30 November, 2011

30 November 2011

Melting ice for water with their body heat certainly didn’t sound like a very good idea to Liz, especially for Einar, hard as he was already having to struggle just to maintain an adequate body temperature without any such added challenge and with a fire going in the stove, and wanting to delay the time when they would have to begin relying on such methods, she felt her way over to the water barrel, probing about its edges with a stick in an attempt to judge how thick might be the layer of ice that had formed over its contents. Not too thick, not yet, thanks to the fires they’d had in the night and she pried at the ice cap, breaking it in two and lifting out the pieces, one by one. Einar heard what she was doing--too dark to see, but he recognized the sound of ice snapping, the lap of water as she removed the pieces--and joined her beside the barrel.

“Save that ice. Lot easier to melt ice down than it is snow, you know, and without going up to the cliff behind the cabin, we don’t have a good way to get more ice. Might not be any there even if we did go, cold as these last couple days have been. We’re surely gonna be needing that ice before this is over.”

“Yes. I’ll set it just outside the door where we can find it again. What about this water, though? I want to find a way to delay its freezing for as long as possible, because there’s no sense letting it all go to ice that we’ll have to spend the energy to melt again, if we can prevent that…we need to somehow insulate the barrel, I guess.”

“Barrel already provides a good bit of insulation, just being carved out of a big old tree trunk like that, but it’d do even better if we could pack a bunch of needles and leaves and such around it, like we’ve got against the cabin in back for insulation. Might as well use some of the stuff we pulled out of that tunnel, or some that’s still in there, since we haven’t quite finished the job… Better get that door put on there, too, so we don’t lose heat through that back door and have it show up if they come back over. Door’ll turn the tunnel into a big air pocket that should prevent too much heat from leaking to the outside. Here, lets…I’ll crawl into the tunnel and pile some of that insulation up on a deer hide, hand it out to you and you can pack it around the barrel. First though…”

Einar went silent, and Liz could hear him moving across the floor, feeling his way in the darkness until he bumped up against the stove. Huddling there against it for a moment as he shivered, absorbing a bit of its remaining warmth and pressing his hands to its stones in an attempt to restore to them some usefulness and flexibility, he pushed open the stone door and poked around inside with sticks until he found what he was looking for. Rocks. A series of smooth, oval chunks of granite and sandstone which he nearly always kept in with the coals so as to have them hot should the need arise to quickly heat some water or warm numbed hands, and now he worked them carefully to the front of the stove, testing one with a finger and finding it to still be quite hot. Good. Plan would work. Grabbing a couple of rocks with a scrap of hide to prevent burning himself, as they were still quite hot, he crouched there for a minute with the rocks pressed to his chest, absorbing a bit of their warmth and trying his best to suppress the rattling of his teeth. Over to the water barrel then, where the stones hissed and sizzled as he lowered them into the water. A good bit of heat, not enough by far to bring the water to a boil but its addition would significantly slow its freezing, provide them a water source for a while, at least.

Catching on to what Einar was doing Liz helped him retrieve the remainder of the rocks from the stove, checking to make sure they didn’t overflow the water barrel with the addition of so many stones--last thing they needed was a wet, muddy floor to navigate there in the dark--but discovering that they were still several inches away from any such danger. Not wanting to be in Liz’s way--it was difficult enough to navigate about the place in the dark, without the risk of running into one another--Einar crawled into the tunnel and began removing armloads of spruce needles, loading them onto a deerskin and wrapping it around them, shoving it ahead of him and out into the cabin.

“Here, got our insulation. Gonna have something of a challenge keeping it up against the barrel, but on at least one side we can jam it between the barrel and the wall and I guess on the others…”

“How about we just stick some willows into the floor, weave a few crosswise between them and let that hold the insulation? It won’t be perfect, but ought to help.”

“Sounds about perfect to me! Be a little rough seeing what we’re doing without any light in here, but I guess we could open the door for a bit.”

“Oh, no need. I’ve made so many baskets and other willow structures over the past year or so that I can do it all by feel. And I’d hate to lose what little heat we do still have in here. Cold as it is this morning, I know it’s got to be an awful lot colder outside.”

“Yep, no doubt. Alright, you put together the insulation cage, I’ll haul stuff over and shove it down in there. Guess we might want to get something over the top of the barrel too, just to help keep the warmth in. Could fold up one of the bear hides I guess, let it hang down over the sides some for extra insulation.”

“No! We’re going to need all the hides we’ve got just to stay warm until we can have a fire again, don’t you think? I’ll stuff a deer hide with spruce needles for a lid, instead.”

Einar shrugged, nodded--Liz couldn’t see him, of course, but he figured his silence would imply approval of her idea--and was about to say something about their having plenty of hides, more than they needed to keep warm in the cabin but he thought better of it, hearing the strain in her voice at the though of being without a fire and knowing that she was probably a good bit more correct than he’d like to admit. Already could hardly feel his hands, legs beginning to go numb where he sat resting for a moment on the floor, wearied by the hasty work of the past minutes.

Outside the day was beginning to grow light, grey dawn showing through the crack above the door and Einar scrambled to his feet at the sight, knowing that he’d better--for several reasons, now--be plugging up that crack. Would let too much cold air in but worse, would allow the warmth generated by their bodies in the enclosed space of the cabin to leak out in a concentrated stream that would almost without doubt be visible to anyone who might fly over in the dimness of morning, evening or night looking in the right direction. Many times he’d meant to do the job, but had put it off partially due to the press of other tasks that needed doing and, he had to admit, partially because he liked being able to see that little strip of sky when he slept. No more. Searching on hands and knees until he came up with Liz’s bag of sewing scraps he laid out a piece of deer hide, lined up bits of rabbit fur and other odds and ends on it and rolled the entire thing up into a somewhat bulky tube, stuffing it into the crack above the door and shoving it further into place with the aid of a stick and stepping back, satisfied, the light entirely blocked. Which meant darkness in the cabin once again, near total darkness and a good bit of difficulty when it came to carrying out their daily tasks, but he really wanted to wait until after the sun was up and heating the outside world just a bit before allowing them even the meager warmth and light of a single candle, just didn’t want to risk it, the chance that they might do another flyover before the morning began warming.

Weary. Terribly weary all of a sudden Einar found himself after the whirlwind of activity, exhausted, but the work had been good, had steadied him some and given him time to think about their situation, begin to formulate a plan that he hoped would bring them safely through the following days.

29 November, 2011

29 November 2011

Coals dead and mostly cold within the stove--both of them greatly relieved that they had not got up within the last few hours to add wood, as had been briefly discussed--and its stones only mildly warm, they crouched together in the middle of the floor and listened as the rumble drew nearer, grew louder until it shook bits of bark from the rafters and sent Einar, moving with a slow deliberation which rather belied the panicked feeling trying to seize hold of him, in search of his spear and atlatl. A short search; both were precisely where he always kept them. Spear in hand and atlatl set nearby he waited, Liz pressed close against him as much to keep track of how the situation might be affecting him and whether he was about to make a dash for the mostly finished back door as for her own reassurance. Though rather strongly wanting to do so Einar didn’t go anywhere, keeping still as the great beast passed, thundering off across the basin and down, from the sound of things, towards the valley below, where it followed the creek up again to its end, disappearing over behind the red ridge. Einar let out his breath in a great sigh, realizing for the first time that he’d hardly breathed since waking and badly needing the oxygen.

Despite the trembling tension that filled him and left him ready to act at a moment’s notice after not only the aerial intrusion but the dream which had preceded it, Einar found himself greatly relieved at the fact that they had not run the trapline the previous day as he’d so wanted to do, had hardly, in fact, ventured of the cabin at all since the storm except to visit the woodshed and outhouse, had left few tracks to be seen should the chopper return by daylight. Relieved also that the fire had been allowed to go out during the night, he still worried about the inevitable warmth that must be lingering around the chimney area, emanating from its rocks and potentially catching the eye of whoever was up there behind the infrared cameras they must have had trained on the area, and though he knew why they had chosen that particular night to make their rounds, he found himself wondering with a growing sense of unease if something might have led them to the area of the basin. Something, perhaps, that one of the scouts traveling with Bud Kilgore might have seen, reported, something that had lacked meaning for the somewhat inexperienced man but held great significance to one of his superiors back at Mountain Task Force headquarters in the valley, and he wracked his brain trying to think what that might have been, but could think of nothing. Which wasn’t as reassuring as it might have been; he had, as he remembered, been struggling simply to remain conscious for more than a few minutes at a time during the two days he’d spent observing that party, and though he did not at all like to admit so, he knew there were any number of things he might have overlooked.

The chopper didn’t seem to be coming back, not for the moment at least, and Liz, who had sat still with him while it passed over, frozen as if afraid any movement on her part might be subject to detection, despite the solid log roof and timber cover overhead--he knew the feeling--was stirring once more, shifting uncomfortably on the floor, and he knew she must be getting cold. Muninn, who had been quite content for the past day to huddle on his perch, warm and cozy and perhaps even appearing a bit smug--if ravens are capable of smugness--that he was not having to contend with the fierce cold that had settled over the basin, seemed nearly as disturbed by the presence of the chopper as were the two humans, shifting restlessly on his perch and sending out a series of low rasping calls that went on and on and sounded to Liz as though he was in pain, and she very much wanted him to stop, fumbling around for a bit of leftover meat from their midnight snack and feeling her way over to the bird, holding it out to him but he didn’t want to eat, went on with his rasping wail until she hissed loudly at him to stop. “Stop! We can’t hear. We need to hear.” After that the raven was quiet, head tilted, listening with them, but still no sound came. They were alone. For the time. At last Einar spoke.

