Liz stopped, startled at hearing his voice and hearing in it a tone which she knew she’d best take seriously, stepped back from the tree and watched in horror as the bees went on swarming around him, Einar seeming almost to ignore them as he continued going after honeycombs, setting them safely in his basket. On the ground beneath the tree the smoke bundle had broken apart and quickly gone out, and Liz saw no solution to the situation except for Einar to quickly leave the area of the nest, which he did not appear inclined to do. That all changed several seconds later when he had, apparently, finished the task he’d assigned for himself, taken as much of the honey as he saw fit to take, and then he was done, more than done, sliding and almost tumbling down from his perch high in the tree. Liz got the distinct impression that had he not felt a need to protect the basket of honeycombs, to get it down intact, he probably would have simply let go and allowed himself to fall. Which would have been correct. He did not fall though, made it to the ground, set the basket at Liz’s feet and fixed her with a triumphant, squint-eyed gaze, his face seeming to grow redder and more puffy by the moment. “Got our honey!”
“Yes, you sure have got it! Look at all of this! It must be…what? Forty pounds of honey, excluding the wax?”
“Something like. Now we’d…better get out of here before those bees…they’re not particularly aggressive really as bees go, but if they…” He sat down rather suddenly then, legs going out from under him and face looking strangely white under its patchwork of puffy red, and Liz sat beside him, gave him water and attempted to remove some of the more visible stingers from his face by carefully catching their exposed bits with the side of her knife blade. Einar was fading fast, she could see it in his eyes--what little she could actually see of them--and she got him to his feet and down to the trail, contemplating briefly which way they ought to go. Approximately equal distance up to the spring and back to the cabin, and because access to cold water seemed a very good thing at the moment she headed for the spring, glad when Einar seemed to have no objection.
Once at the spring Einar dropped immediately to his stomach, submerging hands, arms and face in the icy water, his body relaxing slightly as a bit of the burning began to be quenched. Had to breathe though, eventually, brought his face out of the water and rolled over, fumbling with his shirt in an attempt to get it off. Liz helped him out of it, out of the rest of his clothes, shook dozens of dead bees from the garments and couldn’t blame him at all when he hurried back over to the spring and lowered himself into the water. Cold. It came up around him, overwhelmed for a time the fire in his hands, arms, the area just below his neck where the creatures had found their way in and fought quite valiantly, really, for their home and winter’s supply of honey, and he would have been quite content to stay there indefinitely, lying on his back in the icy water and occasionally submerging his face for a good minute or so at a time, but after a while Liz began to worry for him, saw how cold he was getting and knew he probably wouldn’t be able to realize it, not while contending with all those stings. Time to act, then, and she knelt beside the water, reached in and found one of his hands.
“Einar, it’s time to come out now. Come out for a while.”
He looked in her direction, couldn’t see her, couldn’t get his eyes open at all by that point, mumbled something that Liz thought sounded agreeable and allowed her to help him out of the water. Unable to see, he followed her, though reluctantly, where she led, which was up to the temporary camp beneath the black timber where they had stayed while processing the bear, up into the trees that surrounded their old firepit, and she eased him to the ground beside it, wishing she’d brought along the deer hide so it might serve him as a blanket. Probably best she hadn’t. He did not appear to want anything touching him just then, including the ground, which led to his attempting a weird half-crouch, but his legs were too weak from the cold water to sustain it for long, cramping terribly and he soon had to give up on the notion of avoiding contact with the ground. Dizzy, and starting to feel awfully sick. Wasn’t allergic to bees that he knew--must not be, he figured, or he’d already be well on his way to not breathing anymore--but even in the absence of any allergy, there was no escaping the fact that he had just been injected with a fairly massive amount of toxin.
Ought to live, he figured, ought to be just fine really, after a while…unless his kidneys began shutting down after a few days, the result of their becoming clogged while attempting to eliminate the waste products caused by the breakdown of cell walls that was the result of the particular toxin carried by bees. Which he knew was a possibility--wasn’t sure how many stings a person would have to receive before they’d need to be concerned about that, but figured he’d sustained a fair number--but it sure wasn’t something he intended to worry about at the moment. Seemed to be breathing alright for the moment, as well as his ribs would allow him, and that was the main thing. Had to be…had to…the fire was pretty bad. Was getting worse. He wanted to be back in the water, couldn’t stand it, the sitting still and… Steady, Einar, it’s just pain. You know what to do with it. Which he did, consciously slowing his breathing and attempting to distance himself from it but then he realized that he really did know what to do about it, how to get some relief, and he rolled over--spruce needles felt like nails against his inflamed skin, bed of nails, oh, well, could be worse--and began scrabbling and scratching at the ground with his badly swollen fingers, trying to get through the needles and reach the earth beneath. Liz saw, put a hand on his shoulder to stop him; already his fingers were bleeding with the effort.
