The words, though Einar wanted to speak them, would not seem to assemble themselves in his head, stop whirling about and allow him to array them in some order which might lend sense to their otherwise-chaotic ramblings and stand some chance of being understood by Liz, and because they would not, he kept silent. Needed to warm up, knew that now, as his priority had shifted from putting himself to severe, night-long ordeal in order to test and strengthen his endurance, to simply being able to intelligibly communicate certain things to his wife. One being no less difficult than the other, he wanted if possible to add a degree or two to his—he was certain, though likely he would have vehemently denied any such knowledge, only minutes earlier—woefully lowered body temperature before making too serious an attempt.
Needed to get up and move, he supposed, which was far easier said than done with Liz’s arms wrapped rather insistently around his middle, squeezing nearly as tightly as the iron-jawed grip of the cold. Hated to disturb her in any way, especially after the rather tremendous disturbance he had already brought to the camp that night, but without some movement soon and some serious warming, he was reasonably certain to descend, before too much longer, into a dazed stupor in the midst of which he would be quite useless when it came to making things right for Liz. A dilemma of sorts, and one which, chilled and weary as he remained, despite his resolve to stick around camp for the night, he found himself rather lacking the insight to begin remedying.
Liz knew, could feel the change in him and, no longer worried that he was about to head up the mountain to freeze himself for the night and believing he would be willing to come with her, she rose, helped him to his feet and led him closer to the fire. Still wordless they stood together, hand in hand and Einar trembling violently as the heat of the flames rose to begin warming him, a process to which he had been so adamantly opposed only minutes before and which, he knew—an absent, fleeting thought in a mind nearly too exhausted and chilled to entertain any such—would surely take the better part of the night should it be allowed to go to completion. Which it must, this time, for he had to speak to Liz, had to…
Caught himself, just barely, as he’d been about to topple forward into the fire. Liz would herself have caught him and almost certainly insisted he sit, had she not just then been busy retrieving some nourishment from a far corner of the little firepit, lifting the vessel with the help of a bit of tanned buckskin and handing it to a none-too-steady but thoroughly focused Einar, who struggled to prevent it spilling into the flames.
Pot of leftover broth kept hot in the coals, a wonderful, life-giving thing, and as he drank, tears ran down the deep, pain-etched hollows of his face as Liz watched with some amazement—I released you from our agreement; why are you eating?—overjoyed to see him willingly and without even gentle coercion on her part taking an interest in the things which would help keep him alive, with her. With them, for they were indeed a unit of three, a fact of which all were rather suddenly reminded when Will woke, seeking milk only to realize that Juni was not at all the right sort to be giving it, and protesting the injustice with a hearty and indignant howl.
Taking the child, feeding him, Liz kept close to Einar as he crouched trembling and half in a daze over the low flames and flickering, shimmering bed of coals, red-orange with bits of blue leaping on occasion from their depths, dancing, merging, mesmerizing, almost, to his cold brain but he managed to tear his eyes away from the sight, smiling gently as he watched mother and child together in the soft and changing light. In time Will was satisfied, sleepy, wrapped snugly and tucked in for the night beneath the bear hide which Liz had packed along against the chill of the dark hours, and it was, after he’d finished his broth, to this same spot where she led Einar, got him out of his snow-damp and partially frozen garments and in beneath the soon-to-be warming confines of the fur, joining him, allowing the fire to burn low.
Bruises over bone, bruised bone, raw, abraded flesh on shoulders, hips, everywhere the fantastically exposed structure of his barely-covered skeleton protruded in sharp-angled relief as it had never been designed or intended to do; she tried to be gentle, but the activities of the past day had taken their toll, climbing, bashing shins and knees against fallen trees, rocks, and most especially his time in the rockslide with Juni, her strenuous rescue from the pit, and it was at times all he could do to keep still and refrain from crying out as she worked to warm him. Managed it though, glad and grateful simply to be once again in the light of her presence, if keenly aware of his unworthiness…
For Liz’s part—not at all finding him unworthy, glad of his presence as he was of hers, treasuring the time, rejoicing, relieved that he was allowing her to help—she found the whole thing in sensation a bit like wrapping herself around a heap of fractured, icy granite slabs and shards, something she might have scraped up out of a scree field at the bottom of a broken and disintegrating cliff face, but she persisted, feeling the slow but living rhythm of his heart echoing beneath painfully keen-slatted ribs and knowing that some warmth would come, with time. In time. She hoped. Hoped all of it was in time, for despite her recent protests to the contrary and her declaration to Einar that she was ready and willing to let him go, if that was what he wanted, out into the snow to perish, truly she had very desperately hoped his decision might be to stay. Trouble was, as she saw it, that despite his late resolve to change things a bit, come around to seeing them more her way, he clearly lacked a complete understanding of the sort of trouble he’d allowed himself to end up in, mind telling him that everything was fine, even as his body was teetering on the precipice, dangerously close to death.
Unless he was somehow able to see and admit those facts, she feared that no amount of resolve on his part would be likely to keep him from ending up in exactly the same predicament after another week or two, or a month… Though at least in a month, the snow would be starting to leave the high country, grass emerging, temperatures warming…perhaps it would be enough, a month. She could hope, for she did not know how to go about making him understand. No need for too much understanding that night, though. They were, with Einar’s consent and agreement, warm together beneath the bear hide, a thing easily understood by both and, for the moment, uncomplicated, and it was enough.