Careful to avoid, as much as possibly, bloodying the snowy whiteness of the animal’s coat--it could be cleaned, of course, but much better was to keep it clean in the first place--Einar and Liz bled and cleaned the goat, trapping what they could of the blood in the cook pot and a few hastily cut and bent vessels of white aspen bark, their folds sealed, if poorly, with twisted and pressed cordage of the fibrous, somewhat absorbent inner bark, but a good bit of it they were simply unable to save. Liz sorted through the gut pile as Einar, the goat opened up and cooling, worked to construct the frames that would allow them to pack the meat and hide home to the cabin. It would be heavy work, the goat weighing, according to his estimate, somewhere over two hundred pounds, but he hoped that by careful butchering they might manage to reduce that to somewhere just over one hundred and fifty, including the hide. They would be leaving things behind--bone, mostly, perhaps the lungs and a few other things that he normally would have been intent on keeping and putting to the best use--but as he saw it, they really had little choice.
Needed to be out of the area as soon as possible because of the continued activity in the air, and there were limits to what he could ask Liz or--reasonably; be reasonable, Einar, it’s got to be better than ending up dead beside the trail--even himself to carry. And they still had the cached elk hide to retrieve on their way back, if they were able. With this in mind he cut as much meat off the bone as possible, working quickly and efficiently to pack and secure it onto the pair of frames he had made, equal loads for the two of them at first and then, knowing how much Liz was already carrying with the baby and not wanting to risk over-working her and sending her into early labor--she’s shown no sign of being at risk for that, really, but with under two months to go, sure wouldn’t want it to start becoming a problem now--loading his down a bit more heavily. And I’ll carry the hide. Fold it to protect the wool and then roll it, secure it around my neck so it hangs down on either side in the front, and it ought to carry pretty well.
And would, he knew--though wouldn’t have admitted to it being a factor in his wanting to carry the thing--help him get warm, which was something he hadn’t really been able to do at all that morning, despite the hard work of butchering the goat. Felt like there was ice in his bones, cold water running down beneath his skin and even with the constant activity of raising, skinning and chopping up the carcass, it seemed he was always right on the edge of shivering that morning, fighting it, as he had to keep still in order to do a decent job at taking care of the goat, but never really starting to get warm. Every time he stopped for a moment’s rest or reflection before getting back to the project, his hands would start shaking, entire body joining in if he did not get hastily back to his feet and start moving again. Didn’t mind the cold and never had, would have found it somewhat pleasant, even in such an extreme, if his reaction to it hadn’t been interfering so with the speedy execution of the task at hand, but his seeming inability to make any headway at all against the iron grip the cold had gained on him in the night concerned him just a bit, left him wondering how he might expect to fare that winter when the cold set in for good and became a constant. Guess you’ll either adapt or die, as usual, but it’s gonna be a rough one, looks like. Well. Would have to deal with that when the time came. For the moment he was busy, making good progress on the goat and would wear its hide to warm him on the trip back to the cabin. Pulled from his contemplation by the sound of Liz’s voice he paused, turned in her direction.
“Break time! You ready to stop for a minute and help me eat some of this liver? It’ll never make it back to the cabin, so we might as well eat what we can, now.”
Einar nodded, wiped his hands on his still-wet pants and joined her on the sunny log she’d chosen for their repast. It was good to be out of the cold, breezy shadows of the spruce grove, and he raised purple palms to the sunlight, sitting with eyes half closed as Liz sliced thick, beautiful chunks from the goat’s liver. Looked healthy. Had been a real healthy animal, and that was good, and before he knew what was happening Einar was drifting, dreaming, goats on the rocks, skipping along the ridges and dancing up the sides of impossibly steep cliffs, beautiful sight… The sun was warm, but not warm enough, and very soon he was shaking in the sharp morning breeze, very nearly unable to grasp the aspen-bark plate full of liver slices, by the time Liz got it prepared and brought to him. Shook his head in an attempt to drive away some of the heavy sleepiness that had come over him while waiting, thanked her and gulped down one of the liver slices. Good stuff. Wanted more, but was afraid he’d drop the plate if he let go with one hand to secure himself a piece. Not a problem. He could wait. Liz was enjoying the stuff, and he liked watching her eat. And feed the baby. Liver would be very good for the baby, and for her, help keep her stocked up on iron, keep her blood strong for the delivery and…dozing again, and this time he nearly fell off his seat. Liz grabbed him, a steadying hand on his shoulder.
“Einar--what’s wrong? Can’t you stay awake? You’re freezing. Here, let’s get you wrapped up in the goat hide, it’s good and warm and dry on the outside…”
He shook his head, eyes wide all of sudden and mind wholly back in the present, if not entirely as clear as he might have liked. “No, no I’m Ok as long as I keep moving. Need to keep moving.” With which he rose and was about to return to work, but Liz caught his arm, pulled him back down beside her, moving closer and rubbing his back for warmth.
“You need dry clothes. And about fifty or sixty pounds of extra insulation on your body, so you won’t always be freezing like this. Here, have some more liver. It’ll help.” Which it did, Liz giving him slice after slice as he fought to stay awake and do the chewing, and by the time they had split nearly half the liver between them, Einar was finally finding himself warm and steady enough to sit there in the sun without sinking into a hypothermic doze every time he allowed himself to relax a bit, tremors quieted and his mind starting to work once again. Too close, Einar. A little scary that you can get that close and not even realize what’s happening . She saw, pulled you out of it, but what if she hadn’t been here? You’d have gone right on sitting in those cold shadows and carving at the goat until you toppled over and slept that last sleep, wouldn’t you? And left two carcasses up here for the coyotes to gnaw on… But that’s not what happened, so you’d better get back to work on that goat, get us ready to head out of here while you’ve still got plenty of energy from that liver. Guess it’s not likely to last real long, as far behind as you seem to be on such things.
Liz, finished sorting the gut pile and packing what they intended to carry with them, joined Einar as he continued carving up the meat for transport, the job going much more quickly with both of them working at it and the remains of the goat soon ready to be carried away. Not a moment too soon for Einar, who was growing increasingly jumpy at the persistent buzz of the little helicopter as it skimmed the little basins and draws just on the other side of the red ridge, presumably taking inventory of the elk population. He wanted very much to put more distance between themselves and that menace, got the goat hide, with Liz’s help, around his neck and tied it at chest height to prevent its coming off, easing his meat-laden pack frame overtop. The setup hurt his ribs, seemed to crush the air out of him but he figured, what doesn’t do that, these days? At least you’re warm now, right? Must be, ’cause feels like your entire left side’s on fire… Hurts something awful but you’re still breathing, and if you can keep that up, chances are you’ll get through this, make it back to the cabin with this prize and then you can rest. Up, now. On your feet. Can’t let her see how rough this is, or she’ll be wanting to carry more of it herself, and that might not be good for the baby… With which thought he was on his feet, leaning heavily on his spear and working hard to regulate his breathing to ensure he got enough oxygen to go on standing, nearly knocked off his feet when soft and silent though the spruces, Muninn the raven came swooping to perch heavily on his shoulder. Einar glanced up at the bird, nodded.
“Been wondering where you were, you old scoundrel.”