Much of the morning--Einar and Liz talking as they worked together on the first steps of tanning the recently-taken sheep hide, this time building a frame and stretching it, Einar knowing that his ribs were going to give him quite a struggle when it came to wringing and stretching the hide, and knowing that he would be better able to help with those processes if the thing was in the frame--was spent in working up protocols for life in the basin during hunting season. They had done it all before from time to time, had in fact lived under far more restrictive conditions during the height of the active search, Einar, especially, recalling times when he had hardly dared venture out of whatever hole he was hiding himself in for longer than it took to refill his water carrier and perhaps scarf up a few ants and grubs, make a furtive dash every few days over to a rock pile in the hopes that perhaps one of his deadfalls had produced, more often than not hurrying back to his place of concealment with stomach still empty to spend another day or two huddled hungry and hurting under the rocks, but despite his familiarity with living thus, it seemed to him wise to discuss the matter in depth with Liz. They had, despite recent caution-inspiring happenings, become comparatively lax since settling at the cabin, most days having fires whenever they felt like it, wandering all over in search of game and wild produce, leaving tracks, sign, and Einar felt a rather urgent need to tighten things up if they were to have hope of holding onto what they had built there in the basin. Freedom does not come without its price.
Part of that price, he knew, included strict limitations on when and how they spent time out in the open, the basin-meadows, the little plateau above the spring where both of them enjoyed from time to time going to sit and watch the weather roll in, anywhere that would potentially leave them visible from the surrounding slopes and ridges, should hunters be up there scanning the area for elk. Fires were to be saved for the nighttime hours only, both because darkness eliminated the risk of having a stray puff of smoke noticed by human observers and because Einar figured most hunting parties would have their own fires at night, thus masking any smoke scent that might be carried down from their cabin on an errant wind. Couldn’t have people getting curious, deciding it was worth their while to come and investigate, and while he knew few would want to interrupt their hunt to deliberately seek out the source of a bit of unexplained smoke, the reality of the ongoing search and the fact that he had a rather large price on his head were not matters to be taken lightly. Kilgore had seemed certain he could direct the air search away from them, for the most part, and indeed it had been a good while since they had seen aircraft whose presence could be directly attributed to the search, but even that respite came with its own potential dangers, bringing the possibility that whoever was directing the search might eventually catch on, fire Kilgore and put all their focus on the areas that they had, for whatever reason he’d been giving them, been avoiding. And of course Kilgore’s assistance at task Force HQ did not change the fact that the hills would, in places, be crawling with hunters for the next two months, many of whom would be fully aware of the ongoing search and not above cashing in on that substantial reward, if the opportunity presented itself.
Finished explaining all of this to Liz and needing a break from the sheep hide scraping--ribs were paining him terribly with the repeated motion, discouraging him from taking full breaths and making it all he could do to scrape and talk at the same time--Einar wandered off into the timber for a minute, resting his forehead against the friendly, smooth-grey bark of a fir and trying to slow his breathing, measure in his mind the full implications of the things he and Liz had been discussing. The search. That reward. The fact that they would never really be able to relax or live as anything but the hunted creatures they were, not even up in the remote kingdom he had been working so hard to carve out for them up there in the basin, not if they wanted to remain free. Not new information to him, of course, but he felt like he’s been living in a dream for the past couple of months, hadn’t been entirely there--I know where you have been, Einar, you’ve been wandering through the jungle again, haven’t you?--and was waking to some rather unpleasant realities. Including the one that was staring him right in the face in the yellow aspen leaves that were scattered in luminous clusters all around the clearing--yellow now, not merely yellowing--and in the light frost that had settled over the basin for the second night in a row that past night, settling in his bones, screaming at him: out of time! You’re almost out of time! Yeah. Out of time, and now we’ve got hunting season to deal with, all these extra precautions we’re gonna have to be taking, and he shook his head, might have slammed it into the tree and gone running into the timber in an attempt to get out from under the terrible, trapped feeling that was coming over him, he not been fully aware of the pointlessness of any such exercise.
Instead--get ahold of yourself, Einar. Messed this thing up bad enough as it is; you don’t have any more time to lose--he pushed himself away from the tree, scrubbed a hand over his face and strode straight-backed and determined out towards the clearing once more, back to Liz, jaw set against the grating pain in his side. (Doggone Kilgore…) Only one thing to do, and that was to throw himself wholly into the work that must be done with the snow-free time they had left, and for the moment, that meant finishing up the sheep hide. Finishing with the scraping of the membrane, readying it for the first application of the brain and fat solution (perhaps only bearfat in this case, bearfat and ashes, as he imagined the sheep’s brain was probably well on its way to being rotted after several days left in its skull with the weather at times warm, not much good for tanning. Liz was still working when he got back, handed him the angled, sharpened piece of elk antler he’d been using as a scraper.
“Almost done with this one side, aren’t we?”
“Looking like it. You work fast, O Mother of a Nomadic Tribe.”
“Well, I want us to be warm this winter, and that means we need all the hides we can get ahold of, so I can sew us rabbit-fur lined snow pants, parkas, mittens, hats like you’d made from the wolverine hide that one winter…I’m highly motivated, here!”
“Rabbits, yeah. We really let the trapline go, but need to get another one set up, lots of snares set out, especially now that it’s cooling off and the rabbit hides are gonna start being worth something again. Fur thicker, skin sturdier…ought to try for some marten, too. A few ermines. Have to take real care to conceal things, keep our routes out of the open areas so we don’t end up getting spotted by a hunter or two while we’re making those rounds every morning or two, but it’s time to get serious about furs, again. You got enough rabbits for that baby blanket you were working on, or are you still short some?”
“It looks like I’ve got enough, but I won’t really know until I use the ones I’ve got and see how big the blanket ends up. Another thing I’ve been thinking about is a way to carry the baby if we have to travel during the winter, something that will keep him dry and out of the wind, maybe a cradleboard like the Utes used, with a good sheltering woven willow hood over it, waterproofed with pitch and maybe beeswax…”
“Yep they sure did use rigs like that, but for early on when the critter’s still real small and not regulating her own body temperature too well yet, seems the best bet will be to wrap her close to your body, maybe use a wide strip of soft hide--from this sheep, maybe--to wrap her against you, then put your parka on overtop everything. That way she’s out of the wind, and the two of you are sharing heat. More the Inuit way than the Ute, but then, not many Utes ever tried to spend the winter up at altitudes like this, so we might be better off using the Arctic model, really.”
Liz nodded, her eyes dark, not even needing to ask why the Utes had wintered down lower…