Helena turned to him and said something but he still couldn't make out a word. He loosened the drawstring on his hood and pushed it back from his face.
'What did you say?' he shouted.
'Ármann says it's here, just round the corner. At least, he's pretty sure,' she said. 'Pretty sure' was not what Daníel wanted to hear right now and, for the first time, as his exposed ears stung with the cold, it came home to him that they really could die of exposure out here. He could quite simply freeze to death in this snowy waste. His thoughts flew to his girlfriend in London. As far as she knew, he was on a harmless adventure tour with his Icelandic friends, though, to be fair, she had warned him against it, asking whether it wouldn't be more sensible to go on a trip like that in summer rather than in the depths of winter. She'd had a better instinct than he did for the potential hazards in his native country.
No, he mustn't think like that. He was with a good group of people and together they'd find a solution. He had to keep these negative thoughts at bay. They never did any good, as he knew from bitter experience.
He had been staring into the void, into the falling snow, but now he glanced back at Helena.
She smiled at him and seemed to be waiting for him to start moving again. 'Ready?' she called.
He nodded and drew his hood back up.
The group set off again and Daníel waded through the drifts, thankful that he was wearing a good pair of boots.
But he couldn't stop his mind from conjuring up worst-case scenarios. If anything happened, he thought, if anyone got ill, they would be completely screwed. No one in the group had any medical experience.
They had each trodden their own path in life. Helena was an engineer and worked for some start-up that was making waves according to her, anyway. Gunnlaugur was a lawyer and Ármann a guide. Well, he didn't actually want to call himself a guide any more, not since he'd set up his own tour company. These days he must be richer than all the rest of them put together. There seemed to be no let-up in the growth in tourism, and, if you believed Ármann's tall stories, he was making money off just about every visitor who came to Iceland.
Daníel liked them all well enough; that wasn't the issue. He was fond of them, in spite of their flaws. The problem was simply that whenever they met up it was generally to celebrate something a birthday, a wedding and on those occasions the booze always flowed freely. But he hadn't been sure he'd be able to cope with spending a whole weekend in their company, especially with no alcohol to smooth things over. He was certainly stone-cold sober now. Which was just as well, of course. But he remembered that Helena had stuck a bottle of brandy in her backpack, so at least they'd have something to warm themselves with and help calm their shattered nerves once they'd made it to the hut.
If they made it ...
At that moment he saw a dim shape ahead. Had they arrived?
His friends seemed to be slowing down and he allowed himself to hope.
Yes, it looked as if they'd found some sort of hut, however inadequate, out here on the wild moors.
Ármann hadn't let them down.
Daníel felt a rush of relief, as though he'd been saved from certain death. He pushed back his hood again to try to hear what the others were saying.
They were all wearing head torches and the beams darted here and there, competing to light up the hut through the driving snow. Daníel thought it was painted red, like one of the old 'sæluhús,' or emergency refuges, that dotted the Icelandic highlands, but it was hard to be sure in these conditions. Anyway, at least it was shelter from the wind and weather, which was all that mattered now.
Gunnlaugur was standing by the door and appeared to be trying to open it, but it was taking its time and Daníel could feel the cold biting harder with every second that passed.
'The door uh it's sticking,' Gunnlaugur called in a despairing voice. He seemed completely out of place here, battered by the savage elements.
'Let me try.' Helena pushed him aside. 'It's only locked.' Her voice was calm. It took a good deal to throw Helena off balance.
'What, locked!?' Daníel exclaimed. 'Isn't it supposed to be an emergency refuge?'
'Some huts are kept locked,' Ármann replied. 'There should be a key box here somewhere.' He directed his torch at the wall beside the door and, sure enough, there was the box, but it looked as if a code was needed to open it.