With nothing to eat that morning and the storm still raging on, Einar knew they would have to go for the bag, knew also that Liz with her entirely reasonable fear of the snow-slick ledge might not be the one to suggest it, and after a time he cinched down the hood of his coat, took reluctant leave of the fire and headed out into the storm. Liz wanted to go with him, almost had Will secured in her parka by the time he left, but he shook his head, reminded her that someone need to tend the fire, and was out the door before she had too much time to argue.
Travel was not easy on that snow-drifted ledge, but Einar kept at it, balancing gingerly against the rock, careful lest he shift too much of his weight in close to the wall, and cause his feet to slip out from under him... The bag was heavy, difficult to manage with footing so tenuous and the wind scouring snow into his eyes; finally he had to give up trying to drag it along the ledge beside him, and resort to dangling it down in the free air, cautious lest he lose his grip and painfully conscious of the abrasiveness of the limestone, the fact that he could sever the rope and lose it altogether, if he wasn't careful. When he'd made something over half the distance back to the cave he spotted Liz picking her way along the ledge, Will in her parka and hood drawn tight against the storm; wordlessly she came to him, took hold of the rope and helped him hold its weight as carefully they worked their way back to the shelter, and inside, securing the bag with several wraps of the rope around a rock projection, struggling, straining, hauling it in.
Exhausted but jubilant they collapsed in the blessed, windless relief of the place, grinning at one another and brushing wind-driven snow from faces, clothing, Will laughing as Einar lifted him from his mother’s hood, but he was cold, they all were, so as Einar worked to bring the fire back to life, Liz retrieved the sleeping bags, happy to find them dry, folded one of the parachutes not too far from the fire, and spread the bags on it, ready for use. It took some talking to get Einar into the sleeping bags in the middle of the morning like that, but not too much, and soon all were warmer as they sat with shoulders out of the bags, sorting through the treasures packed for them by Bud and Susan and entertaining Will with all the fresh sights.
Suddenly Einar found himself missing Muninn. The raven, too, would have enjoyed discovering the bag’s contents, exclaiming over each one as Will was doing and attempting, no doubt, to make off with more than one of the treasures. Will, having taken a liking to the shiny foil wrapper of one of the granola bars sent by Susan, had snatched it, stuck it in his mouth and was crawling quickly for the back of the cave; Einar followed, stopped him before he could get too far and brought him back.
“Looks pretty neat, doesn’t it little one? Bet you’d just love to take it off into a corner somewhere, dissect it and learn all about it. Lot shinier than most of the things we find out here, except for the mica flakes in some of the granite, and the white calcite we’ve got all around us here. Look at that. Look at the wall, here. See how it shines? Looks all orange in the fire, doesn’t it? But really it’s just white. I’ve seen it all different colors though, even purple. Don’t know which mineral makes it that way, but it can be quite a sight, that’s for sure! Curtains of purple and white, all streaked and shining in the beam of your headlamp. Yep, you’ll get to see all of that pretty soon here I think, if we spend much time around these caves. Real good way to grow up.”
With Will’s fascination transferred solidly to the shining, sparkling cave walls, Liz was able to retrieve the granola bar without any protest on his part, stowing it safely back in the bag for later use. Or for present use, if Liz was to have her way, for they could all use breakfast after the exertion and cold of the past day, and first seeing that Einar and Will were warm near the fire—which they were, father and son both admiring in silent fascination a series of calcite structures that flowed in frozen splendor along the cave wall—she put together a breakfast of oatmeal, Nutella and dried cherries from the food items so carefully chosen and packed by Susan, a lump coming into her throat at the realization that she might have seen her friend for the last time. Well. At least the three of them were together, warm, safe from the immediate clutches of the enemy—and about to eat!
“Alright you guys, if you can tear yourselves away from the wall long enough to look this way, you’ll see that some breakfast is ready…”
“Been smelling it for the last ten minutes,” Einar laughed, “but figured I must be daydreaming. What have you got there, anyway? Sure smells good!”
“It is! Come and see. Here, just get back in the bag, and we’ll eat right here—like people do when they’re climbing big peaks, so as not to waste any warmth.”
“More likely to be a snow cave in that case! But yeah, nobody leaves the bag when they don’t have to during a storm on a big peak, not even to cook and eat. Good thing we’ve got some firewood here. Maybe I should go look for some more, so we don’t…”
“Hey! Don’t you be letting this breakfast get cold. In the bag, and eat! Then after that if we need more firewood, I’ll come help you.”
“Ok, ok! What’s next? You going at me with that rabbit stick of yours? Do you even have the rabbit stick anymore? Huh. Guess not. Guess you lost it when I lost my spear, and we’d better each be looking for a replacement, because we’re just not the same without it. Though my head does seem to do a rather better job of staying intact when you don’t have the stick…”
“Oh, I’d find something. Now. No more waiting around, or else.”