Einar needn’t have worried about the possibility of sleeping through the wolverine’s visit. Though tucked in comfortably beneath the bear hides and having been asleep for a good two or three hours when the intruder arrived, he sprung to full alertness at the explosion of snarls and spittings that came from the direction of the meat caches, rolling out of bed and stomping into his boots, grabbing spear and knife and hurrying out the door, sure that something must have gone wrong with the trap. Critter should have been dead by then. Snare must not have sprung the way it was intended to do, and the wolverine was struggling, was going to work his way loose if something wasn’t done about it. Dark out there, darker than it had been earlier in the night when he’d finished setting the trap but the moon was still giving some light though it had disappeared already behind the trees, and Einar used that light to navigate as he quickly covered the open area in front of the cabin, slipping into the timber where the wolverine’s snarls spoke quite plainly of a still-alive and thoroughly infuriated creature, trapped at the moment but probably not for long. Eyes adjusting quickly to the dimness he was soon able to make out the dim form of the wolverine where it struggled, neck in the snare but back feet still on the ground; seemed the spring-tree had failed, broken somehow and not been enough to pull the animal off its feet when the trigger was tripped, as he had intended.
Nearing, squinting into the moonlit dimness, the reason for the snare’s failure became clear to Einar. The wolverine was huge, a full grown male whose weight Einar estimated at somewhere upwards of fifty pounds, and though the trigger had worked flawlessly, closing the sinew loop around the beast’s neck and springing the little bent fir back up into the air with a force that ought to have broken his neck, the tree had partially broken instead, allowing the wolverine’s hind legs to dangle down and reach the ground. Struggling ferociously at the cord that held him, the animal would have almost certainly worked himself free within minutes, had not Einar put a halt to his efforts. Which, in the uncertain light and with the wolverine still very much alive and kicking and in full possession of all his claws and teeth,, appeared a task easier said than accomplished. Einar was glad Liz had so far stayed inside, wasn’t there to see what he must do next. Taking a good grip on his spear he took a big breath to steady himself, stepping nearer by three paces and then charging, taking the squirming ball of muscle and rage just behind the shoulder and quickly driving the spear in between its ribs, hitting both lungs and fairly quickly ending the struggle, himself coming away with little more than a series of deep, angry scratches down the length of his left arm where the animal’s hind foot had caught him as he pressed in close.
Sinking to the ground, pressing his ribs and struggling for breath as the great wolverine drew his last, Einar gave thanks for the kill, hand on the creature’s flank as its blood trickled down his arm, sorry about this, fella, I know you were just trying to scrape by out here the way we’re doing, but I’ve got a family to feed and have to protect this meat…and add yours to it, now gonna add yours to it… Gasping for air, something wasn’t right but then it hadn’t been for a very long time, and he knew he’d be alright in a minute, would have to be as Liz surely had been awakened by all he commotion and couldn’t see him like that, he mustn’t let her and then he was on his feet, breath still coming terribly hard but at least he was standing, focusing on the drooping hulk of the wolverine in the silver moon-rays that filtered in at a sharp, shape-highlighting angle through the spruces, fumbling with the sinew cord and trying to breath away the seething, hissing grey haze that had crept across his vision and would soon, he knew, knock him flat on his face if he didn’t find a way around it. Air. Just needed air, and he got it, small breaths to minimize the hurt but they were enough, and he remained standing, finally worked the cord loose from around the wolverine’s neck and left it where it was, hanging in the tree for later retrieval. Still Liz had not put in an appearance and though surprised, Einar was glad. Had the situation under control, and preferred to see it through by himself…at least until he could manage to become more certain of remaining on his feet.
Back to the cabin, then, Einar holding the wolverine by the hind legs and the massive creature’s nose nearly brushing the ground… Liz was waiting for him in the open door, light of a candle or two streaming out through it and glinting off the orange highlights on the creature’s sleek walnut-colored pelt, Einar--still struggling for breath and covered in blood that Liz found herself not at all sure at first was not his own--grinning wildly at her as he struggled to hold the animal high enough for her to admire its entirety.
“Got him and he’s…big one. Could have really done...lot of damage to our meat stashes.” With which Einar’s knees promptly folded under him, dropping him in a rather unceremonious heap into the cold, crunchy whiteness of the twice-frozen snow, Liz at his side as she sought to determine how badly he was bleeding, and from where. Which Einar found rather humorous for some reason, laughing and taking her hands as he shook his head and pointed to the lifeless form of the wolverine where it glimmered all silver and orange and white in the mix of moonlight and candle-light that mixed and mingled as they fell across its sleek form.
“All him. Not…bleeding, except for arm. Ok. Snare had hold of him, I just had to go in and…”
“Yes. Yes, I can see that you did, and must have done a good job of it, too, because his pelt looks to be in fine shape. Finer than yours, probably, so how about you just sit still here for a minute and let me tend to that arm before it can get all infected and make you sick the way you were after your first fight with a wolverine, because from what you told me, that ’s not something you’d want to repeat, if there’s any choice. Here. Sit. I’ll be right back with some warm water and mullein leaves to patch you up.
Einar sat, dabbing the blood from arm and hands with chunks of brittle but absorbent snow and beginning to feel the night chill rather keenly as he cooled down from his struggle, and when Liz brought him the deer hide as a wrap, he did not refuse it. Had to keep limber and dexterous enough to clean the creature and skin it out, tasks he meant to put behind him in the very near future, before the wolverine’s body had time to do too much cooling. He wanted that pelt, meant to spare no effort when it came to keeping it in good condition, and knew the skinning would prove a good bit easier before the animal grew cold. Even wrapped in the deer hide and with half a pot of Liz’s hastily made raspberry leaf and nettle tea in him Einar had a difficult time keeping his hands flexible enough to do the job and stilling their trembling long enough to avoid nicking the neck area of the skin when the time came to free it, there, but he managed well enough, occasionally thawing his hands against the still-warm flesh of the animal. Finished, finally, Einar handed the soft, heavy pelt to Liz.
“For the little one. Can wrap him in it at night, or later when you’re carrying him on your back on the trapline, this winter.”
She took the pelt, folded it skin-side together and then rolled it up, carrying it into the cabin where she could do the fleshing near the warmth of the stove, for the night only seemed to be growing colder as the moon disappeared, an illusion, she was certain, but a very real-seeming one, nonetheless. Einar followed, bringing the wolverine’s liver and heart and giving Liz the heart for the stewpot, but setting the liver on a flat rock near the stove for immediate slicing and consumption, a bit of energy to help them through the remainder of the night.