Holes frozen over but not yet so heavily that Einar had a hard time breaking the ice to check them, the first three traps were empty, leaving him to fear that perhaps his chosen bait of re-hydrated lily roots had not been to the muskrats’ liking. That, or perhaps he had simply overestimated the population in the area, for not all of the traps relied on bait, and he would have expected to be seeing something by then… More luck with the fourth trap, one of the conibears which he had placed just beneath the surface in an obvious traffic path where streamers of frozen bubbles had marked the frequent passage of the animals, a relieved grin spreading across his face as he realized that the brown he was seeing there beneath the thin new skin of ice was none other than a fresh-caught muskrat, first of the season for him and confirmation that his expedition was not to be entirely for naught. That, and he could feast on muskrat for breakfast, the realization sending his stomach into a series of hungry grumblings that left him nearly doubled over with their hollow hurting as he pulled trap and stick up out of the water. Fair-sized critter, not huge but would certainly a good sign of things to come, and it was all Einar could do to prevent himself falling on the little rodent like a hungry coyote, shredding it with his teeth, devouring it and rendering the hide quite useless in the process.
Besides which, your teeth would probably fall out if you tried a thing like that, and I hardly see how ending up toothless and without any nice furs to show is gonna help convince Liz this trip was a good idea! Nope, you just be patient for a while here, get this thing back to camp after you’ve gone on ahead and checked everything else, and then you’ll get to eat. All in good time, and all of that. You got plenty of practice at waiting. Plenty. And now in the meantime, how about dipping down in this hole here and having a drink, because if you get much drier, your eyes are gonna stick open and your mouth stick shut, and that’d be a real unpleasant way to go, don’t you think? I can sure think of better ones. Worse ones, too, but no need to go into that just now…
Somewhat giddy with the excitement of his first trapping success down in the valley—wouldn’t normally have got so worked up about one somewhat puny little drowned rat, but any success at all was seeming like a big thing, just then—and with the effects of dehydration and the cold, Einar knelt beside the hole from which he’d just pulled the trap, scooping out a bit of the remaining ice chunks and taking some of the icy water in his cupped hands, drinking, shivering, repeating until he could no longer feel the hands and his stomach was bulging with the icy liquid. Better. Knew he was risking Giardia by drinking straight from that somewhat slow, stagnant water which was called home by so many small mammals, knew that while under more usual circumstances the illness usually proved more of an inconvenience and a discomfort than a danger, it could easily kill him in his present condition, but didn’t see himself having too much choice. In the absence of a good amount of water delivered in a timely manner, dehydration would certainly have done him in. Had been in the process of doing so even then, so he had risked the water.
Standing, sloshing, he warmed numbed hands against his stomach, finding himself slightly surprised that it remained warm enough to do them any good, icy as it felt on the inside. Would need to get moving again in pretty short order, do his best to generate some heat to counteract the effects of all that frigid water, for already he could feel himself beginning to lose what little dexterity he’d had left after the night, temperature dropping again after having climbed a useful amount through all the activity of checking the traps. Not that he’d had much more choice about drinking the water cold than he’d had when it came to consuming it, in the first place. Had no way to heat it at the moment, and without it, he’d have gone right on sinking down, down into the oblivion of hypothermia as the morning wore on, probably ending things by crouching on the ice before one of his trap holes, staring stupidly into the water until he went to sleep. Well. He shivered--couldn’t stop, all of a sudden, and the force of it was making walking difficult--shuffled back to the bank. Not happening that morning, and the water would warm inside of him. He could eat the muskrat to make up for the energy his body used in doing so.
Bandages were all soaked and falling off from the effects of the water, and he knew he’d better be tending to the fingers as soon as he finished checking the traps and returned to camp. Didn’t appear too much worse for the wear, the ones he could see, and certainly seemed to be functioning fairly well, a relief; he needed them, and was only then--hydration doing its job, clearing his head--coming to realize in what state he’d spent a good portion of the night, knew things could have turned out far worse. Must try and avoid spending another such night, though he knew such might prove a good deal easier said than done.