“It’s the cold that’s brought them out. This is the first night where it’s really got so far below zero, trees splitting and all, and they probably figured this’d be a good opportunity to spot us, if we’re still out here. Figured we’d have to have a fire, and its heat signature would have a greater chance of showing up because of the contrast. It’s all about the contrast. That’s how they find polar bear dens when they’re wanting to track and study the bears…wait for a real cold night, fly over and spot the warmth of their breath beneath the snow.”

“Do you think they saw us?”

“Fire was out, a real good thing, and we’ve got lots of snow piled up on the roof right now and drifted against the walls to insulate the place, but the chimney…yeah, it’d still be putting off some heat and if they happened to be looking in just the right spot… Timber would be some help, though. We got all those spruces hanging over the chimney, the cabin, so that’d be some help.”

“Do you want us to leave?”

“I do not want that. But if they come back, focus more attention on the place…well, we can’t be taking too many chances. Harder for them to move and operate in the winter like this, but nothing’s to say they couldn’t drop a bunch of folks up on the red ridge, more in the basin and pretty much cut off our escape before we could get too far. They’d loose a lot of guys, but we…well, we really don’t want to be around for that. I don’t want you and the little one to be around for that. So we’ll have to watch real carefully for signs that they might have seen something here that caught their interest. Definitely gonna have to do without a fire for a few days, give them less to see in case they do come back.”

So. Not leaving right away as Liz had half feared he might insist on their doing--there had certainly been times, even including a few days prior, when she would have certainly expected him to insist on such--and she prayed the chopper might stay away, not arouse any further suspicions on his part. And prayed that it had not seen them, the results of which would of course prove far more serious than even an ill-advised exit from their home and the abandonment of all their winter supplies, as could happen if Einar took a mistaken notion that they were in danger. Neither. She hoped and prayed most fervently there in the darkness that neither would come to pass. In the meantime, Einar was shivering--she could hear it in the whistle and puff of his breaths there in the stillness of the dark cabin--and she wanted to tell him that the prospect of his going a few days without fire just then worried her a good deal more than the presence of the helicopter, but knew he’d just respond with a quip about how the cold was good for him, was just what he needed, after which he might well feel obligated to head out into the snow to prove the fact to her, or to himself, or--simply liking the challenge, needing it--to no one in particular, but the results would be the same either way.

“We can do that. We’ve got plenty of hides and furs now and we’ll be fine without a fire, though I do hope it’ll be safe to have a candle going now and then at least, maybe a bearfat lamp or two, to melt snow. I wish we had a qulliq like at the bear cave, because that would allow us to do some cooking even, without risking a fire.”

“I did intend to make you a qulliq for this place, and will still do it. But I’m afraid even if we had one right now, wouldn’t be a good idea to use it. Need to keep this place cold for a few days, real cold so it won’t show up if they come looking. Can’t stop breathing of course, and our bodies are gonna be emitting some heat, but I’m hoping with all the dead air space in here as an insulator, that won’t show from the outside. Hoping. But we sure can’t be adding to it with candles and lamps and such. We can melt ice for water with our body heat. Not gonna be a fun time, but we’ll get through it alright. Sure beats having to run, right now…”

28 November, 2011

28 November 2011

By the time they’d finished their small snack, enjoying every bite and--Einar especially, though Liz was herself beginning to develop the habit--scouring the floor for dropped crumbs, the fire’s warmth had begun reaching beyond the immediate area of the stove, driving back the chill and allowing them to emerge just a bit from the bear hide without so quickly losing feeling in fingers and toes. The cold that had settled over the basin and permeated their little plateau was deeper than any Liz could remember during the previous winter although, she had to admit, the bear den in which they spent parts of it would have sheltered them exceptionally well, possibly preventing their notice of such a cold snap, had they not ventured out during it. Really though, she could not remember even a several day stretch during which they had not been out for some reason--check the traps, hunt for ptarmigans--and she wondered if the deeper cold could be attributed mostly to their greater elevation. Seemed likely, and she found herself immensely glad for the existence of the cabin; though cold enough within its walls at the moment, a series of nights spent out in that frigid fastness--especially if one was on the move and without the layers of warm hides that currently protected them during sleep--would be brutal at best, and potentially fatal. She shivered, pressed closer to Einar, who was staring into the flames as if almost believing he might absorb more warmth that way, and he certainly did need it; Liz could, despite his best efforts to stay relaxed, feel the trembling tension in him as his body tried its best to warm itself, and without much apparent success. It was going to take more than a few days of better eating for him to get past the difficulty he was having maintaining his temperature; he needed to put on fat like a bear preparing for hibernation, and Liz knew he would have to be eating an awful lot more than currently, if there was to be any hope of things heading in that direction.

Though wanting to go fix a midnight meal of rich, hearty stew and see to it that he ate a good portion before they went back to sleep, Liz knew she ought not try and push him to that extent and knew also that he was likely right about the swelling he was experiencing being due at least in part to consuming more than his body was used to, more than it could easily process. The snack would have to be enough, at least until breakfast time. From the looks of things, she’d be doing well to get him into bed before he fell fast asleep again on the floor, and she stirred herself from the warming and somewhat comfortable nest of furs there in front of the stove, threw in another log in the hopes of keeping the fire going for a good while as they settled back in for sleep. Einar scrambled to his feet at Liz’s departure, realizing how near he’d been to sleep and somewhat abashed that she’d been left to tend to the fire when he ought to have been doing it, especially after she’d gone to the trouble of preparing them the snack.

“Just gonna keep on getting colder through the night, it’s looking like. Think I’ll go ahead and sleep over here near the stove, keep things going. I can add a log or two every once in a while, have this place pretty cozy by the time you’re ready to get up in the morning…”

“Oh, you’ll do nothing of the sort! Come on to bed where you can stay warm and sleep just like I’m going to do, and in the morning we can both work to warm the place up again, if the fire’s gone and the cold has crept back in. I’m not afraid of a little chill in the morning--it helps wake a person up and get them moving!”

Einar grinned, couldn’t disagree but had thought she very well might, joined her in the bed and was heading towards sleep within minutes, the icy tension already beginning to leave his body as he was surrounded on all sides by the warmth of those good thick bear hides, Liz already asleep beside him.

Early morning, still dark, and Einar lay tossing and fidgeting beneath the bear hides, cold as once more the chill of the night filled the cabin and seeped into the bed, but not quite cold enough, apparently, to prevent his being transported to another time and place… Choppers coming in, a couple of Cobras--he could hear them, no mistaking that rumble--paired with the lighter sound of the Loach scouts that were flying with them, and he dug his fingers into the ground, tried to follow them, flatten himself, knowing what was coming next, knowing that they could have no idea he was down there amongst the enemy, surrounded by enemy as he tried to work his way out of the area and then it happened, a few shots from the ground, precisely what the chopper crews had been waiting for, target identified and the air was split with the whistle and roar of rockets as a good chunk of jungle went airborne around him, world shattered, ground moving, gonna die but he couldn’t rise to signal them, show himself, let them know he was there because he would have been caught in that hail of lead and aerial artillery fire and splintered, fractured flying rock and vegetation, and even if he’d somehow survived all of that, the enemy would have seen him and taken him as they’d been trying their hardest to do for the past…he didn’t even know anymore, three, four days, five maybe…couldn’t risk it, wasn’t worth it, had to keep still, and he did, and he lived, roar gradually diminishing around him and the jungle smoking, still; for another full three hours he lay there waiting, listening--ears ringing, unreliable--for any sign that the enemy might still be in the area, might have returned to sweep the wreckage for any sign of their fugitive, before he dared move, make his escape as darkness fell and a soft rain began falling.

No escape that night though, not yet, for the choppers weren’t gone, were apparently coming back for a second run and he couldn’t understand it, not after dark and not after the complete devastation they’d wreaked the first time, ground a flattened, smoking mess leaving little place to hide, little, aside from the now slightly raised tangle of fallen trees beneath which he’d jammed himself, and all of a sudden the situation became clear to him, their next target beyond doubt--his hiding place would appear as a dense, dark hulk amongst the smoldering wreckage around it--and the surge of adrenalin that went through him at the realization lent him a strength he would have guessed entirely beyond the abilities of his battered, exhausted body as he took off running, keeping low and hugging the still smoldering trench cut by one of those rockets, slamming his shins into broken branches and catching his feet on vines, falling, but hardly feeling any of it, trying only to reach some safety before those choppers reached the area, realizing that they’d never recognize him in that darkness, would take him as an enemy straggler if they saw him at all and deal with him accordingly but it wasn’t enough, none of it was going to be enough because he couldn’t move quickly enough and then they were on top of him again...

Einar woke in the dark, the deep, icy dark of the cabin on that frigid morning and he knew where he was, knew it more quickly than in the recent past he’d been able to know when waking thus, brought to the present by the feel of Liz’s hand on his shoulder, holding, steadying, wild sweet smell of willows still clinging to her and somehow proving tremendously reassuring but something was wrong, dreadfully wrong for the choppers had followed him, were approaching low over the basin, nearing the cabin, no time to run and he launched himself at the stove, wanting to make certain, at least, that all remnants of the fire had been stamped out…

Comments from 26 November

Nancy1340 said...
A very enjoyable chapter. Thank you.

Thanks for reading!

colspt said...
Agree with Nancy. About how big is their dwelling? I have it pictured in my mind but I think I've imagined it too big.

Not too large. I posted a drawing of one similar to it on the other site a while back, and will find it and re-post here at some point. It’s perhaps twelve or fourteen feet long by eight wide, head-high and tapering towards the top because of the way it’s built.

27 November, 2011

27 November 2011

No chapter today, but back with another tomorrow--will probably post early in the morning.

