With Einar and Liz sitting together by the stove and the baby sleeping quietly enough that Susan was able to carefully ease him into his little basket-bed of willows and mountain goat wool she again dipped into her pack, pulling out her rolled up sleeping bag. The thing clanged and clattered when she set it on the floor, causing Einar to jump and Liz to look up sharply.
Susan grabbed the sleeping bag, glancing apologetically at Liz and checking to make sure Will had not been awakened, which he hadn’t, sleeping soundly as ever. “We had to maximize space, you see, when packing for the jump, so I stuffed my stuff sack into this pot to help make everything fit. Here!” And she pulled out the sleeping bag, handed Liz a stainless steel stock pot whose capacity Liz was sure had to be somewhere upwards of three gallons, far larger than the little one and two quart pots in which they had been doing most of their cooking to date. Though they had larger wood burned vessels--the water barrel, even--which could be used for cooking with the hot rock method, the new pot could be placed directly on the stovetop, allowing for far larger batches of stew and the simmering of roasts, even, which until then had been a project quite out of their reach.
Liz was on her feet, tucking the rabbitskin blanket snugly around Einar and easing him to the ground there before the stove, asleep or something very close to it as he continued to warm. “Oh, it’s perfect! Just what we needed! That’ll really ease the chore of melting snow for water, and sometimes it would be nice to make a bigger batch of stew than what we usually do, too. Have it around for a few days. I think I’ll get started real soon, empty this stuff I already had going into there and add to it so we can have a meal big enough for all of us tonight!”
“Oh, maybe you can wait a little bit on that, until you see what else we’ve brought! Thought maybe I could fix supper for everyone tonight, give you something a little different for a change. Glad you like the pot. I thought you might like something to add to your kitchen. Bud thought I was crazy, I think, for hauling this all the way up here, but he deferred to my judgment when it came to matters of cooking, so I managed to smuggle this along with me, too…” Unpacking her sleeping bag Susan revealed protected amongst its folds a half-sized iron skillet, heavy, for certain, but such a prize that Liz’s eyes lit up at the sight of it. Next came a stuff sack filled with a variety of wool clothing for the baby, two tiny one-piece sleepers, socks--a bit large, but with room to grow--tiny mittens and a wool hood for when the child was slightly older, made in the style of a balaclava to protect head and neck, with only face exposed. Along with the clothes were several cloth diapers--“I knew you would have come up with a solution by now,” Susan said, “and the usnea lichen held in place by a rabbit hide looks like a good one, but still I thought these might come in handy”--and a pair of quilted wool overalls, hand-stitched by Susan, which could be adjusted for size to fit the baby throughout his first year.
“I debated whether or not to bring bottles and all, but you know, I never did use them with any of mine, and I’ve seen them really come between a mother and child and make things more difficult for everyone, sometimes, as far as the feeding goes, so figured you might be better off without them. And it seems both of you are doing just great with the feeding, too.” A sentiment with which Liz heartily agreed, Susan not telling her that she had brought one bottle and a can of formula, both, just on the chance that something terrible had happened during or after the birth, and they arrived to find Liz no longer there to provide milk for the little one. A grim scenario if not a wholly unlikely one, and she thought it best not to bring it up, seeing as things appeared to have gone wonderfully throughout the entire process.
Continuing to empty the bag, Susan produced another stuff sack. “Brought some things for you and Einar, too, though I can see from the looks of those fine parkas, mittens, snow pants and all the extra hides you’ve got waiting to turn into more clothes that you hardly need the extras, and could have got through the winter just fine on your own! But it never hurts to have spares, when it comes to warm things.” With which she pulled out a set of heavy woolen tops and bottoms for each of them, three pairs of socks each and as many sets of undergarments. “It isn’t a lot, but is what I could fit in my bag. I considered bringing synthetic fleece instead of wool since it really is lighter, warmer for its weight and dries a lot faster, but you know, it just isn’t as durable under these conditions. And this wool won’t get big melty holes in it every time a spark from the stove lands on your arm or leg, the way fleece will. So I thought it was the better choice. There’s more in Bud’s pack, some boots and seeds and tools and things, and food, but with him sleeping on the pack like that, we’ll have to wait a while to reveal the remainder of the gifts!”
Still admiring the baby clothes Liz thanked Susan again, folded them up, stowed them back in their bag and carried the wool top over to Einar, who seemed stuck somewhere between sleep and wakefulness there on the floor, still shivering despite having spent a good half hour in front of the stove, staring wide-eyed but unseeing at their guests. After much coaxing and convincing--he didn’t seem to be entirely present, needed sleep and a good meal, for a start--she talked him into trying on the garment of soft, black-dyed wool, Einar grinning at the warmth of it, rubbing his arms and sitting up a bit straighter, seeming to return somewhat to the present.
“Nice stuff. Take a lot of gathering, cleaning, spinning and processing of mountain goat wool to be able to make something this nice. Appreciate it.”
“Well it’s not mountain goat wool, but ought to help keep you warm on some of the*chilly mornings that I’m sure you must get up here, at least.”
Einar nodded, stretched, got shakily to his feet and braced himself against the ceiling as he scanned the cabin, finding his boots and setting them to dry near the stove. Wasn’t sure what had happened since he’d returned to the cabin--time had gone all fluid, difficult to grasp--but he knew he’d clearly been neglecting his duties around the place, leaving things on the floor and forgetting to maintain the stove. Got to quit that, Einar. Can’t be letting things slide just because you got people here. Sure can’t. Still got to do your best to make things easy on Liz, here, and looks like right now that means bringing in another load of firewood. Got plenty in here right now, but that won’t last, especially since Liz seems to be finding it good to keep the place just a little warmer, so the little one doesn’t have to always be wrapped up so tight. Now, get to work.
There wasn’t to be any work for him though, not just yet, as Liz took his arm and insisted he sit back down by the stove, rest for a while. No need. Been resting since we got back. Why would I want to go on doing it? But he did, recognizing a certain firmness in her voice and finding himself suddenly very dizzy, besides, having a difficult time telling which way was up. Wouldn’t do to fall in the presence of their guests, figured they must already be thinking pretty badly of him after his unfortunate episode up near the spring.
With Susan having promised to prepare them an evening meal the likes of which they hadn’t seen in many, many months just as soon as Bud woke and made his pack available to her, Liz decided they might as well go ahead and eat her small pot of mountain goat stew as an afternoon snack, expecting their guests must surely be hungry after their long hike and knowing that Einar was really hurting for some nourishment, hoping he might eat if he saw the rest of them doing so. Using the two small cooking pots and two coal-burned aspen wood bowls to serve everyone--Bud woke quite readily and with an enormous appetite at the smell of that heating stew--the four of them shared the meal that Liz had on the stove when they’d arrived, Einar only taking the tiniest taste here and there and Susan noticed it, knew he wouldn’t likely be able to handle too much of it in his condition, but thought surely he could do better, if he wanted to. No need to belabor the point just then, but she hoped perhaps the opportunity might come up--before supper.
Later that evening, Bud napping again in his sleeping bag in front of the stove--hike had really taken a lot out of him, and he seemed to be greatly enjoying the cozy comfort of the little cabin--Liz asleep in bed with the baby and Susan working on supper Einar found himself restless, wanting to keep busy lest he, too, succumb to sleep when he most wanted to be awake and watching over things, and he glanced at his parka--darts; he was still concerned about darts, couldn’t wear the thing until he’d had time to more thoroughly search it--headed out for some firewood. Quietly, Susan followed him.