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…”