Liz had spared no trouble when it came to preparing their supper that night, adding wild garlic and a generous helping of dried nettles to a pot full of chopped goat meat, along with the creature’s heart. Bits of bear fat had been added to fortify the meal, and a handful of serviceberries thrown in for additional sweetness and flavor, the broth further thickened by the addition of several avalanche lily corms, pounded to a powder and stirred in near the end of the cooking. Off to the side in a coal-burned bowl sat what smelled to Einar like a pudding of some sort, rich and brown and consisting, he found upon later inquiry, of goat’s blood--Liz had managed to save and bring back a quart or so of the stuff--chokecherries and honey, thickened once again with a bit of lily root flour. Limping to the cabin after his struggle with the heavy hide in its frame Einar had been more than ready to simply roll into bed and not move for a very long time, had, in fact, rather doubted his ability to keep himself upright for much longer than it would take to make it in the door, and had been hoping Liz wouldn’t mind if he simply crawled into bed just as he was, travel-worn clothing and all. The smell of that supper, hitting him like a solid wall and enveloping him as he entered the cabin quite changed his mind, reminded him of just how hungry he was after the past few days of hard work and climbing and left him feeling quite wide awake as he hurried over to the water barrel to wash up. During which attempt he promptly fell asleep leaning over the barrel, washrag in hand and head sagging forward until his hair and forehead trailed in the water; had not, apparently, been as wide awake as he’d thought and did not wake again until Liz turned from her stew-stirring and saw him apparently taking a much needed bath…in our drinking water supply!
“Hey, Einar, you’re contaminating it! Let me heat you a pot of water if you want a bath before dinner, but don’t do it right there in the barrel!”
Which got her a surprised grunt from Einar as he returned rather suddenly to wakefulness, whirling around on her with eyes wide and water streaming down his face, shaking his head and snorting as he cleared the water from his nose. “What? No…no bath, I was just…washing up for dinner and guess I must’ve kinda fallen asleep for a second…”
“You were sleeping in there? Now I know you like sleeping in the water from time to time, springs, creeks, half frozen mud puddles or whatever’s available…but seriously, our water barrel?”
“Well it wasn’t intentional!” He was laughing, shaking the water from his hair and drying his face on a sleeve, sopping up the bits of water that had splashed out onto the floor with his sudden departure from sleep. “Think I’d intentionally go to sleep--in the water barrel or otherwise--with the a supper like this one waiting for me?”
“I honestly don’t know what to think of you, sometimes. Sounds like something you might do. Now come on and sit down before you fall asleep again. You need to eat, and the stew’s getting cold.”
Full of good warm stew and pudding and tremendously relieved to be safe at home after their long, uncertain days up on the ridge Einar and Liz slept soundly that night, warm beneath the bear hides and lulled into a deeper rest by a rain that started soft and steady sometime in the early hours of the morning and continued to thoroughly soak the ground, the sweet and earthy odor of damp, newly fallen aspen leaves rising to fill the air.
Several times Einar woke suddenly to listen to the night, his mind returning to the route they had taken on their return to the basin and to the likelihood that he hadn’t been nearly as cautious of their trail as he ought to have been, and at the thought of it his heart would pound terribly until it ached against his ribs and the breath seemed to catch in his throat, urging him up and out of the cabin to go watch, make sure they had not been followed, surrounded in the night…but he knew the possibility was a small one; a major hailstorm and now that night’s rain, besides, separated them from the ridge where the potential had existed for them to be spotted, and if they had somehow been followed, anyway, there was little reason why their enemy should not have surrounded them that previous night while they huddled on the mountainside beneath the flimsy cover of the few stunted firs that had sheltered them.
And a fine fix we’d have been in, too, had the enemy put in an appearance last night, with you barely able to keep on your feet come morning, and having no idea of where you were half the time as the day went on…no excuse for that, none at all and now you’d better try and get some more sleep, so you’ll have some chance of being a more useful sort of critter come tomorrow when it comes time to take care of the goat meat, start on the hide, gather more firewood and generally make this place ready for winter… Which he did, arms crossed over the continuing ache and burn of his ribs and nose tucked beneath the bear hide for warmth, but sleep continued to elude him for a time, ears sharp for sounds from outside and stomach twisting and grumbling with a hunger that Liz’s stew seemed to have awakened in him, so insistently demanding more that finally, afraid of waking Liz with his tossing and turning, he crept from the bed and eased his hunger with a small scoop of bear fat from the nearest of the two hollow-log vessels. Stomach quieted for the moment and his mind somewhat more at ease, as well, he took a moment to stand silently at the door, sampling the rich scents of the rainy night--leaf-rot, damp evergreen, somewhere far off in the distance, a slight tang of willow and, he was pretty sure, the scent of snow being swept down from the high peaks--before returning to bed and finishing the night in quiet slumber.
Morning, and the smell of snow was stronger than it had been when last Einar was out of bed, stronger even than the wonderfully enticing aroma of the previous evening’s supper that lingered in the corners of the cabin to set Einar’s stomach grumbling again as soon as he woke, and when he peered out from beneath the bear hide it was the sight of a stronger than usual light seeping in through the crack above the door, and he knew the snow had reached them in the night. No surprise, considering the temperature; already his face was cold in the chill air of the cabin, shoulders shaking a bit as he sat up to get a better look out through the now mostly chinked door-crack that represented their only way to see out of the cabin.
Got to do something about that, not safe at all, need to have a way to shoot out of here if we need to, not just look out. Maybe I can remedy that today. Yeah. Along with all the other things I’ve got to do…really need to get serious about filling the woodshed so we’ll have plenty to burn when we get two, three day blizzards here and aren’t venturing too far from the cabin for a few days…not real common here but it does happen, and need to have plenty stocked away for when the baby comes, anyway, in case I’m having to stick real close and help Liz then, and am not able to go out every couple days after wood. At least we’ve got our food supplies pretty well squared away after this most recent goat, the last bear, but still got a long way to go on having warm clothes ready. Got the hides though, a good start on them at least, so if nothing else we can wrap up to stay warm until we get the sewing done. Need to be thinking about a couple pairs of snowshoes though, or we’re gonna end up in a situation where we’re getting our lower halves wet and cold every time we have to go anywhere through the snow, at least until it gets consistently cold enough to keep the snow real dry and frozen. Better start gathering some willows for the snowshoes today, for sure, because as late as it is in the year, this storm could be it. Might not melt off, might just keep coming. Not real likely, but I’ve sure seen it this early.
Einar was up by then--took him a while that morning, limbs felt like they weighed a ton and he found the slightest exertion leaving him dizzy and out of breath, on the verge of blacking out, not good, guess you need some more of that stew…and maybe a new set of ribs--and standing at the door, brushing aside the little skiff of snow that had been driven in beneath the door and wrapping a deer hide around his shoulders against the deep chill that had pervaded the place despite the remains of the previous night’s fire. Upon opening the door Einar was greeted by several inches of heavy, wet snow and a howling wind that whipped the still-falling whiteness nearly sideways, plastering it against tree trunks and coating one wall of the cabin, and he hurried to ease the door shut behind him, slipping out quietly into the whiteness, not wanting to wake Liz.