Before bed that evening Einar insisted on making a trip outside, and though Liz was somewhat worried that he might be intending to disappear into the storm for an extended period of time after their rather intense conversation, she let him go without protest, the least she could do after his new willingness to start eating a more reasonable amount and engage in a serious discussion regarding some of the difficulties facing them that winter. Darkness was nearly complete as Einar pushed through the light ridge of snow that had drifted nearly two feet deep against the door, kicking the bulk of it aside and taking in a sharp breath as the wind hit him, seeming to cut right through the single deer hide he’d wrapped about his shoulders and whistle between his bones before making its way up into the rocks behind the cabin. Was going to be a cold night, and the snow, for the moment at least, showed little sign of tapering off.
Within minutes Einar was shivering, making his way back from the outhouse area to stand braced against the woodshed, listening to the night as he drew in great breaths of bitter, bracing air and briefly considering a quick trip up to the spring and overlook, as he had earlier felt so compelled to make. Shook his head, caught himself with his elbow as he nearly toppled over to the side. Wouldn’t have been a quick trip, and he knew it. Could hardly keep to his feet as it was, would probably end up crawling the last half or so if he went, and how could he justify such a thing, after his recent talk with Liz? Couldn’t, that was what, and he guessed he’d just have to find some other way of getting through the night, wasn’t much looking forward to it--Lord, I need to be alone after that talk, all tore up inside and I don’t want to give her any of this hurt…don’t know what to do--but as he turned and saw the faint orange light escaping above the door a strange thing happened, the thought of Liz in there waiting for him with her face glowing softly in the firelight and their child all round and growing and secure in her belly somehow seeming an awful lot stronger than the call of the snowy night, and he found himself having to stop and brush tears from his face as he opened the door, suddenly overcome by the wonderment of it all, life continuing, he a part of it and his own dear Lizzie...well, he just couldn’t comprehend it. Her. The sort of patience she had, the forgiveness, the gift of her continued presence.
Liz caught him as he stumbled in through the door, brushing wind-plastered snow from his hair and shaking it from the deer hide that covered him, immensely relieved at his fairly timely return and seeing in his eyes that he’d met with a struggle of one sort or another out there, and had won. Thought she saw something else, too, in the way he looked at her, a little hint of something that might have very nearly approached affection, even, but she expected he was probably just hungry. And terribly cold after being so scantily clad out in the wind and snow like that--though of course he didn’t seem to be noticing it much, as was his way--so she hurried to get him back to the bed and tucked in with a pot of good salty honey-sweetened broth, rich with bear’s blood from one of the cakes they’d so carefully dried and set aside that fall. A good way to end the day, and even Muninn, who had not followed Einar outside into the storm, seemed to agree, perching himself on the end of the bed and settling in for the night. Liz hadn’t yet shown Einar the tether and anklet she’d made for the bird, and saw no need of using them that night. Einar was, she hoped, past the worst of his struggle with remaining conscious, could simply sleep somewhat normally that night and wake refreshed in the morning.
Quiet was the night that settled over the basin, quiet aside from the rush and sigh of the wind in the trees and the nearly inaudible sift and drift of the snow as it filtered down through the trees and piled deep against the cabin wall, adding its airy bulk to the insulation Einar and Liz had worked so hard to gather and pack in as the fall advanced, keeping the place reasonably warm as the crackling coals grew dimmer in the stove and finally died. Einar, cold despite the coziness of the cabin and their bed of hides and dreaming of food, stirred occasionally in his sleep but did not wake. When morning came they woke together, lying silent for some minutes listening to the storm rage on outside. Einar was the first out of bed, knowing that Liz had done almost all of the chores the previous day and wanting to have a fire going for her and the cabin warming, at least, by the time she got out of bed. Searching through the kindling stack he found a few likely-looking pieces and built a quick fire, bushing away the fine skiff of snow that had drifted under the door in the night--need to get a rolled up hide or some bundles of aspen bark fibers stuck in front of that thing next time, keep the snow out and the warm air in--before he knelt to breathe it to life. Which was where the trouble came in, as he suddenly found himself so short of breath it was all he could do to keep from blacking out, let alone fan the fire. Used his hands instead, creating enough of a breeze to get the kindling to take and crouching there with hands on his knees watching the little flames creep up through his carefully prepared kindling, crackling, growing, taking. Fire was safe, and he slid the rock door in front of it, leaving an inch of gap to aid the new fire. Not a good start to the day. He’d hoped to run the trapline, to be able to do it, at least, after a day and a night of rest but if anything his legs seemed less steady, breath coming with difficulty and it frustrated him, but he tried to remember the conversations of the past evening, assign the matter a bit less importance than normally he would have. Wasn’t easy. He wanted to get outside, prove himself, prove to himself that he could manage that day what had been a physical impossibility the day before despite his best efforts. Liz interrupted his silent struggle, joining him by the fire and chopping meat for a morning soup.
