Scrambling, stumbling, quickly resorting to hands and knees on the snow-slick rock lest he end up slipping and testing that landing pad of snow, himself--not deep enough; he’d almost certainly break something on the rocks beneath, which would aggravate Liz greatly enough to possibly go at him with the rabbit stick and break another bone or two--Einar made his way up onto the high ledge above the cabin, edging out to the precipice on his stomach and peering down into the swirling whiteness below. Liz hadn’t much wanted him to go, especially seeing as he appeared to be having nearly as much trouble with his legs as he had the day before, but neither had she wished to carry the baby up those treacherously slick rocks in the middle of a snowstorm, so she’d watched him go, keeping well back from the area where ice and rock would end up falling, should Einar send some of it tumbling. It was with some relief that she heard his shout from the top.
“You back where it’s safe? I’m ready to start knocking this stuff loose…”
“Yep, all clear. Let it come down!”
Front half hanging precariously down over the edge of the cliff and one leg bent around a gnarly little limber pine for stability Einar struck one of the larger ice deposits with the staff end of his spear, harder and harder, hanging onto the thing with both hands and putting all of his strength into those strikes until finally the frozen stalactite gave way and went crashing down to the snow below, where it punched straight through to the rock beneath, shattering. Well. Not exactly what Einar had hoped for, but the ice would still be salvageable, and would still prove a more efficient water source than the powder snow, even if they had to scrape up shards to carry in and melt. Three more to go, so far as he could see, before he’d have to move, and he brought them down in quick succession, glad when the broken-glass sounds from below seemed a bit less catastrophic on the second two, figuring they’d somehow managed to make better landings. Moving carefully along the rim of the overlook Einar freed as much ice as he could reasonably--a designation which Liz would have vigorously disputed, had she seen the lengths he was going to in order to access it--reach, pulling himself back up at the end and lying flat on his stomach in the snow until his breath began returning, the aching squeeze in his chest easing just a bit and the dizziness subsiding to the degree that he could almost trust himself on his feet once more. Time to head back down, and he sent his spear over the edge into the snow below, not wanting to be encumbered with it on the descent.
“All clear now, you can…go take a look at the ice. Just don’t…get in under me until…” Breath failed him then, words failed, but she would have got the message, and he started down, hands sliding over the slick rocks as he backed his way down the steep route which marked their best access to the overlook, losing his grip at the end and fall-sliding the last fifteen feet or so to land unhurt but slightly stunned in the deep, billowy snow beneath. Liz was there beside him, wanted to help him up but couldn’t make out what she needed to grab in order to do so, tangled up as he’d become on landing, and nearly buried in the snow so she let him sort himself out, brushing the snow from his face when at last it emerged.
“That ought to do us for a while! Now all we got to do is carry it back and start the melting. That’ll be my job today, the melting. Gonna get that barrel refilled by the time night comes, or something close to it, so we don’t have to worry about water for a few days.”
“Yes, it looked like a lot of ice as it was coming down. Now let’s go get what we can carry of it and head back to the cabin before you turn into an icicle, yourself! Looks like you’re getting pretty close there, but that’s probably exactly what you wanted, isn’t it?”
Einar shrugged, shivered--wasn’t really liking the cold too much that day, seemed to be having a far more difficult time than usual resisting its advances and keeping it out of his bones, but was still glad to be out there in it--“Yeah, the cold helps preserve me, makes me last longer. It’s good for me.”
“Well maybe, but I think you’ll last a good while longer in the cabin today, considering the weather. Come on. Let’s get that ice.”
While a good bit of the ice had fragmented, splintered and mixed itself in with the snow, a good number of larger chunks remained intact, and these Einar and Liz collected, stacking them in their arms as with firewood and carrying them back to the cabin, where most of them were deposited in the snow for later use. As much as would fit into one of the pots Einar brought inside, setting it to begin melting. Was going to be a long, slow process with no vessel larger than the cookpots in which to do the melting, but still so much faster than melting snow. He wanted to use both pots to speed things up, but Liz had other ideas.
“I need one of them for soup. Time to make another batch, because you haven’t eaten since breakfast.”
“Breakfast was just an hour or two ago!”
“Well, that makes it time for more. You need more, and so does little Hildegard.”
“You and Hildegard can have it all, this time. Think I might need to slow down some with the eating. Had more between yesterday and today than I have in a long time, and I’m kinda feeling it, I think. Legs aren’t working right, and it’s…a little more difficult than it ought to be to breathe, I think.”
“But your legs weren’t working right yesterday morning, either, and that’s before you’d had anything to eat. And neither was your heart. You told me so. I think your problems are all coming from not having enough for so long, and it’ll take them a while to go away. You need more. It’ll help.”
“Yeah, legs were a problem yesterday too, but not like this. All swollen up today, and that’s not good. Think I need to back off on the protein for a while, let this swelling go down.”
Suddenly very concerned Liz inspected his lower legs, finding them so swollen that she had to struggle to remove his boots, white, indented spot remaining where she had pressed her fingers. “No, this isn’t good, but it may simply be a sign that your body’s struggling to adjust to eating more again. Keep at it. It’ll be uncomfortable for a few days, maybe even a couple of weeks, but you’re going to be alright.”
“Yeah, I’m already alright. And want to find a faster way to melt this ice. Figure if I just throw it all in the barrel and dump in a bunch of hot rocks, it’ll all go up in steam and the job’ll be done.”
“We don’t want steam, we want water!”
“Was just kidding about the steam. We don’t have enough hot rocks to turn this stuff to steam, but if I really keep on top of it, might be able to keep them cycling fast enough through the fire to get it all melted. Then can heat a bunch more later all at once, and hopefully bring the whole thing to a boil real briefly to make it good and safe to drink.” Proceeding with his plan, Einar took several loose slabs of rock from the top of the stove and lowered them, using scraps of hide to protect his fingers, into the bottom of the nearly empty water barrel, its contents quickly coming to a simmer. To this warmed water he began adding ice chunks, breaking them up as well as he could to speed melting and adding more rocks to the stovetop, pushing a few into the coals themselves to accelerate their heating.