20 August, 2012
20 August 2012
That afternoon Liz fed Will, made sure he was dry and happy and tucked in for one of the short naps he’d recently become willing to take while not in someone’s arms, and left the cabin. She didn’t tell Einar where she was going, simply squeezing his shoulder on the way out and mentioning that she’d be back in time to feed the baby before the next time he needed a meal. Einar certainly hoped so, jarred out of a chilly near-sleep where he sat leaning against the water barrel by the realization that he’d been left alone with the little one.
Getting himself with some difficulty to hands and knees he crept over to the sleeping Will, watching his quiet breathing and listening for Liz’s returning footsteps through the snow, but hearing nothing. Now, what had she said? Surely she’d given some reason for her departure, but he could think of none. Just hadn’t stuck in his brain, and the raven, roosting comfortably on his perch near the water barrel, was certainly proving no help. Wouldn’t say a word. Somewhat baffled, Einar figured she wouldn’t stay gone long, surely not, having left Will behind, but so long as she was gone, he had better be doing his best to stay awake and keep an eye on things, not leave baby and raven to their own devices, especially with Will becoming increasingly mobile and able, fairly consistently, to work his way out of his basket if not interrupted in his strivings. For the moment he remained asleep, tucked snugly beneath the mountain goat hide with only face and tiny hands showing, and Einar was glad. Cold in there, and he checked the stove, adding a log to help prepare the place for Will’s waking, wanting him to be able to fairly comfortably creep about as he had been doing of late--not too comfortably, though; Will was a child of the high mountains, born into a harsh and unforgiving environment, and the fostering of undue softness in his nature would, Einar was quite sure, only be doing him a disservice--raising himself and rocking back and forth to strengthen arms and legs against the time when he would crawl.
Hovering briefly over the newly fueled stove, Einar took a moment to warm his own badly numbed hands, not wanting their chill to be too startling to the little one should he have to pick him up. Wouldn’t do to have Liz come back and find him crying inconsolably and thinking it his fault. Didn’t work too well, the warming, only left him shaking harder than he had been, before, as his body sought desperately to begin returning itself to something more like a normal temperature. No use. He’d never make it there, so why allow the process to begin, in the first place? It would leave him a trembling and near-useless mess for the following two or three hours, he knew from past experience, and he couldn’t afford that, not with Liz gone and he the only one there to care for Little Will. Well, there was the raven.
“A lot of help you’d be though, wouldn’t you, Muninn? Would you bring him food and keep him covered up against the cold and all? Hardly think so. Guess it’s gonna have to be me, until she gets back. Where is she, huh critter? Where’d she go for so long? Want to go out and look for her, let her know that I’m in here watching this little one, and will do my best with it, but sure don’t know what I’m supposed to do it he wakes up hungry? Go tell her, huh?”
The raven simply tilted his head and chortled as if in mild derision, closed his eye and tucked his beak back beneath a wing. Einar shrugged, backed away from the stove, arms briefly wrapped around his middle against a series of violent shudders that had seized him under the influence of its warmth. Didn’t do a lot of good, and before long he found himself curled up on the floor, blinking hard against a welling blackness and struggling simply to get his limbs to un-cramp themselves sufficiently to support his repeated attempts to rise once more. Took a long time but he managed it, creeping unsteadily to hands and knees just as little Will, awakened by the sounds of his struggle, did the same, the two of them swaying precariously from their newly-gained positions, Einar on the floor and Will in his basket, eyes level with one another. After a good minute or two of grave, silent staring a bit of a lopsided smile began twisting a bit of the grimness from the corner of Einar’s mouth, at which Will began giggling and gurgling and carrying on so that Einar, the intense concentration which had been allowing him to keep upright momentarily broken, tumbled back to earth in a crumpled, laughing heap.
“Quite a pair we make, the two of us. You just learning to get around and me sometimes fighting tooth and nail to keep it up…where’re you going, anyway? Wanting to get out and explore the wider world a little, right now? Well, I’m all for that, but how about you just give me a minute to…” blackness again, and this time, focused on Will, he hadn’t been ready for it, hadn’t prepared, and it overtook him, slammed him to the ground so hard that when he got his eyes open and cleared the next moment it was to find blood trickling from a deep gash on his cheekbone, and Will’s basket quite inexplicably tipping towards him, seemingly of its own accord. Reacting even before he could quite comprehend what was happening, or why, he made a quick roll towards the basket, catching Will in his arms a fraction of a second before the little one would have met the rocks around the stove head-first. Will still laughing--he was, in fact, rather proud of himself, having been trying for days to get the basket to move sufficiently to allow his escape--and Einar suddenly finding himself a bit short of breath at the realization of how the incident could have ended, how it very nearly did end, the two of them lay for a moment perfectly still before Einar rolled to the side with greatest care, gently depositing the wayward child on the soft piece of buckskin which Liz sometimes used as a floor covering for his crawling attempts.
“Couldn’t wait, could you? Had to get out there and exploring in your own good time, never mind when anyone else was ready for it. Yeah, I understand what that’s like. Figure I must’ve been the same way at your age; sure was as far back as I can remember. Wasn’t a crib that could keep me in, according to what my mother has said. Seems I just saw such things as challenges to be climbed up and out of, even if that did mean ending up hitting the floor head-first more than once as I learned my balance. Whew! Sure glad I caught you, little one. What if your mother had come in and found you crying on the floor with me just lying there looking dumb and unable to tell her how it had all come about? Would have been the rabbit stick for both of us, I’m afraid.” He stopped then, Will still laughing and cooing delightedly at his newfound freedom but his own laughter stilled, face grave as the reality of the situation sunk in, the fact that he had not been able to watch and protect the little guy the way he really ought to have been, had, in fact, barely found himself conscious enough to prevent disaster. Wouldn’t do, and his eyes strayed to the stewpot--hungry; he could not deny it now, not after the little taste he’d had earlier--obvious solution, but his own was a bit different, if no less definitive.
Needed to strengthen himself, alright, but the stewpot seemed quite the wrong direction at the moment, something he would have to earn, and he had by no means yet done so. Needed, instead, to get out and sit in the snow, immerse himself in icy water and stand for a day and a night in the wind to challenge himself if he really wanted to be stronger, visit once more the wind-twisted, age-blackened form of that all too familiar tree up on the overlook and drive out the weakness of body and soul which were currently plaguing him and leaving him, despite Liz’s apparent confidences, a less-than-reliable caretaker for the little one and less than the provider he ought to have been for his family, as well. The trapline, though more than he’d done in some time, was pitifully short and would, he knew, barely be producing enough to sustain them were they not still able to rely so heavily on the meat they’d harvested and stored in the fall and earlier in the winter. Not good, not enough, any of it, and as soon as she returned, he would go.