For several hours Einar and Liz worked side by side on various projects for the winter, Liz cementing the loose, flapping toe end of the sole back onto Einar’s boot with spruce pitch and wrapping the entire toe area with nettle cordage--made by her on the spot, as they were nearly out--before coating it, too, with a heavy layer of melted pitch. The repair was by no means permanent, but, she expected, ought to hold for a good few weeks until Einar got around to making a replacement pair, both for himself and for her. Finishing with the boot she returned it to Einar, who looked up from his parka-sewing and nodded his thanks. He’d made a great deal of progress on the garment while she worked, finishing the stitching on its main body, the part that would cover her shoulders and torso, with its attached baby-carrying hood, and started on the first sleeve. The sleeves were to be of elk skin, its deeper tan contrasting nicely with the whiter finish of the bighorn hide from which he’d cut the main body of the parka, and Liz was surprised to see that Einar had, at some point over the past few weeks when she hadn’t been watching, already lined the interior of the sleeves with soft rabbit furs, neatly sewn together to form a patchwork of varying shades of grayish brown, a beautiful thing to behold and incredibly soft when she ran a hand up the inside of the sleeve.
“It’s almost done! I had no idea you were so close to finishing it!”
“You really think I was just lying in here resting all those time when you were out working? Nah, I’m not much for resting while the sun’s up, that’s for sure…”
“I don’t remember many times at all when I was out working and you were in here, but however and whenever you did it, you sure have made quick work of the parka.”
“Got to have it done a good while before the little one comes, so you’ll have plenty of time to test it out both with and without a weight of some kind in the hood, to get used to how it works and feels and so I can correct any mistakes in it…guess we’ll have to wrap six or seven pounds of bearfat or something in a hide, to use as a ‘test baby’ for you to carry around. So you can practice on it, and not on the little critter when he comes along.”
“‘Practice on the little critter?’ You certainly do have a way of putting things, don’t you?” She was laughing, picturing the dummy baby made of bear fat and sheep hide, perhaps a bit of rabbit fur cemented to its top with spruce pitch to show which end was up and add a bit of realism… “But really, that sounds like a very good idea. It’ll be good to get a feel for how things balance when carrying something of that size in the coat, where I need to tie the sash…yep, good idea!” With which she left Einar to his work, herself making a hasty trip out into the storm to gather up the piles of willow wands she’d set aside in the cool shade--now a rather cold snowdrift--behind the cabin, starting on the snowshoes.
Sometime towards evening, pale light of the snowy day beginning to dim just a bit, Einar finally left the cabin seeking more firewood, as the supply they had stacked along the back wall was seriously diminished after a day of keeping the stove going. Plenty in the woodshed still, but seeing how much they had burnt that day reminded him yet again of the need to be out and working to gather more, even if the woodshed overflowed and he simply ended up stacking it beneath trees where it would remain relatively snow-free for later retrieval. They had, of course, gone through more wood that day than had been strictly necessary and could greatly cut down on the amount in an effort at conservation. Liz had seemed to want the place warm that day and he hadn’t had the heart to deny her wish, especially considering the difficulty of the day--and night; he knew that distant, haunted look in her eyes, wished she might tell him of the dream but could see she was working to forget it--previous. Had supposed the fire, keeping the cabin at a temperature where the average person could comfortably sit around in one layer of clothing and retain the use of his or her fingers while working on the sewing or weaving of winter necessities, would help Liz relax and have a day of rest, which she probably needed to help prevent a return of the swelling that had alarmed them both the day before. And, though he wouldn’t have wanted to admit it aloud, Einar was not especially minding the warmth himself, either, found himself on occasion edging just a bit closer to the fire-warmed rocks of the stove as he sought to drive out the chill that seemed always present in his bones those days, aching, pressing and leaving them to rattle together painfully at the slightest whisper of breeze. While normally he would have demanded more of himself, choosing a seat nearer the wall or the door to ensure that he did not at any point grow too warm or comfortable, he had that day given himself over entirely to the comforts of their good snug home.