Thanks for reading! :)

26 November, 2011

26 November 2011

So tasty was Liz’s supper that Einar couldn’t seem to get enough of it, restraining himself with difficulty after his second serving of thinly slicked, chokecherry conserve-sweetened meat served on lily root hotcakes, knowing he would be in for trouble and probably more swelling, if he allowed himself too large a portion. Had to give his body time to process it, could have more later. At midnight, for instance, when he had little doubt he’d be awake and poking around in the dark corners of the cabin in search of the spot where Liz might have stashed the leftovers, and he determined to keep an eye on her as she put away the dinner things, see where her hiding place might lie… Which proved a rather unnecessary bit of scheming on his part, Liz slicing the remainder of the roast and stacking the slices on a hot rock at the back of the stovetop, away from the bulk of the heat but where they would still be kept warm, piling the three remaining hotcakes atop them and covering the entire thing with an upturned pot to prevent anything drying out.

“All ready,” she told him, “for when you want more. Or when I do. Little Hildegard wanted me to eat more with supper, but I’m just too stuffed to do it! She’s crowding me, so I told her she’ll just have to wait and we’ll have a bedtime snack together. You and me and the little one. How does that sound?”

“Sounds like a real good idea to me. This may well have been one of the best meals you’ve ever fixed, and considering some of the fantastic stews and such you’ve done for us, that really is saying a lot.”

“We have plenty right now. Thanks to your working so hard to make sure we were ready for winter, this is a time of plenty, and it sure is good to have plenty for a change, so I thought for one night at least, we ought to really enjoy it! And dessert is still coming!”

A quiet smile from Einar at the excitement in her eyes, voice, as she was clearly enjoying not only the feast but the announcement of it, the presentation, and he was glad, too, that they had plenty, knew they were fairly well set for the winter and prayed, as she bustled about putting the finishing touches on the pudding, that they would be able to take advantage of the things they’d been so blessed to be able to stock away for the winter. Things were so uncertain, and the chance of having to run again seemingly so high, despite the current period of relative calm. Such was their life, and though at the moment it seemed they’d successfully stepped out from under the search and managed to stay that way, the recent encounter with Kilgore and his two apprentice trackers had reminded him that the effort was still very much ongoing, the danger very real, and if some inadvertent little action or oversight of theirs should happen to give them away--a careless trail across open country in the snow, smoke when or where there ought not have been smoke--they’d be forced to leave it all once again, and in great haste. He shook his head, returned to watching Liz, who was busy stirring a bit of honey into the gently bubbling concoction on the stovetop. She seemed, for the moment at least, to have forgotten all about such possibilities, and he was once more amazed at her capacity for what appeared almost effortless cheer and grace, even amidst the greatest hardship. Not that they were currently experiencing such hardship; life was pretty good at the moment, and he dearly wanted, if at all possible, to keep it that way for her, and for the little one. At least for a while. For the winter.

Somewhere between pondering on their situation and watching Liz--his beautiful Lizzie, with contentment on her face and the wild, sweet smell of willows all about her--work over the stove, Einar, without meaning to do so, must have drifted off to sleep for the next thing he knew it was cold in the cabin, and dark, and Liz was draping him with a bear hide. Struggling, limbs stiff and bordering on numb--must have been there an awful long time lying on the floor, and he wondered how it had happened--he got himself rolled over and onto hands and knees, stood, shivering in a chill that seemed to press in from all sides and try its best to take his breath away. A bit unsteady on his feet, and when Liz, seeking to prevent a fall, caught his hand he felt that hers was warm, far warmer than his own, guessed she must have been in bed and was glad. Sure wasn’t a night to spend sprawled out on the floor if one could at all help it, and he worked to shake the confusion from his head, figure out why it was so terribly, pressingly cold there in the cabin. Fire was out, that was why, that, and the fact that the storm had moved out and the night was clear and such conditions always meant one was in for a mighty cold night, the current one certainly being no exception. Liz was saying something, and he found himself having to struggle to focus on her words. Must himself be a good bit colder than he realized.

“Wanted to get you into bed, but you were sleeping so peacefully with a little smile on your face and all the hurt gone, and I couldn’t stand to wake you, but it got awfully cold in the night and I was worried…are you alright?”

Einar stretched, shivered, beat numbed hands on his legs and pressed them to his stomach in an attempt to restore some feeling but it, too, seemed formed of ice, wasn’t much help. “Sure I’m alright! Dry and fed and out of the wind…couldn’t be better. Need to get a fire going though I guess, ‘cause the night doesn’t seem likely to get any warmer, and the water barrel’s gonna freeze up if we let it go much lower in here.”

“Yes, there was already a pretty thick skin of ice over the barrel, and I was just about to start one. I slept so soundly after that good dinner that I didn’t even notice it going out in the first place, and I guess you didn’t either! Here, I’ve already got some kindling broken up, let’s get some flames going and then have a snack! You missed the pudding entirely because you were so fast asleep, but I saved you some.”

“Kinda like to try it. The stuff smelled awful good while you were working on it, but guess I was just too full of all that great bread and meat and jam, and couldn’t keep my eyes open.” Einar had been poking around in the coals as he spoke, turning up a few which still glowed orange and radiated a bit of heat which, though slight, was quite noticeable there in the frigid interior of the cabin. Liz, meanwhile, had retrieved the supper leftovers and was turning them into just the sort of midnight snack Einar had earlier dreamt of fixing.

Cold sheep meat and leftover hotcakes smeared generously with that wonderful, thick paste of chokecherries and honey, they sat shivering together in front of the stove eating and waiting for the heat of the little fire to reach out and begin warming the place once more, while outside the silence of the night was split by an occasional splintering shatter--something like a gunshot, really, and Einar jumped with the first few though knowing full well their cause--as the sap froze in one spruce or another, its rapid expansion exceeding the capacity of the wood to flex, the tree splitting. Though rather wishing he had, himself, some excuse to head out into the bitter cold of the night and test himself against its teeth, he was immensely glad not to have dragged Liz and the little one out there with him. The cabin was stoutly built, well insulated and would soon be warm again.

25 November, 2011

25 November 2011

The juniper tea, which he began drinking down after Liz’s description of its potential benefits, did indeed leave Einar feeling a bit strange, shaking and sweating as if coming down with a fever and generally feeling a good deal worse than he had before, but he kept at it, soon draining the pot, setting it aside as he sat there staring intently at his half finished snowshoes, taking big breaths and trying his hardest not to be sick. A bit of the stuff was alright, tasted nice, even, but the entire pot was too much and left him shuddering at the lingering odor of juniper that wafted about the cabin, rising on the stove-heat and doing its best to suffocate him. Needed to get outside in a hurry, and he did, stumbling out the door and crouching against the woodshed, forehead resting on its rough, snowy side as the bitter air whispered through his clothing and began cooling the sweat until he was shaking from cold rather than fever and Liz, watching from inside, began wondering if she might have made a terrible mistake, talking him into drinking the juniper tea. Worrying, she went to him, tried to help him up but he didn’t want to get up, quite content to stay there crouched in the snow in the only position from which his stomach didn’t seem to be threatening imminent expulsion of the experimental tea. Which he didn’t want. Had begun the experiment, and meant to see it through. Liz brought his hat, snugged it down onto his head and he didn’t try and stop her, though in truth he had been somewhat enjoying the rustling of the wind through his hair, still feeling terribly hot and out of sorts. Must not be, though--not hot, at least--as the rattling of his teeth said otherwise, and he found himself hoping greatly that he juniper would work the first time, as he was feeling little inclination to try it a second.

Liz was saying something, and he clamped his jaw in an effort to make out her words. “Are you Ok? It didn’t do like yarrow, did it, and make you feel all strange…?”

“Is it supposed to? Didn’t think there was anything in juniper that would…”

“No! It’s not supposed to.”

“Good. That’s good. I’m Ok. Just got awful hot there for a while and it was kinda distressing, but it’s coming out alright. Guess I’d better uh…get inside pretty soon here before I…lose the rest of the feeling in my fingers, because they’re getting awful…”

She took his hands, pressing them to her stomach for warmth, helping him up. “Yes, I can see that you’re freezing, now. I’m glad you’re not hot anymore, at least! Let’s go back in, give this stuff some time to work.”

Over the next hour as he kept plugging away at his snowshoes, Einar experienced several cycles of what felt like rapidly accelerating fever followed by shaking chills--that part he didn’t much mind, found it entertaining, even, augmenting its effect by sitting in the partially open doorway until, much to Liz’s distress, his lips and extremities began going a shade of purple--and after a time he began experiencing an urgent need to head to the outhouse. Just the result the tea had been supposed to produce, and Liz, though a bit worried that he might lie down in the snow and freeze himself on the way out there should he experience another hot spell, was hopeful that it might in the end do him some good. After making several hasty trips outside as the afternoon wore on, Einar seemed to be feeling a bit better, and when sometime before supper she checked his legs it did appear that things were at least slightly less swollen, a good sign perhaps, of things to come, but if nothing else a source of some temporary relief in time for him to get a bit more enjoyment out of his supper.

By the time supper was nearly ready the snowshoes were finished, and Einar, keen to try them, worked feet still swollen and painful into his boots and headed out for a brief test before settling in for the evening. Slow and cumbersome were his movements, hampered by the deep snow, a dizziness that continued off and on to plague him and the hurt of resting even his rather unsubstantial weight on feet so swollen and out of proportion, but it was enough to let him know that the snowshoes had been a success, would hold him and prevent his floundering about too badly in the fresh new powder that now covered the clearing, knee-deep in some places but drifted hip-high in others, a major obstacle indeed for those not properly equipped. Which he certainly wouldn’t have been, had he ventured out as he’d wished that morning on the trapline run, Liz wearing their single pair of snowshoes and he struggling to make some headway in the trail she’d broken, but inevitably sinking down not only through the layer of fresh powder but punching through the thin crust below with nearly every step.

