Drifting, half-dreaming he lay in the main entrance to the mine, body still somehow finding the energy to shiver and the hurt of sprawling with bones all bare and trembling against the hard rock floor of the place keeping him for the moment from entirely losing touch with the world. Quiet in there, sound of the storm almost stilled, and he could see the raven, not quite willing to enter that dark place and not in the least bothered by the storm’s fury, perched in a fir just outside, watching. Waiting, it seemed, and he was waiting, too. Time getting slippery again, slipping around him and he through it as his vision began dimming, eyes wanting to close, which they would have done, had it not been for the sound.
High, thin cry it was, and he’d heard it before, wail of a hungry child whose mother was unable to give enough milk, both of them slowly starving, village burned, hiding in the jungle and the rice had run out… Knew he shouldn’t go to them, shouldn’t stop, ought instead to press on to…wherever it was he’d been going, but he couldn’t remember at the moment exactly where that was, and did not want to carry on without knowing something of the situation. First though, he had to get up.
Pressed hard against the hard earth beneath him, straining with muscles weak, unwilling, finally rising, swaying, hands braced against the wall, cold, rough, solid, and it was good. Dark in there. Couldn’t see, so he followed the sound, feeling his way, soon on hands and knees again as much to avoid stumbling into some undetected pit as because his legs couldn’t be counted upon to support him, or at least that was what he told himself, and very soon he wasn’t in the mine, at all, native rock replaced by the smooth-burnished, iron-rich clay of long ago, Einar feeling his way along with the minute caution of a man all the time expecting to run into a hidden tripwire, concealed pit, a waiting enemy who would club him in the head before he had any chance to resist…
Progress tedious and slow as he kept moving, checking, clearing the tunnel, and all the while he seemed to be drawing nearer the sound of the wailing child. Though he knew it could be a trap, he was drawn to the cry, wanting to investigate. At times the sound would stop, silence falling in the tunnel, not even a drip of water or breath of air intruding on the harsh sounds of his own shivering breath, and he clamped his jaw, attempting silence. Must be the first to hear, if there was anything to hear, first to act, or all would be lost. Must not let his breathing give him away. To which end he held his breath, forgot to start breathing again and eventually, after a time of crawling along thus, passed out for lack of oxygen.
Silly creature. Woke wondering how he had managed to find his way into the mine, for he did not at all remember doing it. Good to be out of the wind, no longer lost in the storm, mighty good, but it wasn’t enough, for still he was freezing, soaked through from his time in the snow, clothes frozen to his body in places, not at all a good sign. Had to find Liz. Let her know things were alright on the outside. Maybe borrow that blanket for a little while, if she could spare it… No idea where he was. Dark, no source of light, rocks rough beneath his hands, but that gave no clue. Somehow he’d crept his way in from the entrance, crept far enough that its light no longer reached him, and in a moment of near-panic he knew that he might not be able either to retrace his steps, or to find his way forward to wherever his family waited. Petrified at the prospect he held himself perfectly still, listening, trembling against the cold stone of the passage, body slowly settling to the floor in an unconscious attempt to conserve what little energy it somehow still possessed.
Might, he realized, already have passed the spot where they waited, lost himself irretrievably in the dark and convoluted bowels of the mine, leaving them to slowly starve in their hiding place, unsure what was happening on the outside and thus unable to leave and look for food, day after day waiting his return… The horror of it—though really, he knew Liz would do no such thing. Had a much better head on her shoulders and would figure things out, do what she had to do for herself and the little one to survive—got him moving again, inching forward, stopping to sample the air, hoping for a breeze to tell him in which direction lay the entrance. Nothing. Seemed logical to assume that behind him was the entrance, before him the depths of the mine, but the way he’d been curled up when he woke, he knew that no such assumption was safe.
Tried to slow down and think, goad his chilled brain into giving him the answer, but no answer came, no direction, and he was just about to admit defeat, turn around and begin crawling—the wrong way, as it turned out, down a passage which would have led him away from the alcove and deeper into the mine—when heard Will wail, knew his direction again, nearly weeping with relief as he followed the sound.
Liz heard him coming, knew by the sound of his breath that it was him, and not some stranger intruding upon the seclusion of their little alcove, and sliding Will around onto her back she hurried to him, speaking softly lest he fail to recognize her, take her as some enemy emerging from the darkness.
Had her hands on his shoulders, a brief embrace as she raised him, helped him to stand, arms around him, guiding him into the alcove and then releasing him briefly to light one of the tinder pellets from the pouch he’d given her, add some sap-infiltrated bark chips to the little flame so it would burn for a time. She then returned to hurry him out of his snow-soaked and frozen clothing, get him wrapped up in the blanket, Einar protesting all the while in a broken, almost unintelligible staccato that he was just fine, feet a little cold, but otherwise fine, Bud and Susan just fine, everything alright for the moment. Clearly she wasn’t understanding him, appeared distressed about something and seeking to reassure her, he took a few deep breaths, steadying as well as he could the wild gyrations of limb and voice which seemed to be making effective communication so difficult, and tried again.
“Feds not…trying to take them. Bud and Susan. Safe. My tracks…tracks covered. Storm. Safe here…”
“Yes, good, good, I’m glad they’re safe. And we’re safe. And now I need you to come sit by this little fire for a minute, and tell me more about it. Can you do that?”
He could, and did, Liz adding a few splinters of wood to the flames, watching the smoke as it was drawn by some undetectable air current deeper into the mine, staring after it as it went, inspecting the deep hollows of Einar’s face in the firelight, the sharply shadowed prominence of his spine through the skin as he sat hunched over in the blanket, and asking herself how she was to do it. To get him through the cold, damp hours and perhaps even days ahead of them in the mine, this starved, exhausted and already half-frozen man who had barely been able to hold his own even in the warmth and plenty of Bud and Susan’s home, not yet knowing that the answer was to come from Einar, himself.