Willows gathered and the second pair of snowshoes begun, Einar sat in front of the stove lashing and weaving and trying to decide whether he wanted to go ahead and make the entire snowshoe structure, including the webbing, from woven willows, or if he might be better off with rawhide webbing. The rawhide would certainly last longer, but would take longer to assemble, too, perhaps longer than the half day he had left. Better, perhaps, to construct temporary shoes of willow, replacing their webbing later as needed. Even sitting out in the snow the bundle of willow wands had dried some, and as he worked with the larger pieces, Einar set a good quantity of the smaller end-down in the water barrel to soak and re-hydrate.
Liz sat watching him, her earlier joy at the postponement of the trapline run tempered by the knowledge that the struggle they’d just had would be repeating itself, and likely soon--Einar wanting to push himself beyond all reasonable limits in one area or another, and she trying to talk some sense into him--and the prospect saddened her. She didn’t want to struggle against him, and win, she wanted him to understand. To make for himself the decisions that would lead to his having some chance of seeing spring again, rather than simply bending to her will on occasion because he believed doing so would make her happy, which of course in the case of the trapline it had done, but that was beside the point. Though expressing an intellectual understanding of the need to let his body heal and gain strength so he would be there for her and the little one as provider and protector that winter, something in him seemed always to be resisting putting that knowledge into action, interfering with his progress and telling him that not only should he go on pushing himself past the edge of his endurance, physically, but that it was indeed only through doing so that he had any real hope of sticking around to carry out his duty in regards to his new family. Strange way of looking at it, and as Liz contemplated the matter--she’d never quite looked at it that way before, though she realized now he’d tried more than once to tell her something very similar--she wondered if he might be right, might be striving his very hardest, in his own admittedly strange and perhaps not so effective manner, to fulfill his duty in the very areas she had been inwardly accusing him of neglecting. She didn’t know. Some things were simply too difficult to figure out, and she supposed all she could do was to go on making preparations for the baby, trying to keep him on the right path--whichever that was; she had her thoughts, but was beginning to doubt their completeness if not their veracity--and being as patient as she could. Not always an easy thing.
When Einar, feeling her eyes upon him--seemed he could always sense such things--looked up to meet them he saw sorrow there guessed at its cause, though possessing only a dim idea of what might really be troubling her. If skipping the trapline for one day was good, doing so for three or four or more must be even better in her eyes, he supposed, but they really had to get it up and running sooner or later, and surely she couldn’t expect him to sit in the cabin doing nothing all winter, now could she? No, surely not. And the sooner he got out and about again the better, or it seemed his legs would simply go on getting worse, until he’d find it all but impossible to compel them to carry him very far when the need did arise. Couldn’t let that happen, had to be out and regaining a bit of what he’d lost, keeping himself moving so the swelling could begin to go down--he was, despite some past experience with such things, convinced that in this case only movement would help reduce the fluid his body seemed so intent on accumulating--rather than sitting there on the floor becoming all slow and stagnant and likely as not perishing after a few days simply because his body sensed that he’d given up the fight. Couldn’t do that, not even to satisfy Liz, as it would prove in the end quite counter to her own wishes, but didn’t quite know how to explain all of that to her. So he just smiled in response to the question in her eyes, went back to his work. He was, at least, doing as she had asked in regards to trying to eat a bit more, and though it was proving difficult for a number of reasons, he figured it would likely work out in the end. He’d get back into the habit and it surely would, as she kept insisting, improve things for him, and for them both.
Almost seeming to have heard his thoughts--sometimes he wondered about her, and there were occasions on which it left him a bit uneasy--Liz left her work on the new door, where she had been using soaked sinew strips to lash together the log sections they’d cut out of the wall, binding them into a solid square which she intended to hang from elk hide hinges, and began preparations for the afternoon meal. With temperatures having dropped precipitously after the breakup of the storm and the two of them having worked hard to chop out the door and clear most of the tunnel she had worked up quite an appetite, and hoped Einar might have, as well. Seemed a sheep roast, cooked slowly in a covered pot over the stove and seasoned with the dried greens of wild garlic ought to do quite well, especially once she sliced it thinly and placed the slices, along with a bit of boiled down and honey-sweetened chokecherry conserve, on the flat cakes of lily root bread she intended to make to compliment the meal. A fine way to end the day, and something she hoped might prove so tempting to Einar that he would forget whatever lingering doubts he had when it came to enjoying his food and letting it give him the nourishment he so badly needed.
