Ragnar and his sons were out deer hunting. They'd spotted a large buck and were tracking it. Along with three other bucks they'd caught last week, plus rabbits, ducks, quail, and geese they'd caught over the last several weeks, this buck would give them plenty of meat for the upcoming cold season.
Deer were quite plentiful this time of year on Scandava, a planet in the Lambda Quadrant of deep space, and Ragnar made the best of it.
It was a chilly day, but nothing like what would arrive in the next week. It was just the 4 of them, ever since Ragnar's wife died 5 years earlier, when their youngest was 5 years old. Their oldest was now 13, and their middle son was 11.
Ragnar was a tall, very muscular man, with large pointed ears and black eyebrows that angled up. He was bald, had black markings on his face, 3-4 days' worth of stubble, and a chestful of hair. The boys looked like a miniature of him, although they had black hair down to their shoulders and no stubble.
At last, they spotted the buck not too far from the river. Ragnar got his crossbow into position, then released the arrow. A direct hit! The buck went down within seconds.
They ran up to it and Ragnar checked to see if it was dead. He didn't want it to suffer. It hadn't. They got their tarp out to drag it home.
While they were working on getting the buck onto the tarp, they didn't see a lone canoe floating down the river. They looked up when they heard a woman's weak voice calling to them.
“Excuse me, Sir. Do you know where some caves are? My daughter and I are looking for shelter.”, a woman said.
They saw a canoe and a young woman in it, dressed in a long brown hooded cloak. She sounded weak and exhausted beyond words.
Ragnar didn't see anyone with her. However, just then he heard an infant cry. The young woman was obviously in the company of an infant.
“There aren't any caves for miles, Ma'am. It's cold and wet today. It'll probably be snowing by tonight. You're more than welcome to come to our cabin so you and your daughter can warm up. I've got stew on the stove you can have as well if you'd like. I promise you, you and your daughter will be safe with us.”, Ragnar replied.
“Thank you sir! That would be wonderful!”, the woman said as she docked her canoe. He took his heavy coat off and put it on her to keep her warm, and told his boys to carry her belongings to their cabin.
“You're so kind! You're more than welcome to put your buck in my canoe to get it to your cabin more easily if you'd like.”, she said to him.
He thanked her and, after getting the tarp and buck into the canoe, dragged the canoe behind him as he walked beside her.
“I'm Ragnar, and these are my sons Bjorn, Gunnar and Viggo.”, he said.
“It's nice to meet you. I'm Solveig, and this is my daughter Agnetha.
”There was flooding 3 weeks ago out east, where I'm from. The refugee camp I went to wasn't accepting pregnant women.
”They gave me two weeks' worth of baby clothes, a month's worth of diapers, plus two weeks' worth of items for me to use after giving birth. I've been traveling by canoe, giving birth in it an hour ago.
“I'm wearing her in an infant sling so I can row the canoe. I was hoping to find a cave tonight so we could spend a few days there, out of the weather.”, she replied.
“You just gave birth an hour ago?”, Ragnar asked. 'That explains the blood in the canoe', he thought to himself.
“Yes. I was looking for some caves before dark so we could have shelter for a few days until the weather breaks. I didn't want to stay where we were once I gave birth to her.”, she replied.
He stopped and said, “Solveig, put your arm around my neck. You shouldn't have to walk to the cabin. No woman who just gave birth should have to walk that far. Hold on to your daughter.”
He then scooped Solveig up into his arms. “Now, we can continue. I'll come back for the buck.”, he said.
“Really, Ragnar, I can handle the walk.”, Solveig replied.
“Not as long as I'm here to help. Besides, you just gave birth. You need rest. My carrying you will help you get that rest, for abit anyway.”, Ragnar said, smiling.
About a quarter mile from the river was a cabin. There was a large yard in front, and a barn in the back where Ragnar told her they raised goats, cattle, and several chickens. There was also a large vegetable garden, tool shed, and large food storage shed.
Although most of the crops had been harvested, there were still plenty of pumpkins, potatoes, late corn, various types of squash, apples, tomatoes and peppers left to harvest.
A transport pod was parked near the barn. The boys ran up ahead to the cabin.
“We don't have alot, but you're more than welcome to share in what we have.
”We're pretty self-sufficient here, although we do go to a town not too far from here once a week, or every other week, for certain supplies.”, Ragnar said as he carried her into the cabin.
The cabin was spacious and toasty warm, but DEFINITELY lacking a woman's touch. Ragnar asked the oldest boy to go up to the attic and bring down their mother's rocking chair and afghans.
Ragnar gently put Solveig and her daughter down. She took off her cloak and Ragnar's coat, handing his coat back to him and thanking him profusely.
When the boy returned, Ragnar placed the chair in front of the fireplace on the left. She sat down, and Ragnar covered them up with one of his wife's afghans.
