While she had been experiencing occasional cramping and tightness throughout the past month or so, Liz knew, crouching in the candlelight early that morning, that she was feeling something very different, had little doubt that the baby’s time had arrived. She wanted to tell Einar but was reluctant to wake him, doubting either of them would be getting too much sleep over the course of the following day or two and wanting him to sleep while he could. No hurry. She expected there would certainly be plenty of time for Einar to wake on his own, before the time actually arrived. And if she was anything like the majority of women who she’d heard speak about the subject, she figured she’d be making enough noise to wake him, long before the time drew near. In the meantime, best to make everything as ready as she could, which meant starting a fire so the place could begin to warm, both for the baby’s sake and for Einar’s. Knowing how his entire focus would be on her and the coming baby, she worried for him, especially as she would herself be rather too preoccupied to see that he kept reasonably warm and had something to eat from time to time, knew he might well end up freezing himself before the baby ever came, and I sure haven’t got this far only to lose him now, the big goof, so better have this place pretty warm. He can’t even object this time, because I’ll tell him it’s for the baby. Which it is, at least partially, as they do come into the world unclothed and without their own functioning thermostats, if I’m remembering correctly. That takes a couple of weeks to fully develop, and in the meantime, they need a little help. So, a very good excuse to keep things a little warmer in here.
Liz needn’t have worried about having to wake Einar at some point, as he was wide awake and stirring moments after she began carefully arranging kindling in the stove and preparing to light it, rolling over to the edge of the bed and fumbling in the darkness until he’d got himself into something like a sitting position, where he waited in silence, already trembling a bit in the deep early morning chill, as she got the fire lit. Strange thing, very strange indeed for her to be up and making a fire while full darkness still enveloped the outside world as it certainly appeared to do, and he wondered at it, wondered if perhaps the ongoing storm--for it was surely ongoing, the way the wind carried on out there, tearing with audible force up through the timber to rage and beat with an almost frightening fury against the cabin walls--had all but prevented daylight from showing itself, making it, possibly, a good bit later than it seemed and Liz perhaps hungry and wanting breakfast. Well, if that was the case he could make himself of some use, hopefully make breakfast for her or if she wouldn’t have it at least help in some way, go out for an armload of wood or chop sheep meat for the stew or…better get moving here before too long if you want to be good for anything at all, because you’re already starting to lose the feeling in your fingers and toes, and you haven’t been out from under those hides for a minute, even. Got to work on that, I’m telling you, got to… A bright orange flare of flame as Liz struck sparks into tinder, urged the little fire to life and as soon as he saw her, Einar could tell something was different, could see it in the way she was holding herself, moving, and he went to her, crouching beside her there in the firelight.
“Oh, I didn’t mean to wake you, not yet…”
“The baby’s coming.”
“Yes. I really think so. I’ve been feeling strange for a couple of hours, and then as soon as I got up…yes, this really is quite different, quite persistent. I think it’s just about time.”
Einar got very still then for a few seconds, very quiet, and then he was on his feet, finding and retrieving the nettle solution he’d previously prepared--frozen nearly solid in the cold corner where he’d stored it--oh, well, at least it’s staying fresh--and setting it near the stove to thaw out so Liz could have some, taking a cookpot and setting water to heat on what he knew would soon be the warmest area of the stove and then, soon as that was done, crawling about the dark floor in a somewhat frantic search for his boots, meaning to duck out through the tunnel after more firewood.
Liz, watching, did her best not to laugh at him but did not entirely succeed. “What are you doing there, ‘boiling water’ like the husbands were always told to do in all the old stories when a baby was on the way? I’m pretty sure that’s just something they were sent to do to keep them occupied and out of the way, you know…”
“No, I’m not…well yeah, I am boiling water, but I got a real specific purpose in mind for it, and that’s to make up some strong berberine solution so we’ll have a way to clean our hands and sterilize them at least somewhat, just seemed like a good idea and the berberine was looking like our best solution, seeing as we don’t have any peroxide or alcohol or soap, even… Guess we really ought to remedy the soap problem and I’ll do that, too, but not before…”
“Einar! Hey, settle down. I think the berberine’s a great idea and so is the soap, for someday, but right now everything’s under control, we’ve got plenty of time and I’d really suggest you get some clothes on and hopefully your parka, too, before worrying about sterilizing or cleaning anything, and certainly before going out for firewood…you weren’t really thinking of making the trip like that, were you?”
“Well now, guess I kinda was thinking along those lines, you know me, always looking for a chance to get out there and freeze for a while, but right now really isn’t the time for that, is it? So, pants, parka, boots, hat…yep, got to fill this place with firewood so we won’t have to worry about it for a few days, got a good start on that but gonna go get as much more as’ll fit. Be back in a couple minutes.”
With which he was gone, hurrying through the tunnel and nearly collapsing in the snow outside, the sudden hustle and bustle catching up to him as the adrenalin of the past few minutes ebbed a bit in the bitter blast of the storm. Fierce was the wind even there outside the tunnel, finding its way somehow between cabin and cliffs to tear at him with a ferocity that nearly took his breath and left him struggling to stay on his feet, very much awake, not that he hadn’t been before, in there with Liz and the baby on the way. Now. He’s coming now, or she is, and he was moving again, pushing his way through snowdrifts that revealed themselves only by feel in the inky, snow-spitting darkness, extra depth here and there, a bit more difficulty forcing his foot forward, and he found the woodshed by feel, too, seeing through the storm only the faintest hint of light here and there where Liz’s recent cabin chinking job had been slightly less than thorough, but he was quite impressed at the quality of her work.
There. There it was, felt his way inside and fumbled about until he’d got a good armload of wood, struggled it back through the storm, finding as well as he could his previous trail and sticking to it, resting for one brief, panting moment in the windless mouth of the tunnel before returning for another armload and another, until the tunnel was very nearly blocked and he figured he’d got enough. Too tired to get it inside, breath coming hard, hurting his ribs and for a time he crouched there immobile just inside the tunnel, listening to the howl and moan of the wind outside, the chattering of his own teeth, loud in that enclosed space and inside, the soft sounds of Liz pacing, turning, pacing again…got to get in there, can’t be spending all my strength just sitting here and struggling--a losing struggle too, from the looks of it so far--to get warm, because she’s gonna need me this morning, lot I got to do…come on, Einar, move! Move he did, crawling stiffly the remaining length of the tunnel and, a good pile of wood in his arms--the rest could wait, would be protected there in the tunnel and would remain readily available, a supply he could retrieve, if need be, without venturing again out into the storm--pushing open the door and creeping inside.