Meat secured, their long journey and the exertions of the morning behind them, Liz wished the remainder of the day to be a time of rest for both of them, for all three, but knew that the goat hide ought first be dealt with, fleshed and perhaps stretched before it had too much more time to begin drying and becoming difficult to work with. The thing was heavy, bulky, and when Einar saw her struggling to carry it over to the leaning aspen trunk they used as a fleshing beam, he helped, securing one end while she took the other. The wool had largely remained clean the way Einar had rolled and carried it on the return to the cabin, would need some brushing to remove bits of lichen and grass from where the goat had lain amongst them, but little else, and Liz admired its sleek white outer hairs, parting them to reveal the dense wool beneath.
“Between the two bear hides and this one--and the extra elk!--we’re doing a lot better on being ready for winter than we were just a few weeks ago. I’d like to see this goat hide made into a coat for you, a vest, maybe, so warm that you could sit out on the rocks in it all night if you wanted to and watch the snow fall, and not get cold…”
Einar laughed softly, shook his head at the image. Would be good snow camo, for sure… “Well, we’ll see. Would make an awfully warm covering for the bed, too, for you and the little one. Incredibly valuable thing to have got hold of, either way. Figure if we can flesh it out today and maybe get it stretched, there’s no real hurry when it comes to braining it and working it soft. Can do that anytime before the snow comes. Or after, but I expect we’ll be wanting the use of the hide, when winter really starts setting in!”
They worked together in silence for a time then, scraping the remaining bits of flesh and fat from the goat hide and tossing occasional bits of the stuff to Muninn. The great bird had taken up a position in the nearby half-rotted remains of a long-fallen spruce and was reminding them frequently of his presence with harsh little rasping noises, hopping now and then from the log to take a few awkward leaps closer and tilt his head at them, too proud to come right out and ask for scraps, but certainly not the least bit subtle about the nature of his desire. Einar grinned at the bird, shook his head and tossed him another bit of meat.
“Earned it several times over on our little expedition to the ridge, you old vulture. Enjoy.”
Turning back to his work Einar moved a bit too quickly and--he’d been fighting it all day--felt his legs go out from under him, tried but failed to prevent the fall and ended up face down with his limbs tangled rather awkwardly around the scraping beam, Liz rushing to help him when she saw that he seemed unable to immediately get back to his feet. He was giving it his best effort, trying hard to hide his struggle from Liz, but it was too late. She took his arm, helped him up onto the aspen trunk where he sat rubbing his legs in a hasty attempt to bring them back to life.
Liz sounded a little scared, despite herself. “What’s wrong with your legs?”
“Ah, nothing much. Been doing this off and on for days, but worse yesterday and today. Just seem to give out after awhile and don’t have any strength in them, won’t respond the way they ought to.”
“Last couple of days? I wish you’d told me. Do they hurt?”
“Ache something awful most of the time, but I’m getting used to it.”
“Getting used to it? Don’t do that! It’s no wonder your legs don’t have any strength in them sometimes, because they hardly have any muscle left on them. Sometimes I really wonder how you do half the things you do when you’re so…” Liz stopped herself, shook her head. What had she been going to say? When you’re so far gone? When you’re so close to finally starving yourself to death, finishing the job once and for all, as you seem so intent on doing? Neither sounded very good at all even if both were true, and seemed not the right sorts of things to be saying, not very productive. “What you really need is protein, you know. Four or five batches of soup every day with meat chunks and nettles and bear fat floating on top and I’m going to make sure you get it, alright?”
He nodded, gave her a little smile, yep, I’m sure you will, and I’ve got to say that sounds awfully good right now… got back to his feet and returned to scraping the hide, this time bracing himself carefully against an adjacent aspen, determined to remain on his feet, and managing it, though with some difficulty. It was late afternoon by the time they finished scraping and stretching the goat hide, sun beginning to sink as Einar threaded the last bit of nettle cordage through the holes he had meticulously punched around the edges of the goat hide, pulling, stretching and finally tying, job finished, hide ready to be raised up into the trees for protection through the night. Liz had taken her leave some time prior to get a fire started in the stove and begin work on supper, savory smells beginning to drift out the open door as Einar struggled to raise the hide high enough to keep it from the depredations of any curious coyotes or bears who might wander by in the night.
