Mountain Refuge

(Book three of Einar’s Saga) He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.” -- Psalm 91:1-2 _______________________ The banner of the chieftain, Far, far below us waves; The war-horses of the spearman Cannot reach our lofty caves. Thy dark clouds wrap the threshold Of freedom's last abode. For the strength of the hills we bless thee, Our God, our fathers' God. (from, Hymn of the Vaudois Mountaineers) _______________________ He stood, silent, unmoving, barely appearing to breathe as the snow filtered down through the dense network of spruce boughs above him and settled on the rich brown and gold fur of his hat, wolverine, front legs of the pelt tied behind his head, thick fur covering his neck and upper shoulders, his arm drawn back, ready to throw a dart with his atlatl as soon as the creature stepped out into the open, bear hide mitten on his left hand, its mate tucked into the nearly empty pack he wore. It was with obvious effort that the man held his arm up and in the proper position, clothing that hardly appeared adequate for the cold hanging loosely on a frame some forty or fifty pounds too light for its build and stature, face hollow, shadowed, lined from long days of care and struggle and striving at the very limits of strength, but he was doing it, and that, in itself, was a tremendous accomplishment, considering the events of the past weeks. The man knew it, eyes sharp and bright and filled with a joyful, barely contained energy at his newfound mobility and at the opportunity that awaited him just on beyond those last few aspens before the clearing began. There. The doe, graceful, wary, sensing something, perhaps, but unable to quite quantify it, left the trees on the far side of the little meadow--over half of its area covered in boggy, cattail-inhabited swamp during the summer months--and began pawing at the snowy ground, hungry, looking for a taste of last season’s dried grass before heading down to lower country, as she should have done earlier, would have done, had not the intensity of the storm caught her off guard and left her curled up beneath the spruces to await the lessening of its fury. The dart took her just behind the shoulder, forceful at that close range, the doe jumping, taking three hesitating steps and falling, the

blood on the snow beneath her frothy, pink, steaming, and she was no longer at risk of becoming one of the first casualties of the cold and the rapidly deepening snow, and neither was he. The man let his breath out in a long sigh, white and billowing in the chill air, shivering slightly, relieved at the opportunity to relax his focus just a bit, and breathe. Reaching back and stashing the atlatl and remaining darts in his pack, he took the spear that had been stuck in the snow beside him and, leaning on it slightly for balance, he began moving at something approaching a normal walk in speed and cadence, though decidedly different, too, as the knee of his right leg--the broken one--rested on a platform carved and burnt out of a split section of aspen log, well padded with soft, springy usnea lichen and bound at a right angle with bear sinew to a sturdy, hip-high branch that acted in place of his leg, allowing him to walk fairly normally while keeping the pressure off of his injured and casted lower leg. Having bound the upright branch to his upper leg just above the knee and again just below the hip, the device moved with him, allowing him to take confident if stiff-legged steps through the snow, having fitted the “foot” of the device with an improvised snowshoe of willow branches and bearskin rawhide, the rawhide strips protected from the snow’s moisture with a good thick coating of spruce pitch. The “wooden leg” was, though slightly heavy and a bit cumbersome at first, a huge improvement over the improvised crutches that he had been using to get around since breaking his lower leg. The crutches, while they had allowed him to move, after a fashion, had begun hurting his under arms terribly after a while, especially on the left side where he was still trying to recover from the old shoulder injury, hands going numb in the cold after a few minutes of gripping them, and they had also prevented him, of course, from having the use of his hands while walking. Which while a real disadvantage in daily life down in the valley, could have easily proven to be no less than life-threatening, in the sort life he was living. Skirting around the clearing he went to the deer, keeping to the trees, placing his feet carefully so as not to leave sign in the more open areas. Halfway through cleaning the deer, the man glanced up sharply at the subtle sound of boots crunching through the snow up on the slope above him, wary, getting to his feet, dart fitted in the atlatl, face taut and strained, only to relax in a big grin the next moment when he caught sight of the young woman, bearskin coat and knit cap protecting her from the cold, hurrying down through the trees towards him. The grin faded a bit when he saw the look of distress and concern on her face, and he stood staring at the deer, waiting to see just how much trouble he might be in. “Einar! I got back to the den and you were gone. Good thing that snowshoe contraption of yours leaves really distinctive tracks! What…” “It was time, Liz. Had to start getting out again, seeing what I could do--felt like I was gonna turn into some sort of a vegetable just sitting there in the den all the time. A root vegetable, a beet or potato and grow roots and never move again--but I figured you might have something to say about it…so, I just took off while you were out checking the snares. Meant to be back before you got done, but I started tracking this doe. Don’t know what she was still doing up here, with all this snow, but we can use the meat. And the hide. Can really use the hide.” He shivered again, some of the energy and excitement

that had come with exercising his newly acquired mobility and continued as he tracked and took the doe fading, reality returning in full force to leave him leaning a bit more heavily on the spear as he stood there, weak and shaky and beginning to feel the cold rather acutely. Liz offered him the bearskin, small, from a yearling, folded with a slit cut in the top for a head hole and tied around her waist with some parachute cord, warm against the bitter wind that swept thin and piercing down from the nearby peaks, but he refused. “Nah, still too heavy for me. Leg’s holding up pretty good, only fallen a couple times, but I doubt I could carry much of this deer up the hill, if I was weighed down like that with the coat. Might have worked on the downhill, but not up. I’m alright.” “Well, I would have left the coat for you, if you’d have told me you were coming down here…” She said it lightly, playfully, almost, knowing very well that Einar Asmundson, fiercely independent mountain wanderer, most wanted man in America and perhaps one of the most absurdly, unrelentingly stubborn and pigheaded, too, was certainly not in the habit of telling anyone where he was going or when, and could not be expected to adopt the habit simply because she was there. She shook her head, smiled at him--he’d been sleeping when she left that morning to check the snares for rabbits, tucking the bearskin sleeping robe in around him and leaving some stew to stay warm in the coals of the fire, and she had hoped to find him the same way, when she returned--and crouched down to help finish skinning out the deer. They worked together in silence for a time, Einar planning how he was to use the deer hide--they really were in desperate need of more clothing for the winter, and would soon be facing the need to replace badly worn and disintegrating boots, as well--and Liz watching him, marveling that he had been able to get up and go like that after a week spent lying seriously ill and feverish in the den, barely conscious much of the time, having pushed himself beyond the limits of even his substantial endurance in the climb up to the canyon rim, where he had set off an avalanche to halt the federal search that had been about to discover her hiding place in a rock crevice. It had been quite a journey, but that was all past, now. He was awake, walking, beginning to put on a bit of weight, even, though he did not look it, yet, but that would come. Hoisting one of the deer quarters onto his shoulder Einar started up the slope, Liz beside him, her pack loaded and the other quarter over her shoulder. • • • •

The week following their return to the bear cave had been a difficult one for Einar and Liz, starting with the morning after their feast upon returning to the den--their marriage feast, as they would later come to recall it, as it was on that day, standing snow-covered and half frozen in the storm just outside the den, that Einar had asked Liz to stay with him, as his wife, and she had joyfully agreed. After that it seemed that, finally having the opportunity to rest a bit, and knowing it, Einar’s body began shutting down entirely without his consent, demanding he get that rest, leaving him with a great heaviness, a tremendous weakness that gave him little choice but to lie there wrapped in the bear hide as Liz prepared a breakfast that he seemed unable to wake up quite thoroughly enough to eat. He fought it, struggling to rise when the faint, filtering glow of daylight came

seeping into the den and he first heard Liz stirring about, adding wood to the fire and preparing their breakfast of boiled bear meat and dried chokecherries, but to his great consternation, he could hardly seem to lift his head. The fever came, then, and Einar lay sweating and shaking, only half aware of his surroundings, staring with bleary eyes at Liz and at the firelight that seemed to flicker and splash weirdly, crazily, on the walls of the den, knowing that he needed to get up and check on things outside, make sure that the storm was still going furiously enough for the fire Liz kept stoking to be a safe thing, wanting, if he was not able to check, himself, to let Liz know that it needed to be done, but he couldn’t seem to find the words to tell her. She tried to give him some breakfast, managed to rouse him just enough to take a much-needed sip or two of water before he lapsed back into a state that was somewhere between stupor and sleep, Liz finally deciding to let him be, let him rest, give his body a bit of time to start rebuilding itself after the tremendous effort he had put it through over the past days. They were beginning to run low on firewood, though, and, not liking that she must take the bearskin doorcovering to wear as a coat, but seeing little choice, she bundled Einar up in the larger bear hide--she was still somewhat amazed that he had been able to drag that heavy hide up to the den is his condition, let alone kill the creature in the first place and get it skinned, carved up and the meat hung from trees within easy reach of the den--and piled around him great armfuls of the grass and duff padding that the bear had collected in the den, dry, insulating, and she hoped it would all be enough to keep him reasonably warm while she was gone. Outside the snow was falling rather heavily, the storm still in full swing, and she hurried to break off a load of dry sticks and carry them back to the den, glancing in at Einar before heading out again and seeing that he appeared not to have moved. Which he had not, but certainly not for lack of trying. Dimly aware of Liz’s departure and wanting desperately to be of some use while she was away, Einar again fought to get himself moving, finally managed to raise himself on his arms and crawl over to the fire, adding a few sticks and lying there on his side watching as the flames began consuming them. He wasn’t especially cold, thought he ought to be, as Liz had taken down the door to use the hide as a coat, and wondered if he might be a bit feverish. Didn’t have to wonder for long, though, as he was soon sweating again and feeling as though the little fire was stifling him, the close, formerly cozy world of the den interior swirling and dancing crazily around him when he tried to move, closing in, threatening to crush him, and he struggled out of his shirt, grabbing a handful of snow from just outside the entrance and eating it, the coldness in his throat a welcome relief. OK. Better. Now, what’s wrong with you? Got a warm shelter, food to eat, and… The thought trailed off and he couldn’t seem to pick it up again, sat staring around at the flickering firelight on the den walls for a while, still feeling that he must do something productive, must make use of the time while Liz was away, finally getting his slow, foggy brain to cooperate in deciding that finding and collecting the flat rock slabs necessary to begin building the stove would be an excellent start. A number of appropriate rocks were visible just outside the den entrance, protected from the deepest of the snow and, he hoped, from freezing to each other and to the ground--by the little ledge of overhanging rock, and he dragged himself over and stuck his head out into the storm, glad to find that the rocks had been drifted over with only a light covering

of snow. Choosing a few, he began bringing them into the den, angry at himself when he found that he could lift only one of them at a time, and that only with great difficulty, but glad to see the pile of carefully chosen slabs growing, just inside the den. Great! I’ll have this stove done, or well under way, anyhow, before Liz gets back, and we can be cooking on the stove tonight. It should really cut down on the amount of wood we need for cooking, and the rocks’ll hold the heat, too, help keep the place warm. Not that he was especially focused on keeping the place warm, at the moment, as he was still burning up, the ground seeming to rise up with increasing frequency to contact his head and leave him lying there sick and dizzy for a minute or two until some of the vertigo passed, upon which he would struggle again to his elbows and go after another rock or two. Einar knew he needed water, found some once over by the fire in the small pot and drank it, expected that Liz would have filled a water bottle or two that morning, but could not find them, so ate the occasional lump of snow when his throat became too dry, knowing it was not enough but somehow not quite able to translate that knowledge into the action that would have been necessary to scoop up some additional snow in the pot and set it to melt. He did manage to drag himself over to the entrance, though, in one last and final hunt for another few flat rocks with which to construct the stove. Liz descended a good ways down the slope below the den in her search for firewood, as she did not want to simply collect all the close, convenient stuff first, knowing that if anything happened to her before Einar had recovered some and was able to get around better, they would both be most appreciative of a ready supply of nearby firewood. Following the ridge down a good distance, intrigued by the occasional glimpses she was catching through the swirling snow of what appeared to be a flatter, more open area down below, Liz discovered a small, aspen and spruce-encircled meadow, replete with the brown, snow-weighted leaves of cattail, hundreds of the brown fuzzy heads still standing on their stalks. Exploring the area, she saw that the meadow--the section that held the cattails, at least--was a natural collecting place for snowmelt water and also for the water of a small creek that trickled, sluggish, near frozen, down from the ridge that held the den, forming a boggy area that was apparently ideal for the growth of cattails. Cutting off a number of the fuzzy cattail heads, she shook the dry snow from them and stowed them in her pack, filling it, after that loading down one of the large trash bags she carried, thinking that the heads could be used to make an insulating and probably fairly comfortable mattress on the sleeping platform Einar had created, either by stripping off the fuzz and stuffing it into something--not that we really have anything to stuff it into, right now--or by simply leaving the fuzz on the heads, and lining up row after row of them until they covered the platform, laying the bear hide over top. Excited at the prospect of being able to contribute something to the comfort and warmth of the den, she spent a good while collecting the cattail heads, stopping when the bag began growing heavy and full enough that to add many more of the brown, fuzzy heads would have meant it dragging on the ground as she climbed, which would have resulted in tearing the bag to shreds, she knew, on protruding branches and rocks. Gathering firewood as she climbed back up towards the den, Liz found a small diameter dead aspen not far below the little levelish area outside the den, leaning, rootless, but not lying in the snow, and paused to kick it loose so that it could be dragged along. She was not entirely certain

how they might go about breaking it up into useful lengths, but supposed if nothing else it could be stuck in through the den entrance and into the fire--at least until Einar was able to build that stove--and burned that way. Unless Einar had a better idea, which she suspected he might. She found Einar face down in the snow when she returned, shirtless, lying where he had fallen when his badly overestimated supply of energy had finally run out for good, his front half out in the snow, legs still inside, and she hastily dropped her burden of cattails and firewood, dragging him back into the relative warmth of the den and building up the fire, talking him into drinking a mixture of leftover bear broth and honey as she worked to thaw him out again. Einar revived fairly quickly--he had not, it seemed, been out there too long, as his temperature seemed to return to something like normal in a fairly timely manner, though he never did quite wake up all the way or manage to form a coherent sentence longer than two or three words as he tried to explain to her what he had been doing out there, gesturing vaguely in the direction of the rock pile. Other than a bit of frost nip on his nose and, of all places, on his ribs where they had been pressed into the snow, his fingers seemed to have got the worst of it, and Liz, as she thawed them in a pot of tepid water and smeared them with a mixture of bear fat and hound’s tongue leaves, knew that she must get some mittens made, and soon. Well, I should have plenty of time for making mittens, if I can figure out how, because it looks like I’d better not be leaving him alone for too long at a time, at least until this fever goes down and he stops trying to wander all over the place. She wished she had something to give him to help him sleep, help him relax and be willing to lie there and rest, at least, some chamomile, even, but she had nothing, and knew he would likely have a strong objection to her giving it to him, if she had. He can object, then, but I have to try something, because I’ve got to be able to leave the den without wondering every time whether I’ll come back to find him frozen solid out in a snowdrift, or something. The only thing she could think of was yarrow, of which they had dried a good bit during their time back at the crevice before that first snow had come, and she pulled out the rawhide bag in which the leaves, dried, brown and almost springy in texture because of their numerous fine fernlike fronds, were stored, stirring a good sized pinch into some heating water. She did not want to deplete their supply too much, as the leaves were so useful as a coagulation aid for wounds, which use, if required, would be much more pressing than the current one, but as they had managed to collect and dry a wad of leaves approximately the size of a softball, she doubted the tablespoon she was taking would be a problem. The yarrow, she knew, ought to help bring down his fever if nothing else, and she remembered Susan telling her that it tended to have a mild sedative effect on many people, too, so there was at least some hope that it might help him relax…if she could get him to drink it. Which she knew was doubtful. Einar had returned to a more wakeful state while Liz worked on the tea, taking a good-sized bear bone fragment that had been left over from his construction of the chimney-digging tool and beginning to work it with his knife and a rough chunk of granite with the thought that it ought to make a fine atlatl dart point, but ending up sitting there in a daze after a minute or two of such work, staring into the fire, the mere act of remaining sitting demanding all of the energy and focus he could summon. She brought him the tea, put a hand on his arm and offered it to him,

holding it up for him to drink. He looked up at her, eyes distant, unfocused. “Sorry Liz. Stove…meant to finish it but the rocks…uh…started getting awful heavy. Didn’t mean to go to sleep out in the snow out there, either. Feeling kinda weird right now, I guess.” “You’ve got a fever, and you really need to rest. Here. Drink this.” “What…?” “Yarrow. It’ll help bring the fever down.” He grunted, held his hand up in front of his face to ward off the pot she was urging him to drink from. “Fever’ll be OK. I’m just…worn out. Nothing really…wrong with me. Don’t like to drink yarrow. Tried it once. Makes me...real sleepy, weird.” “Einar, you’re already pretty weird, and you need to sleep. This isn’t going to hurt you. Now, please…” But he would not, turned to face the wall, resting his forehead on it, suddenly dizzy and unsure where the floor was, or what his relationship to it might be, and not wishing to fall over on his face, right there in front of Liz. She shook her head, tried again to persuade him to take the tea, but he told her he couldn’t, said she had better just go ahead and drink it, herself. He was getting cold, shaking, and she tired to convince him to turn around, return to the bear hide where he could be warm, and he glanced over his shoulder at her, somewhat suspiciously. “Can I be sure you’re not gonna hold me down and pour that stuff down my throat, if I do that?” She smiled, shook her head, well, I’d sure like to, you stubborn old mule, because I think this stuff would do you some good, but… “No, Einar. I wouldn’t do that to you. But I do wish you’d change your mind. Now, come on and get wrapped up in this bear hide before you start freezing again.” “OK. Sorry about the tea, but I can’t. I’ll explain it sometime… not right now though. You’re right. Got to sleep…” Which he did, Liz adding some sticks to the fire and sitting by it, tending it, watching him as he tossed and fretted in his sleep--it appeared that even in sleep, he was struggling with himself, attempting to force his exhausted body to cooperate so he could get up and do something--sipping the yarrow tea herself and knowing that the next few days were likely to be rather long, difficult ones for both of them, but immensely relieved that they were together again, had food to eat and a dry, wind-free place to shelter in as the storm raged on outside. • • • •

Einar, to Liz’s relief and surprise, slept most of the day as she kept the fire going, cooked up another pot of stew and carefully spread out the dozens of cattail heads she had cut, turning them now and then where they lay covering the sleeping platform, wanting the be certain they were completely dry before turning them into a mattress and covering them with the bear hide. The fever left him periodically--during which times he lay shaking in the bear hide, seemingly unable to get warm despite the warm fur and his proximity to the fire, which was heating the small space of the den quite thoroughly--but it always seemed to return, and Liz frequently offered him water, lifting his head and attempting to rouse him enough to take a drink, but was seldom successful. The cattail heads, freed of their coating of dry snow before she brought them into the warmth of the den, dried quickly, and Liz spent much of the morning arranging them on the sleeping platform, packing them in tightly so that they did not move when she lay down on them and finding them to be wonderfully cushioning and insulating from the cold of the dirt. They would, she expected, eventually come apart with enough use, the buoyant, fluffy white fibers that were designed for lifting and floating the tiny seeds to new locations separating and leaving the bed a mess of fluff, but she hoped that by then, they might have come up with a way to contain them. Several deer hides, perhaps, sewn together to form a mattress which they could stuff with the cattail down, with great heaps of usnea lichen, if they could find enough…OK. That’s way in the future. For now, this will be a great improvement, and will get Einar up off of that cold floor, and out of the draft from the door! I can feel that it’s a lot warmer up here, even two feet off the floor on this platform. That must be why he built it. She would have to wait to move him, though, until he woke, and he had shown no recent signs of being inclined to do so. Towards afternoon Liz began to grow increasingly worried about Einar as he lay there slipping in and out of consciousness, mumbling incoherently and throwing off his bear hide covering, sweating and shaking with fever, skin appearing terribly pale through its flush, nearly translucent. Not wanting him to become too dehydrated, she prepared a warm mixture of bear broth and chokecherries, straining it through a clean sock so there would be no chunks for him to potentially choke on and carefully dripping some of it into the side of his mouth, knowing that, whatever was going on with him, he would be needing continuing fluid and nutrition if he was to get better, glad when after a time he responded by opening his eyes and taking a sip from the pot when she offered it. Squinting at her in the dim, flickering light of the fire, he struggled to sit up, took the pot from her and nearly drained it. “Oh! That’s good stuff. Guess I fell asleep. You better just kick me if I fall asleep again. Got no business sleeping in the daytime like this.” He rubbed his eyes, tried to stand but listed to the side, dizzy, Liz supporting him and easing him back to the ground before he could fall. His speech was making sense for the first time in many hours, but, eyes bright and glazed and a bit wild-looking, Liz could see that the fever had not yet left him entirely. He was awake for the moment, though, and she supposed that she ought to take advantage of it to see if he could eat some more, went to the fire and chopped a few more chunks of bear for stew. Einar crawled over to the door, urgently wanting to see the state of the storm, whether it was continuing to offer them its protective cover and for how long it appeared likely to continue doing so, glad to see that the snow fell unabated, the

wind nearly taking his breath as he stuck his head out into it. Billows and drifts of snow, windblown, deep, had piled up around the den entrance, having already obliterated Liz’s tracks from the last time she had gone out--this morning, I guess--and Einar pulled himself out into the shallow dusting of snow beneath the ledge and did his business in the shallow outhouse hole they had scraped into the dirt beneath the little ledge--got to move this over somewhere further from the entrance, before long. Only getting away with this because it’s so cold out here, and everything’s freezing up pretty quick--before hurrying back into the den, dropping the bearskin door flap closed behind him and securing it against the wind with the two rocks that they had been using for that purpose. Safe. No way they’re going to find our tracks down from the canyon rim, after this. Something struck him as odd in the den when he turned around, something had changed while he was sleeping, and Einar scanned the small space, quickly noticing the cattail-covered sleeping platform, scooting over to inspect it. “Huh. You’ve been real busy. This sure looks warm. Where’d you get all these?” “There’s a little meadow, a ways down the ridge from here. I saw it when I was out getting firewood, and went to take a look. There are thousands of cattails; I just brought back what I could carry.” Einar grinned. “Great! Then we can spare one?” “Sure, I’d say so! What are you…?” She did not need to ask, as it turned out, as Einar had chosen one of the cattail heads and set in on the flat rock she had used for baking bread the night before, touching it with a flaming stick and barely moving back in time to avoid singeing his eyebrows when it went up in flames, the fluff burning off like kerosene and leaving a little black spot on the den ceiling. Liz hurriedly stomped out a burning chunk of cattail down that had come loose and fallen to the floor, rolling over dangerously close to a pile of dry grass, shaking her head and glaring at Einar. Why, you crazy pyro… Which he probably wouldn’t have denied, but she quickly saw that his current experiment apparently had other, perhaps more productive purposes as well, as he was scraping intently at the charred rock, blowing lightly on the pile of debris to scatter the burnt bits of fuzz and stalk that remained, leaving behind a little pile of flattish, black seeds, which he dumped into his hand and held out to her. “Here. Taste.” The seeds were crunchy, easy to chew, having been roasted by the fire, and had a pleasant, almost nutty flavor, though the yield from the entire seed head amounted to barely a small spoon full. If they’d had any spoons to measure with. “Wow! I didn’t know that you could eat cattail seeds. Not very many of them here, but that sure seemed like an easy way to harvest and roast them, all at once.” “Yeah, they’re tiny, but they are pretty good to eat, and if there are as many cattails down there as it sounds like, it might be worth our while to gather up a bunch of them and burn them off for the seeds, once we have as many as we need set aside for things like bedding, pillow stuffing, felted floor padding, stuffing for those two big overstuffed

recliners we’re gonna build when we get everything else done and there’re still four months of winter left…” He grinned mischievously, Liz swatting at him with another of the cattail stalks. “Right. Overstuffed recliners. Do they come before, or after we find a convenient waterfall, build a water wheel from spruce slats, sneak down to the valley and pull down some phone lines, and build a little hydro plant so we can have electric lighting in this place? You probably wouldn’t know what to do with electricity if you had it, now after all this time out here, would you? And you certainly don’t need a recliner, because I almost never see you sit still long enough to use one. Did you even have furniture at your house, before all this started?” He laughed. “A little hydro plant…now you’re thinking! But no. I seriously doubt we’ll do that, or much furniture, either, at least not in this place. And no, I never really did have much furniture, aside from a few workbenches and of course bookshelves. Slept on the floor, had a little table and one chair, and that was about it. How much more can a person really need? But cattail fuzz was used commercially as a furniture-stuffing and insulation up through the 1950s or ‘60s, at least--I wouldn’t be surprised if it starts coming into fashion again, with all this talk of ‘environmentally friendly’ or ‘green’ products that you hear these days--and mattresses and furniture were filled with it as far back as Colonial times. Some of the seeds were knocked loose and separated out as that stuff was being processed, and in the ’40s, a few studies were done on the feasibility of collecting them to produce a commercial cooking oil, since the seeds account for about forty percent of the weight of the entire seed head, and have a lot of oil in them. Seventeen percent, or so, of their weight, if I’m remembering right. I don’t know if the oil ever was produced commercially…but anyway, here the seeds are for us to use, so we might as well do it.” Finishing his elaboration on the historical uses of cattail fuzz, Einar sat silent, staring in a daze at the seed head in his hand, seemingly exhausted by the talking, head sagging. Liz laid her hand on his arm and he jumped, startling back to wakefulness and quickly scooting back over to the sleeping platform, replacing the cattail head into the slot from which he had removed it, crawling back over to the fire, cold, as the fever was in its downswing, at the moment. Pulling out the bear leg fragment and his tools, he began scraping away at it once more, wanting to complete the dart head so he could begin on one for a new spear, his last one having been broken when he drove it into the bear whose den they were inhabiting. He had grown accustomed to carrying a spear, did not feel at all right in its absence. Not that he could carry one, currently limited as he was by the use of crutches. Need to do something about that, for sure. It’d almost be easier to get around, if I had a wooden leg in place of this broken one. Then at least my arms could be free, or one of them, if I still needed a cane or something. The thought of a wooden leg gave him an idea, a vague picture in his mind that he thought perhaps he could work with, could develop into something that would give him his hands back, while still keeping the weight off of his broken leg, for awhile. Later. For the time, his head was swimming too badly to focus on hands-free crutches or anything else too detailed, the hot, confused feeling of fever returning, and he fought it, doggedly stuck with his work

on the atlatl head, finishing it, despite several small slices to fingers too clumsy to adequately hold the tools and numerous breaks during which he had to stop and lower his head to dissipate the blackness that was trying to engulf him, and then, finally, the project finished, he gave in to Liz’s gentle suggestions and allowed himself to helped up onto the cattail-padded sleeping platform, which she had draped with the bear hide, fur-side in, and he was asleep again, would remain so until well into the next day. Curious about Einar’s mention of felting cattail fuzz for making floor coverings--though for all she knew he might have been joking about that, also, just as he had been the recliners--she took a number of the extra cattail heads that had been left over from the mattress-making project, working them to free the down, amazed at the volume of it that was packed into one of the heads--it seemed to triple, at least, when freed--and packing some of it into the snow-melting pot, whose contents she first emptied into the water bottles. Pouring the contents of one of the bottles back over the fuzz, she stirred it with a stick until all if it was soaked, pouring off the excess water and letting the resulting mat of damp, sorry-looking fuzz sit for a few minutes. She had watched Susan felt wool, had no idea whether cattail fuzz would behave similarly at all, but was very curious to find out. Already she could imagine all sorts of potential uses for thick pads of the insulating felt, if it turned out--slippers to keep feet warm in the den, insulating insoles to add warmth and protection to the future footwear they would have to make to replace their boots as they wore out--perhaps mittens, even, if the finished product came out strong and flexible enough, which she doubted, considering the relatively short length of the fibers--and of course thick, warm rugs for the den floor. Carefully loosening the mat of cattail fibers in the bottom of the cooking pot, she eased it out onto her hand, spread it flat on the cooking rock, and pressed it with a second hot, smooth rock, anxious to see what the results might be as it began drying. • • • •

Sleeping off and on the rest of that evening and into the night, Einar was occasionally aware of Liz’s presence, or thought he was, though unable to wake up and confirm it, his mind eventually consigned her to the realm of dream, along with the wonderful, terrible, hunger-bringing odors of boiling stew that assailed him in the morning. Dreams, all of it, but at least they were good ones, so who was he to complain? The fever had been coming and going all night, bringing at its height terrible visions reminiscent of the ones that had plagued him, robbing him of all sense of time and place and reality, after he had been hit with the darts containing a tranquilizer concoction intended for bringing down black bears, and he struggled violently against his sleep then, desperately wishing to return to reality--if it existed--before he could manage to sink any deeper into the black, clinging mire. More than once during those times he sat up, grabbing for his spear and-as he had not even begun constructing the new one yet--not finding it, reaching instead for his knife, coming up short against the den wall that pressed in close at his edge of the sleeping platform and attacking it furiously before finally getting himself turned around and attempting unsuccessfully to scramble to his feet, sitting there on the edge of the bed swaying and trembling and quickly growing chilled without the bearskin, staring at Liz in the dim glow of the firelight as if he had never seen her in his life. Sitting there, Liz

keeping her distance but speaking quietly to him the entire time, he finally returned to something like wakefulness, shaking his head and apologizing profusely, wondering aloud why she was willing to be there with him at all, but she told him it was alright, that she understood, that it would pass, cautiously approached and sat beside him on the bed, gave him a drink of water and calmed him with her slow, even words, gradually convincing him to lie back down with her, warming, sleeping again, grateful beyond measure. After several such incidents, Einar crawling out of bed the second time and finding his knife and the one atlatl dart that he had finished the day before, bringing them back to bed with him and making her a bit nervous, Liz switched places with him on the bed--she had at first given him the spot nearest the wall because it seemed the most protected from drafts and allowed her to more easily rise to check on the fire, but she realized now the error in that thinking, saw that it left Einar feeling trapped and probably contributed to his distress upon waking. He slept more peacefully for a while after that, chilly at times as he lay perched there right on the edge of the platform, less than an inch from falling off, the atlatl dart clenched in his hand and Liz pressed against his back for warmth, terribly weary, herself, hoping that the exhausting routine was not to go on night after night, hoping very much that he would realize she was a friend, if he startled awake like that again. Which he did, rolling off the bed before Liz even realized he was stirring and crouching--as well as one can, with one leg in a cast--at the den entrance for a while, holding open the door flap and listening to the night, relieved at the feel of the stormdriven snow that stung his face, the night silent but for the sound of the wind. Finally, shivering, he crept back to the bed and hauled himself in, Liz helping, glad to see that the fever had gone down for the time, Einar responding in a normal, rational-sounding voice when she spoke to him, leaving the atlatl dart propped beside the bed instead of insisting that it must remain in his hand. They slept, daylight eventually creeping in under the door flap and waking Liz. Having tried unsuccessfully several times to wake Einar that morning so she could give him some broth or at least water, Liz sat beside the sleeping platform as she ate, wondering if she might have time to go out and break up some of the firewood she had brought back into manageable-sized chunks, before he woke. Well, I’ve got to give it a try, because we’re down to a few branches and sticks and that dead aspen I hauled back up here, so you just sleep for a while, OK Einar? He stirred, drew his nose in under the bear hide, and went on sleeping, Liz beating some of the accumulated ice off of the yearling hide and slipping it over her head, crawling out into the snow to work on the firewood. Knocking the night’s accumulation of snow off of the little aspen, which she had leaned up against a spruce to prevent it being buried, she stared at it, wondering just how she was supposed to break it up without any sort of a saw or an axe, finally settling on propping it horizontally between a large rock and the enormous, uprooted spruce that lay over to the side of the den, standing up on the spruce and dropping rocks on it. The tree, long dead, dry and somewhat brittle, cracked and crunched and eventually split with repeated droppings of the heaviest granite slab she could lift, and many frustrating, tiring minutes of searching through the powder for lost rocks, thawing half frozen fingers against her stomach and climbing back up onto the spruce trunk to start the process all

over again, Liz had stacked up a good fifteen or twenty lengths of firewood beneath the protective ledge outside the den. Some of the pieces had split in half or even splintered into fourths or smaller as they broke, and she hurried to get the little kindling sticks into the den before snow could begin accumulating on them. Stacking all of the wood up in the corner beside the chimney, she checked on Einar--still asleep--and left once again, warmed by the work and wanting to find another small tree or two to break up, since she was already covered in snow and wearing the bear hide. Hearing Liz as she stacked the wood and finally, several minutes after she left the second time, managing to get his mind and body to work in concert and allow him to sit up, Einar peered around the den, seeing that Liz had put the fire out and wondering if that meant that the weather had cleared. Better check. Outside the snow continued falling, though--sure turning onto one monumental storm!--and he supposed Liz must have either been of a mind to conserve firewood, or, spooked by his behavior or perhaps something he had said during the night, had opted to eliminate their heat signature for the time. Either way, it was alright with Einar, as he had spent much of the previous winter fireless and often freezing, and was more than grateful simply to have the dry, windproof shelter of the den, the warm bear hide to cover himself with and plenty of food to eat. Speaking of eating, he was feeling terribly hungry, and, remembering the dream-smells of cooking food from that morning, he found the cooking pot where Liz had left it near the coals to stay warm, and nearly drained it of broth. Near it, on the cooking rock, he discovered a thick, matted circle of what he thought he could identify as sodden, compressed cattail fuzz, wondered about it, thinking that it looked useful, warm, potentially, but wondering if it could possibly be very sturdy, as it appeared likely to crumble if bent or handled too roughly, and he wanted to experiment with it, but figured he had better wait for Liz’s return and find out what she had planned for it, before doing any such thing. The stove rocks lay in a pile where he had left them, and, a bit dizzy and still feeling terribly weak after the restless feverishness of the night, he slowly began moving them over near the chimney, carefully choosing and placing several for the start of the stove, supposing they could be used as a fire-ring of sorts if he did not manage to finish the construction before they next wanted a fire. Which he was beginning to do, just a bit, finding himself quickly chilled in the absence of the bear hide sleeping robe, digging around in the ashes of the fire until he found a still-warm rock and pressing it between his hands, curling himself around the lingering heat of the fire-warmed ground for a minute before returning to his work, the wolverine hide wrapped around his shoulders, stocking cap pulled down to his eyebrows. Slowly, the placement of the granite slabs being a rather exact and tedious thing and the rocks seeming to him a good deal heavier than he thought they ought to the stove began taking shape, two rows of rock and then three, tapering as he went up, nearly twice as deep as it was wide to accommodate longer pieces of wood. A large flat rock, thin but not, he hoped, so thin that it would crack easily after repeated heatings, he placed over the top of the front half of the stove, meaning it to serve as a cooling surface and perhaps later as an over floor, if they decided to add such. Near the front he left two small gaps between stones, long and narrow and easily plugged with small flat granite slabs so that more or less air could be allowed in, as needed. The rocks appeared to be fitting together pretty tightly, but he supposed that a mixture of mud and

spruce needles could always be smeared into the cracks later, if they ended up being problematic. Some kind of a damper, Einar knew, would be a good idea and ought to increase the efficiency of the little stove--if it works at all…never really done this before--and as he narrowed the stove, bringing the rings of rock closer and closer together as they rose to meet the chimney opening, he left a big gap in the front, two inches high and as wide as the chimney, itself, sorting through his pile of leftover slabs until he found one that was close to fitting it, and working to grind and carefully break the granite piece until it slid into the gap. OK. Pretty tight. I’m sure there will be gaps around it even when I “close” the damper by pushing it all the way in, but…better than nothing. I can always take everything apart and start over, if this turns out to be a miserable failure. Filling the gaps between the stone structure and the chimney opening in the ceiling with small stones and clods of dirt, Einar sat back and scrutinized the stove, finally shrugging, shivering, beginning to feel a bit confused as the fever returned. Wanting to test the stove before Liz returned, and before he ended up curled up in a corner without any idea of what he was supposed to be doing, if that was where things were headed, he once again checked on the state of the storm before breaking up a few sticks and arranging them in the firebox, huddling close as the flames climbed up through them and adding a larger piece of wood from the stack that Liz had piled nearby. The stove seemed to be working, the chimney drawing and no obvious leaks existing, and, some of the feeling in his hands finally restored after several minutes of holding them near the flames, he slid the flat door-rock into place, closed the damper partway and retreated to the bed, rolling up in the bear hide, resting, thinking that things were going awfully, unbelievably well, everything considered, or would be, if only I could get rid of this doggone fever… Einar had not been resting for long before Liz came hurrying in, brushing the snow from her coat, the look in her eyes telling him that something was terribly wrong, even before she spoke. • • • •

Liz did not even take the time to shrug out of the yearling hide, propping a frozen section of bear ribs against the cooking rock beside the stove and warming her hands, barely seeming to notice the work Einar had done on the stove, in her absence. Her face was white, eyes big as he scrambled out of the bed and hurried to join her by the stove. “Something’s taking our food. Two of those big pieces that you had hanging in the spruce, and everything that was in the fir…it’s like something climbed the trees and jumped at them, pulled them down. They’re gone. The strings you had them tied up with are still hanging there, but the meat…” “Were there tracks?” “Yes, but with all the snow, I couldn’t tell what kind. You could see where it dragged the meat, though, and it must have come back several times to haul all of that off. You can

still see the trenches, the drag marks, for a little ways where the trees are heaviest, but then they’re all drifted over with the snow. I just came to see if I could take that atlatl dart you made, and I’ll go look for more tracks, see if I can find that trench again and follow it where the trees get thick again, see if I can get our food back.” “No. Cat. Can’t think what else it could be, and you sure don’t want to be following after a big cat through the dark timber and trying to take his meal, armed with just a dart. Let me do it.” She looked at the floor, weighing her answer. “Einar, you’ve been sick. That fever, and I think you hardly slept at all last night…” “Liz, we’ve got to have that food. When this storm clears off it’s gonna get cold, a lot colder than it’s been so far, I expect, and you’ll be surprised how fast we start having to go through whatever meat is left out there, just to stay warm. And that’s even if they don’t start bringing choppers and planes in over here and make it a real bad idea for us to have a fire, which you know they probably will. Now that cat’s probably already eaten a good bit of what he pulled down, especially if he came during the night, but he’s bound to have stashed some of it up under a tree somewhere, to finish later. That’s what they do; I’ve seen it. Kinda kick some needles over it, hide it partway. If I can find his trail, pick it up and follow it, there’s a good chance that we might be able to get at least some of that meat back. What’s left out there, anyway? Just the ribs?” “Mostly. And that one little piece, maybe five or ten pounds, that I’d been carving off of. It’s still there.” “Doggone it. Knew I should have secured that stuff better. What we really need is a cache, the kind they use up North, where you make a tall platform, and build a little log shed sort of thing on top, to keep all the critters out of the meat you stash in there. But I couldn’t. Barely managed to get the stuff hung up there. And it would have started spoiling here in the den. I’m gonna go have a look at those tracks, you stay and get warmed up. Look like you’re freezing.” Gathering up his atlatl, the one completed dart he had for it, his near-empty pack and some cordage to help him drag back the meat that he hoped to find, Einar hauling himself to his feet there in the den, bent over there under the low ceiling, barely lasting for two seconds before he pitched forwards and met the rocky floor near the entrance rather sharply with his forehead, the world spinning absurdly around him. No. You have to get up. Have to be able to do this. Tried again, Liz supporting him, the second attempt no more successful than the first, and he sat on the floor, sagging forward with his hand pressed to the gash in his forehead, accepting the water Liz offered him. Get up. And he did, onto his knees, at least, despite the whirling confusion of the world as it spun around him, distorting his senses, crawled to the door and out, following Liz’s tracks where she had come from the food-tree. She was there beside him, twice kept him from sprawling out in the snow when he lost his balance, retrieving and carrying the atlatl and dart when he dropped them from his pack unheeded, and by the time he reached the tree, even Einar

was ready to admit that climbing the ridge above the den in search of the cat’s stash--for that was the direction he determined it to have gone, after some looking--would have little chance of ending particularly well, as he found himself quite unable to keep to his feet. Liz again offered to make an attempt to follow the animal’s trail, but it was plain to both of them that between the fury of the wind, which had drifted over the marks in many places, and Liz’s relative lack of tracking experience, there was little sense in such an endeavor. They returned to the den, warming in front of the stove, which Liz just then really noticed, admiring it, setting a pot of snow to melt on the rock slab that served as its lid. “This sure will make cooking easier! I guess we’ll really have to get every bit of nutrition we can out of what’s left of the bear, now. The carcass is still down there buried under the snow, I guess? If you’ll tell me where, I can go down and see if I can get some more bones off of it. Maybe there are some bits of meat left, and we can always boil down the bones for broth. We’ll get by. I can go set some snares out, too, just as soon as the storm stops…” Staring into the fire, Einar nodded grimly, shoved another chunk of aspen branch into the stove and slid the door-rock across the opening, angry at himself for not taking steps to better protect their food supply, angry and frustrated, most of all, that he could not seem to gather his wits or his strength or whatever on earth it was that had left him feeling so weak and scattered and useless since returning to the den, and do what needed to be done, climb that ridge and see if he couldn’t find the cat’s trail, retrieve the meat, or what was left of it. He glanced up, supposed Liz was waiting for an answer about the snares. “Yeah. We’ll have to do that. But I have another idea, too. It won’t come close to replacing all of the meat the critter took, but it’ll be something, and will keep this from happening again. At least with that cat. Need you to go out and find as much spruce pitch as you can, dry yellow globs from around where porcupines have stripped off the bark, fresh oozing stuff, everything and anything. Gonna need a lot of it. And some strips and squares of bark from that big fallen spruce just outside the den, too. The flatter the better, but curved ones are OK, too. With a little steam and heat and some heavy rocks, I can flatten them. Cat’ll be back for more, no doubt, but we’ll be ready.” Curious, unable to picture just how a bunch of spruce pitch and some flat strips and squared of bark were supposed to have anything to do with the mountain lion that helped itself to a good portion of their food, Liz held her hands over the stove’s warmth for another few seconds, got the yearling hide back over her head, and hurried out to search for the requested ingredients. And I’d better finish bringing in this firewood that I dropped, too, in my hurry to tell Einar about the meat, before it gets buried under the snow. Einar, fighting a nearly overpowering urge to crawl up on the bed and curl up in the bear hide, sorted through the pile of sticks that lay beside the stove, choosing a sturdy, hiphigh spruce branch, dry and yellow and free of bark but not in the least dry-rotted, laying it parallel to his bad leg on the ground, picturing in his mind the device that he intended to construct, which, if it worked at all, might give him back the use of his hands, while

still keeping his weight off of the healing leg as he worked and traveled and as I run the snare lines. Because it looks like we’re going to be eating a lot of rabbit, before this winter is done… • • • •

When Liz returned with the quantity of pitch and the slabs of spruce bark requested by Einar, it was to find him sitting just inside the shelter, holding a piece of split aspen trunk in both hands, blowing gently on several glowing orange coals that he had set near its center, producing a good quantity of smoke, but no flame. Setting the bark and the bag full of pitch chunks down well away from the fire, she joined him at the entrance, watching as he moved the coals from place to place on the flat, split surface of the wood, continuing to blow and keep the smoke coming but always stopping just short of fanning it to flame. After a time the coals began cooling, losing their living, dancing orange and growing increasingly black, and Einar, breathless and a bit red-eyed from the smoke, scooted over to the stove and dumped the nearly dead coals back in, scraping with his knife to remove the charred wood that the coals had left behind near the split log’s center. Curious, Liz sat down beside him to watch. “What are you making? Besides smoke…” “Well, I’m using the coals to burn out some of the wood from the center of the log, here. You can make bowls this way, spoons, big cooking pots, dugout canoes, even, if you’ve got a big fallen tree and a lot of time. But right now I’m just working on a platform for my knee to sit on…in, actually, and when I get it all done I’ll take some of this soft dry grass and stick it in the depression I’m making for padding, or even better, maybe I’ll be able to find some usnea for padding. That would be springier and last longer, too. Then I’m gonna carve out a little notch in the front of the split log, one of the short ends, and slide this spruce stick into the notch. I’ll use a bunch of sinew to lash the horizontal platform to the spruce upright--hopefully that’ll be enough to hold it. I think it will, though if I happened to weigh much more, it might not--and rest my knee on it so the broken leg doesn’t touch the ground. Have to shorten the cast some for this to work, so I can bend my knee, but it seems that it’s probably time for that, anyway. Knee needs to move; I can feel it. I’ll take a couple strips of bear hide and lash my leg to the spruce stick, once just above the knee and once below the hip, and hopefully it’ll all hold together well enough for me to walk on. Expect I’ll be pretty clumsy on it at first, but if it works, it’ll mean that I can walk and hopefully even climb, without having both of my hands tied up by those crutches. How am I supposed to use an atlatl or do much else, either, when it’s taking both of my hands just to stay on my feet? I’ll still use the crutches some around the den here when I’m not going far, because I know I need to start putting small amounts of weight on this leg to help the bone heal and strengthen up, but it’ll be good to have both options. Don’t know if this’ll work, but it’s sure worth a try, I figure. Been thinking about it for a couple days, but that cat this morning convinced me I needed to hurry up and give it a try. Sure don’t care to be hunting any cat, on crutches!” Liz shook her head. “No, I certainly wouldn’t think so! You said something about

making bowls and spoons by hollowing out pieces of wood with hot coals like that. Can you show me how? A couple of spoons and some bowls sure would make mealtime a little more pleasant, around here!” “Well, there’s not much to it, really. Just pick out the right piece of wood, do a little carving with a knife to rough it out and flatten the surface you’re going to be burning, set the coals on it and give them some air to start the burning process, but sure, I’ll show you. After we get this trap done.” Choosing the smallest of their two cooking pots, Einar emptied into it all of the pitch chunks and blobs Liz had collected, adding two good sized lumps of bear fat--an amount equal to approximately one third the volume of the pitch--setting the pot on the stove to begin heating. “Got to be sure this stuff doesn’t actually catch on fire, which it tends to be pretty inclined to do, if you get it too hot. Will you watch it, while I work on theses bark pieces?” With Liz tending to the heating mixture of pitch and bear fat, Einar turned his attention to the bark strips, shaving down the thicker areas with his knife, removing much of the outer bark until he was left with only the thin layer of inner bark, backed by a thin, dark brown crust of harder outer bark. Lining a number of the bark pieces up on the flat area of dirt den floor just in front of the stove, he sprinkled them generously with water from the snow-melting pot, taking several flat rock slabs--leftovers from making the stove--which he had leaned up against the stove to heat, and easing them down on top of the bark slabs, careful to go slow so as not to break the slabs. While the bark pieces--ranging in size from four inches square all the way up to strips that were several inches wide by nearly a foot long--steamed flat, he checked on the progress of the melting pitch, which had begun to bubble and smoke a bit as Liz attentively stirred it with a stick. “Good. This looks real good.” Dipping a stick into the pitch, he dripped a bit of it onto some snow near the entrance, allowing it to sit for a minute and cool before digging down in the snow and removing the little lump, glad to see that the addition of the fat had kept it flexible, but a bit disappointed that it had not remained sticky, as well. It needed to be sticky. More fat. And he added it, realizing that the only ingredient the resulting solution lacked in order to be pine tar soap was some lye, which he knew they could make by allowing water to slowly filter through a good quantity of wood ash from the fire. Huh. May have to try that, if we ever get time. Which we will, if we actually end up living through the winter, and aren’t forced to run again. Plenty of time. Though I do seem to remember hearing that hardwood ash will make a stronger lye solution, and we don’t have any hardwoods here to burn, at all. But I imagine it might still work. Bet Liz would like to have some soap. As soon as the added bear fat had melted in and combined with the pitch mixture, Einar again tested it in the snow, greatly pleased when the stuff remained tacky enough to briefly stick his fingers together. OK! This ought to do it. Leaving the pot on the stove to stay warm, but moving it to an area near the edge which was somewhat cooler than the center of the cooking surface, he took a handful of black, fibrous inner bark shreds from one of the few pieces of aspen firewood that still had bark, using them as a paintbrush to smear a thin layer of hot pitch onto each of the pressed bark

strips and chunks, which had by that time dried thoroughly and were, after their steaming, staying quite flat. Finishing all of the pieces and seeing that there was a bit of pitch left, he poured it onto one of the smaller of the pieces, setting the leftovers aside for future projects. “Alright,” he addressed Liz, who had watched quietly as he worked, “all we need now is some bait, and this thing will be finished! Figure we might as well just lower one of those rib sections--a good small one--for bait, arrange all these squares around the hanging bait, and we’ll have the critter.” She looked skeptical, wrinkling up her nose as she studied the bark squares and looking at Einar out of the corner of her eye for any sign that he was joking with her, about to burst out laughing at her expense, but seeing none. He seemed entirely serious, and she wondered if the fever was back, and affecting his judgment significantly. “That’s it? I guess I don’t see how this is going to trap a mountain lion…” “Oh, it’s not, exactly. But it sure is gonna slow him down. We’ll set this up in the evening, since cats are active at night, and when he comes back down here after the rest of this bear, and goes for the stuff that we leave hanging down good and low, he’ll get some of these squares stuck to his feet. You ever watched a cat--just a house cat--with something stuck to his paws? Some chewing gum, or something? Critter can’t think about anything else, until he gets every last little bit of the sticky stuff off his paws. Cat’ll tend to just sit down right there wherever he is, to clean his paws, and of course in this case, that will mean he gets more bark squares stuck to him, to his belly or his sides or hind end, and then he’ll have to work to get those off, too, before he’ll want to go anywhere. As particular as cats are, that can take quite a while. The Incas used to trap jaguars, this way. Only they didn’t use spruce pitch, but some other sticky resin from a tree that grows in the foothills of the Andes.” “So, the lion will step on the sticky squares, stop to chew them loose and clean his paws…but then what?’ “Well, then I go in and take him with the atlatl first thing that morning, while he’s all distracted. That’s what. Have to make a few more darts, and I got to finish this handsfree crutch thing, so I’ll have my arms, or one of them, anyway, available for throwing.” Liz was not especially pleased about the fact that Einar still intended to go after a mountain lion, armed only with an atlatl and with one functional leg, but said nothing about it for the moment, searching instead through the woodpile for a suitable branch, intending to begin making a spoon and hoping as she worked to come up with a way to dissuade him, before evening came and they set out to place the cat-delaying sticky traps. • • • • Watching for a minute as Liz began carving at the stick from which she intended to make a spoon, Einar returned to the construction of his crutch replacement, carefully notching the end of the coal-hollowed split-aspen piece to accept the spruce upright, scratching a

slight depression--he did not want to make this too deep and potentially weaken the upright--in the spruce on its outside arc so the sinew wrappings could be more firmly seated as they wound their way up through the notches he had carved to accept them on either side of the hollowed aspen’s short ends. Fitting everything together and scrutinizing it, he wondered whether the knee support might simply collapse under his weight, supposed that it probably would, and searched through the woodpile until he located a likely-looking aspen chunk out of which he could carve and scrape a triangular piece to secure beneath it for additional support. The small chunk of wood--secured with pitch glue made by adding ashes from the fire to some of the remaining pitch and fat mixture from the cat trap and wrapped in place with sinew--would add minimal weight but, he hoped, might significantly strengthen the setup. Not that this thing is gonna be especially useful in all this snow, unless I make some sort of a snowshoe-like device to attach to the bottom of it. Otherwise, it’ll just sink into the snow and throw me forward like the crutches do, only the thing will stick in the ground as I fall forward, and I’ll probably end up breaking the femur, too. Not good! Definitely not an improvement, at all… “Wish I had some willow, Liz. You seen any around here? Down near where you found all those cattails, maybe? Seems like a spot where some ought to grow.” “Why, is your leg hurting pretty badly?” She moved closer, put her hand on his leg. “Do you want me to take the cast off and rub it for you, again?” “Uh…it hurts some, yeah, but it’s sure been worse. Really need the willow for snowshoes, right now. We each need a pair, if we’re going to be getting around much this winter, but I was just thinking that this one-legged crutch thing is gonna be worse than useless, without a snowshoe on it to keep me from sinking and sticking in every drift I try to walk through. So if you see any…” “I’ll keep my eyes open for it.” And the silence returned, a comfortable silence for both of them as they each worked on their projects, punctuated only by the crackling of the wood in the fire and the howling of the wind through the trees outside and against the bear hide, as the storm continued. Einar picked up the spruce stick, inspecting it once more. Alright, time to smear some glue on this thing, get the triangular piece in place so I can start wrapping the pitch on the knee support. Poking and prodding at the large, still-sticky clump of pitch-bear fat mixture that had been scraped out of the pot and stored on one of the bark squares, Einar realized that in continuing to add fat to keep the stuff flexible and sticky, he had ended up creating something that would probably be less than ideal as a glue. The pitch glue he was used to making generally consisted of five parts pitch to one part fat, with one part wood ash and sometimes a bit of finely powdered plant material--dry grass, leaves or even a ground up deer or elk dropping--for strength. The sticky-trap mixture had far more fat in it than his usual glue recipe called for, but Einar supposed the stuff could be make workable again, if he melted in a few more chunks of pitch and added some ash and finally powdered grass from the quantity the bear had gathered in the den. Reheating

the pitch mixture and modifying it to make a better glue, Einar smeared a generous amount on the spruce stick where he had flattened one surface to accept the triangular brace, holding it in place until the glue began to cool and harden. Doing the same for the horizontal knee support, gluing it to the top of the triangular brace as well as to the spruce stick, he set the device aside so the glue could sit undisturbed for a few minutes, and scooted over to the row of flat rocks against the back wall, which Liz had been using for shelves. There had been a good quantity of sinew--obtained from the yearling bear and from the deer he had taken back at the crevice before Liz had shown up--stored in the backpack, and he hoped it might still be there, wishing to save the sinew from the bear whose den they were inhabiting for other future projects, including, he hoped, a bowstring or two. The sinew was still there, a number of stiff, round clearish rolls of leg tendon and the longer sheets of backstrap sinew from which he knew could be pulled long, sturdy threads, with a bit of work, and he chose one of the backstrap pieces--they were so valuable for backing bows and other large-scale projects that he seldom used them for simple joining work, but was willing to make an exception, in the case of his crutchreplacement--beginning to work it back and forth in his hands, watching as it went from nearly clear to white and opaque with the handling. The thicker, tougher bundles of leg sinew needed a good bit of pounding--done with a heavy piece of wood or, more carefully, with a smooth-edged rock--before they would begin to flatten and separate and release the individual “threads” that were so handy for projects ranging from hafting spears, arrows and atlatl points to sewing buckskin clothing and moccasins, but the thin strips of backstrap sinew could simply be worked a bit with the hands, and then pulled apart. Which Einar attempted to do, quickly discovering, though, that his hands had grown too chilled and clumsy as he had sat there basically immobile, working on the glue and the sinew, his hands--and the rest of him, for that matter--shaking pretty badly. Liz, who had been watching in silent curiosity as he worked, keeping the fire going and carving a bit here and there at her spoon-stick, saw his difficulty, led him over closer to the stove and wrapped the wolverine hide around his shoulders, pressed a pot of broth into his hands, warm, nourishing, and he took it, shivering harder at the warmth it brought him and looking up at her over the rim of the pot with grateful eyes as he drank. “It looks like you got a lot done, there. Time for a little rest, maybe?” Still shaking, Einar nodded, sinking to the ground right there in front of the stove, suddenly feeling overwhelmingly weary, entirely unable to keep his eyes open. Liz had allowed herself to hope, watching him work for hours on the traps and crutch with an unwavering intensity, that the fever had finally left Einar for good, that he was on the mend and was hopefully through with the frightening--to her, at least, and she could only imagine that they must be to him, as well--incidents during which he woke scrambling for the nearest weapon, apparently unaware that he was, for the moment at least, out of immediate danger. Her hope had been premature. The fever was back--what’s wrong with you, Einar? Sure wish I knew how to help--Einar responding only with an unintelligible series of grunts when she asked him if he wanted to get up on the bed so he could wrap up in the bear hide, and she lifted him, helping him crawl over to the sleeping

platform and getting him settled in the bear hide, lying down with him for a time, until he was asleep again. Returning to her place beside the stove--this thing really is keeping the place a lot warmer than it was, before--and doing a bit more carving at her spoon, pausing to break up a couple of the bear ribs with a rock and get them in a pot of melted snow to simmer, Liz watched Einar as he lay there sweating and shaking and mumbling in a troubled fever-sleep, wondering once again how she might help him get over his present difficulty, aside from continuing to make sure he had a steady supply of broth and stew to keep him going, and urging him to get rest, when he seemed willing. She wondered whether he might be suffering from an infection of some sort, but none of the wounds that were visible on his ribs and arms from the struggle with the bear appeared infected, or even particularly inflamed after repeated applications of hound’s tongueinfused bear fat, and she was at a loss as to what could be causing his ongoing trouble. She would have suspected pneumonia, as he had mentioned dealing with it in the past after inhaling too much river water, but he seemed to be having no trouble at all with his breathing. Well. She tucked the bear hide, dislodged by his shivering, back in around his neck, smoothing the hair away from his eyes. You’re just worn out, I think, and it’s no wonder. Rest, Einar, and this will pass, soon enough. The fever worried her some, though, as he felt awfully hot, and she wished she did have some willow to give him, as he seemed not to have the same objection to partaking of it as he did the yarrow tea. Seeing that Einar finally appeared to be sleeping somewhat peacefully, Liz slipped on the yearling hide, added another log to the fire, and went in search of some willows. The blast of icy air that entered the den with the first big wind gust after Liz took down the door flap woke Einar, and, thinking that it felt terribly good on his flushed face, he threw open the bear hide and lay there flat on his back for a good five or ten minutes as the fever went down and he began shivering, finally wrapping back up and propping himself up on his elbows, wondering where Liz had gone. More firewood, I guess? He didn’t know, doubted it, as the stack in the corner seemed quite sufficient, for the time, rubbed his eyes and shook his head, not liking the slow, confused feeling that seemed to be lingering after his little nap. Never should have gone to sleep like that…now, what was I doing? Slowly scanning the dim interior of the den--we need some light in here, now that the stove is enclosing the fire. Got to work on a couple of simple bearfat lamps--his eyes came to rest on the thin sheet of deer backstrap sinew that he had set down to accept Liz’s offer of broth. Yeah. That. Rolling out of the bed and dragging himself over, he retrieved the sinew, meaning to sit there by the stove and finish preparing it, as he knew that he must have the crutch replacement finished, tested and usable before he could set up that cat trap. Now that he was thoroughly cooled down, though, he could not seem to get warm again, and sat there shivering uncontrollably in the draft from the door, teeth rattling and hands nearly useless, finally hauling himself back up onto the bed and wrapping up in the bear hide on his stomach as he worked the sinew, slowly warming. Twisting, folding, rubbing and separating the thin, strong fibers, he finally ended up with a good sized pile of long, flexible threads, onto which he dabbed a bit of water to further increase their flexibility before beginning to lash the triangular brace and knee support to the spruce branch, anxious, now that he was so close to having it ready, to give the device a try • • • •

Carefully lashing the triangular brace and knee support to the spruce stick, Einar set some of the remaining pitch glue on the stove to soften, brushing it over the sinew lashings to waterproof, protect and further secure them. All that remained before he could test the device, he supposed, was to add some padding for his knee, and cut the bear hide strips which he intended to use to lash the stick to his upper leg. Well, that, and find a way to keep myself on my feet for more than a few seconds at a time without getting so awfully dizzy. Just have to make it work, somehow. Returning to the bed, he cut two strips, each two inches wide by nearly three feet long, from the bear hide, thinking that it would be a good idea to be able to wrap them at least twice around his leg, before tying them in place. Then, gathering up a good sized handful of dry grass from the den floor, he pressed it into the coal-burned depression in the knee support, knowing that an equal volume of usnea lichen would have provided more padding and been more resilient and durable, too, but supposing that for the time, he could certainly make do with the grass. OK, time to give this a try. Leaning against the bed in the only spot in the den that came close to having a high enough ceiling to allow him to stand--bent over, but still standing-Einar carefully got the improvised crutch replacement positioned in front of his right leg, scooting forward and resting his knee on it, hanging onto the hip-high top of the spruce upright for support and holding his breath as he eased his full weight onto it. There was a good bit of creaking as the support pieces settled in against their sinew bindings, some scary crackles that led him to believe something was about to snap loose, but nothing did, and Einar finally allowed himself to breathe, a slow grin spreading across his face as he realized that he was standing, alone and without leaning on a wall or a tree or Liz or his crutches, for the first time in weeks. There was nowhere to go in the den, though, and he used the bed to lower himself to the ground and scooted, dragging himself backwards to the entrance and, with difficulty, back to his feet in the rocky, partially protected area beneath the den-ledge. Movement with the device was clumsy, awkward, and he could see that it would take some getting used to, but after ten or twelve steps he found himself already moving more easily than he ever had on the crutches--dizzy, though, and feeling awfully weak, just keep going, ignore it for now--and he could tell that the device was going to work. Needs to be a little shorter, though, especially if I’m gonna put on a snowshoe attachment of some sort. Which is looking like a real good idea, and… He lay on his stomach in the powder, spitting snow out of his mouth and laughing breathlessly, feeling around for the crutch and wiping his face to free his eyes of the clinging whiteness. And I really, really ought have used those bear hide strips and tied my leg to this thing before giving it a try. Pitching to the side a bit when the crutch had begun sinking into a snowdrift, Einar had fallen off of it, lost his balance and taken a tumble into the snow, and despite his rather chilly hands and face and the wrenching ache in his bad leg where he had twisted it slightly in falling, he was jubilant, excited. It was going to work! What wasn’t working, though, were his efforts at getting back up again, even after he had located the crutch and used it to push and shove and support himself as he attempted to rise, failing at that but sinking deeper in the powder with each attempt. Finally, exhausted, coughing and out of breath after ending up with another mouthful of powder snow, he flipped over onto his back and lay there for a minute, panting for air and looking for anything he might grab, a tree branch or nearby boulder, anything, to further aid him, but seeing nothing, and

realizing that he was going to have to return to his stomach and “swim” out of the soft snow, scrambling on his belly until he reached a spot where the snow was not so very soft and deep. In a minute. Have to get my breath, first… It was in this situation--which would have been somewhat comical, had he not been so very, visibly cold by that time-that Liz found him some minutes later when she returned with a big bundle of willow shoots over her shoulder, and seeing Einar--legs sticking up strangely from the deepening pit he had unintentionally dug with his efforts to free himself, every inch of him crusted with snow, straining with the effort of holding his back and shoulders up out of the snow with the crutch--she hastily threw down her burden of willows and helped him up, kicking a trench through the snow so he could move a bit more freely. “Works…Liz! Gonna work!” “What works? Lying in the snow until you freeze to death? I would have thought you already knew that worked. No need to continually test it like this! Now, come back inside. How long have you been out here?” “Wait. Crutch.” He grabbed it, brought it along as she helped him into the den, anxious to show Liz how greatly his walking was improved with the use of the device. Until he hit the deep snow with it, anyway…but seeing that she had brought willows, and plenty of them, he knew that was one problem that would soon be remedied. Liz was having none of it, though, shoving the bundle of willows out of his reach when he went for them, anxious to begin constructing the snowshoe, and keeping them away until she had helped him into some dry clothes, given him a pot of broth to drink and--over his repeated, halfdecipherable objections that he was “just fine”--got him warmed up some. As he sat there wrapped in the bear hide and sipping the broth Liz had given him, Einar showed her the crutch replacement, explaining excitedly how it worked and how everything, from helping her collect firewood to hunting with the atlatl, was going to be so very much easier, as he got used to using it. Liz nodded, admired the crutch and told him that it was great he had found a solution that would allow him to get away from using the cumbersome crutches all the time, but he could tell there was something more she wanted to say, something that was troubling her, and he stopped talking for a minute, waited to see what it might be. “Einar, you really need to rest, stay in bed for a while. Wandering around in the snow out there isn’t going to help you get better…” “Aw, now Liz, I didn’t go far, and…besides, I’d have to be dead before I could stay in bed all day, or at least unconscious…if I’m alive, I’m gonna be doing things, moving around, or trying to, at least.” Unconscious, huh? Well if that’s what it is going to take… and she eyed the firewood pile, wondering half-seriously whether she would be able to move quickly enough to choose a likely-looking aspen chunk and get in a good hard whack at his head before he sensed her intentions and did something about it, but she just sighed, shook the droplets of melting snow from the willow bundle and handed it to him. “I brought lots of these

willows. Want me to make you some tea? Looks like your leg’s bothering you a little, since we came back in.” He looked up from the willows, which he had already begun to sort, choosing a long, sturdy one to bend for the outer frame of the snowshoe, nodding. “Sure. Please.” As Liz shaved the bark from one of the smaller willows, collecting all of the thin, reddish slivers and dumping them into some simmering water, breaking up and adding the narrow tips from many of the branches as Einar had previously shown her to do--makes a stronger tea, that way, and it’s quicker than slicing off all that bark--he held the chosen willow shoot over the steaming pot, softening its middle and slowly, steadily bending it until its two ends met, forming a rough oval. Wrapping and tying some sinew around the two ends, lashing them together, he set the loop aside, choosing another stout stick and cutting two pieces out of it, notching their ends and carefully widening the oval created by bending the first stick, inserting the two shorter ones horizontally into the loop and wrapping more sinew where they met. Laying the two-slatted snowshoe frame on the ground, he chose two more sticks, cutting them roughly the length of the oval and notching them, also, fitting them overtop the two horizontal sticks and lashing the four together--using rawhide cut from the bear hide, this time, to save the sinew--allowing the newest additions to stick out a bit over the front and back of the oval, for support. Next he retrieved his crutch from its place leaning against the bed, shortened it by two inches, which it had been needing when he tested it, and would especially need, now that he was adding the height of the snowshoe, and squared the end with his knife, fitting it into the roughly square hold left between the four crossed sticks in the center of the snowshoe. Ha! It’s gonna fit! Weaving and tying additional strips of bear hide across the still-open spans of the snowshoe, he set the remaining pitch glue on the stove to soften again, brushing it over all of the rawhide strips to help protect them from absorbing water and stretching. The snowshoe was a crude thing, ugly, awkward--yeah, a lot like me--and could definitely be improved upon when he had time, but at the moment… “Time to go set up this cat trap, Liz!” • • • •

The snow was still coming down as Einar and Liz left the den to place the sticky bark sheets, and Einar, gingerly testing his new crutch with its newly-completed snowshoe base, was a bit concerned that blowing snow could end up covering enough of the squares that the trap might be rendered ineffective. He didn’t worry about it for long, though, because his entire attention was soon consumed with the attempt to stay on his feet and navigate the snowy woods. The crutch and snowshoe were not, as it turned out, the problem. They were working wonderfully, improving his balance, the snowshoe preventing his “wooden leg” from sinking a foot or two into every snowdrift he encountered and pitching him forward onto his face as had happened with his initial experiment, but his left foot, having no such advantage, was sinking instead, making travel difficult and extremely tiring as he braced himself on the snowshoed crutch-foot, leaning heavily on a stout stick for balance as he struggled to free his left leg. Huh.

Clearly need two snowshoes, and it looks like Liz could really use a pair, too. That may be a project for tonight. Starting them, anyway, because I got atlatl darts to make and hopefully a spear for Liz, and one for me, too, before we go after this cat in the morning. If he even comes back tonight. Bet he will. Those critters eat eight or ten pounds of meat a day when they can get ahold of it, from what I hear, so I can’t think why he’d pass up on the opportunity to raid our meat-tree again. They had, by that time, reached the tree, the going a good bit easier for Einar in the shallower snow there under the black timber, though he was having to watch carefully to see that his snowshoe did not hang up on rocks or the protruding branches of fallen trees, and he stood staring with a clenched jaw at the mess the cat had left of their meat supply, spruce-root ropes snapped and hanging, empty, where many pounds of food had been, and he lowered one of the remaining pieces, a section of ribs that he had hacked out and hung--no wonder this wasn’t the critter’s first choice, but I bet he’ll be back for it--leaving it within easy reach of a leaping cat, but not so low that every fox and ermine that passed might dine on it, leaving less of a tempting target for the hungry cat. The bait in place, Einar took some of the sap-covered bark squares from Liz and began carefully placing them in a rough circle around the hanging rib section, covering the edges of each square with dirt and small rocks that he had scraped loose from beneath the duff, wanting to make sure they would not blow away before the cat had a chance to come along and--hopefully--end up with a number of them stuck to his paws and fur. Liz took the other side of the tree, arranging the remaining sticky squares in a rough half circle that met Einar’s, securing them as he had been with dirt and rocks, even going back and adding dirt to the corners of a few of his, as he had been unable to be quite as thorough as he would have liked, due to the limitation the crutch put on his ability to crouch down and reach the ground. “You don’t think the lion will smell us all around here, and stay away?” “Oh, he’ll smell us, alright, but it didn’t seem to concern him too much the first time. That’s another thing I don’t like about this. Don’t want him getting too accustomed to us, losing his fear of the human scent. Cats are usually no threat, but that--over familiarity-can create a dangerous situation where we start looking like food, especially those of us who may be sorta gimpy in one leg, for the moment. Although…I certainly wouldn’t want to be the cat who attacked a person wearing a contraption like this,” he joked, tapping on the crutch. “He’d come away from that encounter with a splitting headache, and no meal to show for it. Unless he managed to knock me down, and then… Yeah. Best not to let him get too familiar with us, too accustomed to our presence. Besides, you ever eaten cat?” “No. Not that I know of, anyway…” “Well, it’s some of the best stuff you’ll ever taste. Real white meat, pretty tender, actually. Would be a great change from all this bear, and the hide…we can certainly use all the hides we can get ahold of, right now. Hopefully this trap works like the Incas and those old guides I’ve talked to said it does! Guess we’ll find out, first thing in the

morning.” Liz nodded, still thinking that it sounded like a very bad idea indeed for a one-legged man who had, for the past several days, been experiencing periodic difficulty with staying on his feet and awake for more than minutes at a time, to deliberately corner and take on a big cat, but knowing there was no dissuading him from the plan, she resolved simply to do her best to back him up in his efforts. Speaking of the intermittent fever and its effects on him he was, even at the moment, swaying, staring off into the snowy woods as if he had suddenly forgotten where he was, why he was there, jumping and glancing up at her with a bit of a lost, confused look in his eyes when she spoke to him. She felt his face, found it hot despite the bitter wind. “Let’s head back, OK, if we’re all done with the trap? I left that stew near the fire, and wouldn’t want it to boil dry…”’ He nodded, took a halting step back away from the trap-tree, got himself turned around with her help and headed across the slope towards the den, shuffling a bit, dragging the crutch and bad leg behind him for a few steps as he hopped along on his left leg, leaning on his walking stick. After a minute of that he stopped and scooped up a big handful of snow, eating part of it and shoving the rest up under his hat, pressing down to start it melting, Liz watching in dismay and wondering if she ought to try and stop him. Shivering as the icy water began trickling through his hair and running in a thin stream down the back of his neck, Einar wiped his face, shook his head and looked up at her, grinning. “Whew! That’s better. Now what’d you say about that stew?” Back in the den they ate, Einar hanging his hat to dry on one of the exposed spruce roots above the stove and, as he gobbled chunks of bear rib meat and rehydrated chokecherries, spreading the contents of his pack out on the floor, including several atlatl heads that he had been working on over the past few days, and one larger point, carved from the bear’s front leg bone, that he had intended as a spearhead. Beside it he set a very similar, though not quite finished piece, scrutinizing it and picturing the needed modifications that would turn it into a second spearhead. Among the willows Liz had brought back from the cattail meadow were several that looked sturdy enough to make passable spear shafts, and he intended to complete work on both weapons that evening, wanting both he and Liz armed with one, when they went for the cat. Handing Liz the stew pot, from which he had eaten a healthy portion--the walk down to the tree and the feeling that he was, finally, managing to get something useful done for a change, rather than spending most of his time holed up in the den, had left him with a better appetite than he’d had in days, despite the fever--he chose one of the willow shafts and carefully split it, inserting the base often spearhead and softening a bit of sinew in his mouth, removing it when it was soft and pliable and wrapping it around and around the split section of the willow, binding it securely back together and using another piece to wrap up around the notches he had carved on either side of the spear point, further securing it to the shaft. Looking it over one final time, he handed the spear to Liz. “This is yours. Want to come lion hunting with me?”

Taking the spear she drew it back, poised, looking to Einar as if she was ready to charge at the cat without any hesitation, and he gave he a goofy little smile when she lowered the weapon and glanced over at him, not entirely sure what to make of her sudden aggressive stance, the natural confidence with which she handled the weapon, but supposing that he liked it just fine. “There was no way you were going to talk me out of it, Einar! Of course I’m coming with you.” “Well…good!” He grinned at her, shrugged and looked away quickly, wanted to tell her that he would be most honored to have her along, that she was a companion that any hunter would be more than proud to have standing beside him, but couldn’t think of a way to say it that did not sound terribly goofy, so he dropped the matter. “Now, Liz, I think I’ll be able to get in a pretty good hit with the atlatl--throwing will be a lot easier, now that I’m not on the crutches anymore, and I’m gonna have a total of four darts when I get done working here tonight--but I need you to be ready to back me up, alright? We still need to get you some practice with the atlatl, and I can make you your own pretty soon here, but for this, better just stick with the spear I guess. Big cats have been successfully fought off with such things--hiking sticks, even--and they’re highly unlikely to attack a person at all, would much rather avoid contact, but of course, in this case, we’re the ones initiating the contact, so…best be ready.” Liz nodded, handed him a fresh pot of spruce needle tea. That night as Liz and Einar lay bundled up in the bear hide, weary, their work finally done and thoughts of the morning on both their minds, the mountain lion, a three year old male, returned to the spot high on the ridge above the den where he had cached his stolen supply of bear meat, finishing it, and, still hungry, heading down the ridge for the spot where he knew that more awaited him. • • • •

Weary as he was, Einar did not get a tremendous amount of that sleep that night, troubled as he was by ongoing dreams that had him startling awake more than once, holding himself rigid against the powerful impulse to jump up and get his hands on the atlatl or knife--no need to get up, knife’s right here under the rolled-up wolverine hide we’re using for a pillow…feel it? See, still there--and remaining still with the greatest difficulty, wishing very much to avoid disturbing Liz but feeling an almost overwhelming urgency to leave the bed, the den, to flee out into the night and find a suitable tree to dive beneath, and huddle there for the rest of the night, wakeful, watching, listening…but he did not. The fever was gone, it seemed, his thinking clearer--even as he lay there sleepless, trembling, almost tasting the need to run, to move--than it had been when he’d woke thus during the past several nights, and he was very thankful for the change, glad to be himself once again, such as he was. Which sure isn’t much, at the moment! Now will you please go back to sleep already? Got a cat to take, and morning coming pretty quick, here. Easier said than done, but he did finally sleep, Liz, who had been awake, herself, and aware of his struggle, sleeping also, waking before he did in the early predawn darkness,

certain that morning had come or was about to, slipping out of the bed and stirring the fire back to life, melting a pot of snow for them to drink before heading out. By the time the snow was melted and the water heating, Einar had joined her by the stove, rubbing the sandiness from his eyes--and the feeling back into his fingers--and fitting his snowshoe into place on the end of his crutch, once more inspecting their small arsenal of four atlatl darts, two spears and a good fixed blade apiece--Well. Sure hope it doesn’t come down to that, because the cat would end up ahead, I’m pretty certain. Looking at those tracks, the critter weighs more than I do, by a good twenty or thirty pounds--and hoping that it would be enough, that his skill and strength might be equal to the task that hopefully waited for him with sticky feet and a stomach full of stolen meat, out near that big spruce. It was his turn with the pot of warm water--infused with spruce needles and a good dose of honey for energy in the cold; he could tell by the smell--Liz holding it out to him, but he knelt there for a minute leaning on his spear, head bowed, seeking strength, for wisdom, asking that Liz, at least, might come through the morning without being injured in any way. Finished with his prayer, Einar accepted the pot, drank, and Liz helped him into his buckskin vest and got the wolverine hide wrapped and secured around his shoulders, wishing he could take advantage of the yearling hide’s warmth, but knowing that he was not yet strong enough to carry both its weight and his own. Soon. He’s eating, getting some rest, seems to be over the fever. It won’t be long. And, knowing that the morning air was certain to be bitingly cold, she freed the hide from its spot above the door and slipped it over her head. Quietly, slowly, avoiding areas of harder packed wind drift that might crunch and prematurely give away their presence, Liz and Einar made their way across the slope towards the meat-tree, the cat-tree, stopping frequently to listen, but hearing nothing, nor especially expecting to. It was light, or nearly so, the snow continuing to fall but not nearly as heavily as it had been the past several mornings, and Einar squinted into the whiteness as they approached the stand of trees that held the trap, saw the tracks, fresh, hours-fresh, it appeared, if that, took another step and was finally able to make out the spruce-root cord that had held the rib section, dangling, broken, empty, and he fitted a dart into the atlatl. Stopping behind a clump of stunted firs, Einar, every sense taut, listening, reaching out for clues, scanned the snowy shadows beneath the nearby trees, the dark smudge that was the exposed duff where he had scraped up dirt to pin down the bark and pitch strips, the somewhat less dark smear over against a fallen aspen, that… hadn’t been there the evening before! Holding his breath, raising his arm with a motion so slow as to be almost imperceptible, he focused on that smear, held himself rigid, still, waiting until he could make out a shoulder, an ear, a cat, and a big one, working intently on a front paw where it must have encountered one of his sticky traps, and he took another step, cautious, as stealthy as one can possibly be, with a wooden leg and snowshoe, getting himself out from behind the tangle of little firs that had been obstructing his shot, threw the dart. And missed, the cat rising and streaking away across the snow all in one swift motion, a shadow, a ghost, a swirl of snow and then nothing, Einar fitting another dart by feel as he watched it but refraining from throwing, the creature long gone into the black timber of

the ridge. Hobbling over to the spot where the lion had reclined against the aspen trunk, Einar found his dart, retrieved it, a mere inch or two from the impression left by the big cat’s shoulder where it had lain in the snow, shreds of bark attesting to the efficacy of the trap. Well. Gone. Liz was there beside him by that time, staring at the large, fresh tracks and up into the dark woods where the creature had disappeared. “It was beautiful, wasn’t it?” She whispered, awe in her voice. Einar stared at the dart in his hand, face grim, stony. “It is gone. And so is most of our food. I messed up, Liz. Bad.” And, grabbing what remained of the rib section they had used for bait, he turned without another word to head back for the den, knowing that if he gave himself time to consider the matter, he would decide to track the cat, would have to, and probably wouldn’t make it back from such an excursion. No sense in that. Cat’s gone. Back in the den Einar sank heavily to the ground beside the bed, leaning on it, silent, shoulders bowed, shivering in his snowy clothes until Liz insisted that he join her by the stove to warm up, practically dragging him over and pressing broth into his hands, telling him to drink. “Don’t take it so hard, Einar. You missed. It happens…” “Yes. Happens a lot.” He was staring at the ground, rolling a dart back and forth between his fingers, wouldn’t look at her, continued, speaking quietly, firmly despite the exhaustion evident in his voice. “Did you know that in the wild…and this is definitely ‘the wild’…a healthy, fit predator will usually only be successful at taking prey somewhere between twenty and thirty percent of the time? Hunger…is a fact of life out here. And of death. And I know that, accept it, but I don’t…it isn’t right that I’ve brought you into such a life, Liz. Not right.” She grabbed his shoulders, tried to get him to look at her, but he wouldn’t. “You didn’t bring me into this life. I came here. Came back. To you. To this. Several times, if you remember… And,” she released her hold on his shoulders, realizing that she had been shaking him, “there is no place I would rather be. Don’t you believe me, dear Einar?” He looked up at her, caught her eye, nodded slowly. “I believe you.”

That first week back at the den had been a difficult one, between the ongoing storm, Einar’s illness, the loss of much of the bear and the subsequent loss of the cat--he never did return to the tree where the meat had been hung, after his encounter with the sticky traps; Liz checked every day, for awhile--whose meat they had hoped would add to their dwindling food supply, but none of these things were on Einar’s mind as he and Liz

climbed side by side up the slope below the den, deer quarters over their shoulders and the promise of a fresh venison feast awaiting them, as soon as they returned to the shelter. Liz, however, watching Einar climb and seeing that a bit of his strength was finally beginning to return, did reflect on the week that had come before, on the long, sleepless night hours during which she had had sat with him as he struggled with the fever and the troubling visions it brought him, the days of care and worry as she had hurried back from collecting firewood only to find him, often as not, sprawled out in the snow in front of the den, exhausted, purple-lipped and half frozen where he had fallen when his energy had run out, striving beyond the limits of his strength as he had sought to keep going, to help her maintain things around the place, and though she had been furious with him at the time for doing that to himself, she had to admit that she loved him for it, too, for that absurd, implacable tenacity that so often kept him going when no reasonable human ought to be able to, ought to want to, even, and she looked over at him, caught his eye as they paused there resting just below the flattish spot in front of the den, smiled, and he returned it. Thankful. Grateful. Each of them thinking that life was, at the moment, very, very good. As was Liz’s stew of very fresh venison and dried serviceberries, eaten steaming hot and in great abundance some hour or two later, the cattail starch flatbread she baked on top of the stove to go with it, the pot of chokecherry pudding, thickened with cattail starch and sweetened with the last of the honey, and as they ate Einar and Liz discussed the future, the need to build a raised cache for keeping meat secure from scavengers and thieves, the snare line that Liz had been working on over the last few days since the loss of the cat and which Einar meant to expand as soon as he was able to get around just a bit better, small things, hopeful things, life would go on. • • • •

That evening as Einar and Liz sat beside the stove enjoying the last of their meal, the wind picked up outside, swaying the trees and freeing them of their heavy burdens of snow in a series of soft thuds, a restless, scouring wind, the sort that often as not heralds a significant shift in the weather, and Einar felt it, left the warmth of the stove to crawl over and push the bear hide aside, listening, smelling, tasting the wind. It had, for the first time in days, stopped snowing, the wind sharp and bitterly cold, a few stars visible already through the dispersing clouds. Letting the bear skin door fall back into place, Einar secured it with the flat rocks they had been using for that purpose, adding several additional ones to further pin it in place. It was going to be a very cold night by all appearances, and they would not have the benefit of a fire to warm the shelter through it. “Storm’s breaking up, Liz. First time I’ve seen stars since that night when I was climbing up to the canyon rim, just before the avalanches. You can be sure they’re gonna have choppers up, and until we give it a few days, see what their search pattern is like and how much activity we’re dealing with, we’ll be needing to do without that fire.” She moved to put out the fire, quickly shoving aside the stove door-rock and scraping up a double handful of dirt from the floor to throw in, but Einar stopped her. “Wait. Let’s take a few minutes and melt some more snow, make sure all the water

bottles are full and boil up some more of this deer so we got cooked meat to eat for a day or so, at least. I figure we have a little time, enough to do that much, anyway, before we can expect company. And it’s gonna be awful cold tonight; I can feel it. Always seems to happen that way the first night a big storm moves out and the sky gets clear. Wouldn’t hurt to stick a couple more rocks down in the coals to keep close while we sleep, tonight.” Filling two of the three water bottles with the water that was already steaming in the pot, Liz hurriedly scraped up more snow to begin melting, soon filling the third as Einar piled grass and duff from the floor against the bottom of the door, blocking out most of the draft that came in beneath the bear hide. It would not, he knew, be a good idea at all to seal off all airflow into the den while they still had the fire going, but was not worried about the possibility that his efforts might do so, with the amount of air he could feel seeping in along the sides of the door. With all three water bottles full and tucked into the hide on the sleeping platform where they would stay all night to prevent their freezing, and Liz chopping venison and adding it to the boiling water in the second pot, Einar filled the first yet again with snow and set it to melt, adding another handful of snow every time the level went down far enough to allow it, and keeping this up as the pot began to fill with water. “This’ll almost certainly re-freeze overnight, but it’s a lot easier to melt ice down for water than it is snow, and if it comes down to having to melt something in our mouths for water for a little while because we can’t have a fire, well, the water content is so much higher in ice than snow that it goes a lot faster. So having a pot full of ice around won’t be a bad thing, at all.” As he tended the pot of melting snow, Einar searched about in the pile of rocks near the entrance, certain that he had seen among the granite slabs and flakes and the occasional chunk of grey shale a piece or two of the red sandstone that was so common in the area at slightly lower elevations and, with a bit of searching and sorting, managed to come up with one. Adding more snow to the pot, he chose a sharply fractured piece of granite and used it to chip away at the top surface of the sandstone lump, stopping to remove the rock fragments when he had worked a good-sized little pit into it, nearly twice as long as it was wide. Then, scraping the granite back and forth in the pit he deepened it, pausing frequently to tap the accumulated sandstone dust out of the growing trench, carving a shallow notch at one end of the trench, and finally, satisfied, setting the rock on the cooking surface of the stove to warm. “OK, that ought to do.” Liz did not respond and Einar looked up to see her bent over the rock that held her cattailfelt experiment, which, after being set aside and neglected for days in the aftermath of the discovery that the lion had taken a good portion of their food, had suddenly taken on a new and rather urgent importance with the realization that serious cold was on its way, and they would not, for the time at least, be able to ward it off with a fire. The felt, if it could be called that, was thoroughly dry by that time, had been for a day or two, actually, and she saw that it had regained a good bit of its original loft, the cattail fuzz fibers losing their original scratchy coarseness--which, according to Einar, tended to cause an itchy,

red rash if in contact with the skin for too many hours at a time--and coming out wonderfully soft and fleecy-feeling, but when she carefully took the round pad of felt in her hand, she was dismayed to find that it did not want to hold together too well at all, one corner of it coming loose in her hand and another section appearing close to separating, also. She set it back down, disappointed. The stuff more closely resembled the loose, synthetic stuffing she had used in sewing projects than the wool-like felt she had been hoping for, and certainly lacked the integrity to be cut and shaped and used as-is for footwear or even insoles or floor padding, and she wondered what she might add to the mix that would act as a binder, without reducing the air-trapping, insulating properties of the down. An experiment for some other time, clearly, as she could see that Einar was finished with his work at the stove, was nearly ready to put the fire out, and they were about to lose their light for the night. Before putting out the fire there was one last thing that Einar needed to do, breaking off a small slab of the rendered bear fat they had saved from the yearling and dropping it, piece by piece, into the depression he had carved in the sandstone chunk, warm by that time from the heat of the stove, the fat quickly beginning to liquefy. Choosing one of the bundles of unprocessed milkweed fibers that he had weeks ago stripped from some of the stems Liz had brought back to their shelter in the crevice, subsequently storing and carrying in her pack, he rubbed them roughly between his palms to clean them of some of the outer bark and pith pieces that still clung to them, dipping two of his fingers into the pot of melt water and dampening the fibers to make them easier to work with. Twisting and cording the fibers, Einar, already struggling with stiffening hands and uncooperative fingers as the den began to cool with the dying down of the fire, created a string nearly a foot long, cutting off a several inch section and soaking it thoroughly in the melted fat in the sandstone rock before pulling about an inch of it up out of the liquid and laying it in the notch he had carved at one end of the trench, leaving the end of it sticking out over the edge of the rock. Pulling a flaming stick from the fire, he lit the end of the wick, glad to see that, after a few initial moments of sputtering and smoking and threatening to go out, it glowed steadily with a small, uniform orange flame. A lamp! The time had come, then, no sense in delaying the inevitable, and no wisdom, either, in risking the heat signature from their little fire showing up bright and clear to some passing, searching aircraft in contrast with the bitter air of the mountainside that night, and Einar made one final trip over to the bear hide, pulling aside a corner and waiting for his eyes to grow accustomed to the dark before looking up and confirming that the storm had not returned. Which it had not, the sky clear and pierced with millions of stars, their light hard, white, sharp-edged and looking tremendously close through the thin, cold mountain air, moisture on the hairs in Einar’s nose freezing as he breathed it. A sure sign of an arctic night to come, and he pulled his head and shoulders back into the warmth of the den, once more securing the bear hide and throwing Liz’s scraped-together pile of dirt onto the fire. They sat together wrapped in the bear hide watching as the coals died, orange fading to black, the wan, flickering little flame of the lamp taking over as the sole light source in the den, and Einar was reminded of the first time he had used a similar lamp for light, the previous winter when he had been holed up in the old mine tunnel, injured and starving, feeding tiny slivers of his last remaining fat to that hungry little

lamp and praying that its light would not die, its meager warmth leave him, not for another night, at least, not until he had--hopefully--managed to come up with a little something to eat, something to sustain him just a bit longer… He shivered, put his arm around Liz, hoped she would never have to face that level of crushing desperation and knowing that it was up to him to do what he could to see to it that she did not, both by securing a food supply for them that winter, and by teaching her all he knew, the collective wisdom of hundreds of days of hard work and struggle, knowledge bought and paid for many times over with the coin of pain and… she was saying something, and Einar pulled himself out of his reminiscing to listen. “We won’t be able to hear them from in here, will we? The helicopters, when they come…” “Don’t know. But I will feel them, the way they shake the ground, that rumbling…I can always feel them long before I hear…” His voice trailed off, body taut with listening, straining in the silence as he sought any sign of the search that he knew must come, nearly jumping up out of the bear hide the next minute at the loud splintering crack! that came from somewhere just outside the shelter. • • • •

Crouching on the den floor in front of the entrance, spear in his hands and the lamp quickly smothered with a slab of bark, Einar, Liz close beside him, listened as one loud crack followed another, two, three, and then…nothing. Silence, unbroken but by the wind. Liz felt him relax just a bit after a few moments of that, let his breath out and roll over. Pushing the stove door aside he stirred the coals until he found a small pocket of still-glowing ones, adding a couple of small sticks, blowing them to life and re-lighting the lamp. He was grinning when she glanced over at him apprehensively, spear still gripped tightly in her hands. Einar laughed softly, shaking his head and wiping his face, setting his spear down, and Liz, very reluctant, did the same. “What was it…and what’s so funny?” “Cold. Just the cold. Temperature’s going down fast out there, and the trees are trying to keep up with it, wood contracting, snapping.” “Are you serious? You scared me, jumping like that and heading for the door! I thought something…someone…must be out there.” “Uh…well, I though so too, for a second. But no. Just the trees. If it happens fast enough and under the right conditions, the weather change, the sap can freeze and expand so quickly that the trees throw off splinters, just shatter, almost. I’ve seen it, seen the results of it. Not quite that cold, tonight though. Was just the sound of the wood snapping and adjusting, like house logs, or even deck timbers will, on a winter evening when it starts getting real cold. Now. We better get to bed before we end up frozen, too, and splintering like one of those trees. Starting to get pretty cold in here.”

She nodded, gave him an odd look. “Huh. Well I’d have to worry about that, maybe, but I’m becoming convinced that you must have some sort of antifreeze in your blood, like those toads that burrow down in the mud so it can freeze solid around them until spring when they can thaw out and start hopping around again, no worse off for having spent the winter that way…” “Toad, is it? Well, I have been known to eat bugs from time to time, but they’re not exactly my first preference. And I usually only sleep in the mud when I’ve got no other choice…but your mention of antifreeze does remind me that I need to get back to my training, just as soon as my leg’s a little better and I manage to put on a few pounds, hopefully. While I may not have antifreeze-blood, it sure isn’t an accident that I’ve been able to get along with the cold as well as I have, for the most part. We’re old friends from way back…enemies too, at times, but mostly friends. It takes a good bit of work to keep yourself in a place, both physically and mentally, where you can work with the cold like that and use it to your advantage, even, and I haven’t really been able to work on that at all, since this whole thing started. Too busy running at first, then too focused on dealing with injuries and hunger and just trying to keep myself alive…pretty hard to deal with the cold when you got almost no body fat left, let alone deliberately seek it out, but things sure do seem to be starting to turn around, now! I’ll tell you how I do it, sometime, this training, if you want to know…” She nodded, carried the lamp over to the sleeping platform and began untying her boots, meaning to change into her fresh pair of socks that had been hanging from the roots above the stove, drying. “Yes, sometime. I’m very interested, and this sounds like something that I ought to know about, too, if I’m going to be living out here. But how about we wait to talk about it any more until sometime when we can have a nice fire going, some tea to be sipping on, maybe…this whole conversation is making awfully me cold, right now. Lets go to bed! It’s a lot warmer up there off the floor.” The cold was to have its affect on both of them that night--antifreeze or not--as temperatures plunged far below zero on the mountainside and the heated rocks of the stove gave off their last warmth and slowly adopted the temperature of the surrounding air, bitter, icy air that crept in around the bearskin door flap, freezing the water in the cooking pot before an hour had gone by, Einar and Liz pressed close together in the bear hide with the warmed rocks on either side of them, the wolverine fur over their heads for additional warmth and the hide of the recently-taken deer spread out over them, as well, listening to occasional snap and creak of the spruces outside the den. Einar stirred first, the distant rumble of the first of many helicopters reaching him faint but unmistakable through the mass of rock and dirt and snapping him out of a light sleep long before it was audible to Liz, leaving him lying there rigid and tense as he strove to avoid waking her with his shivering. Drawing his face in under the bear hide he pressed himself down into the bed, flattening himself--a subconscious action, and one which he would have perhaps resisted, had he been aware of it, as it clearly served no function; he was already as hidden as possible from the rumbling, hovering vulture outside, holed up as he was in the bear den--and Liz, who had been awake for some time herself trying to restore some

feeling to her numbed toes by bending and wiggling them, rolled over to face Einar, asking him what was wrong. “Chopper. Knew they’d be…coming, with the weather clearing like this. It’s OK. Trees are thick above us here, and this place…uh…I don’t think there’ll be too much heat streaming out that door for them to pick up on. Not too much left from the fire.” By that time Liz could hear the helicopter, too, and they waited there, still, holding their breath as it passed, tremendously relieved when it seemed to pass without hovering or focusing on their specific location. Einar had crawled hastily out of the bed and crouched listening at the door flap as the sound faded off into the distance, finally returning to the sleeping platform at Liz’s urging, creeping back into the bear hide and warming chilled fingers in his armpits. Guess I better listen from here, if there are any more of those tonight. Gonna take me an hour or two just to start warming back up, it feels like. Einar had brought with him a good-sided slab of rendered bear fat, breaking off a piece and handing it to Liz, after sticking a chunk of it into his mouth to begin softening. “Eat this. Fat will help you stay warm.” Liz took the offered snack, which while it ordinarily would have seemed a bit repulsive to her, sounded great, at the moment. “Will it help my toes, too, I wonder?” “Sure, some. Toes a big problem?” “I haven’t been able to feel them for a while. I think I need to make some slippers, insulated, padded in some way, for nights like this.” Rolling back out of the bed over Liz’s objections, Einar scooted over to the stove and felt around until he located her cattail-down felt experiment, bringing it, the oversized bear hide mittens she had made for him and a big armload of dry grass, back over to the bed. “Here. Try this. Ought to help a lot, stuffed down inside your socks. Then see if the mittens will fit overtop, like slippers.” While she worked to divide the felt and get it down into her socks as insulation, Einar stuffed the dry grass between the bear hide and that of the deer, pulling the deer hide down so that it would cover their lower halves and keep the extra insulation in place. Hauling himself back up onto the sleeping platform, he lay silent for a minute, shivering, exhausted, until he trusted himself to speak again. “Well, that’s about all I can do for tonight. I think it’ll be enough, and we can…scrape together some more insulation tomorrow. Might be a good idea to gather a bunch of usnea from the trees around here. It’ll be a lot more durable for stuffing our clothes with, and softer, too, than this grass and duff. May be a little while before we…can have a fire again.” The night was a long one for both of them, between the not-quite adequate protection from the frigid temperatures and the repeated helicopter flights that kept them frequently wakeful and, Einar, especially, on edge, and they were both greatly relieved at the sight of

daylight, showing itself finally as a bright ring around three sides of the bear hide door and reminding them that they really could do better at sealing the place off from drafts. It was going to be a sunny day, the first in well over a week, and Einar was glad. He knew that in the absence of fire, they would be needing the sun’s light and warmth if they were to have much hope of securing a reasonable quantity of drinking water to replace their meager supply, which had dwindled significantly through the night, as they drank it to accompany the fat they had continued partaking of in the attempt to keep themselves producing something approaching adequate heat. While fire was out, for the time, Einar did have a definite idea of how to secure some water as the day went on, and he crept out of bed, rubbing stiff limbs and wishing his leg was sound enough to allow him to stand up and jump around the shelter to warm himself, finally resorting to swinging his arms and beating them against his sides to get the blood flowing. All right. Water… • • • •

In the dim light that was managing to find its way in around the door, Einar searched through the supplies that Liz had so neatly lined up against one curved wall of the den-got to build her a shelf sometime; bet she’d like a shelf or two--finding what remained of one of the black plastic bags that she had used as a wind-breaker while up on the canyon rim, unfolding and flattening it. Yes. Enough of it left intact. Ought to work just fine. There was an area just above the den entrance where he knew from observation the sun would eventually, as the day wore on, peek up over the ridge and spill down between the branches of the evergreens to grace a small area with its rays for the scant few hours of sunlight the northerly aspect of the slope allowed--this situation would have been better for us, probably, if the critter had dug his den on a south facing slope where we could get a little more winter sunlight, but bears usually seem to pick north slopes, I guess because the snow stays thicker on them, and provides more insulation--and Einar intended to take advantage of the black plastic’s heat-absorbing properties to hopefully melt some snow to add to their drinking water supply. Dehydration, he knew, would greatly compound the difficulty that they were likely to experience with the cold over the next few days, and while they would not be out in the wind and sun climbing and exerting themselves to hasten the process--such activity would leave too many prints, visible from the air, in the freshly fallen blanket of snow-the simple act of living and breathing required a certain amount of liquid, without which they would be putting themselves at greatly increased risk of frostbite and dangerously lowered body temperature as they sat there in the den, waiting for the weather to worsen again or the air search to let up, on its own. No sign of that, so far, as he had already heard one helicopter somewhere off in the distance, as well as what had sounded--best as he could tell through the small hole that let such sounds in through the mass of earth that surrounded them--like a small plane, flying low and following the valley that deepened and narrowed and eventually led up to the canyon. Well. This business of melting snow on a black plastic bag is going to have to be done very carefully, or that big old regularshaped square of black sitting on the fresh snow in the sunlight will just turn into a signal for any passing aircraft. We’ll have to take turns sitting out there by the bag and…well…

watching snow melt while we listen for aircraft, so the thing can be stuffed under a tree and hidden before anything gets too close. Gonna be a while before we need to start that, though. Got two, maybe three hours I’m guessing, before we’ll see the sun on this slope. With the steepness of the ridges and the narrowness of the valleys in that area, Einar knew that it was not at all uncommon for the sun to rise sometime after ten in the morning, in the winter, and set well before three. He stretched his arms, stiff, hurting, realized that he couldn’t stop shaking even if he tried, which he really hadn’t been, for the most part, as it required too much effort, and he watched a bit jealously as Liz warmed herself with a series of sit-ups, pushups and leg lifts on the ground in front of the sleeping platform. “Now that’s a real good idea, Liz. Guess I’d better try something like that.” Which he did, though knowing that his chances for success were slim, and soon proving the same to himself when he collapsed to the ground on the first try at a pushup, his arms unable to support him. He had expected little better, between the slowly healing shoulder and the difficulties posed by having his leg in the cast. Sit-ups did not go much better, though, and while he grimly stuck with it through five or six of them, stomach muscles cramping, or close to it--didn’t even know that was possible--he did not have the strength to work hard enough to warm himself. Lying there staring at the dimly visible ceiling with its crisscross network of spruce roots, catching his breath, exasperated at himself for not being able to complete the simple tasks he had required of himself, he knew that what he badly needed was food, and a lot of it, if he was to begin regaining his strength. Time for breakfast. Which meant chipping frozen broth and meat chunks out of the pot Liz had boiled up the night before, and after a considerable amount of work with the knife he sat there beside the dark, cold stove, waiting for the frozen lump of venison in his mouth to begin melting so that he could chew it, further chilled by the half-frozen broth that trickled down his throat, shivering and clasping the wolverine hide around his shoulders. Meanwhile, Liz had stopped her exercises and joined him, making some comment about finally being able to feel her hands again, and seeming to Einar awfully cheerful, considering the circumstances. She could see his distress, though; uncomplaining as he was, certain things were difficult to hide, and taking the pot, knife and bearfat lamp along, she helped him back up onto the sleeping platform and into the bear hide, where she stayed close to him for warmth as they shared their breakfast of frozen venison and broth-ice chips, lighting the lamp and setting it on a flat rock that she dragged up onto the platform, periodically warming her hands over its little flame and encouraging Einar to do the same. Staring at the little lamp, Einar got an idea, retrieved a three spruce sticks from the woodpile and used a granite chunk to pound them into the soft dirt of the sleeping platform, spaced in such a way as to provide a support for the cooking pot. Sliding the lamp in beneath the pot as it sat propped on the upright sticks, he fumbled around in his pocket until he found the remainder of the piece of milkweed cordage from which he had cut the short wick-piece the day before, cutting two more similar and dabbing them with the bits of fat that were beginning to melt at the base of the first wick, boring holes in the cold-hardened white of the bear fat in the lamp and inserting them in two different places.

