06 September, 2012

6 September 2012

Muninn, having figured after the disappointment of several empty snares that he wasn’t going to see any meat on the trapline that day--Einar always tossed him little scraps here and there, on more successful days--had parted ways with the trio shortly before they’d reached the turn-around point at the far end of the line, flapping off on his own for a while in search of anything that might provide him a tasty morsel or two.  He did not find much, all the rabbits who had survived the winter thus far proving fairly healthy specimens and not at all likely to succumb to the cold as some of their weaker cousins had months ago done, and for a time he soared and circled about the basin, disappointed, ready to head back for the cabin in the hopes that his people had reached it and could be persuaded upon to give him a bit of jerky or perhaps even some leftover stew.  He liked the stew best, with its rich, enticing globs of bear fat, tender-cooked meat chunks and often also the sweetness of stewed berries, or honey, or both…

While largely a scavenger of the carnivorous variety, Muninn, as most ravens, had a taste for variety, his perhaps more strongly developed due to his long familiarity with humans and their cooking.  His snacks of stew had, of late, been far less forthcoming.  Einar used to be a tremendously reliable source, frequently providing him as much as half a pot full of the stuff, secretly, quietly when he thought no one was looking…but no more.   Now, though taking what seemed in the bird’s experience an inordinate amount of time at the task, the man cleaned the pot, sharing only an occasional bite in addition to the slab of half-frozen meat which was his daily fare, and the raven was not pleased.  Perhaps today there would be more.  Only, he was not going to have to wait!

The elk had been a big bull, majestic creature, no doubt, in its day--not that the raven gave any thought to such matters--but that day was long past and now its mostly-frozen carcass lay stretched in the snow, partially covered by the shrinking bulk of the wind-drift which had covered it during the storm that had marked its last few hours of life, sapping from its emaciated limbs what little strength had remained after half a winter of attempting to browse and forage for food through snow that had been much too deep, pushing always through snow that came up past its shoulder and exhausting itself until finally there had been nothing left.  Why the creature had attempted to live out the winter in such a place was anyone’s guess, but it had not been successful, and now the raven would feast.  Only after he had carried the news back to his people, however, and swooping down he lighted on the lowest tine of the great bull’s craggy rack, twisting free a beak-full of hair from its icy carcass and taking wing.

Einar was nearly back to the cabin by the time Muninn reached him, circling once with a great chorus of raucous rasping before landing heavily on a shoulder, nearly bowling Einar over, filling Will’s mouth with feathers and leading to a great chorus of spluttering laughter from the youngster.

“What’s the big idea, bird?  Hey!  Shoo!  Little guy can’t breathe with you roosting on him like that, you big vulture.  Here.  Try my arm instead.  Yeah, that’s better.  What’ve you got there?  Elk, huh?  Just a hide again, or did you find the whole critter this time?  Hopefully it’s gonna be the whole thing, because I’d hate to think hunters had been that close.  You haven’t been gone for too long.  Thing must be from the basin, somewhere.”

Muninn dropped the plug of hair, tilting his head and chortling happily at the man’s seeming happiness at his find, hungrily accepting the twist of deer jerky he was presented by way of prize.  Wanted more, but the need was no longer urgent.  He knew where to get more meat, wanted to go to it but waited, expecting Einar would want to be led to the spot.  Which he dhd, but Liz could see him swaying with weariness when he did not fight hard to prevent it, figured he’d had plenty of walking for one day.

“If he’s found an elk, it’ll still be there tomorrow.  How about if we skip the trapline tomorrow, and go find it instead, in case there’s any salvageable meat?”

Einar frowned, not wanting to wait but knowing better than to argue.  He had, in fact, been surprised that she’d not only “allowed” him to run the trapline with her for the past two days, but had actually suggested the idea.  Best not push his luck.  The elk would, indeed, still be there the following day.  Nodding to Muninn he dismissed the bird with a swing of his arm, releasing him skyward in a great arc, on his way to a much-coveted feast.

Liz was glad to see Einar put up little resistance to her suggestion that they wait until the next day to search for the fallen elk.  She had been growing increasingly worried for him over the course of the day.  Though he was diligently keeping his word and following her direction as he’d said he would do, eating and drinking everything she set before him and even staying more or less warm, most times, Liz worried that her efforts were leaving him worse off, in some ways, than he’d been before.  Oh, it was certainly a relief to see him take a step or two back from the brink of the imminent and irreversible physical annihilation which had been stalking him so closely as his starvation advanced, body beginning to function a bit more the way it was designed to do and consciousness an easier thing for him to maintain as he ate more, but with these changes had come, it seemed, an increasing difficulty with sleeping at night.  Though he strove to keep still and prevent her knowing, she was well aware that he spent long stretches of the nighttime hours lying wide awake and rigid by her side, struggling to keep still and almost certainly wishing he might be able to get up and go wandering off in the snow as he had so frequently done, in the past.  And when he did get to sleep…well, after that last night, she had some idea of what the dreams must be like.

Seemed that the nearness of complete starvation, itself, had been the only thing allowing him the sleep he had previously been getting, and now that its grip was beginning to ease, he barely slept at all.  Which--in addition to being counterproductive to his growing stronger and healthier--she knew would in time probably lead to his giving up eating once again, for one reason or another, despite his best intentions to the contrary.  She did not have the answer.  Didn’t want to release him from their agreement, not until he’d got a bit further from the edge on which he’d been precariously balancing for far too long, but neither did she want to make things worse for him--or for her and Will.  Too many more nights like the last one, and she might have to take to camping in the timber with Will just to put some distance between the two of them and the action.  Though she did not want to push the matter too much with him, knowing he already felt badly about it and not wanting to drive him to anything drastic, she was more concerned than she might have liked to admit about the past night’s incident with Will.  Far gone as Einar had been in his dream world, she knew the only thing--on a physical level, at least-- preventing him from taking off into the snowy night with the child had been his own inability to open the bolted tunnel door in his sleep.  Not tremendously comforting.  Next time, he might get it right.  Made her want to sneak yarrow into his nightly pot of juniper tea, just to see if it led to his sleeping any more soundly.  Probably not a good idea.

Well. Perhaps the dreams would subside with time.  And more food.  Despite apparent evidence to the contrary, she was certain part of his problem must stem from the ongoing lack, and would be alleviated by its remedy.  She would have to hope so, hope he could endure the attendant difficulties in the meantime--and that she could do the same.  Sighing, kicking the crusty snow from a nearby tree stump, she hurried to catch up with Einar and Will, who had made the final descent and were ducking in through the tunnel.

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