Frost had come overnight, a light one, barely visible as the thinnest of white rimes on the bent and browning stalks of the alpine grasses that graced the little clearing beside the spring, so faint that Einar, eyes half open, wouldn’t have even been aware of its presence but for a slightly different smell to the place that morning, and for its soft crunching under his still-bare feet. Liz did not even need to see the frost to know it had come. She could feel it in her bones, in the sharp chill of the air as she lay there watching the little breath-clouds rise and disperse into the growing brightness of the morning, and she hurried to Einar, draped the deer hide over him where, finished with his ablutions, he sat huddled on a rock by the spring, apparently waiting to dry. Or freeze, or both. Perhaps he was waiting for the water to freeze on him so he could stand and stretch and have it crack like a shell and fall off, thus saving the time and effort of having to dry himself… Sometimes she really had to wonder about that man.
Einar--whose intention truly had not been to sit on that rock long enough for the water to begin freezing on him; he’d simply been trying to gather the strength to move again, to get himself back over to the fire--squinted up at her, glad to see her again, had missed the sight of her, and she truly was a lovely sight that morning with the frost-yellowed canopy of the aspens rising all around her, halo of loose hair softly framing her face where it had come free in the night from the braid she had taken to wearing of late, absolutely lovely…though Liz, feeling cramped with cold, short on sleep and rather short-tempered in general, that morning, might have disagreed. Fortunately, it was not Einar’s habit to mention such things aloud. Despite the general grumpiness with which she had started the morning, Liz was so glad to see Einar on his feet, able to see and by all appearances doing a good bit better--despite apparently spending the night making a good faith effort to freeze himself to death, or perhaps, knowing him, because of it--that she found it difficult to remain cross for long, and she took his hands, led him back to the fire and made sure he sat down near the warmth of its flames, which she realized then for the first time he must have spend a good portion of the night feeding and keeping alive for her.
“Got a little chilly overnight, didn’t it?” (She had been thinking to complain of being cold, as truly she was, but refrained, knowing that Einar had to be feeling it a good bit more keenly than herself, having just left a reasonably warm and insulating bed and benefiting as she was from the extra warmth and blood flow of carrying the baby.)
Einar moved a bit closer to the fire. Its heat was still aggravating to the stung flesh of his hands and face, but he needed it, needed to get warm, had let things go a bit far, there towards morning, but had not even realized it until washing off in the icy water of the creek just then. “Yep. First frost. Aspens’ll really start turning, now. And the chokecherries…give ‘em a couple more weeks, couple more frosts, and they should be starting to get sweet, ready for harvest...”
Had more to say to her, wanted to apologize for the trouble, for keeping her away from the cabin and leaving her to make the trip back down there for supplies by herself, but first he needed to catch his breath. Took a while. During which time, seeing that he needed some space, Liz busied herself with the breakfast preparations, re-heating the remainder of the past night’s stew and adding some fresh violet leaves that she harvested from a damp area just below the spring. Einar seemed to have found his appetite that morning, restrained himself with some difficulty from gulping down the entire contents of the stew pot when Liz handed it to him, managed it, starting with a small sip before quickly passing it back. The prospect of having that entire sheep back at camp to deal with suddenly seemed very exciting to him, a great blessing, and though he knew they’d better eat sparingly of the fresh meat, slice most of it for jerky, he could hardly wait to get down there and start on the job. Breakfast was completed with a silent intensity that morning by the hungry pair, pot passed back and forth until it was quite empty, and though Einar still felt a hint of nausea now and then as he consumed the more solid bits, he managed to get enough so that his body breathed a great sigh of relief at the end, badly needed nourishment beginning to have its effect. Eyes drifting closed, he scrambled to his feet. Time to get moving here before you fall asleep, can sleep later, and he began gathering up pots and baskets and preparing things for the walk, his newfound energy rather surprising Liz.
Can you walk? She wanted to ask him. That far, I mean… And what about your kidneys? Surely a problem like that wouldn’t resolve itself overnight, would it? Your legs still look pretty swollen, and I wonder if it’s a good idea to be… Kept silent though, knowing that Einar would likely be aggravated at being thus questioned up when he was clearly--despite his quick and purposeful movements--using all the strength he could scrape together just to keep on his feet and string a few words now and then. Besides, though believing rest would be the best thing for him that morning, she really did not want to say anything that might convince him to delay their descent to the cabin. They needed to be there for the safety and security of their food supply, needed that bear hide to keep warm through the increasingly chilly nights, and--perhaps the strongest reason of all for her wishing to be back at the cabin--if it should happen that Einar was not yet done with his bee-sickness, if things should happen to get worse…better that they were sheltered and safe at home to face it. Would have been difficult to hold Einar back even if she’d wanted to, as he was already struggling into his clothes--still not even remotely comfortable having anything in contact with his skin, but he was awfully cold, having a hard time keeping warm enough to stay mobile in the stiff morning breeze; would have put his boots on, too, only his feet and lower legs were too swollen to allow for it--and preparing to load himself down for the descent.
Liz hurried over to the honey basket and slung it over her own shoulder before he could finish dressing and claim it, an action he noticed, but did not protest. Was going to have a pretty interesting time just getting himself down there, he could already tell. Wouldn’t do to risk falling with the honey basket and losing some of its contents. Better that he should carry the pots, pans and water containers, which he did, securing as well as he could against the almost-inevitable fall. Liz was circling the camp, making sure they hadn’t forgotten anything, and he used the opportunity to do a bit more testing of his legs, quickly striding from the spring up to the trees and back again. Workable. Weak and terribly sore, heavy-swollen and not particularly agile, but they’d carry him. Would have to carry him. He had work to do down at the cabin, sheep to skin, honey to press out of the combs and wax to clean, hide to scrape and the chimney for their stove to finish. Wanted to have the thing ready to use as soon as possible, now that frost had put in an appearance. The stove would provide them with a good way to heat the cabin when they wished to, without filling the place with smoke as the open-firepit-placed-beneath-a-smoke-hole concept occasionally did. Figuring he’d better get a head start, he took off down the trail, greatly relieved at once more being able to see it, to make his way without concern of becoming temporarily lost.
Walking hurt. There was no way around it, so Einar just gritted his teeth and kept moving, motioned for Liz to go around him when he realized how slowly he was going to be traveling, insisted that she go around so that he wouldn’t unnecessarily delay her, but of course she had no intention of going on too far ahead of him, sticking close until together they walked into the cabin clearing. Home. Hanging from its tree, the ewe remained undisturbed, a great relief to them both.
Something about the walk seemed to have aggravated the swelling in Einar’s face, hands, and Liz urged him to rest for a while, lie down and let her make a wash for him from boiled aspen leaves as he had mentioned to her the day before, but he wouldn’t hear of it, not until he’d skinned that sheep. The job needed to be done, and he didn’t want to wait, concerned that he might again lose for a time the ability to get his eyes open. Liz could have done it, of course, was quite competent at the task, but after all she’d done for him over the past day, Einar figured it was his turn to do some of the work. Got it done, not the quickest or neatest job he’d ever done of peeling a critter, but he managed to avoided nicking the hide too badly--so Liz told him after a brief inspection, anyway; couldn’t much see it, himself, by the time he was finished--which, in addition to preparing the sheep for jerky making, had been his main goal. Just to get another good usable hide off the critter. Had to make some serious progress on their winter clothing needs, and that additional hide would be a good start. Now just got to think about another bear to add to it, couple of deer for moccasins, bunch of rabbits and martens for warm fur to line our parkas and mittens and everything…