Together they finished coating and assembling the honey containers, Liz done with her portion of the job first and moving on to warm and press the remaining honey while Einar carved and fitted the aspen wood collars that would sit in the narrow mouths of the baskets and hold the branch slices that would serve as corks. Perhaps not entirely leak-proof in that state, but, Einar told himself--picturing furs, clothing and other gear always sticky with the fine drizzle of honey that would be escaping from those baskets as they traveled, and not at all liking the image--the problem could be remedied by a liberal application of wax, or pitch, or both, around the cork, effectively sealing the baskets for future use. Neither solution would be a terribly long-lasting one during the heat of summer and if traveling out in the open, in the sun, but considering the present season, ought to last them all winter. Not that the honey would likely be around that long, not most of it. He figured they’d find need of a good majority of it during the cold months to come. Still, a good idea to protect their treasure--and their clothing and gear--by sealing up the honey jars.
Sitting in the sun, mind wandering as he worked to carve the basket collars--first drilling a small hole all the way through the center of each wood piece that he had previously rounded and shaved down to fit the opening, then working to enlarge it until it was wide enough to hold a cork of a reasonable width, one that would allow them to stick a spoon or stick or some other implement down into each basket to dig out the honey that would eventually begin to crystallize down there--Einar realized that he was growing a bit sleepy, working far less quickly than he would have liked, hands still significantly swollen and less dexterous than he was used to expecting. Good thing you’re not having to handle anything too shock-sensitive or otherwise delicate today, Einar. You’d be in a real mess. Real big mess. Enough hassle as it is, just trying to get these collars done without inadvertently splitting the wood around the edges with a careless move. Really wish I knew how to get some of this swelling to go down a little faster, the stuff that doesn’t seem to be so directly related to the beestings themselves, but all I can think to do is keep drinking lots of water and hope your body will figure the rest out, kick back into gear and start flushing this stuff out of you. If not…well, guess you’d better be working twice as hard to get this place ready, get Liz ready for the winter, because she may be doing it alone. Can’t live too long out in a situation like this without kidneys, without them functioning at least somewhat the way they’re supposed to, and that’s looking like where this may be headed if some things don’t start resolving themselves pretty quick.
Would be a bit of a lousy way to die, he supposed, body growing heavy with retained fluid, poisoning itself, the stuff building up around the heart, in the lungs, leaving him low on oxygen, increasingly anemic, organs eventually failing as the blood got out of balance and certain minerals reached unsustainably toxic levels. Expected in his case the heart would probably go first, that’d be what did him in, that, or the starvation that still seemed to be lurking just around the corner all the time, waiting to sink its teeth into him for a final shake or two. Wouldn’t take much, realistically. Just a week or so without eating anything at all, which he wouldn’t feel like doing, anyway, as the toxins built up, and his heart would probably give out of its own accord, and the idea didn’t frighten him, none of it did, those thoughts of the end and of the days and weeks that would lead up to it, except that he couldn’t, mustn’t leave Liz like that. Not now. Had duties there still, there with her and the little one--his child, their child--and he would fulfill them.
Wouldn’t run, not this time, not in any sense of the word, and that proclamation took him, fully without intention on his part, right back to that bad place he’d been trying to avoid all day--no time for it, remember? Work to do--and for a brief moment he was crouched once again in the stinking swamp under his little hut, world blurring dizzily around him yet at the same time crisp, concise and more definite than it had ever been, everything crackling and sharp-edged as he glanced over at the partially hidden leaf-mat covered cage where he knew they held Andy--had heard him over there, night after night, though not so much during the recent ones, and he knew that could not be a good sign--and seeing that guard coming, knowing there was nothing at all he could do for the other man, not in time, not before they had him again and making the split-second decision to run, to crouch down lower in the thick, viscous stench of that water and take the guard in the neck with the hastily improvised bamboo splinter knife he’d salvaged from the wrecked corner of his enclosure and get out of there before the rest of them could come and stuff him back into the horrid, hateful cage where he knew they meant to kill him, slowly perhaps, over the course of the next week or two and making their best effort to extract useful information from him all the while, but he was certain they meant to do it, were getting ready to move--he’d heard them talking, low voices in the night--and had no intention of taking prisoners along with them, men who weren’t even supposed to be on the ground, or under it, where the two of them had been when they were captured, not when they’d been there, anyway, men who didn’t and couldn’t officially exist, and the enemy knew it, he knew they knew it because they’d told him, over and over, had used the fact as a weapon against him in the night as he held out hour after hour, saying nothing, determined to say nothing, they’d bludgeoned him with it, trying to break him but not succeeding, not in the way they’d hoped…and he’d done it, had run, had lived, and Andy had not…
He shook his head, scrambled to his feet and--half finished basket collars for the time forgotten, scattering--braced himself against a nearby spruce, rough bark digging into his forehead, shaking, struggling for breath. Whoa, Einar. What are you doing? That has nothing to do with the present situation, nothing at all, and I don’t even know why you’re thinking about it, why you’re bringing it up right now, because this is all about Liz, and why you’ve got to stick around for her and for your child, why you can’t give in to this doggone swelling and such that seem to be doing their level best to take you right now, so give it up, won’t you? Give it a rest. All of it. Get back to work. Which he did, couldn’t entirely get the other thing out of his mind but worked around it, through it, letting the force of it--the cold fury it stirred up in his gut; never failed--move his hands to greater speed and precision as he carved out one basket collar after another, fitting them, cementing them in place with hot pitch, not even feeling as it scalded his fingertips, and all that just because your hands are still a little clumsy from all those beestings. Little swollen. You’re not dying, not running, and there was no reason at all to wade through this again just now, was there? Your imagination surely does get away with you at times, I’ve got to say.
Liz, finished cleaning up after pressing and separating the mildly warmed and softened wax from the remainder of the honey, was amazed at the speed with which Einar had finished the baskets, though she never did figure out how he had managed to wear himself out very so badly doing it…
In any event, it was time for lunch, way past time, as already the sun was beginning to sink low in the sky, and she grabbed Einar as he handed her the group of finished baskets, each suspended by a well attached handle of nettle cordage long enough to loop over one’s shoulder if need be, stopped him before he could hurry off to the next project, which--meaning to mix up the next batch of stove plaster, not wanting to pause for a moment--had clearly been his intent.
“Stop for a while. You’ve got so much done already--just stop long enough to help me with this pot of soup I’ve got simmering. Hildegard and I can’t eat it all ourselves, and I need the pot for carrying water down from the spring this evening. Your mud making has nearly emptied the barrel!”
“Oh, sorry, I’ll go get water just as soon as you’ve eaten the soup.”
“You’ll do nothing of the sort! The little one and I need our walk, and we haven’t had it yet. Besides, didn’t you say you were planning to finish plastering the stove today so we might be able to give it a test run tonight? That sounds more important than getting water. I’ll do it. But that still leaves us with the soup pot to empty.” And he joined her, reluctant, not wanting to lose his momentum, but lacking a good way to refute her arguments.
The thing that came next--the two of them sitting on one side of the cabin sharing Liz’s batch of soup and enjoying some early afternoon sunshine, pots of freshly strained honey awaiting their transfer to the newly finished baskets on the other--had been bound to happen, had, in fact, been long overdue.