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…