As the flames took, beginning to soften and melt the fat beneath the new wicks and draw it up into them for burning, the little lamp began to throw off a noticeable amount of heat, both Einar and Liz inching closer to it and holding out chilled hands as it very slowly began to warm the bottom surface of the cooking pot, starting almost imperceptibly to melt the ice-broth. The fat in the lamp liquefied long before the broth did, and Einar could hardly restrain himself from dipping a finger into it now and then and consuming a bit of the warm, liquefying grease, Liz soon joining him. “Kinda wish we had a spoon,” he finally admitted. “This fat is just the thing, on a fine chilly morning like this one.” “If we had a spoon,” she retorted, “I think we would soon have no fat left in our lamp, and it would go out. I’ve just been waiting and wondering how long it was going to take before you picked up the lamp and started drinking…” “Huh. Well, it is tempting, for sure. Here. Looks like this stew is starting to thaw just a little. Gonna take an awful long time over this little lamp before that ice actually melts, and as far as heating the water…well, that’d quite literally take all day I think, but it ought to be a little easier now to chip the pieces of meat out, at least. Which is a good thing, because those little shavings I was getting off with the knife sure weren’t doing much but making me hungrier, and colder, too.” The ice had, indeed, softened a bit, and removing the pot from its tripod of sticks and working away at it with his knife, Einar was able to turn it into a pile of icy chunks which, if not nearly as appealing just then as a bubbling, steaming pot of stew would have been, were at least edible. And they ate, quickly emptying the pot, scraping out the coldcongealed bits of remaining deer fat with their fingers and looking hungrily about for more, satisfying themselves with a few more scoops of mostly liquefied bear grease, until Liz scrambled out of the bed and hacked off another good sized chunk of venison to begin softening and thawing over the little flames. It would be raw, or mostly so, but she did not care. She could not remember ever in her life feeling quite as hungry as she did at that moment, though she was ashamed to admit it to Einar, who, by the look of him, had to have been through far worse, and for a much longer period of time. They had food available at the moment, though, so it seemed to her that they ought to eat, seemed essential that they eat, if they wanted any chance at staying warm, and as Einar made no objection when she--with his help--finished off the second course of their breakfast, eating it mostly frozen and with great relish, she again left the bed to prepare a third. As the fresh slab of frozen venison sat softening in the slightly-warm pot above the little lamp, Liz turned to Einar, who while he appeared a bit mesmerized, staring at the lamp flames as he lay propped on his elbows, was actually deep in thought. “We probably need to slow down, don’t we, with this deer. Not eat so much at once. Especially with most of the bear gone…” He went on staring into the flames for a time, seeming not to have heard her, before finally shaking his head as if waking from a state of near sleep, glancing up. “No. Go

ahead and eat it. Gonna have an awfully rough time staying warm if you limit yourself, like that. Especially just sitting here in the den like this, without a fire. Takes an awful lot of calories to stay warm in conditions like this. I know, because I didn’t have them last winter, and spent most of it in one stage of hypothermia, or another. I made it, but sometimes I’m not at all sure how--Providence, it must have been, some of those nights-and we’re gonna try real hard and avoid that, this time. So, eat. We’ll have to get more of those snares out, soon, hope for some rabbits, squirrels. Probably not gonna see too many more deer or elk, not this high, not this late. They head down, like most sensible creatures do. Like we probably should have…but here we are. And at least we have all this bear fat,” he indicated the den wall opposite the sleeping platform where, stored on the spruce bark “sled” he had used for hauling firewood in the days just after taking the bear, a good-sized pile of the unprocessed fat chunks sat, frozen solid and well preserved despite the fact that he’d had no time or energy to work on rendering them, yet. “A good fourth or fifth of a bear’s body weight will be in fat, this time of year, and it was a pretty good-sized male bear that was inhabiting this den. So, there’re seventy-five pounds of fat on that sled, easy. That really helps. Means we can live a real long time on rabbits or other lean little critters, whatever we can get our hands on, and supplement them with this fat. Now speaking of the fat, I’ve been thinking…the Inuits, you know, didn’t have access to any firewood in the winter, for the most part, but they did have plenty of seal blubber, whale blubber, things like that. And all their winter cooking was done over a little lamp not too different from this one. “Qulliq,” they called it--though it was pronounced more like “culluk,” a real short, quick, chopped-off little word like so many of theirs--usually carved out of soapstone, but there’s no reason sandstone won’t work, with a little more effort put into the carving. Cooked all their meals, melted all the snow for drinking water, and heated their igloos with the thing, too, all winter long. Didn’t use wicks like I got in this little lamp, though. They used moss or down from a grass they call “arctic cotton,” and arranged a long, thick strip of it all along one edge of the lampbowl…worked more like the wick in some kerosene heaters than like a candle wick. Never tried this, but I’m wondering if either some milkweed down or cattail fuzz could be used that way.” He was quiet, then, out of words, apparently, Liz staring at him and thinking that for such a generally quiet person, he certainly did have a lot to say whenever he got into that “explaining” mode. “That sounds like a great idea! That way, we could heat this place sometimes without risking making any smoke at all, could cook and have drinking water even while the air search is going on.” “Well, I’ll be looking for a bigger chunk of sandstone to start working on one, and mess around with different fibers for the wick material, but right now I’d better get out there with this plastic, and decide on a spot to set it up, so we can have some water, today!” And he rolled out of the bed, retrieving the plastic and heading for the door. • • • •

Taking turns sitting on the rocks just above the den, Einar and Liz tended the black plastic bag water-producing contraption--arranged like a funnel by securing the edges of

the bag over a rough frame of lashed sticks and rolling a small rock down into the center--as the sunlight made its way down between the branches and warmed the plastic, melting the fine dusting of powder snow that they kept sprinkling around its upper edges and sending trickles of water down to the depression in the bag’s center, where they collected, pooled, and finally dripped through a small hole just beside the rock, slowly accumulating in the cooking pot, which Einar had set on a piece of firewood just beneath the contraption. The process worked but it was very slow in the cold, the sun-heat absorbed by the bag constantly competing with the frigid morning air that sought to refreeze the little droplets and trickles of snow melt as soon as they turned to liquid, and while it would have been a great little passive water collector if it could have been left unattended to do its work while Einar and Liz went about theirs, visiting it periodically to toss some snow against the damp plastic around the top of the funnel and keep the process in motion, but such was not the case, that morning. With the fairly frequent rumble of helicopters and the insistent whine of small planes in the distance, often were the times when the bag had to be hastily snatched up and stowed beneath a spruce, its keeper diving back into the den to wait until the threat passed, at which point the two of them would usually trade places, allowing whoever had taken the last turn outside some much needed time in the den to thaw out. After several such shifts, Einar, frustrated at the mere four inches of water that had collected in the cooking pot, took some time to search through the rocky rubble outside the den, sorting and overturning rocks until he found an appropriately-sized chunk of red sandstone, nearly a foot long by five or six inches wide, and reasonably flat on both sides, as was a fairly common feature in sandstone when it fractured. The small lamp they were already burning--little more than a shallow, fat-containing trench etched into the rock, really--was hardly suited to use as a source of heat for cooking and melting snow, and rather than work to enlarge it, he wanted to start again with a rock that would allow him to end up with a much larger finished vessel. A qulliq, so we can heat and cook without smoke, when need be, though not without emitting heat, of course, so we’ll still have to be careful just when and for how long we use it, so we don’t end up creating a big smear of heat here around the den entrance for them to pick up on. Einar began working the rock as he sat there taking his turn at helicopter duty for the water collector, starting out beneath the spruce that shielded the area just above the den , and whose sweeping boughs he knew would conceal his footprints from the air, but before long, growing cold in the tree-shadow, he found himself edging further and further out into the sun, tuning his back to it and pausing periodically to stretch chilled limbs as he scraped and pounded at the sandstone piece with sharply fragmented granite chunks, adding a bit of snow now and then to keep the dust down and speed the process along. Before long, and having had to pause only once to hastily roll up the black plastic and duck into the den ahead of the approach of a search chopper, he had worked a depression into the rock that was nearly eight inches long, several wide and two deep. Not deep enough, certainly, but it was a start, and when Liz--emerging from the den to check on him and finding him, despite the sun, to be having obvious trouble staying warm in the wind that swept down thin and piercing from the peaks--insisted that he allow her to take a turn outside, he willingly switched places with her, anxious to experiment with different

materials and find one that seemed most promising for use as a wick. After warming his fingers over the small lamp in the den, adding a bit more bear fat to it to begin liquefying and consuming several small slivers, himself, he looked around at what they had available to them--milkweed down, cattail fuzz, fibers that he could pull from milkweed stems and twist into wicks--finally settling on the milkweed down as being the thing that, visually and texture-wise, at least, seemed most closely to resemble the arctic cotton that he had seen used as burner-strips in Inuit blubber lamps. Pulling a small wad of the fine, silky stuff from the bag in which Liz had it stored, he dabbed some liquefied bear fat on the fibers, knowing that they would probably need to be oily, but not soaked, in order to burn properly, squeezing out the excess fat and flattening the wad of down into a rough square, before submerging it nearly halfway in the melted fat off the little lamp, plastering it up against the rock on one side. Lighting a small stick from the flame of the one twisted milkweed-stem wick that Liz had left burning, he lit the oil-soaked milkweed fuzz, glad to see that the flame took readily and, after a bit of sputtering, spread across the entire inch-wide surface of the wick which he had left exposed, burning cleanly and with very little odor or smoke. Think this is going to work! Now, to finish carving out this lamp… And he returned to his work, the effort of scraping and pounding at the sandstone warming him some, more than it had been out on the mountainside, certainly, as out there he had been carefully controlling the amount of force with which he pounded at the rock, concerned that any regular sequence of loud sounds might possibly alert searchers that might be out on the ground. Sure hope no one’s that close, but sound has a funny way of carrying in these mountains, and I sure don’t want them hearing anything that sounds the least bit man-made or regular. No way the sound’s gonna get out of this den, though, so I can really go at it, in here. Which he did, warmer than he had been since killing the fire the night before and soon quite exhausted, also, his arms and particularly the still-troublesome left shoulder protesting more and more loudly at the repeated efforts. He kept at it, though, and by the time Liz peeked into the den to let him know that the sun had gone from the hillside, he had etched and chipped out a good-sized bowl in the sandstone. Setting the project aside, he scooted over to the door and helped Liz pull the rolled-up plastic sheeting into the den, glancing at the sum total of their water collection efforts for the day, which appeared to total about a quart and a half, there in the cooking pot. The second pot, which had sat suspended above the small lamp on the three upright sticks, contained a few swallows of water as well, as its ice had begun very slowly melting over the heat of the flame, and Einar held the water bottles as Liz poured, filling them and finding that a bit of water remained in the pot, afterwards. It would be enough to get them by, and tomorrow… “Tomorrow we’ll have this lamp to use. No more sitting out above the den beside that big black target-dot, just waiting for the next aircraft to come by. If it works as well as I’m hoping, we’ll be cooking, melting snow, staying warm in here, even, all by burning a little bear fat.” Liz nodded, crowding in close to get a good look. “You sure got a lot done on that lamp! Here. I found this out there where you were moving those rocks earlier.” She handed him a chunk of nearly translucent pinkish-white rock. “It looks harder than that granite,

and I thought maybe it would come in handy for working on the lamp, though it looks like you’re all done with it, or nearly so.” Inspecting the rock, turning it over and over in his hands, Einar held it out to her excitedly. “This is quartz! Rose quartz. You found it out there? Maybe there’s more! Could use this to make an axe head, of sorts, lots of other things, since it’s so hard. Not the best sort of rock for knapping spear points and things, but it has been done…” “Yes, I expect there may be more. I saw some smaller chunks, out near this one. I’ll go collect some for you! I’m wondering, though…there’s a good bit of daylight left, it looks like. Should I go out and set up some of those snares you were talking about? I can be really careful, keep to the trees where they won’t be able to see my tracks.” He thought about it, quiet for a minute, finally shaking his head and looking up at her. “No. They don’t know we’re here. Probably don’t even know for sure that we ever were in the area. I’m really hoping they may think that whole series of avalanches was natural…though they may figure it out. But let’s not help them, not take that chance. Better lie low for a while, avoid anything that could leave sign for them to pick up on. For all they know, we’re far, far from here, and I’d like to keep it that way.” Liz lowered her eyes, looking immensely uncomfortable, and Einar stopped his work on the lamp wick, sensing some problem and wondering just what was troubling her so much. “Einar…I meant to tell you before this, but… they saw me, up there. Scrambling to his feet and balancing precariously on his good leg, Einar stood leaning on his spear. “What?” • • • •

Down in the valley at the old metal building that had for the past year housed the Mountain Task Force headquarters and was currently at the center of the recovery effort up in the canyon, agents, along with the county coroner, were just that evening inspecting the fourteenth and fifteenth bodies to be recovered from the debris that had remained of the federal camp at the bottom of the avalanche chute. Delivered to the building earlier that day by helicopter--evacuation of the bodies had prior to that day been prohibitively difficult, as the weather had just then cleared to the degree that aircraft could safely be landed near the avalanche site--the bodies were, like all the others, frozen, twisted into grotesque positions by the force of the sliding snow, but unlike the others, they had not been recovered from the remains of the camp or of the crashed helicopter that had not quite made it off the ground before being caught in the onslaught of the slide and forever grounded, but had been recovered from a bank of hard-packed slide snow on the far side

of the canyon, where the force of the avalanche had driven the cement-hard whiteness some twenty feet up the wall, plastering it there and leaving it last to be explored by rescue and later recovery crews. The bodies, agents at Mountain Task Force headquarters quickly decided, must belong to the two agents who had been sent up along the canyon rim to look for any sign of the missing agent who they had feared lost over the steepwalled side of the canyon, while the rest of the search was concentrated down below in the snow of the canyon floor. And there was something else different about the bodies, too, or one of them, at least, as agents discovered when they worked loose the man’s iceencrusted hat, and discovered the bone spear point sunk deep in his skull. • • • •

Liz wished he would look away, would find something to occupy his hands as she answered his insistent question, but Einar stood there staring intently at her, until she could find reason to put off the matter no longer. “Yes, they saw me. When I was up there near the canyon rim…I stepped out of the trees to cross this little meadow…it was foggy, snowy, I couldn’t see very far, and I walked right up on a group of eight or ten men, searchers, I guess, that a helicopter must have just dropped off. They hesitated, I ran…that was when I ended up going over the rim, with one of them chasing me. He fell. Bounced right off the little ledge where I had landed, and went down… I meant to say something about it before, but…I was wearing the wolverine hide, so I expect they thought I was you. They know we are, or at least were, in the area. I’m sorry.” Silent, he lowered himself to the ground, hand still on the spear, sat there for a minute, staring at the light that seeped in beneath the bearskin door. “Well. Good thing that storm came. And now, I think it’s time you learn to use an atlatl.” That was it, and Liz, who had been certain that he would be angry with her--which he probably was, though not showing it at the moment--was greatly relieved. She knew that she ought not to have been keeping that information from him, that she ought to have thought of a way to bring it up, but had hesitated to do so in the days after first reaching the den, seeing Einar so sick and weak and feverish and knowing that if she told him about the incident with the agents up on the canyon rim, he would probably insist on leaving the shelter without delay, making more distance while the storm still raged…and almost certainly killing himself in the process. But it should have been his decision. She knew it, could see in the solid set of his jaw, eyes unwilling to meet hers, that she had been mistaken in trying to protect him like that. He finally spoke, handing her a stout willow stick which she held a bit awkwardly, not entirely certain what he expected her to do with it. “You don’t need to be sorry that they spotted you…conditions like that, they probably don’t know just what they saw. But you should have told me, Liz. I needed to know that. Now. Atlatl. You’re gonna make one, learn to use it, and this willow here ought to be a fine start. When they come for us, I want you to be able to help out.”

Liz glanced up at him, startled by the unusually forceful tone he was taking with her in demanding that she make an atlatl right then and there, and wondering just how badly she had angered him, this time. Einar, face still grim, was smiling at her with his eyes, though, sat back down and took the willow stick from her. “Not that you haven’t helped out every time they’ve come for us, so far…because I seem to remember two or three occasions when I’d have been in a real pickle--meaning dead--if you hadn’t come along and taken some action. I just meant that it’s past time you have another weapon at your disposal, something with a little more range to it than that spear, and since we don’t have a pistol anymore, the atlatl just makes sense. Or a bow. But this is simpler to make, and easier for me to show you how to use right now with this bum shoulder, too, so we’re gonna do it first. You’re gonna do it first, I mean. I’m just going to watch. Now. First thing you want to do is take some of the roundness off the top of this willow staff here. Some people actually split them, but I just like to kinda shave it down with a knife. Yeah, that’s right.” He observed as Liz worked on the willow stick, carefully shaving and flattening the top surface of one end of it. Badly chilled after sitting still for the few minutes that it took her to complete the task, he rubbed stiff hands over the little lamp, added a bit of fat to it and lit a second wick, wishing he had gone ahead and finished the qulliq lamp, making the long thin pad of milkweed fibers that was to act as its burner, so they could be using it as they worked. Later. And, adding fat to the smaller lamp, he ate a few pieces, following them with some chunks of icy venison from the pot and offering the same to Liz, who took the food hungrily. “It’s pretty well flattened, I think. How long does this thing need to be? About two feet, like yours?” “One and a half, two feet, somewhere in that range. Longer doesn’t work well, shorter seems to be just fine, from my experience. I’d chop it about here,” and he indicated a spot just beyond a knot in the wood, where a small side branch had been. “That looks good. Now. On the upper end up there, you’re gonna want to carve a little forwardpointing triangle, to hold and throw the darts. See how I’ve hollowed out the back ends of these darts a little? Well, you need something that will fit in there. I’ve seen people add little pegs, glue in rock fragments, even, but to me, it seems simplest just to mark out a little forward-facing “V” near the top here, facing towards the handle, and carve down around it.” Liz did as he had mentioned, getting a good bit of work done on the “V” before stopping, sighting down the stick and looking up at Einar in dismay. “Look! It’s not straight. Does that mean I have to start all over?” He took the unfinished atlatl, noticing that, yes, the stick had a definite sway in it between the two ends, a spot where the willow had, in its growing years, apparently been bowed a bit by snow or wind or some other pressure. Sighing down the stick, though, he saw that the “V” notch lined up quite nicely with the area at other end where the handle was to be. “No, it’s fine. Curve’s all in the middle. It doesn’t matter what the middle’s shaped like, as long as the two ends line up real good and straight. I’ve seen them where people

intentionally chose a piece of driftwood that curved like a corkscrew in the center, just to be decorative, or something. Still worked just fine, as long as the ends lined up. You’re doing good. Now. Below that “V” you’ll need to carve out a little bowl for the dart to rest in, let it go forward for several inches, like mine does, here.” As she worked to complete the next step in the process, Einar carried the lamp over to the den wall where their possessions were spread out, sorting through things until he came up with the small bundle of buckskin scraps that had been left over when he made his vest, choosing a short coil of roughly cut quarter-inch wide strap, and another piece which was five or six inches long, by just over one wide. Returning to Liz and seeing that she was well on her way to being finished with the body of the atlatl--there were all sorts of improvements that could be made, rocks added for counterweights, etc, but all of that could wait--he showed her the leather pieces. “What you’ve got there looks real good! That is the basic weapon, right there. Pretty simple to make, isn’t it?” She nodded, studying the freshly carved atlatl, scraping and sanding at a few uneven portions in the handle area with a rough piece of granite, blowing the dust from it. “Yes, pretty simple! A lot simpler than actually hitting something with one of these darts is going to be, I expect!” “Oh, that’ll come. You got to start somewhere, and I’ve never seen you have any trouble hitting anything with a firearm, so you’ll pick this up alright. Now, some people use finger loops down on the handle, some don’t, and there are all sorts of different ways that they can be set up--a single buckskin or rawhide loop for a finger to go through, double loops for your index and middle fingers, double loops for your index finger and thumb, and I’ve even seen carved wooden or stone loops--but when you’re just starting out like this, I’d sure suggest using loops of some sort! Or you are eventually gonna end up accidentally tossing the atlatl after your dart, and maybe losing it like I did my first one. In the river. Not a good thing, when you’ve just put all that time into making it… So. Take mine here and give it a try, see whether you think you’d like a single loop or double ones. I like using my thumb and index finger in the loops, but you can decide later what works best for you, and change things as needed.” Experimenting with Einar’s atlatl and telling him that the way he had it set up seemed just fine, to her--not that she had anything to compare it to, Liz watched as he took the larger piece of buckskin, folded it in half and made a small slit near its center, just large enough to pass the stick through. “OK, take a length of that sinew thread over there, and get it good and soft in your mouth while I get these finger loops ready to wrap.” Pushing the split piece of leather up on the atlatl until it was approximately five inches from the handle end, he brought the two free ends down, creating a small loop on each side of the stick and bringing the two ends nearly half an inch back up the stick on each side, on the inside of the loops. Taking the piece of softened sinew thread that Liz was offering, he wrapped it around and around the

buckskin ends that lay against the stick, securing them in place, afterwards quickly wrapping the thin piece of buckskin strap around and around the sinew-secured ends, bringing it up nearly to the place where the stick passed through the split in the leather. Taking another piece of sinew thread and wrapping the end of the buckskin thong to secure it, he handed the weapon back to Liz. “Give that a try. We’ll take some pitch glue later and coat those wraps to hold them in place, and maybe wrap some buckskin around the handle to give you a better grip, then… ready to use!” Admiring the weapon, Liz fitted a dart onto the “V” at its back, anxious for the time when she could get outside to begin practicing with it, telling Einar that she supposed she had better start with plain willow shoots, instead of risking losing or damaging the finished darts that he had worked so hard on. He did not answer, and she looked up to see him sitting there hunched over the nearly-finished sandstone lamp, granite lump in his hand as if he was intending to work on it, staring off into the distance with a blank look on his face, shaking uncontrollably. She went to him, pulled the bearskin down from the bed and got it wrapped around the two of them, holding him, bringing the small lamp in under the bearskin “tent” to provide some heat. “Einar, you’re freezing! Why didn’t you tell me? I got so wrapped up in finishing this atlatl…I wish we could make some hot tea, at least. What still needs to happen for that new lamp to be ready, so we can cook, again?” “Just...want to make…little deeper, then…wick. Be ready soon. I-I’m OK. Just sat still too long. Better eat something.” Sharing a meal of mostly frozen venison and bear fat there in the tent, warming, they discussed the best way for Liz to go about practicing with the new atlatl, but Liz interrupted him after a while, the dimming light of day outside and Einar’s constant struggle with becoming dangerously cold demanding her attention. He was doing better with getting more to eat, beginning to put on a bit of weight, even, she hoped, but she could tell that--despite his recent cheerful assertions that he was nearly ready to return to his cold-training discipline--he still had a long way to go before his body would be able to produce and retain adequate heat under their present conditions. “Einar, I know we have to be careful not to leave tracks, but we need more insulation before night comes and it gets so cold, again. Things didn’t work too well last night, and I know I saw a lot of that usnea stuff out there below the den in the black timber. Maybe I could get enough for us to stuff our clothes with, and that, along with some of this grass, would help us get a little more sleep, tonight.” Nodding, he squirmed free of her grasp, left the warmth of the bear hide tent and pushed aside the door flap, studying the slope below them for the most concealed route down to the dark timber so Liz could go collect some moss. • • • •

Cautious, stopping frequently to listen for any sign of approaching aircraft, Liz made her way down to the darkly timbered slopes below the den, choosing her steps carefully, placing each foot with an aerial view of the slope in mind and wishing that she had actually spent some time in the air looking at such slopes in the past, so she might have a better idea of how things appeared, from up there. Einar, having a very firm idea of just how things looked from the air and what needed to done to avoid drawing notice, had wanted to be the one to go, but Liz had insisted that it would be easier for her to maneuver through the timber without leaving sign, unencumbered as she was with a broken leg and improvised crutch, and Einar, knowing that she was correct, had agreed. While she was gone, he worked on the lamp, adding the depth he had been seeking and rubbing milkweed down between his hands to create a long, cylindrical roll of fibers which he then flattened, smoothing it along one side of the bowl of the new lamp and dampening it with melted bear fat from the smaller, already burning lamp. Breaking up a number of fat chunks and adding them to the bowl, he carefully lit the wick, starting at one end watching, glad, as the flame slowly crept across the full eight inches of wick material, glowing, beginning to melt and draw up a bit of the fat in the bowl. The Inuit, he knew, had propped the lamps up on three or four short sticks stuck down into the snow, to create an air space beneath and keep the cold of the snow from continually competing with the wick-flame, attempting to re-solidify the lumps of seal and whale fat they were using for fuel and slow the operation of the lamp, and he supposed a similar effect could be achieved by sliding a slab of firewood beneath the rock of the lamp. That done, and after holding his hands over the heat for a minute, amazed at the amount the little device was putting out, he quickly retrieved the three sticks they had been using as a tripod, using a rock to drive one of them into the wall beside the bed at a horizontal angle, propping it from beneath with another stick and pounding the third into the side of the sleeping platform, so that it met the first horizontal stick and helped, once he had lashed everything together, to support it. Hanging one of the cooking pots--the one that contained the mostly-frozen stew--from the finished support, Einar slid the lamp beneath it, the crescent moon of orange flame quickly heating the bottom surface of the pot, mere inches above, and a trickle of melt water beginning to show around the edge of the stew-ice. Stew-ice. Now I’ll bet that’s not a word that folks down in the valley find themselves using, too often… And he laughed, shivering and huddling closer to the warmth of the lamp, which while significant, was not yet permeating very far into the still, frigid air of the den. That would come, he could tell it would, as would the thawing and eventual heating of the stew. Something was wrong with the flame, though, it was dimming, growing sluggish, and he saw that the wick had burned down to a point where not enough if it was exposed to keep the flame burning happily. Poking experimentally at a section of the milkweed down burner with a curved stick, he pulled up small bits of fresh wick from beneath the liquefying fat, finding that the best, most even flame seemed to be achieved when he pulled up a small peak of material every three quarters of an inch or so, letting it taper down a bit between points. Well. Looks like I’m going to be doing a lot of this. Ought to come up with a dedicated tool, a deer rib or something, maybe, and keep it with the lamp so I don’t have to go fumbling around for a curved stick all the time, just to keep the lamp

from going out. The thought of using a deer rib reminded him that they really needed to get busy further tending to that doe he had taken, which sat frozen quite solid just inside the den entrance, over beside the door flap where temperatures never got warm enough to begin thawing it for more than a few minutes at a time. Not that it really needs too much tending to, this time of year--freezing works awfully well for preserving things…ha! Then I ought to live to be at least a hundred and ten, I guess--but I would kinda like to get it out of here so we could use that space for something else, and so we don’t eventually have to deal with raiding ermines or bobcats or--rubbing his right arm a few inches below the shoulder, which would always bear an odd dent where his triceps had healed, minus a sizeable chunk of meat--maybe another wolverine, if there are any more around here. Yep. Need to get that meat out of here, but we sure can’t leave it available to the big cat, either, so looks like we’re needing to build that cache. Now, how am I gonna do all that climbing and building and lashing of things, with just one leg? That, he realized, was going to take some thought. Something which would require less thought but which had been increasingly on his mind was the need to tend to the newly acquired hides, both bear and deer. He had not been able to do anything beyond a hasty fleshing and scraping of the bear hide after taking the creature, and nothing had been done since, aside from sleeping in the hide, and it had grown quite stiff in places, though the cold had prevented it from entirely drying out. How he was to procure enough water to tan the massive thing--bear’s brain is still down there in the head, frozen solid and waiting for me to use, when I want to dig it out--Einar could not imagine, nor was he sure what he and Liz would do for warmth in the hide’s absence, as the tanning process was taking place. He shrugged, wondered what the results might be if they would simply take turns vigorously buffing the flesh side of the hide, mostly dry as it was, with sandstone to soften it up, some. Not great, I’m guessing. That hide’s real thick, and it’ll never get soft, that way. But for now, I’d settle for simply avoiding it becoming too rigid to bend, for us to wrap up in. We’ll see. The deer, now… guess I’ll try to brain it, hair-on. We need it on the bed, need it even worse for jacket or vest, though, and either way, we might as well try and keep the hair, at least until it all falls out… Which he knew it would eventually end up doing, with that sort of use, as he had never seen a brain-tanned deer or elk that did not eventually begin shedding hair all over everything--one of the main reasons he had insisted on scraping the buckskin he had used for his vest. He had not thought it wise to leave a trail of deer hide in potentially unlikely places for his pursuers to notice and wonder about, for trackers to find clues in… but I don’t see us doing an awful lot of moving, here these next few months. Sure hope not, anyway. And there’s already hair all over everything, here in the den--bear hair, deer hair, some of mine, I’m pretty sure, stuff seems to be falling out, still, so what’s a little more? The availability of water would still be a problem when it came to doing the deer hide, but he supposed he would be able to manage, between what could be melted over the new lamp--hey, look! The stew-ice is almost gone!--and the much larger amounts that could be secured, when the air search either ended or was temporarily grounded by another storm, and they could safely use the stove again. What we really need is a little creek or seep, something that stays clear into the winter, or that we could keep clear by

chopping away a little ice. Wonder if there might be something like that down near that swampy spot where Liz got all the cattails. Didn’t see anything when I was down there taking the deer, but then, I didn’t get a chance to do much exploring then, either. Have to ask Liz what she might have noticed. Of course, we’d have to be real careful just how we went about it…a big old hole chopped in the ice of some pond would show real clear from the air, and there aren’t any wild critters that I--or the searchers either, I’m thinking--know of who keep their water source open all winter using an axe! Not that we have an axe, even… But, the thought occurred to him, they ought to have, and could, too, of sorts, using the large piece of rose quartz that Liz had found among the rock rubble near the entrance. Tending to the lamp wick once more, he searched for the rock and found it, inspecting it by the considerable light of the qulliq flame. He had made functional axe heads in the past of chert and similar rocks, and though he had no experience with quartz, he knew that it had been a fairly common material for arrow points among the Utes in that area; he had once, in fact, found a very nice quartz arrowhead, whitish and in places nearly translucent, among the rocks on the shore of an alpine lake not ten miles from his old cabin. So, it can be done, and I’ll turn this big piece here into an axe head, with some work. Would be helpful to have something beyond our knives for splitting wood, felling trees, everything. And he was about to begin, but he heard Liz crunching up through the snow outside the den, and set aside his work to open the door flap for her. The search for usnea had gone well, the bag Liz had taken being fairly stuffed with it, and she crouched over the lamp, marveling at its effectiveness, warming herself and showing Einar the results of her expedition. The big pile of lichen, soft and almost entirely dry, harvested as it had been from beneath the protective branches of the spruces, would help tremendously when it came to adding warmth to their clothing that night, as Liz had managed to collect enough for each of them to stuff around their torsos, for that night, with a good bit left over, after that. Liz was holding a piece of it up, examining it by the light of the lamp. “This stuff is edible, isn’t it? I thought you mentioned something about eating it, last winter.” “Yes, I sure did. Ate a lot of it last winter, and it’s a decent food, if you can soak and cook it to get some of the acid out. Reasonably nutritious, then. We’ll have to get some more, and work on processing it. Most of what I ate last winter was raw, right off the tree like this stuff is, and that is not such a good thing. Not if you eat as much of it as I did, anyway. That usnic acid can end up being pretty hard on your stomach, and I got awful sick a time or two on it…can still feel it now, looking at the stuff. But I kept eating it a lot of those times, just to have something in my stomach… Well! No need for that, right now. We got venison stew for dinner, and it isn’t even frozen, this time. Look!” And he showed her the pot, its contents thawed and beginning to steam gently. “That lamp really works great, it looks like! It feels a lot warmer in here than when I left, and that should really help, tonight, because as the sun goes down out there, I can feel it getting colder fast. I think it’s going to be another night like the last one. What do you

think it got down to, last night? I expect it was below zero…” “Oh, somewhat below, I would say. Fifteen, maybe twenty at most. Gets colder than that up here, but not usually this early in the winter. I’m sure hoping to have us in better clothes, by the time that kind of weather sets in for good.” “There’s a bunch more of that usnea down there in the timber, if we need it. I could have got twice this much, at least, if I’d have gone a little further, but it would have meant crossing an open area, and I was nervous about the tracks.” “We’ll get to it. Next time it storms, if not before. Good to have a bunch of that stuff around. I used it for bandages a lot last year, too. And I don’t know what you’ve been using for this purpose, but you might want to think about getting some extra usnea while you’re at it to set aside for your…uh…“feminine needs.” The Utes, and I’m sure some other tribes, used it for that, since it’s pretty absorbent and also antibacterial…just an idea.” And he shrugged, looking away rather uncomfortably at having brought up the topic in the first place, tending the lamp so he did not have to look at Liz. “I’ll do that. But, since you mention it, I haven’t had that particular “feminine need” since I came out here…I’m sure I will again, but for now…” “Means you’re not getting enough to eat, doesn’t it?” “Probably. But I’m getting along alright. It takes a while to adjust to this life, I expect.” “Huh. Yeah, I guess it does. Seems you’re…doing great at it! Now. We’ve got plenty of food here for the time, and it’s even thawed out for a change, so how about we eat. We’ll both be a lot warmer tonight if we can get a good big supper in.” Eating, they discussed Einar’s plans for the raised food cache, Liz saying she would be glad to do whatever climbing was required in the building of it, and Einar, though agreeing that such would make good sense, not quite willing to let go of the idea that he might be able to find a way to assist. • • • •

That night was to go better for Einar and Liz than the previous one had, heat-wise, at least, between the newly acquired insulation, the warmth of the lamp and Liz’s unilateral decision to go to bed shortly after dark, before the increasingly frigid night air had time to seep in and chill them too badly as they sat there on the floor. Einar, while inclined to stay up and continue working on extracting the tendons from the frozen hind legs of the deer for future use in wrapping atlatl points and for thread, finally assented to her repeated assertions that they might as well save bear fat by putting out the lamp for the night. For some minutes, though, he sat in the dark beside the slightly-opened door flap, listening, watching, the night still and crackling with cold out on the mountainside and the need to move, to put distance between himself and a place where he knew he had

already spent far too much time pulling him powerfully with a force that was difficult to resist. They called to him, those snowy, moon-silvered slopes, spoke to him of the dangers of complacency, reminded him that a wanted, hunted man could ill afford to have a home, an established dwelling, that he would, if in one spot for too long, eventually, inevitably become a bit lax in his discipline--seems it’s already happening. Look at you, with your things all spread out in this cave like you think you’re home, setting up house with a woman who seems convinced of the same--and do something to alert his pursuers, and then… And then we will see. Perhaps that day will come. Would be foolish to downplay the possibility, but the best way to get caught right now--short of building a big smoky bonfire out in a meadow somewhere, sitting down and waiting--is to go trampling around out there leaving a bunch of wide old lame-legged tracks for the next chopper crew to come along and see, plain as day. You know that’s not a good idea. Got to lie low for a while, let everything go quiet, and hopefully they’ll decide we’ve moved on, or died in the snow. Which we--you, anyway--probably would, and in pretty short order, if you insist on traveling now. Awful cold out there. And you can’t carry much, would have to leave some of that meat and fat behind, might not be able to replace it, in time. Got a good little place here, and it’s getting better every day. Now get to bed, before you talk yourself into doing something really foolish tonight. Or sit here in the doorway and freeze, which would also be pretty foolish, and come to think of it, you really can’t feel your face anymore, or your hands, either, can you? And he closed the door flap, securing it with its flat rocks and climbing up onto the sleeping platform where the air was noticeably warmer than down on the floor, Liz holding open the bear hide so he could climb in. “What did you hear out there?” “It’s quiet, for now. Heard nothing but the trees snapping. Gonna be another cold one, I think. It’s good that you brought back all this moss. Here. Filled the water bottles. We better keep them in here with us, if we want to have anything to drink in the morning.” “We’re going to be doing that all winter, aren’t we?” She asked, finding a spot for one of the bottles where it would not interfere too much with sleep. “Yep, probably. And if we’re out and on the move, we’ll be doing it with our boots, too, just so our feet don’t freeze in the morning when we go to put them on. Though if this air search…” he stopped, listening intently, hair on the back of his neck standing up. There. Chopper. Thought so. No reason to be out right now unless they’re up there scanning these slopes for our IR signature…sure hope it doesn’t show, doesn’t warrant a second look, if they do see anything. Waiting until the rumbling--faint through the earth that surrounded them, but no less stomach-churning for its faintness--faded and was gone, he continued. “If the air search ever ends, moves on for good, then we can run the stove more regularly, keep the place warm enough that a pot of water set on or above the stove overnight won’t freeze. That’d sure make things easier. Until then…it would be awfully good to find a creek or stream, someplace where we could get water without having to rely exclusively on melting snow. You seen anything like that in your wanderings? Down near that swampy cattail bog, maybe?”

“I don’t remember seeing a creek, exactly, but I did see a spot while I was out getting all those cattail heads…it looked like there was just a little bit of black, open water, all surrounded by snow. It was up against a little outcropping of some shaley rocks, and I didn’t go over to it, but I wonder if it might still be open?” “We’ll go look tomorrow. Carefully. Still got to be awfully cautious about leaving tracks. If that water is still open after all this cold, it almost certainly means there’s a little warm spring down there keeping it like that, and we might be able to keep it open all winter, with a little ice-chopping work every day or so. Better still if it backs up to some outcroppings, because they’ll be less able to see our ‘modifications’ from the air. If we find a spot where it stays open, you can be sure we’re not the only ones who will know about it. Rabbits, squirrels, foxes, all the critters will be coming there to drink, which will give us some good opportunities for snaring some more food. The foxes ought to be pretty nice by now, good thick fur that would be great when it comes to lining some buckskin or something for warm clothes, and if we take a few foxes, that should mean less competition when it comes to the rabbits, too. More for us to eat.” Liz nodded, mumbling something about how maybe if they went right after breakfast the snow would still be cold and dry enough that it wouldn’t soak into their clothes, and then she was asleep. Einar, finally almost warm for the first time that day, was not far behind, dreaming of warm springs whose steam coated the nearby cattails with a shimmering rime of ice, of easily accessible water and cattail roots that you could pull from the mud even in January because the warm water seeping from the earth kept the ground thawed, of the occasional ducks and geese that would stop by to explore the water, a roast goose or duck, dripping with grease, now wouldn’t that be just the thing…? And he crept closer to the water, easing his front half up onto a log so he could get a look, rising, crouching, immeasurably slowly so as not to startle the geese, a pair of them, that were paddling around in the five or six foot diameter area of open, ice-rimmed water, choosing one, lifting his weapon, which consisted of three rounded stones, bound up and tied together with lengths of rawhide, and flinging it expertly at one of the geese, hopelessly tangling the creature and securing their supper, and he rose, triumphant, to go retrieve the bird, only to hear the thundering of propellers over his head--in that first instant he had though it to be the other goose taking wing, but no--and it was too late, he had been spotted, could feel the wind of the rotors in his hair as he tried to make a run for the trees, but they had him, bad leg collapsing under him as he stared in horror at the orange-tailed dart in his shoulder. Frantically he grabbed for his atlatl in the hopes of being able to hit one of them, the men he could see up there in the door of the chopper, in the hopes, at least, that they would see him go for it and shoot him, before the dart could take effect, but it must already have done so, because he couldn’t grasp the weapon, could not, in fact, seem to move his arm at all, and then he fell in the snow on his back, staring up in helpless, immobile rage as they hovered over him, preparing to land. They were on the ground, then, with a speed that baffled him--or maybe the dart was just messing with his sense of time, that must be it--approaching, two men with rifles aimed at his head, but worse was the third, who, covered by the first two, approached him with some sort of syringe, ready to inject him with something that he was certain must be the same poison that was in the

darts, and he forced his sluggish, unwilling body to move, flinging himself at his assailant and somehow getting his arm across the man’s neck, pressing, but the man quickly squirmed out from under him and, when Einar went for him again, hit him hard on the head with something rather solid, real, more real than the dream, it seemed, because he tasted blood in his mouth, waking to see Liz’s face--two of them, actually, fuzzy, indistinct--in front of him, lit by the glow of the bearfat lamp. She helped him sit up-they had both somehow ended up on the floor, it seemed--pressing a wad of usnea to his head where she had hit him with the aspen log. “I’m sorry Einar, I’m so sorry…are you OK? I had to wake you up, and nothing else was working…” “Those geese are a trap Liz, they may look like regular geese, may look great to eat, but they’re a trap. Don’t do it, don’t fall for it.” And he struggled to get up, his healing leg entirely forgotten, collapsing back to the ground when he tried to put too much of his weight on it. Liz laid a hand on his arm. “Einar. Hey, settle down. Now look at me. What geese? There are no geese. No trap. You were just dreaming.” “No. Down by the pond…two geese, and I got one of them but then they came, chopper popped up over the ridge and they shot me with…” He lowered his head, pressed his hands to his eyes, looked up at her with something like full recognition of what he had just done. “Ah, Liz…I…I’m sorry. I though you were…” “I know, but I’m not. Couldn’t seem to convince you of it, though, and that’s how come I had to whack you with the firewood. Now if you’ve stopped bleeding, let’s get back to bed. It’s cold in here.” Expecting that he was to have to spend the nights for the next week huddled in a corner on a little pile of spruce duff with the wolverine hide, after that incident, and feeling as though Liz would have been more than justified in asking him to do so, Einar reluctantly rejoined her, thankful, amazed, once again asking her forgiveness. Neither of them got much sleep for a good while after that, Einar finally drifting off out of sheer exhaustion sometime towards morning, and Liz, feeling him relax, doing the same. The next morning’s trip down to the cattail swamp, which Einar found himself more determined than ever to accompany Liz on, after that night, went well and without incident, both of them keeping to the black timber that lined a small draw that cut the slope which held the den, Einar reassured by his inability to see more than the smallest occasional snatches of sky when he looked up through the branches overhead that their trail was adequately concealed. Very cold was the air that morning, cold enough to catch in the throat if breathed too quickly, leaving both of them to tuck noses and mouths down into the collars of their shirts as they walked, wishing for scarves. The wolverine hide, which Einar had insisted that Liz use, proved to serve this purpose very well once she pulled it down off her head, removed the two carved deer-rib pins that held it in the shape

of a hat and wrapped it around her neck, as wolverine fur is one of only a very few that do not accumulate ice from the wearer’s breath. Reaching the area where the slope angle began gentling, a few scattered cattails just beginning to be visible through the spruces and aspens that lay between their position and the clearing, they stopped, listening, before approaching the area more nearly. There it was, just as Liz had described, a small patch of still-open water, black, steaming gently, just below an outcropping of shale or some related rock, a dark grey but stained in places almost white with mineral deposit. A hot spring. Or at the very least, least a mildly warm one. On one side of the outcropping there was a spot where the timber descended, sweeping down like a black arm, hand and fingers extended to touch the water, and they followed it, kept within its protection as they approached the water, meaning to fill their bottles and further investigate the place and all the resources it might promise them. Including, it seemed, at least two geese, as announced by a sudden beating of wings as Liz stepped on a small, exposed branch mere feet from the start of the outcropping, startling them skyward. • • • •

Einar took several quick steps back into the tangle of trees, pressed himself in against a moss-covered boulder that stood beneath a low-sweeping spruce, waiting, listening, but there was no approaching rumble, no telltale tremor in the ground to announce a coming danger, and he soon rejoined Liz at the edge of the timber, studying the small patch of open water, rimmed by thick ice and gently steaming in the frigid morning air. There was a spot where the trees went down all the way to the water’s edge, snow piled up on the rocks beneath them far less deeply than it appeared to be out in the meadow, and the thickly interlocking evergreen boughs creating a screen to shield their path from the air, and he went, slowly, studying the ground, which, not even two full days after the end of the storm, already bore numerous paths and tracks from passing wildlife--rabbit, he saw, the hopping, erratic trail of a squirrel, the soft, narrow impressions of a fox’s foot, and, making him shiver at the memory of his dream, the tracks of the pair of Canada geese where they had stood in the snow and eaten some of the still-green plant shoots that clustered under a sheltering rock near the water’s edge--promising the availability of small game. Lowering himself to the ground beside the water he removed a bear hide mitten, tested the water and found it to be achingly cold, its temperature somewhere just above freezing, he guessed. Got to be a warm spring in under these rocks somewhere though, or this spot would definitely be frozen over, by now. It was, at least, a spot where they could come to get water for drinking, cooking and other needs, without having to wait for snow to melt every time, a place that ought to attract game all winter long, the timbered slopes above it providing them good territory for setting up some snares. Wandering a bit as Einar explored the area immediately surrounding the water, Liz noticed a few wild rose shrubs, heavily burdened with snow and nearly hidden beneath it, which still bore a good quantity of shriveled orange rose hips, and, tasting one and finding it to be still flavorful and sweet if a bit fermented, as well, she gathered a good handful of the little fruits and stashed them in her pocket, knowing that they, along with evergreen needles, were a rich source of wintertime vitamin C, and a good thing to have

on hand. Near the rose bushes stood a number of dry dead plant stalks, very straight and a dark reddish brown, unfamiliar to Liz, which would have been entirely buried in the snow had they not stood somewhat beneath the protection of the spruces, and she broke one off, curious as to its identity. Tried to break it off, anyway. The stalk, though brittle and fracturing easily under pressure, seemed to be surrounded by a sheath of tough, persistent whitish fibers, which she could not quite manage to twist loose and ended up slicing with her knife. That sure looks useful. I bet it would make a good strong cordage. I’ll have to ask Einar about it. The stalks--there were quite a number of them-were laden with numerous pods, thin and several inches long, that resembled bean pods, and struck Liz as a very distinctive feature of the plant, and one which ought to help her remember it in the future, if it turned out to be something useful. She had learned to identify a good number of plants since joining Einar in the hills, and Susan had taught her about some others, but she still found herself having to identify something several times, either in a book or when shown by someone, before it became fixed in her mind to the point that she was confident in her identification. Well, no better time than the present to get started, with this one! And she joined Einar over by the water, where he sat hunched over on a rock with his bad leg off to the side and his arms crossed for warmth, seeming to be staring most intently at something. “What is it?” He nodded towards the water. “Look.” Looking, she saw nothing at first, other than the water where it gently lapped at the shoreice--if it’s lapping like that, there must either be a creek or spring feeding it; maybe that’s what he is looking at--but after a while her eye caught another sort of movement, this coming from beneath the water, and she bent down closer, seeing that below the surface, the little pond was teeming with minnows, none more than an inch or two in length, as far as she could tell, colored grayish-brown, with dark speckles. “Fish! I wouldn’t have expected to see fish in a little pond like this.” “You usually wouldn’t, not up this high. This thing ought to be frozen solid right now, or at least frozen over so thickly that there wouldn’t be enough air exchange for fish to make it though the winter. That’s why they stock alpine lakes up here, a lot of times; I’ve seen them drop the trout from special planes. They do it every year, many places. But I guess this little hot spring, wherever exactly it is, keeps enough area open that they can make it through the winter, here. So. Want some trout chowder for dinner?” “I don’t know about chowder, exactly, because I think that takes milk, and last time I checked, we didn’t have any livestock…but some soup, sure! Now, how are we going to catch the little critters?” “Watch.” Taking off his stocking cap, Einar cut a long, thin willow shoot, circled it over on itself and wrapped the ends so that he had a ring that was the approximate diameter of his hat. He then folded the hat’s edge up and over the willow ring, tucking it in here and

there to further secure the fit and, cutting another stick to use for a handle. Sticking the end of the handle-stick in between several of the twists on the ring, he was about to reach into his pocket for some paracord to lash the two together, when he saw the reddish plant stalk that Liz still held in her hand. “Hey, where’d you find the dogbane?” “That’s what it is? I was going to ask you.” “Yes. ‘Indian hemp,’ it was sometimes called, and it’s not too common, up this high. Good find! Grows to be several feet tall, lower down, and cordage made from the fibers was used to make fish nets--which I’m not gonna take the time to do, right now--and some of the tribes tied it into long rabbit nets, that they would drive the rabbits into and then trap them. I’ve heard that some of those nets--found in Utah, I think, were around three hundred yards long, by four feet high! Can you imagine the work that would go into making something like that? Must’ve been catching a lot of rabbits in those roundups, for that to be worth while. Anyhow, dogbane is a distant relative of milkweed, and makes some of the strongest cordage you’ll get your hands on. Here, let me show you.” And he took the stalk from her, flattening and crushing it between his hands, getting a finger in between pieces where it began to separate vertically along the length of the stalk, and sliding it down to finish the separation, so that he ended up with three long, thin pieces. Then, working carefully so as not to pull any of the fibers loose, he broke off and removed small sections of the plant’s pithy white center, leaving him with a two foot long strand of strong, whitish fibers, backed by the plant’s red-brown bark. Watching, Liz held out one of the bean-pod-like structures that she had pulled from one of the shorter branches of the plant. “I guess this is the seed pod?” “Yes, but it’s also…” He broke it open, releasing, to Liz’s surprise, a small billow of white, milkweed-like fuzz, “tinder in a tube! Some of these will stay sealed up through the winter, and the seeds and down inside stay dry, so they can provide a good source of ready tinder, during the winter. If you happen to be able to find any of the plants. Now… if we had time it would have been good to scrape some of this outer bark off before splitting the stem, leaves you with cleaner fibers, and it’s also smart to twist two sections of this together to get a stronger cord, but for this, I’m just gonna take the bundle of fibers, as-is, and lash my handle to the net-ring.” Which he did, wrapping and tying and testing, finally satisfied, scrubbing some snow between his hands to remove the dried dogbane sap residue from his hands. The plant’s milky sap had, he knew, been used medicinally in the past--mostly for heart problems--but only with great care, as it contained a glycoside which had a strong action on the heart, slowing the pulse and, if used in too great a quantity, stopping it altogether. The roots contained a lesser amount of the same substance and were supposed to be a good bit safer to use, a common remedy at one time for everything from headaches to constipation, but Einar had never been particularly interested in experimenting with the plant for anything other than cordage, and, though he knew the amount of sap that gets on one’s hands in working with the plant, whether fresh or dry, was minimal and certainly ought not cause any harm, he did

not especially wish to take the chance, especially with the heart palpitations and other troubles he had been experiencing as recently as a week prior, as he climbed up to the canyon rim. Warming his hands for a minute to restore their mobility, he studied the water, snatching up the net and swiftly scooping it through the three feet of open blackness that lay exposed between ice shelves, coming up with a hatful of fingerling brown trout. Well, not a hat full, exactly, but the eight small fish that lay wriggling in their olive drab wool “net” were certainly a good start, and Liz helped him quickly collect them into a bag that she had brought, after which he wrung out the hat, re-tucked it in a few places where it had come loose from the improvised rim, and tried again, coming up with fewer fish, but, after several more well-spaced attempts, ending up with a total of fifteen of the little trout, the largest of which was just over three inches long. By the time he got the last of the fish into the bag, the first batch were well on their way to being frozen solid, as were his hands, it seemed, and he paused again to warm them before dismantling the improvised net and beating his hat--frozen pretty solid, itself, by then, against a tree to get some of the ice out. Filling the water bottles--Liz insisted on using the water filter, since they had it and since boiling the water would require the use of bear fat--they headed back up the hill, hoping to reach the shelter of the den before the first helicopter of the morning came over. Not a likely thing. • • • •

Climbing went a good bit more slowly for Einar than the descent that morning had, as on the way down, he had been able to slide a bit here and there on the snowshoe, using his spear for balance and managing to very nearly keep up with Liz while also paying close attention to the amount of overhead cover for any tracks he was leaving, but the return trip offered no such luxury, and he plodded along, step by step, hauling himself up the steep slope and seeming at times to lose as much ground as he was gaining. His leg was sore and aching from his untimely attempt to scramble to his feet on waking the night before, and though his improvised crutch replacement kept his weight from resting on the injured limb, the movement and the inevitable jarring it brought still hurt. As did his head, a dull, throbbing ache persisting where Liz had cracked him between the eyes with the aspen log, serving as a constant reminder of the night’s events and leaving him--even if she did not seem to be--questioning the wisdom of their sharing a living space, at all. The whole line of thought, which seemed to be going nowhere and which was beginning to bring back a bit more of the detail of those dreams than he really wanted to remember, besides, left him rather glum as he struggled up towards the den. It was with grateful acceptance, then, that Einar greeted the growing angle of the slope, the eventual need to focus all of his attention on simply staying upright and preventing the crutch and snowshoe from becoming entrapped amongst the many crisscrossed deadfall aspens that lurked just beneath the snow, waiting to treat him to a nasty fall. That’s it, work harder, climb harder. And…don’t forget to keep looking for usnea on these branches. Might as well be gathering it, as we climb. And he gave the whole of his focus to the climb, mind clearing of everything else as he exerted himself near the limits of his

ability, in his present condition. Einar had long found solace in hard work, a tremendous comfort, of an odd sort, in pushing himself as far as he could, physically, and then just a bit farther, and he supposed that he was blessed, in a way, that it did not at the moment take much to put him in that state, that the span between rest and working to total exhaustion had grown frighteningly short over the past months, until it was at times almost indiscernible. Not good, and that must change and it will, is already starting to, now that there’s more to eat. And there will always be plenty of work to keep you busy, in a life like this. No worries, there. The solace given him by that sort of exertion was something Einar had first discovered while learning in intimate detail dozens of routes up the rough, brittle granite of The Bulwarks, years ago, many years ago in the distant and dimming past, when he had spent the entire summer there once after being shown the place by his friend, the climber Willis Amell. He had, at the end of that summer and finding himself tremendously reluctant to return to the bustling world of the valley--or anyplace where he might be in close enough proximity to come into contact with that world, even--stayed there well into the winter, snowshoeing out twice for supplies but always returning--over the protests of acquaintances in town who had told him that he was surely going to freeze to death out there, either that, or go insane in the snowbound silence, offering him places to stay, a job or two, even, all of which he had politely refused with as few words as possible before heading out again--covering in a long day what would for most have been a major several-day trek through the deep snow and across the seemingly numberless timbered slopes that separated the place from the encroachments of civilization, alive, joyful, more so than he could have been, anywhere else. That had been a number of years before he’d bought his mining claim, mere miles from the area he had come to know and love over those seasons of wandering, and, over the course of the two summers that followed, cut and cured the timber and built the little cabin that was to serve as his home for many years until…well, until this. Until you went and fixed it so you wouldn’t have worry about being a part of that world, ever again. This is your life, now, and will be for the rest of your days…however many of them you got left. And he accepted it, had long ago come to accept it and without looking back, but as he glanced over his shoulder at Liz, who was struggling to keep up with him--might as well slow down some, give yourself a chance to breathe, here--he had to wonder how she could possibly share his thoughts on the matter, how she could possibly not wish to return to the life she had left behind, or at least something that resembled it, and he could not help but think that she had really got the bad end of the deal, in coming to stay with him. Yet she had chosen that life, had repeatedly rejected opportunities to return in favor of staying there with him. He shook his head, looked away. Some things were simply beyond his understanding, and would likely remain so. Just keep climbing. Climbing, harvesting the whitish-green clumps of usnea lichen from the undersides of evergreen branches where they hung dry and protected from the recently fallen snow, it was not long at all before Einar was drawn from his musings by a vague but growing sense of dread which he recognized immediately as heralding the approach of airborne visitors, and, though it would be well over a minute before either he or Liz would be able to detect audible sign of their approach, he began casting about for a place of

concealment, Liz following without hesitation when he told her in urgent tones that they must get themselves up against the boulder he had picked out. The day was still quite cold, the sun not yet spilling over the ridge onto that steep, north-facing slope, and Einar knew they must do what they could to mask their heat signatures, to appear, if not invisible, at least at least as small and insignificant as possible. Scooting in close to the rock, black, moss-encrusted and icy, he was glad to see that the fir boughs above them were thick, interlocking, shielding, and he huddled under the yearling hide with Liz as the chopper approached, following, it seemed, the ridgeline opposite the slope that held their den, slow, searching, stopping to hover now and then, and it seemed an age they waited for it to move on, praying that nothing was visible of their travels since the snow had ended, that nothing showed up around the den, as it had turned, doubled back somewhere up near the canyon rim and was returning, this time following their ridge, pausing, Einar was sure, somewhere up in the vicinity of the den before continuing the descent of the slopes, passing over them at an altitude that could not, he was certain, have much exceeded five hundred feet, but showing no indication that they had been noticed. It was not until some minutes after the rumbling died down, sitting still in the snow, listening, feeling, reaching out for any clue of continued danger, that Einar dared move, getting shakily to his feet with Liz’s help and leaving the warmth of the yearling hide-should have gone a long way to shield us, leave us looking more like little furry critters all curled up at the base of the rock, foxes or rabbits or some such, than human ones, because it sure is warm. This is the warmest I’ve been since leaving the bed this morning--to finish the climb to the den. Fifteen minutes more, and they were there; ten would have done it, had not Einar been using even more care than before, if that was possible, to avoid leaving sign. He knew that one little slipup--and who’s to say we haven’t already made it, the one that counts? The only one that counts… Sure hope we haven’t already made it--might very well leave their pursuers the clue that would mean the end of the their semi-secure setup in the den, of the tenuous if strengthening hold they had on life. They had reached the den, and he crouched beneath the little ledge that shielded it, bad leg and crutch straight out in front of him--how else is one to crouch, with a device like this?--listening, waiting, testing the air for he knew not exactly what. Got to avoid that, leaving sign like that, got to be awful careful how we move and when, what we take from the woods and especially from open areas like that little meadow. Harvest too many cattails or establish a set of snare-line trails that cross one of those open areas in a way that the critters wouldn’t normally do, and they may well end up spotting the change. And that’s even if they’re not already doing weekly comparisons of satellite images for this whole area, just looking for any change. He shrugged, shivering, followed Liz into the den, where she had hung the yearling hide back up to serve as the door flap, lighting the lamp and urging him to come in and get warm. Which he did, freezing, very nearly too exhausted to get into dry clothes and crawl up onto the sleeping platform to join Liz for a snack of broth and dried chokecherries. He had succeeded in wearing himself out, would be able to sleep, that night, or have some hope of it, anyway. If there were no further developments in the search. For the moment, though, it was barely past midmorning, and he had a lot of work left to do. • • • •

By the light of the qulliq lamp, which sat on its stand just in front of the sleeping platform, Einar, propped up on his elbows with the bear hide pulled up so that it covered his shoulders, prepared the little trout, removing entrails and tails, but leaving the heads on as he tossed them into the pot. Liz watched with interest as he tended the lamp wick with the deer rib that he had dedicated to the purpose, periodically pausing in his work with the fish to pull up fresh sections of the milkweed down mat in little points and spikes to keep the flame burning strong. As well as the lamp worked, though, and feeling the rumble of another helicopter through the ground beneath him, he quickly submerged more than half of the length of the wick entirely in the oil, reducing the flaming section to no more than four inches. Still ought to be enough to cook by, and will cut down on the heat this thing is putting out, the heat that’s escaping through that chimney and around the door to possibly be picked up on by--yep, there it is, I can hear it, now--by that doggone buzzard and its crew. Lying beside him with her harvest of rosehips spread out on a flat rock, preparing them as Susan had taught her by slicing each one open and removing the seeds, Liz picked up the deer rib wick-tending tool, inspecting the end of it, where Einar had worked it down to a point by repeated scrapings on a piece of sandstone. “This is to keep the wick pulled up so there’s always some of it exposed to the air to burn?” “Yes. So far it seems to burn best when you keep it pulled up in a series of little points, like this, rather than flat-topped. Something about flame propagation and diffusion, something that I’m sure generations of Inuit women understood far better than I ever will, even if they didn’t know the science of why it worked the way it worked. But, I’m trying. Learning.” “Inuit women, was it? So, does that mean I’m supposed to be the one taking care of that thing?” “It was traditional…” “And what does that leave you doing, while I’m sitting in the snow-house and tending the lamp all day? Harpooning seals and whales and hunting polar bears with spears, I suppose?” “Wrong part of the world for that! Which is kind of a shame, because do you know how warm a polar bear hide would be, if we could take one? They are incredible. Each hair is hollow to create dead air space and hold in the bear’s body heat, and that makes the bear--with the exception of its eye and nose area and of course its breath in the frigid arctic air--nearly invisible to infrared cameras. But like I said, wrong part of the…” “I know. I was joking. You do take everything so literally most of the time… And I know good and well that I wouldn’t be sitting around in the house all day just tending the lamp, either. Women ran most of the traplines, as I understand it, and the small game taken that way made up a bigger portion of their diet than the larger critters did, anyway,

a lot of the times. That’s all beside the point, though, because I don’t have any Inuit in me that I know of, and judging by your tall, scrawny build and bright blue eyes, I’m guessing you don’t either, but I’m sure starting to wish I had been taught some of these things by my mother or grandmother or however it worked, so they would come more naturally to me, now. So. Show me how to use this ‘wick-pick’ deer rib thingy, and I’ll take over as keeper of the flame. Just as long as you’ll promise not to go out looking to challenge any polar bears…for at least another week or two!” Laughingly agreeing to Liz’s demand, he showed her what he had learned of how to keep the lamp wick burning steadily and happily, handing her the deer rib at the end of the demonstration and watching as she worked the matted fibers of the wick, drawing fresh material up into contact with the air as the old burned down. The pot with the cleaned trout was steaming by that point, soon to be bubbling, from the looks of things, and Liz left the bed to locate the rawhide bag of nettle greens that she had dried back during their time at the Bulwarks, before frost had come and finished off the plants, adding a good sized palm full of them to the soup and stirring them in with a stick. Which reminded Einar that he had promised to show her how to make a coal-burned spoon. Well. Next time we can have a fire to produce the coals… The simmering fish soup, to which Liz had added a bit of cattail starch for a thickener, was beginning to give off the most wonderful odor, filling the den and reminding Einar that he had not tasted any sort of fish for a good long time, as he had generally been tremendously wary of waterways and lakes during his time on the run, knowing that they tended to attract others, as well, and, in the case of lively, rock-filled mountain streams and rivers, could easily mask the approach of danger with their rushing and gurgling. The change in fare would be good. The fact that we have something to eat, at all, is awfully good, when it comes down to it! But the fact that it brings some variety will make it a special treat. The tea-water, suspended in the smaller pot over the lamp, was beginning to boil, and Liz moved it away from the flame, tossing in a number of rose hips and stirring, breathing the sweet-smelling steam and studying the little packets of dried plants that lay in her open pack on the floor just below the sleeping platform, wondering if she might be able to slip a bit of yarrow into Einar’s tea without him noticing. He had been stirring the soup but stopped, looked over at her. “Please don’t.” “Don’t what?” “I see you looking at that yarrow. Stuff’s great for stopping bleeding and to break a bad fever if it’s a real danger, or to loosen up phlegm if it’s trying to keep you from breathing, but other than that…well, I was kinda looking forward to trying some of that rose hip tea, but I told you I don’t want to be drinking any yarrow. Makes me sleepy, and messes with my mind. Don’t like that.” “ I just though a little of it might help you sleep better. You kind of scared me, last night…”

“Then I’ll sleep outside.” “Don’t be ridiculous. I didn’t mean that. But those dreams…do you want to talk about it?” “No.” It was said flatly and with a finality that precluded further discussion of the matter, at least for the time, and seeing the change in Einar’s demeanor, Liz was a bit sorry for having brought the matter up, in the first place. “OK. No yarrow in the tea. Here. Want to try some?” He nodded, mumbled his thanks and took the pot, which they passed back and forth for a few minutes, sharing sips of the warming, vitamin-rich, concoction. Returning to her preparation of the remaining rose hips, Liz continued opening each one with her knife and scraping out the seeds, setting them aside on one corner of the flat rock that provided her work surface, stopping now and then to tend to the lamp, a duty she seemed to be taking very seriously. Einar watched, a bit puzzled. “Why are you taking out the seeds? I always just ate them, when I ate rosehips.” “Me too. And they’re full of oil, so they’re good for you to eat, but Susan used to set them aside--she made rosehip jam to sell, so she had a lot of seeds around--and extract the oil to use as part of a salve she made for burns and frostbite. She said the vitamins A and C in it, and the fatty acids, made it especially good for that sort of healing. We’re not really set up to extract the oil like she did, and we don’t have enough seeds here to bother with like that, anyway, but I thought I could at least kind of crush them up between a couple of rocks and stir the results into some softened bear grease, along with a few of those dried hound’s tongue leaves we have left. It might make a good salve to use on our hands, this winter--mine are already getting pretty cracked and sore from the cold and the dry weather, and I see that yours are, too--and on those two toes of yours that still look frostbit…” He nodded. “Sure. Makes sense. Susan really taught you a lot, sounds like.” “I worked with her for several months last year, and was always asking questions…she had to get after me a time or two for asking too many questions. A lot of what I learned from her had to do with the herbs she cultivated--most of which are not things we’ll find out here--but she knows a lot about some of the wild medicinals, too, and I was always asking her to teach me what the different wild plants were good for, up there around her place. Thought the information might come in handy, out here…” Einar glanced up at her, eyes narrowed and head tilted to one side. “Out here? How’d you know, last year, that you were going to end up ‘out here?’” “I didn’t.” She answered quietly. “But, I hoped…”

The soup was ready, then, and they ate. • • • •

Warmed up from their excursion in the snow and with a good meal of trout soup in them, Einar and Liz worked on their various projects, Einar removing with difficulty the sinew bundle from the frozen deer legs and Liz drying the soup pot and setting her prepared rose hips in it, suspended from the exposed roots in the ceiling far above the lamp and a bit to the side, to begin drying. Too much heat, she knew, would destroy their vitamin C content, greatly reducing their value as a source for winter tea. Taking down the pot from time to time to stir and shake its contents to help them dry evenly, she wondered if, supposing she could get back down to the marshy area before the snow got much deeper and entirely obliterated all signs of vegetation less prominent than trees, she might be able to find and collect another batch or two of the rosehips for use that winter. “Einar, did you use rose hips last winter, to keep from getting a vitamin C deficiency? Scurvy?” Pausing in his work he scooted over to the lamp, held fingers white and barely flexible over it warmth to thaw as he answered her. “No. Ate a few in the fall, but never did get a chance to put any back for after the snow came. Found some once after it snowed… hmm. Had forgotten about that. It was when I came down to the river one time, was awful hungry, floundering around in the deep snow trying to get to the water so I could see about getting ahold of some fish, and when I was just about at the end of my rope, energy-wise, I broke through a thin crust on the snow and got all tangled up in a rose bush. Well, as worn out as I was, it kinda felt like the end, made me wonder if I could even manage to climb out of that hole at all and go on, but as soon as I started digging, I found the rose hips. Good two dozen or so of them, and they gave me just enough energy to get out of there, head on down to the river. That was when the snow on the bank gave way, and I fell in… Sure glad you came along on skis, just then, because I was all done in, couldn’t have kept hanging onto those roots too much longer, I don’t believe. But… no. Never did get the chance to use them regularly for vitamin C. Always just used spruce or pine needles for that. Simmered them up into tea, even just chewed them sometimes, when I couldn’t have a fire. No reason for anyone to ever get scurvy, as long as there are evergreens around. But the rose hips will be real good to have. They’ve got other medicinal properties, beyond the vitamin C. Rose hip powder is used pretty frequently in Northern Europe and an anti-inflammatory, among other things, and it probably would have done me some good in the weeks after breaking this leg, if we’d had any then. Might be helpful in that way, even now, come to think of it…” “Your leg is bothering you more today, isn’t it?” Nodding, he untied the straps that held his two-part lower leg cast in place, pulling back the shredded green sweatshirt that served as insulation and rubbing the leg. “A little. It’s all right.” He grimaced, turned his head away and took a couple of slow breaths in an attempt to get ahold of the pain before it became something he could not conceal from

her. “Might be better if I hadn’t tried to stand up all sudden like that, last night. Pretty sure I need to be getting some more weight on it, anyway, to help the bone strengthen back up faster, but probably not that much weight. Well. I’ll probably learn, just about the time it’s all healed up.” Liz could see from the set of his jaw and the way he clenched a granite chunk in his other hand, squeezing it until it looked in danger of shattering as he rubbed the leg, that it was troubling him a good deal more than he was willing to let on. “How about some more rose hip tea, with a few slivers of willow tossed in? It might help…” “Sounds good but…no surprises, OK?” She smiled at him. “No surprises. Just those two things.” Pouring a bit of water into the pot, Liz scooped up hands full of snow from outside, knowing that its melting would be greatly expedited by the presence of some alreadyliquid water, but not wanting to use up too much of their water supply while the lamp was burning and available for melting snow. As she worked, shaving the bark from one of the larger-diameter willow sticks and snipping off the tops of a few others, chopping the results into chunks of an inch or less in length to give them plenty of exposure to the water, Einar collected the fish entrails which he had casually tossed onto a flat rock while cleaning the fish, studying them as if he was not sure whether he ought to scarf them down for a quick snack, or toss them outside to prevent the place coming to smell any more strongly of fish. Which, indeed, he was not, hardly able to bear the thought of throwing out anything that might even remotely resemble food. The odor in the place was a bit concerning to him, though, as he realized that it would likely begin attracting every four legged predator and scavenger within a ten mile radius, one or more of which they would surely end up having to contend with, when it worked up the courage to venture past its fear of the human-scent and raid the den for what remained of their deer. The place would, he supposed, smell of fish for days after the cooking of that soup, and there was nothing to do about it, but he could attempt to do something about the hungry creatures who would soon be showing up to investigate the tempting smell. The fish entrails would, he knew, serve as the perfect bait for a number of deadfalls which he could set up in the area immediately outside the den, hopefully preventing martens and fishers and possibly even bobcats from finding their way into the den some night. Choosing a couple of good straight, stout willows, he chopped them into the appropriate lengths, beginning to notch them, in sets of three, fitting them together and making a the few refinements necessary to turn them into the figure four trap triggers that would-hopefully--activate the deadfalls when some creature came in search of a fishy snack, trapping and crushing it beneath a heavy slab of rock. It was one of the simplest triggers to make, one which required no cordage or other materials, one which he had even managed to construct effectively a time or two back in the dark days when he had not possessed even a knife, rubbing the notches into the sticks with granite flakes and catching himself a marmot--albeit a lean, stringy spring marmot--just in time to avoid that dreaded state in which he lacked the energy to do anything more than lie beneath a tree

and…wait. He shook his head, started on the fourth trigger set. Keep yourself in the present, here, Einar. Things aren’t that bad right now, and it’s your job--your duty, now, actually; you’re not in this alone anymore--to keep it that way, if you can. Several times while constructing the triggers, Einar had to stop and warm his hands, hovering over the lamp and breathing the steam from Liz’s heating tea-water as he shook furiously, warming just enough after a few minutes of it to return to his work. He was really missing the ability to prepare hot rocks in a fire to press to the small of his back as he sat working, needing to keep his body temperature from falling too far, or to clasp periodically between his hands when they became too numb to be of much use and he found his stomach not especially warm, either, when he attempted to thaw his hands by holding them against it, but he had done without such luxuries before, and, while he had enjoyed them, knew that he could do without, once again. He was dry, out of the wind, had food to eat and the little lamp to warm the place a bit. Things were good. For the moment. Something was bothering him, though, a gnawing, prickling sense of warning, of foreboding that had been growing for the past hour or so, and whose source he had not been able to identify, through the ache in his leg and the focused effort of constructing the trap triggers. Huddled over the lamp once again, though, shivering himself warm over its flame, the answer came to him. It was too quiet. Too still. Starting that morning while they were on their way up from the marsh, the air traffic had been steady, the frequent vibrations of helicopters keeping him on edge as they worked in the den, but now that he thought about it, he realized that it had been a good long while since he had heard one. Why the change? Impending weather shift? Ran out of fuel and they’re waiting on the ground for the truck to show up? Lunch break? He doubted it, hastily lashed his cast back in place and scooted over to the door, crouching there with a corner of the bear hide pulled aside, staring out at the patches of bright blue sky that showed between the gently swaying evergreen boughs, listening, not quite trusting the change. After a time he let the flap fall back into place, glanced around at the cave interior, at their possessions spread and hung all over the place like those of people who believed they were at home, safe, secure. “Liz, get the backpacks.” • • • •

“The backpacks?” Liz asked, puzzled, even as she hastily rounded up the two packs-mostly empty, as everything had been unpacked and either arranged on the rock “shelf” at the back of the den or hung from the ceiling-roots--and handed them to Einar, recognizing in his voice something that demanded immediate action. “What are you…” “Something’s not right. Too quiet all of a sudden. You notice that? They’ve been coming by every fifteen minutes or so, all morning, and now…nothing. For too long.” He had scooted over to the shelf and was sorting through things, stuffing some pemmican, rendered bear fat and a number of half finished atlatl points and spearheads into the smaller day pack that he had been using, and Liz joined him, hoping a bit

desperately that she was misunderstanding his intent. “That’s…good though, right? Means they’ve moved on, maybe? That they won’t be focusing on this area quite so much anymore?” “Could be. Or, it may mean that they’ve picked up on the heat from this lamp, from us, from the den and decided it didn’t quite fit the pattern, or that they’ve maybe seen something, some tracks down near the marsh, some of my big old awkward snowshoe tracks, or noticed where you cut those cattails, before, and they’ve called off the air search to get us to let our guard down, to soften us up as they get men on the ground and head straight up here to this den. I’m not gonna sit here and let them trap us like rats in a hole, Liz. We’ve got to move.” She stared at the ground, silent for a minute, pretending to be absorbed with gathering up all of the little rawhide packets of herbs and packing them into one larger bag. Oh, Einar…it sure seems like a stretch to go from a one hour break in air activity to us being trapped like rats in a hole by a bunch of heavily armed and angry feds. I just don’t see where you get it. But then, you’re usually right about these things… “What about tracks, though? Won’t we be leaving tracks? Even if we’re super-careful, we’re bound to leave something that they might see, and then they’ll know for sure that we’re up here, if they don’t already.” “We’re gonna have to be awfully careful, yes. Keep to the black timber. And as cold as it’s been, IR detection will be a real danger. Bigger danger than staying put, probably.” Silently, he continued sorting gear, packing. “There are risks either way, big ones, but I got a real bad feeling about staying. We’ve been here too long, probably haven’t been careful enough with our heat output…” He stared into the lamp, shaking his head and scrubbing his hands over his face. Liz could see his conflict, knew that having her there was almost certainly complicating his decision. “If I wasn’t here, Einar, what would you do? Would you go?” He laughed a dry, humorless laugh, shivered and moved a bit closer to the lamp, stretching out cold-stiffened fingers above its flame. “You know I can’t sit still, Liz. Spend more than one night in the same spot, and I start to get awful antsy, these days. If I was alone I’d have been out of here a week ago, while the snow was still falling to cover my tracks. Trying to lug half a dead bear on my back, stumping along on crutches and freezing because I wouldn’t have had the strength to carry both the bear’s hide and a decent amount of meat, and as starved as I was, I’d have probably chosen the meat. I’d be frozen and dead under the snow by now, most likely.” Liz did not answer right away, choosing five or six of the drying rosehips, crushing them up a bit on a flat rock and adding them to the water that sat heating above the lamp, breaking up a few pieces of rendered bear fat and dropping them into the mix, as well. “Maybe we should wait, then, and see if the air search starts up again.”

Einar, having strapped on his improvised crutch, was on his feet, struggling into a pack as he spoke. “No time to wait. If they’re coming, we should have been out of here an hour ago, last night, last week… Can’t even tell you how many times there have been where if I’d waited, hesitated at all…well, they’d have had me.” “But there have been the other times, too…” “What?” “Times when you didn’t have to move, when they weren’t coming, but you went and did it anyway, left everything behind and nearly did yourself in…that’s what you were talking about just a minute ago, wasn’t it, when you said that you’d be frozen out in the snow right now, if you’d had your way?” Angered at the way she seemed to be twisting his words, Einar wanted to shout at her, tell her that he had no time to discuss the matter just then, I’m still free, aren’t I? This works. I don’t know any other way to do it, can you tell me a better way to do it…? but he kept quiet, pulling lengths of sinew and paracord down from the spots where they hung from the ceiling and stuffing them in his pack. “Einar, think about it. If we take the big bear hide--that thing must weigh fifty or sixty pounds, easily--then I’ll be carrying it, and won’t be able to carry much else. How much meat can you reasonably carry? We would have to leave most of it. And most of the fat. And everything else. Without the bear hide, we will die out there. We will freeze and we will die. You’re doing better, starting to, I can tell, but I saw the kind of effort it took for you to get yourself back up that slope this morning. Carrying what? Five, maybe six pounds on your back? How do you think you’re going to…” He took a limping step towards the door, turned back to face her, eyes snapping and his face a mask of cold, determined fury. “I cannot make you come with me, Liz. You’re right. I can hardly push this broken old body of mine to take the next step and the one after that, right now, but I’ve been there before, and all I can do is to just keep going like I always have, try to make the best decisions I can and do my best with whatever time I’ve got, deal with the consequences as they come. Now. I need to get out of here, and I need to do it right now. But if you’re not going to come…” he sighed, sagging a bit as he leaned on his spear for support, “well, what choice do you leave me? You know I’m not gonna go and abandon you here.” “You’ve got a sense for these things Einar, and you’ve got the experience. If you say go, we’re going, but I just wanted you to consider the possibility…” She stopped, seeing that Einar had released the pack he had been struggling with and had dropped to the ground, pressing himself into the dirt floor as he drew back a corner of the bear hide, knife in hand, listening to something she could not quite pick up on. Fearing that Einar must have been right, that the enemy must have somehow managed to slip up on them and end up outside their door, Liz quickly put out the lamp, joining him at the door with one of the atlatl darts, still unable to hear anything out of the ordinary.

Einar heard it, though, felt it in the ground and in his bones and, as the seconds dragged by, so did Liz, and then it was on top of them, low, Einar fitting a dart into the atlatl in one swift motion and getting to his feet, ready to rush outside and into the little clearing in front of the den and from there do what he could to bring the beast down, to give Liz some time, give her a chance, do it, you got seconds here at best, you know how fast they can come down those ropes, but she grabbed him, jerked the crutch out from under him and left him pitching forward to fall hard to the ground on the rocks beneath the little ledge with a suddenness that knocked his breath out, and when he rolled over and grabbed the ledge to haul himself back to his feet, he heard, faint but distinct through the pounding of the propellers and of the blood in his head, Liz’s voice, urgent, soft, “wait… wait,” and he did, and the beast passed over, no hovering, no hesitation, no hostage rescue team fast-roping down on top of the den to take them, and Einar rolled over, dragged himself further up under the protection of the ledge, forehead resting on the cold rocks, sick and trembling with the unspent adrenaline of the deed he had been about to do, listening intently as the little round-nosed Cayuse buzzed the ridge opposite theirs, scouring it, zigzagging up and away in the direction of the canyon in what appeared to be the well-organized search pattern of men who had not yet seen what they were looking for. Its sound faded, gradually, completely, leaving them in silence, and finally Einar allowed Liz to help him back into the den, cleaning the blood-oozing scrape where his cheek had contacted rock in the fall and getting him wrapped up in the bear hide. “What were you doing heading out into the clearing like that?” “Thought they’d come for us. I was gonna kill it.” She shook her head, feeling around in the darkness and finding his hands, pressing into them the still-warm pot from above the extinguished lamp and steadying it as he took a drink. “I have no doubt that you were…” • • • •

Thinking it unwise to re-light the lamp right away with the prospect of the Cayuse returning to scan their ridge as it had the one opposite them, Einar saw the sense in Liz’s suggestion that they stay bundled up for a time in the bear hide to take advantage of its warmth, but found himself able to manage mere minutes of it before giving in the gnawing urge to creep out and sit listening at the door flap, ears searching for the sounds that he was certain the earthen walls of the den would deny him until it was too late, should he dare allow himself the comfort of its shelter, jaw clenched against the chattering of his teeth, which would otherwise have interfered significantly with his listening. For quite some time he sat huddling with one palm pressed against the icy dirt and rock just inside the entrance, knife in his other hand, waiting for the rumbling to return, reaching, feeling, staring out at the patch of snowy slope and wishing for a wider view, appearing, himself, to have become part of the stone that made up the den front,

remaining immobile until in the cold his hands lost all feeling and he finally pressed them, icy, useless, under his arms to warm. Liz went to him then--she had been reluctant to approach before and disturb his concentration, unsure how he might react--and offered him a drink of the remaining tea, unfrozen, if no longer warm. “Hear anything?” Jumping as if jarred from sleep, he turned to face her. “No. Quiet out there. Don’t know what to make of it, but…seems they must not know we’re here. Guess we better stay for now, just lie real low and give the search time to die down. I don’t think can afford to be making too many more trips outside though, not until it starts snowing again. Too much chance of leaving sign that they’ll pick up on. We’ve got the deer in here, bear fat…we can hold out for a good while on that.” “That, and water. Do you think it’s safe to light the lamp again yet, so we can get some more snow melting?” “Let’s wait. Been thinking about that, and I’m not sure we ought to use the lamp at all for a few days, since I really don’t have a good way to know how much heat is leaking out of this place when we warm it up, how it may look from the air. Maybe we’d better give it a few days.” “We’re almost out of water, though. I don’t think it would be a good idea to go for a few days without water…and I would be glad to go down to that open water every day to fill up the bottles, but you said we’d better not risk the tracks…” He shrugged, reached out of the bear hide and grabbed a handful of snow, pressing it between his palms until they went white, the powdery snow crystals condensing into a hard, icy pellet under the pressure. Breaking off a chunk of the ice, Einar stuck it in his mouth, chewed, shuddering slightly at the trickle of icy water in his throat. “That’s what we do. I got my water this way for days at a time last winter when I couldn’t have a fire, was hurt too bad to get down to the river. You never do quite get enough this way; I think you’d have to be eating snow-ice almost constantly to really get anything like enough water, and it’s awful hard to stay warm when you’re constantly putting ice water into your stomach like that, but…you live. I lived.” Yes, you did, and I’d sure like to see you to go on living, which is why I think we really need that lamp, Einar. You’re going to freeze to death if we try doing without it at these temperatures, especially with you dressed in only one layer of clothing--and sometimes the wolverine hide or buckskin vest, when you’re not leaving them sitting on the bed so I’ll wear them--and insisting on spending half your time sitting there at the door listening, freezing… “You never got dehydrated, doing that?” “Sure. Pretty bad, a couple of times, and then you’ve really got to worry about hypothermia, frostbite, as your blood thickens up and slows down…cold as it is right

now, I know we’d be a lot better off with that lamp. Let’s give it the day, the night, maybe, see what’s going on out there, and then we can think about lighting it again. Now. We’ve let ourselves get way too relaxed here in this den, and that’s my fault. I was tired, I guess, kinda sick after coming back from the canyon, and I let things slip real bad.” Liz was glad that it was so dark in the den, so Einar could not see the look of amusement that flashed across her face at that statement. Einar…I’ve never seen you let anything slip, not for a fraction of a second. I don’t know if you’re capable of it... He continued. “We’ve got to keep these packs loaded up and ready to go. I know we won’t be able to carry everything, if that time comes, so we need to do some careful sorting, planning, maybe slice up some of what’s left of that deer and set it to dry for jerky, so it’ll be lighter to carry. Will take a long time to dry in this weather, but should do better over the lamp, and maybe some will be done in time… And you’re right what you said before about us being in trouble if we end up having to leave the big bear hide and travel through the snow for any distance, dressed like this. Got to get some of these deadfalls set up, baited with the fish guts, and hope to get ahold of a fox or two, pine marten, even, so we can get started on some warmer clothes. I just don’t know if it’s worth the risk right now, leaving the den to do even that. Maybe if we keep to the heavy timber right down on the side of that little gully.” “I can go out and set the deadfalls, if you’ll tell me how you want it done.” He hesitated, wishing to do it himself, finally nodded. “OK. You would leave less sign, be able to move more quickly than me, for sure. Tomorrow, though. For today, I really don’t want us going out at all. Not until we get a better idea of how this search is going to go, from here.” It grew awfully, terribly cold in the den that evening, trees snapping and shattering outside and promising the coldest night yet, and as the light faded they set aside the nearly finished backpacks, seeking refuge in the bear hide, Liz wondering how they were ever to make it through the night, without the warmth of the lamp and with only shreds of frozen venison and lumps of bear fat which seemed unwilling to begin melting in their mouths, for their supper. They were cold but, pressed close together on the insulating mattress of cattail heads and wrapped in the bear hide with a layer of grass and duff on top and the deer skin spread over everything to help keep the extra insulation in place, things were tolerable for both of them, and they were, before an hour had passed, warm enough to begin growing sleepy, Liz, at least, looking forward to the prospect of a reasonably good night. A hope that was shattered rather suddenly by the fact that Einar could not seem to get past the point of falling asleep without immediately beginning to hear that rumbling in the distance, menacing, insistent, demanding action and sending him scrambling out of bed to hurry to the door and listen, hearing nothing, but little comforted by the fact. It happened twice, the second time after several minutes of sleep, when Liz had finally begun to relax, herself, hoping and praying that he would not again awake with the notion that she was an intruder of some sort, but keeping a good sized chunk of firewood handy, just in case. Which she nearly ended up using on him, saved at the last minute by the fact

that he figured out where the door was, and headed that way, instead of towards her side of the bed. Watching him as he crouched there swaying and trembling in the faint glow of the quarter moon on the snow outside, she knew she must do something, called to him and was relieved when he accepted her invitation to return to the relative warmth of the sleeping platform. The memory of the past night’s incident fresh in her mind as she worked to warm him, and genuinely fearing for Einar’s health and even life, should he insist on continuing to jump up every fifteen minutes, spending a good portion of the frigid night standing sentry by the open den door, Liz was determined to find a way to keep him in the bed for a while. Which, it seemed, meant keeping him awake and thinking of something…else. He was thawing a bit, she could tell in the lessening of his shivering, and supposed he might be to a point where he could speak again, without undue effort. “Einar, the other day you were going to tell me, remember, how you train yourself to get along in the cold, some of the things you used to do…well, I’d like to hear about it.” “Now? Thought you…said you didn’t want me to tell you about it until s-sometime when we had a big fire going in the stove and a pot of hot soup to share. Which is… definitely not now…” “Guess I changed my mind. Maybe I’ll hear some ideas in what you have to say that will help me get through the winter …or the night, even.” “Alright,” he answered, sounding a good bit more like himself. “You asked for it…” • • • •

Einar and Liz were not the only ones struggling with the arctic temperatures that night. Down in the valley, where the cold tended to settle under certain conditions, leaving the air far more frigid than it was a thousand or more feet higher, a heavy fog rolling off of the river and drifting in icy billows and streamers over the grounds of the Mountain Task Force compound was creating somewhat hazardous conditions for the search and surveillance flights that officials wished to continue sending out, wanting to get in as many flight hours as possible before the next storm, predicted to arrive sometime the following evening, had a chance to begin lashing the high country with its high winds and blinding snows. Fixed wing flights had been suspended altogether starting early that evening because of the limited visibility there on the ground, and though the helicopters kept going out, the ice-fog came dangerously close to overwhelming the de-icing system on one of them--the only one which was equipped with such--nearly leading to disaster, and before long, they, too, were temporarily grounded. The Mountain Task Force director--directors, actually, as the organization was since the avalanches being headed up by a committee of four men representing the various agencies that had a stake in the capture of their fugitive--was, after the disastrous loss of so many lives in the series of ill-timed avalanches in the

canyon, taking every precaution when it came to protecting against further losses and embarrassments. With a Congressionally-appointed Special Prosecutor breathing down their necks, watching and waiting for any reason to draw them into a widespread misconduct investigation that had stemmed from allegations of gross misallocation of funds and military hardware by former Task Force head Toland Jimson, the four men, representing the FBI, BATFE, U.S. Marshals Service and the Department of Homeland Security, were carefully playing everything by the book, at least for the time. They had been, in fact, looking for ways to cut back on the active search, relying on extensive surveillance coupled with an intensive intelligence effort in the local area--at least two of the agency representatives were firmly convinced that their fugitive must be receiving local assistance on a regular basis, of some sort--rather than risking losing any more men to what had essentially become a difficult and very dangerous winter combat operation in the high country of the Central Rockies. The men were not trained for it, were not prepared, and the Task Force heads had, even before the devastating avalanches that wiped out the canyon camp and destroyed yet another helicopter, been seeing several casualties every week due to frostbite and other environmental injuries on the part of agents who had little training and even less background to prepare them to operate in such terrain and weather extremes. The hoped-for scaling back of the winter manhunt had, however, become much more difficult to justify with the discovery of Asmundson’s signature in the well-made bone spear point that had been found lodged firmly in the skull of one of the agents buried beneath the avalanche debris. The fugitive was alive, clearly, and still in the area, but he had given them the slip once again as he disappeared into the massive snowstorm that had closely followed the avalanches. All they could do was to carry on with the air search in the hopes of seeing some thermal anomaly that would give them a clue as to his whereabouts, while hopefully preventing any more costly or perhaps even deadly fiascos in the process. With the foggy conditions down at the air strip and the soon-to-be coming storm, though, even these efforts were being temporarily stymied. • • • •

Though he did not at the moment feel especially inclined to launch into a long exposition on the virtues of intentional cold adaptation or anything else, for that matter, neither did Einar, weary as he was from the day’s exertion, feel much like sleeping, and Liz was being quite persistent, repeating her question as if she was afraid he would fall asleep again before answering it. Don’t really blame her. Guess I’ve been pretty bad company lately, especially at night, it seems. She’s probably got a big old aspen log next to her in the bed over there right now, just in case… And his scalp prickled at the thought, the nearly forgotten knot on his forehead aching just a bit. “OK, I’ll tell you about it, but you sure seem to have taken a liking to hurting me, lately…first you crack my skull with a piece of firewood, then send me sprawling in the rocks out there right under a helicopter, by swiping my crutch…all in the same day! How do I know that you’re not gonna haul off and whack me again, if you don’t like what I’ve got to say? Because most of the folks who I’ve happened to discuss this subject with in

the past haven’t much liked what I had to say…” “Well I’m about to go ahead and whack you right now, just for good measure and to help you remember tonight that I’m me, and not some federal agent or whatever you were thinking last night, so you’d better watch out! What happened this afternoon, though, with the helicopter…do you really want to talk about it?” “No! Sometime. Maybe. Anyway, about this afternoon…thanks.” “It’s my job. Now. Are you ever going to tell me how to fix it so I can freeze just like you and yet somehow mysteriously remain alive, if not quite ‘normal?’” He laughed. “This is ‘normal’ for me, Liz, all of it… And I don’t know about you, but I do know what had worked for me, and I can tell you about that. Well, everybody starts to adapt, to some extent, to whatever conditions they find themselves in, heat, cold, humidity, whatever it may be, but I realized years ago that there’s a lot you can do beyond the normal adaptation that takes place, to speed up the process, to take it further. I always preferred the cold, and living in these mountains, saw a lot more of it than I did heat, anyway, so I could see some definite advantages adapting to it, focused on that. Lived down in town at the time--well, not in town, never lived in town, but near it--and I started by just eliminating the use of hot water from my daily activities, aside from washing up the dishes, I guess. Anyhow, bathing in cold water that comes up from a good deep well like mine did when I was living there will get you started adjusting to it real quickly! Not that this is an option out here of course, but if a person is living down in “civilization,” a good way to start this process is by going back and forth from hot to cold water in the shower, at first. That’s actually really good for your circulation, immune system and other systems, too. Just alternate between a minute or two of hot water, followed by a minute or two of cold, and gradually turn the cold down so that there’s no warm mixed in with it at all. By the second or third cycle, the cold won’t feel all that cold anymore, just refreshing, and won’t be at all painful. And you end up with an amazing amount of energy at the end of it, and feeling wider awake than you might have thought possible. That’s a good easy way to get yourself started, if you can’t seem to go straight for the cold water. After a while though you really do get used to it, so that it is no big deal to just start out with the water turned all the way to cold. I really came to look forward to it, actually.” At the same time, I got rid of most of the blankets on my bed and started letting the stove die down more at night, didn’t keep the house as warm in the daytime, either. The first few days--and nights--of that were really not the most comfortable I had ever experienced, but your body adapts pretty quickly if you just give it the chance, accept the discomfort and keep going. You find the sleeping positions that best conserve heat, and your metabolism adjusts to produce the extra warmth, as long as you have a way to get enough to eat… Most people just keep their houses so absurdly warm in the winter, you know. They seem to have this idea that the temperature in their living space always needs to be the same, and that it ought to be similar in the winter to what it is in the summer! How ridiculous. And then they wonder why they have trouble going from their seventy

degree house and bed with heated blankets--ha!--out into the snowy, cold world outside and being comfortable…hmm, I wonder why? I never had that problem, you see, and was always a good bit healthier than the people around me who were trying so hard to artificially control their environment. We are naturally pretty sturdy, flexible, resilient critters, us humans, but those traits can be trained out of us and bred out of us and lost through disuse…” Not, Liz thought to herself but dared not say aloud, a problem our children are ever likely to face… “Anyhow, that winter I started swimming at a nearby lake, breaking the ice out and staying in there for as long as I could, and sometimes in the river, too, and that’s where you start to learn to control your breathing. Your body’s natural response when you hit cold water is to gasp, start breathing real fast and irregular at the shock, and your heart rate goes way up. That can be a problem if you fall in accidentally or without a good plan, because you can end up swallowing water with all that gasping, or just panicking and forgetting what to do to help yourself. But that gasp reflex can be trained out of you, and you can learn to control your heart’s response to that kind of thing, too. The more you subject yourself to those sorts of sudden changes, the more adjusted you become to them, until you can eventually step right into thirty three or thirty four degree water and submerge yourself up to your neck without too much noticeable response. For a while, anyway… And there are things you can do to convince your body to maintain blood flow to the extremities when it would normally be shutting it down to keep your core warm, ways you can get yourself to actually produce more heat while sitting still, even. The Inuits did it to keep from losing fingers while out ice fishing, and it is practiced even today in Tibet as a discipline. But I won’t get into all of that, right now. Getting sleepy, and it’s too complicated. Plus I’m probably boring you.” Liz shivered, drew the bear hide closer around his shoulders as if attempting to shield him from the things he was describing. “Getting into the icy water like that…doesn’t it hurt, though?” “At first, some. Stings, then aches… But you get used to it pretty quickly. The physical part is not the real difficulty, when you’re training this way. The hard part is getting your mind to be willing to take that step, each time. To get into the water, to head out the door for a run without your jacket, things like that. Once you accept it, decide to simply do it, the rest it easy. And so are a lot of other things. This isn’t just about learning to adapt to the cold. It’s a form of discipline that really carries over into other areas of life. There are, no matter how adapted you become and how much you come to enjoy it, even, going to be times when you simply don’t feel like starting your morning by stepping under a stream of freezing water, but by pushing through that hesitance--laziness is what it really is, weakness of the mind more than of the body--and doing it anyway, leaving yourself no choice to opt out, it seems to build a habit of choosing the difficult path even when you don’t want to, a sort of determination that transfers easily to other aspects of life.” “Well you certainly do have a ‘habit of choosing the difficult path,’ so it must be working

for you! So, it was no accident that you were able to make it through some of the things you did, this last year.” “No. I’ve been at this for years, training for years, and I might have made it, even without the training, sure would have tried, but I’m sure it has made a big difference. Given me a lot less to think about, anyway, to worry about, because some of the things I was experiencing were already familiar to me, and I kinda knew what I could handle, where my limits were. Though I’ve sure been wrong about that, a time or two…fatally wrong, almost.” “Einar, you said something about coming to enjoy exposure to the cold…is that something you developed to cope with the conditions last winter, do you think? Decided there was no avoiding it, so you might as well just learn to enjoy it?” “Ha! That’d make it seem a little less weird to you, wouldn’t it? Sadly, no, I must admit it is a preference I’ve had all my life, for as long as I can remember…not sure I experience cold the same way most do. I really do enjoy it, until the point where I start turning into a human icicle, and then it becomes something I need to reverse. That, or when it--the shivering, especially--aggravates my injuries like it did early on with the broken leg, or when I’ve had busted ribs…” “Do you mean, then, that you actually enjoy…this? These last few weeks, conditions like we saw, today? This freezing every time you go outside, never quite being able to get warm…it doesn’t really look to me like you could be enjoying it….” “Right now?” He moved a bit closer to her, drew his nose in under the bear hide, sighed. “No, not so much. I’m too doggone scrawny, still. Without some minimal fat reserves, just a little bit, just enough to get a person up out of the ‘imminent starvation’ category… things tend to go from mildly interesting to downright dangerous real fast, in this kind of cold. Nah, I kind of just endure it at the moment, rather than enjoying it. But now once I manage to put on a few more pounds…it’ll be a different story!” He was quiet for a minute, then, and Liz felt him relax, his breathing growing more regular, and she pulled the bear hide up over their heads and closed her eyes, hoping that his sleep would last for a good while and finding herself immensely, immeasurably grateful for the warmth of the bear hide and the cattail bed, after that particular conversation. And glad Einar had gone to sleep when he had, too, as she was certain that he would otherwise have had a good deal more to say on the subject, as it seemed one of his favorites, and she had heard quite enough for one night. Though his sleep was light and not especially peaceful, Einar did manage to lie relatively still for the remainder of the night, and when he woke for the final time, it was to a pale light seeping in under the yearling hide and the shrieking of the wind over the rocks just outside the den. The place would, he was quite sure, have been creaking and shaking, had it been a wooden or fabric structure, rather than the earthen one that it was. The weather was changing, and he was glad.

