No chapter today, but back with another tomorrow.
Thank you all for reading!
29 November, 2012
Instructor, student and interloper all seated at Liz’s strong urging around the newly-kindled fire—Einar had insisted that if he was to be compelled to warm himself and eat, his student should have the opportunity to do the same—flames crackled to life there within close walls of tangled, twisted timber, Juni still holding Will as Liz worked over the little blaze until its continued existence was more or less secure. Juni was glad of the fire, clothes still somewhat wet from her earlier time trapped in the icy, dripping tomb of granite—had dried somewhat over her own fire, but not entirely—and further chilled from the long, slow search in which she had been engaged since well before sunset, painstakingly tracking Einar over hard-crusted snow and traceless rock, but even as she crowded closer in an attempt to better take advantage of its warmth, she tried her best to prevent Einar from seeing her eagerness. Perhaps he would think she was simply doing it for Will’s sake, the child wide awake now and appearing fascinated at the sight of the flames. He would surely be hungry soon and begin demanding his mother, but for the moment Juni was glad to give her a break.
If Will was wide awake and engaged with the world around him Munin was just the opposite, having settled down in the bowing, bending inadequacy of one of the sturdier of the altitude-stunted little trees surrounding their little camp, his humans safe and still for the time and he more than ready to be done moving for the night. Einar, seeing that Liz’s determination to camp had been translated to action and gone beyond a point where he would likely succeed at swaying her to another point of view, finally allowed himself to settle to the ground near the raven, chin on his knees as he put a large portion of his remaining energy into suppressing the violent shivers which were trying their best to seize him in the presence of the fire, muscles loosening up as slowly they began to warm.
Liz tried to get him closer to the fire but he held back, not wanting to allow himself too near the flames lest he begin growing impossibly sleepy and eventually even nod off—eventually? Don’t kid yourself. You’ll be gone in under a minute, if you let yourself—which he had no intention of allowing to happen. Had he been able to trust himself with an hour’s nap he might have gone for it, feeling dangerously near the edge when it came to energy supply and alertness as well as a number of other things, but because of that very nearness he knew sleep must not be permitted. Likely as not he wouldn’t wake for hours if once he gave in to its dark embrace, possibly not until daylight, even, and he knew he couldn’t entirely trust Liz to wake him, under present circumstances. Might very well wake to find himself tied securely into a bundle of bear hide and cordage with Juni standing on one end, Liz on the other—they had, after all, been conspiring against him; he had heard it from a distance as he approached before they detected his presence and quit talking—and that really was the last sort of thing he wanted, just then.
“They’d do it, too, wouldn’t they?” He addressed Will, who had been scooped up by Liz and handed to him in the hopes that this might motivate him to draw a bit nearer the fire. “They’d do it the first moment I wasn’t paying attention, and no hesitation whatsoever. Got to watch for things like that, little one. World isn’t always what it seems, and sometimes it’s the ones with the best of intentions that’re really the most dangerous. You’ll learn.”
“Dangerous, am I,” Liz retorted, well aware of Einar’s meaning, “with my good intentions?”
“Dangerous, yeah. In the worst sort of way.”
“I can’t possibly come close to being half as dangerous as you are. Now come on, get in here closer to the fire or I’ll be obliged to show you what ‘dangerous’ really looks like! Come on, move.”
He didn’t, couldn’t really, with Will in his arms, not without danger of keeling over and dropping the little guy, so Liz took him, again made her demand and this time Einar complied. Halfway. Moved a few inches nearer the fire, but at the same time let Liz’s parka slide to the ground, unwilling to make more than one compromise at a time and feeling that already he’d gone quite farther than he had been wishing to go, simply by allowing the fire when no one was in immediate danger of freezing as Juni had been earlier, and by permitting himself to remain in its vicinity. Near enough to feel its warmth. Wasn’t the way things worked, and he did not like it The discarded parka went for some time unnoticed as Liz began heating a pot of water and adding to it as it simmered some crumbled elk jerky, bits of bear fat and a little bag of dried serviceberries. In time though she did notice, securing the garment around his neck and threatening him with a double portion of stew should he do anything to interfere with its positioning. Quite a threat so far as he saw it, as he was still bound by his agreement with her when it came to eating, and he left the parka in place, sat expressionless and silent as Juni took in the much-appreciated warmth of the fire and Liz’s stew began to bubble.
Einar certainly did not mean to doze off, mind busy with plans for the coming day and body revolting against the unaccustomed and—in this case—unwelcome feeling of the fire’s warmth, but the next thing he knew he was startling upright to the sight of glowing coals, Will asleep in Liz’s arms and both women just finishing up their portions of the stew. His head felt thick, groggy, world not making a lot of sense and the fact disturbed him, but not so greatly as did the realization that he had gone to sleep after determining not to do so. Definitely a sign of something seriously wrong with his resolve, his fortitude, his sense of discipline and self-control, things without which he was lost, and under the circumstances probably his family with him.
That was it, then. Couldn’t keep on the way he’d been. Clearly wasn’t working, the course of compromise and capitulation on which he had somewhat accidentally embarked in a perhaps-misguided effort to please Liz, to try things—some things—her way for a time, but he knew what would work, what had always worked for him, knew he had to strip everything away and get back to that raw, unassisted and unencumbered state from whence he could, as at no other time, call on the entire strength that mind and will had to offer, push his way through the difficulties which inevitably rose to swallow him, to crush him, to obliterate his existence, and in the end, to triumph. Had to do it, even if the process killed him. Which it never yet had.
When she saw him awake and offered him the better part of a pot of soup he shook his head gravely, almost sadly, backed away. Hope you’ll understand this, Lizzie. Hope I can make you understand…
28 November, 2012
Rather than the enemy, it was Muninn the raven who made first contact with Einar, bird somehow finding his way in the dark to land heavily on the creeping man’s shoulder, and had Einar been moving as swiftly as he was was used to doing, they might all have been eating a rather unexpected and unwelcome raven stew for breakfast. He wasn’t so quick though, Muninn managing to get hold of a lock of his hair and twist hard before any great harm could come to him, and Einar knew the bird then, stopped still and squinted through the darkness at the beady black eyes he knew must be even then studying him, head tilted to one side as the raven tended to do when attempting to puzzle through something, as he certainly would be puzzling through the surely inexplicable events of the night. As was Einar attempting to do.
Muninn had not followed him when he’d set off into the snow that morning with Juni, had seemed to sense without being told that his presence was neither needed nor wanted on that particular expedition, yet here he was, showing up in the dark when by all rights he ought to have been fast asleep back in the cabin. Unless Liz… Which she might have done, certainly having a mind of her own and having been none too pleased, he was pretty sure, about the planned festivities of the day, and certainly the bird would have gone with her, had she set off up the mountain after him. Better reconsider his entire strategy in that case, lower the atlatl a bit and be, if no less ready to bring it to bear should the situation require, more cautious about who might be on the receiving end.
Muninn had not followed him when he’d set off into the snow that morning with Juni, had seemed to sense without being told that his presence was neither needed nor wanted on that particular expedition, yet here he was, showing up in the dark when by all rights he ought to have been fast asleep back in the cabin. Unless Liz… Which she might have done, certainly having a mind of her own and having been none too pleased, he was pretty sure, about the planned festivities of the day, and certainly the bird would have gone with her, had she set off up the mountain after him. Better reconsider his entire strategy in that case, lower the atlatl a bit and be, if no less ready to bring it to bear should the situation require, more cautious about who might be on the receiving end.
The voices had ceased, intruders perhaps alerted to his presence by the rasping of the raven or possibly just on the move again, quiet in the hopes of being able to come up on him unawares, and with Muninn still on his shoulder—weight unbalancing him to some degree, but he hardly wanted to dismiss the bird and risk creating another ruckus which might draw attention to his position—he continued towards the last place where he’d heard the two conversing. Nearing what he estimated to be the spot, still hearing nothing he stopped, straining ears in the clear, crisp quiet of the night. Something over there on the left, the faintest stirring amongst a black mass of close-growing firs, and he held his breath, dart ready, hoping he did not himself show too strongly against the lighter background of patchy snow and rocks on which he stood. At least the moon wasn’t up yet. That would have put him at a real disadvantage.
No further sound from the trees, and he was beginning to really struggle at keeping himself still, preventing the shivers which wanted to unsteady him, so that he feared not being able to fling the dart with any accuracy or strength, when the time came. Breathing, striving to keep himself still, he waited, might have gone on doing so until the moon climbed high in the sky and the silvery-white puffs of his breath in air increasingly still and frigid had all but ceased, only he wasn’t to be given any such opportunity.
The move, when it came, was sudden, a great rush from the timber and he was knocked to the ground, atlatl gone and arms pinned at his sides when he went for his knife, and he would have gone on struggling, flipped his assailant off and to the side where he could get some leverage, but she was speaking and he heard her, knew her, allowed himself to remain still. Rising just as soon as she was sure Einar wasn’t going to try and make any quick moves, Liz helped him up, tried her best to brush the snow from his clothing. Muninn, confused and not much liking the darkness, had flapped away to the nearest boulder as contact was made, and sat chortling unhappily about the antics of his human companions, Einar greatly relieved but somewhat disgruntled at the suddenness of Liz’s greeting.