“It must have snowed a lot in the night. Everything’s so quiet out there, muffled somehow. Think I’ll go try out the snowshoes, and if they’re working well, maybe head out on the trapline in a little bit. Will you keep an eye on the soup?”
Reluctantly Einar nodded, back braced against the wall as he helped her into her parka. “Look like some good snowshoes you’ve put together. They ought to do real well.”
It took both of them to push open the door against the snow that had drifted up against it, Einar following Liz out into the world of white and helping her stomp down a spot in front of the door where she could put on her snowshoes, lacing them for her and reluctantly returning to the stove to tend the soup as he’d told her he would do. Well over a foot of snow, he estimated, had fallen in the night, possibly a good deal more though it was difficult to tell, the way things had drifted. A major storm, and it was still coming down.
Setting out on her trial run with the snowshoes Liz was at first quite pleased at the way they prevented her from sinking too deeply into the light, airy powder snow, but that was before she’d taken more than a step or two. Movement was, to say the least, cumbersome in her present condition and she moved slowly, feeling quite unsteady. Losing her rather tenuous balance after making most of the scarce thirty yards across the clearing she ended up on her back in the snow, legs flailing in the air as she found herself quite unable to rise with nothing but deep, soft powder snow all around her, nothing solid to grab. Couldn’t even seem to get herself flipped over, and though growing rather exhausted with repeatedly trying she found herself dissolving in fits of hysterical laughter at the entire scene, picturing herself as a great turtle or beetle who once on its back simply couldn’t get flipped over and up again. Einar heard her laughter, came bounding out the door, having misinterpreted it as a sign of distress.
“What happened? Are you Ok? I’m coming, be right there…”
“No, no it’s fine! I’m fine. Don’t hurry. I’m just a little top heavy, topsy-turvy, something like that, and I ended up floundering around in the snow and falling, but it’s soft!”
Einar had reached her by that time, removed the snowshoes, whose tails had become hopelessly dug in beneath the snow, and got her to her feet, sinking to the ground beside her as the burst of adrenalin that had got him out the door with such speed wore off and left his legs once more barely able to support him. Liz’s turn to help him up, and she did, getting a shoulder under his arm lest he fall again and trying to brush some of the clinging snow from his clothing.
“Sorry to alarm you like that, it was just so funny! I was waddling! Waddling like a huge wide duck. And sinking, and then falling and floundering and…. You know, I think it’s going to take a while to get used to the ‘pregnant lady with snowshoes’ walk, but I’ll get it! Let me find a good place to sit down, and I’ll get back into these snowshoes and go do the trapline, just as soon as I’ve had a little soup.”
“No need to go today. Traps’ll all be drifted over, most of them anyway, so you might as well wait until the storm stops and then we’ll go together, dig them out and reset everything. This is looking like a good day to stick close to home.”
Liz looked up at him, nodded, almost burst into laughter again at the thought of her floundering on her back in all that deep, fresh snow. “Ok, I’ll do that, just as long as you’ll stick around here with me!”