Liz slept soundly that night and so did Einar, exhausted, relieved, in some far corner of his brain, that he didn’t have to be up before first light the next morning and headed out on yet another slog through the deep snow, that knowledge allowing him to sink into a sleep far deeper than had been possible for him over the past days, and he needed it, too, needed it so badly that he didn’t wake even when his muscles finally relaxed out of their cramped, heat-conserving huddle and spilled him to sprawl flat on the floor before the stove, blanket tossed to the side and affording him little warmth.
Hours passed, Einar waking from a hungry, hurting dream to the sensation of being bitterly cold, limbs all stiff and cramped up with shivering as his body tried unsuccessfully to warm itself. At first he simply attempted to huddle for warmth, arms wrapped about his bent legs and forehead pressed to his knees but it wasn’t helping, and though weary enough to be very near sleep again despite his discomfort, he knew it would be supremely unwise to allow himself to slip back into slumber while in his present state. Moving with difficulty he got himself into something like an upright position, feeling along the floor until he found the spot where the rocks of the stove met the ground, granite slabs and chunks still retaining a bit of the heat they’d absorbed from the fire over the evening, and he pressed himself to it, bloodying the heels of his hands with the violence of their trembling against the rough stones. Wasn’t doing much, that little bit of warmth, wasn’t even touching the ice that seemed to have replaced his bones and in searching the floor once more Einar located the rabbitskin blanket with which Liz had draped him, got it up over his head where it could begin to trap the warmth of his escaping breath and hopefully prevent his losing too much more ground, but he knew what he really needed at that point was to be up off the cold floor and in the bed. Didn’t want to wake Liz though, not wishing to disturb her sleep and especially wanting to avoid her seeing him like he was, knowing it would only lead to more worry on her part. More procrastinating, then, a good half hour gone as Einar debated with himself whether he might be better off simply wrapping up in the blanket and passing the remainder of the night right where he was but he knew that there would be little to gain by such an action, as Liz would eventually discover him there when morning came and she woke, and he, inevitably more thoroughly chilled by that time than even he found himself at present and likely wholly unable to explain himself, would then have to face her wrath. If he was still conscious by that point. Cold and drifty as he seemed to be getting, he knew it was far from a sure thing. Best get to bed.
Moving slowly and clamping his jaw lest the rattling of his teeth give him away, Einar crept past the stove and in beneath the bear hides, carefully keeping himself up against the edge of the bed so as to avoid any contact with Liz as he shivered himself warm, a process which would have been all but impossible but for the presence of her warmth trapped beneath the hides; he simply lacked the resources to produce adequate heat for himself just then, or once warmed, to maintain his temperature for long unless near the stove or engaging in a near-constant routine of heavy exercise such as he got stumbling through the deep snow on the trapline. No matter. Seemed Liz had plenty of warmth to share, and he’d simply spend an hour or two in there with her before getting up again to stoke the fire and perhaps prepare some breakfast. Yep, breakfast. Let her sleep a little longer, enjoy a nice slow morning after all these early ones getting up to see me off on the trapline…just let me get my hands working a little better, and I’ll fix her breakfast.
Even with Liz there near him--icy limbs tucked beneath his body and head under the hides--the warming process took most of the early morning and left Einar exhausted, still shivering and drifting near sleep once more by the time daylight began strengthening outside, showing itself only as a thin grey line through the crack above the door, which Liz had worked to narrow but had not, apparently, entirely filled. Fiercely the wind howled through the trees outside, beating against the cabin walls but gaining no admittance, and Einar liked the sound of it, the security brought them by the arrival of the storm, winds too high to allow anything to stalk the skies and subzero temperatures combined with whiteout conditions--he didn’t even have to stick his head outside to know that visibility would be severely limited, that morning--leaving travel by foot a tremendously risky thing, even for the experienced. Which most of their pursuers were not, not at the level needed to safely traverse the high ridges and basins which were their home, and the knowledge gave Einar a certain satisfaction, a feeling of safety which lent itself well to relaxation as he continued to warm.
Had Einar thought that by creeping quietly into the bed his cold hours on the floor might escape Liz’s notice, he was greatly mistaken, skin still like ice when she woke and found him there huddled right on the brink of falling back out of the bed, and she grabbed him, pulled him in fully beneath the hides and worked to get him warm. “What happened? I left you the blanket down there. Would have got you to bed, but you weren’t stirring and looked so comfortable there by the stove…”
“Slept alright down there, really. It’s a fine morning, wind howling up quite a storm and the trees singing, critters all fast asleep in their burrows and dens as the snow piles up, and me staying right here with you in our own little den, about to get up and go make you some breakfast…”
“Well you certainly do make all of that sound very cozy and appealing, but how about you stick around with me here for a just a while first and finish thawing out, so you don’t finish turning into an ice cube the instant you’re out from under the covers!”
“Aw, takes a lot more than that to turn me into an ice cube. Got to spend at least a good hour out in the wind and storm without my clothes to achieve a thing like that, and just as soon as I get done making the breakfast, I just may head out and…”
“Don’t you even think about it! If I so much as see you heading for that door with any such intention--and make no mistake, I can see your intentions a good half the time, despite what you might think--well, I’ll knock you in the head, wrap you up in a bear hide and tie you to the water barrel with all the nettle cordage we’ve got left, where I’ll make certain that one way or another, you drink at least three gallons of hot soup before the day’s over. So don’t even tempt me!”
Coughing and spluttering as he choked on what might have turned into a fit of hysterical laughter had Liz not sounded so dead earnest in her threat, Einar turned to face her, propped on one elbow, body suddenly becoming a coiled spring whose energy and tension she could easily feel, and it frightened her just a bit. “Now what kind of a…is that the thanks I get for offering to make you breakfast? You better not be coming near me with any bear hide and nettle cordage, or I’ll…”
“Whoa, take it easy. You do know I was joking, right?”
Einar lay back down, a mixture of confusion and relief on his face as he allowed Liz to once more tuck the hides in close about him. “Yeah, guess I knew, but some things…”
“There are probably things I shouldn’t joke about, aren’t there? I won’t do that anymore. If I say anything like that again, you can be sure that I’m dead serious, Ok? Because I’d do everything I just mentioned and more, if I thought it was necessary to make sure little Snorri’s father was still alive and kicking when he comes into the world... Nettle cordage and a bear hide, I’m telling you!”
This time Einar really did laugh, head on her shoulder and arms clamped across his ribs in an attempt to minimize their aching--shivering had really got to them that night and they were sore, aching and burning when he breathed--until he couldn’t get his breath anymore and the tears came. “You really are something, you’re…man, you’re more stubborn than I am, and I’m pretty sure that’s saying a lot. Guess I really got to remember not to cross you, especially when you’re in mamma wolverine mode, like this. Could be the last thing I ever do! Now. Will you please let go that death grip you’ve got on my shoulders so I can get the fire going and make you that breakfast?”