Einar was on his feet again by the time Liz got done with the fire, fumbling himself free of the hauling strap and weaving his way back over to their little shelter beside the tree, somewhat confused as to why she wasn’t out preparing to leave but recognizing in her actions a clear intention to stay put. Which meant they would be needing more firewood, and he set about collecting it, lacking the energy to both do that task and work on figuring out why they were staying, but supposing the wood must be given first priority. Wood, and some way to better block the wind, and he knew they had a nearly ideal solution in the bundle of white fabric Liz had been hauling, deposited his small armload of broken branches in the snow beside her and went to begin rigging something.
Tangled, icy, the chutes proved quite difficult to handle, but once he’d managed to loosen the wrapped cords with which Liz had secured them for the haul he was able to begin making some progress, shaking first one and then the other to free them of accumulated ice and discovering to his relief that, temperatures having been uniformly cold there beneath the spruces where Kilgore had stashed them, they were not soaked and frozen all the way through. Were, in fact, largely dry inside, not too difficult to manipulate at all, aside from the grabbing, tearing force of the wind which seemed to be trying its best to rip the things out of his hands and send them sailing up into the upper boughs of whichever tree happened to be nearest.
Fighting the wind, keeping the chute collapsed until he could properly secure it, Einar got the first one snubbed tightly around the tree that sheltered them, running a cord over to an adjacent tree and yet another to a tree over on the opposite side of their little camp so that the canopy arched over them; not the best parachute shelter he’d ever made, not by a long shot, but it would do. Would provide them, at least, a good bit of shelter from the wind and the snow it drove before, from time to time. Which gave him an idea, and, taking one of the snowshoes he’d planted tail-end up in the snow to avoid being lost, he shuffled around behind the suspended chute, crouching there on the windy side and using his snowshoe as a shovel to scoop and pile snow all along the trailing edge of the chute, holding it securely in place. Good. Done. Far less wind would reach them, now.
Liz was still in the shelter doing something with the fire, or perhaps with Will; darkness was beginning to set in, and her shadow showed up black and sharp against the blowing billows of the chute, which glowed an alarmingly bright shade of white in the encroaching dusk. No matter. No one out there to see it, not on a night like that, not--he paused for a moment, face to the wind--unless Bud and Susan had missed their plane and subsequently managed to work their way back down towards the cabin. Then, but only if the couple happened to be out for some reason wandering about in the timber below the cabin-plateau, which seemed unlikely unless they were for some reason entirely lost, there was some chance they might find themselves near enough to spot the glow radiating from that parachute. The thought made Einar uncomfortable, left him squirming in his skin at the possibility, which he knew was not an entirely reasonable response given that the two could definitely be classified as friendly, and he turned back towards the shelter, and Liz, working hard to suppress a rather strong urge to make his way to the duffel and retrieve that rifle, spend the night standing watch. Get back in there beside that fire, you fool. Scariest thing out here in this timber tonight is your own mind, which can indeed be one formidable critter, but there’s no getting away from that one, and patrolling the place with a rifle won’t provide much of a defense, either.
Liz was glad to see him as he shuffled back into camp, hand trailing on the parachute to prevent his wandering off course, had been about to go out and see what was taking him so long, make certain that he hadn’t ended up on his face again in the snow.
“Come on in and give it a try! You’ve more than cut the wind in half with that parachute, and this place is almost starting to get cozy.”
Too weary for immediate words, Einar lowered himself to the ground beside the fire, sat staring into its depths for a moment before raising his head, searching for the baby. Found him, his little shape nestled against Liz beneath her parka, and a momentary smile softened his features. “Little one staying warm enough in there?”
“Oh, yes. This parka is great. He’ll be just fine.”
“Thought you wanted to get him home and out of the wind for the night, but when I saw that you were staying…well, I put up a tent.”
“We are out of the wind, thanks to you. It’s a great tent. We’ll have a fine night here.”
“You didn’t think I could make it.”
“I didn’t think you should try, which is a different thing entirely. We knew this might be a two day trip when we started out, and there’s nothing wrong with spending a night out, now and then. This will be Will’s first night out of the cabin, and my first since the birth, too, and I guess it’s never too early to introduce a little one to winter camping!”
“Winter camping…? Our whole lives are winter camping, more or less, but you know, this is one lucky kid to have a mother like you. You’re a pretty amazing human critter, O Mother of a Mountain Tribe.”
“Luck had nothing to do with it. He’s your son, and he has me for a mother because you chose to walk this path with me, and I with you, and now you’d better get in closer to the fire and have some supper with me, before I have to knock you in the head with my rabbit stick and drag you along the path, for a while.”
Laughing softly--though not for a moment doubting her resolve in the matter, suspiciously eyeing the spot where one of her hands was concealed from his view beneath her parka--Einar scooted nearer the fire, and Liz, pulling the second parachute, which being inside the first, had remained entirely free of snow and ice, up over their legs as additional shelter from the cold. Liz already had water simmering for a supper of stewed pemmican, a thick, rich mixture which had sustained them on more than one mid-winter excursion and whose mixture of fat, protein and the sugar that would come from Liz’s addition of honey would do well to see them warmly through the night. Einar, still struggling with a significant amount of digestive difficulty as his body adjusted to eating once more on a fairly regular basis, was reluctant to try more than a taste of the stuff, but Liz left him little choice, growling under her breath about the rabbit stick and about how she had no intention of hauling his frozen body back up the remainder of that slope, in addition to the cache and all of its contents, and at last, he ate.
Darkness complete and the little family tucked in as snugly as possible beneath the shelter of the timber and further protected by the two parachutes they prepared for sleep, Liz retrieving with some difficulty several rocks that she had found partially embedded in the snow at the base of their tree and warming them in the coals, wanting something to help keep them warm through the night. Liz slept in her parka, arms drawn inside and Will nestled in beside her, not in the least aware that they were anywhere other than sheltered in the cozy confines of the cabin. Einar, too, remained in his parka, accepting the rocks Liz gave him, bringing them inside the rather too roomy confines of his coat and curling his exhausted frame around them, too cold and weary to do much else that night, but mind at the same time too preoccupied with the documents Kilgore had left him to permit sleep. He had tried, pushing himself beyond his limits in the haul up from the basin, to forget the matter for the time, set it aside until a more suitable time after his task was finished and through hard work and the focus it demanded of him, had very nearly succeeded, but now in the stillness of the night, motion ceased and only the soft sounds of Liz’s breathing and the wind in the trees to keep him company, it all came back. Sleep was a very long time in coming.
Partway through the night Liz, waking to switch sides with Will, reached over to check on Einar and found him rather too cold for her liking, barely shivering when she knew he ought to be feeling the cold quite intensely, and she moved closer, drawing the second chute more tightly around the three of them and pulling it up over their heads in the hopes of keeping in a bit more of the heat lost in their breathing. Einar was stirring, curling reflexively into a tighter ball as his half-conscious mind sought to conserve heat, keep him alive until morning but Liz feared it might not be enough, gentle hand on his shoulder seeking to wake him. No response, skin ice-cold beneath his parka and she became less gentle, shaking, pounding, knowing she was taking a significant risk by attempting to wake him in such a way but feeling an urgency to do so.
Glad that her efforts at waking Einar had finally succeeded but somewhat worried for the baby, who remained tucked close inside her parka, Liz kept still as Einar came awake and whirled about on her, grabbing her wrists in a grip she wasn't sure she could have loosened, had she tried. "Einar. Wake up. You need to wake up."