Chapter 2        

            Unless was awakened by their own chattering teeth. They wrapped the bedroll tighter around their neck and tried to look at the sky to gauge the time. They was stuck in an icy declivity in the rolling terrain of the forest behind the lake, legs all tangled in dead winter vines. The sun was rising for certain. As Unless concentrated on watching the light and on feeling warmer, the sun rose high enough to spread its rays through the branches and to scatter spots of light on Unless and their blanket. Unless decided that they could feel the warmth in the spots where the sunlight hit and felt a small determined feeling growing that today they would be able get untangled and head home.
            There were morning noises in the forest – faint, barely louder than the shifts and creaks of the snow and trees. Hunting had not been a success. Only the smallest creatures and the predators that fed on them were about. No game stirred where Unless had searched the first night and morning, and just when they thought they had found promising tracks in the snow, an icy outcropping had crumbled beneath their feet and sent Unless tumbling with their pack and gear into thorn bramble that had caught them tight.
            Despite the sunlight, Unless felt weak and giddy, unable to untangle themself. A noise rose above the creak of the forest, coming closer, but Unless paid no mind, uncertain whether it was their imagination. The light dimmed and Unless looked frantically for the sun, but someone was blocking it – Until stood above them, eyes wide with relief, shrugging off a large quilt.
            “Here you are!”
            Until’s quilt fell onto the ground, showing bright ornamented red in patches where the sunlight hit it. They stepped carefully down to where Unless had fallen, surveying the vines.
            "Okay," said Until, "First the blanket, then we'll see about these vines, then we'll get your gear and get home.
            It took several hours. Unless was huddled in both blanket and quilt, shivering even with the sun high and stronger light and warmth coming through the forest branches. Until had been careful to disentangle both them and all their gear without harming the roots of the vines. They thought that even such thorny dead-looking plants must harbor some life, and should have every chance of thriving in the spring.
            Until was warm with their labor and told Unless to keep wrapped up tight in the blanket and quilt for the walk home. Until carried all the hunting gear and lead the way, following footprints and landmarks home.
            Unless sat in the front room by new fire, still shivering in the quilt with their eyes drooping shut. Until hung the bedroll blanket in the hot-press, which was always warm from the chimney but was often musty. Time enough late to air the blanket properly. Next, Until put the hunting gear away and checked the soup broth. A little warmer would be better.
            When they returned to the front room, Until was quite shocked to see how ill Unless looked. Until hustled them upstairs and settled Unless into bed with warmed bricks all around and some extra pillows and blankets. Unless finally began to feel warm, but was unhappy to realize that warm or not, they did not like feeling like such an invalid, bundled and propped up in bed.
            "Now stay awake just a little bit, and let me bring you some soup!" said Until.
            "Don't need sleep, don't need to be in bed," grumbled Unless.
            "Please, warm up, you must be chilled to the bones" and Until was off downstairs to fix a tray with hot soup and warm ale. Unless looked very ill indeed, but would be slow to admit anything wrong.
            By the time Unless had finished their soup and ale, they had begun shivering with fever instead of cold, and sleep was unavoidable. Until took away some of the extra pillows and blankets, tucking Unless in for a good long healing sleep.
            Certain that Unless was asleep and would mend, Until served themself some hot soup and warm ale and then went to sit in the front room and to try not to worry. The rest of the new paintings were sitting on the easel. Until decided to distract themself by looking at the next painting.
            They was charmed by the fresh and morning feel the painting exuded, despite the lizard and fly and the mysterious hand that Until could think of no explanation for.
            Several hours later, Until went up to check on Unless. A trip to the necessary and another meal were well received, but Unless was cross with their fever and unwilling to go right back to sleep. Until brought a basin and cloths, which helped, but Unless was still cranky. Until considered the situation. It would be best if there was some way Unless could be persuaded to stay in bed and rest. The picture!
            Unless agreed to stay in bed if Until brought up the next picture and hung it on the wall for them both to look at. Unless was pleased, and they sat together in silence for an hour or so just looking at the painting and remembering the excitements of the past few days.
            After another simple, warm meal, Until was pleased to see that Unless had relaxed, and that they looked ready for a long night’s sleep now. Until took a deep breath, smoothed the edge of the blankets, and began to sing in a quiet voice.

            Hunter come home from forest and hill
            The season is cold and ice and chill
            No game to hunt but hunt you will
            Until I go find you, fallen and ill

            Winter has touched you and made you ill
            Fever now shakes you and aches you still
            I will not scold nor doubt your skill
            But if you can sleep now I hope you will

            Hunter come home from forest and hill
            Fever now shakes you and aches you still
            I went and found you fallen and ill
            And if you can sleep now I hope you will  

            *** click here for Hunter Come Home ***

            Unless was asleep when the song was finished. Until tucked a blanket around themself and shut their eyes, confident that Unless would be improved in the morning. When Until awoke, however, Unless was burning in fever and did not wake. Until bathed Unless’s face with damp cloths, warmed the bricks again, and rushed away to seek the doctor.

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Image: Julie Püttgen, Cloudmapping: Don't Expect Applause. Gouache, watercolor, and pencil, 12x16", 2008.
Text & Lyrics: JS van Buskirk
Music: James R. Carlson
Animation: Matt Gilbert