Einar did not want to sleep. Knew what the night would likely hold for him should he allow himself the luxury, and in no way wanted to risk such an experience in the presence of Liz and the little one, not to mention their guests. For hours he lay rigidly awake under the bear hide beside Liz, listening to her deep, regular breathing and the baby’s faster and barely audible respirations, the two of them not exactly breathing in concert because of the difference, but still somehow in harmony. He remembered hearing somewhere that sleeping close beside the mother rather than in a separate crib or bed could help reduce chances of an infant’s simply ceasing to breathe in the night, something about the rhythm of the mother’s breaths helping to regulate the baby’s, and he was glad that Liz had shown no inclination to want the little one to sleep separate from her. Would have been an awful hassle, anyway, when it came to eating; as it was, her sleep seemed for the most part minimally disturbed when the little one got hungry. She would simply re-position herself slightly to allow him to get at the milk, then go back to sleep with him in the crook of her arm as he ate, and to Einar, it seemed like a very reasonable and natural arrangement. No getting up in the middle of the night to go to the crib of an infant howling for food and companionship, only to do it all over again a few hours later when the food wore off and he realized he was hungry and alone, again. This way, everyone got more sleep. Aside, of course, from those who chose to remain awake for reasons of their own.
Despite his weariness--worse than weariness; felt as though he could easily close his eyes and never open them again, which he figured probably wasn’t too far from the truth--Einar found wakefulness reasonably easy to maintain that night, chill of the cabin seeping in around him and setting him to trembling where he had pushed back a corner of the bear hide to admit the air, careful to keep it tucked down thoroughly between himself and Liz so as to prevent chilling her, at the same time. Too cold to sleep and glad of it he lay listening to the wind howl and whine in the treetops, thundering down, at times, to pummel the cabin with its fury but finding little admittance; their insulation job had been thorough, and quite a success.
Though sleeping arrangements allowed little Will to eat whenever he grew hungry his quietness did not last the night, a growing restlessness compelling Liz, sometime in the early hours of the morning, to rise and walk with him in order to prevent his wailing, pacing back and forth from bed to water barrel, walking softly so as not to disturb Bud and Susan where they slept cozy in down bags behind the barrel. Einar watched her for a minute or two as she stoked the fire, golden light from the stove’s open door flickering across her face each time she passed it, features soft in the halo of hair that had worked its way loose from her braid in the night and eyes warm and gentle as she stared at the tiny face nestled in its wrappings of rabbitskin. Despite the peaceful appearance of the scene, little Will would resume his high, thin wail again every time Liz stopped moving, and after several minutes of this Einar left the bed, carefully balancing for a moment on its side until a bit of dizziness passed and he was able to stand reliably and without danger of toppling back over again, rubbing badly chilled legs in an attempt to restore some circulation. Quietly he went to Liz, speaking softly so as not to wake the Kilgores.
“My turn. I’ll take him for a while, let you get some more sleep.”
She put a hand on his arm, looking concerned even though he held his breath and tensed all his muscles in an attempt to stop shaking. “You’re cold. Get your parka, and then I’ll hand him over.”
“Nah, I’m alright. I’ll keep the fire going.”
“There’s a pot of broth on the stove from earlier. You need to have some of that if you’re going to carry him.”
“He’s not gonna care one way or another. I’m not his food source.”
“No, but you’re mine, and I’m his, and I want you to be able to stick around here with us for a while, which means eating! And besides, I don’t want you getting all dizzy and tipping over while you’re holding him. So just have the broth. You’ve had some rest now, and ought to be able to get it down. If your legs are working again, hopefully your swallowing muscles are, too.”
Slightly irritated but knowing Liz was right to be concerned about the dizziness--he’d never drop the little guy, not so long as he had any say in the matter, but the way things had been going of late, he knew he might not have much say, if he wasn’t careful--Einar took up the pot and managed a little sip of the stuff before beginning to splutter and cough and having to stop. Was pretty sure the same thing had happened that previous evening when Liz had been trying to feed him the stuff after his unsuccessful attempts at dinner, but couldn’t remember for sure. Things had gone awfully blurry and uncertain there for a while. Frustrated, he tried again, with similar results. Doggone it, Einar. It’s just liquid. Such a simple little thing, and look at you. Couldn’t finish this stuff right now to save your life, could you? Which is kind of a shame, because that might just be what it takes. Well. Little sips. You’ll have it done before morning. Liz, at least, seemed satisfied by his effort, handing him the baby and making certain the rabbitskin blanket was tucked snugly in around him, giving Einar a kiss on the cheek and heading back for bed.
“Come get me if he starts acting hungry, or you need to rest. He seems to like movement, right now.”
Einar nodded, began pacing, speaking softly to the child, voice low and barely audible. “Yeah, I know where you’re coming from, little one. Sometimes I like movement, too, and nothing else will do. Nothing at all. You just wait a year or two until you’re on your feet and walking, and then we’ll really cover some ground together, the two of us. Lot of ground to cover. Lots to see in this big old world. You sleep now, yeah, that’s right. Everybody wants to sleep, and they can’t do it with you up and howling like a gut-shot coyote all the time. What’s your trouble, anyway? Frustrated that you can’t get up and move, on your own? Yeah, I’d understand that one, for sure. But I don’t think that’s it. Not yet. Too little yet to know what you’re missing, there. And you can’t be hungry, because she’s already tried that. Wonder if…yeah, here you go…” and he turned the child over onto his stomach, supporting his body along the length of an arm bent at the elbow, and at once little Will quieted, sleeping. Well, you just never know…