Unbeknownst to Einar as he started off into the deeper timber, the course he’d chosen in his effort to give the towers a wide berth would, itself, end up providing him the food he so badly needed for the continuation of his journey. All he knew at the moment was that the handful of coarse, bitter lichen he’d managed to choke down seemed to be having some beneficial effect, filling his stomach and lending him an energy which, if not what he might have expected from a more nutritionally-dense sort of snack, certainly went a long way in contrast to what he’d had before.
The tower. He could just see it over the tops if the nearest trees. Too close, and he altered his course, retreated several yards further into the timber. Must not lose his sense of where the thing lay, even if his path did take him out of sight of it for time to time, for he had the sense that to accidentally step out of the trees in too close proximity to all those new sensors and antennae might prove a fatal mistake. Hard to say who might be watching, or how quickly they would be able to mount a response, should they see something that caught their interest.
A clearing ahead, snow mostly gone in its center, exposing grass matted down with the white, spider web-like netting of snow fungus which often marked the retreat of the snowpack. Already he could see the vibrant green spears of avalanche lilies piercing the damp soil beneath, thriving on the abundant moisture of the melting snow. Soon—weeks, still, but soon—those shoots would rise and grow and burst forth with a riot of yellow flowers as they took full advantage of the alpine spring, a carpet of gold covering the meadow. No flowers yet, but there were, Einar knew, roots beneath those shoots, and though perhaps not in their prime in that season, a handful of the things would certainly provide him more energy than the lichen had done.
Advancing cautiously, Einar reached the edge of the meadow and stood alert, listening, needing those lily roots but unwilling to step out onto the open ground of that meadow. Some rules simply must not be violated when one is existing under questionable circumstances, and that was one of the more important among them. Still, there were some lilies growing around the edges, and though not showing themselves as clearly as the ones whose heads were already above the soil, they revealed to Einar their positions by the little mounds of soil that were raised above them as they worked their way towards the surface. Subtle clues, and ones which showed up far better from the ground level, so Einar lowered himself to the ground, knowing that it would be a struggle for him to rise again but counting the information thus gained worth the effort. Dozens of lilies, even there in the shadows of the trees, and creeping backwards on his stomach Einar searched out a digging stick, found one in a strong, barkless stub of a dead spruce branch which he broke from the tree and hastily sharpened before beginning his task.
Had to go carefully, not disturb the soil any more than was absolutely necessary lest he leave clues for potential pursuers, but the roots of the lilies were deep, not near the surface like those of the similarly-provident spring beauty plant—too bad none of them were around, as the two plants often shared territory, but he saw no sign of the second—but sometimes as far as a foot down, growing sideways in the soil. Too bad he wasn’t a bear, Einar could not help but think, so he could simply dig and shred and free the soil of its bounty of roots, but he was no bear, and must take more care not to leave sign. Digging carefully with his sharpened stick, he soon found the soil there in the shadows of the timber to be still frozen not four inches down, disappointing if not terribly surprising, seeing that the snow had so recently departed and the spot received very little sunlight. Squinting, striving mostly without success to bring his eyes into focus—vision had seemed to be growing worse over the past days, and the realization of how quickly the thing seemed to be advancing disturbed him—he scanned the far edge of the clearing, searching for shoots and trying to assess whether those spots might receive enough sunlight to make the digging easier. Difficult to tell for certain, but it appeared not. Must move out into the open, then, if he wanted some of those roots, but instead of doing so, Einar raised himself wearily to hands and knees, and again retreated into the timber.
Defeat. Not a good thing, especially when one is struggling so hard to begin with, but not an unaccustomed one, either. He would move on. Find another food source. He hoped. Would try to move on, at least. Seemed to be trapped for the moment, and when he sought out the cause of his seeming inability to leave the immediate vicinity, it was to discover that he’d accidentally crawled smack into the middle of a cluster of wild rose bushes. Shaking his head and laughing silently—he’d experienced a brief moment of near-panic at the thought that he might finally have reached the end of his strength, and rendered himself at last entirely incapable of meaningful movement—he sought to free himself, working carefully at the brambles.
Not only brambles, he discovered as he worked, for the bushes were in places dotted with clusters of last year’s rose hips, withered and faded by fall frosts and a winter under the snow, but still there, still, he knew from prior experience, containing a fair amount of sugar in the dried remains of the fruit, and oil in the large seeds which filled their centers. Forgetting for the moment his need to be free of the thorns Einar devoted his entire attention to filling his pockets with the shriveled fruits, almost forgetting in the process to fill his mouth, as well. Not terribly sweet were the fruits when at last he remembered to eat some, many of them sour and a bit fermented-tasting after their warm fall days on the vine, but he did not mind, knew that some sugar would remain available to him despite the ongoing process of decay.
Before long—even before he’d exhausted the readily available supply of rose hips—Einar could indeed begin to feel their energy working in him, steadying hand and sharpening vision which had been going increasingly blurry, and given this newfound strength he again surveyed the lily-meadow, this time seeing detail—and hope—that he had not been able to notice before. While the meadow-edges were almost universally in shadow due to the trees, there was one spot roughly opposite his present position where the timber thinned out, having allowed more sunlight to reach the ground. He could tell by the advanced melting of the snow on that side, white strands of snow-fungus already beginning to disappear as they did after a certain time out in the sunlight and the lily shoots on that side higher even than the ones near the meadow’s center. Best of all was his discovery of a large, sloping granite boulder that lay on the edge of the meadow in this area, mostly submerged in soil and with its surface angled down towards the ground, reflecting sunlight and likely explaining the advanced state of growth in the lilies around it.
To Einar, the boulder meant a way to access the lilies without leaving too much sign as he lay on the ground digging, an important need and one which had been lacking on the side of the meadow which he had first approached. Rising—still difficult, muscles locking up painfully in protest, but not refusing this time to bear his weight—he finished freeing himself from the rose brambles, and set off skirting the meadow through the trees, ready to fill his pack with lily roots and continue on his journey. Going home.