When Einar learned that Liz intended to make a trip back down to the cabin that afternoon he of course wanted to go, spent a good deal of time and energy attempting to demonstrate to her that not only could he make the walk--if only he could get to his feet--and was perfectly capable of skinning out that ewe, even without the benefit of eyesight. Liz did not doubt the second part, as Einar had over the months demonstrated to her that there was little he could do in the daytime that he could not more than satisfactorily replicate after dark and without the assistance of supplemental light--a good skill to have, and one she was herself working on--the first part, the bit about his making the walk...well, she could not see that happening anytime in the very near future, hoped he’d realize as much before she took off, and willingly remain behind. Hated to leave him at all, as much trouble as he was having and still being unable to see--she remembered what it was like, the uncertainty and disorientation of suddenly losing one’s vision, even if the loss was temporary as it had been with her snow blindness, as it would be for Einar, his sight surely returning soon--but his breathing did not seem to be getting any worse, and between the fire and his consumption, at her urging, of several pots of sweetened tea, he was beginning to warm some from his time in the water. No better time to go. She took his spear, which had been set aside during his soak in the spring, placed it in his hand.
“Come with me. That’s right, just a few feet, scoot back a few feet and you’ll feel a couple of aspen logs I’ve dragged in and crossed for reflectors. You can lean back on them if you need to, and as long as you stay here with your back against of the logs, you can be sure of where the fire is because it’s exactly one spear-length from the aspens. See?”
Einar nodded, fighting to catch his breath from the exertion of hauling himself those few feet. “Got it. But why…where are you going?”
“I wasn’t done, quite. There’s wood here…” she took his hand, placed it on a stack of sticks and broken branches she had arranged just over to his left, “plenty of wood to keep the fire going while I’m gone, if you could do that. It’ll save the effort of re-starting it later, when I get back with sheep meat to stew.”
Einar was on his knees, struggling to go further. “Fire…we could cover the fire with a rock slab, plenty of them over by the spring, and we’d have coals to start over with when we got back. Though I can’t say I see any real reason to come back. Had all the mud I need for now I guess, so we might as well wrap things up here and move on back down to the cabin. I’m coming with you. Got to…intend to deal with that ewe before the day’s over. Though I wouldn’t have to--ha!--guess it really doesn’t matter whether I get it done before dark or not, since I can’t see anyway…can work all night, if I have to!”
Meant it, fully intended to act on the plan, all-night sheep-skinning session and all, but he couldn’t get to his feet, legs simply would not respond, would not support him, and his lack of ability to overcome it--this thing that had hold of him--scared Einar just a bit; he’d never quite experienced the like. Wasn’t giving up, though. Legs didn’t work, refused to work, so he’d crawl. Had crawled before. Knew how to do it. Easier might be to enlist Liz’s assistance, get an arm around her shoulders, rest a good bit of his weight on her and hope to be able to make up the difference with the spear, make his way, but he couldn’t ask that of her, not now with the child already demanding so much of her, adding its own weight and bulk to her own, a burden she could not put down. Not for another few months. Three months. He would crawl. Liz stood off to the side watching him, silent, offering no assistance, as he had asked for none, letting him be, letting him figure it out. Took longer than she might have hoped, but not as long as she’d expected, as after some ten yards of crawling--you are one incredibly stubborn, mule-headed man, Mr. Asmundson, and I do love you for it, but would really prefer you didn’t kill yourself here just to prove that you can--he collapsed on his face in the spruce needles, out of breath and barely able to raise his head when Liz knelt beside him, offering water. Trail to the cabin was looking like an awfully long one, and when Liz offered to help him back up to the fire he nodded, allowed it, reclining, when they reached once more the makeshift camp, in the notch created by the crossed aspen trunks, and it was a good five minutes before he could manage speech once more.
