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.