The old road was hardly able to be tracked, only visible as the division through the trees and their canopies above. The horse trudged along tepidly through the snow. It was fresh and deep. Jane was the first to ride the animal. The saddle was old and disused, the leather hard and stiff from many years of sitting out in the elements, but it was a necessity to keep the horse comfortable and therefore compliant. She had only ridden such an animal once before, but in its slow tread, it was easy enough to control.
Little James sat in front of her, his chest to her stomach, clinging for warmth. Bryna followed behind on foot. In a stroke of luck, she had remembered the old snowshoes last used by Lewis in past winters to hunt small game. They had been stored in the rafters of the stable and brought down not long before their departure. The old woman held Marie in her arms, bundled well and tight.
“Mama,” James stirred, holding onto the blankets wrapping around his mother’s back and arms, “hungry.”
“Hold on a bit longer,” she hummed, “we have to go just a bit farther. You heard what Bryna said, we have to pace ourselves.”
“Where are we going?” James asked, jutting his head out to judge the view. The snow had stopped for that moment, but the landscape was indistinguishable under the existing blankets of it.
“To the little village your father visits sometimes. They’ll have food and a nice, warm bed we can rest in when we finally get there,” Jane concluded, rubbing at Jame’s back with a free hand. She glanced back at Bryna and her daughter, who were beginning to slow in their tread. With the opposite hand, she tugged on the horse’s reins, then touched at his sides with her heels, then let out a forced call, “whoa, whoa.”
The horse nudged at the ground before finally stopping in place, its head moving back and forth. Bryna caught up with them and glanced up to Jane. “You can go a little bit longer.”
“No,” Jane insisted, forcing her leg over the side of the animal. She clumsily found her footing while holding James in place. She met with the chilling cold that instantly enveloped her feet. “James, dear, you can stay up there and rest on Bryna.”
The old woman pursed her lips and offered the bundled little girl back for a moment. “I don’t mind keeping a hold on her. I suppose the animal won’t mind just a bit more.”
Jane pulled back the sides of the blanket at either side of Marie’s cheeks. Her face was flushed, the tip of her nose slightly cold, lips chapped, but breath warm. In a new set of arms, the little girl woke slightly, attempting to stretch under the heavy blankets.
Jane rubbed her own nose against Marie’s, spreading what little warmth she had to spare. Bryna had released herself from the snowshoes and mounted the horse, supporting James once again. With herself situated, she held her arms down, offering to take the little girl back up.
Jane took the snowshoes next. They were wide and clumsy, fashioned out of old dried branches bent into shape and held together with twine and strips of tanned hide. She tied them as tight as she could around her soggy shoes and double-checked that she would be able to march forward with them on. Bryna offered her a reassuring glance, and with her hands full, urged the horse forward once again.
Even though the snow had stopped, the cold wind blew in occasional bouts, rattling the dry branches above and sending neat trails of snow across the icy landscape. On the breath of the land, Jane caught a familiar scent from her daughter. She cleared the congestion from her throat and called out to the old woman. “Bryna, I think Marie needs to be changed.”
The old woman glanced back. “Likely,” she shrugged, the toddler still in her arms. “How do you want to do so? Undress her in this cold? And leave behind a sign of our presence to the wild animals?”
“Our doctor back at home said that--“
“I imagine they said a lot of things. I know it’s your motherly brain trying to tell ya’ to do the right thing, but we can’t follow normal logic right now. She will survive the experience, just a while longer. Isn’t that right, child?”
Jane felt herself pushing hard to keep up with the horse all of a sudden, mind racing to think of a rebuttal or solution to the problem. With her breath growing ragged, releasing long clouds of air out her mouth, she slowed back to a normal pace.
Bryna glanced back at her. “We best stop soon, though. Get a start on a fire before it gets too cold and dark. You can change her in the morning and leave the refuse in the embers before we leave again. Keep an eye out for some place nice an' sheltered where we can hide away from the wind.”