Liz did not understand. Well, perhaps she did on some level, was at least familiar with the line of reasoning--or lack of it, as she saw it--which had in the past led Einar to this point, but she neither understood nor, under the circumstances, had much patience for the place where it surely would lead him. Probably not helping much with her understanding was the fact that Einar, in his attempting to explain, could by that point hardly string three or four words together without having his speech interrupted by a shivering spell whose ravages he tried mightily but without success to control.
Did not help at all, and Liz took his arm, dragged him forcibly nearer the fire and again insisted he eat. Couldn’t. Must not. It would interfere with the course he had set for himself, the one by which he was to—hopefully—begin regaining some of the strength and resolve which had always carried him through difficulties of one sort or another. The meal would be a concession, and concessions, even if semi-forced upon one by angry spouses with rabbit sticks, were never a good way to begin such trials. So he backed up again just as soon as she’d loosed her grip, retreated to the cold shadows just outside the ring of firelight and waited for her to settle down so he could make another try at explaining things, take his departure for the night and allow her—and Juni, now that the survival course had been declared officially over until the return of daylight—could get on with their evening in camp, get settled into bed ahead of the deepest cold the night would have to offer.
“Need to do this, Liz. You need to…let me go do this. Only way.”
“Oh, no, I expect there are plenty of other ways. You could go throw yourself off the nearest cliff, for instance, fall on an atlatl dart, signal the feds and wait in a wide open snowfield for them to show up with more of those rockets, lots of things… This isn’t the only way.”
Einar shook his head, beginning to be a bit angry, himself, at the seemingly impossible task of explaining to her why he must do this thing, and why he must do it without delay. Didn’t want Juni to hear his future attempts, but hardly knew how to get away from her. She was holding Will again, stirring the stew and trying her best to keep out of everyone’s way, so Eianr tried to ignore her, get on with his explaining.
“Fell asleep…while ago. Not my intention. Can’t be…just be falling asleep…random times like that. Got to do something about it.”
“And your answer is to skip dinner and wander off into the snow for the night in wet clothes? Why can’t you solve this problem like most people would, by eating and getting a good night’s sleep so you’ll be refreshed in the morning and full of energy? It works for me…”
“Not the same.”
“Why, because you’re not human? Not as human as I am? What?”
“Human, sure, but life…my life’s got to be a struggle, got to have some challenge in it, or I just…”
“Your life is a struggle! Enough of one, I should think, that you don’t really need to be deliberately adding to it right now. I want you here with us. Will needs you here as he grows up. And I thought you’d agreed—at least with eating—to give me some time, try it my way for a while…”
“Yes. Need to have…need to ask you for…break from that. Just tonight and maybe in the morning, to get myself… Got to get on the right path again. Know we’ve got an agreement. That’s why...asking you. Please.”
“Einar, I can’t do that. Not tonight. I know you can’t see this and won’t believe me, but you’re just as likely as not to freeze in the night, if I let you do that. Freeze and die and be gone by morning, and there’s no way to revere that, you know? You’re saying that the main reason you need to do this is that you fell asleep a while ago when you didn’t intend to, but think about it. What if you fall asleep while you’re out there…doing whatever it is you’re convinced you need to do? Do you really think you’ll be able to wake up out of that in time? Do you know for sure? And what do you want me to tell Will in a few years when he starts asking why his father isn’t here, anymore? Should I tell him the truth—that I had the chance to probably keep you here by holding you to our deal, but I chose not to do that? We made that agreement for a reason, remember? That reason hasn’t diminished, I’m afraid. If anything, it’s gone the opposite direction, and that’s why I’ve really got to hold you to the deal. Now please come over here and get warm, so you can hold the stew pot and have your dinner.”
Einar not moving quickly enough for Liz’s tastes she rose to assist him but Muninn took his side, rising from his sleep-boulder and settling on Einar’s shoulder, angrily warding off anyone who tried to approach, first rasping his displeasure and then if the intruder did not respond to his satisfaction—which Liz did not—increasing the volume of his rasp and ending it with the high, sharp warning call with which he had in the past alerted them to the presence of other humans. Large as the raven loomed in the flickering firelight, wings half spread and beak open as if intending to fly at the nearest person and snap a finger, nose or whatever other delicate part presented itself, he certainly cast an imposing presence, Liz stopping, staring, attempting by quiet speech to talk him down from his apparent fury, but to no end.
“Alright, alright you big loud buzzard, I’m backing off! Einar, control your bird, will you? I’m becoming more than half convinced that he really does understand what you say, or maybe what you’re thinking, and he’s starting to act on it, too! Like a third hand for you. So, call him off.”
Einar spoke softly to the raven, gave him gentle push so that, understanding, indeed, he flapped over to his chosen boulder, tucked beak into wing feathers, and slept. Einar shook his head—thanks, critter. Good to have somebody on your side when it’s you against the world, but I can’t take you up this time on your offered help—rose slowly and made his way over to the fire, held his hands near the flames until they were once more flexible enough to manage the task, and took Liz’s pot of stew. That did not go too well. Have to think of something else…