· · · ·Working steadily on the chimney Einar made good progress, stacking stone after stone as it rose up towards the spot where he intended to make an opening in the roof for it to pass outside. Had considered at first curving it and cutting into the wall to avoid creating potential problems with leaks, but in studying the logistics that would have been required by such a move, had decided against it. Leaks could be found and patched; best to keep things simple. Bud Kilgore had judged well in the quantity of extra stones he’d collected and brought into the cabin, for Einar found himself close to running out just as he neared the top. Time to climb up there and cut the hole, wished he had a saw to preclude the necessity of hacking away at the roof with the axe, but supposed he ought to be able to manage the task without causing too much damage to the structure of the cabin. The rock chimney would actually help support the weight of the roof, or so it seemed to him, help add some strength against the coming load of the snow that was sure to pile up quite deep at times, despite the shelter afforded them by the cabin’s positioning up against the cliffs and beneath a significant cluster of spruces and firs. There would be times, he expected, when they might need to get up there and shovel at least part of the load off…until the house became entirely buried and there was no place left to put the snow. At which point he’d be out there as often as necessary digging them a tunnel from the door up to the surface just so they could get in and out, and all his worries about whether or not he had sufficiently insulated the cabin would be rendered quite moot. They would then find themselves spending the remainder of the winter in what amounted to a wood-framed snow cave, a rather large and sophisticated version of the more traditional brush-reinforced quinzee huts that had been commonly used for winter shelter in more northerly locations, dark, quiet and warm, not at all a bad deal. The place would then be every bit as comfortable as the bear cave where he and Liz had spent a portion of their first winter together, a good, secure den for their little one’s first few months of life, Liz hibernating with the new arrival like a mother bear with her just-born cub. Sounded like a good start, much better start than wandering around in the snow as he--and then they--had done over the past two winters, and he was determined to make it work. If he could. If circumstances did not force them to leave the place, lest they risk capture.
Don’t go down that road, Einar. Don’t even start down it. You know the two of you should have been out of here as soon as you realized that the place had been compromised, soon as Kilgore and Susan left. Got no business sticking around, and wouldn’t have if you’d been alone, no way on earth. Already had this discussion though. With yourself, and with Liz. Don’t open it back up for debate, not now. And he forced himself to move on, to put the matter aside and return to work on the chimney opening. Was having enough trouble wielding the axe with any accuracy or force as it was, needed to put all of his focus into the work. Hands were doing better, slightly less swollen and more able to respond to his commands, but between his ribs and shoulders--their troubles largely ignored since the incident with the bees, out of necessity--it was all he could do to get in a useful chop or two at the rafter logs of the cabin. Kept at it though, knowing he would eventually make his way through, and well aware that the chimney could not be completed until he did. Really wanted to finish the stove project before dark that day so his time would be freed up for other things, processing the sheep hide, getting another trap line established and scouting for the chokecherries that would soon be ready for harvest. Awful lot to do, and--he watched an aspen leaf drift down, yellow, more to follow--time was awfully short. He attacked the roof with a fresh fury, ignoring the pain in his shoulders, holding his breath against the terrible catch and pull that reminded him with every expansion of his chest of the injury to his ribs, hacking away at the logs that remained in the way of his intended completion of the chimney.
Liz, sitting cross-legged in a patch of dancing, fall-angled sun beneath the aspens as she worked on the second of the tightly-woven baskets destined to hold their supply of honey, glanced up in alarm when she heard the sound of breaking wood up on top of the cabin. Not a sound one wants to hear, especially when the house happens to be backed up to a cliff from which rocks could potentially tumble, though she had never yet known one to do so, and she was on her feet, unable to see Einar as he crouched on the angled portion of roof opposite her. Didn’t take her long to figure out what was going on once she saw him, but--Einar too absorbed in his work to realize he was being watched--the fixed grimace of pain and determination on his face did little to reassure her. Looked like he couldn’t breathe, or wasn’t breathing, and she hurried to him, got his attention by tossing a stick up onto the roof. He didn’t care much for being interrupted, let the axe fall to roof and took in a big breath--unintentionally way too deep, hurt his ribs--his first in way too long, turning on Liz with a bit of a snarl.
“What is it?”
“What is what? I just came to ask if you needed any help. What’re you doing, the chimney?”
He nodded, too winded for more words, got the axe back into his hands. Didn’t need help, just needed a couple of new ribs. Very much needed, precluding the rib transplant, not to have an audience as he fought to manage the task at hand, needed to be left alone with his struggle, but it didn’t take him long to realize that Liz had no intention of remaining a spectator, as already she was scrambling up onto the opposite slope, climbing the protruding logs at the side of the cabin and hauling herself--and little Snorri, who seemed more than ever in her way that day--up onto the roof and putting a hand on the axe.