Einar was confused at the offer of more stew. Seemed to him pretty much all they’d done was to eat stew since returning from Juni’s survival course, that, and tend to the drifted-over chimney, a task which did not seem to him to demand the consumption of such quantities of food, nor with the frequency Liz was insisting they do it. Indeed, she was knowingly and without the slightest reservation taking full advantage of Einar’s apparent willingness, since their talk atop the ridge, to partake more thoroughly in their meals, knowing she risked causing him uncomfortable and even potentially dangerous complications should she push the matter too far or too quickly, but considering these risks minimal compared to the inevitable consequences should he continue on his previous course.
So, at every opportunity she prepared a fresh batch of food, and up until that time Einar had without question accepted everything she offered, mind not on their previous agreement (from which she had, after all, released him) or on much of anything else, either, just letting his hunger take over and direct him, the ready availability of so much good, warm food seeming at times like the best thing in the world. Now, though, he found himself pausing, questioning, conscious mind once more taking an active interest in the matter, and it was not pleased. Not in the least. So he refused. Backed off to his customary corner beside the water barrel to think things through, only he never got too far in his thinking because Muninn the raven, quickly sensing some disturbance, settled heavily and awkwardly on his shoulder the next moment, twisting a bit of his hair and chortling raven sayings into his ear, timeless as they were nonsensical, and Einar had to laugh.
“Oh really, you big vulture? Is that the way it’s gonna be? Well, why didn’t you tell me before?” Gently he shooed the bird from his shoulder—claws dug in something terrible—and expertly fished a bit of meat from Liz’s latest stew with a sliver of cottonwood from the kindling pile, flicking it at the bird and nodding knowingly when the creature seemed satisfied. Exactly what he’d wanted, and Einar supposed the bird’s unease had stemmed from a realization that if his human companion was choosing not to eat, supplies available for sharing would inevitably be limited if not absent, as well.
“That bird can reason, for sure,” he mused aloud, not terribly surprised when Liz responded with a slightly biting, yeah, he can reason better than you, a lot of times…now how about this stew?
A lopsided grin, words whispered near Liz’s ear as if some great secret. “I ate yesterday. And this morning already, or tonight, or whatever you want to call these dark hours…”
Whispering in return, mannerism exaggerated in an attempt to match his own but not quite succeeding, she leaned in closer. “Every three hours. Let’s aim for that, and maybe you’ll have some chance of actually retaining some of what you eat, rather than burning every bit of it as immediate energy just to keep you conscious and your body warm enough to sort of function. How does that sound?”
“Then consider it a challenge. And an example to your survival student that sometimes you’ve just got to do difficult things in order to survive, and not over-think them. How’s that for some reasoning?”
“About like the raven’s, I suppose…”
“Why, thank you. I’ll definitely take that as a compliment. Now, your stew. Show us how to do a difficult thing well.”
Too fast on her feet she was, taking advantage of her knowledge of his thinking processed, and he could have resisted, half wanted to do it but instead accepted the bowl, happy raven hopping circles around him as he awaited his portion of the meal. Not over-think it. Yeah, that’d probably make things go smoother in this case, wouldn’t it? Only trouble being that if I don’t do the thinking now, I’ll have to do it later for sure, and the consequences will only be so much the greater. Guess I can just deal with that when it comes though, huh? And she’ll let me go and do what I’ve got to do at that point, pay the price and keep myself human, or as near to it as I ever come…
Glumly shaking his head—not much chance of that, of her understanding, willingly allowing, when the time came, but nothing he could really do about that—he dug into the stew. It was good. He was dreadfully, achingly hungry. Which immensity of need just made it all the worse that he was giving in. Surrendering. Breaking. Broken. That was just the time when he should have striven the hardest, given them all he had, shown them what he was made of, but now… Stupid, lazy excuse for a human being. Coward. Could have gone on resisting, surely he could have, had he only given it a bit more effort, beaten down the clamoring demands of his body and said no, here I stand and I will not move. Well. There would be other chances. Later. Take up the resistance once more, perhaps redeem himself, even if just a little. That was the way it worked, the thing you must do, each and every time. For the moment he sat silent, head bowed, miserable as he ate a bowl of stew which was, in the grand scheme of things and considering his present condition, probably little less than essential to his continued physical survival. How complicated we humans can make things for ourselves, at times...