The next set was empty, as was the following, but before finishing up for the morning Einar did take two more rats, both of them on the same pole in twin snares he’d baited with an especially tempting-looking bit of lily, not a particularly respectable take for a day of trapping, but at least it was something, and for his first day in the area and with a rather limited number of sets, he figured he’d take it. Figured he had to, actually. Would return to camp for a bit, take care of his hands, maybe have something to eat and then head out for another round of scouting and trap placement along the river. Needed to get more of them out there, start thinking about beaver, as well as muskrat.
Working his way cautiously back up along the river towards camp, Einar took a closer look at the large beaver lodge he’d spotted earlier in the day seeing a spot near the bank where the constant coming and going of the animals had kept the ice from forming and marking it in his mind as a future location for a conibear or two. Hardly had enough traps to work both beaver and muskrat simultaneously as he normally would have done, so intended to focus on rats for a few days, before switching. Muninn had been off doing some scouting of his own, winging his way a mile or two down the river as Einar tended the traps, but as if able to sense the man’s intentions even from that distance the raven appeared seemingly out of nowhere as soon as he started up through the timber towards camp, circling once before swooping down and landing heavily just directly in front of Einar’s feet and nearly causing a collision. Coming to a quick stop and nearly toppling forward over himself in the process, Einar gave the bird a weary grin.
“Come for your share, have you? Well, you’ll have it. Just let me get back to camp and skin these critters out, and you’ll have some, soon enough. Got to find some willows first, though. Forgot my willows, and without them I’m not gonna have a good way to stretch these furs once I get them off the meat. Right, I know, you’re a lot more interested in the meat than the furs right now, and I might admit to the same, but furs are the reason I’m down here, after all. Got to be able to make good, warm things for Will and his mama, and these muskrat pelts are still real fine this time of year. Want at least a few dozen of them, hopefully more if things go well, and while of course we’re not selling them and therefore don’t have to get that real uniform look you expect from drying them on stretchers, well, they just come out better that way, so I need some willows for stretching.”
Seeming somewhat disappointed at the change in direction and knowing it meant a delay in his snack of muskrat, Muninn followed at tree level, circling as Einar cut a bundle of straight, stout willow wands from an area near the river, wrapped them with the ever-present bundle of cordage that lived in his pocket and slung them over his shoulder for the walk home. Camp, approached carefully and with a keen eye on the raven should he offer any clue of trouble up ahead, was just as Einar had left it, no tracks in the area aside from his own and those of a small weasel--ermine, he was pretty sure--which had explored the base of the tree from which his sleeping bag and pack were hung, apparently finding nothing of interest and moving on. He sat down on a fallen aspen he’d earlier cleared of snow, relieved and suddenly finding himself immensely weary. Could have gone to sleep right then and there, plopped those three cold, wet muskrats down in the snow, used them as a pillow and drifted right off for the rest of the day, but he had critters to skin and a rather boisterously anxious and demanding raven to feed, so he pried his eyes open, rose and got to work.
Despite some difficulty with his frostbitten fingertips and hands that were less than dexterous with cold, Einar made quick work of skinning out the rats, long practice of the skill leaving it almost second nature to him. Time to scrape the fat and a bit of the membrane, then, which he did by laying the skins flat on his aspen log seat and carefully working with his knife. Time to stretch them, then, for which he made rough frames of bent willow and inserted them in the pelts, which remained fur-side in. This stretched the furs to their maximum size and kept them flat and straight for drying, which would result in a nicer finished product. Nice enough to sell, actually, had he been doing such, but under present circumstances he was happy simply to have the hides to help keep his family warm. Hanging the stretched pelts in trees out of the reach of scavengers, Einar turned his attention to the small carcasses with their dark, rich meat, on which Muninn had been keeping a very close eye. Einar was hungry. Every bit as hungry as that bird looked. Time to eat.