Once his ribs were wrapped--the poultice, Liz realized, would have to wait until evening when they could have a fire to heat some water--Einar found himself moving a good more freely than he had been before, more quickly, too, for there’s only so much that can be accomplished through stone-faced determination and willpower when one can’t really get a full breath, and the wrap seemed to be helping a good bit when it came to breathing. Reduced the hurt of it some, let him think about other things. Like stretching that hide. He was ready to jump right into the task but Liz had some breakfast ready--soaked dried serviceberries, honey and some finely-chopped chunks of bear fat, an unusual meal, but a good one, considering their self-imposed lack of fire--and he could tell he was going to be in some trouble with Liz, and probably with his own body, too, if he bypassed that breakfast to begin work immediately. Good stuff. He was glad Liz had insisted they sit and eat before starting the day’s work.
Einar was glad, considering present circumstances, that they’d gone to the trouble several days prior of stretching and lashing it in the aspen-wood frame, as it greatly increased their options when it came to the stretching process. Together they rubbed the hide with its last application of brain solution--in this case, lacking actual brains, simply a mixture of softened bear fat and ash from the stove--beginning the stretching with a pair of carefully smoothed and dulled sheep scapulas, pressing, stretching, separating the fibers to help the hide dry soft and supple. As the hide began drying and the pressing and stretching became more and more difficult--Einar was struggling despite the rib wrap, dismissing the matter with a grin and a shake of his head whenever Liz asked if he needed a break, but unable to entirely conceal what the effort was costing him--he took the frame and started easing it down onto the ground, Liz puzzled, but helping.
“Time to try this another way for a while. Here. Help me get the frame propped up on those logs, propped about a foot or so off the ground and set so it’ll be real stable. Yep, looks good. Now, take off your boots and come dance with me!”
“Dance? Since when could you dance?
“Hey now, there’s a lot you don’t know about me. Give me your hand, I’ll help you up.”
“I’m sure there is a lot I don’t know about you, and there probably always will be, but I seriously doubt any of it has to do with dancing!”
Balancing precariously on the edge of the frame in her sock feet, Liz was reluctant to step out onto the hide, afraid her weight might tear it, but Einar was already standing on it, bouncing up and down almost like he thought he was on a trampoline, and the goofy grin he gave Liz, taking both her hands and pulling her out into the softening, flexible surface of the hide, was enough to erase all her doubts. For a time they worked their way all around the edges of the hide, Einar occasionally venturing out into the middle but Liz afraid to follow him, as she was fairly certain she and Hildegard together weighed a good deal more than he, at the moment, and still somewhat afraid of ruining the hide.
“No worries, we lashed it real tight, and the thing’s sturdy, real sturdy…” Einar panted breathlessly as he leapt from one side to the other, bouncing, landing on his bad foot and going down, nearly taking her with him but letting go at the last moment, lying there in a grinning, laughing heap in the center of the hide as Liz tried desperately to halt her own movement in time to avoid trampling him. She made it, flopped down heavily beside him and tried to get him back to his feet, but he was laughing too hard, holding his ribs and fighting for breath.
“Pretty fun way to…you got to admit this beats…beats standing there for three hours pressing and rubbing the hide with a deer shoulder, doesn’t it? Lot more fun this way.”
“It must be, because it’s got you acting like a little kid at an amusement park, or something! What’s got into you?”
Einar gritted his teeth--ribs were better, but sure weren’t right yet, were continually making their presence known--took her hand and rose. “Nothing. Just wanted to get the hide finished, and this is the quickest way. Best way sometimes, with a big one like this. We’ll still have quite a bit of work to do by hand around the edges if we want them soft and supple, but this’ll give us a real good start, at least. Save a good bit of time.”
They got back to the stretching then, flipping the frame over to go at it from the other side, Einar a good bit more subdued, exhausted, hurting, some of the bounce gone from his step, but still diligently doing his part until the hide was thoroughly dry, and the time came to stop. Much to his surprise and delight--hadn’t done that many sheep hides, really--even the edges had grown soft under the repeated stretching of their steps. The job was done.
“Time to cut this thing out of here, looks like! Good dancing. You did real good. Guess this was little Snorri’s first hide, first of many he’ll help us process, since he really did help out, some.”
“It’s done, then?”
“All but the smoking, and that’ll have to wait ‘till the hunters have cleared out of here for good. That, or I guess we could do it at night, if one of us wants to stay up to watch the fire, make sure it keeps producing enough smoke without getting too hot. Come to think of it, we’re gonna have to do the smoking at night regardless of what the hunters do. Just can’t be making that much smoke during daylight hours with the possibility that folks are gonna be in the area…hunting, scouting, doesn’t matter. We just can’t risk it. No problem. I’ll stay up with the fire.”
“We’ll take turns. Looks like it’s going to be a good hide! I never knew bighorn sheep hides were so thin and flexible--so much more than deer, even--but incredibly sturdy, too.”
“Yep, that’s a big part of their value. Lots of tribes used them for clothing, boots, even, with the hair left on, hair side out to give some traction. Believe it was Lewis and Clark who described seeing the Sheep Eaters--Shoshones--in the Yellowstone area wearing boots like that, knee-length things that laced way up to keep the snow out. This one won’t be boots, of course, but might be a good start for one of those parkas you keep talking about… Good start. And I’ll be getting us more real soon.”
Which--Einar crouched beside the hide, carefully cutting it from the frame--seemed to Liz like an excellent opportunity to broach the subject of the hunters, of the possibility that they might leave behind a hide or two that could add to their still meager supply.