At first only sparks, fragments of light that died and died again. Finally, despite her shuddering hands, a flicker, a glint of flame that swung wildly, spluttered then settled into something more.
‘Minuscule flame,’ she intoned , ‘stay alive, stay alive…’
A sound from beyond the night: familiar footsteps, the flood of stamping feet dislodging snow from the sole, and the door opened. Her body defended the flame but once the door shut she turned. He held a tight pyramid of dried logs in his arms. ‘It needs time to grow,’ she said, ‘before we can load one of those onto it.’ She pulled kindling toward her, fertilised the flame with it. Under her breath she repeated her prayer, ‘Stay alive, stay alive …’ this time with vigour, the energy of her words driving the flame into the farther corners of the hearth, into the frosted marrow of her bones.
They ate well that night; a small portion of the meat, some of the root vegetables. They slept warm before the hearth while winds clawed at their door. He lay swaddled in their sleep, muttering through the dreams, ‘Stay alive, stay alive, stay alive …’