Finding the basin fully engulfed in a fall snow squall whose end did not appear to be anywhere in sight, Einar stood for a time beside the front of the cabin, partially sheltered by it from the full fury of the storm as he squinted up at the white-plastered trunks of the surrounding spruces and firs, bits of gold showing where aspens bent and rattled in the gale. He shivered, drew the deer hide tighter about his shoulders--way past time to be getting those parkas finished, looks like--and stepped away from the cabin, supporting himself against the woodshed for a moment when he stumbled under the force of an especially strong gust--shed remained well over half empty, despite the previous work he'd done in gathering dry wood, and though they'd stacked numerous scraps and small trees beneath sheltering spruces to dry during the cabin building process, it wasn't enough--and making his way into the timber. Had to do something about the state of their firewood supply and couldn't see how any time would be better than the present, but did not want to clean out all the standing and leaning dead timber right there around the cabin; that was their emergency supply, and needed to be left in place should a time ever come when they were both struggling, physically, for one reason or another, and had depleted their stored wood. And... he didn't like to think it, but knew he must, need to leave it there for Liz in case anything happens to me and she finds herself alone here with the baby at some point. Needs to have a ready supply of wood if that should happen. Needed, he thought to himself, to have the wood even more readily available than were the standing dead trees near the cabin, if she was to be there by herself, and the thought of it gave him added motivation as he worked his way up the steep slope in back of the cabin, in search of suitable trees. Needed to fill that woodshed, and needed to do it in a hurry.
Deer hide getting in the way as he worked Einar soon abandoned it, hanging it in the woodshed on one of his return trips, where he hoped it would stay reasonably dry and free of snow and going about his work without its protection, ranging far from the cabin as he hauled in one tree after another, small aspens, mostly, fallen already or at least leaning and most of them with a fresh coating of wind-plastered snow, but he knew they would dry in plenty of time. Trees were leaving drag marks in the snow, his own footprints joining them to make highly visible trails, but the way it was still snowing and blowing, sky heavily overcast and no hint of sun showing through, he was not terribly concerned. The storm would cover his tracks, and the woodshed would greatly benefit from his morning of work, meanwhile.
Settling into a rhythm and maintaining it was a task Einar found somewhat difficult that morning, ribs hurting him and breaths seeming to come with far more difficulty than they ought to have but he managed it, working until his hands were purple with the raw, wet cold of the storm, legs near giving out with the work and he would have kept at it still, kept going until he’d filled the woodshed, most probably, had not Liz emerged then from the cabin and seen what he was doing, gone to him. The look on his face told her he already knew quite well what she thought of his being out working in the storm like that, so she didn’t bother to say it, took the deer hide instead and draped it around his shoulders, put a hand on his arm, took the ten foot aspen he was currently hauling and held on until he relaxed his grip.
“Einar. It can wait. Come have some breakfast with me.”
He allowed her to help him with the tree, each taking one end and carrying it into the protection of the woodshed, where they huddled against the wall, wanting to escape for a minute the force of the wind.
"Snow came." Einar's voice was rough, a little shaky; couldn't seem to get his breath and he was, despite the heavy work in which he's been engaging, awfully cold.
"Yes. Do you figure it's here to stay, or will we have a few more weeks of fall?"
"Hard to say. Stuff's real wet..." he stared at his soaked boots, kicking heel against toe and stomping a bit in an attempt to restore some feeling, "yep, real wet and if the sun comes out later, I don't think it's gonna be with us real long. It'll linger in the shadows, up on the peaks maybe, but my guess is we'll see the ground again before the snow sets in for good."
"I hope so! Though I guess even this one storm will help drive the elk down lower, and the hunters too, so that has to be a good thing..."
"Yeah, except that we probably won't be seeing too many more elk. Or sheep, either."
"We're doing well on meat, aren't we? Two bears, the goat, a couple of sheep, for starters..."
"Not bad. Would have liked to add an elk to it still, but really not bad. And yes, it'll be good to be able to worry a little less about hunters. Not safe yet, not as long as the season's still going on, but the snow'll drive most of the game lower, and they'll know it."
"Well, we added an elk hide at least, on this last trip."
"Yep. Just got to tan it now, get started on another parka so we'll each have one, and..."
"And let's finish this conversation inside!" Liz exclaimed, grabbing Einar's hands and attempting to lead him out of the woodshed, where they'd been standing freezing in the wind as they talked, Einar soaking wet from his time outside and Liz wondering if he would ever decide on his own that it was time to go in. Didn't appear so, and she was tiring of the experiment.
"My goodness, here you are shaking like one of those aspens in your wet clothes--I can practically see your temperature dropping, you know--when I've got a nice cozy fire going inside and hot stew on the stove. A person would think you actually preferred being soaking wet and half frozen, if they didn't know better..."
He twisted free of her grasp, began gatheing an armload of wood to take in. "A person wouldn't be too far wrong on that one, but yeah, I sure am ready for some breakfast and haven't been able to feel my hands for a good long while now, so guess it's time to get in there.”
“We ought to let Muninn come in too don’t you think, just for a little while? Seeing as we're probably somewhat to blame for his sticking around up here when he normally would have been heading down a little lower, himself. I know ravens are mighty hardy critters, one of the few who can survive arctic winters way up North, in fact, and really don’t migrate, but I do believe he might have gone down and spent it at a slightly lower elevation, if not for our influence.”
“Yeah, guess we can do that, if he’s at all inclined to come in. Can’t let him stay for too long though, or he’ll get all soft and weak and won’t make it through the winter. But seeing as he’s probably only up here due to our influence…”
"Oh, I don't think we chose him--he chose us. You. And maybe he likes it up here, and is a solitary and ornery creature just like yourself who would have stayed regardless, just to spite the rest of the world. But I still think we ought to let him come in out of this storm, so long as he behaves himself and doesn't get after my chokecherries!"
“You'll behave yourself, won't you Muninn?" She shouted up to the black mass that sat silent and all ruffle-feathered against the cold in the leeward branches of a nearby spruce. The raven answered with a shake of his feathers, sailed down to her feet and took a few lurching hops through the deep snow as if he'd understood, heading for the cabin.
Sitting there in the warm cabin, wind howling outside and spruce boughs scraping the wall on one side with a rythmic sound that she found oddly comforting as she watched Einar sitting sprawled out amongst the bear hides, finally beginning to get warm and obviously enjoying his breakfast of rich, nourishing stew, Liz could not help but think that the good times might--just might; lots that could go wrong, still--perhaps be arriving. Finally. Pondering it, she was surprised at how very much she found herself looking forward to hibernating for the winter in the snug little cabin with Einar and the baby, plenty of meat waiting outside secure it its treetop caches, hollow logs of fat, gallons of honey, bundles of dried herbs and baskets of berries and lily corms secure inside and giving the place a wonderful spicy-sweet aroma, Einar having plenty of time to relax, heal and regain some of the weight he'd lost, as snow piled up outside and the baby grew and flourished through his first winter...it all sounded too good to be true and probably was, but that day the vision seemed so real she could all but touch it, and she could not help but hope...