“Fine way to…say ‘hi’ to a fella when…”
“When what? When he’s been stalking you like an animal for the past several hours, closer and closer, getting ready to pounce? I’d say it’s a fine way to greet a fellow, under those circumstances. Now come here and let me see you. Yes, I know it’s dark but I don’t need light to see. Huh. Just like I thought. I’m guessing you haven’t had a thing to eat since yesterday, have you?”
Dismissing her question with a little shrug which was entirely lost amongst his shivers he pulled away from her, squinting into the pale moonlight for some sign of what she might have done with little Will, who did not appear to be on her back. “Sure, fine way to greet me I guess, except for Will. I might have hurt him, you know. Might have…”
“No you mightn’t, because I’ve got Juni holding him back there in the timber. He was never in any danger at all. And now, let’s all agree on a spot and I’m going to make a fire, and make camp.”
“What about the survival course? When I ran them before, they sure never did end at dark. Nobody got the night off, and I don’t think they should, because that’s not the way it works in real life…”
“This is real life. And it’s not ending for good, just for today. What’s the point of a survival course if the instructor doesn’t survive the first night of it? What kind of an example would that be setting?”
He gave a quick grin, teeth flashing in the moonlight. “Don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m still here.”
“At the moment. But if you try to do this all night…”
“You doubt that I can do it?”
“You certainly don’t need to prove anything to me. I’m just saying that you’re going to be a much more effective instructor if you allow yourself some rest overnight, and to be warmer than you are right now for a few hours.”
“That’s just not how it works.”
“Well, I didn’t say she had to be warmer, did I?”
“No, but I teach by…by example. Not gonna ask somebody to do things I’m not willing to do, myself.”
“Oh, we all know you’re more than willing. But I’m not willing. The course is over for the night, to resume, if it must, in the morning, but right now I’m making a fire and boiling some soup and you’re going to sit beside it with me and eat. What your student does is up to you. I’m not here to interfere with that. Now come sit down and let me get my parka around you, while I make a fire.”
27 November, 2012
Liz knew they were being stalked, had spent enough time out in the backcountry and in danger to know that one ought not ignore feelings such as the one that crept along her spine as she crouched in the thicket with Juni and so, hand on the other woman’s arm by way of quieting and ears alert for any confirming sound from the rocks around them, she waited. Nothing, no sound for a very long time and she was about to rise and be on with their search, for she knew Einar was out there and Juni’s account of the past day had only added to her concern for him, but something held her back, some instinct of the hunted animal when in proximity to a dangerous predator, and as the instinct had more than once in the past been responsible for keeping her alive, she hesitated to neglect its voice. When for a good ten minutes no sound came from the snow-crunchy rocks outside, however, she began to doubt, not yet ready to make a move but less cautious than she had been about quietly speaking.
“He didn’t say anything about where he was headed next? Before you left the camp, I mean.”
“He didn’t say much of anything, other than to answer my pleas for food with the offer of a stomach full of raw, indigestible usnea lichen. Said it would fill me up if nothing else, and I didn’t much like the sound of it but finally quit asking about food, because it was obvious that he had to be so much hungrier than I was, and he wasn’t eating anything, either. I don’t think he brought anything—part of the course, I know; this is quite a course—and he didn’t seem interested in hunting or snaring. Seems that isn’t part of the course, and I get the concept, but I’m a little worried that in this cold and as far as we’ve climbed…”
“I know. But it’s useless to try and tell him about it, because half the time I think he really does believe he can go on indefinitely like that without any serious consequences.”
“It isn’t true. Might have been at one time, but now…”
“Yeah. These past couple of weeks, he’s only been eating because he promised me he would—when I gave him things. He’s stuck to it as well as he’s been able, but when I’m not around to hold him to it…well, before that days and days would sometimes go by, and if I’m not around to insist he stick to our deal, I’m pretty sure he’ll just get right back into those old habits, and they won’t take him very far, right now. I need to find him. He doesn’t want to admit this either, but he’s going to freeze out there.”
“I can believe that. I’d like to help you look, but I lost his trail about dark. All he said was that I’d better save my breath for climbing, which made me think he planned to head up for a good while, still. I don’t know what’s up there…”
“Just the top of the ridge, about five hundred feet above where we are right now. We’re almost there. But it’s all short little timber and jumbled rock between here and the summit, and he could be just about anywhere. I think he’s close, though. Keep getting the feeling that we’re being watched”
“Do you think he knows it’s us?”
She shrugged in the darkness, reached back to check on little Will, who had been asleep on her back for the past hour or so. “Ought to, the way we’ve been talking! But you never can tell. I’d feel better if we had some good way to let him know, before he gets in too much closer and maybe decides to take care of the situation with his atlatl…”
“He’s good with that thing, even when he’s half frozen from sitting behind a rock ambushing you while you climb…”
“About noon or so, today.”
“Yep, he’s good with the atlatl. Even in the dark. So we’d better try and keep it down, until we find some way to let him know it’s us.”
They were not, fortunately, to have to do much further thinking on said method of emergency identification, Muninn the raven, who had stuck with Liz instead of Einar over the past day and had--much against the instinct of his kind and his usual pattern of behavior, both--followed her even into the dark hours of the evening and night, setting up such a fuss that all could not help but pay him heed. This included Einar, who was even then creeping up on the two women, convinced nearly beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were his enemies and must be destroyed, the harsh, demanding rasps of the raven piercing somewhat through the haze which had descended so heavily upon him and stopping him in his tracks. Not right.
Not right. Ravens didn't fly at night, did not, heads tucked in for the night, so much as peek out at the world from beneath the shelter of their feathers unless gravely and violently disturbed. This he knew from long experience, from observing the bird which had shared for so long their cabin and their camps, and he wondered now at the cause of this bird’s alarm, supposing perhaps the enemy—led by the reporter Juni and whoever she happened to be with—had stumbled across the raven in its sleep and startled it from its perch, Bad news for the bird, good for him, and he dropped to the ground, silent, creeping, knowing he must both get in closer in order to further assess the situation and his best course of action, and that he mustn’t risk being discovered in the doing of it. Mighty risky thing, but he had little choice. Enemy could be all around.
26 November, 2012
Circling back around, silent or as close to it as he could come, Einar sought the source of the speaking he had heard. For all he knew Juni might be talking to herself but he had to be certain, and was pretty sure he’d heard two voices… Dark by then, entirely dark and would be until the quarter moon rose some two or three hours on into the night, so he navigated by feel, a pretty sketchy thing in that terrain and not lending itself well to quick travel. For a time, working his way through a dense stand of tiny, stunted firs, he lost track of the voices, no sound reaching his ear but the soughing of the wind through the trees around him and below, in the bare, hollow bones of the rocks.
Cold. No way he could begin to keep himself anywhere near warm while traveling so very slowly and inevitably wet from the snow which seemed endlessly to be falling on him from the hopelessly tangled mat of timber through which he struggled, and once, huddling for a moment of damp and somewhat miserable rest beneath a slightly larger and less snowy tree, he contemplated the possibility that he really might have imagined the entire thing, mind constructing the scenario by cobbling together quite without his permission jumbled fragments of memory, suspicion, supposition, voices never real and the only person out there in the night, aside from himself, his lagging and probably exhausted student, Juniper. Which if true would mean an end to his search or at least a great reduction in its urgency, a good thing, for he was by that time so far past the point of exhaustion that he could barely bring himself to lift his head, let alone contemplate effectively prosecuting the remainder of that search. Wishful thinking, and he knew it, the sort that would get a man killed, or worse, and he was on his feet again, shoving wet-numbed hands briefly beneath his arms and beating them against his legs in an attempt to restore some circulation and stave off the frostbite which constantly threatened as the cold of night deepened.
Time to go, knew he wouldn’t be getting anywhere very fast until somehow he made his way out of the patch of dense, black timber which now clawed at arms, bruised shins and knocked him in the face every time he tried to move, so very deliberately he resumed working his way through the stuff, creeping, crawling, moving on all fours like a marten or an ermine, low to the ground and stretched out full length in an attempt to avoid something of the worst of the tangle. This new strategy, though a bit rough on hands and knees which, insensible with cold and moving continuously along the ground, ended up quite thoroughly lacerated and bruised on exposed rock and broken branches, resulted in his getting clear of the timber after only a few more minutes, back out onto the rocks where he crouched shivering and out of breath, nearly sobbing in relief at the sight of the stars overhead. Ok, Einar. Get hold of yourself, why don’t you? Now the voices are…you’ve decided they were real, just about had to be real, so you’re gonna need to be working your way in closer and trying to do something about that, aren’t you? Figure out if that goofy Juni girl’s just taking to herself, as you’re prone to do on occasion—though almost never out loud—or if she’s met up with whoever it was you sensed following you earlier, and is actively plotting your destruction. That wouldn’t be good, because slow as your brain and body are moving right now and them probably equipped with night vision, infrared, warm clothes and plenty to eat….well, you’re gonna be mighty hard-pressed to out-plan them, let alone outdistance them, set and ambush and get the upper hand in this thing. But you’ve got to do it.
Which he fully intended to do, and, having decided on the necessary course of action, would have without further delay had his chilled and under-nourished brain not picked that particular moment to go into the sort of half-sleeping daze which had become all too common for him over the past weeks. It was a thing he hated, fought for all he was worth and usually won—when he was aware of its insidious, creeping approach. Which more and more often—as in this case—he was not, so he sat, slumping out of his crouch to lean on the scraggly form of the nearest spruce, eyes closed, mind drifting, threat from below all but forgotten. All but a nagging little glimmer somewhere in the corner of his brain, and though it might just as easily have gone ignored as he passed from daze into sleep and the frigid night took him, it instead grew, intensified and roused him after a time, body stiff and unwilling but mind possessed of a great determination to press it into compliance, rouse it to action and settle the matter before him.
