08 June, 2012
8 June 2012
Long morning, Einar warming slowly and Liz at times not at all sure in which direction he might be headed, wishing very badly that they might have a fire to speed up the process just a bit, but she knew better than to try it, just yet. The two of them had agreed on the wisdom of waiting for a time after the departure of the helicopter to resume having fires, and though it seemed to her unlikely the rescuers would have any business at all returning so long after their initial visit to the basin, she went on waiting to rekindle the blaze out of consideration for Einar; that chopper would still be very fresh in his mind, and there seemed no sense in having a fire to warm the place if he wouldn’t be there to benefit from it, which she doubted he would be. So, the fire could wait. She was herself having little trouble staying comfortably warm and Will was even better off, spending all of his time either held close to her or snuggled beneath the furs of two or three different species of high-altitude mammal, so all things considered, there was no pressing need to heat the place up prematurely.
Three more pots of water she heated for Einar’s hands, knowing from past experience with his feet and, to a lesser degree, with her own hands a time or two, that it was a mistake to end the thawing process before the water had been allowed time to do a thorough job, and by that fifth and final bowl, the pain finally seemed to be subsiding some for him, and she was glad. Had offered him willow bark to chew, had even made a tea of the stuff for him to drink but he’d refused, and she had not been sure whether the refusal stemmed from an uncertainty on his part just what it was she was offering, despite her explanations, or whether he really did desire to go through the thawing without anything to dull its impact, but she strongly suspected the second, as he wouldn’t even allow her to add willow tea to the soaking water. Which would have helped some. So she let him be, seeing by the stark clarity in his eyes as he watched her pour that last pot of water the benefit he was likely deriving from the process and wishing with a terrible strength that there might be some other way, any other way at all to achieve the same end for him. No matter. Not just then, It was a matter for another time, and she would give it some thought, but for the moment, he had to have his hands thawed anyway, and she was just glad it was nearly over.
Rummaging through their supply of medicinals, she pulled out a quantity of the cottonwood bud “balm of Gilead” salve she had carefully conserved and carried on their travels, and which had been such a help to her in the past with minor frostbite. They were nearly out of the stuff, would be needing to make a fresh batch that spring, provided she could get down to the river valley in time to collect the still-closed leaf buds of a cottonwood or two, orange, resinous and sweet-smelling with the gummy substance that proved such strong medicine against burns, minor infection and skin conditions of all types. They were best collected in the late winter or early spring, before the leaves started pushing their way through and warmer days turned the resin to a sticky, difficult-to-handle mess, and she supposed she could do some collecting when they went down to the river for their beaver and muskrat trapping, if they still ended up making that trip. In the meantime, she warmed some of the precious salve in her hand and carefully spread it on Einar’s reddened and now-blistering fingers, focusing on the areas which seemed to have seen the worse of the damage and pausing to look him in the eye when he made no reaction at all to her ministrations, concerned that he must be about to lose consciousness but finding him clearly wide awake and seeing in his eyes only a calm, steady stare that she had come to know well in him, and she continued, treating, bandaging, glad when the job was finished and she could finally work on getting him really warm, without worrying about keeping pots of water from spilling in the process.
Einar didn’t seem particularly interested in getting warm, sat there instead carefully flexing his hands, testing their movement and seeing just what he might expect to be able to do with them, should circumstances suddenly demand. Not a whole lot. It was discouraging. If he’d been clumsy before, hungry and hypothermic and frequently trembling as his body made an unconscious effort to generate a little heat--he had hated it, the loss of his dexterity that winter, counting it perhaps the most aggravating consequence of the chronic near-starvation which he had imposed upon himself--he was doubly so now, with three of his fingers and his left thumb wrapped thickly with gauze and several other fingertips badly blistered, and he shook his head in disgust at the fact that it had all been--theoretically, at least--so preventable. Well. Had got to make the best of it, hope to avoid trouble for a few days until the digits could begin healing and be restored to some of their former usefulness, but interested in knowing just how much he could expect of the hands in the meantime, he picked up a few stray willow wands that sat over against the wall, bending and coiling them, testing himself. Results were rather disappointing, bandages interfering some but the hurt of his fingertips and his own shivering interfering more, and he soon set the willows down in frustration, huddling against the cold and making at last a concerted effort to allow himself to begin warming.
Liz seized the opportunity before it could pass, steering him over to the bed and spending the next hour sharing her own warmth as she tried to bring him back to something closer to a livable temperature, knowing it would begin falling again as soon as he hauled himself out of the bed and hoping he would consider it safe to have a fire, that coming night. Until they did, he’d be expending all of his energy simply fighting to stay warm, and even if he wasn’t entirely willing to acknowledge the fact as of yet, she knew a large part of his problem revolved around the fact that, though he’d begun eating again, he was so far behind, nutritionally, and had been for so very long. Does things to a person, no matter how well they’ve managed to adapt to and even in some measure thrive under the conditions, and she knew things would begin to get a bit easier for him, and for them, together, when he could begin to put on a bit of weight and step further back from the brink of starvation. Speaking of which, she supposed she’d better be getting up and seeing about some lunch for the two of them, hungry herself and sure he must be the same, would be, at least, if he allowed himself to feel it, and surely would eat if presented with some leftover soup and a bit of chokecherry pudding.
Sunlight having shifted as the day went on, Liz opened the front door and allowed its rays to slant in all their golden fullness into the dark chill of the cabin, instantly adding a most welcome warmth and brightness to the place, and she spread the thick, warm mountain goat hide in the sunniest spot, where it gleamed white and reflected light up onto the ceiling, brightening the place even further. Einar had by then left the bed, settling himself in his customary position between water barrel and wall, internal exile, self-imposed, but at Liz’s insistence he inched out partially into the sunlight, just letting it fall on one shoulder and part of a leg, as if needing to leave himself the option of retreating once more into the darkness.
Easing Will from the sling where he had spent much of the day riding close to her Liz laid him on the hide, only his face in shadow, thinking it would do him good to take in some sunlight. Increasingly curious about the world around him with every passing day, the little one squirmed and wriggled and did his best to flip himself over onto his stomach, craning his neck and searching until his eyes settled on Einar, where they lingered for a long moment, curious, before continuing their appraisal of his newly sunlit surroundings. Unable to take his own eyes off the child Einar scooted a bit nearer, finally allowing himself fully out into the sunlight where he started shivering all over again as it warmed stiff muscles and began working away at the ice that seemed to remain at his core. Will, warm and very soon drowsy in the sunlight, dozed off within minutes, Liz glad to see it and glancing over at Einar, who sat nearby.
He was watching her, face grave but something approaching a smile in his eyes, and when she asked him what he was thinking, he shifted position, tucked his arms up against his body for warmth--was still pretty thoroughly chilled, uncertain of his ability to carry on an intelligible conversation through the shaking--and asked her if she remembered the time he’d told her how he knew they were having a son, a Snorri instead of a Hildegard. She laughed, stretched out beside him in the sunlight.
“You always were set on the name ‘Snorri,’ weren’t you? But yes, I remember exactly what you said, your dream of this cabin and him all dressed in buckskins and toddling across the tundra to meet you as you came back from hunting with a deer quarter slung over your shoulder…yes, I remember it. Is that what you were thinking about?”
Einar nodded, smile spreading from eyes to face as he watched the sleeping child, so small and perfect and alive in the sunlight. “He’ll probably be walking by the end of summer…”