I'm heading out for a few days of wandering today, so this will be the last chapter for a while, probably until the weekend.
Thank you all for reading!
Heavy and awkward, it was quite a task getting the bear hide spread over the leaning aspen trunk for fleshing, Einar hanging onto one end while Liz struggled with the other until finally they got it, ending up with only minimal spruce needles and other debris stuck to the flesh side. Having stayed folded and rolled up overnight, the hide was still quite moist, a definite advantage when it came to scraping and freeing it of its remaining bits of flesh and fat. The morning was cool and crisp, but with a fairly stiff breeze sweeping up from the basin, Einar knew they would need to sprinkle the hide occasionally with water as they worked to prevent its drying too much and making their job a good deal more difficult. Though doing his best to help with the strenuous work of scraping the hide Einar was inevitably limited by his injury, the repeated pressing, scraping and twisting motions required by the job causing him a good deal of pain even with the ribs wrapped, and though Liz knew better than to ask him if he wanted to stop, she hoped he might soon come to the conclusion that such would be the wisest course of action. Looked like he was going to have the decision made for him pretty soon, anyway, as it appeared that he was finding himself increasingly unable to get enough breath to remain upright, face and fingers beginning to take on a faint grey-blue tinge. Einar was indeed struggling, trying his best to concentrate fully on the task at hand--scraping the hide while avoiding leaving behind any major nicks or scrapes that would prove troublesome later in the tanning process and when using the hide that winter--while really needing to devote all of his energy to simply continuing to breathe. The conflict was exhausting. He needed to stop, but had set for himself the goal of scraping from the bear’s neck area down to the middle of its stomach--roughly half the area of the hide--before leaving the remainder to Liz, if she had not already finished ahead of him, and he was determined to do it, blinked away the sweat that was trickling down to try and interfere with his vision and kept himself on task, one regular stroke after the other, scraping clean the hide.
Finished. Finally. A sense of triumph at having managed the thing despite his difficulties, the job done as well as ever, flesh side of the hide smooth and white and without blemish, aside from the spot where Liz’s arrow had entered the animal’s shoulder, and his knife wound to its neck, and Liz was done with her portion, too, having finished at nearly the same time as he. Together they stepped back and surveyed their work, Liz speaking while Einar fought for breath, trying very hard to slow his respirations, breathe more deeply, but having little success. Things seemed to be getting away from him, his body refusing to cooperate.
“What’s next? Do we stretch it like we did the elk, or just leave it down like this for the braining?”
Good question. The hide was massive, heavy, and the thought of wrestling it into the frame, lashing and stretching it and then reaching up above his head to smear on the brains and work the thing as they dried…several times…made him want to crawl under a tree and curl up in a little ball. Large as the hide was, though, he knew trying any method other than frame-stretching would only lead to more work and a hide that did not come out nearly as soft and supple as it otherwise might have. He nodded. “Yep, need to stretch it. Frame we used for the elk ought to be big enough. Close, anyway. Close enough. We’ll just trim out parts of the legs if they don’t fit, use them for other projects. I got to…find a drink of water real quick and then…help you get it into the frame.”
Liz handed him his water carrier, which had been sitting apparently unnoticed by his side. “Here. Drink. And then how about we get you set up to render the fat, before it gets any warmer this morning and the stuff starts going rancid? I’ve helped you lash and stretch hides. I can do this part.”
“You sure can. But I want to…I’ll stick around and help you punch the holes, get the thing lashed to the frame. Big job. Go faster with two. And you’ll need help standing the frame up. Then…rest of the day…rendering fat.” He was out of breath, had to stop. Wasn’t getting enough air, and the sensation of it was leaving him increasingly agitated, nervous now that the intense focus which had carried him through the scraping had eased, feeling all of a sudden as though he was going to die--soon--which of course he wasn’t, not from this, you’re fine, gonna be fine in a minute, and he told himself so, but it didn’t seem to be helping much. Liz saw his distress, didn’t say anything but took his arm and led him into the cabin, helped him onto the bed just as he began to lose consciousness. She got him propped up, loosened the wrappings around his torso and covered him with the ewe hide, sitting beside him and watching for any sign that his breathing was continuing to grow worse. In all probability, she told herself, he had just worn himself out working too hard on the hide, allowed his need for oxygen to get ahead of his ability to acquire it, but she was somewhat concerned that all the activity might have led to further injury, a sharp fragment of one of the broken ribs shifting as he moved and puncturing a lung. All she could do was to watch and wait, keep a close eye on him and hope his breathing improved with rest. If he ended up with a pocket of air trapped in in his chest, compressing the lung--pneumothorax, collapsed lung--she knew the options would be quite limited as far as what she could do for him out there without the proper equipment. He seemed not to be getting worse, though, his color actually improving a bit as he rested, which she took as a very good sign. You just did too much out there, wore yourself out. Which was inevitable. I hate to leave you right now, but it looks like I’d better get back to work out there, get that hide all laced up and stretched before it dries and shrinks too much, and you wake up thinking you’ve got to fix it yourself, haul it up to the spring on your back and soak it, or something, before lugging it back down here to stretch! Sleep well, Einar.
Retrieving Einar’s little bag of punches and awls from the spot where it hung in the cabin, Liz made fairly quick work of punching and lacing the hide, trimming off sections of both front legs in order to get it to fit in the frame. Those bits could be tanned separately, she supposed, or even left raw for projects such as boot soles or winter gaiters. They would certainly be put to one good use or another, valuable as they were. Finished lacing the hide, Liz knew the time had come for the more difficult part, tightening the laces and getting the hide stretched tight and even in the frame. Sometimes getting the tension just right could be a major challenge, and she’d even seen Einar struggle with it from time to time. The task would go a good bit smoother with his participation or at least active advice, but she certainly had no intention of waking him, asking him to come out there again and end up once more unable to breathe. There has to be a first time for everything. Guess I’m doing this one myself. But I probably ought to at least look in on him before I start, make sure he’s still getting enough air and isn’t awake needing water, or something. Though if he was awake, I’m afraid I’d probably know right away, because he’d be out here…
Einar wasn’t out for long, the pain of breathing soon brining him round to lie staring at the ceiling-logs, dizzy and sick and not remembering exactly how he’d come to be back in bed. However he’d got there it definitely wasn’t the place to be, not with daylight streaming in through the open door and an entire bear to prepare for the winter, and he sat up, tried to swing his legs to the side to stand up off the pallet of fir boughs, and immediately passed out again. Woke seconds later angry, frustrated at himself for giving in to such absurdity but with a new respect for the consequences of too-quick movement, and the next time he tried to rise, he took it a good bit more slowly. Never made it past a sitting position, which is how Liz found him when she hurried in to check before stretching the hide. His face bore the pale, strained look of a man who is fighting for air, and with limited success, but he wasn’t purple anymore, which Liz found encouraging, under the circumstances. Now to convince him that she had the hide under control, leaving him free to spend the remainder of the day in the cabin rendering bear fat…