Slowly and with a good deal of reluctance and protest on the part of his physical being, Einar managed to get himself more or less upright again, atlatl and darts found and collected as he set off once more across the rocks, startled and somewhat alarmed at the realization that the glow he saw emanating from just below the horizon before him had to be the moon, which had not, according to his last awareness of the matter, been supposed to rise for nearly two hours. Must’ve been out for a while, then. Not good at all. They could have circled around behind you in that time, found you, made a plan… He shuddered—nothing to do with the cold, this time—and stopped stock still to listen, hoping to catch on the night breeze some indication of whether or not he was alone in the immediate area. Seemed to be, all quiet about him and the feeling of the place—often though not always an accurate indicator—one of silent repose, exactly as he would expect a winter night at such elevation to be. Reassured somewhat that his enemy was not lying in wait for him just on the other side of the timber but distressed at the lapse in discipline which had allowed for the possible escape of said foe—and certainly of Juni, as well, whether or not she was working in collusion with them—he started out across the rockslide, hoping perhaps to catch another whisper of the voices which had drawn him down to that area, in the first place.
Nothing. No sound in the frigid night save the soft crunch of his boots in the skiff of dry, sun-hardened snow on the rocks and occasionally, tiring of suppressing the tendency or spurred uncontrollably by a thin gust of wind howling up thin and piercing from the basin below, the hurried and rather desperate-sounding chatter of his own teeth, breath puffing and whistling in concert. Then, just as he was about to turn and head back up the slope, despairing of finding anyone down there below—must have slipped around past him as he’d sat in his daze just below the timber—and his need to generate a bit of heat beginning to take precedence over nearly every other concern, the wind stilled and he again heard the murmur of voices.
Closer. Must get himself closer, for he could not make out their words, could not even determine for certain whether one of the speakers might be Juni, and if the second was male or female—might make a difference, for the thought had occurred to him as he dozed, creeping up from some dark recess of his mind, that perhaps Liz had taken a notion to follow them, might have caught up and found Juni, though the possibility seemed to him somewhat remote—and slowly he crept forward, inching his way over the slick rock lest he give himself away by too sudden a movement. There. Just over in the next little island of timber, and now, wind still hushed, he could begin to make out some of the words. Low, urgent voices, and they were talking about him. Which confirmed everything.
25 November, 2012
Liz came upon the little camp shortly after their departure, coals still slightly warm to the touch though clearly dead for some time, not appearing as fresh as the tracks which took off up the hill away from the spot. A single set of tracks, Juni’s, and pausing to follow them with her eyes she wondered what could have happened to Einar. Up until encountering the rockslide she had been following both sets of tracks, had temporarily lost them in the rocks and had altogether abandoned the search of them when she’d smelled smoke, hoping to find the two of them together near the fire. Too much for which to hope, clearly, and in searching the area around the camp, widening circles slowly walked, she discovered that Einar had never allowed himself near the fire, at all, but had sat long and unmoving in the snow some distance above it, watching. She could see him as he would have been, stone-still and staring as he sat there and froze, did not wonder too greatly at the circumstances, as it was like him to remain at times separate in such a way, but she did wonder somewhat how he was managing to do it, to rise and continue after such a time of stillness in the snow. Especially considering his condition over the past several days. Well. No sense in wondering such things. He did it, she knew from long observation, because he was convinced that he must, and would keep on his present course until he had accomplished whatever his mind told him he’d set out to accomplish—or fallen in the snow unable to rise. It was simply the way he lived. Not a tremendously cheerful picture, and—seeing now two sets of tracks once again where they had crossed a patch of deeper snow above the little camp—she increased her own speed, hoping soon to overtake them and see what she might do to improve the situation for all involved. If he would let her.
Sunset. It had, he could see, already overtaken the basin, shadows creeping up the timbered slope below them and soon the entire ridge would be in shadow, night on its way. A fine thing, for he had plans for the dark hours, and he glanced back to see that Juni was still following, spotted her there not quite a quarter mile behind, picking her way up yet another slope of mixed granite slab and stunted spruce, moving quickly and with a determination which told him he’d better pick up his own pace, if he intended long to keep ahead. Easier said than done, weariness hitting him like a wall when he resumed climbing, legs leaden and unwilling. He made them move anyway, carry him up over the remaining rocks and into a small stand of trees beyond, glancing back for a glimpse of Juni and finding himself unable to get one.
Something not right down there, feeling more than fact, for he could hear nothing out of the ordinary, wind sighing over stone and through the twisted forms of timber eeking out an existence at altitudes very nearly higher than those at which timber was capable of surviving, no sound or sight to lend credence to his concern, yet it was there, that undefinable something, and it worried him. Wanted to know more. But must not stop long enough to make its discovery, for she was coming. He resumed his climb. Might well be nothing. Brain playing tricks on him. Next goal, that irregularly-shaped old carcass of a burnt-out limber pine which stood black and stark against a sky grown nearly purple in its intense blue clarity as the sun began sinking nearer the horizon, and the thing danced before his vision as he climbed, blackened limbs seeming to move as if animated with some strange form of life, raking the sky, seeking, searching, but before reaching the tree, fascinated and afraid, drawn to its tortured, twisted form, he managed to realize that the illusion of movement was of his own creation, a product of the growing dizziness in his silly head.
Still a fascinating sight, and there beneath the hulking remains of that long-dead tree—why had it grown so large at such an elevation? No others had done so—he paused, panting, leaning hard on his atlatl, nearly doubled over in a struggle for breath, blackness slowly clearing from before his eyes and the world once more becoming visible. There it was again, that faint echo of something through the pounding and the chaos in his head, and this time he was sure it was real, not merely a product of his own growing exhaustion. Something—or someone—was coming. Someone other than Juni, whose approaching form he could clearly make out as she climbed, and he squinted down at the surrounding masses of timber, at the open rockslides which slashed vertically across its blackness and, seeing nothing out of the ordinary, closed his eyes and tested the breeze, listening, trying to catch any scent which might give away the source of his unease, but there was nothing. Time to move, then, before the girl got too much closer. Wouldn’t do to let her catch up. If she caught up, she would almost certainly start talking again, and the last thing he needed was her constant stream of editorializing, even if he had managed to grow a bit more used to her, of late. She just didn’t know when to stop, and he recalled with an annoyance bordering on the beginnings of rage their last exchange, she trying, with no right or reason whatsoever, to stake some claim to him and to the way he lived his life. Well. Would be no more of that. By the time he did stop and allow her to catch up again, she would be so thoroughly worn out that speech, he could only hope, would be entirely out of the question.
Swiftly, nimbly as he was able, Einar pushed ahead for the ridge’s summit, then only some fifteen hundred feet above him in elevation, and far less than half a mile distant, leaving the going tremendously steep and at times precarious, last brittle, slanting rays of the dying sun glancing from snow-damp rock surfaces to dazzle his eyes in a brilliant and final farewell for the evening. Though subdued some by the difficulty of the ascent, he was still dogged by the unshakable feeling that he and Juni were not alone up there, were themselves being stalked by some malignant and inexorable force which, if left undiscovered and unchecked, would surely apprehend and destroy them before the night was out. Though logic told him otherwise, he was compelled to consider the possibility that the reporter had, through some means un-guessed at by him, managed to contact someone associated with the search, summoning them to what could only be described as the perfect situation from which to extract his capture—unarmed, alone and exhausted near the ridgetop at dusk, no recourse but to run when their chopper popped up from behind the crest and running, itself, almost certainly a fatal endeavor given the peril of the terrain… So ideal was the scenario thus woven in his mind that he very nearly convinced himself of its likelihood, might then have given up his goal of making the ridge crest entirely and gone another way in an attempt to confuse his pursuers, had he not still possessed just enough rationality in his cold and weary brain to realize that the chances of her having been able to contact someone on the outside, while on their present expedition with only what precious little gear he had allowed her to bring, were slim to none, at best. Continue. He would continue, and did.
Nightfall, and Juni, though she had recently been only yards behind, was nowhere to be seen. Plan not working, student failing, and that wouldn’t do, but when he turned back in search of her, stalking slowly—it was the only way he could move at the moment, all stiff and still with cold, though of course he would not admit to himself this fact, insisting that the pace was strictly voluntary, a function of his need to approach undetected—silently, he was brought up short by the unmistakable sound of voices.
24 November, 2012
Long hours passed, Juni’s fire burning down to coals and—there being no indication that they were about to leave the spot; she didn’t know where they were, did not know the area and had no intention of setting off without Einar--being revived again, Einar still sitting like stone beneath his chosen spruce tree and sun beginning to sink low in the sky. Juni was getting hungry, had been getting hungry since sometime early that morning but had, until quite recently, been rather too busy to really notice and certainly too thoroughly preoccupied to do anything about it, but now, sitting nearly dry, relaxed and almost warm beside the fire she had made and maintained while under such duress, the hunger pangs were becoming all but impossible to ignore. She had brought nothing to eat, had been allowed to bring nothing and, unless he was amazingly good at concealing the fact, neither did it appear that Einar had carried along any food. Which meant that he certainly had intended them to hunt or trap, for with snow covering everything still, foraging appeared a most daunting prospect.