Solveig continued discreetly nursing her daughter. Ragnar poured her a cup of tea and brought it to her.
He took a good look at her. She was fairly slim, despite a just-having-given-birth post-partum belly, very buxom, with long brown hair that hung loose down to just below her bosom.
She had the same markings he and his boys did. Her ears and eyebrows, like theirs, were pointed. However, her ears weren't as thick as his and his boys' were.
She was wearing a pink long-sleeved shirt, denim pants, pink socks, and hot pink athletic shoes.
The only makeup she had on was abit of light pink lipgloss.
Solveig wasn't a classic Scandavan beauty. She was just an average-looking young woman. Her beauty came from within.
While she drank her tea, Ragnar and his younger sons went up to the attic.
He sent his oldest son to fetch the buck they'd caught, telling him to let him know if he needed his help.
Ten minutes later, Ragnar and his sons came downstairs with enough clothes, stroller, swing, bouncer, playpen, blankets, and toys to fill an entire nursery. He also brought down a transport pod infant seat.
His oldest was back with the buck, and went up to the attic to help Ragnar bring down a crib, changing table, and cradle.
“I made this cradle when Evie was pregnant with Bjorn. Every one of our boys slept in it. Your daughter is more than welcome to sleep in it as well. This is everything we had for the boys.
”I was keeping the things for when they eventually have children, but I think it'd be best to use everything now.
“Evie's parents bought us the crib. Her dad and I filled two swear jars putting it together. I swore I'd never take it apart, and I haven't.”, Ragnar said, laughing.
“I know the clothes and blankets are more geared towards boys, but you're more than welcome to use them for your daughter if you'd like.”, Ragnar said.
“Thank you SO much!”, Solveig replied, taking another sip of her tea.
“You just relax and get some rest. I'm not much of a cook, but I've got some stew cooking for dinner.
”It'll be ready shortly.”, Ragnar said, almost apologetically, regarding his cooking skills.
After her daughter had finished nursing, Solveig burped her, placed her in the cradle, covered her up, then joined them at the table for dinner.
The stew was good, she thought, but abit bland. The tea was good, as was the bread. Ragnar told her he'd bought several loaves of bread when they were in town, since he didn't know how to bake bread.
Ragnar and his sons were a friendly bunch. They all seemed to be enjoying her company as much as she was enjoying theirs.
“Solveig, I know this is quite sudden, especially since you barely know us, but you're more than welcome to stay through the Cold Season if you'd like, especially with the weather turning much colder soon.
”I know you mentioned staying in a cave for a few days. The caves will still be quite cold and damp, even with a fire going.
“Those aren't the best conditions, especially for a newborn or a new mother recovering from childbirth. Here you'll both be warm and have plenty of food, no matter what.”, he said.
“You're so kind, Ragnar. I'd truly appreciate it! I didn't expect such a gracious offer, but I'll gladly accept, especially for my Agnetha's sake! Thank you so much! I'll gladly help in any way I can around here.”, Solveig replied.
“Can you please cook for us?”, all 4 said, almost in unison, smiling broadly.
“It'd be an honor, gentlemen!”, she replied, smiling broadly as well.
“How are you at teaching?”, Ragnar asked.
“I think I could do a fairly decent job at it.”, she replied.
“Great! I try to teach them and get my regular work around the homestead done, but I know they need someone who can teach them regularly, not just when I've got time for it.”, he said, obviously apologetic for his self-perceived shortcomings as a parent.
“I'll gladly help out, Ragnar. From what I've seen, I think you've done a great job as a single parent! Your boys are extremely polite and caring. That alone proves you've done a great job!”, she replied.
“Thank you.”, he said.
After dinner, she offered to take care of the dishes so he and the boys could process the buck they'd caught that day. He showed her where everything went, and reminded her to take it easy.
She washed the dishes, dried them, then put them away.
Solveig checked on Agnetha, put her cloak on, then went outside. She asked Ragnar where they kept their meat and perishables they didn't keep in the freezer.
He showed her their food storage shed. She took stock of what they had, then brought several things back to the cabin to prepare for the next several days' meals.
“Ragnar, will you be cutting the meat from this buck into roasts, steaks, or grinding it coarsely?”, she asked.
“I'm not sure. I can cut the meat into all of those, if you'd like me to.”, he replied.
“That would be wonderful. I...I hope you don't think I'm trying to take over. If I'm doing that, I apologize.”, she said.
Taking her hands in his, he replied, smiling, “Solveig, if you weren't taking over with food preparation as you are, I'd be abit concerned.
”Your being here, your willingness to help out the way you've offered, has taken such a huge load off my mind! I can't put into words how grateful I am for your help!
”I can't thank you enough! I know my boys will be grateful not to have to eat my cooking anymore. Hell, I'LL be grateful not to have to eat my cooking anymore!
