Bringing the fire back to life and setting some soup to simmer, nettle and fresh sheep, Liz began searching out a tree from which to hang the honey harvest for the night, knowing that the scent would prove highly tempting to any autumn-hungry bear that might be wandering through anywhere within miles of the camp, found one and, after scooping a generous amount of honey into one of the cookpots for sweetening tea, raised the basket high up out of the reach of bears for the night. Einar, though still unable to see, had worked his way carefully closer to the fire in her absence, stirring and tending the soup, whose texture by that time reminded him more of a thick stew, keeping it from sticking and for the most part even avoiding burning his fingers while doing it. Figured he’d better make himself useful in whatever way he could, and it turned out to be a good thing, too, for Liz’s basket raising took a bit longer than she had anticipated, and their supper might well have stuck and begun burning without Einar’s attention. By the time she got back, it was ready to eat. Ready enough, anyway, Liz’s chunks of sheep meat nicely browned on the outside and the dried nettle flakes re-hydrated to create a wonderful thick slurry, and only then did she realize just how hungry the events of the day had left her. Einar ought to have been hungry too, but if he was he couldn’t feel it, the smell of the stuff leaving him nauseated once more, and he would have been quite content to allow Liz to enjoy the entire contents of the stew pot, but she wouldn’t have it, knew he needed the salts and minerals from the cooked meat and poured him several cups of the broth in the other cookpot, mixing it with the honey water she had already stirred up and insisting he drink. He thanked her, knew she was right, wondered how he had managed to forget about the need for electrolytes, which had been foremost in his mind sometime earlier, before he’d gone to sleep, and before the walk. The rich, salty broth tasted good--Liz had added a partial cake of dried bear’s blood to his portion--and even seemed to settle his stomach some, left him a good bit more sure of his words when he again spoke.
“How’s that ewe doing? Flies leaving it alone?”
“There were a few buzzing around, but they dispersed pretty quickly when I rubbed on some fresh yarrow. She’s way up in the tree now, should be safe overnight. There were what looked like some coyote tracks under the meat, but I didn’t see any sign of bears. I’m a little surprised.”
“Me too. Especially considering that most often where there’s one, there are more, and we know for sure there was at least the one pair up here. Other one may have headed down where there are oaks and such. We’re a little high for bears up here, really. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we see another before the snow flies. Would like to take another, actually. Den hunt maybe, if I can find where one has denned up. More fat, meat, another of those great hides. Hides are always best just after they den up, fat most plentiful, too. Sure would like to see you and the little one able to curl up between two of those hides for those first couple long cold months this winter…”
“Well, yes, but I’d really like to see you in there with us! So I don’t know about the den hunt. That sounds pretty dangerous, though--yes--I know you’ve done it before… We’ll have to see.”
“Ha! Yes, see… Seeing would certainly be a good start, wouldn’t it? Pretty sure I’ll be able to see again in the morning, and then I’ll get started with the rest of this. Skin out the ewe, all of that. Lot to do. And we’ll have chokecherries to start thinking about here in a week or so, too.”
“Yes. Looks like it’s going to be a good year for them, judging by the way they bloomed and the quantity of little green berries that were on there earlier. You take your time though, wait for this swelling to go down before you give yourself too much to do, Ok? This honey is certainly worth a day or two of work, worth more than that, actually, so if you have to spend a day or two resting after harvesting it, I don’t see that as a loss. How are you doing, anyway? Besides the stings, themselves, because I can guess how they feel…”
“I know, but you’d say that if you were on your last breath, and knew it, wouldn’t you?”
“Of course. Hope I’m not that bad off, though. Got a little problem with my legs still, things just don’t want to work right, want to accumulate fluid in a pretty disturbing way, but it’ll be alright in the morning, I expect. All be fine in the morning.”
“It’s disturbing because you think your kidneys may be involved?”
He looked at her slantwise, or would have, had he been able to get his eyes open. Whatever gave you that idea? Didn’t want to mention it until I was sure, and I’m not sure, may still just be some weird reaction to the stings… “Yeah. It’s a possibility. Would explain some things. I’d have checked, if I could see…though there’s not too much we could really do about it, anyway.”