Which is why, now that the time had come for more firewood, he went out in only his shirt, leaving the deer and sheep hides folded in their corner inside to act as cloaks later for Liz, should she venture out, seeking in some measure to reject a bit of the softness he’d allowed himself during the day, to give himself something to resist, a bit of a struggle. Bit more of one, anyway, as breathing was itself still rather a constant struggle and a painful one with his ribs barely half healed, but that hardly counted, to his way of viewing things. Didn’t take long before Einar was struggling hard, alright, wind piercing painfully through his single layer of badly worn cloth and nearly taking his breath for a moment. Very deliberately he left the semi-shelter of the woodshed, then, and stood out in the clearing where the wind, though still broken significantly by the surrounding trees, could sweep over him with something more nearly resembling its full force. Couldn’t stand. Felt at first as though he couldn’t stand against that force, the sheer heaviness of the wind against him and the killing cold with which it seemed to be sapping the life right out of his body at a rate which could be measured in minutes, but he did stand, must stand, stood for so long, in fact, that he nearly ceased to feel the sensation of cold and was able to look on the beauty of the freshly snow-smoothed world around him with clear eyes and a quiet mind before turning to go back inside, satisfied if half frozen, barely even shivering anymore.
Liz didn’t even ask when he stumbled through the door and clumsily deposited his load of firewood against the back wall--she’d been watching him through the cracked door, wanting to make sure he didn’t get into any serious trouble but knowing at the same time that she must leave him to do what he needed to do out there, a small tradeoff, she figured, for the long day of rest and warmth he’d just spent with her in the cabin--simply helping him out of his wet, snow-crusted clothes and into a good dry sheep hide, hat on his head and back to the fire as he began shivering himself warm again. Which took a very long time, his temperature falling further at first as the blood began flowing again, mixing the warm stuff that had been protected in his core with the thoroughly chilled blood of his extremities, a feeling like icy water running beneath the skin, Einar nearly going to sleep in the process--goodness knows how he can sleep while shaking like that, probably not a good sign at all--and Liz hurrying to heat yet another batch of goat broth on the stove. The smell of it did not stir him, sending him instead drifting deeper into a happy, dreamy state of hypothermic half awareness, mind drifting all contented and weary from Liz to the fire to the smell of that wonderful rich broth, somehow finding the odor of it every bit as satisfying as if he’d actually partaken of the meal, but he hadn’t, and Liz certainly knew the difference, if he didn’t.
“Einar! Alright, you’ve had your fun with the snow and cold, and now it’s time to wake up and have supper with me. Or would you be more likely to eat it if I’d turn this broth into popsicles for you? Goat broth popsicles, with serviceberries for a bit of color…what do you say?”
He didn’t say anything, had to admit to himself that he did not entirely comprehend the question and gave her a big goofy grin by way of answer, stretching still thoroughly chilled limbs and getting a bit awkwardly to his feet in an attempt to show her that he was indeed present despite all appearances and ready to do whatever she was asking of him, which, as it turned out, was simply to eat. Popsicles. She’d said something about popsicles, and though he thought it odd that she’d serve such a thing for supper on such a very cold day and half dreading introducing anything that cold into his system just then, struggling as he still was from his time out in the snow, he certainly couldn’t complain. Liz was definitely a most innovative and industrious sort, and he admired her for that. And was surprised when instead of a popsicle, she pressed a pot of steaming broth into his hands. He thanked her, tried a sip.
“Guess this must be…what happens when you leave popsicles…too near the heat for too long!”
“What? They thaw out, start shaking and saying weird things and stare into their supper like it’s some foreign substance, instead of eating it?”
“Ha! No, didn’t mean…I’m not a…”
“You pretty nearly were, from the looks of you. And might end up being, the next time. But don’t guess there’s much sense in my saying anything about it. Just eat the soup you goofy guy, it’ll help thaw you out.”
“Soup’s…real good. But was wondering when I get to try one of these popsicles?”
“I was joking about the popsicles! That’s just about the last thing you need at the moment, but believe me, if it’ll help you eat more, I’ll be more than happy to make a batch of goat broth popsicles for you ever day this winter!”
“Can I eat them while…sitting out in the snow or soaking in…spring for an hour on a stormy morning?”
“If you’ll let me put a bunch of bear fat and some honey in them, and promise to come back before you freeze your feet…sure you can!”
“Sounds like a deal.”