Seeing that Einar had been able to get a bit of the Nutella down without choking on it as has been the problem with both the broth and the more solid bits they’d been trying to give him Susan had an idea, chopped a handful of rabbit meat very finely and covered it with water in a pot, adding every bone she could round up from their recent meals, breaking some of them so as to get them under the water, and setting the entire thing to simmer. After several hours of simmering the mixture would, she knew, turn into a rich broth which ought to thoroughly congeal as it cooled. The finished product, which would be similar to a gelatin dessert or, perhaps more accurately, to the meat broth aspic recipes she used to make in jell-o molds, ought to prove both nutritious and easy for Einar to eat without gagging and choking and feeling like giving up. Wanting to add to the nutritional richness of the food she stirred in, after removing it from the heat, a quantity of the liquid iron supplement she’d been giving Liz--might have simply tried to persuade Einar to take some of it each day, too, but expected he might be a bit more willing if it was quietly incorporated into the meat gelatin--as well as a bit of additional milk obtained quietly from Liz in between feedings of little Will. Einar still had no idea they’d been including it in his broth, and Susan felt slightly uncomfortable secretly including one thing and another in his food, but as getting him some serious nutrition seemed quite literally a matter of life and death at that point, she figured the sleight could probably be justified. Especially as he had not specifically stated that he wanted to avoid any of the things she was including… Not that he’d been given the chance. Broth finished and bones strained out, Susan poured it into both halves of her stainless steel mess kit, and set the concoction out in the cooler air of the tunnel to set up.Ought to be ready in under half an hour at these temperatures, and then we can see how it works for him.
Hard at work once again on his snowshoe repairs, Einar had noticed Susan working on something over the stove but hadn’t paid it much heed, thinking it likely to be one of the various concoctions she’d been making for Liz, rich mixtures of fat, meat, nettles and various other things she’d brought--hoped it was for her, anyway, as he’d seen her put some of Liz’s iron supplement into the mixture--and he didn’t quite know what to make of the situation when she deposited the stuff out in the tunnel. Strange thing to do, unless she’s trying to attract a marten or ermine right there into the tunnel so it can be trapped… Couldn’t figure it out, so he went back to his work, only a few more lengths of webbing left to weave in. Had been slow going and wasn’t getting any easier, hands troubling him fingers stinging terribly, swelling, and though he still believed they had sustained no serious or lasting damage from the cold that morning, he did he did figure it might be wise to treat them once again with the balm of Gilead salve Liz offered him, smearing it on the most greatly affected areas and covering them lightly with gauze from Bud and Susan’s medical kit.
Einar wished he hadn’t managed to incur the injuries, especially on so simple an expedition as the one he’d made out to retrieve meat from its spot hanging in the nearby spruces, but at least their pain gave him something to focus on--besides, of course, the intricate work of repairing the snowshoes and the often-times rather intense effort required to keep himself awake and sitting in a more or less upright position--something to which to fasten his mind when it tried so hard, as it seemed wont to do since his conversation with Kilgore, to wander off down distant paths to times surely better left in the past where they really belonged. Strange that the pain of his frostbitten and in places blistered fingers should be the thing to provide him such solace, but the pattern was a familiar one to Einar, one hurt--pressing, undeniable and inescapable for its very immediacy--replacing another to a great enough degree that a person could for the time leave that other, larger thing aside, and carry on. Worked for him, and in that sense, he was glad of the fingers. And even--though he wouldn’t have admitted it to anyone in the room--glad, in a strange, roundabout way, of the desperate and in recent days near deadly hunger that had reduced him to a thing he barely recognized, animated skeleton held together by the barest physical bonds and propelled forward by a will and spirit which grew stronger, keener of purpose and more unwavering in their resolve even as the body which held them grew increasingly weak and uncooperative.
