Half an hour later and with no sighting of the raven, Liz finally made the decision to return home. Much as she hated to do it--“giving up” was hardly more a part of her vocabulary than it was Einar’s--there seemed little point in continuing to wander the snowy woods in search of a flying creature which obviously had no intention of being found, and besides, Will would certainly be incredibly keen to eat by that point, and Einar…well, she’d better be hurrying back.
Everything was quiet as Liz approached the cabin, and somehow this worried her more than the sound of crying might have, her concern only compounded when she noted the complete absence of smoke at the chimney. Had he decided to take Will and go out on his own simultaneous search for the bird? She hoped not, but prepared herself to take off following his tracks, should then tell such a story. He would be slow, not too difficult, perhaps, for her to catch up with, and probably a good thing, too. Now they would both be needing food, and probably a fire, too, judging by what she had observed of Einar’s reaction to the cold since his return from the valley, and it wouldn’t surprise her if all three of them ended up camping out for the rest of the day and the night wherever he had fallen. Assuming he had fallen. Could be an awfully persistent fellow at times, despite the physical obstacles that might stand in his way, and there was really no telling how far he might have managed to travel.
Not far at all, for there were no tracks, and she breathed a little sigh of relief, hoped the discovery would prove to be good news. Quiet in the cabin and pretty cold, no light save for the faint glow that followed her in through the tunnel entrance, and she hurried to search out a candle, light it. There they were, the two of them, Will appearing to sleep contentedly on his father’s chest, warm beneath a doubled-over fold of deer hide and Einar fast asleep beneath him, head back and limbs all sprawled out as if he’d fallen from some great height, hardly appearing alive. At first, Liz wasn’t entirely sure that he was still breathing. Then he shivered, and she relaxed, sitting down beside the two of them on the bed and gently lifting Will, not wanting to accidentally wake Einar and have him spring to his feet as he was sometimes in the habit of doing, with the baby still atop him. A very real concern, for he came awake as she lifted Will, tried but failed at first to sit up, kept at it until he was up on his elbows and blinking at her in the candle light. Will was eating hungrily, content and quiet and satisfied at last, and the pleased Einar so much that he forgot for the moment to ask about Liz’s success in retrieving the envelope, simply watching them together, mother and child, everything right with the world once more…
Liz had to wake him. Not an easy process, and she might have simply let him be, had he not been so very cold. The spot on his chest where Will had been sleeping felt warm to the touch but he was otherwise quite icy, needed to get over by the fire, and she hurried to bring it back to life, slipping the soft buckskin sling over her shoulder so Will could continue to eat while allowing her the use of her hands. Einar woke as she worked on the fire, rolled to his stomach and then onto the floor. No chance of going back to sleep after that, not for a while at least, the way his injured feet had hit the ground.
“Got away, didn’t he?”
“I looked and looked, called him, but there was no sign…”
“Doggone mangy vulture. Thief. He could be in…could be over the ridge and gone by now, if he wanted to. Only he won’t want to, because he’s got so used to the food around this place. He’ll be back, but the chances of him carrying that envelope all this time…”
“I know. I’ll go try again in a while, but I knew Will would be needing to eat.”
“Yeah, he was. Wouldn’t quit howling after a while. Felt bad for the little critter, but wasn’t too much I could do, once the swinging and such quit working.”
“It looks like you found something, though, the way you were both sleeping when I got back. You found exactly the thing he needed.”
“We were sleeping ‘cause we were so worn out from the crying…”
“Ha! Yeah, probably would have been both of us if it’d gone on too much longer, that’s for sure. Guess we got to talk about…well, if you were ever late returning someday when I’d stayed here with him, and he started getting hungry like this again…”
“You’d need some way to feed him. There’s the bottle Susan brought. I packed it away about a week after he was born, just so I’d never be tempted to try and use it, no reason to use it so long as he has access to the real thing, but yes, I’ll show you where it is, and so long as we’ve got snow and below-freezing temperatures to help keep it fresh, there’s no reason I can’t save milk and cache it outside like everything else, so you’d have a little something to put in the bottle, until you could get something else figured out.”
“Until I could rope a mama mountain goat and press her into service?”
“Something like that. You’d figure it out.”
“You’d come back before I did.”
“I hope so! I’ll get started saving milk though. Later today.”
He nodded. Seemed a wise idea. The little one was definitely more content when he had regular access to food, and besides, he needed the stuff. Had a lot of growing to do, and here lately, seemed to be in a pretty big hurry about it. Eat, sleep, grow. Smart little critter. And ready to get back to the sleeping part, from the looks of things. Finished with his meal, he was already dozing in Liz’s lap, and she eased him down into his warm nest of furs, joined Einar on the floor.
“You’re cold again. Come sit by the fire for a while?”
“Always cold. Not a problem. When summer comes and…we start having to worry about things spoiling in the heat, you can probably just throw me in a hole with whatever it is you’re trying to preserve, toss a foot or so of spruce duff over the whole lot, and you’ll have instant refrigeration!”
Liz shook her head, sat down behind him, holding him—even then he seemed fairly intent on getting away, resisting her efforts to warm him—and got the two of them wrapped in a bear hide. “Sometimes you’re really not as funny as you think you are… I don’t want to use you as an ice block! I want you to get warm and stay that way for a while, rest and eat and let your body get back to a point where it can produce its own heat again. Though you certainly could pass as an ice block right now, couldn’t you? Hey, quit trying to get out from under the hide and wriggle away from me, why don’t you? I intend to get you warm one way or another, so we might as well do it the easy way, don’t you think?”
“Do I ever do anything the easy way?”
“It wouldn’t hurt you to try, every now and then…”