A fierce wind pounded Susan and Liz as they took the final steps to the house, howling, Einar lost and probably dying in the storm and the baby on the way and suddenly Liz woke, tears streaming down her face, to find herself sitting confused and terrified in the familiar darkness of the cabin--knew by the scent, a mixture of tanned hides, smoked meats, dried herbs bear fat, that it could be no other place--felt around for a candle and lit it to see Einar sleeping safe if a bit restless there beside her and she wrapped her arms around him, held him tight until he stirred, sleepily opening his eyes and then snapping fully awake in an instant, staring at her, reaching for her, gently placing a hand on her belly as if to be sure the baby was still there, still safe, and Liz knew that she had not been alone in her dreaming. Together they lay back down beneath the heavy warmth of the bear hide, already chilled in the sharp night air of the cabin, held each other until some of the dream-horror began to pass and the world started feeling a bit more like itself again. Finally Liz spoke, her voice a fierce whisper.
“Einar? Promise me something… When the baby comes, before the baby comes, if anything goes wrong, if I get sick of have any sort of trouble…promise me you won’t do anything that would…endanger what we’ve got out here, together. Just isn’t worth it. I want this life and I know the risks and don’t want you--either of us--rethinking that at the last minute because we get scared and making a big mistake that we’ll regret later. Please…”
“Lizzie, no, you know I wouldn’t do anything like that… Here. Give me your hands, I need to check them.”
They went back to sleep together then, wind pounding against the cabin walls outside as it brought in the second wave of the first major snowstorm of the season, and inside they were snug and warm, the swelling gone from Liz’s hands, ankles, a good night and the promise of a better day tomorrow…
By morning the storm was in full swing, snow once more blowing sideways to plaster spruces and firs and cabin walls alike with a sticky, clinging blanket of white, and while Einar normally would have felt somewhat compelled to be out in such weather doing one thing or another--gathering firewood, climbing up in the slick, snow-plastered rocks behind the cabin to make sure all was well and no one was taking advantage of the storm to make their way in close and prepare an assault on the place, or even just sitting unprotected in the snow and wind for a good hour or two to remind himself that he could still do it, still pass the test--but that morning he was so relieved simply to see Liz doing better and both of them safe and secure in their basin home after the horrors of the night that he allowed himself to enjoy a leisurely breakfast with Liz, sitting by the fire and sharing pots of fresh goat stew and raspberry leaf tea as they listened to the wind outside and planned the tasks of the day. Which, Liz reminded him, very badly needed to include making progress on her parka and on his, lest they find themselves having to work out in the snow with very little protection at all, before too many more days passed.
“And the snowshoes. We each need a pair, but as heavy and awkward as I am right now, I’m not going to do too well trying to flounder along through two or three feet of soft snow in only my boots, so maybe I’d better make a point of putting together at least one pair of snowshoes today.”
“Not a bad idea. We both need them, and we’ve got all the willows gathered, lots of rawhide, even, so we can do a proper job that’ll see us through the entire winter if we can manage to avoid losing or breaking them…”
“Speaking of losing…let me take a look at your boots!”
Einar handed her his boots, a bit uncertain as to what lay behind her sudden sense of urgency, watching as she took the left one, inspecting its sole and making disapproving little noises as she went. “Why didn’t you tell me it was about to fall apart? It won’t do for you to be losing the sole--or the entire boot!--out in the snow and losing the toes on your left foot, too, now will it?”
“Well no, that wouldn’t be the best thing that could…”
“Then let’s fix it! I’ll fix it, at least temporarily, with some spruce pitch to cement the sole back in place and rawhide wrappings coated with pitch to hold the toe of the boot together, but pretty soon we’re each going to need a pair of winter footwear to replace these worn-out old boots, or neither of us is likely to get through the winter with all our toes! Or, in your case, with half of them…”
“Hey now, I get along just fine with half my toes. Can still climb faster than your average three-legged mountain goat--which is pretty fast, you got to admit--and have even got my balance back now that I’ve had some time to practice it. But yeah, would be a good thing if neither of us ended up losing any more toes, real good thing, so I’ll get started today on a couple pairs of good warm winter boots for us, modified mukluks they’ll be, waterproof on the outside to get us through the wet snows of fall and spring without soaking our feet, with removable liners that can be taken out and dried when the need arises. How does that sound?”
“Sounds great! But in the meantime, I’m still going to fix your boot so you won’t end up wandering around out there with a sole-less boot and freezing the toes you do have left.”
Thus began a long, productive day of parka sewing, snowshoe weaving and boot repair that proved to be one of the more peaceful and relaxing in Liz’s recent memory, and allowed her to hope--just a bit, never too much--that her vision of their relatively comfortable and safe winter together at the cabin might still be within reach. If only Einar might be willing to continue as he was that day, doing necessary work but nothing beyond it, eating and allowing himself time to heal and regain the strength he would so badly need to see him--all of them--through the inevitably difficult winter months. And--she shuddered at the memory of the dream, still so fresh in her mind that she found herself from time to time throughout the day startling at its memory and having to put a hand on the rough log wall of the cabin to reassure herself that she was, indeed, still at home, Einar with her--if she could manage to stay healthy herself through the remaining two months of the pregnancy, avoid any troubles that might lead to the baby’s coming early or their having to seek a lower elevation for some other reason. The quiet day in the cabin, plenty to eat, fire crackling in the stove and numerous projects ongoing, seemed a good start for them both.