Muninn shadowed the busy pair all day, gliding silently through the falling snow as he kept pace with their movements, his presence concerning Einar a bit as there seemed at least some chance the bird would remain behind at one or more of the sets and attempt to raid the bait, ruining the set or perhaps--in the case of the deadfalls--even hurting himself in the process. Though clearly very interested in the bait while it was in Einar’s possession--Einar was finding the stuff pretty interesting, himself, was half tempted to take a taste sometime when Liz wasn’t looking, but had so far managed to avoid doing it--he appeared to be quite ignoring the stuff, once put in place above the snares or in the deadfalls. Einar, by way of reward, slipped the bird occasional tastes of the random mixture of skin, feathers and half-rotted internal organs he’d brought along to use as bait, carefully sorting through the basket for the perfect bit each time he set a snare or trap, fur and feathers for the cats, meat or offal to attract members of the weasel family. Satisfied with his occasional samples, Muninn kept close to Einar, coming to rest in trees whenever he and Liz stopped and watching with quizzically tilted head and black-gleaming eyes as they did their work.
Trudging back towards the cabin in the waning light of what was proving to be a very snowy afternoon, Einar and Liz stopped at the spring to refill long-empty water carriers and break away a bit of the ice that was beginning to creep across the opening, before heading home. Scouting the area for tracks and setting snares and deadfalls, they had made a circuit of the entire basin, keeping for the most part to the timber and seeing coyote, bobcat, rabbit and squirrel sign, in addition to the markings of ermine and marten. A hopeful start to the winter as far as Einar was concerned, the prospect of being able to supply themselves with a steady supply of small game to supplement their stored meat a very promising one, indeed, and though they had lacked the quantities of cordage that would have made setting out a dozen or so rabbit snares a reasonable endeavor--there was, near the base of the rocky wall that formed the dropoff below the spring, an area of small, closely growing firs which seemed a natural refuge for rabbits; the entire area was crisscrossed with track--he agreed with Liz’s assertion that they ought to return at a later time and do so. In making that final climb up to the spring, picking their way up over steep, snow-smeared granite and using the spiny, fall-yellowed stems of currant and gooseberry bushes as handholds when the rock had nothing to offer, they had managed to shake off a bit of the chill that had come over them in their slow journey through the timber, the long periods of stillness while they tied snares, balanced rocks for deadfalls and set bait having taken a significant toll on Einar, if not on Liz. She was finding herself to be quite snug and warm within the enveloping layers of fur and hide that made up her baby-carrying parka, feet damp and cold due to her failing boots by the end of the day, but otherwise quite comfortable. Wished she could give Einar a turn with the parka, but knowing how he would answer, she did not even bother to ask. Watching him as they crouched together on the rocks beside the spring--back hunched against a wind that cut mercilessly through the layers of damp deer hide, he appeared focused intently on his ice-clearing chore, eyes distant, refusing to meet her own lest she see something of the struggle he was enduring, but there was little hiding it--she shook her head, filled his water carrier and handed it to him.
“That’s good enough on the ice, don’t you think? It’ll try to come back over night, I’m sure, but if we come up here every day and break it, we should always have access to the water, I would think…”
“Yep. For a while. Think it’ll freeze pretty solid later in the winter, but we can always melt snow when that time comes. In the meantime…” He was easing himself towards the water, clearly intent on taking another dip but Liz stopped him, pressing the water containers into his hands so he would be too busy to proceed with his apparent plans.
“Enough! No muskrats in there, I’m pretty sure. It’s going to be dark soon, and we’ve still got a bit of a walk ahead of us. You’re still enjoying the effects of the last swim, anyway, it’s plain to see--look at you, hair frozen stiff and sticking out every which way from under that hat!--so how about just coming home with me now, instead? You said yourself that we need to spend a few minutes before bed each night building back up our supply of nettle cordage…which is even more urgent, now that we’ve got all these snares set out and will be needing replacements for some of them as they get used and damaged, and need to put out more for rabbits, anyway…and how are you going to help me with the cordage tonight, if your hands are no better than big blocks of ice by the time we get back?”
Einar was laughing--meant to say something about using his toes, instead, to make the cordage if his hands got too cold, but had thought better of it seeing as he only possessed five of the latter, and them every bit as stiff and insensible as his fingers at the moment--scooting back away from the ice and getting stiffly to his feet. Still wanted to test himself once more in the water before heading in for the night but was willing to concede that Liz did indeed have a point. Better perhaps that he allow himself to remain useful for the cordage work, return to the spring in the morning.
“Yeah, I’ll come on home. Lot to do tonight and guess I need to get rested up, anyway, because I’m kinda curious to see if these snares produce anything overnight. If it stops snowing, that is. Nothing much is likely be out in this weather, not the way it’s blowing and piling up and all. Traps ought to be alright for a while though, the way we tucked them in under the trees. Take one major storm to snow or drift them under!”
“Is this a sign of a harsh winter to come, do you think? This early snow?”
“Oh, hard to tell. Sometimes you’ll get a few big ones like this at the start of the season and then almost nothing for a month or two, other times…well, it just doesn’t quit. But that’s alright. Let it come! Need to get us some more firewood hauled in, just as a cushion against hard times of one sort or another, you know, and we’ll be all ready for it. Ready as we can be, anyhow.”
“Yes,” she answered, but her eyes were dark, concerned there amongst the ermine-fur frame of her parka hood, and Einar hoisted his pack back into place, took the water containers and started down the trail, supposing that she must be anxious to settle down in the windless warmth of the cabin after their long day out on the trapline. Which she was, of course, though even more anxious to get Einar home and out of his wet wraps. And perhaps coax him into starting work on a parka of his own, or allowing her to do it for him.
The cabin was decidedly not warm when finally, half blinded by snow driven nearly sideways by an increasingly wild evening wind, they stumbled in through the door, fire having died hours before, stove-stones releasing the last of their warmth into the still, chill air, and Liz hurried to bring the fire back to life while Einar hung the remaining bait high in one of their cache-trees and tossed a few scraps to Muninn. He was greeted upon returning inside by the meager but growing warmth of the newly rekindled fire, Liz hovering over it as she prepared one of the wolverine haunches to be roasted for their supper. Shedding his layers of damp and partially frozen deer and sheep hides, he joined her.
“Getting pretty brave tonight, it looks like?”
“Well, if you can eat it I can eat it, and though I’m still not convinced that it’s going to taste any better than it smells, the liver was alright, and I’m prepared to find out!”