Measuring the difficulty with which he was currently making progress through the fresh snow even with the aid of his new shoes, Einar knew that Liz hadn’t been far off when she had suggested he’d likely die out there had he insisted on doing the trapline that day. Without snowshoes, he would have very quickly grown exhausted, would have maintained only with the greatest difficulty a pace even nearly approaching speedy enough to keep himself reasonably warm and would, in the end, have failed even at that, as his meager resources burned themselves up and he collapsed in the snow. Einar shook his head, frustrated and perhaps even something bordering on scared that he hadn’t been able to see it, had been so ready to go charging out there and pushing through all that new snow, endangering not only his own life but those of Liz and the baby as well, as Liz would have certainly felt an obligation to remain with him out in the frigid, snow-covered timber when at last he’d reached the end of his rope and been able to go no further. With temperatures sure to plummet far below zero in the stark, clear night--already, with the sun not yet even sunk fully behind the ridgeline, he could feel the little hairs in his nose crinkling and catching with the cold, fingers losing their feeling with a rapidity that told him it was already a good bit below zero, and sinking fast--and no blankets or robes along on the walk, it would have taken all their effort simply to survive the night without some better shelter, and though confident in their ability to do so, Einar hated that he’d so nearly subjected Liz to such an ordeal, and without need.

Back inside, time to get back to Liz and try some of that supper she’d spent so long preparing, and the way he was feeling--better, not quite so terribly bloated and sick; seemed the juniper was starting to do its job--there seemed some chance he might even be able to talk himself into consuming a good-sized portion that would make Liz happy and give him strength for the soon-to-come trapline run.

Comments from 24 November

Marcos Eliziário said...
Yes, for sure Einar is bordering on delusional. But, fact is, Einar has never been the same since the drugged darts.
I knew that some drugs have a permanent effect on some people's mind. Marijuana for example, can precipitate the onset of schizofrenia in some individuals.
So, if you add Einar's past, his continued state of stress caused by the search, the long periods of famine and pain he went through, and after all of that, a unexpected experience with very powerful hallucinogens, it's not all that unexpected that he may have became a somewhat odd fellow.
Even if I sometimes get very upset with his stupid behaviors, I must concede that he has went thru too much and couldn't not end up without some weird superstitions and totally paranoid.

“A somewhat odd fellow…” Yep, I guess Einar couldn’t deny being a somewhat odd fellow, and while he was probably born that way, life experiences have almost certainly made him more so.

No, those darts certainly didn’t help him. He’d deliberately avoided everything of the sort for his entire life, so being hit with those, especially at that time, was really not a good experience.

Nancy1340 said...
Thanks for the new chapter today FOTH.
Hope you had a great Thanksgiving.

Thanks for reading. Yes, it was a good Thanksgiving, hope yours was, also.

Eric said...
Thanks so much for getting the chapters fixed. I am all caught up and can just read the up to date one's. Maybe I'll even get something done around the house besides reading! I hope you have had a Joyous Thanksgiving and thank you so much for all this hard work. This is a great story. Hope ol' Einar get's that head of his straight soon. Big changes coming with that little one about to arrive.

Glad the new archive format is working better for you. Not sure what went wrong with the old one, but I couldn’t make it work, either. Glad you’re caught up now, too! Thanks for reading.
: )

24 November, 2011

24 November 2011

Willows gathered and the second pair of snowshoes begun, Einar sat in front of the stove lashing and weaving and trying to decide whether he wanted to go ahead and make the entire snowshoe structure, including the webbing, from woven willows, or if he might be better off with rawhide webbing. The rawhide would certainly last longer, but would take longer to assemble, too, perhaps longer than the half day he had left. Better, perhaps, to construct temporary shoes of willow, replacing their webbing later as needed. Even sitting out in the snow the bundle of willow wands had dried some, and as he worked with the larger pieces, Einar set a good quantity of the smaller end-down in the water barrel to soak and re-hydrate.

Liz sat watching him, her earlier joy at the postponement of the trapline run tempered by the knowledge that the struggle they’d just had would be repeating itself, and likely soon--Einar wanting to push himself beyond all reasonable limits in one area or another, and she trying to talk some sense into him--and the prospect saddened her. She didn’t want to struggle against him, and win, she wanted him to understand. To make for himself the decisions that would lead to his having some chance of seeing spring again, rather than simply bending to her will on occasion because he believed doing so would make her happy, which of course in the case of the trapline it had done, but that was beside the point. Though expressing an intellectual understanding of the need to let his body heal and gain strength so he would be there for her and the little one as provider and protector that winter, something in him seemed always to be resisting putting that knowledge into action, interfering with his progress and telling him that not only should he go on pushing himself past the edge of his endurance, physically, but that it was indeed only through doing so that he had any real hope of sticking around to carry out his duty in regards to his new family. Strange way of looking at it, and as Liz contemplated the matter--she’d never quite looked at it that way before, though she realized now he’d tried more than once to tell her something very similar--she wondered if he might be right, might be striving his very hardest, in his own admittedly strange and perhaps not so effective manner, to fulfill his duty in the very areas she had been inwardly accusing him of neglecting. She didn’t know. Some things were simply too difficult to figure out, and she supposed all she could do was to go on making preparations for the baby, trying to keep him on the right path--whichever that was; she had her thoughts, but was beginning to doubt their completeness if not their veracity--and being as patient as she could. Not always an easy thing.

When Einar, feeling her eyes upon him--seemed he could always sense such things--looked up to meet them he saw sorrow there guessed at its cause, though possessing only a dim idea of what might really be troubling her. If skipping the trapline for one day was good, doing so for three or four or more must be even better in her eyes, he supposed, but they really had to get it up and running sooner or later, and surely she couldn’t expect him to sit in the cabin doing nothing all winter, now could she? No, surely not. And the sooner he got out and about again the better, or it seemed his legs would simply go on getting worse, until he’d find it all but impossible to compel them to carry him very far when the need did arise. Couldn’t let that happen, had to be out and regaining a bit of what he’d lost, keeping himself moving so the swelling could begin to go down--he was, despite some past experience with such things, convinced that in this case only movement would help reduce the fluid his body seemed so intent on accumulating--rather than sitting there on the floor becoming all slow and stagnant and likely as not perishing after a few days simply because his body sensed that he’d given up the fight. Couldn’t do that, not even to satisfy Liz, as it would prove in the end quite counter to her own wishes, but didn’t quite know how to explain all of that to her. So he just smiled in response to the question in her eyes, went back to his work. He was, at least, doing as she had asked in regards to trying to eat a bit more, and though it was proving difficult for a number of reasons, he figured it would likely work out in the end. He’d get back into the habit and it surely would, as she kept insisting, improve things for him, and for them both.

Almost seeming to have heard his thoughts--sometimes he wondered about her, and there were occasions on which it left him a bit uneasy--Liz left her work on the new door, where she had been using soaked sinew strips to lash together the log sections they’d cut out of the wall, binding them into a solid square which she intended to hang from elk hide hinges, and began preparations for the afternoon meal. With temperatures having dropped precipitously after the breakup of the storm and the two of them having worked hard to chop out the door and clear most of the tunnel she had worked up quite an appetite, and hoped Einar might have, as well. Seemed a sheep roast, cooked slowly in a covered pot over the stove and seasoned with the dried greens of wild garlic ought to do quite well, especially once she sliced it thinly and placed the slices, along with a bit of boiled down and honey-sweetened chokecherry conserve, on the flat cakes of lily root bread she intended to make to compliment the meal. A fine way to end the day, and something she hoped might prove so tempting to Einar that he would forget whatever lingering doubts he had when it came to enjoying his food and letting it give him the nourishment he so badly needed.

Only problem was that when she looked at Einar, working away with a pale, grim-faced intensity at his snowshoe project, he didn’t look the least bit hungry. Looked to be starving, as indeed she knew he must still be despite several days of eating a bit more normally, but didn’t look hungry, and she could hardly blame him, knowing that she wouldn’t likely feel much up to eating, herself, had she been experiencing the terribly swollen and uncomfortable lower legs and feet that were plaguing him that day, and she wished there might be something she could do to help him. Ah! There is, though. Not a sure solution, but it’s at least worth trying, and she abandoned for the moment her meal preparations and rustled around amongst the bags and pouches hung all dry and secure amongst the rafters, in which she’d stored away her precious supplies of herbs from that summer, both medicinal and culinary. Finding at last the two containers for which she’d been searching she brought them down, checking their contents and finding them to be just as she had remembered. One contained a mass of the springy, feathery leaves of many dried yarrow plants, so useful for stopping dangerous bleeding and also good for the occasional tea, and though it might have been her first choice for Einar--the plant, amongst other things, stimulating the kidneys and helping to expel excess fluids--she knew the likelihood was quite small that he would accept a pot of the tea, even if she could convince him that it would be of some help in relieving his current troubles. His long-standing objection to consuming anything that might alter in some way his perception of the world would almost certainly prevent him from finding it an acceptable remedy, and she almost hated even to ask, fearing he might afterwards refuse the entire supper, suspicious that she might have somehow infused it with the dreaded herb. Which she would not do, but knew there had at times in the past been occasions on which he’d suspected her of such, and hardly wanted to bring them back to mind if there were other options.

