By the time Liz had managed to get down a few spoons full of her special stew, Einar holding the pot so she could focus on the baby and not have to worry about spilling, she was looking a good bit more lively and engaged with the world, Einar relieved at the sight, handing her the chlorophyll solution and urging her to drink.
“You’re gonna need a lot of water over the next couple of days to help make up for lost blood volume. The more you can drink--up to a certain point, maybe a gallon or so a day--the better you’ll feel and the more quickly your body will be able to recover.”
“I’m feeling a little better already. It seems just as soon as I take a drink of that green stuff, I can feel it…like it’s giving me energy. Never felt that way before after I drank it.”
“It’s giving you iron. That’s what it feels like when a person’s real low on iron, and takes a bit of it in. Instant energy and…betterness, for a couple of minutes. But you can only absorb so much at once, so you’ll need to keep doing this for a couple weeks, at least. We’ve got a lot of dried nettles, lamb’s quarters, so I’ll keep making you this drink and lots of good broths, too, liver soup, things like that. You did great. Gonna be a pretty quick recovery for you, I have no doubt.”
“I need to go outside.”
“Still storming pretty bad out there. How about you just use one of the pots and then I’ll take it out and clean it for you…?”
“No, I need to be outside for just a second. To see the morning, to look at the trees and the sky on the morning when our son was born. You understand, surely?”
Einar nodded, figured he couldn’t understand entirely but had a pretty good idea, at least, of what lay behind her need and supposed if she didn’t try too hard to prevent him having his time out in the snow when he was--at different times--suffering from freshly missing toes, severe blood loss, broken ribs or the ongoing effects of starvation and fighting with all his might merely to stay conscious, then neither could he try and keep her from it, simply because she’d just delivered a child. Which was, after all, a rather natural event in a woman’s life, and not an anomaly, injury or problem of any sort. Except for the blood loss. That would have been a problem, had it gone on for too much longer. And would certainly leave her a bit weaker and more easily wearied than she was used to feeling, for a couple of weeks.
“Yes. I understand. I’ll help with your parka. Want me to come with you out there and…help?”
“No, I don’t really need help, and don’t want to take the baby out in the storm, not this soon, not even with the parka. I need you to stay in here with him. Here, just put him against your skin like I’ve been doing, and he’ll stay warm.”
“Maybe we ought to try out that cozy little basket bed you made for him. I’m cold. Inside, outside, all of me. I don’t want to make him cold.”
“Cold or not, you’re still a good bit warmer than the air…I hope! He’ll be fine.”
At Liz’s insistence--he wasn’t sure about being too much warmer than the air, not on the outside, at least, and hurried to warm stiff hands by pressing them again to the still-steaming stew pot--Einar took the little one, carefully cradling the tiny life in his big, awkward bird-claw hands, supporting his head as he pressed him to his chest there beneath the warmth of the bear hide, where the baby stirred a bit, settled right in and went back to sleep, listening contentedly to the slow thumping of his father’s heart, seemingly quite happy and comforted despite its somewhat less than rhythmic cadence. Good enough. Keep on pumping, heart. See, you got a purpose now. Got to keep the little one content. You quit, he’s gonna start crying, and what will his mama think if she comes in to find him crying? Won’t be a pretty sight, I can tell you…
Liz, moving gingerly as she crawled through the tunnel, was not outside long in the binding white ferocity of the storm, hood up against its fury and the cold seeming to pierce her with a far greater urgency than that to which she was accustomed, a result, she supposed, of the blood loss she’d experienced that morning, but even so she was glad to have gone out, taking in great gulps of the fresh, frigid air and singing her little song of praise and thanksgiving before hurrying as well as she was able back to the warmth and shelter of the cabin.
Einar was asleep, or nearly so, when she pushed the door closed behind her, his eyes closed and nose resting gently on the carefully crocheted white wool of the baby’s mountain goat cap, looking so peaceful and content that Liz hated to disturb him, but she needed to lie down, needed it pretty urgently after the exertion of getting herself outside and back, eased into the bed and beneath the bear hide to get warm. Einar, who had been deep in thought and not sleeping at all, knowing that he needed to keep track of how long Liz was outside so he’d have some idea of whether she might be beginning to get in trouble out there and need help, turned to her and was about to hand the baby back but she stopped him with a shake of her head.
