31 August, 2012

31 August 2012

Einar wanted to go for her, charge down into the midst of the smoke and confusion that still reigned and carry her away, but knew it was useless, she was gone, or would be within moments…  Wanted to avenge her, then, redden the snow and the trees and the sky above with the blood of her murderers, take scalps and leave no one alive to return and tell the tale, and he probably could have done it, between knife and spear and rifle and having the advantage of knowing every nuance of the terrain, and would have, but for the child, her child.  Snorri must live, and Einar knew his chances of evading the enemy at that point were slim to none even if he left immediately and employed all his skill, and knowing, he ran.  Crawled, actually, inching back from the cluster of trees which tenuously shielded him from view and then, back in the heavier timber, took to his feet and ran for all he was worth, Will tucked snugly against his back and body soon close to failing him as he was forced face-to-face with the reality of his physical condition.  It didn’t matter, none of it did, the white-burning pain in his legs and the agony of exhaustion which soon came over him nothing to the knowledge that he’d done it again, he’d left someone behind, and once again there was no remedy, no way to trade places, no chance even for him to go back and end his life valiantly battling the ones who had done the deed, for the child must live, and in order for that to happen, so must he…  If he could.  Did not like the feel of his own heartbeat beneath his ribs, weak, fast, chaotic, prayed that it might go on doing its thing as he pushed himself with all he’d got left to put some distance behind him…

Running, plotting, he had no time to mourn Liz, a great emptiness within whenever he thought of her; he’d lost people before, knew what it meant, but never had anyone been as close to him as she’d somehow mysteriously become, a part of his soul and now she was gone, and whenever his mind strayed in her direction he very deliberately turned it another way; there would be time later for mourning--if he lived through the next few hours.

Choppers in the air, terror all around, and he knew they’d see his tracks, if he left them, no timber heavy enough to prevent that snowy trail being spotted, even if it effectively covered his retreat as seemed to be happening, but because of a most fortuitous combination of spring snow conditions--hard as cement in the morning, at least on the surface, mushy and rotten in the afternoons once things had warmed--and Einar’s low weight, he was able to skip across the surface like a fox, passing as a soft-footed lynx, barely leaving a mark.  Miles he covered in this way, brain refusing to acknowledge the fact that his body was tiring, failing, driving him onwards and somehow managing to keep him on his feet until he’d climbed well over a thousand feet above the cabin-plateau and crossed four rocky, near-vertical couloirs, pressing himself into one of them, hands and feet at times braced against its walls to prevent his falling out, and following it higher still, coming out on a slope so densely timbered with gnarly, close-growing little firs and spruces that he could in places scarcely weave his way between their black-barked forms.  Only then, far from the action and out from beneath the bulk of the air activity, did he finally allow himself to fall to his knees for the first time since the raid, breath rasping painfully in his throat and heart skipping and thumping with such erratic chaos that it made his chest hurt, seeming to compress it from all sides and render him entirely unable to get his breath.  He got it though, somehow, stumbled back to his feet and went on, falling at times against the trees for support and making far less progress than he’d done before, but he was still moving and that was what counted, snow still hard as cement there beneath the deep, cold shade of the evergreens as he moved without leaving track or trace of his passage.

Will was hungry, had taken to setting up a thin, questing wail whenever Einar stopped moving, which was happening with increasing frequency, and at his next stop he fished about in the pocket of his pants for the fragments of jerky he always kept there, found one and broke off a piece to soften in his mouth, sliding Will around to the front and freeing him from his shirt, keeping the mountain goat hide around him for warmth.  The jerky was soft.  Not the sort of food the child was used to living on, but Liz was gone--gone…don’t go there, not now.  Little guy needs you--and Will had to eat, so when he had got the jerky chewed to a pulp he took some on his finger and gently offered it to the child, letting him smell it, touching it to his lips and silently rejoicing--or as near as he could come to it, at the moment--when Will enthusiastically recognized the stuff as food, experimented with its texture in his mouth and swallowed, wanting more.  Einar gave it, chewing and sharing nearly half a slice of jerky before the little one began losing interest, apparently satisfied for the time.

“Just like a wolf, little one,” he croaked, voice a dry rasp after all the desperate miles that lay behind him.  “This is how a young wolf gets his first taste of solid food, and it’s gonna have to work for you, too.”

Only then, stowing the remaining jerky carefully back in his pocket, did he think to wonder what might have become of Muninn the raven.  Had seen no sign of him. The bird would have been badly stunned by the blast, overcome, most likely, by the gas and smoke which followed it and he was probably dead on the floor of the cabin, trampled under their boots…and without wanting to he saw Liz where she had fallen, vivid as life, only there was no life in her, closed his eyes and scrubbed the back of a hand across them, but to no avail; it only intensified the image, left him seeing her eyes, the last glimpse he’d got of them when she saw him hiding in the trees, saw Will and made her decision…  It might have been a good thing if Einar could have cried then, allowed himself to acknowledge his loss just a bit, but instead he sat with his own eyes dry and glazed, stone-faced and silent, empty, calculating, planning their next move as he stoically chewed more jerky for Will, never thinking to swallow any for himself…

He nearly froze, that night.  Finally, dark upon them and the terrain too treacherous to allow for nighttime travel, he sought shelter beneath a particularly dense grouping of spruces whose boughs had led to a sparseness of snow beneath, digging down through the drifted whiteness until he found a pile of cone fragments left by squirrels in the summer, deep, soft and mostly dry, and in it he placed Will for what he supposed would be a sparse two or three hours’ rest before starting out again.  Will was restless, coughing a bit from the lingering effects of the gas and, Einar was certain, missing the warm comfort of his mother’s presence--that makes two of us, little one--and he did his best to ease the little guy’s distress, feeding him all but the last little fragment of the jerky and melting snow between pressed palms, dribbling it into the corner of Will’s mouth until he’d had a fair amount.

Time to sleep.  Will had settled down, Einar himself barely able to hold his head up now that he’d quit moving, and he spread the heavy warmth of the mountain goat pelt beneath the little one, tucked it over him for shelter and curled his body around the little nest like a shield.  Large and overlapping, the pelt’s edges served somewhat to protect Einar from the cold that night, but it was nowhere close to enough, and he shivered dreadfully in his single-layer wool shirt through the entire rest, forcing himself to stay awake, listening, watching in the darkness and ending up nearly too stiff to move by the time a faint greyness began creeping down the sky and he was ready to start out again.  Will was warm, but unhappy even after Einar fed him, and it took some time for Einar to realize that his diaper was wet and soiled, had probably been so for some time and he stared for a moment in helpless frustration at the protesting child, not knowing what to do.  Only he did know, had helped Liz with it a hundred times and began searching the overhanging evergreen branches for the soft dry usnea with which she had been stuffing his diapers, found and collected a good fist full of the stuff and proceeded to take care of the problem, tearing a patch of cloth from the bottom of his shirt to replace the damp piece of hide which had held the moss in place.

They were out of food, and the child must eat.  Frequently.  Tucking Will into the back of his shirt and rising stiffly to feet that seemed to have partially frozen in the night--he dared not remove his boots to check, not just yet, but an odd insensible woodenness in the lower halves of both feet spoke of the likely damage--he hobbled out from beneath the night’s sheltering trees and squinted at the flat, grey light of a heavily overcast and restlessly windy morning; storm coming, was almost upon them, and he was glad.  Some hope for us, Snorri.  Our only hope really, for your father is slow, a clumsy, halt-footed creature with half a brain and they’d have us eventually, but the snow gives us a real good chance.  

Fresh-looking rabbit scat marked a place where the animals passed without more than a faint scratch here and there over the hard surface of the snow, and Einar followed the trail hopefully, right time of day, and it wasn’t ten minutes before his eye was caught by a slight motion in a tangle of willow scrub over on his right, flicking of a rabbit’s ear, and he froze, watching, easing his knife into his hand and, when the animal hopped tentatively out from behind the screen of brush, spun it across the snow, taking the rabbit in the side of the head with its heavy handle and temporarily stunning him.  Einar was on the fallen rabbit with all the speed he could muster, wringing its neck before it could wake and take off again and crouching right there in the snow to skin it with trembling hands.  Will was voracious in the absence of his accustomed meals of milk, and Einar fed him some of the rabbit’s fresh, warm liver, chopping and mashing it very finely, melting and warming snow against his own body with which to mix the paste--shivering, praying for his meager warmth to be allowed to go on, life continuing in his body, for Will needed it--and using the rabbit’s hide, flesh-side up, as a vessel in which to mix the meal.  The remainder of the animal he slung over his shoulder for later, again forgetting to eat any, himself, as he made a slow, stumbling return to their shelter-tree.  What had begun early that morning as a few wind-driven flakes had progressed quickly to a near-whiteout, closing in all around them and rendering safe travel in that terrain all but impossible.