“What is it? What do you need?”
“Just trying to…if I could get down to the dirt and make some mud, smear it onto some of the stings, it’d sure…”
“Mud! Yes, I can get you mud. You wait here just a minute, right here and--please! You can stop digging like that with your hands. You’re just going to hurt yourself more. I’m going to bring you the mud.”
Einar stopped, mumbled something about aspen leaves, how they ought to collect aspen leaves and make a wash for the stings, for later, how their astringent properties and tannin content ought to help, but Liz was already too far away to hear him, and lay there face down--only his face was turned to the side, as he could hardly stand the feel of the ground against it--in the spruce needles, bed of nails, time passing terribly slowly until he was very nearly ready to get up and stumble blindly around, feel his way around and listen for the gently warbling of the creek, let its sound guide him and plunge once more into its wonderfully numbing water, would have done it, had not Liz returned just then with the mud. Glorious, cool mud that she smeared all over his face, cheeks, red-swollen eyelids, everything, down his neck and arms, working to remove stingers as she went and leaving him, before she ran out of the stuff, quit thoroughly brown almost down to his waist, but much relieved. He thanked her, cooled his hands in what was left of the large glob of mud, resting, trying--but not quite succeeding--to quell the nausea that seemed to be rising in him, and when he realized at last that the cause was a lost one he turned away from her--from the sound of her, for he still couldn’t see a thing, couldn’t even see light anymore through his closed eyelids, plastered as they were with that wonderful cool mud--and lost what was left of his breakfast. Not a good thing, but not terribly surprising, either, as much venom as he knew must be circulating in his system by then.
Liz was concerned, he could hear it in her voice when she asked him if he needed water--didn’t, he’d had plenty down at the spring, in the spring, lying there on his face in the water--and he tried to answer, but his words came out all mumbly and indistinct due to the general swelling of his face, lips had not been spared from the stinging, and then he found himself drooping forward, head on his knees, no longer awake… Next thing he knew he was lying on his back and staring up at nothing, wondering if night had come, Liz trying to get him to open his mouth so she could give him a bit of honey from one of the combs that sat beside him in their basket.
“Come on, that’s right, try a little. It’ll help you get warm, give you some energy.”
He ate, sat up and felt around for his knife, spear, found them right where they ought to have been, which was comforting, especially considering that he couldn’t see. He was, despite the burning, feeling awfully cold there in the breezy shade, wet mud having added to his chill from the spring, but when Liz told him about the fire--guessed he did hear its crackle when he concentrated on hearing over the pounding in his head, smelled a bit of smoke--and about her desire to move him nearer to it so he could get warm, he shook his head in vigorous objection.
“I’m b-burning up. Don’t need…any fire right now. No closer. Please.”
“Ok, no closer. Will you have some more of this honey though? You may not be able to feel it right now but you really are cold, couldn’t help being, all soaking wet on a cool breezy morning like this, and the honey…”
“How is the honey?” He sat up straighter, tried hard to stop shivering. “Did we get as much as it looked like? Are most of the little cells capped? Because I think if they’re not capped it means…” he paused, shivering, searching for the remainder of his sentence, which had most inconsiderately fled his brain, “means the honey was still drying, losing moisture, might ferment if we try to store it like that.”
“The cells are…I think they’re all capped. Looks like it to me. And it’s a lot of honey, either way! You did great.”
Einar didn’t seem to be listening anymore, had ahold of the spear--as well as he could get hold of it, hands swollen in places to nearly twice their size--and was trying hard to stand. Liz saw his struggle, might have helped him except that she did not particularly want him getting up yet. Rest seemed the best thing, at least until it became clear what the extent of his reaction might be. She didn’t think things were through changing for him yet, and just prayed that his breathing wouldn’t be too badly affected. He’d made it to his feet, was standing there balancing, obviously dizzy, leaning heavily on the spear and looking a bit uncertain what he ought to do next. Which he wasn’t--knew exactly what he was doing--but it can be difficult to appear terribly certain when one’s face is red and distorted from dozens of beestings, body caked with drying mud and shaking all over with chill. He made quite a sight, and Liz might have laughed at him had she been the type to do such, and had it not been clear to her just how much discomfort he was having to endure at the moment. He certainly would have laughed at himself, had he possessed the ability to open his eyes and see what he looked like.
“You ready to…head back down now? I may…trip over a few things here and there but…can walk, I think.”
“Einar, I have no doubt you can walk, but how about we just stick around here for a few more minutes, just in case you end up needing the spring again, or another layer of mud.” Both of which ideas really did seem quite reasonable to Einar, and he nodded, sat down, relieved, dizzy and beginning to grow terribly nauseated once again. Could have made that walk, would have, but perhaps a few more minutes would… Head dropped to his knees, and he was out again. Liz would, before the day was over, come to rather regret having urged him so strongly to stay.