Juni glanced around, stared up at the sun and tried to estimate the hours of daylight remaining to them. Four or five, she supposed. Enough, perhaps, during which to obtain something to eat, but only if she hurried. If they did, for Einar had prevented her bringing so much as a length of twine with which to build a snare, and she knew that without his guidance if not his active help, her chances of securing food in the near future were looking pretty bleak. Somewhat apprehensive about approaching him, she was lent boldness by the growing pit in her stomach, left the fire and stalked to within a few yards of the place where he sat.
“Snow, it looks like. Doesn’t appear you’ve got too much else, have you?”
“I was hoping you might…well, you’ve got that atlatl and I saw some cordage we might use to make a snare…”
“Atlatl’s for defense, and that nettle string isn’t for snaring.”
A silent glare; he wasn’t going to answer that one. “What do you need to eat for, anyway? Ate yesterday, didn’t you?”
“For energy, for one thing. And to keep from freezing. Right now I’m freezing, and so are you whether you like to admit it or not, and we both need to eat.”
“I don’t. If you do, there ought to be some usnea on some of these spruces. Mossy, licheny thing.”
“Usnea? The stuff Liz uses for Will’s diapers, because it’s so absorbent?”
“That’s the stuff. Filling, if nothing else. Fills you up like a stomach full of cardboard. A little more digestible than cardboard if you cook it for a while, but you can’t do that right now because we’re leaving. Got more of this mountain to climb before it gets dark.”
“What do you mean you don’t need to eat? You may not have spent the last few hours down in the bottom of the Granite Pit of Doom getting rained on with melted snow like I did, but you have been sitting out here freezing the whole time. You’re human. You need energy, same as the rest of us.”
“That’s not much of an answer. But it’s all you’ve got, isn’t it? All you can come up with, because your brain’s slowing down so much from the cold that it won’t give you anything else. Come on, you’ve got to know better than this. Is this really what you taught your students when you were running survival courses? Go until you’re exhausted and then go some more, never eat anything even when it’s available and count on staying warm and alive through sheer willpower, all the while?”
“Basically. With a few twists added in to make it more challenging. Life’s no picnic, and if you’re expecting a picnic, you’re gonna fall real short when the real stuff starts.”
“Sure, I understand the need for training to be difficult, and…”
“No. Not the same way you do, I’m sure. Not from the same perspective. But I’m capable of grasping the concept, yes, and I’m not complaining about the way things have been going so far. You’re right, of course, about the need for difficulty and for challenge. I’ll stop asking for something to eat… But as an ongoing lifestyle, month after month? Surely you know the way you’re living is not reasonable, not sustainable. It’s not something you’d teach to your students, is it? Something you’d recommend?”
“You talk too much. Better save some of that breath for climbing.”
“You’re not going to answer me?”
“Was there a question? Because it all sounded like editorial, to me.”
"Yes, there was a question. I guess I just want to know what makes you think it’s a good idea for you to sit out there freezing instead of taking advantage of the fire, especially when you’re clearly still so far behind on eating. On nutrition.”
“Oh you talk way too much. Nobody’s business, things like that.”
“Not even your wife’s business?”
“You’re not my wife.”
“No. No, I am certainly not.”
Silence for a while as Einar got himself stiffly to his feet, checked to see that he had all his atlatl darts gathered in preparation for leaving. “Got to keep myself sharp, that’s why. Minute I get it in my mind that I can relax a little, back off on the training and discipline…well, everything would be lost, that’s what.”
“You really believe that? I mean, not as a matter of general principle, but literally?”
“Is there any other way? Besides literally, I mean…” And she had an answer, wanted to give it but already he was gone, charging off up the steep rockiness of the slope at a speed which she knew she had better try her best to match, lest darkness fall and she spend the entire night searching for his trail amongst the black shadows of the timber…
23 November, 2012
22 November, 2012
Hope you're all having a blessed Thanksgiving day--we all really do have so very much to be thankful for despite the rather dire outlook for our nation right now--our physical freedom, food to eat (how often do most of us really stop to think what an incredible blessing this is?) our faith and the knowledge and skills which will help to see us through hard times. Truly, we are blessed.
Had Einar been in possession of his usual length of parachute cord Juni’s rescue might have gone a bit easier but as it was, having left the cabin with rather an opposition to taking along any gear, all he had was the shorter coil of nettle cordage which never seemed to leave his possession. Not much help when it came to reaching the bottom of that granite tomb with the ability to help lift a person back out of it again, so he knew he had to go about the whole thing a different way.
Nodding to the by-then rather desperate Juni to let her know he wasn’t abandoning her altogether he made a hurried retreat to the nearest stand of timber, mostly fir but with some stunted aspen mixed in around the edges, and there he found a small dead aspen, so long perished that with a hard shove he was able to dislodge it from the ground. Carrying it was another thing, remaining rotted root cluster catching on the close-growing evergreens with every step and necessitating more stops than he would have liked, as he was himself so very near giving out from cold and exhaustion—hadn’t realized it, sitting on the snowy granite waiting to see if Juni could struggle her own way out of that granite tomb, but now that he was moving again he felt it closing in on him, iron jaws tightening around his middle--that he hardly dared stop moving, lest he find himself unable to start again. Fighting the tangled, grabbing roots all the way he dragged the aspen back to Juni’s rocky prison, lowering it down to her and waiting to see if its height would be adequate to allow her climbing past the slickest and most overhung portions of rock.
She tried, gave it all she had, but he could see that the efforts were going nowhere, her hands by that time too numbed and insensitive to grasp the somewhat slick aspen with enough strength to raise her up out of the pit. Needed another plan, wished for more cordage, for a rope but he had none, might have been able to get her up and out with the lowering of enough aspen trunks but as much challenge as it had been for him to haul the first one, he knew such a plan would rather take too long. She’d been down there too long as it was, especially considering the tasks he was going to ask of her once she was freed. Better act now. Which he did, shouting—it was more of a croak, really, but she got the message—for her to move aside, up into the narrow end of the crevice and lowering himself as far into its recesses as he could before his arms gave way and he fell. Landed hard, breath nearly knocked out for lack of the good, springy landing which might have been expected of legs not so weary as his, but he recovered quickly, wordlessly motioning her up onto his shoulders and hoisting her up until she could get an arm wrapped around the stout stick he’d left tied to his doubled-over coil of nettle, secured near the surface. Two tries it took her before she could get her hands to cooperate adequately to allow for some upward motion, straining, hauling and finally emerging out onto the rock above, where she crouched for a breathless moment of relief and agony—hands had gone completely numb with the wraps of cord around them, were only then beginning to regain some feeling, and it hurt—before whirling around on hands and knees to see how she might help Einar out of the hole.
There was no need, Einar already more than halfway up out of the narrow crevice, and before she could say anything he made it the rest of the way, flopping over on the snowy rock nearly too exhausted to breathe, but he stayed thus for only a moment.
Rising, Einar led the way into the timber, handed her the little flint and striker that he kept always around his neck. “Make fire. Soaking wet and freezing. Gonna die without fire.”
Which she wanted to do, wanted it so desperately as she knew he was right and that she going to die without it but her hands weren’t working, blotchy white and purple claws which could hardly hold the tools he’d given her, let alone hope to put them to any good use but he was relentless, refusing to help when she cast aside all remnants of pride and asked for it.
“So, your hands don’t work. That’s a problem. Gonna get you killed here pretty soon. So make them work.”
“Heat. Got to…generate some heat.”
Made enough sense, she supposed, and had she not been so hopelessly hypothermic from her long confinement in the dripping granite crevasse, she might have been able to translate theory into action, but as things stood all she could do was to flail her arms about Which actually seemed to help a bit, so she kept at it, soon stomping her feet as she swung her arms, clumsy and tired but feeling ever so slightly warmer, finding herself, after a time, able to use her hands sufficiently to strike sparks. Which still left her having to collect kindling and find something to use for tinder, which she could not seem to do no matter how she looked, leaving her to pull a slightly damp handkerchief from her pocket and shred it up the best she could do--hope it’s cotton, hope it’s cotton…lost if it isn’t cotton, because he really will sit there and let me freeze to death if I can’t get this right--stacking small, bare-dead spruce twigs atop the shreds, larger branches above those--getting hopelessly cold again, had to stop and stomp around for a few more minutes to get her hands back--before striking sparks. The shredded cloth, despite fortunately being cotton, was not fine enough and she partially collapsed her pyramid of kindling trying to shred it finer but at last managed to get everything close enough to right that a spark took, smoldered dangerously dim for a moment and then, with the help of the trembling little sigh of breath which seemed all she could manage at the moment, flared up into flame.
