With the coming of high winds that afternoon, the cold spell which had gripped the basin and valley so tightly for the past several days ended abruptly, the very active fire with which Liz had been attempting to drive back some of the chill from entering the cabin suddenly making things feel close, stuffy, and she cracked the front door to allow in some fresh air and what remained of the afternoon’s sunshine. Will was awake again, fascinated by the light and she sat with him on her lap in the sunshine, head on her knees, balancing him and allowing him to explore the unaccustomed brightness with his eyes. Though the air remained chill despite the afternoon’s sudden warming she took him out of the blankets for a few minutes, allowing the sunlight to soak into his skin; Vitamin D, she knew, was passed along in the milk which sustained the little one, but it wouldn’t hurt him to have a supplemental supply of his own when the opportunity presented itself.
Einar had been watching the two of them, head slightly bowed and eyes half closed as he struggled to stay awake and complete the length of cordage he had earlier begun, section of nettle stem gently pounded with a round-edged rock, fibers separated, soaked and twisted to make the strong twine they would later use for everything from snares to the cords by which they suspended portions of their food supply from high branches of the surrounding spruces in an effort to protect them from scavengers. In their life up there in the high basin, neither of them were ever without a good-sized coil of the stuff carried on their person, and they found more uses for it than one might imagine. Cordage-making was a project whose ongoing effort never went to waste, the resulting material being an expendable item which had daily application in their life. Had there been a high country general store stocked with all the necessities of living a stark and remote life devoid of any contact with outside civilization, cordage would certainly have been a best seller.
Making the stuff wasn’t an easy thing to manage with frost-nipped fingers, though, and lacking some of the dexterity that he might otherwise have expected to find at his disposal, Einar had to keep stopping to re-position things and improve his grip on the twisting, twining bundles of fibers. That, and take the occasional deep breath and quick gulp of water in an attempt to dispel a bit of the pain of handling the rough material with the damaged tips of his fingers. Frustrating work, but he’d kept at it, and already he’d managed to create some ten or fifteen feet of the stuff; a good start. Wasn’t working anymore, though, draft from the open door reaching him and setting him to shivering so hard he could barely control the motions of his hands, let alone grip that half finished cord with the precision necessary to complete it. Liz had so far not noticed his dilemma, and he did not wish for her to do so. She’d want to remedy the situation, fix him some hot broth, close the door and build up the fire or hurry him to a warmer place such as the bed…and he was quite content to remain exactly where he was, struggling to control the increasingly convulsive trembling of his rather wayward body and make his hands useful once more.
Wasn’t working, not at all, the usual concentration with which he would attempt to remedy such a situation seeming to have no effect whatsoever on the increasing grip with which the chill of the air held him, and when finally he laid aside his work and attempted to pull the bear hide down from the bed to cover himself, he found even this simple task beyond his reach. Simply didn’t have the strength to do it, to grab the thing and make it move, and the discovery frustrated him so that, under normal circumstances, at least, he would surely have taken himself outside for an hour or two of sitting in the snow, strengthening and testing and in his own way making up for the lack of ability he had discovered in himself. But, he could not even do that. He’d promised Liz. No more freezing the feet, no risky and unnecessary wanders in the snow until they’d had a chance to do whatever healing they were inclined to do, and the danger of losing toes had passed. But, this was necessary. Was the only way he knew to get himself through things such as the seemingly inexorable weakness which now stalked him, creeping into limbs and rendering him all but useless for the time being, only way he knew to fight it and salvage something of himself, of the fortitude, stamina and raw, elemental determination which had always seen him through, rescuing his soul if not his physical body by the grim act of forcing himself to endure, for a time at least, more than the present circumstances were throwing at him. Had always worked for him, though sometimes with quite a price, and now that he’d given Liz his word that he would try no such thing until after the feet had begun improving…he was finding himself a bit lost.
Which left him little to do other than try again with the cordage, but as he had already established that he wouldn’t be getting too much further on that particular project until something changed, further efforts in that direction seemed somewhat pointless. He made them anyway, similar results, more frustration and now he was beginning to have a hard time staying awake, too, body wanting very badly to curl in on itself in an effort to conserve warmth and energy, and drop off to sleep. This he knew he must fight, feeling as though his body was losing the ability to compensate as it had always been able to do, systems one by one betraying him until, should the trend continue, he might well find himself before long unable to do so much as lift his head, let alone take any effective action to reverse the situation or to help Liz with their daily tasks. Wasn’t just sleepy, needing rest after his ordeal in the valley; he was falling apart. Could feel it. Something was different, and the difference scared him. Almost. Wouldn’t have done, had he been alone—that time, he knew, must come for everyone sometime or other, and he did not fear death…might have wished it to come some other place or in some other way, him with his boots on and fighting, and not, if he had any say in it while he lay helpless in the cabin— but he wasn’t alone and the thought of leaving his family to fend for themselves, and doing it soon…
He knew the solution. Temporary one, at least, and he rose, struggling to get his legs to cooperate and nearly ending up right where he had started when they proved a good deal less willing than he had anticipated. No strength. Nothing. What was wrong with him? Felt like everything had turned to jelly inside, nothing solid, and when he tried to exert a bit more effort, struggling again to get to his feet, his chest hurt. Squeezed. Heart pounding far more rapidly than he thought it ought to have been, and with very little effect for all its effort. The feeling left him a bit anxious without even knowing why, world seeming to close in around him. Done for. Wanted to tell Liz, to apologize, but her attention remained on Will, and he couldn’t get any sound to come out of his mouth when he tried. Throat awful dry. Would have liked to be able to say something to her, and again he rose, this time maintaining it, stumbled over to the water barrel and promptly passed out with arms and face down under the water. That got Liz’s attention if nothing else had, and thinking he’d intentionally decided to take a dip in their supply of drinking water, she was about to grab her rabbit stick and relieve him of the foolish notion, once and for all.