They would travel later, when the wind slacked off some but snow still continued to ground aircraft and cover their tracks, and he rejoiced at the fury of the storm, knowing that it dramatically increased their chances of successfully evading detection and capture.  Secure in this knowledge, he would have curled up for an hour or two of much-needed and reasonably satisfied sleep…had it not been for a keen and growing awareness of their situation.  Freezing under his tree as the whiteness swirled more and more heavily around them outside, Einar did his best to shield Will with piles of cone debris and with his own body, pondering, assessing, enumerating their possessions, which included nothing more than his knife, rifle--heavy, carried with much difficulty on the climb, slung over his shoulder but too valuable to abandon--pouch around his neck with its fire starter and tinder, wolverine claw necklace and the coil of cordage he always kept with him…hadn’t even had time to grab his parka, gloves, hat, and figured he was blessed indeed to have slipped into pants, shirt and boots before prowling about the cabin that past night.  Not that the rather inadequate clothing was likely to make too much difference in the end, not against the blinding, freezing fury of this storm…

30 August, 2012

30 August 2012

Though slightly irritated at Einar for having apparently gone out of his way to end up wet and cold on the hike, Liz was generally pleased with the results of his having been required to carry Will.  The responsibility had seemed to help keep him on track and more thoroughly connected to the world around him than he might otherwise have been, and as she helped him free the little guy from the parka-pouch in which he had ridden, she resolved to let him do more of the carrying.

Cleaning the single rabbit which the trapline had that day yielded, Liz elected to add it directly to a stew rather than freezing it with the other game that lingered in their cache-trees, fresh meat always being welcome and their goal, after all, being to dry all of that meat ahead of the coming warmer months.  Einar, while she worked and after finishing his midday allotment of broth, stew and cedar berry tea, started on his own project, spreading out rifle, pistol and all the ammo Bud had brought, sorting, cleaning, pondering, and when she asked him what he was doing, he just stared blankly at the wall for a while.

“What are you up to?  Going hunting?”

Still no answer, Einar silent until he’d settled in his mind a question that had been bothering him for some time.  “No, not hunting.  Need to cache one of these weapons in case somehow we end up needing one and unable to return to the cabin, and I’ve been going back and forth for weeks on which one it ought to be.”

“Well, the pistol’s handier to carry, but I guess depending on the circumstances, you might want the rifle, instead.”

“Yeah, that’s my dilemma.  Was always more comfortable with a rifle in my hands, really, but that’s why I want it stashed away out there where we could get at it if anything went wrong here.  Can’t use either one out here in daily life, can’t risk making the noise, so I figure it’s probably best to stash the rifle nearby, keep the pistol on me at all times and count on using it to fight my way to the rifle, if it ever comes to that.”

“I know you’ll miss having the rifle around here, since I still see you every day using it in your exercises and spending a lot of time looking downrange with it, and dry-firing, but what you’re saying does make sense.  How do you plan to store it?

“Long skinny willow basket, willow tube, you might call it, waterproofed with pitch, and before I slide it in there, I’ll wrap in in a well-greased hide to protect it some from humidity.  Not gonna bury it, just hide it up in a tree probably like we’ve done with a lot of the jerky.  Someplace not too far from here, real accessible but far enough so that if we have to run, or come home one day to find the place…taken, we’ll still be able to get at it.”

“Sounds good.  If you get the basket done, maybe that would be a project for tomorrow, instead of the trapline?”

He nodded.  “Sure,” and went back to work, weaving furiously at the storage tube, his concern over their situation having grown significantly as he thought about it, about how complacent they really had become, in comparison to his first couple of years on the run, when he hardly spent the night twice in the same place and covered miles each day.  A good life it had become, and more suitable for a child’s first year than would the constant movement have been, but it had come with its dangers, too.  When finally the day ended and Einar crept into bed--unwilling, wanted instead to creep up into the cliffs and stand watch for the night, but he had promised Liz--it was with a sense of tremendous unease that he at last gave himself over to sleep after hours of lying wide awake and listening at Liz’s side, body full and satisfied after her carefully-prepared supper of rabbit stew, but mind more uneasy than it had been in some time.

When they came, it was with no warning.  No great crashing of thunder or rumble of rotors betrayed the small team that worked its way with extreme caution and only slightly less speed up the backside of the red ridge and over, dropping quickly down into one of the numerous timbered draws, steep nearly to the point of not being navigable, which led to the basin.  Pausing frequently to check the more obvious approaches for booby traps but finding none, the men gained confidence as they went.  Had been watching for weeks, eyes so high up in the sky as to be invisible to the subjects down below, un-detectible, and the men had learned their routine, knew roughly what to expect and knew, with the exception of some nights when the male subject spent hours wandering about the clearing and nearby woods.  That past night, according to their information, had not been such a night, everyone in the cabin right where they ought to be.  Contained.  Neat and tidy.

Considering past failed attempts to capture Asmundson and the disastrous losses incurred as a result, a drone strike had received serious discussion in the week after, with the help of satellite imagery, the identity of the cabin’s residents was confirmed, but the idea had ultimately been rejected. Aside from obvious legal concerns should the matter ever become public--hardly an insurmountable obstacle in the present political climate, but still something to be considered--was the fact that the raid, if done in such a manner, would have to be kept quiet, and so far as the public would know, Asmundson might still be running free up in his mountain kingdom.  Which was, on a public relations level, nothing short of unaffordable.  The man had to be taken--alive if possible, and if not, at least semi-intact so his demise could be publicly extolled and exploited.  A job, considering past history, more suited to an elite military unit, but wanting to keep matters in the family, the Agent in Charge had called on the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team to carry out the task.

Einar might have slept right through the entire thing, had it not been for the dreams.  They had been tormenting him for nights, worsening, it seemed, even as his body began to do a bit better with the influx of more food, and as a result his sleep had been light, restless, slightest sound snapping him to a wakefulness so acute as to be almost painful if he didn’t get up and wander for a bit to settle it, and it was in this way, looking out through the crack they’d taken to leaving in the door overnight for a bit of fresh air, that he happened to see the shadows, knew them immediately for what they were, and acted…

They hadn’t known about the tunnel. Somehow, they hadn’t known, had thought the tiny cabin a one-door affair, but Einar knew about it, had planned for this day since before they’d been living full-time in the cabin and had gone thorough all the possible scenarios in his head, immediate action drills in which he defended against just such an attack, and though most of them had him drawing fire, covering his family’s retreat and almost certainly losing his life in the process--acceptable trade; he expected no less--this morning it did not go that way, drawing fire not even an option as he found himself unable to see Liz in the chaos of gas and smoke they’d sent in through the shattered front door, ears ringing from the blast, unable to find her, feeling Will and grabbing him from his bed--wrong, all wrong, it was supposed to be Liz doing this, he protecting the two of them as they fled to safety, his life for theirs, but things don’t always go as planned--wrapping him in the mountain goat fur for protection and shoving the little bundle down into the back of his shirt, after which everything centered around being where the bullets were not, for the bullets were starting to come, shielding the little life that wriggled wide awake and somewhat indignant against his back.  Eyes stinging, lungs acing and throat trying to swell shut with the burning acridity of that gas, Einar scrambled his way out of the tunnel and stumbled before he knew it back against the cliff, feeling it before he saw, gasping raggedly at the fresh, spruce scented air, blinking hard as he made for the timber at a low run, searching for Liz but seeing no sign of her.

No one back there, no enemy.  Strange.  Figured surely someone would have been covering the back, but they must not have been or they’d have had him already…and then he realized that he was being covered by their own smoke where it rolled dense and white out of the tunnel behind him, and soon enough they’d notice, as well, and would be on him…

 Hearing a commotion out front, he dived for the cover of a nearby cluster of small, close-growing firs, lay pressing himself into the earth, rifle trained on the scene down below as he sought frantically any sign that Liz was still there, hoping she’d made it out but seeing nothing to indicate either way.  Needed to go back for her, had to go back, couldn’t leave her behind to face whatever fate might await her in the hands of the enemy, but he couldn’t do it, not with little Will on his back.  His own life he would have willingly given for a chance at rescuing and freeing her, but her son…must not be carried back into the line of fire.  He could leave the child, come back for him after, and was about to do so, wrap him tightly in the hide so he couldn’t crawl away and stash him amongst the rocks where he would be shielded until the action stopped but something caught his eye, motion down below, and it was Liz, and she was running, meeting his eye, seeing Will, nodding and then very deliberately cutting in the opposite direction, running back towards her pursuers, who had finally breached the dissipating wall of smoke and they’d seen her; he counted twelve shots before finally she fell…

29 August, 2012

29 August 2012

After using the remains of the ermine, suspended temptingly where they would move and twist in the wind, as bait in a bent-tree snare for the bobcat, Einar and Liz moved on to the next snare site, finding it empty and the one immediately beyond in the same condition, but in the fourth they were pleased to discover a rabbit, large, healthy and undamaged by scavengers.  The creature appeared fairly freshly caught, and when Einar got stiffly to his knees in the snow, he found that it had not yet even frozen.  Definitely from that morning, then, and he was glad they’d come along when they had, in time to save it from becoming lunch to a bobcat or marten.  Crouching there on his knees after resetting the snare, he remained still for a long moment, very conscious of Will on his back as he struggled hard against a wave of dizziness which threatened to throw him to the ground and, when finally it passed, left him badly disoriented and feeling rather sick.  Liz had to help him up.  She hated to be wearing him out like this when he could be back in the warm cabin eating, resting, perhaps even sleeping, but had feared the result of keeping him closed in for too long, even if with his outward consent.

