Waking a good half hour after Einar’s return from the snow--Muninn had grown tired of being out in the storm, was making a racket at the front door as Einar tried his best to quiet the bird from inside, not wanting to open the door and wake the two sleepers--Liz found him still badly chilled and definitely looking like he’d been out in the storm for too long, tried to talk him into the bed for a rest and a bit of warming, but he insisted he was fine, that the cabin was plenty warm and that besides, he had things to do. Like let the bird in so as to stop that infernal racket, and he did, Muninn hopping indignantly into the cabin as soon as Einar had managed to shove the door open against all that accumulated snow--bird still hadn’t leaned to use the tunnel, hadn’t decided to do so, more like, as he was clearly intelligent enough to recognize it as the humans’ preferred point of, egress and ingress, but did not himself care for its use--scattering snow about the floor as he shook it from his wings. Curious, seeming to sense at once a new presence in the cabin, the raven hopped directly over the bed and Liz, perching on her knee and eyeing little Will with all the fascination of an explorer treading for the first time on undiscovered territory. Einar hovered nearby, ready to snatch the bird about the wings and pull him clear should he show any inclination towards pecking or grabbing at the little one, but the raven seemed to understand the need for gentleness, greeted the new arrival with a series of soft chortles and watched his breathing with still, black eyes, head tilted in curiosity. Satisfied, apparently, with his knowledge of the youngster Muninn hopped off the bed and landed heavily on Einar’s shoulder, giving his hair a particularly vigorous twist and rasping loudly in his ear.
“Yep,” Einar agreed, struggling to maintain his balance under the unsteadying weight of the bird, “life’s gonna change around here, alright. You’re not the focus of attention anymore, are you, you big old vulture?” A rasping of agreement--or perhaps dissent; they often sounded quite similar in the bird’s voice--and Muninn hopped down to pick at a small clump of soiled usnea lichen that had been neglected in Einar’s cleanup after the birth, Einar snatching it from him and depositing it in the fire. Reminded him. They’d be needing more of the stuff pretty soon, as it was at the moment serving as diaper material for the little one, held in place by a furless rabbit hide which Liz had carefully pinned at the front with a bit of twisted wire. He and Liz had spoken previously about ways to minimize the need for diapers, including the method used by tribal mothers from the far, frozen North to the deserts of Africa, in which the child was left entirely uncovered, the mother learning when he needed to eliminate and quickly moving him to a place where he could do so without soiling his clothing, or hers.
Though agreeing that such seemed a good way to go, they had decided it would be somewhat difficult to manage in the cold those first few days of the child’s life when he was still adjusting to the outside world and learning to regulate his internal thermostat, making diapers the most practical option at least at first, until Liz was up and about and carrying the baby in the parka, pressed against her skin where she could get used to the little cues he’d give, know when he needed to be quickly removed out into the air for a potty break. In the meantime, Einar could see that he’d need to gather more usnea--lots more--despite the impressive quantity Liz had set aside in the months before the birth, and determined to do so the following day, storm or not. They’d used rather more of their stock during the birth itself than he had expected, padding and absorbing and sopping things--that was, in his experience, how it always went with gauze, dressings and absorbent materials of any sort; you always needed more than had been anticipated, no matter whether you were dressing and caring or a wound or attending a birth--and would soon be in need of more for the baby’s diapering needs.
Liz dozed off and on through the afternoon as outside the storm raged with renewed fury, Einar keeping the stove going at a lively pace and making sure a bit of warm broth or a pot of chokecherries was always simmering on a back corner somewhere, ready for Liz’s enjoyment whenever she woke, and when she did he would take it to her, urge her to drink and offer to hold the little one for a time, give her the use of both hands. On most of those occasions the baby was sleeping so quietly that Liz did not want to disturb him but once, needing to make a brief trip outside after all the broth, chlorophyll and honey-sweetened chokecherry drink Einar had been giving her, she took him up on the offer, wrapping the little one snugly in his blanket of woven rabbit furs and handing him carefully to Einar, who stood rigidly beside the bed as she disappeared into the tunnel, trying hard not to shiver and disturb his sleeping charge, waiting desperately for Liz to return and fighting as well as he could the strangeness that was once more attempting to engulf him. He could barely bring himself to look at the child, biting his lip and staring at the ceiling as he tried to focus on the crackle and roar of a newly added chunk of spruce in the stove, but nothing could shut out the baby’s soft, almost inaudible breathing sounds, their constant presence leaving him to feel trapped and frantic.
What’s going on here, Einar? You’re the big, tough guy who’s been known to bait an Apache gunship down into a narrow canyon, take it on with an atlatl and darts--and win, crawl into a cave after a wounded bear without a second thought, tackle angry wolverines--or three armed men, or whatever the case may be--with your bare hands or a knife or a sliver of bone and count it all in a day’s work, yet here you are absolutely terrified of your own son. Little six pound blob of harmless, helpless flesh and bone and…perfection…and he’s got you shaking in your shoes. Paralyzed. What is this?
Whatever it was he’d got to get over it in a hurry, that was for sure, and knowing no better way to do so he lowered himself into an awkward cross-legged crouch on the floor before the stove, cradling the tiny creature in both arms and rocking him back and forth, back and forth there in the warmth and flickering light of the stove--the repetitive motion more for his own benefit than that of little Will, who was resting warm and quite contentedly in his father’s embrace--eyes fixed on the child’s sleeping face, those perfectly formed lips, button of a nose, brows barely visible in their sparseness and bits of light, silky hair peeking out from beneath the warm, thick goodness of the cap Liz had so carefully constructed of mountain goat wool, rocking, staring, tears tracing unchecked down the lines of his haggard cheeks to dampen the blanket, blur his world, held spellbound when the child stirred at a splash of water on his cheek, opened his eyes.
When Liz returned moments later she saw only the beauty of the moment, father and son in quiet communion there before the fire, did not guess at the depths of Einar’s distress. Simply squeezing his shoulder on her way back to bed she left him alone to face his fears, gazing into those great grey mysterious eyes and seeing in their living, liquid depths his own reflection, new life and one that appeared precariously near passing suspended there for a moment as one and then they were again their own separate selves, child still, perfect, full of vibrant life and promise and he a grotesquely animated skeleton with body and soul held together by the barest bonds, paradox beyond comprehension. Past and future blending, as he went on staring, in a weird and incomprehensible maelstrom of hope and terror and flooding, pressing memories the world began slipping around him, dimming as he was smothered once again by that nauseous, noxious burning stench, gasping for air and clamping his eyes against the forever-seared image of that little body, charred, disfigured, pulled from beneath the remains of her fire-devastated hut and cradled with heartbreaking care and tenderness in the arms of her despairing father, too late, they’d come too late and then it was gone, all of it, only the present, precious moment remaining, child warm and alive in his arms as he bowed down to touch the tiny face with his own, sweet smell of new life filling his nostrils, salving his soul and he rose, joined Liz in the bed, the little family complete once more.