Only problem was that when she looked at Einar, working away with a pale, grim-faced intensity at his snowshoe project, he didn’t look the least bit hungry. Looked to be starving, as indeed she knew he must still be despite several days of eating a bit more normally, but didn’t look hungry, and she could hardly blame him, knowing that she wouldn’t likely feel much up to eating, herself, had she been experiencing the terribly swollen and uncomfortable lower legs and feet that were plaguing him that day, and she wished there might be something she could do to help him. Ah! There is, though. Not a sure solution, but it’s at least worth trying, and she abandoned for the moment her meal preparations and rustled around amongst the bags and pouches hung all dry and secure amongst the rafters, in which she’d stored away her precious supplies of herbs from that summer, both medicinal and culinary. Finding at last the two containers for which she’d been searching she brought them down, checking their contents and finding them to be just as she had remembered. One contained a mass of the springy, feathery leaves of many dried yarrow plants, so useful for stopping dangerous bleeding and also good for the occasional tea, and though it might have been her first choice for Einar--the plant, amongst other things, stimulating the kidneys and helping to expel excess fluids--she knew the likelihood was quite small that he would accept a pot of the tea, even if she could convince him that it would be of some help in relieving his current troubles. His long-standing objection to consuming anything that might alter in some way his perception of the world would almost certainly prevent him from finding it an acceptable remedy, and she almost hated even to ask, fearing he might afterwards refuse the entire supper, suspicious that she might have somehow infused it with the dreaded herb. Which she would not do, but knew there had at times in the past been occasions on which he’d suspected her of such, and hardly wanted to bring them back to mind if there were other options.
Out of the second bag, a neat little drawstring sack made of well-softened sheep hide, she poured a handful of juniper berries, inhaling their spicy and--being rather foreign to the elevation at which they’d spent the last many months--somewhat exotic odor. She’d gathered the berries during their expedition earlier in the year to the valley on the other side of the red ridge, the time they’d run across the early-season elk hunters, had collected and brought back a large handful of the frosted purple berries with the intent of possibly using them to help move her labor along should things slow down too much when the time came. A strong tea of the richly scented fruits might help, she knew, but might also prove dangerous if consumed before the time came, as they could have the effect of stimulating contractions and sending her into early labor. Not a problem Einar needed concern himself with, and she hoped the berries’ strong diuretic action might help rid him of some of the swelling, leave him a bit more ready to enjoy supper, when the time came that evening. Adding a good ten or twelve berries--too weak and the tea would have little effect, too strong and it might well irritate his kidneys, which must already be somewhat strained trying to keep up with his current situation--to a pot of already simmering water she breathed a bit of the strongly aromatic steam that rose from them, liking its spice and thinking that, should they ever find themselves down low enough again to be in the trees’ growing habitat, she ought to collect a good many more of the berries, dry and save them for use as a spice in some of their stews and on roasted meats. They would be safe for her to use again once the baby had come, and would, it seem, taste quite nice as the occasional accompaniment to elk or venison or sheep. Which was neither here nor there at the moment, and tipping the pot sideways so she could get a look at the strength of the tea in the dim and flickering light of the three candles that were currently illuminating the cabin, she tossed in a few more berries for good measure.
His attention captured by the unusual odor of the tea, Einar set aside his work and braced his hands against the ceiling for balance as he hovered over the stove, inhaling steam and looking curiously at Liz.
“Smells like you’re boiling up a juniper tree. What is it?”
“Well, it’s not a juniper tree, but it is juniper berry tea.”
“You really shouldn’t have that, not now. Not safe for the baby.”
“It’s not for me, it’s for you. You’ll probably feel a little weird and maybe have a bit of a fever because it can increase body temperature slightly, but it should also help you get rid of some of that extra fluid. Maybe make it a little easier to walk, so you’ll be more ready for the trapline.”
“Is that so? Never did experiment much with juniper berries, other than to sometimes keep one in my mouth for a little bit of flavor while hiking, and also I’ve boiled up bunches of them to collect the wax from that coating they’ve got, wanting to try and make candles or something from it, only I never did get enough. Yeah, I’ll try it though. Worth a try if it’s got any chance of helping get rid of some of this. Thanks for uh…” He shrugged, not sure how to continue and feeling a bit badly that she’d been using her time thinking of ways to help him when he’d so obviously been making her unhappy with some of his decisions, though he wasn’t even then precisely sure which ones.
“You’re welcome. Now, go ahead and give it a try, because this is going to be one unusual and tasty supper I’ve got going for us, and I want you to be ready to enjoy it!”