She’d seen what could happen, and had supposed a bit of fresh air and exhaustion every day--for there seemed nothing at all between stillness and utter exhaustion for him those days, no middle ground, and probably wouldn’t have been, even had he sought it--must surely be preferable to his coming, after three or four days of confinement, to a point at which he could no longer restrain himself from fleeing the cabin to lie concealed beneath the spruces until he froze nearly solid in the snow--or something worse.  Knew it might happen despite his sincerest intentions to the contrary, and did not want to see that day arrive.  So, trapline it was, and guiding him by the arm until he seemed to have regained a bit of stability on his feet, she continued to the next set.  The entire trapline was no more than a mile long, incredibly short as such things go, but just the right length for that day’s excursion, so far as Liz was concerned.

By the time they reached its far point and doubled back along the path which would lead them past several additional snares on their way back to the cabin, Einar was stumbling along like a man in a dream, eyes wide and staring but not seeing nearly as much as he would have liked, surrounding landscape barely registering as he struggled to maintain his balance and avoid falling asleep on his feet.  Hated it, the incredible weariness and malaise that had come over him, and despite knowing how ultimately counter-productive it would be, he wished with a fierce intensity for a return to the sharp-edged desperation of hunger and privation in which he had spent so many of his past months, and which at the moment seemed so far preferable to the slow, sleepy haze which had come over his body with the re-introduction of larger quantities of food, every fiber of his being crying out for sleep, for slowness, for rest and repair.  Pointless to be wishing for such, he knew, for a return to his old state of being; Liz would never let him have it back, and even if she had, the thing was an imposter, the beautiful, crackling immediacy it lent his surroundings merely, he knew, a final mercy by which a dying man’s senses were sharpened so that he could hopefully do something to remedy his situation.  If a person didn’t use the gift for its intended purpose, act on it pretty quickly and get something to eat--which usually he didn’t, experimenting with the thing, fascinated, trying to see how far he could push it--obtain some energy from one source or another, its brilliance would soon fade, world cast in a flat, grey dimensionless light and full of whisperings, shadows, black, terrifying things that left him entirely unable to trust his ears, eyes, stumbling about in a daze and jumping at things which weren’t necessarily even there, narrowly missing one fatal encounter after another, or at least believing he had…

He’d been there more times than he could count, and it was not a good place to be.  Especially not with little Will on his back.  So perhaps he ought to be glad of the dull, slow heaviness that now sat on his shoulders, trying its best to press him into the earth.  He supposed, though it did not feel so at the moment, that it was simply a sign of his body beginning the work of repairing some of the damage he knew he’d done to it, calling on all his energy for the effort and leaving little to spare on such extraneous activities as slogging through the snow.  He tried--without too much success--to be grateful.  

Nearing the cabin once more, and Einar shook himself awake, pausing, glad Liz had a bit of a lead on him and was not near enough to see, to scrub a big double handful of snow across his face in an attempt to bolster his alertness, dropping the stuff down the front of his parka after and leaving  it to melt.  Another big scoop of the soft, almost slushy stuff he stashed beneath his hat to melt, and was soon not only wide awake but painfully so, shivering and aching with cold and about as far from drowsiness as he could hope to get, a good thing, for he never liked to approach the cabin after a time away in any other  state, lest he miss some evidence of tampering, of an unwanted human presence around the place.  No tracks, the place appearing safe, and he was glad.  Had, with the obvious approach of spring, been growing more concerned about the length of time they had remained stationary in the basin; a good location to be sure, and one in which he really wouldn’t have minded raising children, watching the seasons pass and living out the rest of his life, outside circumstances notwithstanding, but the fact remained that he was a wanted man, ` hunted creature who could forget his situation only at great peril, and he’d remained in one spot for far too long.  Yet it had been a good spot, a place for the two, and then the three of them to snugly and securely see the coming of the child and live out the storms of winter, and they’d done it, and he now found himself reluctant to ask Liz to leave what had become her home, especially with Will still so young.  They had to be prepared to do so though, more prepared than they were at present, or the day would inevitably catch them unawares and with nowhere to turn.  Needed, in addition to the further caches they would with the receding snow be working to fill with jerky and other supplies, pre-arranged locations where the two of them could meet up again if separated, rally points both near the cabin and far, far from it, as the chances of keeping together if responding to a sudden raid were, he knew, slim to none…

Einar shook his head, started moving again, only then realizing that he’d stopped in his tracks in contemplation of the thing.  Yes.  Needed to be making some plans, but first he’d better get himself back to the cabin before Liz returned up the trail after him…but it was already too late, for there she stood, appeared to have been watching for a while, and he--just now realizing the fact--shaking uncontrollably with rattling teeth and ice water streaming down his face from the large clump of melting snow beneath his hat…

Will found the whole thing quite humorous, laughing from his perch on his father’s back, but Liz did not, scolding him roundly as she tried to hide her smile--goofy guy, seems he’ll find a way to turn himself to ice one way or another, no matter how hard I try--and sending him inside for a pot of warm broth.

28 August, 2012

28 August 2012

Remainder of the day passing in relative peace, Liz tending to Will and Einar working on small projects around the place--repairing a damaged food basket, adding to his most recent length of cordage, staring, from time to time at the wall and wishing he was out in the snow--darkness descended and supper was fixed, the three of them gathering around the stove for the meal.

Seeing that the ongoing pain of cleaning and dressing his still-recovering feet was adding somewhat to his difficulty in managing the meals she put before him, Liz after supper made a strong solution of willow bark, sweetened it with honey to take off some of its sharp edge of bitterness, and added it to his pot of juniper tea.  Ready to gulp the tea down as he had been doing, Einar immediately smelled the difference and stopped, glancing accusingly at Liz when she looked his way.  She made no effort to deny the change.

“Yes, it’s willow.  Go ahead and drink it.”

“Why willow?”

“You know why.  It’s to help your feet.”

“Already done all the good it could do for the feet days and days ago.  I don’t have any new frostbite.  Don’t need a blood thinner.”

“Alright, if I have to spell it out, the willow’s not so much to help the feet as it is to help you.  Your existence.  You might deny it, but I can see you’re in a lot of pain, and I think a big part of it has to be the feet at this point, hasn’t it?  I can see that it makes it hard for you to eat sometimes and, it seems to me, causes your mind to slip more easily into places where it really doesn’t need to be right now.  So if there’s any way to lessen it…”

He shook his head.  This was where he drew the line, absolutely, definitively; she wanted him to eat, and he was, to stay warm, but when it came to intentionally altering his perception of the world…he returned the pot to her, a definitive “no.”

“Einar, It’s just willow.  Not going to do you any harm, make you sleepy or groggy or anything like that—just let things hurt a little less, maybe.  That’s all.  Why can’t you do this?  Why do you have to hurt all the time?  Can’t you just…exist?

“I don’t think so.”

She let it be at that, not wanting to press the matter further just then but knowing she would probably have to sometime in the not-too-distant future.  He was indeed eating, doing a fine job so far, and she didn’t want to interrupt the course of things by being too insistent about the willow.  Setting it aside--for later; she intended still to do her best to prevail upon him as to the wisdom of taking it--she prepared him a fresh pot of juniper tea, watching as he gulped it down with a slight shudder, and she couldn’t blame him.  The stuff didn’t taste too terribly bad, especially when sweetened with a bit of honey, but it did have the unfortunate effect, in addition to helping the kidneys keep functioning efficiently enough to cut down on the swelling, of inducing sweating and a slight fever every time a significant amount was taken.  He kept at it though, had so far not complained in the slightest at the discomfort, and she was glad.

The following morning before dawn Einar lay face-down and fast asleep in the bed, warm and for the first time in what seemed a very long while not in pressing, immediate danger of dying in his sleep for lack of nutrition--the starving body has a way of working to salvage itself even in sleep, bringing Increasingly restless slumber and thoughts of food through the night, waking a person and urging him up to find something to eat, though Einar had seldom possessed the energy to do so of late, even if he’d had the intent--when Liz’s voice reached him soft but insistent through the heaviness of the hides.

“Wake up!  Time to get up!  We’re running your trapline this morning, and you get to carry Will.  Let’s go!”

He didn’t immediately respond--wanted to, but sleep still lay too heavily upon him--and she plunged her hands beneath the hides, icy from the morning chill of the cabin, found him, tracing across shoulders and down his spine so that he shivered, smiled, rolled over to face her, grinning.

“Well now that’s a pretty fine way to greet the day!  If I go back to sleep, will it happen again?”

“Thought you might like that…but no.  We’ve got work to do, places to go, and I was jut trying to see if you were still alive, in there!”

“Oh, I’m plenty alive.  Getting up.”  Which he did, rolling from the bed with such enthusiasm that, legs unexpectedly failing him, he hit the floor shoulder-first with a great crash, sprawling for a moment in such a tangled, twisted heap that the sight would have proven quite comical had Liz not seen how it pained him.  Einar quickly got himself straightened out, sat up and rose shakily to his feet.

“See, you’ve spoiled me already, because usually I’m the first one up with no trouble at all.  Getting all soft and lazy here, and we’re not even two days into this thing…”

“Lazy is definitely not the word I would use, not something I ever thought of applying to you…  But don’t worry.  You’re not going to have any time for laziness this morning, because we’re about to leave.”

“Leave?  Thought I heard something about the trapline, but had pretty nearly convinced myself I must’ve been dreaming.”

