Einar shook his head, wanted to respond angrily, no, you don’t want to know what I’m thinking, what I’m seeing because no new mother wants to think of her child that way. I don’t want you to see this. Don’t want to share it. Don’t push me. He answered quietly though, voice low and restrained, not wanting her to hear the anger, knowing it wasn’t right to be angry with her, not over this. “Just thinking about how folks always need a second way out. Always got to leave yourself a second way out.”
“Yes, we do need that. I’m pretty sure your mind was somewhere else, though...”
And if it was? He shrugged, wanted to answer, wanted to tell her something, if not exactly to provide her the answer she was looking for, but he couldn’t find the words, couldn’t find any words at all and just stood there silent, shaking his head and staring at the wall, eyes growing distant and strange and hardly seeming to see what was around him--which indeed they weren’t--until Liz, worried, pressed him, repeating her query. Didn’t help, Einar only growing confused and more withdrawn, wishing suddenly and with a strength that very nearly demanded immediate response that he was out there in the storm, out where there was more room to breathe and to move and to...
Muninn--having been more than content to pass the bulk of the stormy day in quiet repose on his perch--stirred restlessly at something in Einar’s demeanor, the way he was moving, flapped down and made a few clumsy hops over to him, taking up such a heavy seat on his shoulder that he nearly went to his knees. Einar managed to hold his position with some difficulty as the raven greeted him with a series of soft chortles, twisting a bit of his hair and picking gently at the bandage which covered the results of the bird’s last attempt to bring him back to the present.
“Yeah, what about it, you old vulture?” His voice was rough, unsteady, but at least, Liz noted with a breath of relief, he was speaking. “What’re you still doing in here, anyway? I’ve hardly seen you stir since this morning, and I didn’t think ravens were a hibernating sort, but I’m really starting to have my doubts. You ought to be out there sitting in a snowy tree watching over the place, don’t you think?”
Rasping his objection--Einar had no doubt it was objection; the bird liked his little comforts, and time spent in the wind-free warmth of the cabin seemed to be one of them--Muninn gave him a hard tap in the side of the head, Einar wincing at the raw hurt of it against the already inflamed wound beneath the bandage, but that hurt, at least, gave him something to focus on, seemed to pull him away just a bit from the abyss into which he’d been heading, and he stroked the bird’s feathers, shielding his head at the same time. Didn’t remember sustaining any such wound, nor bandaging it, but supposed Liz must have been responsible, and wondered just might have transpired during his recent periods of unconsciousness. Well. Didn’t much matter now, because he was awake, and very much intended to stay so. Was also being started at by Liz, who apparently still awaited an answer and he wanted to give it to her, but figured best for both of them would be to move on with their evening so he shrugged, waved a hand towards the wall.
“So, figure I’ll get started in the morning. Even if the storm hasn’t quit by then the insulation berm’ll keep snow from blowing into the place, give me time to get a door worked out and assembled before I dig out the leaves and needles and all and complete the tunnel. Gonna be a little noisy in here while I do the work, since the axe is really the best option for opening up the wall and making a door. Don’t have a saw that’d do the job, not even close. Best we’ve got in the way of saws is that deer scapula we’ve used as a snow saw…”
“I won’t mind the noise. I’ll help you. You’re right about needing a back door, but for tonight we’d better just stick with dinner and then bed, don’t you think? It’s got to be getting pretty late…”
“Dark out there, yeah. Reminds me. We need to be making more candles pretty soon. Got lots of wax but starting to run a little low on prepared candles, and we’ll want to make sure to have plenty set aside so we can have light around the time the baby’s coming. Can burn bear fat also, if we need to. I’ll make us a couple lamps, ought to think about a qulliq too, I guess, like we had at the bear cave because that really gave us some good heat and light and even let us cook without having a fire in the stove, and it’d be good to have the option if a time ever comes when we need to avoid fires for a while as a security measure…”
Nodding, agreeing--good ideas, all of them, but she wished he’d stop talking about anything and everything like he was, as it just wasn’t his way and she knew he was doing it largely to escape having to talk and perhaps even to think about whatever shadow had come over him in his ponderings of a back exit for the cabin--Liz turned her attention to the stove, where supper simmered along merrily in its pot and a dessert of honey-sweetened chokecherry pudding approached doneness beside it; ready, time to eat. Much as she wanted to know what had Einar so troubled that evening, perhaps his way was better, in the end. Let it go. Get on with things. Better than ending up all mired down in it, as she supposed he might fear becoming should he let her in on his thoughts, and she shook her head, stirred a bit of additional honey into the pudding. Hoped he’d eat it. He didn’t look much in the mood for eating, but she was prepared to be very insistent should she sense any hesitation. He needed it. Badly. Needed to keep the momentum going, if he expected to see any improvement in the near future. He could never hope to begin putting on the weight he so desperately needed to help keep himself warm that winter, recovering his strength or doing much else other than barely fending off imminent death by starvation with the occasional bowl of soup he was getting, and though she could see it was quite a struggle for him to talk himself into accepting even that much, he was at least doing it, evidence, she hoped, that he had taken to heart their discussions about his role as a father, the need for him to be present to fulfill that duty. Removing the pots from the stove she set them on the flat slab of granite that had been serving as their table, waiting for Einar to join her, which he did just as soon as he’d finished digging out a carefully wrapped packet of bee’s wax and setting it at the foot of the bed as a reminder of the candles he intended to make, somewhere between cutting out a second door, making himself a pair of hastily improvised spruce snowshoes and running the trapline, a lot to pack into one day, but a person has got to make plans, at least.
· · · ·
Down at Susan’s mountainside home and greenhouse complex the storm ended a good half day before it did up in the high country, leaving her to spend the evening busily shoveling the front porch and stairs in anticipation of Bud Kilgore’s arrival for supper after a two day absence attending to his work duties.
Plans for the upcoming wedding were simple, a quick morning ceremony there at Susan’s place, officiated by the local pastor and attended by family and friends--Susan’s, mostly, as Bud had no family and few friends, though the ones he did have were of the lifetime variety and had a few surprises planned for the big day--followed by an all day pot-luck feast before the happy couple made their departure. Plans for the honeymoon were a bit more complex, and as the day approached, Kilgore found himself increasingly occupied with bringing the details together. The work took place simultaneous with his Mountain Task Force duties and of course unbeknownst to his federal employers, who would have looked on them with more than a bit of suspicion had they possessed any idea of how he was using so much of his workday…