Seeing the skiff of snow that had drifted in and dusted the floor of the den just in front of the door in the night, Einar, who rose first that morning, thought at first that the windpromised storm had already begun out on the mountainside, enthusiastically pulling back a corner of the bear hide, in the hopes of seeing something that would tell him they were safe having the lamp once again, and perhaps, if the storm was heavy enough, even the stove. The morning greeted him with no such news, however, the sky grey and sullen and the wind slamming him in the face, driving a flurry of icy crystals into his eyes and leaving him squinting out at a world which, while dark and certainly wintry, showed no sign of new snow, as of yet. It would come. He could smell it. Until then, though… he let the door flap fall closed, brushed the snow from his clothes and used a handful of dry grass to sweep the accumulated whiteness away from inside the door, against the time when they would again have a fire and the place would become warm enough for the snow to begin melting and turning the floor muddy. Later. Maybe later, when it snows. For now we can still expect aircraft, though with this wind… he leaned another slab of granite up against the flapping yearling hide, feeling the draft rather keenly as it flowed over him, with this wind, they’re not likely to be flying for too long! Liz had left the bed and carved off a few slivers of bear fat and, along with a small cake of dried chokecherries and some frozen venison, returned to the warmth of the bear hide to partake of the breakfast. Einar joined her, eating, glad to find that the water in their bottles--stashed carefully in the bear hide with them--had remained mostly liquid overnight, if a bit slushy. There was not much left, though, less than an entire bottle between them, and Einar knew that they must leave a bit of water in the bottom of each, going outside and stuffing a good bit of snow down into the bottles after they ate, keeping them close to their bodies to begin what at those temperatures would be a long, slow melting process. The stormy-looking weather was promising, for sure, gave hope that the lamp might soon be an option once again, but Einar knew better than to count on any such thing, knew the weather was subject to change without notice, in the mountains, especially. And, should the snow hold off and air search go active again, they would not even have the option of using the black plastic bag to melt a bit of snow for drinking water, as he highly doubted they would be seeing the sun that day, at all. The clouds were too thick, too low and leaden and widespread to offer any such hope. Well. Storm would absolutely be the best thing that could happen to us right now, anyway. Lying on the sleeping platform as they finished off the last of their breakfast--it was noticeably warmer up there off the floor, even with no heat source in the den besides their own bodies--and listening to the wind outside, Einar thought he heard something else, a small sound, a scraping or scratching coming from somewhere just outside the den, and he eased his hand down over the edge of the sleeping platform until he found his spear, grabbed it and lay waiting, listening, realizing finally that the sounds came not from beyond the den but from inside it, from the corner, in fact, where the half-eaten deer carcass sat frozen near the wall. Sneaky, aren’t you? And reasonably small too, I think, or you’d be making more noise… The weak light coming in around the door flap was not enough to illuminate the corner that held the deer carcass, and Einar, motioning to Liz to

remain still, carefully swung his legs out of the bed, wishing very much at the moment for more agility, and crouching on the floor between the door and the carcass. Whatever manner of intruder was feasting on their food supply, he knew that it must be stopped, and knew that it would, itself, be edible, and that they could ill afford to miss a chance to add to their food supply. If only he could see it. He could hear it, though, the soft sounds of chipping and cracking bone as the creature plied the deer carcass with its teeth telling him that it had not, apparently, yet become too alarmed at his presence or decided that it was time to flee, and he crawled towards it, dragging his injured leg and stopping every few seconds to listen. The second time he paused he realized that the creature had stopped, too, must have finally heard him or felt the predatory concentration with which he stalked it, and, hearing a scurrying and a scraping some distance off to his left, heading for the door, he scrambled to his feet and dived at the sound, knife in hand, bad leg collapsing under him and leaving his head to slam into the rocks beside the entrance as the creature ran beneath him and escaped his would-be deadly grasp. Hearing a commotion behind him Einar quickly flipped over and got to his knees, seeking the source of the disturbance but finding himself unable to keep up with the speed at which the creature--creatures? Sure is making a racket!--moved about the den, twisting and jumping and sounding as if it, or they, were bouncing off of the walls, and then there was a sharp crack, silence… Shoving open the door flap and pinning it with a rock to keep it back and shed some light on the situation, Einar was met by the sight of Liz standing there beside the bed, wild-eyed, holding a three pound pine marten by the tail, its skull crushed, a good-sized aspen stick with a knot in one end gripped tightly in the other hand, appearing poised for more action, and his eyes went from the log, to her face to the dead weasel, a most comical look of startled amazement spreading across his features as he found himself suddenly possessed of a newfound respect for her firewoodwielding talent and hoping that he would not again soon find himself at the receiving end of its fury. Staring at each other thus for a few seconds, they both burst out laughing simultaneously, relief and the general hilarity of the entire situation getting the better of them, and when Einar had sufficiently regained his composure to pick himself up off the floor he gritted his teeth against the twisting pains in his leg he crawled over to her, hauling himself up onto the bed to sit beside her. “Looks like breakfast. How’d you ever manage to see it well enough to make a good solid hit like that?” Relaxing just a bit Liz sat also, gingerly laying the dead animal across her lap and inspecting its thick, rich blackish-brown coat, but seeming unwilling to release her grasp on the weapon, just yet. “I just heard it coming towards me, got a little glimpse of motion out of the corner of my eye and before I knew what I was doing…” She clubbed the side of the sleeping platform with the knotted end of the stick for emphasis, surprising Einar and sending him scrambling momentarily to his feet. “What is it, anyway? It’s way bigger than any ermine I ever saw!” He sat back down, leaning the spear against the bed and taking the animal in his hands. “Pine marten. Quick little critters. You must be getting nearly as jumpy as I am, to be

able to nab it the way you did, and in the dark. Good job!” “Yes, I guess some of it is rubbing off. Is a pine marten any good to eat?” He chuckled. “Anything and everything that walks on four legs--or hops on two and flies--is good to eat up here, Liz! More or less… Yeah, we’ll have marten stew tonight, and this little fellow’s fur is one of the warmest and softest you’ll find. They nearly got trapped out in the 1800s because of the demand for their furs, in Europe. But there’re pretty plentiful again, plenty plentiful enough, I see, to come raiding us of our food! All we need now is to trap twenty or thirty more of the critters, and we could sew their hides up into a real fine coat, the kind of thing that would let you sit out there for hours in the cold and barely feel it. Guess I’d better get busy with these deadfalls, and think about setting out some snares for marten, too. And fox.” “I thought we weren’t going to risk leaving tracks out there…” “Oh, it’s gonna snow! Can’t you smell it? I’d be surprised if we get past mid afternoon before it starts coming down, and after that, after we see that the storm’s good and entrenched and likely to drop a good many inches, we can get out and about again. Set the deadfalls and some snares, get some more firewood, start thinking about where we might put a raised cache to keep some of our food safe from sneaky little weasels and big cats and any and every other hungry scavenger that happens to get a whiff of this den… lots to do out there!” Liz smiled at him, glad to see that the strain and tension that had been more than evident in his face and movements over the past few days seemed to have been eased some by the promise of new snow, and she hoped it was not because he had made the determination to move on, and saw the coming storm as the perfect opportunity to do so. Probably not. Why would he be talking about setting all these traps, if he was planning for us to run out of here as soon as the snow started coming down? With the hope of a full-fledged storm, and relative safety, emphasized constantly in the howling and sighing of the wind outside, Einar insisted that they wait to light the lamp, that there was still a chance that something could fly over in the interim, and though he periodically joined Liz in the bear hide, between working on various projects in the dim glow that seeped in around the door, they were both badly chilled by the time he decided that they could have the light and warmth of the lamp, as the sun was showing no indication of announcing its presence that day, and temperatures remained well below zero, frequent drafts and eddies and sharp icy stabs of wind finding their way in around the door. Finally, several hours having passed without any sign or sound of a renewed air search and the first fine, dry flakes of snow beginning to spit down from the heavy sky, the lamp was re-lit and both cooking vessels suspended over it, Liz preparing a big pot of spruce needle tea, generously enhanced with bear fat and further flavored with a few dried service berries. After that, sitting close together on either side of the lamp, they prepared and drank pot after pot of the stuff, occasionally adding a couple of rose hips to the mix and finding that consumption of the rich tea helped tremendously with their

ability to handle the cold as they waited for their meal of marten stew. Hovering over the lamp, Einar showed Liz how to case skin the animal, making a cut along each of the hind legs, severing the feet and pulling the entire hide off in one strong, swift motion, much like removing a glove, doing a bit of work around the eyes, ears and mouth to finish freeing it. Then, as Liz prepared the meat for their stew--never having tasted anything in the weasel family nor able to remembering hearing of anyone else eating it, and wondering whether there might be a good reason, but not wanting to ask Einar such a question--he took the still inside-out hide and searched for an appropriately-sized piece of firewood, finding one finally and working to split it so that the hide could be carefully slid overtop of it like a sock on a foot, for scraping and drying. Before doing so, he shaved a bit of wood from the top of the rough board, tapering it towards the top and working to smooth down any rough edges with his knife and a piece of sandstone, hoping to prevent tears in the hide as he used his knife and a split deer bone to scrape free the bits of meat, fat and membrane--membrane, mostly, as he had done a clean job of the skinning--that had been left clinging to the flash side of the hide. Even better than leaving the hide on this board to dry once he fleshed it, he knew, would have been to create a scissors-like device of similar dimensions which could be inserted into the hide and then opened up, hinged at the top and held open at the bottom by a horizontal board with appropriately-spaced notches, to stretch the hide as it dried. Well. That will come, if we stick around here. For now, this will be quite adequate. The stew was boiling, the slightly musky odor of cooking pine marten reaching him and reminding him just how very hungry he was, and he decided to wait and eat before venturing out into the wind and the increasingly heavy snow to set the deadfalls. • • • •

Sitting beside the lamp, warm and comfortably full after having consumed well over a quart of scalding hot, bear fat-enriched pine marten stew, Einar worked to turn some of the remaining willow shoots into more figure four triggers for deadfall traps, wanting to take advantage of the storm to get out as many sets as he could. Martens, he knew, were fairly easy to trap, being highly inquisitive creatures and little afraid of human scent, normally quite willing to step into an unconcealed trap, an inclination demonstrated by their uninvited house guest that morning. He knew also that the fish entrails he had set aside from their trout harvest the day before represented nearly the perfect bait to lure them in. Stuff would probably work even better if it had been rotting for a day or two, but that’s sure not gonna happen in these temperatures, and I’m not sure that I want to set the heap of fish guts near this lamp to start fermenting. That stink would attract all kinds of critters right here into the den, and some of them might be bigger than that marten this morning, might be things we don’t want to have running around in our living space…and then there’s always the chance that Liz might just mistake me for one of the critters in the dark, and splatter my brains all over the wall with that war club of hers. He laughed under his breath, set aside the finished three stick trigger group he had been working on, and started on another. Yeah. Better not try and rot the marten bait here in

the den. It’ll work alright fresh. Some old, stinky beaver castor would make fine bait for the martens, too. I’ve used that before. Doesn’t take much at all, just rubbed on a little strip of deer hide with the hair left on to hold the scent, to attract the critters. Too bad we can’t get ahold of a beaver or two…maybe in the spring, or when things settle down and we can head lower where there are some dams… Reminiscing about some of the trapping he had done in the past, in those quiet years when he had been living up at his cabin, Einar shook his head. He had, for a number of years, made a good portion of the minimal yearly income he needed--money for property taxes, a bit of food to supplement what he hunted and grew, and occasional gas for his truck--off of his traplines, and had kept at it to some extent even when changes in regulations and a decline in the market reduced the profitability. It had been hard work, but work he enjoyed for the most part, and he could not help but think that they would be doing pretty well, both food and warm clothing-wise, if he could do similar, now. Well. Being in the middle of a search like that sure does change a person’s habits, change how you go about making a living out here. Just got to do what we can, with what’s available to us. Doubt I could handle running a miles-long trapline right now anyway, even if we didn’t have to be worried about our trails showing up from the air. Carrying that heavy pack and all…well, couple days of that would probably do me in right now, unfortunately. Later in the winter though if things settle down, they give up the air search, we may have more options. Liz had been busy sorting through their remaining food--dried berries, pemmican, some jerky, dried nettle and other greens, milkweed seeds that were supposed to be for sprouting and a dwindling supply of cattail starch from the roots Einar had processed back at the crevice in the Bulwarks--and wondering what she might do to help supplement it. The cattail starch, while she had only once “baked” with it as one would flour, had proven to be an excellent thickener and filler for their stews, adding some greatly welcome carbohydrates to their meals and turning the thin broth, with the help of some melted bear fat, into a thick, wonderfully filling mixture that had been tremendously beneficial to Einar when he had been so sick that first week back from the canyon. She wondered about the possibility of pulling a quantity of fresh cattail roots from the small patch of open water down in the cattail marsh, thinking that the storm ought to provide adequate cover for a trip down there. Maybe I could find some more rose hips, too. Einar seemed focused on the traps, though, and she did not want to disturb him with questions about a trip down to the marsh, just then. She sat down next to him, inspecting the triggers sticks. “How many of these things do you need? Can there possibly be that many martens around here?” “Trapper who was serious about taking martens would usually pick some good territory, put out a hundred sets or more. I won’t be doing that right now. Be doing well to get a dozen or two out there, and I don’t know how many martens we may get, that way. May not be too many more in this area, we’ll just have to see. The critters have a pretty wide territory, usually. They can travel a good ten or twenty miles in a night, looking for food.

Which is one reason--aside from getting us some good warm fur to help protect us this winter--why I’d like to trap a few, if we’ve got them around here. They’ll be major competition for us when it comes to the small game we’ll probably find ourselves relying on more and more as the winter goes along. Rabbits, squirrels…marten is one of the few predators that will hunt squirrels up in the trees. They’ll climb, jump from tree to tree, even, to hunt squirrels. And they’ll take chickens down in the valley, and grouse occasionally, up here. They’re one of the few predators that stays up this high, as winter really sets in.” “Well, it’s starting to snow pretty heavily out there. I’ll come help you set these up, when you’re ready.” “OK. Soon. I want to get a few snares ready though, first. Another good way to catch these critters is to choose an angled log or pole that’s propped up against a tree, and stick some bait up on it or on the tree just above it, to get them to run up the pole. You’d usually have a trap sitting on that pole just before the bait, or more often just outside a little box that you put the bait in, but I’m hoping I can take some with snares, set up on the pole kinda like you’d do for squirrels. We’ll see…” “Won’t the snow cover up the deadfalls you set on the ground ?” “Well…back when I was using leghold and body traps I’d just choose a good heavy spruce to put them under, then build a little ‘cubby’ of upright sticks--a three-walled thing with the bait at the back and the trap out near the front--and put a few cut branches over it to keep the snow off the trap. Worked great, at least until the snow got too deep, but it’s going to be a little more challenging, using that setup with these deadfalls. I think it will work out, though. Just have to make the cubbies a little bigger, to hold the trigger mechanism and rock or log.” As he spoke, Einar had been working on snares, twisting two of them from the wire that had been in Liz’s pack--he couldn’t remember for sure where or how he had obtained it, but was pretty sure it had come from one of the mines where he had taken refuge--and, when the wire was used up, creating several more from lengths of paracord. “We’ll run out of this stuff, eventually--paracord, wire, strands taken out of that climbing rope--and will have to rely on what we can make. I did it in the beginning when I had nothing, and from time to time since. That dogbane you found will make an incredibly fine and strong cordage, so next time we make it down there, we ought to poke around some and see if we can’t find some more, before it completely disappears under the snow. We ought to have plenty of time this winter to work on cordage, and I’d like to get a pretty good supply built up and set aside, so we don’t have to use our “manufactured” stuff like the paracord so quickly, and can use our own homemade stuff for some of the rougher tasks that will tend to wear it out faster. Milkweed, dogbane, nettles, even aspen and cottonwood inner bark are good, though they don’t make as strong a finished product. And of course we have the sinew, though it’s too valuable to use for every little thing. Best save it for special purposes like a bowstring, and hafting spear and atlatl

heads. And hopefully arrowheads, too, before too long. We ought to have a bow. But for now…lets head out and see if we can’t come up with a couple more martens!” Liz looked up from the spot beside the stove, where she had been splitting some of the dry grey aspen branches from the firewood pile into thin kindling-splinters, arranging them in the stove and adding larger branches on top of them with the knowledge that they--Einar, especially, though he would probably not admit it--were likely to return from their trap-setting excursion chilled to the bone, caked with wind-blown snow and in need of a fire to dry out and prepare some quick tea and broth. If he’ll let us have one… Seeming to hear her thoughts Einar nodded his approval. “Stove ought to be fine, long as it’s storming like this. Though we’d better make sure the chimney hasn’t been drifted over with snow, before lighting it! Wouldn’t make for the best evening, getting smoked out of the den in the middle of a blizzard. I expect it should be fine though, up under all of those thick trees up there. Maybe we can pick up a little more firewood on the way back, too.” And he rose, hopping over to the bed to retrieve his improvised crutch for the journey, and discovering, when he attempted to put a bit of weight on the injured leg as he had been doing of late, that it was tender and sharply painful at the slightest pressure. Huh. Guess all this jumping up out of bed and putting my full weight on it two nights in a row has not been a good thing at all. Got to try and stop that. It was, he could tell, going to be a long walk. Better get started. • • • •

Seeing little point in placing any of the marten sets in areas where he would be prevented by lack of heavy tree cover from checking them after the storm ended, Einar kept to the black timber as they worked their way out along the ridge that ran above the den, stopping every hundred yards or so to choose a likely-looking spruce whose sweeping boughs had protected the ground beneath from the deepest of the snow. As he had anticipated, the stick-and-branch cubbies that protected the trap from snowfall and channeled the animal back towards the bait needed to be significantly larger with the deadfalls he was using than they ever had with steel traps of either sort, and the low temperatures posed their own set of challenges, as he found that his fish-entrail bait was frozen quite solid in a block in its wrappings of aspen inner bark, requiring him to set it on a rock and chip at it with his knife, further softening the slivers and chunks thus created so they could be smeared and stuck to the back of the cubbies where their scent would hopefully attract the martens. Struggling with the bait, Einar wished he had thought to mix the bait with some bear fat before it froze, leaving it more pliable when the time came. Also wish I had something to mix into it, something with a stink that would carry just a bit better in this kind of cold, some beaver castor or skunk scent. Well. I don’t have any such, and we’ll just have to hope the fish-smell carries adequately. Another challenge thrown them by the cold came in the fact that most of the rock slabs that liberally dotted the mountainside were frozen firmly into or onto the ground, even when he did manage to locate one beneath a tree that was not drifted over with snow. Prying with the end of his spear and kicking with his good foot while balancing

precariously on the crutch, scraping and pulling with already numbed fingers until his hands were bloody but getting nowhere with the rocks, he finally accepted Liz’s offer of assistance, and together they freed not only a slab with which to set the first trap, but two others to carry along to the next location, on the chance that it might be lacking such readily available resources. Which it was, leaving Liz glad that she had gone to the trouble to lug fifteen pounds of granite slab up the hill to it. They continued this way for well over an hour as Einar chose locations and built cubbies to shield the deadfalls, Liz watching closely and when, after the third trap, he offered to let her do the next one, gladly accepting. Einar was glad, too, as much because he badly needed the rest as because he wanted to see Liz get the experience, and he stood to the side, leaning heavily on a tree and struggling to keep all the weight off of his injured side as he watched her construct the set, giving a bit of instruction where necessary. Which it was not, for the most part, as she had been paying close attention as he set the others. The trouble came in when she was finally ready to lower the slab down onto the top stick of the trigger, at which point everything collapsed under it, very nearly trapping her toes between the heavy slab and the ground. Jumping back and tripping over a branch, she ended up on her back with her head facing downhill, the heavy yearling hide making it nearly impossible for her to right herself. Einar hurried as well as he could to help her, but she quickly squirmed out of the hide and got to her feet, brushing off the snow and hurriedly gathering up the three pieces of the trigger, which had flown off haphazardly into the snow upon the trap’s collapse. “So, what did I do wrong? Except for putting my foot where it could get smashed by the rock…” “Nothing, really. It can be a little tricky to balance that rock, as much as it weighs. Try again. You’ll get a feel for it. Just lower the rock nice and easy, make sure everything’s balanced right before you put the full weight on the trigger.” She gave it another try, this time keeping her toes well clear of the rock and managing, after several cautious adjustments, to balance the heavy slab on the trigger, raising her hands and backing away carefully lest she disturb it. They continued on, taking turns after that in building the cubbies and placing traps, Liz, when her turns came, insisting that Einar have the yearling hide for warmth as he waited. It was very cold and, it seemed, growing colder as the storm settled in, Einar stopping every few minutes as they walked to pull off a mitten and cup a hand over his nose, cheeks or ears, and urging Liz to do the same, knowing that they were risking serious frostbite, being out in the wind as they were. He glanced back at Liz, who appeared to be trying very hard to keep her chin and mouth down in the yearling hide for protection, the wolverine hide wrapped up and over her head and down the back of her neck. He tried to speak to her, found that the words were coming out all slurred and mumbly, pressed his hands to his lips and cheeks for a minute and tried again. “You watch my… face, look at it every time we stop, and I’ll do…same for you. Got to check for white spots, waxy looking spots on the nose or cheeks, warm them up if we see them. That’s the start of frostbite. And,” he puffed air into his cheeks and crossed his eyes, giving his

face a terribly distorted look that would have set Liz to laughing had she not thought for a moment that there must be something terribly wrong with him, “helps to make weird faces now and then, just to keep the skin of your face moving, stretching.” “Do you have to cross your eyes like that for it to be effective? You look pretty scary that way!” “Yep, just like that. Or it won’t work.” She shot him a skeptical, cross eyed look, both of them laughing a little. “Huh. That is scary. Nah, no need to cross your eyes. Not cold enough for your eyeballs to freeze, I don’t think… Not quite, anyway.” The snow was, because of the cold, very dry, which was a great blessing, as neither of their boots were in especially good shape at that point, and wet feet would certainly have meant frozen feet, in those temperatures. They were having a good bit of trouble as it was, Liz hopping from one foot to the other whenever they stopped in an attempt to keep the blood moving, and occasionally kicking her toes against a tree or against her opposite boot, not liking the numbness that tried very hard to set in every time they stopped climbing. Einar tried to do the same, knew the foot of his casted leg, especially, was in great danger, but there was not much he could do for it, other than to concentrate at regular intervals on wiggling the toes. Their course had taken them a good two or three miles out along the ridge above the den and then, following the dark timber, down into a narrow-walled gully where Einar put together the last of the sets and placed a few snares, also, choosing the angled trunks of small fallen trees, focusing on those that stood beneath a good bit of timber to prevent four or five inches of snow from quickly accumulating on the poles, and covering the snares. Out of snares and trap triggers after that, they were more than ready to head back, climbing up out of the gully and starting up the first of three heavily wooded slopes--I hope it’s three, seem to remember three…this would be one lousy time to end up lost-- that stood between them and the den, Einar moving more and more slowly all the time, weighed down by a rapidly growing exhaustion and by an agony in his leg that neither movement nor stillness seemed to ease in the least. Finally they began recognizing landmarks, faint and hazy through the swirling snow, knowing that they were within one good straight steep climb of the den. Einar made it back up that last slope, ruggedly rocky and littered with deadfall that lurked just beneath the surface and more than once sent him sprawling on his face in the snow, but only because he knew that he must, that he would die if he simply sat down and rested the leg as he longed to do, and that, as the fury of the storm was increasing, Liz would be in danger as well, if she refused to leave him and return to shelter. Once they were both inside again, it did not take Liz long, after a brief pause to warm her hands, to strike sparks into the nest of shredded aspen inner bark and milkweed down that she had previously prepared and left sitting on top of the stove, gently giving it a bit of air until the aspen bark flared up in flame and placing it under the carefully arranged kindling in the stove. She had forgotten about first checking the chimney to be sure that

it had not been drifted over--they both had--but it drew well, carrying the small amount of smoke produced in starting the fire up and out, and within minutes the stove was burning happily, Liz adding some larger pieces of aspen wood and setting a pot of snow to begin melting for tea and then stew. That done, she pulled the bear hide down from the bed and helped Einar, who sat trying to thaw his hands, into his dry clothes, beating his snowcrusted ones against the rocks near the entrance and hanging them to dry from some roots near the stove. Hers soon joined them, little clumps of snow and ice hissing and spluttering as they fell on the heating rocks of the stove. Scooting closer to the flames and dragging Einar along with her, as he seemed little inclined to make the move, himself, Liz got the bear hide around them and held her hands out to the crackling flames, waiting for the stove to begin throwing off a bit of heat and warming the damp, freezing air of the den. Which it soon did, the place warming quite nicely and Liz bustling about, chopping meat for a stew, shaving off slivers of frozen bear fat and breaking up a cake of dried chokecherries to add to the mix. The pain in Einar’s leg had become nearly unbearable since sitting down, and he could not understand it, fumbled with the ties that held the cast in place and finally succeeded in getting them off, lifting off the top half and discovering to his dismay that the leg had swollen up badly with the use, creating a tremendous amount of pressure in the cast, which explained a good bit of the pain. Rubbing the leg and clasping his hands over his numbed, dangerously pale toes for a minute, he was glad to feel the stinging ache of returning circulation in them. Not frozen. This time. Busy with stew and tea preparations and enjoying the growing warmth of the den, Liz glanced back some minutes later to find Einar sitting there with a dazed look on his face, rubbing his leg and holding the little bag of rocks that she had recovered from the remains of his friend Willis Amell. She sat down next to him, spoke, waited some minutes before getting a response. “Tired, Liz. Getting awful tired.” “Well,” she handed him a pot of tea which he set down, seemingly uninterested in drinking, “it’s no wonder you’re so tired, you never seem to sleep anymore. Maybe tonight…” “No. That’s not what I meant.” • • • •

In struggling to find the words to explain to Liz just what he had meant by his statement, Einar decided that he really did not want to do so at all, did not wish to think about it any further himself, let alone burden her with the matter, and chastised himself for the lapse in discipline that had allowed his mind to go down that path, in the first place. Can’t afford that. Not now. You’ve been tired before, plenty of times, and you’re still here. Leg’s just got you down, that’s all. Shaking his head, he stuffed the bag of pebbles back into his pocket after a minute without another word--later, Will--and scooted over closer

to the stove, pulling the little container of half finished atlatl and spear points out of his pack and scraping one of them against a rough piece of granite that he had been using for that purpose, creating the beveled edge that would--he hoped--help increase the weapon’s effectiveness when it came to taking game. Which would be soon, if all went well, as he intended to get Liz out and practicing with her atlatl as soon as weather and air search conditions permitted, knowing that having two of them equipped to take advantage of any opportunity that they might come across in their wanderings would greatly increase their chances of obtaining food. Liz, while she wished he would have spoken to her of whatever was on his mind, was encouraged to see Einar finally taking an interest in something, at least, having found the blank-eyed inertia that had gripped him since returning to the den rather unlike him, and therefore quite worrisome. Again she offered him a drink of tea, and this time he accepted, thirsty and still very cold from the climb and finally realizing it, nearly draining the pot before he stopped to take a breath, looking up at her with grateful eyes. “Good stuff. What is it? I taste spruce, but there’s something else. Better not be yarrow…” “No! I’m keeping all the yarrow tea for myself. This is just the spruce, a few serviceberries for sugar, and some nettles. It looked like you could use the iron.” And looks like you could really use some willow for that leg, too, and a week or two spent mostly in bed with it propped up to keep the swelling down, but it’ll only make you angry if I say any of that, won’t it, you stubborn old mule? He nodded, stretched, grimacing at the sight of his grotesquely swollen lower leg, rubbing it again. “It’s helping. Thanks.” Refilling the pot with a scoop of snow from outside she set it to begin melting once again, knowing that she would have to add many handfulls of the dry, powdery snow as it began turning to liquid if she wanted to end up with anything like a full pot, Liz rejoined Einar in front of the stove, where he had spread their remaining willow shoots out on the floor and was carefully scrutinizing them, choosing four of the straightest and working them a bit with his knife to remove any knobs or imperfections that detracted from their straightness and sighting down them as he worked. “Figure it’s about time for you to start practicing with that atlatl, if you’re up for it. You can start with these willow shoots, then by the time you’re able to hit what you’re aiming at with them a good bit of the time, I ought to have four or five of these bone-tipped darts ready for you. Thought you could use that little clearing just this side of the gully for a target range, just stay in the trees on this side and toss the darts across the gully, go around through the timber to retrieve them when you’re done. That way you avoid leaving deep trenches through the snow where they’ll show from the air if this storm happens to clear up before they all fill on or drift over, but still gives you a good twenty or thirty yard shot without too many trees getting in the way. That’s plenty far enough, for starting out.”

“Yes! I want to do it! Let me just get this stew started, warm up a little, and I’ll head right back out there and get started.” Einar grinned, pleased at her enthusiasm. “Sure, if you want to. Might go a little better if you wait for the wind to die down some…but come to think about it, the howling does seem to have quieted a bit since we’ve come in. Give me a couple minutes to eat a bite of something, and I’ll come with you.” Tentatively she reached out and put a hand on his injured leg, rubbing it for him when he did not pull back. “No, Einar…you’ve got to rest this leg. There’s no way you’ll be able to get the cast back on with it swollen up like this, and I can see that it’s hurting you. Now I’ll go practice with the atlatl, but first I’m going to make you a big pot of that willow solution and help you get the leg all propped up, and I need to know that you’ll stay in here and rest while I’m gone. Please.” Narrowing his eyes and prying in frustration with one of the willow wands at a little granite flake embedded in the den floor, Einar fought to swallow his anger, staring glumly at the leg and admitting that the girl is making sense. You barely made it back up here just now. Let her go, and listen to what she’s saying, for once. She’s got more sense than you do about this, that’s for sure. You can hardly bend your knee right now, and there’s no way you’d be able to get it into anything like a right angle to strap that crutch on. Doggone leg’s blown up like a balloon… “Yeah, I’ll do it. Guess somebody needs to be here, anyway, in case a bobcat shows up, or a big old lynx comes padding along on those wide, furry snowshoe feet of his and comes in here after this meat. Was thinking about that while we were out this morning… we really need to get some of it cached securely, because it would be a real shame to come back and find nothing but a few cracked bones left of this deer, and if our fat supply was to get devastated by some scavenger…so. I’ll stick around the place and nab any lynx that makes an attempt on our food supply. Fur like that would be real good to have, anyway. Come on, lynx!” He grabbed his spear and set it across his legs as if ready to stand sentry while she went out for some dart-throwing practice, Liz rolling her eyes and thinking to herself that yeah, that’s exactly what you need right now Einar. A fight with thirty pounds of claw and muscle, hungry, angry and cornered here in the den. You’ve still got scars all over your arms from the last time you decided to take on a lynx single-handed, though I guess you’d be a little better off this time even with the broken leg, since you’re not in handcuffs like you were that time… “Well. Let’s hope the lynxes and bobcats and such are all curled up in holes somewhere trying to stay out of this storm! But you’re right, that would be a disaster to come back and find our food gone. Should I be looking for some good straight-trunked little trees while I’m out, that we could use for the legs of this raised cache you’ve been talking about?”

“That was my first thought, a raised cache like that, but it seems maybe we’d be better off building a hollow rock cairn like was done a lot out on the tundra. Round walls of rock, with the meat and fat stashed down inside so the critters can’t get at it. Would be easier to access, as long as we put it someplace where it won’t drift over too deep with snow, and it could be concealed better, too. No good way to hide the raised one, if anybody should happen by on the ground. That, and the fact that I’m not sure just how well I’m gonna be able to climb right now, to work on a raised one…” Visions of Einar struggling up a spruce tree with his broken leg, reaching, falling, in all probability, being more than enough to convince Liz of the wisdom of ground-based stone cairn caches, she vigorously agreed with him, promising to look for a spot where there might still be significant enough quantities of exposed rock to construct such a thing. Before leaving, though, she sat down with him to share a pot of hastily-made stew, brewing, while they ate, a pot of strong, nearly black willow bark and shoot solution in the hopes that it might serve to reduce the swelling in Einar’s leg. Getting him settled by the fire--he refused to be helped up onto the bed, despite Liz’s assertions that it would be warmer there off the ground--and propping up his bad leg on a pile of dry grass, spruce needles and his backpack, she draped the bear hide over him, dragged a big pile of firewood over within his reach and lined up the grinding rocks that he had been using to work the stone atlatl points, hoping that their ready availability might encourage him to keep still while she was away. Ha! Not much chance of that, but I’ve got to try… The storm raged on outside, and Liz, who was quickly learning to welcome such weather, made her way through the timber over to the open area near the gully that Einar had suggested as a target range, squinting into the snow and realizing that she could not even quite see the far side of the little draw, much less hope to hit a particular tree among the many that lined its edge. Waiting for the snow to slack off some, she explored the area immediately below it, collecting a good amount of usnea lichen for future use and finding several spots where the heavy cover of the intertwined evergreen branches had kept the snow cover to a minimum, slabs and flakes of granite appearing quite accessible beneath their six to eight inches of cover, when she brushed the powder aside with her foot. Many of them frozen into the spruce duff, she knew that any construction project involving them would pose a major challenge, but with enough kicking and pounding she was able to free several good sized chunks, and supposed that the cairn Einar wanted to build would be possible, if not easy, and still preferable--despite the challenge of freeing the frozen rock--to creating a raised cache that would be highly visible from the ground, if not the air. The snow had calmed down a bit, small, plentiful flakes still filtering down through the trees but no longer limiting the visible world to the five or six feet immediately in front of her face, and Liz returned to the gully edge, sending several willow shoots flying with the atlatl and, though she missed her target-tree entirely with the first two and struck it only a glancing blow with the third, finding herself surprised and greatly pleased at the way the weapon extended her reach. Fitting the last of the willows onto the throwing spur and focusing on the big spruce that was her goal, Liz heard something, just the faintest rustle behind her as the wind quieted

for a moment, turned to look back and saw it. The bird was white, so snowy white that she would have overlooked it entirely, had it not been for the black eye that watched her from its shelter-spot, roosted down and buried nearly up to its back in the snow beneath a tree. A ptarmigan! She had seen them only a few times before, usually up near or even above treeline, and though she had never personally tasted one, she supposed that they would make fine and probably fairly rich and fatty fare for the table. If we had a table… but that’s entirely beside the point! Einar would want to have this critter to eat, I’m sure, and I’m going to see if I can’t bring it home to him! Ptarmigans, she remembered from past observation, tend to behave somewhat like grouse, keeping still in the presence of predators and relying on their feathers to camouflage and hide them until the threat passed on, and she moved very carefully closer, one step then another, stopping when the bird showed signs of getting nervous, ready to scoot up out of the snow and take wing. Very slowly, she removed the dart from the atlatl and sharpened its tip with a few quick strokes of her knife, returning it to its position and drawing back her arm. • • • •

Einar worked for a time, completing one bone atlatl head and starting on another and stopping frequently to rub his leg and sip the strongly bitter willow solution that Liz had left for him, feeding the little stove and once dragging himself over to the door to scoop up snow so that Liz would have some water in the second pot for tea, when she returned. Shaving and scraping at the section of deer leg bone from which he was attempting to fashion the second atlatl point, Einar’s eyes kept blurring, drifting closed, and he woke with a start more than once to find that he his head had fallen back against the pile of soft grass and duff that Liz had piled up behind him. He did not want to sleep but, knowing that he lacked the focus at that point to do a decent job on the points he set them aside, taking a good-sized gulp of the scaldingly bitter willow juice to wake himself up some--it worked--and sorting through the firewood pile until he found an aspen log that looked like it ought to suit his purposes. The chosen log was out of the lower portion of the trunk of a small dead aspen, dry and with bark that could easily be separated and pulled free, and had been chopped to length when Liz dropped a heavy rock on it from above. Setting the foot-long log on end--it did not exactly have a flat end, because of the way it had been cut, but he managed, jamming it into the dirt a bit to hold it in place--he studied it, wishing he had a better knife that he could use for splitting the log. As it was, his “big” knife consisted of the four inch, double-edged blade he had recovered what seemed like ages ago from the body of the agent in the valley after the man had stabbed him with it, and he knew it was a less-than-ideal tool for splitting wood. With a slightly larger knife, and one without a double edge, he had split a good deal of mid-sized logs on his past wanderings, using a second log to pound on the top of the blade to drive it down through the wood, but he was not sure how well this would work, with his present knife. Willing to try it anyway, he remembered at the last minute the large rose quartz flake that Liz had found, searching for it among the gear that lay carefully arranged against one wall of the den and driving it into the top of the log, sending it several inches into the wood with a few good strikes from another log. The quartz was out of his reach after that, but seeing that the log had split all the way down with a hairline crack, he grabbed its two halves at the top, pulling them apart until it separated with a loud crack! that

startled him a bit there in the confines of the den and told him that yes, the wood was as dry as he had guessed it to be. A good thing. Inspecting the two split halves, he chose the thicker, leveling it with a few quick knife strokes to its rounded side. Good. Ought to work. Immensely weary after the effort--it had not been that much work, and he was irritated at himself for feeling so spent after completing it--Einar stopped to tend to his leg again, relieved to see that the swelling had gone down some, and with it the discomfort, and expecting the change to be due as much to elevating it for a time as to the use of the willow. Alright. Back to work. Figure this split log ought to make a fine bowl, once I burn out the center with hot coals, scrape it with my knife and a few granite flakes, and sand it down with some rock dust. Been meaning to make Liz something like this. She’s been awful good about accepting things the way they are, here, but I expect she might appreciate having at least a few of the trappings of civilization around this place, as I get time to work on a few projects that aren’t directly related to obtaining food or keeping from freezing solid overnight… She might like not having to pass a single pot back and forth at every meal, anyway, and I can do that much for her. This bowl will go well with that spoon she had started making the other day. A number of times in the past, Einar had made for himself eating or cooking vessels of coal-burned wood--though somehow he never had got around to making a spoon during his time on the run--knowing that it was one of the few good ways to create a cooking container, which could be managed even when a person has no knife, as he had not for much of the previous year. The coal-charred wood could easily be scraped out with a rock flake, and a rough container in which one could boil water using hot rocks being created within the space of an hour or less. Liz’s bowl, he expected, would take a good bit longer than that, as he wanted it to look decent as well as being functional. Taking two short willow pieces and using them as tongs, he removed three small coals from the brightly glowing bed in the stove, placing them in the center of the split log and blowing gently as they heated and began to char the surface of the wood below. When it was thoroughly blackened and beginning to show small cracks, he pushed the coals to the side with one of the willow sticks, directing another stream of air onto them. A straw of some sort--he had used everything from wild onions to the hollow segments of horsetail reeds-would, he knew, allow him to direct his breath more accurately and speed up the process, but in looking around the den he could find no such, and knew that while helpful, it was not essential. The coals had begun growing cold by that time, their lively orange replaced more and more with a dull black, and he scraped them back into the stove, taking one of the smaller quartz chips that Liz had found and scraping the charred wood out of the soon-to-be-bowl, scraping until he saw the white wood beneath and choosing new coals to continue with the process. Between sets of coals, Einar did some work with the knife, narrowing the ends of the log down a bit so they could serve as handles, once the bowl was completed. Working slowly, he took care not to give the coals quite enough air to fan them to flame there on the split log, knowing that while a small fire would significantly speed up the process, it would also very likely result in splitting the dry aspen wood, and a bowl with a crack through its side was a bit less useful, and rather a sad outcome to all the work he was putting into the bowl. He’d certainly had this happen

before, more often with smaller cups and spoons than with bowls, but it had taught him to use caution. Continuing to work through one set of coals after another, he watched the depression in the center of the log deepen, enlarge, begin to take shape, sitting close to the stove so that most of the smoke would go up the chimney rather than filling the den, pleased at his progress. He was, though, also terribly weary, having slept little and poorly for the past several nights, and as the throbbing eased in his leg, he finally drifted off into a quiet, dreamless sleep, half-finished bowl in one hand and rock scraper in the other, fortunately having just dumped a set of spent coals into the stove and not yet retrieved fresh, or he might have awakened to a den full of flaming grass and bedding. • • • •

Liz, having thrown no more than four darts total with an atlatl in her life, was not particularly surprised when she missed the ptarmigan, but, disappointed, she scrambled after the startled and rapidly departing bird, missing again as it flew up into a spruce and disappeared into the storm. Close. But close doesn’t get us a roast ptarmigan supper… I’d better go practice some more. Which she did, finally retrieving the darts for the final time after having gained a bit of confidence in her ability to hit a target…at least some of the time. On the way back up to the den she searched for the ptarmigan in the hopes of having a second chance with it, but saw no sign of the bird. The wind had returned, lashing the treetops and leaving her very glad to be down among the shelter of their thick boughs and trunks, and not at all surprised that the birds, and all other creatures apparently, had sought refuge from the worsening storm. A smart thing to do, and she hurried, snow-encrusted, back up to the den. Pausing outside and listening, she heard no sound coming from the flickering lamplit interior, wondering if Einar had fallen asleep, hoping he had but a bit leery of walking in on him like that and startling him. She hated to wake him though if he was asleep, knowing how badly he needed the rest and opting to stomp loudly as she knocked the snow from her boots, hoping to keep from surprising him. But not quite succeeding, as she realized when she heard a clatter of firewood from inside as Einar rolled over and dropped the bowl he had been working on when he fell asleep, dragging himself over to meet her at the door, bleary-eyed and badly chilled from sleeping so long half covered in the drafty, doorless den. “Get some good practice in?” “Yes, a lot of practice,” she answered, beating the snow from the yearling hide and hanging it back up to cover the door. “I need more practice, a whole lot more, but at least now I can usually hit the tree I’m aiming at! You got a little sleep?” “Uh…yeah, guess so. Didn’t mean to, but…” “I saw a ptarmigan. Almost got it for our dinner, but I’m not that good with the atlatl yet,

and ‘close’ just isn’t close enough. Sorry…” “Aw, don’t be too sorry. We’ve got food. The skill will come. In the meantime, sounds like what you need is a bola. Several round rocks tied up in leather or rawhide and attached…” He stopped, mention of the bola bringing back a flood of images from his recent dream, sudden, vivid, unbidden, the pond, the pair of geese, his successful taking of one with the bola, only to be surprised by the helicopter when he went to retrieve the bird, shot with a dart and left helpless on the ground to await his capture--it was coming, was imminent, he could feel the rumbling, the rotor wash in his hair, pressing him into the ground and adding its heaviness to the horrid inertia of the dart-poison in his body, the sense of helpless, futile rage at seeing what was coming but being entirely unable to resist it assailing him more powerfully than the sight of the hovering vulture, even--and he somehow got to his feet rather quickly despite the still-swollen leg and stood there leaning on his spear and staring off into the darkness beside the stove for a good minute before he realized that Liz was speaking to him. Rather insistently, as it turned out, gripping him by the shoulders to keep him from toppling over forwards and cracking his head on the stove, trying very hard to catch his eye. He looked at her, shook his head and sank back to the ground with her help, swallowing the awful, sick feeling that had come over him at the memory and grabbing a rock from the floor, a rough, heavy granite chunk and slamming it--and his knuckles--repeatedly into the ground when he could feel the sense of unreality trying to come over him again, keeping it up until Liz grabbed his hand and gently pried the rock away from him. It worked, left him bloody-knuckled but in the present where he wanted to be, finding himself exhausted, out of breath and a more than a little ashamed that Liz had been there to see him like that. Accepting a drink from the pot of tea she offered, he continued. “So. A bola.” “Einar you don’t have to…” “It’s OK. What you do…you take a few rocks--two were used, but three were more common, and the Inuits sometimes used six smaller ones for taking birds--and attach a length of rawhide or cordage to each one, tie the cords together at the top, then you grab the middle one and throw it at whatever critter you’re trying to take, and it tangles them up, gives you time to get to them and finish the job. I’ve used them on grouse and rabbits, especially back just after I’d hurt my shoulder and was having to operate onehanded, and it probably would have netted you that ptarmigan, too. It’s one weapon where a lot of times ‘close’ really can be good enough, and that can be a big advantage in certain circumstances. We’ll make one.” • • • •

Seeing the work Einar had done on the coal-burned bowl--he had wanted to keep it hidden from Liz until it was finished and surprise her with it, but that can be a difficult task in such close quarters--Liz wanted him to help her work on the spoon whose basic shape she had previously carved out. Demonstrating on the bowl how to lift coals from the fire--easier said than done, as chilled and clumsy as he was--and use them to begin

burning down into the wood, Einar helped her get started on the spoon, the den warming quickly with the yearling hide back in place to keep the drafts down. Several pots of spruce needle tea later, Einar was finally beginning to warm adequately from his extended nap that he could operate the tongs without dropping coals on the floor as he had done more than once since returning to the project, and when Liz used a recentlydried sock to pull a hot granite slab from the top of the stove, wrapping it in aspen inner bark and helping get it situated behind his back, Einar accepted it gratefully. He had, though reluctant to admit it, missed the availability of hot rocks during their time without fire, an involuntary sigh of contentment escaping him as he leaned back into the granite slab’s warmth, shivering at the contrast and reaching out to snatch another rock that leaned up against the stove’s side, pressing it between his palms for a minute before picking up the half completed aspen bowl and scraping at a bit of charred wood that remained on one of its curved interior surfaces. Looking up from her work, Liz laughed softly and scooted over to sit beside him. “What happened to the guy who soaks in ice water and then sits out in the wind and snow for a couple of hours afterwards, just for fun and relaxation? You want some more of those hot rocks?” “Hey now…” he growled in mock disgruntlement, “that stuff takes an awful lot of concentration. Fella’s got to have a little rest, now and then. That’s what I’m doing. Resting. I’ll let you dump a pot of water on me and then go sit out in the snow for a few hours later on this evening, if that’s what you want. Sounds like the wind’s still howling real good out there, and…” “No! That’s not what I want! Rest is good. I was beginning to think you didn’t know how to rest.” “Well I don’t, really. Not unless I’ve got something to keep myself busy, at the same time. Like this bowl, here. Kinda meant to surprise you with it, and a couple of spoons, too, since…uh…well, I figured you might prefer if things could be a little more ‘civilized’ around here, and I guess Christmastime is probably coming up. But then I messed up the surprise by falling asleep earlier with the thing in plain view, and it looks like you’ve got the spoons taken care of, anyway. That thing’s coming along real good.” “You’re right, it must be nearly Christmastime. Or past it. Sometimes I do wish we had a way to keep track of the passage of days. I guess we could marks on the side of the wall, or carve notches into a stick, but we’d have to know what day we’re starting with, first, and I have no idea.” “Well, when you’re living out in nature and in the weather like this, there’s no way to miss what time of year it is, the changing of the seasons, and there’s almost never been a time over this past year and some months when I couldn’t tell you the exact phase of the moon and point out right where it would rise and set, too, and where the sun would, the same with a number of the constellations, but I never did think of trying to keep track of the date. Does it really matter?”

She thought for a minute, nodded slowly. “It does to me, though I’m not really sure why. I guess I’m just having a little harder time letting go of…civilization…than you did. Or, than you let show, anyway. Sometimes when I’ve had time to sit and think--which hasn’t been very often since I came out here with you--and the thought has occurred to me that I have no idea what day it is, and only a vague idea of the month…well, it’s scared me a little. Silly, I know, but maybe I’m trying to maintain some sort of a connection, in a small, really unnecessary way.” “Ah, Liz. Not silly at all.” Setting aside the bowl, he picked up the large chunk of rose quartz that he had used to split the log it had come out of, studying its angles and holding it, cloudy but admitting some light, up to the glow of the open stove door so he could get a better sense of its structure. “I forget sometimes…you haven’t been out here as long as I have, and I’m guessing you probably had a lot more to do with ‘society’ down there, more contact, connections, than I ever did. For me it was nothing but a relief to be done with all of that but you… makes sense that you wouldn’t want to up and let go of it all, just like that. Still pretty rough for me to believe that you want to be out here at all…” They were both quiet for a time then, Einar sorting through the pile of willows until he found one that looked like it would serve as a good handle for the log-splitting hatchet he intended to make from the quartz chunk, slicing and removing the bark from a four or five inch section at its center and holding it over the steaming pot of water on the stove, slowly, carefully bending it as the wood softened. Finally working the half-inch thick willow shoot so that it was bent double on itself, he lashed it near the top, in the center and again most of the way down its length with bits of cordage, he set it aside to cool and harden for later use. Liz, working on her spoon, had gone through two coals as he worked, deepening the bowl of her spoon and pausing now and then to scrape the black char out with the tip of her knife and, alternately, with one of the smaller quartz flakes. Einar finally broke what was becoming an uncomfortable silence. “If it would…make a difference to you, there is a way we can figure out the date. Far as I’ve been able to tell, we haven’t hit the winter solstice yet, so if we get some clear sunny days here in the near future, we’ll be able to take observations every day, at sunrise, say, compare them, and see when the sun makes its turn. Then we can keep track of the days from there on out. From December twenty first. Or twenty second. Anyway, we’ll be close. Figure we can take an aspen branch like one of these we’ve got in here for firewood, lash it horizontally between two trees--I’d just say set it on the ground, but it’s liable to get buried, if we do that--and pick a tree-shadow to watch. That dead fir right above the den would be perfect, because it’ll have a good crisp narrow shadow. Make a little mark on the log every morning right at sunrise, and you’ll be able to figure when the solstice comes. Won’t know ‘till a day or two afterwards I expect, but like I said, we’ll be real close…” Liz jumped up, her eyes glowing. “Einar! That’s a great idea! I can hardly wait for this storm to clear out so…” she stopped, restrained herself, remembering suddenly just what the end of the storm would likely mean to them, for their freedom of movement and for

the continuation of the air search. “Not that there’s any hurry for the storm to end, of course, but I’d better go ahead and pick out a branch and get it lashed up between two trees out there, so I’ll be ready as soon as it does!” He shrugged, smiled, not really understanding her excitement but pleased that he could do something to improve things for her, hastily returning to his work on the aspen bowl. It was well into the afternoon by that time, the short, cold day already dimming outside, and Einar and Liz worked steadily on their projects until well after dark, Einar anxious to finish the bowl so she could have it to use it for supper, hoping to get a second spoon done, too, if he had time, and Liz very glad that the projects were keeping him still so he could rest his leg, which was looking a good bit less swollen than it had after the trapsetting expedition that morning, but still nowhere close to fitting back into the cast. • • • •

The supper-stew that night was eaten out of the newly completed aspen wood bowl, Einar having managed both to get it finished in time--aside from a few modifications and refinements he wished to make to the handles--and find the time to burn out a rough second spoon to go with the one Liz was finishing up. She insisted that he share the bowl with her for that meal, at least, and he did so, glad to see the joy in her eyes at the newly created implements and determining to do more to make the place seem like home to her. For as long as we’re here, anyway… and his mind wandered, the ever-present thought that they had already been in one place far too long creeping around to the front again and leaving him restless, staring at his swollen leg in dismay with the knowledge that any distance he was forced to travel on it in the immediate future, improvised crutch or not, would be difficult, painful and incredibly slow, at best. He shook his head, tearing his eyes away from the flickering lamp and glancing over at Liz, who was asking him something. “With a wooden bowl like this, what’s the best way to wash it? Just some hot water, or should I scrub it out with ashes, since we don’t have any soap…?” “No, don’t use water. That’ll dry the wood out quicker than anything and before you know it, you’ll have a big old crack running through the side or bottom, and bye-bye, bowl. I’ve always just wiped them clean after each use, maybe rubbed them with a bit of extra fat or grease of some sort now and then if I had some. But as long as whatever you’re eating is kinda greasy like our stew usually is, no problem. Since this is the first use for these things, might be smart to go ahead and rub in some extra fat. Grease seals up the pores in the wood and keeps food from getting down in there and starting things growing. Just wipe it clean, grease it and let it dry.” “I wonder if there is something we could coat the bowl and spoons with, though, that would make them easier to wash…spruce pitch, or something?” “I’ve coated containers with pitch before. Twined aspen inner bark baskets, mostly, when I needed them to hold water. Made a sort of canteen that way once when I had no other

way to carry water, and it worked pretty well. For a bowl though, it would only work if you were never really planning to eat anything hot in it, or even very warm. Or pretty soon your stew would start like pine tar, you’d have pine tar stuck between your teeth and stuck in your throat when you tried to swallow…no, better just stick with wiping them clean and adding a little grease. Works just fine.” Liz found herself a bit skeptical about his concept of “clean,” but, not wanting to damage the bowl and admitting that well, my understanding of such things certainly has changed a good bit over these last few months, anyway, she did as he had suggested, rubbing a bit of bear fat into the eating surfaces of the wiped-down bowl and spoons before setting them aside on the packed earth shelf on which she had a number of the kitchen implements arranged. Though the wind quieted some that evening the snow did not, and when Einar crept out of the den before bed to use the ‘outhouse’ just beneath the den-ledge, he was reassured to find the snow still curling down heavily from a black sky, so heavily, in fact, that it was difficult to breathe when a gust blew his direction without inhaling flakes and coughing a bit. Good. Another night without helicopters, a morning, maybe, when we can go out and check those deadfalls without worrying too much about the tracks we leave. Though the martens may not be too terribly active on a night like this, either. We’ll see. For the moment, though, it was dark, very cold out on the mountainside and, he supposed, way past time to crawl back into the den and curl up for the night. Having crouched far too long out in the weather observing the night, Einar pushed aside the yearling skin door and hauled himself back into the warmth and brightness of the lamp and fire lit den, tremendously grateful for its shelter. Liz looked up from the lamp, whose tending she had taken very seriously since Einar had showed her how to keep the wick pulled up in the series of peaks that gave the best light and heat, offering him a swallow from the evening’s last pot of tea. “Still storming out there?” “Yep! Real good. Looks like it ought to be another quiet night. Ready to come sit out there with me in it for an hour or two before bed? For ‘fun and relaxation,’ of course…” Snatching up the aspen log whose deadly efficacy had been proven in the crushing of the intruding marten’s skull, she stood up until her head touched the ceiling, brandishing the club menacingly at him and pulling back the bear hide bed covering. “Cave woman say no snow. Too late and too cold. She say you get in this bed right now and get warm, or else!” Taken aback just a bit by Liz’s unaccustomed behavior and not at first certain whether to be irritated at her for being so demanding--even if in fun--or to burst out laughing, Einar quickly settled on the second option, the sight of Liz, wild hair, war club and wolverinehide wrap silhouetted by the flickering light of the lamp striking him as undeniably hilarious as well as rather “cave woman-like.” When he had managed to get the silent

laughter under control and wipe the tears from his eyes, Einar scooted a bit closer to the bed to demonstrate his good intent. “Well I sure wouldn’t want ‘cave woman’ splattering my brains all over the wall with that fearsome war club of hers, so…bed it is, I guess. Will she give me a minute to try and wrestle this leg back into the cast first, though?” “Of course. Here, I’ll bring you the cast.” Carefully lifting his still-swollen and tender leg onto the bottom half of the cast and tentatively placing the top over it, Einar realized even before he tried to cinch the two halves together that the effort was in vain. Even with all of the insulation removed from the cast--which would have made for a rather chilly and perhaps even dangerous night, with the possibility of frostbite--there was no way he was getting the two halves of the cast together in anything like a useful manner. Well. Won’t hurt me to sleep without it for a night…feel a lot better than sleeping with it, actually. The prospect worried him, though, as there was always a good chance, he knew, that he might have to get up quickly in the night and go somewhere. Or that in one of his dreams he might decide he had to, jumping to his feet heedless of the leg and everything else to meet whatever threat his mind had conjured up. He shook his head, propped the two cast-halves against the bed and crawled in. This is a problem, but one I don’t see a good way around, right now. Unless I just stay awake until the swelling goes down. But that could be a while, looks like. Lord, I sure would appreciate not having to run out of here tonight, if You’re willing. Gonna end up hurting this leg pretty bad, if I have to do that…and I better have some more of that willow stuff, too. Having guessed at his thoughts, Liz was ready with the remaining willow solution, not much, as it turned out, as he had consumed a good bit of it throughout the afternoon and evening, but he drank it, hoping that its effect, combined with a night of rest, might be enough to allow him back into the cast in the morning. It’s got to. I have to run that trap line. Have to be able to get around. The traps had been on Liz’s mind, also, and she was every bit as determined to keep Einar in the den as he was to go out and do what he saw as his duty. I was with him when we set all of them. I know how to find them. There’s no reason he should have to go. Reluctant to bring the matter up, she finally made the decision to delay no more, herself immensely weary and beginning to feel Einar relax a bit as though he might soon get a bit of sleep, too. “When I go check the traps in the morning, I was thinking I could make a quick trip down to the cattail swamp on the way back, if it’s still snowing. It would be good to get some more rosehips, and we’re almost out of willows, too. Ones with bark on them, anyway. If it’s still storming like this and you think it’s safe to go down there, it really seems like a good idea to make the trip, in case the weather clears up soon and we don’t have another chance for a while…”

He was quiet for a minute, chewing his knuckle where it had been damaged by slamming his fist into the ground earlier and fighting back the crushing dread that tried to come over him at the thought of that swamp, of his dream with the geese and the helicopter and…. Stop. Wasn’t real. Isn’t real. Leave it be. “Sure. Long as it’s still snowing pretty hard, and you keep to the trees as much as you can. I’m doing the traps. You can go down there while I do the traps, if you like. Won’t be anybody flying in this storm. And take that club of yours along, why don’t you, since we didn’t get the bola done yet. Maybe you’ll come back with a ptarmigan!” “I’ll take it.” That was all she could think to say, without more time to contemplate, more time in which, she hoped, she might come up with some way to persuade him to remain in the den the following day and rest his leg while she checked the traps. Well, I’ve got all night… • • • •

Einar enjoyed a reasonably restful night, his first in a good while, knowledge of the storm raging outside combining with his own exhaustion to allow him several hours of quiet sleep, Liz very nearly as relieved as he was at the apparent absence of the dreams and disturbances that had so troubled their nights, of late. Waking with a start a good while before dawn to the sudden remembrance that he had gone to bed without the cast and entirely unprepared to leave the den quickly, had such become necessary, he lay for a time listening to the keening of the wind in the rocks outside, the clacking and squealing of the spruces down below them where the trees grew packed so tightly together that they contacted each other in the wind, scrutinizing the noises for anything out of the ordinary and straining to hear through them, to hear anything they might be covering up, finally, unsatisfied, rolling out of bed and crawling over to the door. The morning, if it was indeed morning--how is one to tell, with the sky a black chaos of tossing, scraping spruce trunks and the snow sweeping up the slope at you from first one side and then the other, filling your eyes with sharp, stinging little crystals in the cold--remained as stormy as the evening had been and a good bit colder, reassuring Einar and filling him with a great sense of peace as he crouched there shivering in the wolverine hide beneath the ledge just outside the den for a good half hour before the thought occurred to him that he ought perhaps think about creeping back inside, before he froze solid. Supposing that Liz might appreciate waking to a warmed den, and more than a little chilled, himself, he carefully felt around until he had come up with some of the pre-split kindling pieces they had prepared the day before, pressing his hands against the still slightly warm rocks near the base of the stove before poking around inside until he found a few dully glowing coals and arranging the kindling above them, coaxing the fire back to life. Adding a few small sticks and watching as the flames climbed up through them, he took the pot from the stove top and scooped up snow from just outside, adding it on top of the five inches of solid ice that their had replaced the pot of water they left on top of the stove at bedtime when they stoked the small fire for the final time and let it be for the night. As the wood they were using seldom exceeded four or five inches in diameter and consisted almost entirely of aspen with the occasional--and usually even smaller--spruce

branch thrown in, Einar had little expectation of being able to keep logs smoldering overnight, more than satisfied with the live coals that usually remained protected beneath a heavy layer of ash, greatly expediting the morning fire starting chores. With the absence of an active fire in the little stove, the rock slab on the top tended to cool fairly quickly as the den cooled, allowing water left on it to freeze. The water in the other pot, which had been nestled down between two hot rocks in a thick pile of grass and covered with slabs of aspen bark, remained liquid if not warm, and into it Einar shaved a few slivers of bear fat, adding some dry, crumbly chokecherries and bits of venison for a breakfast stew. By the light of the small fire through the half-open stove door Einar inspected his leg, glad that the swelling had gone down quite a bit and anxious to get the cast back on it, his enthusiasm dampened a bit by the discovery that it was still too puffy to easily fit into the confines of the rigid cordage and pitch structures. Unless he left out all of the insulation, which he did, determined to run the trapline that morning and shoving aside the little voice that told him no, not without some insulation, not with that cold pitch in direct contact with your skin as it would have to be to fit the cast on. You’ll freeze the leg, with temperatures like this, and then you’ll have a lot more to worry about than this halfhealed fracture… Huh. Well, I’ll just have to wrap the insulation around the outside. This can be done. Will be done. And he cinched the two sides of the cast together, pulling on the bear-hide foot protector that served instead of a boot when he wore the cast and shivering at the cold touch of the solidified pitch on his leg. Liz had not stirred since he entered the den--he did not know it, but she had been at the door twice checking on him during his vigil outside, opting not to disturb him when she saw that he did not seem inclined to wander off into the snow or sneak up the ridge to run the trapline before she could stop him--and he worked quietly, wanting to let her go on sleeping, if she could. Which, though cozy in the bear hide and relieved to see that she was not going to have to go out and attempt to retrieve Einar from the snow, she could not, the knowledge that she must go out there and somehow convince him to remain at the den for the day weighing heavily on her mind. Joining him in front of the stove, she accepted the wolverine hide when he offered it. “Smells like you made breakfast!” “Stew. Want to get out pretty early and check those traps, in case the storm lets up as the day goes on. Won’t do to have bobcats and such running off with our martens. If we got any martens, the way the weather’s been.” “The weather hasn’t changed much, from the sound of that wind out there. Maybe the traps could wait for a little while, and you could stick around here with me this morning, rest your leg…” “Sure, but for how long? I’ve done plenty of sitting, these past ten or so days. Way too much sitting. Have to get some weight on it now and then, for it to heal right. And with my knee-platform crutch, I don’t even have to put any weight on it when I’m out and

about. Don’t know why the doggone thing swelled up so much yesterday, but it’s going down now. It’s gonna be fine. I can walk.” And, beginning to growing angry and anxious to demonstrate his determination to walk, Einar scrambled to his feet, leaning heavily on his spear and wincing a bit despite himself when he let a portion of his weight rest on the injured leg “Einar, it was a pretty long hike we went on setting all those traps yesterday, and rugged, too, with all those ups and downs and crawling over downed trees and all. The longest one you’ve done since coming back from the canyon, and even though you weren’t putting weight on the leg for most of it, all that bending and twisting and lifting and jarring must have been pretty rough on it. I’m not saying you should sit in here for the next month or anything, just that you ought to give you leg a break after all that use. A day. Just one day.” “This is not like down in the valley where you can choose to take a day off sometimes and then go make up for things, later. Not like that at all. Those traps have to be checked before scavengers have a chance to get at them, and certain things have to be done while the storm lasts and the air search is off our backs, and I have no way to know how long the storm will last. A day, you say? Well I don’t have a day, Liz!” “You have me.” He was quiet for a minute, thoughtful, frowning into the stove and scraping savagely at the bottom of the stew pot, where, neglected during the conversation, things had begun to stick a bit. “Now what’s that supposed to…” She stood, put her hands on his shoulders. “Let me do it. Let me do the traps, just for today so you leg can rest. Please. The other evening when the air activity stopped and you thought they were coming for us right then…well if that had been real and we’d have needed to head out of here in a hurry, you would not have got very far, on that leg. Not very fast at least. Look at it! You say that you want to be ready, don’t want to be taken by surprise here, and the way you spend half your time at the door listening and watching and goodness knows what else you’re doing, I certainly believe you, but your actions don’t match up with what you’re saying. You just keep pushing, keep hurting yourself over and over again, and because of that you’re going to get us killed if the need ever comes to move quickly. Why can’t you see that Einar? Why do you have to be so blind sometimes?” Silent, jaw set, Einar twisted himself free of her grasp, would not meet her eye, and Liz feared that she might have gone too far with him, took a step back, almost in tears but swallowing them, determined not to let him see. Wearily lowering himself to the ground, he looked up at her. “OK.”

“OK what?” “You can…do the traps for me. Today. Just today, and…” Not even waiting for the remainder of his answer Liz grabbed him and embraced him, kissing him on the cheek, unable to contain her joy. Einar just sat there staring into the fire a bit uncomfortably, not sure how he was supposed to respond. “Thank you, Einar, thanks! I remember where you put all of the traps, I was watching and I know I can find them, I won’t come back until I’ve found all of them and checked…” “Whoa, hold on a minute. Now, what’re you going to do if you find a marten in one of those traps, still alive? Caught by the hind legs or the tail or something? Not the way it’s supposed to work with those deadfalls, but I’ve seen it happen…” “What am I going to do?” She asked, feigning incredulity as she snatched up the knotted aspen club and shook it in his direction. “Do you really need to ask?” “Right. No, guess I don’t! But,” he handed her his spear, “I want you to take this.” She accepted the weapon, holding it at arm’s length and looking at him a bit skeptically. “But this is yours. I’ve seen you. You never let it out of your sight, even at night…” “That’s right,” he growled. “So you doggone well better come back with it, and in a timely manner, understand? Or I’m coming after you.” They ate, Einar giving her advice about resetting the traps if she found any of them tripped and mixing up some bear fat and venison for bait, packing it in a small bag and tucking it into her pocket, Liz finally leaving the den with a nearly empty pack, the yearling hide for warmth, Einar’s spear in one hand and her “war club” in the other. • • • •

Without Einar along to slow her progress, Liz made reasonably good time as she covered the nearly two mile loop along which lay the traps and snares, only once losing her way and having to backtrack a bit to pick up the path again, and several times having to stop and search the snowy woods for the next trap-tree. The first several traps were empty, bait untouched, it looked like, and she was beginning to wonder if the entire project was to have been in vain due to the severity of the storm, when something caught her eye, a bit of disturbed snow just outside the fifth set, and she approached it carefully, discovering that one of the thick evergreen branches that had covered the cubby had been knocked loose, the orange-brown fur of a pine marten’s head and front leg protruding from beneath the collapsed rock and telling her the rest of the story when she cautiously moved the disturbed branch aside with the spear.

Flipping over the rock to free the animal, which was frozen solid and had clearly been there for several hours, at least, Liz reset the trap, smearing the upright stick at the back of the cubby with the bearfat mixture that Einar had sent with her, replacing the branch on the cubby roof before moving on. That marten was to be the first and only that she encountered on the trapline that day, though there was clear evidence of one of the snares having been occupied, as well, a stretched-out, mangled wire, bits of fur and a patch of trampled and disturbed snow beneath the pole telling her that she had not been the first to discover the fact. Too late. Snow had drifted over the tracks of the marten-thief, but in searching, Liz found a few faint marks preserved under a nearby tree, their obvious clawless pads telling her that the raider had almost certainly been of the cat family, though not nearly so large a cat as the lion that Einar had earlier ambushed. She supposed it must have been a bobcat. Well, I’ll just have to ask Einar what the beast way might be to trap such a critter, and we’ll get him, too! The wire on the ruined snare was so twisted and crimped that she doubted it could be used again for such a purpose, taking it down replacing it with a noose of cordage, arranged as she had seen Einar do and held up at the top with a piece of wire from the damaged snare. The rest of the snares were empty, as were all of the deadfalls with the exception of the last, which, approaching, she was very nearly convinced had been tripped but left empty, a belief that she was glad to have proven wrong when she pried up the rock to find the body of an ermine beneath it, small, white with winter, only the black tip on its tail and its dark nose differentiating it from the snow beneath. Smaller than the marten and with a somewhat less thick coat, Liz was nevertheless certain that both the meat and fur of the small weasel would serve them well. Finished with the traps and believing that it was still fairly early in the day, Liz headed back across the two small ridges that separated her from the cattail swamp, wanting to take advantage of the continuing storm to add to their supply of rosehips and willows, and see what else she might be able to run across that could be put to use at the den. The wind had strengthened as the day went on, great gusts sweeping across the mountainside and periodically scouring the evergreens of their loads of snow, the icy whiteness thus released cascading down in curtains and showers, swept nearly sideways by the storm. Huddling beneath a tree during one such dump with her head drawn in under the yearling hide for extra protection and her chilled hands tucked under her arms for a minute of warming, Liz found herself very grateful for the presence of the warm, heavy fur, fairly certain that she would be plastered with snow and well on her way to freezing solid without it. Peeking out at the frozen, wind-tossed world that surrounded her, she did feel just a bit guilty for depriving Einar of the door-flap for the den on such a frigid, windy, day, praying that he had the sense to be keeping himself safe and warm under the large bear hide with a good fire going in the den, and looking forward to finishing up with her explorations so she could soon join him. Finding the marshy area without too much difficulty--a stand of several small, stunted, leafless cottonwoods serving as her landmark--Liz looked for a time for the half-buried thicket of wild roses she had previously harvested from, discovering after much searching that they were now fully covered in snow, needing to be excavated a bit before she could get at the remaining rose hips. The wind once more intensifying, Liz was startled to her feet when a large branch snapped out of one of the cottonwoods and crashed to the ground mere feet from where

she crouched harvesting frozen rosehips. • • • •

Cleaning up after breakfast and setting more snow to melt on the stove, Einar worked a bit at various projects around the den, finding himself having difficulty concentrating for very long on anything, frustrated with the knowledge that Liz was out doing his work while he sat in the den like…like a lazy, worthless, crippled old pile of skin and bones, that’s what. What were you thinking, Einar, letting her talk you out of doing what you knew you needed to do this morning? He shook his head in disgust, tried to pace around the den but found it too small, his leg aching too badly to allow for much pacing, anyway, further reminding him of the fact that he was pretty crippled up at the moment, and while not entirely useless, a good bit closer to it than he found acceptable, for someone in his situation. So…be useful, why don’t you? Just pick something and do it, quit wasting your time moping around in here like some sort of caged predator. Looking around the den, he settled finally on the quartz-head axe whose handle he had begun work on, the day before. Sliding a corner of the bear hide over so that it protected his knee from any mishaps that might occur, he set the head upright, scrutinizing it carefully before giving it a hard and well-aimed strike with a smaller chunk of quartz, fracturing off a sliver of rock and continuing his work until he was satisfied with the shape of the axe head. Then, with the smaller chunk of quartz, he worked a depression into each side of the center of the head where he wished the handle to go, carefully pecking out small chips and chunks until a shallow ring ran all the way around the approximate center of the implement. The trench would, he knew, assist greatly in holding the head in place on the handle, or rather the handle on the head, once he had hafted it with wrapped and crossed lengths of prepared deer or bear sinew, hopefully leaving him with a functional tool which would serve to make firewood splitting an easier task, also coming in handy in chopping down small trees and carrying out a number of other tasks around the den. Even better than the design he was using, Einar knew, would have been to find a handlestick through whose top few inches he could have carved and scraped a vertical notch which would have been sized to admit the smaller--non-cutting--end of the blade, which he might have then cemented into place with spruce-pitch glue, if such had seemed necessary, leaving him with a very useful tool whose integrity would tend to be reinforced with each use, as the head would be constantly driven back into the handle. The only sticks around the den that had been wide enough for such a handle, though, had been aspen branches, and he knew from experience that they would tend to split and shatter on the third or fourth whack, if put to such duty. He needed something sturdier, and the willow had fit the bill, though the sort of doubled-over handle that he was constructing of it would not be quite as strong as the single-branch type. Well. Work with what you’ve got. Which he did, softening some lengths of sinew in his mouth, inserting the axe head into the arc at the top of the doubled over willow shoot and lashing the two together, crisscrossing the sinew over the head and handle on each side and making a few wraps parallel to the handle on each side, also. Setting the mostly finished axe aside so that the sinew could have time to dry and shrink before he was tempted to use it, Einar added a log to the stove, stood, stretched, and hobbled over to the door. He did not even

have to look out to know that the storm continued unabated, the howl of the wind and the frequent icy gusts that had been finding their way into the den as he worked leaving him no doubt about weather conditions out on the slope. And here I sit, while the storm wears itself out and the time when we’ll have to lie low again comes closer and closer. I’ve sat quite enough, it seems to me. Need to get something done, need to start work on that cache we keep talking about. Bet with a little looking, I could find that spot Liz mentioned where there are still some rock slabs accessible for building it, or one very much like it. Grinning, delighted to have come up with what seemed like a good way to redeem a wasted day and wear himself out some so he could have some hope of sleeping a bit when night came, Einar hurried to get into his crutch, sticking an extra hat, water bottle and some bits of frozen venison and bear fat into his pack and preparing to head out into the storm. At the door he hesitated, knowing that he was far from adequately dressed to face any extended amount of time in the biting wind and snow that waited to assail him out there, but, finding the prospect of continuing to sit in the den while there was so much to do a good bit more difficult to take than the threat of freezing out there on the mountainside, he quickly overcame his hesitance and left the den. Be back soon Liz. Just want to take a little look, maybe stack a few rocks for the cairn, and I’ll be back here to get some stew going for you. Out on the slope the wind took his breath, cutting mercilessly through his two thin layers of clothing--he had put on everything he owned, knowing that he would need it--and Einar paused, focusing on his breathing and pushing back at the cold, knowing that with enough concentration he could combat it, at least for a while. By which time he hoped to be moving quickly enough for the work to warm him, some. Enough. Struggling a bit as he worked his way down into the dark timber, he worked very hard to spare his injured leg from excessive jarring or twisting, knowing that it would almost certainly swell some with the use, but hoping to avoid a repeat of the day before. Leaning on a long aspen branch for support and feeling terribly exposed in the absence of his spear, Einar stopped, took out his knife and sharpened the tip of his walking stick, continuing, satisfied. After a good while spent in searching, he did manage to locate a spot much like the one Liz had described, thinking it a fine spot to build the first cache, and, badly chilled and needing some hard work to get the blood moving, starting on the project without delay. The rocks were heavy, difficult to move, frozen to the ground rather firmly in some cases, and he wore himself out quite thoroughly struggling eight or nine of them up out of the icy spruce duff and getting them stacked in the rough ring that was to serve as the base of the cache, stopping numerous time to thaw half-frozen fingers and wrap increasingly stiff and clumsy arms around his body for a minute in largely futile attempts to warm himself. He needed a fire, knew it, could feel the haze descending over him, gripping, squeezing, slowing his movements and dulling his mind, a familiar force, well remembered, and one which, he knew, could and would take his life rather quickly if he did not pay it proper respect. Done here, though. No sense hanging around out in the snow and wind to build a fire when the den’s so close, up there. I can make it. And he could have, most likely, had he not insisted on prying loose one last and final rock slab--if you’re cold it just means you need to work harder. The work will warm you. Do it. Just this one more--

larger than the rest and heavier, finally prying it free and hoisting it with difficulty up into the crook of his arm, only to be met with a sickening crack! at the first step he took on the crutch, the horizontal leg support coming loose and sending him sprawling unceremoniously into the powder, face first in the icy whiteness, tangled up in the remains of the ruined crutch. • • • •

Scrambling clear of the large cottonwood branch, which, fracturing in the wind, had come within inches of pinning her to the ground with its weight, Liz hurriedly got herself into the safety of the nearest spruce grove, chiding herself for neglecting to keep in mind that weak-wooded trees like aspens and cottonwoods could become very dangerous in a strong wind, a storm frequently dropping branches or, in the case of aspens, entire trees to the ground. She had quickly learned in exploring the backcountry of those mountains to avoid aspen groves during windstorms, a lesson that had been reinforced by several close calls she had witnessed, and the numerous windfall trees of various sizes that often littered the forest after a day of gusty weather. In her excitement over finding the rosehips she had allowed herself to neglect those lessons, an oversight that had nearly ended in disaster. Waiting until the wind slacked off a bit to continue with the harvest, she returned to the spot where she had kicked and swept the top layer of snow aside to get at the buried rose brambles, finding them already drifted over with a thin layer of snow. One of the smaller side branches of the fallen cottonwood section had come to rest partially over her rosebush patch, and in moving it, Liz smelled something familiar, sweet, and, inspecting the branch more closely, found that the cottonwood leaf buds with their sticky (at warmer temperatures, at least) orange sap were already fully formed, awaiting the coming of spring. That’s what I smell, then! The sap. Recalling the time Einar had instructed her to harvest similar buds to make “Balm of Gilead” salve for his badly frostbitten toes, an age ago when he had spent a few days with her at her aunt and uncle’s house down in the valley, she collected several hands full of them from the fallen branches, her hands growing a bit yellow and sticky despite the cold, before she was finished. Finally, the outer pockets of her pack bulging with “gillie buds” and rosehips and a chill that she could not quite seem to shake even when she huddled down in the bear hide and drew her face inside telling her that it was high time to head back, she began the return climb to the den, looking forward to curling up on the bed with a big pot of fresh rosehip tea and a fire crackling in the stove, a bearfat-enriched marten stew bubbling and steaming in preparation for their supper, and telling Einar of the day’s adventures. The return trip was to be rather more of a challenge than the descent had been, Liz weary from battling the cold and breaking trail all morning on the trapline and the wind, which had for a time eased off, returning in full force to scour the slope. She kept at it though, kept moving, following where she could her old trail in the hopes of seeing where she had cut off to climb the ridge that morning, meaning to follow it back the way she had come. Reaching the spot where she believed the two trails met, though, recognizing it by a spruce with an odd, matted-looking round ball of a top, she could find no trace of that

morning’s den-trail, the wind and snow done their work of cover and cleanup most thoroughly. It did not matter. She recognized the place, knew in which direction to head to intercept the den. Finally nearing the den, or the place where she believed it to be, she thought she smelled smoke, wondered how that was possible, as the wind was very definitely coming from down-slope at that moment, and she hoped she had not somehow managed to pass the den and end up above it in the near-whiteout. She did not think so, though, kept going, using the contours of the ridge and the limited view allowed her by the weather to aid in navigation, finally recognizing the open area just in front of the den and realizing with a whispered prayer of thanks that she had made it. Brushing the snow from her hat and beating some of the accumulated whiteness from the yearling hide, she stomped loudly to announce her presence and avoid startling Einar, crawling into the den with a pack full of harvested bounty. Only to find the den empty, lamp out, stove cooling, the pot of water on its top having apparently simmered dry some time before. • • • • Einar was not at first entirely certain what had happened to him, realizing only that he had fallen, needed to get himself flipped over and get his face up out of the snow, and in struggling to do so, the problem became clear. The crutch had broken, the pitch-glued stop that had helped hold the horizontal knee support in place apparently working its way loose, the support cracking its sinew bindings and breaking free under the weight of that last rock. Untangling arms and legs and rolling himself over onto his back, he sat up and scooted backwards up the slope until he was under the nearest spruce, pressing himself against its trunk, well aware that he had been way too cold and growing dangerously weary even before the fall and knowing that his life might well depend on how much shelter he could find or create for himself within the next few minutes. The leg had been wrenched some in the fall and it hurt, aching fiercely as he hauled it up over the rough ground beneath the tree and got it situated, dragging the heavy cast with his hands to keep from hurting his knee-which, upon examination, seemed to be the source of most of the pain--any further. The crutch was gone, everything but its main shaft lost beneath the snow, and though Einar knew that he must find the missing pieces, must make an effort to improvise a repair on the crutch so that he would not be left to crawl all the way back up through the snow to the den, he had no intention of doing so before eating something and attempting to warm himself a bit. The wind was cutting through his clothing, tearing mercilessly at him and though its stinging had been replaced by a pervasive numbness that encompassed everything but his leg and the partially healed shoulder that he had overused some in moving the rock slabs, he knew remaining within reach of its touch while he rested would be a huge, and likely fatal mistake. The spruce whose trunk he leaned on was fairly small, certainly no suitable windbreak for the sort of storm that had seized the slope that afternoon, and he fumbled with numbed hands at the zipper to the main pouch of his pack, finally using his teeth to open it and struggling to grasp the dry hat that he had stuffed into it before leaving the den, beating the snow off of the one he wore and struggling the second onto his head overtop of it, desperate for a lessening of the wind’s force.