“Nope, not dreaming.  Better get your boots on, because I need you to carry Will this time, and it’s a lot harder to get into your boots, with the little guy on your back.”

“He’ll fit just fine in my parka, even though it wasn’t made with a baby-carrying pouch like yours.  Plenty of room in there.  Just have to tie a wide strap of some sort around my chest to keep him from slipping too far down, and it ought to work just fine.”

“Yep, I figure you could probably get three or four little ones Will’s size in that parka with you, but we’re working on that.  Before too many months, maybe it’ll actually start fitting you, for the first time!  Which reminds me.  Will and I have already had our breakfast, and I’ve kept yours hot on the stove.  Elk steaks and stewed serviceberries.  Better hurry up and eat, so we can head out before too much more of the day slips by!”

“Don’t know that I can eat too fast this morning…maybe a good idea to wait until we’re back, so I won’t be weighed down while we…”

Weighed down?  That’s not funny!  Now you sit right down here by the stove and have your breakfast, or there won’t be any trapline!”

Later, a quarter mile above the cabin with Will on his back and Liz breaking trail, Einar’s legs felt heavy, entire body so leaden that he feared finding himself unable to continue, but already Liz was pulling far ahead of him and he struggled to keep up, Will speaking soft, mysterious words on his back and Muninn chortling overhead as his own breath and blood sounded so loudly in ears and head as to nearly shut out everything else, and had he been alone, he might have sunk down in the snow for a rest.  That, or, angered at his weakness, driven himself until he fell face down in the whiteness and could rise no more, but he could under present circumstances do neither; Liz was counting on him to keep up, and Will very much needing him to keep on his feet for the duration.  It was a difficult balance to reach, but he managed somehow, arriving at the first snare mere steps behind Liz and standing with one arm braced against the small spruce which shielded the set, puffing and panting for breath and blinking away a sudden blur that rose before his eyes to see her working to free the remains of an ermine, snared two days prior and mostly devoured by some roving scavenger.  Which scavenger, he saw upon closer inspection of the ground, appeared most likely to have been a mid-sized bobcat, tracks circling the area and a few tatters of white fur all that remained of the ermine’s carcass.  A definite risk when one couldn’t make daily checks of a trapline, and Einar felt badly about losing the creature, but supposed bobcats had to eat, too--and they could always make an effort to add the cat’s pelt to their collection of warm furs.

27 August, 2012

27 August 2012

Well, really thought I'd be able to prepare a chapter for today, but it didn't happen.

If you want someone to blame, you can blame the big cinnamon bear.  And her cubs.  Oh--and me, I suppose, since I'm the one who actually does the writing...

Will have one ready for tomorrow.

RememberGoliad said...
I read much deeper into Einar's character and his estimate of his wife. I'm talking about when he told her, without conditions or caveats, "...I'll do it [your way]." 
I have said the same thing, and would say again, about anything, to my wife and meant it as fully as Einar means it when he tells Liz. 
Next chapter we find that Einar is: 
"imagining a future in which she rendered him quickly and efficiently unconscious several times each day and then poured soup down his throat until he was bursting"
Chris, Einar has a conflict here. Do you see it? He clearly loves Liz and Willie as much as, or more than, life itself. IF his love for Liz is as deep and strong as he has apparently allowed it to become, then he wouldn't have any problem with placing his life in her hands. 
He needs to realize that Liz loves him equally and as fully and strongly, and begin to.... trust her :)
The full pledge I gave my wife is this: I promised that I'd do for her whatever she asked, because I judge her character and love for me to be such that I fully trust that she'll never abuse that offer of mine, nor ask something of me that wouldn't be proper (morally correct, good and beneficial to furthering our life) to ask. THAT is the kind of relationship we have, and from what you've conveyed of E & L's relationship, I see it as very close to the same. 
Einar needs to recognize that doubt for what it is, and accept that he is a good man, good enough for such a good woman, and further, that she would no more hurt him than he would hurt her, in ANY way. Once he sees that and begins to truly look at the jewel he took into his life, he'll be able to accept her ministrations without falling into his funks brought about by his own self-doubt.
Fantastic story, has it REALLY been going on ten years?? I guess so.... I got caught up in it during Montani Semper Liberi, and I expect I caught you about halfway to this point. That was back in 2009. WOW. "Thank you" isn't nearly enough!

No, it hasn't been 10 years.  Four, I think, though it probably seems more like 10, to those who have been wading through my writing!  :D  Thank you, and the rest who are still reading, for sticking with the story!  Your persistence is greatly appreciated!

A lot to think about in your post, here.  I believe Einar and Liz really do have a relationship similar to what your're describing, and in most things, he has come to trust her entirely.  But he has a very difficult time anyone--even her--fully, as he's always wanting to hold something back, even when he doesn't know he's doing it.  I don't know how he is to get past that.  Perhaps just make a conscious decision to do so?  Really don't know.

Thanks for your insight!

26 August, 2012

26 August 2012

She did not have much to say, would have liked something a bit more definitive from him, some recognition that he needed to do the thing for himself, as well as for the two of them, but she doubted he was capable of recognizing such, let alone admitting it, saw how much it had cost him to make the concession he had just done, and found herself tremendously grateful at the opportunity it presented.  Concerned, too, that things might go badly for him if, in assenting to her will, he ceased the sometimes-desperate struggle which, she was sure, had at times quite literally been making the difference for him between life and death.  Well.  No sense worrying too much about such things now, for she was pretty sure he would have been gone within days if left to his present devices, and now at least there was some hope of getting things turned around, and she took both his hands in hers, pressed them briefly to her forehead before returning them to their owner.  

“I’m glad you’ll do it.  It’s the right thing, really is.”

He nodded, wanting to argue already, to resist the notion, but keeping quiet.  Did have to know one thing, though.  “You’re not gonna knock me out again, are you?”

“Not unless I have to.”  And he could see that she was entirely serious, no discernible hint of humor in her eyes as he glanced a bit suspiciously from rabbit stick to cooking pot, imagining a future in which she rendered him quickly and efficiently unconscious several times each day and then poured soup down his throat until he was bursting; an unpleasant thought, and not his sort of unpleasantness, either.  Not the kind of thing he’d go for, and he shuddered at the thought that he’d just agreed to it--or to whatever else she might have planned.  

Not to worry, he told himself.  She’ll want you conscious.  Can eat a lot more and a lot faster that way and besides, surely she must realize that despite your hard head, over-use of that rabbit stick might lead to some unfortunate and unpredictable results--like your not waking up at all, one of these times.  She doesn’t want that--I don’t think--so you ought to be pretty safe.  Yeah…the thought did not appeal to him…safe.  It’s over, man.  Over.  Might as well be in prison, about now, that’s how safe you’re gonna be.  Which was indeed the way he saw the whole thing, some part of him, at least, still wanting very badly to resist, but he turned on that part with an inward snarl, commanding it--unhelpful creature!--to be silent.  He’d given Liz his word, and intended to stick by it, even if the doing killed him.  Which it probably would, if she got too aggressive with the meals she intended to push on him.  Well.  An adventure, then.  Perhaps not the sort he’d become used to expecting, but really, isn’t that the best sort of adventure?  The unexpected sort, the ones which require courage and daring and a commitment so fierce as to have one doggedly pursuing a thing against all of his better instincts…  Yeah, the best sort.  He would have to hope so, because it was definitely too late to be turning back.

He nodded to Liz, “not unless you have to.  Fair enough,” rose and got into the warm clothes she was holding out to him.  Had to conserve energy, she told him.  No sense eating more, only to have it all shivered away into the chilly air of the cabin as his body struggled to keep itself warm while he provided it no assistance whatsoever, and he could see her logic, but somewhat resented the inclusion of such things in her plan.  She’d mentioned having some say in what he was eating, drinking, had never said anything about smothering him under furs and hides and such, but he had to admit that the additional garments did feel good, after a fashion, eased somewhat the dull, pressing ache that had seemed to have settled cold, solid and unshakable in his bones of late, and though this left him even more determined that they should go—strange logic perhaps, but it was his, had always worked for him and was the way he lived his life—he settled in and allowed the hides to do their warming work, determined not to break his word to Liz before the process had even been properly begun.  She saw his struggle, was not without sympathy but still insisted on the sweater and hides.  He simply wasn’t going to be making much progress if some things didn’t change, at least for a little while, and she knew it was in both their interests to keep that while as short and compressed as possible, jam as much change and repair as she could into those days.  Might prove more unpleasant that way for the both of them, but at least perhaps it would not go on long enough to drive the two of them thoroughly insane.  One could hope not.  She couldn’t imagine it would take too much, at that point.

Einar sat there looking out of place and uncomfortable in the comfort of the warm hides—which, she had no doubt, he was, in some strange way—still and stolid in his determination to comply, to keep his word to her, but visibly almost cringing at the touch of the furs against his body, which was far more accustomed of late to the touch of the hard, rocky ground, to snow and freezing and the purple-skinned, stiff-muscled stiffness of  yet another night spent barely warm enough to keep body and soul together, and she could not help but smile at him, shaking her head. 

“What’s funny?”

“Us.  We’re funny, and life is funny, and now I guess we’d better talk about this just a little bit, so there are no surprises for either of us, don’t you think?”

He shrugged.  “Up to you.”

