Supper having been enjoyed and Muninn fed--though not, as Liz had insisted, from Einar’s portion of the stew--they relaxed in front of the stove, sharing a pot of Liz’s raspberry leaf-nettle tea and watching the raven work to get at the last little bits of meat that clung to the bottom of the stewpot. Liz hadn’t been sure that she wanted him to have the pot but Einar had protested, claiming the bird’s efforts would save her work when it came to doing the washing up. Difficult to argue with that, and besides, it was fascinating to watch the raven coordinate feet and wings and beak in his effort to keep the pot from skittering off across the floor as he diligently picked it clean of every remaining fragment of edible material. Einar admired his thoroughness.
“A true scavenger, that critter. Guess we could all learn something from him and the way he doesn’t leave a single scrap behind.”
“Oh, I think you’ve probably got him beat! I’ve seen how clean your dishes come out when you’re not intentionally saving something--so clean I can hardly tell they were even used, and I remember times when we’ve not only picked every bit of meat off the bones of whatever we were eating, but cracked the bones open for the marrow, boiled them three times to make broth and then charred and ground the remains to add minerals to our next day’s stew! It would be a pretty close competition between the two of you if we were to try and determine who’s the better scavenger!”
“Why, thank you very much. Better scavenger than a raven. I’ll take that as a compliment. Now, how about I wash up the pot tonight, since it was my idea to let Muninn do the preliminary scrubbing, here. Could tell you weren’t real keen on that.”
“Guess I don’t much mind, especially since we’ve got a way to heat water again today and really scrub things. I just didn’t care too much at first for the thought of a scavenger being out doing his scavenging all day and then coming back and eating out of our cook pot, but it’s not such a big deal.”
“Hey, I'm a scavenger, as we just determined, and you let me eat out of the pot…”
Liz swatted playfully at him with the rabbitstick--never does let that thing get too far from her side, does she?--and handed him the pot, which Muninn had by then abandoned, accepting his offer to do the dishes. Eyes sparkling as she watched Einar go about his work while all the time muttering something under his breath about how we scavenger sorts never do get any respect, do we Muninn, despite all our hard work, Liz was glad to see that he’d got his sense of humor back; it had been a few days, according to her recollection, since he’d had the energy to laugh at anything, let alone the wherewithal to differentiate between the humorous and the deathly grim--he does tend to get those two mixed up quite a bit even at the best of times, though--and she took it as a sign of improvement. Good. It’s about time. Now if only he’ll allow things to keep heading in the right direction… To which end Liz, having finished her tea while Einar took care of the supper dishes--two coal-burned cottonwood spoons and the single pot; housekeeping is fairly simple when one’s possessions are few--checked the bearfat she’d left to soften in its warm, gently indented rock on the stove, finding it to have gone liquid and quite orange with the dissolving resin of the cottonwood buds she’d crushed into it. Already the mixture was beginning to fill the cabin with a pungent sweetness that reminded Liz of warm spring afternoons spent by the river, and she tested a bit of it with a finger--hot!--removing the rock from the stove to allow the salve a bit of cooling. The mixture would, she knew from past experience, go a long way towards easing the discomfort of Einar’s almost-frozen feet, possibly even allowing him to avoid some of the chapping and blistering that might otherwise have occurred, even though his injuries fell slightly short of frostbite. This time. Better make some of this stuff up ahead, keep it ready through the winter should either of us have need of it, as I’m pretty certain we will from time to time, even if we are careful and remember to always wear our boots outside…
Finished with the supper cleanup Einar had moved on to the next thing, crouching somewhat painfully beside the tunnel door and contemplating the construction of the hinges that would hold it in place and prevent their having to lift and move it out of the way each time they wished to enter or exit. A needful project, but Liz hoped he could be talked into just a few more minutes’ stillness and warmth before returning to work, give that supper a chance, perhaps, to do him some good before he burned it all off. “Come sit down for a minute Einar, and let me take care of your feet. It won’t take long.”
