While their long term plans remained for the moment uncertain, it was soon clear to Einar, wind sweeping down through the timber and bringing with it icy pellets of hard spring snow which stung exposed flesh and took the breath from him when he turned to face its forceful blast, knew that they would be going no farther that night. If travel through that broken and snow-slippery landscape of fallen trees had been challenging by daylight, it would prove all but impossible in the dark, way fraught with hidden dangers waiting to trap and twist an ankle, break a leg… He shuddered at the thought of trying to help Liz through the remaining deadfall with a broken leg, yards of it, acres, anyone’s guess, really. Certainly time to stop, and he nodded to her, rising.
“Yes, better look for a place to shelter for the night. Best if we can find it before dark.”
“Something out of the wind, hopefully. Maybe beside one of these big boulders? It would act as a windbreak and also give us some protection if the wind really picks up and more of these trees decide to fall…”
“Doubtful. Whatever came through here a few years ago probably took down anything that was in the least inclined to go. This area should be safer than most when it comes to falling timber, but no harm in taking some precautions. It’s certainly a natural path for the winds, that’s for sure. Something about the terrain just channels them right through here.”
“Yes.” Liz shivered, saw that Einar was doing the same and got back to her feet. “Well, let’s not just sit here talking about it while we freeze in the wind! Come on. The light’s fading fast. Let’s find this camp.”
Everything was snow-covered and slippery, no prospect immediately offering itself which might give them a bit of comfort for the night, and for a good quarter hour Einar and Liz wandered somewhat aimlessly through the timber, Einar once catching himself with eyes drooping as he walked, sleep near. Wouldn’t do, and he scrubbed snow across his face, staring up at a sky full of heavy, scudding clouds and holding himself rigid against a chill that wanted to unsteady his steps and send him sinking to the ground in a heat-conserving huddle. Not yet. Had to find something a little better.
Boulder up ahead, bulking black in the stormy twilight, and he headed for it, picking his way slowly over yet more fallen, tangled trees as Liz followed along behind with her end of the pole. Behind the boulder stood a grouping of spruces, spared, somehow, from the worst ravages of the wind which had leveled so many, and there beneath them was a small spot which had been largely shielded by interlocking boughs from any significant accumulation of snow. Looked good to Einar, as good as anything they were likely to find before the light left them entirely, and, stumbling a bit, supporting himself against the lichen-covered flank of the boulder, he led the way into the shelter, sinking involuntarily to his knees. All done, at least for that day. Liz joined him, and he gave her a weary grin.
“It looks great! Do you feel how much less the wind is, in here?”
He hadn’t, went ahead and nodded anyway, not really wanting to have to explain. Couldn’t feel much of anything by that point, but observing, he did note that small branches within the shelter area seemed little moved by the wind, blocked as it was by the boulder from one side, angle of the hill and density of the evergreens on the other.
Fine place to pass a night, and without waiting—could tell it wouldn’t be long before he rather thoroughly lost the use of his hands, if he waited—he began unfastening the straps around the bag. Liz would want to eat. He wished only to sleep. To stop moving, and to sleep. But it was not to be, must not be, until provisions had been made which might help see them through the worst part of whatever storm seemed to be coming. Already snow spat down from a now-blackening sky outside the dense branches of their shelter, flakes still icy an hard but more substantial than the pellets which had earlier stung them as they walked, and he pulled out the tarp which had been included in the bag, anchoring two of its corners to the ground several feet out from the boulder and securing its top by jamming sticks into crevices in the granite itself, and fastening the tarp to these.
Rough lean-to completed he turned to Liz, who had pulled out the sleeping bags and was making an attempt to open them up without allowing any blowing snow to get inside. By then the wind was nearing gale force on the hillside, howling and blasting behind the boulder, both Einar and Liz tremendously grateful for the breaking of its force, for the relative hush which reigned behind the rock. Still, Liz had to lean in close before he could make our her words when she spoke.
“How about a fire? Do you think we could have a fire tonight? It’s certainly still enough back here, and sure would be nice to get some heat reflecting off that rock before we go to sleep!”
Clamping his jaw to prevent the teeth rattling inside, Einar shook his head. “Not yet. Better to…give it some more time. Let the storm settle in. Men on the rim…”
“They’re miles away! And surely not out in this storm, either. It has to be terrible over there, as open as that rim is!”
“May not be out, but the towers…”
“You’re really concerned about it, aren’t you?”
“Yeah. Give it one more day, let us put something more substantial than this one boulder between us and that rim.”
“Ok. We can manage, but in that case let’s hurry up and get into some dry clothes and in the sleeping bags before we can get any colder, or it’s going to be a long night. Will is even a little chilly I think, the way this wind has been blowing.”
Wordlessly Einar followed her lead, not bothering to zip the bags together as they had been doing, but slipping into his own just as soon as he’d got out of his snow-crusted clothing, sleep near as soon as he let his head rest on the ground. Liz would not let him sleep, raising herself on one elbow as she fed a warming and now-contented Will and fixing them a hasty supper in the near-darkness, insisting that he have his portion. No philosophical objections on Einar’s part, not this time, memory of the past night’s dream returning strongly to him with the advance of darkness and his determination to go forward and make a life for his little Will stronger than ever, but still he ate sparingly, having suffered the consequences of the morning’s ample repast in an aggravatingly frequent need to take breaks throughout the day and scurry off behind trees, a process which had left him terribly drained and dehydrated by the time they reached their evening shelter. Not such an easy thing to just start up eating again after so long without, and he knew he’d better be giving some attention to the process if he wanted to get through it successfully. Tomorrow. To weary to think any more about it that, night, to think about anything, and he was asleep.
Despite Einar’s weariness his sleep that night was brief, cold creeping in without any regard for the sleeping bag until soon he felt like he was freezing from the inside out, knew it was an illusion as he lay curled in a ball with knees drawn up to his chest, arms wrapped around them and fingers stuck down between the painfully protruding ribs on his back, something to hang onto as he shook and stared out into the windy darkness, half-wishing some urgent matter might arise which would send them scrambling to their feet and on the move again, just so he could warm up a bit. Knew in reality that it would only take more out of him though, that wind. Better off right where he was. Would get through the night, even if he did not at the moment especially feel like it.
Liz, too, woke in the night to the sound of the wind and of Einar breathing in the cold. Lying still for a moment only, she hurried to find him and zip the bags together, shivering at bitter draft that entered during the process and at the icy chill that had crept so quickly into Einar’s bones, did her best to warm him, but that night, it did little good.