have something to eat pretty quickly if he wanted to make it very far into the warming process.  His first thought, strangely, was not of the provisions in his pack but of the muskrats he’d left hanging in the tree near his first bed of fir boughs, and determined to reach them, he struggled out of his bed, the bag, shoved hands into his mittens and tried to get to his feet.  Couldn’t quite manage it, stiff and uncoordinated and finally contenting himself to crawl.  Reached the hanging-tree at last, sat staring up for a full dazed minute at the hard-frozen meat in the boughs far above before somehow managing to lower the rats, and he sat right there where they fell, chewing and scraping with molars at the iron-hard meat of the first rat that came to hand, teeth chattering between bites.  Not making much progress--the stuff might almost as well have been cement--Einar finally tossed the rat to Muninn, who had much better success in retrieving its bits of frozen meat.

Huddling, fading, Einar might have gone back to sleep right where he sat, had it not been for the raven and his insatiable appetite.  Well aware of the jerky, fat and other edibles remaining in the pack the bird once more demanded Einar’s attention, keeping up his harassment until at last the man groaned, rolled forward onto his knees and stood.

Yeah. Better get moving, hadn’t we?  All this sitting still and gnawing on frozen dead critters isn’t gonna get us anywhere good, not on a morning as cold as this one.  Nope, not gonna get us anywhere at all.  Time to go home.  Which indeed it was, far past time, actually, but the homeward trek was far easier announced than begun--Einar still a bit surprised at the announcement, actually, for giving up halfway through his intended week of trapping was not a concept that generally would have even occurred to him--as he still had traps out in nearly a dozen different locations which must be checked and taken up, likely more muskrats and perhaps even a beaver or two skinned out and their hides scraped…besides which, he still couldn’t feel his feet, must tend to them the best he could and must find some way to get himself warming, too.  Was dangerously near slipping back into the half-frozen shadow land in which he had spend much of the night and from which he knew he’d be unlikely to have the energy to emerge, a second time.  Needed a fire.  Had been needing one for the past two or three days, but all the concerns which had prevented him from doing so over that time were still in effect, and he had no intention of changing his mind, now.  Might die, he knew, as a direct result of that decision, but if he made that fire and it was seen, bringing the enemy to the area…well, he’d probably die anyway, trying to hold them off, and then so would his family, when they followed his back trail up to the cabin.  Best stick with his initial resolve, let the movement of running his trapline do the warming.   Ha!  What movement?   He was barely able to manage a dazed shuffle.  Nearly as badly as he needed warmth from an external source, Einar knew he must have fuel to keep his internal fires burning, had managed no more than a bite or two of the hard-frozen muskrat and now he fumbled with the pack to which Muninn had been striving so hard to draw his attention.

Having eaten a bit more Einar’s head was slightly clearer, the precariousness of his position and the unlikely thing that had been his survival of that frigid night coming more clearly into focus, and from that position, his next course of action began making itself plain.  He had to go back.  Retrieve the traps if he could, leave them if not--no harm would come to them in the few days they’d be abandoned--and head back up to the cabin.  He’d be fortunate--blessed, really--if he made it at all, and knew he must hurry to begin the trek, before his feet thawed and slowed him further, before the killing cold of another night could come, and freeze the rest of him.

Muninn wanted more food, and he gave it, tossing the bird a chunk of pemmican which was very quickly consumed to a chorus of delighted chortlings.

“What do you say, critter?”  Voice rough, unsteady with cold, and Einar realized he’d had nothing to drink that morning; not good…  “Time to head up the hill?”

Muninn did seem to think so, emphasizing his agreement by hopping heavily up to Einar’s shoulder, a move which brought the unprepared man to his knees in the snow.  Remaining thus for a long moment--almost too long, for sleep was never far off, that morning--Einar shook his head, smiled grimly at the bird and struggled back to his feet.

“Guess we better get walking.”  No further mention of the traps.  They could--would--wait.  There was a tightness in Einar’s throat as he packed his few belongings with as much haste as stiff limbs and unfeeling hands would allow, some part of him rebelling at the thought that he was quitting, abandoning the trapline before his intended week was up and failing to give Liz the space she surely must need and want after the events of their past few days together, but he shook his head and set his jaw, started up the slope.  He would live.  Must live, if possible.  That was the choice he had made, and now he would do his best to see it through.


  1. Sounds like he was about to make "payment in full" on the farm.

  2. for petes sake, I thought that was going to be the final installment