Out of the second bag, a neat little drawstring sack made of well-softened sheep hide, she poured a handful of juniper berries, inhaling their spicy and--being rather foreign to the elevation at which they’d spent the last many months--somewhat exotic odor. She’d gathered the berries during their expedition earlier in the year to the valley on the other side of the red ridge, the time they’d run across the early-season elk hunters, had collected and brought back a large handful of the frosted purple berries with the intent of possibly using them to help move her labor along should things slow down too much when the time came. A strong tea of the richly scented fruits might help, she knew, but might also prove dangerous if consumed before the time came, as they could have the effect of stimulating contractions and sending her into early labor. Not a problem Einar needed concern himself with, and she hoped the berries’ strong diuretic action might help rid him of some of the swelling, leave him a bit more ready to enjoy supper, when the time came that evening. Adding a good ten or twelve berries--too weak and the tea would have little effect, too strong and it might well irritate his kidneys, which must already be somewhat strained trying to keep up with his current situation--to a pot of already simmering water she breathed a bit of the strongly aromatic steam that rose from them, liking its spice and thinking that, should they ever find themselves down low enough again to be in the trees’ growing habitat, she ought to collect a good many more of the berries, dry and save them for use as a spice in some of their stews and on roasted meats. They would be safe for her to use again once the baby had come, and would, it seem, taste quite nice as the occasional accompaniment to elk or venison or sheep. Which was neither here nor there at the moment, and tipping the pot sideways so she could get a look at the strength of the tea in the dim and flickering light of the three candles that were currently illuminating the cabin, she tossed in a few more berries for good measure.

His attention captured by the unusual odor of the tea, Einar set aside his work and braced his hands against the ceiling for balance as he hovered over the stove, inhaling steam and looking curiously at Liz.

“Smells like you’re boiling up a juniper tree. What is it?”

“Well, it’s not a juniper tree, but it is juniper berry tea.”

“You really shouldn’t have that, not now. Not safe for the baby.”

“It’s not for me, it’s for you. You’ll probably feel a little weird and maybe have a bit of a fever because it can increase body temperature slightly, but it should also help you get rid of some of that extra fluid. Maybe make it a little easier to walk, so you’ll be more ready for the trapline.”

“Is that so? Never did experiment much with juniper berries, other than to sometimes keep one in my mouth for a little bit of flavor while hiking, and also I’ve boiled up bunches of them to collect the wax from that coating they’ve got, wanting to try and make candles or something from it, only I never did get enough. Yeah, I’ll try it though. Worth a try if it’s got any chance of helping get rid of some of this. Thanks for uh…” He shrugged, not sure how to continue and feeling a bit badly that she’d been using her time thinking of ways to help him when he’d so obviously been making her unhappy with some of his decisions, though he wasn’t even then precisely sure which ones.

“You’re welcome. Now, go ahead and give it a try, because this is going to be one unusual and tasty supper I’ve got going for us, and I want you to be ready to enjoy it!”

Happy Thanksgiving/Comments from 22 November

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

We all really do have so much to be thankful for, and must always be mindful of the Source of our blessings and never take them for granted.

Hope you're all having a great day, spending time with family if you want to be, and enjoying plenty of good things to eat.

Nancy1340 said...
Einar really is dense isn't he?

That is entirely possible, but he probably wouldn’t be the one to ask …

Meplat said:
I guess I’m just slow to catch on. I was thinking that Einar was just working through the tribulations of his past. But it is now clear to me that he is delusional. Any man of his knowledge and experience who actually believes that walking is a better strategy for treating swollen feet and legs than elevating them is quite obviously delusional. Liz needs the pack her backpack, put on her snowshoes and head for Susan’s place. At least that way Einar’s son may survive.

Can’t a person be both working through past tribulations and occasionally delusional, at the same time…? Einar’s doing what he can with what he has, sometimes it works better than at others, but he keeps at it. Doesn't really know what else to do.

23 November, 2011

23 November 2011

No chapter today, as I was gone since early this morning helping raise a pair of 80' windmill towers.

Another chapter tomorrow--hope everyone has a good Thanksgiving! :)

22 November, 2011

22 November 2011

Having enjoyed the productive but somewhat quiet progression of the morning, Liz was not particularly anxious to venture out in all that fresh snow and spend the remainder of what had with the departure of the storm turned into a bitterly cold day searching for the buried remnants of the trapline and bringing it back to life, but Einar seemed set on it, and she supposed the job had got to be done, sooner or later. The fresh meat provided by the trapline represented a valuable supplement to the dried and frozen meat they had stored, would stretch it further as the winter went on and give them some variety in their diets, in addition to a useful supply of small pelts. She worried though, watching Einar come in with his armload of wood and struggle to stomp the snow from his boots without losing his balance and ending up sprawled out on the floor, about his ability to physically complete that walk. Legs were still terribly swollen, and though he asserted that only exercise would help bring down the swelling--she didn’t agree, but that was neither here nor there--it was plain that walking brought with it a significant amount of pain, both because of the swelling in his feet and the apparent weakness of the leg muscles, themselves.

The idea of making that trapline walk seemed to be asking for disaster in so many ways--frostbitten toes and feet due to poor circulation and constriction when he forced them into the boots, repeated falls in the deep snow when his legs refused to support him as he might expect and eventually, if he wasn’t careful--which he wouldn’t be; the troubles would only cause him to push himself harder--exhaustion and collapse two or three miles from home and with temperatures plummeting for the night the way they so often did immediately after the breakup of a storm such as the one they’d had. He’d die out there, die trying to crawl home or, knowing him, attempting to finish the trapline despite his condition. Liz found the prospect frightening. Terrifying, actually, though she wouldn’t have wanted him to know it. Seemed that the nearer approached the baby’s time, the more she wanted stability, certainty, and such things were simply not within reach many times, in the life they’d chosen to live. Which she’d known all along, so had no real cause to complain, now. And besides, Einar wouldn’t die out there on the trapline, not this time, because she’d be with him, wouldn’t let it happen. Would clear a spot on the ground and build a big fire if he ended up unable to go further, spend a cold but fully manageable night out there with him under the trees; they’d done it many times in the past, and could do it again.

Resigned to the certainty of making the walk Liz began preparing, pulling her parka and Einar’s down from their hanging pegs and laying out the woven rabbit blanket, dry socks--their last pair each; when those were gone they’d have to begin wrapping their feet in rabbit skins for warmth within their boots, either that, or she would need to hand-spin every bit of the mountain goat wool they’d collected that summer up on the high ridges and hope it might prove enough to knit or crochet into socks for the two of them--water and packets of food, Einar hobbling over to the bed where he stood watching her.

“Looks like you’re preparing for a major expedition, there. I was just gonna go run the trapline real quick…”

A moment of weakness, anger, she wanted to tell him, that is a major expedition in your condition, which would be plain as day to you if you were thinking halfway straight, and I’m just trying to see that you have some chance of coming back from it, that’s what I’m doing! Figured she’d be doing them both a disservice by continuing to be so angry about it, silent, better to speak, and she did. “I’m getting us ready to spend the night out there.”

“The night? What do you want to do that for? Gonna be a mighty cold night out there, storm having just moved out and all. Figure you’d probably sleep better here in the cabin, unless there’s something you know that I don’t.”

“I know that you can barely make it to the woodshed right now with your feet all swollen up like that.”

“Aw, walk’s only gonna help with that. I just need to get moving, be active and this’ll go down. I may be a little slow, but it’s not gonna take us all night to walk that trapline!”

“Being on your feet won’t make the swelling go down.”

“Well then, I’ll just live with it. Ought to help my boots stay on, if nothing else.”

“You’re going to lose the rest of your toes. Let’s wait on the trapline, give it one more day.”

“Day’s not gonna change anything. Got to work with what I have.”

“It might change some things if you’d actually lie down and rest for a while. Put your feet up, take the weight off of them.”

Einar laughed, the concept striking him as somewhat humorous--haven’t got much weight on them in the first place, and you know I don’t lie down during the day unless I’ve got absolutely no choice at all--but he could see from the look on Liz’s fact that she hadn’t at all been joking, was somewhat distressed at his laughter. Probably thought he wasn’t taking her seriously, which he wasn’t, but only because he hadn’t realized she might be serious. Mistake. Better try and find a way to fix it. Didn’t want to put off the trapline run, but supposed it wasn’t such an urgent thing, not if she was so very set on staying. There were other ways he could keep himself moving.

“Ok, let’s wait. Another day won’t hurt anything. Will give the snow time to settle, and me time to put together a second pair of snowshoes that’ll work a little better than the spruce branches I was gonna tie to my feet when we went. That’ll make the trip go smoother. And we can finish the door, get the tunnel opened up and operational, lots of things we can do around here, still.”

While expecting Liz to be pleased, he was not at all prepared for what happened next, which involved her launching herself at him and grabbing him about the neck, an action which very nearly resulted in a swift and unfortunate response from Einar, who managed to hold himself back and keep still only with the greatest difficulty.

“Thank you! I really, really think that’s the right decision! We’ll stick around here for the day, get the door and snowshoes done and I’ll fix you a great big supper that we wouldn’t have had time to do if we were tromping through the snow all day, and the trapline will still be waiting for us out there tomorrow when we get up all ready to head out.”

Einar nodded, squirming a bit in Liz’s embrace and suddenly needing very badly to have a bit of space around him, some room to breathe. She got the message, released him and he shuffled back until he was leaning on the door, fighting to keep himself from pushing it open and dashing out. “Guess if I’d known just how keen you were to stick around here for the day, I might have said something sooner. Just figured we’d head out as soon as the storm quit, but tomorrow’ll do just fine. Guess I’d better uh…be finding some willows for those snowshoes I need to make. Think we’ve got some out behind the woodshed, still. Be right back.”

21 November, 2011

21 November 2011

A couple more photos from last week...

