Liz, it seemed, meant to get Einar walking this new path without too much delay, as upon waking she rose with an urgency that somewhat baffled him and left him looking to the sky in search of some storm-sigh which surely he must have missed in his half-awake morning musings, but there was nothing, no restless breeze, no scud of slate-grey cloud wreathing a distant peak or scurrying menacingly across the sky, no apparent cause for the near-frenzy with which she appeared to be going about camp as she brought the fire back to life, put on a pot for melting snow and added to its quickly liquefying contents a generous portion of bear fat, dried serviceberries and elk jerky. A mystery then and though not ready to speak—still reflecting on his earlier musings, trying to get set in his mind some of the things he knew he must do to begin seeking remedy for a situation no less dire for the fact that it was almost entirely of his own making, but he watched her intently as she went about her work, and she must have seen the question in his eyes, for she nodded, glancing decisively at the less snowy, less steep lands down below.
“Yes, we’re going down. We need to go down. If you will.”
A nod. I will. I’m with you.
“Ok!” Smiling with her eyes, face grave but joyful as she returned her attention to the now-simmering breakfast stew, stirring furiously as if the stuff could not be read soon enough. Which, so far as she was concerned, it could not, for a variety of reasons. Ready, and they ate, for Einar a struggle despite his willingness, for the raven, an opportunity to snag a bite or two of meat from ready hands and for the two women, energy for the day ahead…
Down the slope, then. Liz had said they must go down—wouldn’t have needed words to hear that one—and he, every fiber of his being wanting to resist, to refute her, forced himself to be still inside, to turn away and to follow. Which—and this, to his somewhat unique way of thinking, did provide some measure of consolation—was rather a great challenge in itself, nothing seeming to want to cooperate that morning, limbs having stiffened up terribly during his long night of stillness beneath the bear hide. Though passing the dark hours in a great deal more warmth than he would have done if left to his own devices, his general condition had nonetheless suffered rather greatly due to the extended period of motionlessness, and now—though perhaps rather more willingly than Liz would have liked—he must pay the price. Which he did, moving about quickly as he was able in helping to break down camp and prepare for their departure, rolling hides and gathering the few items Liz had brought along and stashing them in her pack, which he then proceeded to strap to his own back, quite unwilling that she should be required to carry both the entire load—for he and Juni had brought next to nothing—and little Will as well. And he knew she probably wouldn’t let him carry Will. Probably shouldn’t, for certainly there were times when he had been a great deal steadier on his feet than that morning. Would be doing well to get himself down the first few hundred yards of descent without a nasty fall or two, and there was no way the little one ought to end up in the middle of that. Irked him to no end to admit this, even to himself, but he knew it was true, and knowing, would have had to refuse the charge of Will, had Liz attempted then to give it to him.
Somewhat alarming, when he stopped and thought about it—that’s your problem, you know, this morning? This stopping and thinking. Would get a lot more done if you kept moving, saved the thinking for later—that only hours before and in exactly the same situation, or perhaps even worse for not having had the benefit of Liz’s hot breakfast, he would have quite willingly taken the little one on his back and started down—or more likely up—that mountain without a second thought. The idea of his slipping on the steep, snowy rock, tumbling, falling, breaking things on the way down and ending up a bloodied wreck at the bottom of a rockslide somewhere held little fear for Einar, was, at worst, perhaps even mildly amusing for the images it put into his head—vultures circling, diving, briefly reconnoitering before dismissing his emaciated and by-then already half frozen carcass as hardly worth the trouble; it gave him a bit of a chuckle—but the idea of Will coming along for such a ride, no choice, simply dragged along because his father had lacked, at the moment, the judgment and agility to successfully navigate such terrain… Einar shuddered, quickly looking away from the spot where happy, safe and entirely unaware of his recent danger, his little son sat snug in the hood of Liz’s parka, playing with a raven feather Thank You for keeping him safe… And now, on with his work. Prepare to leave, to follow Liz down the mountain. Only, he had stood still for too long. Could hardly move.
The cold. Now that he had given up resisting it to the degree required when one is contemplating spending a night out in it with so little protection, the bitter chill of that alpine morning seemed to have gained on him a greater hold than ever, gnawing, twisting, seizing with teeth of iron so that every movement hurt and before too long he found himself wanting very badly to curl back up in the comparable warmth of the hides—hey, he’d done it for the night, hadn’t he? Made that concession, why not go all the way?—tell everyone to go on without him, and sleep. Just to spare himself for a while the agony of movement, the bitter struggle of forcing unwilling limbs to bend, flex, bear his weight. Might have done it, too, had it not been for that thing within him—subdued somewhat, in his willing desire to bend to Liz’s wisdom, but not wholly tamed—which bade him keep going, take advantage of every opportunity for challenge and use it to his advantage, as way to increase strength, endurance. And for Liz, herself—had her own expectations of him, she did, and he’d no intention of disappointing her again, not this time—who knew he needed the struggle and did not try too hard to intervene, eyes mostly remaining averted as she made her own preparations. So, he kept on his feet, kept moving, and soon they were ready to head down.
All this time Juni had remained quite silent and kept herself somewhat apart, watching both instructor and spouse as if at times unsure to which she was supposed to look for direction, but observing after a time that they were of the same mind--or at least that Einar had laid aside the demands of his own mind in favor of Liz’s wishes for him. A challenging accomplishment, indeed, for one whose strength of mind and stubborn will came anywhere near equaling Einar’s, and she found herself surprised and somewhat impressed that he had been able to do it, for however brief the stretch of time might in the end prove to be.