“Just don't do too much at one time. Remember...you just gave birth barely three hours ago. You need to rest.”, he told her, smiling.
He processed all the meat, then put it in their food storage shed. He and the boys came back in and were surprised to find a hot dessert just out of the woodstove.
She'd picked some pumpkins from their garden, cleaned them, then made three loaves of pumpkin bread. Ten minutes later, all three loaves were gone.
“Is there a way to get to a town to buy some yeast, herbs, flour and items for Agnetha? I have money, so you wouldn't need to pay for anything.”, Solveig asked Ragnar.
“Sure! We can definitely do that. Let's plan on doing that tomorrow if you feel up to it. We'll take the pod so it'll be warmer. We'll grab a nice lunch there as well. We also need to get you and Agnetha some warm clothes.”, Ragnar replied.
After the boys had gone to bed and Solveig was nursing Agnetha, Ragnar unpacked the clothes for her.
“I don't have a couch, unfortunately. You and Agnetha are welcome to sleep in Evie's and...I mean, my room.
”I'll sleep in a chair or camp out here in front of the fireplace.“, he said.
”Ragnar, I've already imposed on you enough. I'll sleep in here.“, she replied.
He could see Solveig was every bit as stubborn as he was, so he proposed some compromises.
”We can take turns sleeping in there, switching every 2 or 3 days, or we can share the bed. I promise to be a perfect gentleman.
“Do you promise to be a perfect lady, Solveig?“, he asked, smiling slyly, giving just a slight hint at his sense of humor.
”Ragnar, I just gave birth six hours ago. Believe me, your honor and virtue are completely safe with me!“, she replied, smiling slyly in return. It was refreshingly apparent to him that she had a similar snarky sense of humor.
He set up the crib in the bedroom, showing Solveig the blankets that Evie had made for the boys.
That night Agnetha only woke once. Solveig got up, changed her diaper, brought her into the Gathering Room, sat in the rocking chair and nursed her.
Ragnar woke up once during the night to use the bathroom. He checked on the boys, then checked on Solveig and Agnetha.
”It's nice to see that rocker being used again.“, he said, bringing a kitchen chair over to sit by her.
”It's very comfortable. Thank you so much for letting me use it.“, she replied.
”You're very welcome.“, Ragnar said. ”If I'm not being too intrusive, could I ask what happened to your husband? Did he die in the flooding?“
”I don't have a husband. And I don't like talking about Agnetha's father. I'm sorry if I sound rude. I don't mean to.“, Solveig replied.
”No need to explain any further. You didn't sound rude at all, Solveig.“, Ragnar said, smiling reassuringly.
”Thank you.“, she replied.
He then tenderly took her hands.
”Solveig, I don't know what happened between you and her father, although I have my suspicions. I want you to know that you and Agnetha are safe here. What happened there will most definitely NOT happen here!
”Solveig, feel free to put my name down as her father on her birth certificate if you'd like.“, Ragnar said, sensing Solveig's relationship with Agnetha's father was a violent one.
”Thank you so much, Ragnar. You've been so kind to Agnetha and me. I can't ever repay you for your kindness.“, she said.
”You already have, Solveig. You've taken a huge weight off of me by taking over the cooking, teaching the boys, and running the household. I'm so extremely grateful to you!“, he replied, smiling at her.
After Agnetha had finished nursing and was burped, Solveig rocked her to sleep. She put her in the crib, then got back in bed.
The next morning, Solveig nursed Agnetha, wearing a baby sling while making breakfast.
Ragnar collected eggs for her while she made breakfast. She fried diced potatoes, venison sausage, and most of the eggs he'd collected. She mixed it all together, adding shredded cheese to the mixture, and served it with iced tea. He and the boys thoroughly enjoyed their meal.
After breakfast she packed up the diaper bag, then was ready to go. She took out some ground beef to thaw in the sink for dinner.
Ragnar told the boys to bring the stroller with them. Everyone climbed into the pod. Solveig put Agnetha in the pod infant seat. Gunnar sat up front with Ragnar.
Moments later they were on their way. Fifteen minutes later, they were in the town they'd been traveling to.
Solveig put Agnetha in the stroller and they went to their first stop. She bought several herbs, spices, ingredients for baking, cheese, snacks, tea, coffee, and yeast. The next stop was a shop with yarn, material and other sewing supplies.
After a nice lunch of cheese meat rounds, deep fried potato wedges and cold cabbage salad, they went to a market to get meats and produce they didn't have back home.
Their livestock, other than their hogs and a few steers, were raised only for milk and eggs, not to become food. They sold hay and raised corn to sell.
After a few more stops at various shops, including a megamart with clothes, supplies and toys for children and infants, plus a coat, clothes and other items for Solveig, they were on their way home.
Ragnar and the boys brought the purchases in. After changing Agnetha's diaper, Solveig put everything away and started dinner.
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