Having finished Liz’s pot of soup--Einar carefully avoiding everything but the broth, Liz noticing but saying nothing--they worked together to finish cutting out the log sections that covered what was to be the cabin’s back door. Escape tunnel. Whatever they wanted to call it, but Liz could see that there would be no rest for Einar until the project was finished, determined as he’d become to give them a second way out, and without delay. Agreeing with his assertion that they needed the door though perhaps not sharing his sense of urgency, she did find his need for rest a pressing matter that day, so made the door her own first priority as well as his. Swinging the axe in that confined space proved not the easiest thing for either of them as they took turns working away at the logs, Einar’s grip a good bit stronger since he’d eaten but still not quite as reliable as he would have liked, arms still tending to cramp up on him from time to time, and he insisted on Liz removing herself to a safe spot--the area behind the water barrel being the only place he really deemed safe enough--whenever his turn came to do the chopping. Finally removing the last of the log sections they paused to clean up some of the mess that had ended up all over the cabin floor, wood chips, bark, bits of insulation from the berm behind, sweeping the debris into little piles and tossing it into the stove where it flared up into flame and added to the warmth of the cabin, which had already grown rather too great for Einar’s taste, hard as he’d been working on that wall.

Though seeming increasingly susceptible to the effects of the cold as the winter went on he was also finding that he heated up quite rapidly when working, leading to the shedding of clothes and eventually to more freezing, when his work slowed a bit; appeared there was no middle ground for him--body had, perhaps, lost a bit of its ability to regulate his temperature, had forgotten how to do it but he hoped that problem might go away if and when he managed to start eating more, and on a regular basis--but what was new? Opening the front door by a good foot he sat with arms outspread in the draft that swept in bitter and snow-filled from the ongoing storm outside, shivering within minutes as he cooled down and the sweat tried its best to turn to ice on his back as he watched Liz work over the stove, where she appeared to be preparing a soup of some sort, chokecherries and serviceberries simmered with bits of bear fat and honey until they began releasing a smell that very nearly proved tempting enough to pull Einar away from his post in front of the door, but not quite. That job was left to Liz who, herself beginning to feel the draft rather keenly and thinking Einar had simply left the door ajar while going out to fetch more firewood, let out a little cry of dismay when she turned to remedy the situation and saw what he was doing.

“What’s this? How are you going to help me dig that tunnel and finish the door if your hands are frozen all stiff and useless? What’re you doing, anyway? I thought you were going to hold off on that sort of cold training for a while, give your body some time to start getting stronger before you did too much of it…”

Einar shook his head, gave her a quick little grin, lips nearly purple in the sub-zero air from the still-open door. “Not…cold training really, I just needed to cool off, was hot from working.”

“Well you’re not hot anymore, and neither am I! Now close that door before you let all the heat out and I have to build the fire up again just to replace it, won’t you? And then come have some of this fruit soup I’m experimenting with. I need someone to test it, and you look like you need the sugar, too.”

“I look too sour, huh?”

“Something like that. Here. Have some. Oh, you big goof! Can’t use your hands, can you? Can’t even feel them, it looks like. Well, I’m not feeding you, so if you want to try this stuff you’d better warm up pretty quickly, or I’ll have it all eaten.”

Liz’s vehemence on the subject striking him as somehow quite humorous--never did ask you to feed me, nor would I, but yeah, it does look like you’re gonna have that soup all gobbled up in another minute or two--but nonetheless quite concerned that he might not get so much as a taste of the wonderful-smelling stuff if he didn’t hurry and claim it, he held numbed hands above the stove, pressed them to his stomach and beat them against his legs until a bit of circulation was restored and he could grip the soup pot without the risk of dropping it, tasting a little sip of the rich, sweet liquid in which the berries had simmered, liking it, and having more. Tasted a good bit like the lily root-starch thickened puddings she had on occasion made with them, only thinner. A good winter treat, and he gratefully finished the portion Liz--who’d had no intention of eating it all out from under him, but didn’t mind that he had thought so--had left for him.

Instant energy and warmth that soup gave Einar, and he crouched there staring at the newly opened hole in the back wall of the cabin, a gap approximately two and a half feet high and approximately as wide, just large enough for them to comfortably exit should the need arise, but not so large as to significantly destabilize the structure of the wall or let in too much outside air when they were trying to keep the place warm. Speaking of which, he could feel the frigid outside air working its way through the several feet of loosely packed leaf and needle insulation that now represented the only barrier between the cabin interior and the harsh, windy cold of the outside world, and he figured they’d better go ahead and get that tunnel dug, shored up and closed off at its end so the cut log sections could be assembled into a door, and installed. Crawling over to the opening--made more sense in this case to crawl than to walk, a point he hoped might not be lost on Liz, as he didn’t want her knowing the level of difficulty he was still experiencing in compelling his legs to support him; doggone muscles--he began digging at the insulation, loading it into a willow basket that he passed out to Liz whenever it began growing full, waiting until she’d deposited the load just inside the door before he removed more. They would, after the tunneling was through, take the spare insulation and pack it in here and there around the cabin in places where the initial cover had been thin, helping shore it up against the cold of winter.

Pausing now and then in his work to shore up the tunnel walls with rigid strips of white aspen outer bark and jam sturdy branches lengthwise across the “ceiling” of the tunnel--light as that insulation was, there would of course be no danger should a section of the three foot long tunnel collapse on one of them someday, but Einar didn’t especially want the work of having to reconstruct it should such occur, and figured the bark shoring might help prevent a collapse of any sort, especially when the snow load began growing heavier outside--his mind wandered back to some of the caving he’d done over the years in the many miles of limestone passageways that honeycombed many of the nearby cliff faces, an interest he’d pursued with a voracious passion during his growing up years and again in the two decades before his going on the run, but he remembered also the gap, the year and a half when he wouldn’t have been able to force himself into anything remotely resembling a tunnel to save his life, remembered how he’d overcome it, got back to the underground world he had so loved, and learned to love it again. Wondered if…quit it, Einar. You got work to do, and this stuff’s just distracting you. Some other time, maybe. Now come on, finish this tunnel. Liz’s waiting out there for the next load of insulation.

Finally sometime late that morning--tunnel finished, door begun--the snow began tapering off, winds dying down and ragged bits of blue showing through the layer of cloud that had for the past several days clung as a solid ceiling just above the basin, and when Einar next ventured outside, it was to the sight of sunlight on the distant peaks. Kicking and clearing a path from door to woodshed he brushed away some of the wind-blown snow that had accumulated on the woodpile, visually estimating the further snowfall of the night and early morning to be somewhere upwards of ten inches. A significant storm, longer in duration than was normally to be expected in those mountains, and with its departure, Einar found himself anxious to be out and exploring the trapline, clearing snow from deadfalls and snares and rendering them functional once more.

20 November, 2011

20 November 2011

Nancy1340 said...

Good to have you back. Very good chapter. Thank you.

You are allowed to go back "up there" to stay but only if you have an internet connection. ;-)

Oh, well guess I can't go then, because there's not much of an internet connection up there.... :D

No chapter tonight, just got back home, but here are a couple photos from where I was. More to follow tomorrow:

19 November, 2011

19 November 2011

Liz, rising, returning Einar's grin--goofy guy--had not been especially worried that he was about to begin hacking into the wall with her lying right there in the bed beside it but nonetheless grateful for his assurance of such, found herself far more concerned at his apparent condition that morning, as she knew he would never crawl when he could walk, and here he was moving about the cabin on hands and knees as he did his work, looking terribly pale and cold and a bit confused despite his quick response to her waking, short of breath and clearly having to work hard just to keep himself upright and somewhat oriented to the location of the floor. She wanted to suggest that he come back to bed for a while and warm up--he'd been outside, had spent a good deal of time out there in the wind, from the looks of him; melting snow still clung to his hair and he appeared badly chilled--but knew any such attempt would almost certainly prove fruitless, set as he seemed on preparing for and cutting in that new door. So she did the next best thing, which was to get up, herself, and start some breakfast.

"Looks like you've got the stove good and hot! What's it doing outside, still storming? Thought I'd heard some wind a while ago..."

"Yeah, snowing pretty hard still, and gusty. Wanted to do the trapline this morning, but..." He raised his hands in a gesture of dismay, but Liz said a silent prayer of thanks. They had plenty of food just then, and the traps could wait. Einar, on the other hand, did not appear as though he could wait, needed some sustenance without further delay and preferably a good solid day of rest if he was to begin heading in the right direction. Wouldn't like that she'd noticed any of that, though, so Liz kept it to herself for the time, simply joining him beside the stove and beginning her breakfast preparations.

"Well, if you're set on doing the door now, just watch that you don't get any wood ships in my stew!"

A shaky laugh from Einar as he used the axe, head braced on the ground, to help hoist himself to his feet. Looked like a major effort, and Liz tried not to watch. He wouldn't want her watching. Wished she could help though, because the standing was clearly causing him some pain; she could see it in his face. Einar wasn't paying the hurt any attention, mind still on the prospect of adding wood chips to their breakfast stew. "Aw, it's good solid spruce, this wall is, not the least bit rotted or punky. If you boil the chips long enough, they'll probably soften up and make a fine addition to the stew, add some bulk and stretch our meat supply even further...might become a favorite of ours before thewinter is over--wood chip stew!"

"Oh, I certainly hope not! I've eaten roasted inner bark from spruces before, last winter when we were on the move and didn't have anything else to eat for a while, and it wasn't too bad but just can't fill a person up and keep them warm the way a good thick sheep or elk stew can, and I imagine wood chips would be very much the same way! So let's stick to the meat and berries we've already got, why don't we?"

