Fat rendering completed and the hollowed log standing nearly full of the incredibly valuable substance, four finished baskets full cooling in the corner and awaiting the pitch-sealed lids that would make them secure for carrying, hiding and hanging from trees for later retrieval and use, Einar sat back against the wall surveying his work with satisfaction. Adding the newly rendered fat to that from the first bear of the fall, he estimated that they had somewhere over eighty pounds of the stuff secured for the winter, a better start by far than they’d had in previous winters, and a good thing too, with the baby coming. Sorting through a pile of untreated skins, rabbit, mostly, with a few marmot thrown in, he chose two which, together, appeared large enough to cover the hollow log full of fat, soaking them with water from the water barrel and rubbing them together to speed its absorption. As soon as the skins began growing damp and supple, he stretched them tightly over the fat, securing them in place with a wrap of nettle cordage that he took all the way around the outer edge of the log, near the top, As the raw hides dried they would shrink, hopefully forming a secure and somewhat airtight seal over the stored fat. Being the fresher of the two batches, it would be the fat they set aside for use later in the winter, after that from the first bear had been used up. Liz came in then, kneeling beside him and inspecting the finished container.
“Looks like you’ve got this all finished up and ready to stash aside! Wow, I didn’t think you’d be done yet.”
“Probably wouldn’t, if you hadn’t helped hollow this thing out last night. I’d have got it done, eventually, but…” Shook his head and spread his hands, wanting to let her know how he appreciated her help, her knowing when and how to help, stepping in when he could neither quit coughing nor abandon the project that was causing him the trouble, and finishing the coal-burning, but couldn’t find the words. She heard, anyway, understood and gave him a big smile.
“You’re welcome. I like working with you, and we got it done. Now since you’re done how about coming outside for a little lunch, because I’ve got some smoked bear stew waiting? Then Snorri and I are going to lie down for a little while and see about getting a short rest, and we’d really like to have you join us…”
Knowing he faced a second sleepless night of tending the smoking meat, followed by what he hoped would be a long and successful day of hiking in search of elk--ending with a kill, and the subsequent work of tracking, butchering and carrying the animal back to camp--Einar had no doubt that Liz was on the side of wisdom when she urged him to lie down with her for a short midday rest, something in him still stubbornly resisting the idea but common sense winning out, in the end. With one stipulation. He refused to join her in the sunny gap between clusters of aspens, a fine place and a pleasant one to spend a restful hour or two, no doubt, and quite close enough to the smoking tent to hear the approach of any potential scavenger, but he feared beneath the soft, warming rays of the golden aspen-filtered sun he would inevitably fall into a sleep deeper than he wished, and might well, should Liz not wake him, remain thus for far longer than he had intended. Not being one to find such dependence on another particularly acceptable when there were other available choices, he opted to sleep in the deep shade of a snarl of close-growing firs, knowing the chill would prevent his sleep from being either too deep or too long. Liz, of course, thought this a somewhat unnecessary and perhaps even foolish precaution to be taking; though he'd never told her why he chose to avoid the sun, she knew, but refrained from commenting, lest he give up the idea of the nap altogether. Which he might very well have.
Asleep almost instantly despite the ongoing hurt of drawing breath, Einar lay sprawled out in the fir-shade with his spear across his chest and knife within easy reach. Liz, resting only a few feet from him and herself slipping towards sleep as she watched him breathe, found herself reluctant to let go and sleep, also, lest he grow too cold there in the shadows. Which was silly, she told herself knowing she needed the rest nearly as much as he did and finally tiring of keeping watch over someone who very adamantly didn't want to be watched, in the first place, she gave up on the endeavor. He'd eaten; he would be fine, would be awakened by his own shivering before he had time to get into any serious danger, and hopefully at that point she would wake, also, on the chance that he opted not to do anything about it, as some form of test or trial of the sort in which he always seemed to be deliberately engaging. As if life itself--especially the difficult one they were carving out of the ground there in that high, desolate basin--wasn't a great enough trial, most times. She shook her head--I know it’s a mistake to pretend I understand all that’s going on in that head of yours but sometimes I really would like to…it might make things a bit easier for both of us--rolled onto her other side in the hopes of convincing Einar's rather lively child to settle down and stop kicking her so hard in the ribs, and finally allowed sleep to come.
