Thank you all for your patience, and for reading.
Einar’s need for a few minutes’ silence before returning to the warmth of the shelter turned into an hour, then nearly two, Liz finally coming and leading him inside, glad, as she did so, that spring was well under way and the snow would before too long be gone into the ground. Winter had been long, had seemed long, at least, and she was anxious for the change.
Change coming quickly, air softening as the daytime breezes warmed, and Einar was anxious to be out and doing after his lost days in the shelter, so many things to do as the snow began disappearing in small but growing patches, soil reappearing… His legs, though, would not seem to cooperate, sometimes refusing to support him for more than minutes at a time and leaving him with an aggravating frequency sprawled in the snow, scrambling to drag himself upright again and wedge his body between two trees before Liz could notice. Liz did notice, gently reminding him that food and rest would solve his difficulties, if only he would allow them the chance. When he did not seem to get the idea, her reminders became firmer and more frequent until after some time he consented to a day of rest in the shelter, stillness, sleep, though he dreaded them just then and would have rather continued dragging himself through the snow, had it been necessary, just to keep active.
Sleep. His body wanted it if his mind did not, and once he’d agreed to rest, sleep was not far behind, his times of wakefulness never lasting long that day. The dreams returned with a renewed intensity as Einar rested, staring half asleep out through the tiny, sunlit chinks in the shelter wall, engulfing him in the dark hours and their shadow not leaving him when the night left. He did not want to be like that, not around his family, little Will bursting with energy and enthusiasm as he crawl-galloped about the shelter and tottered with increasing speed about the perimeter of its walls, hands providing him some measure of stability but no longer much support, soon to be walking on his own.
Einar, who wanted to be a part of all this joyous, bubbling explosion of life and could hardly stand the way Liz watched him when the little one approached. She had every right, he knew, to be a bit nervous, to wonder how he might react, considering that he, himself, had hardly known in which world he was living over the past days, but still it saddened him, her apparent lack of trust. Knew he had to do something. So, taking himself a distance from their home and sheltering under the dark shadows of fir and spruce, he resorted to the only means familiar to him, the only ones certain, in his mind, to help.
Pain, and the familiar solace of self-denial. He stopped eating again, spent time with the ropes, testing body and mind in a struggle to bring the two back into some semblance of a liveable equilibrium. Almost too strong for him, this time, these familiar tactics, too much for his body, ill-equipped as it was to replace the blood he was losing, but at the same time they were the only things strong enough if he wanted to live, and he must live. For Will. And for Liz. If only she could forgive him his methods and understand, to some degree, how very hard he was fighting to stay there with them, even when appearances might suggest the opposite.
Liz did not come searching for him during these times when he took to the timber, knew what he was about, and—though finding it very difficult—left him to his own devices. Einar made certain to return to the shelter with some regularity during this absence, bringing meat from the hanging elk quarter for Liz’s afternoon stew and once, to her surprise, a rabbit which he’d startled beneath a thicket of stunted firs just before dark and taken with a rock. It dismayed her that while in the camp he wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t drink, aside from small tastes of snow when his mouth became too dry to allow speech, and after another day of this she had to admit he really was not looking too good, face pale, everything sunken and the whites of his eyes starting to show an unfortunate shade of yellow. She could clearly see all the tendons in his wrist, his arm, ligaments of his hand visible from the palm side now when he moved his hands in certain ways, and she hadn’t even known that was possible.
Enough. Surely it had been enough, she told herself as she watched him retreat to the timber that evening, and though she knew it might be a mistake to tell him so, to ask him to return, she was beginning to think there was little to lose, for surely he could not survive many more days of this. One more night. She would give him this one more night to get things sorted out, and then would do all within her power to draw him back to the warmth of the shelter, to life with his family. Might even have to resort to the rabbit stick. Only, she no longer had a rabbit stick, and hated to think of using it on him even if she had, after the ordeal through which he’d put himself over the past days. He had spoken nothing of it, but she saw the signs.
A long night for Liz, little sleep as she listened to the wind in the firs overhead and wondered if Einar was getting any rest, wondered, drawing the blanket up under her chin as if suddenly feeling the wind as he must be feeling it, whether he might be getting too much, if her intended plea would, in the end, come too late. Several times she almost rose to go to him, once even lacing up her boots, but each time she turned back before making it out of the shelter. She’d meant to give him this one final night, and would stick to that resolve. Not easy, but she managed until finally, arms around his son and a prayer in her heart, she slept.
No need, in the end, for Liz to make her appeal to Einar, for on the morning of the third day after his leaving the shelter he returned, striding into the clearing just as she finished dressing Will for a walk in the melting snow, features drawn and skin looking nearly translucent, but for the first time in days there was light behind his eyes and hope in the deeply-etched lines of his face, and she knew they were going to be alright.
Einar had not returned empty-handed, two winter-scrawny squirrels slung over his shoulder on a length of much-used nettle cordage, the result of a series of snares he’d set around his temporary camp in the trees. These he handed to Liz as she came to take him in her arms, she for some reason bursting into uproarious laughter at the sight, scrawny man with his scrawny, mangy squirrels and a big grin splitting his face at the sight of his family, her anger at his condition dissolving beneath the easy burden of relief, tears lost in laughter.
Einar hung back, a bit dazed and not entirely understanding her laughter, but she grabbed him, pressed him to her and neither spoke for several minutes, Einar finally ending the silence.
“I brought breakfast…”