Couldn’t get it, not quite, not even when grasping the hanging cord in both hands and pulling back with all his might--would have wrapped it around a tree and pulled, but as it turned out there weren’t any quite close enough to allow for that, not with the somewhat too-short length of nettle cordage he’d been left with using, as they were growing somewhat short on cordage--and it frustrated him so that he tried it over and over again until finally the effort left him doubled over on the ground, struggling for breath and pressing his ribs--which did not at all care for the strain--with one hand and maintaining a desperate grip on the cord with the other, not wanting to lose any of the several feet by which he’d so far managed to raise the frame with its heavy burden of goat hide and wool. Angry. Got to be able to do this. You carried the thing, why can’t you raise it? Come on, give it all you got, and it never even occurred to him, as he hauled himself upright and grimly wrapped the cord several times around his arm, that perhaps he ought to have called Liz for help. That time he got it, grabbing his wrapped arm with the opposite hand and throwing himself to the ground with as much force as he could muster, the hide frame coming up off the ground and into the tree as his full weight landed on that cord, after which he lay there for a good three or four seconds breathless and stunned by the hurt of his ribs hitting the ground like that, hardly even noticing that he was still hanging by one arm from the cord, slowly but steadily being pulled up into the tree by the weight of the frame, which was apparently somewhat greater than his own…
Muninn brought him out of it--perhaps sensing the seriousness of his plight or perhaps simply hoping for another scrap of meat--when he gave a harsh cry and floated down to the ground beside Einar, tugging at a bit of his hair and hopping back to await a response. Jarred out of his trance and not at all liking the fact that he found himself suspended rather painfully by one arm and gradually losing all contact with the ground Einar began struggling, would have cut the cord and freed himself but for the knowledge that any such action would send the frame crashing to the ground and possibly damaging it as well as negating all the hard work he’d gone through in raising it in the first place, so he did the next best thing, arching his body and swinging himself to the side until he was able to get both his legs wrapped around the spruce from one of whose branches the frame dangled, raising his upper body so that he could grab a low branch with his free arm, and steady himself. Then came the hard part as he struggled to bring his trapped arm close enough to the tree that he could snag the cord on a stub of a branch, catching it just above the spot where it was wrapped around his arm and quickly wrapping it twice, taking his weight off the arm and allowing him to free it. Hand was white and bloodless and didn’t work at all, but he didn’t care, knew it would be fine, given time. Using his teeth and fingers and whatever else was available he got the cord securely tied to the branch stub, sliding rather unceremoniously down the spruce trunk and to the ground the instant he was finished, badly winded and too exhausted to move, but at the same time so oddly triumphant that he found himself laughing aloud, Muninn standing over him and staring quizzically.
Some minutes later supper was ready and Liz, stepping outside to call Einar for the meal, was pleased to find him stretched out on his back, taking a break beneath a tree and apparently behaving himself quite well. When he responded to her announcement of supper time with nothing more than a weary little wave of a hand, as if to say wait, give me a minute, can’t get up just yet, she began to wonder whether she might have misinterpreted the situation, hurried to him and was about to be cross with him for having gone ahead and raised the hide without waiting for her help--she’d offered to help, insisted that she would help--but refrained, seeing as he was arguably doing the right thing in resting afterwards, as she’d been trying unsuccessfully to convince him to do ever since they arrived back home. One thing puzzled her, though, as she stared up into the spruce.
“How did you reach so high to tie that cord? You’re taller than me, but you’re not that tall.”
Einar laughed, slowly rolled over, hoisted himself up to his knees and stood. “Ask the raven…”
Which she did, but the bird wasn’t talking.