Liz had not gone to bed, not yet, had simply ducked inside to retrieve her sweater for Einar and had stayed there to give him a bit of space when he began having trouble with the coughing, but when he couldn’t seem to stop she rejoined him, worried that he would do further harm to his ribs. Doubled over beside the tent he was doing his best to press the damaged section of ribs, keep them in place as he coughed but she could see that he was getting tired, eyes wide and staring in the faint glow of the fire as he struggled for oxygen and she tried to hold him, wanting to get her arms around those ribs and hopefully make things a bit easier for him but he motioned her away, gesturing rather frantically at the tent and trying to say something. She guessed at his intent, hurried to open the flap and tend to the fire. He had, apparently, been concerned about its going out. By the time Liz re-emerged from the tent-flap, smelling sweetly of willow smoke and assuring Einar that the fire was well established and no longer in any danger of dying he had managed to get the cough under control, crouched there all doubled over with his arms wrapped around his knees, staring sightlessly out into the darkness--something in his face made her wonder if he even knew where he was, as she recalled previous times when breathing troubles of one sort or another had seemed to transport him back to a rather bad place, trap him there--and taking the incredibly fast, shallow breaths that his body was urging upon him in an unconscious effort to ease the burning, tearing hurt in his side and chest. She sat down beside him, put a hand on his shoulder and the way he jumped in reaction told her she had probably been correct in thinking him lost somewhere off in another time and place.
“The fire’s Ok now, doing real well. Here, let me get you some water…” Einar shook his head, held up a hand to shield himself and turned away from her, breathing too hard to consider pausing for water. He was beginning to feel terribly dizzy, sick, world growing blacker than warranted by the advance of night and terribly strange, knew he needed to do something about it but couldn’t quite think what, and Liz took over, seeing in the light of the still-open tent flap the dusky grey-purple tinge that had crept over his face and knowing he pretty urgently needed more air. Positioning herself behind him she got an arm around his middle, praying that he wouldn’t react suddenly or turn on her, pressing firmly on the damaged ribs and speaking softly--her name, his, reminding him where he was and talking about the baby, the upcoming elk hunt, anything she could think of to perhaps help keep him connected to the present--until he seemed to relax slightly, but still his breathing was far too fast, providing him inadequate oxygen, and she rubbed his arm, went on gently but insistently.
“The coughing was good, Einar, even though I know how it must have hurt, helped clear your lungs and you really needed that, but now you need to breathe…breathe…that’s right, nice and slow, try to slow it down and get full breaths…I’ll take care of the ribs, I’m not going anywhere, so you just concentrate on breathing.”
Several minutes later Einar was doing much better, breathing returned almost to normal--near normal as the injury and elevation allowed--and he freed himself from Liz’s grasp, turned to face her.
“Sorry…keeping you…from getting your sleep. You didn’t…have to do that.”
“Oh, I wasn’t ready to sleep yet anyway. I’d just gone in to get you this sweater, and I know you probably won’t want to wear it, but here it is just in case. I’ll hang it in the tree.”
“Thanks. Get some good sleep, you and little Snorri. Tomorrow, we will get our elk.”
“Einar. Look at me for a minute. Let me see your eyes. Are you Ok? I’m a little worried about your breathing…”
“Breathing’s…enough. It’s enough. Just got into trouble with the coughing, but if I don’t have to blow on the fire, shouldn’t have to cough. It’ll be a fine night.” With which Liz rose, squeezed his shoulder and retreated to the cabin, too choked up to return his good night wishes. Really wish this elk could wait. If you can’t blow on the fire without getting into major trouble with your breathing, I can’t see how you think it’s a good idea to be climbing ridges and hauling half an elk down here on your back. If nothing changes--for the better--in the night, it looks like we may just have to have a serious conversation in the morning before we close this place up and start after that elk.
Einar kept his vigil through the night, glad, after his earlier experience, that he had a valid and pressing reason to avoid sleep, as he was fairly certain what would have been waiting for him there. Even still--sitting cross-legged on the bear hide between his regular checks of the smoking fire and shivering violently at times in the sharp night breeze, for he had left Liz’s sweater hanging in the tree--he dozed a bit here and there, head hanging forward and elbows braced on his knees, seeing the fire-glow through half-open eyes and dreaming of warmth, food, an end to the relentless wind and the grating hunger-cramps twisting in his belly but waking each time with a resigned acceptance of his present circumstances; certain things were simply beyond his reach at the moment, even if he had, in reality, placed them there himself.
After a long night of watching, waiting and tending the smoker Einar rose somewhat stiffly to check the meat, squinting at it in the faint but growing light of the morning, cutting a slice and finding it ready, and he was ready, too, put out the fire and began scouting the nearby timber for the best places to hang the bounty for protection in their absence. Finding a suitable tree he took the chunks of thoroughly smoked meat down from their places on the tripod, disassembled the thing and used the nettle cordage with which he had lashed it together to hoist two of them high up into the branches of his chosen tree. For the third, whose weight he feared might have been too great in combination with the others, he needed more cordage, but aside from the twenty or thirty foot section he always kept wrapped and tied around his waist for easy accessibility, all of their cordage was stored in the cabin, and he did not want to wake Liz. Guessed he’s better get a fire going so it would be waiting for her when she woke, perhaps get a bit of water heating, and he did, stirring up the coals in their outdoor cooking pit and finding a few still living beneath the ashes. Awakened, it seemed, by the smell of the rising smoke, Muninn rasped a few notes, flapped his wings and rose from his nighttime perch. The raven was not behaving normally though, circling the camp and alighting for a few restless minutes here and there on rocks and branches rather than coming to Einar for the morning greeting and sendoff that had been his pattern for the past several days, and Einar wondered if he might somehow know that the day was different, might be sensing their imminent departure.
Whether or not the raven could sense the impending change in the daily camp routine as he had come to know it, he was definitely able to sense trouble when Liz emerged from the cabin that morning, took off from the rock on which he had been keeping Einar company and made a hasty departure to one of the distant spruces overlooking the clearing.