Their planning did not get too far that night, as Einar kept drifting off to sleep mid-sentence while trying to describe to Liz the hunting camp, and she kept him going only long enough to get a pretty good idea, herself, that the place and its occupants weren’t a major threat to them--not an intentional one, anyway--before giving up and allowing him to remain asleep. He clearly needed it so very badly, and they could just as well do the planning in the morning. That night was a fairly quiet one for the pair in the cabin, Liz weary from a long day of work and wondering about Einar’s absence, and Einar so exhausted after the previous cold, sleepless night and his rather difficult climb that not even his dreams--horses and helicopters and the hot, acrid smell of charred aluminum and burning flesh, smoke in his lungs and a burning in his eyes as he ran--could wake him. Which was somewhat unfortunate, but did allow both of them several hours of much-needed sleep…
Early morning, and Liz wakened once again to the sound of a distant rife shot--a single one only this time, they must have hit their target--tightening her grasp around Einar as she heard it, hoping to be able to prevent him from jumping to his feet and further aggravating his ribs. He barely even responded, twitching in his sleep and pressing himself further into the ground, but not waking. A bit surprising, but she knew he’d been dreaming, had, herself, been briefly wakened several times during the night by his thrashing and flailing, the mumbling of half-intelligible words--Warning. They were always of warning, and never directed at her--so she supposed the shot must have blended right in with whatever else was going on in his head, that morning.
Just as well. We’re doing all we can to keep hidden from them, avoiding fires even at night when we probably could have them and not--aside from his little expedition--roaming too far from the cabin, so he’s probably better off sleeping through as much of this as he can. Though I will have to tell him about the shot, when he wakes. Hard to tell here in the mountains, but it seemed to be coming from somewhere over to the north of the basin, down in the timber almost in the direction of our cache, but lower in elevation. He’ll probably want to check the spot out later, I expect, see if there’s any sign that they got their elk. I sure hope they got their elk, so we can be rid of them! Hunting season is not going to be my favorite time of year up here, I see. Which is too bad, because the aspens sure are pretty this morning. What I can see of them through that little crack above the door. I guess we’d better be thinking about filling that in, somehow. Mud and spruce needles, maybe, like Einar used to plaster the stove and chimney. It’s going to let a lot of heat out, and we’re definitely approaching a time when we won’t want to be letting too much heat out. Could use some heat in here this morning, actually. Einar could. Seems I’m always warmer now than I would expect to be, with little Hildegard getting so big, but he’s just the opposite, and even though he insists that he prefers to be cold--and I believe him!--he’d surely be gaining weight back more quickly if he wasn’t freezing most of the time. It takes a lot of energy to keep warm, a lot of fuel. And besides, even if he doesn’t care, for himself, the baby will do better if it’s warm and not too drafty in here, at least for her first few weeks…
So. That’s one project for today. Fill the crack over the door. And we need to do the second braining on that sheep hide, start stretching it and moving it towards being done, so I can start making us a couple of rabbit lined parkas for the cold months! One of them, anyway. Going to need a lot more hides--three per parka, it looks like, to finish the job, and then come the fur-lined pants… This is going to be a much better winter for us, if we can just get those hides. Those hunters might leave us a hide or two, if we can find the spots where they got their elk, and if Einar can be talked into doing it…
At which thought a bit of a shudder passed through her, the memory of her first time raiding a gut pile near a hunting camp returning fresh as the day it had happened, how the action--a foolish, careless thing at the time, and not something she ought to have attempted--had alerted the outfitter Pete Jackson--the less trustworthy of the two Jackson brothers; Jeff had risked everything to help Einar evade capture that first year he’d been out there, was still in hiding over what he’d done--set him on her trail and ultimately led to his death when she stabbed him during his attempt to bring her in, to capture her, make her tell him where Einar was hiding… Without thinking, she rubbed her hands together there beneath the bear hide, the slick, sticky feel of Pete’s blood not seeming entirely gone from them, and she didn’t suppose it ever would. Terrible, terrible days, as had been the ones that had followed, as they were forced to flee their good, secure home in the sheltering rock crevices of the Bulwarks, Einar with his recently broken leg and she having to carry most of their gear as they left ahead of the search they knew would be coming as soon as Pete’s body was found, fleeing into the first major storm of winter, which had covered their tracks and enabled their escape, but had very nearly killed them, in the process. Would in all likelihood end up killing their child, if they had to do anything like that in the near future, with winter coming. The child, and probably Einar, too.
