Sitting beside the bed as Liz worked on her breakfast, Einar again studied the sleeping form of the child where he lay covered in the rabbit fur blanket and nestled up against Liz, warm, content and--most surprisingly of all, to him--quiet. He’d never lived under the same roof as an infant for more than a day or two here and there throughout the years, but had certainly expected more crying. Constant crying. Yet the night had been a quiet one, day reasonably quiet so far, too. He hoped nothing was wrong.
“Sure is quiet, isn’t he?”
“Oh, just wait a day or two and I expect he won’t be so quiet! He was tired last night, probably just about as tired as I was, after the hard work of being born, and he had everything he needed right here, so I guess he didn’t have a reason to make a lot of noise. But it’ll come, I have no doubt. So enjoy the quiet while we’ve got it.”
Einar nodded, tried to give her a smile but it came out all strange and grimacing and Liz saw, put an arm on his. “You’re cold, and you’ve been working hard all morning making breakfast and…doing whatever you were doing outside. Come in here with us for a while and warm up, Ok? Come be with us.”
Hesitating, reluctant, for some reason, to allow himself so close to the two of them that morning, Einar eventually complied--couldn’t come up with a good explanation for Liz as to why he must not and didn’t want her to start asking questions--fumbling his way into the bed and shivering at the warmth that came up all around him when he slid beneath the bear hides, head drooping with weariness. He was cold, was still feeling terribly strange and a little confused after the incident in the tunnel, arms and legs aching fiercely and his brain in a fog that he could not quite seem to shake. Felt good to be in the bed, warm there beside Liz and the little one and he wanted very badly to sleep, curl up all warm and still and sleep for a few hours, but he couldn’t, had work to do and was, when he allowed himself to think about it, somewhat fearful of sleeping in her presence, anyway, lest the strangeness return--he might not have time, if it came over him in him in his sleep, to reach the tunnel--and she see it. So he stayed awake. Major struggle, but he did it for several minutes, watching the baby’s breathing, smiling at the beauty of it, mother and child… Couldn’t stay in bed. Was losing his fight with sleep, eyes drooping, couldn’t have it. Couldn’t leave either, though, not just then, for Liz was saying something about his holding the baby, hadn’t caught the exact words but it seemed she intended to go outside and then the little one was in his arms, Einar cradling him carefully as Liz left the bed, stopping over the stove for a brief moment of warming as she got a bit stiffly into her boots.
Watching Liz move, Einar realized that she must be pretty sore, the small tear sustained during birth bothering her some, and he knew it would likely heal much more quickly if she was able to apply a compress to the area several times each day--comfrey would have been ideal, the hound’s tongue of which they still had a fair amount stocked away very similar in both composition and effect, and he wanted to prepare the leaves for her, simmer them in a bit of water and have them ready when she came in, but didn’t know what to do with the baby while he worked.
“Well, what about it Will? Snorri. Snorri Willis. What do you say? Don’t want to leave you here in the bed all by yourself ‘cause you’re so little I wouldn’t be surprised if you got lost down in the blankets, just disappeared down there in all that fur and stuff and we had to go searching, and I sure don’t want to be holding you while I’m working over the stove, either, because…oh, never mind why, but I don’t, and it’s for your own good, believe me. Wish I had a parka like your mama’s, so I could just slide you down into the pouch on back of that and let you sleep all warm and secure while I worked, but I don’t. So it’s between me setting you in your little basket bed for a few minutes, I guess, or finding a way to let you come along with me, ride along…what do you say?”
Will had his eyes open, was staring silently up at Einar as he spoke, gaze distant and a bit unfocused but brow wrinkled in apparent concentration so that Einar was sure he must have an opinion of his own, even if unable to express it. “Yeah, I know how that is, little guy. Been there myself, and it’s not a lot of fun, is it? Well, I’m gonna do my very best to make sure I listen to what you’re trying to tell me, even when you’ve not got the means to say it, Ok? That’s what I’m gonna do.” Laying the child gently on the bed for a moment, Einar searched through Liz’s basket of buckskin trimmings and scraps until he came up with the wide, soft strip of hide she’d used to wrap his ribs after their initial injury, passing it twice around his torso and sliding Will carefully into the little pouch created above its tightness, gently wrapping him in place there against his chest--head up, knees bent, looking very cozy and relaxed--and tying the hide strip behind his back. There. Got you. Can’t drop you now, and this way you ought to stay pretty warm, too.
When Liz returned to find Einar’s arms empty as he worked busily away at preparing a hound’s tongue compress and the baby’s bed empty, also, she experienced a brief moment of panic, glancing all around the cabin before looking a bit desperately at Einar, who met her with a mischievous grin, watching in silence as he saw the realization dawn in her eyes, the relief.
