In the soft glow of the afternoon sun as it angled through the cabin door, Susan took some time that day to examine the little one, glad to see that though slightly jaundiced like most newborns, his color was already well on its way to returning to normal. Largely a result, she expected, of the daily sun exposure his parents had been so diligent at giving him, combined with the copious amounts of milk which seemed necessary to satisfy the little person’s rather healthy appetite, also helping to flush the excess red blood cells out of his system and clear up the jaundice. With Liz’s permission and Einar watching carefully nearby, she pulled out a small hanging scale, the sort a fisherman might use for weighing his catch, and suspended a loudly protesting Will beneath it in a scarf for just long enough to note his weight.
“Babies,” she explained, handing him back to Liz for a quick feeding so he could settle down and stop his shrill protestations, “always loose a little after they’re born, but the way he’s eating he’s likely regained most or even all of it by now, so the weight we see today will probably be pretty similar to what he was at birth.” Which turned out to be somewhere around six pounds, four ounces, pretty good, Susan said, for a little one born possibly a week or two early and at such a high altitude. “He seems to be breathing well, too. His skin’s a good color, no blueness and it doesn’t seem to be taking any special effort for him to get his breath, so that’s a really good thing. His lungs must have been ready, when he decided to come. You’ve done well, the three of you. Really well!”
In addition the taking the vitamins she’d brought, Susan suggested that Liz, who seemed to be healing up quite well from the birth, begin drinking a daily pot of spruce needle tea for extra vitamin C to help the healing continue at a good pace and reduce the chance of infection developing. Liz, having carefully avoided spruce and pine tea of all sorts during the pregnancy, was somewhat skeptical about the plan, worrying that the compounds in the evergreen oils which might have caused trouble during the pregnancy might pass to the baby through the milk and do him some sort of harm. Susan reassured her, mentioning that while she’d certainly done right to avoid the tea while carrying the baby so as to avoid risk of premature labor or other harm to the little one, there was no evidence whatsoever that it would pose any risk at all if passed through the milk.
Susan moved about the cabin like a whirlwind that afternoon, preparing pot after pot of the chlorophyll solution for Liz, giving her a spoonful now and then of the iron supplement she had brought--nettles, mostly, and very mild; would have done Einar a lot of good if he’d been able to take some, too, and at her gentle insistence he did give it a try, but looked so miserable and nauseated after that she did not press the matter any further, not wanting to risk his losing all the broth they’d worked so hard to get into him--hauling firewood and fixing food. She wished Bud might take it upon himself to be just a bit more helpful, but he mostly sat back watching, examining Einar’s atlatl darts, adding a bit of sinew here and there where one of them was beginning to fall into a bit of disrepair and generally passing his time in silent observation. At one point, Susan heading back outside for another load of wood, he followed her, waiting to speak until he’d led her off into the timber where Einar and Liz would be unlikely to hear them.
“Hey Sue, I know you want to help out, but better let Asmundson do most of the heavy lifting around here, wood hauling and fixing that green juice for Liz and such, or we’re in for trouble.”
“We’ve already got trouble. The man’s exhausted, at the end of his rope. You saw him earlier. I’m just trying to ease his burden a little, maybe give him a chance to put what little energy he does have towards keeping himself alive and hopefully even starting to head in the right direction…”
“I know you are, and you’re doing a real good job, too. But if you don’t quit it, you’re gonna kill him. That work’s the only thing keeping him going right now, his realizing that he’s got to get up every day and do it, and if someone else starts doing it all for him and taking away his purpose for existing from moment to moment, he’s gonna come apart and find himself unable to go on. His body will just plain give out on him if his mind even halfway gives it permission, and then he’ll be dead. I’ve seen it before, seen it go just like that. Fella coming out of real difficult circumstances--wounded, run down, maybe even starved for a while, though seldom as bad as what we’re seeing here--seems to be holding his own just fine until you get him in where he’s safe and secure and nobody shooting at us anymore, assured of having all his needs provided for, and then poof. All the fight goes out of him, all the starch that was holding him up and keeping him together, and he’s gone. Asmundson’s that close to the edge right now it sure looks like to me, and all I’m saying is, don’t do that to him.”
Somewhat taken aback but realizing that Bud was likely correct--she certainly hadn’t thought of it that way, or she would have gone about things differently there at the cabin--Susan nodded, turned away from the woodshed. “I’ll leave the wood. Let him do it, if he must, but I’m worried about the next few days, with him. It can’t get much worse…”
“Generally I wouldn’t tend to agree with such statements--it can always get worse, and a fella like him can almost always take it, too, find some way to pull through--but in this case, yeah, looking like you’re right. I don’t like how easily the lights seem to go out for him, just look over one minute and he’s asleep, or passed out or something, and you can see that he don’t like it, tries to fight it but nothing’s working. He’d better get out here and start hauling some wood! Yeah, and try to do a little better with supper than he did with the other meals today…”
“He needs more of that broth we made him earlier. I’d better be getting back inside and starting some.”
“Easy now, remember what we were just talking about. Leave some of the work for him…”
“It’s just broth!” Susan exclaimed,” nearly laughing as she grabbed Bud’s arm and hurried him back to the cabin, all the tension of the moment somehow dispelled by his unnecessary and repetitive insistence. “He can do the rest.”
Einar did, indeed, try his best to keep up with the remainder of the chores that afternoon and into the evening, bringing in two loads of wood and splitting a good bit of kindling, which they’d begun growing somewhat short on, and it was only because he insisted upon using his knife rather than the hatchet Bud had brought for him--a gift much appreciated and surely to be treasured--that he managed to get through the task without losing any fingertips, or worse. Awfully clumsy, sleepy, and it was only through repeated trips out into the sharp, bracing air outside that he was able to maintain some semblance of wakefulness as the day went on around him, Susan, Bud and Liz carrying on a cheerful flurry of conversation and catching-up, but he only able to pick up on bits and pieces of the talk. No matter. Liz would tell him later, when his senses came back. If they did. Was becoming less and less sure about that, stuck in some strange land of between, and not quite able to get himself over entirely to one side or the other. Wondered a bit absently, kindling in splinters around him and hands idle--difficult to wonder and act at the same time; required too much energy--whether perhaps he ought to be taking his leave of the cabin and the four very lively people there, hauling himself up one last ridge or peak or maybe just onto the cliffs behind the cabin, which was realistically probably all he could manage, so he’d find himself in a suitable place when…
Never mind. Not a good way to be thinking. Would you want little Will to know his father was thinking this way? Snorri Willis, future climber of peaks, slayer of wolverines, free man and ruler of this mountain kingdom…no, wouldn’t want him knowing that. Wouldn’t want him growing up without his father, either, not if you can help it, so better get it together, Einar. Get it together, and try some supper. Not gonna get too far on this broth they keep giving you--though the stuff is awful good, and somehow quite different from anything I remember…