Late as Liz believed it to be in the afternoon, she had no particular desire to make a trip for elk, especially with the storm still blowing so fiercely, but she would have done it. Even greater than her hesitance to venture out in such a whiteout, was her concern about Einar doing so. This, of course, she had no intention of stating to him in so many words, his reaction predictable as she believed it was misguided, but in tending to him during the hours he’d slept that day, she had realized the frostbite on his feet was a bit more significant than it had first appeared. Nothing, certainly, which would endanger his remaining toes and even, eventually, his life, as had happened previously, but the situation could change should he insist on spending the coming evening and night wandering through the wet snow after another elk quarter. Besides which, she could see the weariness which still lay heavily upon him, he maintaining his rigidly upright posture only with great effort. Not a time to be starting out in the storm with the intention of carrying home upwards of fifty pounds of meat, apiece. He was waiting for her answer.
“How about waiting for morning, when maybe the visibility will be a little better?”
“Oh, I’ll be able to find it. No problem. Can picture exactly the route I took when tracking the critter, and unless this snow has really drifted up top in places, we’ll probably be able to follow my old trail right to the spot. Sure don’t want to lose any of that elk, scarce as the critters are up so high this time of year.”
“No, I don’t want to lose any of it either! But the storm should keep it safe, really, and we can take all day tomorrow bringing back what’s left…”
“You really don’t want to go right now.”
“Not if we have a choice.”
He grinned, brushed more of the wind-plastered snow from Will’s rosy cheek. “Sure, there are almost always choices. How about you and the little guy stick close to the shelter here so he’s not out in this storm, and I’ll make one run up the ridge, see if I can get that second quarter down here before dark?”
Not the outcome she had been looking for, but neither should it have been surprising. Better to be direct. “I hate to think of us splitting up in this weather, either. What if we all just wait for tomorrow?”
“You’re afraid I am going to get lost in this storm, aren’t you?”
“Yes. Lost, turned around, frozen….I know you’ve got a tremendous sense of direction, but we can’t even see our boots right now. You won’t have any landmarks.”
“Life is adventurous enough, up here.”
Einar was quiet, but not for long. “Sorry Lizzie, no. Can’t sit this one out. Left most of that moose behind and am still regretting that, even though circumstances made it necessary. This time I’ve got a choice, and I can’t choose to sit here and be warm and out of the storm while we maybe lose more meat. Worked too hard for that elk. Got to hang onto it. Got to take advantage of the storm, too, to cover the tracks I’ll be making. It’s just the way this has to go.”
He took off for the shelter then, Liz following close behind and Will, little understanding the gravity of the situation, squealing with fresh delight when a clod of wet show shook loose from one of the overhanging firs and grazed his nose. Catching up to Einar just as he shook the snow from his parka and ducked into the shelter, Liz brought the fire back to life. Already he was busy emptying his pack, preparing it for the elk run.
“I can’t talk you out of this…?”
“Not this time. You’re right about not having Will out in this kind of storm, so the two of you stay here and with any sort of luck at all, I’ll be back before the night is half over. Just want to be sure and get that other quarter, and that’s probably the extent of what I can carry right now anyway, but I’ll bring more if I can. Then we can go back together later when the snow is blowing a little less, and bring in the rest of it.”
“Will you eat first?”
“Think I’d better, if you’ve got any more of that broth left.”
“Yes! Lots of it left. Sit by the fire and be warm for a few minutes while it heats, and you can at least have a good meal before you head out into that…” She was still for a long moment, listening to the wind in its hollow, hurtling fury, tearing through the trees. He was going, and no question about it. She knew the futility of trying again to convince him to stay. Einar’s mind was already made up, and she knew his resolve to bring back the other elk quarter before calling it a night must certainly have more significance than simply protecting the meat and keeping it from the teeth of scavengers. The thing that drove him to do this was even more basic, more fundamental than the need to be sure his family would have enough to eat; this was her husband fighting to stay alive. She did not want to oppose such an endeavor, even had she believed her pleas might make a difference. The best she could do was to make certain he went into the storm well fed and as warmly clad as he might be willing.
Half an hour later, full of Liz’s good, hearty elk broth and as much meat as he had dared consume—too much, and he might well find himself slow and sleepy out there on his trek, which could prove deadly—Einar laced up his boots and prepared to set out. His feet, true to Liz’s earlier suspicions, had suffered some damage during the long elk-stalk and the hike home, but the two pairs of dry socks Liz had pressed upon him would, he was certain, go a long way towards preventing further harm.
Time to leave, and he was out the door, out into the storm, almost immediately lost to Liz’s sight amidst a raging swirl of white, and for one of the first such times in recent memory, Liz did not worry; she just let him go.