A deep chill descended on the place in the night, trees creaking, snapping and Einar restless, cold despite the sleeping bag and Liz pressed at his side, huddling against its force and frequently changing position in an attempt to find one where he could stay for more than a minute or two without feeling like he was bruising bone simply by lying there. Wasn’t working, seldom worked these days, but after a while—his usual solution—he grew too weary to continue the search, and passed into an exhausted sleep. Dreaming of dead aspens, finding, hauling, heavy through the snow, reminded of the way their remaining branches would catch and snag on those of snow-submerged spruces, snap you backwards, bruised shoulder where the tree had been resting and a tremendous effort to get moving again, but he did it over and over, amassing a great pile of the things in his sleep. Only to wake and find them gone.
A pale, snow-filtered hint of dawn making its way through the parachute-roof, and Einar crouched shivering over the remains of their last evening’s fire, snow still falling outside at a rate which reassured him that their smoke ought not be seen, and he broke some of the tiny, spiny spruce sticks Liz had set aside for the purpose, breathing the coals back to life. A bit of grouse broth remained from supper, and filling a second pot with snow to begin melting for tea, he put the broth near the growing flames to heat. Breakfast preparations thus under way—with Liz almost always doing the cooking of late, he figured it had to be his turn—Einar left the shelter with the intention of replenishing their rapidly-dwindling supply of firewood. This supply had consisted of no more than a few armloads of quickly-broken branches the two of them had broken from the sheltered areas beneath spruce boughs the evening before, and he knew that if they were to stay in the shelter for any length of time, he would need to be thinking about securing them a better supply.
The trees they had been dragging in for the back wall of the shelter would do quite nicely for firewood, dry and even snow-free as many of them were, and he determined to haul in a supply and prop them under the sweeping, spreading boughs of one of the nearby spruces against future need, just as soon as he’d made them a more solid roof. One which would allow them to take down the parachute or at least to use it as an inside layer only, a barrier of sorts against snow particles and wind, but prevent its glowing like an enormous white beacon every time they had a fire at night. Not such a problem in the midst of a storm, but certainly not a risk he would want to take on a clearer night.
The roof, then. Going to need a bunch of fairly stout dead aspens, and then it can be shingled with bark slabs like we did at the cabin, if the weather allows it. Otherwise can just add one of the parachutes on top to keep things from falling through, and heap spruce needles on top of that. Would do, for the remainder of the winter.
Still somewhat dark to be searching out and hauling the aspens, however, Einar tending to stumble a good bit more frequently than he would have liked in the snowy timber, even by daylight, and besides, his mission had been to gather firewood, and he’d better stick to it, for the time. He shivered, stared up at the greying sky and swung his arms in an attempt to bring a bit of warmth, stop a rather rapid trend towards losing all the feeling in hands and feet. Seemed somewhat of a losing battle a lot of times lately, but one which he knew he must continue fighting. Just had to keep moving. That was the most important thing. You quit moving, you die. Sometimes quite literally, especially in that kind of cold, and with the wind. Wind wasn’t even that strong down in the protective folds of the tiny basin, yet it seemed to knife right through him and sap his will to move, if not his ability to do so.
Well. Enough of that. He could move, and did, making his way from tree to tree and breaking off the dry-dead branches which mercifully linger on the undersides of most evergreens, secure from falling snow and awaiting the use of any who might need them. Arms full and bits of wood beginning to drop from the top of his pile whenever he moved, Einar had to call the job finished for the moment, ducking back beneath the now-glowing parachute and depositing his harvest beside the fire. Liz was up, met him with a cup of spruce needle tea.
“Soup’s still heating, but this stuff is steaming already. Sweetened with honey, a good way to start the day. Thanks for getting things warming up!”
Einar stretched, shivered, crouched over the flames, tea pressed between cold hands. “Oh, you do so much around here. Think I’d be left to munching the occasional mouthful of snow, and no more, if it wasn’t for you. Need to be helping out more than I do.”
“You do plenty. And yes, I know you’d probably be living on snow, but that’s going to change now, isn’t it? So you’ll have the energy to build us a roof…”
“Changed a good while ago! Remember? I’ve been eating everything you fix.”
“Little tastes of it. You can’t build a roof on little tastes! Now is the time to settle in for a while and get you all strong like you used to be. Will be some work, but you know it’s going to be worthwhile.”
“Plenty strong now…”
“Where’s my rabbit stick?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll find it if I need to! Now. The soup looks ready. What do you say we split it?”
“Is that really a question?”
“Didn’t figure. Yeah, I’d like some. Please. And then we can go haul in the aspens for the roof. Still figuring this place is as good as any we’re likely to find in the area, better than most, and I’d like to get something solid over our heads before the next big wind comes through here.”