Blasting and howling through the night, an angry wind piled drifts three feet deep in front of the cabin door by the time the sky began lightening with morning, Muninn left to find shelter as well as he could in the branches of his chosen roosting-spruce. Liz had tried to persuade the bird to ride out the storm inside, but he seemed even more averse to spending a night in the cabin with strangers than he did to venturing out into that raging wind--Einar had to admit to a good bit of sympathy for the bird on that point--so had been given his way. Shaking snow from his feathers the raven glanced down at the quiet cabin before tucking his head back beneath a wing, ready to hunker down for the morning. Inside only Einar was awake, sitting slumped over before the fire, knees drawn up to his chest and chin resting on them, arms wrapped tightly around his knobby legs as he seemed to be having a very difficult time staying warm that morning, even there before the stove’s radiant warmth.
Temperatures seemed to have dropped drastically in the night and he supposed he ought to get up and put on his parka, boots, too, as he could barely feel his toes anymore but weariness weighed so heavily on his shoulders that he remained exactly as he was, growing colder and staring half in a trance at the flickering glow of the coals through the slightly cracked stove door. A good three hours previously little Will had ceased the peaceful sleep that Einar had helped him achieve by finding him a comfortable position on his stomach, waking and searching hungrily for milk so that Einar had been compelled to reluctantly return him to Liz for a feeding. The two of them had slept after that, hardly stirring for the remainder of the night and leaving Einar alone to stand his vigil. He’d made it, hardly dozing through the entirety of that long, windy night but now with the approach of daylight he was tired, cold and feeling terribly hollow and empty inside. Liked the hollowness, but knew it probably wasn’t a good thing, at that point. Really ought to think about filling it with broth. And making some breakfast for Liz and the others, while he was at it.
They didn’t have much food in the cabin, not much, aside from the barrel of bear fat and the things Bud and Susan had brought, and at the thought of them his eyes strayed to the beam on which he’d stowed the three precious jars of Nutella given him by Susan, too special to touch, almost, but he greatly enjoyed the sight of them, imagining how the stuff would taste if he were to get into one of those jars, its wonderful texture--soft and creamy when the room was warm, but rather thick and fudge-like in the cold--and the wonder of it pretty nearly brought tears to his eyes. Quit it. Ought to be ashamed of yourself, carrying on like this. Now didn’t you say something about fixing breakfast? Yeah, I thought so. And that means going out there into that storm to one of the cache trees, and lowering some meat. What should we fix this morning? Elk? Sheep? Mountain goat, maybe, or perhaps a nice rabbit or two? Wow, sure is great to have all this variety! A real blessing.
In going over each possibility carefully and very thoroughly in his mind--he was always thorough when it came to food, those days, each detail standing out in sharp relief and seeming almost as real to him in his mind’s eye as it would have had he been eating it, at that moment--he settled at last on a morning meal of rabbit, cooked up carefully in a bit of water so as to make a concentrated broth to which he could add bear fat and a bit of the flour brought by Susan in order to make a fine, flavorful gravy. Sounded good, terribly good, and anxious to begin the preparations and have the meal well under way by the time the others began waking he grabbed his parka and headed out into the tunnel, ready to face the storm.
Deep. It was difficult to judge the actual depth of the snowfall they’d received overnight, considering the drifts and billows in which the wind had deposited the stuff, but he estimated the total to be somewhere upwards of two feet, and the storm showed no sign whatsoever of slacking off. Did not, in fact, allow him to see very far at all, hand halfway obscured at times when he held it out straight in front of him and the nearby trees observable only by the sound the wind made as it rushed through their needles and slammed into thin, flexible trunks, swaying and bending their lithe forms and causing clumps of snow to go careening to the ground, where several of them landed rather unceremoniously on Einar’s head. Huh. Probably should have put the hood up, and he did, but of course it was too late, snow already beginning to melt on his neck and pool up behind his collarbone to trickle coldly down ribs and spine whenever he moved. A good, refreshing way to start the day!
He shivered, hurried as well as he could through the deep drifts to the general area in which he hoped to find the cache-trees. Only to find that he couldn’t see well enough to determine which they were, trying a number of spruces in the hopes that he might recognize their trunks by feel, and by the time he did find one of the wrapped cords that signaled he was on the right track, his hands were numbed and nearly useless with cold. Trampling himself a little spot and crouching in the snow he drew arms into his parka and sought to warm hands by pressing them to his stomach, sides, chest, but he couldn’t find anyplace that seemed particularly warm, so soon gave up on the endeavor. Not a big problem. Hands would still function, for a while, and if they lost all feeling again before he was finished, he could stop for a similar break. Even if he couldn’t feel much warmth in his skin it had to be a good deal warmer than the outside air--and therefore useful--or he wouldn’t be alive, which he definitely was, at least for the moment. With no idea which tree held the four rabbits they had left from the last trapline run and little way to determine the matter, other than to seek out each of the cache-trees, lower their contents and check, Einar decided that breakfast could just as well consist of whatever meat hung in the tree he’d found first, as he was rather hesitant to break contact with it lest he find himself unable to locate it again.
Took him an awfully long time to free the frozen, snow-encrusted cord where it sat wrapped securely around the broken-off remains of a branch, hands nearly frozen again by the time he got the task done and he had to crouch in the snow again, shivering this time, and attempt to warm them before he could do any more. Hands functioning again, in a manner of speaking, he used them to free the last wrap of cordage and allow the meat to slide to the ground beside him--ha! Rabbits! What’re the chances?-- where he remained staring blankly at it for a good minute or two before realizing that he’d better be up and moving, if he wanted some chance of making it back to the cabin before the rest of his body ended up just as numb and useless as the claws that had replaced his hands. Easier said than done. Legs didn’t want to cooperate, the great yawning hollowness that had seized him in the night having grown in the cold and storm until it was a heavy, crushing thing that sapped his strength and left him uncertain of his ability to rise. Had to rise, though, because he had breakfast there slung over his shoulder, and folks would be needing breakfast, and rise he did, bracing himself against the spruce and using an elbow hooked over one of its lower boughs where the thing met the trunk to get himself more or less upright.
Only to find his the deep trench of his earlier trail entirely drifted over, gone. Sense of direction seriously impeded by the whiteout he realized that he had little idea in which direction the cabin might lie, few clues by which to direct himself. Sank to his knees beside the spruce, then, something that might almost have been relief washing over him as he gave in, for the moment, to his weariness. The rest lasted only seconds. No. You’re not going to do this. Cabin’s right over…there, somewhere, and you’re sure not gonna let things end like this, right here in your own front yard and with everyone waiting on breakfast. It’s a cold morning, and they’re gonna be hungry. Now, back on your feet and hunt for that trail. Can’t all be drifted over, not with the amount of timber we’ve got here, all the rock and such to break up the wind’s path. You’ll find the trail, or a piece of it, and it’ll point you back in the right direction.