Improvised roof secured in place and the space beneath it beginning to warm with Liz’s little fire, the two of them worked together to cut fir boughs for a sort of floor, shaking from them the freshly fallen snow and using others to sweep and scrape the ground beneath the parachute until it, too, was nearly free of snow, before spreading boughs on which to sit and sleep. The result was a reasonably dry, comfortable shelter in which, once the sleeping bags and their foam pads were unrolled, even little Will could freely crawl about without ending up all wet or snowy.
While recognizing the still-temporary nature of the place and its need for many further modifications if it was to serve successfully as a longer-term shelter, the absence of wind and snow and the warming air within the place did go a long way towards easing the almost-frantic ferocity with which Einar had been prodded to stay on his feet and haul those dead trees, work until he had secured a place for his family, and Liz was glad to see the change in him, a willingness to sit for a while, and to get warm. Still his arms shook, entire body trembling at times though still not, he sensed, from the cold, and this might have bothered him had he not been far too weary to pay it any mind. Was, in fact, drifting off to sleep right where he sat, head sagging, snapping back upright and wanting to reverse the trend—not time for sleep yet—he rose, left the shelter and stood just outside its enclosure, listening to the storm in the trees overhead. Wind was gusty, silence reigning for a moment every now and then but followed always by a distant rush, a roar, gaining volume and momentum as it approached, and staring up into the starless blackness, he could picture the treetops bending before the wind, half-flattening, bowing before the mighty blast of its breath—but rising again, springing back to await the next onslaught.
Good way to live one’s life, he thought, feeling a kinship with the wild, ice-coated trees and nodding to them before breaking off an armload of small, brittle-dead branches from some of the nearest ones and ducking back into the shelter. Dark by that time, but well lit beneath the tent of parachute material, much of the fire’s light reflected back to them by the white cloth, and he studied it with some consternation, knowing that its glowing globe of light would show up like a beacon to anyone observing from higher ground—or flying overhead. Not a concern on a night like that one, terrain preventing observation from anywhere but the air and storm raging with too much fury for anything to be observing them from up there, but it was certainly something they would have to keep in mind for the future, a good reason to get a real, solid roof put on the place as quickly as they could, if they meant to stay very long at all.
Taking Will and sitting down cross-legged before the fire—cold now, wind seeming to have gone right through him--he watched in silence for a minute as Liz stirred something into her supper stew. The child was curious, wouldn’t sit still, and Einar finally had to release him. Toddling, tripping, he resorted to hands and knees as he quickly made his way over to his mother’s side, excitedly remarking over the fire. Which word, Einar noted, he had over a matter of mere weeks, taught himself to correctly pronounce. A good sign, he figured, when it came to the little one’s present and future intellectual abilities. Lots to teach him about the world. Starting, it appeared, with the very important lesson that one must not disturb his mother when she’s in the middle of making stew, and Einar rose, scooped him up.
“Hey now, you’ve got to wait until it’s done, just like the rest of us. What’s your big hurry, anyway? You hungry, or do you just like the smell?”
Will did not answer, displeased at being pulled away from the object of his attention, struggling to get free. Einar let him go, Will crawling a couple of feet back towards Liz, and the fire, before stopping to look back at his father as if asking, what are you going to do about it? Einar remained still, meeting Will’s eyes and shaking his head. Will stopped, looked away in defiance, but going no nearer the fire. Liz had watched the entire interaction with great interest, unsure how the two had come to their understanding, but sure that they had done so.
“Well, no need to wait too long, because supper’s almost ready! Grouse bones with a little meat left, some spruce needles for seasoning and a bunch of dried serviceberries I found clinging to bushes as we climbed up out of the canyon. Filled my pockets with them, and thought they’d go well in the stew.”
“Sure smells like it. Kind of like old times…seem to remember passing an entire winter once on stews of bear fat, wild meat and dried berries, with some spring beauty or avalanche lily roots added in, from time to time.”
“Yes, Will was grown on such stews, and he seems to have turned out quite well. Must have been just the right things for raising a bright, healthy mountain child. With more than his share of his father’s stubbornness, it looks like.”
“That comes from the wolverine meat!” And because he said it with a straight face Liz did not know whether Einar meant it seriously, or not, but either way was fine with her. Their son had certainly inherited a good deal of strength and perseverance from somewhere, and whatever the source or sources, she was glad to see it developing, as he would certainly need such qualities in the uncertain life that lay before him—and before them all. For the moment though, all uncertainty aside, they were together as a family, not under immediate threat of either capture by the enemy or destruction by the elements, and one could hardly ask more of life.
Stew was ready, and together they sat around the fire and ate their fill as overhead the wind rushed and howled through the evergreens, its force never reaching them there in the deep shelter of the tiny basin. Tomorrow, Einar thought to himself as he half-dosed over his cup of stew, it would be time to build a roof.