“Oh, I didn’t see him at first! that looks like a good little system you’ve got going there. A good way to carry him.”
“Well, I neglected to add a baby-carrying compartment to my parka, so figured this would have to do for right now. I’ll give him back to you in just a minute, ‘cause he’s bound to be getting hungry and I just don’t have the right equipment to take care of that, but first thought maybe you’d like to try out a compress for a while, see if it might help that tear heal a little faster. Which she was, remembering what Susan had told her about the healing properties of comfrey in such situations after birth and knowing hound’s tongue to be a good substitute.
Baby finally nestled back in safely with Liz, the fire banked and a fresh batch of chlorophyll drink prepared and set within easy reach of the bed Einar took his leave of the pair, heading out into the brightly sunlit morning in search of an additional supply of the usnea lichen which was serving so well as diapering material, and--bola in hand, atlatl and darts stuck in his pack--perhaps some fresh meat in the form of a rabbit, squirrel or ptarmigan, too. Bright and brilliant was the world that greeted Einar as he started up into the timber, Muninn soaring happily overhead and several feet of freshly fallen snow lying heaped and smoothed and sparkling over rock and tree, presenting quite a challenge as he attempted to climb the steep slope behind the cabin. Without snowshoes the going would have been incredibly laborious and slow, fairly difficult even with their assistance as he kept sliding backwards in the deep, loose powder as he attempted to climb, his task finally growing slightly easier when he reached more level ground. Good. Awful tired, legs like jelly and a strange hollow feeling gripping his middle, leaving him to wonder at times whether he would actually be able to make that climb, get himself back down to the cabin. Which of course he had to do, no question about it, because they were depending on him. Right. Usnea. It was everywhere on that particular slope, hanging from branches and carpeting the trunks of some of the spruces that grew dense and dark and close together--too close, incidentally, to make practical the use of snowshoes, and they went onto his back; good thing the snow was slightly less deep there--so that all he had to do was take it, stripping great hands full and stashing them in the hide bag he’d brought for that purpose. Much of the lichen he gathered was wet, to some extent, from the snow, but he knew it would dry quickly when spread on rocks and logs near the warmth of the stove, and it didn’t matter that it wouldn’t be ready right away, for their current supply remained a number of days from being exhausted.
Bag full of usnea and no sign anywhere of the small game he’d had hopes of taking, Einar allowed himself to crouch in the snow for a time, resting, listening, hoping perhaps to hear some small sound that might direct him towards the spot where a ptarmigan fed, but he couldn’t hear much of anything over the racket Muninn made as he sailed in and landed heavily at Einar’s feet, sounding a raspy, repeated note the likes of which Einar had never quite heard from him, and he didn’t know what it might mean. Wished the bird would be quiet, got to his feet in an attempt to distance himself slightly from the racket but no sooner had he got himself upright than he began feeling terribly dizzy, would have sunk back to the ground in an attempt to prevent himself passing out but he knew that feeling, recognized it from earlier in the day and knew his usual measures would prove rather powerless against it and then it had him, tossing him to the snow and stiffening limbs into useless, wooden things that stuck out from his body at odd angles, mouth this time clamped shut rather than hanging open, but the entire incident otherwise quite similar. Which ought perhaps to have been reassuring, Einar supposed--he’d lived through the first one, after all--but somehow he was not finding it to be so. At all. The spell passed, movement once more possible, and as before, he felt like curling up and not moving for a very long time, but instead forced himself to his feet, shaky, unsure, his focus on the raven, who seemed intent on persuading Einar to follow as he hopped and flew down through the timber. Follow Einar did, not at all sure of his ability, otherwise, to recognize his way home and knowing that the bird would likely head in that direction, wanting food and knowing where to find it. Long way home, his former path somehow lost and the donning of snowshoes far too complicated a task, when he tried it, so he struggled through the deep powder, glad that the way was all downhill.
When he got back Liz had the fire roaring, front door open and she was sitting there with the baby in the sun, letting its golden fullness fall on his tiny form and on hers, both of them seeming to benefit from its radiance. Einar joined them, presenting Liz with the bag of usnea, sinking to the ground and fumbling with his boots, but he couldn’t figure out how to get them off, gave up after a time, simply reclining on his elbows as the sun began to warm him.
Liz was watching him, eyes clouded with concern. “Einar, you seem a little strange today…are you alright?”
“Today?” He sat up, gave the boots another try, this time with a good bit more success. Things were starting to make sense again. “You mean I’m not always just a little strange? Well that’s good to know…it’s only an occasional sort of thing.”
“Yes, of course you’re always strange, and I’d never insult you by implying any differently…but I’m serious. Is it the baby? Having the baby around? You really don’t seem to be yourself.”