“Oh, feet are fine now. No need. Got to take care of these hinges, and then I thought we could melt down some of that bees’ wax and make a few candles, since our supply’s getting pretty low. May be times when we can’t have a fire in the stove, but could have candles…could have bearfat lamps, too, but the candles put off less heat and would be a better option if we’re worried about heat signature…and I know you’d probably like the light and the bit of warmth they’d provide, in that case. Pretty dismal sitting in the dark cabin for days on end.”
“Yes, it sure can be! And we’re down to our last little stubs on the candles we’ve got now, so it really is time. Tell you what. You come let me tend to your feet, and then I’ll help melt wax for the candles. Good deal?”
“Deal. Soon as I’m done with the hinges.”
Cutting three thick, sturdy strips of elk hide from pieces found in Liz’s basket of scraps, Einar wrapped each around a heavy willow rod near the side of the woven willow door, using one of his quartz-tipped awls to bore neat little holes in corresponding locations on the logs of the cabin walls and carving sturdy pegs from a spruce branch out of the firewood pile. Enlisting Liz’s aid to hold the door in place while he pounded the pegs he eased his grip on the door, letting it hang from the hinges, happy when it ended up at least somewhat level, swinging easily open when he tested it. All the door now lacked was some from of latch, a problem which Einar solved temporarily with an elk hide loop that slid over a sawed-off stump of a branch on the wall, to be replaced with a more secure sliding bar at the first opportunity. True to his word to Liz, Einar took a brief respite as soon as the door was finished, reluctantly allowing her to treat his cold-damaged feet with warm, newly-made balm of Gilead salve and give him a good dry pair of socks, which went on only with the greatest difficulty due to the continued swelling of his lower legs and feet. Liz, hating to hurt him but knowing he needed his feet covered and warm if there was to be hope of preventing further damage and even frostbite--the floor, low as outside temperatures had dipped in recent days, was definitely cold enough to be conducive to frostbite even with a fire going, especially considering the circulation difficulties that continued to plague Einar--wished she had previously thought to construct a pair of large, loose foot coverings of ermine or rabbit fur, which could serve as house-shoes for Einar and, should the need arise, for herself. Another project to add to the list.
Candle-making time, then, Einar retrieving several of the slabs of cleaned, melted and re-solidified bees’ wax that they had so carefully packed away in layers of spruce duff for future use and handing one to Liz, beginning to turn his into a series of chips and shavings as he carved it up over one of the cooking pots. Once they’d each dealt thus with their slab of wax, the pot was set on the edge of the stove to begin heating, wax beginning to soften and melt. Einar, suddenly finding himself inexplicably weary and fighting to remain awake, watched in dazed fascination as the wax shavings changed shape, melted, oozed, eyes drifting closed and the next thing he knew he’d pitched forward and would have struck his forehead on the stove had not Liz caught him.
“Whoa, you alright? Read for bed?”
“Bed? Oh no, no, just…” he yawned, scrubbed both hands over his face and ducked into the tunnel, creeping out through the darkness until he felt snow under his hands, sinking his face into a drift of it, tossing more snow over the back of his neck and holding his breath until the burning became intense and then began fading into numbness. Ok. Wide awake, now! Back through the tunnel, teeth chattering as he returned to the warmth of the fire and peeked into the pot of melting wax. Nearly ready. Liz had, in his absence, laid out the nettle cordage which they would be using for wicks, was contemplating what lengths the wicks ought to be.
“Simplest,” Einar replied to her question before she could ask him, “would be just to double those over and make pairs of dipped candles. Short, stubby ones because our pot isn’t all that deep, and even at that we’ll have to tilt it to get the wax deep enough to dip without melting a whole bunch more of it, but I was thinking next time maybe we could make molds of sorts, and do some really short, wide candles that would burn longer.”
“How would we do the molds? Carve them from wood? Burn them from wood with coals, maybe?”
“Could work, but even easier would be just to use dirt. Kind of like a sand mold, only we don’t have any sand up here really...but we could get a similar effect with dirt, I think. Have to give it a try. But not this time. Ground’s frozen solid and we don’t have time to go digging up a section of the floor just to make molds, because the wax is already melted! So. I’ll tilt, you dip, then after you do a set, we can switch places. How does that sound?”