Einar didn’t stay out for long. The burning woke him and, feeling as though he was literally on fire and being entirely unable to see, he immediately began crawling towards the distant but very hopeful gurgle and trickle of the spring. Only to have Liz stop him.
“What do you need? What can I do for you?
“Water. Need to get to the water, back in the water.”
“You’re too cold. You’re pulse is slow, you’re all purple where I can actually see you--you’re still freezing from your first time in the water. And from all this mud, from the wind and the way the stuff is drying on you. The first time, the water probably slowed your reaction to the stings and helped your body deal with them, but right now I really think it wouldn’t be a good idea.”
He grunted, agreeing, not liking it but agreeing. Made sense. He guessed. Couldn’t tell he was cold, but if Liz told him so…well, why would she make it up? Was almost certainly true. Probably would have done it anyway had he been there alone, gone down and soaked in that spring until the swelling went down and he could see again, though perhaps by then he’d have become so immobile with cold as to be rather beyond help, even in the warming air of that sunny fall day. Had been sunny, at least. For all he knew, the clouds might have rolled in and entirely obscured the sun as he sat there unseeing, but he didn’t really think so. Could smell the distinctive scent of sun-on-pine, sunny spruce, even if he was unable to determine the state and strength of the daylight through the layer of mostly dry mud on his eyelids. Would have to return to the spring eventually just to get all that mud off, if nothing else. Ought, actually, to be thinking about washing it off and applying a fresh layer, as the stuff did the majority of its work in the drying process, drawing the bee-toxin out of him, soothing, hopefully reducing, given time, a good bit of the inflammation. And the growing feeling of restriction and heaviness that limited his breathing even further than the trouble with the ribs had already been doing. The fact that he felt so strongly drawn to the spring just then seemed to him adequate confirmation of his need to visit the place again, and without delay. Such instincts had always served him well, and the times he’d pushed them aside, tried to reason his way around them and gone his own way had more often than not been the times when he’d found himself in the most trouble. Got to his hands and knees once again, stood, started for the sound of the water but stopped himself. Liz. Better tell her what’s going on, or she’ll just try and stop me again…
“Need some fresh mud. This stuff…done about all it can do. Got to wash the old dry stuff off first.”
“You still want to go down to the spring, then? How about letting me wash the old mud off for you up here, then bring you fresh mud like I did the first time?”
He did his best to smile, shook his head. “No, need that water. I’ll sit by your fire after, if that’s what needs to happen, but I got to have another soak in that water right now. And more mud. Starting to…lungs feel like…” He stopped, out of breath, hoping she’d understood, and would try no further to prevent his return to the spring. Didn’t have any energy to spare arguing with her.
Liz nodded. His mind was made up. There was no mistaking it, and for all she knew, he might well be right. Hands were starting to appear more swollen under their partially cracked and missing coating of mud, and she suspected his face might look the same way, if she’d been able to see more of it. His slow heart rate, she supposed--and the low blood pressure that she expected had come along with it, though she had no good way to measure--might be due nearly as much to his reaction to the toxin as to the cold, in which case another visit to the water might do him some good, just as long as she was able to get him warm again afterwards. Hard to tell. And she didn’t understand what he was saying about his lungs, because so far as she knew, while a reaction to the stings might interfere with his breathing, lead to his throat swelling and constricting his airway, it shouldn’t have much impact on his lungs. Which seemed to be what he’d been saying. In any event, another soak in the icy water wouldn’t have been her first choice of treatment, but she recognized that Einar usually did have a pretty good sense of what he needed at such times, seemed to have a fairly clear head even if he didn’t look as though he ought to have, and she supposed she’d just have to trust him. And he certainly didn’t appear to be waiting for her approval to make the walk, had already started down the slope, feeling ahead of him with the spear in an attempt to avoid running headlong into a tree, but he couldn’t get a very good grip on the spear, kept dropping it and she went to him, took it, and his hand, led him down to the spring. Or tried to. They didn’t get very far before Einar was on the ground again, legs giving out despite his best efforts, and when Liz tried to help him back to his feet, he couldn’t seem to make it, appeared to be in a good bit of pain as he tried. She held him, kept him from losing any ground as he struggled to rise, and finally he made it, resting with one arm on her shoulder, exhausted.
