For a time Einar simply stood there by the fire and waited, wanted to flee off into the darkness—both to complete the mission for which Liz had finally given her approval, if one could call it that, and to escape the unfamiliar and somewhat baffling display of emotion on her part—but somehow the thought of doing so seemed a bit cowardly, for he was indeed somewhat afraid of this unknown thing before him, this person who was his wife yet not behaving the way he was used to seeing her behave, and thus he must stay, face the danger, seek some way to remedy the situation. Defend her. In which endeavor he was wholly lost and did not know how even to begin, for he had little concept of what might be the trouble, knew he had himself brought it about but lacked a clear understanding of how. By upholding his end of the bargain, apparently, for that was what she had said he’d done, had clearly wanted more from him but could she not see that he quite lacked any concept of what that additional consideration might have been? And now, apparently devastated by his sincere attempts at reassurance, she was in tears.
Well. He never had understood people, any of them, and to think that he could have done so on an ongoing basis with her, simply because of the experiences they had shared while scraping out a living at eleven thousand feet up a mountainside…the notion had been unrealistic, apparently. Hopelessly unrealistic, and now she wanted him dead. In a hurry. Or something like that. Hadn’t seemed to mean those bits quite literally—it could be awfully hard for him to tell about such things, even when his brain wasn’t running so low on energy and gripped by serious case of cold-induced inertia—the ones about his going ahead and sitting in the snow until he froze to death because it would be easier for everyone that way, but she had said them, and so must have meant something…
Confused, starting to sway with weariness and the effects of the cold, needing to do something but not knowing what, Einar took a few uncertain steps back into the shadows and stopped once again, waiting. Wished he’d brought his spear so he could plant it in the ground and more securely brace himself, do some serious thinking—it seemed to help with things like that—but as part of the course, he’d deliberately left nearly everything back at the cabin.
Lost, here. Don’t know what to do for her. Sure would like to know how I can go about making this right… No answer. Night was quiet, all but the stars crackling overhead with the distant radiance of their cold, brilliant light. Still, he couldn’t leave, carry on with the night-long ordeal he was certain would strengthen him again for the days ahead, and now he wasn’t even entirely sure he wanted to do it. The thing seemed to have lost a good deal of its urgency, its purpose; all he wanted to do was to make things right for Liz, but that was the one thing he could not seem to figure out. Probably hadn’t been trying hard enough. Too wrapped up in his own goofy brain to see what she…needed? Wanted? Whichever it was, he meant to give it to her, she, mother of his child and matriarch of a small but growing mountain tribe, woman who had followed him and fought beside him—and sometimes, when the way became too dark and he’d been unable to see where next to turn, led him—through some mighty difficult years, and knowing that he’d done her this incomprehensible and un-quantifiable wrong, he wanted to throw himself at her feet and beg forgiveness. But didn’t figure that would likely help matters too much. She’d probably just think he had passed out from lack of energy, and use the opportunity to strip him of the meager clothing he’d allowed himself as rather inadequate barrier against the cold, and roll him out into the snow to die. Which somehow struck him as funny, and he wanted to laugh, but didn’t think that would improve the situation too much, either.
Not a bad idea, really. Her rolling him out into the snow like that. Probably would save everybody a lot of trouble, but something in him rebelled at the idea, demanded that he stick around to do what he could for Liz and the little one and also that he do it, if for no other reason, simply for the sake of resisting. As he had always done. Resisting until the end. Through the end. Which intention demanded that he take into account the possibility that Liz might be right about some aspects of his physical condition, for why would she fabricate such details? Perhaps he was presently a good deal nearer the edge than he would have previously found likely or believable. If so, that could to some degree explain the urgency in her recent dealings with him, the angry, tearful desperation he’d seen in her eyes. Not likely, but certainly a possibility to keep in mind.
Inactive for too long, cold getting to him, Einar found his mind drifting after that, not quite able to concentrate on whatever it was he’d been working so hard to puzzle through and then his body was drifting also, sagging to one side so that before he could catch himself he ended up on the ground, limbs tangled with those of the tree which had been supporting him. Liz let him lie there—he was glad, wouldn’t have been able to stand it had she put aside her tears to come to his aid—Juni not daring to interfere in any way, and when finally through much effort he managed to get himself upright again and on his feet, she had not moved from her dejected slouch by the fire. Then, his answer, night no longer silent, course seeming clear. Talk to her. You’ve done her wrong. Doesn’t make any difference that you don’t know exactly what it is. Surely you know there must be plenty of things. So, ask her forgiveness. A quick glance, somewhat bleary-eyed and not at all steady after his collapse in the snow, told him that Juni had Will, child warm and peacefully asleep, oblivious to the turmoil in camp, and he was glad. He hobbled over and lowered himself to the ground beside Liz, reached out a reluctant hand to touch her shoulder but pulled it back. Had no right.
She didn’t seem to notice him, went on softly weeping, head on her knees as if to shut out the world, and after a time of uncertainty, something in him trying its hardest to send him back to his feet and away into the refuge of the dark, quiet woods where he was at home, where he was alone—fought it, that voice, though the doing took rather more courage than would have even the most desperate struggle with a physical foe—he sought her hand, found it. After a moment her fingers entwined with his and she squeezed his hand, head resting on his shoulder as he held her, tears joining with hers, no words, but sometimes none are needed.
Yet, he knew there must be words, eventually, supposed this time they were his to speak.