Morning, and Einar lay for a time watching the light grow stronger through the crack above the door, warm there under the bear hide and knowing--nose numb out in the crisp chill of the morning air--that once he left the bed, it might well be hours before he managed to be warm again. No matter. The cold was good for him. Just hoped he might be able to manage to avoid shivering that morning, for the most part, because he could tell it would aggravate his ribs. They’d ached pretty badly all night after the strain of hauling that sheep down to the cabin, reminding him of their presence with sharp stabs of pain whenever he began breathing too deeply in his sleep, waking him, and he did not especially wish to trouble them further, if it could be avoided. Granting himself another minute in bed, he slowly took in a deep breath, filling his lungs, breathing through the tearing hurt of it, knowing that he was asking for trouble if he allowed himself to continue with the shallow breaths that came as an automatic pain-reducing response to the injured ribs. Did it again, deep breath, hold it for the space of a few seconds, let it out, five or six times and then that was enough, quite enough really; he was beginning to sweat with the effort of it, and he rolled out of the bed, crept over to the door and went out to meet the morning.
Liz was still asleep, and he let her remain that way, moving quietly, eased the door back closed behind him. Seemed Liz had needed more sleep lately, had been taking advantage of any opportunity afforded her to get a few extra minutes here and there, and he supposed it was probably good for her, and for the little one. A lot of growing going on, for both of them. Speaking of growing he guessed he could stand to do a little himself, around the middle, anyway, and to that end he sought out the trees where they had hung the sheep, wanting some good steaks to fry up for breakfast. Had been dreaming about them all night, smelling them, hearing their crackling over the flames, and more than once during the dark hours he had found himself suddenly lying there wide awake under the bear hide, those steaks so real it seemed he ought almost to be able to reach out and grab them. He’d just laughed at himself then, curled up against the chill that was trying to seep in under the bear hide and against the hollow, grinding emptiness in his stomach, done his best to go back to sleep. Lots worse things to dream about, to wake up seeing, and smelling, and he had been glad. But was more than ready for some breakfast. Better, he told himself, get busy skinning the critter out pretty soon too, slicing the meat up for jerky, as drying was their only real way to preserve it, at the moment. Give it a couple months, and they could simply hang carcasses and allow them to freeze, carving off the meat as they needed it. But they weren’t there yet, and a good thing, too. Were not ready. But would be.
Lowering the ewe then, Einar managed to bring the creature up short just before it hit the ground, snubbing the rope around one of the trees and hanging on for all he was worth as he wrapped it around and around, securing it. Whew! That was pretty close. Not that it’d hurt the sheep to fall to the ground, but I’m not real sure I’d be able to raise it again, and wouldn’t want Liz knowing that… Goofy thing to be concerned about, really. Back to work. Get the meat, start a fire, and if you work fast enough, you just might be able to have some breakfast waiting when Liz gets up. About time you did something useful around here. Severing one of the animal’s hind legs and easing the skin back to expose a haunch, Einar procured meat for their breakfast, setting the two good-sized slabs on a clean rock while he broke twigs for a fire, arranged them and brought the little blaze to life, glad, as always, to see the minimal amount of smoke created by the good dry wood they normally used, even upon the fire’s first starting. A good thing. Never knew who might be watching, especially then with the first of the hunting seasons--archery--upon them if he was figuring correctly, and others to begin soon. If their actions had been cautious before, they would need to double that caution and discipline for the next two months. Which would be somewhat of a hassle, those two months being the time when they would need to be most active in making their own winter preparations, but…ha! Two months? In two months it’s gonna be November up here, Einar, and the snow several feet deep, more likely than not. You got a month, tops, to finish doing anything and everything you need to do before the snow comes. A fact which, rubbing cold-aching hands over the growing fire, he could not doubt at all. Weather was certainly changing. Propping the rock slab near the fire to allow the steaks to begin cooking, he got stiffly to his feet, eased back into the cabin after a bit of bear fat, one of their cookpots and some water. Managed to complete the task without bumping into anything and waking Liz, hurried back to the fire with a sigh of relief. Had been a near thing, as clumsy as he found himself that morning. When Liz woke it was to the wonderful aroma of roasting sheep and onions, Einar having found a few little wild onions there in the clearing and carefully eased their small white bulbs out of the ground, chopping them finely and adding them, along with the greens, to the sizzling steaks on the rock, and she joined him, accepting with a wide smile the pot of raspberry leaf tea he handed her.