“Are you cramping up?”
“No. Not anymore. Legs just…they’re just not responding. Something wrong with the muscles. Too many stings I guess.”
Liz was starting to worry--as if she had not been, before, but this was different. Seldom had she seen him unable to get to his feet and stay that way through sheer determination when he wanted to, and he clearly wanted to, just then--but tried not to let him hear it in her voice. “Ok, you made it though, so let’s go ahead and get you down to the spring, and maybe the water will help.”
Another few steps, another fall, and Einar, hearing the water moving over its bed of rocks not too far off and being by then somewhat desperate to reach it, stayed down, crawled as quickly as he could in its direction. Got there, got himself, with Liz’s help, back into the little pool and lay there, head propped up on a chunk of granite, as Liz carefully washed off the old, dry mud and prepared to apply fresh. He wasn’t liking it though, the cold water, it eased the burning but at the same time seemed to exacerbate the unsettling dull ache in his back that reminded him of the way it felt when one is beginning to get dangerously low on water, hasn’t had enough to drink, and the thought occurred to him that despite his lack of exertion that day and a reasonable consumption of water during his first stay in the pool, he might indeed be growing dehydrated, due to the amount of swelling that was going on. Water. It was all water, and had to be replaced somehow… Easing himself lower in the pool he allowed his head to go under--a bit frightening when he couldn’t see where the surface was, but he knew the pool wasn’t at all deep; he’d be able to find it again--waited until the reflexive urge to gasp in a lungful of air passed, and drank as much as he could hold. A start, though he knew water alone probably wouldn’t be sufficient to replace what he was losing. But was certainly better than nothing, and would have to do for the time. Liz, who had been busy preparing a small fire under a tree mere feet from the spring, looked up just in time to see him rise up from the water, gasping for air and feeling around until he found once more the rock that had been serving as his pillow. She hurried to him, thinking he might have lost consciousness and unintentionally ended up with his head underwater, but he quickly reassured her. He’d merely been thirsty, had taken care of it.
“Good, it’s good you’re drinking. I’ve made a fire over there, and if you give me just a couple of minutes I’ll have some tea ready for you. Just mint, because that’s all we’ve got right here, but I’ve put a lot of honey in it, and it should help. I want to make you some sheep broth with a little bear blood added to help replace the electrolytes you’ve got to be losing to the swelling, but that will have to wait until I’ve made a trip back to the cabin.”
Einar nodded, good thinking Lizzie, you’re really thinking, rolled over and crawled out of the water. He’d had enough of it. The water he’d consumed had done little to relieve the growing ache in his back, and the cold water only seemed to be making it worse. Over the next half hour Liz applied more mud to Einar’s stings and gave him pot after pot of honey-sweetened tea, insisting that he drink, helping him get the stuff down until, after four partial pots of the stuff, she was satisfied that he’d had enough. He’d not had a lot to say during that time, and seeing what happened whenever he made an attempt to stand--nothing, more or less--it was clear to her that she wasn’t going to be able to get him back up to camp, not like he was, wished very much that she had agreed to their return to the cabin back when he could still reliably walk, when he had suggested doing just that. Looked like they might well be camping right there by the spring, for the night.
But not before she made a quick trip back to the cabin to retrieve the sheep and ewe hides so they could have some covering against the night chill--looking at Einar as he sat there soaking wet and half covered in mud, she would have very much wanted to fetch the bear hide, had it not been so heavy to carry--got them some of that fresh sheep meat to stew up for supper and made sure the cabin and newly killed ewe were adequately secured for a night where there would be no human presence to deter scavengers about the place.