Afternoon before the wedding, and the snow had not let up. Bud had been busy since before dawn that day clearing the driveway, blasting the accumulated snow from the hillside above and pushing it over the side with the plow, gravelling the especially steep portions of the long, switchbacking road in an attempt to render them a bit safer for the expected guests; it was either that, or set up parking at the bottom of the hill and shuttle guests back and forth on snowmobiles, an idea brought up by Susan’s son-in-law, who had offered to coordinate the project if it became necessary. Which, snow continuing to pile up in drifts and billows everywhere the wind saw fit to toss it, was appearing to be exactly what they might have to do. A good hour or two before dark Bud came storming and stomping into the kitchen, snorting and coughing and rubbing chilled hands as he held them over the stove.
“We would choose to get hitched in the middle of the doggone storm of the century, now wouldn’t we? Just figures…”
Susan took his coat, beating the caked snow from it and sweeping the tiled floor, pushing the icy clumps back out onto the porch. “Oh, it’s not the storm of the century, at least not yet. Could get a lot worse.”
“Well don’t tempt it! Seems to be headed that way, alright. Seems…” He stopped, head tilted, listening. Silence. The change came so suddenly it was alarming, deafening, wind, which had been a constant and inescapable force for the past two days suddenly ceasing, everything still. Waiting for its return, breath held, they heard nothing. Outside, the snow still fell heavily, but its descent was quiet, floating, peaceful.
“I’ll be… You know, it may just be on its way out, this storm. And just in time too, if it is. ‘Cause while I guess I’d jump in a storm like that given half a chance, I sure don’t know any pilot in his right mind who’d take us up in one…”
“You actually know pilots who are in their right mind?”
“Hey now, you better watch it there Mrs. Kilgore, or I’ll have to tell Kiesl what you just said, and you don’t want to be anywhere near that fella--let alone in the plane!-- when he’s flying mad, let me tell you!”
Which brought to mind another smart remark--well if he isn’t in his right mind, isn’t he always flying mad?--but Susan thought better of voicing it, instead hurrying into the kitchen to prepare a snack. Not too much to do now before the wedding, not that day, at least, aside from getting Bud fed and out the door so she could make some last-minute preparations, and then things would be all set.
· · · ·
Alarmed at the sudden stillness, Einar and Liz sat staring at one another, waiting, anticipating, half dreading the fury with which they knew the next gust must surely hit their little refuge…but the gust did not come, trees still outside and the roaring, buffeting force of the wind against the cabin walls, such a familiar sound over the past two days that they had all but come to take it for granted, gone. Stillness. Silence. And it was strange. Things had been progressing slowly for Liz as she paced through the day, contractions remaining fairly far apart and leaving her doubting, at times, whether she might have perhaps misjudged the entire situation, might have some days left before the birth could be expected but Einar saw how she was conducting herself, and had far less doubt. In addition to keeping the fire going at a far more lively pace than the one to which either of them were accustomed, he kept a careful watch on the water barrel, frequently adding a fresh batch of hot rocks in an effort to ensure that they had and would continue to have plenty of fresh drinking water. Wanting to make sure Liz kept adequately hydrated he heated pot after pot of raspberry leaf tea, sweetening the liquid with honey and taking it to Liz, who--though grateful--scolded and lectured and told him he needed to sit down for a while and rest before his legs gave out--which they were, hard as he tried to hide it, rather threatening to do--have some rest and leave the cooking to her but Einar was insistent, didn’t want her having to think of the routine chores of the day and maintained his place as chief stove-tender, tea maker and stew chef as she paced and hummed and generally made herself as comfortable as possible in the confined space.
Liz, on towards late afternoon, wanted very much to go out and walk, feeling like moving and thinking it might help move things along a bit more quickly but didn’t figure it would be such a good idea, not in that storm, and knew Einar would hardly want her to do it, had the snow ceased. Which it might not have done, might be curling down peacefully from the sky at a rate greater than it had done during the storm, for all she knew, and suddenly she wanted very much to check, hands and knees towards the tunnel, wanting to get out in the open before the next contraction hit her. They were becoming a bit stronger, not yet so strong that she had to stop and give them her full attention, but certainly strong enough to make her sit up and take notice. Einar put a hand on her shoulder.
“Need some air, or what?”
“Yes. I just want to see if the snow’s still coming down.”
“I’ll come along…unless you want some space.”
“No, I’d like it if you came. Thought I might take a little walk, and I don’t really want to be alone. I’ll meet you out there.”
Einar hurried into his boots and parka, following Liz out through the tunnel and blinking in wide-eyed amazement at the sight that met him, snow falling so heavily that he couldn’t even make out the cliffs that rose stark, black and normally quite highly visible not ten feet from the tunnel’s mouth, stepping into the whiteout and realizing for one instant of near panic that he had no idea which direction Liz had taken, where she might be or if she knew, herself. His consternation was short-lived, Muninn, who had perhaps as much need of some air as Liz after being cooped up in the cabin for two days--his choice, not theirs; Einar had made attempts to urge the bird outside during that time, but had not forced him--hopping his way awkwardly through the tunnel and blustering past Einar, taking wing but not going very far at all, as he perched on the shoulder of a rather less-than-pleased Liz. The ensuing argument got Einar pointed in the proper direction, and within seconds he had found her, shooing away the raven and checking to make certain she was alright, which she was, if somewhat annoyed.
“I really think that bird needs to take a hike…or a flight, or something, for the immediate future, don’t you think?”
Einar shrugged, not really knowing what to say as he did not see how the bird could do much flying at all in such a whiteout, but something told him not to say so and instead he nodded, waving his hand at the raven when he hopped close and prepared to light on his shoulder. “Yep, he can…” struggling, teeth wanting to chatter but he prevented it, went on, “can find a place to ride out the storm, let you have the cabin to yourself for a while. You want to…do some walking?”
She did, and with Einar breaking trail the two of them paced back and forth in the timber there beside the cabin until they’d worn a good trail in the deep snow, Liz stopping every few minutes as a fresh contraction came. Walking with her, Einar wished--couldn’t remember ever wishing similar, really; it was not his way--that the cold wasn’t affecting him quite so greatly, that he’d made a greater effort, perhaps, to eat properly and put a bit of meat on his bones before winter really set in, a bit of insulation so that he could keep himself from trembling so violently after no more than minutes out in the cold and snow, as he knew his condition might disturb Liz. Would have tried to hide it from her, keep some distance between the two of them but she wanted him there close by, wanted literally to lean on him, on occasion, now that the contractions were becoming a bit stronger and when she grabbed for his hands he took hers, supporting her through it, until she was ready to walk again.
Time to head in, Liz beginning to grow cold and ready for a rest, seeing that Einar had already far exceeded his reasonable limits when it came to being out in the storm, and she led the way back to the tunnel, snow slacking off and near stopping by the time they reached its mouth. Looked like the storm was nearly over.