Another laugh from Einar as he hobbled over to the wall, yeah, I hope we don't have to go back to that anytime soon, can't very well be expected to grow or feed a baby on spruce bark and wood chips, now can you? Well, I'm gonna do everything I can to see that it doesn't come to that, this year. Taking aim with the axe, he removed a precisely-placed chip from the log just inside his charcoal markings, another, using as little force as necessary in the hopes of causing minimal disruption to the interior of the cabin and all the things hanging on the walls and from the ceiling, and succeeding, freeing the log section with several more well-controlled blows to its opposite side, Had to rest after that, sinking to the floor and pulling the newly freed length of log along with him--it had been held in place by the tangle and press of leaf and needle insulation lacked against its outside--crouching there with head bent, struggling for breath. Wanted to keep going but his arms simply wouldn't cooperate, trembling and cramping up on him when he once more attempted to raise the axe, and he tried to breathe his way through the difficulty, ignoring the cramps and forcing his hands to close around the handle through sheer strength of will, managed it, got to his feet but didn't swing the axe. Too small in the cabin, too confined and the potential consequences of a mistake--what if he lost his grip while swinging the thing, and Liz happened to be in the way?--too severe to risk it until he could be a bit more sure of himself. Hit him hard, the realization that he couldn't even chop through two consecutive logs in a row without the risk of turning the axe into a dangerous but unintended weapon, and he stood there bracing himself against the wall and fighting through a series of vicious cramps until Liz finally put her hands over his, loosened his grip and took the tool from him, leaning it against the wall.

"Come sit down Einar, and have some breakfast."

Unsteadied by Liz's removal of the axe and about to fall, anyway, Einar sat, wanted to resist when Liz wordlessly began removing one of his boots--didn't want her seeing his legs that morning, seeing how bad things had got--but instead he began working on the other boot, knowing he was risking permanent injury to his feet by leaving them stuffed into the boots that way, especially in the cold. Liz was not pleased with what she saw, immediately got a deer hide rolled up and propped beneath his ankles, rabbit fur blanket draped over his shoulders and Einar objected, wanted to stand back up only he couldn't, was too dizzy. So he remained where he was, shivering in the blanket and wondering just how he might convince Liz to stop fussing over him. He found the attention somewhat distressing, and it was interfering with his work on the door. And with Liz's day, too. She needed to eat, and to feed the little one. Tired. Dead tired all of a sudden. didn't know what had come over him, but knew he must fight it because he could feel himself slipping, wanting to curl up in the wonderful warmth of Liz's woven rabbit fur blanket and not wake for a very, very long time. Shrugged out of the blanket and got to his feet, not too steady but at least he was standing.

"Only way I can get this swelling to start going down is to walk, got to walk it off."

Liz took his arm, her motions sure, forceful and there he was sitting again despite his best efforts. "No. Face it. Walking isn't the solution to everything, and it isn't likely to help this time. I'm glad you're eating, but you need to rest, too, or your body just isn't going to be able to catch up, and you're going to keep getting worse, and you're going to die. Please don't do that."

Einar shrugged, rubbed his clenched fists against the floor in frustration until he'd bloodied his knuckles, but had no answer for her. Remained sitting though, knowing she was probably right despite an increasingly frantic and insistent voice telling him to get up, head outside and work until he'd got some of his balance back, some strength, do it or he would surely die, and soon.

"Yeah, I'll sit for a while. Not gonna die, though. Not going anywhere. Just having a rough time with all this food, think I've been getting too much of it at once, and had better slow down. Good food, your stew's the best, but my body just doesn't know what to do with it. Yet. I'll keep at this, but got to go slow."

"I understand, and I think you're probably right. I won't rush you. How about taking it just a little more slowly on the work, too? Let's eat, and then I'll help with the door. We'll get it all chopped out and the tunnel cleared just like you were talking about."

Difficult to argue with that, and though Einar wanted to--felt as though he was fighting for his life, mustn't give in on even this arguably small matter, or he'd end up in some real trouble out of which he might not have the strength to drag himself--he kept quiet instead, taking the soup pot Liz was offering him, sitting there with his head bowed, breathing its steam. You're one persistent woman, Lizzie, and I'm just too tired to know how to respond to all this right now. Which is probably a good thing, isn't it? 'Cause I'd just get myself in trouble trying...

Comments from 16-19 November

apple said...

Hey there, hope you are having a great time away.
Hoping for some more really cool piccies (hint hint)

It's been very good to be where I've been, have been wandering the high country and have lots of photos to post, but can't do it yet because I'm not really back yet. Should be able to do so tomorrow.

Nancy1340 said...

I don't think he's ever been away for this long! LOL

Ha! I'm tempted to just head back up there and stay for the winter.... :)

Eric said...

First, thanks for a great story! Been reading the first part and am working through this one now. But, I need your help! I can only see posts for April starting on the 17th and going on. How do I find the ones from the 1st to the 16th? Save me! I can't imagine missing that many chapters. Thank you so much for all this work. It really is an amazing story!

Thanks for reading! I just took a look at the archive for April, and see what you mean. There should be a little button at the bottom that says something to the effect of "view older posts," but I don't see it there. When I get back tomorrow, I'll take a look and see what's going on. Don't worry, you won't have to miss the chapters!

16 November, 2011

16 November 2011

Well, I'm heading out later today and will be gone for a few days, may have the opportunity to post a chapter during that time and may not, but should be back with another (and some photos from the snowy high country) by sometime this weekend.

Thank you all for reading, and for your comments/discussion!

15 November, 2011

15 November 2011

Somewhat to Einar’s dismay the morning dawned dark and windswept, snow still curling down from the sky at a rate that rendered impractical any efforts to dig out the trapline and start over with it; the task would have to wait for another day, but at least the ongoing weather would give him plenty of time to work on the back door, make some candles and perhaps give his legs another day to regain some of their strength so he would actually be of some use on the trapline. A good thought, though unfortunately they didn’t seem to be heading in that direction at all, Einar stumbling and almost going down when he stepped out of bed. Hands braced against the wall he regained his equilibrium, took a tentative step towards the stove and stood there shivering in the morning chill with knees braced against one another, remaining that way until he was sure of himself, sure he could keep it up.

Frustrated. Lower legs were so swollen that morning that he couldn’t even properly sit back on his heels to build and start the fire--had been heading that direction all through the previous day, but seemed to have grown worse in the night, which didn’t make sense, as he’d been lying down--and he wondered if water was going to start accumulating in his lungs the way it was in his legs and feet, and drown him. Doubted it. Aside from the continued hurt of his re-injured ribs and what seemed to be an occasional weakness in his body’s automatic urge to breathe--slightly scary, especially the first few times, but he’d got used to it--his lungs seemed to be doing fine. He’d make it. Just didn’t always feel that way. Especially that morning.

Fire was going, orange flame curling up through its nest of finely split kindling but the chimney wasn’t drawing terribly well, a result, he supposed, of the fresh wave of stormy weather that seemed to have pushed its way into the area overnight. Rising, he peered out through the crack above the door. Yep, still snowing, and looked like it was there to stay, at least for the moment. Lots of cold air coming in through that crack and, being up near the ceiling, surely a lot of warm escaping through it, too. Figured the time had come to stuff it with something, and the basket that held Liz’s scraps of hide and fur, remnants of various sewing projects, seemed just the place to look. Took him a minute to get over there, as he didn’t want to fall and wake her. Hurt to walk. Hurt to stand. The touch of his clothing against the swollen areas of his legs and ankles hurt, even. No matter. Pain, he could deal with. It was a very direct, straightforward sort of thing, and he appreciated that. Much easier to face up to than the thoughts of the previous evening, the dreams that had haunted his sleep through the night, bringing with them stark, clear memories of…drop it. Don’t go there. Liz’ll be up soon, and you’re not gonna make her go through that again, that wondering why you won’t speak and what she can do to make things better…you know that can’t be easy for her, but once you’re all caught up in it, that thought doesn’t really occur to you, does it? Not until it’s all over with. So just don’t go there today. Night’s over, dreams are gone, and you can get on with the day. Which he did, snorting to clear from his nose an odor that seemed all too real despite his perhaps too insistent assertions that the dreams were behind him, the sickly sweet smell of charring human flesh and bamboo and chicken excrement but he couldn’t get rid of it, stuck his head down into an empty basket in search of some relief, the wild, bittersweet willow tang rising around him, a comfort, but it wasn’t enough. Couldn’t breathe. Wanted to scream, wanted to run full speed at the wall, into the wall…

Outside. Needed some air. Things suddenly seeming way too close in the cabin, too stifling and he felt short on oxygen. Struggle into the boots. Feet didn’t want to go. Shove them. Hard. Hurry. Got to get out of here. An ooze of blood; guessed the skin must be a bit fragile there. Didn’t matter. Just go. Gasping for breath, snow falling heavily, plastering the side of his face where the wind sent it swirling--better, things were better already; he was starting to be able to breathe again--small flakes and fairly dry, the sort of snow that would really add up, if it kept on falling. Had already added up, and he clung to the side of the woodshed for support as he kicked and stomped and once more cleared the little area in front of the cabin, pushing the snow aside; the work helped, pain helped, even, the screaming hurt of his swollen and now battered feet somehow seeming to quiet the other thing, send it down somewhere back deeper inside of him where he could get ahold of it again and mash it back into its place. For the time. Wasn’t very efficient though, that stomping and shoving. Needed to make a shovel of some sort. Aspen bark, that ought to do the job. A half-round of dry, hard outer bark from a fairly large aspen, branch lashed to it for a handle, and he’d have a scoop for moving good quantities of this nice, light snow in a hurry. Thing would never hold up to a heavier, wetter snow, but they could deal with that when it came. Springtime, probably. Late as it was getting in the year, he doubted they’d be seeing too many more wet snows until springtime. Good thing. The drier the snow, the drier one could stay while working and traveling in it, and the more efficiently their mukluks would function. He had five toes left, and wished to hang onto them, if at all possible. Speaking of which, too bad the water that seemed determined to build up in his extremities didn’t act as a better insulator. He was freezing. Couldn’t feel his toes. Should have taken longer for him to get there, even in the admittedly bitter morning wind and with his swollen ankles doubtlessly interfering somewhat with circulation, an awful lot longer.

