Their supper, when Einar got through working on the elk hide, consisted of large, thin shavings of fresh elk meat wrapped around narrow slabs of bear fat and heaps of dried serviceberries, a meal the likes of which Liz had never seen before, but which she had to admit was rather tasty--though has circumstances allowed, she would have preferred to cook it prior to eating--and probably would have been even had her hunger not been so great. It surprised her, then, when Einar seemed to be having a hard time finishing his portion of the meal, and she supposed his ribs must be troubling him a good bit more than he was willing to let on. Recognized that look of distance and concentration in his eyes, his breathing careful and controlled, wished she could help but the lamb skin with which they had been wrapping his ribs was soaked along with the rest of their clothes, would have only made him colder if he’d put it back on, and it didn‘t look like he needed to be any colder that evening. He’d simply have to manage as well as he could without it for the night, and she knew he was perfectly capable of doing so. Just wished he’d finish his supper before giving it a try.
Einar, though definitely troubled some by his ribs and having to exert a good deal of control to prevent himself from grumbling and groaning and curling up into a little ball against the wall of granite--not something he had any intention of doing--was preoccupied that evening by far more than his physical difficulties or their present uncertain circumstances. Winter was undeniably on the way, they weren’t ready, and he knew it was his duty to change that in a hurry. Which had to start with their not losing any more time to the search, not being discovered by whoever had left the camera down in that clearing. Bad enough that they were being forced to spend that night away from the cabin--could count that as the price of the elk hide, he supposed, and a fairly reasonable price at that--but if they managed to get caught up in an actual search and had to spend who knows how many days evading it, the results could be nothing short of disastrous.
Dark. Liz had brought a candle, but Einar wouldn’t let her use it. Said it would create too much of a heat signature if they were being watched from above, from up there beyond the clouds where drones could be circling, trying to pick them up, and she wanted to tell him that while perhaps he was right, none of it would matter too much in the long run if they didn’t find some way to ensure that the two of them were still creating heat signatures of their own, come morning, and some source of heat would certainly help with that, candle under the elk hide creating a tent of warm air…but she kept the remark to herself. Could feel that Einar was already a good deal colder than she, and supposed there was no need to keep pointing out the obvious or taunting him with things he believed he could not have. Must not have, and perhaps he was right to be so cautious. At least--more than he would have done even a few weeks prior, she was quite certain--he had allowed them to hole up against the wind, spending the night under fairly dry shelter instead of pushing all night through the storm, up and over the ridge and away, never to look back… The candle could wait. Could definitely wait. Einar was laying out his weapons, spear, atlatl, darts, knife, beside the pallet of fir boughs in preparation for the night, silent, hadn’t hardly said a word since their arrival at the shelter, and she joined him, helping him to unroll the heavy elk hide and tuck it around the two of them as well as possible while keeping out of contact with the wet areas; inadequate cover for such a night as they faced, perhaps, but so very much better than nothing. They slept.
Through the night the snow went on falling, early, wet, heavy enough to break branches from some of the aspens which had only just begun to shed their leaves for the fall, and Einar dreamed restless dreams as huddled against the wind, hurry and hunger and the coming of winter. Too early. Too soon. Beneath them the ground was rocky and uneven, fir bough mattress not quite adequate to keep them from either the cold of the stone or its roughness, elk hide a good bit damper than they had thought and only adding to their trouble, but travel-weary and reasonably well adapted to such conditions, they still managed some reasonably long stretches of sleep between shivering spells.
Morning came, and the snow, when Einar hauled himself out from under the hide to take a look, was a good four or five inches deep outside the shelter of the trees, and had stopped falling. The sky remained heavily overcast, wind sharp and unrelenting and the air cold, but he got the sense that the snow was through. Which wasn’t necessarily good news. Creeping through the firs, Liz joined him, blinking at the brightness of the newly fallen snow.
“Is it over?”
“Afraid so. Looks like we’re stuck here for a while. Was hoping the sun would come out this morning and melt the stuff, but it isn’t looking too cooperative. Don’t want to risk leaving a trail in all this fresh snow that could be picked up from the air if anyone’s watching, if that camera does turn out to have been part of a search,” and how could it not be part of the search? You were a fool to allow yourself to entertain the idea that it was anything but part of the search… “so we’ll need to stick around here for awhile, hope either the sun comes out and melts this stuff off, or it starts snowing again to cover our tracks when we leave. Until one of those things happens…well, this is home.”
Liz nodded. A dismal prospect--would have been a lot less daunting had they been able to have a fire…and some more food, and the bear hide--but they’d come through it just fine. Meantime, it looked as though Einar intended to go on standing there all day, just staring out at the rugged landscape around them and waiting for the snow to melt, watching it happen, returning flake by flake to its liquid form and seeping away between the rocks, and she put a hand on his arm. “You’re shivering.”
He shrugged. “Doesn’t matter.”
“Well, I’m cold too, and that matters a little, at least to me, and to little Hildegard…”
“Better go get back under that hide, then. I’ll join you in a minute. Want to get out to the edge of that next outcropping, it’s not far and I won’t leave too much sign because I’ll be crawling through the heavy timber all the time, see what kind of a view it gives me downslope. Don’t think I’ll be able to see that clearing, but need to check for smoke, any sounds that might be carrying…”
“Want me to come with you?”
“No. More sign if we both go. Better go get warm, wait in the shelter.”
Which she did, crawling back through the trees and huddling under the cold-stiff elk hide and sorting once more through the few items they had brought with them. Not much, should they end up stuck there for long, and waiting for Einar to return, she was already turning lengths of nettle cordage into snares, knowing she had to try and do something to increase their meager food supply but knowing just as well that the snares would almost certainly prove of little benefit unless they were free to leave the confines of their little shelter-grove, and wander.