Sticks crackling, sparks rising, Juni stood shaking violently over her little fire, terror of the past hours giving way to silent tears of relief as slowly she began to warm, purple hands beginning to return to something like their natural color and steam rising from her icy clothes. All the while Einar sat silent in the timber overlooking her little camp, still, watching, wouldn’t approach the fire, himself, though plainly, she could see when she was able to look up from her own thawing and take some heed of the world around her, suffering every bit as dreadfully from the cold as she had been, and she wished very much at that moment that Liz might show up and take some charge of the situation…
21 November, 2012
Immediately upon Juni regaining her composure she grabbed the dart, twisted it free from the tree and ducked down behind a rock in the hopes of avoiding Einar’s wrath should he indeed be attempting to put an end to her, but he had no such intention; almost certainly wouldn’t have missed with that first dart had such been his intent, and Juni knew it. Logically, at least. The knowledge did little to reassure her under present circumstances as, badly worn out from the hard climb and still caught up in the moment she realized that Einar had disappeared once again, was nowhere to be seen, surrounding boulder field and the clumps of scraggly, dispersed timber which scratched out their rough living here and there in its midst suddenly taking on dark, menacing feel so that she was seized with an almost frantic need to get herself to better shelter. Shouldn’t give in, mustn’t, knew she had to be all but invisible there in her present position and would almost surely be lost if she rose and ran but the call was too strong, strangling her with its urgency and she was on her feet, dart in hand as she made for the nearest larger cluster of timber and she nearly made it, might have done so had it not been for the slickness of the snow-streaked granite which caused her to temporarily lose her footing and that was all he needed, sweeping feet out from beneath her with a large aspen branch and sending her sliding and skidding down the angled rock face, while never so much as showing a glimpse of himself.
This time Juni let out a bit of a scream despite herself as she went down, arms flailing and hand scrabbling desperately at the ice-slick stone in the sudden fear that she would not be able to stop, might slide and tumble all the way back down the mountain. Which of course was ridiculous, rockslide not extending nearly so far and vast stands of timber lying between her and complete obliteration, but she did not realize that at the moment, could not call the fact to mind and found herself breathing a sigh of exhausted relief when finally she slid down and came to rest at the bottom of a rather narrow and deep crevice between two enormous granite slabs. Relief which lasted only until she looked up an realized just how far she had slid and fallen, and how difficult would be her extraction. Not so bad had the rock been dry, for she had done some climbing and could almost certainly have chimneyed her way up and out, but with both faces vertical and even overhanging in places and slick with ice and in places even seeping, dripping melt water from above, she could see right away that such a climb would prove a great challenge indeed. Tried anyway, the terror of being trapped in that place with her pursuer--for that was how she had come to see him, and she did not all like the notion--searching and probably about to find her lending urgency to her movements so that she made it a good four or five feet up out of the crevice before losing her footing and sliding back down again, stuck, desperate and beginning to be wet and quite cold from the relentlessly dripping melt water from above.
Trapped. Left there to die. There in the stifling, dripping silence the fear grew in her mind until she became sure of it, utterly convinced that he had deliberately led her to that place, entrapped her and left her to die, should have seen it coming but she hadn’t, and now the end was surely only hours away… Convinced beyond doubt of her abandonment she redoubled her efforts to escape, skinning one forearm and bashing a knee against the icy floor of her tiny, high-walled prison before finally giving up in exhaustion, sinking to the ground and waiting… For more energy, she told herself, she was resting, waiting for a bit more energy, a fresh idea and then she would make another go of it but in the back of her mind she knew there would be no additional energy, no flash of insight, not in time. Well, she would deal with it later. After the rest.
The voice drifted down as if from a great distance, a harsh, rasping thing but it was human, more or less, and could not possibly have been more welcome; he had come for hr and she was, after all, going to live! Except that he did not sound at all friendly, voice insistent, demanding, and she kept herself still, hushed her breathing in order to catch his words.
“Why are you here? Got to tell me why you’re here.”
Shouldn’t have done it, pushed him so, tested, but being quite human herself and possessed of perhaps more than her fair share of spunk and defiance even when cold, wet and trapped deep in a rockslide, the words seemed to simply slip out. “I’m here because the rock is incredibly slippery up there, and if you don’t watch out, you’ll probably end up down here, too.”
Wrong answer. He was gone again. For an hour. Maybe more. She couldn’t tell, had lost all track of time as she crouched there exhausted from repeated but unsuccessful efforts at freeing herself, scrunched into a little heat-conserving ball which she knew would, in the end, prove insufficient as she was soaking wet by that point, would never survive the rest of the day in those frigid temperatures, let alone the coming night…
Wanted to live, and though she knew he was probably long gone by then, back at the cabin with Liz warming up and relaxing now that the menace represented by her presence had been eliminated, she called for him, but there was no immediate answer…
Einar had been sitting up on the rocks all the time as Juni struggled to escape her granite prison, arms wrapped around his bent knees, freezing despite the climbing sun but managing to more or less hold his own with its help, and at the sound of her repeated cries for help he rose creakily to his feet, stumbled and nearly went down before catching himself with his atlatl. Couldn’t quite trust himself to speak, scrubbed hands across his face to limber things up and gave it a try, repeating his question. Why are you here? What was your intention in coming here?
Her answer came same as always--steadfast, I like that--and he lay down flat at the top of the crevice, peered down at her and began planning the way out.
20 November, 2012
19 November, 2012
Starting out, it took Liz a while to find their tracks in the crusty snow and then she was delayed even further when Will woke and urgently demanded his breakfast, but with the sky slowly brightening and the snow slightly deeper as she climbed, the task grew a bit easier. Looked to her as though the same could not likely be said for the instructor and his student, their path at times taking them up terrain nearly vertical in nature and dreadfully slick with snow that had melted and re-frozen as ice on some of the exposed rock, and as she trailed them, frequently going around their chosen obstacles instead of up and over or, in the case of a massive patch of wild roses, through them--what was he thinking here? Guess it’s just like him, choosing the most difficult path--she saw several places where one or both of them appeared to have fallen. Always they had risen again, one sometimes helping the other but for the most part the two trails seldom even meeting, Einar appearing to have led the way. Of course he would be leading the way, and despite her concern for him, she could not help but feel a bit sorry for Juni, who would surely be finding herself engaged in a rather desperate struggle to keep up. Hard as Einar appeared to have been driving them, it was anyone’s guess whether or not she would actually be able to catch up to them that day if they continued moving, but Liz believed it worth a try. Had to try.
Daylight. Juni hadn’t actually caught sight of him for what seemed like hours, following largely by the sounds of his movement over the crunchy snow and, when the panting of her own breath too greatly obscured these clues and left her fearing she was lost, navigating by the occasional scratches and scrabblings left in the snow where he had slipped a bit in his climb. What would happen when finally she did catch up she could only guess, but somehow the prospect of being left all alone out there in unfamiliar territory in the snow with no gear and no dry clothes held a terror beyond anything else she could imagine at the moment. Ignorance, to be sure, a notion which would almost certainly not survive the day, let alone the week, but just then the pressing reality of it spurred her on to speeds which would have had her easily catching him, had it not been for the difficulty of staying on his trail. Must not lose the trail.
Far ahead, Einar was, could see her struggling along some three or four hundred yards down the slope, moving slowly as she searched out his trail through a section of mixed timber and bare, windswept rock, a difficult puzzle, and secure in the knowledge that she would be some time in catching up, he allowed himself for the first time to sink to the snow and rest for a moment, forehead against a spruce trunk and eyes closed as he tried to breathe away a welling nausea, dispel the billowing black shadows which had been stalking him since the light had grown strong enough to differentiate them from the surrounding blackness and allow the pounding of his heart to slow a bit, hopefully resume something more like a normal rhythm. Dangerous, this rest. Felt himself after a short interval not far at all from sleep, and it certainly wouldn’t to do have her catch him sleeping. Back on his feet, one glance down the slope and he was moving again, weariness obliterated by the realization that she had gained a good bit of ground, would soon be catching up if he did not stay on top of things. Which he would eventually have to allow her to do, but it was not yet time.
Up the slope ahead, up at a sprint which demanded all the failing energy he could scrape together but rewarded him with a much safer margin of distance, a needful thing if he was to put his plan into effect, and leaving the snow he scampered across an area of open, windswept granite, tilted some forty degrees and quite slippery with a barely-there dusting of icy windblown crystals skating on the edge of disaster and keeping on his feet only through a careful and constant movement which worked with gravity instead of against it. Gained the far side swiftly climbing up and around the giant granite slab and concealing himself in the little rock alcove he had so greatly hoped to find on its far side, scraggly growth of ground-creeping fir helping to further conceal his position.
Peering up over the ragged rise of rock before him he was able to get a good open view of the approaching slope as it swept away below him but the angle was all wrong, and glancing down to be sure his quarry was not too nearly approaching he deftly launched himself over the edge of the slab and into the snowy scree on its upward side, taking up a position behind the more favorable cover of a stand of stunted little firs. Better. From there, he could both see and maneuver himself into the necessary position. All that remained was to wait. Which, fairly desperately needing some time to catch his breath, might not have proven such a difficulty, had Juni’s progress not all but ceased when she hit the open area of nearly snow-free rock below. The rocks all but stopped her, though. Left her casting about for any sign of his passing, pausing to stare up at the timber as if hoping to catch sight of him but of course he was nowhere to be seen, having for all practical purposes vanished into the snowy woods.
After a good half hour of slow, methodical searching on Juni’s part--Einar couldn’t have vanished, must have left some sign of his passage, must be testing her, and she pursued that sign with a dogged persistence which he might well have admired, had he not just then been so busy actively freezing to death--Einar was almost ready to throw a rock or call out to Juni just to get her moving in the right direction. He’d had more than enough of the waiting, struggling to keep himself steady and tensing his muscles against the violent shivers which were doing their best to seize from him all control over his movements, wishing more than anything that he could climb again, get the blood flowing, yet, he waited. Must wait. Must also maintain some semblance of stability however, some use of his hands and he tried through a series of small movements to restore to them enough flexibility to do the thing he’d decided he must do.
