Afternoon gone, evening well underway and the meat almost entirely protected by Einar's mostly-finished cairn, it seemed to Liz only sensible that they should stay where they were for the night, rather than attempting to finish the several hours of mixed climbing and descent that would be required to reach the cabin. Einar, knowing how hard she had worked in retrieving the hide, did not object to the plan.
"Can't have a fire here though, not with us being still pretty close to the red ridge and those men, for all we know, still up there. Have to stick with a cold supper if we stay here."
"I'll admit I was really looking forward to a nice hot stew of fresh goat and serviceberries, but we still have some pemmican left, and between that and the remainder of this liver, we ought to be able to come up with a fine supper. I think we need to go ahead and camp here for the night. I could make it home and so, I'm sure, could you, but it would be well after dark and little Snorri was starting to complain a bit on the last part of that descent, so I think he'd be happier if I stopped now for the night."
"Complain? You having trouble?"
"No too much. Just some contractions that were a little heavier than normal, and some cramping...it's all stopped now, and will be just fine, I'm sure. I probably just need more water, like you did. And still do. Here, let's each have some."
"I'm out of water. Wanted to go down there to the seep in the bottom of this draw and fill up my container, but couldn't leave the meat until the cairn was finished. If you'll stay with the meat, I'll go get us all some more water."
She didn’t want to let him go, not the way he was looking, eyes all distant and face drawn despite the water she’d given him and his largely successful attempts to actively participate in the conversation, but being truly tired herself and ready to be off her feet for a while she nodded, handed him her water container and the cooking pot. The seep, as she remembered, was not too far down below them, just a small smear of dampness on a moss-covered slab of granite, and they hadn’t even bothered to stop on the way up, but she was sure Einar would find some way to extract water from it, and replenish their supply. So she stayed, working to stack a few more of the stones he’d gathered and complete the cairn--a tremendous amount of work he’d done in collecting and stacking those rocks, and she shook her head at the realization of the effort he’d put into it--thoroughly covering the meat but first removing the hide from the cache. Already the evening was quite chilly; they’d be needing the warmth of that good thick wool to get through their fireless night on the mountainside. Would need some shelter from the wind, too, and she spread out the contents of their two packs, taking the sheep hide, which still hadn’t had the opportunity to dry after its soaking in the hailstorm the day before--wish Einar would have spread it out in the sun while I was gone this afternoon so it could have at least begun drying, but it sounds like he was trying to keep himself ready to leave here at a moment’s notice, so I can’t blame him for leaving everything all packed up, really--and draping it over two stubby little firs adjacent to the cairn.
While too wet to provide them any warmth or insulation for the night, the sheep hide ought, she thought, to serve quite well in breaking the force of the wind. And the deer hide, in which they’d slept the previous night, was dry, as were their clothes--a huge improvement over last night, and that’s not even taking into consideration this incredible goat hide we’ve got to cover ourselves with! It’s looking like this may be our first truly warm night since leaving the cabin, if nothing happens to interfere with it. Like another hailstorm. Or Einar somehow managing to enlarge that seep so much in his quest for water that he ends up sitting in it and comes back thoroughly soaked and mostly frozen…that would interfere, all right! But I don’t think even he can get that much water from a damp slab of granite. I’ll have to hope not! And she shook her head at the thought of it, began searching for a few soft-needled fir boughs with which to cushion their bed and get them up off the cold, rocky ground for the night. Having amassed a good-sized pile of small branches--not her first choice in bed-making, normally, but on that high, rocky slope, all the branches were small ones--Liz carefully stacked and arranged them behind the sheep hide screen some twenty feet from the meat cairn, close enough to hear and intervene if anything tried to get at their food in the night, but far enough away not to be directly in the critter’s path, should it be something like a bear. Branches all in place she tucked the dry deer hide in overtop them, spreading the incredibly heavy, woolen coat of the mountain goat over that. A fine bed, and the best they’d had since leaving the cabin, for sure.
Einar, meanwhile, was having a hard time obtaining much water at all from the seep, whose extent his thirsty brain had apparently rather badly overestimated. Finding no puddle in the rather porous gravel beneath the slab over which the water oozed he tired pressing a length of nettle cordage against the dampest part of the rock, trailing its bottom end down into the cookpot and hoping it might serve as a channel for moisture to run down, eventually filling the pot. Which it would have, by morning perhaps, but as Einar crouched there shivering in the raw wind and watching--squinting, light beginning to fail--one slow drop after another find its way down into the pot, he knew he’d better be coming up with another strategy. While he might not have minded spending an entire night watching--and then listening to--water seep and dribble into the pot, Liz would doubtless have some objections, especially considering that she was short on water and counting on him to fetch her some. Shaking himself from the near-trance into which he’d settled and rubbing cold-stiff hands to restore some flexibility he began choosing clumps of moss that had grown up along the course of the water, squeezing them into the pot and filling it with reasonable speed, that way. Wasn’t enough water to fill both their containers and the pot, as Liz had hoped, and knowing how long it would take those moss clumps to become saturated again Einar stood, cupped his hands around his ears and turned his head this way and that, listening for an alternate source of water, but hearing nothing. Not close by, at least, and with darkness nearly complete and Liz up there at the cairn waiting for her water, he decided to call it a night and make do with what they had, which amounted to well over a quart between them.
Too bad we’re not up just a bit higher, or we could be using one of those icy little leftover snow banks for water. Leaving the cookpot behind with his bit of cordage trailing into it in the hopes of finding it full come morning he started stiffly up the slope, much to the relief of Liz, who had begun to wonder if he really had found a way to turn that little seep into a pool and decided to soak himself in it for the night. Would not have been entirely unlike him…
“Little short on water tonight. Seep wasn’t what I remembered it being.”
His voice sounded all shivery and exhausted--was too dark by that time to see more than faint, shadowy silhouettes in the last of the evening light; darkness was coming noticeably earlier, of late--and she wished they might have a fire that night after all, heat what water he had managed to scrape together and have a little hot soup and tea, but knew she’d have to be content with the fact that they had a good dry warm bed, plenty of fresh liver and some leftover pemmican for their supper, a bit of shelter from the wind and were, come morning, only a few hours’ travel from home.