Silent, observing, sensing Einar’s discomfort with the subject and so attempting to make herself as small and unobtrusive as possible during the telling of the thing, Juni had listened intently, her journalist’s brain making, almost without her willing it, lists of questions which she wanted to ask him about this new bit of information, this new piece to the puzzle which was the story of Einar. Only, she did not ask, silently reprimanded herself for so much as thinking of the thing in those terms.
This isn’t a story, this is a man’s life, and though he might very well tell you more if you were to ask…well, you’d better be ready for the consequences of dragging him through all of that, before you do it. If you do it. For now, you’d better just be quiet and let Liz do her thing, because it looks like she’s pretty good at it. A good thing she came along when she did, I guess, even if it does mean losing the rest of my week of survival training, for now. That was some pretty tough stuff, and though I would have got through it…I’m pretty sure…there seems to be no guarantee that he would have. So, things are working out pretty well, all in all. I just hope Liz gets the message here that he’s trying to give her, or he may end up taking off up the mountain again, way too soon…
Liz got the message, or thought she did. Einar was trying, intending to do things a different way for a time, had come to see the wisdom in some of her words but must, to some extent at least, make the change in his own way and without feeling that he had lost all say in the matter of what was to happen to him, day to day. Understandable, if perhaps not the most efficient path she could conceive, especially given his propensity to forget after a meal or two—or a dream, or the over-flight of a distant, rumbling helicopter—the ongoing direness of his situation and resort once more to sitting and freezing himself in the snow to make up for the supposed weakness represented by his having conceded for a moment that he was indeed human and must, on occasion, rely on some form of physical sustenance if he was to go on living… Yes, with these things in mind she would have found herself much more thoroughly reassured had he shown a willingness to commit himself to some plan which would have assured his continued progress in the right direction even should he forget, in a day or two, that such was in any way necessary, but that clearly wasn’t happening, and under the circumstances, she was more than happy to take whatever she could get. Which seemed to involve his avoiding any situation in which the course of his daily activities was too heavily influenced by anyone other than himself.
Alright then, she would not push him too much, would be content if he simply managed to remember his current resolve when it came to allowing himself to grow healthier and stronger, ate a bit more, rested now and then… If even those things could be accomplished, she was sure the difference in him would be quite significant, might, perhaps, even be enough to get his mind working a bit better so he’d have some chance of staying on his present course, and see him alive and safe through the remainder of the fading winter. She could not ask for anything more and did not intend to do so, took his hands—he could object later if he wanted to, but for the moment she simply wanted to avoid his falling against the stove when he rose—and helped him to his feet.
Reptile hands, they were, cold, all hollow and sunken between the bones, like the hands of a lizard. And, she told herself, he was probably about as warm-blooded as one just then, too. How he had managed to stay alive at all over those past months, let alone maintain the amount of work he had many times set for himself was a source of complete bafflement to her when she really stopped to think about it; stubbornness and strength of will could carry a man an awfully long way, but in the end one’s body had limits, had to have, and he’d found and surpassed his so long ago that he probably didn’t even remember what it felt like to be living on the other side of that thin, wavering line of division…
Yet, somehow he’d kept going. The grace of God, maybe—definitely that—combined, perhaps, with a belief, firmly held if never quite articulated even in his own mind, that to give in and to die—as his body surely must have numerous times come rather nearer doing that he would have liked to admit—would have been too easy, too quick a release from the self-appointed and sometimes rather elaborately-devised routine of torture and deliberate deprivation which marked so many of his days. And in his own mind he didn’t deserve that, such an end, the rest and respite it would provide him, so he hung on, day after day and continuing absurdly past all reasonable limits of bodily endurance, if for no other reason than that it would have been too easy for him to leave, too gentle an end. Or so she imagined. Figured it must be something like that, and though the thought of it made her sad for him, she was grateful at the same time that something had helped him to stick around through all those tenuous months, even if the motivation was not what she might have hoped it to be. Enough. I’ve got to quit this, or he’s going to hear me speculating, and start worrying that I’m plotting something. That wouldn’t be real helpful right now, would it? She shook her head, smiled at the puzzled look in his eyes as he watched her. He’d half expected, upon being hauled to his feet, to have her start right back in again about his getting in bed, staying there, despite his just having told her in rather more detail than he would have preferred to remember exactly why he could do no such thing. But she did not, instead simply draping his parka over him and glancing at the bed to be sure Will was still asleep.
“Alright, I hear you. No more trying to get you go anywhere near the bed during daylight hours…though I still think you’d get better faster if you would allow yourself more rest…so how about you come and help me bring in some firewood, instead? I didn’t do that before heading out to follow the two of you up the mountain yesterday, and it shows..”
“Firewood. Sure. That, I can do. Can do it all by myself actually, if you’ve got other things you need to take care of…”
“Nope. Nothing. Let’s go.”
Muninn, always wanting to be helpful, or at least to be in the middle of things, hopped and then flew along with them, taking up a position atop the woodshed as they filled arms with broken branches, split logs and the bundles of short, dry twigs they’d taken to using for kindling, Liz pausing once to listed for any sign that Will had awakened inside and was anxious for food, but hearing none. Good. That would give her time, and nodding to Einar, follow me, she set off into the spruces, away from the cabin.