Liz’s pots of broth and tea ready they ate, drank, Einar, even, taking some broth, though he would greatly have liked to refuse. Couldn’t bring himself to do that, not with Liz urging him so to take some, she who had forgiven him the gash on her cheek, and finishing with his broth he rose, stepped back from the fire and stared into the darkness.
Certainly could not stay in camp for the night, not after his recent performance, but neither did he want Liz to have to spend the rest of her night wondering where he’d gone and perhaps even attempting to track him—no need for her to do this, but he knew that his telling her so would do little to reassure her or improve her prospects for a decent sleep—so he searched about in the darkness, seeking a spot where he might pass the remainder of the dark hours in some seclusion and far enough removed from the others that his mere existence might not prove too dreadful a plague. Had no intention of sleeping further, but knew he could not wholly trust himself to keep to that resolve, for despite the resolve of his mind, his body was tremendously weary, trying to shut down and near forcing the issue, bringing him to sleep, willing or not. Which meant that some distance was essential.
Searching, stumbling in the dark he felt his way along the rock wall, coming finally to a spot where there existed a gap, a shallow depression in the otherwise solid wall of granite large enough to allow him admittance and into this he backed, sitting down heavily with face out to the stars, darkness of the rock all around him on three sides. Good. It would do, would be just fine once he… Never finished the thought, fast asleep with head on his knees almost before he’d done positioning himself in the little alcove but as before the sleep did not last long at all, first dream-images mercifully jarring him back to complete wakefulness. Shaking his head and scrubbing hands across his face he was on his feet again, leaning for balance with hands against both walls of rock as the stars outside swam dizzily before him. Ok. Found my spot. Now to let Liz know, or she will come after me at some point and if she saw this place…well, best for both of us that she not see it, exactly. Because it’s got to work. Too wore out to keep on searching, like this.
Back to camp then, feeling his way along the wall as the fire-glow which otherwise would have guided his steps dancing and leaping so strangely as not to be much help at all, and upon reaching the spot at last he nearly walked right past the fire and kept going, and might have done so, if not for Liz’s voice.
“What did you find out there? Find what you were looking for?”
Stopping, blinking, he turned at the sound of her voice, attempted to make some sense of her question. “Found a spot to spend the night. Not gonna stick around camp, tonight. Best if I stay over there.”
“Found a little spot, little sheltered spot in the cliffs not too far from here, gonna stay there for the night.”
Liz wanted to object, knew he wouldn’t have an easy time staying warm, to say the least, but lacking a better idea, she could hardly dispute his decision. Was well aware that he was right in wanting to separate himself from the camp for the remainder of the night; alone, she would have gladly risked staying with him, would have all but insisted upon it but she could not ask Will to do the same; the little one must be protected. Trouble was, in attempting to minimize the weight of the load they were hauling and leave plenty of room to carry back the hoped-for results of their trapping expedition, they had brought the hides and furs Liz deemed necessary to keep them warm at night, and no more. Should they divide the lot, neither of them would have sufficient insulation to get through the night without either a fire, or near-constant movement. Einar, of course, insisted that he didn’t need anything, anyway, would be just fine in his parka and would probably be awake and moving to some degree all night, and Liz had to settle for hoping he was correct, and letting him go. Not too many other options as she saw it, so she simply pulled his hat down snugly to his eyes, squeezed his shoulder and sat back down by the fire.
Einar went, feeling his way once again in the darkness until he’d found his rocky alcove, backing into the space and lowering himself to the ground, safe, confined, but it wasn’t enough, and he knew it. Nothing to keep him from bolting from the spot in the night should sleep, and the dreams overtake him again, and knowing he must prevent this, both because he had told Liz he’d stay in one spot and because if he went wandering in that state, he really had no idea where he might find himself come morning. Not a terribly big concern to him, but the uncertainty might be somewhat hard on Liz. Needing a solution and lacking anything to which to secure himself with his ever-present length of nettle cordage, he left the shelter of the alcove and again began groping about in the dark, seeking sticks, branches, anything with which he might secure himself through the night.
Returning with an armload of branches, Einar again stowed himself in his little alcove, leaning, back braced against the cool rock, until a wave of dizziness passed and he could once again stand upright. Then, working slowly in the darkness and fumbling somewhat with hands numbed with evening chill he boxed himself in, leaning and weaving his load of sticks until before him stood a semi-solid wall of wood, not enough to stop a man should he be determined to exit but enough, he could only hope, to wake him and make him think twice about his course of action.
As the stars wheeled slowly overhead and the evening chill deepened to a biting, bone-penetrating cold, Einar’s wall of brush became a cage, bamboo, not aspen and fir, straight, regimented segments boxing him in and adding to the terror of the night so that after sleeping and waking the third time he found himself so determined to remain wakeful that he stood, hands braced against the bars of his cage and forehead resting upon it, hoping that through remaining upright he might also manage to refrain from sleep.
A long night, to be sure, but without long nights, one would never have opportunity to appreciate the wonder of the stars…