“Well, I basically want  to see you eating two or three good-sized meals every day from now on, broth and snacks whenever I fix them for you, and you’re going to have to keep off the trapline for a while and stay reasonably warm most of the time too, both day and night, for this to work.  Warm by your standards, not by mine.  I’m not going to smother you or make you ‘roast,’ as you put it, but constant, chronic hypothermia isn’t going to work either, and you’ve got to admit that’s how you’ve been existing on and off for months, now.  I know you say you enjoy the cold, like being cold and that it helps you get through life, and I don’t doubt that and really don’t want to take it away from you, but what you’ve been doing lately…well, it’s just too much, and it’s getting in the way of what you need to be doing for yourself.  It’s hurting you.  Harming you.  Yes, I know those can be two very different things, and one doesn’t always coincide with the other, at least to your way of thinking, but right now, it’s definitely harming you by using up energy your body needs to start repairing itself, not to mention putting you in immediate danger of not waking up again, one of these times when you go to sleep.  So, no more freezing for a while.  That, and some juniper berry tea now and then to help keep your feet from swelling up as your body gets used to taking in more food, and that should just about do it.  That’s the plan.  You alright with that?”

“And if I wasn’t?”

Rabbit stick.”

“Ah, guess I’d better try and be good, then,” and something in his tone struck them both as so comical that they burst out laughing nearly simultaneously, Einar sliding off the bed and onto the floor and Liz soon joining him there, tension of the moment broken and the two of them enjoying one another’s company once again…though for how long, neither could guess.  It was going to be a difficult road.

Comments from 25 August

Very sorry about the weird formatting here, I'm posting from the road today and can't seem to get this thing to work properly...

We'll see how long THIS lasts. Thanks for writing!

Not too long, hopefully, or it may kill him...  
(Which was mostly meant as sarcasm, if that was not clear...)

Anonymous said...
Make hay while the sun shines Liz! Get him as healthy as you can before he feels the need to test himself again! 
I'm quite sure she'll be trying...

Philip said...
Great continuation of the current plot line (minus the Department of E. Bunny, inc.)I think the one thing that always makes me ~happy~ to com back, is seeing Einar's ever present Growth... sure, sure sure, sometimes it is three steps forward, TWO steps back.... but really, Hanging been reading this series now, for Ten Years, ;) I really feel Einar has Potential!
lets see:
He hasn't KILLED anybody for about a year now.... that is a great improvement on his Social Skills...
He is being a ~lot~ more interactive with his communication.... sometimes he even Speaks to Liz, or Snorri.... Why even Munion gets good treatment more often....
Yes, all in All, I think .... given, another Ten Years of writing, Einar will almost be a full fledged Human Bean, err being... ;-)
(can you tell I am over my frump)? 
I may even start posting at ~the Tree~ again....
BTW, I got a great ~gifting~ this week: a $180.00 pair of Gore-Tex Danner's, for $50.00, hardly used at all, no heel scuffed away, leather in great condition... just need breaking in to ~my feet~, I really don't think they have any ~trail miles~ I wore them today for church... well I also had on pants and a long sleeved shirt, of course, but they were nice! and I think I will wear them tonight, when I mow my lawn!!!!

Philip, glad to hear that you've been reading, and not hanging--things do tend to work better that way.  :D
And glad to see you back, too!  Yes, I can tell that things must be going somewhat better for you. 
So, you think maybe another 10 years, and Einar may find himself close to becoming a genuine human-critter?  Sounds optimistic to me, but you never know!  Think he'll probably always be a little wild.
Yeah, guess it does perhaps mark an improvement in social skills when he hasn't killed anyone in over a year--though that's mostly a matter of circumstance, and the fact that Bud Kilgore was, on his last couple of visits, somewhat stronger and faster than Einar...and I suppose he does manage to speak a bit more often to Liz and Will and even the bird, so perhaps there is some hope for him yet.
Hey--good find on those boots!  You can hardly find better boots--I'd be wearing them to church and everywhere else too, I do believe.  :)

25 August, 2012

25 August 2012

If Liz had expected him to be angry, she was mistaken.  He was, if anything, perhaps a bit incredulous at first, especially as he came to realize that he had never made it up to the tree at the dropoff at all; that, too, had been part of a dream, just like the sequence in the jungle.  Both of them imposters, constructs of his busy but hardly trustworthy mind.  When measured against this reality, the circumstances under which he had come to miss going on that trek--Liz’s quick action with the rabbit stick and his subsequent kidnapping and confinement in the bear hide--seemed to him almost immaterial.  Not only had he failed to live out his resolve to get himself up that slope and spend some time under the tree as he had concluded he very much needed to do but, perhaps worst of all, he had not upon waking been able to tell the difference.  No wonder his fingers and feet had shown no additional signs of frostbite--he’d been sleeping all that time warm and oblivious in the bear hide, and he bitterly reproached himself for it, despised the weakness of mind and body which had made possible such a slip and began devising, in silent, calculating rage, means by which he might begin to make amends.  Must not rest until he had done so, could not trust body or mind not to betray him again, and this, considering the high standards to which he strove to hold himself, was entirely unacceptable.

Liz wished he would be angry.  Outwardly, obviously angry, shout at her, throw something across the room like an ordinary person might have done under such circumstances, go storming outside for a while to cool off in the snow…well, not literally; an ordinary person wouldn’t have literally done that, but of course Einar would…  Not that any of these reactions would have been ideal, and she supposed any one of them might have scared her a little, but she would have found them better than the dull, defeated look that had crept into his eyes at her telling of the thing, and far preferable indeed to the silent, dangerous gleam which had welled up with slow, implacable certainty to replace the dejection, a hard, deadly thing which she knew she lacked the ability and strength of will to counter.  Yet, she was not shaken from her course.  Had set out to keep him alive and remained determined to do so, if he was at all willing.  Which he had repeatedly asserted that he was, had clearly fought with tremendous courage and resolve to keep going when all the odds had been against him, and had more than once won, but lately there had certainly been times when his actions left her in some doubt as to his real desires and intentions.

Now, in addition, she worried that in keeping him against his will in the cabin for the night--and then telling him about it, though she’d had little choice in the matter, as he had clearly begun figuring it out for himself--she would have only hardened his resolve, in the end, to test himself as had been his original intent.  Which, this time, would probably be the end of him.  Well.  She could only do what she could do, and now she rose, brought him some more broth, hoping he would drink it, hoping to somehow interrupt his quiet but incredibly resolute progress along the path she could see him starting down, a path which led with some certainty to that barren, blackened tree up by the overlook, and likely to his own dissolution.

He did not take the broth.  Appeared to be deep in thought and indeed he was, decisions to be made and actions to be taken, and he wished very much that he had his spear in hand, something solid to lean on, as so often he did, as he thought, but it was out in the tunnel--an un-closeable distance at the moment--so he settled for his knife, somewhat alarming Liz by pulling it out and driving it into the floor before him, still silent, still pondering, calm demeanor belying the fact that he felt himself increasingly trapped against a wall with nowhere to go.  Desperate.  Must fight.  Must free himself.  He knew what to do when trapped, had always known what to do, instincts sharpened and reflexes reinforced by years of testing, and now he must do it again, reclaim what had been taken from him in his involuntary detainment and in all the days before that, and stand.  He stood, ready to do it, ready to dare her to try and stop him if she voiced any objection, silent challenge on his part, of course, as he had no words at the moment, and he saw that it was unneeded, anyway; she wouldn’t do it, had laid the rabbit stick on the bed and sat there unarmed, empty-handed, a deep, wise sadness and a terrible resignation in her eyes.

Einar shook his head, sank to the ground there beside the door and looked again at Liz, not meeting her eye.  Ashamed.  She was not a wall, some obstacle to be overcome.  She was the mother of his child and the woman he had traveled with over so many miles and who he loved--though why she returned that love, he could not begin to fathom--and he’d been doing her wrong.  Doing both of them wrong, she and the little one, though of course it had never been his intent, ever; he’d only wanted to stay strong in the only way he knew possible, to provide, to fight his way through life as he always had…  And it had not been the right thing.  Not for them, at least, and by continuing to insist on having the thing his way, he would only be prolonging the injustice.

Knew what he had to do now, and the prospect scared him, held a terror far stronger than had his impending visit with that snowy tree and all the dark, agonizing memories that he’d known would seize him during its course, hold him so that he might never find his way back out again…more dreadful than most anything he could think of, actually, for it involved a surrendering of himself, of some part of his will and his sovereignty to another, and it took all his strength to swallow a pressing desire to run, leave the door and seat himself on the bed beside Liz.

“You were saying earlier…you had a plan, things you wanted me to eat every day, to do, to drink the juniper tea…  Well, I got to say that it had me kinda riled up to think you’d have things all planned out like that…”  he took a big breath, hands spread and eyes on the floor, slowly raised them to meet hers, and she saw that they were still, unwavering, entirely present if a bit wild and frightened, quite unlike him.  “But I’ll do it.  Got to do something different, and my ideas…well, you see where they’ve got me.  Not fair to you guys, so…I’ll do it.”

24 August, 2012

24 August 2012

No chapter for tonight, but I will be around this weekend to post chapters.

