Einar wanted to go run the trapline, knew it had been neglected for a day or two while he’d been gone but it seemed every time he tried to take a step he ended up renewing his acquaintance with the floor rather suddenly, legs buckling and the cabin spinning around him. He kept it up though, confident at first that things would improve and then in the end simply desperate to prove to himself that he was still capable of useful movement, until finally Liz lowered herself to the floor beside him after one of the falls, taking him by the shoulders and preventing him from rising.
“Einar, please. Stop it. There’s nothing wrong with resting. Let yourself rest. Everything’s under control here, we’ve got plenty of firewood and breakfast is almost ready, so how about you just take it easy for a little while, and then we’ll have some stew together? Do you smell it? Mountain goat and avalanche lily with some serviceberries thrown in, going to be pretty good, I think!”
He nodded, had to agree that the soup smelled awfully good but he wasn’t ready for breakfast, certainly wasn’t interested in resting anymore after having lain there all night already but he was so terribly dizzy, and the cabin so small and filled with their bounty of winter preparations that he hardly dared attempt standing again, lest he risk running into Liz and taking her--and the baby, too--down with him on his next fall. Mustn’t do that, and he didn’t but crawling was safe so he crawled over to the door, eased it open and used the log-ends on the cabin corner to haul himself upright once more. The morning was cold and crisp, his breath rising in great clouds about his head and skies that had been clear on his return home that previous afternoon now stretched grey and gauzy with streamers of cloud, early heralds of what appeared to be a major weather front making its way into the high country. The way things were looking--and smelling; he could smell snow--Einar expected they’d be seeing snowfall before noon. Safe out there, no chance of upsetting Liz’s balance with his own clumsiness and after a few steadying breaths he launched himself off the cabin wall and managed to make it to the woodshed before collapsing again, frustrated but--still determined to run the trapline, one way or another--somewhat glad at the progress.
Liz was not glad, left him there for several minutes to shiver in the morning chill in the hopes that he’d come to his senses before heading out after him with the rabbit stick, repeating her invitation to breakfast and muttering under her breath about how it was just about time to use the weapon until finally he relented, struggling to suppress a laugh, followed her back inside and ate. Or tried to. Seemed to be choking on the larger pieces of meat, or nearly so, having difficulty getting them down until finally he gave up and stuck to the broth, not wanting to alarm Liz. Which didn’t really work, as she saw that he was leaving large portions of the meal behind and not understanding why, thinking he was simply being stubborn for some reason of his own that she was not quite able to comprehend. Didn’t want to argue about it, though; at least he was getting something, and she knew that as dehydrated as he’d appeared on returning the day before, the broth would be doing him a lot of good, and she set her thoroughly emptied pot back on the stove to begin simmering a second batch.
Dizziness settled somewhat by the good, mineral-rich broth, Einar was on his feet again, finding it a bit easier to balance than before. “Looks like a storm blowing in out there. I’d like to go run the trapline real quick before it gets here.”
Liz made no objection--not aloud, at least; her eyes might have told a different story, had Einar looked--simply nodding as she stirred bits of bearfat into the heating water on the stove, very deliberately breaking up and adding bones from their supper of rabbit so that all the goodness could be simmered out of them, working for a time before she spoke. “Want any company?”
“Not necessary. I’ll be quick about it. You might as well stick around here and work on those boots, because we’re gonna be needing them pretty soon, and I can see that you got a good start on a pair while I was away!”
Another nod from Liz as she remained intent on her work, back to Einar as he struggled into his boots and took his pack down from its peg on the wall, unsteady on his feet but managing somehow to hold his own, tossing in a container of water, some bits of jerky and the coils of cordage he would need should he find himself having to repair a damaged snare or two. Without another word to Liz--seemed she was unusually quiet that day, and he supposed with the baby’s time drawing nearer, her energy might not be quite what she was used to expecting; all the more reason for her to stick close to the cabin when possible--he slipped out the door, heading up the trail to the spring, and the start of the trapline. And pretty promptly landing face-first on a rough, re-frozen patch of snow, legs refusing to carry him. No matter. He’d brought the spear, used it to leverage himself up again and get to his feet, make another try. Which, rather to his dismay, went no better than the first but he kept at it--rise, forward by a foot or two, fall, try to crawl but that wasn’t working much better than the walking…on and on--battering himself rather mercilessly against the hard, snowy ground until at last his strength was entirely spent and he could do little more than lie there face down on the ground, waiting for a bit of the weakness to leave his legs, hoping it would, hoping things might get better.
From inside Liz had been watching, had seen the entire thing and had not been the least bit surprised as she saw him fall again and again until finally he stopped moving and lay there immobile, clearly exhausted and, she had no doubt, growing badly chilled there on the frozen ground. She couldn’t imagine what he’d been thinking, heading out on the trapline like that when he was clearly struggling so hard even to remain standing for seconds at a time, but his decision had not particularly surprised her, and though she’d wanted to try and dissuade him, it had seemed the far more effective strategy would involve simply letting him go without argument, running up against his own limits and hopefully learning a lesson whose effects would be far more lasting--and come with far less resentment towards her on his part--than anything she might have done to prevent his going. Which had all sounded very logical to her at the time, but made the waiting no easier as she watched him struggle there on the ice, straining, trying but failing to rise and she wanted so badly to go to him, throat tight and aching at the thought of leaving him like that but she knew that she must, shook her head, blinked away the tears and returned to her work. From time to time Liz would pause in her sewing, stick her head out of the door and give Einar a quick glance, checking with binoculars to make sure he was still breathing before once more attending to her mukluk assembly, stoking the fire and stirring the big pot of broth that simmered slowly on the stovetop, awaiting his return.
More than two hours had passed in slow succession by the time Einar, silent, grim and starting to go quite purple with cold, crept back into the cabin on hands and knees and curled up in the corner farthest from the stove, wedging himself in behind the water barrel and tucking numbed hands beneath his arms as slowly he began to thaw a bit, aching and stinging all over with returning circulation, finally, slowly, beginning to shiver himself warm again as the first snowflakes curled their way down outside. For some time Liz left him to his own devices--he would know that she’d seen him out there, know that she had deliberately avoided interfering, or helping, or however a person wanted to look at it, and why--working quietly on the first pair of mukluks and tending the fire but at last when she could no longer stand the sound of his rattling teeth and shivering breaths--was taking him a terribly long time to begin warming way back there in the dampest, chilliest corner of the cabin, and she knew he needed more of that broth and probably some dry clothes--she went to him. Einar jumped when she touched his shoulder, looked up at her with bright, hollow, sorrowful eyes and reluctantly allowed her to help him over nearer the stove, voice sounding cavernous and immensely weary when he spoke. “I can’t do it. Not today. Legs don’t work, and when I try to crawl…I’m sorry.”
She didn’t answer, had no words for him, just held him close and sought to rub some warmth back into his hands, offered him a pot of broth.