Having worked together to finish the scraping of the sheep hide, Einar and Liz found themselves able to go no further with the tanning process, as they needed heat to prepare the solution of bearfat and ashes which would serve in place of brains in the tanning process. Too bad. Einar had really wanted to get that first layer spread on, keep things moving along, but at least they’d be able to have a fire after dark, unlike those times when, finding himself directly under the fury of an active air search, he’d had to simply dry whatever hides he’d managed to get ahold of, using them raw and stiff and barely pliable, which was exactly how he, himself had often as not ended up after a cold night spent huddling under one of those things. Their present situation, already in possession of several properly tanned hides, including that of the bear, looked like pure luxury by comparison. Best keep it that way, if we can. Which he knew they might not be able to do, and they had to plan for that, as well. Liz had gone to the cabin for some water and a bite of jerky, leaving him to rest there on the log beside the stretching frame, and he took the deepest breath he could manage, rose as she returned.
“We need to get this food spread out, Liz. I’ve been real negligent about getting us some caches set up around here, something that would give us the chance to grab basic supplies and run with them if we have to get out of here in a hurry, and it’s past time we get that done. I figure our best bet will be a couple of willow baskets like you made for the honey, only larger. We’ll coat them real well with pitch, make up some batches of pemmican and stash them in there, maybe some extra jerky and bearfat too, some of those dried serviceberries…I’d like to get a hide in there too, in case we aren’t at home here when we decide we’ve got to run. Would be good to have something to sleep under at night, if that happens. Think we can spare one, since we’ve got this new sheep that’ll be ready in a couple days?”
Liz nodded slowly, didn’t want to be without any of the hides they currently possessed, especially with cold weather coming on so quickly, but saw the sense in Einar’s wanting to cache one. It could make all the difference later, if they ever did have to leave in a hurry. “Yes, let’s do it. I’ll get started right away on the basket. Where do you figure we ought to put it?”
“Hard to say just how we’d be leaving here, would depend on where they were coming from, but I’ve had a couple of likely routes picked out for a while. Best one seems to be down through this timber below us, down where it gets so thick and the ground’s all broken up by those six, eight foot drops, little cliffs everywhere, would be hard for anyone to follow us down that if they didn’t know what they were doing, and then we’d cut across one of those draws, the one that has the creek in it, across that and out onto the timbered ridge that parallels the red one, get away into those acres and acres of timber. It needs to be something they wouldn’t expect us to do, and for most people that would involve heading up immediately, since most folks when they’re pursued tend to head down, take the quickest and easiest routes, but I’ve set a pattern, I’m afraid, and they’ve got to be well aware of it. When I run, I tend to do the opposite of what most folks would, and head straight up. So we’ve got to break that pattern if we ever have to leave here, because if we do, I don’t expect there’ll be much warning. They’ve lost too many men times when we’ve had advance warning, and they’ll go about it real cautiously and real thorough if they’ve learned anything at all, which won’t leave us much time or much room to maneuver, more than likely. Figure we’ll put that cache up in a tree along the route, just where we plan on turning and heading up again, maybe right beside the draw with the little creek in it, because that would make us a good landmark. Hang it from a tree like we do around here to keep bears out of things, only stick some branches in it first, weave them around it so it’s not obvious if a human ever does happen to stumble across it, which I sure don’t expect one will, but we can’t assume that. Needs to look like part of the tree.”
“I think we can manage that. Might even make sense to attach some random little evergreen sticks and branches to the outside with pitch…by the time I get done with this cache basket, it’ll look like a squirrel nest!”
Einar was laughing. “Well, don’t overdo it. We don’t want people seeing it and thinking that it absolutely has to be brought down and examined, measured and photographed, being the world’s largest-ever squirrel nest! Keep it within reasonable parameters, and the idea sounds great.”
“Alright, ‘reasonable parameters’ it is. I’d better go measure squirrel nests. And gather willows. This is going to take a lot of them.”
Einar, not quite sure whether Liz was serious about measuring squirrel nests and very curious to find out--didn’t want to ask her, and it seemed one of those times when he ought to have been able to tell whether or not she was joking, only, as usual, he could not--started to follow, but he could not keep up with her--helps to be able to breathe--and as her demeanor clearly indicated that she wanted to do the task alone, he opted to remain behind. I’d probably just slow her down, anyway. Got to work on that. Got to get stronger, let these ribs heal up so I’ll be good for more around here. There’s a lot to being able to keep going against all odds, prove yourself, strengthen your resolve and all that, it’s good for a man’s character and most folks don’t do near enough of it, pass up on way too many opportunities to test themselves, but there’s also a lot to be said for being physically strong enough that you don’t slow people down, too. Which--much as you might try to deny it--you’re not, right now. Can only keep up a pace like this for so long before you fall down dead on your face, or pretty close to it, and that’s not gonna be real helpful to anybody, especially now when winter’s just around the corner. This is ridiculous, Einar. You can do better. True, all of it, nothing there he could dispute, and he knew he had a responsibility to Liz and to the child to take care of himself, try and get things to heal up in a more timely manner, but somewhere in the back of his mind was the dark realization--perhaps not put into words even in his own mind, but there, nonetheless--that he didn’t know what he’d do without the daily struggle. How he’d get by. As if--absurd, but no less real--the struggle itself was the only thing truly sustaining him. He’d be lost without it, didn’t want to give it up. Was terrified to give it up. Which was a ridiculous thing to be concerned about. You’re gonna have all the struggle you can handle and more this winter just keeping you and Lizzie and the little one from starving and being taken by the cold, you big fool, without creating your own. Now you get…you just get it together and do what it takes to make these ribs knit up so you can be back at full speed again. Quick. And he would have, had he known what to do. Some things simply do not happen quickly.
So he went into the cabin, began sorting through their food stocks and other possessions and assembling the items he wanted to put in the cache. That, he could do. Jerky, bear fat, a generously sized packet of dried serviceberries and several hands full of spring beauty roots provided a good start on the food portion of things, to be supplemented as soon as they could have a fire by a good big batch of pemmican--I can go ahead and pound up the jerky for that, get it powdered and ready to go, have to do that next--and with food taken care of, he moved on to other things. Lumps of spruce pitch for fire starting and glue, a fist-sized glob of bee’s wax that could be burnt for nearly smokeless fuel if need be or turned into candles, several atlatl dart tips that he had not yet mounted, twenty feet of nettle cordage, a big clump of milkweed down for catching sparks, the knife Susan had left for them on her recent visit--a small folder which represented an extremely valuable “extra” knife in addition to the fixed blade that each of them carried--and the deer hide. Good. That would provide them a start should they end up unintentionally separated from the bulk of their gear, a far better start than he’d had, a number of times. He really wanted to add one of the cooking pots, a vessel for holding and boiling water being the only thing really missing from the cache, but figured he’d better wait and ask Liz before appropriating one of her constantly-used and much treasured pots for any such purpose. He wouldn’t have long to wait, as a crashing of brush out at the edge of the clearing told him that Liz was returning in quite a rush, and he was on his feet, stepping to the door to see what could be the cause of her hurry.