Warming his hands for a moment against his bare stomach, he reached back into the pack and found one of the solidly frozen bearfat chunks he had thought to bring along for food, stuffing it into his mouth and waiting longer than he would have liked for it to begin melting. The second layer and the food helped, but not nearly enough, Einar breaking a bare, dead branch from under the canopy of the snow-covered spruce boughs and using it to slice into the snow just outside the ring of protection offered by the tree, hoping to find a hardened layer beneath the new powder and immensely thankful when, six inches down, he found a solid layer of wind slab. Prime avalanche conditions, if I was out in the open and on a slope of the right angle. Snow gets packed down by the wind or melted a little in the sun and then a big storm comes and dumps on top of that, the new stuff can’t adhere well to the old, somebody comes walking along or skiing along and whoosh! That’s the end of that. And he sat staring at the slab-layer, picturing the slide, how it would start, what the slope would look like as the slab fractured and slid, carrying with it tons of rapidly solidifying snow and rock and, if it passed through a lightly treed area and grabbed them, splintered tree trunks and boughs and… He shook his head and jumped, realizing that he had been slumping forward towards the ground, beginning to shiver violently with the cessation of movement. And this storm’s gonna be the end of you, too, if you don’t quit daydreaming about avalanches and do something real quick here, Einar. Now. The slab-layer. Were you gonna cut chunks out of it with that branch and stand them up to make a windbreak, or what? Yeah? Well, get busy… Which he did, breathing slowly and deeply in a marginally effective effort to reduce the trembling of his hands as he worked, cutting rough blocks from the slab layer and propping them upright against the deepening powder, the wall thus built soon greatly reducing the force with which the wind hit him. That was all he felt, anymore: the force, the shove of the wind. He was far too numb to feel its icy bite on his skin. So. Windbreak. Good. Now you better have a fire, if you plan on getting your hands limber enough to hope to repair that crutch, if there is any repairing it…and if not, well, you better warm up real good, because it’s gonna be one long, cold crawl through the snow to that den. • • • • Quickly adding a few sticks to the stove and warming her hands near the growing flames, Liz looked around the den for any clue as to where Einar might have headed, found nothing, found, to her dismay, that he had taken very little with him at all, a quick glance around telling her that most of their possessions, including the heavy black plastic bag that they had been using to melt snow and which would have provided him some shelter at least from the terrible force of the wind, remained in place. Einar, what have you done? In a quick moment of terror she wondered if he might have intentionally left everything and gone wandering off to find the perfect spot to sit and wait until the elements claimed him, as his friend Willis Amell had apparently done; the way he’d been acting of late, she would not have been terribly surprised. Maybe that’s why he agreed so easily to letting me go run the trapline in his place…please Einar, no! She shook her head. Get ahold of yourself, Liz. That is not him. He wouldn’t do that. And look…see, he took his pack, and took his extra set of clothes, so he had a plan. You’d better go after him though, because with the storm getting worse and the shape he’s in… Leaving the den Liz began searching for tracks, found a few just below the den that, which largely drifted over, looked fairly fresh and she followed them for a short distance

but quickly lost them in the timber, the occasional sign visible but the ground for the most part scoured clean and drifted over with a thick coat of new snow, its contours offering, perhaps, some clue for a tracker as experienced as Einar but telling Liz nothing. Remembering the smoke she had smelled while on her way back up to the den, she realized suddenly that it must have been Einar’s, kept searching, hoping to smell it again or see some sign of where he had stopped to light it. Liz stopped finally after nearly an hour of searching and struggling to pick up his trail, admitting to herself that she was wandering rather aimlessly in circles in the storm-tossed woods, growing dangerously weary and chilled. Should have eaten something back at the den. That was a mistake. OK. What’s next? Sitting down on a fallen tree, at a loss as to how to proceed, she asked please…guide him back here…show him the way back to the den so he can get in out of this storm…guide him… Guide him. The words echoed in her mind, gave her and idea and she began searching the nearby trees, coming up with a long, dry-dead aspen branch which she carried over to an equally dry standing dead aspen, whacking it in a regular cadence---three strikes, wait a few seconds, three more, stop and listen for a response, you’d better be hearing this, Einar. You’d better be conscious…please, please don’t let him be lying out there somewhere unconscious in the snow! What if he fell and hit his head or something, or just went until he couldn’t go anymore--wherever he’s going--he does that sometimes. You hear this Einar, and you come back! For a good while Liz kept up the sequence, never hearing a response but hoping very much that Einar might have heard the sounds, echoing, regular, not a sequence that nature was likely to produce without some human hand to help it along. Returning to the den, Liz, saddened but not surprised to find it still empty, tended the fire and set a pot of snow to melt, warming herself and eating a quick meal of venison and bear fat before hurrying back out into the teeth of the storm to strike a dead tree near the den entrance, three strikes, pause, again, a futile effort, she knew, as the wind snatched the sounds away almost before she could hear them, but an effort she knew she must make, on the slim chance that he was close, could hear. • • • • Nowhere near close enough to hear Liz’s signal in the wind and storm, Einar knew that he must have fire, must have it before he could hope to sit long enough to repair the crutch, let alone attempt the long climb back to the den through that storm, but needing a thing and procuring it can be very different matters, and as he sat bent nearly double with hands pressed to his stomach to thaw, he ran over in his mind the things he had brought with him. Knife. Firesteel and striker in the pouch around his neck. Little bag of dry--he sure hoped it was still dry--tinder secured to the pouch, some milkweed down, pitch lumps and a was of finely shredded aspen inner bark. Enough. It would be enough, if he could get his hands to work. OK. Hands are as thawed out as they’re gonna get, this way. You need wood. Lots of little dead branches in under here, start breaking them off, kick through the duff till you reach some bare ground and start setting them up. Yes. Those. Aim for the polished-looking yellow ones that have been without their bark and drying for a good long time. Those, and the dull grey, brittle ones that are even older. Good. Get a nice pile of them going and…aw, knocked them down, did you? Clumsy fool. Try again… Several minutes later, cold and increasingly frustrated but knowing

that he had to succeed, and pretty quickly, Einar had again readied the little teepee of dry, thin sticks, moving with careful deliberation to avoid again obliterating it with one movement of his awkward, shaking hands. Time for the tinder. Briefly thawing his hands again he managed to unwind the cord that was wrapped around and around the little rawhide tinder-pouch, took out the bundle of aspen bark, dry, thankfully, or mostly so, and inched it up under his tent of dry sticks. Now for the milkweed down to catch the spark… The second he laid eyes on the little wad of milkweed down in the bottom of the pouch, Einar knew something was terribly wrong, an assessment confirmed when he shook it out into his hand and found it to be not only wet, but frozen quite solid. The entire front of his shirt, he realized, was stiff with ice in places where the wind-plastered snow had been melted a bit by his body heat before re-freezing, and it seemed that some of that melt-water must have trickled its way down into the bottom of the pouch. Probably while I was working on the rocks, as he highly doubted that he had been generating that kind of heat, since. Well. In some trouble here. Don’t think the aspen bark will take a spark…but I got to try. Better have these little pieces of pitch ready to catch the flames, if any show up. Positioning the pitch chunks in the sticks just above the bundle of aspen bark, he fumbled the little fire steel into his hands, shoved a small rock slab over near the fire and set the device on it, clamping with the toe of his boot as he had done before when his hands were too cold to grasp items as small as it was with any reliability. Trouble was, he could not seem to grasp the striker, either, dropping it twice and having to fish it up out of the snow--thank goodness it’s tied to that cord, or it would have been gone--before deciding to put it away. No way can I grab that thing. Better try the knife. Come on, keep moving. Pressing with the heels of both hands, he finally managed to get a grip on the knife, drew it sharply up towards him across the secured fire steel, needing several tries before he could get things coordinated well enough to produce sparks but he finally got some, watching them sputter and die in the nest of shredded aspen bark without producing so much as a whiff of smoke. Not gonna do it. And I’ve got that bark shredded up just about as fine as it will go without being dust…must’ve got a little damp in that pouch, along with everything else. Come on, think. Kinda starting to lose your hands, here. Don’t know how much longer you’ll be able to hold this knife. The pitiful little wad of dampened milkweed fluff lay on the ground beside his boot where he had dropped it in disgust, and Einar picked it up, or tried to, jamming his near-useless fingers against the flesh of his stomach for a minute in frustration before he could manage and pulling the little bundle apart, staring in relieved amazement at the dry, fluffy little puff of fibers near its center. The moisture had, it appeared, frozen before saturating the bundle. Not much here, and this ice is gonna put the little fire out pretty quickly when it starts melting and steaming, but maybe…maybe if I could position a little pitch right overtop of the dry stuff and get that to catch before the steam starts, I might have a chance. Moving one of the pitch lumps a bit lower in the tent of twigs, holding his breath and concentrating hard to avoid shaking and jarring the whole thing to pieces, he set the opened-up milkweed clump in the middle of the aspen bark nest, again getting into position and striking sparks. One try, another…on the fourth, he saw a small flame bloom from the center of the down, dropped to his stomach and began blowing gently, giving the tiny flame a bit of

air and grinning through chattering teeth when he heard the pitch begin to sizzle. Got it! The little flame grew, the other pieces of pitch catching, the fire well established several minutes later against the trunk of the spruce and Einar beginning to warm as its heat was reflected back at him by the snow-block windbreak and the tree’s trunk. A time later, hands working again and a good snack of venison and bear fat in his stomach, Einar crawled back out into the storm to search for the missing pieces of his crutch. To no avail. They were gone, buried beneath not only the several feet of crumbly, churned up snow where he had fallen, but apparently also beneath a tangle of fallen trees that lay under the snow. He never did find either the knee support or the carved wedge that belonged beneath it, finally giving up the search when he began growing badly chilled again, his leg and especially the knee, which he had wrenched in the fall, giving him more and more trouble. Back to the fire, warm up again, and get moving. It was time to go. He knew it, dreaded leaving the little fire but could see the dimness of evening coming on, found himself increasingly assailed by falling clumps of half melted snow, too, as the little fire’s warmth filtered up through the frigid air to soften the snow on the branches of the spruce. He had, at least, managed to remember to build the fire up against the trunk rather than out further from the tree where snow heavy branches would have been inclined to smother the flames with their tumbling loads of snow. All right, get moving. Going to take you an awful long time to get back up there, stumping along with no crutches and only this stick for support. Which it did, Einar unable to travel faster than a creep and soon dangerously cold again, blinded by a fierce wind that drove the snow sideways and reduced visibility to mere feet, if that. He kept going, hauling himself up over one deeply submerged fallen tree after another, hip deep in snow at times when he managed to fall between tangled windfall trunks and wishing he had snowshoes but knowing that he must not take the time to stop and try to construct a pair. Wouldn’t even be a pair. Can’t be putting that kind of weight on the leg, yet… • • • •

Darkness. It was almost complete, and Liz wept as she stood shivering in the wind’s icy blast just outside the den, striking the dead aspen over and over in an ongoing effort to signal Einar, her shouting this time accompanying the pounding of wood on wood, hoarse with the effort, her words scattered on the wind and unheard by Einar as he dragged himself along some two hundred yards above the den and a good distance farther than that to the East of it, having badly misplaced himself in the ongoing whiteout. So close and yet so very, very far. • • • •

Crouching in front of the stove after her latest session of tree-pounding outside the den-she was trying to head out every fifteen minutes or so to repeat the sequence, but found herself going much more frequently--Liz tried to separate herself from the situation, to ask what her SAR team would do if faced with similar circumstances. She knew the answer to that. We probably wouldn’t have gone out at all on a night like this, realistically. Whiteout conditions combined with subzero temperatures and an undefined

search area…the search would have been called off until morning, at least, if not until the end of the storm. That was the reality, and she knew that there was little sense in continuing to endanger herself by making repeated trips down the mountain with no source of light and no real idea where to begin looking. Yes, that’s the reality, but…it’s Einar--my husband--out there, and I can’t just sit here and do nothing while he wanders around until he freezes to death. He would have come for me. He did come for me. And she went, again searching the area just below the den in the failing light, descending nearly down to the cattail swamp and stopping frequently to bang on trees in the hopes that he might hear, voice hoarse and throat dry and hurting with shouting for him by the time a patch of slightly less dim ground told her she was nearing the swamp. “Are you out there,” she tried again, loud as she could, the wind snatching her words and scattering them into the darkness, no response, and she had not expected one. She did not dare use his name, not when shouting like that; even though the chance that anyone else might be within earshot seemed to her incredibly scant, she was not certain that he would see it the same way, and did not want to take the chance that he might decide to conceal himself from her and remain silent out of sheer stubbornness and disapproval of her raising her voice like that. Surely not even he would do that…not on a night like this. Where are you? Wherever he was, it was apparently not on her path as she crossed the gully and climbed up by an alternate route to increase the search area--if you can really call this a search. I can’t see a thing, between this snow and the darkness--and by the time she finally found once again the clearing in front of the den, dimly lit by the last of the evening’s pale dusk-light, she was nearing exhaustion, her voice a hoarse whisper when she tried to call for him, dehydrated from her hours of somewhat frantic hiking and badly in need of a pot or two of water. And food, for that matter, reminded as she was by the weakness in her legs when she stumbled against the rocky protrusion just outside the den. Beating the snow from the bear hide and hanging it up across the entrance, Liz knew that she had made her last trip of the night. She had very nearly become lost herself in that storm, had barely found her way back to the clearing at all, and she knew that her search efforts were not and would not likely produce any result, as dark and windy as it had grown out on the mountainside. Sitting there glumly for a minute as she fed the stove and shivered herself warm again--the yearling hide was a tremendous help, but even it had not been quite enough to shield her entirely from the vicious wind and hard driven snow of that night--Liz made the decision to stay, to keep the fire going, tossing in the occasional green branch in the hopes that Einar might smell its smoke and be guided back, venturing outside on a regular basis to pound the aspen trunk on the chance that he might be close enough to hear. She wished for a whistle, for two pieces of metal to pound together, even, for a signal that might carry further, but she had none such. Night. It was all around her, pressing in from outside the den and leading her to light the lamp--which had come to seem almost like a living, breathing thing to her over the past days--just to help keep its terrible, empty darkness at bay and have a bit of additional company, and Liz could not remember ever feeling so alone as she did just then. She tried to keep busy--toss another green branch in the stove to make some smoke, add some

more snow to the pot that simmered gently on the stovetop, get into the yearling hide and prepare to meet the wind once more on the way to the signal-tree. Repeat. And again-but it was not enough, and she could not get the vision of Einar, injured and lost and dying in the storm, out of her mind. She prayed for him, pleading for his life, asking that she would please, please be shown what to do, how to find and help him, and finally, exhausted and out of words, conceding what she had known but been somehow unable to say from the beginning--there is nothing I can do for him; I can’t find him, can’t reach him, but You can. He is in Your hands. Shelter him, guide him, bring him back to me…if You’re willing. Finally, not feeling the least bit hungry herself but wanting to have something ready for Einar if he returned--when he returns!--she cleaned the marten and the ermine and got a stew going, adding some dried chokecherries and bear fat and setting out the bag that contained the last of the cattail starch, intending to add that at the last minute to further enrich the meal. The stew bubbling and her eye caught by the cottonwood buds she had gathered that morning--was it really this morning? Seems like a week ago--she decided to work on a small batch of salve, remembering the instructions Einar had given her before and expecting that when he made it back, he would surely be in need of something to help frozen toes. Chopping a handful of bear fat into small chunks she dumped it into the second, smaller pot and set it on the stovetop to begin melting, sorting through the cottonwood buds and putting a pile of the best looking ones on a nearby flat rock to add to the liquefying grease as soon as she had got it hot enough to separate out the small pieces of meat and membrane, or “cracklings,” and remove them. The fat was soon not only liquefied but bubbling, and she used a stick to snag and remove the cracklings, eating a few of them despite the knot in her stomach, and dumping in the buds, orange and sticky in the warmth of the den. Setting the pot aside on a cooler part of the stove, she stirred the stew, added a few more chokecherries and again went outside to keep her vigil at the signal-tree, pounding for all she was worth and again shouting, her voice somewhat restored by the rest and the water she had consumed. The wind had slacked off a bit, she thought, and for several minutes she kept up her shouting and pounding, praying that he might hear, might come or, if he was unable, might somehow answer so she could go to him. There was no answer, though, nothing save the returning rush of the wind as it hammered down the slope and swept through the treetops, showering her with snow. Back in the den Liz scooted the salve-pot back over onto the cooking surface of the stove, staring into the pot as the buds slowly released their yellow-orange resin and the bear fat took on its hue, the entire place soon smelling of the stuff, an odor sweet, healing, homelike, sure hope I get the chance to use some of this stuff... • • • • It had been a good while since he’d been able to feel his toes, their deep aching turning to numbness some time ago despite his persistent efforts at wiggling them and, when that ceased to be possible, slamming his feet against trees and stomping them frequently--the one on the unbroken leg, anyway. At first he had taken the time to stop and warm the toes whenever he felt the cold overwhelming his efforts, dragging himself beneath a tree

and leaning on it as he removed his boots and pressed his foot to his inner thigh until the toes began stinging again with returning circulation, attempting to warm those of his right foot by clasping them in his hands and rubbing, as the cast and wrenched knee would not allow the flexibility to reach his thigh. He considered removing the cast to give him access to further warm the foot, but decided against it, not at all sure that he would be able to tie the cords that held its two halves together if he took it off, and as bad as things were, he knew they would be many times worse if he had to crawl back without that cast. As it was, he was managing to limp along with the help of the stick that had served as part of his crutch, struggling not to put too much of his weight on the leg but able to use it a bit here and there to help him get through especially rough areas. Progress was still extremely slow, though. Too slow. Einar eventually had to give up his toe-warming breaks, knowing that it was getting too dangerous to go on stopping like that and doubting his ability to get up again if he sat down just then, not sure that he would remember, even, that such had been his intent. Keep going. Can’t be far now… Something was wrong, he knew it, knew he must have gone wrong somewhere, was beginning to recognize the angle of the slope and the proximity of the sharp dropoffs that marked the lower end of the canyon, getting a glimpse now and then through the nearwhiteout and the gathering darkness, and knew that he had somehow managed to end up too high. Way too high. Passed it. You passed the den somehow, have to go back. Which he did, turning around and stumbling down the snowy slope, walking backwards at times due to a steepness that he could not see but could feel beneath him, lowering himself one step at a time, knowing that a bad fall would mean the end. Endless. The slope was endless, the storm endless, the wind, not cold anymore but terribly forceful as it pounded his weary limbs seemed as if it would never end, and Einar knew that his movements, clumsy, jerky, increasingly uncoordinated, must not end either, for if they did his life would be soon to follow. And he needed to live. Wasn’t entirely sure that he wanted to, didn’t quite know what that meant at the moment, even, but he had left the den and had left Liz and needed to get back to her. Had duties back there. Keep moving. Darkness, and he could not go on. It had taken him a while this time to realize that he was no longer moving, the movement of the trees all around him making it seem as though he, too, continued to travel, but when his head fell forward and encountered the rough bark of a spruce he realized that his movement had ceased, had, apparently, ceased a good while ago, judging by the amount of snow that seemed to have accumulated on his hat and his shoulders, even there beneath the tree, and he tried to rise, couldn’t find his legs and threw himself sideways, hoping that if he started moving in some way, any way, they might show up again. Nothing. Other than a mouthful of snow, and he spat it out, struggled to sit up. Should have been there by now. Must have gone wrong again, gone off course. Don’t know how I’m going to find my way now, but I must try, must try and get up, first… He heard something, or thought he did, through the ripping and shrieking of the wind through the trees, a sound regular, repeated, something that did not seem to fit the pattern of the storm, and with it what might have been a human voice. Might have been almost

anything, for that matter, might well have been his own failing brain playing tricks on him and probably was, but he somehow got himself rolled over and on his knees, starting down the slope in what he guessed to be the direction of the sounds, rolling and sliding and only occasionally rising to take a halting step or two. Time passed, but brought with it no more sounds to guide him, and Einar finally accepted that he must have imagined or invented them--no surprise--just as he was then imagining the warm, rich smell of stew, near, ready to eat, reaching him on the wind and reminding him of Liz, and then he could see her there in the lamplight of the den, feel the warmth that rushed out when she pushed aside the door flap, beautiful sight, not real but beautiful…thank you, Liz… • • • • She heard something just outside, a muffled sound that differed somehow from the howlings and creaking of the storm-lashed forest, something human-like, almost, and taking the lamp she pulled back the bear hide, its light reflecting off of the nearby snow banks and illuminating a wild, snow-encrusted figure that stood feet from the entrance, leaning shakily on a spruce stick but standing, alive. She didn’t say anything, just helped him through the entrance, held him for a moment and led him over to the stove. • • • •

Struggling to get Einar out of his icy clothes--a process with which he emphatically insisted on helping, though his hands were all but useless at that point--Liz realized that he was barely shivering, knew he ought to be and hurried to cushion one of the rocks that leaned against the stove in layer after layer of aspen bark, getting it behind his back and wrapping the bear hide around him while she quickly added some rose hips and dried chokecherries to the water she had simmering on the stove. Shaking the accumulated snow and ice from his clothes she hung them from roots above the stove to begin thawing and then drying, hastily changing out of her own bottom layer of pants so he would have something to wear while his dried. After checking the tea, she saw that Einar had managed to lie down while she dealt with the clothes, curling up into a ball with his arms drawn in against his sides and his chin tucked down on his chest, and when she spoke in an attempt to wake him he just looked up at her and smiled through cracked, purple lips, mumbling something about how it was so good and warm in the den, and he could finally sleep. Liz was not so sure. Somehow doubting his ability to generate enough heat to begin heading in the right direction by simply lying there curled up in the bear hide, she brought the tea pot and hauled him back up into a sitting position. “Hey, come on now. Not time to sleep just yet. Have some of this tea.” He sat there, couldn’t quite seem to figure out how to take a sip of the tea but leaned forward, elbows on his knees, breathing the steam for a good while and starting to shake a bit more as she held the pot for him, the ice beginning to melt in his hair and beard and the frost-nipped patches on his cheeks and nose beginning to sting as they came back to life. Struggling to speak, he finally got a few words out, slow and indistinct, but Liz

understood. “Crutch…broke…sorry...m-meant to…” He lost his train of thought then and for some inexplicable reason attempted to rise, couldn’t get his limbs to cooperate and quickly sank back down on the heap of dry grass. She put her arm around him, drew the bear hide in closer around his shoulders. “Ok. It’s Ok. We’ll talk about it later.” Oh yes, we’ll have plenty to talk about, later… “You just take a drink of this tea for now. Here. I’ll help you. Good. Can you hold the pot yet? No? Ok, I’ll just set it here beside you. Now let me get you a couple more of these warm rocks, get them wrapped against your sides with the wolverine hide so you can start warming up and then I’d better have a look at your feet.” “Feet…kinda bad. Cast…uh…” “Doesn’t help much, does it, when it comes to staying warm? Let’s get it off. I’m sure it’s wet down inside there, and you’ll warm up a lot faster without it.” Not only were the shreds of cloth and the moss and grass being used for cast insulation wet but they were icy as well, frozen in frosty little clumps to the cast’s pitch-coated interior and to the hair on Einar’s leg, and Liz shook her head as she removed them, looking for the telltale white waxy patches that would have indicated frostbite and relieved to find none--except in a small area where his leg had emerged from the top of the cast--not until she got down to his foot, at least. Three of his toes were completely white as were the tips of the other two, white blotches creeping down the outside of his foot and across part of the sole. The white patches and the affected toes were, to her relief, soft to the touch rather than frozen solid, and though very thankful for that, she knew he was in for a number of rather difficult days before he could hope to use the foot again. Well, this ought to slow him down some…poor guy. Wonder if he realizes how bad it is, yet? I doubt it. Looks like he’s still pretty out of it. The other foot, which had been protected by his boot and two pairs of socks, was in much better shape, only two toes showing small patches of white on their tips. As she warmed his feet against her stomach Liz inspected Einar’s fingers, relieved to see only a few small areas of concern and warming them, too, careful not to rub any of the frostbitten areas, as she knew that this would only lead to further damage, as minute ice crystals would grate and tear and chew up the injured tissues. The soup was bubbling and she left to stir it, pulling the pot off of the stove to cool a bit, pouring it into the wooden bowl that Einar had made and starting some snow melting in the empty pot, knowing that the best way to thaw out Einar’s frozen toes would be in some lukewarm water. He was asleep again or nearly so when she brought him the bowl of soup, shivering hard as the warmth of the rocks seeped into him and slowly began bringing his core temperature up, and she tried to get him to eat, but he managed no more than a bite or two before drifting off to sleep again. That changed when she got his right foot into the pot of heated water, warm, but only a few degrees above body temperature, the pain of his thawing toes leaving him wide awake, if not particularly interested in

eating. She was able to keep him breathing steam from the frequently-reheated and refilled teapot, though, taking swallows of it now and then at her urging. Several minutes into soaking his toes in the warm water, Einar suddenly sat up a bit straighter, leaning forward to take a look at the foot, which had gone from pale and white but otherwise fairly normal looking, to swollen, red and covered with large, fluid filled blisters as it thawed. He looked over at Liz, speaking through clenched teeth. “Better have…some willow now. Bunch of willow, if we got it.” “Yes, we have it. I cut a bunch of them this afternoon down at the marsh. That must hurt awfully bad…” “Some. But mostly need it…because willow thins the blood. Will help with circulation. Looks like…may be losing a toe or two and…would kinda like to avoid, if possible.” Quickly peeling one of the willow stems she gave him the bark to begin chewing, snipping the tips off of several of the other fresh willow shoots, cutting them into small pieces and adding them to the tea, which she set back on the stove to heat. “Oh, don’t talk like that. There’s no way to know yet just how bad it is, but if it’s any comfort, the toes were not actually frozen hard at all. They were still soft. White and waxy and pretty bad looking, but soft. It may not be as bad as it seems.” Einar nodded gratefully, stuffing the wad of willow bark into his mouth and chewing, hastily swallowing the mouthful of terribly bitter juice that accumulated in his mouth. “Right. Could be worse. If the...blisters were full of blood right now…big trouble. Would mean deeper damage. This may come out Ok but…” He stopped talking then, eyes clamped shut as he devoted his entire focus--which, hypothermic as he still was and badly worn out from his climb, did not amount to much--to managing the increasing pain of the thawing foot, breathing slowly and struggling to keep control of himself. Watching, Liz did not have the heart to tell him that the blisters on the undersides of his toes were full of blood, as were those on the outside of his foot, which he had apparently not yet seen. Later. Let him get through this, first. Knowing that the salve she had earlier prepared ought to have some effect on the pain, as cottonwood buds contained a good amount of same the aspirin-like compound that gave willows their effectiveness, she was anxious to get his foot dried out and the salve applied, but when she made a move to lift it out of the water, Einar shook his head, spoke in a voice that broke a bit despite his best efforts. “No. Not done yet. Can take…half hour or so to get things thawed out. Stop too soon, worse damage. Need to add…little more warm water to keep the temperature up.” She added the water, bringing him at the same time the willow tea, which he gulped down quickly despite its bitterness, handing the pot back to her. For the next several minutes he sat there with his elbows on his knees and his eyes scrunched shut, Liz wishing she could do something to aid him in his obvious struggle, but knowing that he

really needed to be left alone to handle things in his own way. Finally, seeing that the look of intense concentration that had seemed to mark the worst of the pain was easing some and hoping that he might be ready to talk a bit she sat down beside him, again offering the bowl of stew. “Einar…why did you do this?” • • • •

Slightly annoyed at Liz’s question and not feeling much like talking, Einar supposed he had better go ahead and do so anyway, guessed he certainly owed her at least that much for going to the trouble to thaw out his feet. “Was working on the food cache. Wanted to…take advantage of the storm, so I went down there and stacked up a bunch of rocks. Too many rocks, I guess. Crutch broke when I tried to lift the last one. Stopped and made a fire once on the way back, but…” He shook his head. “Couldn’t see a thing out there. Got awful cold, was awful slow without the crutch. But I made a good start on the cache! Soon as I can rig up a replacement for that doggone lost knee brace on my crutch, I’ll go finish the thing up!” And he grinned at her, face haggard and pale and frostbitten, but eyes glowing. She wanted to get after him for further injuring himself, for failing to spend the day resting his leg when he had seemed to agree in their prior conversation that such was a good idea, felt like threatening to tie him up or knock him out--or perhaps both, just for good measure--before she left the den next time, but it had all been said before. Einar knew the facts, knew how she felt about things, and Liz saw no purpose in further belaboring the point. “You need this, don’t you Einar? The challenge. The struggle. Look at you. Here you are frozen half to death with your toes blown up like balloons and obviously in a lot of pain, yet you seem happier and more relaxed than you have been in days.” Nodding slowly, he stared into the stove. “Guess so. Sitting is…real rough for me right now. Feel awful lost just sticking around the den, awful jumpy, and I don’t sleep at all unless I can really wear myself out first. Only time it really seems like I’m doing what I ought to be doing, anymore, is when I’m out there working right at the limits of whatever I’m capable of, right at the edge…” “I can see it.” Though I can also see that you will never heal up if you keep doing this to yourself…why don’t you realize that? “And I don’t want to take that away from you. But don’t you think…well, it might have saved us both a lot of trouble today if we each had some way to tell the other where we were headed, when we left the den. You almost died out there tonight, Einar. And I could have very easily got lost in the storm too, wandering around looking for you, and never found my way back here. It almost happened on the last trip back up the hill, and I’m learning, but I’m not as good yet out there as you are…”

Humbled, he stared at the ground, shaking his head and chipping idly with his improvised quartz axe at a chunk of firewood, looking up at her out of the corner of his eye. “You came looking for me? In that storm?” “Of course I came looking for you! I went up and down this mountain searching and shouting until I lost my voice and pounding on trees and praying that you weren’t lying out there somewhere unconscious and freezing to death and getting covered with snow so I could never find you…Einar, you’re not alone any more, but sometimes you sure act like you are. Don’t you see that I care what happens to you? That I…love you?” Silent for a time, wishing he might sink into the floor and become invisible, Einar finally spoke. “I heard you. Just before I showed up at the door here, I heard you pounding on that tree. Saved me. I…uh…had no idea where I was out there. Was trying but…was real close to going to sleep I think. Smelled the stew but thought I was dreaming. Yeah, I know you care. Just don’t quite know what to do with that fact, sometimes. Forgive me…?” She scooted closer to him, again offered the stew, which was beginning to grow cold. “Einar. There is nothing to forgive.” He was not so sure, but, grateful, accepted the wooden stew-bowl and ate, the pain from his thawing foot finally down to a level where he was reasonably certain that he would be able to keep the food down and knowing that his body desperately needed the resources if it was to continue warming. Using the spoon she had made, Liz shared the stew with him, terribly hungry and hollow-feeling after her trapline excursion and the frantic afternoon out on the mountain, searching. Staring at the den wall as she ate, pondering, Liz suddenly leapt up, much to the startlement and consternation of Einar, who was sure she must have heard something outside that he had managed to miss in his half-wakeful state, rolling quickly to his stomach with the stone axe in one hand and his knife in the other. “Hey! No…nothing wrong. Here. Let me help you get your foot back in that water. Just wanted to tell you that I had an idea! Why don’t we use one of those big slabs of red sandstone from outside, and etch a map of sorts into it. Then if one of us leaves the den while the other’s already away, we can leave some indication of where we’ve gone. A little pebble or something--we could each have one of a different color. That way if something like this happens again, whoever gets back first will at least know where to start looking…” “Oh…and leave a clear map for the enemy if they should happen to stumble upon this place while we’re away? I don’t think so!” “Who said anything about a ‘clear map?’ I was picturing just a few basic contour lines to orient us, and then some pictures that only we would understand. Symbols that would represent places we both know, landmarks on the mountainside here…a marten track or something for the start of the trapline, a heron or duck for the cattail marsh, things like that. It would look nothing but a bunch of petroglyphs to the enemy, if they ever saw it.

The idle etchings and chipping of a couple of modern primitives, passing the winter hours in their cave…and if they were to give it some serious study, it would take them days to decipher, by which point we’d either be long gone, captured or dead, anyway, so it wouldn’t make any difference.” He gave her an odd look, nodded. “Sure sounds like you’ve got this all thought out…” “Yes. Marten stew makes me very contemplative, as it turns out. And you know, this wouldn’t be the first time you left some ‘rock art’ behind. I was there when SAR went into that cave up above the waterfall to rescue the agent who fell and got stuck, and I saw your mural on the wall of that little calcite chamber--very detailed images of you hiding in a little crevice partway down a canyon wall, aiming an arrow at a helicopter that was hovering so close that you could see the men’s faces…I’ve never asked you about it, but ever since I saw that mural, I’ve wondered…did you really shoot down that helicopter with an arrow, like they say? The pictures kind of left it an open question, but they certainly did pin the whole thing on you, in the press…” Einar’s face darkened, jaw clenched, his eyes taking on a familiar faraway look that told Liz she might have been better off leaving the subject alone, tightening his grip on the axe as the presence of that day returned to him in full force, rotor wash in his hair, that pervasive, echoing rumble all around him, in him, the taste of granite dust between his teeth and the sure knowledge that he was either about to die, or be captured…he shook his head, wiggled his damaged toes, or tried to, the hurt returning him quickly to reality. Quit it. Just quit. “You saw that, did you? I got a couple arrows off, yeah, but it was a lousy, quickly made bow, and I could hardly use my left shoulder at all, back then. Rotor hit the wall and the chopper tore itself up because they weren’t paying enough attention to the wind. You know how the wind can be in those canyons, some afternoons. I had nothing to do with it. But…it wasn’t for lack of trying! Now,” he took a big breath, blew it out between pursed lips, “back to your map idea, Ok?” “Sure. And why don’t I put some of this cottonwood salve on your toes, too, if you’re done soaking them? We don’t have any gauze or even mullein leaves, aside from these broken up ones that we saved for tea, but we have lots of usnea, and it ought to work alright between your toes, don’t you think?” “Yep.” He nodded, grimacing as he lifted his foot out of the warm water, leaning forward to inspect it. “That’s what I’d do, for sure. Smear the usnea with a bunch of that salve so it won’t stick, shove some lumps of it between the toes…huh. Pretty ugly. Guess I may be sitting still for a bit now, like it or not…looks like you’re gonna get your way on that one, after all.” Ready to come back with a smart remark about how her way would have involved preventing the frostbite damage in the first place by tying him to a boulder so he couldn’t leave the den for a week, Liz thought better of it, bit her tongue and began preparing the

toe dressings, picking good clean clumps of usnea and rolling them around in the salve, which she had set near the stove to warm, saturating them thoroughly before gently sliding them between Einar’s toes. He didn’t make a sound while she worked, staring into the stove and trying to count the rocks that made up the area just around the door, giving Liz a thankful glance when she told him she was finished, propping his leg up on a raised cushion of grass, a rock slab tucked beneath for additional height. “You’d better lie down now, if you can. Your leg is swelling again, probably from all of that use this afternoon, and I’m sure it would be good for your toes if the swelling could be brought down. I’ll make you some more of the willow solution.” Complying, Einar flopped down on the grass and duff-insulated den floor, Liz getting the bear hide over him, adding a few sticks to the fire and joining him, dragging over a large slab of sandstone that had been standing just outside the den door, lying on her stomach as she began to sketch lightly on it with a quartz chip. • • • • Liz’s work on the map-stone petroglyphs did not last long that night, as the exhaustion of the day weighed heavily on her, Einar, too, drifting towards sleep as they lay together on the floor, and finally, feeling the cold of the night seep in around the bear hide and settle on the floor, she roused herself and set about preparing for bed. Einar, immensely weary and near sleep despite his throbbing toes, wanted to stay right where he was, but she insisted on helping him up onto the bed, knowing that he was going to have a difficult enough time staying warm as it was, the need to keep his leg elevated preventing him from curling up for warmth, and his temperature not yet returned to normal from his extended wander in the snow. Adding more wood to the fire and closing the door and air vent most of the way to keep it smoldering for as long as possible, she joined Einar in the bed and attempted to make a bit of conversation about the map, but found him already fast asleep. Einar slept that night, slept without dreaming and without waking, soundly, despite the fact that his shivering did not entirely cease for hours after lying down, and Liz slept also, pressed against his side for warmth and holding him until his trembling eased, finally falling asleep with a grateful tears in her eyes and a prayer of thanks for the sparing of both of their lives, once again. Morning brought a continuation of the windy weather and low, heavy clouds but not of the snow, which had tapered off sometime in the night to leave the trees heavily burdened, the landscape outside the den rounded and smoothed by the numerous inches of fresh snow that had fallen and drifted and been sculpted by the wind over the past two days, and Einar squinted out at the white, billowy world, hoping very strongly that the snow would return so that they could continue using the stove. His injured foot would, he knew from past experience, be very vulnerable to further damage from the cold until the blisters healed, and as it would be rather a bad idea--he shuddered at the thought--to try and cover it with bear hide or anything else thick and warm until it began healing, keeping the den somewhat warm seemed like the best way to avoid further injury. The lamp would, if they could keep the place sealed up reasonably tightly, do an adequate job at keeping temperatures well above freezing in the den, but the stove would make things easier, and also make the task of melting snow and heating water to somewhere right

around body temperatures for the once or twice daily soaks that he knew would help prevent infection and speed healing in the toes. If they’re going to heal. Looks like I may have taken things a bit too far this time. Well. One good thing…extreme cold and high elevations do not lend themselves well to the thriving growth of bacteria, so I have a pretty decent chance of avoiding life-threatening infection, even if I do end up losing a toe or two. Really have to stay on top of things though, and I sure would prefer Liz not be here to see if I have to start carving off chunks of dead toe with my knife… He shook his head, shivered at the draft coming in under the door and added wood to the stove, stirring the breakfast stew and greeting Liz as she shook the sleep from her eyes and stumbled over to hold her hands out the welcome warmth of the flames. “What are you doing up? I thought you were going to keep still and elevate that leg today…” “Aw, now I’ll elevate it in just a minute. First though I had to check on things outside and start us a little breakfast. Kinda felt like stirring around--well, scooting around, to be more accurate--just a bit, this morning. Haven’t slept that well for days, and it sure did feel great! “Oh. Well I guess floundering around in a whiteout without a crutch and ending up half dead from cold and with a frozen foot agrees with you, then? Want me to take your clothes and lock you out there for a few hours so you’ll sleep well again, tonight?” “One problem with that.” “Only one? Really?” “Yeah. Door doesn’t lock…” Swatting at him with her knotted aspen branch club, Liz was amazed at the speed with which he dodged the mock blow--well, a little sleep now and then really does seem to do him a lot of good, because he sure wasn’t moving that fast yesterday--scooting out of her reach and snatching up the quartz axe before she could take another swing at him. “What’s the weather like out there? I saw you checking.” “Snow stopped, but looks like it could start up again any minute. Still real windy. Guess you’re not gonna get to do that calendar-stick anytime soon, like you talked about. Too many of these cloudy days. I get the feeling that we may have already passed the solstice.” “I was thinking about that too, this morning. Yes, I expect we have. It’s probably Christmas by now, or nearly so.” Einar glanced at her a bit oddly. “Is that why you were so anxious to know the date all of a sudden?”

“Oh, part of it. I think I was just looking for some sort of connection to…civilization. It was silly. It’s all right if I missed the solstice and can’t figure out the exact date for a few months until the middle of summer.” “Well, I always figured it didn’t much matter when a person celebrated such things; one day is as good as another, and which day you choose to remember a thing sure doesn’t change the fact that it happened, which is the only part that really matters, in the bigger scheme of things…” “How about today then?” “Today what?” “Christmas. Let’s celebrate it today. We’re close, I think. Though I know you just said it doesn’t matter to you when things are celebrated or remembered…but it does to me, still. Just a little. I haven’t managed to completely let go of the way I’ve always done things, just yet.” “And you don’t have to. I’m not asking you to. It’ll come, I think, but no need to rush things, I guess. So. What’d you mean by ‘celebrate?’ I celebrate every day just by breathing, eating, celebrate being alive, free…for one more day. What did you have in mind?” “It’s a surprise. You’ll like it. But I can’t make it happen unless I can trust you to stay in this den until I get back. Yes?” “I don’t like surprises, generally. But yes. I’m staying here today, no question. Foot will freeze again awful easy if I don’t take real care today…for a number of days, actually, and if that happens, well, good bye, toes. Nothing worse than refreezing something you just got thawed out. I know. I’ve done it. Doubles the damage, or worse. Better to just leave things frozen, if you know you’re gonna be forced to walk on them, use them again in the near future. Yep, I’ll be here when you get back. Where’re you headed, though?” He asked in a sincere effort to respect her stated desire that they each know where the other was headed, when leaving the den. “Just out on the trapline. I’ll do the traps, and take care of the surprise on the way, hopefully! Then head right back here.” He agreed that her plan sounded like a fine one, swallowing a sudden desire to find a way to quickly repair his broken crutch so he could go with her. No way. Not even an option this time. Got to save that foot. Watching as Liz broke trail through the new snow and disappeared out of sight into the timber, he scooted back into the den, dragging the sandstone slab over beside the stove and setting to work with a quartz chip and some shards of granite, determined to present Liz with a finished map when she returned, since the project seemed so important to her.

She paused, the third trap checked, empty, as the first two had been, no surprise, considering the whiteout that had prevailed throughout the previous day and most of the night, listening, her eyes scanning the nearby snow drifts for any sign of movement, certain that she had heard a small, familiar sound. There! And she let her war club fly, a brief struggle and a single pure white feather, drifting, rising on the breeze, telling her that the stick had flown true. • • • •

Ptarmigan in hand, Liz hurried to check the remaining traps, finding them all empty, bait undisturbed, the fury of the storm apparently having kept most living creatures--aside from Einar and herself--den-bound, curled up for warmth. Reaching the farthest trap-one of the pole-snares--she quickly began the last section of the loop, the one that led back towards the den, starting to see a few flakes drift down once more from an increasingly leaden sky and anxious to finish the return trip before the second wave of the storm broke over the mountains and made travel more difficult and dangerous. Shortly after the lower loop of the trapline trail turned uphill and began climbing back towards the den, it crossed a wide, wobbly trench-trail in the snow, largely drifted over but still visible even in the flat, gloomy light of the morning, and Liz knew she had discovered part of Einar’s trail from the day before. Must have been snowing and blowing so hard by the time you crossed my trail that you never even saw… Curious to see what he had done on the food cache she followed the trench downhill for a ways, finding beneath the spreading, ground-sweeping boughs of a large spruce evidence of the work he had done. Neat, regular, the rows of rock had been fitted together one atop the other with the skill and precision of some of the dry stone masonry she had seen back East; walls and fences and spring houses built hundreds of years before and without the use of any mortar, standing as straight and symmetrical as they had been at the end of their construction. The slabs and chunks of granite, though, unlike many of those she had seen used in such building, were massive, few of them weighing less than seventy pounds by her estimation, and in walking around the mostly finished structure she discovered the slab that must have finally led to the failure of the crutch. She tried to lift it, could not, stood there prying at it with her foot and shaking her head. Einar, you crazy fool! No wonder you broke that crutch. And a wonder you didn’t break something else, too, lugging these heavy things around. Frustrated as she was with him for reaching so far beyond his current ability and doing himself more harm in the process, she did have to admire his persistence and determination, recognizing it as one of the forces that had kept him alive, going, through the ordeals of the past year and beginning to realize that it was not a trait that he could easily turn on and off at will, as she knew that she had originally been expecting him to do with some of her requests. • • • •

Einar labored tirelessly until he finished the map-stone to his satisfaction, half cipher, half work of art, vague contour lines serving to orient their relationship to the nearby slopes and their nuances and stylized symbols representing the landmarks that made sense of their craggy, heavily timbered corner of the world--heron with a fish in its mouth for the cattail marsh, big round cat track for the clearing where the bear meat had been stolen by the lion, and so on, finally inspecting the slab one final time, nodding and blowing the rock dust off of it for one final time, sliding it over against the side of the bed and concealing it with a thick layer of grass. Can be her Christmas present, I guess, since she seems so dead set on us doing something like this. He knew it mattered to her and recognized on some level that Liz was correct in her insistence that they ought have some way to communicate each others’ whereabouts, but it was not his way; such cooperation was unfamiliar and uncomfortable to him, and he would have been inclined to flat out refused the proposal, had he not felt so bad about her wandering around out there in the storm the day before and risking herself on his behalf. Finished with the map-stone and anxious to present it to Liz so they could discuss its particulars and use, he lay on the floor in front of the stove with his leg propped up in an attempt to reduce the swelling, wishing he dared to use a few hands full of snow to make a cold compress for it, but fearing that such would serve only to reduce the circulation to his toes at a time when they needed it most, if they were to have any chance of remaining viable and eventually healing. Though surely the swelling must be reducing circulation some, too. Leg is every bit as bad as it was two days ago after setting up the trapline, worse, maybe, after that long slog without the crutch. Tried to go easy on it at first, keep most of the weight on the other side and thought I was doing a pretty good job, but once I started getting so cold, losing my focus…well, who knows what I was doing. Putting way too much weight on it, from the feel of things. Well. Didn’t re-break anything as far as I can tell, just made it swell up awful bad. No permanent harm done, I don’t expect. Aside maybe from the toes… He shrugged, sat up and scooted over to the side of the stove where yet another pot of dark brownish willow solution, wickedly bitter and stinging as it went down, awaited his consumption. Shuddering at the smell of it--he’d downed two pots of it already that morning and really wanted no more, but could think of no better way to bring down the swelling in his leg and help with circulation to the damaged toes-he crushed up three of Liz’s dried rosehips and threw them into the mixture, wishing he had some mint to add, as well, to help buffer the willow bark’s harsh action on his stomach. Knowing he needed to eat but his appetite nonexistent between the gnawing, twisting discomfort of what he was sure was more willow solution than he ought to have had in a day and the persistent throbbing of his damaged toes, Einar got to thinking about their food supply, knowing that they were rapidly consuming their reserve of venison. They had been eating three or four thousand calories worth of it--combined with the bear fat--a day on average simply trying to keep up with the demands of working hard in the snow and living in the bitter cold that had gripped the mountain for the past week or so. Even at that, he could feel that he was still shorting himself, that though he had, fortunately, stopped losing weight he did not really seem to be gaining any, either, and he knew from past experience that his body probably needed somewhere near twice what he was giving

it to get beyond simply keeping him from losing any more ground, and begin repairing itself. He stretched out a hand, flexed his fingers and inspected a bony wrist and lower arm that more closely reminded him of the leg and foot of some giant, water-dwelling bird--heron, perhaps, or a crane--than a typical human hand and arm, and the thought occurred him that he would find the whole thing a good bit less disturbing if only he could fly, like the bird he had very nearly come to resemble, and he laughed a little at the ridiculous image that brought to mind, wingless, featherless bird, trying to get off the ground, to soar, taking a big leap off some ledge, flapping, realizing its mistake at the last second and then…splat! More laughter as he imagined the hilarious cackling of the deer and the bighorn sheep and the small, agile kestrels that floated high above in the sparkling winter sky, watching--yeah, especially the kestrels--and the martens and mice and squirrels as they gathered on the ground to stare at the ruined carcass of the humanbird critter where it had finally landed, shattered, food for the scavengers, but not much of it, and awful stringy I bet, guess I get the last laugh after all, and he laughed right along with all of the forest creatures, adding his own absurd, cracked cackle to their own until the tears ran down his cheeks and stung the raw, red patches of frost-damaged skin stretched over his cheekbones, jolting him back to reality. All right, what’s this? Mind is wandering here, Einar. Big time. Where were you headed with this particular train of thought, again? Right. Food supply, and the fact that I probably ought to be eating a good bit more than I am, if I want to see much progress. Well. For now I’ll certainly take “not losing any more ground.” There wasn’t much left to lose this time, I don’t believe, and I can certainly feel a difference, if not see it, since we’ve had all this bear fat around to add to everything. It’s helping. Aside from the sizeable and plentiful slabs of bear fat that sat creamy white with the occasional marbling of meat or membrane on their spruce “sled” in the corner, they were growing dangerously low on food, the supply of venison nearly exhausted and the bags of dried chokecherries, serviceberries and spring beauty and avalanche lily corms hardly sufficient to get them by for long, as cold as it had been. Although, Einar had to admit, studying rawhide bags of roots, berries, pemmican and jerky where they hung in orderly semblance--Liz’s doing-from the ceiling-roots, this certainly is an incredible bounty, compared to what I had most of last winter. The occasional rabbit, some roast spruce bark that filled my stomach but offered little nutrition, and…nothing. A lot of nothing. Lot of spruce needle tea, too, and finally that porcupine when I’d got so weak that I could barely lift my head anymore, and had to just shove rocks off the ledge and onto his head, to take him. Yeah. This…all of this is an incredible blessing, and I thank You. He stopped, scrubbed the dampness from his eyes with his sleeve and continued with his inventory of their food supply. Despite what was, in comparison to his last winters’ fare, relative bounty, he worried about Liz, saw her constantly trying to give him the larger portion of whatever she cooked and was determined not to let her go down the same path he had, if at all possible. Which is probably going to mean heading down lower where there’s more to eat, as soon as I’m able to make the move. Fine for a fellow like me to spend a winter starving up here near treeline--my choice, and I’m well aware of the cost and willing to pay it--but I sure can’t ask her to do the same. Well. Time to move anyway. Way past time. Been here far too long. Not that my foot is gonna be up to that anytime in the foreseeable future…

A noise outside, the soft sound of boots in the deep snow, and Einar recognized Liz’s walk, released his grip on the stone axe that had somehow found its way into his hand at the first indication of a human presence near the den and added another log to the stove, stirring the stew that he had prepared against her return. • • • •

Bustling into the den, shrugging out of the snow-encrusted bear hide and beating it as dry as she could, Liz hung it once again over the door, relieved and smiling to see Einar very nearly where she had left him, reclining beside the stove with his leg propped up, bear hide draped over him and his spear, atlatl and stone axe arrayed at his side. Such cooperation being rather unlike him, she was a bit concerned despite her relief, doubting that he had simply come to his senses and decided to allow himself a day of rest and healing. That was not his way. Standing with her back to the stove for warmth and taking a few quick spoonfulls from the pot of stew he had prepared for her, she noticed that his eyes were glazed and distant-looking, his words, when he spoke, clipped and short, and though he wouldn’t admit to it, she supposed he must be in a good deal of pain with the frostbitten toes. They looked bad, the huge fluid filled blisters that had formed on his big toe and along the outside edge of the foot varying between deep red and an ugly black-purple, the tips of his other toes very nearly black, and Liz could not help but think that the damage certainly appeared worse than what she had previously helped him treat that time so long ago at her house after he had spent several days wandering around in the high country with a grass and bark creation substituting for a proper boot. Having the leg in the cast, she supposed, must not have been helping any when it came to keeping the leg warm and maintaining blood flow to the foot. She wanted to go ahead and change the dressings, seeing that some of the blisters had oozed a bit, but knew that she ought, for Einar’s sake, to wait until she had warmed up from her excursion and would be surer of having steady hands for the procedure. Well. At least he seems to recognize now that he needs to keep still for a while, stay warm so some of this can start to heal. Whether or not the toes ever manage to completely recover, the stillness will certainly do the rest of him some good! Einar noticed the way Liz was looking at him, the slow, deliberate words with which she addressed him when she spoke, and wondered if he might be behaving a bit more strangely than he was aware of. He struggled to sit up just a bit straighter just to show her that he was alright and certainly didn’t require any special treatment, squinting his eyes against the pain-haze that spread up from his foot and leg and seemed to further entangle him, body and brain, with each movement. Doggone toes. Kinda like to just go ahead and chop them off, and be done with this nonsense. Better give it some time though, wait and see if they’re gonna do any healing. Wait and see if…doggone it Liz, why’re you looking at me like that… And he slumped back down against the pile of insulation behind his back, feeling suddenly a bit faint and wishing to conceal the fact from her, if possible. Finally warmed a bit by the heat of the stove and pulling the ptarmigan out from beneath

her polypro top, where she had stashed it to prevent it from freezing, Liz sat down beside Einar and laid the bird on his knee. “Brought you something! The traps were empty, all of them, no tracks even, aside from some of chickadees or other little birds, but this time I was ready when I heard a ptarmigan. Took my club and…” she made a quick, fluid flying motion with her hand, “whack! Got him! All I saw was a feather, just a single feather drifting up from the cloud of powder, and I knew I had him.” Einar’s eyes lit up when he saw the plump little bird, feathers a pure, snowy white, taking it in both hands and holding it as if to estimate the weight--just under a pound, he figured, large for a white-tailed ptarmigan, which a quick look at the tail feathers, normally visible only when the bird was flying, told him that it was--and he grinned at Liz, handing the prize back to her. “You even kept it warm! Much easier to pluck when the blood hasn’t had a chance to cool down. Good work!” “It isn’t much food, I know, but it’ll be something different at least. I thought letting it cool off and freeze might be bad news when it came to plucking--or skinning--and I didn’t know which was better to do with a little bird like this. So I just tried to keep it warm.” “Well, some people will just skin them--easier and quicker than plucking--you make a cut down along the front and slice the breast meat out, but you lose a lot of the fat that way and some of the flavor too, I think. Best cooked whole with the skin on, just plucked, cleaned and cooked whole. That’s how the Inuits usually did it, and they’d eat the heart, liver and kidneys, too. Ptarmigans are great! Good rich reddish meat, real high in iron, all dark meat like a guinea or a duck, though not as greasy as a duck, and it’s so dark that the meat tastes a little bit like liver to me, at least in the winter. Early in the winter anyway, like now, when they’re still feeding on willow buds. Later when the willows are all snowed under and they’re eating mostly spruce buds they get to tasting pretty sprucey--is that a word? Don’t know if that’s a real word--but I don’t mind that taste, and come to think of it, I never have tasted a ptarmigan that was anywhere near as sprucey as your typical winter porcupine in evergreen country…and did you know that in Iceland, ptarmigans are one of the traditional Christmas dinners? Used to be more a tradition of the poorer folks who didn’t have access to pork and lamb and such, but now it’s a pretty widespread tradition. Of course they have more than just the one, usually, and hunters will make special vests with a series of hooks or wire bales to hang the birds from as they hunt…but,” he laughed, “you probably didn’t really want to know any of that, did you?” “Sure I did! It’s all interesting. Though for this meal, it looks like we’ll have to make do with just the one, rather than a whole vest full like those Icelanders, because he’s the only one I saw out there,” she quickly responded, amazed at the speed of Einar’s apparent recovery from the half dazed state in which she had found him, and again caught off guard by his ability to spout massive amounts of detailed if not always quite relevant information, especially coming from a man who would many days go for hours on end without saying so much as a word to her, unless she pressed him by asking specific

questions. Well. Keeps life interesting, that’s for sure… He had taken the ptarmigan and begun plucking it, sorting the feathers as he worked into two piles--larger tail and wing feathers and finer down--and Liz hurried to help him, setting the feathers she removed in a pile so he could sort them to his specifications, as she was unsure as to their intended use. They worked in silence, Einar finding that the foot once again demanded most of his focus after the brief and welcome reprieve brought him by the excitement of the ptarmigan’s existence, Liz wanting to ask him what she could do to help but unsure how to approach the subject. The plucking and cleaning of the bird finally finished and the entrails--those parts that Einar had not already tossed into the stew pot--set aside in a chilly corner as bait for future traps, she began peeling a willow stem and tossing the bark into a pot of heating water on the stove. “One of the treatments they use now for serious frostbite,” she began, shaving off a few more curls of the reddish brown bark, “is to bathe the areas in body-temperature water a time or two every day before putting on fresh dressings, to help with circulation. I was thinking that maybe if we put some of this willow in the bathing water, it might help with the pain and swelling some, too. What do you think?” “Don’t know if the willow would help that way, but I’ll sure give it a try. Can’t hurt. Let me have a gulp or two of it to drink first though, Ok? Ran out a while ago and had not got around to making any more yet. And like you said, water needs to be no higher than body temperature or there’s a pretty good risk of it burning me, on top of the frostbite, as bad as the circulation is bound to be in parts of that foot right now.” With Liz preparing the willow solution and gently heating it on the stove, checking frequently to make sure it was not getting too hot, Einar got himself turned over onto his stomach, holding his bad foot up off the floor with difficulty as he crawled over to the bed and dug the map-rock up out of its concealing layer of insulation. Dragging it over near the stove he showed it to Liz, who stared at first in half disapproving amazement at the amount of work he had done while she had believed him at home sleeping. Her look of uncertainty was quickly replaced, though, with one of obvious joy as she realized that he had created a symbol-board which, while virtually indecipherable to anyone else who might happen upon it, would allow the two of them to easily communicate their intended whereabouts to each other when leaving the den. Even more significant to her than the work that had gone into the map itself was Einar’s implied agreement to use the system, to trust her that much and allow her to enter just a bit further into his world. She looked up at him with tears in her eyes. “Merry Christmas, Liz…” “It’s great, Einar! Great. I wanted to make something to give you, but…” “Ah, Liz. You already have.” “Oh, there’s not much food on that little old ptarmigan. It hardly…”

Einar laughed softly. “Nah, ptarmigan’s great--starting to smell great, too--but not what I meant. Meant…uh…" he stared at the floor, twisting some dried grass between his fingers, clearly uncomfortable, "” • • • • Rather abashed at his unaccustomed and rather clumsy expression of emotion to Liz and not wanting the conversation to go any further in that direction (as he had absolutely no idea what else to say on the matter and knew he was sure to make a mess of things if he tried) Einar hurriedly got himself out of the den on the pretense of needing to check on the state of the storm before they settled in for dinner, huddling for some time on the bitterly cold, windswept rocks just outside the den, until his own violent shivering and concern for his damaged toes told him it was past time to return to the shelter of the den. Waiting for the ptarmigan to finish cooking, Einar, with Liz’s assistance, worked on his frostbitten foot, soaking it in body-temperature willow-water for a good fifteen or twenty minutes before allowing Liz to carefully dry it and apply new dressings, which consisted of clumps of usnea lichen, spread liberally with the sweet-smelling and soothing cottonwood bud salve. He found himself having to rely on Liz’s judgment when it came to determining the appropriate water temperature, as anything above “cold” felt that day as if it was close to scalding him when he tested it with his hand, the result, he knew, of having slightly frost-nipped most of his fingers. When finally she presented him the pot of lukewarm water and declared it to be as close to body temperature as she could get it, without a thermometer to take an exact measurement, he carefully lowered the injured toes into it, gritting his teeth against the desire to shout at her that I meant my body temperature, not yours, doggone it, and what are you trying to do here, boil me alive? Liz saw his distress and asked if he wanted to skip the soaking step and have her go ahead and dry the foot and apply the fresh dressings, but he shook his head, got a tighter grip on one of the rocks that made up the side of the bed, set his jaw, lowered his head and prepared himself to wait out the half hour of soaking that he knew ought to help restore circulation in his--hopefully--healing foot. Every time she added a bit of new water from the second pot in an attempt to keep the temperature steady, though, she could see the fresh agony on his face, finally sitting down beside him and putting a hand on his shoulder. Einar reacted as though she had slapped him, his concentration broken. “I’ve never done this before Einar, so I don’t know how it’s supposed to go. But it seems like the water is making things worse for you…” He nodded. “Think maybe…uh…may have made a mistake about the water. Too hot. Not supposed to feel good I know, but this…you sure it’s not too hot?” “I’m sorry. It sure feels right to me, but…hey! I know!” Rummaging around in the remains of the medical kit she searched for and found the digital thermometer that had been with it, glad to see that the batteries were still good, checking the water in the pot beside his foot. “Don’t know why I didn’t think of this sooner. See? It’s right at 98.3 degrees. I’m sorry

it’s so uncomfortable for you but…hmm. Maybe we should check your temperature, too. If it was a little low, that might explain…” “Don’t bother,” he answered thickly. “Be alright. Can do a few more minutes of this. Just wanted to make sure…weren’t burning the foot.” Liz insisted, though, getting the thermometer under his tongue and reminding him not to bite it in half, which he appeared rather inclined to do. Busying herself with checking the ptarmigan’s state of doneness--they had opted to bake the bird rather than boiling, for a treat, wrapping it in a bit of foil that had been in Liz’s pot and setting it on the coals on one side of the stove--she returned to him several minutes later, worried wrinkles creasing her forehead as she inspected the thermometer. “Einar! Here’s the problem, right here. You’re freezing. Your temperature is barely registering above 93 degrees, if this thing is accurate. No wonder the water hurts so bad…” And she gently lifted his foot out of the too-warm water, propping it up off the ground with the rolled-up wolverine hide. He shrugged. “No big deal. Probably been like that for a couple months. Not got enough fat on me to maintain a ‘normal’ temperature in conditions like these, probably a little anemic on top of that, not moving around too much with this doggone leg… I get along Ok. Just need to make that water a little cooler next time is all, so it doesn’t scald me.” “What are you talking about? Of course it’s a big deal. You should barely be able to function at temperatures like that. You’re seriously hypothermic. We’ve got to get you warmed up somehow, and keep you that way…” She retrieved the ptarmigan from the coals of the stove, setting it on top to stay warm and adding a log to the fire, pulling Einar’s hat down to his eyes, gently pushing him down on the grass floor-insulation and wrapping the bear hide more snugly around his shoulders. He laughed, shivered, sat back up. “I’m warm. Enough. Telling you, this is normal for me right now. Though I’m pretty sure some of that roast ptarmigan wouldn’t hurt things any, if it’s as close to being ready as it smells…” “You are impossible.” “Thanks.” Einar’s foot bandaged up again and the pain beginning to subside a bit after gulping a big pot of willow tea, they sat down to a meal of roast ptarmigan and chokecherry pudding that Liz had made with the last of the cattail root starch, Einar hungrily devouring his portion of the small “snow chicken” despite his stomach being a bit restless after the introduction of so much of the willow solution. Liz was right, he knew, about his lowered temperature technically putting him in the range where normal activities ought to be growing all but impossible, his movements awkward and his thinking slow and not

altogether rational--ha! And who says it is?--and he was a bit surprised to find that he’d managed to adapt to the change as well as he had. Though I know this is probably putting me in greater danger of frostbite injuries like I got on those toes, making it harder for them to heal maybe, too. Don’t know. And not much that can be done about it right now anyway, other than just doing my best to get enough to eat, I guess. One good thing, the lower temperature ought to reduce the amount of oxygen I’m using, the amount of energy it takes to get through a day or a night where I’m basically immobile, so I guess it may be my body’s way of trying to get by on less, since it seems there is never quite enough of anything. Its way of trying to become more efficient. Interesting adaptation. A little scary, too, because I wonder how far it can possibly be from where I am now, to systems simply starting to shut down and ceasing to function. Well. Fascinating question, but one I really hope not to discover the answer to, anytime soon! And he returned to his meal, picking the remaining fragments of meat from one of the ptarmigan’s leg bones and cracking the bone with his teeth to extract the marrow. All of the leftover bones--or, in Einar’s case, bone fragments--after the meal, as after all meals, were tossed into a pot of heating water to be boiled down for broth; Liz had become very efficient over the weeks, also, in her own way, and he no longer had to remind her that every scrap of sinew and gristle and bone from their meals was to be saved and used again for one purpose or another. It was a concept that she had found foreign and even a bit disgusting at first, though she had never told him so in that many words, but over time hunger and need and a keen, firsthand understanding of their circumstances had led her first to a greater comprehension and then a sharing of Einar’s seemingly obsessive intolerance of waste of any kind, where food was involved, and she carefully helped him gather up all of the split, chewed bone fragments and deposit them in the pot for the morning’s broth. Plenitude. Unspeakable bounty. All a matter of perspective. They knew it, both of them, and were thankful. • • • • The meal finished, Liz encouraged Einar to sleep, but his foot hurt too much, and searching for projects to occupy his mind if not his body, he settled on the little pile of ptarmigan tail feathers that he and Liz had set aside while plucking the bird for their dinner. Choosing several of the larger tail, Einar carefully split them down their centers, starting at the quill end and, once he had made a small split with his knife, drawing the feather up over its blade, splitting it as he went. Ptarmigan feathers, he knew, had frequently been used by the Tlingit tribe and others for fletching arrows, and while he was not sure their small size would work quite as well on the much larger atlatl darts, they were the only feathers he had access to at the moment, and he was willing to give them a try. Normally he would have preferred to use something larger like turkey or even raven feathers for the atlatl darts, and turkeys, he knew, did make their home on the lower slopes of those mountains, down closer to the river. Not up this high though, and not where I can get to them in the near future. These little ptarmigan feathers have to be better than nothing I expect, maybe increase the effective range some on these things. Not that I’m likely to be out and about very much over the next few days--next few days? That’s being awfully optimistic, Einar. This foot could take a month or more to heal up, if it’s going to heal--to use them, but it would be good to have the better darts ready for

whenever I’m ready… The thought that it could be a good while before his foot was fit to walk on again--longer than it’ll take the leg to finish mending, possibly…at least it’s on the same leg--was rather disturbing to Einar, who knew that men in his situation were not always afforded the luxury of choosing the time and distance of their travels, and he paused in his fletching project to retrieve the spruce upright from his ruined crutch, looking it over and planning the steps that would be necessary to rebuild the walking aid that had served him well until he had destroyed it trying to lug around that eighty pound granite slab… Big mistake. He could feel the results in his previously injured shoulder, in the knee he had wrenched in falling, and allowed that perhaps he would have been better off skipping that last rock. Back to the crutch, though. One I had worked pretty well, so I see no reason not to replicate it as closely as I can when making the new one. Burn out a knee brace, carve a triangular support to go under in, lash everything together and glop on a generous amount of pitch glue, and I should be good to go. Yeah. And make another snowshoe contraption that I can fit onto the end of it. Sure wish I’d been able to find the snowshoe, at least. That thing took a good while to build... Then when I get the crutch done, the only thing keeping me from getting out there again will be the risk of refreezing the toes before they’re healed up, and I aim to prevent that by making a good thick double layer boot of bear hide, with a marten fur, this ptarmigan down and maybe some extra milkweed fuzz to insulate it. He nodded, ran his hand lightly over the little pile of down that he had collected from the bird, knowing that while it was not nearly enough, alone, to insulate such a boot, the added warmth certainly could not hurt. Now. All rabbit trails and mental wanderings aside, weren’t you in the middle of something? Yes? Thought so. Maybe Liz is right, and you’re too chilled and sluggish to think straight. Now, back to fletching those darts, before you sit here and fall asleep, daydreaming about insulated boots and being able to walk again. Choosing a long strand of sinew from the coil of deer backstrap tendon that he had prepared and separated, Einar took three of the split ptarmigan feather sections, removing the feathering from the top quarter inch or so of each of the split shafts. Making a quick wrap twice around the top of the dart where he meant to attack the feathers, Einar laid the trimmed tops of first one and then another feather across the sinew wrap, securing each with an additional turn of sinew before flattening the split shafts of each feather against the dart, pressing them in place with two fingers down at the quill end and starting another piece of sinew, holding one end of it in his teeth and rolling the dart over and over to wrap it around the quills of the feather pieces. The feathers secured top and bottom, Einar then took the bottom length of sinew and began spiraling it up towards the top, making wraps through the feather barbs every half inch or so until he reached the top, where he wrapped, further wetted and secured the nearly spend length of sinew before repeating the process with the top strand of sinew, bringing it down through the feathers and, by the time he reached the quills with it, seeing that his fletchings were securely held in place. The dart was finished then, with the exception of the coating of pitch glue he would later add to help waterproof the sinew loops at the top and bottom of the feathers, and he continued on to split a number of additional feathers and fletch three more of his darts.

Watching him, still concerned about his low body temperature despite all of his reassurances that such was “normal” for him at the moment, Liz kept bringing Einar pots of tea, spruce, rose hip, often enhanced with bear fat, and seeing the trouble she was going to in continually adding snow to the pot to melt, he could hardly refuse the offerings, pausing frequently in his work to share with her yet another pot of steaming liquid, and he could not deny enjoying the little reprieves and the warmth they brought him, breaks which he knew he never would have allowed himself had he been alone. Einar was not accustomed to pausing on a project, whatever its nature, until he was finished, and had often in the past become so absorbed in one thing or another that he would look up hours after beginning only to be astounded at how much of the day had passed while he worked without pausing for so much as a sip of water. As seldom as circumstances allowed him such unbroken concentration anymore, it had been a difficult adjustment having Liz around, had frustrated and even angered him at first when she would interrupt something he was doing with her words and presence, but he was managing alright with it and she was learning, also, keeping her distance when she saw that he needed to be left alone. Such focus, while still possible for him, did not come as effortlessly as it once had, though--usually only when it was storming and everything was consequently grounded, a fact which had led him to love and long for what might have ordinarily been considered “foul” weather--the circumstances of the past year leaving him progressively more restless, jumpy, unable, unless deliberately stalking something or someone or striving to stay hidden from immediate danger, to remain still for many minutes at a time without getting up to look, listen, test the air and the ground for the signs of approaching danger that his mind, his body, his entire being had learned to seek for on a constant, almost unconscious basis. It was a state of being familiar to him, comfortable, in a way, if you could call it that, one which had long ago become a part of him and had more than once meant the difference between life and death during his time in the distant and rather interesting corners of the world, and closer to home, both. It had been only in the passing of many quiet years at his cabin on the mountainside and in roaming the surrounding ridges and peaks that this alertness had begun to ease a bit, and he had been able to rest. No more. And no matter. He had slipped back into the old mode of existence with an ease that might have surprised one who had never spent time there before, and which had no doubt greatly reduced the learning curve when it came to growing accustomed to life on the run, had blessed him with sharpened senses and a stronger connection than is necessary or possible for most to the subconscious workings of the brain that gather and piece together tiny clues in one’s environment and deliver a fully formed and more often than not correct plan of action before the conscious mind realizes that anything is even amiss. This allowed him the ability to make the split second decisions that had more than once in the past months kept him from death, from serious injury, and from the hand of his pursuers. And, like anything of value, it had come with a price. Mixed blessing for sure, but I’ll take it. I’m still here, aren’t I…? And he drove one of the darts savagely into the soft dirt beside the stove to emphasize the point. Still here. And better get busy on something else too, it seems, before I end up giving this particular matter too much thought. Time to leave it alone. So how about working on the new crutch, or maybe

coming up with a way to make some waterproof tinder you can carry for the next time you end up out there stuck in a storm and soaking wet, in need of a quick fire… The fletching project finished, he looked up to see Liz watching him, yet another pot of tea held suspended from its wire bale with her improvised pot-holder of aspen inner bark. “What are you looking at?” He growled, the question coming out a bit gruffer than he had intended, giving her a crooked smile the next moment in a belated attempt to tone things down a bit. “You looked lost in thought. Unpleasant thoughts. What’s on your mind?” “Aw, nothing much. Price of freedom, I guess, stuff like that.” “That doesn’t sound like ‘nothing much.’” She sat down beside him and offered the tea. “It can cost…everything sometimes, can’t it?” “Yep. Worth it though. Hey, how much of that milkweed down do we have left?” Wishing he had not changed the subject so quickly--there are still things he just won’t talk with me about, places he won’t let me into. Maybe it will come with time, maybe not--but knowing the matter was closed for the time, she retrieved the bag of milkweed down, setting it on the rock beside him. “Well, that depends on what you’re wanting to do with it, I guess! Plenty for sticking in your ears if my snoring is keeping you awake at night, but if you were wanting to make a down comforter, feather bed and matching pillows…we’re just a little bit short!” He snorted, grinned, shook his head. “Feather bed? Feather bed, what’s that? Sounds like something for a baby bird to sleep in, either that, or one of those soft, civilized human-critters down in the valley. Not me. No way. I sleep out in the rocks and the ice and the snow under the sky with one eye open and…” “Now that’s funny, because I seem to recall seeing you curled up on a bed of cattail fuzz and soft warm bear fur quite a bit lately, all snug and cozy and fast asleep…” Glowering at her out of the corner of his eye in mock fury--she hoped it was not real, anyway, sometimes it was hard for her to tell--Einar mumbled his reply. “Yeah well…got to get out of that habit I guess. One of these days. But no. Not looking to make any feather bed out of the milkweed down, just wanted to work on some little tinder bundles. Nearly did myself in out in that storm yesterday, and by the time I stopped to have a fire, everything was wet. Tinder had ice all over it and in it from where the snow had melted and run down my neck and got in the little bag I carry. Now, I guess I could focus on better waterproofing the bag itself, but seems to me like even better would be to waterproof the tinder, itself. You know, like those specially treated waterproof cotton tablets some folks carry, or the petroleum jelly soaked cotton balls. I’ve carried both of those things myself from time to time in the past, and they’re good ideas, but you know,

you’ve got to have a way to replace such stuff when you’re out here long term, like we are. Nearly got myself froze solid out there because all my tinder was wet, and there’s no excuse for that.” “What about just melting some bear fat, and soaking the milkweed down in it like you would the cotton balls in petroleum jelly? Wouldn’t that have a similar effect?” “Expect it would. Let’s give that a try. I got another idea though that I think may work even better, and it’s something you could do with what you can easily find lying around in the woods, even if you didn’t have access to bear fat.” • • • • While Liz softened a bit of bear fat on a rock near the stove, Einar sorted through the pile of deer and bear bones and fragments from which he often drew materials for making new atlatl and spear heads, settling on a piece of split leg bone from their recent deer kill. Taking several lumps of spruce pitch from the good sized pile he and Liz had collected and set aside for use in various projects, he lined them up in the hollowed out center of the bone, mashing and elongating some of the larger, softer ones so they would fit, before setting the bone-dish on top of the stove so that the pitch could begin softening. Pulling a good sized wad of milkweed down from their remaining supply, he then separated it into smaller piles, arranging them in a row on a flat rock a good distance from the stove, over on the earthen shelf that ran along one wall. Alright, just need to wait for that pitch to liquefy, now… Checking the sticky, oozing contents of the bone, he saw that the sap was beginning to melt around the edges, giving off a sweet, spicy aroma that filled the den rather pleasantly and left him wishing the stuff was edible. Growing a bit impatient, he slid the stove door open by several inches and held the bone by one end with a wrap of aspen bark, the heat that radiated out serving to quickly finish the melting process on the lump of pitch that sat near the opposite end, sending it dripping out into the coals, liquid amber, looking rather like honey, where it sizzled and flared and went up in a burst of brilliant orange flame. Oops! Too fast. Have a little patience, how about? Put the thing back on top of the stove to melt slowly so you don’t lose all of the pitch before you have a chance to experiment with it. A better method of melting the pitch, he knew, if not a quicker one, would have been to fill the larger of their cooking pots with water, bringing it up near a boil and covering the bottom of the second pot with pitch lumps and chunks, setting it down into the larger pot for a double-boiler effect that would melt the pitch without risking setting the whole mess aflame, as he had seen happen when heating it directly on the stovetop. He had also, on occasion, successfully melted entire pots of pitch lumps directly on the stovetop by keeping the heat very low and constantly monitoring the project, making sure the stuff got moved to a cooler area as soon as it began smoking and skimming off all of the little pieces of bark and twig and the evergreen needles that floated to the surface as the sap liquefied. This, though it was a lot of work, always left him with a pot full of perfectly clean and wonderful pitch that, when poured into a cardboard or foil form and left to cool, formed itself into a nice neat block of smooth-surfaced, caramel-colored pitch that could then be easily melted down and used for various projects throughout the year. No matter. He had no intention of employing either of those methods, at the moment. Liz

was already using one of the pots for stew, though, the other for her constant batches of tea, and he doubted she would take too kindly, anyway, to having one of their only two cooking pots coated with melting pitch that would be terribly difficult to thoroughly remove, when the project was finished. Wouldn’t bother me…I’ve done it before, and don’t mind having the taste of spruce in my stew for a week or two, but I’m not sure what she might think of such an experiment. And for the small amount I’m needing to test out this idea, it’ll melt faster in the bone, anyway, and the thing will make a handy pouring spout. The pitch at the front end of the bone appearing liquid and quite ready to pour, he carefully picked the vessel up by one end, pouring the pitch onto one of the waiting piles of milkweed down, hastily working it with his fingers in a half successful attempt to smear it on the outside of the bundle without getting everything all mixed up and mashed together, ending up with slightly burnt and very sticky fingers, but a product that looked like it might be headed in the right direction. Need more sap, though. More layers. As Einar worked to soften the rest of the sap, feeling carefully for the hottest area of the stovetop with the back of his hand, Liz picked up the half-done tinder pellet, its initial coating of pitch solidified smooth and glossy in the cool air of the den, stretched across the white lump of compressed white milkweed down in thin sheets and strings that bore a striking resemblance to caramelized sugar. Scooting over beside Einar, she held up the pellet to show him. “Mmm…caramel corn! Let’s make a big pile of these and curl up in front of the stove in the bear hide for the evening, munching on them and telling stories…” Glancing at her as if she had lost her mind--aw, great, guess that’d make two of us--he shrugged, smiled, realizing in looking at her that she was joking and supposing that he had probably been expected to know that, somehow, quickly returning to his work, knowing that the pitch would begin running out of the little melting vessel if long neglected. “Huh. Doubt you’d care too much for most of my stories. And you’re welcome to eat this particular variety of ‘caramel corn’ if you like fuzz and spruce pitch all stuck in your teeth, but I’d have to be a good bit hungrier than I am right now before you caught me snacking on it! Been that hungry plenty of times though…and come to think of it, this ‘caramel corn’ might be less unpleasant to fill up on than the raw usnea I’ve stuffed down my throat on occasion just to lessen the emptiness in my stomach…that stuff doesn’t have much nutritional value when you eat it raw like that, and I do believe the milkweed down and pitch would probably leave you with less of a stomach ache, too! I’ll have to keep it in mind. These aren’t finished though. Need another layer or two of pitch before I’d really trust them to be waterproof. May not look quite so tasty when I get them done…” Checking the melting pitch on the stove and finding it to be ready--beyond ready, actually, as a few drops had managed to ooze off the end of the bone, dripping onto the stone stovetop and smoking slightly on the heated rock--he quickly dipped his finger into

the molten sap, swiping it over the outside of one of the half-finished tinder tablets and rolling it lightly back and forth between his palms, the pitch solidifying quickly as he did so to form a hard glaze over much of its surface and Einar avoiding burns by moving quickly. Several more pellets he prepared that way, twice adding pitch to the bone half and waiting for it to melt, setting the finished products aside. As he worked, Liz had been busy with her own experiment, softening several small lumps of bear fat and rubbing milkweed down in the grease, forming a number of soft, fat-imbued lumps that she hoped might function similarly to the petroleum jelly-soaked cotton balls that she had long carried in a film container as part of her fire starting kit. Finished, she returned to Einar’s side and inspected the growing pile of pitch-coated pellets. Wrinkling up nose, she scooped up a small handful of them. “You were right. Not so tasty looking, anymore. In fact, they look just like elk droppings,” she laughed. “Shiny, polished elk droppings.” “Well who ever would have guessed what a short journey it could be from caramel corn to elk droppings…yeah, guess that’s exactly what they do look like. But they should work, and that’s what counts.” Holding the handful of the finished pellets, weighing them in her hand and surprised at how light they were, Liz took one and tossed it into the cooled pot of tea that sat half empty between them, having been forgotten in their excitement over the project. “Look at this, they even float!” “So they do. Ought to, as buoyant as that milkweed down is. Was used for life jackets at one point, when the Second World War made it impossible or importers to keep up with the demand for kapok as a life jacket stuffing, since the major source for it was Japan. Hey! Now if one of us falls into a fast moving, ice-clogged river at some point and gets swept away and all our gear torn off our backs or jettisoned to keep up from being pulled under--has been known to happen--then all we’ll have to do when we drag ourselves out of the water all covered with ice and barely alive is to look in the nearest little eddy pool, and we’ll find all of our tinder pellets floating there, all nice and dry inside, just waiting to be retrieved and used. If our fingers still work after all that… Who knows? I may just have to jump into the next river we come across, to test the theory out. Been a while since I spent any time in the water, and…” Liz shivered, snatched up her club and shook it menacingly in his direction. “Oh! You’ll do nothing of the sort! Every time you get near a river, it seems like bad things happen and you somehow end up in it, frozen half to death and having lost all of your gear. Stay away from the water! They float. I see it. No further demonstration necessary.” Laughing, Einar fished the pellet out of the tea-water, drying it on his sleeve and pulling it apart, exposing its dry, fluffy milkweed down core. “Here’s the real test.” And he struck sparks into the down, using the small fire steel and striker from its pouch around his neck. The down, compressed into pellet form, proved less anxious to take a spark than it had been when loose, and Einar had to fluff it out a bit and try again with the

sparks before it took, but when it did the results were as he had hoped, the down flaring up and the resulting flame catching the pitch before it died out, leaving a flaming, sizzling little puddle of sap that burned for well over four minutes before the flame disappeared, leaving behind a glowing orange ember. Plenty long enough to have lit some kindling. It works! Evening had come as they worked, and with it a stillness that portended yet another shift in the weather; already the snow had lessened, and when Einar crawled out of the den for a minute near dusk, he could see numerous gaps in the cloud cover, ragged-edged and moon silvered as the storm began breaking up. He took in a great breath, held it for a moment, exhaled. Cold. And growing colder quickly, as the protective and warmthretaining blanket of cloud was shredded and scattered by what appeared to be tremendously powerful winds aloft, their force beginning to show itself on the mountainside as he waited, listening, the stillness broken by a great rushing and sighing from down below as the first of many gusts tore through the trees, lightening their snowburdens and leaving them to dance and sway lithely in the wind. Einar shivered, pushed aside the door flap and hauled himself back into the den, reminded by a growing ache in his foot that a stay of more than minutes out in the bitter cold of the night could well mean further disaster for his toes. He shook his head. Had really wanted to be out of the den and far from the area before that particular storm broke. Not happening. • • • • With the changing weather came a great restlessness that seized Einar, a knowledge that the air search might soon resume, an almost irresistible desire to move out ahead of it and put some distance behind him, and he fought it, knowing that he was going nowhere until the foot did some healing. The toes looked worse than they had that morning--expected, but alarming nonetheless--more of them filled with a dark liquid that he supposed must be blood, the surrounding tissue grotesquely swollen and discolored, and Einar, half because he knew the foot would probably benefit from it and half to get his mind off of his growing desire to get moving, began preparing the day’s second warm water soak. As the water heated he fingered the pile of remaining willow wands, debating with himself whether or not to brew a pot of strong salicylic acid solution to drink before immersing the foot, in the hopes of dulling the pain just a bit. He decided against it finally, knowing that the nausea that had been plaguing him all day and which had nearly prevented him from enjoying more than a bite or two of the ptarmigan meal was likely being caused as much by overuse of the solution as it was by the persistent throbbing of the toes. Needing to keep his hands occupied as his foot soaked--the pain was slightly less than it had been that morning when using too-warm water, but only slightly--Einar sorted through the finished tinder pellets, choosing three of the largest and boring holes in them, two each, on their short ends, with a sharp quartz fragment. Once he was through the pitch layer he used a stick to burrow the rest of the way through each of the pellets, further compressing the down inside and allowing him to string the pellets onto a length of milkweed stem cordage like beads. Melting a bit of leftover pitch on a hot rock from the stove, he dabbed it around the areas where the cord passed through the pellets, sealing them back up so they would continue to be waterproof. The next time Liz came to add freshly warmed water to the foot-soaking pot--he had said he could manage the entire

operation himself, but she had insisted on helping--he held the finished string of beads out to her. “Here. Tinder. So you always have some with you.” Delighted with the gift and telling him so, she slipped the cord over her head and tucked the tinder beads down inside her shirt, but Einar laughed, shook his head. “Better not wear them inside your bottom layer like that, or they’ll end up sticking to you. Kinda unpleasant to remove. They should keep their texture pretty well out in the cold air though, and be ready when you need to use them.” Preparing two more of the pellets as he had the first three, Einar slipped off the leather cord that held his string of wolverine claws, untying it and adding the pellets one on either side of the claws and sealing them in place with pitch. Alright. Better way to carry tinder than in the little bag, maybe. We’ll see how durable the coatings on these things are, whether they start to crack and let moisture in over time, but maybe by carrying both these and the bag of tinder, I’m at least giving myself a better chance of having something dry when I need it than with only the one. Deciding that his toes had, by that time, probably soaked plenty long enough, and growing tired of trying to bend and wiggle them as he knew he ought to be doing, he lifted his foot out of the water and carefully dried it, hating to touch it at all but knowing that he must, and that he needed to apply a fresh coat of Liz’s cottonwood bud salve, as well, and when she offered to do the second part for him he did not resist. She was doing a better job of it than he could at the moment, was a good deal less clumsy and he knew it, though accepting the assistance went rather against his nature and left him feeling a bit grumpy, wishing he could come up with a good reason to refuse the help and tend to the foot himself. Forget it. Foot needs to heal, and that’s an awful lot more important right now than having your way about everything. She’s here, offering to help, so you’re just gonna have to let her. “I wish we had some gauze rolls or something to wrap around your toes once we get the usnea and ointment in between them. Something to help keep them clean and warmer at night, since you don’t seem to be able to put up with having the bear hide slipper rest on them at all. It’s too heavy, I guess?” “Yes. Too heavy. Gauze would be good, or fresh mullein leaves…that ermine fur or even one of the martens might work, but I hate to use it for this.” “The ermine would be perfect though! Light weight so it won’t press down on those blisters, and if I sew it up into a slipper-type thing for the end of your foot, the fact that the hide isn’t tanned yet and is kind of stiff ought to let it stand up away from your toes, if you don’t want it to come into contact with them just yet. It’ll be warm, will protect your foot and help keep it clean. I’m going to get started on it right away, if you’ll let me have that ermine!” He shrugged. “Your trapline, your ermine. Guess that does sound like…a fine idea, if you don’t mind using the hide that way.”

While Liz began work on the ermine foot-cover, Einar tended the stove and tried to rub some of the soreness and itching out of his healing leg, which was still swollen after his crutchless excursion in the snow, but seemed to be doing a good bit better, that evening. The rest was helping. Flexing his ankle as he had been attempting to do whenever the cast was off and he though of it, he was pleased to see that, while still stiff and a bit painful to move after so long immobilized by the cast, its range of motion seemed to be steadily improving with work. His knee, also, was regaining some of its usefulness, the improvised platform crutch seeming to have been good for it, keeping the muscles around it stronger than the use of two standard crutches might have. Well. Wouldn’t be doing too badly I guess, if I hadn’t frozen the doggone foot. Got to put together another crutch tomorrow so I can at least hope to get out and about a bit right here near the den, over the next few weeks. Got to do that at least, or I’m gonna keep losing muscle in this leg, and it’s not going to be good for anything much, by the time the foot does heal and I can start putting some weight on it again. If circumstances even allow us to stay here that long… He had a bad feeling about that, about the amount of time they had already spent at the den, about the likely resumption of the air search with the ending of the storm, and, immensely frustrated at his inability to get out and cover distance as seemed wise and unable, even to crawl out of the den and wear himself out by struggling up and down the mountain for a while so he could have a hope of sleeping that night, he tossed aside the bear hide and lay flat on his back in the middle of the den, keeping well out of Liz’s way. For the next half hour, Einar doggedly put himself through a routine of leg lifts, sit ups and the few other exercises that his condition would allow him at present, an exertion which would have been rather insignificant at most times in his life but which was, at the moment, stretching the limits of his endurance and ability. It pained Liz to see him so exerting himself at a time when he could clearly ill afford to spend his resources in such a way; simply keeping himself alive appeared to be a big enough challenge at the moment, without adding extra strain on top of it, and she wanted to stop him, to try and talk him into eating some stew and going to sleep, but she could see that he needed the exertion, the movement, and supposed she ought to be glad that he had found a way to meet that need there in the warmth of the den, rather than creeping out into the snow when she was not looking. Finally he stopped, exhausted, having fallen asleep spread-eagled on the floor and quickly shivering as he cooled down from the exertion, and she dragged the bear hide from the bed and spread it over him, propping up his frostbitten foot to keep it out of contact with the floor and crossing his arms on his chest to help conserve some warmth, a bit concerned for her safety in approaching him thus while he slept, and amazed when her actions did not wake him. Adding another log to the stove and eating her share of their evening stew--not good that he went to sleep without eating this, but I’m sure not going to try and wake him--Liz dragged the deer hide down off the bed for additional cover and curled up against his side for some sleep. Sleep was not to last long for them that night, as the wind cane in great gusts, sweeping down the mountainside and, in one of its frequent direction changes, blasting against the door flap and sending the rock slabs that held it in place clattering to the floor. Einar was up before Liz even realized what she had heard, lying perfectly still for a brief moment to identify the direction from which the noises had come before rolling out of the bear hide,

vaulting himself up and over Liz and leaping on the “intruder” for all he was worth, going at it with the axe. Liz looked up to see sparks flying where quartz met granite with a force and fury which certainly would have spelled the end for a flesh and bone intruder, had there been one, Einar getting in two or three good blows before he realized what was happening and stopped, sticking his head outside and listening, breathless, to the roaring and sighing of the wind. Finally, shivering, he leaned the rocks back up against the door flap and he crawled over to Liz, wondering vaguely why they had ended up on the floor, instead of the bed, but pretty sure that it did not matter, as he had no intention of doing anything related to sleep, for a good long while. Liz let him be for a bit, eventually deciding that his toes had better be looked at after all that commotion, finding him by the chattering of his teeth in the stillness of the den and warning him of her approach, speaking as casually as she could manage. “Well, it looks like quartz makes sparks, if we ever needs sparks…” “Yeah, sparks,” he answered a bit shakily, willingly accepting the bear hide as Liz pulled it up to his shoulders and slid in beside him for warmth. “Quartz sparks real well, if you use the right technique. Requires practice.” “You just got some good practice then, I guess! I’m sure glad it wasn’t me you were practicing on. What if I’d just gone out to use the bathroom or something when that rock fell, and it had been me?” “It wasn’t.” She lit the lamp, working by its light to replace the usnea clumps that had come dislodged from between his toes and treated as well as she could an area where one of the blisters had been torn open on the rocks of the floor when he scrambled for the door, apologizing that she had not managed to finish the ermine-hide slipper, that evening. There was a growing chill on the floor as the night air seeped in around the door flap, and she asked if Einar wanted to move up onto the bed where it would be a few degrees warmer, but neither of them especially wanted to move at that point as they had just managed to warm up again, and Liz was not sure she liked the idea of being sandwiched between Einar and the wall for the night, anyway, in case another rock should fall and he end up confused about the location of the door. The floor, then, seemed like a fine option, and they curled up again to sleep, not realizing at the time how very blessed they were to be by that decision, not realizing it, in fact, until several hours later when they awoke coughing and choking with stinging eyes and burning lungs to a den full of smoke. • • • •

Einar woke first, the worsening air and the acrid sting of smoke troubling his breathing and snapping him awake to glance hastily about the den for the source of the trouble, thinking that perhaps an ember had been ejected from the stove to begin smoldering in the dry grass and duff insulation that covered the floor, but there was nothing, no telltale orange glow, other than that coming from the stove. He knew what that meant. Liz

started to speak but he quickly found her face, clamped his hand over her mouth, struggling at the same time to restrain his own coughing. “Keep low,” he whispered. “Face near the ground so you can breathe. Got to…grab your pack, the axe and then… soon as we’re out there, you drop down into the gully over on the right. They’re probably…on top of the den, off to the side but if you can get down there…just take off, Ok?” “What? Who? The stove’s just…” “Do it.” And he was gone, moving away from her, grabbing his own pack and shrugging into it, atlatl and dart at the ready in one hand and spear in the other. He could hear Liz crawling around over near the wall, heard her scuffling and slithering for the door, and on his way past the stove, he paused to check the damper, finding it cracked open just as he had left it, confirming his suspicions that the source of the trouble lay above. He found Liz again, just inside the door, stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. “Give me a minute out there. Count to…forty or something, then you just come on out and drop down into that gully as fast as you can. Got your boots on?” “Yes, but you…” He was gone, scrambling out of the den as quietly as he could, knowing that the entrance was almost certainly being watched and hoping only that he might be able to distract them long enough to give Liz some sort of a chance, let her slip away, knowing there was at least some chance of success, as there was no good position from which the entrance could be watched from the front--the slope dropped away too sharply--leaving the enemy to concentrate on the area above the den and the ridge off to the left of it. Jamming a long stick into the dirt just inside the den, Einar propped the end of the door flap up on it, releasing a sudden billow of smoke into the night air which would, he hoped, offer him just a bit of concealment as he exited the den, give him a few more seconds perhaps to draw the attention of the enemy before they were able to get a shot off at him. The night was frigid, clear, brightly moonlit, everything standing out in a sharp relief of silver and blue, black tree-shadow offering the only protection, and Einar made for the little cluster of firs that stood just to the side of the open area in front of the den, scrambling, half running, marveling when he reached it without feeling the searing heat of a bullet in his shoulder or, worse, the sting of a tranquilizer dart as they had used on him the last time. Kneeling there within the scant cover of the scraggly firs with the bitterly cold air catching in his throat at every breath, he struggled to steady his hand, dart ready in the atlatl, squinting through the smoke, ethereal, moon-silvered, in search of the enemy he knew must be out there somewhere, up above the den or… A sharp sound, the snapping of a stick, and he glanced down, relived to see Liz scrambling out of the door, a brief glimpse, uncertain through the smoke, before she

dropped without hesitation down into the gully, safe, at least for the time. No movement from the area above the den, where they had to have been--some advanced scout, a surveillance team, someone--to block up the chimney and smoke out the occupants of the shelter. Where are you? What is the plan, here? You waiting for me to show myself again, or what? Well, I can wait. And can see pretty doggone well in this moonlight, too. I’m not real fast and you may well get me this time, but more than one of you will end up with a dart through your neck before the night is over. He waited. Silence. Moonlight and silence, a stirring of the breeze in the spruce-tops, a glittering shower of snow cascading down from high boughs as they shook with the coming of a greater gust. Cold. It was beginning to assail him as the adrenalin of that initial sprint across the clearing drained away, and though he was able to hold it back for a time through intense concentration and focus as he watched, listened, reaching out for any sign of the enemy who he knew must be out there somewhere, its advance was inevitable, inexorable, and he could feel himself all too rapidly approaching the point beyond which he would lack the dexterity and strength to make an accurate and effective throw with the atlatl. Flexing his hands, pressing numbed fingers against his stomach, he shook his head, rose. No sense waiting here ’till the cold stiffens me up and I can’t do anything about the situation. The snow has stopped. Stopped last night before we went to bed. That was our mistake, had to be…keeping the stove going after it cleared up. I thought the wind would protect us, but you must have had something making passes way up high there where we couldn’t hear it, spotted the heat, somehow got people in here. So. You may not be up there anymore, but your tracks will, and you better believe I can track in this moonlight. It’s been too windy for you to have come from the air just yet; you hiked in, you will be alone or with a small group and I’m gonna track you down. Track you down and if things go right you’ll be taking a real long nap in the snow while we scurry out of here ahead of whatever reinforcements you’re able to call in. Go, Liz, use this time to put some distance behind you. I’ll be along soon, if I’m coming at all. And he rose, stealthy, walking, leaning on his spear and keeping to the deep shadows of the timber as he climbed up onto the slope beside the den area, meaning to get up slightly above the little shelf that held the chimney, hoping to get a glimpse of whoever lurked out there, to see, at least, some sign of their trail so he might know what direction to take in seeking them out. Nothing. He saw nothing, squinted into the dimness beneath the trees atop the den but could make out no sign of human presence, climbed a bit higher and began inching towards the shelf, pausing frequently to listen, but met only by the keening of the wind. There it was, the tree that shielded the chimney, he could see it in the glint of the moonlight, trunk plastered and crusted with blown snow, snow having blown clear in under the tree, no tracks in sight and the chimney, on closer inspection, covered over with wind drifted snow. • • • •

Staring for a moment in relief at the source of the chimney blockage--quite natural, it appeared, and easily explained by the ferocious winds of the evening--Einar suddenly realized that he was awfully, terribly cold, legs going all weak and wobbly and barely

able to support his weight, particularly the right one, which he had been using very nearly as if nothing was wrong with it, and without his cast, though reminded sharply to spare the foot as much as he could. Sinking to his knees in the snow beside the buried chimney he dug it out, using a soft, melting area in the snowdrift as his guide and soon exposing the foot-high rock structure, shaking his head and holding numb, nearly useless hands over the rising warmth released when he cleared away the wind-packed slab. As his hands thawed he scooted closer to the rocks of the chimney-top, pressing himself against it and seeking to absorb its meager warmth, but knowing that it would be a losing battle, if he kept it up for too long. He wanted to stay there anyway, probably would have had it not been for the realization that Liz was still out there somewhere, down in the gully where he had told her to go and wait for him, uncertain about what was happening and little better dressed than he was against the cold. Got to find her. You get up and you go find her. Managed to get yourself up here, so you can get back down again and follow her tracks… Which he did, reaching the plateau in front of the den after what seemed like a terribly long time floundering about in the snow--though careful, as always, to keep to the trees and so avoid leaving tracks in the open where they would easily be spotted-and finding in the moonlight the spot where Liz had left the den. His foot had nearly ceased hurting by that point--though the leg ached terribly--not a good thing, he knew, but there was little he could do about it other than to duck briefly into the den and fumble around in search of Liz’s half-finished ermine foot covering, slipping it on over the sock that had been providing rather inadequate protection for the foot and securing it in place with several terribly clumsy wraps of paracord before heading out again in search of Liz. Neither of them were certain later just who had found who--they stumbled upon each other, Einar heading down and Liz, having waited for nearly twenty minutes down in the gully and hearing nothing, finally starting up in search of Einar, moving as quietly as she could and alert for any sound that might have confirmed Einar’s suspicion of the presence of their enemy, but hearing nothing. She heard him coming, though, saw him long before he saw her and determined from the careless way that he covered ground that he must no longer be concerned about intruders. Either that, or he had grown too cold to remember what he was supposed to be doing, but either way it was clear to her even by the pale light of the moon that he needed help, was barely managing to keep to his feet, and she hurried to him, relieved when he recognized her in time to lower the atlatl and avoid putting a dart through her, lifting him when he stumbled over a buried tree trunk and could not seem to rise. “Safe, Liz. Can go back. Wind drift covered the chimney. No feds.” “Good. Good, Einar. Let’s get back up there.” She wanted to say more, wanted to wring his scrawny neck, actually, as she had been trying to tell him precisely that as he hurried them out of the den, too focused on his apparent certainty that they were under attack to listen to her, but she kept quiet. He had, after all--though this time he was decidedly, ridiculously wrong--managed to keep himself free and out of the grasp of his pursuers thus far, and had, in the process, developed a far sharper sense of danger than she possessed, she was sure, though too many more incidents like this one, and I expect I’ll be catching up with him pretty quickly…

She got him back to the den, dragging him up the last several yards through the deep snow, not too heavy a burden but awkward and a bit difficult to handle over his repeated protests and occasional attempts to twist out of her grasp and get back to his feet, and they were both exhausted, freezing and soaked with melting snow by the time the door flap fell closed behind them, leaving them in a den which, while it reeked of smoke, was at least dry and allowed them to get out of the wind, the air breathable again with the unblocking of the chimney. Liz, her own clothing soaked from the struggle of hauling Einar back up the slope and finding with a brief inspection that his situation was even worse, was anxious to bring the fire back to life now that the chimney was drawing again, and before taking the time to get out of her wet clothes, even, she hastily began breaking up sticks for kindling, shoving aside the stove door and finding, to her relief, that coals still glowed brightly inside. Einar was pretty cold, but still alert enough to realize what she was doing, and stopped her with a quick lunge towards the pile of sticks she was about to shove into the stove. “No. Too clear out there. Wind dying down. Can’t risk it. Better stick with the lamp.” She wanted to object, knew that he needed heat and without delay, but did not want to risk sending him scrambling out the door again by building the fire up against his will, settling instead for gathering up several still-warm rocks that lay on and around the stove and setting them near him, giving him one to hold as she prepared to help him out of his wet and icy clothes. Crouching there for a minute with a warm rock, herself, working to restore some flexibility to her hands, she dragged the lamp out into the beam of moonlight that streamed in through the cracked den door, preparing the wick and shoving one of the kindling-sticks into the coals until it burst into flame, using the small torch to light the lamp. With the cheery glow of the lamp spreading through the den and lending the promise of warmth, though the difference could not yet be felt, she hauled the bear hide over to where Einar sat, half out of his wet clothes and appearing a bit baffled as to what to do next, and helped him finish the job, joining him under the bear hide after checking her second set of clothes that hung above the stove and finding them still to be damp. The wolverine hide, which had been shoved aside in the scramble to leave the den and left was dry, and she got it wrapped around her shoulders, searching the den for any other dry scrap of clothing but finding nothing, aside from a hat and some socks, which she quickly helped Einar into. “We don’t have anything dry to put on, either of us. How are we going to dry things without the stove? Hang them out to freeze and then beat the ice out of them? Put them on wet and do jumping jacks and things here in the den until our body heat dries them?” Mistaking the irony and near-desperation in Liz’s voice for a try at humor--and a pretty good one, too--Einar gave his best attempt at a laugh, which came out sounding rather more like the croak of a dying frog, alarming Liz just a bit. “Huh. Done it both ways from time to time but…no. Lamp is better. Take a while but it’ll do the job.” As Liz did not appear inclined to leave the bear hide and hang their wet clothes from the

ceiling-roots above the qulliq, Einar rose and began the task, fumbling with hands still nearly useless from the cold and hopping on one foot to spare his frostbitten one, which had, he did not doubt, suffered further damage from his excursion in the snow. It would have to be dealt with, too, checked and assessed and treated as well as he could manage, but one thing at a time… Better get some snow melting over this lamp too, so we can have some tea, maybe a little broth to help us warm up. Cheerful as he worked despite the increasing violence of his shivering as he warmed and a fierce and growing ache in his leg and battered foot that told him his foray was to end up costing him a good deal, Einar found himself immensely relieved to know that, had the threat on top of the den been real, he would have at least stood some chance of making a good end of things, giving Liz a chance to get away and ensuring that the raid-and his own end, most likely--did not come without cost to the enemy. This pleased him greatly, and when Liz, huddled in the bear hide and wishing he would rejoin her for a minute until he had warmed some, asked about the source of his obvious good spirits, he did his best to explain the matter to her, his speech choppy and slurred with his trembling and the barely mitigated effects of his time sitting out in the bitter chill of the night but jubilant, almost joyful, nonetheless. When he looked over at Liz, though, wondering why she was not responding, it was to find her staring at him out of eyes bright with tears, shaking her head in near despair. Is this what the whole winter is to be like, time after time until the one time when he finally doesn’t make it back? He doesn’t get it, does he, doesn’t realize what he’s doing? Thinks this is great. And I don’t even know how to begin to explain it to him… Finished with the tea preparations and sensing that something was seriously amiss, Einar hopped back over and sat down beside Liz, joining her in the bear hide when she held it open for him. • • • • With the fire no longer an option their clothes slow in drying, hung over the lamp and needing to be re-positioned frequently to allow the heat to reach different areas, Einar and Liz spent much of the rest of the night working to get them dry. They took turns leaving the warmth of the bear hide to move the drying articles of clothing, Einar insisting on taking on his share of the chores despite Liz’s objections that he ought to keep still and rest his leg, keep the injured toes elevated to reduce the swelling. The toes, as far as either of them could tell, had not frozen again, a great blessing and an unexpected one, considering the amount of time he had spent tramping around in the snow, but, re-frozen or not, the use had certainly done them no good, several of the blisters breaking open and turning the foot into an angry, ugly-looking mess whose throbbing ache splintered up his leg and tore at him, consumed a good bit of his focus, try as he might to direct his mind elsewhere. Despite the hurt of the foot, Einar, who knew he had brought the additional grief on himself by his rash response to the smoke filled den--but I’d do it again without hesitation; what was I to do? Could have been real, could have been them, and in that case the slightest hesitation could have got us both killed, or worse--felt it his duty to take part in the lamp-tending and clothes drying chores in the den that night, a small

gesture and, he supposed, rather an inadequate one, of the genuine gratitude he felt towards Liz for putting up with the situation and…with him. No small task, he was sure, and though he wished he might assure her that circumstances would change, or that he would, such would have been dishonest and he knew it, and Einar had never been much for false pretense or for attempting to dress up the reality of a situation in fancy or appealing words. The circumstances were far beyond his control, the complex confluence of weather, game patterns and the activities of their pursuers that dictated in a sometimes disconcertingly unpredictable fashion so many of the details of their day-today lives, and as to himself and the constructs and habits he had over time established, both voluntarily and otherwise, to deal with the situation…well. He shook his head, scrubbed his hands over his face. Can’t see any of that changing anytime soon, either. I do what is necessary. Am--have become--what is necessary. Not interested in giving any of that up, even if I thought I could. Which I doubt. It is what it is, and will remain so, at least for the foreseeable future. And I kinda wish I could tell her all of that, but can’t exactly think how to do it right now, with this doggone foot gnawing on me like it is. So, he plugged away at the chores, limping painfully about with his spear acting as walking stick as he did what he could, all he could, to make his penance and ease the burden on Liz that night. She heard the message that his actions communicated more clearly than any speech he was capable of might have done, accepted, and very soon ceased objecting when he rose to carry out his periodic tasks, sensing in them a purpose deeper than the work, itself. The clothes finally finished drying, the tea heated and drunk, as was a second pot and part of a third, and when Einar finally put out the lamp, checked one final and rather lengthy time on the situation outside and crept shivering over to the sleeping platform, Liz welcomed him back into the bed with open arms, holding him and working to rub the persistent chill from his limbs as they curled up in the hopes of managing a bit of sleep. Morning came all too soon for the weary pair, the harshness of reflected sunlight shoving its way persistently in around the door flap to wake first Einar, who, as always, slept perched on the very brink of the sleeping platform, a hair’s breadth from tumbling to the floor, just the way he liked it. He lay there staring at its brilliance and wishing his throbbing foot would have allowed him another hour or two of sleep, as the little he had got had been unaccustomedly peaceful, warm, even, after he had finally managed with Liz’s help to stop shivering, and he was warm still, lying there. Time to move, though. Lamp needs lighting, need to get some snow melting for breakfast and I better get a second pot heating for soaking the foot, because much as I don’t want to mess with it at all right now, I can feel that it’s demanding attention. Feels pretty swollen this morning, kinda inflamed, and I’d hate think that some of those busted blisters may be getting infected. Which, upon inspection by lamplight, appeared to be exactly what was happening, and Einar knew that he needed to get a strong solution of Oregon grape root simmering right away, and soak that foot. Liz was up by that time, joining him beside the lamp and sharing a cup of morning tea--spruce and rose hip--sniffing the air and commenting that everything smelled rather like smoke that morning, the floor insulation, their bedding, clothes, everything.

