When evening came without any apparent letup in the storm, Einar found himself growing increasingly restless penned up as he was in the cabin, the place seeming to press in all around him as he longed for the stinging bite of the wind on his face, for somewhere to go and the challenge that would come of getting there, even if it was just to the woodshed and back. They had plenty of wood though, thanks to his earlier expedition, and with Liz seeming to watch him more closely than usual, he knew his chances of slipping out unnoticed and thus un-followed had to be pretty minimal.
Could simply go, let her know that he needed some space and air and head out into the storm, but knew this would not be in keeping with the resolve he’d expressed to her up at their last camp before returning, his determination to really make an effort to allow himself to grow physically stronger as she’d been urging him to do for so long. He’d meant it up there, had even believed, himself, that it was the right thing to do and being a man of his word knew he must stick to the things he had told her, but that was, at the moment, his only reason for doing so. Any conviction he might have had that such a path was the right one for him had managed to evaporate sometime after his third bowl of stew—desperation lessening, resolve returning, and with it a great shame that he had ever allowed himself to give in, to slip, for that was now how he saw it—and now all he wanted was the severe life and death challenge which he knew would be brought him by spending an unprotected night out in the storm, in his condition. Might kill him, but it seemed at the same time the only thing with much chance of keeping him alive, of making life a livable thing, on an ongoing basis. Foolish notion, he told himself, trying to believe. He was alive, had to be doing better than he’d done in days, between Liz’s extra bowls of stew and her insistence that he did for the most part allow himself some rather unaccustomed rest and warmth, and he would stay that way—and maybe at some point start seeing the entire process as a good thing—if he could just summon the patience to see it through.
Which, resignedly bracing his back against the water barrel and wrapping arms around his knees as if in an attempt to hold himself in place, he tried very hard to do. Could wait. Knew how to wait.
Though appreciative of Einar’s obvious efforts, Liz was perhaps a bit less reassured by his waiting than he might have hoped her to be. She knew the look that was creeping into his eyes, the look of a trapped animal, and she did not like it at all. Did not like the idea of going into the night with him in that state, because she had seen where it could lead, but not even these strong apprehensions could justify, so far as she was concerned, sending him out to die in the wind, just when a bit of progress was beginning to be made…
Liz sighed, turned back to Will, who was once more going at the raven, this time with perhaps a bit too much enthusiasm so that she was concerned he might end up aggravating the bird and getting a peck to the eye, picking up the child and attempting to turn his attention elsewhere. No minor task, but at least it got her mind off Einar, with whom she was beginning to become dreadfully frustrated. No way to figure him out, is there little one? Too bad you can’t talk yet, maybe you could tell me something useful about how you guys think… Or maybe not. I’m not sure he knows exactly what he’s thinking right now, or why. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was almost as much a mystery to him as it is to me. Well. Carry on.
Which she did, slipping Will into his buckskin sling to keep him close—and out of trouble—as she went about supper preparations. Their supply of fresh-frozen meat continued to hold out fairly well despite having Juni around as an extra mouth to feed, and despite the fact that both before and after her arrival, they had been working pretty consistently to get the remaining stuff sliced and dried for jerky. They’d had a good bit to begin with, and Juni had very nearly made up for her share with the fresh meat—rabbits, mostly, with the occasional squirrel or even grouse making up the remainder—that she brought in from her frequent short expeditions around the cabin, and as they had always eaten this fresh when it was brought in, this left a fair portion of the frozen meat yet to use. That night Liz had chosen venison, good—any food was good, she had come to realize, after a long day living in the cold, a tremendous blessing and never to be taken for granted—if not such a treat as elk, but they were getting short on fresh elk, Einar having already turned most of it into jerky. No problem, as the jerky would serve them well over the coming months to provide trail snacks and stews for both home and the road, and for that night, venison would do just fine. More than fine, really, as they were all hungry after the cold and wind of the day, though most of it had been spent sheltered, more or less, by the walls of the cabin. This hunger was especially evident in Einar, whose face remained painfully pinched and hollow despite several days of better eating, and though he was doing his best to conceal the extent of his need, she could see it in his eyes every time he glanced towards the stove. It was a struggle she saw in his face each and every time she presented him with a bowl of stew—the desire, perhaps even the need to refuse, to resist, overcome with tremendous effort and at great cost—and though he had of late been winning more often than not, she knew there was no guarantee that things would continue to go that way. Best get as much food into him as possible, while he was willing.
Supper finished, cleaning done and everyone thinking about settling in for the night, the wind still howled outside, perhaps somewhat less furiously than it had done during the day but still with enough enthusiasm to prevent any thoughts of the storm being over, and with the coming of darkness, already low temperatures plunged rapidly. Everyone inside could feel the change, walls keeping out most of the wind but the little stove struggling to push back the icy chill of the night.
Eianr, quiet since before supper and growing increasingly withdrawn as night approached, wanted to sleep out in the tunnel that night, could feel trouble coming and didn’t want to be near Will—or either of the women—when it happened, mentioned the fact to Liz but, true to form, did not tell her why he wanted to separate himself for the night, assuming she would know. Liz did know, or at least suspect, Einar’s reason for needing a bit more space, and though knowing she would eventually have to relent and allow him to do what he believed he needed to do in that regard, she hated the thought of him starting the night out that way, cold as he already appeared to be. With much effort she talked him into coming to bed instead of heading immediately outside, willing that he should eventually end up in the tunnel if he was so determined to do it but wanting at least to get him a bit warmer first, give him a better chance of making it through the night out there. Will, having worn himself out in another raven-chasing session after supper, was already asleep, and the two of them lay together beside him, Liz wrapping herself as well as possible around his cold-stiff frame and he marveling, as always, at her presence.
“You’re so warm. How do you do that…?”
“I eat. Enough to have some insulation on me, that is, as well as to produce energy for the day. And you don’t, and you feel like a block of ice right now, but we’re going to fix that.”
“No fixing it.”
“Oh, yes there is…”
And so it happened that Einar, contrary to his initial intent, was still in the cabin when the storm ended, skies cleared and the visitors came.