Settling in beside Einar there on the bed, Liz helped him with the soup, seeing that he appeared either to have little interest in it, to be having too much trouble with his hands to reliably keep hold of the pot, or perhaps both; she could only guess, as of course he was making no effort to tell her. At least he seemed able to stay awake now when he wanted to, which had to be a good thing. He’d scared her some with his earlier lapse into unconsciousness, and she was determined to get as much stew into him as he was willing to consume, should such circumstances repeat themselves later. Einar ate willingly, liking the mixture Liz had created and knowing from the feeling of warmth that came over him with the eating that he’d been woefully behind, flat out of energy and beginning to struggle at producing a functional level of body heat. Was time for a good supper.
Finishing her own portion of the stew before Einar got done with his, Liz sat and watched him eat, trying not to stare and tossing occasional bits of meat from the bottom of her bowl to Muninn, who waited only somewhat patiently beside the bed. Her resolve was slipping. She’d wanted to challenge Einar, lash out somewhat angrily, perhaps, about his continued refusal, or inability or whatever it was—didn’t really even matter any more at that point, as the eventual results would be the same no matter the cause—to allow himself the basics required to sustain life, had intended to ask him if he could make a commitment to her right then and there to do whatever he had to do in order to reverse the present course of things so he’d stand at least a fighting chance—and it would be a fight, no matter how he went about it—of being there when the baby came, and after, and she’d meant to announce in no uncertain terms her growing belief that if he was not willing to make such a commitment and give it his best effort, she needed to find a way to get down to Susan’s before her time came too much nearer. She’d done a good bit of thinking during his most recent absence, knew she must do whatever was necessary to see that the child had his or her best chance of making it through those first few difficult winter months, and she’d had the talk all planned out, every point of it rehearsed for what she hoped would be its maximum possible effect, but now as she sat watching him scrape the last traces of broth from the sides of the pot with his finger, somewhat desperately seeking out anything he might have left behind and obviously still so hungry that it hurt to watch him, she knew she wouldn’t be making any demands or announcements that evening.
Despite her frustration and what she believed to be quite a legitimate concern for the child’s future and possibly even his life should things continue the way they were, she had chosen of her own free will the life she was currently living, and the man she was living it with, and that with at least a cursory knowledge of the sorts of challenges which would be posed by both. She had no business going anywhere, or attempting to manipulate his behavior by threatening to do so. Besides which, she could see, despite her earlier frustration and anger, that he was doing what he could, was fighting hard, in his own way, to stay alive and with her and even though there were times when she couldn’t for the life of her make any sense of his methods, he’d somehow managed thus far and she needed to trust that he would find a way to go on doing so.
Einar had finished his meal, and was watching her.
“You needed to ask me something...” The quiet resignation in his voice told her he must have had at least some idea of what had been coming.
“Not ask, so much as…well, time seems to be moving right along, and before we know it little Hildegard or Snorri or whoever’s in here should be putting in an appearance, and I just want to make sure we’ve got everything ready…the place ourselves, everything we’ll need…”
“Ourselves? Ha! Wonder if anybody’s really ready, even those who think they are? We’ll figure it out, though. He’s just gonna be a little human critter with needs similar to our own, after all. I think a lot of folks down there in civilization make it out to be a good bit more complicated than it needs to be.”
“Oh, there’s no doubt! All the things people think they have to buy before a baby comes…cribs and strollers and devices of all sorts to contain the poor little person, when all she really needs is to be close to her Mom…I have no doubt a lot of that stuff does more harm than good, in the long run. Not to mention the complication involved if you end up using bottles, all the scrubbing and boiling and fretting over whether everything’s clean enough. No, there’s really not too much we should need, beyond a way to keep him warm and dry if we have to travel, plenty of usnea and rabbit hides for diapers and plenty for me to eat, which we’ve definitely got at the moment. At least we don’t have to worry about feeding him for the first year or so, because as long as I get enough to eat, I’ll always have his food right here with me, all warmed up and ready to go!”
Einar laughed softly. “Yep, that’s a fact. Always kept at the perfect temperature for the little critter…”
“I am a little concerned though…just since I’ve never done this before, this ‘mothering’ business. Some women just don’t have enough milk, even if they do everything right. I know it’s not many, but what if I’m one of them? Or if…not that I expect it, but what if something happens to me? What will you feed him?”
“Nothing’s gonna happen to you. But if it did---or if for some reason you didn’t make enough milk--well, I’d have to make him a substitute out of fresh liver, I guess. Sure don’t have access to milk producing critters up here, or eggs or anything like that, so I’d just have to carry him with me on the trapline every day on my back all wrapped up in that rabbit fur blanket you made him, and get ahold of fresh liver for his food. Simmer the stuff up in some elk or deer broth, mash it up real fine, add a little bear fat and some real well pounded and powdered spruce needles for the vitamin C…and probably some scrapings from inside the stomach of a deer or other critter now and then for the bacteria…and do the best we could. Wouldn’t be anything near as good as having his mama, but just might see him through. Don’t go anywhere though, alright?”
“You’ve been thinking about this…”
“Got to think about everything. It’s a new little life. I owe that to him.”
“Yes. And you owe him…yourself. A father. To have a father who’s here to teach him all the things he’s going to need to make it in this life, how to trap and hunt and climb and fight and have the unfailing, bullheaded stubbornness and persistence that a person has got to have out here, the faith and courage to keep going when there’s really no good logical reason on earth to think it’ll get you anywhere at all and how to just…be a man. I can keep him alive, provide for his needs and teach him some of the skills, but he needs you for all of that."
“He’s got me. Here I am.”
“Well then stick around, why don’t you?”