What’s the matter with you, Einar? Can’t even generate your own heat anymore? You’ve been eating, body ought to be doing better at this. Instead you’re falling apart. Not good. You can’t fall apart, not yet. Come on, pull it together. Swung his arms, trying to get the blood moving, trying to get warm but he couldn’t keep up with the wind, knew it was time to get back inside. And a good thing, too, that you’ve got an “inside” where you can go get warm. You’d be in a real fix if you were having to make a go of it out in this winter weather right now, wouldn’t you? Cover miles a day and keep yourself--and Liz and the baby--going somehow? Doubt you’d last a day or two out there, way you are right now. Aw, might keep yourself alive, doesn’t take much to do that, it seems, but you sure wouldn’t be much use when it came to carrying a load or keeping your family safe, and that’s not gonna do. Got to keep eating, try and get past this rough patch even though it sure would seem better right now to go back to not eating, see if some of this swelling would go down. Becoming quite a nuisance. Just have to try not eating so much at once, somehow talk Liz into that being the best thing to do, which may be a bit of a challenge, the way she keeps pushing pot after pot of that soup at me! Reminded by the thought of Liz that he’d been intending to return to the cabin--that intention had got lost somewhere in all his pondering, leaving him to stand freezing and by then quite thoroughly plastered with snow in the little shoveled area out front--and he fumbled with a few logs in the woodshed, got them piled in his arms and pushed his way back inside.

Liz was still asleep, and he was glad. Liked to see her getting the extra rest, and liked to have a fire going and the place warming for her by the time she got up, too. Was a small thing, but she seemed to appreciate it. Besides which, he was glad she wasn’t awake to see him as he hovered trembling over the stove, hands braced against the wall for stability and head hanging low with exhaustion, for the sight almost certainly would have worried her a good deal more than necessary; he’d be all right, just needed a few minutes to get the blood moving again. Wasn’t working though. He was too dizzy, had to sit down long before he’d really begun to warm up. No matter. Presented him a good opportunity to crawl over to the wall and decide exactly where that door was going to be, perhaps mark its borders with charcoal, and he pulled the end of a burnt stick from the stove, made the marks and was about to retrieve the axe from its hanging spot up amongst the rafters--would have to wait until Liz was awake to begin the actual work, for he didn’t want to wake her that way, and besides, wasn’t entirely sure enough of himself and his ability to keep a grip on the thing to want to handle it with her lying so close, anyway--when Liz woke and turned towards him.

Einar met her worried eyes with a grin, bracing himself against the wall and rising as quickly as he could from hands and knees. “Don’t worry, I was gonna wait ‘till you got up to start chopping…”

Comments from 14 November

Kellie said...
oh Bud, what are you up to now? Can't wait to find out! LOL! Honeymoon.....gee I wonder where they are going for that......maybe a cruise or Disney World or maybe down to his ranch.... or....

Could be any of the above, though some options are certainly more likely than others… :D

Nancy1340 said...
Bud and Susan are going to visit friends in the high country for their honeymoon..............

That is looking like a distinct possibility.

14 November, 2011

14 November 2011

Einar shook his head, wanted to respond angrily, no, you don’t want to know what I’m thinking, what I’m seeing because no new mother wants to think of her child that way. I don’t want you to see this. Don’t want to share it. Don’t push me. He answered quietly though, voice low and restrained, not wanting her to hear the anger, knowing it wasn’t right to be angry with her, not over this. “Just thinking about how folks always need a second way out. Always got to leave yourself a second way out.”

“Yes, we do need that. I’m pretty sure your mind was somewhere else, though...”

And if it was? He shrugged, wanted to answer, wanted to tell her something, if not exactly to provide her the answer she was looking for, but he couldn’t find the words, couldn’t find any words at all and just stood there silent, shaking his head and staring at the wall, eyes growing distant and strange and hardly seeming to see what was around him--which indeed they weren’t--until Liz, worried, pressed him, repeating her query. Didn’t help, Einar only growing confused and more withdrawn, wishing suddenly and with a strength that very nearly demanded immediate response that he was out there in the storm, out where there was more room to breathe and to move and to...

Muninn--having been more than content to pass the bulk of the stormy day in quiet repose on his perch--stirred restlessly at something in Einar’s demeanor, the way he was moving, flapped down and made a few clumsy hops over to him, taking up such a heavy seat on his shoulder that he nearly went to his knees. Einar managed to hold his position with some difficulty as the raven greeted him with a series of soft chortles, twisting a bit of his hair and picking gently at the bandage which covered the results of the bird’s last attempt to bring him back to the present.

“Yeah, what about it, you old vulture?” His voice was rough, unsteady, but at least, Liz noted with a breath of relief, he was speaking. “What’re you still doing in here, anyway? I’ve hardly seen you stir since this morning, and I didn’t think ravens were a hibernating sort, but I’m really starting to have my doubts. You ought to be out there sitting in a snowy tree watching over the place, don’t you think?”

Rasping his objection--Einar had no doubt it was objection; the bird liked his little comforts, and time spent in the wind-free warmth of the cabin seemed to be one of them--Muninn gave him a hard tap in the side of the head, Einar wincing at the raw hurt of it against the already inflamed wound beneath the bandage, but that hurt, at least, gave him something to focus on, seemed to pull him away just a bit from the abyss into which he’d been heading, and he stroked the bird’s feathers, shielding his head at the same time. Didn’t remember sustaining any such wound, nor bandaging it, but supposed Liz must have been responsible, and wondered just might have transpired during his recent periods of unconsciousness. Well. Didn’t much matter now, because he was awake, and very much intended to stay so. Was also being started at by Liz, who apparently still awaited an answer and he wanted to give it to her, but figured best for both of them would be to move on with their evening so he shrugged, waved a hand towards the wall.

“So, figure I’ll get started in the morning. Even if the storm hasn’t quit by then the insulation berm’ll keep snow from blowing into the place, give me time to get a door worked out and assembled before I dig out the leaves and needles and all and complete the tunnel. Gonna be a little noisy in here while I do the work, since the axe is really the best option for opening up the wall and making a door. Don’t have a saw that’d do the job, not even close. Best we’ve got in the way of saws is that deer scapula we’ve used as a snow saw…”

“I won’t mind the noise. I’ll help you. You’re right about needing a back door, but for tonight we’d better just stick with dinner and then bed, don’t you think? It’s got to be getting pretty late…”

“Dark out there, yeah. Reminds me. We need to be making more candles pretty soon. Got lots of wax but starting to run a little low on prepared candles, and we’ll want to make sure to have plenty set aside so we can have light around the time the baby’s coming. Can burn bear fat also, if we need to. I’ll make us a couple lamps, ought to think about a qulliq too, I guess, like we had at the bear cave because that really gave us some good heat and light and even let us cook without having a fire in the stove, and it’d be good to have the option if a time ever comes when we need to avoid fires for a while as a security measure…”

Nodding, agreeing--good ideas, all of them, but she wished he’d stop talking about anything and everything like he was, as it just wasn’t his way and she knew he was doing it largely to escape having to talk and perhaps even to think about whatever shadow had come over him in his ponderings of a back exit for the cabin--Liz turned her attention to the stove, where supper simmered along merrily in its pot and a dessert of honey-sweetened chokecherry pudding approached doneness beside it; ready, time to eat. Much as she wanted to know what had Einar so troubled that evening, perhaps his way was better, in the end. Let it go. Get on with things. Better than ending up all mired down in it, as she supposed he might fear becoming should he let her in on his thoughts, and she shook her head, stirred a bit of additional honey into the pudding. Hoped he’d eat it. He didn’t look much in the mood for eating, but she was prepared to be very insistent should she sense any hesitation. He needed it. Badly. Needed to keep the momentum going, if he expected to see any improvement in the near future. He could never hope to begin putting on the weight he so desperately needed to help keep himself warm that winter, recovering his strength or doing much else other than barely fending off imminent death by starvation with the occasional bowl of soup he was getting, and though she could see it was quite a struggle for him to talk himself into accepting even that much, he was at least doing it, evidence, she hoped, that he had taken to heart their discussions about his role as a father, the need for him to be present to fulfill that duty. Removing the pots from the stove she set them on the flat slab of granite that had been serving as their table, waiting for Einar to join her, which he did just as soon as he’d finished digging out a carefully wrapped packet of bee’s wax and setting it at the foot of the bed as a reminder of the candles he intended to make, somewhere between cutting out a second door, making himself a pair of hastily improvised spruce snowshoes and running the trapline, a lot to pack into one day, but a person has got to make plans, at least.

· · · ·

Down at Susan’s mountainside home and greenhouse complex the storm ended a good half day before it did up in the high country, leaving her to spend the evening busily shoveling the front porch and stairs in anticipation of Bud Kilgore’s arrival for supper after a two day absence attending to his work duties.

Plans for the upcoming wedding were simple, a quick morning ceremony there at Susan’s place, officiated by the local pastor and attended by family and friends--Susan’s, mostly, as Bud had no family and few friends, though the ones he did have were of the lifetime variety and had a few surprises planned for the big day--followed by an all day pot-luck feast before the happy couple made their departure. Plans for the honeymoon were a bit more complex, and as the day approached, Kilgore found himself increasingly occupied with bringing the details together. The work took place simultaneous with his Mountain Task Force duties and of course unbeknownst to his federal employers, who would have looked on them with more than a bit of suspicion had they possessed any idea of how he was using so much of his workday…