Succeeded, though barely, steeling himself as Juni finally found his trail again and picked her way up the rocks, he drew back the atlatl, dart in place, and waited. Final, frigid minutes of waiting, and then when she was not ten yards away just stepping out onto the tilted slab of slick granite he loosed the dart, sending it deep into the trunk of one of the small aspens just behind her--perfect aim, just where he had intended to hit--and leaping out with a savage yell as she rolled to the ground, seeking cover.
18 November, 2012
Darkness, confusion, Juni tumbling to the cold earth floor, sleeping bag gone, nowhere to be found, and she tried to scramble to her feet, get oriented, but nothing made any sense, and then she was out in the snow, hands sinking deep into its biting whiteness, and she supposed she must somehow have been herded out through the tunnel. Door slamming behind her, grabbing for her boots, grateful that she’d had the forethought to sleep in some of her warm clothes, for surely she wouldn’t have had the chance to dress, otherwise. Boots were nowhere to be found in the darkness and she whirled around, scrambling back through the tunnel and shoving at the door, had to have her boots or surely she’d lose toes, feet, but the door would not yield and then something grabbed her from behind, tossed her forcefully out again into the snow and beneath her were the boots, snow-filled and tangled but she quickly righted them, shoved them onto feet already growing numbed in the early morning cold.
“This way.” Harsh, rasping words and she half wanted to turn around and hide herself in the tunnel, in the timber, anywhere, but that surely would have been a dreadful mistake so she followed, newly-made tracks on the hard-crusty snow barely showing in the not-quite-predawn dimness--actually, it might just as well have been the middle of the night; starlight on snow, she’d learned during her time up there, could be surprisingly illuminating at that altitude--as she struggled to keep up. Twice she lost him in the more complete darkness beneath the timber but both times some little sound, the crunch of a footstep in the snow, cracking of a small twig somewhere up ahead, got her back on course. Cold. Wished her boots weren’t full of snow and that she’d been able to grab her hat and the ski suit which had served her well through so many frigid days that winter, and in their absence, wished there might be some way for her to move faster, for as it was, struggling to track a silent phantom through hard-frozen snow in near complete darkness, she was barely traveling fast enough to keep her hands and feet from freezing. Needed to get the blood circulating, and after what seemed like several hours of this--couldn’t have been more than fifteen or twenty minutes, in reality, but reality can get itself mighty distorted under such circumstances--she was cold, hurting, frustrated almost to tears and ready to take off tearing up the slope ahead just to generate some heat.
Juni’s mistake, as she discovered very quickly, was in allowing herself to act on such an impulse, something hitting her hard from behind not twenty feet into her desperate scramble and sending her sprawling in the snow but it didn’t make sense, any of it, for over there in the timber some fifteen yards from the spot where she struggled to get her breath and rise was the very distinct sound of slow, deliberate footsteps, a man climbing, and how could he possibly have been in two places at once? Rising, freezing and frightened at the realization that the snow was beginning to melt through her clothing in places where she lay, she only fell again, the blow this time coming from the other side and she scrambled forward in terror, keeping low, wanting to avoid whatever invisible menace seemed to be stalking her, watching her every move, but this desperate flight soon ended in disaster as well, for she hurried herself headlong right into the clawing, tearing arms of what surely had to be the densest bramble patch she had ever encountered, raspberry or rose or maybe it was barbed wire, which didn’t make any sense but that was certainly how it felt, tearing her clothing as she struggled to get free, tearing skin and then she heard footsteps approaching, covered her head with an elbow, certain another blow must be on the way. Silence, holding her breath, shaking with cold and now with terror as well, for the entire night out there seemed alive with dread, unseen foes approaching from every quarter, quiet, creeping, unavoidable, and she was trapped….
Instead of delivering the expected blow he chopped away the brambles that seemed to be so badly entangling her, helped her roughly to her feet and was gone again before she had time to fully realize what had just happened. Seemed a dreadful mistake to risk speaking aloud, but she did it anyway.
“Wait. Give me a second. Please. I’m still stuck.”
He was back beside her then, movement as silent as ever but she knew he was there because she could hear his breathing; he didn’t sound any warmer than she felt, but it wasn’t bothering him in the least and somehow that fact only added to the unreality of the situation, to its terror.
“What is your purpose up here?” Voice low, controlled, demanding. “Why did you come?”
“I…I’m just…following you. Thought I was supposed to be…” Wrong answer, and he was gone again, plunging straight forward through the snow-matted tangle of rose cane and she tried to go around, avoid it but the patch was too wide, and she was before long obliged to either follow him through the middle or risk losing him again, so she followed, face terribly scratched and stung by brambles which she could not so much as hope to see in the darkness.
Darkness also in the cabin, and Liz lit a candle. Place was a mess, Juni’s bedding tossed over in the corner against the water barrel, her pack and gear strewn about as if from a desperate and probably unsuccessful search on her part for some item or other from amongst its contents and Einar’s parka lying on the ground where he had apparently tossed it after some brief consideration into the matter of whether or not to wear it as he headed out into the frigid night. He would, among other considerations, have been afraid of its slowing him down, she knew, but she shook her head in dismay, previous concerns about his making it through whatever he had planned for the coming week only growing.
Liz had been aware of Einar leaving the bed, quick, stealthy motions most unlike any he’d been able to accomplish of late, and she’d known his plan for the week--whatever it might be--had been put into effect. She’d wanted to stop him, insist that he stay for breakfast, at least, but that would have been interfering, and this was one thing in which she did not want to interfere. Well, really she did, wanted to put a stop to the entire thing before it could get off the ground and knew she probably could have got him to listen to her had she tried hard enough, reconsider whatever it was he planned to do out there, but that was exactly why she did not see her way clear to do it. She’d asked enough of him lately, and he had freely given despite the difficulty of his doing so. This one was his to run as he saw fit. She did wish though that he might have had the sense to wear his parka and other warm things, at least. If it was to be a test for Juni, his trial would by default be the greater, low as he’d been lately on energy and with the cold seeming to flow mercilessly through him and rattle his barely-covered bones even when he was making some effort to keep warm, which was seldom enough...
It was with this image in mind that Liz made the decision to follow the pair, feeding Will, rising, adding to a pack a few items that she was sure neither of them--whether by design, or by default--would have taken, slipping the little one into the warmth of her parka hood and setting out under skies just beginning to grey with morning.
17 November, 2012
16 November, 2012
Juni was a bit apprehensive at something in Einar’s voice but found herself far too excited at the opportunity before her--learning the skills she’s spent so long practicing from a man who had been relying on them to survive day-to-day for the past several years, learning from the best--to pay the apprehension much heed and quickly accepted his offer, Liz simply rolling her eyes and hoping everybody didn’t end up dead. It was looking like a distinct possibility.
As for Einar, he ate in grim silence when Liz set his supper of steaming stew before him, not, it seemed to her, even pausing as usual to think about how he’d rather not be eating at all--he still did that most times; she could see it in his eyes, though outwardly he held with a dogged persistence to his promise to eat whatever she gave him--which she wanted to take as a positive sign, though under the circumstances it was difficult to do so. His mind was clearly elsewhere, supper going down more by default than by design, and she could not help but somewhat dread what the morning--and the following week--would bring.
Juni was not quite well-enough informed to dread the coming week, eyes still glowing in anticipation at what seemed to her the opportunity of a lifetime and mind busy with the questions she would ask, the areas of experience on which she would most like to focus, if she had any say at all in such matters. Then there was the matter of her pack. Many of the useful items in it she had either made herself or traded from others who relied solely on primitive methods of gathering and manufacture, so surely he would approve of at least some of the items and their use during the course…
“What should I pack to take? Assuming we won’t be at the cabin for the entire week…”
A silent glare from Einar, and she continued. “I’ve got my flint and steel, tinder, some snares and cordage that I…”
“What makes you think you get to take anything? That’s not how it works. Be lucky if you get to take your boots, the clothes on your back and half your wits, and chances are pretty good you’ll come back with less than that, at the end of it.”
“Oh. Of course. I didn’t mean… You’re the instructor, and…”
He silenced her with a dismissive wave of a hand, went back to staring at the wall.
“And,” Liz picked up, “now, the instructor needs some rest if he’s going to be good for anything tomorrow. How about it?”
Einar nodded, followed her silently to bed, collapsing heavily onto the hides and nearly falling asleep before Liz could join him. She wasn’t quite ready for sleep, though.
“This…thing you have planned for tomorrow. What are you going to do?”
He stared through her for a moment, face blank and eyes distant, a bit wild in the candlelight but then he saw her and they softened and he rested his head against hers, whispering so as not to disturb the already-sleeping Will.
“I’m going to go to sleep. How about you?”
“Yes, me too! Long day. But I meant after you sleep. What exactly do you have planned for tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow will take care of itself. Done for now. Tired.”
“You ought be, after that long climb and two hours of watching the place out in the cold. That takes a lot of energy. Finally starting to get warm in here, and the way the wind’s howling outside, I’ll admit to being glad we’re not out in it. It’s a good time to sleep. Let me warm you up a little, first?”
“No need. I can sleep just fine cold.”
“Maybe, but I can’t sleep just fine when you’re this cold. Can’t stand thinking that you’ll have to shiver all night, which I know you will, if you don’t start out a little warmer. It just doesn’t sound very relaxing. And besides, it’s like having a giant block of ice in the bed, which I don’t find very relaxing at all, for me! Did you ever try sleeping with a giant chunk of ice in the bed?”
