Sunny weather continuing and the day warming so much that Einar and Liz shed their cloaks shortly after enjoying Liz’s batch of stew, they made quick progress on the cache baskets, completing three and setting them aside to be pitch-coated as soon as daylight faded and the time for outdoor tasks came to a close. Baskets finished and their lids woven, as well, Einar moved on to the mountain goat hide which remained stretched all clean and shining and white in its frame, slowly heating a mixture of bear fat and recycled brains from the first braining and meaning to rub it onto the flesh side of the hide to further soften it. Liz took the pot before he could begin.
“Let me do this. Your fingers are all raw and bleeding from working on the baskets after that mild case of frostbite, and they’re just going to get infected if you go rubbing them in that nasty stinky old brain mixture! You’d better try hound’s tongue salve, instead. It works much better.”
“Oh, you think? I figured the brains ought be about the best thing for the fingers, really, all soft and greasy and slimy as they are. It’s an old frostbite cure, and one of the best ones because the massive quantities of bacteria in the days-old brain mixture get in there and eat away at the damaged skin and help the frostbite to heal more quickly. Kind of like the maggots did for my foot, that time...”
“ I hope you’re only joking, but sometimes it’s absolutely impossible for me to tell…now get in there and put some of that new salve on your fingers, before I have to come at you with the rabbit stick!”
Einar went, grinning, never having had any intention of deliberately smearing his damaged fingers with the tanning mixture--though that would have been the inevitable result had he took on the braining job as he’d been going to do--but finding a good deal of humor in the realization that Liz had thought him serious about the proposal. The hide really did need attention, but as Liz seemed anxious to do the job, his wisest course of action--for a number of reasons--appeared to involve leaving the work to her and tending to his fingers. When the time came for stretching the hide--after its third and final braining--he would help. Would have to. The thing was very nearly too bulky and heavy for one person to handle, with all its wool still on. Tomorrow, if the weather held out and they had time between running the trapline and placing at least one of the new caches, the time would have come for them to do the last braining on the hide and to stretch it.
Evening was coming, sun dipping low and temperatures outside already beginning to fall as Einar finished cleaning the raw remains of his fingertips--might have been a good thing to wear gloves while I made those baskets, but I don’t have any gloves, and probably wouldn’t have been able to do the work in them even if I had…fingers will heal--and generously applying Liz’s salve of hound’s tongue leaves simmered slowly in bear fat, and he figured since he was inside anyway and leaving her to do the work of braining the hide, the least he could do would be to have a nice supper waiting for her when she got done. She’s probably getting tired of soup, too, seeing as we have it every day now. Good stuff and real filling if a person eats enough of it, but I wonder if she might enjoy that goat roast we were talking so much about the other day? Bet it would make for a nice change. Only trouble was that they never had got around to making that honey mustard they’d discussed in such mouth-watering detail, basting sauce for the goat roast and the thing that was going to have made the meal such a very special treat, and he doubted his ability to prepare any such in time for supper that night. Not properly, anyway, as the manufacture of mustard required vinegar, and though he had no doubt as to his ability to produce such, it wasn’t happening over the course of the hour or so that might remain before supper.
Unable to make proper mustard in a timely fashion Einar figured he’d do the next best thing, scooping some honey into a pot and adding a bit of water, stirring to combine the two and setting the pot on one of the stone shelves he’d built into the chimney, where it would begin to heat but not risk scorching before he’d got together the rest of the ingredients. Which consisted of a few crumbles of dried wild garlic greens, taken from Liz’s stash and carefully powdered before he tossed them in. All the concoction lacked now was something to give it a good strong mustard flavor, and Einar eyed Liz’s collection of medicinal herbs in their neat hide pouches and pitch-coated baskets, pulling out the shepherd’ purse and collecting a small handful of the small, vaguely heart-shaped brown seed pods, each of which he knew contained a number of small brown oblong seeds from which could be made a very passable mustard. Liz had collected and stored the plants in preparation for the upcoming birth, a solution of shepherd’s purse greens and, to a lesser extent, seeds, being very useful in halting post-partum hemorrhage should it occur, but he knew she would not need all of the seeds. Lightly grinding the seeds on a smooth rock Einar dumped the powder into his barely simmering pot, clenching a fist when one of his injured fingers came into contact with a bit of the powder. Stuff stung terribly, left him hurrying for the water barrel and pouring a good cup or so of the stuff over his hand in an attempt to free it of the burning. Hmm. Wonder if that stuff’s a good antiseptic? Might be, but I’d hate to have to use it very often, much as it stings!
Set down on the stovetop the mixture very quickly went beyond simmering, releasing into the cabin a sharp, acrid odor that stung Einar’s eyes and made him cough even as it left his mouth watering, and he swatted at the steam, wanting to get it headed away from his face. Huh. Really wasn’t trying to produce mustard gas here, but looks like I must’ve come pretty close! Whew! Hope Liz doesn’t walk in here while it’s steaming like this. Got to cool it down. Quick. Hey, get that pot off the stove, will you? This coughing feels like it’s gonna break a couple ribs again, undo whatever healing they’ve somehow managed to do and…ah…that’s better. Yeah. Just need to keep it from boiling, and everything’s alright. While the honey mustard might have been alright Einar really wasn’t, could not seem to stop coughing and felt about to pass out for lack of air as he crossed his arms on his chest, pressing, squeezing, trying to hold the ribs in place and halt the tearing, burning pain brought by his struggle for air. Succeeded, finally, sitting there doubled over on the floor until some of the faintness passed and he trusted himself to rise once more. That was interesting. No more boiling the mustard, not unless I really need to clear the cabin in a hurry for one reason or another! Or clear my lungs. Ha! Might make a decent cure for pneumonia, come to think of it. Just breathe a little dose of mustard steam, cough your lungs out and any accumulated gunk with them. Yep, might have to keep that one in mind. Could be it’s something I ought to do on a regular basis until the ribs are healed…once a week, say…just to make sure my lungs stay clear. Mighty unpleasant, but then I don’t always object to mighty unpleasant things as strongly as most folks seem inclined to, and if it’d prevent serious trouble with my lungs, definitely worth it. Well. Have to keep that in mind, but for now I’ve already had the first treatment--ha!--and need to get on with fixing Liz’s supper.
Retrieving the pot from its place on the heating shelf he tasted the mixture, liked it, wanted more--its flavor was strong, intense, did something to satisfy the gnawing, twisting hunger that seemed so frequently to torment him those days as the weather grew colder, though he knew its actual food value had to be quite negligible--but contented himself with licking bits of it from the stick he’d been using to stir as it heated. Good. This is going to work very well, even though the mustard I used wasn’t proper mustard at all… And he took the pot of completed sauce, carrying it to the outdoor firepit over which he intended to roast the goat, glancing in Liz’s direction and finding her still hard at work on the hide. Quietly he retrieved the meat from the tree where it hung in the cool evening shade, glad that the special supper would be at least somewhat of a surprise for her.