“Yep, sure does,” Einar responded. “I always did like the smell of smoke, myself. Willow smoke especially, and juniper--don’t have any juniper up this high of course, but aspen is fine, too. Smells…safe. ’Cause things must be pretty safe and steady if you dare have a fire, you know… And if a house has to have a smell to it, I’d very much rather it be smoke of some sort than those awful artificial ‘scents’ that seem so popular with socalled civilized folks these days. Air fresheners and candles and sprays and soaps labeled with goofy names like ‘fresh spring breeze,’ ‘mountain stream,’ such things. Well I certainly never did smell a breeze or a creek that reeked like that, and if I did, I’d sure as anything clear out of the area as fast as I have from time to time from those folks’ houses, because that would be a sure sign that something had gone terribly amiss with nature in that particular place.” “Smoke smell makes you feel safe, huh? Well, if you say so! Mostly just smells burnt in here to me this morning, but it could be worse I guess. We could have actually had a house fire! Den fire to be more exact, but with all of this dry grass and stuff, all it would take is one unnoticed ember jumping out of the stove and we could be in for some real trouble, end up with nothing left but a burnt-out shell of a den…but yes, I have to agree with you about those stinky ‘scents’ people are in the habit of using. Not very pleasant. Speaking of soap though…what do you suppose it would take to turn some of that leftover spruce pitch into something like pine tar soap? Spruce tar soap, I guess… Surely you wouldn’t object to having something like that around?” “Well…” the foot-soaking water was warm, and Einar broke up and tossed in a small handful of Oregon grape root pieces, their yellow brilliance almost immediately infusing the liquid with a soft radiant glow, “it would take lard, and ashes. Both of which it seems we have plenty of around here. Guess hardwood ash is supposed to be ideal, more concentrated or something, but I know people have successfully used evergreen ash for that purpose. I’m not one of them, though. Always wanted to experiment with making soap, but hadn’t quite got around to it, yet. But no, of course I wouldn’t object. Pine tar soap is about the only kind I would buy and keep around, before, up at my cabin. Cleans great and leaves you, and your clothes, smelling like a pine tree, rather than a chemical plant or perfume factory, like so many of the others. Doesn’t spook the critters, and doesn’t give your location away to sharp-nosed predators of the two-legged variety, either. Used to use it for everything, clothes, dishes, washing up, hair, all of it. Yeah. Ought to try and make some. I’ll help. If you let me soak this foot for a minute, first.” “Oh, I didn’t mean we needed to do it today, but sometime would be good. Maybe next time it storms, so we can have the stove to heat and ‘cook’ it on. That would probably work better than the lamp. But I have been thinking that some soap would be awfully welcome, around here…” He nodded, took the pot of water down from its place hanging above the lamp and tested it with a finger--good, not too hot, and nice bright yellow from the berberine. Ought to help stop any infection that’s trying to take advantage of this torn-up foot--and immersing his foot in the bitter-smelling solution, sucking air in through clenched teeth at the shock of the water on the open sores that had developed along the outside edge of his foot,

where the blisters had broken. As he soaked the foot, Liz worked on breakfast, wanting to go check the trapline but supposing the onset of clear weather might keep them denbound for a while. Well. Certainly plenty of projects to work on, in here! • • • • Prevented from leaving the den that day by the clear weather and Einar’s concern over fresh tracks being spotted, Einar and Liz set about tending to things inside, work long neglected in favor of the more pressing matters of securing food, running the trapline and, in Liz’s case, searching for Einar after his periodic wanderings and struggling to patch him up and help him recover from the damage. Which recovery was Einar’s primary focus that day, the likelihood of a renewed air search leaving him restless and jumpy but the inescapable fact that any trip outside would mean leaving sign that searchers would be likely to pick up on eliminating the possibility of any forays out into the wider world and leaving him resigned to make the best of the shut-in time. This reduction in what Einar saw as his options served to ease a bit of the tension that had gripped him during the days of wind and storm; the constant, nagging voice that had shouted at him to be up and doing, moving, going, silent for the time, his mind clear to focus on the tasks at hand there in the little world of the den. The first of which, he had determined, had to involve the rebuilding of his broken crutch. In looking over the materials available to him he settled on using the same spruce upright that had served him well on the first device; having not broken under the strain of moving those heavy granite slabs down at the food cache, he supposed it had more than proven its soundness. The crutch’s knee brace, as expected, had proven the weak point on the device, and as he worked, carving out with his knife a depression in the aspen slab chosen for the new brace, as he lacked a fire to produce the coals with which he had burnt out the first one, he determined to do all he could to strengthen that weak point. The wrenching his knee had got in the fall when the first crutch failed and of course the subsequent crawl through the snow that had nearly cost him his life and, he knew, might well still end up costing him a toe or two, served as constant reminder of the importance of developing a stronger connection between the brace and the upright. And probably ought to remind me not to go lifting any more seventy pound rock slabs while using it, either… Working the knee brace until it met his satisfaction, he chose from the firewood pile another chunk of aspen wood, clamping it under his good foot and going at it with the quartz axe until it had been worked into the roughly triangular shape that he had used before as additional support beneath the vertical knee platform, spending a good many minutes afterwards refining it with his knife until it fit snugly up against the upright, the brace resting on its top. The crutch’s basic design, he was still convinced, was sound, the initial version lacking only a firm enough bond between pieces, and he had an idea by which he hoped to remedy that problem. The dampened sinew and pitch glue that he had used on the previous crutch had held well, but he feared that a contributing factor in the crutch’s failure might have been the tendency of many pitch glue mixtures to become brittle under conditions of extreme cold, which that day had certainly been. A more flexible and cold-hardy mixture could, he knew, be developed through a day or two of experimentation and testing, but knowing that he was not walking far at all on that frostbitten foot without destroying its chances at recovery and hating the thought that he would not have a reliable way to travel over the next day or two should it become imperative, he decided to cook up a batch of

hide glue, instead. Normally produced from small rawhide scraps left over from other projects--that’s how he had most often done it, anyway--hide glue was a sturdy and easy to produce adhesive that had from ancient times been used to cement sinew backings onto bows, and had been a favorite of woodworkers, and makers of musical instruments. Very similar in makeup to gelatin, it was normally made up in big batches and stored dry for future use. Trouble was--to Einar’s mind, anxious as he was to get that crutch back up and operational--it took a good full day of simmering to effectively extract the stuff from the scraps of deer rawhide and small tendon pieces he intended to use. The process could really be sped up by using the scrapings from dry scraping a hide for brain tanning--all those layers of outer skin and membrane that had to be removed to allow absorption of the brain mixture made excellent glue, and their much smaller size and greater surface area significantly sped up the process, allowing it to be completed in the space of three or four hours. He considered briefly attempting to stretch the dried hide of the deer he had taken and begin its tanning process by doing a bit of scraping and thus obtaining the hide dust that he needed for his glue, but he knew that, dry as it was and far from flat, the hide would need a good day or two of soaking before it could be made pliable enough for stretching and lacing in a frame. And I got to make the frame, too. No. This crutch is first priority. Making the glue from larger rawhide scraps will take longer than the dust would for sure, but sure won’t take as long as soaking, drying and scraping that deer hide would! But when I do get around to scraping it, I’ll be sure and save the scrapings, turn them into more glue. The jello-like glue, he knew, once cooled, could be sliced thin and dried, the resulting “glue chips” kept indefinitely for future use, which would involve dissolving them in a bit of water to reconstitute the glue. A good thing to have made up ahead of time. Dragging himself over to the bed and inspecting the deer hide, he settled on cutting off and using the two front leg portions as raw material for his glue. Turning the stiff and crunchy hide hair-side down, he worked on scraping the hair from the chosen portions, not certain what the acids and proteins released by cooking hair might do to his glue, and wanting to stick with the product whose properties were familiar to him. It was hard work scraping the hair from that fresh-frozen hide, but he did not have much area to cover nor, since he was just chopping the resulting rawhide up into tiny pieces for simmering, did he have to take the care not to nick and abrade the hide than would have been necessary in scraping with the intention of tanning, afterwards. The quartz axe was sharp, its handle giving him good leverage, and the task was soon complete, Einar winded but satisfied with the results, slicing up the rawhide into a pile of strings and shavings and tossing them into the smaller cooking pot, taking water from the other--Liz had been diligent about keeping it hung over the lamp and full of melting snow that morning--and just barely covering the shavings as they lay in the bottom of the second pot. All right. Now for a day of simmering--right, don’t want it to boil, better raise this pot, some--and I’ll have my glue. I can first glue the brace in place, then wrap it with sinew reinforced and cemented with hide glue for extra strength beyond the glue that the sinew itself produces when you wet it, and finally I think I’ll lash everything down with some wraps of dampened rawhide that can shrink into place and hold the whole thing a

bit tighter, and to top it all off I’ll paint everything with a layer of pitch to waterproof it. Without drilling and pounding in pegs--huh. Maybe I should do that, too--that’s about all I can think to do for this thing. If it breaks after all of this…well, guess I was just meant to crawl, that day! Liz had, while Einar worked, been busy with several projects of her own, the first of which involved the good-sized bag of milkweed seeds she had found among Einar’s things. She remembered him collecting and saving them when he showed her how to harvest milkweed down, the intention being to try and sprout them that winter for a source of fresh greens. With their supply of dried greens--nettles, mostly--from the summer exhausted and the world outside buried beneath many feet of snow, Liz supposed some fresh greens would do them both a tremendous amount of good, both nutritionally and to add a bit of variety to a diet which changed little, from day to day. This sameness seemed not to bother Einar in the least. Give him a bit of meat, fat and the ubiquitous pot or two of spruce needle tea every day and he was happy--no, more than happy; he was overjoyed, always staring at his food for a minute with a look approaching dazed wonderment in his eyes before partaking of it; she had seen him, knew that his experiences had left him terribly grateful to have anything to eat, at all--but she was herself beginning to feel the need for some variety. The milkweed seeds, if they would sprout at all, would at least provide her with the ability to add some fresh green growing things to their stews, now and then, and she expected she could roast some of the sprouts and grind them up to add value to the flat bread she hoped to begin making once again from cattail starch, as soon as the weather and other circumstances allowed her back down to the march to pull some more cattail roots from the spring-thawed area of open water. Measuring out a small palm full of the dark brown seeds, she set them in the wooden bowl and covered them with water to soak, setting the bowl on a platform of rocks beside the lamp to stay warm. She intended to allow the seeds the remainder of the day to soak, after which--lacking a better idea--she meant to place them between two wide strips of aspen inner bark, which she would try her best to keep warm and wet until the seeds hopefully sprouted. We’ll see. It will be a challenge to do that here in the den, but as long as we can keep the lamp going… It was to be an interesting experiment, at the least. • • • •

The snow had fallen for two days straight down in the valley as it had on the higher ridges and peaks around Einar and Liz’s shelter, blowing, drifting, plastering the trunks of evergreen and aspen alike with crusty blankets of white. Susan, while she had worked to keep up with the shoveling during that time, was to find herself with a good bit of work to do when the storm finally broke and the winds calmed. The cessation of the storm woke her early that morning while it was still quite dark, the wind’s absence seeming somehow louder than its continual battering against the log walls of the house had been. The sudden change had not been the only thing to wake her, a dream as near and vivid as any she had experienced lately further disrupting her sleep. For several months after Bill’s death she had relived the events of that day in her sleep, the crash, the sickening sound of his head being slammed repeatedly into the steering wheel by the agent who had

been first on the scene and had followed them down the embankment, her own groans and cries, heard and remembered as if made by someone else, as they had pulled her, injured, from the truck, tried to interrogate her and resorted to kicking her mercilessly when she would not or could not answer, the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach at the knowledge that Liz was back there in the truck, likely injured as well, and at their mercy. Over the months the dreams had eased, diminished in frequency as time and the nearness and quiet support of her good friends, her children and grandchildren had begun the healing process for her, but there were still rare occasions upon which she woke to the sounds of twisting metal, the pounding of boots on her battered body, and the taste of blood in her mouth. That morning though, the dream that woke Susan had been of a very different sort, far less unpleasant if no less disturbing, as it involved not the ending of a life, but a beginning. It was not unusual for Susan to dream of babies, or of birth; she had acted as midwife at the births of her two grandsons after having the last two of her five children at home, had attended births for a number of women in the valley since, and she had always known when their time was near, often awaking after a dream of the woman to hear that she had gone into labor in the night. She did not, though, know what to make of the lingering dream-images that were fixed in her mind that morning: Liz--she could not see the woman’s face but knew it was Liz with the blind certainty that one often has in dreams--sitting there plain as day on a bed of soft grass and rich, dark brown fur of some sort, cradling a little one all wrapped up snug in soft buckskin and wolverine fur, adding an aspen branch to a fire whose soft flickering reflected off of earthen walls with a gentle warmth that permeated the entire scene and made it appear beautiful as it was raw and wild. Lying there listening to the silence with that image before her eyes, Susan shook her head, wiped away a tear. Much as she welcomed new life, any new life, she could not help but hope for Liz’s sake that her dream had been just that, and no more. With that hope came an almost overpowering wish to be with Liz, to go to her, find her, make sure everything was alright, but she shook her head. Wouldn’t have the first idea of where to go, and even if you did, you couldn’t. She is beyond your reach now, and must stay that way. Rising and stepping into her sheepskin slippers she grabbed the quilt from the foot of the bed and wrapped it around her shoulders, padding over to the window and squinting out at the dark world of snow and trees outside. Dark, but far less dark than it had been that evening when just before bed she had ventured out through the storm to damp down the little stove in the greenhouse, finding her way with some difficulty through the howling darkness and lashing wind to its shelter, completing her task and lingering for a minute under the covered entryway that Bill had constructed for her that past summer, just a month before… She had shaken her head, smiled into the storm. The separation was not to be forever; she knew it but still, after the passage of six months, had to remind herself of the fact at least once every day, it seemed, when the loneliness began growing too keen, when memories of that day returned unbidden to darken her countenance and shadow the smile that usually attended her work. Simple work, and hard, and since the events of that summer she had thrown herself into it as never before, not so much because she needed the money--the place was paid for; she could get by on very little--as to keep

herself occupied. It had worked, to some extent, but the loss was still there, the emptiness, the missing. Not forever. I will see you again… It was not of Bill that she thought as she stood staring out at the moon-silvered fastness of the surrounding peaks early that morning, though, glimmering sharp and tooth-like under their layers of new snow, but of Liz, the almost-daughter who she had lost just a short month after Bill’s death, bidding her a hasty good-bye down there on a curve of the highway and watching as she disappeared over the embankment down to the river, just ahead of several vans full of pursuing federal agents bent on holding her, interrogating her, perhaps making her disappear, if recent history was any indication. She’d had no word of Liz since the cryptic photograph that had been left just outside her door the month before, left, she had no doubt, by her husband’s former associate--“Bill,” also, Bill Foreman, who had over the years shown up unannounced from time to time to share a meal and a few stories about old times before slinking off into the dark again to disappear for a few months or even, at times, years, neither of them knowing his whereabouts or what he did with himself. Susan suspected that Foreman had been at least in part responsible for the gruesome events down in the valley shortly after her husband’s murder and her own severe beating that had left three agents dead--their heads brazenly displayed on sticks in front of the FBI compound the next morning--including the man who had run their truck off the road that day and stood over her as the other two beat and kicked her to within an inch of her life, later taking her against her will from the hospital in an attempt to finish the job. Though the bloody vengeance wreaked upon the men responsible would not have been Susan’s way of handling things, even should she have been capable of the logistics involved in such an operation, she had been grateful when her attacker, Agent Day, had been permanently and decisively removed from the federal payroll. Grateful, also, she had been when Foreman returned silent and unseen to leave her that photo of Liz-goodness knew how he had obtained it or what he had been doing in the area--alive and apparently reasonably well, wearing Einar’s wolverine hide. Hope you two are alright out there, staying warm, getting enough to eat… Liz was a tough girl, smart, knew well how to adapt to different situations, from all Susan had seen of her, and had some experience up in the wilderness that was now presumably her home; she should do fine. She was where she wanted to be. Still, Susan worried, and she prayed frequently for Liz and also for Einar, a man who she had met only a time or two down in Culver Falls the autumn he had been working for their friends Jeff and Pete Jackson, the outfitters. His quiet intensity, work ethic and unshakable determination had struck her even in those brief encounters as something to be respected, something that would have taken him far, had he been able to settle on a direction. Well. It seems he has found one, now, and Liz along with him. You two take care, out there. She left the window, headed out to the living room to open up the stove and add a log or two, starting some water for tea and shaking her head as an image from her dream returned to her, mother and child, faces flickering in the glow of a fire. She sighed, turned on the radio, where that the local station had been doing a series of daily reports on the aftermath of the disastrous avalanche that had wiped out the federal camp in the valley, and of the ongoing search. There had been rumors over the past days of storm of a new strategy that the searchers

were intending to employ in the hunt for their fugitive--and my Liz; hide her well, Einar Asmundson, and protect her, or I’ll come for you myself--and though she knew that the story she would get from the morning news would be far from the complete one, she was interested to see what they would have to say. • • • • The air activity started up sometime around mid-morning that day, the drone of a small plane followed several minutes later by a rumble that grew and built as the beast neared, and though the search did not seem in any way focused on the area of the den, the presence of the aircraft left Einar quiet, sullen, thinking as he worked on the crutch of all of the things he ought to have done while the storm went on, including moving them a good distance from a location where they had spent far more time than was wise, and of the fact that he had managed to leave nearly all of it undone. Weakness. Laziness. Both, maybe… Call it what you will, but it looks like I gave in to it, and here we are. Hard as he tried to keep focused on his work, Einar was a wreck after a couple hours of listening to the air search, jumping every time Liz moved and once leaping to his feet at the sound of some ice falling from a tree outside, nearly howling in pain when he landed on his frostbitten foot before he clamped his mouth shut and shifted his weight, collapsing back to the ground and grabbing up the crutch pieces in a belated attempt to look busy and keep Liz from realizing what had happened. She had seen, though, sat down beside him, bathed the grass and spruce needles out of his wounds and applied fresh usnea clumps and salve between his toes. No sooner had she finished than there came another sound from outside, the muted whump of a sun-bathed spruce releasing its load of snow, and Einar was on his feet again, knife in hand, sprinting for the door. Liz had had enough. She threw her knotted aspen club, striking him in the shoulder and dropping him to the ground, where, taken by surprise, he whirled around on her in fury. She met him with equal fury, snatching up the club and staring him down until the cold fire in his eyes subsided a bit and she became convinced that she was to go on living. She knelt beside him then, pressed a clump of usnea to the abrasion her war club had left on his collarbone. “Stop it, Einar! Now you’ve got to stop this! Yes, they’re up there, and they’re going to be up there for who knows how long, and we’ve got to live through it, both of us. The more you use that foot right now the longer it’s going to take to heal, if it is even capable of healing, and until it heals you’re not going to be able to do anything or go anywhere faster than a crawl. I’d think you would know that by now. You get ahold of yourself.” He stared at her, wanting to let her know that she was right and he knew it, but remaining sullen and silent. It was to be a long day. • • • • Sitting down at the kitchen table with her cup of tea, Susan waited for the morning’s music to wrap up on the public radio station out of Clear Springs--one of the only FM stations that she could pick up there in her valley--after which their half hour local news broadcast always came on, just in time for the morning commute. The first story was the one she had been waiting for. “The hunt for fugitive Einar Asmundson continues this morning in the wake of the

discovery last week of a primitively-made arrowhead lodged in the remains of one of the agents swept away in the recent avalanches that occurred during a recent search of a remote canyon in the Wilderness Area up outside of Culver Falls. Though our reporter at the Mountain Task Force headquarters just outside of Culver Falls tells us this morning that it appears the air search is continuing for the time, with several helicopters and at least one small plane making runs from the town’s air strip, recent comments from authorities and local sources both indicate that the manhunt may, once again, be taking a new direction. Several local sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, tell us that over the past week, agents from the Mountain Task Force have been approaching and attempting to quietly recruit employees of the Division of Wildlife, Forest Service and a number of wilderness outfitters and hunting guides to help them, according to one source, ‘map winter water sources, game migration paths and wintering locations for various species’ in the vast wilderness that has been the focus of the search. They are hoping, according to our source, to settle on a number of locations that bear further watching, keeping track of activities using aerial and possibly even satellite surveillance, and possibly placing a number of remote monitoring stations from which video, infrared and other data would be broadcast back to Mountain Task Force headquarters for review. Residents in Culver Falls, the town nearest the search area and the one where the Mountain Task Force is currently based, seem to have mixed opinions on the latest change in search tactics, the reaction varying this morning from humor, to ambivalence to open hostility, depending on who you ask. When we stopped in at Rosie’s Café, a popular local breakfast-spot, earlier this morning, opinions were mixed, but everyone seemed to have a strong one. “‘Just let the weather have him,’ one long-time rancher quipped. ‘All these storms, and as hungry as he must already be, that boy won’t last long up there. Deer and elk have come down, all the smaller critters will be holed up. He’ll starve pretty quick, if he hasn’t already frozen to death in a snowdrift. Don’t see why they’re going to so much trouble and expense, when the mountains would be glad to do their job for them. And probably a lot more effectively than they’ve managed so far, too, and with a lot less loss of life…’” The loss of life over the course of this manhunt, a figure whose numbers were nearly doubled by the tragic and devastating avalanche destruction of the federal camp two weeks ago, is one of the reasons why, as Mountain Task Force officials assured us, they will not end this search until Asmundson is either captured, killed, or his body found. A monumental task considering the sheer magnitude and ruggedness of the search area, but one whose odds of success agents are optimistic that their new ‘smart search’ targeted approach will greatly increase.” • • • • The remainder of the morning passed in silence, Liz finishing work on the ermine-fur foot protector that she had previously started for Einar, making a series of holes along its edges with one of the bone awls she had found among his things and stitching it up with a strand of sinew, which she soaked in her mouth prior to use as she had seen Einar do. Soaking made the sinew limp and a bit difficult to work with though, leaving Liz to wonder whether it might have been better left dry for sewing. She knew she’s seen Einar

soak strands before using them, but come to think of it, I believe he was using those to wrap things--the axe-head, dart points, things like that. I’ve probably made a mistake, here. Wishing to ask Einar about the sinew, she was discouraged from doing so by the grim silence with which he went about his crutch-building work, startling but holding himself rigidly still with obvious effort when she got suddenly to her feet and not giving her so much as a glance when she scooted a bit closer in an attempt to get his attention. Long practiced in silence from his months alone in the mountains, Liz had little doubt that he could maintain his stony-faced indifference for days, months, the rest of his life, perhaps, if he chose to, and she did not know how much of that she could take, feared that she might in her desperate effort to get his attention have destroyed the trust that had taken so long to build between them. But I had to do it. Had to do something. He’s tearing himself up and doesn’t even seem to realize it…I’m just trying to help, Einar, but I sure don’t seem to know how… Returning to her work, she finished the foot-protector and set it aside, supposing that he could try it on later, if and when he stopped sulking there in the corner and began acknowledging her presence once again. Einar, too, kept busy with his crutch project as the morning wore into afternoon, consciously steeling himself against the desire to move, grab for a weapon and press himself into the rocks of the entrance every time he heard a distant rumbling, remaining still and continuing very deliberately with his work if only to show Liz that he was capable of doing it, but the effort required was tremendous, exhausting. But there. There you go. That what you want? Well, you’ve got it. And he set his work aside, watching as she meticulously spread her batch of soaked milkweed seeds on blackish-brown strips of aspen inner bark, soaked also, arranging them so that they were in no place more than one layer thick, covering them with a second strip in the hopes of keeping them moist as they sprouted. She glanced up, caught him watching her and he held her gaze, staring, his face blank, unreadable, eyes cold and distant, and she would have looked away again had she not become so caught up in trying to figure out what she might say to break an uncomfortable silence that was largely of her own making, how she might begin to repair things between them. A strange thing happened as they sat there glaring at each other, Einar’s face softening almost imperceptibly and a corner of his mouth turning down, twitching. Liz, sensing an opportunity, seeing perhaps a hint of humanity in his stony countenance, started to say something, but he just got an odd look in his eyes and began laughing, softly at first and then uproariously, hilariously, until tears were running down his cheeks and he leaned forward holding aching ribs, fighting for breath. The next moment Liz was sitting behind him, holding him, chin on his shoulder, laughing with him until finally he stopped, exhausted, leaning back and looking up at her. “Guess I should have…paid more attention when you warned me you’d let fly with that doggone club if I didn’t shape up, now shouldn’t I have? You sure can pack a wallop, let me tell you! Right now I’m just real glad I’m not a pine marten or some such, or I’d be dead on the floor with my skull crushed in…” “I’m awfully sorry Einar. I wasn’t right of me to hit you…”

“Aw, that’s the only language that gets through to me sometimes, I’m afraid. I can be kinda dense. And,” he rubbed his bruised collarbone, “I sure heard you this time! Now about what you said, it’s uh…not that I really want to keep jumping up and hurting my foot every time I hear something out there. I’m sure not doing it with the intent of irritating you or messing up the work you’ve done on my toes but…” he threw up his hands, “it happens.” “I know. I wish things could change for you, wish we could somehow go where there is no air search and never would be so you could feel alright about letting your guard down a little, where you could rest.” “Oh…there’s no leaving some things behind, no matter how far you go. Believe me. I’ve tried.” He sat up, put a bit of distance between the two of them, feeling suddenly awkward to be lying there with his head in Liz’s lap. “But I’ll…uh…try to stop alarming you so much. Must be getting pretty aggravating.” “No, not aggravating. It’s just that I can’t stand to see you keep hurting yourself like this, and I wish there was something I could do to make things a little easier for you, but I can’t seem to figure out what…” He shrugged. “Liz, things are what they are. Were like this for me way before you came along, so you sure don’t need to be trying so hard to fix them. Ha! Been this way for years, off and on, and certainly more and more over these last months. Should have seen me last winter. This is nothing new to me, but I get through it, I’m still here. Only difference is now you’re here, too, and sometimes I don’t…well, I just have no idea how to live with another person, when it comes down to it. Got no practice at it. Sorry.” “I guess we’ve both got some things to learn. Now. Surely you’re hungry? Because I’ve got some stew ready…” • • • • After cleaning out the stew pot--portions were growing steadily smaller as the supply of venison diminished, but neither of them spoke of the matter, each knowing that the other was acutely aware of the change, and of what it meant--Einar and Liz returned to their work, Einar testing the simmering hide glue and finding that while the water was beginning to grow slippery with released glue compounds, it still needed a good bit of simmering before it would be ready for use. Making a few final adjustments to the ermine-fur toe protector she had been working on, weaving in or trimming out all of the protruding ends of sinew thread left from its stitching and stuffing the toe end with a layer of soft usnea, she showed it to Einar, anxious for him to try it on. To Liz’s dismay, the toe cover, which she had several times checked against his foot as she worked, had been rendered woefully small by the increased swelling of Einar’s toes after his two latest untimely attempts to walk on the foot. About to demonstrate his gratitude by dutifully jamming his foot into the slipper despite the discrepancy, Liz stopped him. “No. You’ll just hurt the toes and maybe tear open another of those blisters. It’ll fit later,

when the swelling goes down some. For now maybe we should think about soaking your foot and changing the dressings again, because I can see that some of those blisters are starting to ooze, and I’ve got some water heating in the cleaned-out stew pot.” Einar didn’t want it, could hardly stand the thought of having the foot tampered with at all just then, as it had only recently settled down and returned to what had become its standard level of gnawing, sharp-toothed pain following the last dressing change, but knew he was just a hair’s breadth away from developing a serious and potentially lifethreatening infection in some of those toes. Conditions in the den, even with Liz’s attentive assistance, were nowhere near sanitary enough to keep what basically amounted to a series of small second and third degree burns clean and free of foreign materials, and so far at least, the soaking seemed to be helping keep infection at bay. Besides, the dressings definitely had to be changed, and he hated to think what it would be like to have them pulled loose without prior soaking. Yeah. Probably take big chunks of the foot along with them, the way things look down there. Which might actually be a good thing, because that stuff is gonna have to come off at some point…but not now. No. Got to do the soaking. He nodded. “Be a good idea. I should be making up a strong berberine solution to drink a couple times a day, too, if we have any Oregon grape roots left. Want to give the toes a chance to heal--lots of times with frostbite, things can look absolutely awful up on the surface for a number of weeks, while healthy new tissue is growing underneath--but that can take a good bit of time, and while you’re waiting there’s a fair chance of ending up with blood poisoning from gangrene or some other sort of infection in the dead tissue. Keep wondering if I need to just…get rid of the toes before that can happen, like the old time prospectors and such sometimes had to do, but I’m hoping that between drinking enough berberine and using the cottonwood salve you made, there may be some chance still of saving them. Whenever I’m sitting here not focusing particularly hard on anything else I take time to concentrate on getting blood down to the foot, helping to restore circulation. I use some of the same breathing exercises that help me maintain my body temperature when I’m out sitting in the cold for whatever reason, help generate heat and keep the blood flowing to my extremities so I don’t lose function as quickly as I otherwise would , and I expect that’s helping, too, but can’t tell yet if it’s all going to be enough. Just wish I’d have been able to keep up with some of those exercises while I was out there crawling around in the snow freezing my foot…” “Why couldn’t you? Was it just too cold, too windy?” “No, I’ve trained in weather like that, in the snow, in the water, even, and done just fine, but…it takes a lot of focus. Lot of energy. There’s only so much I can do. Had got so caught up in stacking rocks for that cairn that I was already pretty cold and a little slow by the time I realized the foot was becoming a problem, stopped and warmed it a few times but even after I realized I was in trouble…well, it took all the strength and focus I could scrape together just to keep from sitting down and going to sleep, to keep moving and looking for landmarks, trying to recognize the terrain and find my way back here. Nothing left for working on the foot. Just one of those things. It happens.”

Yes, Liz added silently, but it happens a lot less often to people who don’t choose to go wandering around in blizzards all day with a broken leg… As Einar spoke she had finished preparing the soaking water, apologizing that she did not have any willow solution made up for him to drink and handing him, at his request, one of the remaining willow wands instead. Peeling off a strip of bark and wadding it into his mouth--he’d had no willow at all so far that day, and none the past evening, either, and hoped that his stomach might be able to tolerate it again after the break--he eased his foot into the waiting water. Before the soaking was finished, Einar would find himself--the chewed bark having done little for the pain--resorting to clamping a several-inch section of peeled willow branch between his teeth and keeping it there, head down, eyes half closed, focused on using his breathing to quiet the screams in his head as Liz carefully worked free the old dressings, dried his foot and slid the fresh, salve-coated usnea clumps into place. Einar was certain that simply chopping off the toes and cauterizing the bleeding stumps with the fire-reddened blade of his knife would have hurt considerably less, but did not mention the fact to Liz, who was clearly going out of her way to be gentle, and was, he knew, doing a far better job of it than he would have, himself. It was a routine which was to become all too familiar to him over the coming days, during the course of which more than one willow branch would become cratered with deep tooth marks, would finally split and be discarded in favor of another. For that day--the first half of the day, anyway--the task was finished, though, and Einar was very anxious to get his mind on something else. Like this crutch. Still not quite ready by his estimation, the hide glue simmered nicely above the lamp-didn’t smell so nice, but at least the hide had not been old and beginning to rot, as had some that he had successfully turned into glue, in the past, and the lingering smoke smell covered it up pretty well--the rawhide strips and chunks shrinking and curling as they released more and more of their proteins into the water. Another hour or two, and this stuff ought to be ready to go. I’ll let most of it set up and then slice the “glue jello” into thin strips to dry for future use, but might as well use what I need for the crutch fresh out of the pot when it gets done. In the cool air of the den, Einar knew that he would have thirty seconds or less between applying the glue and the time when it began setting up and a solid bond would no longer be possible, and thus needed to have all of the pieces completed and ready to go. Which they very nearly were, a few quick knife strokes to the surface where the knee brace was to join the upright finishing the job. Good. Ready to go. Now, on to something else, before you can get too focused on that foot again, either that or…ha! Yeah, I hear you up there, you buzzard, but I’m sure not jumping up and ruin the work Liz just did on this foot. See this? I can sit here just like anyone else and… The helicopter neared, something small, a Kiowa or similar, no deep rumble, only a higher-pitched, persistent buzz, and Einar sat staring at the door as the thing hovered momentarily over a spot not too far down slope from the den, holding himself rigidly still against the action every fiber of his being was calling on him to take, until the aerial intruder abruptly changed direction and faded away into the distance. Einar let his breath out, realizing only then that he had not been breathing for the past minute or so, eyes stinging with sweat and hands shaking, but he had done it, had caught himself in time and had kept still.

Liz had been watching, realized the immense effort his actions--the lack of them, actually--must have taken, and scooted over beside him, bringing along her project, which at the moment consisted of the “cotton balls” she had put together the day before, of milkweed down and bear fat. “I had set these aside and forgotten about them, Einar, but I was wanting to test them out and see how they compare to your little pitch-coated tinder pellets, as far as waterproofness and how long they burn. Want to help me with the test?” • • • • Breaking open one of Einar’s pitch and milkweed down tinder pellets and setting it on a flat rock near the lamp, Liz chose a similar-sized lump of bearfat-soaked down and set it nearby, taking the fire steel from around her neck. In the time it took her to set up the experiment, Einar had crept over to the door and was staring intently out into the thenquiet woods, and hoping to prevent him from deciding to go bolting out the door as he was appearing increasingly inclined to do, she tried to involve him in the experiment. “Hey. I want to compare how long these two types of tinder burn, and I can’t light them both at once. How about you light your little tinder pellet, while I light the ‘cotton ball?’ Then we can time them.” Scooting back over to the lamp, more than a little annoyed at Liz’s interruption of his listening at the door but unwilling to refuse Liz’s direct plea for help, he got himself situated beside her in front of the prepared tinder, Liz making a few practice strikes on her fire steel before following his lead and placing the end of the rod almost on top of the tinder. Each took at the first try, the pitch variety starting slowly, glowing red for a brief second before taking off in an almost explosive flare of red-orange fire that lit up the ceiling and surprised Liz with its intensity, the bearfat-treated down glowing clear and even like the wick of a lamp. Liz counted the seconds as they watched, making a mark in the dirt of the floor for every minute that passed and pleased to see that both types of tinder were still burning strongly at the three minute mark, the pitch pellet producing a far more intense flame, but neither threatening to go out. Past four minutes the flame of the bearfat “cotton” began diminishing, shrinking, having consumed most of its fuel, charred down becoming increasingly visible beneath the flame. Somewhere just under five minutes, it flickered one final time and died, the pitch showing no sign of going out, but producing a steady and growing stream of black smoke that reminded her of the smell of kerosene and left flakes of black soot drifting down all over the interior of the den. She snuffed it out with a rock, inspecting the shiny black smear of leftover pitch, which closely resembled melted plastic. “Well! It looks like both of them work pretty well! The cotton balls seem slightly easier to light, but the pitch definitely burns longer and hotter, and is probably more waterproof too, over the long term. How do you think it would be to coat some of the bearfat-soaked fluff in pitch? Seems like that would burn even longer still, and…” Einar wasn’t listening anymore, though, was staring out through the crack in the door,

eyes on the treetops as he recreated in his mind the sound-pattern of the recent helicopter, its approach along the adjacent ridge, that brief hover over something that lay just down the slope, its subsequent rapid change in direction and disappearance. Something in that pattern had been bothering him, eating at him, and he… Strange. Wasn’t hovering over the den, but… Abruptly returning to the area beside the lamp, he pulled over the map-rock that he had made for Liz, studying it to refresh his memory and get some perspective as he once more faced the door, orienting the rock and replaying in his mind the flight sounds of the chopper. Liz scooted over to his side--she knew better than to try looking over his shoulder--and studied the map with him for a moment, hoping that he was not planning on going somewhere, just then. “The water.” He glanced up at her. “That’s got to be what they were looking at, why they hovered down there. Tell me. Last time you were down there…Three days ago, was it? Four?” “Yes. Four days ago. The day you…” “Ha! Might as well say it. The day I got lost. I was lost, alright. And I know with the amount of snow and wind we had that afternoon, any tracks you made ought to have been wiped out pretty well, especially out in the open where that chopper might have seen them. Need to know, though, if you did anything else down there that they might be able to pick up on--cutting cattail stalks or disturbing a big section of ground to pull roots, anything like that?” “No, I didn’t pull any roots this last time, and sure couldn’t see any evidence of the spot where I had, before, over in the thawed mud beside where that spring keeps the water open. The whole area was drifted over with snow aside from the actual pool of water, all smooth and even-looking” “From the ground. Hard to say just what it looks like from the air. Has been a lot of snow, for sure, but depending on where the wind piled up the drifts, there may be depressions, uneven places that might not look entirely natural to someone studying the spot from the air…might look human-caused, and there are all those cattail stalks you cut, too. To make the bed. That was in the same general area?” She nodded. “You did a great job collecting them, and they sure do make a warm bed--must have cut hundreds of them. Did you harvest them all from the same area, or did you take one here, one there, from the entire meadow, scattered-like?” “I…swept up big armloads of them, like sheaves of wheat, held them together with one arm and cut with the other. Kind of went around the edges of the marsh cutting them like that, trying to avoid the center where it looked like there might be some wet patches with

thinner snow where I could get my boots wet. It was quick, and seemed very efficient at the time, but I think you’re saying… Surely from the air though, and with all of this snow, they wouldn’t be able to see much?” “Not in the amount of time they spent hovering just now, no. But if they took photos, take them back and study them and decide something doesn’t look quite right…the way they hovered and then just took off like that, like they’d seen what they had come to see and were done, it makes me wonder. Don’t like it. Should be glad they’re not focusing in on the den I guess, means they’ve not picked up on our heat signature and in that case they probably won’t, but I keep thinking of that dream with the geese and all, down at the water… That open marshy area is big enough for somebody with a little skill to set a chopper down in, drop folks off. Something’s up. Something’s not right.” He shifted restlessly, scowled at his bandaged toes and scanned the contents of the den, eyeing the door, where a faint rim of sunlight showed on two sides of the bear hide. Liz shook her head, looked up at him sadly. They’re looking. Just looking. They didn’t see us, didn’t see the cattails, not with all that snow, don’t know we’re here and have no reason to drop anybody down into the marsh to take a further look…I’ll tell you what’s not’re not right! “You’re wanting to go, aren’t you?” “Been wanting to go for weeks. Can’t do it right now though, not unless we absolutely have to. Need a storm to cover our tracks. One flyover shortly after we left, and they’d be liable to see something, come in for a better look and if they get on our trail with conditions clear and sunny like this…we’re pretty much through. For now we’re just gonna have to stay put, hope nothing they saw down there warrants a second look, and we’d better not make any more trips down to that spring, either. The lamp is doing fine at keeping snow melted for water, and there’s nothing down there worth risking discovery over. Better be thinking about this move, too, prioritize things and decide what we can carry, what we have to leave.” They were silent for a time after that, each absorbed in their own thoughts, Einar finding the hide glue to be ready and working feverishly to assemble and glue his new crutch. Finally, the crutch drying in a corner, he took the cooling pitch glue, which was more and more resembling a tan-colored jello-type dessert if not smelling particularly sweet, and poured it out onto an area of ice-coated ground that he had earlier prepared for that purpose. The intention was to allow it to solidify it a bit more, a process that would take mere minutes, in the cold, slicing it up thinly and setting it well away from the stove-heat would re-liquefy the stuff--to dry for later use. Outside, darkness was descending, the cold having clamped down quickly as the sun left the slope, and as he watched the last of the light fade, Einar knew the time had come to change the dressings once again on his foot, and he kept busy with cutting and setting to dry thin slices of hide glue jello, half hoping that Liz might forget about the procedure. She did not forget, though, and he knew that, as much as he was coming to dread the operation, he did not have the luxury of putting it off until the following morning. The dressings looked and smelled awful after being on the toes for several hours, and when he

tentatively lifted one of the usnea clumps off of his big toe, wanting to get a head start on things and save Liz some work, the flesh beneath looked as if it had been chewed away by a small hungry animal or two, rat, weasel, and he gingerly pressed the usnea back into place. Liz was heating the water, and he peeled a strip of bark from one of their last remaining unpeeled willow shoots, wadding it into his mouth. Doggone it, Einar, you sure did pick a bad time to do this to yourself. Gonna be one interesting hike, when you have to leave here… • • • • Down at Mountain Task Force headquarters that evening, photos and electronic intelligence gathered on recent surveillance flights were analyzed and studied by agents and the few local wildlife and Forest officials who had agreed to provide them assistance, and the process of elimination begun in their quest to settle on a number of locations that seemed to merit setting up remote monitoring stations. Most of the spots thus given highest priority involved terrain where a major water source intersected with known game wintering areas or migration paths, places that would surely appear tempting to a hungry fugitive attempting to over winter in the back country. Others, it was decided, mainly smaller water sources and open meadows, would be kept under occasional surveillance from the air and, if they could get authorization, by satellite, as well. • • • • Needing something to keep him occupied while his foot settled down after the dressing change and finding himself aggravatingly unable to focus on plans for their coming departure and how it might be carried out, as he wanted to do, Einar sorted through the pile of bear and deer bones that represented to him a stash of raw materials for any number of projects. Choosing a long, fairly straight section of bear leg bone that he had previously scored and split, using its other half for atlatl dart heads, Einar balanced it in his hand, studying its contours and finding it quite suitable. Dragging over a much-used chunk of sandstone, he began methodically drawing one end of the split bone across it, tapering its end into the beginnings of a point. Curious, Liz stopped with her work of shaving frozen venison off of a section of deer ribs for that night’s stew. “What are you making? Looks longer than an atlatl point for sure, and isn’t quite shaped like a spear head…” “Snow knife. We’ve got to be able to make shelter in a hurry while we’re on the move, and it may usually be enough to dig down under a tree and curl up in the duff, but sometimes that may not be an option. Trees may be too small, things like that. Happened to me last winter after I ‘borrowed’ that snowmobile to get away from the feds’ camp and then got stuck way up high waiting for another storm to come so I could move without leaving tracks…wind was awful bad, I didn’t have enough layers to really keep warm, and a snow cave is what saved me. Dug into a drift with a deer shoulder bone that I had on me at the time, sat on my jacket for insulation and just huddled there trying to get some sleep. Wasn’t warm, but sure didn’t freeze, either. And with a little bear fat to burn, we could heat a place like that up real good. We’ve got deer scapulas of course, and ought to pack one along as a digging tool, but if the snow’s right, you can sometimes cut out and remove big blocks from the hard packed drifts, save yourself a lot of time in digging. And if we end up someplace where there’s no place to tunnel into and we just

need to put something up to get us out of the wind and maybe hold in a little heat from a bearfat flame, we may be able to use a snow knife to cut blocks for stacking. An iglootype idea. Shelter like that goes up pretty quick if you keep it small. Temperatures in a snow cave can easily get up close to freezing like it sometimes does here in the den, which is an awful lot warmer than twenty or thirty below! Might make all the difference some night, especially if we don’t have this bear hide to sleep in.” “I’ve been thinking about the bear hide. I know it would be awfully bulky and heavy to carry, but what if we make some sort of sled to pull it on? Or just tie it up in a bundle and drag it along behind us? We could tie up a good bit of the bear fat inside the bundle, too.” Einar squinted at her out of the corner of his eye, laughed a little, continued scraping at the snow-knife. “Would work great out on the tundra, or if we were trying to trek across Antarctica, maybe in one of the river valleys around here but…you ever pulled a sled through black timber like is on these slopes? Or tried to ski through it, or even use snowshoes? Kinda rough, when the trees are eight inches apart in places and you’re struggling up--or down, or across--a slope that is probably going to be somewhere better than fifty degrees most of the time, the ground under the snow all littered with deadfall that you can’t see, but it sure seems able to see you, and it must be hungry because it’s always grabbing at your feet or trapping a snowshoe at the worst of times. The sled gets stuck between tree trunks or drags you down and gets tangled up and forces you to spend the next half hour floundering in waist-deep snow in an attempt to un-jam it, losing a boot to the grabbing, clinging mess of deadfall underneath, all the while clinging for your life with one hand to the little fir whose top few inches are poking up out of the snow, just hoping and praying that you, or the sled, or both, don’t start sliding prematurely and end up tumbling over the nice little fifteen foot dropoff below you and end up smacking head first into the jutting, only half-snow-covered shelves of granite near the bottom. Then you finally work the load free, take a few careful steps to the side to get yourself out from above that dropoff, only to have the whole sequence repeat a few minutes later. Whew! No thanks!” “Oh.” She stared at the ground, not sure whether to laugh at his rather humorous foretelling of the woes that would attend the unfortunate soul who attempted to move his possessions by sled or travois across steep, heavily timbered slopes, or to insist that she wanted to give it a try anyway, because they really, really had to keep possession of that bear hide, if they were to avoid freezing and dying on their first night out. “That sounds like the voice of experience speaking.” “You think? Yeah, I’ve tried it. Works great on flatter ground, and I used to have one of those big long “utility sleds” that I’d use a lot of times to haul firewood over to the cabin out of the woods nearby, just go chop up a downed aspen or something and load it into that sled, and used it a few times every week to haul wood from the woodshed to the cabin, but in terrain like this…it definitely does not end up saving you any work! Tried it a few times out on one of my traplines, because you have seventy, eighty pounds of gear to lug around by the time you count traps and everything and then if you get a few beaver

or some muskrats and are carrying those, it’d weigh closer to a hundred by the time you were through, but I kept having to abandon the sled when things left the valley floor and got steep and brushy, so I eventually parked it at the cabin that winter and went back to hauling everything in the pack. Huh. Used to be no big deal for me to lug those seventy or eighty pounds around on my back all day, cover ten, fifteen miles, sleep out for one night at the far end of the line sometimes and head back to the cabin next day, get in way past dark and quick start a fire in the stove, take care of the pelts I’d brought in while supper heated, gulp down some stew and then roll up in my blankets for a few hours of sleep before heading out to do it all again the next day. Spent a number of winters that way, when I was trapping beaver and muskrat. That’s been a while ago, now. It was good work. Didn’t pay that much even back then but it sure did cover my needs for the winter, let me make a little money while staying far away from town, which was every bit as much a priority for me then as it is now, though of course for very different reasons… Afraid I won’t be carrying any seventy pound pack when we leave here. I…uh…” He shook his head, pounded angrily at the depression he had worn in the den floor as he spoke, digging and chipping with a granite chunk. “Well I don’t know, you could call it pride, I guess, but it’s awful hard for me to ask you to do what I can’t, to carry the bigger pack when we head out of here, but that’s how it’s gonna have to be.” She had no words, swallowed the lump in her throat and rested an understanding hand on his shoulder, offered him some tea which he thankfully accepted. “The bear hide, though…I’ll think about it. Try and find a way for us to take it along. May just try your ‘bundle it up and drag it along’ idea, if I can’t come up with anything else. Sure is worth a try, as long as we’re not having to leave in too great a hurry…” • • • • By the time Einar had worked the blade of the snow knife to his satisfaction---giving it a slightly rounded tip and scraping until the entire blade had a slight upward sweep to it-the mountainside outside had been entirely dark outside for well over an hour, and Liz had the stew ready. He didn’t feel like eating, gave it his best try anyway, at her insistence and because he knew he would be in for an awfully cold night if he went to bed with an empty stomach, knew also that he had to try and keep up his strength as well as possible against their upcoming and potentially sudden departure. Not too sudden, I hope. If we end up having to clear out ahead of them sometime when it’s not storming to cover our tracks, it’ll just be a matter of time before they catch up or find us from the air, and I don’t know if I’ve got too many more avalanche stunts or stealth atlatl attacks up my sleeve right now to throw them off our trail. Will sure give it a try if it comes to that, but the only way this is likely to have a good outcome is if we leave deliberately and not under that kind of pressure, just make ourselves scarce during the next big storm and find some other place to hunker down. Try as we might though, we don’t always have the benefit of seeing these sorts of things go according to our timing, and there’s always a possibility that we may end up having to make a run for it… With that thought as motivation, he managed, despite the knots in his stomach, to down nearly half the contents of his stew-bowl before having to stop lest he lose the entire meal.

“It’s all that willow, isn’t it?” Liz asked, taking his bowl and offering him in its place a scoop of warm water-softened chokecherries blended with softened bearfat--a common and much-enjoyed dessert for them over the past days--hoping that its tartness might agree with him. “Probably.” He squeezed his eyes shut, leaned forward with his chin on his knee, trying not to look at the “ice cream” Liz was offering him, because he knew it would just further turn his stomach. “Reached my limit on that willow I guess, should have left it alone today. As little as I can eat with it aggravating my stomach like this, doubt I would have been able to manage even a bite or two, without it. Not the way this foot’s gnawing at me. Kinda puts thoughts of food way in the background.” “I guess it would. You know, I think there’s at least some possibility of finding a few little sprigs of some sort of wild mint down by that open water, in the sheltered area under the rock ledge that backs up to it. The spring must keep the soil just warm enough to allow some things to grow, even now. I know you said adding mint to the willow solution makes it a lot easier on your stomach, and you’ve got to be able to eat…” “No! Can’t go back down there. Not for any reason. You heard them hovering over that spot, and there’s no way to know whether or not they’ll be back at some point, but clearly they saw something that interested them. I’ll be OK, been through worse, but if we have to take off running all of a sudden before we’re ready because they see tracks or see you down there harvesting mint…” he shrugged, stared at the ground, and Liz got the message, but still wished there might be something she could do to. “Speaking of being ready to go,” he picked up the clean white chip of aspen bark that held the chokecherry “ice cream,” taking an experimental bite to show Liz that he was alright, or trying his best to be, “been thinking about just how much we can carry, what that’ll mean for our food supply…we’ve been eating better lately, and that means we’ve got some reserve, hopefully, aren’t so close to outright starving as we may have been at one time. That gives more options when it comes to food. Got to take as much as we can carry of course, but if it ends up being necessary to leave some…well, not the disaster it would have been a week or so ago, I guess.” She looked at him sadly, busied herself with holding her portion of the dessert over the lamp to soften further, mashing and stirring the berries into the fat. Maybe I’m not in any immediate danger of starving, Liz wanted to respond, but you couldn’t convince me that it’s the same for you. I don’t think you’ve managed to build up much of a reserve at all, so far, and you’ve barely been able to eat what we do have over these last couple of days, the way your foot’s hurting you. You try to cover that up, but I have eyes, I can see… You need time, rest, need to let that foot heal, need to stay here holed up in the den out of the weather until all this food is eaten up and you’re stronger and we have been able to make better clothes for traveling. They don’t know we’re here, that helicopter was just part of whatever ongoing search they’ve got going on, and we’ll probably never see it again…but I’m never going to be able to convince you of any of this, am I? “But all of that bear fat…”

“Yeah. Be a shame to have to leave any of it, but I think we may have to. If so, and assuming we’re not surprised and have to take off in a hurry, we’ll finish that granite cairn I started and cache what we can’t take, along with whatever else we have to leave behind. Whether or not we’ll ever be back this way is hard to say, but at least it’ll be there if the opportunity comes up. Stuff may start to get real soft and maybe even melt a little when summer comes, will eventually go rancid if we haven’t managed to render it down before stashing, but where that cairn is, all tucked in under a couple of heavy spruces, I doubt more than a couple minutes’ sun ever reaches those rocks, in a day. Could be that fat stays good for a long time, under those conditions. Will certainly be fine for the rest of the winter, and I could see us getting into a situation--living off of rabbits and squirrels for a couple of months, that sort of thing, where a trip back to the cache from wherever we settle might be in order. Can get into some pretty bad trouble trying to live exclusively on that kind of lean meat, and though it really helps to eat liver, brain, marrow, everything, for extra fat, sometimes it isn’t enough.” “Maybe the fat should be our first priority then, if we have to go. Leave almost everything else, and load my pack down with it…there can’t be too much over fifty pounds of it left. I can carry that!” “That, sure, but how much else? No, the weather--especially the weather I’m hoping we’ll be traveling in, viciously windy and thick with snow--will tend to kill us a lot faster than hunger will out there, if we don’t have adequate shelter. Bear hides, deer hide and furs have to take first priority. Still not sure how we’re carrying the big bear hide, but we’ve got to try, and then any carrying ability that’s left, we can start to focus on having more than a minimum of food. Here.” He handed her the snow knife, finished but for a bit of refinement he wanted to do to the handle. “This is yours. Tomorrow you’ll use it to make a snow-block shelter, if we can find some good crusty snow that’ll cut and stack reasonably well, near the den and hidden thoroughly by the trees. You need the practice, and I need to know you can do it if we get out there and I’m not able to, for whatever reason.” For instance, he declined to mention, though the thought certainly crossed his mind, if this foot ends up a festering mess that leaves me septic and barely conscious a day or so into our journey…yeah, you need to know how to make shelter, in that case, and you might as well know that there’s no need to crowd things by dragging my bony carcass into it, either, because at that point I’ll be as good as gone, the way things go up here… Though hoping very much that the “we” Einar mentioned did not involve him hobbling around out there in the snow and then sitting under a tree freezing for a few hours as he watched her build the shelter, she quickly agreed. She knew she needed the practice, had dug a snow cave once up at Bill and Susan’s, but had no experience with other types of snow shelters and knew that such experience could prove valuable or even life-saving in the course of their future travels. • • • •

The hurt of his foot finally beginning to lessen a bit Einar was fading fast, growing sleepy and having a difficult time keeping his eyes open as he tried to work on forming yet another bone atlatl head against the day of battle that would, he supposed, come sooner or later, as it always did… Liz, seeing him slumped forward with his chin on his chest and his half finished project gripped in hands that seemed unable, even in sleep, to quite let go and relax, covered him with the bear hide and made sure his damaged foot was propped up in such a way as to keep it out of contact with the dirt of the floor, at least until he jumps up in his sleep and tries to go somewhere, which is more likely to happen than not…but maybe he can manage to get an hour or two of good sleep first, anyway. She was, for once, not the least bit sleepy herself, mind racing with thoughts of a departure that might come at any time and with little warning, either due to a real threat manifesting itself, or, just as likely, to Einar taking a sudden and, to her, inexplicable notion that they had to go right now! The thought of leaving just then, of trying to take care of Einar’s foot, particularly, on such a journey, was something she did not even want to entertain, but she knew that she must, because he was, began trying to think of ways to keep such an excursion from ending in disaster. The use of fire, she expected, might well be out, unless they ended up traveling through blizzard-like conditions similar to the ones that had gripped the mountains several days prior, and it seemed to her that having the ability to melt snow and heat water might be critical to Einar’s well-being and perhaps even to their survival, as the dehydration that would come of attempting to get all of their water by melting snow in their mouths would put them at far greater risk of becoming dangerously hypothermic. How to melt snow, then, without a fire? They could, she supposed, create a lamp of some sort that was smaller and much more portable than the large sandstone qulliq that had been serving their heating, cooking and clothes-drying needs so very well, something that would easily fit in the palm of a hand and would more closely resemble a candle than a larger lamp but which might, through the use of more than one wick simultaneously, or even a row of wick material as they used in the qulliq, provide enough heat to melt snow…eventually. It would be good to have a quicker method, because who knows how long he’ll let our breaks be, even if we have no reason to believe we’re being pursued? I get the feeling that when he’s by himself, there is no stopping until he reaches whatever he’s decided his destination is to be. So. Quicker way to melt snow…well, a gas stove would be good! Quick, smokeless, easy to pack…but of course we don’t have one, and that’s one thing that I doubt Einar can slap together out of deer teeth and bear sinew and ermine bladders and such in an evening’s time, as he does so many things, so think again! Remembering their experiments with the “tinder pellets” and how long and energetically the pitch and milkweed variety had burned, she wondered about making a similar but larger product for the purpose of boiling water. Like trioxane. Only with an orange flame instead of blue… Excited at the prospect, she pulled out their remaining supply of milkweed, not very much after all of the tinder-making, and decided to use cattail instead, as it was incredibly plentiful, the entire bed being made of it. Einar, she remembered, had told her that cattail fuzz flared even more quickly than milkweed and might go up so fast as to have a difficult time lighting the pitch on fire, but she supposed that problem could be solved by sticking a little pellet of pitch-coated milkweed down to the side of each of the much

larger “cooking sized” cattail filled pellets. Melting some pitch over the lamp--it was slower work than when using the stove, but she succeeded--Liz pulled one of the cattail heads from the bed and pulled the fluffy, brown-tipped fuzz from it in tufts, the entire thing practically exploding and sending down flying all over the interior of the den as soon as she had removed the first bit. Scraping together several good-sized piles of it she dripped pitch onto them as she had seen Einar do with the tinder pellets, quickly rolling them between her hands until everything was coated, dabbing more pitch on here and there to thicken the covering. Finally, her hands sticky and slightly tender from handling the hot pitch she stopped, four completed tablets sitting on the flat rock in front of her, each about the size of a large prune. Should be enough to melt some snow or boil a little water, even, if it was already in liquid form. Looks like it, anyway…. Anxious to test one of the tablets before making too many more of them, Liz filled a pot with snow, first covering the bottom of the pot with a bit of water to speed up the heating and melting process--hopefully we’ll have at least a little on us at most times, in the bottles--hanging it on a stick that she had stuck horizontally between two of the rock slabs that made up the bed frame. Breaking open the little milkweed-filled addition she had stuck onto the side of the tablet, she struck sparks into it, failed to see anything ignite, fluffed the milkweed up a bit and pulled a few little strands of its silk free of the remains of the pellet, tried again. Smoldering for a moment before it took off, the pellet sizzled and popped as the pitch lit, flames shooting up five or six inches with almost explosive intensity and blackening the bottom of the pot. No sooner had the loud crackling started than Einar was awake, flipping to his stomach and grabbing the nearest weapon--the axe, as it happened--all in one fluid motion that would have quickly continued and left him scrambling for the door had Liz not grabbed him rather forcefully by the arm and spoken to him insistently until he realized what was happening. Lying there on his stomach, grimacing at the pain of having whacked his injured toes on the floor of the den in flipping over, he stared at Liz’s flaming, hissing experiment, at the pot full of snow, at the undisturbed door flap hanging exactly as it had been when he fell asleep, and seeing that nothing was actually amiss, he let his breath out in a great sigh, rested his forehead on the cool ground. “Wow Liz. Really had me going there for a minute. Now what on earth…” He saw what, though, saw the unused tablets and saw that the test was working, too, snow beginning to melt around the edges of the pot and the lump of flaming spruce tar with its thousand tiny wicks of cattail fuzz showing no sign as of yet of going out. “Well. You made us a way to cook. Not exactly smokeless,” he glanced up at the thin black stream of smoke that curled up from the flaming tar, blackening the bottom of the pot and a small area on the ceiling, as well, “but sure is gonna be safer than making a fire. Lot smaller heat signature, and can be put out with a quick scoop of snow or the bottom of boot if need be…great idea! Let’s make more.” “Sure, we can make more if you think they’re a good idea. I was just experimenting. I’m sorry! Should have woke you up and warned you first before lighting this thing I guess. I didn’t realize how loud it would be, and to be quite honest I don’t really know how to wake you up safely…”

“Aw, just throw something from the other side of the den and hit me, then real quick duck over to another position so that whatever I throw back won’t hit you! Ought to be safe enough, right?” “Well…” she rolled her eyes, “that was not really what I had in mind. And it would defeat the whole purpose, or half of it, anyway.” He shrugged, gave her his best attempt at an innocent look and threw up his hands. “Hey, it was your idea to find a different way. Way you did it was fine by me. Waking up to popping, spitting masses of pine tar a couple feet from my head now and then is just the thing to keep me sharp, I suppose. Just what I need. Now, want to make some more of these, or what?” “Yes, but let me look at your toes first, Ok? It looks like you hit them on the floor just now.” “Yep, did. Doggone things. Wish these blisters would start going down. Know it’s gonna happen eventually, but in the meantime…” He rolled over onto his back, kept still with some difficulty as she used a bit of the water that had melted in the pot to carefully dab the grass, dirt and spruce needles off of his foot, sliding two of the usnea clumps that had been partially dislodged back into their places between his toes. Even after the several minutes it took her to complete the operation, the cooking tablet was still burning strong, its flame not as high as it had been at first, but still showing no sign of being near the end of its life. Eight minutes or so, by her estimation. It is going to work! • • • • After working well into the night producing fire tablets and finally stopping only when they began running quite low on spruce pitch--Einar volunteered to go out into the bitterly cold night and search for more, saying that he would simply go from tree to tree, feeling around until he found a good supply of it, but Liz quickly and emphatically nixed that idea--they were both ready for some sleep. Before settling in, however, Einar insisted that they go ahead and divide up the fuel tablets, half in each of their packs. “We’ve got them,” he said, “no reason leaving it so we might end up running out of here without them. Though of course if we leave here at a run, there’s a good chance the situation will be such that we’re not gonna be risking lighting even these things to give them a heat source to zoom in on…but we’ll sure hope it doesn’t come to that. The little stream of black smoke these things make ought to be easy enough to disperse and conceal by choosing the location carefully--at the base of a heavy spruce, preferably, so unless we are being closely pursued, in which case we probably won’t be stopping long enough to melt snow, anyway, I’d feel pretty safe about using them now and then.” Einar could not seem to stay asleep for very long at a time that night, the pain of his foot frequently disturbing his rest and, just as often, the cold creeping in to wake him. He could not, despite the fact that temperatures in the lamp-warmed den did not drop too far below freezing that night, quite seem to stay warm lying on his back as he had to do to keep the foot propped up and out of contact with things, and after a while he lay there

wide awake and just trying his best not to shiver, hoping to allow Liz to go on sleeping. It wasn’t working, the hurt in his foot demanding too much of his attention for his normal cold-combating breathing exercises to be particularly effective. He couldn’t keep still, didn’t really want to as he knew that he needed to generate some heat, tried to edge away from Liz but, between his habit of sleeping on the very edge of the bed and the fact that she had gone to sleep pressed close against him for warmth, he did not have much leeway and ended up on the floor. Well, guess I can shiver as much as I want now without bothering anyone… Which he definitely did, curling up on his side, keeping the bad foot suspended off of the ground by wadding up a good bit of dry grass and propping it between his ankles. Doubling up the wolverine hide, which had fallen out of the bed with him, he draped it over his foot for some protection from the cold, scraping up a big pile of grass and duff and heaping it over himself and tucking his arms beneath his body for warmth. The change in Einar’s situation had not been an especially helpful one, as, even flat on his back, he had been a good bit warmer up on the bed between the bear hide and Liz’s presence, but he finally shivered himself to sleep there on the cold floor, satisfied, at least, that his difficulties would not be keeping Liz awake. She needed her rest, had a lot to do the next day, has that snow knife to test out and a shelter to build…and he fell asleep dreaming of snow-block shelters in all their many possible variations, of the many nights he had spent in such constructions, both before and after the search had begun. Most of those nights had been reasonably comfortable, the walls of snow blocking out all of the wind and insulating reasonably well, too, and as long as one has access to something warm and dry to separate your body from the snow beneath--foam sleeping pad, pile of evergreen boughs or something similar--sleep tends to be quiet and reasonably warm. As long as you remember to scrape the interior fairly smooth before settling in for the night, to prevent protrusions and rough spots in the ceiling from turning into growing, dripping stalactites of ice as your body heat warms the place overnight, leaving you pelted with little drops of ice water just after you manage to get to sleep… Which he must have neglected to do, either that or the padding to insulate his body from the snow beneath him, because while the shelter was indeed quiet and wind-free, he was absolutely freezing, and things seemed to be getting worse in a hurry. Well, he shivered, tucked his nose in against his shoulder, have to remember to cut some spruce branches to put under me for tomorrow night, or even better fir branches, because they’re so much less prickly. Got to do something though, because this sure isn’t working. And I’d better see why that one wall is sagging, too, and try to do something about it, because it feels like it’s crushing my foot…bad. Gonna lose those toes if they freeze again, and how can they not freeze again, crushed under the snow like that. Not that it probably matters much either way. Might have a chance of the toes healing if I could stay put for a month or so and keep bathing them every day, treating them with that Balm of Gilead salve, but there’s no way that is happening. Been in one place too long. They’re gonna end up seeing something and coming down on us if we stay here too much longer, and you know it. Just waiting for the next storm, and we’re out of here. No way you’re going to be able to save those toes while you’re on the move. Sure can’t walk on them, and it’ll only be a matter of time before they freeze again, sitting motionless in that

crutch device, no matter what you wrap the foot with. You’ll end up either having to chop them off and live with the consequences, or risk dying of some sort of systemic infection in pretty short order. So…all that to say…no big deal about the shelter crushing your foot I guess. Just hastening the inevitable, or something like that… He slept, then, for several hours, fitfully and never especially deeply as the chill kept waking him just enough to wonder why his snow shelter was not performing better, but he never did become aware enough to get up and investigate the cause of his growing discomfort, simply curling up more tightly and occasionally reaching out to pull another handful of grass over himself. It was thus curled up on the floor beside the bed with all of his grass coverings shaken off in the night that Liz found Einar when morning came and she began seeing a bit of light around the door flap. She had felt him move away from her in the night but had learned better than to disturb him in his sleep and had let him be, assuming he was still in the bed and had simply found himself needing a bit more space as was his way, occasionally. He was clearly not in the bed, though, and when after a bit of searching she reached down and encountered his neck and shoulder they were very cold, her touch eliciting no response aside from a low groan and a bit of rustling as he drew his knees up to his chest, wrapped his arms around them. Reaching over and getting the lamp lit in the hopes of waking him and so the place could begin to warm, Liz hurried out of bed and knelt beside him, knowing she needed to get him into the bed but unsure how to do it when everything she did resulted in him simply coiling up into a tighter ball and turning his head away from the sound of her voice. At a loss, she was in the process of wrestling the bear hide down from the bed to drape over him when a passing helicopter, high and apparently just passing through rather than scouring the area, did what she had been unable to do. Scrambling stiffly to his feet and balancing precariously on the uninjured one, Einar stared at her with a mix of startlement and confusion on his face, sitting down heavily on the side of the bed as the rumbling faded away. “Sorry. Forgot the…spruce branches I guess. Cold night, huh?” “Yes, I guess it…what spruce branches? What are you talking about? Here. You’re freezing. Lie down here in the bed so I can cover you up. There. Ok. Good. Let me start some water heating, and I’ll join you in there. Were you down there all night just lying on the floor? Of all the ridiculous things to do…” Einar just shook his head and blinked slowly at her, a bit confused by her angry-sounding tirade and still wondering why, exactly, the walls of his snow shelter looked so much like…dirt. Because you’re in the den, you fool, and a good thing too, ‘cause you’d be in mighty bad shape right now if you’d just spent the night lying un-insulated on the snow, as you thought you were doing. Probably done some more damage to the foot, as it is. At least--finally remembering his reason for ending up on the floor--at least Liz looks like she had a good night. Doesn’t look particularly happy about it, though. Think I’m in some sort of trouble… A pot of water hung to heat over the lamp, Liz returned to the bed, bringing with her a good-sized lump of the chokecherry and bearfat “ice cream” that was leftover from the previous evening, offering some to Einar and relieved when he took his

portion and ate hungrily, though grasping it with great difficulty in cold-stiffened fingers. Well. It looks like he’s going to be alright, but what do I have to do? Tie him to the bed? “You probably didn’t get too much sleep down there, did you?” “Oh…not so much. But I bet you did! Couldn’t uh…keep still for very long last night, figured at least one of us ought to get some sleep. So…rolled out of the bed. Kept dreaming about snow shelters and that’s how come I mentioned those spruce branches when I woke up. And since I’m thinking about it…might as well mention that branches like that are probably the best way to insulate the floor of a snow cave or block shelter, either one, when you don’t have foam pads and such handy. Just cut a bunch of live branches--fir is less prickly than spruce, if you’ve got a choice--and spread them out on the floor of your shelter, first one way and then if you have time, add a second layer cross-ways to those, and even a third if you can. Keep you up off of the snow, keep you from losing too much heat to it and also make it so you won’t wake up halfway through the night with your clothes soaked through as the snow starts to melt…not a good thing! Thought that was what had happened to me last night… It’s even better still if you’ve got a tarp or a tanned hide or something to put down under the branches, but we don’t, and a thick bed of branches will be enough to get you through the night. Now. You ready to go out and build that practice shelter? I figure if you duck into the heavy timber just outside our little covered ledge-porch out there, stick to the timber and don’t go far, you shouldn’t leave anything for the buzzards to pick up on.” “Well let me eat some breakfast first since we have it, and then yes, I’ll be ready. I don’t know what your plan is, but you know that there’s a pretty good chance of re-freezing your toes if you insist on coming out there with me…” “No. Not coming with you on this one. I’ll show you a few things about using that snow knife in the drift right out under the ledge here, draw you a sketch maybe of how to put the blocks together, but that’s it. I know the situation with the toes. Probably gonna lose a few of them, and that’s if we get to stay here for a while yet… Not interested in making things worse before I have to.” Surprised and glad at what she considered to be Einar’s rather sensible outlook that morning, Liz went about breakfast preparations, taking a peek outside as she scooped up fresh snow to begin melting for a pot of after-breakfast tea, finding the sky unexpectedly cloudy, a restless wind gusting forlornly through the treetops, and she quickly drew her head back inside, knowing what Einar would want to do if a storm developed, and hoping very much that the clouds would clear out before one could begin. • • • • Breakfast eaten and Liz preparing to head out for her snow-block shelter making practice, she began melting yet another pot of snow, intending to help Einar start his foot soaking before leaving the den. He saw her getting out the supply of fresh usnea clumps and the cottonwood bud salve, and stopped her. “No, Liz. Let me do it this time. After you go.”

Sitting down beside him, she spread the fresh lichen clumps out on a flat rock near the lamp, a granite slab which she had dedicated to that purpose and which she scrubbed with boiling water at least once every day, not enough, she knew, to keep things really sanitary, but she was trying. Arranging everything, she looked at Einar a bit suspiciously. “You’re not going to skip it, are you? Or do something you’ll regret?” “Huh? No, no it’s not chopping time yet. And I know better than to skip a soaking. I’ll get it done. Just thinking it might be easier if…uh…easier for both of us…” He stopped, unsure how to proceed without implying that he had not appreciated all of her help, which was certainly not the case. “If you were alone? It’s alright. You can say it. I see what a struggle it is for you every time we do this, how hard you try to keep me from seeing how much it hurts you. I wish you didn’t feel like you had to do that. It must be exhausting.” He shrugged. “Don’t know any other way to do it. But yeah. That’s what I was trying to say, or close to it.” “Of course, then, you can wait. Can I at least boil you up some willow solution before I leave. Assuming the bottle from yesterday is empty..” “Sure. Please. Don’t know if I’ll use it this time, because the stuff’s kinda tearing up my stomach, but would be good to have some ready.” “We’re almost out of willow bark, but I think we have enough for this one more batch.” “If we run out, we can just chop up the branches themselves, the wood, and boil the little pieces. Not nearly as much salicylic acid in the wood as in the inner bark, but there’s some. Enough to make it worthwhile, maybe.” “We need more willows, Einar. As little as this stuff seems to do for you, I’d still hate to see you have to go through a dressing change without it. It seems to make a difference of some sort, and you have weeks of healing left on those toes…” “I know. Does help some. Maybe we’ll come across some willows after we leave here. Likely, because we’ll probably end up in some creek beds or even a river valley or two trying to find game. We can replenish the supply then.” “There’s always the spring, the cattail marsh. Maybe after I finish the snow shelter…” He caught her eye and held it with a cold stare that left no doubts as to his feelings about her proposal. “That place doesn’t exist for us anymore. Off limits. Probably for the best, anyway. Been using way too much of that stuff. It gets pretty concentrated when we boil it down like that, and it’s not just my stomach that’s feeling the effects. Been having a hard time catching my breath sometimes lately, sweating a lot, and not just when I wake

up hearing choppers…guess I need to back off on the willow for a while before something happens. Think those are probably signs that I’m getting too much of it. Good thing we’re running out, I guess.” “Einar…that doesn’t sound good. I didn’t realize the willow was doing that to you. You have been using an awful lot of it. Maybe there are other options. You know, we do still have plenty of yarrow. I know it won’t actually reduce the pain any, but it might help you relax a little, make things just a bit easier, and I don’t think a pot or two of yarrow tea every day would be enough to have any bad effect on you.” Narrowing his eyes, he scooted away from her, got to his one good foot and stood swaying beside the bed, swallowing the caustic remark that had wanted to slip out at her obviously well-intended if misguided suggestion. “Nah, I’m not especially looking to relax,” he growled. “It’ll be fine, willows or not. I get through it each time. The challenge is probably good for me. Now lets head out while this last batch of willow simmers and I’ll show you about making snow blocks for your shelter.” Out under the ledge that protected the den entrance, Einar, lying propped on his elbows wrapped in the bear hide and wisely leaving his feet inside the den, demonstrated to Liz how to cut a snow block. “We seldom see particularly good conditions here for cutting snow blocks. The snow’s usually either too powdery, or too wet. But when you get wind slab like this drift here is, or when the sun’s been out and you have a crust that goes deeper than a few inches, that’s when you have the opportunity to cut blocks. These won’t be the nice big two foot square blocks that you see on the snow houses up North, so don’t expect that, and you won’t be quite as disappointed. Lot of times, you’re gonna be doing well to get something that’s eight to ten inches square out of sun-crust, a little bigger from some of the harder packed wind slab. That’s alright though, because we’re not looking to build something big enough to comfortably spend the winter or even a couple weeks in, just looking to make it through the night or through a particularly nasty storm. Like with any shelter, the smaller it is, the less space you have to heat. Snow is a great insulator, and this sort of shelter will hold your body heat pretty well, a lot like a snow cave, though of course the walls aren’t gonna be nearly as thick. So. Choose your spot, and then you’re going to test the snow. If it’s crust you’re looking at, a good way to test it is just to walk on it. If it’ll support your weight without caving in, it’s likely to make good blocks. Even if you punch through it may be worth a try, because this shelter doesn’t necessarily have to be strong enough to bear your weight, the blocks just need to hold together well enough to support the weight of the other blocks, and need to hold their shape as you handle them in the building process. With wind slab, you just have to cut a test block to see if the stuff’s packed firmly enough.” “You’re probably going to find yourself cutting blocks from crust more often than you will wind slab anyway, because a lot of times where there’s wind slab, you’ll be able to find drifts deep enough to burrow into and dig a good sized snow cave, which is often a less time-consuming way to get shelter, and can be easier to conceal, too. But under the right conditions, or the wrong ones, depending on how you’re looking at it, one of these shelters will let you get safe and sound and out of the wind when nothing else is available

to you. Hey, I’ve even cut blocks a time or two in the early winter before the first really big snowfall, a couple of times. Snow was so shallow that I ended up cutting all the way down to the ground, and the bottoms of my blocks had grass on them. Left a bare spot on the ground. Worked great, though. Kept me warm for a couple nights while the first big blizzard of the winter rolled through. So. Cutting a test block. I just start by punching a hole in the snow with my boot, say right here…” he indicated a spot just beneath the ledge. “If you could just do that part for me, yeah, stomp on it, scrape the snow away with your boot for a good foot-long section, there. Then you’ll take the snow knife like this and make a cut on one side, then the other, like this, and you see that six inches or so is all we have here, as far as depth, before the snow gets all grainy and less well packed. So these blocks are gonna be about six inches thick. Then you do the back. The place where you stomped and scraped with your boot is going to count as your front cut. Then take the knife and real gentle slide it in along the bottom to free the block and…yes! See? It moves. Now you just reach in there and pick it up. Gentle, ‘cause you don’t know yet just how sturdy the thing is gonna be, how well it’ll hold together.” Working her mittened hands in on either side of the newly freed block, Liz carefully lifted it out of the drift, setting it on its end in the snow. “Yep, that’s it! Then you just repeat the process, cutting out block after block until you either get enough or run out of raw material and have to find another block-cutting field! Now, of course we’re gonna have to be awfully careful where and how we cut the blocks, both today and out on the trail, because the worst thing we could do is to leave a big old “peeled” spot on the ground that shows up like a big target from the air. If we do that, might as well go ahead and take the blocks in the shape of giant letters, leave those buzzards an appropriate message of some sort, because they’ll be reading our presence plain as words, either way! Take your blocks today from under trees, several different trees, probably, and make sure you can’t get a clear look up at the sky from anyplace you’re thinking of cutting one. Then you’re going to start stacking them, and you can use the traditional circular pattern if you want to--it is stronger--but I’ve found that when you’re just throwing together a quick, simple shelter to get you out of the wind and weather for a night or so, it can be quicker to do a long skinny rectangle-sort of shape. Lets you use less blocks to create a space that you can lie down in, unless you really curl up to sleep, like I do… but even still, you’re gonna appreciate being able to stretch out in it now and then, especially if the storm you’re sheltering from lasts for a couple of days. So, I’ll mark out on the snow a rectangle that would let me lie down, then start stacking blocks around its edges. Each row you’re going to bring in slightly more towards the center. The “right” way to do that would technically be to cut the bottoms of the blocks at an angle so they fit together real well and start leaning inwards, but the quick way--and it’s quite good enough if you’re not planning on spending the winter in the thing--is to overlap each successive layer of blocks by just a few inches, so the thing grows inwards in a series of little steps. Then, when your blocks get within a foot or so of each other at the top, you’re gonna choose a few nice, firm blocks to bridge that gap with, and you’re about done. Oh. And hopefully you’ve left a little bit of a door to crawl in through, too. Now it’s time to drag in the spruce branches for your bed, crawl in and cover the door opening as well as you can, and you’re ready to go. One more thing…the shelter will be a lot more efficient as far as keeping you warm if you can manage to keep the place you’re sleeping a little higher

than the door entrance, which may or may not be possible when working under the conditions that would lead you to do a snow block shelter around here instead of a snow cave, but it’s worth a try. You’ll sleep warmer that way.” That was it, all he could think to tell her, and Einar found himself suddenly immensely weary and badly chilled after the lesson, eyelids drooping as he probed his brain for anything else that he might be forgetting. It didn’t answer. “Well. That’s it, then. Go give it a try. Figure you’d be just fine testing it somewhere in that big old patch of black timber over there, just the other side of the gully. Clouds look like they’re here to stay. No sign of snow yet, though. If it snows, you could go check the traps and snares, if you wanted to… ” “Sure! I will. If it snows. For now, I’ll just stick close here in those trees. Is there anything else you need before I go, some more stew or something? And the way the wind is picking up, I’m wondering if I ought to leave the yearling hide here so you have something to cover the door with. It’s going to get awfully drafty in there with the door uncovered, and with you having to soak that foot…” “Liz. I’ll be fine.” He was tired, sagging, didn’t want her hanging around to see that he was about to fall asleep right there where he sat. “Deer hide’ll about cover that door. Now you get going, alright?” She left, then, leaving Einar to creep--wearily, grudgingly, bone-cold and a bit despondent at having to stay behind--back into the den to deal once more with his rotting, stinking toes, a losing battle, probably, but then aren’t most of the ones you end up fighting? Story of your life. But like always, you’re gonna give it all you got, right? ‘Courage shall grow keener, clearer the will, the heart fiercer, as our force faileth,’ and all that? Rolling into the den and freeing himself from the bear hide’s grasp, he retrieved the deer skin from the bed and crawled back over to the door, securing it in place over the opening with several rocks. Yeah. Guess so. Don’t know any other way of doing things… • • • •

Back in the den Einar worked on his foot, heating the water until it was just below body temperature, and easing his toes down into it, waiting for the crusty, stuck dressings to saturate and loosen so he could pull them free. Sitting there with the standard willow stick clamped between his teeth as he waited for the initial shock of the water on his raw toes to subside he stared at the pot full of brownish willow bark infusion, their last, he knew, for a while, wishing to gulp it down in the hopes of dulling the pain some, but knowing that he ought to give his body a break from the stuff, ought to save it, also, well aware that a time might come when his need for it was even greater. Saving it, then. The hurt of the soaking was not substantially worse than it had been the last few times, really, though it seemed that the willow had been making some sort of difference, but without Liz there the meticulous control Einar had been exerting over his responses broke down a bit, leaving him to turn aside halfway through the procedure and vomit. Scraping dirt

over the mess--deal with it later--he gingerly lowered his foot back into the water, relieved somehow, scrubbing the tears from his eyes and leaning back against the side of the bed. Quit this, Einar. You’re whining like sick dog or something, here. Get ahold of yourself. And cover up with that bear hide, too, because you’re shaking so hard that it’s getting so you can’t keep your toes from hitting the side of the pot. Don’t know if warmth will help much in this case, but it’s sure worth a try… All of which he did with a bit of effort, dragging the bear hide over his torso and upper legs, jamming the willow stick back between his teeth and managing to keep quiet as he carefully freed the old dressings and removed them from between his toes. As soon as he had caught his breath a bit and managed a small sip of water--can’t be getting too dehydrated. That’s not gonna help things any--he began studying the contents of the den, his eyes coming to rest on the spruce bark “sled” of bear fat, and it seemed wise to him that they ought to work to render at least some of it down before leaving, to make it a bit more stable for transport. Or for caching. Will last better in the cache if it’s been rendered down first, especially if it’s there into the spring or summer months. Pouring the finished willow solution into one of the water bottles and securing the lid, he set it aside, scooting over and filling the pot with chunks of raw bear fat. Lowering his foot back into the water--aw, why’d you take it out again? Don’t do that! Bear fat could have waited--he hung the pot over the lamp to begin heating. Guess I’ll pour the fat into some of these aspen outer bark pieces that we’ve pulled off of the firewood and set aside, when it’s through liquefying. If I set the bark pieces on the snow, the rendered fat ought to chill down pretty quick so we don’t lose more than a drip or two off of the ends. As the fat softened in the pot, small sections of gristle and meat separating it and floating to the surface to be skimmed off, Einar got into the bag of mashed, dried chokecherries, glad once more that Liz had picked so many back during their time at the Bulwarks, and he crushed and dried them. It was good to have some fruit to supplement their diet of meat and fat, during the winter months. Good to have anything to eat at all, actually, but variety like this is great. Which reminds me…guess I ought to check on Liz’s milkweed sprouts. She didn’t say anything about them, but I’d think they would start to dry out pretty quick, hung in the roots just above and to the side of the lamp, like this. Pulling down the folded-over strips of aspen inner bark--still damp, thankfully--that held the sprouting seeds, he opened them and sprinkled a bit of water on the seeds, seeing that several of them had actually begun to sprout, the first inklings of tiny green stems starting to curl out from their flat brown cases. Well. Looks like it’s gonna work! I’ve sprouted plenty of alfalfa and broccoli seeds for eating, wheat, lentils, things like that, but sure never tried sprouting milkweed seeds before. Glad she thought to keep them for this purpose. Wonder if they’ll need to be cooked before eating? Gonna guess so. Can eat little milkweed shoots and they taste pretty good, but you do have to boil them first. I’m guessing that the white sap develops pretty early in these things, so they ought to be boiled or at least roasted or something before eating. Will be interesting to see. Hope we’re still here in a few days when they’re ready to try… Shaking a handful of dried chokecherries--brown and stuck together in rough clumps from the drying process, but smelling fresh and very good--out onto Liz’s kitchen rock,

he proceeded to gently pound them into a course powder, skimming off some of the liquefying bear fat with the coal-burned spoon he had made and drizzling it over them, where it quickly began hardening. Adding a number of spoons full until the mixture on the rock consisted of approximately two thirds solidifying fat and one third berries, he mixed it with his hands, making a batch of the “ice cream” that Liz had grown so fond of since he had first made it for her. Now, if we had a little cattail flour to mix in with this stuff, it’d almost be like those commercial “lifeboat rations” that people carry--fat, sugar and starch. Don’t have any left, though. Inspecting the ball of fat and fruit, it occurred to Einar that stuff was almost like pemmican, minus the protein. They were beginning to grow a bit short on protein, as the remaining bear meat was gone and the venison very nearly so, their evening stew enriched now with little shreds and chunks of leftover meat from the deer’s neck and backbone, the ribs, legs. There was not much left. They needed to get out and check that trapline, get some snares out for rabbits and squirrels if they were to stay in the area. Over the past several days, especially since the meat had started running a bit short, Liz had been making the “ice cream” frequently, eating good quantities of it herself and giving it to Einar whenever his stomach would allow him to consume such things, and they had both found it a pleasant and filling way to get more calories on board between batches of stew. Don’t know that I’ll be able to choke any down until after I’ve been done with this foot for a while, but she’ll be hungry when she gets back, I’m sure. Better get some stew going, too, after I finish rendering a couple batches of this fat. His foot was finished. Done, for the time, with its soaking, and lifting it out of the water he propped it up to dry on the rolled-up wolverine hide, spreading fresh clumps of usnea with salve and gritting his teeth as he slid them between his toes. Done. Back to work on the bear fat. Looks like this first batch here is ready to pour onto the bark pieces. I’ll set the cracklings aside, and maybe Liz will want some with the stew this afternoon. Maybe they’ll even have started smelling good to me again, by then… • • • •

Choosing a spot that appeared well sheltered by an overarching and interlocking canopy of spruces, Liz set about cutting blocks for her shelter, quickly discovering that coming up with anything that resembled the neat, square block Einar had demonstrated for her in the wind-drift was all but impossible there beneath the trees. The snow there was crusty, alright, a brief thaw the afternoon following the last big storm having caused the snow on the branches above to melt and drip a bit, leaving the snow surface crunchy and pitted with thousands of tiny, icy impressions that left her walking on top of the surface in places breaking through the thin, brittle crust in others. Conditions did not seem ideal. Just as Einar would want things for this little test, I suppose… Trying the snow, Liz found that she could easily hack out a block whose top surface appeared solid and sturdy, only to have the thing disintegrate in her hands when she carefully freed its bottom side and attempted to pick it up. All right, now what? Setting the crumbled block aside, she tried again, more carefully this time, using the flat blade of the snow knife slid beneath one end of the block for support while carefully

easing her hand and arm under the other side. She lifted then, gently, carefully, grinning but still holding her breath when she finally managed to lift the block, whole and entire, from its bed of snow. Easing the block down along the outline she had sketched in the snow, she began cutting a second and, when successful, a third. In this way she carved out the entire center of the shelter, stacking the blocks cut from its interior around the edges until she had placed a single-layer of snow blocks all the way around the perimeter. It then occurred to Liz that she might as well make the blocks a bit narrower, shaping them more like rectangles that the flattish squares she had been carving out, as they were proving too fragile to stand on their ends for stacking, anyway, instead having to be laid flat and piled one atop the other. This strategy greatly sped up the building process, and before long she had completed a good three feet of wall all the way around her small, rectangular snow structure, and taking a few moments’ break, she climbed inside through the small opening that she had left in the front of the shelter. The lessening of the wind’s impact was immediately noticeable, greatly appreciated, as she had been a bit chilly even in the yearling hide. Even without the roof on, I see where this would make a huge difference if you were spending a night out. I’d better put the roof on though, because he is sure to ask, and probably wouldn’t be very happy if I didn’t finish the shelter. Hate to have him decide that he must come out here himself to see that I get it done! Hopefully he’s back there in the den sleeping, letting that foot heal… Cutting another row of blocks and tapering them in towards the center, she looked for an area of especially crusty snow from which to take the three roof-pieces that she estimated it would take to close in the narrow gap that remained, leaving the shelter open to the sky. Well, to the trees, anyway. I was careful to build this where it can’t be seen from the air, and only to cut blocks from under trees where the marks couldn’t be seen, either. The roof blocks proved a bit more tricky than the walls had been, the crumbly, grainy texture of the snow leaving them weak and fragile. She broke the first one. Her second try went better, the block eased into place and holding, soon joined by a second. That looks like it, then! Standing back and admiring the structure she could not help but think that though it was ugly and a bit unsymmetrical-looking, for a rectangle, it would certainly do the job, keeping the wind and snow off of her. And I don’t think this took me much over an hour to build, either. Einar will be happy. Thinking of Einar’s happiness, though, reminded her that he was probably even then back at the den soaking his toes and changing dressings, likely without the help even of the willow solution that he had been using since the injury. She shuddered at the thought, could hardly stand to think of him going through several days or even weeks--if we get to stay, it will be weeks--of dressing changes without anything at all to dull the pain, and she was very close to convincing herself to make a quick and surreptitious trip down to the swamp for more willows. He’d find out, eventually. I would have to tell him where I got the willow bark. But maybe after he goes through one or two dressing changes without it, he’ll be a bit more inclined to accept the fact that I went down there for more, won’t be too angry about it…but then again, knowing that I had been down there might give him the notion that we have to leave right away, and once he takes a notion, there’s no talking him out of it, most of the time… The deciding factor though, when it came down to it, was the fact that from her observations over the past several days, she really did not believe that Einar would be able to eat a sufficient amount if he was constantly dealing with the hurt of those toes,

exacerbated by the twice-daily soakings and dressing changes. He said so himself, yesterday. And if he doesn’t eat, doesn’t eat a lot every day, he’s hardly going to be strong enough to do much traveling, whenever we do end up having to leave. I have to do it. And she would have, too, had she not heard the rumbling, distant, approaching, as she gathered her gear and loaded it into the pack for the trip. • • • •

Pouring the pot of liquefied bearfat into three separate lengths of curved aspen outer bark, Einar worked with a split stick and one of the wooden spoons to keep it from overflowing before the cold could begin firming it back up. The oil wanted to run out, to spill all over the floor despite the fact that he had created intended beds of snow for the bark sections to sit on, hoping to chill it quickly and keep it in the vessels. After several minutes of struggling, the stuff finally began to set up, and Einar took a breath, leaned back against the bed and closed his eyes for a brief moment before hauling himself back upright and tending to the lamp wick, which had suffered and dimmed for lack of attention during his efforts to save the fat. All right, back to work. Not good for much if a little battle with some liquid bearfat will wear you out like this, now are you? Got to do better. Now. You told Liz you’d try and come up with some way to haul the big bear hide, and it seems you’d better get started on that. Got to have shelter when you go, that’s got to come first. The storm you’ll be traveling in will freeze the life right out of you if you aren’t careful, and how do you really expect to get through the nights, or whenever you stop, without something to cover you and keep you out of contact with the snow? Planning to huddle in the yearling hide with Liz? That thing makes a great cloak for one person, fine sleeping robe for one, also, but not so good for two. So. Drag the thing? Try to carry it on your back? Carry all the food and gear and put it on Liz’s back? Ha! Not happening. Be doing well to drag yourself along, let alone any additional weight, and you know it. Divide it up, then? Cut it up, two pieces, three, maybe two pieces with some set aside for boot covers or gaiters for both of us? Then you could cut a hole in one piece and slip it over your head like Liz does with the yearling hide, and she could hopefully carry the other, rolled up and ties on top of her pack? This seemed the most reasonable proposal he had been able to come up with so far, and Einar knew that, though they would surely miss the advantage of having the whole large bear hide to sleep in, a suitable solution could be reached by spreading one half of the cut hide on the ground and covering themselves with the second half, with the yearling hide as additional insulation. They would not be able to stretch out while sleeping that way, but they seldom did, anyway, usually curling up to conserve heat. Sounds like a plan. Don’t now if I’ll be able to wear my half, realistically, over any distance. Thing is heavy. But I’ll sure give it a try, because I’m gonna freeze pretty bad without some sort of coat if we’re out in a storm, and though I’ve managed to get away with that many times in the past, my toes are at stake, now. If I let myself get chilled to that degree, my body is gonna be trying its hardest to shut down circulation to my extremities, and though I know I can hold that off for a while, it’ll eventually happen. Especially if most of my attention ends up having to be focused on taking the next step, planning a route and simply keeping myself on my feet. Need this coat. He spread the

bear hide out on the bed, heavy, stiff and unwilling as it was un-tanned, backed with what had essentially become rawhide as the flesh side dried, and inspected it, measuring with his eyes and then his hands, deciding where to make the cut. Drawing a rough line with a charcoal chunk from the stove he sharpened his knife, making the cut as cleanly as possible and regretting having to mar the hide at all, but knowing that they would have, realistically, probably ended up having to abandon it at some point had they insisted upon leaving it whole. We’d have been able to haul it for ways, I’m sure, and might have had time to cut it up later when the need came, but it’s just as likely that we wouldn’t have had time to do that when the need arose, and would have ended up walking away from it altogether. And paying the price every night after that, every time the snow was driven sideways by the wind as we traveled, too. This is best. Cutting a hole in “his” half of the hide, Einar slipped it over his head and stood, leaning heavily on the crutch. Well. It’s warm, for sure. And heavy. Don’t know if I can do this, but I can sure try. Now I’d better work on a boot for my bad foot with some of the hide from the leg area of the critter, and make it plenty big, too, because I’m thinking that I’ll have to stuff it with a bunch of cattail fuzz and things if I want half a chance of keeping this foot from freezing, again. Then after that I’ll make some gaiters for Liz, to cover the tops of her boots and help keep her legs warm and dry. Ought to be a welcome change. Starting on the large over-boot for his damaged foot, drawing its outline with charcoal and marking where to cut, the idea occurred to him that in addition to the various dried herbs that they kept in their otherwise nearly empty medical kit, it would be wise to include a small bag of charcoal from the fire, as it could be a difficult thing to come up with if one is not for whatever reason able to have frequent fires--there was always the odd lightning-struck tree or the old burn where wildfire had at some point swept through an area, but those were rather unpredictable sources--and he had a number of times in the past found charcoal useful in medicinal preparations. Collecting a handful of black chunks from the stove, he stowed them in the medical kit, stuck it back in his pack--he’d taken over the last several days to keeping everything important in either his pack or Liz’s, when the item was not actually in use--and returned to his work on the boot. • • • •

Realizing that the rumble of rotors was drawing nearer, Liz grabbed her pack and scrambled into the recently completed snow shelter, crouching there with the yearling hide over her and praying that it, and the snow blocks, would be enough to hide her heat signature, or at least distort it to the point that she did not look like a human target. She wondered, briefly, as the sound approached, whether she might be better off hanging the hide over the shelter entrance rather than wearing it, to keep her body heat from oozing out through the door, but, hoping she was right, decided to go on wearing it instead. These blocks are not all a really tight fit, and I’m afraid that if I just covered the door with the hide, they might still end up seeing me through the cracks, through the blocks, even. I don’t know how much snow it takes to hide the heat from a human body, but do remember Einar telling me a story about how they search for polar bear dens with infrared-equipped aircraft, so they must be able to see through some amount of snow… though surely all these trees would do something to shield me, too…

Drawing her head in under the hide she huddled there like a turtle in its shell as the chopper neared, hovered, right over her head she thought at first, thundering, echoing, and she felt that they must be able to see her, that no amount of cover could possibly be adequate. After a time, though, she realized with a mix of relief and apprehension that it was not over her head at all, but had come to a standstill directly above the cattail swamp; she could hear it, could picture the beast’s position--beast? Listen to me. I’m getting nearly as bad as Einar. It’s just a machine--by the way its rumbling echoed off of the nearby ridges, and she wondered in that instant what might have brought them back, wondered, with even more concern, how Einar would react to the development. It didn’t even hit Liz until several minutes later--why are they staying so long? What are they looking at? It seems they haven’t moved in ages--that had the helicopter been only fifteen minutes later, she would almost certainly have been caught out in the open near the edge of the forest in the cattail marsh. The way the ridges and trees enclosed the place, she doubted that there would have been much warning; the thing would have popped up over the trees and been upon her, and then…she started shaking as she thought of the implications, how she would not have been able to return to the den right away for fear of leading them to Einar, if they had spotted her and could follow her tracks, but knowing at the same time that he would almost certainly come after her if she was late returning after the hovering of the chopper. Disaster, even if they did not then see him, even if the two of them somehow managed to reunite and sort out what had happened, come up with a reasonable plan in response to it. That hasty trip through the snow with little preparation would finish off his toes, she had little doubt, refreeze them and then they wouldn’t be going anywhere, fast, for a good long time. What was I thinking, heading down there? I could have led them right to us. The rotor-sounds fading into the distance, she finally allowed herself to sit up, poked her head out of the shelter and took a great breath of the sharp cold air outside, sprucescented, wonderful, feeling that she--they--had just been delivered from the hand of their foe, giving thanks. Now, I’d better get back up there in a hurry and see if Einar is still in the den. Please, please be there, Einar. I don’t want to have to go following a trail of bloody footprints through the snow to find you. • • • •

Einar was there, and he was ready. He had just finished work on his overboot, lacing with sinew a series of meticulous, closely spaced holes that he had punched with a deer bone awl, and was turning the finished creation hide-side out for traction, preparing to stuff it with insulating cattail down, when he felt the first inkling that something was not right. Thinking at first that he was merely growing antsy at Liz’s extended absence he rose, hopped over to the entrance and crouched down to push aside the deer hide and listen. No mistaking that sound, and he let the door fall back into place, pinning it at ground level with all the rocks that were handy in an attempt to seal in the warmth of the den, keep in from the prying, airborne eyes of the enemy. There was no doubt in Einar’s mind as he listened as to exactly where that helicopter was hovering, no doubt either that it was doing so for a very long time. He was counting the seconds. Two hundred and

forty three. What have they seen? The rotor noise beginning to fade, he got his new cloak on, stuffed the two fully solidified slabs of bear fat into his pack and struggled it up onto his back, leaning heavily on the side of the bed as he slid his knee into place on the new crutch and bound it to his leg. Last of all came the boot--his foot was still far too swollen to attempt the use of the soft, warm ermine fur slipper Liz had made him, so it remained in the pack--and Einar gritted his teeth against the agony of easing his foot into it, the soft warm cattail fuzz he had filled it with feeling like red hot barbed wire pressing into his damaged flesh. No. Don’t pull it back out. You can do this. Have done this sort of thing before. Don’t have a choice… At which point he very nearly blacked out, slumping down against the bed and resting his forehead on the cold rocks until he could see again and the hissing in his ears quieted a bit. On your feet, and out that door. It was not merely whim that compelled Einar out the door, nor even the simple result of the cold, calculating logic which told him that the area was no longer safe after such a repeat visit--though those things certainly existed--but a visceral, physical need that wordlessly screamed in his head and turned his stomach when he fought to resist it, urging him to move, go, get out of there before that chopper could circle back around and somehow see the heat signature from the den, save himself before they came for him and it was too late and he was taken in the shoulder by another of those hateful darts, brought down and rendered immobile before he had a chance to resist, left to lie helpless in the snow as they came for him, as they took Liz… Liz. You can’t go, can’t do this. Liz is not here to go with you, and you must not leave her. It was true, he knew it, knew he would not abandon her, and he stood there shaking with rage and with the terrible conflict of wanting so badly to move, to act, but being unable. Time passed with no sign of Liz, minutes, only, if that, most likely, but it seemed to him ages as he stood there beneath the sheltering ledge outside of the den. Einar was about to find and follow her tracks, make sure she was alright and get her back to the relative safety of the den, when he heard footsteps in the distance, over in the direction of the gully, hurried, furtive, the light springy step that he had come to know as Liz’s, and saw her coming through the trees, pausing to listen, to scan the sky before leaving their shelter for the short two step jaunt across the tiny clearing that stood between the dark timber and the trees that shielded the den--good girl, she has learned--and hurried to his side. While overjoyed to find that Einar had not left the den, she was also surprised and a bit alarmed to see him standing there, crutch strapped on and pack on his back, wearing a bear hide cloak she had never seen before and a large, insulated-looking bear hide overboot on his damaged foot. He appeared ready to leave, but followed her back into the den when she greeted him with a quick squeeze of the shoulder and scurried inside, more than ready to be out of sight should that helicopter return. In the den, Liz hurried out of the yearling hide and hastily hung it back over the door, crouching beside the lamp and warming chilled fingers near its flame. Einar remained standing, all of his traveling garb in place, apparently waiting for her to speak. Which she did, a bit breathlessly, her voice trembling.

