Liz had a terrible time talking Einar into leaving his determined crouch against the rocks and shifting his position in such a way that she could get a look at his back, where she had seen the bear-claw slashes in the cloth of his shirt, seemed he didn’t quite understand what she was asking of him and when he did understand he didn’t want to do it--ribs were hurting so sharply that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to breathe if he moved, wanted to remain exactly as he was, elbow pressed against them, until things settled down, some, but didn’t want to let on to her that they had incurred further injury, lest she try and delay the bear-skinning--she spent the first few minutes cleaning up some of the blood on his face and making sure none of it was his, which it wasn’t, and she was relieved. Einar needn’t have tried to conceal from her the trouble with his ribs, for she had already guessed at it by the way he held himself, took several long cloth strips out of her pack--bandage material; she had taken to always carrying them--and offered to bind his ribs for him, glad when he nodded and leaned forward so she could get the cloth around behind his back. Which was when she saw the extent of the bear slashes there, took hold of his arms and gently but forcefully turned him around so she could get a better look.
“Bear got you?”
“Yeah. Just once. He didn’t like being trapped in there any better than I did”
“I guess not! But I’m glad you’re the one who came back out again, and he stayed in. Looks like you got him.”
“Nah, you got him. Your arrow. It was a good hit. He wasn’t going anywhere. Wasn’t leaving that crevice. Just didn’t want little Snorri to be the one to have to crawl in there and finish him off.”
Liz nodded, went on cleaning his face and arms in silence, but had to admit he had a point, there. She wouldn’t have wanted that, either--to endanger the baby--if it could be avoided, but wished very much the entire thing might have been avoided in some way, perhaps by simply giving the bear another hour or so to expire before either of them crawled in there after it, knew Einar had his own ways of doing things, but was worried about what seemed to be additional damage to his ribs. Concerned he might end up with a punctured lung from one of the broken pieces, if he wasn’t careful, that, or some other injury that would be unsustainable and beyond the scope of their ability to fix, out there. Well. He was still breathing for the moment, and she needed to get him cleaned up so they could get started on the bear, because he needed rest and she knew he wouldn’t even contemplate getting any until that task was completed to his satisfaction. Starting to speak she stopped herself, saw that she just might have been wrong on that last bit about getting rest. Einar appeared to have very nearly fallen asleep while she worked, crouching there with eyes closed and head drooping forward. He certainly wouldn’t voluntarily rest with that bear waiting to be processed--she knew him better than that--but it appeared his body was trying very hard to force the matter. Almost as if he’d heard her thoughts Einar startled, got himself into a more or less upright position and asked if she was done.
“No, not quite. I’m going to have to get this shirt off so I can take care of the scratches on your back. It’s soaking wet, anyway, just making you colder. Come on, I know your ribs are bad, but I’ll bind them again for you afterwards. Don’t fight me, Einar. I’m just trying to help.”
He knew, struggled to keep still and hold off a rather strong urge to turn on her as she eased the shirt off and began cleaning out the wounds, guessed a bit of the tunnel-strangeness must still be with him, the powerful sense that someone was out there, just about to grab him and smash him in the side of the head so they could render him unconscious and haul him off again, leave him to wake in that little bamboo cage, and--the feeling of it was so real it was making him sick, leaving him with a desperate need to take off into the timber and away from her--he really didn’t want her back there behind him where he couldn’t see, didn’t want her touching him just then. Managed to keep still somehow despite the trouble, and Liz--he was rather proud of the fact, later, glad he’d been able to keep her from knowing the extent of it, the potential danger--thought his shallow, irregular breathing simply a result of the ribs and the hurt of having the bear-wounds cleaned out. One of the claw-trenches was rather deep, bleeding persistently, and she wanted to go in search of some yarrow to help halt the bleeding, but Einar was ready to be done with the whole thing, ready to stop worrying that he might be about to whirl around and pin her to the ground if she touched him again--a concern of his, if not of hers; she seemed to trust him, and he very desperately didn’t want that trust to prove misplaced--shook his head.
“No. Not necessary. You’ve got more cloth strips in your pack. Just…here, just grab some of this usnea out of the trees right here, pack it in the bad spots, wrap them with cloths and we’ll deal with the rest of it back at the cabin tonight. May ooze for a while, but I’m not gonna lose a dangerous amount of blood.”
She nodded, gave him a drink of water and rose to go. I’m afraid you already have lost a significant amount, between this and your arms where the bear got you, but I can see that you’re ready to move on, and I guess you’re right that you’re not going to lose too much more if I wrap things tightly, which will only help your ribs, anyway, so alright, I’ll go round up some usnea, and we can be done…
Hurriedly stripping hands full of trailing, hair-like usnea lichen from the branches of nearby spruces, Liz noticed a concentration of the stuff on one particular tree over behind the smaller rock slabs which, leaning on the larger mother boulder, created the bear’s sheltering tunnel, went to collect it and made a rather stunning discovery. Grinning, trying hard to suppress her glee--didn’t want him jumping up before she could finish the bandaging--she returned to Einar.
“You’ll never guess what I just found!”
“Big wad of usnea, looks like. Hope I’m not bleeding that badly.”
“No, you’re not. I just brought extra for later. And no, that’s not it! Well yes, that--here, let me finish fixing you up--but something else, too. I found a bear!”
Einar blinked at her slowly, not quite understanding, but reaching for his spear, as he had absolutely no intention of allowing this new arrival to drive them away from their hard-won quarry. “Another bear? Where is…”
She pulled him to his feet, began leading him towards the back of the rock formation, slowing the pace a bit when he seemed to be having trouble keeping up. “Come see!”
There on the backside of the rock structure, partially hidden by a small fir and looking quite dark in contrast to the sunlit afternoon, stood a wide, angular opening in the rock where two slabs had fallen against each other and been prevented from finishing their collapse--moss-hung and dripping with rainwater that filtered down from above, and in the opening was the unmistakable backside of a rather large black bear. Einar understood at once what he was looking at, turned to Liz with a weary grin.
“You found a back door! Means we won’t have to chop the critter up in that tunnel and haul him out piece by piece…ha! Bear must’ve been blocking this opening so completely that I didn’t even see it, from inside. Just saw a bit of light, but thought it was all coming down from above. This is gonna save us so much time…though it does look like we’ll have to take down this little fir, if we want to be bringing the bear out through here.”
Liz had already made note of the tree, was opening up her pack to take out the axe, whose handle stuck up out of the top, and which she’d brought on the chance that it might help in chopping through bone or sinew when butchering the bear. Einar, she hoped, would let her do a good bit of the tree-chopping, save himself for the heavy work of skinning and hauling the bear.