Can’t let that happen. If I go looking for the remains of that elk--assuming they actually got an elk this morning--I will only do it after thoroughly discussing it with Einar, and only if he thinks it’s a good idea…which probably rules out the possibility of getting ahold of that hide! Not a good thing, because lack of good warm clothes can end up killing us the same as having to flee at a bad time might, but I guess we’ll just have to redouble our hunting efforts, and rely more on the trapline, too. It takes a lot of martens to make a coat, but maybe if I cover enough miles with these snares and traps, I can come up with enough to significantly add to the furs we already have, and make up for our lack, so far, of larger hides… It would all have to wait, though, until the hunters moved on out of the area, ought to wait, at least, lest she risk running into one of the hunters as she set out her snares. Doubted they’d make it up as high as the basin, but one never knew, and she supposed the red ridge, itself, actually might make a fairly tempting target for the hunters, a good spot to lie up in the early morning and watch for elk as they made their way along its broad, somewhat grassy summit, ready to head down in search of water and a place to browse for the day. Yes, she could definitely see it. The trapline would have to wait, and the knowledge increased the feeling of danger that had been stalking her all morning, the almost-too-lateness that was threatening to leave them woefully unprepared to face the winter, the coming of the child, and there was little they could do about it. Except to stop lazing around in bed all morning, and get started on that sheep hide, of course! It’s high time we were up and out of bed, wouldn’t you say, Hildegard? We’ll leave daddy--wow, that sure sounds strange to say, and I can only imagine how it’s going to sound to him, at first!--here to sleep as long as he can, and go get started on the hide.
The tightening of her stomach upon crawling out of bed--a fairly routine thing upon rising in the mornings, by that point; practice contractions, just your body getting ready for the big event, preparing itself for something it’s never done before but was definitely made to do, knows how to do, as Susan had most reassuringly told her during the recent visit--seemed far more pronounced that morning, made her stop and have to catch her breath before rising, and if she hadn’t been so set on letting Einar sleep just as long as he was able, she would have wakened him, told him…well, she didn’t know just what, but it seemed she ought to tell him, ask him if it was alright, this strange new occurence...as if he would know…but still she would have liked his reassurance. He was asleep, though, face still looking terribly tired and drawn, but finally fairly peaceful after the long night of dream, and she let him be, and soon the contraction eased, her stomach going soft again, and she finished rising to begin her day.
Einar woke at the soft creak of Liz easing the door closed behind her, hurried out of bed with the distinct feeling that he had missed something, had slept through a warning of some kind and left Liz to deal with whatever threat waited out there, and it wasn’t at all a good feeling, left him scrambling for his knife and atlatl, pausing briefly by the door to listen before joining Liz out in the clearing. At the edge of the clearing, in a little flicker of sunlight that was creeping its way up over the ridge and through the aspens, for he would not venture out into it, and could see that she did not appear inclined to do so, either. Confirmation of the warning he had felt upon waking.
“What is it? You heard something?”
Liz gave him a big smile, shook her head and joined him in the little patch of sunlight. “Just the wind in the aspens and the Stellar’s jays making a fuss over the fox that just ran through the clearing…and a rifle shot, just a single one.”
“Rifle shot?” He scrubbed a hand over his face, winced at a too-fast movement that caused his ribs to bite into his side. “How long ago?”
“Half hour, I’d say. Just before the sun started showing on the red ridge.”
Einar grimaced, snarled at himself and shook his head. Really slipping, here. Don’t like that you could sleep through a thing like that. Don’t like it at all. Guess you’re just gonna have to…guess you don’t get to sleep, from now on. Not while she sleeps, anyway. Have to take turns. “Down in the direction of the shots we heard the other day? Yesterday?”
“No, off to the north, and lower. Only one shot, so maybe they got one, this time…”
A nod from Einar, a moment of blank-eyed staring--the look all too familiar to her--during which Liz worried that he might be about to do something foolish, insist on taking off in the direction of that shot to investigate, to neutralize the threat, but after a time he glanced up at her, shrugged, smiled. “Good. If they got one, maybe they’ll be clearing out of here soon. What’s on the agenda for today? Stretch that sheep hide?”
“Yes! Give it another braining--have to soften the bear fat in our hands I guess, and over the candle, since we can’t have a fire--then stretch it! We’re getting close to done with it, and then I can start on our first parka…”
Another nod from Einar, and he rose, pressed his ribs. “Guess I’d better do something about these. Try a hound's tongue poultice couple times a day maybe, see if it might help speed up the knitting of the bones like comfrey does, wrap them so I’ll be more useful on the scraping job. Got to be sure to take it off real regularly so I can do some deep breathing, avoid lung troubles, so maybe you can help me remember to do that.”
“Absolutely I’ll help you remember. Let me go get that little lamb hide I tanned out a while back. I was saving it for the baby, but it would make a great wrap, and that won’t harm it, any,” and Liz hurried to the cabin to find the dried hound's tongue and lamb hide, glad that Einar was finally willing to take those simple steps to help himself heal, but wondering why it had taken him so long.