After a shared supper of hot pemmican stew, drunk hastily from the pot after much breathing of its warm, wonderful-smelling steam Einar and Liz began their preparations for bed, checking drying clothes and finding them still quite damp despite their time hanging above the fire. The deer hide, though, which had been Liz’s focus, was well on its way to being dry, only the edges still damp in places and they took turns working on it, draping this side and then the other lower over its branch so everything could benefit from the fire’s heat. While he thought it a good idea indeed to sleep atop the little spot of warmed ground left by the fire--they were going to need every advantage they could get that night, and between the warmed ground and the eight chunks of granite which Liz had rounded up and set to heat in the fire, perhaps they might even have a chance of catching a bit of sleep--Einar was not yet ready to let the fire go out, wanted its light by which to complete their sleep preparations, and he carefully scraped it a little home in the soil not far from its current location, finding and preparing a number of fresh little twigs and carefully transferring one burning stick after another until they had two fires going, upon which he used a large, flat granite chip to scrape aside fire and coals from the first location, leaving only the bare, heat-radiating ground on which they would be spending the night.
After moving the fire Einar gingerly rolled the eight hot granite chunks after it, nestling them around the new blaze to go on heating against the time when they would serve as bed-heaters. Liz, meanwhile, had been cutting big, soft fir boughs for their bed, knowing that to spend a night on the bare ground, even if part of it had been heated by the fire, was asking to wake up half frozen and perhaps in serious trouble. Which they were probably going to do anyway--the bit about being half frozen, at least--going into the night badly chilled as they were and with only the benefit of a single deer hide to cover the two of them, so it seemed the least she could do was to keep them from direct contact with the ground.
Returning from her bed-bough gathering, Liz was very happy to see a fire still burning, huddled over it for a time warming herself before venturing out once more to make the bed. It truly was growing cold out there, and the long wet wait on the ridge followed by that slow, rainy descent had really chilled her to the core, and being without clothing on a wet, windy night in the dark and dripping timber was not her idea of fun, even if one did have a fire to return to. She couldn’t imagine how Einar was managing as well as he appeared to be--still visibly cold but definitely alert and busy doing his part to prepare the camp--as badly as the whole thing had affected him, but knew his thoughts on such matters probably differed significantly from her own, as their present situation was just the sort he seemed deliberately to seek out for himself from time to time, though to look at him--face all hard lines and sharp angles as he struggled to breathe through the hurt of his damaged ribs--he certainly didn’t seem to be enjoying it anymore than she, at the moment. Had it not been for the ribs, she had little doubt but that he’d be finding the entire evening only slightly short of delightful, and she shook her head, smiled in his direction. Goofy guy. Now why don’t you come on to bed, before the ground starts getting cold under it…
The boughs of Liz’s fir-branch bed dug into Einar some, poking him here and there though the soft needles did a good bit to cushion them, but he was far too tired to care, and before long both of them were fast asleep beneath their single hide, hot rocks piled around them and the ground beneath radiating heat, huddled together as the rain went on outside the shelter of their trees and occasionally, carried on an especially strong gust of wind, found its way beneath them, too. Liz managed to sleep reasonably comfortably but Einar, having been far more thoroughly chilled than she and still feeling terribly hungry despite the pemmican stew, shivered through most of the night and woke cold and stiff to the grey light of a very clear early morning, clouds having moved out sometime in the night. Body aching with chill and he himself beginning to feel an urgent need to take a look at where they had ended up for the night, how far they’d got from the ridge, he gently disentangled himself from Liz’s embrace and crept out from beneath the single hide that had served as their blanket for the night, shivering in the crisp morning air and tucking already-numbed hands beneath his arms as he limped bare-footed over to the edge of their spruce grove, peering out through the cloud of his breath at the small meadow that lay just beyond the edge of the timber.
They had made a good bit of distance that previous evening. Far above the ridge loomed red and shadowy in the dawn light, the dark folds of timber separating them from its heights representing the steep, slippery terrain they had struggled through after dark the night before. Einar let out a big white-billowing breath of relief, settled into a warmth-conserving crouch there at the edge of the clearing and rubbed purple-cold shoulders, studying a layer of frost that lay white and prickly on the meadow grass and on the great, half-rotted trunk of an ancient spruce that had fallen sometime in the dim and distant past, and was actively involved in returning to the soil of the meadow. Cold night, and he could just make out the faintest trace of snow up on the higher reaches of the ridge; the rain had, apparently, turned sometime in the dark hours.
