By the time the storm began slacking off early that afternoon a good eight inches of heavy, wet snow had blanketed the area around Einar and Liz's basin, sagging the boughs of the evergreens and breaking branches here and there from aspens whose leaves still clung golden, plentiful and snow-heaped to branches not designed to bear such weight. When Einar stepped out sometime just past midday to retrieve another armload of firewood it was to the sight of mixed gold and white on the ground, freshly fallen aspen branches poking up here and there through the snow. Einar yawned, squinted at the brightness of the scene--clouds thinning, sun showing some inclination to try and come out--and scrubbed a handful of snow across his face in an attempt to bring himself fully awake. Worked real well; the cold seemed to go right through him, aching in his bones and leaving him trembling and starting to go purple in the still very lively wind before he’d finished collecting his load of firewood, and his seeming inability to adapt to the changing temperature bothered him greatly. Wasn’t normal for him, wasn’t what he typically expected or demanded of himself, and seemed no way at all to start the winter. He knew how to fix it, wanted to strip down and lie in the snow there beside the cabin until his body once again adapted, learned how to produce more of its own heat, and he would have done it without the slightest hesitation, had it not been for Liz sitting in there just on the other side of that wall, and the fact that he knew she’d be unhappy about the whole thing. No sense deliberately doing something he knew would make her unhappy, especially not after all the extra work she’d done on their elk hunting expedition. Better to do the exercise--series of them; far behind as he was, it’d likely take a whole series of sessions before his body began to regain the adaptability that had always given him an extra edge in the winter--sometime when she was otherwise occupied, and wouldn’t notice. But it had to be soon, or he feared he’d find himself unable at some point to do the work necessary to see them through what almost certainly promised to be a ferocious mountain winter, seeing how high was the basin in which they’d settled…
Beginning to shiver so insistently that it was growing difficult to maintain his grip on the armload of firewood for which he’d ventured outside in the first place and realizing that Einar figured he’d better be getting back in. Better do it real soon here, too, or you know Liz is gonna find it necessary to try and warm you up, which will almost certainly involve her insisting you have some more of that stew. Stew. Yes, the stew was part of his problem… Einar had ended up sleeping for several hours that morning after breakfast, drifting off due, best as his hazy memory could tell him, to a rather marked oxygen deficit in the wake of his hard work with the firewood, area around his injured ribs swelling up and seeming to further constrict his already labored breathing, but he’d stayed that way because he’d been warm and so full of good stew that his body had apparently seen no reason to wake him any sooner. For which there was no excuse, really--and which was why he couldn’t stand the thought of having any more stew just then; he’d just end up going back to sleep, he was sure of it--and Einar had been frustrated and a little angry upon waking to discover just how long he'd been out, and displeased with Liz, if not vocally so, for having allowed him to go on being so lazy when the demands of the day were numerous and pressing.
Even Muninn had remained quiet, it seemed, in his absence, perched on a stout branch Liz had stuck into the wall for him in the corner over behind the water barrel, head tucked beneath his wing, fast asleep. Einar, brushing the snow from his clothes, stomping it from his boots and easing his way back into the cabin, deposited his load of firewood somewhat noisily beside the stove--couldn’t help it, really; arms were starting to give out--causing both Liz and the raven to startle and jump before settling back into their relaxed positions, Liz busy adding yet another row to the woven rabbitskin blanket that was to serve as warmth and protection for the baby. He’d thought she was done with the blanket a good while ago, but it seemed she must have had a good-sized pile of rabbit skins stashed away somewhere, and now she was adding to it once again. By the time she got done, the dense, soft blanket was going to be large enough to cover their entire bed, from the looks of things. Folding her work and setting it aside Liz rose, joined him beside the stove and brushed the bits of wet, half-melted snow from his hair. What have you got against wearing a hat, you goofy guy? Wore one all summer and didn’t seem to have a problem with it.
“What’s the snow doing out there? Has it stopped yet?”
“Almost stopped. Looking brighter. Think we’ll see some melting before dark, for sure, and then it’ll probably be a real cold night. Often is after a storm like this clears up and moves out, sky gets clear. Guess that goat hide may end up freezing before we get a chance to tan it, but I’m sure we’ll have some more warm days still.”
“We’ll get it taken care of just as soon as things thaw out a little, because it’s looking like winter isn’t going to wait much longer and we need to have all that good warm white wool ready to use! Since we already have the two bear hides and now this rabbitskin blanket for keeping warm in the cabin, what do you think about turning the goatskin into a parka of some sort that we can use when it gets really cold? Even if there’s not enough area on it to cut up and make both the body of the parka and the sleeves, we could always do the sleeves of elk or sheep hide, and insulate them with rabbit or marten fur…”
“Whew! I don’t know. Goatskin’s mighty heavy with all that winter wool on it, but would be the warmest thing you ever encountered, most likely, and I know there are gonna be days up here when we’d appreciate that, times when it gets down to forty, fifty below and we’re having to run the trapline or sit for an hour or two waiting for something to come by so we can snag it and have a little fresh meat for supper…and a thing like that could literally be a life-saver if we end up having to take off and leave this place in the dead of winter, not look back…could act as a wearable blanket that’d allow us to sleep out there without freezing, like we used the bear hide last winter, but an awful lot easier to carry.”
“Oh! Don’t talk that way! I sure hope we don’t have to leave this place, not now…”
Einar sighed, sat down with his back nearly touching the side of the stove, its thick rock wall radiating a good bit of heat but not too hot to touch, a major advantage of the sort of stove he’d built them, as those rocks took as long to cool down as they did to heat, releasing warmth into the cabin all night long, even when the fire had gone out long before. Cold. He shivered, pressed himself a bit closer to the rocks. Bones ached, limbs ached, felt as though they were made of ice after his time out in the wind and though he was trying his best to conceal the fact from Liz, he had little doubt that she would have noticed. “Yeah, I hope not too. But you know it’s always a possibility, and the moment we start feeling too secure here and limiting our options because we’ve quit believing that the threat is real…well, that’ll be the end of it. And I don’t want it to end that way. Especially not now.”
Liz nodded, knew he was right and was a bit sorry for having got her mind so set, over those past several days, on the idea of their little home in the basin, giving it, she had to admit, a permanence in her thoughts that it could likely never have in life; they were nomads, a transient and hunted tribe, and would likely always remain so. Long ago she’d resigned herself to such a life, counted herself privileged, in a way, to be able to live it if it meant living out her days with the man she had come to love, but lately, with the baby’s time drawing nearer and nearer…well, the prospect of a safe, settled existence had begun appearing more attractive than ever. Well. For the moment, at least, they had a good secure roof over their heads, plenty of food and a reasonable hope of being able to stay put for the time, and for that she would continue to be grateful, even if with the understanding that they could lose it all at a moment’s notice, as Einar had just reminded her.