As yet another day slipped away towards evening, shadows swallowing the cabin and the alpenglow fading to a sublime shade of peach-purple on the nearby peaks, Liz could not help but think that their existence over the past several days had been a rather pleasant one in many ways--hard work shared together, plenty to eat at mealtimes, the baby active, healthy and noticeably flourishing within her, a good warm secure cabin growing ever more full of stored food for the winter and providing them shelter after their long days of labor….there was little more she could ask of life, really, and she found herself feeling tremendously blessed, complete, except--she watched Einar as he emerged from the cabin, limping out into the clearing and bracing himself against a boulder as he, too, watched the last light fade from the high and wild landscape of peaks and ridges that surrounded them--for the fact that Einar still seemed so lost a good bit of the time, sometimes taking actions that left her unsure whether or not he really wanted to go on living, and she couldn’t help him, because he simply wouldn’t let her get close enough. Wouldn’t even allow her to give him willow tea for the obvious hurt of his ribs, as if he wanted to hurt, believed he needed to do it, and though she had an inkling of what might be behind it all, she wished very much for a greater understanding. Figured, if nothing else, that it might help save him from a number of good whacks in the head with her war club, because she was getting awfully close to resorting to such measures lately, and might still do it if he didn’t shape up in a hurry…
Liz smiled, shook her head and was about to join Einar beside his watching-rock, but paused, looking up just in time to watch Muninn the raven sweep down over the spruce tops and land heavily on his shoulder; it appeared the impact would have knocked him off his feet, had he not been ready for it. The great bird croaked its greeting, picked a bit at Einar’s hair and accepted the little fragment of sheep jerky he pulled out of his pocket for it, sitting, eating and letting out a series of strange, harsh sounds that could from a distance have almost been mistaken for speech before flying off to its perch in the dead fir. It seemed the raven was there to stay.
“Do you think he’ll follow us when we go after elk? Or will he wait here in the evenings for us to come back?”
Einar squinted up at the bird, which appeared to have settled in for the night. “Figure he’ll follow us. Might not if we left while he was away wherever he goes during the days, but if we leave early in the morning, figure he’ll follow. And might come looking, find us even if we do leave while he’s away. They’re pretty sharp critters, these birds.”
“He certainly seems to have taken a liking to you. Doesn’t seem so sure about me, yet.”
“Well maybe he’s seen you in action with that rabbit stick! Sometimes I’m not so sure of you myself, when you’ve got that thing in your hand!”
“You heard me thinking about it, didn’t you?”
“Never mind! Let’s just say you had a near miss with the rabbit stick not too long ago, a very near miss…”
“Guess I’d better watch my back. Back of my head, anyway. What’d I do to earn such consideration? Moving too slowly on the fat rendering, was I? Guess a good whack with that stick now and then might help remind me to pick up the pace, but only if you can keep it just short of scrambling my brain… I need that thing, what’s left of it.”
And I need you! Need you to stick around for me and for this baby and sometimes I get the impression you couldn’t care less whether or not you do that. Einar! How can you not see the irony here! You talk about duty and honor and all that but when it comes to us--your family--I just don’t think you get it. Will you ever get it? Most of these recent injuries you’ve had, the ribs, the ongoing problems with your foot…the frostbite that started all the trouble with the foot, for that matter…have been largely of your own making. Could have been avoided, and should have been, and you probably wouldn’t even know what I was getting at if I told you all of this, would you?
She was angry, wanted to shout, to tell him all of it and pound it into him until he heard her, gave her an answer, but instead she just nodded, allowed that yes, he surely needed what was left of his brain and assured him that she would make her best effort not to scramble it the next time she found it necessary to “apply my rabbit stick to that bullheaded, addlebrained, three inch thick skull of yours. Yes, I’ll be sure and take every bit as much care as you do, in that case! ”
Which level of vitriol baffled Einar a bit as it seemed rather unlike her, but he guessed it must be due at least in part to the natural difficulties and challenges of the advancing pregnancy. Couldn’t be easy to have to carry that extra weight around all the time, getting kicked in the ribs and having one’s lungs restricted and internal organs crowded out of place by an active and growing young Asmundson like that, and he figured he’d better try and do a bit more of her portion of the work whenever possible, even though she’d never complained or asked for such assistance. He didn’t suppose she would; it wouldn’t be like her, which was one of the things he most respected and admired about her. Yes, that must be it. Would explain why she seemed a bit short with him lately, and he resolved to try very hard and do better. He had, after all, left her to handle the slicing and drying of the bear meat nearly single-handedly while he dealt with the injured ribs and moped around the cabin rendering fat…had wanted very much to do more, but she’d kept urging him to stay inside and take it easy, and I can’t do both, now can I? Well, this is difficult one to figure out, but I’ll just have to try and find a way to make it all work.
When he joined Liz in the cabin--she’d left rather abruptly after the comment about caving his skull in with the rabbit stick, and he had thought it wisest not to follow, at the moment--she was quiet, focused on preparing what appeared to be a pack to take elk hunting, and he left her to her work, using the time to assemble a small bag of his own, checking the condition of his atlatl darts and her arrows, and making repairs where necessary. Soon would come the time when he could again start the smoking fire and begin his vigil out in the clearing--had considered, the skies being very quiet that day, starting the smoking sometime in the afternoon, but had decided against it; too much risk of creating a smoke haze that might be easily spotted by any passing plane or nearby hunter, and they could not afford to draw the interest of either--and he worked quickly to finish the hunting preparations, knowing that it would be too dark out by the smoking tent to do much of the finely detailed work necessary to maintaining their weapons. Finally breaking her silence, Liz held out to him a lump of the travel food she had been mixing and packaging into sections of cleaned and dried bear intestine, each tied at the end with a bit of sheep sinew. The stuff was a mixture of melted fat, pounded, powdered sheep jerky and dried serviceberries, a variant of pemmican to which she had added her own touches by including the dried, powdered leaves of nettles, and a bit of honey for sweetness. Einar tried it and, much to Liz’s delight--she was delighted enough, actually, to forgive him for the moment for his earlier obtuseness, though she knew the time would still come when they’d have to talk about it, and considering his general reluctance to address any such thing, she would have to bring it up, as usual--broke off a second taste and ate that, also.
“Never had anything quite like this. You’re getting real creative with the pemmican. Meal in a bar.”
“That was the idea. Glad it works! Thought if I could get everything we’d need into one little packet like this, it would save us time out there while we’re hunting. No need to stop and harvest nettles or violets to throw into the stew, because the packet already contains all that. All we’ve got to do is toss one of the packets into a pot of boiling water for instant stew, or eat it just like this if we’re not having a fire. Here, come on and join me. I plan to test it out for supper tonight, before it gets dark and you have to start the smoking.”