“Check? How do you…”
“I’ve been drinking a lot of water, tea, broth, lots of fluids today. Probably a good gallon, gallon and a half, in all. Urine ought to be pretty nearly clear, after all that. If it isn’t clear, and especially if it’s dark, anything approaching brown…well, I’ve got a problem. Would mean the bee toxin was a little more than my body could easily handle, has caused some muscle to break down--that’s what bee toxin does, you know--and my kidneys are having a hard time keeping up with the job of filtering all the little bits of broken down tissue out of my blood. Had this happen once before, when I…well, it can be brought on by crush injuries that destroy muscle tissue and release it into bloodstream, as well as by getting too much bee toxin in your system, and I dealt with a lot of this after I escaped that time, long time ago…made that week in jungle a good bit more difficult than it might have otherwise been. But I lived, then, and I’ll do it again now. If that’s even what’s going on. Would explain a lot. Explain the leg troubles.”
“Well, you’d better let me check.”
He scooted away from her, shook his head. “Nah, I don’t think so. There’s no real reason to…”
“Oh, don’t get all modest on me now. Of course there’s a reason to know. We should know. I’ll step away while you…”
Einar nodded. Supposed the information might prove somewhat useful, waited until he heard Liz’s footsteps recede into the distance, and produced a sample. Which, Liz inspecting it, left little doubt. “Looks like weak coffee. That can’t be good.”
“Yeah. Figured. About the only thing for me to do is to keep on drinking, hope to flush all that stuff out before it can do too much damage. Been doing that all along since this morning, so it may work. Ought to work. Baking soda--bicarbonate--might also help, since it would reduce the acidity of my blood and make things easier on my kidneys, but that doesn’t grow on trees, out here…”
Which made Liz wonder if there might be a plant or two out there that might have a similar, acidity-lowering effect, but she could not think of one, and was reasonably certain that Einar, had he known one, would have mentioned it. They’d just have to do the best they could with what was available to them, which at the moment was looking like honey water and sheep broth. She hoped it would be enough. At least Einar was lucid, present and not only cooperating but taking the lead in making sure he did what he could to help minimize the damage, which--she shook her head at the memories--had certainly not always been the case. It was almost dark, and Liz left the fire to collect more firewood. The nights had been increasingly cool of late, a hint of frost in the air at times, and if she couldn’t convince Einar to cover up more thoroughly than he currently was--certainly a rather uncomfortable proposal, considering all those stings--a good sustainable fire would be more than a simple luxury that night. Especially if Einar insisted on applying another layer of mud, which, returning to camp with an armload of wood, it appeared he intended to do. Had already crawled over to the spring, and was preparing it.
“Won’t you freeze tonight if you do that now? It’s just minutes from dark.”
“No. I’ll be fine. Stings are really acting up again. One more time with the mud seems like a real good idea. It’ll dry before the night gets too far along.” Unable to dissuade Einar and thinking that it would have been rather unkind of her to try, Liz helped him apply the mud, leading him back over to the deer hide in front of the fire when the job was finished, mixing up another pot of honey-sweetened broth and making her own preparations for the night.
Night stretched on long and cold for Einar as he froze in the damp air there beside the spring, mostly-dry coating of mud and his reluctance to spend more than minutes at a time close to Liz’s fire--its heat, though badly needed by the rest of him, set the sting-irritated patches on fire--behind which she had built a rather effective reflector of parts of three fallen aspens, leaving him to spend most of his time shivering in the nearby tree-shadows, trying hard not to wake her and thinking somewhat longingly of the soft bed of spruce needles where she lay sleeping in the pocket of still, warm air between the fire and reflector. Needing something to help him pass the time and keep his mind off the various discomforts of the night, Einar made it his mission to tend the fire, feeling carefully around on a regular basis and feeding the coals whenever they began sinking towards sleep, those brief times hovering near the flames serving as brief reprieves from the chill of the night, his only opportunity to warm just a bit. Liz, best as he could tell, was sleeping, and he was glad. Had been a long day for her.
Morning, and Einar could see. Still dimly, eyes mere slits, but at least he could get both of them open, and he got to his feet, was pleased to find himself somewhat steadier than he had been the day before, though not so much as he would have liked. Legs still remained swollen and seriously lacking in strength, hurt, though in contrast to some occasions during the night the pain was bearable, and at least he could stand. Liz woke to find him seated by the spring, washing all the mud from his face, arms and shoulders and looking a good bit more human than he had the evening before. Feeling it, too. He was ready for some breakfast.