“Guess I’m…staying here for the night, since it is an option. You need to head on down there, check on things and then…I ought to be with you, can hit a critter with a dart or thrown knife pretty reliably even if I can’t see him, so I’d be some help, at least… But yeah, you need to head on down there, settle in, cook up some stew for you and the little one, go ahead and spend the night down there so the place’ll have that fresh human scent about it, won’t be unoccupied. Critters can get bold in a might big hurry if they notice a lack of human activity around a place, and I’d hate to have the cabin bothered, the sheep eaten up…”
“I’ll go down there and check on everything, make sure the sheep is still up there good and high in the tree where it’s safe from critters, but as for tonight, I am not staying down there without you. Nope, I want to be with the guy who can hit a critter in the dark without even seeing it. That’s where little Hildegard and I want to be--wherever he is!” Which Einar knew was simply her way of saying no way am I leaving you alone for the night when you can’t see and are half paralyzed from bee sting toxin and mostly frozen from being in the water so long, no way at all, and he appreciated her not coming right out and saying it that way, for he would have certainly had to object, in that case… Before leaving, Liz prepared another pot of tea, mint and a generous scoop of honey from the portion that had oozed out into the black plastic-lined willow basket that held the honeycombs, making sure that it was easily within his reach and securing from him a promise that he would continue drinking it as often as he thought to do so. She didn’t like the way his hands, lower arms and legs seemed to appear even more swollen than they had for the first hour or so after his being stung, even though the swelling in his face and neck appeared slightly reduced. Something going on, and though it was beyond her understanding--not entirely beyond his; Einar was becoming increasingly convinced that his kidneys were been adversely affected by the breakdown of muscle tissue from the rather significant injection bee venom, but had not yet mentioned his suspicions to Liz--she hoped that his continued consumption of significant amounts of water might help him maintain adequate hydration, start reversing the trend she’d been seeing towards an increasingly slow and weak pulse, almost as though he was on the verge of going into shock. Enough, Liz, she told herself. He’s holding his own, and you need to get going before you change your mind, because while there is a risk that things may deteriorate in a dangerous way while you’re away, you know beyond any doubt that he’s going to be in big trouble if he spends the night up here unclothed and plastered with damp mud, sitting in the wind with nothing to cover him. You’ve got to get those hides. Got to. And some meat for him to eat, meat to make broth for tonight. The broth with a little honey added should be even better for him than plain honey water. Go!
Einar, near as she could tell, was close to sleep when she finally took her leave, exhausted from his experimental crawl, though he did manage to rouse himself sufficiently to wave in her direction as she set out, mumbling something about the sheep, how she needed to watch for wolverines down there, because they’d make quick work of that sheep if it ended up hung too close to the ground…with which he was out again, fighting a wolverine in his dreams, grappling with the creature as it tore at his face, hands, and when he woke again, he found himself gripping the string of wolverine claws around his neck--face had been too swollen to get it off, and he hadn’t wanted Liz to cut it--so hard that his hand was bleeding.
Hurrying down the trail Liz soon reached the cabin, finding to her relief that the sheep remained right where they had left it--she’d had her doubts--unmolested aside from the presence of a few flies who were beginning to congregate around the open body cavity. Hastily collecting a good amount of yarrow Liz crushed and rolled its leaves between her hands as she had seen Einar do, rubbing it in and around the areas of the sheep in which the flies seemed inclined to show an interest, and when she had finished, and finished retrieving a pound or two of the meat for their supper, she raised the animal as high up into the tree as she could manage. Into the cabin then, a hasty glance around to make sure things were adequately secured for the night, which they were, provided a bear didn’t show up determined to force his way in, and at the thought of a bear, of Einar alone up there with a bear, her movements quickened even further as she gathered up a bit of jerky for their next morning’s breakfast, dried nettles to add to the stew, and a little packet of mullein leaves that she figured might prove useful in reducing inflammation in the throat and drying his lungs should Einar continue to have trouble with his breathing. Good. That was good, was enough, and rolling up the deer and ewe hides--still wanted to take the thick warm bear fur, but still knew it was too heavy to carry all that distance along with her other burdens, especially considering that she was already feeling some extra cramping after all the rushing around that afternoon--she left the cabin, securing the door behind her and starting back for the spring, and for Einar, very nearly forgetting the hides in her haste. Stopped, took one last glance about the place and threw the hides over her shoulder. They certainly were to be needed that night.