“You’ve certainly been busy! Whatever you’re cooking there smells great. I’m surprised each and every meat-eating creature that lives within eight miles of this place hasn’t already shown up to demand his share of this breakfast! I know it got my attention. How are your ribs this morning, by the way? Any better?”
Einar just shrugged, tried not to grimace as he took a good deep breath just to demonstrate that he was capable, they’re still here, haven’t shifted and punctured a lung yet so I guess they’ll be just fine, and so will I if I can just manage to get a full breath every now and then, though so far that isn’t going too well…an answer which he was fortunate not to have spoken aloud, as Liz wouldn’t have found it the least bit reassuring, wasn’t finding his silence very comforting, either. Wondered--she’d asked herself many times already over the past several days, all to no avail--if he might be angry at her over something, perhaps at her friendship with Susan, even, somehow blaming the recent visit on her, might be refusing to speak as a sort of punishment, but that did not seem at all like him, and besides, he didn’t act angry. Not that she could tell, anyway. Sometimes it could be hard to tell, with him. She shook her head, returned her attention to the pot of tea, which really was rather tasty. He’d been generous with the honey. Too generous. They were almost out. But back to the matter at hand. As she’d told herself before when pondering the matter, his silence likely had little at all to do with her, especially considering the path he’d been on over those past several days. Some very rough ground, and though he’d seemed to come out of it a good bit better off than he had gone in--was sleeping better, even, a fact to which she could attest without doubt, and therefore so was she--there were bound to be some things he and his mind still had to work out with one another. Pretty serious things. So she knew she ought not blame him, ought not worry too much, either, if it took him a while to be fully “himself” once more, whoever that was, knew needed to be patient, but as a purely practical matter, his silence was really beginning to get in the way. In the way, for instance, of their planning the coming day, during which she really hoped they might be able to pay another visit to that bee tree, replenish their dwindling honey supply and perhaps--sounded ambitious, but it needed to be done, sooner or later--even proceed with the honey harvest. Well. She could talk if he couldn’t, wouldn’t, whatever the case might be, and there seemed no reason to hold back. Maybe he’d even see fit to answer.
“I’ve been thinking we ought to get back to that honey tree pretty soon here, see if we can find a way to make the bees go to sleep so we can climb up in there and stock up on some more of that honey. We’re almost out, and it would be a shame for a bear or something to come along and realize what’s in that tree before we’ve had a chance to get ahold of a good bit of it, ourselves. What do you think? Any ideas for getting the bees to go to sleep?”
Einar nodded. Yes, he had ideas. Had been contemplating on the possibilities, picturing the little moss-wrapped tinder bundle that they would use to--hopefully--produce enough smoke to pacify the bees somewhat while still being able to breathe, himself, a device similar to those he had sometimes used to carry live coals from one campsite to the next, only smokier, for those had not smoked much at all, and meaning to demonstrate to her the concept, he began gathering the components from the ground around them there in camp, dry moss, slightly damp moss, bits of aspen inner bark and, for the outer case, two pieces of thick white aspen outer bark between which to sandwich the bundle of smoking material. Would have gone right ahead and assembled the thing then and there--and possibly thereafter headed on up to the bee tree, why wait?--had not at that moment he realized the sheep steaks were ready, quite ready to eat, the two of them ravenously hungry after the exertions of the past day.