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…