Through that week the two of them had hardly said five words to one another, Einar leaving before sunup most mornings--the trip was taking him more than twice what it ought to have taken, time-wise, and though frustrated at his slowness, he took solace in the fact that he was, at least, getting the job done, was bringing home a good number of small critters and would hopefully manage to increase his strength and speed as time went on--and returning in the evenings so worn out that he couldn’t have counted on getting a coherent sentence strung together to save his life. That evening was little different on his part, but the coming storm was different, seemed to lend Einar a bit of its energy and leave him feeling antsy as all wild creatures tended to feel on the eve of such significant weather shifts, Liz seeing the change and taking advantage of his extra liveliness to make sure he stayed awake long enough to get a good supper in him before bed. Having herself sensed the change in the weather--cold really clamping down towards the end of the afternoon, and the cold made her hungry--she had put together a batch of lily and spring beauty starch bread, a rare delicacy for them those days, as they were trying to stretch their supply of the roots and most often used a few here and there in soup, but the bread had sounded right to her that day, and she wanted to make sure Einar got his share of the treat.
Sitting in his usual spot not too far from the stove, but not too near it, either--seemed that even coming in half frozen from his daily treks through the snow, he couldn’t quite bring himself to accept the warm seat where Liz usually attempted to direct him; too big a concession, somehow, and besides, far gone as he was on occasion by the time he finally dragged himself back through that tunnel in the evening, he really did need to warm more slowly if he wanted to avoid trouble--Einar fought his usual battle with early sleep, watching as Liz skinned, cleaned and hung the rabbit which had been the sole produce of that day’s snare check and perking up a bit when he saw her turn over the flat cakes of bread, one surface already having begun to brown. He’d picked up on the scent of the baking bread on his trip through the tunnel but had managed somehow to forget it by the time he’d got his boots off and feet mostly thawed, so the sight came almost as a new discovery to him, and he was on his feet, swaying a bit but steadying himself with palms braced against the ceiling, inhaling the good living odor of that baking bread and suddenly feeling terribly hungry, afraid, in the half-rational way of a tremendously weary and half starved wild creature, that Liz might mean the food for another time, might not be intending to give him any after all, and the thought was somehow terrifying. Didn’t want her to know that, though, as he found himself rather embarrassed to be frightened over such a small thing. Didn’t make too much sense, anyway, those concerns, and he caught himself just as he was about to ask if he might be allowed a tiny taste of the stuff, even if it had been prepared for another time. Wouldn’t have been the right question, and she would have just looked at him strangely. He shook his head and blinked hard in an attempt to keep his balance as a wave of dizziness hit him, took another long look at that baking bread.
“You made us a special dinner?”
“Yes, and you’re awake to eat it! I’m so glad. I’ve missed you in the evenings.”
“Yeah. Been here, but…trapper’s brain, or something. Get to the end of the day, and I just…” Head sagging, body sinking back to the floor, eyes almost closed, an apologetic grin spreading across his face as he spread hands that remained varying shades of red, white and purple after his long day in the snow.
“Trapper’s brain? Well now I’ve got to say I’ve never heard that one before, and I don’t know…but these trips are taking pretty nearly everything you’ve got, day to day, aren’t they? Maybe time to take it easy for a day or two, especially if it’s about to snow again.”
“Storm’s coming, yep. Been watching the clouds move in all day and now the wind’s really picked up. Cold out there. Gonna be another big one most likely, and if so, I’ll probably skip a day or two out there. Help you around the place. If you need the help. Looks like you’ve…really done a lot around here. Not so much cold air coming in as there was before. Plugged all the cracks.”
“Oh, I’ve been working on it. Still have some more to do, but I figured the fire would be a lot more efficient if we didn’t always have those icy drafts coming in off the walls, and so far it really seems to be helping. Of course, maybe you liked the icy drafts, and will miss them…”
“Ha! Yeah, but if I miss them, I can always just go sit out in the snow for a while. The insulation is good. Makes the place better for the baby.”
“I think he’s coming soon, Einar.”
“Soon? I thought things had settled down some since you quit the trapline…”
“Yes, but I just feel…different somehow. Like the baby’s moved down lower. I can eat more again at one time where I was having to stick to pretty small meals before, and things don’t feel quite so crowded in there even though I know he’s growing. I just think the time is getting pretty close.”
He put his hands on her stomach--cold, so cold that they made the baby kick and squirm and almost caused Liz to push him away, but she refrained; what better way to get them thawed out, after all? And they needed to thaw before supper was ready, or he wouldn’t very well be able to hold his food--suddenly appearing a good bit more wide awake. “Still early, but only by a couple of weeks now, I’d say. Baby can drop a couple of weeks before the birth, sometimes even more, so we’ll see. I’ll try and quit being gone all day like I have been these last few, though. Do the whole thing a little quicker so I’m never too far from the place, at least time-wise. And if you want, I could leave Muninn with you, closed up in the cabin here so you can send him out after me if anything happens and you need me to be coming back right away. He’d come find me, I have no doubt.”
“Oh, I don’t doubt that either. Seems he’s better than a dog or anything else at finding you--hmm…good thing the feds don’t have search ravens! Isn’t that a horrible thought?--but I’d really rather he keep going with you, like he has been. So he can come get me, if anything happens while you’re out there. Labor takes a long time for most women, especially with the first, so you just make sure you don’t end up spending the night out there between now and baby time, and everything ought to be just fine.”
“Aw, you’re just wanting to make sure I don’t fall asleep out there in the snow…”
“Doggone right I am! Don’t you even think of it. That, and I really would like to have you here for the birth…”
“I’ll be here.”
Supper shared and Einar dozing once more by the fire--he hadn’t wanted to go to bed just yet, insisting that he intended to stay up and see how the storm progressed, but he couldn’t keep his eyes open, Liz sneaking up behind him as soon as he appeared thoroughly unaware and draping him with the rabbitskin blanket--Liz returned to her baby preparations, leaving through the tunnel and braving a fiercely whipping wind to search in the snow out behind the cabin for a bundle of willow wands she was sure they had left over from their various projects, finding them, beating from them as much accumulated snow and ice as she could and hauling them into the warmth of the cabin, where she thawed them near the stove until they became once more pliable enough to work without splitting. Einar, chin on his knees and arms wrapped around them as his body struggled to get warm, smiled in his sleep at the wild, sweet willow-scent that filled the cabin as the bundle thawed, sinking a bit lower, out for the night, by all appearances, and Liz wished he might have made it to the bed before abandoning himself to sleep.
Willows thawed sufficiently to work, Liz began weaving them into the beginnings of a large, oblong basket with a flat bottom--a bed for the baby. She didn’t have enough willows to finish the project, not nearly, and had no intention of venturing out into the stormy darkness in search of them but knew they would be easily obtainable the next day, and worked away happily until she’d used up all those at her disposal, crating the basket’s base and starting on the sides before finally running out. Because Einar had not yet claimed the beautiful wooly white hide of the mountain goat they’d shot for the vest she hoped he’d one day make of it, she decided it ought to serve as a good and tremendously warm mattress on which to place the little one, once folded and rolled to fit the new willow basket bed. Between the goat wool hat she’d finished the day before, the warm wooly mattress and the woven rabbitskin blanket, she knew the baby would stay safe and warm if there were times when she had to set him down for a while as she went about one task or another, a distinct possibility considering the many demands of their life up in the high country. Bedtime, then, candles blown out, stove banked, wind howling outside and the cabin snug and very nearly draft-free after her long hours of insulation work over that past week. A good place to be.