Before afternoon passed into evening and the last of the fitful, cloud-filtered light began to fade outside, the storm had descended in full fury, wind continuing to blast the cabin and this time the distinctive scouring sound of dry, icy snow accompanying it, the stuff forcing its way most insistently in between logs where the chinking had been blown out by the previous buffeting of the wind. Hitting the protective deer hide Einar had set up as an extra layer of insulation, the snow was halted from creating a minor blizzard in the cabin, fell to the ground beneath the hide as a small but growing drift. This drift Liz diligently scraped up as it accumulated and deposited into the water barrel, fine for adding to their drinking water supply—very well did Liz remember times when, because of the presence of aircraft, they had been unable to have fire for several days at a time, freezing solid the contents of the water barrel and forcing them to melt snow in containers pressed up against their bodies, and they, particularly Einar, had grown woefully deficient in water during those times—but not exactly the sort of thing one wanted to leave melting on the floor.
Despite good stout walls, a roaring fire and the additional protection of Einar’s deer hide tapestry, the storm’s icy tendrils found their way with increasing insistence into the little shelter, leaving its occupants to crowd closer about the stove, sipping tea and holding pressing chilled backs against the large granite slabs which leaned, near enough to be more than warm but not so close as to burn a person, against the wall beside the stove, and in some cases against the stove itself.
Einar might for himself have liked to resist this emphasis on staying warm. He had, indeed, put up the deer hide for the benefit of the women who he knew would so greatly appreciate its relief and to a lesser extent for little Will—kid had to get tough, and he figured the process could really never start too early—not believing himself to have any business taking advantage of such things. But now with the good solid warmth of a stomach full of fresh rabbit stew easing its way through him, returning feeling to cold, battered extremities and lessening some of the tense, almost frantic energy which—body seeking in one last desperate effort to urge its owner out to find it some sustenance—often is the lot of the starving man, this resistance seemed less important.
Easily and almost at peace, he allowed Liz to lead him over nearer the radiant heat of the stone stove. Observing almost in disbelief this change in his demeanor, Liz decided to take full advantage of the situation while it lasted, and promptly brought Einar another portion of stew, which he found himself very nearly too sleepy to eat. Not entirely a bad thing so far as Liz was concerned, and she helped him, holding the bowl lest he drop it and pressing the spoon back into his hand whenever, from sheer weariness, a late, futile attempt at resistance or some indefinite combination of the two, he let it fall from his fingers.
In this way, his eyes barely open and Liz sitting patiently beside him as Will continued his seemingly unending and fascinated inspection of the beaver hide, Einar ended up finishing his second bowl of stew, perhaps nothing more than routine for most under such circumstances--cold, hungry and definitely behind on energy--but for him, a major accomplishment, and Liz was glad to see it. Glad, and grateful also to Juni for bringing home that rabbit, and though the girl had said nothing of it and probably would not, Liz suspected that he entire reason for leaving the cabin and venturing out into the coming storm had been simply to obtain some such fresh food. She knew as well as Liz what was at stake for Einar that night--better, perhaps, able as she was to look at the situation clearly and with eyes unclouded by the necessary if somewhat blinding optimism with which Liz had somewhat unwittingly come to regard her spouse in his ongoing struggle--had been doing her best to help improve his chances.
After the consumption of so much warm, rich stew Einar hardly had any choice but to doze a bit, eyes mostly closed and chin resting on his knees as he started at the flickering light of the fire through a crack in the stove door, every inch of him weary, aching, but it was not wholly an unpleasant sensation, strength lent him by the good nourishing stew already making itself felt from head to toe and bringing with it an enormous sense of relief and relaxation, if not quite of well-being.
Next thing he knew he was waking, Liz lifting him as she tried to finish getting him onto his side of the bed, and he glanced about in some confusion but at her assurances that everything was alright, Will already asleep, the fire stoked and night come to the world outside, he stopped struggling, rolled over and fell into a deep sleep amongst the insulating warmth of the hides, warmer already than he'd been in days and soon to be warmer still, as Liz joined him, one final glance at the stove, at Juni climbing into her own sleeping bag and Muninn on his perch with beak tucked beneath a wing telling her that all was right with the night, each of them snug and as well-protected against the coming storm as they could be.
No more than two or three hours had passed--Einar sleeping like a dead man and Liz, waking periodically to check on him, almost unsure until she'd felt for and found a slow but reasuring heartbeat that he was still amongst the living--before the storm's fury woke them all again. Howling and pounding against the cabin walls, the wind seemed to have taken on a new rage as it blasted the logs with hard, icy snow and send spin-drift skittering across the floor to lightly cover Juni's sleeping bag and hiss against the still-warm stones of the stove.
Rousing himself with some difficulty to movement, fighting against a heavienss which seemed to have settled in his very bones to all but prevent his so much as lifting an arm up and out of the hides, Einar struggled out of bed and landed with both bare feet in the good half inch of snow that had settled against the bed, standing for a moment of stillness as the shock of the sensation passed and left him grinning, shuffling about and pushing snow ahead of him as he went. Might be to his liking, this icy carpeting, but Liz would definitely not care for it and neither would he, actually, when the stove was brought to life and the entire floor turned to slick mud. With this in mind he found the bundle of carefully-tied dry grass which Liz used as a broom, scraping and sweeping at the unwelcome whiteness until he'd got it all herded over against the door where it could be collected and more appropriately dealt with.
Juni was up by that time, shaking snow from her sleeping bag and crouching before the stove, which though still hot was sputtering with the pressure of the wind outside, not drawing well at all and smoke beginning to back up through the door and into the cabin. Einar, wrapped somewhat haphazardly in a deer hide and still barefoot, hurried out through the tunnel to check the chimney opening, which he expected might well have drifted over in the ferocity of wind and blowing snow which had consumed the night. Coughing, covering her face with a bit of damp cloth, Liz soon joined Juni beside the struggling stove, blinking through the smoke and working to correct the situation for a good minute or so before realizing that Einar was no longer in the cabin with them.