“Yes, a time or two, but it was…”
“Oh, don’t answer that! Please. I should have figured you would have done such a thing, at one time or another.”
“Sure. It was a good exercise in…”
“Stop it! You can tell me some other time, when it’s not so cold. Now come here and let me see if I can’t work some of that ice out of your bones before we go to sleep.”
“Aw, I kinda like it there. Can sleep on the floor so it doesn’t bother you…”
“It would bother me even more then, because I’d know how badly you were freezing and I’d keep waking up all night thinking about it.”
“You’re a pretty strange human-critter, Lizzie. That’s for sure.”
“No, sorry, you’re the strange one here. Most people would be concerned about the fact that someone they cared about was freezing to death on the floor beside them in the night, and wouldn’t just lie in their warm beds and let it happen. In fact, most people probably would have tied you into the bed by now with a pile of bear hides and hot rocks just to make sure you couldn’t escape in the night and start freezing again! You should be glad I don’t do that. Too often.”
“Oh,” he chuckled, moving closer so she could get her arms around him as she’d been trying to do, “so you’re being lenient with me, are you?”
“Yes, and don’t you forget it.”
“People are weird.”
“Right. Now how about you let me finish getting you warm, so we can sleep. Tomorrow sounds like a long day.”
" ... Not even old Mr. Selous-Scout-tracker-turned-federal-consultant-fellow will be able to top this!”
Uhhhh Juniper, me thinks you pushed the bubble, a wee bit to far....
I know there isn't any Bamboo up that high, to make a proper cage for her.... But I bet Einar can construct a cage & make her ~think~ its made of Bamboo, and make her think the Bamboo is of Vietnam Ethnicity!!!!
in fact, I bet she could learn twenty-thirty words of that sing song language, in less than 72 hours, giving her a full 4 days left of that ~week~ of "camp"!!!
I am really waiting on pins and needles, to find out which it is about Juni, Friend or Foe....
Einar could no doubt do all of that. But I really hope he won’t have to. Not a good road to go down.
“Camp.” Heh. Probably not the kind of “camp” she had in mind, was it…?
15 November, 2012
Liz had heard enough conversation between Bud Kilgore and Einar to have a strong suspicion that the former might well be the man to whom Juni was referring in her description of the Arizona survival course, and she, like Einar, had a bit of a hard time believing the whole thing could really be attributed to coincidence. Einar, she knew, could certainly handle the situation, his suspicion level naturally so high that there was seldom any danger of his getting himself caught up in a conversation and letting something slip, and now…well, any trust Juni might have begun establishing between the two of them over the past days would be gone, the situation, despite Einar’s outward joviality, once more a rather dangerous one for her.
Despite his frequent and sometimes even violent confrontations with the tracker when the two were in close proximity to one another, Kilgore was, it seemed, one of the few true friends Einar had, and loyalty was something which Einar took tremendously seriously. He would protect the tracker by any means necessary. Which for the moment simply meant avoiding the demonstration of any knowledge of the man, beyond their common experience overseas, and he was managing that quite nicely. Liz let the two of them be, went about her supper preparations. It was good to be in the cabin again, strong, secure walls around them holding in the heat and keeping out the wind which had whispered so coldly through their camp down by the river, here with firelight and candlelight flickering on the walls and Will, glad enough to be out of the confinement of her parka hood, crawling about delightedly on the floor in pursuit of Muninn, iridescent black feathers attracting his attention and the bird--wisely, for already he had lost a good-sized tail feather to the inquisitive hands and strong grip of the youngest Asmundson--keeping always one hop ahead of him. Home, and Liz could not help but revel in their return, even if their stay was this time to be temporary.
Warm in the cabin, Liz’s fire doing its job and then some, and in the warmth, Einar was beginning to grow sleepy. All throughout the long days on the trapline he had never really allowed himself to relax, senses always alert for the danger he know could easily creep up on them unawares there in the valley, a single skier, snowshoer or other casual backcountry adventurer perhaps spelling the end not only to their somewhat secure and quiet lives in the basin, but to their freedom, as well. Maintaining that level of alertness for so many days--not to mention his night-long episode splashing through the frozen river and the frigid jungle carrying Andy on his back--had left him utterly exhausted, and he was only now in the warmth and security of home beginning to realize the full extent of the thing. Could hardly keep his eyes open anymore, let alone formulate articulate answers to Juni’s questions, and besides, he was beginning to shake so hard as he warmed thoroughly for the first time in days that he couldn’t have exactly managed to get the words out, even had he been able to compose them. No matter. Probably better for everyone that the conversation end then, anyway, and he closed his eyes, tucking hands beneath his arms and letting his forehead rest on his knees. Only Juni didn’t seem to get the idea, kept right on.
“It sounds like, with the exception of the monkey meat which we didn’t really have access to in Arizona, the training this instructor put us through was modeled after some of the Scouts training over there in Rhodesia, don’t you think?”
A sleepy nod from Einar, head sagging further and Muninn, finally tiring of Will’s game of tag, hopping up and onto his shoulder. That was the end of Einar’s would-be sleep, the bird upsetting his balance and sending him sprawling over backwards into the narrow space between water barrel and wall, a great rasping and beating of wings as the bird took to the air, and laughter from both women and one little person who was just beginning to discover that the world could be a very humorous place, indeed. Einar did not find the incident terribly humorous, head thick and confused with sleep as he sprang to his feet after the raven, somehow grabbing the bird and getting him tucked under his arm all in one swift motion, Muninn too startled even to protest. The others were startled as well, Liz snatching Will from the floor and pressing herself against the wall, somewhat uncertain what was to come next, Juni crouching beside her. Nothing happened next, however, Einar glancing in confusion from the rather subdued raven to Liz and Will and back again, the hard lines of his face slowing relaxing as he began realizing that any disturbance in cabin had been his own making, and his alone, falling asleep right there in the middle of the floor, were you? Foolish thing to do, and you know it, and he released his hold on Muninn, who flapped somewhat indignantly to his perch beside the water barrel and began straightening his feathers. Everyone was quiet, trying not to stare at Einar but somewhat failing and he shrugged, gave a little lopsided grin and sank back down beside the barrel, weary and cold as ever, but certainly a good deal more wide awake, entirely steady.
“Sorry. Little clumsy, there. Guess I shouldn’t let myself sit down when I’m starting to get sleepy...”
At which Juni struggled to suppress a laugh, turning away so Einar wouldn’t see the hilarity in her eyes. “I think the bird might disagree about the ‘clumsy’ bit. You had him nabbed, grabbed and fully contained in half a second or less. If that was clumsiness, I’d hate to see you when you weren’t clumsy!”
“Bird startled me. He knows I don’t mean anything by it. If he was gonna end up in a raven pie, it would have happened before now. It’s just that he ought to learn not to fly at a fella’s head just as he’s drifting off to sleep. ”
“Raven pie. That’s probably something else my instructor would have had us eating, had that course gone on longer than the one week!”
“Guess you can always go back.”
“No, I’m pretty sure he’s not doing it anymore. Running the course. A couple of the other guys who were working with him are in charge now, because he supposedly left to take some sort of consulting job, and got married in the meantime.”
“Consulting job, huh? Doesn’t sound too interesting…”
“Reports have it that he’s working with the feds, down at Mountain Task Force. I wasn’t able to confirm that for sure myself, because while I was there this last time looking for information, he was out in the field. But from what people were saying, it does sound like that’s what he is doing. And he married a local lady, too. I think…” she glanced at Liz, “you know Susan Goodland?”
Careful, Liz. This is starting to get pretty complicated… “I worked at her greenhouse for one season.”
“Yes, that’s her. The lady who runs the nursery. Good for him I guess, finding happiness like that, but it’s a shame, too, since I was wanting to do another week of that course…”
Einar was through. Questions might be innocent enough, but he wasn’t going to risk it. “You want another week? Well, here you are, and the whole thing’s free of charge, too. How about that? You stick around here another week, and it’ll be unlike any course you ever took before, in your life. Not even old Mr. Selous-Scout-tracker-turned-federal-consultant-fellow will be able to top this!”
14 November, 2012
13 November, 2012
Though Einar did not take a direct route back up to the cabin, keeping to the heaviest timber and choosing a course bound to confuse any who might manage to try and follow them from the valley, he did manage to maintain a pace which put them at the rim of the basin well before dark. Pausing in the trees at the edge of the great open expanse of the basin he was quiet, listening, watching Muninn as he glided low over the snow as if reveling in its wideness, soaring higher, circling and returning with no sign of consternation or alarm to perch heavily on Einar’s shoulder. A more reliable test than that provided by his own eyes and ears at the moment, Einar could not help but think, and he turned away from the basin, skirting it in the timber as he led them towards the cabin-plateau, and home.
Studying the ground, giving special attention to the areas where the snow was less and tracks not as likely to show plainly if in existence, he led them slowly up towards the cabin, around its side and into the cliffs up behind it where he sat, still, silent, listening until slowly the sun sank behind the spruce-spears bristling along the opposite ridge. All was quiet. Time to move. Not an easy thing to do, muscles having gone all rigid in his hours of cold waiting but Liz was there, helped him to his feet and took the lead down the steep rock which lay between them and the cabin, Juni taking up the rear. At the base of the cliffs Einar touched Liz’s arm, nodding, pushing past her and leading once more, making a final wide circle of the cabin before allowing anyone to approach. All clear, and they went home, opening the place up, breath hanging white in the dark, frigid air inside, lit by a single candle as Einar worked to get a fire going in the stove and Liz fed Will, who had just wakened from an hours’ long nap.