Breeze crisp and chill through the timber, Einar did indeed wake shivering long before he'd got all the rest his body wanted, curling up at first in a half-conscious attempt to conserve warmth but after a time stretching out again in the chill shade and letting the increasingly strong wind flow over him--got no business wasting an opportunity like this--a bit disgruntled at himself for giving up, somewhere along the way, on the daily cold training he'd been intending to do up at the spring. Supposed perhaps his difficulty making it back to the cabin after that first time might have had something to do with his not pressing the issue since, that, and Liz's reaction to his having been gone for so long... Still, he believed the training to be the correct course of action for him just then, helping him keep both mind and body in line and...right. Keeping your body in line, is it? And how is that possible when you can't hardly even breathe half the time? Need to focus on the ribs right now, on getting them to heal to where they won't be a constant threat and aggravation to you with every move you make...until then, everything else really ought to be given second priority, don't you think? Which he did, to a certain extent at least, but doubted the thinking would be enough to keep him from hearing the call of that spring, and going, just as soon as he was able. After the elk. Got too much to do, until that's been taken care of. Just don’t have the time to spare. Will have to take advantage of little opportunities like this one, if I want to work on my training.
With which he rolled over--away from the patches of sunlight that were beginning to angle their way in beneath his shadowy resting spot, falling in golden serenity across Liz’s slumbering form and highlighting the wisps of hair that had worked their way out of her braid, turning them to a wreath of shimmering brown-gold around her face--and tried his best to go back to sleep. If he couldn’t spend his hour in the spring that day, at least he could nap in the shade, take advantage of the cool ground and the increasing strength of the wind. Wasn’t working, not with the wind whispering so icily through his single layer of clothing and each shiver feeling as though it must be tearing something in his side, which, he told himself, it probably was, the entire exercise seeming suddenly a ridiculous waste of the energy he knew he ought to be directing wholly towards healing. Ought to crawl out there in the sun and get some real sleep, as it would be a lot more productive than continuing to freeze yourself. And he was about to do it, too--longed for the deep, restful sleep that he knew would come out there in the sun--but didn’t get very far.
A lie, something told him, you know that’s all a lie, an excuse, just your weakness speaking, here, trying to talk you out of doing what you know you need to do, get you to take the easy path, and you’ve got to resist it, got to, or you’re not gonna make it, none of you are…you give in on one little thing, just the smallest thing, and it all falls apart, it’s all over…and he crossed his arms over the back of his head, pressed himself into the ground until he could hardly breathe, wishing desperately that he might find a way to shut out both of those voices for a while, wanting only to be left alone, and to sleep. Which--the argument starting up all over again, round and round in circles, he couldn’t get it to stop, no matter how he tried--he knew was not the best plan just then, not as cold as he had already become.
Liz found him when she woke later, curled around the trunk of a fir as if he’d been bound and determined to make certain he didn’t move from that spot in his sleep--which he hadn’t--trembling with cold and clearly in a good bit of pain, though somehow managing to sleep through it. Shaking her head she set aside the knife and spear which were still within easy reach there beside him, worked to free his claw-handed, locked-armed grip on the tree, meaning to roll him out into the sun where he could begin warming. Einar woke halfway through the process, freed himself from Liz’s insistent grasp and sat up, a fierce grin gradually replacing the pained grimace that had appeared fixed on his face, the realization that he had once again held out against great temptation more than compensating for the tearing, searing hurt in his side, for the fact that he found himself very nearly too cold and stiff to move. He had, once again, contended with his greatest foe on a most basic level, and had won. An interpretation of events to which Liz would have taken great exception, had he bothered to spell it out it to her.
“You get…any sleep?” He inquired, nodding in the direction of her sunny little clearing.
“Oh yes, I sure did. That was just what little Snorri and I needed, once he settled down and allowed both of us to rest. He sure is active lately! How about you? How was your…nap, if I even need to ask?”
“Good. It was real good. Just what I needed, too. Just the thing.”
Which for reasons Einar could not begin to fathom left Liz near tears and turning away to prevent his seeing it, hastily busying herself with neatening up the stack of willow and cherry chunks beside the smoking tent.