“I got the snow shelter done but then…it sounded like they were right over me, right over my head, and I was sure they were going to see me but they didn’t, because I’d just got the shelter finished and I crawled in and got the little bear hide over me but Einar,” her mind went back to crouching there as the vulture hammered over her head, hovering, near, the sharp popping of rotors as it finally banked, turned, followed the winding recesses of the canyon and was gone, “I see why you hate those things so much. It felt like they could just look right through the snow and trees and see me, didn’t think they were ever going to leave…” Einar flashed her a momentary hint of a wry grin, his eyes remaining dark and serious. “Yeah. I hate it when that happens… Did the snow above your head turn to glass and the trees melt away so they could get a good clear look at you, too, at the very worst possible time?” “What?” “Never mind,” he growled, getting back to his feet. “Guess it’s about time to go.” “Yes. I’m afraid it is. But what about the weather? Won’t they see our tracks if we go right now?” “Probably. Can’t do it right now, not if we can help it. I don’t think they dropped anybody back there. Didn’t set down, and with that nice clear open snow I think they’d have set down if they were dropping people. But our time’s up, here. They’ve seen something, and it meant enough to them that they thought it worth coming back for a second look. Not good. First hint of a snow that’s gonna last more than a few minutes, and we’ve got to clear out. I’ve been watching the sky; clouds are getting heavier, moving faster. Looks like something’s coming, but it’s not here yet. We may have the rest of the day, the night, even, before it’s safe to get going.” Einar eased himself back to the ground, then, gingerly pulling on the boot and accepting Liz’s assistance when she offered to help him get it off. The boot, even filled as it was with soft billowy cattail fuzz, had been very nearly more than he could stand as its weight inevitably put pressure on the large, fluid filled blisters that still covered some of his toes and the outside edge of his foot. The down, they discovered once the boot was off, had stuck to the raw, open wounds where he had previously burst a few of the blisters in scrambling thoughtlessly to his feet, and it was clear that another soaking would be required to remove the debris. Einar shook his head at Liz’s offer to start some water heating. “No. Later. We’ve got to talk some about what we’re doing, how things need to go when this storm gets here, and what I’ve got to say is probably gonna make a whole lot more sense if I say it before we start in on the foot. Now…” he spread a map out on the floor beside the lamp, a large-scale Forest Service map that covered, on its two sides, the entire one hundred and ten thousand acres of the National Forest they were in, not especially

detailed, but better by far than nothing, “we’re right about here. Here’s the canyon, the spot where the avalanches were, the Bulwarks… From what I’ve been hearing of these search choppers, they’re not paying any attention to the area West of the canyon, or at least not very far West, if they’re venturing over there at all. Seems like they’re mostly looking in the area between here and Culver Falls, many, many square miles, but it still leaves us a lot of places to go, if we can get away from here without them ending up on our trail. Now I was thinking…see this ridge, here, that runs off almost due West after you get up out of the canyon on the other side? Yes. That one. I’ve never been over there, but it sure looks like the sort of place, just judging by elevation and the way it’s oriented, that ought to be heavily timbered with evergreens of one sort or another. A fine escape route, I would think, and it gives us access both to the high plateau above the canyon over on the North, and to this series of little ridges, valleys and basins on its South side. I’ve been studying this map, Liz. Seems to me one of those basins ought to offer us a spot to spend the rest of the winter, easy access to the valley floors where there’ll be more game, lots of ways in and out if we have to move on again…” She scanned the map, agreeing with him that the area he had chosen looked promising. But it looked far to her, also, very far, and the scale of miles at the bottom of the map confirmed her feeling. Twenty miles, maybe thirty by the time you counted all the ups and downs. “It looks like we’d have to cross the canyon…” “Yes. But down here at its lower end, that wouldn’t be such a problem. Nothing vertical, from what I remember. Some steep stuff for sure, but we can do it. And then, out along the ridge and away!” Liz did not particularly like the sound of the proposed journey, stared at Einar as if he was not quite in his right mind for thinking he could do it, but knew that if he said he could, he probably meant it. And there’s even some chance that he’s right… Hours passed, anxious hours in which both of them crept frequently to the door to listen, scanning the grey sky hopefully for any sign of impending storm, but seeing nothing. Finally, as the afternoon spent itself and Einar was satisfied that their departure plans had been hashed out as thoroughly as could be, for the time, he consented to Liz’s repeated offers to help him with his toes. Pain, white hot, searing pain as the embedded cattail fuzz, mingled with and matted to the dressings, was soaked free and gently scrubbed loose from his toes, taking with it in places chunks of rotting flesh, especially on his second toe, which for some reason appeared to have received the worst of the damage. Leaning forward, he was pretty sure he could see bone. Darkness was near, and there was as of yet no sign of snow. Looks like we’ll be here for another night, or part of one… • • • •

Determined to use whatever time they had left in the den to the best advantage and knowing that Einar could hardly travel with his foot simply jammed down into the cattail

down-filled overboot he had made--not if he wanted any chance at saving the toes and avoiding serious infection, anyway--Liz began searching through their gear for anything that might be used as improvised dressings for the foot. Mullein leaves, she knew, ought to work fairly well if they had any fresh one, but the dried leaves they had set aside against potential winter breathing troubles and congestion were very dry and brittle, little more than crumbles. That leaves our clothes, then, or the marten hides, but they would leave the toes all matted with marten hair and not a lot better off than the cattail fuzz left them. Between them, they had four pairs of socks that had not entirely fallen apart with use, and Liz pulled out her clean pair. She had, over the course of their days at the den, taken to doing a bit of laundry on occasion, both hers and Einar’s, by spreading small articles of clothing out on a flat rock near the den entrance and pouring hot water over them, quickly wringing them out and hanging them over the stove and then, when they stopped using it, the lamp, before they froze. The frozen smears and icy puddles of obviously dirty water in the snow below her laundry rock told Liz that her washing method was at least marginally effective, if not capable of cleaning the clothes to the degree that she was used to when at home, though she had not yet tackled any of their larger garments using the improvised setup. It seemed that something was always either soaked and icy from one snowy excursion or another, or damp and drying over the lamp, and she had not yet quite been able to bring herself to get any of their tops or pants wet deliberately, for the purpose of laundering. Socks and other small items were another matter, though, and had received regular washings. The socks she chose to turn into dressings for Einar were clean, then, but by no means sterile, and as she used her newly sharpened knife to cut them up into strips that could easily be washed, she realized that it would be a very good idea to boil the wool first and carefully dry it over the lamp, before getting it anywhere near the open wounds on Einar’s toes. Busy carving the last little frozen bits of meat from the deer carcass and dividing them between their two packs, Einar glanced up at the smell of boiling wool, wrinkled his nose and peered curiously into the pot, swatting at the billowing steam to get a clearer look “Hey Liz, we may be getting a little low on food, but we’re sure not this low, yet! Still got a lot of bones to boil for broth, all that bear fat, some meat…what on earth are you cooking, in here?” “Cooking? No, I’d expect you to cook and eat something like that, maybe, but not me! I’m just boiling up a pair of socks to sterilize them. They’re for wrapping your foot, to keep the cattail down out of contact with it. It thought if we dress the toes the way we have been with salve-coated usnea clumps between each one and then pack some more usnea around them with the sock strips wrapped overtop before you put on that boot, maybe it would add some good warmth, and keep the cattail insulation from sticking so bad to the toes, between soakings.” Nodding, he stared at the ground. She’s trying too hard. You’re both trying too hard on this, and you know it. No point in keeping it up… “Not gonna be any more soaking, once we leave here, and probably not too many more dressing changes. Won’t have a way to heat the water, no way to keep the foot warm while it dries, either, like here in the den.

But your idea with the sock strips…thanks. Will make things a lot easier.” As the sock strips boiled, Einar showed Liz what he had done with the bear hide, splitting it in half and creating a cloak for himself similar to the one she had made from the yearling hide, the second half available for use either as a second cloak if they needed it, or as a ground cloth for sleeping. It was fully dark outside by the time the socks were done, and Liz hung them to dry over the lamp as she prepared that night’s stew, a meal which she ended up having to eat most of, despite Einar’s best efforts. Waiting to crawl into bed until one of the bandage strips was dry, Liz dressed Einar’s foot with it, knowing that it would make the night easier and hopefully a bit less painful for him. Shortly after she drifted off to sleep that night Liz woke from a dream somewhat like the ones Einar had been having from time to time, helicopter over her head and nowhere to go, sure she’d been spotted, the terror magnified by the knowledge that she had led them there to the den, to Einar, had put in motion by her carelessness a series of events that would almost surely end in his death, and soon, and she woke trembling, tossing off the bear hide, a barely-suppressed scream torn out of her before she realized that the dream had been only that, and was over. Over, and she was still alive. As was Einar; she could hear his breathing, and it seemed he was quite wide awake, too. He had been awake when her dream started, in fact, the bitter cold of the night having crept too deeply into his bones--wish I’d have been able to eat more of that stew she made tonight--and his mind too full of the details of their departure for sleep to come. She reached out and felt him there beside her, heard only the quiet of the den, and she clung to him, sobbing, inconsolable as he did everything within his clumsy, awkward ability to comfort her, talking her back to reality as she had done more than once for him in the past and holding her until she stopped shaking. “I’m so sorry Einar, sorry if I woke you. Is this…what it’s been like for you? All those times you’ve woken up grabbing for your knife or something and running to the door?” She felt him nod. “Probably. Guess so, yeah.” At that she began sobbing again, not so much for herself as for Einar, finally having a bit of context in which to understand the burden he had been quietly carrying for so long, but after a time, strangely, inexplicably, she found herself laughing and then so was he, and they laughed and laughed, at each other and at themselves, at an existence in which life and death were separated at times by a hair’s breadth if that, laughing just because they still could, clinging to each other until finally the laughter gave way to weary silence, tears were dried on sleeves and they lay catching their breath, each a bit self-conscious but in some way also relieved, closer than they had been before. “We’re quite a pair, aren’t we?” Einar asked, chuckling softly and pulling the disheveled bear hide back up to their necks. “Yes. And quite a mess, too. Now let’s go back to sleep if we can, and I promise to try and keep quiet so I don’t break your other eardrum, and leave the blankets where they

belong, if you’ll stay in the bed and not make any dashes for the door, Ok?” “Sounds like a deal.” They did not sleep right away, though, Liz feeling that Einar was quite cold and seeking to warm him, rubbing his back, arms, tracing his spine and ribs and embracing him, kissing his neck, shoulders, and he stopped her, gently grabbing her wrists and quickly rolling away, very nearly falling off the bed in the process. “What…are you doing?” “Well, we are married, aren’t we?” “Yes, but…” “And it is a cold night, so I thought maybe to help stay warm…” “Liz…now you see, I’ve never…” “Me either.” An uncomfortable silence, Einar searching for words and not finding the right ones, but speaking, anyway. “But what about…you know? Children?” “Children? Well I guess we’d better talk about that sometime, hadn’t we? But no worries right now. The way I’ve been eating, it’s been three months since…” “Does that really make it a sure thing, though? I thought…” “Nothing is a sure thing, out here. Sometimes I’m not even sure if we’re going to wake up in the morning, make it through the month, the winter…” He rolled back from the edge of the bed, found her. Sometime in the night the snow began softly falling. Einar saw it in his dreams, woke and crept to the door, pulled back the yearling hide to feel flakes against his face, soft, wind-swirled, the world muffled and silent as it is only during a heavy snowfall. The storm had arrived. Time to go. Time to pack up, and go. • • • •

Very little packing remained to be done, as Einar had been doing his best to keep their packs ready at all times, and as the newly lit lamp-flame grew and spread to encompass the entire eight inch row of wick material, casting its flickering light about the den, he scrambled to round up the remaining items and distribute them between the two bags. Liz was up by then and took over as lamp-tender--her last day at the job, she supposed,

and already she missed the ready light and heat of the creation--setting a pot of snow to melt and placing their water bottles, filled the night before, on a flat rock not too far from the flame to melt away the rime of ice that had developed over the water’s surface in the night, even tucked under their blankets. “Drink,” she urged Einar as the ice thawed, “and I’ll refill it. The walk will go better if we get plenty to drink, this morning.” And he did, grateful to her for the reminder at a time when he had very nearly been too focused on other things to think of tending to so simple a need. Finally he got the bearfat packed up to his satisfaction, some of it rendered but most not, several pounds of it in his pack and a good deal more in Liz’s, as they had previously discussed, and though it irked him terribly to have to divide things up that way, he knew it was their only option. As it was, his own pack weighed a bit over twenty pounds by his estimation, the split bear hide that he would be wearing for warmth easily adding another fifteen pounds to the total, plus the weight of his crutch and snowshoe, and realistically, he was a bit dubious about his ability to carry even so modest a load--which amounted, he guessed, to somewhat over a third of his current body weight, more than reasonable under normal circumstances--over any significant distance. Got to try it, though. The trip down to the cache will be a test. If I’m falling over on my face by the time we get there, I’ll know I’ve got to stash some of this, along with the bearfat and stuff we’re already leaving down there. With that decision made, Einar emptied his pack, carefully arranging everything on the shelf of rock that lined one side of the den and had been so helpful in keeping the place neat and orderly--this was a good place, very good place--replacing it with an equally-weighted amount of bearfat. As uncomfortable as he was about walking away and leaving everything there in the den for the trip down the to the cache--Liz would be doing the same--he knew there was no way they could reasonably be expected to haul any significant weight of items to cache, on top of their already-heavy traveling loads. Just have to do it, and pray that nothing prevents us from coming back to the den to pick these things up. The storm, whose winds were gaining in intensity there outside the den, was reassuring. Few living creatures, man or beast, were likely to be out in such a gale, and it effectively eliminated the possibility of aircraft showing up. This will work. And we’d better get busy with it. “If you’ll empty your pack, Liz, like I’ve done, we can get the first load ready and head down to the cache. Cache itself will need a little work before it’s ready to seal up, we’ll have to stack a couple more rows of rocks and then find a few big slabs to finish off the top, but I figure between the two of us, the job shouldn’t take too long. Won’t be many critters out in this weather, so even if we don’t get it sealed up after the first trip, it’s probably not going to be a disaster. Although…” the side of his mouth twisted down wryly as he remembered the big cat’s theft of the bear meat he had believed safe, “best not to risk it, I guess. We better stay down there this first time and finish the thing, seal it up and then just pull a few of the top slabs off to lower the rest of the fat and stuff in. Might prove too tempting a target for any four legged critter that did happen to be out in this, and I’d hate to come back and find it half-devoured, with an angry, spitting wolverine down there in the cache just daring us to come and claim the rest…”

“That would not be good! I’ll help you finish the cache. I remember seeing a bunch of granite slabs in under those trees, and they’ll be frozen to the ground and starting to get covered with drift in this wind I guess, but maybe we’ll be able to free enough of them… Should we do your toes now, or when we get back? I’ve got this pot of water almost ready, if you want to go ahead and…” “No. Not this morning. Gonna skip it this morning. Got an awful lot to do, and I need to be thinking clearly for it. Doggone foot’s hurting enough as it is. Don’t want it demanding any more of my attention. And I need to be able to eat this morning, or it’s going to be a real struggle to get myself more than a few steps past the door. Can feel it.” “At least let me wrap the a couple more of these wool strips around your foot, then? Just to keep it from freezing…” Without waiting for an answer, she retrieved the strips from where they still hung above the lamp, quite dry and now warmed by its flame, too, easing off the overboot that had protected his foot overnight and, seeing that the wounds had oozed significantly overnight and wishing he would allow her to tend to the toes properly but knowing the matter was settled, gently wrapping two more of the strips around his toe area for warmth. She helped him back on with the overboot, then, into the crutch, and they sat on the bed sharing a rich hot stew of bearfat, chokecherries and venison shreds before heading out the door. Twenty pounds. That was the weight Einar had aimed for in loading his pack with bearfat to be cached, but between it and the heavy bear hide cloak that was doing an admirable job of protecting him--his top half, at least--from the weather, it was all he could do to remain standing as he limped, stiff and jolting on his wooden leg-crutch, down through the snow towards the cache. Liz could see his struggle, wanted to help, to take some of the weight out of his pack and add it to her own, but she left him alone, knowing that the short trip was a test, and that he must be left to his own devices to complete it. Much as she did not want to see him fail in his test, knowing that such failure would be hard for him to take, on top of the difficulties he was already being forced to endure, Liz hoped that perhaps if he found himself unable to carry even so small a burden for any length of time, he might reconsider his determination to leave the den immediately. The return of the helicopter had spooked her, too, had make her, as it hovered over her head, wish to be anywhere but there, but as the immediacy of that situation, and of her dream that past evening, had worn off a bit and she had considered its implications, Liz had become increasingly convinced that the chopper posed no immediate threat to them. They’re watching, and maybe they’ve even seen something that caught their interest down there at the swamp--the pattern of my cattailcutting, some old, snow-filled tracks, something that made a second pass seem worthwhile to them, but if they really believed we were down here, I don’t think they would have waited this long to show up. They’re interested, but they don’t know anything. It seems. But now that Einar has this idea stuck in his head, there will be no talking him out of it. I’ll try, though, one last time, if the walk down to the cache isn’t enough to convince him to reconsider. Nearly half an hour later--a painfully slow pace, and Einar knew it--they reached the cache, Einar leaning nearly doubled over on the cold, snow-dusted rock of its wall, greyfaced and struggling for breath. Liz lifted the pack from his back, helped him to sit

down. Einar rested then, but not for long, the press of time and of a storm whose potential length neither of them could guess with much accuracy soon prodding him back to his feet to help Liz as she retrieved and stacked granite slabs on the cache. The work went fairly quickly, each of them choosing a slab and working to free it, and when Liz managed to get hers carried and stacked just as Einar finished freeing his, balancing precariously on the crutch and kicking at it forcefully with his good foot and using the spear for balance until the bonds of ice and frozen mud were broken, Liz offered to carry it for him. He said nothing, simply nodding and going on to loosen the next slab. As soon as the cache had been build up high enough that they believed it would accommodate all they intended to leave, and a little more, they stowed in it the wrapped bundles of bear fat, placing several large, heavy slabs of rock over the top to keep hungry creatures from prying their way in, and then, at Einar’s insistence, added several rock chunks atop those, the heaviest of which required both of them to lift and place. Done. Time to head back for the second load. Einar drove himself up the slope a single-minded intensity that almost allowed Liz to dare hope that he was doing better, had found his pace and was getting back into the swing of things, and when he paused for rest with his forehead against a tree, almost within sight of the den, Liz put a hand on his shoulder and asked him how he was doing. “Still here.” It was all he could find breath to say. The snow was falling more heavily than ever by the time they reached the den, and each helped the other to beat the accumulated snow from their bear hide garments before crawling in through the entrance, more a matter of habit than anything, as there was hardly a reason to consider the state of the floors and carpets, when you’re about to leave a place for good. Inside, Einar flopped down on the floor beside the lamp, meaning only to remove the crutch for a minute to give his knee a rest, but instead finding himself slumped over on the ground on his side, head on the rock beneath him, too weary to rise. It was alright. He had a good bit of planning to do yet before they left, and would use the opportunity to get it done, to make the decision whether to leave behind a surprise for anyone who might come and discover the den, would like to do it, but I don’t have much of that explosive left, need to keep it for a time when the need may be more immediate, and don’t want to take the time to build a mechanical trap, need to get going, think I’ll just conceal it as well as possible and leave it as it is…need to remind Liz that we’ve got to divide up the herbs and stuff, mullein, yarrow, the salve, in case we get separated, think she’s got it all right now, and… He slept. Liz could see that the walk had exhausted him, badly wanted to allow him to sleep, but knew he wouldn’t like it, not just then, and shook him by the shoulder until he opened his eyes. • • • •

Jumping when Liz woke him, Einar scrambled to his knees and grabbed for his pack, thinking that he might have been asleep for a good while and a bit frantic to make up for

lost time. Dizzy, he caught himself on the side of the bed to prevent a fall. “How long was I sleeping? We’ve got to get that second load down there and then climb back up here and head out so we can cover some ground before it gets so dark that we can’t see what we’re doing, especially here near the den where it’s gonna be critical where we do and don’t leave sign, especially if this storm doesn’t go on for as long as I’m hoping… Why didn’t you wake me?” “Einar. Hey. Settle down. I did wake you. You were asleep for about ten seconds, that’s all.” “Huh. Sorry. Kinda lost track of what I was doing there for a minute. Not good. You can just kick me next time. Was thinking…we need to divide up the mullein and yarrow and everything, the usnea that we’ve got stashed away, in case we end up in different places for any reason. Believe it’s all in the medical kit right now, and that’s with your things.” Sorting through the heap of gear that she had emptied from her pack, Liz found the kit, pulled out the bags of dried herbs and set to work separating each into two piles, Einar finding bags and wrappings for his portions of everything. The yarrow and mullein ended up in the same bag, as containers were something they certainly had no surplus of. He could, he supposed, sort it all out later. The second batch of snow Liz had started melting before leaving had finished liquefying in their absence, the lingering heat of the lamp finishing the job, and Liz topped off the water bottles, gulping down a good bit of the excess and giving Einar the rest. He drank it, not feeling much like having anything in his stomach, but knowing that he could not afford to allow himself to become dehydrated, on top of everything else. Finishing, he dried the pot on his sleeve. “Here. You take this one, and I’ll carry the other, so we each have something to melt snow in. Now. I figure we’ve probably got at least one more load of this fat to carry down there, then the rest goes with us. We’d better get started.” Without delay he began heaping chunks of fat into his pack, Liz following suit as quickly as she could in the hopes of taking at least some of his intended portion and lightening his load. Einar saw what she was trying to do, gave her a quick hint of a sad smile and pulled several chunks of the fat back out of her pack, adding them to his own and closing it before she could object. Strapping the crutch back into place and setting his pack up on the edge of the bed, he shrugged into it, struggled to his feet. “I can carry this. Got to be able to do it.” “I know you can. I’m sorry.” They left, the second trip going no better for Einar for the first, but he managed to stay on his feet, helping Liz remove the heavy granite slabs that secured the cache, loading it and preparing to leave. Wanting to do something to break up the outline of the cache, which

blended in reasonably well but, he thought, might well be recognizable to a passer-by as man-made, Einar chose several nearby fallen branches and pried them loose of the snow’s grip. He leaned the branches here and there against the cache, random angles and a liberal sprinkling of spruce needles that he dug out from under a tree adding to their camouflaging effect. It was only after completing the tasks he had set that Einar finally allowed himself to lean heavily on the trunk of a spruce for a bit of rest, his breaths coming fast and somehow not seeming quite sufficient, eyes closed against a spreading dizziness. After a moment he shook his head, scrubbed a handful of snow across his face. Enough. Got ground to cover. But he could not immediately get to his feet, accepted Liz’s hand when she offered it to him and stood, grinning in an attempt to suppress a rather strong desire to snarl at her when his foot slammed into the tree. Despite his scrupulous efforts at insulating the toes, the cold had progressively seeped in as he traveled, the less damaged skin above the blisters sweating copiously in a skewed response and sending stinging rivulets seeping down onto the raw flesh of his toes. This is not working so well. Glancing at Liz, he picked up his empty pack and slung it over his shoulder. “Thanks. Perfect weather for this, isn’t it? Couldn’t ask for better. Remind me when we get back up there to get out the map one last time before leaving, alright? An appropriate final use for the lamp. I know we’ve gone over our route more than once together, but I want you to show it to me one more time. Want to see that it’s stuck in your brain.” She nodded, watched him as he took off up the hill, concentrating on his steps--stomp, swing, plant the snowshoe, repeat…doggone bear hide. I’d go ahead and roll it up and stick it in this cache, too, if I wasn’t pretty sure I’d freeze without it. Well. May eventually come to a place where I’ve either got to freeze, or sit down and go no further because I can’t lift the bear hide, but I’m not there yet, and for now I’d better try and keep it with me. So, up the hill--wishing once again that there might be something she could say to convince him to stay. Just for a week or two, until the toes start healing, until you’ve been able to eat more. Though I know as long as we’re here, you’re not going to let us get out and run traplines and hunt as we would need to if we’re to hope for enough to eat. You’ll be too concerned about tracks, and we will slowly starve. Moving on is for the best, I suppose. Not that either option is looking especially good right now. And she caught up to him, the two of them walking together back up to the den. The lamp lit and some of the crusted-on snow beaten from their clothes they loaded the packs, checked to make sure they had everything they intended to take, Einar working on the map-slab with a piece of sandstone until it was rubbed clean, blank, nothing left for their adversaries to analyze, should they happen upon the place. He had wanted to devise a clever ruse, alter the map so as to lead their foe into a trap or off of a cliff or at the very least leave them stumped when they reached a dead end, but much to his regret he seemed not to have an ounce of cleverness in him at the moment, his mind blank when he tried to think of something. Better just obliterate it, then… By the light of the lamp, its final lighting, they both expected, Liz traced out for Einar on

the National Forest map the route he had shown her, through the dark timber to the canyon, down one wall and up the opposite, out across another long ridge that ran to the west, following it for miles, it appeared, until they reached a point where they would be able to access either a vast, high wilderness plateau on one side of the ridge, the high side, or drop down off of it into a nearly endless series of ridges, valleys and high basins that ought surely to offer them refuge and access to enough game to feed them for the winter. Einar was satisfied. She had been paying attention, knew the plan. “If we get separated for any reason…” he caught her eye, held it, “I will come back to this spot where the ridge meets the plateau, here where it flattens off on one side and merges with the high ground--I’ll come back there as often as I can to check for you. Leave me some sign. We’ll find each other again.” She took his hand. “Yes, we will. This has been a good place, Einar. This den, our home for a while, our first home. I am glad to have been here with you. I thought maybe before we go…” Out of a pocket of her pack she took Susan’s Bible, which she kept stashed carefully in a plastic bag for protection from the elements, paged through for a moment and began reading: “I will lift up my eyes to the hills—From whence comes my help? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth…. The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming in From this time forth, and even forevermore.” (Psalm 121:1-2, 7-8) There was nothing more to say, nothing remaining to do after Einar took a stick and s lowly, almost with an air of ceremony, pushed the lamp wick down into the melted fat until it sputtered, gave its last light and died. Nothing left but to head out into the storm. Distance to cover. • • • •

Einar had hoped to complete the steep descent of the canyon wall and climb up out the other side before darkness fell, but many of the daylight hours had been used in making the cache runs and wrapping things up there at the den, and as they traveled, the deep snow and the weight on his back reduced Einar to a slow, awkward limp with long and all too frequent periods of time spent disentangling himself from hidden deadfall just beneath the surface of the snow, it became obvious to both of them that they were not going to make that goal. It was beginning to appear, in fact, as dusk fell, that they might not reach the canyon rim at all that day. Einar had estimated the distance at not over two miles, and he picked up his pace, shuffling doggedly along as he told himself that you must be able to make more than two miles in a day. Must, or this whole effort will have been for nothing, because you’ll end up so close to the den when this storm finally lifts that you might as well have stayed. Driving himself hard after that, taking occasional pauses only to glance at the compass and make sure they were basically on course in a storm whose blowing snow served very

effectively to keep visibility limited at times to a small area which could be measured by extending both arms out to the side, Einar was pleased to see the ground changing beneath him, sloping downwards and becoming increasingly rocky in a pattern that told him they must be approaching the canyon. It had not appeared, in looking at the map, that the canyon would present them anything close to a vertical descent, but he was still quite anxious to get a good look at it by daylight, before starting down. Not that there was much to see, the way the snow was falling and blowing. There near the rim, traveling was a bit easier for Einar, as the snow had in places been scoured and wind-packed until he was hardly sinking in at all, and within a space of minutes he had reached a spot where the ground dropped sharply away, senses somewhat beyond hearing and sight speaking to him of the vast open spaces beneath his feet. He couldn’t see a thing. Heavy and swirling, coming in waves that could be seen as a blowing wall of white against the generalized grey of the storm, snow filled the canyon, obscuring not only the far wall which they would need to ascend, but the slope? Dropoff? Hard to say… that lay immediately beneath them, as well. Einar knew that without a better sense of the terrain below them, it would be easy to begin their descent only to end up cliffed out on a little plateau a third of the way down, with nothing to do but climb back up the steep, slick slope above them and start down in a different spot. Picturing the Forest Service map in his mind, he knew it would be of no help whatsoever in this particular dilemma. The detail was not nearly fine enough. He wished for a larger-scale topo map, wished for a brief break in the storm, even a momentary calming of the winds and lessening of the snow that would allow him to catch a glimpse of their route and avoid a costly and potentially disastrous mistake, but he knew that the map was, of course, not an option and knew also that while there was always a possibility that the storm might ease if he waited long enough, such did not appear likely in the near future. And we don’t have time to wait. Got to take advantage of every moment of this storm if we can, use its cover to put some miles between us and the spot that chopper’s been focusing on, because if we’re not a good ways out by the time the snow stops, we’re just gonna have to hole up again to avoid making tracks. Really need to be far enough out that tracks aren’t much of an issue, because we’ve got to start setting snares, running traplines again pretty soon here, if we’re going to make it. Don’t like heading down into the canyon blind, but it’s a risk we’re going to have to take. He turned back to Liz, who had taken shelter under one of the scraggly, wind-twisted limber pines that marked the canyon rim, and was shaking a bottle of water, mixing something, apparently. Seeing him turn back, she went to him. “Here. Drink this.” “What is it?” “Oregon grape root. Berberine. Just like you’ve been drinking every day back at the den to try and keep your toes from getting infected. I made this stuff yesterday and stashed it away for the trip.” He grabbed the bottle, took a big swallow, shuddering a bit at the yellow liquid’s biting

bitterness. “Thanks. That’s good. Now. It’s getting dim out, and I don’t think just because of the snow. Evening’s coming, I’m pretty sure, and I want to see how far down into the canyon we can get before it’s too dark to travel. Too dark to climb, anyway. I’m hoping the climbing’s not gonna be anything too serious, just a series of steep slides and scree fields between little ledges and outcroppings, and if I’ve judged our position anything close to correctly, that’s exactly what it should be. Never climbed the walls here, but I’ve hiked the canyon floor a time or two, and don’t think we’re going to be seeing any hundred foot rock faces here, or anything even close to that. Good chance that we’ll encounter a spot or two where we run into steep stuff and have to go around, though, so go carefully, test each foot placement and never take for granted what’s down below you, if you can’t actually see it. Ready?” Tightening the waist belt of her pack, she nodded. She was ready, and could only hope and pray Einar really was. Despite his confident speech and the air of hopefulness he was somehow managing to maintain, Liz could see that he was exhausted, hurting, his words seeming to come a bit too quickly and his eyes bright, glazed, strange looking, unwilling to meet hers for very long. She worried that the berberine might well be too little, too late to prevent infection in the damaged toes, worried that the toes might be freezing again, or might already have done so, at which point no amount of berberine and salve and fresh dressings would likely be enough to save them. He was already starting down into the canyon, having removed his snowshoe and lashed it to his pack, and was picking his way down over the rocks of the rim with the spear in one hand for balance. “Einar. Wait. How…is it going for you? How are you?” Glancing back at her through the swirling snow, an immense weariness showing momentarily in his haggard face, his sagging limbs and bent posture, he straightened his back and grinned at her. “Still here.” The words were shouted over his shoulder as he turned to go, Liz following down into the unknown, into the abyss of slanting snow and empty, yawning space that one could feel but not quite see. Liz did alright in those first few minutes of the descent, moving slowly and carefully feeling each step with her boot before committing her weight to it, made it down a good fifteen feet of the steep, jumbled rock--mixed limestone and granite that had fallen down from above--without incident. Einar had no such luck. The wooden crutch tip gave him no traction whatsoever on the snow-slick rock that he was attempting to navigate, the crutch more than once slipping out from beneath him at the worst time, a hasty grab at some nearby chokecherry shrubs the only thing that prevented him from taking a nasty fall that would have sent him tumbling who knew how far down the canyon steepness. After the second such slip Liz climbed back up to him, finding him clinging to a clump of snow-crusted gooseberry scrub, both arms wrapped around it as he gasped for air and waited to find the energy to get his feet back under him and start down again. She helped him, finding a secure spot for him to place the crutch and working to disentangle his sleeves and hair from the thorns of his chosen anchor. One bear hide mitten had been lost in the struggle and Liz found it lying on a snowy limestone spur below, retrieved it, marveling that Einar had been able to maintain his grip on the spear through the entire

ordeal. He would not relinquish it even then, tucking it between his elbow and body when the use of both hands became necessary, descending, soon joining her on the spur. “Do you want to go back? We could look for another way…” “Back? No. No going back. Let’s just…try and get down off this before it’s dark. Hard enough to see with the snow slanting sideways like this. You doing alright with that pack? Weight messing with your balance?” “It’s fine.” Several dozen feet lower, and Einar was moving more slowly than ever, the crutch showing a increasing tendency to glance off of the icy rocks that lay beneath the snow cover, until he finally lost all confidence in his foot staying where he placed it. It didn’t matter much; he was beyond caring too greatly about the details, just wanted to get down, and probably would have kept going just as he was, slipping, sliding, taking the occasional short tumble as darkness began sweeping up the canyon and closing in around him, had it not been for the tree. It was a limber pine, he was pretty sure, a gnarly, twisty-trunked thing that had clearly seen many years of hard living there on the windswept canyon wall, and though it had a few tufts of still-living needles, standing out snow-clumped and icy near four foot high top, the tree was mostly dead. As Einar discovered when he slammed into it after one of his many slips, grabbing hold of a branch to halt his fall, only to have it come off in his hand. Liz, some five feet below, saw the entire sequence of events, heard the crack as the branch let go and hurriedly threw herself into a position where she could attempt to interrupt his slide as he came by. Her pack was too heavy, unsteadied her. • • • •

Sliding, tumbling once, Einar’s fall was abruptly arrested by the narrow ledge that Liz had been balancing on, and he rolled over and sat up, the soft deep snow of the ledge cushioning his landing and preventing injury, aside from a rather painful jarring of his blistered toes and still-healing leg. Spitting out a mouthful of snow and scrubbing his eyes free of the stuff, he looked for Liz, did not see her, blinked into the near-darkness and felt around in the snow near him, thinking perhaps he had landed on her without realizing it. Nothing. He tried to call for her, found his throat too dry and let some snow melt and trickle down to moisten it, called out again. There was no answer. Beginning to feel a bit frantic he forced himself to hold still, to think. Tracks. Look for tracks. Maybe she was farther down than you thought. Searching, he found her trail, the trench, to be more accurate, that had been left when she went over the edge, rolled down off of the ledge, and…that was it, was all he could see, the rest of the world being composed of a silent, swirling whiteness that carefully guarded its secrets. She was gone, fallen, and he had done it. Again Einar called for her, shouting into the dimming void below, his voice finally working but his words snatched away by the wind and dashed against the rocks before

they could carry any useful distance. Still he shouted, went on until he was hoarse, waiting each time for a response, straining his ears for anything, any of where she was, but hearing only the wind. Doesn’t matter. You know where she is. Only one place she can be, and that’s down. Go look for her. He went, slithering down over the ledge and feeling for any foothold that might exist beneath, finding one, letting his weight rest on it and lowering himself. No more tracks, no marks in the clean white snow billow that graced the outcropping on which he stood, and looking back up, he knew what that meant. Again he shouted her name, but neither expected nor received any response. Help me. I got to find her, must pull her back up if she’s stuck somewhere, rescue her, but I’m barely mobile, myself, in this terrain. Got to have Your help, here… Which was when he decided to remove the crutch. The idea came into his mind suddenly, and as soon as he encountered it, he knew that it was the only way. The crutch, while successful at keeping his weight off of his damaged toes and healing leg, left him terribly awkward when it came to negotiating the steep snowy rock of the slope. Broken leg’s strong enough to support a good bit of weight now, and the foot…well, I’ll try to stay off the toes, but I need it right now. Got to be able to use it. Strapping the crutch to his pack and praying that it would remain attached--sure gonna need it later--he started down again, finding it much easier to keep his footing, though the right leg, very weak from disuse, frequently threatened to collapse under him and required special consideration. Some distance lower and with darkness gathering, Einar finally came upon more signs of Liz’s presence, not the tracks he had hoped for but a place where she had contacted the ground, at least, in passing. He stopped, winded, squinting into the gloom below and hoping to see her there. Nothing. Again he called for her, thought he heard something and shouted again, waiting for the wind to die down just a bit. There! It’s got to be her. Down and to the right, sounding to be coming from a good distance away he heard something that did not quite fit the pattern of the storm-noises, faint, and he waited for a lull in the wind but the sound did not come a third time. No matter. He knew the direction, knew it must be her, continued his descent, stopping every so often to shout and listen. A good fifteen minutes passed before he heard Liz’s voice again, coming strong and much nearer as he leaned against a spur of limestone, fighting for breath and beginning to question his judgment, wondering if he had somehow gone off course and needed to climb back up. There was no mistaking her position, this time. She was just below him, and he could hear her loud and clear. Liz was stuck but was not, as far as she could tell, injured, a strap of her backpack having hung up quite firmly on the jaggedly broken remains of a pine stump as she tumbled and slid down the rocky steepness of the slope, and since becoming trapped she had been fighting hard for footing secure enough to allow her to safely free the pack, but had been so far unsuccessful in finding any. Einar inched down until he could get a look at her, wedged himself in firmly behind an outcropping just above the spot where the pack was caught, grabbing onto a strap with one hand and finding her hand with the other, the two of them struggling until she made it up there onto the outcropping with him. It was very nearly dark, and Einar, trembling and out breath with the exertion of the decent and rescue, hurried to inspect Liz for injuries.

“You…fell all that way? Hurt anything? Hit your head anywhere?” “No, nothing’s hurt. I did more fast sliding than I did falling and bouncing, really. I’m fine. A little cold, I guess. I was just trying to keep you from going over that ledge… didn’t want you to hit me and go rolling right on over it. I wasn’t trying to go over the edge myself, but that’s how it happened. Just wanted to leave you room for a good safe landing in that soft snow.” “Well I landed on the ledge and stayed there, alright. You should have just kept yourself safe and let me go… I’m sorry Liz. We’d have been better off if we did like you mentioned and holed up for the night when it started getting dark. I got too focused on taking advantage of every moment of this storm. We covered a good bit of distance just now with all these slides and falls, for that matter. Better call this good, for the night. Let’s find a good stout tree or a little ledge or something, and wait for daylight.” Liz saw that he was breathing awfully hard, shaking worse as he cooled down from the effort of pulling her up onto the outcropping, could tell that he was in pretty desperate need of some rest and was glad that he seemed to have come to his senses about the absurdity of plunging blindly down the canyon wall in the dark and storm. “I think I saw a place. When I was hanging there, I noticed a little overhand just on the other side of that little scree field. See? Right over there where you can just make out a vertical strip of white where the snow’s covered the scree, and then a dark shadow with a few evergreens on top of it. It doesn’t look like much right now, but a few minutes ago when it was lighter and the snow had slowed down a little… Do you think you can make it over there?” “I made it down here, didn’t I?” He spoke wearily but with an almost cheerful buoyancy that spoke of his relief at having found Liz alive and safe, scrambled to his feet and helped her back into the pack. “Einar!” She grabbed his arm as if to steady him. “You lost your crutch! I can follow your tracks back up, try and find…” “Nah. It’s here. Couldn’t climb with it anymore, Kept slipping, had to take it off and lash it to the pack. Worked better without it, on this steep stuff.” “But your foot…” He shrugged, limped off in the direction of Liz’s scree field and the shelter that its far side promised. Liz had been correct in her hasty observation of the area beyond the scree slide, a four foot ledge jutting out from an inward-leaning wall of limestone and leaving a small, snow-free area, slant-floored and rocky, a bit damp, not perhaps the ideal choice of camping locations if one had choices, but it looked nothing short of wonderful to the two snow-encrusted and bedraggled travelers that evening as they climbed up into its shelter, beating the snow from outer garments and gladly freeing themselves of heavily-loaded

packs. With the storm continuing in full force Einar decided that a small fire was a reasonable risk, Liz hurrying out in search of dry wood while he prepared a spot for the welcome blaze. Scratching a shallow depression into the rocky, frozen ground he piled up a number of small slabs on its outside edge to act as a reflector and throw heat back into the rocky cove, where it would in turn reflect off of the back wall and keep them reasonably warm. Liz was back by the time he finished the reflector--doggone rocks sure are heavy tonight, getting kinda hard to lift them--breaking up some of the larger dry branches she had been able to collect and splitting them with her knife before arranging them in his fire pit. Liz, seeing how cold he had become sitting there, was all in favor of using one of the fire pellets to get the thing started in a hurry, but Einar took a minute to split one of the dry spruce sticks she had found into toothpick-fine shards, arranging them above a wad of cattail down and striking sparks, sitting back as the flames climbed and crackled up through the tiny pyramid, Liz adding larger sticks as they went. The fire was soon throwing off a good bit of heat, which, combined with the absence of the wind, left Liz before long warm enough to take off the bear hide, spreading it to dry on a series of rocks beside the fire and starting snow melting for a pot of stew. Einar might have parted with his bear hide also at that point, had he not been curled up in it beside the fire pit, fast asleep. Liz let him rest while she cooked, not relishing the prospect of having to wake him but knowing that he must eat, needed dry clothes, knowing that his foot would certainly be needing attention, too. She need not have worried. The foot woke him, soon enough, the nagging pain of his damaged toes taken to a new level by the abuse they had seen in his crutchless descent and search for her, his leg aching, also, after the unaccustomed use. Halfway through Liz’s stew-making he sat up a bit groggily, leaned back against the rocks and pulled out the map, studying it intently for a minute, lost in its contours as he attempted to pick out in more detail their best course of action after making it up and out the other side of the canyon. Tomorrow. It’s got to be tomorrow. I have to pick up the pace somehow, because we must at least make the other side of the canyon before this snow ends. The contour-lines would not hold still, though, their dancing and jumping leaving him a bit nauseated, and he found himself able to make little sense of the map. Liz startled him by sitting down and asking if she could tend to his foot, and he tried to refuse but she insisted that it had been too long since they had changed the dressings, far too long, and he knew she was correct, knew that things must be getting pretty serious when not even the heavy over-boot and layers of lichen and wool insulation were sufficient to mask the stink of his foot anymore, the sweet-sick stench of decay, and he finally assented, lying back against the rocks as she did what little she could for the foot. Supper that night was a shared pot of stew, bear fat and venison shreds with a few chokecherries thrown in for sugar, a fine meal and filling after the long cold afternoon spent out in the storm, and while Liz thoroughly enjoyed it, Einar could hardly stay awake long enough to begin taking the edge off his hunger. Morning came, a pale, slow, soft-footed creature that snuck in between the swirling gusts of a storm that had not let up at all during the night, and Einar was sick. He knew the feeling, the pressing heaviness in his head that muddled his thoughts and made it hard to

get his eyes all the way open, heart beating too fast, limbs that felt like jelly and did not respond promptly or at all well when asked to perform a task. At first that morning when awakened before dawn by a strong sense that something was not right, he had eaten snow, great handfulls of snow, in an attempt to combat the heavy hotness in his head, trying to drive back the confusion and the weakness that it brought, but it was no use. He didn’t even need to wait for Liz to feel his forehead and tell him to know that he had a fever, but when she did, she gently pulled him back down onto the bear hide and covered him up--he’d insisting on standing, trying to move about the shelter--built up the fire and offered him a sip of water. He drank, looked up at her with eyes bright and strange and a bit wild. “I need that yarrow now, Liz. All of it. And all of the usnea you have with you, and the extra sock strips. Got to head out there for a while, got something to take care of. I’ll be back.” • • • • Liz handed Einar the herb packets and dressings, her face suddenly white at the realization of what he appeared ready to do. Fishing around in her pack, she took out the small flask that she had taken from Pete’s body, whiskey, she was pretty sure, and no more than a swallow of it, but perhaps valuable to him, nonetheless. She handed him the flask. “Einar, stay. Let me do it. My hands are steadier right now, with that fever you’ve got. It will be better this way. He shook his head, managed a bit of a sad smile, knew she was right but knew just as surely that he could not let her do what she was asking, for a number of reasons. “No. This is…mine to do. Wait here. Keep the fire going. I’ll be back.” He rose, using the spear for support and hopping in an attempt to keep his right foot out of contact with the ground. Liz stood, wanting to go with him, to help, wanting to be there at least, to help prevent him from bleeding to death if anything went wrong, if he happened to pass out in the snow halfway through the operation, not liking the idea of him wandering off on his own at all in his feverish and half-lucid state, let alone performing surgery on his own foot. She stayed, though, watching him limp off and knowing that, despite his fevered state and the obvious pain he was in, he meant what he said and expected her to honor it. Not far above the ledge that had sheltered them for the night, Einar found a second protected area, not as large as the first but well-shielded from the wind by a large evergreen, and he crawled into it, resting for a minute with his head on his knee before spreading out the contents of his pack. Shaking the bottle of berberine solution he took a good swallow, wished he had some willow to go with it but knew he wouldn’t have been able to use it even available, as it would have increased his chances of serious bleeding. Easing off his boot and finding himself momentarily sickened at the smell, he looked critically at the foot, seeing that the last three toes seemed to be the source of most of the trouble. The big toe and second one looked pretty bad, but the blisters had gone down

some, and it appeared that they might still have some chance of healing. He hoped. Knew his balance would certainly be better if it was possible to save those two toes. The knife needed sharpening and he did it, cleaning the blade with a handful of snow afterwards and debating briefly whether he would be better off using the ounce or two of alcohol in the bottle to disinfect the implement, or simply gulping it down, settling on using a bit of it to prepare the blade for the operation. That done, he dabbed some of the remainder on the un-blistered and whole skin of his foot just above the damaged toes, gritting his teeth and pouring a bit move over the entire area, down over the black, decaying flesh of the toes. Mistake! He gasped for breath, lowered his head against the searing pain. Guess it’s disinfected now! Need that willow stick to clamp between my teeth though, or I’m gonna start losing them, too… He found the stick, got it situated and once more turned his attention--what remained of it--to the little pile of supplies spread out on the rock in front of him: yarrow to slow the bleeding, soft, absorbent clumps of usnea--previously boiled and dried by Liz--to pack the wound, the half bottle of berberine solution that he knew must be stretched to act as both antiseptic wash for the wounds he was about to create, as well as an ingested antibiotic to hopefully help his body fight off the remnants of the infection that was making him so sick that morning. Moving slowly--that seeming to be the only way he was capable of moving, at the moment--he set a number of usnea clumps on a flat rock beside him, spreading out the dried yarrow beside them. That combination, he knew, along with a good bit of pressure, ought to be enough to stop whatever bleeding would result from the operation, and if not…well, if not I guess I keep pressure on it as well as I can, hurry back to Liz’s fire, take my knife and start heating metal and cauterizing things. And it seems I could reduce the chance of serious bleeding in the first place by using snow to chill things down, too. Sure don’t want to apply it directly to the toe area, unless it becomes a matter of stopping life-threatening bleeding, because it’ll only do more harm to the areas that are already cold-damaged, but I bet if I press some snow against my ankle area--he filled a sock with snow, curved it around into a half circle and wrapped it around his ankle from the back-it should help control the bleeding without doing too much damage. Deciding that he was as ready as he was ever going to be, Einar clamped the stick firmly in his mouth, planted his foot on a rock whose surface he had washed with a bit more of the alcohol from the flask, and went to work on what was left of his little toe, black and rotting but, as he was to discover, apparently still containing some live nerves. He finished the task, finally, pressing with the knife and rocking it back and forth on what he guessed to be the second joint, a slow and agonizing process that left him wishing, between suppressed groans, for a pair of snips or bolt cutters or some such tool to speed the process along. An axe, even, would work a good bit better than this. Staring at the remaining toes as he pressed a clump of usnea to the barely oozing wound left by his mangled removal of the first, he wondered about his options, first placing the knife pointdown on the next toe and preparing to slam it with as sizeable a rock as he could lift in one hand. It seemed that such an attempt, though, might well lead the knife tip to glance off a bone, leaving the job unfinished and his foot further mangled. He placed the knife blade-down, then, across the next toe--better not try both at once, here--took as deep a breath as he was able and gave the blade a good sharp whack with a rock. Success.

More or less. He was left with a bit of unfinished business, saw to it with another sharp smack of the rock, slowed the bleeding, which did not appear particularly serious, and went on to the next. All three toes gone, Einar knew his job was just beginning. He had to debride all of the black, infected flesh from the remainder of his foot, had to expose healthy, pink tissue, he supposed, if he wanted a reasonable chance of keeping the rot from spreading on up his foot. Dizzy and half blind with pain, he found himself suddenly wishing Liz was there to help him with the next bit, doubting, in a moment of weakness, his ability to carry through with it. Get ahold of yourself. Got to be done. Do it. And he did. The tastes and smells were to be the things that stood out most vividly in his memory, later, more distinctly even than the sharp wet crunching sound as he cut through sinew and bone to excise the dead toes, or a hurt so strong that it nearly robbed him of sight and hearing and crushed the air out of his lungs as he trimmed away the black, useless tissue that remained until he reached red, bleeding, living flesh, then went a bit further just to be sure he was leaving none of the rot behind, pulling and stretching the skin over the wound and pressing dried yarrow against it, wrapping the whole area with a sock strip and nearly passing out when he jammed his foot back into the overboot. Those memories would be there, certainly, would be with him for a good while, but it was to be the sharp bitterness of the willow stick clamped between his teeth, the salty tang of his own tears as they ran down into his mouth, and the bile that rose in the back of his throat at the smell-decay, death, and the death is going to be yours, and soon, if you don’t finish this, and then the pungent iron scent of fresh blood--that would come to mind first and often unbidden whenever he thought of that day. Done. Done as much as I can, for now. He shoved everything into the pack, rose, walking, grim and straight-backed down to the fire, and Liz. Got a descent to finish, canyon to climb. • • • • Believing that his bleeding was under control and not a source of immediate danger, Einar wanted to leave right away in order to take advantage of the continuing storm, and told Liz so as soon as he had limped his way back to the fire. She would not hear of it, took one look at his terribly drawn features and stilted gait and led him over to the bear hide bed, which she had left intact and even kept warm with rocks from the fire. Hurrying him in between the layers of fur with his foot propped up on a stack of rocks before he could do much to resist her efforts, she brought him water, held it up so he could drink. He sat up, pushed her hand away. “No. Can’t do this right now. Got to move.” Einar knew that if he allowed himself to lie down just then, if he gave the crushing pain and the exhaustion left behind by his fever and illness and exacerbated by his efforts with the toes half a chance to catch up with him, he might not be moving for a great while. He could feel a terrible weakness waiting for him out there just beyond the limits of sight, near, its presence real, waiting to spring and pin him down at the first sign of vulnerability, to render him a useless, curled-up heap of whimpering, trembling human gelatin that lacked the strength to rise or the wits to know it needed to do so--lovely thought, huh? Let’s avoid that! And I can’t afford it,

anyway. We’ve got to move. Can’t be here so close to where we started, when this storm lifts. He rolled over, struggled to his knees with a grunt. “We will move, Einar. Soon. But please…give yourself some time first. Let me look at your foot and see what I can do for it. And I haven’t seen you drink more than a sip of water all morning. Between that fever and whatever blood you lost just now, you’re going to end up seriously dehydrated if you keep pushing like this, and then just how fast do you think you’ll be moving? Let’s stay here for an hour or two at least so you can rest and get some water down.” She handed him a bottle, having refilled all of them with snowmelt water while he was away. Einar took the water, narrowed his eyes and stared at her with an odd mix of appreciation and defiance on his face, and proceeded to down the entire bottle, not so much as stopping for breath until he had drained the last drop. “There,” he shuddered, the sudden infusion of liquid not setting at all well in his stomach.. “You happy now?” “Well…that is a good start. But I certainly didn’t mean you had to…” “Good. Then let’s go.” Seeing that there was no talking him out of it, Liz helped him into the crutch, quickly feeling the bear hide overboot as she did so to make sure it was not becoming saturated with blood, which it was not. Though if he’s got that whole boot stuffed with usnea, it could absorb an awful lot of blood before any would start leaking out. I guess I’ll just have to hope that if he’s bleeding, he’ll pass out before losing enough to be lifethreatening, so I can drag him under a tree and patch him up. Because it sure doesn’t look like he’s going to let me see it, as long as he’s awake… It did not take long to wrap things up there at the camp, Liz putting out the fire and hiding signs of its presence with a few quick kicks at the adjacent snow bank, knowing the storm would soon complete the job and leave the spot well-concealed until it melted out in the spring. When she looked up from a final inspection of the campsite, it was to see Einar standing out on the edge of the rather sudden dropoff beneath it, leaning forward and staring down intently through snow that was still falling, but perhaps not quite as thickly as it had been, a few minutes before. He turned as if to rejoin her, seemed to think twice about wasting the steps and remained where he was. “I see our path, Liz. Made it closer to the bottom last night than I’d thought. No more vertical stuff, just a couple of scree fields, then an oak-brush slope, and we’ll hit the bottom.” He was relieved, had been dreading the series of slips, slides and bone-jarring falls that he knew would have awaited him if their path entailed similar terrain to what they had encountered the evening before. The remaining three or four hundred feet of descent would still be a difficulty, he knew, a major challenge crutch-bound as he was, and then the climb up the opposite side…He closed his eyes, shoulders sagging a bit. No, don’t go there. Not yet. Just get yourself down to the bottom for now, let that come

later. Little pieces. You can do little pieces, and it’s all made up of little pieces, really… Liz had joined him, and they started down. Aside from a few wrong turns in the nearwhiteout conditions that largely prevailed, leaving them more than once, above steep ground and needing to retrace their steps until they found a better way down, the descent went as smoothly as Einar had hoped it might. The terrain offered them little resistance, a very fortunate thing indeed, as Einar’s body offered plenty of its own, the fever coming in waves but never leaving him completely--will take a while, I guess, must have plenty of that poison in my system, still--and on its downward side leaving him freezing and unable to warm up, if a bit more clear-headed than at its peaks. He just set his jaw and kept pushing ahead, doing his best to shove the difficulties into the background, where they could be dealt with later. Along with the remains of his foot. There it was, the bottom, an interminable-seeming slope of gnarly, twisted oak brush that grabbed and tore at them as they wormed through its fastness giving way at last to the more open ground of the canyon floor, frozen creek running beneath its thick shield of snow and ice, giving off an occasional gurgle that was loud enough to be audible through the frozen layers. Willows. Einar smelled them before he saw them, sweet, sweet willows, no better smell on earth, thank You for willows…and they were soon walking among them, looking for passages through the tangled density of the red-stemmed scrub that inhabited the damp area around the creek, and Einar, lagging behind, stepped up his pace for the space of several yards, caught up to Liz and grabbed a dangling strap of her pack. He had to stop. Liz did not need words to sense his intent, which was a good thing, as he had no breath to spare on words. She turned back and helped him to sit down on the snow bank that bordered the elk trail which, winding and narrow, drifted over in places by the new snow, was providing them a path through the thicket. When she offered him water, he drank, following it with a swallow of berberine, finally finding his voice. “Should cut some willow bark. Just shave the bark, coil it up. I can’t use it now… bleeding…but should have it for later.” Taking out his knife--handle still crusted in places with his blood, need to do a better job cleaning it up--he began shaving long strips of bark from the willow stems that stood within his reach, adding coil after coil to his pockets and then to his pack. Liz set to work near him, and he turned to her. “They’ll see this if they end up down here. Folks without much experience might just think the elk had been at the willows for a little forage, but a lot of people would know. Willing to take the risk though. Won’t show from the air, and if they don’t see anything from the air, why would they be down here in this particular spot, in the first place? Just don’t go cutting a bunch of stems. Too heavy to carry anyway, on top of everything else.” Packs bulging with the addition of a good bit of willow bark, they started on their way again, Einar resisting a rather strong urge to curl up in the snow with a mouthful of the strong, bitter stuff and let come what may. Forget that. Come on. Get your mind back

on something useful. “We ought to pass through another band of oak as we start the climb, Liz. Should get some oak bark to dry and save, too. For the tannin. It’s a pretty good disinfectant, helps stop diarrhea, can reduce swelling and help with some burns. I used it last fall when I got caught in the wildfire and scorched my upper back a little, and I think it really helped.” “Is that what those scars are from? I was wondering, but didn’t know if I should ask…” “Yeah. Burns weren’t too bad I guess, healed up Ok, but it sure was rough trying to carry a pack and keep it from rubbing on that area. And then it started raining, I couldn’t keep anything dry, or clean…huh. Guess I don’t have it all that bad right now, everything considered.” He shook his head, took off up the slope, laughing strangely. “Hey. Here are those oaks. Lets get our tannin-bark set aside, then on up and out of this canyon! Only about fifteen hundred or so feet of climbing left! Shouldn’t take long at all, right?” Unsure whether Einar’s sudden enthusiasm was genuine, or a result of the fever returning in full force, Liz joined him and began chipping at the outer layer of bark on the twisted trunk of a scrub oak, knowing that he would not be likely to rest until they had finished the task and were well on their way to being up out of the canyon. • • • • Fifteen hundred feet is a long way to climb when one only has the use of one foot and is struggling with blood loss and a persistent fever, a fact which Einar was reminded of more than once on the climb up out of the canyon. He would have been faced with a harder time still had Liz not noticed a steep, treed gully that appeared, what she could see of it, to split the canyon face, steering Einar into it more to get him out of the bitter, gusting wind than anything else. Climbing up through the tangle of oak brush and box elders that choked the lower reaches of the gully, they came to a spot where a large boulder loomed up out of the storm, blocking their path and requiring them to traverse around it. The rock was of limestone, and as big as a truck. Out of its top grew a spreading, many-trunked box elder tree, leaving the boulder to look very much like a head with a very frizzy, snow-covered head of hair on top. Einar laughed, pointed it out to Liz. Pausing for a brief rest in the relative shelter offered by the soaring buttresses of rock that guarded the gulley down there near the canyon floor, leaning on the hair-tree boulder, he peered upwards through the storm, squinting, bobbing his head one way and another and finally looking back at Liz with a weary, lopsided smile, appearing satisfied. “Good choice, this gully. Gives us at least some chance of making the top without running into cliffs and having to do a few pitches of 5.11 or 5.12 climbing on icy, snowy limestone…fun for you, maybe, but I’m missing a few pieces now, remember, so you got to give me some time to get used to it, day or two before I’ll be able try that kind of stuff again…” She shook her head, sat down beside him. Poor guy. He’s seeming a good bit goofier than usual, at the moment. Looks like he’s in a lot of pain, but I’m not sure he’s even aware of it, half the time. Maybe it’s better that way… “Einar, I’ve never been able to climb 5.11 on my best day, so I guess this gully’s a good thing for both of us, huh? I’d

like to learn though, so maybe in a month or two when you’re all healed up and we’re settled in somewhere with plenty to eat and don’t have to think about running all the time, you can teach me!” “Month or two? Huh. Won’t need any month or two. Be climbing again in a week. Plenty of people climb with two toes, three toes, no toes, though the big toe does help with balance, but I still got my big toe and I’m gonna keep it, too. Did you know that they found an Egyptian mummy with a wooden big toe? Yep. And on the right foot, too, though she had all of her other toes. But if I end up losing mine, I’ll just carve a new one out of spruce or antler or something and strap it on--none of this is gonna stop me, just got to stuff my boot with moss or wool or leaves and off I’ll go, better than ever, won’t need to worry about freezing those toes anymore either which is a big advantage, see, so you coming, or not? Climbing, that is…” “Yes…Einar, of course I’m coming. I’d love to come climbing with you. But first, let’s just concentrate on climbing up out of this canyon, Ok? Now before we start up again, you’d better let me take a look at your foot. I want to make sure you’re not bleeding too much. Here. You work on this bottle of water while I look.” He sat there clutching the water bottle as Liz gently slid the overboot off and moved some of the usnea aside, seeing that the sock strip with which he had originally bound the foot was soaked in places with blood and beginning to ooze. A fairly significant loss for someone in his condition, but it seemed to be under control. Seeing that Einar had wrapped the wounds tightly and quite well, she was hesitant to remove the sock strip, not wanting to give the bleeding a chance to start up again more seriously, opting instead to add another strip on top. She felt Einar tense up as she wrapped the second strip, glanced up at him and was suddenly a bit sorry for having decided to look at the foot, at all. She could see in his eyes that the half-lucid state in which he had spent the last while contentedly carrying on about his future adventures in toeless climbing had been shattered, her handling of the foot having brought him fully and rather sharply back to reality. He had begun shivering again, too, and looked awfully cold. It was to be a long climb for him. The water bottle, seemingly forgotten in his white-knuckled hand, was in immediate danger of being crushed and its water lost, and she took it from him, held it up and offered him a sip. “Here. Now let me help you get the boot back on. You’re still bleeding a little, but it doesn’t look too bad. Sorry I had to hurt you like this, but I needed to make sure you weren’t losing too much blood.” “It’s Ok. Needed to be…checked, and I think I got a little weird for a while back there. Getting better now. Thanks.” So much better, in fact, that he found himself suddenly having to turn aside and vomit in the snow as the hurt of the missing toes rose up to nearly overwhelm him. He wiped his face, stood, leaning heavily on the hair-tree-topped boulder. “Better get moving.” The drainage they were following got steep very quickly, and at first they worked their

way up the left side, following game trails. There were no tracks fresher than the newfallen snow to tell them in whose footsteps they might be walking, but Einar knew the paths likely belonged to the elk they had been following down among the willows. With the steep walls closing in on both sides, he kept expecting that they would reach a spot where the grade became too steep for them to easily--ha! Easily? Nothing about this is easy--continue climbing, but he saw that the elk trail continued, and knew that if the elk had found a way, then so could they. Elk, unlike bighorn sheep and mountain goats, could not navigate sheer cliffs, skipping and jumping from one precariously narrow rim of rock to another with reckless abandon; their abilities on steep ground were well matched to those of even a half-crippled human such as himself. The game trails eventually ended, though, or perhaps the two climbers simply lost them somewhere and could not pick them up again in all of that snow, and they found themselves pushing upwards through an incredibly dense mat of chokecherry and other bushes. As they ascended, there was more and more snow on the ground and on the bushes, weighing them down until in places they lay parallel with the ground, and it became impossible for Einar and Liz to see when they were standing on the ground, and when they stood atop a mass of bent-over branches and stems. Navigating the steep tangle, while exhausting even for Liz, was proving very nearly impossible for Einar, the crutch becoming hopelessly and frequently entangled in the grabbing, clinging brush beneath his feet and requiring him to stop and lie on his side on the snow as he struggled to free it. Liz, seeing that Einar stood no chance of keeping up with her, matched her pace to his own, walking beside or at times even behind him to assist in freeing the crutch and hauling him back to his feet after each encounter with the brush. Her own pack, weighing well in excess of fifty pounds, was creating major problems for her, as well, making it incredibly difficult to rise again on the unsteady footing of that slope each time she crouched down to help Einar, and once, while walking on what appeared to be deep, secure snow, the pack’s weight caused her to punch through and fall up to her armpits down into the matted tangle of brush that lay beneath the snow. She was stuck, tried to find footing so she could raise herself, lift herself and get to her knees on the snow above in the hopes of being able to crawl off without punching through again, but the wiry, flexible chokecherry branches gave her nothing to brace against, and she just kept sinking deeper, until finally she freed herself from the pack and dropped to the ground. Several minutes’ struggle followed, in which she worked her way up through the tangled branches and emerged again on the surface, where she found Einar lying on his stomach in the snow, one hand wrapped through the shoulder strap of her pack, pulling with all his might to bring it back up again. She lay down with him and together they managed to retrieve it, hauling it up onto the surface and carefully scooting back away from the hole lest one of them end up in it again, and the struggle begin anew. Lying there until they caught their breath they continued, too worn out for words, their pants soaked with snow from all the crawling, walking on the tops of the bent-over brush, pulling themselves up the impossibly tangled and steep slope. After continuing thus for quite some time, long enough, in fact, that even Einar began to wonder if there was ever to be an end to the torment of that slope, they finally reached a place where the ground became too steep to support the thick growth of vegetation, and they were climbing on

dirt and rock, snow-slick and in places icy, climbing up between soaring, vertical cliffs whose tops were lost in the swirl of blowing snow. Many times after that, scrambling for a hold in the steep chute, they expected to run head-on into an impassible cliff, but they managed to keep going, working their way between limestone crags. Einar, fearing an unrecoverable fall, finally parted with the crutch, asking Liz to strap it to his back and continuing at a crawl. As they neared the top, aspens began to appear, and the going became slightly less steep, side channels opening up out of the main drainage. Most of these alternate routes appeared far too steep to offer them passage but one, boulderchoked and overgrown with snow-covered gooseberry and other shrubs, appeared navigable, and they started up into it, a row of stark, leafless aspens at its mouth just barely visible through the storm and offering them hope that the climb was nearing its end, and Einar strapped himself back into the crutch, standing, climbing once more on his feet. Well over half an hour later--Einar was terribly slow, and Liz refused to leave his side--they stepped together up over the last rugged rim of snowy, wind-scoured limestone, and out onto the gently sloping ground above the canyon rim. Before them, on the far side of a small open meadow, lay a dense stand of evergreens which they both knew would offer shelter for the night, while below their feet yawned the storm-hidden vastness of the canyon, conquered, but not by their strength alone, and they both knew it. Liz put a hand on Einar’s shoulder and he turned to her, grinning, a fierce light in his sunken eyes, took her hand. The stormy day’s pale brightness was just beginning to fade. They had done it. • • • • Einar and Liz wasted no time, after a last look back behind them into the eveningdimming depths of the canyon, in heading for the trees. The wind was hitting them with its full fury once again now that they no longer had the canyon walls or the closer, more confining ones of the drainage to shield them, and it felt as though neither one of them was wearing so much as a stitch of dry clothing, after that climb. Tops and bottoms alike were caked with snow and ice, the bearskins, loosely worn as they had been, not providing the best protection during all of the floundering and crawling that the terrain had necessitated. No matter. The storm raged on; they could have a fire. And had better have one, too, and soon. Einar was freezing, his temperature beginning to drop dangerously as he cooled down from the effort of the climb, and Liz, worn out and walking around in wet clothes, was not too far behind him. The trees, as it turned out, were clustered around a large depression in the ground, the start of a draw, it seemed, surrounding and filling it, and Liz urged Einar to wait under the shelter of one of the trees at its edge while she searched for the best spot to shelter for the night. Suddenly remembering very clearly what had happened the last time he had waited while she searched for shelter, though, he vehemently insisted on going along, limping through the timber behind her as they hunted for the best spot. The snow was quite deep in places there in the trees, having been piled and packed by the winds that swept the canyon rim, and they slogged through it, pushing through the drifts until they came to a place where the gusts had been largely blocked by the deepening of the depression, finding the going a good bit easier. The forest was quite dense down there, the closeness of the trees and the presence of aspens and even a few small, stunted cottonwoods giving an appearance of perpetual dampness, as if a small creek must run

through the draw, in the summertime. It was quite damp at the moment, too, and perhaps a bit dismal-looking in the fading light, moss on tree trunks and great clumps and strands of usnea hanging from evergreen branches, but to Einar, who would have been asleep on his feet if not for the pain of his missing toes, it was most welcome, a refuge. He chose a large spruce whose branches, along with a fallen evergreen that lay directly behind it, served to create a virtually snow-free area beneath around it, clearing, with Liz’s help, the rest of the snow until the reached the layer of mostly dry duff beneath. Good enough. He fumbled himself free of the crutch, sank to his knees for a moment, forehead on the ground and arms pressed tightly against his sides for warmth, done, beat, very nearly too tired to breathe, before rising--not done yet. Back to work, you lazy, shivering pile of bones, before you lie here and sleep…and freeze, and die. You’re not far from it--and hopping about the camp, breaking off small, dry branches for a fire. Liz returned minutes later with a big armload of firewood, arranging Einar’s pile of small, barkless branches into a rough teepee in the spot where he had scraped the duff away to reveal the frozen dirt beneath, placing a piece of evergreen bark to keep the ground from steaming as it thawed and putting out the young flames. Before long they had a good crackling blaze going, Einar crawling around and prying a number of rocks loose from the frozen duff to stack on one side of the fire as a reflector. As he worked, Liz beat as much of the accumulated ice and snow as she could from her bear hide poncho and hung it from branches in the tree to act as a further windbreak and heat reflector, doing the same with Einar’s, which he had cast aside as too heavy. Bringing the hides together at the top and tying them with bits of cordage, Liz had soon created a rough shelter which worked wonders in keeping the wind out and the fire’s warmth in, smoke rising gently along the tree’s trunk and escaping through the gap she had left between hides. Spreading the deer hide hair-side up on the duff, she unrolled the yearling hide, which had been kept dry in her pack during the climb. Hanging a pot over the little fire, she started some water heating, throwing in a handful of new snow to add to its volume. Her clothes were soaked, and she removed them, wringing them out and hurrying into the dry set in her pack, hanging the wet ones to dry from a branch some distance from the fire. “Hey, Einar!” She called out into the rapidly growing darkness, “that reflector you’ve built looks great. You’ve gathered plenty of rocks now, I think. Come on in here and start getting warm.” No answer. Where are you? Don’t tell me you’ve wandered off in this storm to freeze your other foot… She shouted again, parted the hides and looked out, a sudden crashing of falling rocks telling her that he was out on the other side of the shelter. Quickly joining him, she saw that he had gathered up quite a pile of rocks and was methodically arranging them on the edges of the bear hides that trailed on the ground, holding them down against the prying of the wind to create an even more secure shelter. Helping him finish, she herded him into the warm, still air of the little half-tent. The water was beginning to bubble, and before long Einar was in his dry clothes, also, the two of them huddled together in the yearling hide as they passed a pot of spruce needle and bearfat tea back and forth. There were things he wanted to say to Liz, things they needed to discuss about the coming day, but his head was too thick with exhaustion to trust his own words, so he kept quiet. The foot had to have attention though, dressings

needed changing and he knew he had better wash the wounds with berberine solution if he wanted any chance of avoiding a secondary infection that would lead to worse trouble than he had been in to begin with. As soon as his shivering had subsided a bit and he could begin to feel his fingers again, he pulled off the boot and began removing the blood-soaked dressings, Liz feeding the fire as he worked and holding him to keep the warming process going. Not frozen. Dressings aren’t frozen. That’s good. Surprising, but good. Sure would like to keep those last two toes… He was asleep then, head nodding forward and hands falling open before he could even finish pulling aside the dressings to get a look at the foot. Liz gently slipped out from behind him and eased him to the ground, working carefully on the foot in the hopes of allowing him to go on sleeping, but not at all surprised when he startled awake as soon as she pulled away the last layer of blood-soaked usnea and began unwrapping the sock strip. “Uh…hey, I was gonna do that,” he mumbled thickly, hauling himself upright and leaning back against the tree trunk. “Guess I fell asleep. Told you to just go ahead and kick me when I fall asleep.” “Well, I was just about to kick you--can still do it, if you want--but thought maybe I should take care of the foot, first. How about letting me do it, this time? Easier for me to reach, and easier for me to see, too.” He nodded, letting his head rest on the tree trunk. “Not a very pretty sight, I’m afraid. Kinda tore things up. I’m no surgeon, that’s for sure. But I guess maybe it worked, because I’m pretty sure the fever’s gone, or going, anyway. Or maybe I’m just too tired to tell that it’s still here…guess we’ll know I didn’t get all the infected parts, if my foot starts turning black. Otherwise it ought to heal up, eventually.” Liz unwrapped the dressing, steeling herself against a powerful urge to avert her eyes from Einar’s mangled foot, to flee the shelter and be sick or to burst into tears at the sight of what he had done to himself, but she took a deep breath and did neither, managing to speak steadily when she addressed him. “No, your foot isn’t turning black. It’s a little swollen and there’s a good bit of dried blood that needs to be cleaned off, but at least that…that smell is gone.” “Gangrene. Pretty sure that’s what the smell was. Toes were rotting off, starting to poison me. Probably wouldn’t have…made it another day or two if I’d left them, the way I was feeling this morning. That, or would have been too sick to do anything about it. May have a chance now.” Don’t talk like that, you’re going to be just fine, she wanted to tell him. What happened to the guy who was all ready to take me climbing, a few hours ago, saying that losing a few toes was not going to stop him? She kept quiet, though, knowing that he was by no means out of danger and supposing it was good that he realized it, hoping that the lessening of his delirium might indicate that the illness brought on by the infection was beginning to leave him. Though if he doesn’t get some sleep soon, he’s surely going to be

right back where he was this morning, between the exhaustion and the pain, ranting about how one can climb perfectly well with three toes or no toes and likely as not wanting to move on and leave this good warm shelter before half the night has gone by. I’d better try and get things wrapped up here pretty quick and see if we can both get to sleep before that happens. “I’m going to wash your foot in some of this berberine that’s left, and boil up some more real quick so you have a full bottle for tomorrow. Shouldn’t the wounds be sewn up, or something? There are some sutures in the medical kit…” Leaning forward, he inspected the foot. “Yeah, it would heal quicker if we could do that, but I don’t really trust that we’ve been able to clean it out very well, and the last thing I would want to do is to sew up a bunch of bacteria and assorted gunk in there. Be better off just leaving it open for now, I think. Doesn’t look like I’m losing much blood at the moment, and if I can keep it wrapped tightly enough with those sock strips, I’m hoping that the flaps of skin I left can heal over the wounds, eventually. Hard to say, moving around like this. Didn’t matter how careful I was back there on that climb, I couldn’t help but whack the foot into things from time to time, get it hung up on brush. That’s likely to make things move around a little, even with all this wrapping and padding. We’ll see. I’m just glad to have the toes gone. Could feel that I was starting to go downhill fast this morning, with that fever and all, and I don’t know for sure that I’m through with all of that, yet. I really need to be drinking as much of that berberine stuff as I can manage, so if I end up getting real sick again and start forgetting, maybe you can remind me, Ok? Just pour it down my throat if you have to. You got my permission, this time. I…uh…know I got pretty weird this morning.” “Einar…you’re always pretty weird! But yes, I’ll make sure you keep drinking the stuff. I’m going to boil some more of it right now. Should I just bandage up the foot, then, like you had it?” “Yes. I can do it, though. Pretty ugly, and I’m the one that made the mess...” “Don’t be ridiculous. I would have done that part for you, too, if you’d have let me. Now. I’ll get this washed and wrapped back up, and change the dressing on the two toes you have left, just like we were doing before with the others. Can you have some willow bark to chew, or is it too soon still?” “Don’t know. Don’t want to start bleeding tonight, or when we’re walking tomorrow. Better wait a day on the willow. Just do it.” He clamped the well-worn willow stick in his mouth and lowered his head, concentrating on his breathing as she worked. The foot tended to and Liz’s new batch of Oregon grape solution boiled up and bottled for the coming day, she heated up a quick stew by dropping a packet of pemmican into some boiling water and stirring for a minute. “Instant soup, mountain man style,” she told Einar, and he managed a bit of a smile, though having a very difficult time staying awake and not altogether certain what she had said. The pain of his foot was still there,

certainly, sharp and tearing at times, leaving him to sit bolt upright, grabbing for the foot, or his knife alternately, but his exhaustion was rapidly becoming the stronger force. He ate a bit at her urging, dozing between bites and sinking quite willingly to the ground when she told him supper was over and it was time to sleep. They curled up together under the yearling hide, then, a few heated rocks adding to the warmth of their bed. Liz stayed awake for a while, listening to Einar breathe and pushing sticks into the fire as the storm raged on outside their shelter, gusts sweeping forcefully up across the canyon rim and erasing all trace of their passage, and eventually she slept, also. • • • • Einar’s shivering woke him from a dark and unpleasant dream--vague, shadowy, its meaning slipping from his mind but an indefinable and therefore undisputable sense of dread remaining--sometime in the early hours of the night, bone cold and aching fiercely where his hip rested on a rock or root or some such that lay concealed beneath the deer hide. He shifted slightly to relieve the pressure, shoved numbed hands into his armpits and tucked his chin down against his chest. The fire had gone out, the night air creeping in under the inadequate cover of the yearling hide, and he knew he ought to get up and do something about it, but exhaustion weighed too heavily on him, and he kept still. Something was tearing at his foot, powerful teeth grinding the flesh, crushing the bones, and he lay there holding himself rigid against the bitter chill and the pain, trying not to cry out or to leap on the creature with his knife and stop its savaging of his foot. Liz had heard the change in his breathing, pressed herself closer--he had somehow edged away from her in the night and ended up half off of the deer hide--and wrapped her arms around him. She felt that he was freezing and added a few chunks of wood to the barely glowing coals, bringing the fire back to life and seeking to rub the chill from his limbs. It did not seem to be helping. “Want me to make some more tea?” She whispered, rearranging the yearling hide so that it better covered him. “No. Be…Ok. You warm enough?” “Well I was until I found you again just now! What have you been doing? Lying out there in the snow for the last few hours? You feel like ice.” He mumbled something unintelligible, curled up and was asleep again almost instantly, leaving Liz to wonder just how he had managed such nights, while on his own. I guess he just slept, and froze, and somehow managed to wake up in the morning, anyway. I sure don’t understand it… Pulling several newly heated rocks from the fire she snuggled them up against him, adding another few sticks to the flames and attempting to get back to sleep, herself, managing it only after Einar had warmed a bit. Sometime in the night the winds calmed, temperatures stopped falling and the snow, soft, powdery, curled down heavy and silent outside, the two weary travelers sleeping soundly. Dreaming again, Einar wandered through basins high and far and green, the brilliant, impossible green of the alpine spring, the thicket of little aspens that stood arrayed around his meadow very nearly fluorescing as the morning sun shone through their

newly-unfurled leaves, tiny, delicate, vibrant, their sound like falling water in the soft breeze, singing. A cow elk, thin and a bit scraggly-looking with the ruff of darker hair around her neck appearing unusually thick in contrast to her poor coat, stepped warily out into the open to feast on the greenness after a long winter of hunger and foraging in the snow, calf following eagerly if a bit clumsily behind her. Einar smiled in his sleep, took a deep breath of the sharp, spruce-scented air that swept down from the still-snowy peaks just above his little basin, turned and retreated into the timber, content to let mother and calf go about their eating. There are other elk. We will eat tonight. Spear in one hand-he relied on it still for balance and a bit of support--and atlatl in the other, he stalked down through the spruces, heading for a lower basin where he had earlier seen three or four elk bedded down along the edge of a meadow. Reaching an area just above the lower meadow and wanting to get a look at it before proceeding he paused, the sun warm on his back as it fell in golden patches through the trees, contrasting with the chill air of the high timber. He reached out a hand to part the branches of a low, stocky fir that obscured his view, and his hand contacted snow. Einar startled awake at the icy wetness on his hand, turned and saw Liz there behind him, still fast asleep. Reaching out again he parted the tied-together bear hide halves that had sheltered them that past night, seeing that the snow had drifted in great piles around them, several feet deep in spots and sealing the bear hides against the ground. It was still snowing. No wonder it stopped getting colder about the middle of the night. We got buried three feet deep in snowy insulation! He sighed, shivered, pulling the yearling hide close around him again and pressing his back against Liz’s ribs. He knew they needed to go, move, put some distance between themselves and the canyon rim while the snow was still falling, but Einar wanted nothing quite so much right then as to curl up and go on resting there in the relative warmth of the shelter, his pain held temporarily at bay by a still-heavy haze of weariness that urged him almost irresistibly to further sleep. No. You’ve slept. This is no time to get all comfortable and settle in for a long rest while the storm blows over out there. Who knows when it may storm next, and you’re not far enough away from the air search, yet. He sat up creakily, took a gulp of water in the hopes of combating the sudden dizziness that washed over him, stretched, rubbed some feeling back into his legs and flexed his ankles in preparation for rising and getting the crutch strapped back into place. Now go ahead and…ah, yeah. No chance at all of getting too comfortable now, is there, even if you wanted to? Doggone foot. Guess I may try some willow later, if it still doesn’t seem inclined to bleed a lot. Better go ahead and start packing up. It’s a good while past daylight, looks like. Though much of the ice had been melted out of the bear hides by the warmth of the fire, they were still wet, and so of course quite frozen, around the edges. Need to beat these against a tree, or we’ll just be carrying all that extra weight along with us. Got enough to carry as it is, and I’m hoping we can cover a good ten or twelve miles today, at least. Time to go looking for that little green basin full of elk… Liz was stirring, drawing her head in deeper under the yearling hide and reaching for him, trying to pull him back into its meager warmth. He scooted out of her reach, leaned over and whispered in her ear. “Get up. It’s time to go. Spring is coming, I’ve seen it!”

She sat up, took one look at his bright eyes and the pained grimace that he was attempting to pass off as a grin, and felt his forehead, fearing that the fever had returned. Which it seemed not to have. “Spring, is it? It seems spring must be a good ways off still. Did you get any sleep?” Are you alright?” He laughed a bit, finding himself not quite sure how to answer a question like that. “Well, I’m still here. And so are you. But of course that’s half the problem at the moment, because we need to be somewhere else. Need to be hurrying along up this ridge and away from the canyon. Still snowing right now, but who knows for how long?” Slightly exasperated at his hurry--she had been hoping for a good long day of stillness during which Einar would rest, sleep and keep off of his foot, while she gathered usnea, kept the fire going and cooked up several pots of stew for them to eat--Liz squirmed out of the bed and stirred the nearly dead coals of the fire. “Can we take time to have breakfast and boil up some of the new usnea I gathered last night, at least, give it a chance to dry out? And we really need to change the dressings on your foot…” It was best, her idea, and he knew it, assented reluctantly after several minutes spent glaring at the ground, doing so only because he could see that Liz looked nearly as cold and hungry as he felt, figured a hot breakfast would do her some good. He was, after all, asking her to carry the larger pack, and that was a lot to ask of a person, especially in snow as deep as what they would be facing on the ridge that day. And he supposed he really did want to keep his remaining toes if possible, too, and avoid debilitating and potentially deadly infection at the amputation sites--a very unlikely outcome, if he did not take meticulous care of the foot until it healed. Hoping to speed things up, he took down the bear hides, kicked away the snow that had build up against them and did his best to beat out the accumulated ice in preparation for their journey, his high hopes of a twelve mile day fading the first time he attempted to stand. • • • • The dizziness was nearly overwhelming, left him grabbing for the nearest spruce branch to steady himself and help him rediscover where the ground was; his spear had just been leaning with him, doing little to prevent the inevitable fall. The earth finally ceased its pitching and rolling and the trees stood still, leaving Einar hanging there from the branch, badly nauseated and a bit hesitant to let go lest the motion start up again, and Liz see him fall. His head was pounding so that it hurt to keep his eyes open, to look at the snow, even with the heavy overcast, and he supposed he must need more water, and a lot of it, tried to take an experimental step back towards the shelter and wound up face down in a powdery snowdrift. How did this happen? Guess I need that water before I try and stand again…hey. Here. Swallow this mouthful of snow you ended up with, it’ll be a start. He swallowed the snow, waiting for it to begin melting and choking down the slush before attempting to crawl the five or six feet back to the partially dismantled shelter. The crawl out to the tree had gone fine--he’d seen a good sized clump of usnea growing on one of its branches and had wanted to retrieve it for future use--but even creeping along on all fours seemed a bit of a challenge at the moment, though he quickly learned

that the dizziness could be minimized by keeping his eyes fixed straight ahead and making a serious effort not to turn his head at all. Which was good, because he had quickly tired of ending up on his face in the snow, and certainly did not wish Liz to find him thus, knowing that she might try to use the circumstance to argue that they ought to stay put for a few hours, hours that he knew they could not afford. Nor would they need. He’d be fine, as soon as he got about a gallon of water down. That had to be it. By the time he made it back to the deer hide, though, his vision was going dark and he ended up lying down without really trying to, knees on the hide and forehead in the snow. After a while he heard Liz coming, soft footsteps in the deep snow, and he managed to sit up and lean back against the tree trunk, his breath coming fast and not seeming like quite enough. She looked somewhat alarmed at the sight of him, and he wondered a bit absently if perhaps the dizziness showed in his eyes. Felt like it surely must, the way everything was spinning. Liz did not, or course, see Einar’s dizziness. What she did see was that his face was crusted with snow and ice, clods of snow in his beard and hair and eyebrows from where they had rested on the ground for a number of minutes just then, his forehead, nose and lips varying from bright red to a rather unhealthy-looking purple. Sitting down beside him, she began working the snow out of his hair, warming his face with her hands. “What have you been doing, Einar? I thought you were just going to beat some of the ice out of the bear hides.” “Well I was doing just that but then uh…saw some usnea over there on that tree and…got kinda dizzy I guess, when I tried to stand up to reach it. Think I must have ended up awful low on water somehow, after yesterday.” Oh, I can’t imagine how, she mused silently, between all the blood you lost, that long climb and how fast you were breathing all night. You really, really need a few days of rest, Einar… Giving him a drink, she took his pulse, looked at him a bit worriedly and tried to get him to lie down, which he refused to do, knowing how difficult it had been to get up the first time and not wanting to repeat the process in her presence. “I’m concerned that you may still have an infection of some sort, Einar. Something left over from the toes you took off, or even one of the ones that’s left…” “Nah, don’t have a fever anymore. I’m getting over that stuff.” “Fever doesn’t always come with infection. Sometimes a low temperature can be a sign, too…will you let me take your temperature?” He grinned at her, laughed. “No point. Temperature’s always low these days, and I’m thinking you don’t need one more thing to worry about. Let’s skip it. Need water, that’s all. Lot of it, and then I’ll be able to do this. Some nettles or…lamb’s quarter might help too, it feels like, but we don’t have any.” “Nettles? For the iron?”

