Hands warm and the rest of her soon to follow, sitting as she was only inches from the stove, Liz retrieved the willow bundles and leaned them in a warm corner of the cabin to thaw, dragging the partially finished basket over into the growing circle of warmth and adding to its height, fingers working deftly to weave in the fresh willows as they became warm and supple. From his spot beside the bed Einar watched, losing himself in the rhythm of her weaving and wanting somehow to be of assistance, but drifting instead somewhere near sleep, having worn himself out far more thoroughly than he’d realized on their snowy trek. Cold. He was, it seemed, only beginning to warm, if that, wondered a bit absently if he ought to try and get some rocks into the coals to heat so he could later wrap them in a layer of deerhide and press them close to him in an attempt to speed up the warming process just a bit, but the wondering never progressed to action and he went on sitting there, body making a valiant but weakening effort to shiver him warm. Needed fuel. Had stretched himself to the limit of his resources on the ascent back to the cabin, and wasn’t going to get warm until he’d had something to eat; he could feel it. Regarded the knowledge with a certain intellectual detachment--interesting, but not relevant--and went on watching Liz as she worked on the basket.
At least she was leaving him alone for the most part, wasn’t fussing over him as she sometimes did when he found himself having such a hard time and he was glad of the change, but wondered at it, at seeing her so focused on preparing for the baby. Wondered if she knew something that she hadn’t told him, quite yet. In any event, it seemed the time couldn’t be too far out, and as he thought about the upcoming birth, he couldn’t help but recall the first time he’d been present for such an event many years ago when that Montagnard scout had sneaked him past the village shaman and up the mountainside to where his wife was laboring, having lost his first baby the year before and not wanting it to happen again, and it hadn’t, at least not during the birth… Birth had gone smoothly, as had the first year of that little girl’s life--Hyon, they’d called her; he hadn’t thought of that name in years--but then…well, he didn’t want to think about it. Made a conscious effort to turn his thoughts in another direction, fearing that they would somehow poison the upcoming event if ever he allowed them to take root in his mind, didn’t want them to have any part in what was coming. A new birth, a new start, and he looked up at Liz where she sat cross-legged in the candle-glow weaving yet another row into her basket, and he’d never seen a more beautiful sight. Not gonna let anything happen to you two, not while I’m breathing, and that’s my promise…which promise, though he meant it with every fiber of his being, he’d seen enough of the world to know he might have a real challenge in keeping; things were so uncertain, so changeable, everything gone in an instant, more often than not, before anyone had a chance to prevent it… Not gone now, though, they’re right here and you here with them about to see a new little life come into the world, and this has got to be the most beautiful thing the Lord allows us to witness, it really does… The image was blurring though, present images as well as the future ones he’d been contemplating, Liz’s face fading, his eyes drifting shut despite his best efforts and the next thing he knew she had abandoned the basket and was there beside him, hands clasped around one of his and an odd mixture of anger and concern on her face.
“Oh, you’re absolutely freezing, still! You’ve got to tell me these things, Einar. Except that you couldn’t, could you? Not this time. I’m afraid I got so caught up in finishing this bed that I didn’t even think to check whether you might be sitting over here freezing to death…here, come with me to the fire, it would help a lot if you allowed yourself to be nearer the heat, you know…” With which she practically dragged him over in front of the stove and pushed a pot of tea into his hands, beautiful stuff, a lovely, lively shade of steaming green, and he might have gone on staring into it for a very long time indeed, eyes once more drifting closed as he dreamed about the soft and brilliant green of new aspen leaves in the spring, had she not come at him with a big spoonful of honey just then, insisting he eat it and then have some tea.
“Hey, now you wake up! You can sleep later if you want--I hope you will, actually, though you probably won’t, once you get over being so cold--but not until you’ve warmed up and had something to eat. Takes a lot of energy pushing through that deep snow, doesn’t it?”
Einar smiled, shook his head and tried to refuse the honey she was offering him, but she was having none of it, badgered him until finally he gave in and accepted the stuff. Big difference, instant energy and a clearing of the fog of cold and exhaustion that had come over him after his long trek through the snow, and he sat up straighter, sipping the tea and then gulping it, draining the pot.
“Got a little lazy there for a minute, sorry about that. Was just enjoying watching you work on that basket and thinking about the baby…yeah, lots to think about, with the baby coming…but seems I got a little lost there for a while.”
“I’d say you were more than ‘a little lost,’ but you’re fine now, going to be just fine because I’m about to start on some stew so we can both eat before getting on with our day.”
As Liz worked on the stew, Einar sorted through their supply of dried and stored herbs, choosing a large handful of nettles and placing them in the second cooking pot, to which he added a few cups of water, setting it on the stove. Liz had been in the habit for some time of adding some nettles to her morning tea of raspberry leaves, but the mixture he intended to make would be far more concentrated, rich and dark, a good source of both chlorophyll with its high Vitamin K content, and iron. Wanting to have it made up well ahead of time not only so it would be on hand to help her recover after any blood loss that might occur with the birth but so she could be drinking good amounts beforehand to strengthen her clotting factors and reduce the chances that she’d suffer serious bleeding, he gently heated the pot full of dried nettles, keeping it just below a simmer in an attempt to release the greatest possible amount of chlorophyll from the leaves without overheating and causing it to degrade. As soon as the water had turned a bright, vibrant green he moved the pot even further from the hottest area of the stove, wanting to further reduce and concentrate the liquid without getting it too much hotter. Liz, having thought he was making tea and finding the idea rather unusual, as she was always the one to do so, finally got curious enough to take a look in the second pot.
“What’s this green stuff? Looks green enough to be dye for cloth, or something.”
“Chlorophyll. Made from slowly cooked nettles. Think it’s be a good idea if you would start having a little every day from now until the birth to help you be ready to clot better, and hopefully I’ve made enough so there’ll be some left for the days after, too.”
“Well in that case…” she tipped the pot, measuring with her eyes the amount of liquid it contained, “you must be expecting this birth to be coming pretty soon!”
“Could be. Wouldn’t doubt it, actually. But if not, we’ve got plenty of nettles left and I’ll make you more.”
“Thanks! That reminds me…” Rummaging about amongst the herbs she took out the little rawhide sack of shepherd’s purse, inspecting its contents, very glad she’d gone to the effort to scout about and collect heavily from the few specimens of the plant which she’d been able to find growing up there in the high, thin air of the basin, a fair distance above its comfortable range. Ideally she would have pressed the juice from the fresh plant parts that summer and preserved it--or made a tincture, but they had no alcohol of any kind on hand--but that had not been possible at the time, so she intended to do the next best thing, which was to make an infusion of the dried leaves, stems and seeds she’d saved. To that end, as soon as Einar’s chlorophyll mixture was finished and stored away, she boiled a pot full of water, adding a good cup’s worth of dried shepherd’s purse as soon as she’d removed it from the heat and setting it aside in a corner where it wouldn’t be disturbed and covering it with a rock for several hours of steeping.