After a somewhat restless night spent tossing, slipping and sliding on the most level bit of ground they’d been able to find on that mountainside--not terribly level; they’d been in no danger of sliding away down the slope, but had faced a continual struggle when it came to keeping sleeping bags on their pads, making for a less than quiet night--Bud and Susan woke to low, grey skies and the smell of snow in the air. Maintaining a cold camp, they ate a quick breakfast of energy bars, oranges and chocolate without ever leaving their sleeping bags, the keen wind which swept the slopes providing ample motivation to either stay hunkered down or get moving, but making all options in between appear far less than appealing. It was going to storm, and Kilgore did not at all like the idea of being stuck out on that steep, semi-exposed mountainside when the thing hit. At least on the ridge they would be close to the place where Roger was to appear--if and when he could get through the weather--and would be out of the shooting gallery of slides and small avalanches that could well develop in their current location, if the storm ended up dropping enough snow. Then again, if the storm lasted beyond the two day mark after which there was to be a long gap before Roger made his next try, they would probably want to descend significantly and seek out shelter in the heavier timber of the basin or the area surrounding it--or the cabin, even, though he wasn’t sure how Einar might take so soon a re-appearance--rather than existing for a week or more up in those bitterly cold windswept heights. So they had a decision to make, but in either case it was beginning to spit snow, and they needed get on with it.
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Einar, too, smelled the snow that morning, making a trip out to the woodshed and pausing to test the air in the tense, apprehensive hush that had fallen over the timber, everything so still that it made the hair stand up on the back of his neck and left him glancing anxiously at the sky, half expecting a chopper or two to burst over the ridge and leave him with nowhere to go, but nothing happened, nothing came, silence, stillness stretching like a compressed spring over the basin, ready to be released. Einar shivered, continued with his wood gathering, hoping Kilgore and his bride had made good time up to the ridge, and were about to be picked up by that plane before the heavy weather really set in. He would, he was fairly certain, be able to hear the plane if not quite to see it, the chosen spot not being too far from their own location in miles, though sitting nearly two thousand feet higher in elevation, and he wondered if some subconscious anticipation of the aircraft’s appearance might explain a bit of the dread he felt that morning, that shimmering, prickling coiled-snake feeling that left him certain something about to strike. Probably not. Was likely only the storm. Weather changes could do that, he’d noted over the years, particularly when they involved a sudden and dramatic shift in pressure, leave him on edge and ready for action, the silence itself seeming so stifling as to be very nearly unbearable and he badly wanting to take off running frantically up the nearest hill, just to work out some of the pent-up energy. This effect, he supposed, must be related in some way to the drive that sent wild creatures out on eating frenzies before major storms and left pastured horses friskily running along fence lines--Muninn certainly seemed to notice the coming change, flying short distances into the timber but returning quickly every time to fly in tight circles far above Einar’s head, rasping his protest into the sky--and it was only natural that humans should be impacted, as well. Only from what he’d observed, most folks didn’t seem to be.
Well. No figuring other people, and no sense standing there too much longer staring up at the deathly still forms of spruce and fir, either, for he knew the wind would be coming soon enough, sweeping down from the heights to blast their little plateau and likely drop a significant amount of fresh snow, too, which meant the time was drawing near for his trip down to the basin, in search of Kilgore’s cache. Already the wind was tearing along the ridge, for he could see the snow being ripped from its edge in great white sheets and streamers, creating conditions, no doubt, in which not even so daring a pilot as Roger Kiesl would be likely to attempt landing a small plane. The couple might well end up spending a very cold and windy few days up on or near that ridge, and though he would have done it almost without a second thought had circumstances required, Einar found himself somewhat concerned at the prospect of anyone else having to do so.
No need to worry. They’ll be fine. Kilgore’s solid and resourceful and Susan…well, she’s a mountain woman, herself, and should know what to do. But still, watching the snow stream off the broken rock where the ridge fell away high above the basin, he could not help being concerned, wishing he might go up and bring them back, let them ride out the storm at the cabin. Not that he really wanted the company. Had, in fact, been greatly enjoying his long, quiet hours alone with Liz and the baby, the last afternoon and evening passing in a sort of slow, comfortable cadence which was quite beyond the confines of his normal experience and which, helping Liz with the little chores of caring for Will, preparing supper with her and carrying on occasional bits of conversation as they worked, he had found tremendously pleasant.
That evening had led into a night every bit as peaceful, his own dreams quiet, beautiful, scenes of his growing son and the soft, brilliantly green-tinted light of spring beneath the whispering aspens replacing the usual chaos and horror which so often marred his nights, and though he’d spent an unfortunate number of the dark hours lying awake trembling and half frozen at the edge of the bed doing his best not to disturb Liz--seemed he simply couldn’t keep warm at night anymore no matter how many hides he burrowed himself beneath, and though the fact didn’t especially disturb him, it did make sleep somewhat difficult at times--he had met the morning with a peace and a still, quiet exultation the likes of which he had seldom known in recent years. It would all pass, surely, was probably simply the product of his exhaustion combined with relief at having the house to themselves again, but for the moment, he was enjoying the respite. Which respite wouldn’t be lasting too much longer at all if he didn’t hurry up and get himself back into the cabin, for Liz was waiting on the firewood, and waiting on him, also, to begin breakfast no doubt, as she had been nearly done with its preparation when he left on his little firewood run. Stacking his arms full with wood he turned and left his post there by the shed, legs already stiff nearly to the point of immobility with the cold and his extended stillness. Just couldn’t be keeping still like that, not anymore, not for so long as he had just done and on his second step he fell, scattering the wood into the snow and ending up flat on his face in the icy, biting whiteness, spitting out hard little clumps of re-frozen snow and--pushing aside the pain, attempting to breathe through it, for his ribs seemed none too pleased with the impact--grinning crazily to himself at the absurdity of it all.
On your feet, you clumsy old fool. Right, both of them at once, pick the wood up and get this snow off of it before it starts melting in and dampening the stuff, because Liz doesn’t want damp wood to cook her breakfast over, now does she? And if you don’t hurry up and get inside it looks like the wood’s gonna be all wet regardless of how quickly you get the snow brushed off, because look at this! It’s starting to snow. Yep, better get in there, have some of that breakfast and then see about that trip down to the basin!