Einar didn’t argue, was too badly out of breath to have done much talking even if he’d wanted to, handed Liz the axe and rolled to the side so she could get in where he had been, where a person needed to be for hacking away at the logs that remained to block the future chimney opening. Liz got right to work, chipping her way through one of the good solid dry aspen timbers and starting on another as Einar got himself back up into a crouch and plastered his arms to his sides in an attempt to minimize movement of his torso and ease the hurt of his over-used ribs. Wasn’t working too well, leaving his breaths shallow and ragged with pain and he knew that the trouble would be obvious to Liz, should she glance up. He didn’t want that, didn’t want it getting in the way of their work any more than it already had, slowing him down and making her think it necessary to pause in her basket weaving to come and assist him. Fortunately, she appeared thoroughly absorbed in completing that chimney hole, and he lowered himself stiffly to his stomach beside her--that was the worst part, changing position like that; dearly wished he could just keep still for a week or two, but of course that wasn’t an option, and he doubted he’d have been able to manage such a period of inactivity even had circumstances allowed for it; the stillness would kill him, indirectly perhaps, but he’d be dead, all the same, and no use at all to Liz--meaning to help hold a particularly tenacious bark shingling strip out of the way as she worked. Together they got the job done, the last chunk of intruding aspen wood finally falling down into the cabin under Liz’s persistent work with the axe. Einar released the rather springy bark strip he’d been holding out of the way, lowered his forehead to the roof with a sigh and made a great pretense of being entirely absorbed in the details of Liz’s work, inspecting it, just hoping he could get away with remaining still for a while. When he’d worked up the strength to move again he held his breath and rolled over, giving her a nod and a somewhat sickly-looking grin, face the pasty grey-blue of a man who is definitely not getting enough oxygen.
“Looks real good. Can finish the chimney now. Be trying out the stove tonight.”
“Yes, we sure will! This roof certainly is sturdy, you know? I’m realizing now that I’ve had to chop through it. You’ve built us a good solid house here, a good place to spend the winter, and…hey! Are you breathing at all? You’ve got to breathe! You look like you’re about to pass out, and that’s not a good thing to do when you’re lying right on the edge of the roof with a bunch of rocks down below. Here, let me…that’s right, away from the edge, scoot away from the edge. Come on, you can breathe, just take little breaths, shallow little breaths for right now, they won’t hurt your ribs so much and will be better than nothing…”
Which he did, hadn’t quite realized how much trouble he was getting into with all the breath holding, hadn’t realized until the world began going dark around him, and he supposed Liz did have a point about the edge of the roof…better. He could see again. Foolish thing, holding your breath that long. Air is one thing you really can’t do without, no matter how hard you might try. It’s just pain, anyway. You can get through it, one breath at a time. Ribs will heal. In a few weeks… Maybe you just need some more bee stings. Bad as that reaction was, it did seem to help with some of this other stuff. Or at least take your attention off of it for a while. Anyhow, enough of this. You got work to do, remember? And he got somewhat dizzily to his knees, eased himself backwards and slid down off the roof, reaching up to help Liz down. Both safely back on the ground--not that a fall from the low roof of the cabin would have proven any great disaster, but Einar sure didn’t want little Hildegard or Snorri or whoever was in there suffering even such a relatively tame fall, not with the time coming so close, but not yet here--they rested for a minute on the bench out front of the cabin, Liz bringing Einar some leftover tea, which he accepted gratefully.
“Ribs are pretty bad, aren’t they?”
“It’s nothing. Be fine in a few days.”
“Looks like something to me. You can’t get a full breath. I’m going to make you some willow solution here in a few minutes with the bark I pulled from some of these basket wands, and I hope you’ll drink it.”
Einar nodded his assent. Sure, he’d drink it. Wouldn’t have gone out of the way to make it for himself--such concessions to comfort and ease would have seemed rather frivolous, weak; it was only a couple of ribs, after all--but if she was going to insist…well, he had a lot of work to do, and knew he’d be more efficient at it if he could breathe a bit more easily, more deeply. Would be at less risk for another lung infection, too, if he was able to breathe a bit more normally, and he certainly couldn’t afford any such thing at the moment. Absolutely not, no way. Had to avoid that. Liz, it seemed, wasn’t done with her questions. He really wished she’d be done. Wanted to load up a sack of rocks, haul them up on the roof and finish the chimney, the part that would rise up above the timbers, and he was starting to feel pretty agitated, just sitting there. Short of breath, world closing in around him. Needed to move. But she was asking him another question.
“What happened to your ribs anyway? Did Kilgore hit you with something…?”
“He was trying to knock me out. Aiming for the head I guess, but I ducked. Rolled. Hit his mark on the next try. Would have killed him right then and there if I’d had any idea what his intentions were.”
“Why would he want to knock you out?”
“Seems I’m a pretty difficult critter to tie up when I’m wide awake. Guess he wanted to live through it…”
“Through…I suppose I don’t even want to know just what he wanted to live through, do I? Though I can probably guess…”
Einar shrugged. Didn’t know whether she wanted to know, or not--suspected she did, or why would she have brought it up, but he didn’t want to talk about it. Not just then. Too fresh, too recent. Too close an examination might lead to bad places, and he didn’t have time to be going any bad places, because he had that chimney to finish. And winter to prepare for. So he avoided it. Stuck to generalities. Generalities are safe, generally… Safer, anyway. “Was a real rough path, the one he took me down, but…Kilgore’s alright, I guess. Pretty decent fella, when it comes down to it. Glad I didn’t kill him. Ribs’ll heal.”
Liz just shook her head, held out her hands and helped him up so he wouldn’t have to put so much strain on the injured ribs in rising. “Well. I’ll go make you that willow solution. It can simmer as I finish the honey baskets.” She only had three more of the baskets to do before they’d be ready to separate the remainder of the honey from the wax and bottle it up, that, and transfer the stuff they already had in the glass jars, before they could manage to drop and break one of them! She could certainly imagine either of them doing such a thing, clumsy as they had both tended to be of late, and greatly wanted to prevent such a loss.
While Liz returned to the baskets, Einar chose a number of rocks, loaded them onto the deer hide and tied it at the top, wanting to lift the entire bundle up onto the lowest portion of the roof but knowing he’d never be able to accomplish it, in his current state. Well. Were other options, and he took one of them, tying several feet of cordage to the rock bundle, hauling himself up onto the roof and then, with much silent grunting and groaning, easing the bundle up after him. Good. Done. Lowering himself back to his stomach, he began placing rocks one by one atop the already-finished portion of the chimney, bringing it up and through the gap, adding a good two feet of chimney above the level of the roof. Looked sufficient, ought to be sufficient…until the snow came. Then it’d get snowed under in a hurry, and smoke them out in the night. Into the freezing, snow-blasted stormy night. Wouldn’t do, not with a little one in the house, and Einar figured he’d better add some more height to that chimney. No hurry, though. Could leave it just as it was for the moment, add rocks another day. For the moment--he bowed his head, resting, still feeling short on air but not wanting to lie down, difficult as it had become to rise again--it seemed the focus ought to be on adding the plaster to the chimney, both inside and around the place where the chimney came through the roof. First priority needed to be filling in around that opening, both to protect against leaks should a sudden rainstorm blow in, and to keep from setting the place on fire the first time they tried the stove.