Liz and Susan had, in the absence of the two men, done a good bit of straightening up and cleaning around the cabin, Susan sweeping the polished dirt of the floor with the neatly constructed broom of thin-tipped willow wands Liz often used for the task and remarking at what a good job it did. Muninn had gone with Bud and Einar so she cleaned his corner, also--Einar had been doing a fairly diligent job of keeping it neat since just before the baby came, when Liz had objected to the slight mess which had accumulated, but had in the recent days let things slide just a bit--sweeping, scraping and scrubbing until everything shone. Working together, tidying up and working on meals for later in the day, both Susan and Liz found themselves enjoying what seemed a much more relaxed feel to the day; things really had been pretty tense with both Kilgore and Einar crammed together under that roof, and the break was proving not a bad thing for anyone.
Seeing that Liz wanted to take a more active role in helping around the place that day but was having some trouble due to having both hands full--quite literally--with the baby, Susan took it upon herself to solve the problem, making a sling of deerhide for little Will, so Liz could more easily carry him while working, at times when she didn’t necessarily want or need him to be tucked away down in the cozy parka-pocked under her hood. Taking a single deerhide--one which Liz told her was not yet spoken for, she tied it at one end to create a pouch for the baby when Liz slipped it over her head, and, sliding the device on over her own arm and shoulder and across her front, she demonstrated how it could be used to carry the baby in approximately the same position on one’s body as when the child was in the womb, therefore keeping him very close to the mother’s body and easing the strain of carrying him. Liz tried it, finding the sling so comfortable that she hardly knew the little one was there, compared with carrying him in her arms. Yet there he was, right in front of her where she could keep an eye on him and tend to his needs, even--Susan showed her how--feeding him without taking him out of the carrier.
“While he’s an infant like this you’ll have to be careful to let him stay lying down or at least leaning against you in a comfortable position, make sure his little chin doesn’t get pressed too far down against his chest because that can make it a little more difficult for him to breathe, but once he’s sitting up, or nearly ready to do so, you can sit him up in the sling, too, facing forward like a little kangaroo in its mother’s pouch. Some of mine really liked that, liked being able to look out at the world as they rode, and it helped them be more content and less fussy as I worked.”
“Plus, that way you can talk to them about whatever it is you’re doing, cooking, tanning a hide or whatever it may be in your case, and even if they’re too young to have language, themselves, to use it, you’d be surprised what they can pick up. They’re listening and observing and learning, even at this age, and it’s a shame that so many people underestimate their capabilities. They’re little people, just like us except that they haven’t been around as long, don’t have as much experience of the world. But yes, I was saying…when he gets even older and is able to hold himself upright with his stomach muscles--and keep himself from toppling over backwards so easily--you can rest him on your hip in the sling, and that will take even more of the weight off your shoulders, and make him easier to carry as he gets older--and bigger. And of course, he can ride on your back this way too, if it’s summer and too warm to use the parka. Yes, sometime around the middle of summer he ought to be ready for a thing like that.”
Liz took the finished sling, tried it on and with Susan’s help got Will settled comfortably in it, curled up against her stomach where he immediately went back to sleep, liking the movement and the warmth of being held so snugly and so close. “I wish you lived closer, so you could show me more things like this as he grows.”
“Oh, you’ll get it figured out, you and Einar. Most of it is just real straight forward stuff, just a matter of doing what makes sense and attending to his needs in the most efficient way possible--for both you two, and him. People tend to make it way too complicated, this business of raising little people. I did it five times, and you know, there’s really not all that much to it, in these early years. You’re just meeting their needs, keeping them fed and warm and close, showing them that they’re loved and introducing them to the world. The two of you are going to be great at it. I’ve seen Einar with that little guy. He’s going to be a great dad, and of course, you’re already doing great as a mom! This little one doesn’t know how good he has it!”
Liz nodded, watching Will as he slept and wishing she could share Susan’s confidence. It seemed at times that she had so much to learn, still, and never in her life had she been vested with a responsibility which even began to approach that she had to the tiny life now in her charge. Their charge, and Einar was, indeed, stepping up to do his part and demonstrating a love and tenderness for the little person which she wasn’t sure she’d ever see from him, under any circumstance. They were going to be just fine. She hoped. Hoped Einar would make it back whole and in one piece from his little outing with Kilgore, worried, considering his condition over the past several days and prayed, cold sunlight outside beginning to be obscured by a fresh round of clouds that were blowing their way in over the ridge, that he was well, on his way back or nearly so. Which is when she began feeling the first inkling that something wasn’t right.
Susan couldn’t hear it, and neither, really, could Liz, that rumbling just past the edge of perception but she nonetheless had some awareness of its coming, something, perhaps, that she was gradually picking up from Einar, a bit of his uncanny ability to sense and pinpoint approaching sources of danger rubbing off on her, and she dropped the pile of hides she’d been gathering on her way out to the tunnel to hang them in trees and beat the dust from them, freshen them up, made a dive at the stove and quickly closed off the chimney. Susan was staring at her, alarmed and curious and wondering what she ought to be doing but Liz left her no doubt.
“Chopper,” she hissed, “I hear it! They don’t usually come in the daytime like this. We’ve got to stop the smoke.”
“Need me to do anything?”
“No. It’s all done. That should take care of it. At least the sun’s out, the heat from our chimney and the rocks around it won’t have such a chance of showing up, but it is still an awfully cold day, and the smoke…well, there could still be a little out there, despite all the trees and me using only very dry wood during the day. You just never know.”
By then the rumble had become close, insistent, and Liz crouched on the floor beside the bed, bent over Will in the sling as if to shield him--that part of Einar, it seemed, had rubbed off on her just a bit as well, and she found herself increasingly alarmed by the presence of anything airborne; not that she was without reason, under their present circumstances--as the great beast approached, thundering up through the basin, over the ridge and passing. Into silence. Blessed silence. Please let that be the only pass. Don’t let him come back, not this time, not with Einar out there…