In that state of existence, frustrated though he found himself at times for seemingly lacking the ability to pull himself out of it, Einar found solace just as he did in the smarting fingers with which he now struggled to finish his snowshoe project, the level of focus and resolve required simply to go on breathing, moving himself through his appointed tasks in such a condition acting to salve the other hurt which threatened at times to creep up and overwhelm him. The strength required to go on resisting such basic human urges as to fill one’s stomach, be warm and go to sleep proving to him that he still had what it took to stand firm, hold his ground against the greatest pressure and not give in, not break. And--most important of all, though it broke his heart every time he found himself in the position to call on it, for that meant he had at last given in, had fallen--the resilience to pick himself up and start all over again when he did finally make one concession or another, find the strength to once more stand firm.
With those things in mind and having for so long used a similar mechanism to see himself through life--though not always with the awareness of what he was doing; that had come only in very recent years, and he wasn’t entirely sure he liked having the knowledge, but there was no going back--Einar found himself a bit apprehensive about this thing they wanted him to do, Susan, Kilgore, his own dear Lizzie, resented their intrusion and wondered if he’d be able to keep his word and make an effort to take the advice they intended to give him, accept the meals they apparently planned to push his way on a regular basis. Shook his head, looked up at Liz, who sat comfortably in the bed, reclined against a rolled up bear hide, feeding little Will. None of it mattered, really, nothing besides the fact that his family was depending on him, and he must be there for them. The rest was his burden to carry just as it had always been, and he would find some way to bear the load. Had to do.
Was apprehensive about something else, too, knew that no matter how strongly he might in the current moment wish to comply with the requests of his friends and his wife when it came to resuming his eating and working to get himself in a bit better shape, there would inevitably come a time--many times, if the past was any predictor--when he would see their efforts not as friendly endeavors but as the direct and insidious advances of the enemy--eat, I know you want to eat, and you can do it, too, just as soon as you tell us what we need to hear. Come on, just one word so we know you’re willing to cooperate, that’s all it will take, you’re going to die if you don’t eat, and soon, surely you know that--the face of that wiry little officer pressed close to his own, smell of hot rice and fish and vegetables coming in through the bamboo slats of the cage to further tempt and torment him as it twisted his stomach into knots, and when he looked up at Liz again it wasn’t she who held their child, but that evil little man--dead, he’s dead, but it didn’t matter, meant nothing, in the moment--and Einar hid his face in his hands, felt as though he was going to be sick. He didn’t want to see her that way. Couldn’t afford to see her that way, for her sake as well as for his own, for the mind is a strange thing, reality dreadfully slippery at times and the last thing he wanted to do was to be placing her in any danger. So he had an awful dilemma, and could see no good way out. Other than to accept the mysterious, gelatinous substance that was now being offered to him by Susan, something akin to a very thick, chilled animal broth--smelled good, even if it looked a mite peculiar--and he took the dish, thanked her and sat staring at the stuff, trying hard to separate things out into their own realities, get them in some sort of order, convince himself that it was alright to eat, that he wasn’t about to lose something--or everything--by doing so.
Sometime in the late afternoon hours as supper was simmering on the stove, Einar finishing up his re-varnishing of the repaired snowshoes and Liz briefly napping with the baby in the bed, Muninn the raven decided he had, at last, had quite enough of being out in the storm, rapping insistently at the front door and setting up such a fuss that he really could not be ignored. Einar, feeling responsibility for the creature and knowing that he wasn’t likely to give up until his protestations were acknowledged and acted upon, hurried to open the door and allow the bird entry. Still cautious around the two guests and wary, especially, of Kilgore, Muninn made a careful circuit of the cabin, critically inspecting the two interlopers before coming to rest on Einar’s shoulder, twisting a bit of his hair and chortling softly as if to say, I don’t like it, but if you say these folks are alright, then they must be alright. “Yeah,” Einar growled, answering the bird almost as if having understood what he was trying to say, “they’re alright. Sneaky buggers, but they don’t mean any harm, really.”