Finished with the skinning Einar rested before carrying on with his work, didn’t want to do it but was left with little choice, stretching out right there on the ground beneath the ewe--he’d got it raised again before passing out, smeared with fresh yarrow to deter flies--and sleeping. Liz covered him with the deer hide, carefully propped his feet on a log to help with the swelling, and let him be. He’d be awake again soon enough no doubt, and back at work; best let him get the rest while he could. While he was out she cut some meat from one of the sheep’s quarters, got a fire going in the outdoor firepit and set it to boiling, hungry again and expecting Einar would be the same, when he woke. Then, taking advantage of the fire, she gathered a good pot full of aspen leaves, focusing on the still-green ones with the thought--wasn’t sure of its validity or lack thereof--that they might be more effective than those that had already begun yellowing, richer in the salicylate that would hopefully help ease the discomfort of Einar’s stings. He had earlier refused her offer to make him the wash but that had been, she suspected, due more to his eagerness to get started on the sheep without any delay than to an opposition to using the treatment. He had, after all, been the one to bring it up, and she couldn’t think of anything better, wanted to do something for him. Especially since fresh layers of mud were going to be a bit harder to come by, now that they had left the spring.
Topping the pot off with water she set it to begin simmering. Einar still was not awake, was beginning to look cold there in the shade of the trees and she added the ewe hide to his covering, moving very slowly so as not to startle him awake, but having the feeling--not a particularly comforting one, considering his usual disposition--that she really needn’t have worried. He seemed quite thoroughly unaware of his surroundings. No wonder. She knew he couldn’t have got much sleep that past night, if any. The ewe hide lay folded--flesh side in--where Einar had carefully laid it in the shade of a spruce and she took it, retreated to the leaning aspen whose smooth white trunk they had previously used for the purpose and began the scraping process. Working quickly, rhythmically, she removed the bits of meat and fat left behind by Einar’s half blind skinning process--he’d done remarkably well, actually, considering the state of his vision and somewhat swollen hands--scraping away at the layers of membrane until she was satisfied with the hide’s readiness for the next step in the tanning process. Still no movement from Einar, except that he was now shivering, unable, it seemed to keep warm there in the deep shade of the spruces and she wanted to move him nearer to the fire, or take it to him, but knew either action would risk waking him, and she was pretty sure he needed sleep more than anything. He’d be alright. The day was sunny, warming. Already the rest seemed to be helping him, the stillness. His legs were appearing less swollen, feet more their normal size. Good.
Leaving Einar to his sleep, Liz went back to the hide and rolled it up, wanting to keep it damp so she could move forward with the tanning process, assuming the creature’s brain was still in usable condition when she got into the cavity to check. If not, and with Einar’s approval, she would resort to using bear fat and ashes--a sort of primitive soap--for the tanning. She’d never tried it, but expected he had. Simmering meat was ready then, and she ate, setting the pot with the remaining food on a rock near Einar when she was finished, hoping the smell might wake him, give him the idea that he ought to partake of the meal. In the meantime, waiting for him to wake, that sheep was calling to Liz, all but demanding she come and start making it into jerky--already she had got out the racks they’d used for previous projects, hauled them out from their spruce-canopy hiding place and arranged them in the sunny clearing--and while she resisted the call for a while, not wanting to work directly over Einar like that and risk waking him, she at last could wait no longer. Working carefully so as not to disturb him--couldn’t believe he was still asleep, hoped he was alright but he certainly appeared to be, aside from the shivering--she began taking slices from the sheep, would have found the job a good bit easier had she been able to lower the animal to the ground but that wasn’t an option just then. Not without setting it directly atop Einar, which simply would not do.
Einar woke a time later--quite a time; Liz had already filled three of the jerky racks by then--to the sight of someone standing over him with a knife, and things might have gone very badly had he been any less cold and stiff, able to move more swiftly. And had Liz not decided, partway through her jerky-slicing job, that Einar’s knife was the better tool for the task, and borrowed it. Didn’t see how he ought to mind, as she wouldn’t at any time be taking it more than three feet from where he slept, hoped she might be able to finish her work and return it before he woke, anyway. By the time Einar realized--feeling carefully around, quietly, for he saw that the man’s back was to him, and he had a chance--that his knife was missing, began gathering himself for the spring that would have knocked his captor to the ground…Liz had turned to him, realized that he was awake and not quite himself, and she took a few steps back.
“Einar, hey! Look how much I’ve got done on the sheep.”
He knew the voice, knew her, rolled to the side and sat up, rubbing the half-dream images from his once-more open eyes--the swelling had gone down greatly while he slept--and feeling about confusedly for his knife, wishing very much to know its location, to have it in his hand for a while as he got things sorted out. Liz sat down beside him and, her words just then registering with him, he squinted up at the hanging sheep.
“You got…really got a lot done. Should have woke me. Didn’t mean to let you do all the…all…hey, you seen my knife? I can’t seem to…”
She handed him the knife, wiping it on her jeans and smiling apologetically. Einar, still not quite awake, glared at her for a moment, tried to refrain from growling too loudly when he spoke. “You took my knife What…”
“I’m sorry. I used mine for a while, but after two racks of jerky…yours just works better for slicing it, and…” She could tell from the look in his eyes, half-open as they were, that she had underestimated the seriousness of taking his knife, in moving it from his side without his consent, realized that she might not have realized the significance of her actions. Einar did not stay disgruntled for long, had little time to think of such things, as he was quickly immersed in his own struggle to get himself up and moving again, to catch up on the work he’d lost through his unplanned two hour nap. While he wouldn’t have liked to admit it, the quietness had done Einar a great deal of good, given the swelling a bit of time to go down and made movement easier when he tried. Legs were still a problem, face somewhat puffy, but it seemed he might finally be past the trouble with losing his sight, a very good thing indeed. Liz certainly had been busy. Making his way over to the drying racks he looked over the row after row of jerky she had sliced and hung to dry, pounds of meat now safe from flies, too thin to be attractive as egg-laying material and quickly developing the leathery shell that would further deter tampering by insects. A job well done, and there was little sense in slicing more of the meat until either some of that first batch had dried, or they built more racks. Guess I’d better get busy on some more racks. Go cut willows, lash them together…first better flesh out the hide, though. Before it can start to dry. Liz, though, had already done it, as he discovered in searching for the hide--Liz, herself, had retreated to the cabin for the moment, realizing that it would be wise to give him some space for a bit as he woke up and got his bearings once again--leaving Einar feeling rather as though he’d slept through a significant portion of his life, and shaking his head to help clear it, he set off to cut more willows.
Two more willow drying racks Einar built there in the clearing, teepees of three sticks each secured at the top with nettle cordage lashings and two levels of horizontal sticks lashed between them to provide places from which to hang the drying jerky, and as he built, Liz worked to slice more jerky. Before long seven racks of sliced meat strips stood in the small sunny space out front of the cabin, smoke from the firepit drifting gently across them as they dried. Food for the winter. Great bounty. And so much still to do…