Thank you all for reading, and I always appreciate your comments, too  :)

23 August, 2012

23 August 2012

Einar sat down on a snowy log--partly to ponder and partly because he suddenly found himself quite unable to go further unless he wanted to resort to crawling--barely even feeling the cold as the melting snow came up around him, and stared up through the slight opening in the timber where his trail ought to have been.  It hadn’t snowed in the night, had not, from the look of things, been so excessively windy as to have drifted over and obscured such an extensive section of tracks, especially there in the shelter of the timber, and it wasn’t making sense to him, none at all.  Perhaps he’d taken another route?  But there really was no other route, not unless he’d wanted to push his way through deep, unpacked snow and heavy trees--not entirely unlikely, as he had, after all, been seeking a challenge--but still he would have left tracks, and there were none to be seen.  Must’ve been out for longer than he’d thought, after arriving back.  It seemed to offer the only possible explanation, would account for his tremendous thirst and might, conceivably, have given the snow time to fall, drift or otherwise obscure the trail he knew must have been there.

Yep, that had to be it.  Unconscious for a couple of days, and he shook his head at the thought of Liz having to deal with that, with him, did not like it at all, but it seemed better, somehow, than the only alternative, the one that had been lurking black and evil and ready to spring in the corners of his mind ever since he’d laid eyes on the lovely, pristine snow of the untouched path up to the spring, which was that perhaps he had never gone at all.  That would explain some things, too.  Like why his fingers and toes seemed no worse for the wear after what must have been, despite his lack of memory for the particulars, quite the extended ordeal in his present condition.  He would have expected some damage, would have accepted it and treated the affected areas as well as he was able in an attempt to minimize the lasting harm that might result, but upon inspection when he’d wakened a while ago, not only had there appeared to be no further cold damage, but his feet had actually healed a bit during the interval.  That was definitely not right, and though he’d been able, earlier, to overlook it as one of those pleasant if inexplicable surprises which life sometimes throws a person, it now only furthered his suspicion.

Had got to talk with Liz.  She would know.  But, how to approach the matter?  Hated to let her know that he’d so misplaced himself within the tangled, twisted fluidity of time and space as to need her help retracing his own footsteps, he, a tracker…but saw no other way to obtain the information his mind now sought with such singular intensity that he knew he’d be able to focus on little else until the riddle should be solved.  At present he knew only what he remembered, and aside from some vivid impressions of his struggle against the secure binding of those nettle cords, of wind and cold and the rough bark of that old limber pine--and some equally vivid ones of the jungle--that was not an awful lot.  If there was shame in asking Liz to help him fill in the details, perhaps more existed in carrying on without being certain of his own whereabouts and actions, over the past day or two.

He didn’t have to wait long to speak to Liz, as she had grown concerned and followed him, taking a seat beside him now on the snowy log and silently lamenting the fact that his knees stuck out bony and trembling from beneath the undersized deer hide with which he had haphazardly wrapped himself, gone quite purple in the melting snow as he sat there apparently quite oblivious to his own shivering, little trickles of icy water tracing their way down into his boots.  She wanted him inside again by the fire, the sight of him almost leading her to regret having freed so soon from his bear hide wrapping, rubbed his knees, draped her own parka across them.  Wished he’d thought to wear his own, but such things seemed rather beyond him, at the moment.  At least he’d remembered his boots.

“You’re really freezing.  I can’t leave Will alone for too long, not with him trying to squirm all over the place, now.  Are you coming in, or am I going to have to hit you again?”

He gave her a bit of a lopsided grin, put a hand to the knot on his head and glanced around for the rabbit stick but didn’t see it.  “Again?”


“Huh.  Probably take…lot more than that if you want to keep me down.  But no.  I’m coming.  Just trying to figure…can’t find my tracks from yesterday and I can’t seem to remember...”

“Come on in, and we’ll talk about it.”

He went, glancing over his shoulder for any sign of the tracks he surely must have left on the way up to his night-long vigil, but still seeing nothing.  Inside, Liz did not seem particularly anxious to discuss the matter and he, still rather abashed at having to request assistance in remembering the details of his own recent comings and goings, found himself more than content to start in on a fresh pot of broth, instead.  When he’d finished, she brought him stew.  Thick stuff with lots of rabbit chunks, and a leftover hotcake to clean out the pot when he was done.  Einar shook his head.  Remembered eating four or five of those cakes earlier in the day, and it had been too much, far too much, days’ worth of food for him, and he must not have any more.  For days, preferably, and he told her so.

“That’s an excuse.  You’re using your feet as an excuse.”

“Swelling’s real.  Makes my boots not fit.”

“It’s real, yes, but you’re using it as an excuse to go back to starving.  Yesterday when I left you alone with Will, I was out digging in the snow for some of the little sub-alpine cedars we have up here.   They were buried pretty deep, but I found them and collected almost a pound’s worth of the berries, so I can make you tea.  They’re not juniper berries, exactly, but are very similar and should help keep the swelling from getting too bad, since you’re going to be drinking two or three cups of it each day.  We’ll try that for about a week, along with the meals you’ll be eating, and see how it goes.”

Einar opened his mouth, closed it again and glanced at the still-sleeping Will as if hoping the child might have some answer as to what could be going on, all of a sudden.  Which he did not seem to have, but Einar needed an answer, alright; not only had he failed to find any physical evidence of his nighttime ordeal, but now to top it all off Liz seemed to have quite relentlessly seized control of his eating and drinking, and--what could possibly come next?--before he knew it she’d probably be telling him when to breathe, when to blink, if he didn’t get things figured out in a hurry.  She was returning to the stove for more broth, but he got a firm grip on her arm, nodded to the empty bit of floor beside him.

“You said we’d talk once we were in here, and it’s time to do that.  Now just how did I come by this knot on the side of my head…?  Things aren’t adding up, not at all.”

Comments from 22 August

Philip said… 
this week, I think I am over the hump, had peaceful, full night sleep... but I have done zero today, other than breakfast, and then a continuation of sleep.
I did have a good talk with VA employee, who scheduled my annual physical, which I requested yesterday: 18 minutes of which 15 were on hold, and they ~still~ patch ALL local calls, to Roseburg, ~for our convenience~ I made a better Phone System in TayNinh, RVN... 40 years ago... than Roseburg's mess of wires called a telephone system!
I asked for a ~certain~ dept recently, got a different dept. called Operator, his reply: oh, they ~are in~ the same ~Room~
Well so is the morgue & custodial care.... in another part of the building.... "Mop & Bucket needed on aisle 3" "This is the morgue speaking, is it alive or NLB"? (no longer breathing)
heh, Roseburg VAMC if they did my autopsy, I would be afraid they would wake me up!

Glad you finally got some good sleep, hope that continues.

Sounds like a real hassle on the phone yesterday.  I hate making phone calls, which is why I don’t have one of the things in the house.  :D

Nancy134022 said…
That is just what I thought Liz should have done months ago. Good for her. LOL

Well, guess she finally got fed up.  Maybe not a good thing, though!

Thanks for reading.

22 August, 2012

22 August 2012

They did not then further speak of the matter, either of them, Liz helping Einar out of his confinement in the bear hide before returning to work on the pot of stew she always seemed to have going and he, still confused, wondering in addition to everything else whether he had somehow cut his vigil short and returned in the night, or if instead he had remained out all night as had been his intent, perhaps taking the entire next day to work his way back to the cabin after.  That would explain the present darkness in which the outside world appeared solidly enveloped, though when he flexed chilled fingers and did his best to move a few toes, it did not seem that he was suffering the additional cold damage he might have expected after such a night out in the open.  Strange, all of it, and he closed his eyes, tried to breathe away a bit of the dizziness that was trying to creep over him.  Head hurt.  Figured he must have fallen, which was no great surprise, and there seemed, when he thought about it, a dimly-remembered impression of his repeatedly rlamming his head into some stubborn and rather unyielding surface, which would go a great distance in explaining both the hurt and his ongoing confusion…  Drooping a bit in dizziness, his head made contact with the wall, and he remembered, and was almost sick right there on the floor before he could get hold of himself.  Cage.  That’s what had done it to him, or he to it, solid and repeated contact with his head as he’d attempted to use every meager means available to him to try and escape…  Suddenly he was much too warm beneath the still-draped bear hide, struggling to throw it off and Liz helped, wiping some of the sweat from his face and offering him a drink of water, which he eagerly accepted.

Again, holding a damp cloth to the side of his head where an ugly purple knot marked the spot where her rabbit stick had done its work she asked for his forgiveness and he--who really, he knew, ought to be asking it of her--simply nodded and finished the water in one big gulp, nearly gagging--too much at once--but managing to choke it down.  Felt as though he hadn’t had anything to drink in days, and for all he knew, he might not have.  Or to eat, either, and though not feeling exactly hungry after the events of the past while, Liz was urging him to try some soup, and it did indeed seem a wise idea as he was feeling dreadfully dizzy and unstable the longer he went on sitting up, fighting hard to keep from falling.  Yeah, must need to eat, and he took the pot, sipped at its contents but avoided the larger chunks, intuitively knowing that he’d be in serious danger of choking if he tried them, just then.  Besides, there existed a strong likelihood that consuming too much of the more solid chunks would lead to his lower legs and feet swelling as they’d been doing  of late, a situation he had been trying very hard to avoid.  Perhaps trying too hard.  It was all seeming a bit less important now, the trapline, making sure his boots would continue fitting so he could maintain it on a daily basis…after the ordeal of the past night, it seemed he could be a bit more flexible about these things, did not necessarily have to push himself so hard, at least for the time being.  Liz must have noticed the look of relative peace and relaxation on his face--yeah, “resting in peace,” figure I’ve got to be pretty close to that about now--and taken it as a sign that the time had come to really push matters, for she was crouching down beside him with what appeared to be a plateful of freshly-made lily or spring beauty root starch hotcakes, dripping with bear grease, smeared with serviceberry jam and still steaming from the stove, and though he knew it would likely prove quite a mistake to indulge in any such, he took the plate.

