Another bitterly cold morning in the cabin, Liz slipping into her parka and hurrying to round up some breakfast before hastily returning the bed where Einar lay struggling to get himself sitting upright so he could make a trip outside, but having a good deal more difficulty with the task than he would have liked. Liz interrupted his progress when she rolled back in beside him, carefully balancing a pot of food and one of water as she slid beneath the hides, but rather setting him off balance in the process. Frustrated, everything cramping up and refusing to respond the way it should have, Einar started the process all over again, Liz scooting out of his way when she saw he was determined to leave.
“Just got to go outside for a minute, see the morning. Be right back.”
That was it, no demands, no admonitions, but her silence spoke pretty loudly, and Einar, growling under his breath at the perceived imposition of it all, struggled into his parka before dropping to hands and knees and starting down the tunnel. Left his boots behind, though. Figured she couldn’t much argue about that one, as his feet were too swollen to very easily shove into them, as it was. He’d be doing more harm in trying than in going entirely without them, in all probability. Plus, it was too dark in there for her to see one way or the other about the boots. So he thought.
Watching Einar dress in the diffused light from the remaining cracks in the walls, Liz could see that his legs were badly swollen once again--if they’d ever really improved; he’d definitely seemed to feel better after the first round of juniper tea took effect, but the swelling had to some extent remained--and she wanted to give him more juniper tea, but of course couldn’t have a fire to heat it. Looking to do the next best thing, she waited until he’d disappeared down the tunnel, found and crushed some berries, stirred them into a bit of by then somewhat slushy water from the barrel, hoping that with time perhaps they would release enough of their beneficial compounds to do him a bit of good, even without simmering. Remembering how the tea had briefly made Einar overheat and sweat after drinking it, she wished she might have some with him, thinking she wouldn’t mind being warm for a few minutes, but knowing the mixture had the potential to bring on premature labor and not being at all interested in risking such a thing. The baby had for the past days seemed quite content to stay where he was and keep growing, and she hoped to keep things that way for at least another good month. Besides, it was plenty warm beneath the bear hides, and that was exactly where she headed, waiting his return.
Squinting in the sunlight, Einar paused for a moment at the mouth of the tunnel, inhaling a great breath of the crisp, spruce-scented air and listening for any sign of trouble, anything that might tell him they weren’t alone, but hearing nothing. Nothing, that was, aside from the soft slicing of Muninn’s wings as the great bird came gliding down almost noiselessly from his customary perch in the dead tree out on the far side of the clearing, having heard the voices inside, Einar’s stirring and wanting in on the action. Lighting before Einar there under the trees that shielded the tunnel’s opening the raven began rasping, hopping and generally making a fuss, protesting the outrage of having been left out for the night. Liz had forgot all about letting him in with all that had been going on the evening before, and, Muninn having returned somewhat late to the clearing, hadn’t put up much of a fuss upon finding the door closed to him, instead opting to roost down in his tree, feathers fluffed against the cold.
Einar shook his head, laughing at the bird’s antics. “What’s your trouble there, critter? Are you not a tremendously cold-hardy bird whose kind manage to spend snowy winters north of the arctic circle with no troubles at all? Yeah? So what’s this? You’ve got your feathers all ruffled over being left out for one night? Getting pretty soft here, wouldn’t you say? Kinda spoiled, maybe even in danger of becoming domesticated? Looks like we need to take off here pretty soon, you and I, and spend a few nights roosting in a tree way up in the wind and frost and freezing air…” Took a deep breath, shivering at the thought of it but thinking there was nothing he needed more, just then. “Yep, if we could talk Liz into seeing the merits of such an expedition, it’s be just the thing. Doubt it, though. So. You want some breakfast? Well just be patient for a couple minutes, and you can follow me in through that tunnel, if you’re so inclined.”
It hurt that morning, the cold, seemed to seep right into his bones, set them rattling against one another in no time at all and--though he’d mostly been joking when proposing to the raven his all-night tree-sitting exercise--he badly wanted to creep further out there into the snow, shed the parka and sit beneath a tree until it didn’t hurt anymore, until he’d overcome the weakness he felt clawing at him, trying its best to drag him down… He didn’t do it. Stood there barefoot in the snow for a good minute listening, testing the air and acquainting himself with the morning, but that was the extent of it, turning, creeping back through the tunnel--Muninn following, hopping slowly, a bit apprehensive at first about the tunnel but curious where it might go and doubtlessly able to smell the food odors wafting out from the cabin’s interior--and into the cabin where Liz made it very plain she hoped he’d come back to the bed and warm up. Which he did--was too cold to do much of anything in his current state, even having worn the parka--Liz hurrying to get a bear hide over him, blanket of woven rabbit fur around his shoulders and--when they’d regained a bit of feeling--breakfast into his hands.
The meal that morning consisted of a mixture of the ubiquitous pounded, powdered chokecherries, honey, bearfat and bits of meat shaved from the solid-frozen chunk that sat on the hearth-rock before the stove, all of it cold, congealed and not looking terribly appetizing had anyone been paying attention, but much needed, and Einar savored his, forcing himself to take slow, deliberate bites instead of shoveling the entire lot into his mouth and dispensing with it in two big gulps as he rather felt like doing, knowing that his stomach would likely make objection should he resort to such measures. Muninn had his fair share of the meal, as well, bits of meat and fat tossed and then--the raven making so bold as to hop up on the bed--fed to him by Einar, who didn’t like the thought of leaving the creature hungry, not knowing whether or not he might have been successful in his scavenging efforts the previous day.
Food finished and Einar sipping on Liz’s weak mixture of crushed juniper berries and slushy, icy water--she kept apologizing for its half-frozen state, but he insisted that juniper milkshakes always had been his favorite, and helped balance out the warmth of the bed, anyhow--the two of them laughed at Muninn’s antics as he explored the area around the stove, which he had always in the past regarded as off limits due to its radiating heat, but now represented new territory to explore and conquer.
“In a year,” Liz mused, “it’ll be little Snorri who we’ll have to watch as he crawls around that stove and starts to learn all the ins and outs of high mountain living…”