The laughter--even the raven joined in before it was over, rasping and cackling there on his perch--seemed to speed things along for Liz every bit as much as the walking had done, her face growing dark with concentration the next time a contraction came and she turned away from Einar, bracing herself against the door until it had passed.
“Well. That’s more like it, I guess. I think it’s time for Muninn to go back outside, now. With the storm gone I don’t feel so badly about kicking him out, and he can surely find a good perch in the trees for the night. I just need…less people around.”
Already on his feet and headed for the tunnel Einar paused, face twisting up with a little grin. “Less people! So the bird’s a person, now?”
“You know what I mean!”
“Yep, I do, and he’s on his way out. Now put that rabbit stick down, will ya? You realize if you end up knocking me out with that thing sometime in the next few hours, I may not be awake to help you with the birth, or after…”
“I’m not going to hit you. Just get the bird out of here.”
Which Einar did, urging the raven to follow him out through the tunnel and explaining the situation in a few short words, Muninn tilting his head and rasping as if he understood, before taking off into the near-darkness of the evening. All on our own now, I guess. Sure wish the storm had kept on, wish that second wave that I’m pretty sure we’re still expecting had got here by now, but it hasn’t, so back inside and see what I can do for her.
No more than an hour later, darkness full and Liz firmly in the grips of her labor, Einar was to wish even more strongly that the storm had persisted, the first little prickle of danger running down his backbone and making him wonder if perhaps the reality of the impending birth was beginning to get to him just a bit, rattle the calm that he had hoped and intended to maintain, for Liz’s sake, but before long he knew it was something more, the feeling of panic growing and soon accompanied by an unmistakable distant rumble that told him they were in trouble, serious trouble, and he rushed to put out the rather lively fire, shoveling out the burning log, immersing it in the water barrel and hurriedly sprinkling water all over the remaining coals, stirring and mashing them until their glowing had ceased.
It was nearly on them by then, low, thundering, seeming to shake the cabin to its foundations due to the rock that lay so close below the surface under it, and Liz clung to him, hiding her head against him and biting her tongue until the blood came to prevent herself crying out at the way it hurt, tight as everything got with the immediacy and dread of it all. Einar held her there in the dark, waiting for the thing to pass, the great beast, praying that its crew wouldn’t see then, wouldn’t see anything out there in the frigid darkness to draw their attention to the little plateau, and after a time--less than a minute, really, but it seemed to both of them an eternity--the rumble began to fade a bit, growing distant and then suddenly gone, sound drowned out by an intervening ridge. Liz was shaking, wanted to cry but remained silent and Einar could feel the tension in her, felt around for a candle, and lit it, spoke.
“They’re doing what they did before. Sending a chopper over as soon as a storm clears out, taking advantage of the clear weather and cold snap to look for heat signatures…”
“Do you think they saw something the last time, and that’s why they’re coming back again?”
She was afraid. He could see it in her face there in the faint glow of the single candle he was allowing then, not wanting her to have to be laboring in the dark and the cold, both, and figuring as well as they’d managed to insulate the cabin in recent weeks, they could reasonably afford the burning of one candle, despite the risk of return flights. He didn’t want her to have to be afraid, but had little reassurance to give her under present circumstances. Figured he’d better try, anyway. “No. I don’t think they saw anything. If they had, they’d have been back way before now, on one of these clear nights. This is just a routine flight, I’d have to say.” God, I hope it’s just a routine flight. Please let it be a routine flight, keep us hidden…
“We can’t have anymore fire, though…”
“No. Can you do that? Do without it for a while, just until we’re sure they’re not coming back?”
“Yes. Yes, I can do that. I can do whatever I need to do. I just don’t want us to be seen, not right now, Einar! Don’t let them see us.”
“I’m not gonna let them see us. This place is real well insulated now, and the way that chimney bends, we shouldn’t be leaking too much heat, really, especially now that the coals are all out. If you can do this by the light of a candle or two for a while, we’re gonna be just fine. Here. Let me help you into your parka, so you don’t get chilled as the place starts to cool off. Not going to go as smoothly if you get too cold, I don’t think.”
Liz let him assist her in getting into the garment, a good thing, for the cabin did indeed cool significantly over the next two hours as she continued to labor, sometimes pacing, sometimes crouching, not making much progress for a while after the shock of that chopper flight but gradually getting back into the swing of things.
Einar, his whole focus on Liz, keeping her comfortable, helping as he could and making sure the cookpot was always suspended over their single candle with a bit of tea in it for when she wanted a sip of something warm, was himself struggling terribly with the growing cold, limbs not wanting to move properly and entire body trembling whenever he didn’t concentrate dreadfully hard on preventing it, which he did, most of the time, not wanting Liz to see how he was freezing and occasionally when she didn’t seem to need him particularly close by he would slip out into the dark tunnel for a minute to crouch there shivering and huddling, rocking back and forth as he beat numbed arms and legs in a marginally successful effort to get the blood flowing, keep some life in his failing body. Needed a fire, needed to eat a huge pot of hot stew, curl up in the bear hides and sleep for about a week but he couldn’t, wouldn’t even allow himself to think about any of it until the baby had safely made his entrance into the world and a good bit of time had gone by without that chopper making another pass, for until that time he had to be always alert to the possibility that they might have to flee out into the snow at any moment, take their leave of the place and probably, at that point, of any real hope for a good outcome to the birth, as well…
When the storm returned, sweeping down on the little plateau with a howling fury from the peaks above and slamming against the cabin with an unmistakable roar, Einar could not have been more relieved and thankful. Leaving Liz for a moment he hurried out through the tunnel and stood, arms raised to the sky, in the bitter blast of the wind outside, snow plastering him as joyful tears ran down his cheeks, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord… Back inside, hurrying, shaking and terribly cold as he struggled to brush most of the snow from hair and clothing, giving Liz a big grin as he bounded over to the stove and began scraping aside the damp coals from their previous fire, breathing slowly in an attempt to still the shaking of his hands sufficiently to build a new blaze.
