Everything ready to go Einar and Liz banked the fire, dropped a handful of hot rocks into the water barrel in the hopes of finding its contents at least partially thawed still upon their return, and slid over it the heavy spruce slab that would help keep in the heat. Muninn had been watching restlessly their preparations, shifting from one foot to the other on his perch and chortling uneasily to Einar whenever he passed by wondering, no doubt, what the two humans were doing getting ready to leave just then, in the middle of a heavy storm. Watching the bird, Liz could not help but think that the kindest thing would surely be to leave him in the cabin when they left, where he would at least be sheltered from the wind and would have access to liquid water, but Einar shook his head when she mentioned the idea.
“No, this fella’s going to be better off outside. I know we plan to be back tonight or tomorrow at the latest, but these things have a way of being somewhat uncertain, you know, especially in heavy weather like this, and I’d hate to have him stuck inside here with no way out as the he ran out of water or something, if we end up being delayed for whatever reason. He’ll be fine outside. Was made for this sort of weather, grew up in it and it’s only been in these last couple of months, really, that he’s been getting all soft and spoiled and turning into a house bird. Ought to do him some good to ride out one storm in his natural habitat, remind him what life’s really like in this harsh old world, and keep him from getting too spoiled.”
“Oh, I don’t know. You’re probably right about him needing to be outside in case we end up delayed for some reason, but as for him not getting too spoiled, I think I’ve heard you use that argument about yourself a time or two to explain why you’ve got to spend hours sitting out in a storm without your parka or sleep all curled up on the floor from time to time without the benefit of blankets or hides or anything, and I don’t know that I’m buying it.”
“Aw, you should have seen me before you came along! It wasn’t just ‘occasionally’ that I slept on the floor without blankets, it was every night, and I did it for years and years, just about froze myself a few times, too. Which is the only reason I’m still alive right now, I’m pretty sure. Pays to toughen yourself up, get used to putting yourself through worse than this old world can throw at you, so it’ll all be pretty routine when it does its worst. Works for me.”
“It may have at one time, but right now…oh, we’ve already gone over all of this, and more than once. And what am I doing, anyway, sitting here comparing my husband to a wild creature that really is perfectly suited to spending his entire life out in the storms of winter, if need be?”
“Because your husband is a wild creature, of course. That’s why. Now let’s put the bird out where he belongs, and get started!”
“Alright, I’m ready for it. Just as long as you’ll promise to wear your parka and not sleep out in the snow, if we end up having to spend a night down there…”
“Hey, I don’t even need to sleep out in the snow anymore. Here lately I can freeze half to death sitting right in front of the fire, with no effort at all! Saves me a lot of trouble, you know, a lot of effort…” And he laughed--really finding it funny, not thinking that she might see things a different way--but Liz was shaking her head in exasperation.
“And you think that’s a good thing? That your body has got to the point where it can’t produce enough heat to keep itself reasonably warm anymore, even sitting near the fire? Quit laughing. It’s not funny. Not at all. And not the least bit reassuring, either, with us heading out into a major snowstorm. I hope you’re not planning to take advantage of that fact on our little excursion to the basin.”
“Of course not. And no, I won’t sleep out in the snow if we have to spend the night down there. I don’t have the benefit of two or three layers of built-in down and feathers like the raven does, and I do want to come back up here with you and little Will, when it’s all over. Somebody’s got to haul that cache…”
Liz gave him a smile, a preemptory shake of the rabbit stick, and they were off, Einar shooing Muninn ahead of them through the tunnel and Will already fast asleep on Liz’s back. The raven, seeing the state of things outside, protested, tried to get back inside but soon gave up beating his wings against the closed door, made a brief attempt to follow the departing trio but soon abandoned that effort, also, buffeted by the wind and driven to seek shelter. The tunnel itself was, of course, always open, would have provided significant shelter from the wind but Muninn was not the sort to roost on the ground when trees were available, and he was soon comfortably settled amongst the heavy boughs of a nearby spruce, feathers fluffed and beak tucked beneath a wing ready to ride out the storm.
Liz, who really had looked forward to getting out after her extended stay in the cabin with the new baby, was somewhat taken aback at the strength of the storm as they made their way into the timber below the cabin and started the descent, trees only somewhat blocking the wind’s force and their boughs groaning and singing above their heads as they plodded through the deep drifts that had already been formed by the fury of the wind, new snowfall amounting to no more than an inch or two, but rapidly building up.
Einar found himself really struggling after a time, cold, shaking and dangerously near falling flat on his face in the snow, one way or another, though he had made a point of eating everything Liz had given him that morning before taking leave of the cabin. It hadn’t been enough, not enough food, not nearly enough time having passed since the incredibly draining work of rescuing Kilgore after his fall, and he could feel the tight, squeezing tentacles of impending exhaustion wrapping themselves increasingly tightly about his middle. Tried to no avail gulping water from the bottle he kept tucked warmly away from the freezing wind beneath his parka, nibbling on a bit of pemmican but none of it seemed to be having any noticeable effect, and the expedition might well have ended for him right there, not a quarter mile from the cabin, had it not been for Liz. She was watching him, leaving the trail he had broken to pull up along side him and squint through the blowing snow at the hard lines of his face, trying to get a glimpse of his eyes to see how he was doing and he knew it, began working so hard not to let Liz notice his trouble that after a time he really was very nearly able to ignore it, himself. Because of which the two of them made good progress and after no more than a few hours’ travel, punctuated by several quick meal stops and one under-the-parka diaper change for little Will, they were approaching the spot Kilgore had described in so much detail as being the location where he had concealed the cache.