Morning, slow, creeping, frigid, but beneath the bear hide the little family was warm, more or less. Einar, in reality, was no less on the verge of hypothermia than usual of late when he was not involved in some sort of swift and frantic movement, the climbing of a mountain or some such, but at least he was dry, out of the wind and near to Liz, who had through the night done her best to see that he go on warming, and stay that way. Her night having been thus somewhat disturbed and at times less than entirely restful, it was Einar who woke first, staring out at the faint grey of morning out beyond the close cluster of evergreens which had sheltered them and experiencing a brief moment of almost-panic at the realization that he was to have been up long before then, tearing his way up the slope with Juni in tow, day two of what was to be one of the most challenging survival courses either of them had ever experienced, or led…which in his case was saying quite a lot.
The consternation did not last, however, Liz feeling him stir and encircling him with an arm, gentle but insistent, don’t go anywhere, you’re staying right here with me for now… And he did, remembering in bits and pieces the events of the past evening and knowing that he ought to be taking advantage of his current state—more or less thawed out and not shivering too badly, if still tense and stiff with cold—to say to her the things he’d wished but been unable to communicate to her in the dark hours, but he found himself not a little reluctant to disturb the peace which currently prevailed over the camp. Even Juni, when he bent his neck a bit in search of her, appeared still asleep in the bag that Liz had given her—violation of the unwritten rules on survival courses such as that on which they’d embarked that past morning, but seeing as he had in the end consented to such violations on his own part he could hardly object too strongly, and knew they could more than make up for the infraction, later—appeared still quietly asleep, so he laid down his head and relaxed against Liz. Well as he was able, at least, considering the always-present grip of the cold on his very bones, and the way said structural components pressed against one another and grated, when he moved, on every irregularity in the ground, a familiar situation and one to which he had largely accustomed himself, over time.
Not a bad place to be, even if, left to his own devices, he almost certainly would have preferred to at that moment be scaling some dizzying and almost certainly slippery windswept spur of life-forsaken rock, grinning into the icy wind and daring Juni—and his own weariness—to try and catch up to him. One of them would have done it sooner or later and, he mused, mind wandering a bit more freely than he normally let it as he lay peaceful and without an immediate destination beneath the bear hide, he might very well not have survived the encounter, this time. Particularly with the second one. Had been stalking him awfully closely of late, the very closeness necessitating a further separation of his mind from the immediate and logically-undeniable likelihood of his imminent demise than he usually required of himself to get through the day and keep pressing on through circumstances which would have halted many other men, and though that skill had innumerable times in the past not only proven useful but made the difference between his staying alive or not, he knew what that could do to a man’s mind.
Could leave one, in addition to being too used up to reason with any great degree of clarity or certainty much of the time, utterly and unshakably convinced that one could go on indefinitely in such a manner, living on noting but air, maybe an occasional bit of water—but probably not, because after a while, you started forgetting that, too, losing the urge to drink and it took too much effort to remind yourself—and the grit in your gut that kept you going…which a man really could not do. Not forever. He knew that now, at the moment, somewhat rested, fed and still enough for reflection, but knew also that he would likely as not forget again, as the day went on and his existence once again grew grim, desperate, requiring of him all he could give. Always seemed to forget, find himself back in his usual way of thinking, pushing on ahead and determined to do so until the very end.
Shook his head, shivered, re-positioned his legs—carefully not wanting to wake Liz—so that bony knees didn’t press quite so painfully against one another. Some example, indeed, for his student, if he’d managed to finally use up those surely near-failing stores of energy upon which he’d been (barely) living, while they’d been out on the course. Would have been a fine lesson in rescue and recovery, he supposed, and the thought angered him—that he would have put her in that position, especially had he managed to live though whatever event finally ended his head-long dash towards the cliff, thus endangering her own life as she sought to retrieve and revive him. Shut his eyes, jaw clamping in fury at the thought.
Some instructor you are. Some example. Seems Liz was trying to say something along these lines the other day…yesterday? They do all start blending together, don’t they?...and looks like she must have been right. Though you sure weren’t interested in hearing it just then, were you? Nope, not at all. Seriously, man, how did it come to this? And worst of all—again, she was right in saying this—is the fact that often as not, you’re not only unwilling to recognize it, but unable. Or so it seems. Surely if you really tried, you’d be able. You’re not that dense, or at least you never used to be. Trouble is, when you get into that mode you don’t want to recognize it. That’s the last thing you want, because when it comes down to it, that pushing ahead no matter what and all reasonable limits be darned is a survival mechanism, and a mighty useful one from time to time, but right now, you to admit that it’s outlived its usefulness. And had pretty doggone nearly outlived you.
Got to turn that around, but really, I’m not sure I know how. Have managed to get awful set in my ways it seems, to the point where most of the time, I’m absolutely convinced that anything which might even threaten to interfere with my ignoring the state of my physical body and pushing full steam ahead is the real threat to my survival, and must be fought tooth and nail until it gives up and leaves me alone—even if it’s my own wife. My dear, dear patient Lizzie, whose grace and forgiveness I cannot even begin to fathom… And he stopped for the time with his reflection, still, silent, listening to the regular sound of her breathing and watching as, far away on the opposite ridge, sunlight slowly began creeping onto the bristling black spine of high timber, easing its way down towards the deep, shadow-filled valleys below, Muninn the raven beginning to stir at the realization that morning had come, or was about to do. A full day, no doubt, plenty to say to Liz, new trails to be started down, walked with her…
If he could bring himself to remember.