“Yeah. Still bleeding some and I guess I lost a good bit yesterday. Feel like I can’t quite…get enough air or something.” “Well, I’m going to make you some stew real quick before we go, and maybe if it’s iron you need, it would make sense to add some of that dried bear’s blood to it. It’s here in my pack, I saw it just this morning.” Nodding, Einar took another long swallow from the bottle of water, followed it with a gulp of the berberine solution that Liz offered him, grabbing her arm and looking at her with grateful eyes. The bear blood stew’s a great idea, and one I wouldn’t have thought of right now. Seems your mind is a good bit sharper than mine today, Liz. Glad one of us is thinking… And hey, thanks for helping like this, with ideas and all, instead of just trying to insist that we stay put for the day. I know you were thinking it, and I’m really not sure I’ve got the energy today to fight you on that, or much else, if you’d have decided to force the matter, but I’d sure have tried, and it might not have turned out well for either of us… So, thanks. Liz had taken his hand and was looking at him with concern and a bit of consternation, but she did not respond and it took Einar a minute to realize that he had not been speaking out loud. He released his grip on her arm, gave her a lopsided smile and leaned his head back on the tree, fought the sleep that was trying to close his eyes. Well. Probably best she didn’t hear any of that. Who knows? Might change her mind and try to make me stay… When he woke the stew was bubbling, its rich scent reaching him where he sat slouched against the rough bark of the spruce, Liz having draped the yearling hide over him when she realized that he had actually gone to sleep. He pulled himself up straighter, took another swallow of water and glanced hastily around, vexed with himself for falling asleep but supposing he couldn’t have been out for more than a few minutes, based on the fact that he still had some feeling left in his hands, which sat at his sides, half-covered by the yearling hide. It’s still snowing. Good. Better eat, and get out of here. Things should get easier, once I’m on my feet and moving. Pulling the folded map from his pocket, he studied it, fixing their route in his mind. Seeing him awake, Liz pulled the stew from the fire, thick and rich with venison shreds and bear fat and nearly black from the dried bear blood she had crumbled in as it cooked, and they shared a meal. Einar was not sure at first whether he would be able to stomach the stew, the constant hurt radiating up from the missing section of his foot leaving his insides in a bit of a turmoil, but no sooner had he taken the first cautious sip than the queasiness eased a bit, allowing him to eat. He felt greatly revived after eating, much steadier, the iron and salts in the blood being just the things his body had lacked, and again he thanked Liz for the idea, managing to rise and more or less hold his own against the dizziness as he took as few experimental steps. How long the effects of the meal would last was anyone’s guess, but Einar was determined to make the most of his renewed strength, for however long he might be able to enjoy its effects. The stew was eaten, water bottles filled one final time and Einar’s dressings changed, and it was time to go. He stood, pack on his back and spear in hand, leaning on a tree and appearing deep in thought as Liz rolled up the yearling hide and stashed it down in her

pack, knowing that they needed to keep it dry at all costs, if they wanted a good chance of making it through the following night. It was one thing to walk all day in damp and snow-encrusted clothing--as she supposed theirs soon would be, the way it was storming--but another entirely to attempt sleeping that way, even with a fire and adequate shelter from the wind. Uncomfortable under any circumstances, she feared such a night might well prove more than Einar could endure, in his present state. I’m sure not going to mention anything like that to him though, because he’d probably insist on sleeping in his wet clothes tonight, just to prove me wrong. And he’d probably somehow manage to survive the night, too, out of sheer stubbornness, the ornery old mule… Fortunately, it appeared that no such test would be necessary, as their second sets of clothes had dried overnight over the fire, and she rolled them up and carefully packed them away with the bear hide, for use that coming evening. She squinted up at the sky, thinking that the hours that separated them from the next coming of dusk would almost certainly be very long ones, praying that she would have the strength do all that they required of her, and maybe a little bit extra to share with him, if You’re willing, because it sure looks like he may need it… Einar was already moving up the ridge, his trail close-footed and weaving a bit at first but his steps evening out as he went, steady, the image of the map fresh in his mind; twelve miles. He had found his pace and was, for the moment, maintaining it. • • • • As they climbed up away from the canyon, Einar’s steps slowed a bit, faltered and again settled into a steady pace that he fought to maintain, sensing that if he let it lag, he might not be able to pick it up again. Liz, walking ahead to break trail, stopped him every so often to offer water, to insist on it, when he brushed her aside with a quick assertion that he was not thirsty, that he did not have time to stop, quickly discovering that the only way to convince him to drink was to stand directly in his path with the water bottle, physically preventing his passage until he had taken a sip. He seemed irritated at first by her persistence but she kept at it, and after the first several stops, he seemed to accept the intrusion, or to become too tired to fight it. She couldn’t tell which, and decided it did not really matter. He had to drink. It was sometime around midday, best as Liz could tell, and pausing to look down through the timber that stretched out behind them on the gentle slope of the ridge, she was sure that she would still be able to see the dark rift of the canyon, had it not been for the trees and the ongoing storm. They were traveling terribly slowly and had not come far, but at least they were moving, which seemed to be pleasing Einar. She supposed. He had not said a word to her since they had left camp that morning. Pushing on step after step through the snow, Einar was back on his trapline, a familiar thing, remembered, and he must have done well that day, as heavy as his pack felt. Must have done awfully well, in fact, because that doggone pack was just about crushing him into the ground, and he wondered what he’d done, forgotten to skin out a couple of the beavers? Or maybe he’d fallen and got all his gear soaked, and was having to carry everything wet, all that extra weight, that must be it, because my clothes are awful heavy too, and this coat’s all crusted up with ice and now that I think about it, I’m kinda

freezing, feet are aching something awful like I must have just about froze them, but at least I can feel them now, so must be headed in the right direction…well. Should probably stop and make a fire, thaw out some and dry my clothes, but I think it’s just another few miles back to the cabin, and I sure would like to cover that before dark. Feeling awful tired, kinda dragging, but I’m not even having to break trail so that’s helping a lot, just walking in my old tracks from yesterday. It’s weird about these tracks though…boot treads sure don’t look like mine, but they’ve got to be, ’cause no one else traps this area, and it’s sure not tourist country or anything. Must just be tired, eyes are a little blurry and I guess that’s how come the tracks look a little off. It’ll be alright. Things like this have happened before--falling in the water or whatever I’ve done, can’t really remember for sure--and I always made it back, just keep walking and you’ll make it back and you can warm up when you get back to the cabin, can sleep… His eyes sank closed and he tripped on the crusty top of a snowdrift, almost indistinguishable in the flat light of the storm from the surrounding terrain, even if one is looking, fell hard and couldn’t seem to push himself back upright as he had already done innumerable times that morning. The pack. It was crushing him, keeping his lungs from expanding all the way, it felt like, and it had to come off. He fumbled with the waist belt, finally freed himself and rolled over, struggling for breath as he stared up at the trees and at the snowy, indistinct figure of another person who stood bent over him, saying something, and he thought he recognized the voice but supposed he must be mistaken, must, for that matter, be imagining her altogether. Never did take any woman along on a trapline, so what’s she doing here…? She was definitely not a figment of his imagination though, was apparently quite real because she was pulling him up into a sitting position, giving him water, good, fresh water and he drank eagerly, the liquid feeling like life itself as it ran down his parched throat, but he found himself a bit distressed when he could not seem to keep some of the water from dribbling back out at the corners of his mouth and running down onto his already icy coat, and then to make matters worse the woman took his pack and strapped it onto the top of her own, which already looked too heavy for someone of her stature to be lugging through the deep snow like that, and she refused to give it back to him, jabbing at him with a stick when he tried to force the matter, and saying something about how they had to stop now, how they had come far enough and had to rest. He told her about the cabin then, explained that they were very close and said she was welcome to come in and get warm when they reached it if that was what she wanted, have something to eat, and then he could take her into town or wherever she came from, because she was obviously lost and looked kind of hungry, too, but first she would have to give his pack back and would certainly have to stop jabbing him in the ribs with that doggone stick every time he reached for it, because he was dead tired from a long day on the trail and certainly did not appreciate having to fight her just to get his own gear back. He held the spear up and shook it in her direction for emphasis, growling that “I’m trying to be nice, lady, since you’re obviously lost and all, but if you don’t quit with that rib-jabbing and give my stuff back, I may just have to start pushing back pretty soon here.” Liz took a step back and looked at him in dismay, frightened not so much by his rambling speech and the vague threats he was directing at her as by what appeared to be a complete

inability to reconnect with reality when presented with it. At a loss as to how to handle him and not wanting either of them to end hurting the other, she finally emptied some of the heavier items out of his pack and tossed it over to him, saying that she’d be glad to follow him to his cabin. Snatching the pack up out of the snow and putting it on before the girl could change her mind and cause him more trouble, Einar lurched to his feet and headed out along the ridge again. Pack’s lighter. Little thief must’ve snagged a few of my pelts, and the wet ones, too, by the feel of things. Huh. Well, if she wants to carry them, let her carry them. I’ll get them back once we’re up to the cabin. The cabin did not come. He kept on and on through the snow, slogging along with a weariness like he could seldom remember feeling dragging at his limbs, the slight weight of the pack straps on his shoulders seeming to keep him from ever quite getting a full breath, step after step, hour after hour, he was pretty sure, but it did not come. Something was wrong, the world was all wrong, the familiar contours of the land betraying him, leaving him befuddled and freezing in the storm, but he kept on, following the set of tracks that had mysteriously appeared ahead of him once again despite the fact that the snow ought long ago to have filled then in, knowing that the cabin was there, that he would eventually reach it. The helicopter intervened, though, before he could do so. There weren’t supposed to be helicopters out on the trapline, certainly never had been, before, except perhaps the occasional rumble far off in the distance many miles away where a logging operation was going on, just enough to provide him the occasional reminder that the outside world existed and to keep him perpetually grateful that he was no longer a part of it. Not very often, anyhow. His first reaction, then, upon hearing the close and rapidly approaching pounding of rotors over the adjacent ridge was one of rage. What were they thinking? The place was his! His sanctuary, his refuge, the vast, welcoming fastness of black timber and uncharted creeks and valleys that had swallowed him up and given him the solace and silence he had been entirely unable to find down in the world below, and now they’re bringing a piece of it up here to me, are they? Following me here? No, not gonna have it. Can’t have it… And he stepped out into the clearing, atlatl at the ready, standing his ground and railing at the empty, snowy-speckled sky, ready to show the intruders in no uncertain terms just whose space they were violating. Which--considering the situation--would have been a serious problem, had the weather been such that helicopters could get off the ground, much less hover over the wind-blasted, snow-encrusted ranks of timber that shielded the two wayfarers that afternoon, which of course it was not. Liz waited until his rage spent itself, watching as he stomped out into the middle of the clearing and shook his fist at the sky, shouting words that were--mercifully--carried away by the wind before she could hear them and scattered into the silent, watching trees. He wore himself out pretty quickly, fell and floundered about in the deep snow for a minute, trapped, unable to rise as the beast hovered just over his head. Liz caught up to him just as he dragged himself beneath the nearest fir, and when she finally talked him into unwrapping himself from around its trunk and getting his knife put away--nobody’s here, nobody is coming, there was no chopper, not in this storm…look at the trees whipping around in that wind, there’s no way. It’s me, Einar, just me--she could see from his eyes that he was himself again. And beyond exhausted, unable to catch his breath. Staring out

into the storm as if hoping to pierce through its whiteness and get a good look at the surrounding terrain, he slammed a numb hand against his leg to restore function, pulled out the map and shook his head. “Any…idea where we are, Liz? Still on this long ridge I know, but my ability to estimate distance right now…” “It’s hard for me to say, too. More than a mile, but… Here. Let me see the map. We passed a big rock outcropping a little while back. I saw it when the snow slowed down for a few minutes, and it seemed like the ridge dropped off real sharply below it, almost vertically. Look. I only see one place along the ridge where it drops away like that. Right here.” Einar’s hands were shaking too badly to use his fingers in measuring distance on the map so Liz did it. “Three miles. It looks like we’ve come just over three miles since this morning.” She was amazed that they had come so far, smiled at him and hoped he would be willing to stop for the day, but Einar’s face fell, a momentary look that bordered on despair showing in his eyes before they hardened once again and he looked up at her. “Three miles. Awful close to the canyon, still, if the air search starts back up. We need to make twelve, before we stop for the day. You Ok? You ready to cover some more distance?” “Einar, really…don’t you think this is far enough? Why twelve?” “Twelve. Because the next time I stop…believe I may be there for a while, and I sure don’t want it to be anywhere near that doggone canyon. Now. You ready?” She was ready, more or less, but Einar was not, the dizziness that came over him on standing enough to leave him clinging a bit desperately to the tree and wondering how he was to get moving again, willingly accepting Liz’s hand when she offered it and sinking heavily back to the ground. “Just a minute. Huh. Was…going alright until now, but…just give me a minute.” Going alright? Where does he get that idea? “It’s fairly open up here on the ridge, Einar. Not very steep. If we put together a sled, you know, a travois-type thing, it would be pretty easy for me to pull you for a ways, you and the pack, both. Less work than carrying the pack, probably. Will you let me try it?” • • • • Liz’s suggestion got Einar up in a hurry, the idea of being tied to an improvised sled and dragged through the snow like a dead deer sending him scrambling to his feet, where he stood balancing precariously on his crutch, eyes fixed on the ground as he fought back a flood of vertigo, managing somehow to remain upright. Dead deer? No, not like a dead deer. You could think of it more as an evacuation, a rescue. You need to get out of the area, you’re flat out of energy, not to mention out of breath, and she’s offering to help

make it happen. Now what’s wrong with that? Sounds real sensible, actually. And, bone-tired as he was, the hot, twisting pain of his missing digits gnawing at his foot like a hungry animal and leaving his brain feeling terrible slow and heavy, Einar nearly accepted, the thought of an end to the continuous struggle of the day--any end, by any means--very appealing, just then. Too appealing. You’re gonna die if you lay down right now, not gonna have the energy or the will to get up again and you’ll lay there and freeze and die, and then so is she likely as not, because she’ll wear herself to a frazzle trying to drag you through these snowdrifts to somewhere safe, won’t quit, you know she won’t, and it’ll be the end of you both… He opened his eyes, looked up at her and firmly shook his head. “No sled. No, I may not be good for much right now, but I can sure haul my own sorry carcass up a gentle little ridge like this, and the day I can’t is probably the day you need to roll me in a hole somewhere and cover me up, Liz. Just cover me up, because I’ll be finished. Now are you ready to…” he was out of breath, had to stop and find it again, resting his forehead against the tree trunk, the skin around his eyes and lips looking a bit blue with the effort of it. “You ready to head out?” She shook her head, threw up her hands in exasperation. “I’m ready. But surely you don’t mean that, do you, about rolling you in a hole and covering you up if you’re ever unable to get yourself up a ridge? Because I seem to recall you being in that sort of situation a time or two before, and you made it through, you’re ‘still here,’ as you always say…” “Right.” He glanced up, a hint of humor briefly lighting his flat, exhausted eyes. “Maybe I…didn’t mean for you to take that quite so literally. You can kick me first a time or two to see if you can get me up and moving, before going to the trouble of covering me up. That sound better?” Silence, Liz glaring at him as she snapped the waist belt of her pack, recruiting the aid of a nearby fir branch to help haul herself back to her feet. She was weary from the sparse sleep of the previous night and from breaking trail all morning through snow that was at times thigh-deep, sore, worried sick about Einar’s condition, and did not see how he was managing to find any humor at all in the situation. He could tell that she was angry, took a step towards her and accepted the water she was holding out to him, drank. “Hey. Sled…it’s a real good idea, but for one thing, it’d take too long to build right now, and would sink pretty bad in this deep powder. Awful hard work to pull. Now I know you could do it, and would, but…I’d probably end up freezing, getting in real trouble just lying there like that, lose some more toes, at best. Really don’t want to lose any more toes. Got to keep moving, keep on my feet. Looks like I’m gonna be real slow but…few more miles and we stop. Alright?” He was holding out his hand, needing her to help him up and Liz took it, pulled him to his feet. “Alright. We’ll do it. Here. Take another drink first, and do you think you can eat something? Try a couple bites of this pemmican. I’ll have some too. This deep snow is

hard work.” Eating, Einar reached up and un-strapped his pack, which Liz had lashed to the top of her own after their last stop, and insisted that he must carry it. “It’s only a few pounds and… I’ve had to walk off and leave all my gear way too many times not to have learned this lesson. Have to keep things split up, each carry at least our own essentials, in case we get separated. No exceptions to that one.” She helped him into the pack, worried lines creasing her forehead when she saw how he sagged under its meager weight, but knowing that he was right about keeping their things split up. There was too much uncertainty in their world to count on things remaining as they were for any length of time, no matter how determined they might be to keep them that way. They had been separated before by circumstance, and she knew that, unlikely as such a happening seemed that day--no way I’m leaving you right now--a night spent by Einar alone and without at least minimal gear in his current condition would almost certainly be a fatal one. Einar was on his feet and ready as he was likely to ever be, and they started up the ridge again, Liz out front breaking trail along the course that Einar had pointed out for her. Nine miles. I don’t think we’re going to do nine miles, but I’ll keep going as long as he is able to, since he doesn’t seem likely to stop before he’s satisfied with our progress. And I’m sure if I refused to go on he’d just go without me, trying to break trail, himself. The cough started less than half an hour into their walk, Einar having an increasingly difficult time catching his breath and spending nearly as much time bent forward almost doubled over trying to clear his lungs so he could get enough air as he did walking. He tried chewing spruce needles for the cough, their acid tang seeming to help at first as did the water that Liz kept reminding him to drink, but neither seemed quite able to stave off a growing wetness in his lungs. Need to go down I guess, get lower where there’s more air to start with. Don’t like the way my lungs are going. Not that high here but I don’t seem to be doing too well with it right now…guess that’s what’s going on. It is all I can think of. Well. Nothing to do about it right now. Just have to hope things don’t get worse in a hurry, stay kinda stable, and I’ll be able to muddle along alright until we get to the end of the ridge and can drop down into one of those basins. And muddle he did, steps slow and halting but continuous, one after another, and he finally settled into a rhythm of sorts, three steps, stop, cough, take a few breaths, do it all over again. The pattern was familiar to him from some of the climbs he had done, step, step, breathe, step, step, breathe, on and on, but he was not used to having to resort to it until ascending far, far higher than their current course took them. Even so, the pattern’s familiarity kept him going, left him without much need to deliberate about his next step, and he moved as if in a dream, following the trail that Liz was breaking for him and accepting the water she held up to his lips with increasing frequency, concerned as she was, and rightly, that the cough and difficult breathing would be leaving him in constant danger of dehydration. Wanting to make sure they would have enough water to complete the trip, she was continually adding snow to the bottles as their level went down, storing two of them inside her clothes to keep the melting process going and getting by, herself, on the occasional sip in order to leave most of it for Einar. She could certainly feel the effects of her low water intake, knew it was putting her at greater danger of becoming hypothermic as her blood thickened, but supposed that she seemed to be getting along alright, at least

for the time. At least Einar’s pace was slow, very slow, which made her heavy load, the effort of breaking trail and the water shortage far easier to live with. The day finally began dimming and Einar, much to Liz’s amazement--and probably even his own, had he possessed the capacity for amazement just then--was still on his feet, still moving. In the final hour of pale daylight they emerged finally from the trees at a high point near the ridge’s terminus, Liz standing and waiting for Einar to catch up a point where the ground dropped away somewhat steeply below, a broken landscape of rock and scraggly, wind-blasted trees sweeping down some seven hundred feet to meet a series of small basins that lay below. She could see them, if fuzzily; the storm was waning. Einar soon joined her, the changed terrain jarring him out of the glazed-eyed haze in which he had been traveling since their last rest stop some hours before. Leaning heavily on his spear, he scanned the vista that opened up below them, increasingly clear as the snow slacked off, staring out at a vast world of basins and valleys, and thinking that they were much as he had seen in his dream, only snow-filled at the moment, rather than green and grassy. Overhead the clouds were beginning to part and slowly dissolve, thousands of tiny, brilliant pinpricks of light showing through the ragged tears in a storm that had lasted just long enough. Staring up at the stars and taking as deep a breath as he was able--not very--Einar saw Orion, the hunter, just emerging from a departing storm-wall. “Think I’m…ready to stop now, Liz.” • • • • Ready as Einar really was to stop, he knew after the first five minutes of stillness there on the high spot at the end of the ridge that he needed to get down lower before attempting to sleep, or do much of anything else, either. His breathing troubles only seemed to be worsening, even though he had stopped walking and was sitting motionless on a fallen aspen from a portion of whose trunk Liz had cleared the snow. His breaths were coming hard, the ongoing cough bringing up occasional batches of viscous gunk that was thick and sometimes blood-tinged, and he could plainly feel the wet gurgling sensation that each labored breath brought. Though too tired to show it, Einar was frustrated and a bit angry to find that his body was betraying him thus--not that I haven’t given it good reason, I guess, but still…never had this sort of trouble before, and now sure isn’t the time for it to start. Maybe I’m not reading this right. Maybe whatever was causing that fever yesterday--nasty stuff from the toes, I guess--managed to settle in my lungs. If that’s even possible. Sure does feel like the fever’s coming back and the way I’ve been sweating this last hour or so, wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the source of the trouble. In which case…might as well just stay here where I am, rest, drink as much of that berberine stuff as I can get down, maybe have some mullein tea and breathe the steam, and hope it’s enough to get the infection turned around, if that’s what I’m dealing with. At which he began coughing again, couldn’t quit and ended up sitting there with his chest on his knees, gasping and wheezing for breath and fighting the dark spots that welled up before his eyes as more and more time passed without him managing to get a full breath. Liz had begun gathering firewood and looking for a good spot to settle in for the night as he sat there, and hurried to his side when she realized just how much trouble he was having, gave him a little water and pulled him up out of the slouch he had settled into, helped him sit up a bit straighter. The change in posture brought a bit of immediate relief, just enough

to allow him to stop coughing, and he sat there trying to slow his breathing and clear his vision. Huh. Who are you kidding? Stay right here for the night and drink a bunch of barberine water? Not if you want to wake up in the morning. This is getting worse, and quick. No matter the cause, you’re gonna benefit from getting down a little lower. In the not-quite-darkness of the evening, he began studying the ground below them as he sat, trying to force himself to think strategically--ha!--logically, even, as any such level of deliberation seemed considerably beyond his grasp, need oxygen to deliberate…brain runs a lot better on the stuff and…what was I trying to figure out, now? Yeah. Place to… spend the night, needs to be down off this ridge crest, off this little bluff here the way it sticks up like a sore thumb…or a sore toe, huh, that’s more like it, wonder why no one uses that expression, “sticks out like a sore toe,” must’ve never had frostbit feet I guess, or that’s exactly what they’d say, but back to where to spend the night, Ok? Can’t seem to stay on the same idea for more than ten seconds right now, can you? That is not useful. Now. Trees. It’s got to have trees and lots of them, got to give access to a big enough swath of trees that we could use them as an escape route if we get a few sunny days and for whatever reason the air search ends up over here and we have to leave in a hurry and…aw, gosh, I sure hope that doesn’t happen this time, please don’t let that happen this time…but it might, so…trees. Cover. Escape routes. He saw trees, and plenty of them, the greatest concentration that appeared low enough to potentially help with his breathing problems, yet close enough that he might be capable of actually reaching it existed on the right hand sweep of the big, gentle cirque that lay just below them, and he pointed, nodding at Liz and hoping she’d get the idea. “What, those trees? Do you see something down there?” She stared down into the growing gloom, seeing nothing out of the ordinary. “Need to get down there. Tonight. Breathing getting…worse and worse and I don’t understand it but…” He rose, leaning on the spear and starting down, pausing for just a moment at the edge of the slope to wait for Liz to get her pack back on. The descent was slow, Liz several times having to remind Einar that he has wanted to reach the heavier timber on the side of the cirque, that it was not a good idea at all to sink down and sleep in the snow as he was seeming increasingly inclined to do. Each time he thanked her, got back up and continued, the two of them traveling largely by the memory of what they had seen from up on the ridge, as darkness was nearly complete by that point. Working their way from one tiny clump of stunted firs to another there on the rocky, fairly open ground of the slope, they reached at last the dark smear of timber that bulked black and welcoming there on the side of the cirque, looking up at the stars through the swaying, dancing network of boughs that soon enveloped them. Einar was through, sat down heavily beside a boulder whose solidness, unseen in the shadowy dark of the forest, had brought him up short when he ran headlong into it. That was to be it, then, their camp for the night, and Liz began feeling her way around, searching for a spot that would reduce a bit further the force of the wind that swept down the cirque wall and over them, bitterly cold and promising to become more so as the cloudless night progressed, the stars standing stark and white and unblinking in the clear, storm-scrubbed

sky. Finding what she sought in a good-sized protected area where one large, leaning boulder had come to rest against another, creating a space that was not quite a cave but which provided a fine windbreak and some overhead cover, at least, she dropped her pack and hurried to get the deer hide unrolled and spread out on the ground. Very little snow seemed to have found its way into the little alcove, even in the wind of the recently-ended storm, and Liz, exploring the place by feel alone in the pitchblackness, found the ground covered with what felt like spruce needles and fragments from spruce cones, as well, piles and piles of them, as she had seen before beneath tree branches or stumps where squirrels had sat and taken apart cone after cone for the tiny fragments of food provided by their seeds. Crawling a bit farther back into the crevice, she discovered more whole cones, some the soft, sticky cylinders that she knew were from blue spruce but others feeling more like ponderosa or some other pine, hard and unyielding, and she pushed these aside to make room for their bed. Setting aside several of the dry, pitchy spruce cones for use in getting a fire going, she took one of the larger she had found and set it on a rock slab that she had encountered jutting up out of the ground litter in the shelter, retrieving some milkweed down from the bag around her neck and pressing it into the oozing pitch that covered the outside of the cone, slightly sticky even in the cold that pervaded the place. Taking her fire steel, she struck sparks into the down, disappointed at first when it flashed, flared up and burnt away without appearing to have any effect on the cone, but looking again she saw a slight glow in the darkness. Adding a bit more milkweed down, pressing it lightly to the orange spot, she blew gently until the thing flamed once again, the pitch in the cone catching, this time. By the light of the flaming pine cone on the rock slab, she further inspected the shelter. The place had, apparently, served as a cache for a squirrel or two that past summer and fall, many of the cones torn apart for their seeds, their remnants lying in soft, dry heaps all over the floor, with others still awaiting the attention of their owner against one wall. Not a place to have a fire, she quickly decided, lest the entire floor go up in flames if so much as one ember jumped and landed in that dry tinder. Scraping the stuff aside--hey, maybe the squirrels will be back for their pinecones, and we can trap them!--in an area near the front of the shelter, but still far enough under the rock slab to keep the snow off, she moved the rock slab, rolled the still-flaming spruce cone onto the ground and stood the slab up behind it, to block any wind that might gust in through the rather large opening left by the leaning boulder. All right! Time for a fire. Einar had joined her in the shelter and had set his pack over near hers in the corner before sinking to the ground and sitting with his back against the large, mossy boulder that served as a prop for their shelter-roof, and he was barely responsive when Liz spoke to him. His clothes were wet--both of theirs were, their bear-hide cloaks icy from the recently ended storm and Einar’s inner layer soaked with sweat and starting to freeze in places--and Liz got a hasty, rather smoky fire going with a pile of spruce cones and some branches she had gathered from outside, hurrying into her dry clothes and helping Einar, over feeble protests that he was fine and really needed to sleep first, into his. The yearling hide had once again remained almost entirely dry there in her pack, and Liz unrolled it and got it over the two of them, feeding the fire and giving Einar, and herself some time to begin warming up before going out into the night for more firewood. While

Liz was out feeling her way around in search of more dry branches to burn, Einar took the pot out of his pack and scooped up some snow from outside, setting it on a rock near the flames to begin melting. He did not feel thirsty, did not feel much, at the moment, aside from the ceaseless agony of his foot and the ache in his chest every time he drew in a lungful of air, but knew they would both be in need of a good bit of water after the day’s journey, and aware that, as often as Liz had stopped him and insisted he drink, he must have used up most of their supply, leaving little for her. Staring into the flames as the snow began melting, he thought of making stew, rehearsed in his mind the necessary steps, finding the prospect somewhat daunting at the moment, but wanting to get at least that much done for Liz. Somehow the stew never did get past the thinking stage, though, and then Liz was back, dropping an armload of wood near the fire and stirring the pot rapidly of melting snow, adding more and starting a second pot for their supper. Neither of them spoke much as the stew heated and cooked, Liz keeping a close eye on Einar, sitting with him and making sure he continued to warm, which he did, if slowly. She could still hear a series of frightening crackling, wheezing sounds whenever she pressed an ear to his chest to listen, but he seemed to be breathing a bit easier than before, the stillness, unlike during their last stop, providing him some relief. It seemed that he had been correct about needing to lose some elevation. By the time their supper was ready, Einar’s breathing had normalized to the point that it no longer consumed his thoughts or required his constant attention. He was, at least, going to be able to lie down to sleep, in seemed. A theory he was already testing out, as Liz discovered when she glanced up from the stew-pot to let him know that supper was ready. • • • • Liz ate supper alone that night huddled over the small fire, having tried numerous times to rouse Einar, and without success. His breathing still sounded a bit bad to her, wheezy and tight, but it seemed that he must be getting enough air to lie down at least somewhat comfortably. That, or not enough to allow him to stay awake… She propped his head and shoulders up on a pile of dry spruce needles, exchanging the fire-warmed rocks she had left with him as she cooked for fresh ones. His color was slightly better than it had been at their last stop, she thought, the purple tinge under his eyes and around his mouth less pronounced, and she could only hope that the breathing situation would go on improving, through the night. Tucking the heat-radiating rocks in close to him--one near the small of his back, others around his torso and one at the ankles, hoping to keep the blood flowing to his injured foot--she returned to the fire and ate, knowing that she would be needing the strength, both for herself and for him. Hungry, she quickly finished her portion of the stew, adding another stick to the fire and crawling back over to Einar. He had not moved, and she took his hand, cold, frighteningly lifeless-feeling, his pulse weak and fast when she found it, and once again she spoke insistently in an attempt to wake him. No response. He needed to eat, had to eat, she was afraid for him, going into what promised to be a rather cold night as exhausted as he was and with an empty stomach, afraid that the lack of energy and warmth that would come with the hunger, on top of everything else, might prove to be too much for him. Lifting him gently, she held the stew pot, still-steaming and not yet quite half empty, under his nose, hoping the food aroma might prod him to wakefulness where her voice had been unable to. He stirred briefly as the steam rose and enveloped his face, shivered, opened his eyes for a fraction

of a second and smiled at her before going limp again with sleep, head rolling to the side. “Hey, come on, I know you’re in there. You can sleep soon, you need the sleep so badly, I know, but it will go a lot better if you can get some food down, first. Believe me. Just a few bites.” His only response was to roll away from her and curl up with his forehead pressed to his knees, and she wished she could be sure that he was doing it out of stubbornness rather than some unconscious reflex that might mean he was in more serious trouble than she knew, but nothing about the situation provided her with any such assurance. Liz decided to tend to his foot, then, knowing that she needed to do what she could to monitor the amount of blood he was losing and thinking also that he had a much better chance of keeping the remaining toes if he didn’t go to sleep with dressings soaked in blood, pulling heat out of him and possibly even freezing in the night. And if this doesn’t wake you, nothing’s going to, is it? There’s still some stew left, so maybe you’ll be able to take a few bites after I get done. Please don’t hurt me now, if you wake up all of a sudden. I’m just trying to help you keep the rest of your toes… Einar groaned in his sleep and made feeble efforts to twist away from her as she eased the old, blood-crusted usnea clumps off of the wounds, carefully washed the area with berberine water and pressed new dressings into place, wrapping them firmly against the spot where his toes had been and holding them in place with one of the boiled sock strips, but he never did return to full awareness so he could partake of the stew-meal. Liz set the leftovers aside, burying the pot in spruce needles and placing several heavy rocks over the top, hoping both to keep the stew from freezing too solid overnight, and to prevent any intruding scavengers from feasting on what she hoped would be Einar’s breakfast. Wishing to keep the icy, iron fingers of the wind from prying too insistently at them in their sleep, she sought a way to hang the split pieces of the bear hide from the leaning slab to create a door, while still letting the smoke of the fire rise and escape. Experimenting, the idea finally occurred to her that she use the leaning dead trunk of a small aspen that lay propped against a larger tree not far from the front of the shelter, clearly visible in the circle of light from the fire. Prying the tree loose from the snow, she set it horizontally across the opening to the shelter, jamming one end between the leaning rock and a spruce whose trunk was so close that it had been scarred by the slab’s falling, propping the other on a protrusion in the boulder that the slab leaned on. Over this horizontal support she draped one of the bear hide halves, watching from outside to see what course the smoke was going to take. It rose, much to her relief, unimpeded and exited through the gap left between the upright and the leaning rock slab. The door was going to work. The warmth of the fire might, she hoped, even begin the drying process overnight, allowing some of the accumulated ice of the journey to melt and evaporate out of the bear’s heavy coat. It was going to be a cold night, she knew, with nothing but the small yearling hide to cover them, and the sooner the larger pieces were again usable, the sooner they would be likely to have good sleep. And I must get them dry as soon as possible, also, in case we have to move on from here anytime soon. Einar said something about expecting that he wouldn’t be moving for a while once he stopped this time, but who knows just what he meant by that? We have to be ready. Einar was clearly not doing any moving that night, though, and while his apparent inability to wake worried her a good deal, she was glad that he

would, at least, be getting some rest. They slept then, both of them, Liz waking frequently during the night to listen to Einar’s breathing and to pull him back beneath the yearling hide when she found that his tossing and turning had left arms or legs sticking out from beneath its cover. The night grew bitterly cold, the stars standing sharp and still and looking close enough to touch whenever she got a glimpse of them, trees cracking and popping weirdly outside, and Liz kept the fire going for several hours, waking periodically to hands and feet aching fiercely from the cold, warming them as she built the fire back up and returning to the bed each time to find Einar shivering and badly chilled, piling heaps of dry spruce needles over him before warming him with her body and with rocks from the fire. She finally let the little blaze die down when she noticed the sky beginning to show the first hints of morning grey. Einar, she was pretty sure, would not appreciate waking to find that she had kept the fire going after daylight, especially as her search for wood in the pitch blackness the night before had resulted in a good many pieces that were damp, smoky, far from the brittle-dry bark free branches that she had normally seen him use for daytime fires. She hoped that they might have finally come far enough from the area that was still being searched that they could reasonably relax their caution about fire just a bit and, if such was the case, that Einar might be willing to let them have one on something resembling a regular basis. Watching him in the pale light of the coming dawn, Liz realized that the decision about the fire, for that day at least, might be left to her. Einar showed no more sign of waking than he had the night before when she had tried so hard to get him to eat the stew, lying there with his hands wrapped around one of the rocks she had used to help warm him in the night--well, he was aware enough to get hold of a weapon, at least…maybe that’s a good sign--breathing fast and shallow, his clenched teeth and the deep creases between his eyebrows betraying pain that not even his semiconscious state appeared able to ease. She wished she could give him some willow, but the amount of blood that had been in the dressings she changed the previous evening was enough to convince her that he certainly did not need to be taking anything that might increase the bleeding, as the blood-thinning willow could potentially do. Too bad. If the altitude last night was even partly to blame for his breathing troubles, the willow might have really helped, the way it can thin the blood. Well. At least he seems to be breathing pretty normally today, no more wheezing. He’s just worn out, hopefully, and will be waking up soon. Tucking the yearling hide in around him and setting rocks around its edges to help hold it down against his random movements, she left the shelter to explore their surroundings and go in search of some drier firewood. Einar woke shortly after Liz’s departure to a splitting headache and the feeling that he had been run over by a truck or perhaps caught in a rockslide, sent tumbling down a mountainside and buried beneath the rubble, a dreadful heaviness holding him down and trying to push him back down into the sleep from which he was struggling so hard to emerge. He was awfully cold, couldn’t seem to feel his feet and supposed they must have been crushed, looked up and could see that, though he was clearly buried, there was a good sized clear space above his head, plenty large enough to allow him to sit up and assess the damage, maybe start to look for a way out, if only he could free himself from whatever had him pinned. Struggling, he got his hands up onto his chest and shoved at

the weight that held him down, managing with an immense effort to push it aside and sit up with a clatter as the rocks that had held the bear hide tumbled onto the shelter floor. Einar sat there blinking slowly at the bear hide, the coals in Liz’s firepit, at their packs neatly placed against the back wall, leaned forward and closed his eyes, momentarily confused and out of breath after the exertion of rising, dizzy. Whew. How long have you been asleep, Einar? The last clear memory he had was of standing on the ridge top as darkness fell and staring up at Orion, wanting to stop for the night but knowing that he must first get down lower, which we must’ve done, because I’m still breathing, breathing a good bit better than I was last night, as I recall, though it still kinda feels like I got half a ton of rock sitting on my chest keeping me from getting a full breath. Well. It’ll get better. Right now I just need to get warm, could really use some water…wonder where Liz went? Wonder about this fire, too. Doesn’t look like it’s been out for real long…hope it hasn’t been making a column of smoke for people to see. Rolling to his stomach, he tried to get onto his knees so he could crawl over and check the coals, nearly blacked out and resorted to inching forward on his stomach, relieved to discover that the coals were quite cold. • • • • Not many minutes after Einar hauled himself, finally, slowly and laboriously out through the hanging bear hide that had kept most of the wind out of their bed that past night, Liz returned to find him sitting in a patch of slanting morning sunlight on a fallen tree just outside the jumbled rocks that had sheltered them, arms pressed tightly to his sides, visibly cold and shaking furiously. Fearing that he had been wandering again in his delirium and might have further hurt himself, she was about to rush to him and help him back inside, but when he looked up and saw her standing there with her war club in one hand, other arm loaded with firewood and a recently killed rabbit slung over her shoulder, he gave her a wide grin that left little doubt but that he was wide awake and very much himself again, after the troubles of that past night. He had the map in his hand, nearly crumpling it in his numb-fingered grasp. “Made our…twelve miles, Liz! Did it.” “Did we? Yes, I guess we did!” She dropped her load of firewood in the sheltered, snowless spot just outside the door, sat down beside him and took the map, tried to rub some warmth back into his icy hands. “Hey, I sure missed you! Glad you’re back. Now let’s get inside and warm up, Ok? This is one cold morning!” “Was I…gone? Guess maybe….misplaced myself for a bit. Last part of that walk… pretty hazy. You picked a real good spot here.” Rising too quickly in his eagerness to join Liz in the shelter and maybe get ahold of part of that rabbit--he was beginning to feel terribly hungry--he was knocked full length in the snow by a wave of vertigo, spitting the dry, gritty Styrofoam whiteness out of his mouth and accepting Liz’s help when she grabbed him beneath the shoulders and dragged him back inside. In the shelter, Einar lay on his back on the deer hide where Liz had deposited him, making his best effort to sit up but held back by a growing shortness of breath and a leaden heaviness that seemed to be turning his limbs to jelly. He resisted it furiously, the inertia that was once again striving to grab hold of him, further losing his breath in the effort but finally managing to haul

himself somewhat upright, after which he was seized by a coughing spell that ended when he spit out mucus tinged with a good bit of blood. Quickly covering the stuff with spruce needles he shoved it aside, not wanting Liz to see and have one more thing to worry about. Liz saw, though, had seen his struggle when she looked up from digging out the buried stew pot, and there was no mistaking the smear of frothy blood in his beard at the corner of his mouth, left by the clumsy swipe with which he had cleaned his face. She didn’t say anything about it, covered him with the yearling hide, brushed the snow off of her clothes--it had been far too cold that morning for anything to stick or begin to melt into clothing, one distinct benefit of sub-zero temperatures--and crawled under the hide, bringing the stew pot and holding Einar close for warmth. His breathing was fast once again, labored, the skin under his fingernails a frightening shade of blue-grey when she checked. He wanted to get away from her, to get up, felt an urgent need to rise and move around that verged on panic, but she held him firmly, and he finally gave in and quit struggling, getting angry and afraid of hurting her if he kept it up. “Don’t fight it so hard, Einar. You need the rest. If you feel like sleeping, sleep. I’ll keep an eye on things. How about some breakfast first, though? Here. I saved you some stew, and covered it in pine needles to keep the cold from getting to it too much…” The leftover stew had, despite Liz’s efforts at insulating it, frozen nearly solid in the night, and she chopped at the icy stuff with her knife, stirring it and shivering as she tasted a bit of the resulting slush. It tasted all right, nothing wrong with venison and bear fat ice cream, I guess, but she hardly wanted to feed Einar something that would chill him so badly. He appeared to have no such concern, however, reaching past her and retrieving a finger full of the nourishing sludge. The coughing spell and its aftermath had replaced his hunger with a pervasive nausea that made it difficult to look forward to eating, but he knew he must try, doubting his energy level would improve much until he got a decent meal or two. The stew-ice stayed where he put it, and he tried another scoop. “I found some drier wood…could we do a little fire do you think, just to heat this up and melt some more snow for our water, today?” He looked up at the sky, crystal blue and storm-washed, tree tops still swaying in the wind but less violently than they had been at dawn. “Better not. Need to wait and see what the search is doing today. I’d hate for all that walking to have been for nothing, which it would be if they happened to spot our smoke today. Can do one tonight if we haven’t heard anything, but as far as during daylight…let’s give it a couple days. Besides, I kinda like this ice cream you’ve made, here. We can use some of those big pitch tablets you made, if we need to melt snow later. Too bad I wasn’t able to lug the qulliq along…sorry.” “Don’t be sorry. It was great but also heavy, and we don’t have a dogsled and team to haul our possessions, like the Inuit hunters did. We’ll make another, whenever we get where we’re going.” Leaving him the pot of stew to work on, she took her leave of the blanket and skinned the rabbit, slicing up the still warm heart and liver and bringing them to Einar on a flat rock. The meat, she decided, could be saved for that evening’s stew. She knew Einar had little problem with eating such things raw--a habit developed

through necessity--and had done it herself when there were no other options, but it still seemed wise to cook at least some of their meat, when given the choice. They shared a breakfast of slushy stew and fresh rabbit liver, then, Einar’s stomach quieting a bit as he ate and allowing him to consume a useful amount. The food went a long way towards driving out the icy chill that had settled in his bones--perhaps not as far as a good brisk walk up the timbered slope might have done, but that was not happening, at the moment-but left him terribly drowsy at the same time. Don’t do it. You just woke up. Got things to do, things to figure out. You go to sleep again now, who knows how long it may last? Wouldn’t be surprised if you lost the whole day, that way. Pulling the map from his pocket he studied its contours, again wishing for something a bit more detailed but, when he thought about it, awfully grateful to have any map at all. He had not, for most of the first year. And it did not really matter, their precise location--the vast land of high basins and ridges that he had seen in his dream and in the distance from the bluff at the end of the ridge was theirs. They had reached it, or nearly so, had hopefully left the search behind, and somewhere in its timbered fastness he hoped to finally be able to settle in and begin carving out something more than the meager existence they had been leading so far that winter. Though we’re still here, so you’ve got to admit this is working, more or less, but I don’t really see how Liz can be happy with it…don’t understand why she’s here at all, actually, and probably never will but…sure would like to give her something more to look forward to than running and freezing and starving for the rest of her life. Guess those things will always be a part of it from time to time--she knew that, I made sure she knew that--but there can be good times, too… “How would you like a little cabin, Liz? Four walls and a roof and some thin-stretched greased deer stomach panels for windows to let the light in, stove in one corner and maybe a table an a shelf or two to keep things on. I figure maybe…” he had to stop and get his breath, gulp water to suppress the cough that wanted to come, “maybe once we get over into those little basins and settle on one that looks like a good spot to stay for awhile…well, ought to build something a little more permanent. If we don’t find a good cave or mine or something to hole up in, that is.” Her eyes lit up at the suggestion, both because she really did like the idea and because it told her that Einar was looking to the future, that he planned--or hoped, at least--to have one. As rough as things had been for him lately, she expected that such a plan might go a long way towards keeping him afloat, give him some reason other than sheer stubbornness to keep resisting the forces sough to end his life--though stubbornness seems to be working pretty well for him, so far--and she nodded enthusiastically. “I would like that very much! We’ll build it together, and once spring comes and we’re sure the search is over, I’ll even have a little garden out behind it, cultivate some spring beauty and things and see if we can get an even better harvest that way than we can through foraging, and then when the children start coming, we’ll be all set up to teach them about living out here…” Einar had been leaning back drowsily against the rock, smiling, near sleep as she spoke and seeing in a half-wakeful dream the little basin with its cabin nestled securely beneath a heavy stand of timber, the good, warm smells of cooking supper drifting out the door as

he returned home, but he sat up straight at her last words, shook his head and rubbed his eyes. “What’s this about…children? What did you say?” “I like them…!” “That’s not exactly…uh…yes, I suppose I do too, inquisitive little critters, that’s for sure, but you realize that I can’t go down to town. Ever. Can’t be around other people. So if anything happened, to you, to…to a child…our child,” he shook his head. “You see, I can’t do it, Liz. I’d gladly risk or even trade my own life for my freedom any day, but I cannot ask…someone else to do the same.” “Well, you didn’t ask me, I volunteered. And as far as the risks…if you were a pioneer, a mountain man or trapper, would you refuse to take a wife or have a family because of the dangers…?” I’m not a pioneer, Liz, not a mountain man or a prospector or trapper…well, not the way you’re meaning it, anyhow. I’m a wanted man, a criminal, in the eyes of the state, in case you’ve forgotten, and I got a huge price on my head and a couple hundred federal agents who won’t be satisfied until they have my sorry, scarred-up hide hanging on the wall above their desks. Man like that probably doesn’t…well, I don’t know that he has a right to bring children into the world.” Returning to the bear hide she sat down beside him. “Einar--I disagree.” • • • • Their discussion was cut short by a rumbling that was detected first by Einar, faint, far away, felt rather than heard. The look of intense concentration and distance in his eyes was mistaken at first by Liz as anger at her bringing up the topic and then pressing the matter, but she soon heard it too, sat there with him staring intently at the little strip if sky that was visible through the smoke gap above the door. In silence they listened as the distant vibrations took on the distinctive deep growl of a large helicopter, Einar praying that their tracks had been wiped out by the storm, and Liz just as fervently that he would not take the chopper’s presence as a definitive sign that they must move on without delay, continuing to push his exhausted body until he finally fell on his face in the snow, dead. Both were to see their prayers answered that morning; the craft never did come close enough to be seen, even, circling and turning back in a spot that Einar estimated to be somewhere over on the far side of the canyon, scouring the slopes around their former shelter in the den and departing, the skies again quiet. Relaxing his concentration, he slumped back against the rock, eyes momentarily closed, letting his breath out in a great sigh before grinning up at Liz. “Made it out from under I guess, at least for now. All that distance is paying off. Looks like we can stay here a day or so, if you’re not too anxious to get going.” “Me? No, I’m definitely not too anxious to get going! We have a pretty good spot here,

and you could really use the rest--we both could. Let’s stay if we can, have a good rabbit stew for dinner, hopefully get some better sleep and then decide what comes next, in the morning. Now, I know you’re tired and you probably don’t want to talk about this, but… you seemed a little angry when I mentioned about children…” He twisted a clump of hair on the yearling hide, idly rubbed at a smear of charcoal on his knuckles, finally spoke. “Not angry. Just very much aware of what our life is, what it’s likely to continue being, and wondering if you’ve really thought about what it would mean to bring a child into this. Wondering if that can possibly be what you want…” “Einar, this is where we are, what we are, what we’ve been given. I know that practically speaking, we’re as far from civilization, from other people and from any sort of help as if we were on an island somewhere, but I don’t see that as any reason for life not to go on. Do you? We live our lives, accept new life as the gift that it is if it comes…life goes on, for as long as the Lord’s willing. As hard as you’ve fought to stay alive, I’d think you would understand the value of that. And I know we may be nomads, from time to time, may be moving or even running, but it certainly wouldn’t be the first time a small nomadic tribe raised children, nor the first time a couple had to leave everything behind and flee into the wilderness with a young child, either. We’re just doing things in a slightly different order, is all. If we’re not able to stay at a fixed location…well, you can make me a Ute-style cradleboard with a basketlike woven willow head protector to keep branches and sticks and things out of the baby’s eyes as we hike through the dark timber, and I’ll pad it with usnea and dried moss…or if the baby comes in the winter, we can make a buckskin Amautik coat like the Inuit use, with a pouch for the baby on the back to help keep him warm, and insulate the pouch with ermine or fox fur, and he’ll just come right along with us wherever we go…” “Huh.” He looked at her a bit incredulously, shook his head. “You’ve really thought about all of this, haven’t you?” “Yes.” “Well, I know you’ve said you accept this life for yourself, and you’ve certainly shown that you mean it, but I’m pretty sure this can’t have been what you pictured if you ever looked forward to having a family. You’d be doing it without ever being a part of…all you left behind down there, society, I guess they call it, and knowing that our child wouldn’t be a part of it, either. A solitary existence comes pretty naturally to me, but I doubt it does quite so much to you, and we’ll always be on the outside, always hunted, I expect… You’d really be willing to raise a family up here, under those circumstances? With an ugly old ornery loner of a wild critter like me?” She took his hands, ran her fingers over the white raised scars that would forever remain to remind him of his captivity, escape and subsequent days spent trapped in the handcuffs, kissed his wrists. “Yes, I would. I accepted it--all of it, even the parts that I didn’t know about and

probably still don’t--before I ever decided to come out here with you, to stay with you--I accepted it way back last spring when I was living with Bill and Susan after you escaped in that explosion, wondering if you were still alive, hoping, but pretty sure there was no way. I knew then that I would be willing to give up everything else…for this. And as far as the child, he will be content with whatever he grows up with, hopefully. It’ll be all he knows, and he’ll be happy, as long as we can provide for his basic needs, which aren’t all that different from our own. And remember, he’ll be your child, so a solitary existence may suit him just fine, if any of what makes you so very much yourself is genetic!” “Genetic, huh,” Einar growled, narrowing his eyes at her, “and why ‘he?’ You keep saying ‘he.’” “Or she. But I keep seeing a little boy whenever I think about this…a wild, scrawny little blue eyed boy running around in buckskins and a cap of felted mountain goat wool and probably getting into every bit as much trouble as his father must have at that age, climbing on things and starting fires and who knows what else… I can already see that I’m going to have a hard time keeping up with him.” He was quiet for a minute, wondering whether or not to continue with the conversation, not sure whether it was wise to be encouraging her or even considering the things they seemed to be considering, but finally working up the courage to go ahead with it. “I’ve seen him, too. In a dream. Back in the summer before we met in the canyon that day when you were picking berries, before I got stabbed…had a little camp set up in a basin above our meeting place, and I was digging avalanche lily roots to dry them. Fell asleep one time sitting in the sun on a log while I was working, saw you, guess I was dreaming, because you were wearing a white buckskin dress and a hat woven of cattail leaves,” he stopped, smiled at the memory, “and you were out there at the edge of this little grassy meadow digging roots, with a little one sitting there in the dirt beside you, just as content as could be, barefoot, playing with a digging stick…” She looked at him in disbelief. “You really dreamed that, way back then? But you worked so hard to get rid of me, in those days and weeks after the stabbing--leaving me at the road, sending me down to the canoe rental place…I didn’t think you wanted me with you at all…” He gave her a sad smile. “Ah, Liz, a man can seldom have what he wants, especially one in my situation. Dreamed all kinds of things, you know, but always just told myself they were off limits, not part of my world, never would be. Lots of things are off limits when you’re living this life, and you got to keep them that way, got to keep them real firmly in their place… Anyhow I believed it, about all of that being…forbidden, and now I’m finding that it’s mighty hard to un-convince yourself of something like that.” “So this ‘little one’ who was helping me dig roots, was it a girl, or a boy?” He looked puzzled. “Well, don’t know exactly. Had a mop of real blond hair, that’s for sure, sticking out in all directions from under that cattail leaf hat, but other than that I

didn’t get a real good look. You know how dreams can be, all hazy and indistinct. The good ones, anyway…” For a long space Einar remained silent, then, having worn himself out talking and once more feeling in full the effects of his blood loss, infection and the long, oxygen-deprived miles he had walked the day before, and he tried very hard to continue the conversation, to think of what to say next, but he seemed suddenly to have been deprived of the ability to speak, to remain sitting, even, and he slumped back against the rock. Liz finally looked over at him--she had slowly over the past weeks grown accustomed to keeping her gaze largely focused on something besides his face as they talked, as their conversations always seemed to last longer that way for some reason--and saw that he had begun shivering badly, eyes distant and cloudy and his breathing not sounding quite as good as it had, earlier. The dreaming time was over, for the moment. Life was making its demands. Past time to change that foot dressing, and then it looks like he really needs to sleep, whether he likes it or not… • • • •

Brought rather suddenly back to awareness when Liz began easing his overboot off, Einar sat up and scrubbed his hand across his face. “Kinda fell asleep there for a minute. Sorry. Don’t know what’s wrong with me today. Here, I’ll do the foot. It’s my turn.” With Einar pushing her away, Liz released her hold on the boot and let him finish the job, but his hands were shaking badly, and it was clear that he was causing himself unnecessary pain in attempting to unwind the sock strip that held the dressings in place. She helped him get them off, pouring bits of berberine water here and there where the dressings had stuck and dried in place. The stumps where Einar’s toes had been did not appear to have begun healing, yet, the skin flaps that he had tried so hard to leave showing no inclination to grow over the wounds left by the absent toes. Despite the lack of healing nothing appeared infected, either, somewhat to Liz’s amazement, the sickly sweet smell of decay making no return to warn that further and most unwelcome action would soon be necessary to preserve Einar’s life, let alone his foot. She was very glad, supposed the berberine must be having some effect. What she could not see, but Einar could definitely feel, was that on one or two of the toes his hasty job of severing the joints had left splinters or jagged edges of bone that were now pressing against the skin flaps, causing continual discomfort and probably further delaying healing. He felt like tearing the whole thing open and taking a file or--far more readily available--a rough piece of sandstone to the offending bone stumps, but weighing the discomfort against the greatly increased chance of secondary infection that any such procedure would leave him exposed to, he decided to leave well enough alone and give things a chance to heal up as they were. Could be that I’m wrong about the bones, anyway. Whole area’s still pretty swollen up and hurts like heck most of the time, so there’s really no way to say what’s going on in there just yet. Best leave it alone. Go messing around in there and I may start bleeding again, and somehow sanding and scraping on bone with a grimy old chunk of sandstone off the shelter floor just doesn’t sound like any part of a recipe for a long life. Gonna skip it for now, hope things heal up alright.

He changed the dressing between his two remaining toes himself, wanting to spare her the unpleasantness and not entirely trusting himself not to react badly if she handled it. The foot was giving him a good bit of trouble that day. The two remaining toes, though they still looked bad and felt worse, appeared not to be developing any signs of dangerous infection, and this, at least, was a comfort to him. May be able to keep them, yet. If I can avoid freezing them again. He let his breath out--had been holding it without realizing, not got much focus today, have you? You know this works a lot better if you keep breathing, through it--and began wrapping the foot, smearing a good bit of salve on the area, first, and padding everything well with usnea. After the foot was finished he sat there for a minute staring out at the slowly spinning arc of trees that was visible above the door flap and trying to gather himself to get up and go do something, but when Liz suggested he lie down, the idea sounded like a fine one, and he did it. Had been too dizzy to be of much use, anyway. Getting Einar positioned as comfortably as possible and covering him up with the yearling hide and several arms full of dry pine and spruce needles, Liz left the shelter, hoping to be able to come up with something more for their supper. She thought about using some of the remaining rabbit innards to bait a deadfall or two, almost rejected the idea on the likelihood that they would be moving on before the trap had a chance to produce anything, but decided to give it a try, anyhow. As difficult as Einar seemed to be finding it to stay awake and alert for more than minutes at a time that morning, she had a feeling that they might be there for another day or two, at least. Retrieving two of the figure four trigger setups that she had packed along, she wrapped some rabbit gut up in the hide, and started up the slope behind their little shelter of rock beneath the trees. With her she took the bola that Einar had started on several days before they left the den. He had never finished it, the frostbitten toes intervening to consume most of his attention, and only one of the three smooth stones he had chosen was enclosed in its casing of rawhide. The other two he had simply tied onto their cords, wanting to keep track of them for later, when he could finish work on the weapon. Liz supposed she could use it as-is with at least some chance of success; if on of the stones came loose and got lost, she would find another. Between the bola, her rabbit stick and the trap triggers, she thought there was at least some chance of securing more food, over the next day or two while they were at the shelter. That would be a very good thing. We have a lot of the bear fat left but not much meat, and I would sure like to be able to save most what we do have for a reserve, especially since it’s already dried and in a good form for packing and traveling. The more meat I can come up with, the more we get to save. And Einar could really use the fresh stuff I think, the organ meat and the blood. Not too far up the slope Liz came across the small, distinctive five-toes tracks of a weasel of some sort, too large to be ermine, so she supposed they must be marten, and quite fresh. Must be from last night. How would you like some rabbit guts, little marten? We really need you, need your meat and your soft warm hide… Looking over the area for a few minutes, she decided on a location for the trap, placing it at the base of a blue spruce and breaking a few small branches from the tree to build a three walled “cubby” as Einar had taught her, placing the bait at the

back and setting up the trigger so the animal would have to trip it to reach the bait, a leaning slab of granite carefully lowered onto the top stick of the trigger to crush and trap whatever might venture in. The second trap she set within sight of the first, hoping and praying that she might come in the morning and find at least one of them occupied. From there, Liz took a circuitous route that she expected would lead her in a wide half-circle back down to the shelter, searching along her way for usnea and good dry leaning aspens that might be small enough to haul back and break up for firewood, stopping frequently to pull the grey-green lichen clumps from spruce branches. About halfway back down to the shelter, by her estimation, Liz heard a rustling in the willow and gooseberry underbrush just down the hill from where she stood--willows! The first I’ve seen, lately! Have to get a bunch of the bark and save it for Einar--and she froze, staring intently into the thicket. Nothing moved, nothing she could see, anyway, but a series of muted clucking sounds told her she had walked up on a feeding ptarmigan or grouse. Grouse, she expected, because she had never actually heard a ptarmigan make any such sound, and the rustling seemed as thought it ought to be coming from a larger creature, anyway. Glancing around, she noticed a pile of droppings beneath a nearby spruce, brown and cylindrical with bits of white at the ends and reminding her strangely of some sort of oversized bran cereal pellets--hunger can begin to twist the mind, that’s for sure--and she knew she was looking at the roosting tree of a grouse. Choosing the rabbit stick, which she had more experience with, she carefully stalked closer to the thicket, wondering whether she ought, once she got out of the evergreens and into the clear, attempt to flush the bird out so she could get it while on the wing, or simply get as close as she could undetected, and pounce with the stick. She knew there was no way she was going to be able to continue moving silently, once she hit the dense willows and had to start parting them to get through. The choice was taken out of her hands when she accidentally stepped on a thin, brittle branch that was hidden just beneath the snow, breaking it and scaring up the grouse, who took flight with a great beating of wings that she knew would have reminded Einar of a nearby helicopter, had he suddenly heard it somewhere near him. The clear, willow-filled area was small, and Liz, knowing she did not have much time before the grouse reached the evergreens again, threw the stick, missing in her haste and hurriedly pulling the bola from her pocket, running after the departing fool hen. The bird, its powers of flight only slightly better than a domestic chicken, came to rest high in the boughs of one of the first spruces the forest offered it, where it sat calm as could be, apparently believing that it was out of danger. Liz had other ideas, sanding there and picturing the grouse roasting over their fire that night, grease dripping and sizzling in the flames as its skin turned a wonderful crunchy brown, and she pressed her growling stomach to ease the hungry cramping that developed at the thought. Swinging the bola around and around from the point where the three cords were tied together as Einar had described its use to her--she had never actually seen one used, but believed she understood the concept--she let fly at the bird, surprised and pleased when the weapon flew more or less true, entangling the surprised bird, which began putting up a terrible racket. Oh! Certainly wouldn’t want to do this if we thought anyone was on our trail and might be nearby! This would alert them, for sure! The bird had, it appeared, been

caught by one foot out there on the fairly narrow branch on which it had been roosting, could not move but was certainly not about to fall to the ground for her to harvest, either, and Liz dropped her pack--well, Einar’s pack, as she had brought the small one, not wanting to haul fifty pounds along on her hunting expedition--and beginning to shimmy up the tree. The branches were fairly close together as is common with spruces, and though the thickness of the boughs slowed her some and scratched her up pretty good as she passed, she made good progress up towards the squawking, struggling bird. Until, at least, the branches began growing smaller the higher she climbed, the tree’s flexible trunk swaying a bit alarmingly with her weight. There it was, she had reached it, and she wrapped her left arm around the tree’s trunk for stability as she reached out with the other hand in an attempt to untangle the bird’s foot, the grouse beating her in the face with its wings the whole time. Closer, need to be just a little closer… and she released her hold on the trunk, grabbing instead the branch that held the trapped bird, balancing precariously with her right foot on a branch beneath her as her left dangled out into space. She almost had it, just one more wrap to go, from what she could feel, when her foot unexpectedly went out from under her and the branch that held the bird, suddenly burdened with her entire weight, broke. • • • • Lying there barely awake in the shelter, half-heartedly fighting the sleep that wanted to take him and trying to decide what he should do first, whenever he did finally manage to shake off its tentacles and sit up again, Einar heard the angry squawking of the grouse some distance up the slope, knew it as the call of a trapped bird and smiled at the thought that Liz had just netted their dinner. That knowledge somehow seemed to make sleep seem a bit more acceptable, reducing the immediacy of one of the pressures that had been urging him up and to action, and he drew his knees to his chest, huddling against the cold as he drifted off. The bird noises did not stop, though, instead growing louder and more frantic, and he was suddenly wide awake and sitting up, wondering just what could be going on. Eventually the clamor quieted and Einar relaxed a bit and leaned back on the shelter-rock, pictures drifting through his mind of Liz chasing a grouse on foot, diving at it, grabbing and hanging on as it dragged her all over the slope above the shelter. Comical images, for sure, but he doubted the likelihood of her using any such hunting method. She had the rabbit stick, knew how to use it and had successfully done so in the past and--checking in the pack and finding it absent--she seemed to have taken the halffinished bola, as well. So, plenty of options. The excitement, whatever its explanation, seemed to be over, and Einar lay down again, freezing and suddenly very dizzy, supposing that he would be getting the full story soon enough when Liz came back and related it to him. He could only hope that the tale ended in her getting her hands on that bird. He slept then, or lost consciousness--upon waking he suspected the latter, as surely he would have taken a moment to pull the yearling hide up over his shoulders if he had merely been falling asleep--waking a good while later to a thick confusion in his head and the relentless, iron hands of the bitterly cold day squeezing him around the middle, trying their best to shake the life out of him. Rolling himself into a ball--as close as he could get, anyway, with the previous injuries to his knee and hip--in a reflexive attempt to combat the cold, he very nearly went back to sleep, lulled by the voice of his own weakness as it whispered to him in words barely

audible over the rattling of his teeth yet somehow tremendously soothing that you’ll be fine, you just need sleep, warmth will come with sleep… He knew that voice, fought it with all he had and finally managed to haul himself upright, realizing only then that he had left the yearling hide in a heap beside his bed of spruce needles, rather than wrapping up in it as he ought to have done, no wonder you’re frozen, struggled the hide up around his shoulders and pressed his arms tightly to his sides. Einar sat there trembling for the next several minutes, rocking back and forth as the burning, prickling pain of returning circulation set his arms and hands on fire, welcoming it even as he set his jaw to keep from crying out. Could have been worse. Awful lot worse. At least the feeling is coming back, and pretty easily. Can’t be doing this. You want your right hand to match your foot, or what? Stay awake, you fool, or at least make sure to cover up next time before you sleep. The pain eventually faded and his hands started working again, but he was still terribly cold and seemed to lack the strength to warm himself, was tiring quickly. The hide was warm, but Einar knew that no blanket or hide, no matter how insulating, is going to be sufficient if inadequate heat is not being generated, in the first place. He needed food, fumbled with the pack and finally managed to secure a chunk of bear fat-sugar would have been better, but none was available--sitting there and waiting for the stuff to begin melting in his mouth so he could swallow it. Not working. Not enough. Need heat. Clear sky though, so…no fire. Remembering the fuel pellets Liz had created of cattail fuzz and spruce pitch, he checked in the outer pocket of her pack where he thought he remembered her storing several, found them and sat there staring and contemplating for a while, growing colder and colder as he tried to weigh the risks posed by the curls of black smoke that might escape from the shelter if he used one to warm himself. Door flap ought to keep most of the smoke in. Doesn’t even make all that much. And the trees are thick here, ought to disperse anything that does get out… Still he hesitated, the memory of that morning’s rumbling pass by the distant helicopter so fresh that he could almost hear it, feel the vibrations in the ground, and he tried to warm himself by swinging his arms, beating them against his sides, but found them to be barely responsive to his demands, their feeble motions hardly enough to generate a useful amount of heat. What are you waiting for Einar? Sleep? Death? Waiting to see if Liz comes back somewhere between the two and thaws you out at the last minute? Who knows…she might very well decide it just isn’t worth the effort. Now light the thing, before you lose your hands again and aren’t able. Maybe set it on a rock first so you don’t set all these pine cones and things on fire and roast yourself to death. Seemed reasonable enough and he did it, or tried to, finding that he had to bite the fuel tablet open to expose some of its cattail down, his fingers lacking the strength and dexterity to pull it open as was intended, and as he jerkily got it positioned on a flat rock between his knees, he could only hope that he had not so badly dampened the down as to prevent it taking a spark. Striking the spark brought its own set of challenges, his hands working reasonably well, fingers able to grip the striker and fire steel, but shaking so badly that it took him several frustrating minutes of trying--during which he once very nearly forgot what he was doing and came close to lying back down--before he was able to send a lackluster little shower of sparks down into the tinder. Nothing. Of course. Seldom happens the first time when

you really need it, and he tried again and again, finally hearing the telltale pop and sizzle of burning pitch as a tuft of exposed cattail fuzz caught and took off. Sitting with his legs on either side of the flaming pitch glob, yearling hide over his shoulders and spread down to either side so as to create a small, heat-trapping tent he huddled over the warmth of the fuel tab, slowly warming. By the time the pitch and cattail fuzz lump had burnt itself out over the following ten minutes, Einar, though still badly chilled, was confident that he would be able to hold his own until evening came and he could, situation permitting, have a fire. Ha! Yeah, as long as you can stay awake, which is not looking especially likely… There had still been no sign of Liz, and he was really beginning to wonder what could be taking her so long, was beginning to grow a bit concerned. Liz lay where she had fallen, upper back and shoulders on the snowy ground and legs apparently caught somehow on the last branch she had bounced off of on her way down. Her breath had been knocked out by a large bough that caught her across the stomach as she fell, and as she struggled to regain it she flexed her knees, hoping to free her legs and roll to the ground. It wasn’t working, for some reason, and when she went in search of her hands, it was to discover that the left one was still firmly wrapped around the grouse’s foot. The bird wasn’t moving, its neck twisted at an odd angle beneath it, and she supposed that some part of the fall must have broken it. Her own arms and face were a mass of scratches, bruises and ugly, blood-oozing patches of “tree rash” where they had been dragged over the spruce’s rough bark and through masses of small, brittle side branches close to the trunk on the way down, but that same plethora of branches also seemed to have prevented her from gaining a dangerous amount of speed as she tumbled the thirty-plus feet that had separated her from the earth. Well, looks like my neck isn’t broken, everything’s still attached and seems to be working, more or less, and I didn’t even lose our dinner! She laughed a little, spit out a mouthful of spruce needles and gritty bark fragments, and promptly started shaking as the realization hit her of how close she had come to serious, debilitating injury. Struggling again to free herself and finding her left leg firmly stuck between two branches that were out of view in the greenery overhead and starting to hurt as the shock of her fall wore off, she felt like crying, didn’t, instead disentangling her hand from the bola strings that held the dead grouse and grabbing the stump of a branch that jutted out just above her head, having apparently been broken in the fall. Unable to quite see her trapped leg no matter how she craned her neck, she lifted herself slightly to take a bit of the weight off of and tried experimentally kicking at it with her right foot, hoping to jar the leg loose from wherever it was trapped. This brought an immediate stab of pain in her calf that discouraged her from trying again, at least until she got a better look at what was going on. After resting for a minute she tried again--help me, please, I can’t just stay stuck here!--managing finally to get her top half raised up high enough that she could hook her right elbow over a branch and reach up with her left hand to feel whatever was keeping her leg from coming free. Liz did not like what she found, fought back the sense of panic that she could feel creeping over her, tried to think. • • • • The branch that held Liz’s leg firmly in place was a small one, dead, brittle, sharply

fractured several inches out from the trunk, jutting out at an upward angle. Raising herself and craning her neck she could just see where it disappeared into the neatly torn cloth of her pants leg. Now she knew why it had hurt so much when she’d attempted to kick the leg free. Aside from that ill-advised exercise, though, there was very little pain in the leg and only minimal blood visible in the cloth around the puncture hold, though come to think of it she could begin to feel a warm, slippery trace of blood coming down her leg, well, up it, if she had not been hanging there upside-down, and she presently felt it reach the knee, run around her kneecap to the outside and continue on its course. Liz was angry. She couldn’t be seriously hurt, incapacitated, unable to walk, just couldn’t. I have to carry the pack, have to carry everything, I can’t go back down there and tell Einar I’m hurt, or he’ll try to do more than he’s ready for, and he’ll kill himself. He’ll walk himself to death trying to lug a heavier pack, and I am not letting that happen. Not letting it happen! “Not…letting…it!” She had begun speaking aloud, repeating the words as much to keep her focused and prevent her dissolving into panic as anything, and as she spoke she maneuvered her left hand over and retrieved her knife, knowing that she must somehow free herself from that branch so she could get to the ground. The thing was far too deeply embedded--it seemed to have gone right through the muscle of her calf, not simply pierced the skin--to consider trying to tear herself free, and all she could think of was to hack away at the branch until it snapped, freeing her from the tree and probably leaving the branch fragment behind in her leg to be dealt with later. The branch was dense and tough, the angle at which she was working a difficult one, and it took Liz a good while to finally hack away enough of the wood from its underside that it finally creaked, moaned and snapped, dropping her unceremoniously to the snow beneath. She lay there for a second or two catching her breath and wiping the sweat from her face before sitting up and pulling up her pants leg to get a better look at the injury. There wasn’t much to see, not a particularly large amount of bleeding as of yet, the thin trace of darkening red that went down her leg being the only blood that was visible. The whole thing would have looked pretty normal, actually, if people’s legs were capable of sprouting branches, because that’s what it looked like to her, the two inches of spruce that stuck up out of her calf just above the top of her low-cut boot, but legs were definitely not supposed to sprout branches, and the sight made her feel faint and more than a little sick, not to mention the fact that it was really starting to hurt now that she had moved it. Taking a deep breath and pressing a small handful of snow to the site in the hopes of easing the growing, throbbing pain it was putting off, she managed to keep her composure, tried to slow her racing thoughts and make a decision. The thing needed to come out, that was clear, but she feared that doing so might result in a good deal of bleeding, and all the yarrow had been left back down at the shelter with Einar. She had hoped, while still hanging in the tree, to deal with whatever injury she had sustained before returning, and not mention it to Einar unless such became absolutely essential, wanting very much to avoid giving him any reason to insist on carrying more of the load, whenever they moved on. Now that she had got a good look at it, though, she realized that the only sensible thing would be to wait, try to make it back down there with the stick in place, and get Einar’s advice about removing it, as it seemed that he’d had more

practical experience with…such things…than she had. The first thing that had come to her mind after seeing the injury--after she had managed to get the nausea and revulsion under control, was stabilize and evacuate. That’s what you were supposed to do with impaled objects, if she remembered correctly from her training, pad them and wrap them in place and carry the person out of there so the offending object could be dealt with in a hospital setting where bleeding and other complications could be more easily controlled, but that isn’t exactly an option, and I do think I remember something about it being best to remove things like that as soon as possible if evacuation is going to be delayed, which it certainly is in this case, so I’ll just have to settle for getting back to Einar, and seeing what his idea is…though I could wrap it with something to stabilize it I guess, and I’d better be looking for a good walking stick, too, because I don’t think I’m going to want to be walking on that leg, moving the muscle and all, with that thing stuck in there. She was starting to shake again, her hands refusing to cooperate as she tried to open the backpack in search of a good-sized wad of usnea and one of the boiled sock strips with which to wrap the leg, and she paused again, squeezed her eyes shut and took a few breaths--help me. I don’t really know what I’m doing, and I need help, getting a little scared-managing to get ahold of herself to the point where she was again in command of her hands, at least. Padding the protruding stick with usnea on both sides, she wrapped the padding in place and decided to call it good, seeing that the area around it was bruising and beginning to swell and thinking that the sooner she could get down to the shelter and get it out, the better. Standing with the aid of a stick--one of the dead, needle-less branches that her fall had broken off and brought down--she looked down the slope, hoping to see something that would tell her just where the shelter was, but seeing nothing she recognized. No matter. She knew it was down there, knew she could not miss it by too much, as it was just inside the timber that lay above the open, snow-filled basin they had skirted the night before in their travels. If she overshot it, she would simply backtrack and follow the timber’s edge until she recognized something. Ready to head down, she remembered the willow thicket that she had pushed through in chasing the grouse, crawled over to its edge and stripped the bark from a number of the reddish shoots, rolling it up and stashing it in her pack. She had been intending to get some to add to the supply they had gathered down on the canyon floor, and hated to pass up on the opportunity. Getting into the backpack and tying the grouse to it with one of the bola strings, she started down, hopping when she could on her right foot, as every contraction of her calf muscles in the left brought a fresh wave of pain washing up from the damaged area. Some use of the foot proved to be necessary, though, in navigating the snowy, deadfall-ridden steepness beneath her--Einar, I have no idea how you do this, day after day, with that crutch!--and it was all she could do to keep from screaming at the sharp tearing sensations in her leg, at those times. Partway down the slope she almost changed her mind and stopped to pull the stick out, but the prospect of serious bleeding prevented her from carrying through with it. The wound was beginning to ooze blood as she moved, and she knew that the presence of the stick could be acting to pinch off veins that would bleed freely when it was pulled out. Don’t do it. Best to be down there where you can be still afterwards, where there’s a dry, warm place to lie down and put the leg up after, to help control the bleeding. And besides, you don’t want to be going back to Einar a bloody, whimpering mess and make

him think this is worse than it may be. He was barely able to stay awake for more than a few minutes at a time this morning, and he sure doesn’t need that kind of a scare. The thought that she must be strong for Einar’s sake gave Liz the courage she needed to continue down the slope--you can do this. He’s been walking around with worse every day, and you never hear him complain--moving slowly as she navigated through areas of deadfall, trying to keep beneath the heavier timber where she would leave fewer tracks and where the thinner snow cover made for easier going. Beginning to catch occasional glimpses of the snow-bright basin through the trees below her she knew she must be getting close, close, at least, to the elevation of the shelter, even if she had come down to one or the other side of it, and she pressed ahead, growing a bit careless in her eagerness to be off her feet. Paying more heed to the terrain in front of her than to her own feet as she sought the shelter, Liz smacked the protruding stick in her leg against the twisted root of a fallen tree that stuck up out of the snow, and she cried out briefly before biting her lip until the blood came in an attempt to silence herself. Einar had heard, though, was already on his feet, doggedly holding his own against a spreading blackness that rose before his eyes, spear in hand; he was coming. • • • •

Liz had been far closer to the shelter when she bumped her leg than she had realized, and had not walked for the space of another minute before she saw Einar coming up the hillside towards her, leaning heavily on his spear and looking a bit unsteady but moving surprisingly quickly, eyes sharp and ready, even if the rest of him hardly was, scanning the slope for danger. It had to be there, whatever had attacked Liz and elicited the scream that had sent him scrambling to his feet; he had never heard her cry out like that, even when she had fallen back in the canyon, so he knew she must have had a very good reason for it. Nothing. He heard nothing out of the ordinary, saw nothing, and continued up through the timber in the direction the cry had seemed to come from. As he climbed, Einar was suddenly seized by a fear, only half rational but wholly believed, that she must have been taken, that the enemy had somehow tracked and found them in the night, seen the heat signature from their fire in a satellite image or found the den and guessed at the probable course of their escape, getting into position and waiting in ambush for one of them to leave the den before pouncing… He fitted a dart into the atlatl, crouched in the shadow of a fir trunk, every sense alert and the world taking on a hard, sharp-edged, crackling quality that was all too familiar to him, his exhaustion and the lingering malaise of his blood loss and injuries pushed for the moment to the background. They were out there, and he was going to find them, going to do all he could to free Liz. Briefly he wondered if he was himself under surveillance, felt a sharp prickle of terror and an unpleasant tingling in his shoulder at the thought that they might even then have him in their sights, targeting him not with a sniper’s bullet but with one of those abominable darts that they had tried on him the last time, but he pushed that thought aside, too, telling himself that surely they would have already made their move, in that case. Keep going. Quiet, careful, and you may yet have the element of surprise on them. Up there. Right where the trees thin out some. That’s where she was, and there’s no way they’re just walking out of here with her, hauling her up to some LZ and snatching her off the

mountain. I will get to them, first. And then he saw her, saw the slow, hopping gait with which she traveled, apparently oblivious to any danger if it existed. As he hurried towards her, Einar came to the slow realization that he must have been misunderstanding the sort of danger he was dealing with, from the start, and he finished the climb with halfformed tears of gladness further blurring his already dim and uncertain vision. When Einar reached her Liz steadfastly remained on her feet, trying to conceal her injured leg behind the good one, immensely relieved to see him but at the same time worried and a bit angry at him for attempting that climb in his condition. He was walking heedlessly on his bad foot like somebody’s life depended on how quickly he made it up that hill, and clearly having a terrible time catching his breath as he stood there leaning on his spear and staring at her. He saw the stain of blood on her pants leg, the raw red streaks where branches had raked across her face and arms and hands, insisted that she sit down on a fallen tree and let him take a look at the injuries. She complied, and he lowered himself heavily to the ground beside her, briefly closing his eyes as he fought back the dizziness. “Must’ve been some grouse you tangled with up there! I heard it hollering, figured you must be having a hard time getting ahold of it, but…what happened to you?” “Well at least I got the grouse, so we’ll have a good dinner... Fell out of the tree. The one the bird was in when I got it with the bola.” He had by that time finished inspecting her head and arms--quite a mess, and would need some careful cleaning and the removal of various imbedded bark fragments, and but no real damage done, as far as he could tell--and he soon discovered the branch sticking out of her leg, bound hastily but fairly effectively into place with the improvised dressings she had applied before leaving the area of the tree. Quickly deciding that its continued presence put her in no immediate danger of serious bleeding, Einar made the decision to get her down to the shelter where more resources were available to them--and where she would not have to travel, immediately aferwards--before attempting to remove the stick. “Ok, let’s head down there.” He crouched immediately in front of her, planted his spear in the snow and leaned slightly forward. “Here, get your arms around my neck, cross them on my chest and hang on. I’ll carry you. Gonna need at least one of my hands to hold onto this spear, but as long as you can be responsible for making sure you don’t come loose, ought to work just fine. Not far down to the shelter, and we’ll get this thing out of you.” Liz stared at him in disbelief for a moment, until he finally turned around to see what could possibly be taking her so long. He was getting a little shaky just crouching there like that, and was anxious to be up and moving before the exertion of the climb caught up to him and he found himself unable to do it. Liz was shaking her head. “Einar--no! I can walk. Hop. I’ll make it. It’s just a little branch, doesn’t even go clear through the leg, and I’ve come all the way from up there in the clearing…”

Raising an eyebrow and squinting at her he shrugged, handed her the spear. “Huh. Sounds kinda like what I’d say. Thought you had more sense than that… Ok. Hop, if it’s working for you. But you got to keep the weight off that foot, alright, or I’ll have to end up carrying you. Could probably do it a lot more damage by walking on it, using those muscles…” “Oh, I’ll keep the weight off of it! No question about that.” Which she did, hopping through the snow down towards the shelter, following Einar’s tracks and supported by him from time to time when they had to cross an especially difficult area of deadfall or steep snow. It took a while, Einar slowing things down perhaps more even than Liz was, but they made it back to the shelter, Einar helping Liz inside and getting her covered up with the yearling hide. She had started to shake again as soon as the shelter came into view, and though he didn’t know if it was more from the cold, or simply because she knew she was somewhere safe and could finally relax and begin to take in what had happened to her, he supposed the warmth of the hide certainly couldn’t hurt anything. The climb, though untimely and badly exhausting his already limited resources, had served to warm him more thoroughly than any amount of lying curled up in the shelter possibly could have, and he was very grateful that he once more had feeling in all of his extremities, at least--well, kinda wish I couldn’t feel the foot, actually, but you can’t have it both ways--and could keep his hands more or less steady, when he tried. He knew he would be needing that stability when the time came to remove the stick from Liz’s leg. Which I’d better be tending to pretty soon, before it has time to start swelling worse. First, need to boil some water though, got to have something clean to wash out that wound with. Guess I’ll use a couple of those fuel tablets to boil up half a pot of water-could use five or six times that much, but won’t be able to have a fire for hours, yet, and sure don’t want to leave that thing in there any longer than we have to--maybe add some Oregon grape roots at the last minute so the stuff’ll be at least somewhat disinfecting, and find a way to squirt it up into the wound, hopefully flush all the tree fragments and other gunk out…aw, Liz, sure don’t like seeing you this way. Let me climb the next tree, why don’t you? Would be an awful lot easier to face this if it had happened to me… Leaning on the granite slab that made up the rear wall of their shelter with her leg propped up to help with the swelling, Liz was working on the grouse, starting to pluck it as Einar heated the water, and he was about to tell her that she didn’t need to bother, that he could just skin it for her, but he could see that she was in a lot of pain--brave girl, can see she’s trying not to show it--and knew from experience that she really needed something to occupy her mind and hands, just then. She had stopped shaking as she focused on the task, seemed to be keeping control of herself. “That sure looks like a fine grouse. Give it a few hours to get dark out there, and we can have a fire, boil it up or roast it even, and have a feast. Got the snow melting. Want to get it to a boil just to make sure its clean, add some berberine and then we can use it to wash that leg out, once the stick is free. How you doing? You Ok?” “Sure. Not bad. I could have broken my back or something, landing the way I did, so this is not bad. It could bleed a lot though, couldn’t it? When we pull the stick out? I

was thinking that the stick may be compressing a vein or an artery, as tightly as it’s jammed in there, and that when it comes out…do you think we should do a tourniquet on the leg, first?” “It may bleed some, but I doubt it’ll be too serious. Wouldn’t hurt to have a strip of leather or something in place and all ready to tighten somewhere below your knee, in case it became necessary, but I bet we’ll be fine with some yarrow to slow the bleeding, usnea to absorb it, and a lot of direct pressure. Water’s hot…you ready?” She nodded, pulled her pants leg up past her knee and loosely wrapped the strip of deer hide he had handed her around her leg, in readiness should the bleeding become too serious. Einar was washing out a plastic zippered bag, the last they had that still held water, cutting off the very tip of one of its corners when he was finished so the bag could be squeezed to create a fairly forceful stream of water to irrigate the wound and hopefully free any fragments that the stick left behind. The bag ready to go, he laid out their remaining supply of yarrow and a good bit of usnea on a flat rock, adding to the supplies a small, flat rock which he intended to wrap atop the dressings to help keep pressure on the wound, if it seemed inclined to bleed. Liz unwrapped the cloth strip with which she had bound the stick in place, removed the usnea dressings, bloody but not soaked. “Einar? Can I have that willow stick you keep in your pocket? The one you use when we do your toes…” “You really want it? Pretty chewed up by now but…here.” He handed her the stick, tooth-marked and nearly split from numerous dressings of the damaged toes and then the stumps, and she clamped in between her teeth as he took hold of the stick and put slow, steady outward pressure on it, keeping it as straight as possible and gently removing it. The stick appeared to be intact, smooth, no small side branches missing and left imbedded in her leg, and Einar was relieved, thankful. Such a situation would have been decidedly beyond the scope of his knowledge, though of course he would have tried to figure out a way to resolve it… Liz had tried to keep quiet through the extraction but had not quite managed it, and he glanced up from his work to find her staring wide-eyed at the bloody stick, understandably a bit distraught but, he thought, doing an excellent job of not letting it get away with her. There was some bleeding but nothing catastrophic, and he filled the bag with by then barely warm water, rinsing out the wound and packing yarrow and usnea against it. Seeing that it still showed little inclination to bleed at more than a trickle, he wrapped it with one of the boiled sock strips that had been set aside for his foot, setting the small, flat rock on top of the wrap where it would apply pressure to the usnea and yarrow on the wound, and wrapping with another strip. That was it, all they could do at the moment, and in his clumsy fashion he took Liz’s hand and tried to assure her that everything had gone well, ought to turn out alright, that he would make some willow solution when they had a fire that evening, and she could have some to help with the pain if the bleeding had got no worse, by then. She smiled at him, accepted the water he gave her to drink, and returned to plucking the grouse. “Thank you, Einar. Next time I will try to snag the bird before it leaves the ground! Now

maybe you’d better rest some. It was a long way up that hill…” He had hardly stopped moving since they returned to the shelter, and Liz was growing increasingly concerned, seeing how dizzy he apparently was, as he felt his way around the place preparing the wood for that evening’s fire and trying to make sure she was comfortable, how hard his breath was coming. “Rest. Come on. Sit with me for a minute, Ok? That can all be done later.” Finishing with the fire preparations he crawled over to her, checked the dressings to make sure they were not soaking too quickly with blood, and sank down in a heap on the spruce needles beside her, out before he even had a chance to pull a corner of the yearling hide up over himself for warmth. • • • • When Einar woke it was to find the shelter bright with the flickering light of a fire--he could see it through his closed eyelids, but couldn’t quite seem to get them open--and warm, warm enough that he was certain the fire must have been lit some time ago. He had somehow ended up under the yearling hide, could feel its weight holding him down, and when he tried to move it was to find warm rocks pressed up against the small of his back and in the hollow of his stomach where he had curled around them. He needed the heat, couldn’t stop shivering despite the apparent warmth of the shelter, took one of the rocks in his hands and pressed it to his ribs, finally opening his eyes. Liz was sitting there beside the fire with her sleeves rolled up, stirring a pot and dabbing at the abrasions on her left arm with a dampened sock. The grouse, neatly plucked and cleaned, hung over the fire on a stout spruce stick. Einar’s eyes strayed down to her bandaged leg, back to the scratches on her face and he sat bolt upright, scattering the hot rocks across the floor with a clatter as he suddenly remembered the events of the day. “Hey, told you to…kick me when I fall asleep like that. Meant it. How’s your leg? I…” The shelter-rocks spun crazily around him, threatening to dump him on his face, and he lowered his head for a few seconds, scrubbed his hand across his eyes and resumed his dogged, stiff-limbed crawl towards the fire, and Liz, noticing as he went that she seemed to have placed hot rocks from the fire here and there throughout the shelter, heating it from the back and sides as well as from the front, with the blaze. “I meant to keep an eye on that leg. Let me take a look. Been bleeding much?” “No, the dressings haven’t even started to soak through. And I did try to wake you, because you still had your wet clothes on and I think it would have taken a pry bar to get them off of you, the way you curl up to sleep. Tried to keep you warm but I’m afraid it didn’t work too well, so I just waited until dark and got the fire going. Kicking might have helped wake you, I don’t know, didn’t resort to that, but nothing else seemed to be having much effect. You were really out.” “Pry bar, huh?” He dropped down by the fire, holding chilled hands over its flames and shuddering harder as its warmth began loosening his muscles. His clothes were indeed wet, now that she mentioned it he noticed that the pants legs and one sleeve, especially, remained rather damp from his trek up the hill, but he had no interest in changing them before he checked on Liz’s injury, feeling that he had already shirked his duty by falling asleep or otherwise losing consciousness when he should have been tending to her. “Better keep your…doggone pry bar…good and far away from me…specially when I’m

asleep. Now. Let me see that leg.” Liz’s leg, which she had been careful to keep elevated while she prepared the grouse, took a rest and built the fire, appeared not to have bled much, and Einar carefully removed the outer of the two layers of sock-strips with which it was wrapped, wanting a better look but knowing that it would be inadvisable to tamper with the inner dressing, as that would be likely to start her bleeding again. The area around the wound was showing some bruising, purple-black and swollen, her toes feeling a bit cold, but they had their normal color, and he could easily feel her pulse at the ankle when he checked. The swelling would go down, but he knew the process could be speeded up, and the obvious pain of the injury somewhat reduced, if the area could be cooled some. As cold as it had been in the shelter, he would have been concerned that the use of an ice pack might result in inevitable frost bite--and we sure don’t need to have two of us hobbling around with blistered or missing toes--but Liz had somehow managed to get the shelter so thoroughly warmed that he figured it would do no harm. She had amassed a great pile of firewood-must’ve gone out for more while I was asleep--and was burning fine, dry aspen sticks along with large chunks of long-dead spruce, which were, upon closer observation, clearly parts of a larger trunk that had been placed over the fire until it had burnt in half. Smart way to do it. Saves work, over trying to cut something like that into the right lengths. Sure takes a while though for something that big to burn all the way through. Wonder just how long I was lying over there being useless? He shook his head, crawled over to the door and filled a damp sock with snow, tying it at the end and molding it over Liz’s leg, just above the wound dressing. “Here. Want to try something to bring the swelling down?” “Ow! Sure. Yes. That’s a good idea, but boy, is it cold!” “Well, you’ve somehow managed to turn this place into a sauna--minus the humidity, fortunately--with all these hot rocks and the roaring fire. I can feel heat radiating back out of the rocks, already. So this shouldn’t chill you too badly. If it starts to, just take it off. “It’s already helping. You’re right though, this place sure heated up nicely once the fire took off, tonight. I wouldn’t have kept building it up like this, once I had a good bed of coals for cooking, but you were just lying over there freezing in your wet clothes and I couldn’t seem to wake you or get you warm, no matter what I did, so I just kept adding wood and trying to bring the temperature up in here. And I rolled a big snow-crusted log across the bottom of this hide we’re using for a door, to keep out the drafts. It worked, warmed me up real quickly and kept you from freezing solid in your sleep, too!” “Aw, I’ve got antifreeze in my blood,” he growled. “Take a lot more than a little nap in wet clothes to freeze me solid. But uh…thanks. Been having an awful time staying awake lately. Kinda comes on with no warning, hits me so fast I can’t do anything to stop it. Wish I knew how to keep that from happening. You sure shouldn’t have had to go to this kind of effort with your leg all torn up the way it is.”

“Says the man who just climbed a canyon wall and then hiked twenty miles straight through, immediately after chopping off his own toes, then came looking for me in the snow when I was a little late getting back this morning and tried to carry me back down…” “Well, that’s different. Whole different thing. Now how about you let me get some berberine water going, and then I’ll help you clean up your arms and face, because it looks like you’ve got some bits of spruce bark stuck in some of those scrapes, and it won’t do to have your arm or something getting all infected just because we neglected to get the gunk cleaned out. And I’m thinking maybe you better drink a good bit of the stuff for a few days, too, just like I am, in case that leg tries to get infected. Bad enough that one of us is gonna be hobbling around for a few weeks, we sure don’t need to make it two, if it can be helped.” She already had the berberine water simmering in the pot over the fire, showed it to him and got a wide grin in response. Clearly Liz was learning, thinking ahead, and it was a tremendous comfort to Einar to know that she was acquiring the skills and thought processes that would allow her to get along out there, should something happen to separate the two of them for a time. Using the sock that she had designated as a washrag, he helped her soak and clean the series of deep gashes and red, irritated “spruce rash” patches on her arms, pausing now and then to use the tip of his knife, cleaned in berberine water, to free a splinter or bark chip from the abrasions. He had, fortunately, stopped shaking by then and was able through a concentrated effort to keep his hands steady enough not to do her any further harm as he worked. Finishing with her arms, he moved on to her face, cleaning the and treating its scrapes and small cuts with some of the balm of Gilead salve that she had earlier made for his toes. The salicin in the salve was very soothing to the raw patches on her skin, and while she had been more than a bit skeptical about letting Einar anywhere near her with the knife, the way he had been trembling when he woke, she had to admit that the treatment left her feeling a good bit better. He seemed to be doing better as well, the focus demanded by the need to help her keeping him in the present and pushing aside the weariness that constantly seemed to be lurking just around the corner to claim him, of late. Liz was concerned, though, seeing the way that he crouched there on the ground as soon as the task was completed, staring dazedly into the fire and starting to shake again, taking a good many seconds to acknowledge her when she spoke to him. The grouse was sizzling, its skin browning over the flames and emitting a wonderful, mouth-watering aroma as it hung there over the fire, and grabbing the end of the long, green stick that she had peeled of bark and skewered it on, she turned the bird over once again to keep it roasting evenly. “Not long, Einar, and we’ll be eating!” Rolling a freshly heated rock out from the edge of the fire, she wrapped it in a dry sock and handed it to him. The meal, she was sure, would help restore some of the energy that he had been seriously lacking since their arrival at the shelter. If you can stay awake to eat it. You have to stay awake--it’s almost ready! It’s going to be a good night. • • • •

The grouse was nearly ready, and Liz, seeing that Einar was in danger of falling asleep where he sat and wanting to make sure he did not do so before eating, suggested they change the dressings on his foot. A good idea, he knew, as he could feel that things had oozed and bled quite a bit during the climb, not surprising considering that he had in his haste used the foot almost as if nothing was wrong with it. The adrenalin of believing that Liz was in serious danger or possibly even captured had got him up the hill that way, and pretty quickly, but he was certainly feeling the effects now that he was back at the shelter, safe, still and bordering on being warm, even. The foot had swollen, bled, the place where his toes had been feeling like he’d put it through a meat grinder--again--and he knew it had better be dealt with, though he would have far rather curled up and let sleep take him again, for as long as it was able. He nodded. “Yeah. Better do that. I can take care of it, if you’ll just hand me that berberine. Why don’t you pour some of it into your water bottle first, though, and get started drinking it? Need to get it in your system before some family of microscopic critters decides to take up residence in your leg. If you drink it now, then you’ll have the dinner to help get that taste out of your mouth. You’ll need it.” “It can’t be that bad, can it? I mean, you drink it all the time…” She thought she saw the faintest hint of a smile at the corner of his mouth, but couldn’t be sure. “Don’t know. How about you give it a try, and tell me?” Pouring over a cup’s worth of the bright yellow liquid into her bottle, she took an unhesitating gulp of the stuff, paused for a shocked moment before leaning forward doubled over, nearly vomiting at the incredibly intense bitterness of the berberine. Einar handed her his water bottle, and she nearly drained it. “Oh! How do you drink this stuff day after day! That’s…oh, that’s awful!” He shrugged, gave her a lopsided grin, shoulders shaking, laughing silently at her antics as she fanned her open mouth with her hand and stuffed in several green spruce needles to help mask the taste. “You get used to it. Get used to it real fast, when you got pneumonia and can’t breathe, or when your arm’s been torn up nearly down to the bone by an angry wolverine and it’s festering…yeah. Get used to it.” Returning to the foot, Einar pulled off the overboot--it had kept his foot dry, prevented further cold damage, as far as he could tell--and started removing the old dressings, but was having a hard time freeing the blood-crusted sock strip, and Liz scooted over beside him with the pot of lukewarm berberine water, dipping some of it onto the dressings and gently soaking and pulling them free. He let her do it, kept still as she cleaned the remaining toes and the open wounds where the skin flaps seemed, at least so far, to be failing to heal over the stumps, lowering his head and trying to breathe slowly as she worked free the pieces of usnea that had been ground into the flesh as he climbed on the foot, subsequently beginning to dry as the bleeding ceased. Though she worked as gently as she was able, Liz could tell that it was taking a supreme effort on Einar’s part to refrain

from crying out or passing out or perhaps striking at her with the spear that he clasped at his side in a trembling, white-knuckled grip, and she almost wished he would do one or another, thought it might help him get through the cleaning. That’s not your way though, is it? But you really should have let me take care of this sooner. Maybe things wouldn’t have had time to dry, then, would have been a little easier to get loose. She was finished, rinsed everything one final time with berberine water--no infection yet, it doesn’t look like. Please let this be enough, these things we’re doing. Don’t let him lose this foot-spread some salve on the two remaining toes and around the edges of the wounds, and bound the foot with a clean sock strip, their last. Finished with the foot and wanting to keep Einar from curling up, facing the wall and retreating within himself, sleeping or losing consciousness before he had a chance to eat, as he appeared rather inclined to do, she retrieved the sock that had been used to clean her arms and face, dipping it in the pot of warm water and bathing the grime from his leg, which appeared a bit sore after the climb. Your leg’s a little swollen, and I saw that you weren’t wearing your cast when you came looking for me, or using the crutch, either. How is it doing?” “Uh…aches some. And it’s real weak, doesn’t always do what I need it to do or expect it to do, but that’ll improve as I use it more, I’m sure. Muscles just haven’t had much use in a good while, ankle’s kinda stiff, but the bone seems to be healing, and I think I’m less likely to freeze the foot again with the cast off than on. The more movement the better, to keep the blood flowing. And the leg got me up the hill, anyway. Didn’t really cross my mind that I shouldn’t be walking on it, until I was up there and saw you. Heard you holler and got this idea in my head that they’d come, tracked us and…taken you…was real sure of it. Wasn’t room in there for much else.” She looked at him sadly, seeing that he was very serious about having thought her captured, and she could only imagine, then, what he had believed he was walking into when he came looking for her. Death, or worse. His eyes had gone all dark and distant, hands clenched and face drawn just talking about it. She reached out with cautious hands, placed them firmly over his own where they gripped the spear, wanted to embrace him but could tell by the way he leaned away from her that he didn’t really want any such contact, at the moment. Instead she made her best effort to catch his eye, and spoke with a voice soft and a bit husky with emotion. “Thank you.” He nodded, took her hands. When Liz had finished bathing Einar’s healing leg and rubbing it for him with a bit of salve to ease its soreness, she checked the grouse again, turned it, and went on and bathed the other leg, keeping the fire going steadily for heat and helping him off with his shirt, washing his top half, too, when he made no objection. It had been a while since either of them had bathed thoroughly, and seemed a good idea, was keeping Einar awake, at least, and appeared perhaps to be relaxing him just a bit. Which it was, but was leaving him at

the same time thinking a bit ruefully to himself that, huh…guess she’s gonna get me turned into some sort of a semi-civilized critter yet, if I give her half a chance…what’s next? As Einar dried himself beside the fire, chilled once more despite the warmth of the water used for his “bath,” Liz cleaned the old, blood stained sock strip, laying it flat on a rock and pouring boiling water over it, flipping, wringing and doing the reverse side until no more blood came out, hanging it above the fire to dry. Not exactly sterile, but as close as she could come under the circumstances, and she was confident that the boiling water ought at least to be going a long way towards disinfecting the dressing for its next use. Einar was hungry. Had been hungry for days, of course, having got far behind in his eating since first having to deal with the pain of his frostbitten toes, the nausea and fever brought on when they got infected, and the subsequent agony of the amputations and their aftermath, but he found himself, for the first time in a good while, actually looking forward to the meal that night. The roasting bird smelled incredible, and he found himself pressing his empty stomach to ease the cramps that knotted it at the thought of such a feast. Glancing at Liz out of the corner of his eye and seeing her busy, he took his knife and pried loose a bit of grouse skin, brown and crunchy and oozing grease when he freed it, stripping it from the bird and taking an experimental taste. Ah…have had nothing better. Ever. He was absolutely certain, wanted more, but saw Liz watching him out of the corner of her eye, and put down the knife with a sheepish grin and a shrug. “Just testing. Got to make sure these things haven’t been eating too many pine beetles, you know, or you could end up with pine beetle toxicity from consuming the bird. Terrible consequences, your hair starts falling out, teeth get loose and you go all crosseyed, can’t taste anything but pine, no matter what you eat…and that’s just the start of it. You can always tell though, from the taste of the skin. This one tastes alright, fortunately, so we should be safe! I think…” and he reached for another strip of skin to “test,” just to be sure. Liz swatted at him with the washcloth-sock, which she had wrung out and was preparing to hang to dry, shooing him away from the fire and turning the grouse one final time. “Pine beetle toxicity, is it? I’ve never heard of any such thing. Please tell me you’re making that up!” “Aw, now do you really think I’d…” “Yes, it seems that you would!” She scolded, though delighted to see that Einar finally seemed awake enough not only to carry on a conversation of sorts for the first time since returning to the shelter, but a rather imaginative one, at that… “Now stay away from my bird! It’s almost done, but I don’t want all the juice escaping and drying it out, like it’s going to do if you keep ‘testing’ every few seconds!” Einar scooted out of reach so he wouldn’t be overly tempted, got back into his shirt. “What gave it away? How’d you know there isn’t such thing as pine beetle toxicity?” “The part about ‘going all cross-eyed’ when suffering from it. That just wasn’t

believable.” “Huh. Well, it was the best I could come up with…” The bird was ready, and they ate, sitting together and giving thanks, Einar turning and pretending to be focused on stirring the coals for a minute to keep Liz from seeing the tears that welled up at his first taste of the meal, the first he had been able to really enjoy or eat a significant portion of, in days. • • • • Sleep came quickly to the weary pair that evening, stomachs full and satisfied after their meal of grouse and several pots of warm spruce needle tea, the bird’s clean-picked bones set to simmer in a pot that Liz nestled down in the coals for the night. The shelter was still quite warm when they crawled in between the berms of piled up spruce needles to sleep, the fire only then beginning to dim and die for the evening, and between the warm rocks that Liz packed on each side of the bed and the fact that one of the split pieces of the bear hide was quite dry by that time and available to them for cover, in addition to the yearling hide, it was shaping up to be a reasonably comfortable night. Not that Einar had time to think much about any of this. He was asleep shortly after dragging himself into the bed at Liz’s urging, leaving her to prepare the stew pot and shove a last length of spruce into the fire, securing the log against the bear hide that served as a door to keep out drafts and--she hoped--small scavengers that might smell the remnants of their feast and wish to help clean up. She was tired, too, after the struggles of the day and her injury, but it had been clear to her that between his full stomach and the unaccustomed warmth of the shelter, it was all Einar could do to keep his eyes open. She pulled him away from the fire where he was attempting--much to the detriment of his fingers, which were sliced and bleeding in places--to finely chop some lengths of willow bark to boil down for a pain and swelling-reducing solution for her leg, steering him to the bed. Soon joining him, she left the pot of willow bark to heat and simmer in the coals beside the stew pot. He had told her that she ought to wait until morning to try the solution, anyway, just to be sure that her wound was showing no inclination to serious bleeding, and her leg, while sore, somewhat swollen and throbbing quite insistently, was not unbearable. She would sleep. Einar was warm when Liz crawled in under the bear hides beside him, not shivering and not even, it seemed, having felt the need to curl up too tightly to retain warmth, and she was glad to find him fully relaxed for once, as the past few nights had been long, uncomfortable occurrences during which she remembered having spent nearly as much time struggling to re-warm a half-frozen and barely conscious Einar as she had in sleeping, herself, the long cold hours dragging on and on as she lay there listening to his teeth chatter and praying that he might live to see another morning. None of that tonight, I hope. He just didn’t have enough energy to produce adequate heat, these past couple of nights, but eating half a grouse ought to go a long way towards fixing that, I expect…it sure did for me! And she was asleep, nestled in beside him. Liz’s leg gave her some minor trouble during the night, and she woke once to re-position it, pulling a pile of spruce needles between her knees to keep her top leg from pressing down on the swollen part of the injured one, but she was able to get back to sleep reasonably quickly, checking

Einar and finding his hands still to be warm, face drawn in under the bear hide. Sometime in the early morning hours when the temperature outside was at its minimum and the air was quiet and so crystal clear that even the stars stood still, Einar stirred, carefully squirmed out of Liz’s grasp and found his way to the door, where he crouched listening to the night. His sleep had as usual been a tangle of dreams, vivid and at times terrifying, and as he sat wiping the sweat from his face and trembling in the slight draft that crept around the door to brush him with its icy fingers, he would have striven to put the dream-images out of his mind as he usually did on waking after such nights. One, though, the last one, the one that had awakened him, stood out in his memory, its shadow refusing to pass and its details sharp as life in his mind. It had been spring, the snow soft and slushy, lingering in ever-diminishing patches in the shady areas beneath fallen trees and at the edges of the timber, but the meadow mostly clear, greening with the first hint of newly emerging alpine grasses and flowers whose season was as short as it was brilliant. Liz was out in the meadow for some reason, crouching beside a large grey upright slab of rock near its middle. She seemed to be digging something, spring beauty bulbs, he guessed, though he couldn’t tell for sure, distant as he was on the rocky perch where he sat waiting for one of the band of bighorn sheep that were contentedly grazing in an adjoining basin to wander within atlatl range. The morning sun was warm on his shoulders as he sat, and a small sound, the faintest scrape and crunch of rock on rock, returned his attention to the hunt. The ram was still too far away, making his way up through a series of rock bands that stood guard above the basin, and Einar focused his eyes on the little patch of timber just above the animal, in order to avoid alarming it with his gaze. The creature was approaching, oblivious to his presence, and Einar had just got the dart fitted and was taking aim when he heard the first shout, jerked around and squinted down at the meadow, and Liz. She was not alone. Already three of the men had reached her, had her on the ground and were trying to cuff her, more running to join them from the nearby woods. She was fighting back, struggling and kicking and then she wasn’t moving anymore and he didn’t know why, couldn’t see clearly enough across that distance and he was running, scrambling and sliding down the rock face beneath him and sprinting through the timber, jumping over tangles of deadfall and once falling, himself, when a branch seemed to leap up in his path and catch him across the midsection, knocking out his breath. It was far, too far, and though he picked up his pace, breath catching and burning in his lungs with the effort when he heard the helicopter coming in, saw its rotors flashing through the trees, he reached the meadow too late, fell to his knees and pounded the earth in helpless rage as he watched the chopper disappear over the ridge. She was gone. In the distance a helicopter scoured one of the distant ridges that they had left behind in crossing the canyon, and Einar crouched there shaking at the memory of the dream until its rumbling had died away into the silence of the night. Uninterested in returning to bed he went out and sat on a tree trunk that Liz had apparently cleared of snow in one of her firewood quests, supposing she must have decided against it as it was newly fallen that year, fresh and green and full of moisture inside. The night was frigid. He could see the

pale starlight gleaming ghostly white on the billows of his breath as they rose, spread and vanished in the still, shadowed dimness there beneath the trees. Gone. Gone in a breath… Steam rose gently from his sweat-dampened clothing, and he could feel his skin begin to shrink and contract as the blood went out of it, retreated deeper into his body in an attempt to conserve heat. A few minutes more and he rose, limped stiffly up the slope behind the shelter and found a rock outcropping, wind-scoured, icy, providing him a bit of a view down into the snow-heaped basin below the timber that shielded them, again took a seat, back against an exposed slab of granite. Feeling the cold as it seeped through his single layer of clothing and into his bones, he made no effort to stop it. He was soon trembling uncontrollably, legs cramping and jaw aching fiercely, but knew it would eventually stop, all of it. Everything…eventually stops. If one waits long enough. And he intended to wait. Spring was still many, many months away up there in the high country; not until late May or early June would the snow begin disappearing from the meadows and basins as he had seen in his dream, and until that happened, life would continue to be a constant struggle for food, and enough of it. Liz had done an excellent job obtaining supper for them that night, if the meal had been a bit costly; she was clearly learning, but was also, he knew, working herself to the bone trying to care for him and provide for their basic needs during the times when he was unable to be of much assistance. Those times seemed to have been all too frequent, of late. No way for her to live. You eat the food that she brings in, sit by her fire to keep from freezing and burn the wood that she’s gathered, let her carry your pack up the mountain, but what do you add? What do you give? Just making things harder for her; your presence is making it so the enemy’s never going to leave her alone, never going to relent, and the day will eventually come when there’s nothing you can do to protect her, when they’ll surprise her and you won’t be close enough to do anything about it, and they’ll take her. She would be safe down in town, her friends could hide her, give her a place to stay or get her out of the area and make sure she stays there until the feds realize you’re not around anymore and give up on the whole thing. She’s only staying up here because of you. You’re killing her, Einar. It is your job to protect her, and at any cost. Do it. You know how. Einar had no idea how long he sat there staring down at the patches of snowy brightness that showed between trees, growing colder and colder but embracing the chill, welcoming it and accepting its presence around him and in him, the drowsiness that it brought, the relief from the twisting, burning pain of his missing toes and the battered, un-healing flesh that remained in their wake leaving him for the time badly crippled, despite his healing leg, the cessation of his shivering, stillness, silence, until he felt that he must have ceased to exist, at least as an entity separate from the icy spur of rock that was his perch. Down below, Liz still slept soundly and warm in her bed of spruce needles and bear hides. • • • • It was to remain a mystery to Einar, when he thought back on it later, just when he had begun shivering again that morning and, more importantly, why. It seemed his body had become so habituated to resisting the advances of the cold that it had taken over and done

so somewhat automatically as his mind--silly thing--grew increasingly chilled and fuzzy. That’s what he told himself, anyway, though he knew such an occurrence was highly unlikely--such things just did not happen…or did not just happen, or maybe both; he was still a bit confused as he sat there trying to puzzle it out--should not have happened, and he later came to accept another explanation. However it happened, he woke from what had seemed much like sleep--dreamless, but not Wordless--to a faint graying of the starscattered sky in the east, spruce-silhouettes standing sharp and clear against its growing brightness, trembling violently and wondering why he had chosen to sleep out on bare rock on such a night without any covering, when there were clearly numerous trees available to provide him warmth and shelter. Then, he remembered. Forgive me. And he put it out of his mind for the moment, knowing that if he didn’t focus on doing something for himself, and quickly, he might very well slip (back?) beyond the point of no return. It would have been all too easy; he couldn’t seem to get up, couldn’t, in fact, even seem to find his arms in order to swing them for warmth, and knew he’d have to go about it another way. Do this, Einar. Done it before, you know how… Putting all of his remaining energy into the effort, he took in a deep breath, filled his lungs to their limit and held the breath, slowly let it out, ever so slowly, picturing the breath traveling down through his arms, exiting the fingers--not literally what was happening, of course, but it worked for him. After several minutes of this, still shivering furiously, his fingers began tingling with the flow of returning circulation, and he flexed them, rubbed them and stuck his hands in his armpits for further warming, turning his attention to his legs and feet until they, too, were again somewhat functional. His dangerously lowered core temperature was beginning to rise by that point, his efforts affecting it gradually and minutely but still enough to make a difference--this works an awful lot better at maintaining a normal temperature in the first place under adverse conditions than bringing a person back from half frozen, that’s for sure--and though he felt as if he could go on like that forever, just breathing himself warm and returning the life to his chilled body, he knew that he must not give into any such temptation, that the breathing was a tool and not an end in and of itself. Finally he stopped, exhausted, letting his breaths settle back into a normal pattern. Only then did he allow his mind to return to the cause of his present predicament. All of your own making. Pride, Einar. That’s what it is, all it is…and there’s no honor in that. She helps you, sure, when you need it, and you do the same for her, so what? Nothing wrong with that. And you say you’re worried about being able to protect her, that it is your duty to do so…well, do it. Make it so you’ll be able to do it. You never yet backed down from a duty, and you sure don’t get to start it, now. No excuses. Now stand up, walk if you can or crawl if you have to, and get yourself back down there before you really do freeze. Better do it before she wakes up, too, or you’re gonna have an awful lot of explaining to do when she sees how cold you are…and even more, if you end up losing more toes after this. Not being particularly far from the shelter, the return trip went quickly despite the fact that Einar could not seem to stay on his feet for more than a few steps at a time, and daylight was just beginning to brighten far to the east as he dragged himself in under the door flap, pausing first to brush the snow from his clothes, the warmth of the place washing over him and setting his limbs to prickling and burning

again. It had been too cold outside, fortunately, for the snow to begin melting and begin soaking in, and his clothes did not need changing. Holding his breath to silence its coldinduced puffing and whistling for a moment he paused just inside the door, heard Liz breathing slow and regular in sleep and dragged himself over to her, aching hands reaching out to touch her face in the darkness, feeling her warmth and holding back lest he disturb her. Crawling back into the bed he lay trembling face down on the spruce needles, trying not to touch her, hoping she might not wake. She did, though, rolled close for warmth when she realized how very cold he had somehow managed to become, spoke to him. He grabbed her and buried his face against her shoulder, making no effort to conceal his tears as she held him. “Sorry Lizzie. I’m so sorry…” “Sorry…? Hey, Einar, are you Ok? You’ve been outside? You’re absolutely frozen! No, come here, don’t try to get away from me. What’s wrong, have you been dreaming again? One of those dreams…” He nodded, wanted to tell her but could see no purpose in doing so and doubted his ability to get out more than a word or two, anyway, until he had warmed up some. “Yeah. Guess so.” She didn’t say anything, just held him closer until he warmed enough to begin sleeping again, which took a good while. Einar was up out of bed a short hour later, still cold but doing better, and he left the shelter again, this time wearing a bear hide and his crutch and taking his mostly empty pack. Liz was aware of him leaving the bed, watched him go but did not try to stop him, seeing that he appeared to be wide awake and possessed of a definite plan for his outing. The morning was clear, sun beginning to show golden on the stark, regular fringe of trees up on the far side of the basin, and Einar followed Liz’s tracks from the previous morning. The going was difficult on the steep snowy slope, encumbered as he was with the crutch, but he knew that he had just been doing more damage to what was left of his right foot by walking on it so much before the skin flaps had begun healing over, and with all the walking he intended to do over the coming days, it seemed best to give the foot a break, that morning. His leg, at least, seemed to be working again if his hasty climb the day before was any indication, and though it was understandably very weak after so long a period of limited use, he supposed he ought to be encouraged by the fact that it showed no ill effects from the hard use, that morning, aside from a bit of swelling and a dull ache that he expected would diminish as the day went along. Well, I’ll certainly be finding out, because it’s gonna get a lot of use from now on. Have to go careful on the toes--lack of toes--for while I guess, but it’s time for that leg to get strong again. I’ve got to be able to run again, climb, get around up here without having to rely on crawling or tumbling, and I sure can’t do that too well on this crutch. Reaching the first of the deadfall traps Liz had told him about setting he found it empty, continued on up the hill, pushing himself as hard as he was able and completing the circuit formed by her tracks, finding the tree where the grouse hunting mishap had occurred and collecting

more bark from the willows in the little thicket beside the grouse-tree before heading down. Einar returned to the shelter just over an hour after leaving, carrying with him food for that night, a marten so freshly caught that he knew it must have met its fate while he had been sitting up there on the rocks, contending with his own. Liz met him at the door, holding it open for him, and he was greeted with the odor of the grouse stew, still warm, that she had set to simmer in the coals the night before. • • • •

Before sharing the breakfast stew with Liz, Einar skinned and cleaned the marten, stretching its hide over a piece of firewood which he split with his knife, smoothing out its rough edges so as not to tear the hide. Scraping the bits of fat and membrane from the flesh side of the fur, he propped it in the back of the shelter to dry and await eventual processing, along with the ones Liz had earlier trapped. His foot was bothering him quite a bit, had been since he woke that morning, and he shifted position several times in as he worked, attempting to alleviate the discomfort. It was, he supposed, the lingering effect of his long climb on it the day before and again in the night. Unless I froze some more toes last night. He shivered. Have to take a look at it, after breakfast. Einar was hungry that morning, they both were, but Einar, especially, after his long freezing night hours up on the rocks and the morning’s foray to check traps, and he had to hold himself back from gulping too quickly whenever Liz passed the stew pot to him. Liz took his ravenousness as a good sign that the pain of his toes must finally be beginning to subside, hoped he might soon be able to get back to eating a bit more normally. If they could continue to come up with enough food to make that possible. It still surprised Liz somewhat just how much of her time was devoted to food that winter--finding and obtaining food, cleaning, preparing, and storing it, talking about it for seemingly endless hours with Einar and, when none of those were going on, thinking about food, what they did have, what they didn’t have, what was needed, the things she used to eat in the “before time,” as Einar called it, yet even with all that thinking and planning and doing, it seemed they were seldom quite full, quite satisfied. Summer would be better, she expected, with more variety of game to choose from and berries and other plant foods to supplement it, and she knew, also, that their prospects of continuing to occasionally fill their bellies would have to be improved by “migrating” down to the lower elevations, as virtually all of the other big game had done, by that point. She knew Einar would not hear of it, though, at least not yet, not until the search had quieted down even further, and she did not want to press the matter. He was very quiet that morning, seemed lost in thought, and Liz wondered if his unusually reserved demeanor might be due to the obviously disturbing dream that had awakened him in the night. It seemed that Einar wanted to tell her something--she caught him more than once staring intently at her when he thought she wasn’t looking--but couldn’t quite bring himself to do so. He didn’t say a word, in fact, all through the meal. Breakfast finished and Liz scrubbing out the cooking pot with some ashes, a bit of snow and a spruce bough, Einar gathered all of the ponderosa cones that some rodent--squirrel,

he guessed--had heaped up at the back of the shelter, piling them beside the fire pit so they would be ready for that evening when they could have a fire. Ponderosa seeds were small things, less than a quarter the size of the familiar white pine nuts that came from the lower-elevation pinyons--his mouth watered at the thought; too bad they don’t grow up this high, those things are great, full of fat and so plentiful some years--and as Einar opened one of the cones, he saw that the seeds were black and winged much like maple seeds, only sitting singly beneath each of the cone’s protective scales. Not much food in each seed, but as many cones as had been stored there in the shelter, it definitely seemed worth roasting and gathering them. By heating or even partially burning the cones, he knew, they could be forced to open up further and release their seeds, simultaneously roasting the seeds and making them easier to grind. The cones, had they been left undisturbed on the ground, would have long ago lost their seeds, but by having been placed in the cold, dark confines of the rock shelter, their gatherer had preserved them for the winter. Which reminded Einar. Need to get some snares set out for the critter or critters, in case they happen to return while we’re here. He had seen no squirrel, rat or other rodent tracks in the snow around the shelter since their arrival, but supposed the creature responsible for the stash of cones might have been discouraged by the heavy snowfall from venturing out too far from wherever its winter hideaway might be, in which case it would probably be along sometime over the next few days, as the snow began developing a crust. Unless the critter went and forgot just where he buried this stuff. Seen it happen… The cones piled up and awaiting evening, and a fire, and Liz done washing the breakfast pot, Einar got out the berberine water and usnea pulled a clean sock strip down from the spot where it had hung drying over the fire. Liz’s leg looked good that morning, still somewhat swollen and badly bruised around the wound and where her shin had struck the tree, but it did not appear to be getting infected, and the bleeding had entirely stopped. “Looks Ok. How does it feel?” Einar spoke for the first time that morning. “A little worse than yesterday, but I think it’s just the muscles tightening up. I can walk on it. Should be ready to climb another tree in a day or so, if you’d like another grouse!” She said it in a light, playful manner in the hopes of getting some sort of response from Einar other than the stony-faced seriousness with which he had so far faced the day, but he just nodded, eyes sober, and handed her the bottle of berberine water. “Better drink some more. Can be hard to keep down on an empty stomach, but should be alright now that you’ve eaten.” She took the bottle, but set it down on a flat rock beside the fire instead of drinking right away, put her hand on Einar’s shoulder and kept it there until he finally looked up at her. He looked cold, still, even after having eaten, and she pulled the yearling hide tighter around his neck. His lips were chapped and peeling and looked a bit frostbitten, dark blotches beginning to show on his cheeks and nose, and she studied him a bit worriedly, rubbing some salve into the damaged skin and wondering how he had managed to get so cold overnight. She had not even been aware of him leaving the bed, until he crawled back in.

