While he knew that replacing the layers of usnea lichen chinking between logs in the walls would ultimately solve the draft problem that was currently letting so much cold air into the cabin, Einar believed he had a quicker solution, if only a temporary one. Taking a pile of folded hides—two deer, part of an elk, numerous beaver and muskrat pelts and those of a few other small animals—which had been scraped and tanned but not yet put to any particular purpose, he chose the two nicely-tanned deer hides. Spreading them out to their full size he studied the hides, choosing the larger and holding it up against the front wall, where most of the offending gaps were allowing bits of the storm into their little shelter. Ought to do the job nicely, he thought, and finding the rawhide bag in which he stored a number of the small tools he’d made over their years living in the backcountry, he retrieved a quartz point which had seen service in the past as a drill bit, turning it this way and that as he briefly considered going to the trouble to rig up a little bow-drill for the task, but decided against it.
Working by hand, then, he bored three nearly inch-deep holes in the logs atop the door, crouching by pile of firewood and searching until he’d located an appropriate stick from which to whittle pegs. Hated to make holes in the nice buckskin on the assumption that they might someday wish to use it whole, thought for a moment and carved the pegs smaller, blunting their tips. He then held the hide in place once more—dizzy, catching himself against the wall, glad that Liz appeared not to have noticed—and eased the middle peg into place, pressing a bit of the hide into the hole behind it. In this way he secured the hide without the necessity of punching any holes in its good, smooth surface, logs leaned against the bottom of the drape to hold it in place against the wall, and their draft problem was almost entirely solved.
Liz rose, holding up a bare hand to the newly-covered wall and seeing that the draft had been repaired. Already the room seemed warmer, heat of the fire more efficient as it was no longer having to compete so fiercely with the intruding cold. “Thank you! This is so much better, and I know you did it for us, because you’d probably just as soon take off all your clothes and sit out in that wind for an hour or two if there were no reason not to do it, wouldn’t you?”
He nodded, grinned, “Sure. Sure I would.”
Which he would have, but in truth it had come to hurt him as never before, the cold that he had always loved, knifing its way in between ribs and up through whatever part of him might be touching the ground of late until his bones ached with it, his very being, muscles—what little remained of them—tightening up and threatening continually to cramp, body seeming unable to produce much warmth of its own most days, no matter how he worked and moved to get his blood flowing. It was a relatively new thing, this agony, and seemed to continue no matter how hard he might work to acclimatize himself to the cold, all his prior methods proving of little avail. Body had finally reached a point, he was left to conclude, where it could no longer compensate, where a lifetime of training and discipline and genuine enjoyment of certain things which others might have viewed as discomfort were being finally and inexorably overcome by the undeniable realities of the last stages of starvation. So, he had compelled himself to come to love the pain, if it was to be all that remained, to give himself over to its power without resistance and without fear as he had done so successfully with the cold, and he had managed, but it was not the same, brought with it little of the fierce, all-encompassing joy which had attended the other and left him at times—though ashamed to admit it—wishing only for a respite, a lessening, even temporarily, of the intensity of the struggle.
And now here it was, all but being forced on him, and he didn’t want it. Found it pretty terrifying, actually, the very prospect of it. Well, fickle creature. Got no choice this time, have you? Got to settle in and make the best of it, and you’d better be doing it in a hurry, too, with this storm coming. Got the feeling we’re all gonna be closed up in here together for a day or two, the way things are sounding out there. Once the snow really starts, if these winds keep up, it’ll be a whiteout all around us, with nobody going anywhere much, unless they don’t care too much about finding their way back again. He sighed, shivered, held numbed hands over the stove just long enough to restore some flexibility and began folding the remaining hides, stacking them back where Liz had stored them.
Will was awake by then, uninterested in eating—which was normally his first thought upon returning to wakefulness—and fascinated, instead, by the deep shining black-brown of the beaver pelts his father was stacking at the top of the hide pile. Before Liz realized what he was doing he had hoisted himself to hands and knees and taken off across the bed, reaching its edge and seeing no reason to stop. Only when he reached his destination, not getting the descent quite right, flipping over and landing almost head-first on the floor, did everyone see what he was up to. Liz rushed to him, gently freeing him from the tangle in which he had ended up, checking to see that he was alright and, seeing a lump on his forehead where he’d impacted the floor, waiting for him to cry. Will did not cry, however, did not very much appreciate Liz’s efforts to restrain him as she checked him over, either, eyes still fixed on the pile of hides across the room, struggling and squirming until, baffled but somewhat reassured about his physical condition, she released him as he was clearly so very much wanting.
Never missing a beat, the little one was back on hands and knees and scrambling quickly for Einar, who watched him with a hint of a smile in his eyes. Over a stack of firewood, around Muninn—iridescent feathers which had so often proven a source of endless amazement entirely forgotten for the moment—and over to the water barrel he hurried without hesitation, eyes all the time on the gleaming glint of those freshly tanned beaver pelts. Reaching the stack, he was rewarded by his father with the largest of the specimens, plopping down on his stomach to study in individual detail the fine, silky hairs which made up its sheen, satisfied. Careful not to disturb the little one’s rapt perusal of the hide, Einar took a look at the bump on his head, smearing on a bit of the balm of Gilead salve he’s been using on his own cracked and occasionally bleeding fingertips, gently feeling along his spine until he was satisfied that no serious damage had been done in the fall. Good. Lowering himself to his stomach on the floor so that he was no higher than the now completely contented child, he spoke in a soft voice.
“Next time, little one, maybe you can try coming off the bed feet-first, for a change? I’ll show you. It’s not too hard once you get the hang of it, and spares a lot of hassle when it comes to tumbling down onto the floor and such. That stuff just slows you down, as you’ve discovered. Now, about this hide. Pretty fine one, isn’t it? Now, we were planning on making these into mittens, hats, maybe trimming a parka or two with them, but it seems to me maybe this one ought to be yours, don’t you think? Figure maybe you earned it just now, and that way it can help keep you warm at night, maybe provide raw material for your first project later on when you’re ready to start learning such things. What do you think?”
Will did not answer, never even looked up, entirely absorbed in the wonder that came of rubbing a bit of the hide between thumb and forefinger, feeling its texture, its smoothness, seeing the way the individual hairs rippled and moved and caught the light, before moving on to the next portion and starting all over again. A fine answer so far as Einar was concerned, and he nodded, returned to his work.