Fingers not working, flint nearly impossible to hold with enough force to prevent it falling to the ground when he struck and in frustration he pulled some of the finely shredded bark tinder from the stove, wadding it up on the floor and preparing to hold the flint with his foot, striker in both clasped hands. Juni saw, took it from him and lit the fire, Einar silently grumbling the entire time but not wanting to disturb Liz by making a scene. Best if the matter simply be allowed to fade quietly away, as he really did not wish Liz to see just how much that climb and the long, cold wait at the top had taken out of him. Felt as though he had absolutely nothing left, and sincerely hoped they wouldn’t have to go anywhere that night in any sort of hurry, for he would simply have to remain behind armed as well as he was able, hold the line for as long as he could and give the others some time. Would never be able to keep up, and the realization distressed him, but he was far too weary to do anything about that distress. Fire was going good. Shut the stove door, leaned back on the water barrel and closed his eyes.
Talking. Someone was talking, seemed to be aiming the words at him, and he wished they’d just leave him alone. But they didn’t, and struggling to make some sense of the words and place their origin--Juni, it seemed--he opened his eyes.
“Where did you learn your tracking skills?” she was asking. I can tell that the ground speaks to you in ways that it doesn’t to the rest of us …”
He looked at her strangely for a moment, half inclined to refuse an answer. “Picked them up while out hunting the most dangerous critters around, that’s where. You learn pretty quick.”
“You didn’t have any formal training, then?”
“It was formal enough.”
“When I was in Arizona attending one of those survival courses I told you about, one of the guys running it was a tracker. He’d been in Rhodesia, too, with an outfit called the Selous Scouts, and that’s where he had received some of his training and experience in tracking. I thought maybe you were a Scout, too?”
“Nope, never was a Selousie. Very few Americans ever were. Worked with some of those folks from time to time though, went through one of their training courses once when they opened it up to guys in my unit. A cross-training sort of thing. So yeah, guess you could call that some formal training. Wasn’t just a series of classroom exercises, either. All took place out in the field under real conditions and with real enemy, too. ’Course I already had a good bit of experience trailing dangerous game by that point, before I ever came in-country there. Did real well with that training, mostly because of that past experience and because, according to one of the instructors, I was ‘insanely intense and focused.’ Which he did mean as a compliment, and I took it as one. Certain things that were real challenging for some of the guys during that course were just matter of fact, get it done, for me. Like what we ate. And if we ate. Left my brain more free to focus on other things. Like the trails we were supposed to be following.”
“Yes, I suppose the food, or lack of it, was even pretty routine to you? Not as disturbing as it would have been to some of the others?”
“The food, yeah…no big deal. Was for some of the guys. This fellow in Arizona--did he have you eat week old green-rotted monkey meat, just to see who could do it and who couldn’t?”
“I believe it was actually a raccoon…”
“Good for him! Did you do it?”
“I did. He let us boil it first. I was glad of that. But I was going to eat it either way, maggots and all. I was there for the full experience. He just kept pointing out to us that the maggots had even more protein than the meat, and were fresher, too. A lot fresher. He seemed to find that pretty funny. Four students quit the course at that point, and two more the next day when we found out that the raccoon--and of course its maggots--was to be all we got for the week…”
Einar was laughing aloud at the image of Bud Kilgore--for it had to be Kilgore--expounding on the virtues of fresh maggots, laughing though he knew this innocent-looking girl was almost certainly attempting to entrap him, trick him into saying something which would establish a connection between the two of them, and he had absolutely no intention of allowing that to happen.
12 November, 2012
Two days later, Einar’s fever gone, back beginning to heal and a sizeable and growing pile of furs draped over the leaning aspen just outside camp, he decided that the time had come to head back up to the cabin for a while. The weather was warming, ice thinning a little more every day and the river becoming, for several reasons, an increasingly dangerous place to be spending time, threat of human presence and discovery weighing perhaps even more heavily on Einar's mind than the very real risk of someone falling through the ice while out checking snares, and it was time to move on. Besides which, they had accumulated a fair number of furs, fed themselves on the meat with some left over, and could scarce hope to carry their entire take should they stay too much longer and continue in their success. The trip had served its purpose, and it was time to go home. For however long the place remained home… Which would in large part depend on Juni and her fate, a thing not yet entirely settled but he had promised Liz her week or three, and so it seemed for the time at least, they would all four remain at the cabin together. Juni did not ask for details when, packing up camp and preparing for their return up the mountain, Einar and Liz went on with the apparent assumption that she would be accompanying them. She knew the matter would surface sooner or later in an urgent manner and would then demand solution, but if for the moment they seemed willing to allow the situation to continue as they had been, who was she to upset things or to argue? Instead, seeing departure preparations being made, she quietly packed her own things, sleeping bag, tarp, the two hides from the muskrats she had personally taken--had tried to give them to Einar to add to the collective take of hides, but he’d insisted she keep them--and prepared to go.
While Liz fed Will Einar packed their belongings, furs wrapped in bedrolls and lashed to the outsides of packs, traps atop them. He, as usual, gave himself the heaviest load, Liz wishing she could relieve him of some of the weight in an attempt to spare his still healing back from further harm and allow him to conserve his energy a bit, but he insisted that the load was his to carry. Cold morning, and this will help keep me warm as we go, he insisted, and she knew he had a valid point in mentioning such, for despite a warming trend in the weather, he seemed to be struggling more than ever with keeping himself warm enough to be out of danger, most of the time. Not that he always tried particularly hard, but even when he clearly was doing so, the ice seldom seemed to leave his bones. Liz suspected this surely must be due largely to the fact that his bones remained so near the surface in the first place, no weight appearing to have been added to his painfully emaciated frame over the past week or so, despite his diligent adherence to his promise to eat whatever she set before him. Simply working too hard for any of it to really stick, she supposed; if anything, he seemed to have lost more over the past few days, and she could only hope the trend might begin to reverse itself some once they were settled back in at the cabin and able to keep a bit warmer, travel less each day. Would simply have to reverse itself, if he was to be around much longer. Physically resilient as he continued to be, she knew there must be limits somewhere even for him, and one of these times he would be bound to surpass them with one final injury, illness or night out in the cold, and he would be gone. Much preferable were a few quiet weeks at the cabin, during which they could hopefully begin to see some positive results from his increased eating and rest.
Einar, happily oblivious to Liz’s ponderings--wouldn’t much have cared for them--was ready to go, pack hoisted up on his back and cinched around waist, furs hanging from every side and a big grin on his face as he stood staring up at the slope above them as if he could hardly wait for the challenge of ascending its heights. Liz, also, was anxious to be getting home, their days at trapping camp having been difficult ones and an evening fire never a certain thing, and she slipped Will into his place in her parka, taking one last glance around camp to ensure that they weren’t leaving anything behind--Einar had done it already, but she wanted to make absolutely certain he hadn’t overlooked anything--and followed as he started off at a lively pace up the slope. Juni fell in behind, unsure what to make of the fact that Einar no longer insisted she travel sandwiched between him and Liz as a security measure, but grateful and uninterested in too deeply questioning the development.
For a while the four of them climbed in silence, Einar pushing himself hard in order to maintain what he considered a reasonable speed and both women finding themselves somewhat amazed that he was able to keep it up, the way he’d been looking over those past few days. Liz, though, knew him well enough to be well aware that the speed of his ascent, rather than necessarily being an indicator of improving health and strength, might just as likely be the almost-final effort of a man nearing the end of his rope, that final frantic little release of adrenalin and energy designed to get a fellow through the roughest bit of a very rough time, and on to a better situation where he could begin to replenish his energy stores and repair some of the damage. Only, he never really did that.
She couldn’t remember how many times she’d seen him go through that and while of course always glad to see him somehow repeatedly come up with the energy to get through things that ought to have killed him, the trouble was that he never seemed to use that final little push of energy to start things improving. Rather, he seemed to take their very existence as evidence that he really didn’t need to change anything at all, was doing just fine and could go on exactly as he was for an indefinite period of time, forever, perhaps, and she knew it wasn’t true. Couldn’t go on much longer at all, despite the fact that he stubbornly went on defying the odds, pushing himself a little further each time and still somehow managing to keep waking up in the morning. Well. Time to deal with all of that later, after they were back at the cabin. For the moment they simply had to finish getting there, and hopefully before dark, for as they gained elevation she could feel an appreciable drop in temperature, and with skies clear and almost purple against the snowy peaks, she knew it was destined to be a cold night.
Einar, she knew, would almost certainly not allow them to simply approach the cabin, go inside and settle right back in to living there. He would want to watch the place for a while, find a high spot from which to observe and make sure not only that nothing appeared amiss, but that it went on appearing so for a good long while, before he should consider it reasonably safe for the rest of them to go home. She could only hope that this part would go somewhat smoothly; times in the past were still quite vivid in her memory when it hadn’t, and though she supposed she ought to be glad that he tended towards being overly cautious rather then the alternative, she had at the same time seen him take the concept way too far. Didn’t especially want to spend two or three fireless and freezing nights up in the cliffs helping him run surveillance on the place just to make sure it was approachable, so as they climbed, she prayed that their way might be clear to occupy the place that night, should they arrive in time.