Getting creakily to his feet Einar hurried back over to camp, dug with shaking hands into the ashes of that past night’s fire, finding some warmth a few inches down, and below that, living orange coals. Shivering, he lay down and curled himself around the tiny firepit, hoping largely in vain to be able to absorb some of the heat radiating out of it. Oh, how he wanted a fire, but knew they must not risk one now that daylight had returned and the storm moved on. The men would be stirring from their tent up on the ridge and there seemed a good chance the helicopter might be back, also, to finish work cut short by the previous day’s storm, so he did the next best thing, and crawled back in beside Liz. She all but yelped at the chill of his body against her, wanted for a brief moment of confusion to shove him away and roll herself up snugly in the hide but instead wrapped herself around him as well as the baby would allow, lay there shivering with him and doing her best to rub some of the ice from his bones--you’d have a lot less ice in your bones in the first place, I’ve got to say, if there was more than skin covering them; it doesn’t make for very good insulation--as the morning light strengthened, sun beginning to show itself far up above them on the sharply fractured red sandstone heights of the ridge.
Liz had been dozing again but was brought back to full awareness when Einar shifted position in the bed, attempting to escape a branch that was pressing into his hip. “The sun’s up, isn’t it?”
“Close. Just hit the ridge. Be down here in a while.”
“Did you get any sleep? I’m afraid you were probably freezing all night, once the rocks started to cool off…”
“No problem. I’m pretty good at…freezing and sleeping all at the same time. You?”
“It was a good night, just like you said it would be. So very much better--and drier!--than the afternoon was. I slept. It’s getting pretty cold just lying here, though. How about we go out and sit in the sun when it gets here, and have some breakfast?”
Einar nodded, stomach cramping up at the thought and the cold seeming to strengthen its grip on him with the reminder of his hunger until he pressed himself down into the fir bough mattress in search of a bit of warmth, but it wasn’t working well at all. “We need to be…moving on pretty soon here. Chopper may come back, and we don’t want to be around for that. Still hoping to get an elk…”
“I hope so too! We were so close up there on the ridge. Maybe we’ll find another herd in one of the little meadows--like this one--between here and the cabin. It would be a shame to have come all this way and not bring something back, but I’m just glad to be out of the rain and hail, and out of sight of those guys! Everything else is extra.”
“Shame to not bring something back, yeah…but that’s…you know, when you’re living the life of a predator-critter, that’s just the reality sometimes. Not every hunt is successful.”
“No, but when one is, the critters eat all they can hold so they’ll be all stocked up and have something to live off of until the next kill, and if we get an elk today, I expect you to do that, Ok?”
Einar gave her a reluctant smile, looked away, sure she must be able to see the hunger in his eyes, must be responding to it. “So if I’m hearing you right, you’re saying I don’t have the brains of a mangy old coyote. Is that it?”
“Well now I never said anything of the sort! Except that yes, come to think of it I guess it could have been taken that way, but that’s not exactly how I meant it. You use your brain too much sometimes, I think. I’m saying that when we get this elk, you need to be like the mangy old coyote and just tear into it! Eat your fill, curl up and sleep and then have some more. That’s how the coyote would do it.”
“Right. Imitate the coyote. I’ll keep that in mind. Just wait ’till you hear me howl!”
Which got him a playful whack in the side of the head from Liz--you big goof, I don’t want to hear you howl, I just want to see you eat--and with that the two of them were out of the bed, Liz close on Einar’s heels as he ran shivering for the little patch of sunlight that had finally found its way up over the ridge to fall golden and inviting across the meadow and into their stand of timber. Huddling together in the sun against one of the spruce trunks at the meadow’s edge with the hide wrapped around them for warmth, they watched the frost turn to steam and rise gently from grass and fallen tree and rock under the gentle ministrations of the strengthening sun, nibbling at a breakfast of pemmican, cold and somewhat soggy, but tremendously appreciated. Beginning themselves to warm slightly in the sunlight, neither of them were particularly anxious to end their breakfast and go on with the day, as they knew it meant getting back into wet and icy clothes that had hardly had time to begin drying at all over the fire that past night, but finally Einar rose, stretched and started for the tree where the garments awaited them. They had an elk to take, and had better get started.
Watching the frost turn to mist in the morning, red ridge way up to the left in the distance...