“How about we take a look at your foot now, change the dressings and see how it’s doing this morning?” He let her, though insisting that she first drink her morning gulp of berberine, lest it be forgotten. There had been little new bleeding from Einar’s toe-stubs over night but the skin flaps looked worse than they had the day before, some of them shriveling and starting to turn black, and Einar wondered whether it was a result of further cold damage, or simply due to their failure to begin healing over the wounds. Either way, it appeared that they would have to be coming off, eventually. Not a big problem, won’t even hurt, they way they’re looking…but I’m not sure where that leaves the foot. Guess it’ll eventually heal over, if I can keep it from getting infected in the meantime… His two remaining toes did not look any better for the wear, either, a series of new blisters, dark and fluid-filled, showing in a raised line along the outside of his big toe. Liz had seen, carefully dabbed the areas with salve and wrapped them. “Einar, I don’t really understand about all of this new frostbite. Your face, your foot…I know you must have left the bed last night, but I was sleeping pretty soundly…what were you doing?” He shrugged, grimaced a bit as she tightened the wrappings on his foot and helped him back into his overboot, supposed he had better answer. “Went outside for a while. Climbed up the hill up there, sat on some rocks. Needed to think, I guess.” “Sat on some rocks? Einar, it was so cold last night… How long were you out there?” “Don’t know. Really don’t know. Lost track, I…just sat there, just went on sitting there until everything…stopped, and I really don’t know why I woke up again. Had quit shivering. You don’t wake up from that, but….” he took her hand, looked her in the eye, “I’m not doing that again, Liz.” She grabbed him hard by the shoulders, wanted to shake him but refrained; he was already shaking. “Well you’d better not! You hear me? You’d better not ever do anything like that again, or you know what?” She fished around in her pack, came up with the pair of handcuffs that Pete had tried to restrain her with right before she had stabbed him and escaped, shook them threateningly at him. “Well I’ll tell you what. I’ll just have to start hitching us together at night, so you can’t wander away! You want that? Because I’ll do it, I will, if you don’t stop this!” She had been shaking him despite herself, stopped when she realized it and waited for his response. He was staring at the ground, slowly raised his head, a hint of a smile showing at the corner of his mouth. “Ok. Fair enough. Now listen, I’ve got a plan for today. Thought we could load the basics into our packs, stash everything else and climb up there onto the top of this ridge, maybe get a look down into some of those basins on the other side, see if we can’t pick one out so we have someplace to go in a few days when your leg’s healed up and we’re ready to move again. We can look for a place with some good timber on the sides of it, open grassy place down in the bottom, maybe look for signs of water and hope to end up in one that has its own little spring, in the spring…and summer. Place to go, and to stay.

What do you think?” • • • • Each taking a few basic items in their packs and protecting the rest in the back of the shelter, wrapped in the yearling hide and piled with rocks to keep out scavengers, Einar and Liz started up the slope in search of the ridge top, and the distant view Einar hoped it might offer. He took the crutch and used it most of the time--foot was not doing too well, and was letting him know about it--but occasionally paused to remove it, using it as a walking stick as he exercised his long-immobile leg, determined to begin regaining strength in its muscles. What he got, instead, was a series of massive cramps as the underused muscles reacted to the load being placed on them and to Einar’s poor ability to use the available oxygen, due to his recent blood loss. At first he kept going, kept trying to use the leg, reminding himself that he’d done it before, had deliberately trained himself to be able to keep climbing or at least to keep his grip on the rock and not lose any ground through otherwise debilitating arm or leg cramps, and had become quite effective at it over the years. This was different, though, wasn’t going away or getting any better, and when Liz laid a gentle hand on him where he stood hugging a tree for balance and asked if he wanted help getting the crutch back on, he allowed that just maybe he did. He had taken the climb quickly once it became clear that Liz’s leg was not troubling her too much, and was having a very difficult time getting his breath. The crutch strapped back on, Liz offered him some water, which he accepted. “You’re really doing great this morning, but I wonder if you ought to be working so hard, just yet. You lost a lot of blood a couple days ago, and then those breathing problems…” “Got to do it. Have to get stronger so I can do my share again, but more than that, I just can’t go on lying around like I’ve been. Tried it for the last two days because I didn’t really have a choice, and it didn’t work. Can’t do it anymore. Sure, this may end up being a bad idea, but at least I’ll sleep tonight. Inside the shelter, that is…” And he attempted a goofy grin that proved not to be too compatible with his visible struggle for oxygen, and he got only a shake of the head in return from Liz, who gave him another sip of water and helped him up. Well, if those really are the only two options, then I guess this has to be the better one, but it’s not looking so good, at least not from out here… Seeming to realize that Liz wanted to say something, Einar glanced at her, but she remained silent. “How’s your leg, by the way?” “Not bad. Sore, but works fine and seems to be getting a little less stiff as we go. Like you said, I should be ready to climb another tree in a day or two…” Making their way to the top of the ridge, a journey that grew progressively slower the higher they got, despite Einar pushing himself as hard as he was able, they stood finally at its crest, Einar insisting that they descend a few feet on its far side before sitting to rest and take in the view. Never know who might be watching, he’d said, who might see you silhouetted on the skyline like this, and then it’d all be over… Habits like this can end up saving your life, and once you get them established, it’s hard to go against them, and not an especially good idea, anyway. The terrain precluded them going much below the

summit without descending very sharply indeed, though, and they soon took up a perch beneath a low-wind blasted stand of sub alpine fir, boots inches from the edge of a very steep dropoff. Catching their breath and drawing the split bear hide pieces tightly around their bodies against the bitter wind that swept up the slope at them they were elated, Einar especially, at the distant view, the land falling away steeply beneath them in a jumble of broken rock and small, avalanche-scarred trees to join the sweeping expanse of a large basin, wide open aside from a few bands of stunted timber that crossed it here and there, appearing to follow long, narrow outcroppings of rock that jutted up from the more level ground of the basin. The rock bands were conjecture, only, as the snow down there was far too deep and drifted to reveal such details at the moment. Along the basin’s far side ran the largest stand of timber, a thick, continuous thing whose pattern hinted at a seasonal creek. Pulling out the binoculars, Einar even thought he saw the tops of a few aspens, scraggly, twisted dwarves compared to the towering, white-trunked things that he was used to seeing at even slightly lower elevations, a further confirmation that water of some sort must exist over against the far side of the basin. Beyond the band of trees the land sloped sharply upwards again, so steep in places that the snow had not clung to it, leaving exposed the jagged, broken wall of cliffs that protected the place. The basin, it seemed, was protected by high ground on all sides, rendering it nearly inaccessible but by some serious scrambling on what Einar was certain the melting of the snow would reveal as rather loose, steep rock. Far, far down to the right and beyond a steep, timbered ridge he saw that a valley of sorts opened up, long and almost glacial-looking and providing what appeared to be the only reasonably uncomplicated access to the place. Beyond the multiple layers of ridges and spires stood a row of high-walled, saw-toothed peaks, reddish and gleaming where the snow had slid or had not stuck in the first place, lending their forbidding height and steepness to the fortress-like feel of the place. Immediately Einar liked it, liked, also, the fact that the basin was clearly only one of many that lay between the enfolding ridges and rock-spined heights that honeycombed the area. “Looks like a place where the bighorns and elk would go to calve, Liz, and they’re seldom wrong about choosing a spot. Imagine how green that grass is gonna be down in there, soon as the snow’s gone…” Liz was staring intently at something down on the basin floor, reached out and took the binoculars from him, studying whatever it was. “There’s an odd flat spot down there Einar, just beyond that little rise with the tiny trees sticking up out of the snow on top of it. What do you suppose that is?” He hadn’t noticed the feature she was talking about, retrieved the binoculars and searched for it. “Well first of all, those probably aren’t especially tiny trees, it’s just that the snow is ten or fifteen feet deep right there…but that, I do believe, is a lake! Tarn, pool, whatever you want to call it, probably too small to be considered a lake, but anyhow, it means water! And means there’s a little creek that feeds it most likely, too. Snowmelt creek probably, but that’s all you need up this high, because the snow takes all season to melt out, and by

the time it’s running short, time’s come for it to start snowing all over again! Think we saw what we came to see. That place down there is far from where they were searching, and if they don’t realize we’ve crossed the canyon by now, they may not figure it out. Probably won’t. Look like home, to you?” If it is a place where you can be, and can stay…for more than a few days at a time…a place where you can really be at home, then yes, it sure looks like home to me, even if it is high and cold and looks like it probably only thaws out for a month or two in the middle of summer… “It sure does! It looks good!” They stayed there for a time studying the land, taking turns with the binoculars and discussing their route down into the basin--it would have to be a cautious decent, due to the danger of slides and the desire to keep tracks to a minimum, still, but Einar eventually worked out what looked to him like a feasible option. The sun was high in the sky by then; it was well after noon, and when Liz suggested they have a snack, Einar gladly accepted the jerky and bear fat that she held out to him. Eating, he felt a bit of his strength begin to return, hoping it might be enough to see him back down to the shelter. The climb had taken quite a toll on him, and though it definitely had improved his state of mind and left him contentedly lying there beneath the tree and planning for the future, its effect on his body had not been quite so beneficial. No matter. He would make it. Had to. And probably ought to get started before too long, come to think of it, because his foot was hurting terribly and would likely be in need of attention before too long, if he did not want to face losing the remaining toes. Which he did not, especially. He rose, gritting his teeth and pressing his eyes momentarily shut against the sudden wave of dizziness that hit him and left him tottering dangerously there near the edge of the precipice. Liz, fortunately, had not seen, being absorbed in studying their potential future home with the binoculars. She could not help but take notice, though, when he grabbed an overhanging branch of one of the little firs to steady himself, and in doing so accidentally dumped its load of snow on her head and down her neck. Liz jumped up, spluttering and swatting at her hair, tossing a large chunk of icy crust at Einar in the belief that the snowy assault had been intentional. Liz’s aim was good, and Einar was not quick enough to dodge the chunk of snow, which took him square in the face. Its impact unsteadying him, he fell on his back in the snow, scrambling up to a sitting position as quickly as he could and spitting out the mouthful of snow that he had ended up with. Seeing that he couldn’t seem to focus his eyes or remain upright without leaning rather dramatically to one side, Liz realized that she might have made a mistake. “Oops! Sorry. I thought you were trying to start a snowball fight. Are you alright?” “Sure.” He tossed the remains of the icy chunk back in her direction, stuffed more snow down her neck when she sat down beside him to dab at the blood that was oozing from a scrape left on his cheek by the ice. “Who says it wasn’t a snowball fight? Just looks like one I’m not gonna win, is all. You got me pretty good! But your day will come…” “Hey! I’d say it already has!” She stood swatting at her clothes, shivering and trying to get the lumps of snow out before they melted any further. “This snow is cold, in case you

hadn’t noticed! How would you like it if I did that to you?” And she came at him with a menacingly large double handful of snow. “Oh, I think I’d like it pretty well actually!” He laughed, sprawling on the ground and slipping out of his bear hide cloak. “Go ahead, let’s find out…” “You put that back on before you freeze. You’re not right, you know. Something’s seriously wrong with you.” “Sure, I know, figured you’d know by now, too. But does that mean you’re not gonna play in the snow with me?” “Not right now, that’s for sure. Not with you already half frozen and sitting up here on the top of this ridge with the wind just blasting up out of that basin. And I really don’t think I’d care at all for your sort of ‘playing in the snow,’ anyway. Now let’s get out of here before you come up with any more of your weird ideas!” He laughed again, rolled to his knees and used the crutch as a prop as he stood. • • • • The levity of the moment up on the ridgetop aside, Einar knew he was in for a rough time on the way back down to the shelter. He was feeling the effects of the climb and of the altitude, itself, tremendously weary after the way he had spent much of the previous night and reminded constantly of further damage it had inflicted on his foot, but none of these things were able to dampen the enthusiasm with which he set off down the slope, buoyed by having managed to make the climb despite the difficulties and by the vision of what he hoped might become their future home. Distance managed to slow his pace, though, distance and the seemingly endless tangles of deadfall across which their path led them, and before they were halfway down Einar was really struggling to keep on his feet. The crutch had been abandoned early in the descent, strapped to his back after a serious fall in which the crutch-tip became trapped between two snow-hidden logs and spilled him onto his face, badly wrenching his hip in the process. Though walking on his damaged foot was by no means comfortable and might, he knew, do further damage, he simply could not afford to risk a new injury of some sort by stumbling and sliding along on the crutch. It had been alright on the climb, but gravity and the slightly softer snow as the day warmed were turning the whole thing into a very long, difficult balancing act. On the way down Einar paused now and then to collect the fresh new tips that were just beginning to appear on some of the spruces and firs, explaining his reasoning when Liz asked him about it. “Need more vitamin C, I think. Might help me heal up, heal the toes, and I know from experimenting last winter that it’ll help me with other things, too, maybe give me a little more energy some of these days when I can’t seem to find quite enough. The spruce needle tea we’re doing every evening is fine, prevents scurvy, for sure, but I need higher concentrations and these new little needles have that. I’ll hang them up in the shelter, dry them, make a big batch of that stuff every night when we have a fire and drink it through the day. Can make you some, too, if you want to try it.”

“Sounds like a good idea for you, but I shouldn’t, just in case…well, I’ve always heard that something in pine oil can be dangerous to a…baby, if a woman should happen to be carrying one, so I probably need to stop the pine and spruce for now.” Stopping, he glanced back up the slope, hand full of freshly cut spruce tips and startlement in his eyes. “What baby? What are you saying?” “No, no, I don’t mean now, but it seems that it might be wise for me to start getting in the habit, just in case. I got to thinking about it when I was drinking some more of that berberine stuff this morning--I know you’re not supposed to use goldenseal while expecting, and I seem to remember you mentioning that berberine is the thing that goldenseal and Oregon grape have in common, the chemical that gives them both their bright yellow color, and that got me to thinking about other things that I ought to avoid, ‘just in case.’” Einar looked at her a bit blankly, shook his head. “This isn’t…really an area where I focused a lot of attention when I was learning this stuff. Never really expected it to come up. But yes, berberine is the main active compound in both goldenseal and Oregon grape, so I guess if you…are concerned about this being a possibility…then the berberine is out. Good thing your leg’s looking alright!” “No, I already said I’m not concerned right now. Just thinking for the future, and wondering if I should get in the habit of avoiding a few things like that, just so I don’t end up accidentally causing any harm. Susan knows all about this stuff, and she was starting to teach me, but hadn’t gotten very far. I was there for the birth of one of her grandsons, though, so I got to see a little bit about how that went… I do wish there was a way to go see her, but I know that’s not something we can think about right now.” He shook his head. “No. Not an option. Not if you’re intending of coming back up here afterwards, anyway. The two just can’t go together, right now.” “Oh, I’m not going anywhere! Except back down to that shelter. Just thinking out loud. You should try it from time to time! I sometimes wonder what’s going on in that head of yours...” “Huh.” He growled. “Some things maybe you’re better off not knowing.” It was evening by the time they made it back down to the basin-edge where the shelter lay beneath its protective cluster of trees, having made a side trip to check Liz’s deadfalls on the way down. They were empty, all of them, but on reaching the leaning rocks of their temporary home, Einar saw that a marten had certainly visited in their absence. The tracks were prolific, circling and then entering the shelter, and he hurried inside to make sure their stashed food had not been tampered with. Everything was, much to his relief, as they had left it, though the faint white traces of some creature’s claws on several of the

rock slabs they had piled over their cache showed that, had they not taken the time to thoroughly secure things, they might have returned to a dismal scene, indeed. Liz was outside gathering firewood. He could hear the sharp, brittle snap of the dead branches she was breaking off from the protected undersides of spruces and firs, and supposed he ought to get busy chopping up the carcass of the marten he had found in the deadfall so many hours ago on his morning foray. Soon. First, though… he let his head rest on his knee, and was asleep almost instantly, startling awake when he slumped over and hit his head on the granite slab at the back of the shelter moments later. Not good! Get to work. Gonna sleep tonight it seems, and that’s great, but it’s sure not time yet. You’ve got dinner to take care of, Liz’s leg to check and then you better take care of your own foot, too, or you’re gonna wake up some morning with an out-of-control fever again and the realization that the whole foot’s got to come off. And though you’d definitely try, I don’t know if that’s one you could realistically expect to make it through out here. Now. Food. Chop up that weasel, get him into the stew pot. Liz returned to the shelter with her last load of wood shortly after dusk to find that not only had Einar dissected the marten into stew-sized chunks, but he had a fire all ready to go, also. Glancing out at the dimming sky, he decided that it was dark enough to go ahead with the fire. As the stew bubbled he changed the bandage on Liz’s leg, bathing the wound with berberine water. Despite a bit of swelling and bruises that were just entering the purple stage, the injury site did not look bad at all and she said it was hurting less than it had been, that morning. Einar breathed a sigh of relief. Something could still go wrong, but it’s not looking too bad… His own foot, he decided, would have to wait until after supper, both for his sake and for Liz’s. He didn’t want her losing her appetite, and knew from the way things were feeling that he probably wouldn’t be eating much at all that night, after having the toes tampered with. As soon as the fire had produced adequate coals, Einar scraped some of them aside onto a flat rock that he had chosen earlier, adding a layer of pine cones atop them and shoving the smoking mess over closer to the door flap and “chimney” to prevent them being smoked out. Lowering another rock on top of the cones to help keep the heat in he waited as the sizzling of pitch joined the wonderful aroma of heating pine. Eventually he flipped the top rock out of position, gingerly picking up the gently smoking remains of one of the cones, slightly charred from the coals, and very sticky. The small winged seeds it contained had loosened with the heat, and were easy to pick out and set aside for further roasting. As many as made it past him, that is. Warm, sticky and already slightly roasted, they made a wonderful treat just as they were, and he handed Liz a cone to work on as they waited for the stew. “You know,” she asked, “what I just realized? It was a clear, reasonably calm day, and I didn’t hear one helicopter all day long. Do you think they’re through looking in this area?” “There was one, very early this morning. Hard to say what they’re up to. Let’s give it a few days, see what sort of pattern develops, before coming to any conclusion. Sure was good to have a day without all that rumbling, though!” • • • • Feasting that night on marten stew to which had been added the little heap of pine seeds

yielded by Einar’s roasting project and some lumps of bear fat and dried bear blood, they managed to satisfy most of the hunger that had come of a long day spent exerting themselves in the cold and making the long climb of the ridge, following it with a batch of Liz’s bear fat-chokecherry “ice cream,” the first they had enjoyed since leaving the den. Once again Einar had a difficult time staying awake long enough to partake of the meal despite what appeared to be a valiant and at times somewhat angry effort to do so, and when not even sitting bolt upright on a pile of rocks in the chill air near the entrance-he tried it, not liking the drowsiness that was attempting to come over him--was sufficient to keep his head from nodding in sleep, Liz knew she must take matters into her own hands. His foot still needed attention and, if he was to have any energy in the morning, he really needed to eat, too, and she gave him the task of stirring the stew and keeping it from beginning to stick as it cooked down and thickened. Being near the warmth of the fire did not help any in Einar’s struggle against sleep, but the assigned task did--can’t let the stew burn--and he diligently tended to it while Liz took off her boots and changed socks. Though fortunately not frostbitten, her own feet had not fared particularly well on the climb, as the toes of both her boots were beginning to separate from the soles, allowing more snow and moisture in than she would have liked. The boots had served her well, especially seeing as they had been nothing but inexpensive hikers to begin with, and had seen many, many miles of hard use since she had joined Einar that fall. Up until the toes had begun separating after the descent and climb of the canyon, they had for the most part done an adequate job of keeping her feet warm, paired with frequently-changed socks and the pair of hair-in bear hide gaiters Einar had made her, but she could see that if something was not done soon about her footwear situation, she could quickly end up in a situation as serious as Einar’s, facing the potential loss of toes. She could, she supposed, wear Einar’s right boot for a while, as it had been riding around in her pack ever since he broke his leg and might not be something he could take advantage of again for a good while, yet, but she hated to wear it out and knew, besides, that wearing a boot several times too big, along with one that fit, would leave her dangerously clumsy on some of the steep, tricky terrain that they were in the habit of covering. Einar’s left boot looked little better than her own, toe beginning to separate and the sole worn nearly through beneath the ball of the foot from the unusual way he had taken to walking while on the crutch. The toes of their boots could, she expected, be repaired to some extent using pitch glue or the hide glue that Einar had boiled down from the deer hide scrapings and dried for future use, but she doubted the repairs would be sufficient to keep out the winter weather, in the long run. They needed new boots. Einar was watching her as she studied the badly worn toes of her boots, pausing in his stew-stirring and suddenly looking a good bit more wakeful. “Falling apart?” “Yes, they’re starting to. I got a good bit of snow in there today on the way down. What do you think, glue them?” “Done that before, with my old pair. Glued the toes and then wrapped the whole area with cordage…worked for awhile. Until the sole fell off one day when I was running

from a dog, then another time in the rocks as I went after a marmot, and got lost forever down in the rockslide. Wore squirrel hide slippers after that--just case skin the squirrel, slip the hide off and turn it inside out , stick my toes in the head and tie the back legs behind my heel--worked alright in the summer but wouldn’t do at all, in this sort of weather. Guess it’s time to cut up that deer hide, make it into the closest thing we can get to mukluks, maybe line them with marten fur. For now though, let me have those boots of yours after dinner, and I’ll see what I can do with some glue and maybe cordage. Can’t have snow getting in. I’m sure you would prefer not to end up like me…” She didn’t answer, thinking that I’m afraid I get more and more like you every day I’m out here; it’s inevitable, but knowing that he had only been referring to the toes, a path down which she certainly did not wish to follow him, if at all possible. “Ok, after we eat.” Dinner finished and Einar managing to keep awake only because he knew Liz’s boots needed help and not wanting to leave the job for later lest she go out to run the trapline the next morning and come back with frozen feet--it was shaping up to be another crystal-clear, frigid night--he found the little bear-gut bag of hide glue squares that he had set aside at the den, choosing one and placing it in a slight depression in one of the large rocks near the fire. Ideally, he knew, he ought to have been soaking the glue square in cool water for the past hour or so to fully hydrate it before attempting to reconstitute by mixing with hot water, but he had not thought to do so, and figured he would be able to dissolve enough of it to be useful, anyway. Dripping onto it several drops of warm water from the pot of snow Liz had just melted, he poked and prodded at the clearish, yellowtinted square until it began dissolving around the edges, adding a bit of water and leaving the glue to finish reconstituting. Waiting on the glue to become useable, he retrieved a chunk of spruce pitch and set it on a warm rock near the fire to begin softening. No need to liquefy it yet and have it begin running all over the place, but he wanted to get a head start on the project, uncertain how long he was going to be able to force himself to remain awake to work on it. His breathing seemed alright--better than it had been up on top of the ridge, at least--and he didn’t think he was feverish or had any other outward signs of infection that might have explained the crushing weariness that had come over him upon reaching the shelter that evening, but something was definitely not normal--whatever that is--and all he could think was that he must still be feeling the effects of his blood loss. To be expected, he knew, as his memory of the time after being stabbed told him that the weakness of that sort of loss would persist for weeks, particularly if he was not eating as well as he might, but the predicament still frustrated him somewhat, as it seemed he ought to simply be able to choose to let it affect him less, to find some extra strength somewhere and put it to use, but seemed unable to do so. Well. You’re awake. Stay that way until this boot’s fixed, and call it good for the night, alright? It wasn’t alright, but he grudgingly assented, growling at himself about the next day and how things were going to be different, how he’d work hard enough to make up for his present laziness, and more, and he did not realize that he had been growling aloud until Liz looked over at him. Abashed

at his unknowing outburst, he quickly returned his focus to the boot, keeping his mouth firmly shut. The glue square was soft, stretchy and extremely sticky around the edges by that time, and he coated the end of a small, barkless stick with it, grabbing Liz’s boot, whose toe end he had previously secured with several wraps of cordage to keep it from moving and shifting as he worked. Dabbing a good bit of the sticky substance along the damaged portion of the leather where it had begun separating from the rubber of the sole, he added more, setting the boot a distance from the fire to begin gelling in the cool air while he started on the second boot. Returning to the first, he spread and smoothed the glue with his finger, working it deeper into the crack and adding another thin layer on top. The glue, he knew, would shrink slightly as it finished drying. Even dry, hide glue, while extremely sturdy and slightly flexible, was not waterproof, and though in the cold weather he knew this would not be a tremendous problem, Einar intended to waterproof the repairs with a layer of spruce pitch as soon as the glue finished drying. Seeing that he appeared to be done with the gluing stage of the boot repair, Liz sat down beside him. “How about if I change the dressings on your foot while you do whatever it is you’re planning to do with the pitch, there. It needs to be done, and I can see that you’re starting to get tired…” “Can you, now?” He sighed, shook his head in frustration. “Yeah, guess it better be done, but you sure don’t have to do it. Give me a minute here to finish, and I’ll…” She wouldn’t hear of it, could see his struggle with sleep and removed his boot, tending to the foot as he worked. He finished his project before she did, coating the dried glue with pitch and cinching the cordage ties down tighter to hold the repair in place, wide awake and trying hard not to let Liz see how badly she was hurting him. The foot was worse, the additional damage done by his hours sitting immobile in the cold early that morning only then really becoming apparent, and he knew that he had better do a thorough assessment of it the next morning, see what was going to be necessary to keep it from becoming dangerously infected. But for now…he barely made it to the bed before he was asleep. “If you’ll let me have it, and some of that sinew thread you’ve got all coiled up, I’ll work on turning that deer hide into a pair of mukluks. I can sew. I’ll make them big enough to fit you, and make them work for me by stuffing the toes with usnea. Warmer that way anyhow, and the good thing is that whichever of us needs them most at the time, can use them! Don’t know if I’ll be able to finish them before we leave here, but it sure can’t hurt to start!” Liz was to have more days to work on those mukluks than she would have thought at all likely, that evening. • • • • The night was quiet, too quiet, and Liz woke more than once to the horrified thought that Einar might have sneaked outside again, might be sitting up there in the rocks freezing himself to death, but each time she found him exactly as he had left him the evening before when she had helped him, exhausted, into the bed. In fact, he seemed not to have

moved a muscle since falling asleep, which was very much out of the ordinary for him. He was reasonably warm though--hot rocks and piles of spruce needles scraped up onto the edges of the bear hide before she went to bed had seen to that--and he was breathing, if a bit fast, so she left him to sleep, glad that she seemed not to have to worry about him leaving the bed that night, at least, or waking to some small noise and mistaking her for the enemy as had happened in the past. Sleep, Einar, be warm and sleep and dream of that basin with its trees and little lake and the calving elk and bighorn sheep you said we might see there in the spring… It was a long day today and you need rest. As did she, pressing close to him for warmth as she drifted back to sleep, remembering as she did a passage from Ecclesiastes that she had recently read, something about how if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? She was certain that she must have read those words before, and more than once, but never had they seemed quite so relevant as in the life she was now living, nor had the ones that came before them, about how two are better than one, because if one falls the other can help him back up. Though I’m afraid Einar would probably have an answer to that question about how you can keep warm when sleeping alone, if I posed it to him--something about having antifreeze in your blood, and how if you don’t, it’s all because you just haven’t trained hard enough…well. Either way, we’re warm tonight, Einar, and you’re sleeping and I need to be, too… Sometime towards morning the snow began soft and heavy, temperatures that had plummeted throughout the first part of the night stabilizing and even beginning to rise a bit. As the fresh snow piled up the world took on the gentle, hushed quality that can often and unequivocally announce a storm’s presence even before one looks outside, and after a time Liz once again woke, the change having caught her attention, even in sleep. It was bright outside the shelter, the mild, diffused light speaking of the new snowfall and explaining to her the slightly warmer temperatures she believed she was feeling upon poking her head up out of the blankets. Einar was still sleeping and she left him, slipping carefully out of the bed so as not to wake him. It was the first time in a very long time that she could remember him sleeping all the way through the night without stirring, and she knew it must mean that he was in very bad need of rest. Retrieving her boots, which she had tucked into the bottom of the bed to prevent them getting so cold over night that she felt in danger of freezing her feet just by donning them, she checked Einar’s repairs, pleased to see that they seemed to have held quite well. Brushing aside the pile of snow that had filtered down through the open “chimney” hole where the two slabs of rock met at the front Liz pushed aside the door flap and quickly confirmed her suspicions about the snow that had fallen in the night. It was to be a big storm, by all appearances, had already dropped somewhere upwards of a foot and a half of new snow and was still coming down hard, the small, fast-falling flakes accumulating quickly and showing no sign of slacking off. Her first thought, after a brief rush of gratefulness that they could look forward to another day without passing aircraft to set Einar to worrying and getting all antsy to move on, was of her traps. Though she had placed all but one of the deadfalls safely beneath overarching umbrellas of spruce or fir boughs, the wind could, she knew, still end up drifting them over before too much longer, if it had not already. On the chance that one of more of them might

have been tripped before the storm started and might even then contain some fresh meat for their breakfast, she hurried into her freshly repaired boots and carefully eased one of the split bear hide pieces off of the bed, knowing that she had better have some protection if she was to venture out into that storm. It was very odd, she thought, that Einar did not stir even when she pulled the hide from the bed--she went slowly and as carefully as she could, but such actions would normally have awakened him in a hurry--and as she tucked the remaining hide into place and piled more duff over it to help make up for the absence of her cloak-hide, she began to worry a bit about the soundness of his sleep. Carefully finding his wrist, she felt his pulse--fast, but no more so than it had been, from time to time since the removal of his toes and the loss of all that blood--and pulled his hat down almost to his eyes to help him stay warm in her absence. Before heading out she broke up a number of the small, dry sticks she had piled in the corner, preparing a fire against Einar’s waking, or her return, whichever was to come first. She could not imagine Einar objecting to them having a daytime fire, as hard as it was snowing, and found herself very much looking forward to returning to a warm shelter and having the benefit of a fire all day for light, heat and so she could get ahead on melting drinking water. Wanting the place to be warm when he woke and also wishing that he might have a ready way to prepare something warm to drink, she briefly considered starting the fire before leaving and waiting until she had a good bed of coals going, rolling a large log or two over them to keep the fire smoldering along while she was gone, but the thought of what could potentially happen if one of the pitchy spruce logs spit an ember into the piles of dry duff and pine cones near the bed, taking off before Einar could wake and stomp out the flames, was more than enough to convince her to wait. Hungry, she pulled a chunk of bear fat and some jerky from her pack and took a moment to eat before heading out. A pot of broth made from the boiled down bones of the previous night’s marten and enriched a bit with fat had been sitting in the coals all night, its top covered with dirt and rocks to keep in the heat, and when she checked it Liz was pleased to find it still warm. She took a sip of the broth--ooh, not bad, though some greens would really improve it; I need to get back to growing those milkweed sprouts-crumbled some jerky into it to soften, and again buried the pot in rocks to hopefully keep the broth at least lukewarm until Einar woke. He could always reheat it when he got the fire going, but she supposed he might appreciate having something to start out with, some ready food to give him strength before he made the effort of bringing the fire to life. Not that I’m even sure he cares if his food is warm. Half the time I’m convinced that he would just as soon gnaw on a frozen elk quarter like some wolverine as eat a decent, civilized meal, but it can’t hurt for the option to be there… Slipping out into the snowy world outside, she rolled the heavy log back against the bottom of the door flap to keep drafts out, starting up the slope to check the traps. If she could find them. Proving to be even deeper than it had initially appeared, the snow was a major challenge as Liz struggled up the slope behind the shelter, leading her after a very short time to leave the shallow trench that she knew marked her old trail and head even deeper into the timber in the hopes of avoiding the deepest of the snowfall. It was wearing her out, slogging through the knee-deep stuff step after step, and she knew that every extra calorie used in the effort would have to be replaced, possibly leaving her with a deficit, if she

ended up expending more energy than was provided by whatever creature she might find in the traps. A very likely scenario, as there was a good possibility that she would find all of the traps empty, if the creatures had been aware of the coming storm and had holed up early instead of going prowling for food. But on the other hand, I did have all of those things baited with rabbit guts, and maybe the martens and ermines and things get more active before a storm, wanting to get a good meal in them before it comes. I know that’s what I would do, if I had a good sense of when a storm was coming. But then, I’m not a weasel and don’t know how they think--Einar probably does, since he’s mentioned trapping them before, have to ask him about this--so I guess I’ll just have to wait and see. Returning to her contemplation of the energy that she was to expend on the trap run versus the possible return if she was successful, Liz found herself focusing with an almost angry intensity on the irony of life down in “civilization,” as Einar called it, laughing bitterly as she thought of all the weight loss programs and low calorie, low fat foods that were constantly being advertised down there, and she wondered how it was possible that a very simple blessing such as an abundance of food could be so corrupted as to become, in some instances, a curse that so detrimentally affected people’s lives, reducing their quality if not outright shortening them. She shook her head. Leave it to fallen human nature, I guess, to take a gift and turn it into a “problem.” The first two traps were empty, one drifted over with snow and the other nearly so, and she dug out and took the solidly-frozen rabbit gut bait from each, wanting it for future use. The second to last trap, as it turned out, had been shielded from the blowing snow by a low cluster of gooseberry bushes that stood just to the side of the tree that sheltered it, and on approaching, she saw with a sudden flash of excitement that it had been tripped. Brushing away the snow that had come to rest on top of the collapsed rock she slowly raised it, nearly letting out a whoop of joy when she saw the somewhat flattened ermine that lay beneath it. A small prize, for sure, providing less fur than a marten and definitely less meat, but at least it was something! More than she had come to expect of that snowy morning, as she found trap after trap to be not only empty, but their bait undisturbed. Liz returned, then, ermine in hand, to find that Einar appeared not to have moved, the broth remaining untouched under its protective layer of rocks and the lack of tracks-other than hers--in the snow outside the door indicating that he had not so much as left the shelter for the short four step walk to the tree that they had designated as the outhouse. Shaking the accumulated snow, dry and powdery, from her bear hide cloak, she squinted in the darkness of the shelter, found the bed and added the additional layer to the one that already covered him. His hands were very cold, he was shaking and it appeared that he had made no effort to curl up for warmth. Time to get the fire going, and then I’d better try and wake you so you can eat. "Ermine, Einar! Fresh ermine to roast for breakfast!" • • • • Einar could hear the crackling of the fire as its flames climbed through the small spruce sticks and into the larger branches Liz had placed on it, knew it must be late in the day and tried to rise, but nothing seemed to be working right and he went on lying there,

feeling as if the bear hide that covered him must weigh a ton. He was thirsty, throat dry and sandy, and though he couldn’t see her--doggone eyes wouldn’t seem to open, and he would have pried them open with his fingers and held them that way if necessary, except that he couldn’t seem to find his fingers, must have misplaced them somewhere, along with his toes--he knew Liz must be there, spoke to her in the hopes that she might help him find his water, but she did not respond. Silence, then, and the momentary return of a blackness that seemed to blot out his hearing and, to his relief, the awareness of his terrible thirst, also, and when he was next aware of his surroundings Liz was lifting him, shaking him gently by the shoulder and telling him that he must wake up, or he was going to miss breakfast. I am awake. Eyes won’t open for some reason and there’s something the matter with my hands, but I’m awake. Need to take care of your leg before breakfast though, and I could sure use some water. Water would help me get my eyes open, I think. Must be stuck. Seems like it’s got to be getting pretty late…didn’t I hear you leave a while ago and then come back? Should have kicked me out of the bed then, but I’m up now, and… What are you…what…hey, why are you holding me down like this? Let go! Let me up! Need to get up! And in a frenzy of poorly coordinated resistance against what he believed to be Liz’s efforts to restrain him--though she was, in truth, not even touching him at the moment--Einar managed to largely demolish the bed, kicking and flailing his arms in a futile attempt to rise, sending spruce needles flying in all directions and ending up face down near the fire, tangled up in the bear hide and fighting for breath. Liz was there, he could feel gentle hands on him as she rolled him away from the fire-water, please…don’t we have any water? Give me snow and I’ll melt it in my mouth, I know we got plenty of snow--and disentangled his limbs, and then everything went black again, nothingness, silence, and he would have fought it, too, had he then possessed the least awareness of his own existence. After rolling Einar onto his side and dragging the bear hide back over him, hastily scraping a few piles of spruce needles back together at his sides for warmth, Liz crouched watching him, afraid to touch him lest she set off another struggle. He had seemed a little hot, she thought, but not nearly feverish enough to be causing his frighteningly erratic behavior, and she did not understand it. He had seemed basically all right the evening before, if a good bit more weary than usual. “What’s going on here, Einar? You wear yourself out too bad on that climb yesterday, or what?” No answer, and there were other things she wanted to say, wishing to give voice to some of her fears, but she restrained herself, knowing there was a good chance that he was able to hear her, even if making a response was beyond his ability for the time. “Ok. Go ahead and sleep some more if that’s what you need. I’ll save you some of this ermine, and you’ve got broth left from last night, too...” Returning to the fire, she added a few sticks, setting the leftover broth to warm. Liz was worried, did not understand Einar’s inability to stay awake, but knew that she had better find a way to get some water into him before long, and hopefully some nutrition, too, if he was to have the energy to do anything, whenever he did wake up. Skinning and cleaning the ermine, Liz tried to keep her fear in check, hoping and praying that Einar’s unresponsiveness might simply be a delayed reaction to the tremendous exertion he had required of himself since leaving the den several days before, his body’s way of finally forcing him to give it the rest it needed,

but despite her best efforts she was afraid, finding herself almost in tears when she looked at him. Breakfast was finished, and Einar had not stirred. Liz took a warmed rock from beside the fire and tucked it beneath the bear hide, pressing it up against his lower back. It seemed that he had not quite warmed up from his time alone in the bed while she ran the trapline, and she knew he needed food perhaps more than anything, just then. He simply did not have enough reserve to go for long as he was, would soon be in a position where he couldn’t produce enough heat and other problems began to develop, and she knew it. Thinking back to another time when Einar had lost consciousness for a while, following his stabbing and the subsequent blood loss and infection it brought, Liz remembered successfully giving him water by carefully dripping it onto the side of his mouth with his head raised, and waiting for his swallowing reflexes to take over. It had worked, and had been necessary, too, as badly dehydrated as he had been then, but had left her constantly concerned that he might choke on some of the liquid or breathe it into his lungs, leaving him with worse problems than he already faced. She could do it again if she had to, but wanted to give him a bit more time to wake up, first. Please wake up. It seems like a very long time ago, those days under the rock ledge after you got stabbed, and a lot has happened since then. Liz was a bit afraid of what Einar might do if she ended up having to hold his mouth open to give him sips of water the way she had before, concerned that he might end up hurting himself or even her, trying to resist her efforts. He had always--as long as she had known him, at least--been that way to some extent, very independent and reluctant to accept help, but she had noticed a change in him between the time she had been with him after the stabbing in the meadow, and when she had again found him, holed up among the rocky fins and spires of the Bulwarks. With those changes--she ascribed them to whatever experience he had endured after being hit with the bear tranquilizers, though she had so far been unsuccessful in getting him to talk much about the incident--had come an even greater reluctance to allow her to do things for him, a certain reserve lurking behind his eyes, even a sense of suspicion, perhaps, which seldom entirely disappeared, though he gave every outward appearance of trusting her. Liz had been saddened from time to time by the fact that he always seemed to be holding something back, keeping her from getting as close to him as she perhaps otherwise might have been able to, and it left her wondering frequently whether she was doing something to shake his faith in her. Examine the situation as she might, she had never been able to settle on exactly what that might be, finally accepting the matter, to the extent she was able, with the understanding that everyone is different--and Einar’s perhaps just a bit more different than most!--and everyone has their own way of managing the aftermath of various experiences. He would, she hoped, eventually come around, given enough time and patience on her part. Now, though, Liz was concerned that the trust they had managed to build up between them might be damaged if she did not proceed very cautiously when it came to helping Einar get through whatever difficulty seemed to have left him with a limited ability to remain conscious that morning. Got to make sure he somehow gets water if this goes on for too long, but the last thing I want is for him to wake up and decide that I’ve been forcing things on him in a way he wouldn’t want. If it’s between

that and having him end up seriously dehydrated though, which is going to be the case in a day or so if he doesn’t wake up… She sighed, shook her head in frustration and added another branch to the fire, scooping up a pot of snow to melt. I’ll have to change the dressings on his foot in a while--can’t afford to skip that--and I guess we’ll find out then how he’s going to react to me helping him when he’s like this. Maybe that will bring him around so he can get some breakfast down… “Just wake up already, why don’t you? Save us both a lot of trouble.” Which is exactly what Einar was struggling to do, fighting the soft, pressing blackness that seemed to want so badly to envelop him again and cut off his connection with the world. He answered her, told her he was ready to eat but would like to take a look at her leg first and maybe have some water--really need that water, getting kinda weak-feeling, and I think that would fix it--but for some reason, she seemed to be ignoring him. Repeating what he has said, louder this time and certain beyond any doubt that he was speaking out loud, he began growing increasingly frustrated when Liz showed no sign of having heard him, continuing to snap sticks and add them to the fire--that’s what it sounded like, at least; he still couldn’t seem to get his eyes open--as if he wasn’t even there. • • • •

Leaving Einar to sleep for the moment in the hopes that he might still wake on his own, given time, Liz turned her attention to his boot, which was beginning to fail in much the same hers were, in addition to its sole wearing quite thin from the unusual use it had seen since he broke his leg. It would not be long at all, she could see, before a hole opened up in the rubber under the ball of his foot. I wonder what would be best to keep this from wearing all the way through? Maybe a piece of deer hide, glued on? Or a small piece of bear hide maybe, with the fur down for a little traction on the snow? Better wait and let Einar decide on that. It sounds like he had this happen with his last pair of boots, too. But I saw how he fixed mine last night, and I can at least do the same for his. And she proceeded to begin preparing another square of the hide glue and softening some pitch, retrieving Einar’s boot from its spot beside the bed. Once the repair was finished, hide glue smeared into place, cooled to solidify and sealed against the weather with pitch, she returned his boot to its place and again strove to wake him, getting no more than a grunt in response. “Ok. Another hour or two, and then you’ve just got to have some water. Now I know you were hoping to leave here in the next day or so and head for that basin, but in case we end up being here a little longer, I’m going to start some more of those milkweed sprouts. Since that storm’s still going strong outside and we can have a fire, it’s a good opportunity to get the seeds soaked in some warm water and spread between two sheets of damp aspen inner bark like we did before back at the den. That den really was a good place, you know--a good first home, ‘starter home,’ as I guess they’d call it down there…” She laughed, picturing how the real estate advertisement might be worded for such a dwelling--snug, weather-tight den, bear already removed, well concealed against

passing aircraft. All amenities included, great starter home for newlywed fugitives--and took out the bag of milkweed seeds that they had saved when collecting down, pouring a scant handful of them into a pot of gently heated water. “But back to the sprouts. I think we could both benefit from some fresh greens in our diet, and I’m thinking that if I could get a couple batches sprouts going, maybe there would be enough to dry so we’d have some to carry with us and add to soups, times when we don’t have the chance to do fresh ones. Not quite as good as fresh, maybe, but if we’re careful not to get them too hot while they’re drying, most of their nutritional value ought to stay intact. After this first batch sprouts, I can real quick green them up in the sun--if the sun’s out by then--to increase the chlorophyll content, and we can pound them up and add them to your water, along with the stew. Weren’t you the one who told me once that chlorophyll’s structure is very similar to that of red blood cells, and that it’s one of the quickest ways to bring your blood count back up after a loss? I think it was you. You were talking about nettles being a great source of it, I think, but these sprouts will be green, so they’ll have at least some chlorophyll, right?” Einar did not answer, of course, and Liz felt a little silly for talking to him like that when he was so clearly out cold--starting to look pretty cold, too, pretty badly chilled. I’d better get some more hot rocks snuggled up there beside him--but she did it anyway, on the chance that he might be able to hear her, if not respond. Taking care of the rocks, she made a brief trip outside to strip some mostly-frozen inner bark from a long dead leaning aspen trunk not far from the shelter, setting it beside the fire to thaw and sprinkling it with warm water before spreading the soaked milkweed seeds on it, one layer thick, and adding another strip overtop. She placed the improvised sprouter near the fire, but not so near that the seeds would roast or dry out too quickly. Checking on Einar again she found him to be quite cold and beginning to shake despite the warm rocks, and, her chores done for the moment and quite weary, herself, she decided to lie down with him for a while in the hopes of getting him thoroughly warm and keeping him that way for a while, expecting that his body could more efficiently heal itself--I sure hope that’s what it’s up to, at least--if he was not having to put so much energy into constantly fighting to maintain his core temperature. As she lay there, she spoke to him, whispering of the basin and of summer, the elk calving, and their future life there, hoping such talk might be a comfort to him, but he seemed to be in a different place entirely and not hearing her, as he tossed and groaned in his sleep, at times pushing at her and trying to free himself from her encircling arms, but finally settling into something a bit more like sleep. Though it had not been her intention Liz ended up drifting off to sleep shortly after Einar stopped shivering, awakened some time later by the sharp pop of a pitch pocket in one of the logs in the fire. She reached out and pushed the log, a long one which she had been burning in half--the job had been completed, she must have been asleep for a while-further into the fire so a new section could be consumed. Einar’s breathing seemed noticeably distressed, faster than before and somewhat irregular, and when she studied him in the flickering light of the fire, her forehead wrinkled up in consternation at the hollowness of his cheeks, and the way that the flesh seemed sunken in around the bones of his hand, when she took it in hers. You seriously need water, Einar. I’m sorry, but no more waiting.

The snow in the water pot had thoroughly melted while she slept, and Liz poured it, warm but not hot, into her water bottle. She wished she had something to add, some honey, sugar, something to give him a bit of energy, but there was nothing, and she knew that the water would do him at least some good. If he did alright with it and she could get it into him without causing any choking, she could always try some strained broth, in a little while. Einar, completely unaware of his surroundings at the time, made no resistance whatsoever to Liz’s attempts to give him water, and she shed tears of relief when she saw him swallow as the first drops of liquid trickled down his throat. Keeping his head elevated and tilted to one side she gave him the water one bottle-cap full at a time, stopping after he had swallowed a good third of a bottle and easing him back down into the bed. Ok. That’ll help. It will have to help. I’ll get the broth heating, and then had better take care of your toes, because it’s been way too long. Liz tended to his foot, moving slowly and carefully so as not to hurt him any more than she had to, but she could see from the deep creases between his eyebrows and the thin, flat white line of his mouth that her efforts were not entirely effective. Then he sat up, wild-eyed and breathing hard, staring past her, but seeming not to see her. “Hey Einar, you’re awake! You’ve been asleep for a while, a good while, and it was time to take care of your foot. Do you want some more water?” She held the bottle out to him, held it up to his lips, but Einar turned his head away sharply, leaning back on the rock. “Ok. Let me finish with your foot, and maybe you’ll feel more like drinking when it’s all done. It looks like you could even have some willow if you want it, because there hasn’t been much more bleeding. Look. I think your foot is starting to heal up some, where the toes were.” What she did not mention was that the two remaining toes were looking, to her at least, nearly as bad as the damaged ones had shortly before he had decided that they must go. Hoping she was wrong in her assessment and deciding that either way, it might be better not to bring the matter up until Einar had been given a bit more time to adjust to being awake again, she said no more. Continuing with the removal of the bandages and easing the usnea pads out from between his two remaining toes, Liz retrieved the bottle of berberine, which she had been warming in a pot of hot water by the fire. Einar was still awake, more or less, watching her with glazed eyes and greeting her, when she looked up, with a defiant, scornful grin the likes of which she had certainly never seen from him before. “You know this is a waste of your time. Still not talking. You can take the whole foot if you want to, but my story’s the same. Know nothing. Hey. You. Can you even understand me? What, don’t speak English? Huh. Now that’d be pretty funny. But I bet you’re bluffing, you slimy little…” “Einar! Hey, what are you talking about? It’s me. Liz. Please. Look at me. I’m just dressing your foot, and I know it hurts, but I’m almost done, and then I’ll get you the willow.”

Another snarling grin, top lip curled in disgust. “Dressing? Huh. Clever.” He sighed, let his head fall back against the rock. She was losing him again. Liz shook her head, blinking away her tears and trying to catch his eye again but he was staring up at the ceiling, his gaze unmoving, wouldn’t--probably couldn’t--respond to her voice. He was beginning to drift to the side, about to fall, and she eased him back to the ground and covered him back up, finishing with his foot and wrapping it in clean sock strips before easing it into the overboot for warmth. The water pot, which she tried to keep constantly full of melting snow to maintain their supply, had boiled dry as she worked, and tucking a warm rock in beside Einar, she left the shelter to scoop up more snow and get some fresh air after the long and difficult process of tending to his foot. Einar heard her leave, sat up. The world was fuzzy, confusing, dim and undulating sickeningly at the dizziness that came over him on opening his eyes, his head pounding agonizingly with every slow, dull beat of his heart and his whole body aching terribly, but he could see well enough to make out the only thing that mattered. His way was clear to escape, to freedom; he could see the sky. The guard was gone, maybe there was another outside, perhaps more than one, even, but he would deal with that when the time came. They had somehow managed to overlook his knife, it seemed, when they searched him, and he grinned fiercely at the discovery, got it onto his hand and started a slow crawl for the door. Crawling gave way very quickly to dragging when he found his limbs too weak to support him, but it did not matter. He had a goal in mind, in sight, and whatever waited out there, he was ready. • • • •

It seemed a terribly long way to the door, and Einar several times felt the blackness welling up to take him again, but he fought it with all he had, breathing as deeply as he could before exhaling forcefully, tensing the muscles of his legs and lower abdomen in the hopes of getting some extra blood to his brain--assuming that’s the problem here-knowing that a second chance at escape might not come along and marveling that the current opportunity existed, at all. Could be a trap, a test, could be that they’re waiting out there to crack me in the head with a stick as soon as they see me and drag me back in here for more “work” on my foot, but there’s at least some chance that this may work, and I don’t know when the last time was that I saw the sky, they don’t let me see the sky, so I got to do this… His leg was cramping terribly, useless, so he ignored it, dragging his lower half behind him and straining with his abdominal muscles whenever he felt the dark close to overwhelming him again, somehow managing to maintain consciousness, if barely. The door. He had reached it, lay panting on his stomach, pleading for strength that he just didn’t seem to have, finally got himself going again with the thought that the guard would be back at any moment, had surely just left to use the latrine--careless fool, thinking his prisoner too near death to be a threat and not bothering to call in a replacement to keep watch in his absence--and how long could that possibly take…go, move, up into those trees and you may not be seen, may have a chance here. Snow. There was snow on the ground, cold beneath his hands, snow all around him and

thickly filling the air as it drifted down, settling on his shoulders and in his hair, and he knew that wasn’t right, shouldn’t be snow, can’t be snow…brain’s not working right, just ignore the snow…now where’s that doggone guard? Didn’t see him, looked up in case perhaps the man or one of his numerous companions might be lurking up in the rocks above him, needing attention with the knife, but instead he saw…trees, the good, honest straight-trunked, wind-swayed sweep-boughed spruces of his own mountains, unmistakable, real, the thin high crisp dry air feeling like a gift from Heaven as it caught slightly in his throat and confirmed that he was not imagining things, and he laughed in relief--unbelievable, blessed relief--scooped up a handful of snow and scrubbed it across his face, rested his forehead in it and grinned as its biting chill crept into him. Home. Been here all the time, I guess. All this time, and I didn’t even realize it… He heard someone coming, soft through the snow, and looked up. A familiar face, dear to him, he knew, but he wondered if she would remember. It seemed a very long time that he had been away…months, at least, but it could have been years; one does lose track of time. Liz saw him there, knife in hand and face crusted with snow, her fear of what he might do if still in his earlier state competing with a desire to rush to him and help him back into the shelter before the cold could sink more deeply into his bones than it already had, and Einar saw the recognition in her eyes, smiled, lowering the knife when he realized she was watching it with some apprehension. “Liz! Home!” “Yes. Yes, you are. Welcome home, Einar.” He nodded, an ironic little hint of a shadowed smile passing across his face, tried but failed to get to his feet. Leg was still cramping, and the other was not much use, either. She held open the door, and he crawled back into the shelter, leaning against the wall for support when he realized that he was about to fall over, vision going dark once more. Maybe not quite as wide awake as you thought…got to work on that…sit up, come on, sit up straighter now. Liz sat down beside him, brushed the snow from his face and clothes, and he looked over at her, accepted the water bottle she was trying to hand him, but could not seem to get it up to his mouth. Arms weren’t quite working the way they should be, he supposed, but then, nothing really was, and he did not much care at the moment, still awash in relief to find himself back in the high, snowy world of his mountains instead of…right. Leave it be. It wasn’t real, not this time. Liz was holding the bottle for him, and he drank, nearly choking on the first mouthful but then managing to get some down. Better. Oh, not good to get this far behind on water, Einar. Don’t do that. But it’s getting better. Think I can move again, now. “You ready to head up to that basin, Liz? Got a good storm going here, and we might as well let it cover our tracks, even though we’re outside of the search area, now, as far as we can tell. I see that you’ve got some soup heating there, so we can eat first, but then we’d better start climbing, if we want to get to the top before dark. All this new snow will mean a good bit more avalanche danger, but if we’re careful and keep to the timber on the way down, as much as we can…” He stopped, out of breath and beginning to get

that glazed, distant look in his eyes once more, leaving Liz concerned that he might be about to slip back into some form of unconsciousness. Looking at him incredulously, she shook her head. “I’m so glad to see you acting like yourself again Einar, but no. Not today. I’m not ready, today. Let’s give it another day or so before we make that climb again, let the new snow compact and settle in, and…” and you do realize that you spent the morning and a good part of the afternoon passed out in the bed and not showing the least sign of being able to wake up, and then didn’t even recognize me and called me a “slimy little something-or-other” when I tried to help with your foot, right? All before crawling out into the snow with your knife like you were hunting me, or something. And now you’re awake, but you can’t even get your legs under you or hold your own water bottle to take a drink, so no way! I’m not ready to leave here and certainly not ready to make the climb with you like this. Give it time. He was watching her out of half-opened eyes, waiting for her to finish the sentence. “And…?” You don’t miss a thing, even now, do you? “And I was thinking that we ought to go ahead and eat up this broth before it all boils away. I’ve been keeping it hot for you all day.” “Oh…thanks. Sounds good. Real good. I…should have been helping with the fire and everything today, left you to do all the work. Sorry. Wasn’t really sleeping that whole time but…couldn’t seem to get my body to do what I was telling it, kinda came disconnected or something I think. Heard you talking, though, at least at first…which reminds me. I better have a look at your leg before we eat, and my foot, too.” “No, my leg’s fine, really. Starting to heal up and looking real good except for the bruising. And I took care of your foot no more than half an hour ago, so it’s good for now, too. Do you remember that?” He didn’t, told her so, but seemed to be starting to remember something else at the mention of it, something he would perhaps rather not have, and Liz saw the shadow return to his eyes, an odd hollowness, and thought for a minute that he was going to slip back into his prior strangeness, again. She quickly decided that the matter could be talked about later, much later, if at all, and the moment soon passed. “No, don’t remember that, but I do seem to remember you saying something about the last two toes looking almost as bad as the others did when I finally decided to take them off, so I need to take a look for myself.” “I never said that.” “Well, somebody did, because I heard it, and it sure sounded like your voice, to me. No need to hide things from me, Liz…” “I’m not. I really didn’t say that. But I’ll admit…I was thinking it. The toes don’t look

so good. But they do have clean dressings on them now, so why don’t you eat first before looking? You haven’t had anything since yesterday…” He nodded, and they shared the pot of rich, warm broth, Einar able to sit up a good bit straighter and keep his eyes open with less trouble after he had drunk his portion. For a few minutes, at least, after which the warmth of the food in his stomach and his body’s effort to digest its first meal in a good while left him tremendously sleepy, and his first impulse was to fight it, but when Liz told him that she was going to lie down for a while and asked if he wanted to join her, he smiled, crept over to the bed. “Yeah. Think I need to sleep now.” Watching Einar as the rapid, labored breathing that the slightest bit of activity seemed to elicit from him that day slowed and normalized as he lay there, the lines in his face easing and softening just a bit, Liz was tremendously thankful to see that he appeared to be genuinely, peacefully sleeping, rather than simply having lost consciousness again. Yes, time to sleep now. Outside, the snow continued coming down thick and wind-swirled, drifting and piling gently against the outside of the door flap. • • • •

The storm that enveloped the high country that afternoon as Einar and Liz lay warm and oblivious, catching up on some much needed sleep beneath the rocks of the shelter, was to be the largest one yet in what was proving to be a winter the likes of which the area had not seen for a number of years. Hour after hour the snow came down, alternating as the temperature shifted between curtains of thick, heavy conglomerate flakes that clung to each other as they drifted slowly to earth and the tiny, prolific wind-driven specks that often added up the fastest--making it difficult at times to breathe if out in the storm without inhaling them and coughing--and meant that the cold was settling more firmly over the mountains. It was hours before either of the sleepers stirred there in the shelter, Liz waking slowly to the feel of Einar there beside her, breathing evenly, still at rest. Lying still and listening, she was aware of a profound silence all around them, a stillness that could not quite be explained by their own lack of motion, and when she eased out of the bed to investigate, disentangling herself gently from Einar’s grasp and tucking the bear hide back in around him to keep the warmth in, it was to discover that the door flap was entirely covered with snow on the outside. Heavily laden, it bulged inwards, and when she poked it sharply with a stick in an attempt to shake off the snow before it became too heavy and brought the flap down, she found that it could not be shaken loose. A hasty investigation, standing bent over beneath the “chimney” opening and craning her neck until she could get a glimpse of the outside world, told her exactly why. They were snowed in. The door was completely covered, not just drifted over with a thin layer of blown snow as she had believed, but thoroughly buried beneath what she knew had to be at least two or three feet of new snow. It was cold in the shelter, the coals of their fire long gone black, but it was not frigid, she knew, as it would have been had they not received the extra layer of insulation on the outside.

Wanting to get the fire going again before Einar woke to give the place some time to warm and perhaps start some tea, she sorted through their pile of remaining firewood, finding it rather sparse. Well, we have to dig out of here sometime, so it might as well be now. She got into her mittens and boots, eased one of the split bear hide pieces out from on top of Einar and pushed more piles of spruce needles into its place, wishing more than ever for a pair of water-resistant pants of some sort to cover the pair of polypropylene pants, by then rather threadbare in places, that were to serve as the only protection for her bottom half as she ventured out into the new snow. Between the polypro pants and her jeans, at least she had usually been able to ensure that she had something dry to change into after each foray in the winter weather, but as the jeans did a rather poor job of keeping her warm when they got the least bit damp--which they often did, tramping through snow--they had seen less use by far than the other pair. Even still, they were beginning to fall apart here and there at the seams, the cloth of the knees growing rather thin, and inspecting them by the dim, diffused light that made its way in through the chimney opening, she decided that at least part of her remaining time in the shelter must be devoted to clothing repair and maintenance. And I sure wish I knew where to go out and find a deer or an elk or something--maybe a caribou, if we were a lot farther north, and leave the hair on for warmth--so we could get skins to make us some winter pants. None of what we have--either mine or his--is going to hold together for too much longer it doesn’t look like, even with careful repairs. The cloth is just wearing too thin, and I’m sure not looking forward to having to try and wrap and tie marten hides around my legs, or something, to cover them. The one deer hide we do have is going to have to be turned into mukluks, because feet have to take first priority, I think. We need some larger game, that’s all there is to it. But there sure doesn’t seem to be any, up this high, and probably wont be until most of the snow is gone. Months and months from now. Well. I know some of the tribes up in the Pacific Northwest--Salish and others, I think; Einar would probably know more about it--boiled cedar bark and then pounded it until it was soft and the fibers could be separated, then spun it into something like yarn for weaving a rough cloth out of. And other tribes would just take strips of the bark and make thin bundles, then weave them together with cordage to make the outside layers for their blankets and traveling robes. I remember seeing an old photo one time of a woman crouching preparing food of some sort, with a cedar blanked lined with rabbit fur wrapped around her shoulders. So, why couldn’t we make “snow pants” this same way…if aspen inner bark could be used instead of the cedar. It’s probably too brittle, but I think I’ll experiment. For now though, I’d better just hurry up and get some more wood for the fire, before that snow gets any deeper out there and before Einar wakes up! Sure hope he knows who and where he is when he wakes up, and doesn’t mistake me for anybody he’d rather not be around or feels a pressing need to do away with, as he apparently did earlier… She glanced over at him. Still sleeping--that is good--and not shaking yet, though she knew he probably soon would be without some additional source of heat. Once again she wondered how he had managed while injured and alone that past winter, wanted to ask him but supposed his answer would consist of a few growled words about the antifreeze in his blood and the fact that, despite it, there’d been times when he barely had made it, but I’m still here… She shook her head. Really would like to know. Maybe the right

opportunity will come up, and I can ask him about it. And hope to get a serious answer. Smiling, she pulled on her mittens and headed out into the storm. Pushing her way out through the snow that was packed against the door proved to be a bit more difficult than Liz had anticipated, as it had been compressed somewhat by the wind as it was shoved in under the protective trees and deposited in layers against the rocks and yearling hide that made up their little refuge. Eventually she made it out, kicking and shoving at the snow as she cleared it away from in front of the door. More was coming, that much was certain as she scanned the low, leaded sky, all distant views obscured by the gently swirling whiteness, and she wanted to get the entrance area clear of snow before too much more could pile up, making her job that much more difficult. Moving the snow was hard work, and she paused resting for a moment upon finishing, catching her breath and squinting out at the dim forms of nearby spruces and firs, trying to recreate in her mind the dry branch situation beneath each, and decide which provided the most likely opportunity for obtaining more wood. It was unwise, she knew, to continue taking everything from the nearest trees only, decimating their supply and requiring that longer and longer trips be made each time in search of more wood. The injury to her leg two days prior had been a forceful reminder to her of the grim situation they would be facing if both she and Einar ended up badly injured or incapacitated at the same time, and she knew it would be best, no matter where they were sheltering or how short a time they intended to stay in a location, to take a bit more time and range farther from the shelter for wood, leaving a ready supply within crawling distance against the possibility of injury or illness. She had not done it, had been too anxious about Einar to wander far from the shelter, and was now faced with the prospect of a long slog through thigh-deep snow just to scrape together enough wood to heat the place and boil up a pot of stew, that evening. Off I go, then, and maybe this’ll help me remember, for next time. Please stay in there Einar, if you happen to wake while I’m gone. Please be yourself and be sensible enough not to go wandering around in this… Heading in the general direction of a large stand of as-yet untouched spruces not too many hundreds of yards distant from the shelter and at its approximate elevation--best to avoid climbing too much right now if I can, this stuff is deep!--Liz found that, even without the added difficulty of needing to climb in it, travel through the fresh snow was difficult and exhausting, at best. After pushing her way doggedly through the drifts for a number of wearying minutes--step, sink, get the other leg up out of the deepness, swing it forward a short distance and plant it, on and on, falling at times and flailing about when she hit an unseen obstacle--Liz decided that if she was not to spend the rest of the day just reaching the desired trees, let alone collecting wood and hauling it back, then she would have to make snowshoes. No willows right here. There are some back in the shelter, but I’m sure not going all the way back there to get them, then spending the time to bend and tie them until I have snowshoes. Remembering something Einar had once mentioned to her, she floundered over to the nearest evergreen and began breaking off branches. Back at the shelter Einar stirred, opened his eyes. Foot hurt. • • • • Rocks above his head, dim and grey in the pale light that oozed in through the chimney

hole, and waking was a slow, creeping process for Einar, eyelids seeming terribly heavy and head splitting when he tried to move it. Didn’t matter too much, because he was home, remembered that, if not much else at first, recognized the smell of aspen-wood smoke and snow, a wonderful combination, and knew that it was true. Water. Must be some nearby, because he could smell it, too, and it felt like he could really use some. It seemed to take forever to get himself rolled over onto his stomach so he could creep forward in search of it but he succeeded, found the bottle mere inches from the side of the bed, fumbled with the lid and finally got it off. The water helped, helped his head, anyway, the stabbing pain between his eyes reduced to a dull ache as he drained the bottle and went looking for another, not finding it. He couldn’t find Liz, either, knew she had been there and wondered when she had left, and why. The last memory he had--the last one that was not of a dream, anyhow--was of her adamantly refusing to leave the shelter that day and begin the move to the basin, suggesting that he sleep and steering him over to the bed. Probably just out getting some wood, checking the traps…here. Her part of the bed’s still pretty warm, so she hasn’t been gone very long. Now--sharply reminded of what had awakened him when he accidentally bumped his foot on a pile of spruce needles--better deal with the foot. Not so good, today. Before removing the dressings and changing them, however, he wanted to get at look outside, wanted to get some idea of what the day was like and see where Liz had gone, if her tracks near the entrance would tell him. They did not. Were nearly covered in snow, actually, a shallow and rapidly filling trench all that was left to indicate the direction of her leaving, and he crawled out into the trampled-down snow just outside the shelter, pulled himself to his feet and stood swaying as the inevitable dizziness swam the world before his eyes and fought hard to send him sprawling. Einar fought equally hard, remained standing and took deep breaths in an attempt to clear the swarm of black spots from before his eyes. Not much use today, are you? That’s got to change. Better get out there and find her in case she’s ended up hanging upside down from a tree again-unlikely, he knew, but it seemed as good a reason as any to do the thing he knew he must do, get out and struggle to overcome the weakness that still seemed to have all too firm a hold on him--but seems this foot had better be tended to, first. Ten minutes later he had finished getting the dressings off, and the matter was settled. On your own this time, Liz, at least for the moment. If you’re not back in a while I’ll come after you, sure, but for now… He sighed. Better get a fire going… • • • •

Liz knew that a single evergreen branch on each foot was unlikely to be of much help when it came to keeping her from sinking three feet into the new snow, and she chose several small ones for each side, taking off her mittens and fumbling in her pocket for the bits of paracord and nettle cordage that Einar insisted she always carry--now I see why; good idea! With two or three small branches lashed together and then to each of her feet, crossing over each other, their small side branches interlocking, she carefully tried the snow again, found that while she still sunk in, the amount could now be measured in inches rather than feet. Finding travel slightly easier with the use of the improvised

snowshoes, Liz went from tree to tree, breaking off dead branches and adding them to the burden that she already carried, lashed together and slung over her shoulder. It was an awkward, cumbersome way to carry the stuff, leaving her at times to stop in frustration as she disentangled the bundles from the overhead branches, but short of dragging the branches along behind her, which she knew would lead to numerous and inevitable snags on the underbrush that protruded from the snow and snatched at her snowshoes, she could think of no better way to transport her acquisitions. A sled would be good. Perfect, actually. Something that would let me drag the branches without snagging them, and would help keep them from collecting too much snow and ending up damp, too. Something like those long, rounded strips of spruce bark Einar was keeping the bear fat on back in the den. They looked like the bark had just been peeled off half the circumference of the tree for five or six feet, and they looked like they would have made great sleds. I never asked him, but he must have used them to haul things on, maybe even firewood. She didn’t see any hanging from trees, though, and was not exactly sure how to go about cutting one, assuming that had been how Einar got ahold of his. She did not want to take the time just then to experiment. Einar, she knew, could be waking at any moment or could already have awakened, and she hated the thought of being far from the shelter when that happened, entirely unsure as she was just what state Einar might be in upon returning to wakefulness. So. Just carry the stuff, for now. Even with the help of the snowshoes, the job of moving through the deep, soft snow was a challenging and exhausting one, and when Liz found a small dead aspen, still standing but leaning badly, she saw it as an opportunity to finish off her wood-gathering tasks for the day and put an end to the seemingly endless slog from one tree to the next, coming away from each with a few useful branches, at best. If, that was, she could get it down, and then find a way to transport it. Felling the tree proved to be little problem, as its connection to the ground was quite tenuous, the remaining roots snapping shortly after she put her full weight on it. Hauling the bounty proved to be a different matter, as one end of it sunk--of course--into the snow as soon as she lifted the other to tuck it beneath her arm and begin dragging, the resistance of all that snow making forward motion nearly impossible. She tried anyway, straining and pulling and thinking of Einar back that at the shelter, possibly awake and almost certainly--if recent history was any indication--at least somewhat confused and likely about to do something foolish. Pull as she might, though, the log would not budge more than an inch or two, and after twice dropping her load of branches in the snow with the effort, she stood panting for breath and knowing that she must find another way. There was still some paracord left in her pocket, a three or four foot length, and she got it out, tied one end around the terminus of the broken tree and looped the other up over her shoulder, wrapping it a couple of times around her arm. This allowed the log to lie basically flat as she pulled, and it would have ordinarily have hurt terribly to have so much weight resting across her shoulder on such a thin little cord, the bear hide cloak provided sufficient padding. Once Liz got turned around and back into her previously broken trail the going was much easier, and before too long the shelter-rocks were in sight once again. Smoke curled lazily from the chimney-opening. She could just see it through a dense curtain of falling snow, and she smiled, knowing Einar was awake and

apparently still in the shelter. A good sign! • • • • Warming himself by the fire and welcoming its stronger light, Einar inspected his foot once again, hoping that in the shadows of the shelter he might have been mistaken about the wet, oozing mess that his big toe seemed to have become, hoping to see instead a more stable black crust that would mean he could wait, could continue treating the damaged areas with salve and clean dressings and give them a chance to heal. No such luck. The toes looked worse, actually, by the fire’s light, definitely oozing and, he thought, beginning to smell. That smell. Only it has absolutely nothing to do with luck, Einar, and you know it. Thing was starting to heal, I’m pretty sure, before you insisted on spending that night up in the rocks trying to get your head straight, and damaging it further. Sure wasn’t the smartest thing you ever done. He looked at the foot again, turned away from the fire and vomited into the spruce needles, losing the entire bottle of water he had just drunk at the thought of what was to come next. Somehow he was finding the operation quite a bit harder to face than he had the first time around, was sweating and starting to shake despite the growing warmth of the fire and would have been disgusted and somewhat angry at himself over the perceived weakness, if he’d possessed the energy to think much about it. Guess this may be one thing a person never does get used to. Don’t have enough toes left to really get used to it… Heh. Maybe if I ended up having to do half the fingers, too, this might start to seem a little more routine. He shook his head. Not funny, Einar. Not a bit. But it had better be done, and I sure don’t want Liz here to watch so it looks like I need to hurry up. Doesn’t feel like I’d get too far if I tried to crawl off on my own and look for a private place to do it, this time. Mighty dizzy. So dizzy, in fact, that he seemed suddenly unable to focus clearly on the foot at all, was sick again and leaned back on the rock behind him, closed his eyes. If there’s any way this can be avoided, then please… It couldn’t, though, there was no way, as far as he could see, and he was ready to be done with the task, done, lest he slip back into the shadows for a day or two and wake to find the entire foot too far gone to save. Quite possible the way things are going, and that would be the end of me, most likely. Be kinda hard on Liz to watch somebody go that way. Do it. A pot of frozen berberine water that Liz had boiled up the night before but left to finish the next day sat near the fire, beginning to melt around the edges, and he held the pot in both hands and slurped at the little trickles of liquid, thirsty, knowing that he was in serious need of fluids and could use the yellow juice’s antibiotic properties, as well, if the stuff would stay down. Slowly, methodically, having increased difficulty maintaining awareness the longer he remained upright but determined to do what he had to do before Liz returned, Einar searched through the pack. Usnea. Sock strips. Where’s the yarrow? Hope we didn’t use it all up last time…sure can’t remember one way or the other. He couldn’t find it, knew he risked serious bleeding by attempting the job without it. Not that there aren’t lots of other ways to control bleeding, but it wouldn’t even have to be that serious of a bleed to leave you in real trouble this time, I don’t think. Got to have that yarrow. More searching, nothing yielded. He added more wood to the fire, inching the pot of berberine water closer to the flames. Liz must have it with her. Either that, or I used it all up. Not likely at all to find any this time of year, either, with all this snow, even if I could get out and search. Well. Can do without it, then. From the jumbled pile of gear that lay on the

floor where he had dumped it in his search, Einar pulled an inch wide deerhide strap, somewhat softened by repeated workings, that he had been preparing for use in finishing up the bola. Wrapping the strap around his leg jut above the ankle he tied it loosely and worked a stick in through the knot, wanting to have a tourniquet ready to use should it be required. If I start bleeding bad, this at least ought to give me time to heat my knife up in the coals and start cauterizing things before I pass out from blood loss, get the stump packed with usnea and wrapped up real tight to keep the bleeding down… Don’t know if it’ll be enough but it’s the best I can seem to come up with. Remembering how difficult it had been to finish the job the first time around and knowing that the bone was much, much thicker in the big toe than were those in the others, he hunted around the shelter until he found a good sized chunk of granite, weighing in excess of three pounds by his estimate, that he could bring down on the knife to increase its effectiveness. Dripping some of the thawing yellow berberine solution out of the pot he washed the toes, the foot, the rock beneath them, cleaned his knife, meaning to proceed with the job and finish it as quickly as possible. And he probably would have, too, had not the time come for Liz to return. The blood was pounding so in his head that he didn’t even hear the soft footsteps as they approached the shelter. The first thing that alerted him to Liz’s presence was the crash of her bundle of branches as she unburdened herself on the flat-trampled snow just outside the door, greeting him with a cheerful shout and pushing aside the door flap when she got no answer. Greeted by the sight of Einar, white-faced and bleary eyed, sitting by the fire with his foot flat on a scrubbed rock slab and the knife resting precariously on the first joint of his big toe, granite chunk in hand and a willow stick clamped between his teeth, Liz froze where she was, stared at him for a second before letting the door flap fall closed and slowly approaching him. “Einar. Wait. Put down the knife.” He looked up and saw her, let the rock sink to the ground--had barely been able to hold it up, in the first place--and spit out the stick. “No use, Liz. They’re gone. Bound to start poisoning me here pretty soon, if they’re not already. Gonna ask you to wait outside while I do this. Come get warm first if you need to, have a drink, and then…” “Let me take a look first. Please.” Not waiting for an answer she crouched beside him and took hold of his leg, a prickling in her scalp reminding her that she really wasn’t sure how Einar would react or even what state he might be in since waking that morning, and that it really would have been a good idea to secure the knife somehow before getting that close to him. He kept still, though, hands clenched and eyes far away as she made her inspection, trying to maintain the resolve that he had worked up and wishing she would go ahead and finish so he could get on with things before he changed his mind or passed out or both. She was saying something, and concentrated on quieting the pounding in his head so he could hear her.

“It’s going to mean days of dressing changes again and I know it’ll hurt, will drag things out, and maybe you don’t want that at this point, but I really think there’s still a chance to save them. Look. There are little areas that seem to be oozing, but I can tell you that they’re no bigger than they were yesterday. I looked real carefully, then. In fact, I think a few of the places that were oozing yesterday are starting to crust over, this morning. Now this storm looks like it’s going to be socked in for a while. The snow’s real deep and getting deeper out there, and with that kind of avalanche danger, I don’t think we’re going to be heading up to the basin for another day or two, at the least. We have a good warm dry shelter here, and lots of firewood to keep it that way, so how about we go back to the berberine soaks twice a day like were doing before, see if we can get the toes to keep crusting over and stop that infection before it goes any further. Then if they still need to go after a few days of that, I’ll do it myself. Or help you in whatever way you want.” He nodded--pointless, most likely, bound to end like the last ones did, but she’s right… might as well give it a try if we can keep the infection under control--let his breath out and bowed his head, suddenly feeling the strength go out of him at the realization that he was not going to do it, not then, at least. “Ok. I’ll give it a day or two. Thing is though…I know there’ve been some gaps these last few days…big chunks of time that I really don’t remember, and since I don’t know just why that’s been happening, what’s to say I’m through with it? Don’t want to end up in a situation where I’m getting sick and the toes have to go real quickly, but I’m not awake to do it…could end up getting in real trouble in a hurry, that way.” “I will not let that happen. Einar. Look at me. I mean that. Just give yourself a chance.” He nodded again, dried his foot and worked the fresh, salve-coated usnea clumps into place, wrapping it as Liz shook the snow from her cloak and hung it near the fire to dry, warming her hands and working on a pot of stew. • • • •

With Einar settled in by the fire and a pot of snow melting for stew, Liz hurried outside and began knocking the freshly fallen snow from the firewood and hauling it inside. The snow, fortunately, was dry and cold enough that it had not begun soaking into the wood as it would have done in a warmer day, and the branches and even the aspen trunk that had been dragged had remained quite dry and ready to use. Propping the aspen trunk upright against the outside of the shelter--it was too big to bring in, unless to stick one end in the fire to begin the process of burning it through and shortening it--she broke the smaller branches into manageable lengths and stacked them against one wall. It appeared that she had gathered enough, if they were careful, to get them through a day or two of storm, should it last that long. Not that she intended to sit around and watch their supply diminish without renewing it as they burnt it up, but Liz was learning to expect unforeseen circumstances, and realized that things could certainly come up which might

prevent her from getting out to collect more wood for a day or two. Or longer. Einar was still sitting up when she finished the job, was turning his boot this way and that and curiously inspecting the repair she had made while he slept, and she was encouraged to see him managing to remain awake and seemingly himself for a longer stretch than he had been able since they had returned from the climb to the basin. Perhaps he was beginning to mend. I sure hope so. Hate to think what shape you would have been in right now if you’d have gone ahead with those toes, Einar. Please, please let him keep the toes… He looked up at her strangely at that, almost as if he had heard her thoughts. “Be able to head up there in a day or so. We’ll give this storm some time to blow itself out, maybe let the sun get on those slopes for a full day so anything that really wants to slide has the chance to do it, and then head up there. Toes should either be on the mend by then, or no longer a concern. Hey, I see you fixed my boot. Thanks!” “Well, I hope I did an adequate job of it. I watched you do mine, but I’m not sure I got enough glue in there.” “Looks great. How are yours holding up? Keep your feet dry this morning?” “Yes, between the glue and pitch you put on the toes, these wraps of string and the bear hide gaiters, my feet stayed pretty dry. Snow had started coming in, so I’m really glad you were able to fix them. I’m concerned about that spot on the sole of your left boot, though. It’s almost worn through, and I was going to try gluing some rawhide to it, but didn’t know if that was the best way to do it. You said you’d repaired a sole like that, before?” “Uh…I did make a temporary repair with marmot skin once, left the fur on for traction, and it worked but I never did get to find out how durable it was, ‘cause the entire sole came loose a day or two later while I was crossing a rockslide and it fell down where I couldn’t get it. Not too long after that I was going around barefoot, then wearing squirrel hide slippers until that agent so kindly came along and let me inherit his boots… Too bad we didn’t think to grab you a pair, too, for later. Now, I do have the boots I took off that photographer, Steve, to slow down his trip back down to the trailhead when I let he and Juni--the reporter--come up to the mine that time…but they’re stashed way back on the ridge above the river with a bunch of other stuff I couldn’t carry, after you headed down to the canoe rental place that time. Huh. Seems like an awful long time ago, doesn’t it?” She nodded slowly, looked up at him. “Another world.” “Yep.” Both quiet for a time after that, they stared into the flames, each absorbed in their own thoughts, until Liz noticed that the water was close to boiling--and Einar appearing close to sleep--and she took out a packet of pemmican and began breaking it up in preparation for adding it to the water. That sight brought Einar back to full wakefulness quickly enough, leaving him to jump and nearly scramble to his feet, a cold prickle running down

his spine as he realized what she was doing, and its implications for their food supply. “We’re all out of jerky, then?” “Yes, mostly. I set some aside, just a little bit, but if we want any protein in our meal, anything at all besides bearfat and a few dried chokecherries and lily roots, actually… I should have gone out and checked the traps this morning, but figured with the storm…” “No, no sense in that, nothing’ll be out in this weather, and there’s no point you being, either. At least we have all that fat, still, and we’ll get out and set more traps, snares, as soon as the snow stops coming down like this. ” As confident as he tried to sound, Einar was worried, knew there would be little in the way of game for days after a storm of the magnitude they were seeing, and knew, also, that they had been living right on the edge as far as food intake, even before the storm came and shut off the meager supply of fresh protein the traps had been producing for them. The fat meant that they would be able to hold out far longer than they otherwise would have against the cold and the pressures of starvation, but Einar knew all too well the way even a small change in conditions could upset the delicate balance that was sustaining life, and turn barely getting by into a desperate struggle for existence, almost overnight. He had seen it before, lived it before more than once, and was more than willing to do so again if that was the price of his ongoing freedom, but had hoped somehow to spare Liz from participating in the cycle. Then what are you doing up so high, here in the middle of winter? There’s barely enough game up here to support the few martens and foxes the area supplies, let alone two half starved humans, and surely you had to know that. Just too high. Send her down, before she ends up a pile of skin and bones like you are, and it’s too late for her, too. He knew, though, that she would never go, not as long as he was alive, anyhow, and for a moment the line of reasoning that had grabbed hold of him that night up in the rocks started making an awful lot of sense again, and he rested his head on his knee, tried to drive the thoughts away, knew they weren’t right. Help me. Don’t think I have the strength to do this one myself. Liz did not understand his sudden sullenness, thought him perhaps upset with her for using up the packet of pemmican. She scooted over beside him, put a hand on his shoulder. Einar sat upright as if startled out of a dream, looked at her. “If anything happens to me, Liz…you know that you shouldn’t try to stay up here, right? There’d be more to eat down lower. You should find a good little meadow in a valley somewhere near water, settle in there and…get a trap line set up, do some fishing. You can get through the winter, and then when spring comes…well, you’ve done summer before. You’ll be alright.” “Hey. I know the foot must hurt awfully bad, and not being able to get around like you’re used to has got you down, but you’re going to get through this, Ok? You’ve been through worse, I know it. But yes, I do understand about going down lower. And I’m wondering…why can’t we go ahead and do it, now? As soon as you can travel, anyway. We could spend a month or so down there, get plenty to eat and build up our strength, and then head back up to that basin in the spring. You know, migrate a bit, just like the deer and elk, and like the Utes and others surely did, when this was their home…”

Yeah. That would make things easier, wouldn’t it? Nothing easy about this life. Can’t always do the things that would otherwise make most sense, survival-wise, when you’re being hunted like this… “No. Too much chance of running across someone down there, being spotted. If you were by yourself…not such a target. But if anyone were to see me, well, our camp, and you, would suddenly become the number one focus of the search, and I can’t do that…can’t risk that. This is where I stay, up high here.” “Then it’s where I stay, too. This storm won’t last too much longer, surely, and then the critters will start getting out again. We’ll put out a lot more traps, either here or in the basin, wherever we are, get a bunch of rabbits, squirrels, more martens and ermines-we’ll make it. Now. Let’s soak your foot and get those toes started healing up.” • • • •

Before preparing the w