Einar still wanted to visit the river, wanted it so badly that Liz was having a difficult time talking him out of it and she knew that there must be something more than the typical stubbornness behind the strength of his desire, the almost pleading look in his overly bright eyes as he tried unsuccessfully to convince her it was the only way. The fever had returned in full force and was clearly scaring him some, despite his efforts to conceal the fact, and this realization frightened Liz, as she knew it took an awful lot, especially of the physical variety, to scare Einar. She wanted him to lie down but h would not, would not sit, even, insisted on remaining upright though it was taking all his strength and the assistance of two nearby trees to keep him that way, and it seemed to Liz he must be doing so out of concern that he might find himself entirely unable to regain his feet if he allowed himself to go down, just then. A legitimate worry, she had to admit, and after a bit of initial coaxing she gave up the effort, focused on bringing the fever down by some means short of full submersion in the icy river. The ultimate solution had to involve cleaning and bandaging the wounds on his back and hopefully also getting some strong berberine solution into him, but for the moment nothing could be more urgent than simply bringing down his temperature. A hurried trip to the river, hoping almost desperately that he wouldn’t follow, and she returned with two bottles full of water, pouring them one by one over his head and down his back, Einar clinging to his swaying spruce tree braces, closing his eyes and smiling in apparent delight as the steam rose from him, better, but he needed more.
“Water’s good. Doing the job. Time for the river now. Need to stick my head in there under the ice and watch the fish for a while…”
“No. Stay. I’ll get you more water, as much as you want, but you need to stay here with us. Can I go get another bottle of water for you, and we’ll do this again?”
He had already found another solution though, releasing his hold on the trees and rolling to his knees in the snow, where he stretched out full length in a section which had been protected by the overhanging timber from too much exposure to the sun, and remained somewhat powdery. Sinking deep in the snow, which stuck quite readily as he was wet from the applications of river water, he lay there sweeping his arms in a most deliberate manner until he was quite thoroughly covered in snow. Liz left him for a good two or three minutes as the steam stopped rising and his eyes began looking a bit more normal, teeth rattling and lips going purple in clear evidence that his strategy was working, at which point, unable to stand seeing him that way anymore, she raised him up out of the snow and into a sitting position.
He grinned. “Yeah, better.”
“Ok, that’s a good thing. Now let’s work on fixing the problem so this can stop happening. I’ve got a bunch more Oregon grape root back up at the cabin, but between what you were carrying and what I had in my pack, we’ve got a good start here. I need you to chew this piece here…I know it’s bitter, but you can handle it…and while you do that I’m going to work on getting some water warm enough to make up a little of the solution to put on your back. And we need to get you out of this snow, too. I know it probably feels good, but it just doesn’t take long at all for you to start freezing right now, and I don’t want you to lose any fingers or toes over this. Here, on your feet and onto the bear hide, and I’ll help with your parka…”
Einar went, took the bit of root she was handing him and held it between numbed fingers, turning, studying it and generally doing everything but chew it as Liz had suggested, so that she had to stop and remind him, easing it from clenched fingers and holding it up for him to see.
“Better get started chewing this.”
“Don’t know that it’s right.”
“Oh, it’s bound to be better than nothing. You’re feeling a little better now, but you can’t just spend all your time lying in the snow to keep the fever down. This is part of the solution, we can hope.”
“I know. Meant…don’t know if it’s right to do anything about it. Infection. Could be I’ve just got to get through it, or not, best I’m able. Kinda earned it, you know?”
“No, I don’t. That doesn’t make sense. How did you earn it?”
Didn’t want to talk about it, knew she would surely be disappointed to discover his mind still on such things but he could feel the fever nudging its way in again, making his head swim and knew any explanation he might give later would have to make even less logical sense; might as well give it a go.
“Earned it because I wasn’t able to get him out of there. Should have been able to do it. Can see that now.”
“Weren’t able to…you mean Andy?”
She really didn’t have any answer for that, not without a bit of thought and there was no time for thought just then; it was time for action, and she pressed the bit of root into his hand, her tone firm and insistent. “Chew this, and I’ll take care of your back in a minute.”
Just then Juni walked into camp, the bottle of water she’d been warming beneath her coat beginning to show a faint yellow color as the freshly broken roots started releasing their medicinal qualities, and stirring up its contents with a good shake, she handed it to Liz.