“He’s happy. He’s getting to know his Dad. Let him be for a while.”
Reluctantly complying, Einar left the little one--Will, Snorri, this tiny person with two big names and an even bigger chunk of alpine wilderness to grow into--right where he was, content, warm, asleep. Having had to keep well beneath the bear hide and seal out all the drafts in an effort to keep the baby warm Einar found himself to have warmed quite well, also, and the feeling--relaxed, no need to shiver or otherwise exercise in order to prevent himself slipping inexorably towards hypothermia as he had so often done that winter--was strange, almost alien to him. Liz was watching the two of them, smiling, father and son, it was a beautiful sight.
“What do you think he weighs? I guess we really don’t have any way to judge that too accurately…”
“No, not really. About the best we could do would be to make a sort of balance, find something that weighs the same as him and later try to figure out what it weighs, I guess, but I don’t really see the purpose, other than settling our own curiosity. He looks healthy, real healthy, he’s breathing well and keeping his color despite being way up here where the air’s so thin…if I had to guess, I’d say he’s maybe a little on the small side, five, six pounds maybe, what do you say?”
“Well, I would guess him closer to six than eight, for sure. Maybe not as small as five. His breathing seems good, but I do think he was a little early. Look at all the fine little hairs on his back and arms--lanugo, it’s called, and while in adults--like yourself; you’ve got it all over you, you know--it means a person doesn’t have nearly enough body fat and their system is trying desperately to give them a bit of protection from the cold, I think in babies it tends to be a sign that they’ve arrived a little early. Most of it would be gone, if he’d been in there for another couple of weeks.”
“Yeah, I don’t doubt he’s a couple weeks early, but seems to be handling it real well. We’ll just have to take extra care to watch his breathing, keep him extra warm and protected for the next few weeks. Ought to try and get him some sunlight, too, soon as the sun shows itself. That’ll help get rid of any jaundice he may end up having. Maybe get the fire going real good, open the door and let him lie on one of us in a patch of sunlight for a few minutes every day. He’s doing great, though. Seems to be making a real good smooth transition into this world, doesn’t he? Seems to be…” Einar stopped, losing his place, not understanding the sudden difficulty he seemed to be having catching his breath, world taking on a strange, slippery feeling around him and he knew he had to get out of there, get away from the baby before things grew any stranger, handed him rather urgently to Liz and stumbled out of the bed, not bothering to grab his shirt, parka or anything but boots, which he shoved under an arm as he dived for the tunnel.
“I got to go outside now too, just for a little while. Be right back.”
Crouched there in the still, cold dimness of the tunnel with face buried in his hands Einar was trembling, but this time it wasn’t from cold. Wouldn’t stop though, only seemed to be getting worse and then he felt he was going to be sick, creeping hurriedly forward out of the tunnel and kneeling in the snow where he remained for some time weeping and retching and shaking uncontrollably, knowing that he needed to be getting back inside, back to Liz and the baby but he couldn’t think of the baby--those soft, tiny little hands, the exquisitely formed nose and mouth in miniature, eyes closed in peaceful sleep--without seeing another child, that beautiful, perfect little Montagnard girl whose birth he had attended so many years prior, and every time he thought of her, that smell returned to stifle him, smother him, the horrifying stench of smoldering chicken excrement, bamboo, human flesh, the entire village gone, and with it, little Hyon and her mother, both, and that would start him all over again shaking and vomiting until finally he pressed his face into the good, clean whiteness of the snow, bitter, biting, cleansing. At last, with the aid of the snow, its undeniable, immediate reality, the worst of it passed and Einar slowly became aware of being dreadfully cold, arms purple in the still-falling snow and everything--with the exception of his feet; somehow he’d remembered to jam his boots into place before fleeing the confines of the tunnel--chilled, numb, definitely time to be getting inside and he did it, rising shakily and retreating to the windless shelter of the tunnel.
When finally Einar dragged himself back inside Liz was asleep, baby sleeping peacefully on her chest, and he was glad. Didn’t want to face her just then, couldn’t face either of them, crouched there by the stove until at last he began warming and could move again, after which he began preparing a batch of broth against the time when Liz would wake.