Loosing his grip on the wolverine claws about his neck, Einar managed to stay awake just long enough to feel around for the woodpile Liz had left, get his still rather swollen hands to close around a length of aspen and--carefully, didn’t need burns, atop everything else--get it into the fire, which Liz had wanted him to keep going. With that, and after a concentrated but only partially effective attempt to force at least one eye open despite the swelling--took both his socks, removed them, poured some of Liz’s cooled tea over them and pressed them to his eyes, draping them up and over his head to keep them in place--he was out again, very quickly beginning to lose consciousness when he attempted to stand. Low blood volume, he thought through the haze that was quickly descending over him, darker than the sightless darkness in which he had been existing since Liz’s mud plaster blocked the last of the light that had been making its way through his eyelids, and that means I’d better be drinking more, as much as I can, just as long as it’s…be best if it’s got some electrolytes in it, and… Too late, darkness complete, world silent as he sprawled back against the crossed aspen trunks of the reflector, lying there for a long time as afternoon slipped on towards evening, sunlight softly shifting as it fell in shining slivers through the trees, sinking, silent, spruce-swallowed as it met the high horizon of the far ridge.
Einar woke with the changing light to the realization that he was cold, terribly, tremblingly cold, and he could see. Barely, but when he brushed aside the socks with which he had adorned his head before his latest involuntary nap--still wet, no wonder he was so cold--he was very much pleased to discover that he could get his left eye open just far enough to obtain through it a dim and indistinct picture of the world around him. Which was when he found that the fire was out. Not good. Liz was counting on him to keep it going, and if he couldn’t even manage such a simple task, well… Wanted his clothes, squinted around in search and found them folded neatly on the aspen trunk just above Liz’s little woodpile. After much effort he got the shirt draped loosely over him, which seemed the most he could do, probably the most he wanted to do, too, badly as contact with the cloth seemed to aggravate the bee-stung portions of his anatomy; just have to go on being cold for the moment. It’s better than being on fire, and at least the fire seems to have subsided some. Yeah. Subsided so much that it’s down to coals, if that. The real fire, that is. Looks like I’d better be…right, move slowly, don’t want to pass out again…better be working to bring that thing back to life, before Liz comes back thinking about cooking her supper and can’t do it because you been sleeping instead of tending it.
He might have been content to go on resting and tending the fire after that but then, working diligently to break up sticks for kindling, for indeed the fire was down to coals, the coals very nearly gone black--kindling breaking, he found, worked best if he gripped the stick to be broken between his teeth, pinning its far end to the ground with one hand and using the other, far more club-like than hand-like in its swollen state, as a blunt instrument to slam its middle and break it shorter, a little hard on the teeth, but effective--the thought occurred to him that since he could see again, just a bit, there really was no reason he ought not head down and meet Liz at the cabin, save her the walk back up to the spring and let her know that they could go ahead and plan on staying the night at the cabin, that night. No reason, that was, aside from the honey. He couldn’t leave it there, certainly not, might have some success at raising it, basket and all, up into a tree for protection, but no sooner had he made an attempt to crane his neck back and get a look up into the trees than he discounted the idea. Couldn’t seem to hold his head up in that position for more than a fraction of a second, for one thing--neck muscles just wouldn’t do it--and for another, his limited vision precluded his discerning an appropriate hanging-branch, let alone having much hope of throwing a length of cordage up and over it. Would just have to take the honey with him. Which meant either carrying the basket in his hands--not a good idea, as he needed at least one hand free to grip the spear whose support he could tell would still be necessary to keep his legs from folding beneath him--or somehow slinging it over his shoulder with cordage strap. No problem, he had enough cordage, more than enough, and, fumbling with his pants until he found it, he began the slow and laborious work of creating a carrying strap for the honey basket.
Paused halfway through the job, head hanging, needing a rest. Didn’t feel so good. Aside from the burn and itch of the stings, which he could have done a pretty good job of ignoring, had they been the only trouble, Einar was dealing with what seemed to be a growing congestion in his lungs, nausea that welled up whenever he tried to move and a pain and swelling in his legs that he really did not understand, given that the greatest concentration of stings, by far, was on his upper half. No matter. It would subside, all of it, the further he got from the initial event. Had to hope so, anyway, and in the meantime he had finished rigging the basket strap, was ready to get the thing up on his back and start down for the cabin. Squinting about camp he checked for items he might be forgetting, found the mostly empty tea pot and finished drinking its contents, stowing it safely in the basket with the honey and draping folded up clothing over his shoulder to help cushion the weight of the basket strap. Figured he’d be grateful of all the padding he could get, seeing as there were quite a few stings in that area… Very nearly cried out as the weight of the basket settled on his shoulder, clamped his mouth shut to prevent it and hauled himself to his feet, balancing there for a good minute as he fought back the nausea and vertigo, fought to remain standing, and won. Triumph! That basket felt awfully heavy on his back, threatened to send him sprawling if he did not move with a measured care, but the cabin was at last within reach.
He made it nearly a quarter of the way down to the cabin before Liz, hurrying as well as her burden would allow back up to camp, found him with one arm hooked around the slender frame of an aspen for balance, feeling all around with his bare feet in an attempt to find his way back onto the trail. Sight having left him once more as the untimely activity slightly increased the swelling in his face, he was having a rather difficult time keeping to the path, didn’t want to wander off into the woods and thus alarm Liz when she returned and found him missing, knew he ought to be able to follow that trail by feel alone, normally would have had no trouble doing so, especially barefooted, but the ground was a mystery to him that afternoon, indiscernible. Liz hurried to him, tried to relieve him of the honey basket, whose carrying strap had left a raw stripe across one shoulder and down his back where the folded-clothing pad had somewhere along the way slid to the side, and when he insisted on keeping the basket, eased him to the ground.
“You were coming down there after me…?”
He nodded, mouth very nearly too dry to speak, and Liz gave him a drink from her water carrier. “I could see. Woke up and could see out of one eye, so figured I’d save you the trip back up here, come on down and skin out that ewe, but…”
“Your eye swelled shut again? Here, come on, let me help you back up. We’re not far below the camp, and I’ve got everything we need here to make a good pot of stew for tonight. ”
“Afraid I let your fire go out.”
“It doesn’t matter. Let’s go.” No more mention of her taking the basket, and Einar was glad. It was his to carry. Camp, again, Einar--following Liz by the soft sounds of her footsteps in the spruce duff of the trail--could tell they were getting close when he smelled a faint hint of smoke, began hearing through the sighing of the evening breeze in the evergreens the gurgle and drip of moving water, living, moving water, and then they had reached it, Liz spreading the deer hide for him to sit on and Einar, reluctant, wishing he’d been able to do more in her absence, get more done, keep the fire going, at least, sank down gratefully, allowed her to ease the honey basket from his shoulder. It was to be a long night, but they had everything they ought to need right there within reach and were, despite the situation, each, when they contemplated that heavy basket of honey and wax, reasonably content with a day’s work well done.