“Looks like you’ve been busy.”  Voice was a dry croak despite all the water he’d just consumed, further evidence, it seemed to him, of the length of his ordeal out in the snow--couldn’t remember the details, nothing of the trip up to the tree and even less of his return, though the hours in the middle stood out quite vivid in his mind so that he shivered at the thought of them, edging a bit nearer the fire and wondering once again how he could have managed to escape further damage to his extremities, as he seemed to have done--and he tried a bit more broth in the hopes of making himself more easily understood.  She’d had no trouble understanding, though.

“Yes, thought it was time we both had some breakfast, and since you were asleep for so long, I had time to soak some of these dried berries and make jam to go with the pancakes.  They sure do get nice when you stew them with a bit of honey, don’t they?”

Einar had to admit that the jam did, indeed, both look and smell pretty good, and when at Liz’s further urging he came to try a bit, found that it tasted even better than it smelled.  Before he knew it he’d managed to devour three of the hotcakes and a fair quantity of jam, Will by that time done with his own meal and playing happily once again on the floor, rocking back and forth on hands and knees in an increasingly strong effort to propel himself forward and begin exploring the place on his own.  Almost appearing to know what the little one wanted, and how near he was to achieving it, Muninn hopped down to the floor and watched Will with unwavering black eyes, tilting his head this way and that and chortling his encouragement to the little fellow as he did his best to move forward.  Einar, watching with equally rapt attention, added to Will’s incentive by breaking off a small piece of his fourth hotcake, holding it near enough the little one’s nose to allow him a good sniff and then setting it very deliberately just out of his reach.  Will, who had indeed begun in recent days showing a bit of interest in “big people” food such as the hotcakes and jam, set up such a rhythm of movement that he succeeded in losing his balance and dumping himself face-first on the soft hide, from which position, frustrated but not in the least discouraged, he dug his bare little toes into the buckskin and pushed himself forward until the treasured crumb was very nearly within his reach.  At which Muninn promptly darted forward and seized the morsel, quickly making it disappear and leaving Will to stare in baffled wonder at the spot where it had been.  Einar laughed, lifted him back to hands and knees.

“You’ll get it, little one.  You’ll be crawling soon enough, and by then, maybe you’ll be ready to taste some of this stuff, don’t you think?”

Will answered with a series of rather insistent-sounding utterances which spoke of a resolute determination that Liz recognized as his father’s, even without understanding the words, but Einar neither heard nor made answer.  Sent off to sleep as effectively by the sudden influx of food as he had been by Liz’s quick action with the rabbit stick, he lay slumped over against the bed, where he passed the remainder of the morning’s dark hours in quietness, wakened just after first light by the remnants of a vivid and rather disturbing dream.  Raising his head slowly--still hurt something awful--and glancing about the cabin in the dim light of a long-neglected candle, Einar saw that Liz and the little one were dozing in the bed, Muninn fast asleep on his perch, and he rose a bit unsteadily, braced himself against a wall and ducked into the tunnel.  He needed water, a bit of fresh air to hopefully help clear his head, and once he’d stood out in the biting dawn chill for a few minutes allowing himself to finish waking and shake a bit of the dizziness from his aching skull, he set out purposefully for the trail which led up to the spring, and his tree.

Having grown increasingly puzzled and a bit disturbed at his inability to remember the walk in either direction that past day he hoped to find his trail, expecting to read in the first few yards of it part of the story, jog his memory, but when he looked, there were no tracks heading in that direction, none at all…

Comments from 21 August

Philip said…
CHRIS !!!!!!!
If this is what you write, after a week or so ~off~, by All Means, take another week ~~!!!!!!!~~
I mean, WoW!!! Intensity time 10 !!!!
besides, ;) weall weant to know what Mike has PLANNED for the E. Bunnies ~knowledge~ ....
But Oh, before you go out again... please just Ten more Chapters just as exciting???? please?
philip who gives this days post a Ten Star rating... 39 stars, if you count the ones Einar is still seeing!

But…if I take another week up in the woods, things will probably just get more intense in the story, when I return!  Probably will be taking off again here before too long actually, but will be around for a week or two to write and post chapters, first.

I, also, want to know what Mike has planned in the Saga of the Energizer Bunny.  :D

Thanks for reading; hope this week is going better for you than the last.

21 August, 2012

21 August 2012

When she returned, Liz was glad to see Einar so much more alert and awake than when she’d left him, Will on the floor and visiting--apparently happily--with his father, but her relief was short-lived, the look of steely resolution and distance in his eyes putting her on alert.

“You’re going somewhere, aren’t you?”

He told her.  All of it, from Will’s hard-earned escape from the basket to his own near-miss in catching the little guy, why it had happened and what he believed he needed to do about it.  Liz shut the door behind her, sat beside him on the bed and lifted the baby, studying his bed-basket in a show of trying to determine how to make it more tip-proof, but in reality she simply wanted a reason to delay answering Einar.  Could not delay forever though, and in the meantime, he was going on with his preparations for leaving.

“I understand what you’re wanting to do, but please can I help you instead, right here?”

“How can you help?  Won’t work unless I’m alone.  Got to be alone for this.”

She was somewhere between exasperated and irate, and, for once, let it show.  “Oh, live alone, struggle alone, freeze and die alone in the snow on a mountaintop tied to a tree striving valiantly with your ghosts for one last time and maybe finally making peace with them…that’s all well and good if you’re alone, but you’re not alone anymore, Einar.  Your son…”

“Not going up there to die.  I’ll be back.”

Maybe you will.  I know you’ll do what you must, regardless of my suggestions.  I’m just asking you to give this a try.  Stay and eat and let your body gain some strength, see if that improves things for you…surely you know it would have to help!”

Einar shook his head.  Had no desire to get into it with her yet again, try and explain why his strength this time must come from something more than soup and warmth and all the things she was with such well-intentioned but misguided intensity attempting to push upon him.  Didn’t know that he could put it into words which would speak to her.  Was done speaking of the matter, anyway; mind was made up, and all that remained was to get himself into his boots, if he could, and go.

Liz was done talking, as well.  His mind might  be made up, clearly appeared to be, but it was also malfunctioning, she was sure, if he was convinced that a visit to that tree was the best course of action just then.  She waited, sitting serenely on the bed beside Will, while Einar struggled into his boots and chose a deer hide, wrapping it loosely about his torso--the only protection he was allowing himself to carry against the frigid night to come, and she doubted he would use it at all--and heading for the door.  Which is when she struck.  It was a dangerous thing to do, quick as his reflexes remained despite his debility, but she had judged well and acted with a swift decisiveness which left little room for response, and there was none, Einar dropping with a lifeless thud to the cold earth, front half sprawled out in the tunnel where he’d been headed.  She pressed a quick lump of absorbent usnea lichen to his head where the force of her blow had loosed a slow ooze of blood, took him by the boots and hauled him back inside--forgive me, Einar, I did it for your son, and I hope you will be able to see the necessity of it, when you wake--rolling him inside the larger of the bear hides where, with the help of the hot rocks she intended to slide in after him, he could hopefully begin warming.   That task done she lashed him securely into the bundle with the bulky coil of nettle cordage he had recently completed and took a seat on the floor with her back to the door, rabbit stick at her side and a fresh batch of soup beginning its slow simmer on the stove.

He woke, struggling in the darkness, couldn’t break the strong cordage lashings which held him in place against the rough, icy bark of that twisted old tree, and he might have been afraid had he realized just how cold he’d become out there in the wet and the wind, but he did not feel the cold and there was no fear, only a black, sightless rage that rose from somewhere deep within him, for the bonds were no longer the ones he had applied, necessary hardship intended to bring him strength through struggle, but those forced upon him by his captors.  Fighting for breath in the cramped, stinking humid heat of that bamboo cage he fought them with all his fading strength, striving with a fury which after several minutes left his chest hurting and breath coming in ragged sobs, world dark around him and still he could not free his arms or bring legs down out of the horrid, cramped position into which his enemy had contorted them.  Couldn’t seem to make the least progress, body held all but immobile by the combined strain of that cursed position and his own exhaustion, so he struck out with his head, the only thing over which he seemed to have much effective command, slamming it furiously into the tightly-lashed but somewhat flexible surface of the wall, determined to break his way out, destroy the hateful confinement of that cage and fall to the water below, even if it should prove the end of him, but succeeding only in rendering himself fairly quickly and efficiently unconscious.

