09 October, 2012
9 September 2012
Morning, and Einar was out of camp long before the others rose, having passed a good bit of his night lying wide awake and staring rigidly up at the stars as he watched the Milky Way dance and shimmer its way across the narrow rift of sky visible between the high black craggy-topped valley walls. Wakeful, watching, he had done his best not to disturb Liz with either his restlessness or the shivering which had seized him sometime in the night and refused to loose its grip, warm enough, perhaps, between the involuntary motion and Liz’s near presence, to have safely gone back to sleep for a while but quite petrified at the thought of doing so. Couldn’t risk the likely results, not with a stranger in the camp and already inquiring too closely into matters which he would have preferred leave in the shadows. Must not give her any further ammunition, and so he had, after an hours’ initial exhausted sleep which had mercifully been too deep for dream, kept himself carefully awake, communing with the stars and listening to the soft, sleepy sounds of Liz and Will breathing through the night, himself almost at peace. Far too cold, though, to continue lying there any longer than he must, and with the first hint of creeping dawn amongst the high timber at the valley’s mouth he was up, slipping from the bed and tucking the hides back in around his sleeping family, checking to make sure Juni was still sleeping before he stalked off through the trees, meaning to check the condition of the ice holes and perhaps prepare a set or two before the others wakened. Once reasonably certain that he was out of earshot of the camp Einar took firm hold of a little fir and stomped up and down until he’d managed to get the blood flowing just a bit, regain some flexibility in his hands and begin to feel somewhat more certain that he’d be able to get through the next few hours until the sun reached the valley and began to warm things.
Now, to the river. The ice holes had, of course, frozen over again in the night but he made pretty quick work of them with the axe, ice not yet terribly thick and the river beneath, flowing if sluggish, helping slow their solidification. Three beaver sets he finished before reaching and checking the one he’d set that previous evening, finding, to his delight, that it had been successful in the night. It was all he could do--still rather stiff with cold and pretty badly deficient in energy after the exertion of the past day, followed by his chilly and largely sleepless night--to pull the set up out of the water. The beaver was a fine one, coat in good condition and weighing, Einar estimated, somewhere upwards of forty-five pounds. A good start to their trapping expedition, and he freed the animal from the snare, re-setting it and lowering the pole back into the by-then quite ice-free hole. Best try again. Considering the snow-covered mound of the lodge not far away in a wide, dammed up side channel of the river--good place to hide, that would be. I could just slip down into this hole here with the snares, swim under the ice over to that lodge and worm my way in there, hide out for a week or two eating cattail stems and the inner bark of birch and aspen and whatever else they’ve got stored in there, until Juni either got bored and left, or Liz sent her off into exile, and he laughed silently at the thought, told himself that if things got a whole lot more complicated around there, he might just have to do it--there were almost certainly more beaver to be had at that location. Liz’s muskrat snares were all empty, but as he did see signs of muskrat activity in the area, he was hopeful that they would not too long remain so. Sun was beginning to brush the tops of the high trees when he rose from inspecting the final snare, golden light making its appearance way up there at the elevation of their basin. Their home. Former home. Time to be getting back. Liz would be wondering where he was.
Liz was not wondering. She knew, had been a good deal less soundly asleep than Einar had believed when he’d left in the predawn grey several hours previously, had watched him go and had known he was headed for the river. Whether to get a head start on the traps or to freeze himself in the river she could not say, one seeming about as likely as the other, but either way she had known she must let him go. He’d given enough ground simply by staying in camp for the night, in bed, when he’d so clearly wanted to pass those hours in lonely wandering, and she could ask no more of him, just then. Which did not in the least diminish her relief when Einar came walking back into camp just ahead of the sun, looking stiff and badly chilled but fully clothed and not soaking wet, at least, a large beaver slung over his shoulder.
“Had some success last night, I’d say. Fur’s still real good. Looks like this thing’s gonna be worthwhile, this trip to the river and all.”
“Wow!” Liz took the animal, set it in the snow and prepared to begin skinning it out, hoping Einar might take the opportunity to rest. “I only wish we could have a fire to make some stew! Looks like this would make some fantastic stew, don’t you think?”
“Tonight. Got to be patient. Cold as it is, the meat will keep just fine if we hang it in the shade. Seems real quiet down here, but I still don’t want to risk someone seeing our smoke during the day. Your stew can be for supper.”
“We can have a fire! I was beginning to think we’d be eating pemmican and frozen meat the whole time, here.”
“Might still have to, if we see any sign that we’re not alone here in the valley. Or maybe we ought to stick to eating that way just because it’s a good exercise, keeps in practice, not expecting too much.”
“Oh, I think life gives us plenty of chances to keep well practiced at doing without. No need to intentionally create more of them! We’ll be very careful during the day not to do anything that could draw attention, and then tonight--hot stew! How about the liver, though? We could go ahead and eat that right now, I would think…”
“Sure. No harm in doing that. Might still be a slightly warm, even. Critter wasn’t in there for too many hours before I got it out.” He sat down on a log beside Liz and watched, weary, cold and half in a daze, as she began deftly separating the beaver from its pelt. Good job she was doing, good enough to have produced a top quality finished pelt, had they been intending to sell it, and one corner of his mouth twisted up in a little half-smile as he saw how Will was leaning just as far sideways as his confinement in Liz’s hood would allow, watching her work in apparent fascination.
“Won’t be too many years, little one, and you’ll be doing this part yourself. Look like fun? Takes a lot of practice, that’s for sure, but look at your mama! She’s sure got it down, hasn’t she? Got the skills, for sure…”
“I’d like to have the skills, too. Will you teach me?” The voice, seemingly coming out of nowhere and with no prior warning, startled Einar to his feet, spear in hand, and nearly sent him toppling over forward, too, but he recovered his balance in time to avoid that. A good thing, as he would have hated for Juni to see such lack of coordination on his part.
“What are you doing, sneaking up on a fella like that? I could have… Well, you almost got it, that time. Not a good plan. Not a good one at all.”
“I’m sorry. I was just practicing my stalking.”
“Well doggone it, choose another sort of prey next time, or it may be your last and final stalking practice. Not bad though,” he grudgingly admitted. “That wasn’t half bad.”
“So, will you teach me how to properly skin out a beaver pelt?”
“That’s between you and Liz. She’s the expert.”
Liz, who had not paused in her work, gave a noncommittal nod. “Sure. Just watch. Won’t really catch on until you try it yourself, but you’ll at least get the idea. Did you find the usnea I sent you for?”
“Yep, just like you said, it was all over the dark sides of those spruces in the thicket. I got a big pile of it. Set it on the rock over against the cliff, so it’ll be ready when you need it for Will.”
Einar, uninterested in sitting back down after being startled so, paced about the clearing as Juni watched Liz finish skinning out the pelt. Gonna be a long day…