After packing a quantity of bear fat and jerky into the bottom of the first cache basket, Einar began looking over their supply of hides and furs, knowing that with winter coming, they needed to include some source of shelter and warmth in the cache should they find themselves at some point relying on its contents after a hasty departure from the cabin. Eying Liz’s woven rabbitskin blanket, soft and warm and incredibly light for its size he dismissed the idea; the thing was too bulky and besides, Liz had made it for the baby, wouldn’t much like the idea of adding it to a cache. Which left the deer hides, he supposed, and though he had hoped to use them as the base for snow pants and mittens for the two of them, the cache was appearing at the moment a higher priority. He began folding the larger of the two hides to fit the basket, but Liz saw what he was doing, hurried over to the corner of the cabin that held the bed.
“Wait, Einar. I’ve got an idea. Susan left this sleeping bag for us on her last visit…I showed it to you at the time, but don’t think you were really paying much attention because of your foot…”
“Sleeping bag?” He took the bag, a fairly lightweight device packed well into its compression sack and having remained quite clean and dry in the spot where Liz had stored it in the rafters, examining it with a bit of suspicion. “Sure don’t remember you showing this to me, ‘cause if you had I think I would’ve had to tear it all apart making sure there wasn’t some sort of transponder sewn into it. Which I guess there must not be, or they’d have followed its signal and had us by now…yep, this would make an awfully good addition to the cache, wouldn’t it?”
“I think so. I had it out of its bag once early on to test it out, and it’s warmer than the deer hides, but I don’t think we really need it here at the cabin, since the bear hides we’re using for bedding right now are so much warmer still. And they’re really too heavy for us to hope to pack along if we have to leave here in a hurry.”
“Yep. Mighty heavy. That yearling bear hide we carried around for a while last year was about the limit, I think, as far as bedding weight goes when a person’s trying to move quickly, and these are an awful lot heavier. Bag makes sense. And if the little one has come by the time we have to resort to using it…if we have to…well then we shouldn’t have much trouble getting all of us into the same bag, I wouldn’t think.”
“I certainly wouldn’t fit in there with you the way I am now, would I? We’d need our own bag for sure, little Hildegard and I.”
“Aw, well the two of you can just have the bag if we end up having to run before he comes. Which I’m gonna try real hard to prevent, but we do have to be ready.”
Liz nodded, pressed the sleeping bag into the nearly full basket and began preparing little packages of dried herbs--yarrow to halt bleeding, mullein for use as a tea should anyone be suffering from a respiratory infection that seemed unwilling to clear up on its own, Oregon grape root and hound’s tongue--to fill the remaining spaces. By the time they finished packing the cache, placing its lid and carefully sealing it in place with pitch, Einar and Liz were beginning to grow sleepy, the excitement of the day having taken its toll and stomachs full and satisfied with Einar’s special goat roast, and despite Einar’s desire to stay up and pack another cache, Liz talked him into calling it a day. Morning would be coming soon enough and would, with all they had planned, go a good bit better for them both after a good solid night’s rest.
Up before dawn and stretching to see out the crack above the door, Einar was glad to find the day another cloudless one, innumerable stars standing still and unblinking behind the spruces, casting a cold, clear light on the world below. Frozen. Everything had frozen in the night, ice on the water barrel and the remaining crust of snow hard as stone when he stepped out onto it, breath rising in great clouds to meet the morning. Einar shivered, stretched, thought of the tarn, trapline, both beckoning from beyond the cabin-clearing, calling, urging him to be away and doing before the day could advance any further but he waited, wary, something not quite right out there in the darkness. Muninn. The bird was not on his dead-branch perch high up in the spruce, shadow absent and though Einar squinted into the timber in search of him he found nothing, whistled softly as often he did when bringing the bird some scrap of meat or bone to pick, but his efforts met with no response.
Strange. Where can you have gone, you ornery old vulture? Hear something in the night and have to go check it out? Hopefully nothing we need to know about, since you’re out there somewhere and not back here trying to tell us about it as you seem in the habit of doing. Guess I won’t worry too much, see if you show up later in the day. Or tonight, after you’ve got through with your aerial wanderings. Can’t be going on a raven hunt right now, anyway. I’ve got a trapline to run, cache to place, and who knows? If the day ends up being as sunny as appears likely, maybe the roof’ll even finish drying enough that I can shingle it. Awful lot to do today. Looks like the trapline comes first, so I’d better hurry up and get out there. Make a quick stop at the tarn on my way back, and then… Stopped himself, shaking his head. Figured he’d better skip the tarn that morning, knowing that each visit, while surely advancing his personal preparations for the winter, tended in his current state to leave him all but immobilized for hours as his body struggled to rewarm itself, and though he had no doubt as to the efficacy and necessity of the training, the day demanded a somewhat abridged version. Whose specifics he had already worked out in his mind, quietly returning to the cabin and pressing the thin skin of barrel-ice until it sank, submerged, cracking softly beneath the water, filling one cookpot and then another with the achingly cold liquid.
Sleeping still and quiet beneath her blankets of bear hide Liz did not stir at his stealthy exit, Einar stalking around behind the cabin and choosing a still-snowy spot immediately beneath the slightly overhanging cliff of granite, shedding clothes and dumping first one pot of water over himself and then the other until he was thoroughly soaked, shivering in the wind that sighed up from the spruces, sharp and frigid in the hour just before dawn when temperatures are generally at their lowest. Seating himself against the rock wall he used a chunk of granite to pound at the drift of frozen, crusty snow beneath him, rubbing the resulting dust all over himself until it began to melt and stick. Good enough, and he sat there with hands tucked beneath his arms in an effort to spare the slightly frostbitten portions any further damage as he allowed the cold to sink into his bones, wind slowly drying the melted snow and leaving him numbed, trembling and satisfied that immersion in the tarn was not absolutely essential when it came to furthering his training. Could be done right there behind the cabin, when circumstances precluded the other. Enough, and he rose, flexing cold-stiff limbs and struggling back into his clothing, collecting the empty water pots and depositing them outside the cabin before leaving on his run of the trapline.
The day warmed quickly but Einar did not, freezing and shaking and completing his circuit of the trapline in near-record time as he struggled to warm himself, bringing back with him a marten and two good plump-looking rabbits, heavy pelts making up for what they lacked in meat. Liz was glad to see the creatures and even more glad to see Einar, appearing wide awake and moving fairly well, all things considered, hair dry in what she took to be reasonable proof that he had kept out of the water, that morning. Looked terribly cold though, rather more so than one might expect of even so scrawny a creature as himself after an hour’s walk on a brisk fall morning, and Liz shook her head as she took from him the morning’s catch, suddenly realizing the meaning of the two empty pots she’d found outside the door upon leaving the cabin that morning. You’re absolutely incorrigible, aren’t you? As if I didn’t already know that… But at least you’re back pretty early this morning, and didn’t leave me too much time to sit here wondering whether I might have to come looking for you out there…guess that’s progress!
“I’ll go clean the rabbits--and this fine-looking marten you’ve brought for us--and then are you ready to go do the cache? I’ve already eaten breakfast, and yours is waiting for you inside.”
“Yep, I’ll be ready. Figure we’ll put this one over beside the big gully where our first one was...and still is, what’s left of it. The one we ended up having to raid a while ago. Seems like a good location, a likely direction for us to head if we’ve got to clear out of here.”