Einar was warm, and that was wrong.  Knew it was wrong, for he lay there in the snow where he had fallen when, apparently responding to the intensity of his struggle with what he’d believed to be his captors’ bonds--a dream, all of it, hallucination, something, for here he was in the snow, alone in the bitter night--the nettle cordage holding his wrists had given way, and he fought to open his eyes, but could not seem to get them to heed him.  Dying.  Wondered that he should even be aware of his plight, far gone as he must be in the hypothermic haze which would have quickly come over him as he lay unconscious in the snow.  The sense of warmth and well-being which now surrounded him were so real, so present that for a moment he contemplated the possibility that perhaps Liz had come along in the night and found him, taken him somehow back home to the cabin and got him warm, but he knew better than to fall for such a ruse.  The whisper of death was in its words, in the quiet comfort which bade him remain still, rest…knew he must fight it while he still possessed the capacity.  If.

No room for “if.”  Had to return to Will, and again he fought, limbs apparently so numb that he couldn’t begin to feel the snow when he rolled to the side and buried his face in it, attempting to take a bite, wanting to get himself a bit of hydration…  No success.  Couldn’t seem to get his mouth open and couldn’t swallow, anyhow, throat far too dry for such machinations, so he’d just have to do without water for the time, push himself somehow to his feet and close the distance, make his way home.  More struggling, long time passing and in it great intervals of blackness during which he felt again the nearly-irresistible call of the cold, of the snow, sleep, sleep here in the softness of my embrace, no need to fight…  Yet he fought, for still he was aware enough to know it as an imposter, but no matter the strength of his struggle he couldn’t move, couldn’t get his body to budge, finally passed out again despite valiant efforts to the contrary, God, help me, hold me up and let me stand, I need to return to my son…but his only answer was blackness, more blackness; he was near the end of his strength, past it, and surely this time it would be the end…

Light, and somehow in a desperate push whose details were entirely lost to him he must have made it, for there was Will, staring at him with those great grey eyes in the light of a single candle as he struggled to rise, to sit, Liz with him and the cabin walls all around, and it was achingly, unbelievably good to be home, if dreadfully unlikely...  Still Einar could not do much to move arms or legs, and he realized that sometime between his struggle in the snow and the present Liz must have got him wrapped up in a bear hide, for there it was all around him, bound around his body like a cocoon and warm rocks pressed tightly to chest and sides within the bundle, and he was beginning to thaw…

She--sliding from the bed and coming to sit down beside him--looked into his eyes, her own appearing somehow immensely wise and sad as she pressed a gentle hand to the side of his head where a trickle of blood had appeared with the exertion of sitting up.  “Forgive me…”  and he had no idea what she could mean.

20 August, 2012

20 August 2012

That afternoon Liz fed Will, made sure he was dry and happy and tucked in for one of the short naps he’d recently become willing to take while not in someone’s arms, and left the cabin.  She didn’t tell Einar where she was going, simply squeezing his shoulder on the way out and mentioning that she’d be back in time to feed the baby before the next time he needed a meal.  Einar certainly hoped so, jarred out of a chilly near-sleep where he sat leaning against the water barrel by the realization that he’d been left alone with the little one.

Getting himself with some difficulty to hands and knees he crept over to the sleeping Will, watching his quiet breathing and listening for Liz’s returning footsteps through the snow, but hearing nothing.  Now, what had she said?  Surely she’d given some reason for her departure, but he could think of none.  Just hadn’t stuck in his brain, and the raven, roosting comfortably on his perch near the water barrel, was certainly proving no help.  Wouldn’t say a word.  Somewhat baffled, Einar figured she wouldn’t stay gone long, surely not, having left Will behind, but so long as she was gone, he had better be doing his best to stay awake and keep an eye on things, not leave baby and raven to their own devices, especially with Will becoming increasingly mobile and able, fairly consistently, to work his way out of his basket if not interrupted in his strivings.  For the moment he remained asleep, tucked snugly beneath the mountain goat hide with only face and tiny hands showing, and Einar was glad.  Cold in there, and he checked the stove, adding a log to help prepare the place for Will’s waking, wanting him to be able to fairly comfortably creep about as he had been doing of late--not too comfortably, though; Will was a child of the high mountains, born into a harsh and unforgiving environment, and the fostering of undue softness in his nature would, Einar was quite sure, only be doing him a disservice--raising himself and rocking back and forth to strengthen arms and legs against the time when he would crawl.

Hovering briefly over the newly fueled stove, Einar took a moment to warm his own badly numbed hands, not wanting their chill to be too startling to the little one should he have to pick him up.  Wouldn’t do to have Liz come back and find him crying inconsolably and thinking it his fault.  Didn’t work too well, the warming, only left him shaking harder than he had been, before, as his body sought desperately to begin returning itself to something more like a normal temperature.  No use.  He’d never make it there, so why allow the process to begin, in the first place?  It would leave him a trembling and near-useless mess for the following two or three hours, he knew from past experience, and he couldn’t afford that, not with Liz gone and he the only one there to care for Little Will.  Well, there was the raven.

“A lot of help you’d be though, wouldn’t you, Muninn?  Would you bring him food and keep him covered up against the cold and all?  Hardly think so.  Guess it’s gonna have to be me, until she gets back.  Where is she, huh critter?  Where’d she go for so long?  Want to go out and look for her, let her know that I’m in here watching this little one, and will do my best with it, but sure don’t know what I’m supposed to do it he wakes up hungry?  Go tell her, huh?”

The raven simply tilted his head and chortled as if in mild derision, closed his eye and tucked his beak back beneath a wing.  Einar shrugged, backed away from the stove, arms briefly wrapped around his middle against a series of violent shudders that had seized him under the influence of its warmth.  Didn’t do a lot of good, and before long he found himself curled up on the floor, blinking hard against a welling blackness and struggling simply to get his limbs to un-cramp themselves sufficiently to support his repeated attempts to rise once more.  Took a long time but he managed it, creeping unsteadily to hands and knees just as little Will, awakened by the sounds of his struggle, did the same, the two of them swaying precariously from their newly-gained positions, Einar on the floor and Will in his basket, eyes level with one another.  After a good minute or two of grave, silent staring a bit of a lopsided smile began twisting a bit of the grimness from the corner of Einar’s mouth, at which Will began giggling and gurgling and carrying on so that Einar, the intense concentration which had been allowing him to keep upright momentarily broken, tumbled back to earth in a crumpled, laughing heap.

“Quite a pair we make, the two of us.  You just learning to get around and me sometimes fighting tooth and nail to keep it up…where’re you going, anyway?  Wanting to get out and explore the wider world a little, right now?  Well, I’m all for that, but how about you just give me a minute to…”  blackness again, and this time, focused on Will, he hadn’t been ready for it, hadn’t prepared, and it overtook him, slammed him to the ground so hard that when he got his eyes open and cleared the next moment it was to find blood trickling from a deep gash on his cheekbone, and Will’s basket quite inexplicably tipping towards him, seemingly of its own accord.  Reacting even before he could quite comprehend what was happening, or why, he made a quick roll towards the basket, catching Will in his arms a fraction of a second before the little one would have met the rocks around the stove head-first.  Will still laughing--he was, in fact, rather proud of himself, having been trying for days to get the basket to move sufficiently to allow his escape--and Einar suddenly finding himself a bit short of breath at the realization of how the incident could have ended, how it very nearly did end, the two of them lay for a moment perfectly still before Einar rolled to the side with greatest care, gently depositing the wayward child on the soft piece of buckskin which Liz sometimes used as a floor covering for his crawling attempts.

“Couldn’t wait, could you?  Had to get out there and exploring in your own good time, never mind when anyone else was ready for it.  Yeah, I understand what that’s like.  Figure I must’ve been the same way at your age; sure was as far back as I can remember.  Wasn’t a crib that could keep me in, according to what my mother has said.  Seems I just saw such things as challenges to be climbed up and out of, even if that did mean ending up hitting the floor head-first more than once as I learned my balance.  Whew!  Sure glad I caught you, little one.  What if your mother had come in and found you crying on the floor with me just lying there looking dumb and unable to tell her how it had all come about?  Would have been the rabbit stick for both of us, I’m afraid.”  He stopped then, Will still laughing and cooing delightedly at his newfound freedom but his own laughter stilled, face grave as the reality of the situation sunk in, the fact that he had not been able to watch and protect the little guy the way he really ought to have been, had, in fact, barely found himself conscious enough to prevent disaster.  Wouldn’t do, and his eyes strayed to the stewpot--hungry; he could not deny it now, not after the little taste he’d had earlier--obvious solution, but his own was a bit different, if no less definitive.

Needed to strengthen himself, alright, but the stewpot seemed quite the wrong direction at the moment, something he would have to earn, and he had by no means yet done so.  Needed, instead, to get out and sit in the snow, immerse himself in icy water and stand for a day and a night in the wind to challenge himself if he really wanted to be stronger, visit once more the wind-twisted, age-blackened form of that all too familiar tree up on the overlook and drive out the weakness of body and soul which were currently plaguing him and leaving him, despite Liz’s apparent confidences, a less-than-reliable caretaker for the little one and less than the provider he ought to have been for his family, as well.  The trapline, though more than he’d done in some time, was pitifully short and would, he knew, barely be producing enough to sustain them were they not still able to rely so heavily on the meat they’d harvested and stored in the fall and earlier in the winter.   Not good, not enough, any of it, and as soon as she returned, he would go.