“Storm’s back! Back to stay in all its terrible, beautiful fury, Lizzie, and we don’t need to worry any more about having this birth interrupted. Nothing can fly in weather like this. Gonna be warm again in here in no time.”
Relief and a few tears on Liz’s part as she watched the flames leap golden and life-giving up through Einar’s little pile of kindling, his own purple hands slowly beginning to take on a bit of color as he held them close to the warmth. Not much time for jubilation, though, Liz crouching on the floor the next moment with the return of labor--all was clear, no need to think any more about having to run out into the snow to escape a descending search team, time for the little one to meet the world, and her body knew it--and she spent a good portion of the next hours on hands and knees or crouching, Einar supporting her when she wanted it, leaving her alone when she wanted that, such occasions being fairly frequent, and he was glad he’d earlier taken the time to slip the rabbitstick behind the water barrel where it wouldn’t be nearly so easily accessible. Later, as things became more intense and Liz began giving voice to her travail, a low, deep sound that seemed to Einar more song than groan, and somehow entirely appropriate, helpful, Einar assisted by pressing from time to time on a spot near her tailbone as she told him she’d seen Susan instruct birth helpers to do, saying it did something to help relieve the pressure as the baby got lower, and indeed it did seem to help, Liz reminding him rather forcefully when she needed the service and Einar hurrying to comply.
Throughout that time Einar also worked to keep the fire going at a lively pace, wanting to cabin to remain warm so that Liz could find it easier to relax whenever she was able and the little one would find the place more hospitable and welcoming whenever he finally put in his appearance, keeping a pot of tea always on the stove and frequently offering it, sweetened with honey, to Liz in the hopes of giving her some ongoing energy and keeping her well hydrated. While liking the tea there were times when Liz simply wanted some cool water, too, so he made sure to keep some always at the ready, near enough the stove that it wouldn’t begin forming ice but far enough to stay cool, and things seemed to be going along fairly smoothly.
The time had come, Liz sure of it and Einar not doubting her--would have liked to check, but under the present conditions thought it unwise, clean as he was pretty sure he’d managed to get his hands--and Liz, who had been crouching, got her front half up onto the bed for the final bit of pushing, supporting herself on her elbows, Einar helping her as slowly the top of the baby’s head became visible, and then with one last big effort on Liz’s part the baby slipped out into Einar’s waiting hands, tiny, perfect, a bit less pink than he would have liked but it had been a long, hard labor and he couldn’t blame the little one for being a bit short on air, lifted him gently to Liz’s stomach where she took him, slid the crocheted mountain goat wool onto his head for warmth and softly exclaimed, “he’s so beautiful!”
Beautiful, but not breathing, not even making an effort but Einar knew it wasn’t absolutely critical that the baby breathe right away so long as he was still receiving blood and oxygen through the umbilical cord. He and Liz had talked about it beforehand, had decided not to clamp or cut the cord until the blood exchange stopped; the baby needed that cord blood, as it was full of vitamin K which would improve clotting factors and the infant’s iron levels, increase blood volume and ability to carry and use oxygen--important for all babies, but especially for those born at all prematurely, or at high altitude where oxygen levels might prove a challenge. Despite the ongoing supply of oxygenated blood the baby was receiving, Einar didn’t like the lack of effort when it came to breathing, rolled the child over, lifted him a bit and gently opened his mouth, blew the softest breath towards him, just enough to reach the back of his throat and cause him to react, which he did, gasping in response, taking a few big breaths and beginning to cry. Liz was crying, too, when Einar again placed the child on her stomach--happy, relieved tears--where he quieted, breathing, pinking up, appearing worn out and content.
The next few minutes were a very quiet, peaceful time as Liz reclined there staring at the child and Einar at both of them, lost in wonderment, but the peace was not to last too long as when he checked he saw that Liz was bleeding--too much, it looked like too much--and he hurried to retrieve the shepherd’s purse solution they’d previously prepared, got her to drink some and quietly reassured her when she looked up at him, brow creased.
“It’s alright. Gonna take care of it. You keep sipping this stuff though, and…here.” He eased the baby up a bit higher onto her chest. “Feed him. Try to feed him. It’ll help.” The child’s efforts to feed would, he knew, cause Liz’s body to release more of the hormone oxytocin, which would help deliver the placenta and cause the uterus to contract, significantly reducing the bleeding. He hoped. Hoped it would be enough.