35 Ashan 721
Dan tied a rope around the dead deer's neck, fastened the other end to Smoke's harness, and slapped his pony on her shoulder. Smoke leaned into the weight, slowly hauling the animal - it was an older doe, and one of its legs had broken when it landed in the pit - out of the muddy pit trap and onto the trail. Dan walked backwards beside her, watching to see when the deer he had caught was safely clear of the pit. Once it was, he patted Smoke again in approval and thanks, and she stopped. He tethered her so that she couldn't bolt on him - not that he thought she would with a heavy load trailing behind her - but just because she had learned to somewhat tolerate the scent of death and blood and raw meat when he was hunting didn't mean she liked it or that she wouldn't startle if something else unsettling happened.
The deer had broken a number of the branches covering the pit when it fell, so he checked the bushes just off the trail, looking for thin stems and branches that were long enough to go across the top of the pit, and strong enough to support a light weight cover, but not so strong that they would prevent anything falling into his pit. He finally found enough slender branches to make it work for him and carried them back to the pit. He stacked them to one side, close to the edge. Taking one of them, he laid it carefully across the pit, where it was long enough to support itself from where the ends rested on the edges of the pit. He added more branches in the same way, spacing them out across the pit until they made a loose lattice-like cover over the top. The pit itself was still visible through the lattice at the moment, but that wouldn't last for very long. He picked up an armful of leaf litter and scattered it across the pit, noting with satisfaction the way that the leaves came to rest on top of the lattice rather than sliding through, and went back for another armful. He scattered and spread the leaves and older dirt until the lattice was completely covered, and the edges of the pit trap were blurred into the rest of the path and hidden from view.
Then he untied the rope from Smoke's harness, tossed the end over a sturdy tree branch instead, and hauled with all his strength and weight. The deer was pulled head first up the tree until it hung there at an easy height to work at, and high enough that the blood would drain out rather than puddle inside the body. Dan tied the rope off, traded his shirt for an apron, spread a rough piece of sacking over the ground, and drew his knife with a silent sigh. This wasn't the most pleasant of tasks, but it had to be done, and dealing with the tainted meat that would happen if he didn't do it was worse.
He pinched a bit of hair and skin, pulled it away from the belly, then slid his knife in sideways to minimise the chances of accidentally piercing the entrails and tainting the meat that way. Twisting the knife so that the blade pointed up, he cut slowly and carefully through the skin from anus to chest, just as he would for a fish or a rabbit, and peeled the skin back a bit so that he could see the muscle underneath.
Once that was done, he made a small cut in the muscle, and used the fingers of his free hand as a wedge to ease it wide enough to slide the knife in safely and make a longer cut up the belly to the ribs. He cleaned his knife, and set it aside, and reached into the hole with bare hands, fumbling through slick, still warm, innards for the bladder and stomach. He knotted ties tightly above and below them, to prevent their contents spilling out onto the meat, and then took up his knife again to cut them free. Most of the intestines came free with the stomach, falling with a thwap against his apron and then sliding down to form a damply steaming pile on the sacking by his boots. It was nearly on his boot, but he managed to move his foot just in time to prevent that.
There was another layer of muscle - the diaphram - closing off the base of the ribcage from the lower part of the body. Dandelion cut around it slowly and carefully, peeled it clear and set it on the sacking. There were, of course, more organs beyond it, and he reached up and in with blood-streaked hands and arms to feel for a pair of tubes coming down from the throat. The move brought his nose and chin into uncomfortably close proximity to the dead doe's hairy chest. He could smell the blood, and the entrails, and death of it, all mingled with the smell of the deer itself. He gritted his teeth and tried to focus on his hands instead, and the stuff sliding slimily over and past them.
He found the tubes at last, gripped them tight with one hand and very cautiously retrieved his knife and brought it up with the other. He didn't want to risk cutting himself and getting an infection from the deer. He managed to cut through the tubes, though, the windpipe and the foodpipe, and hung onto them, so he didn't have to try and find them a second time. Instead, he pulled downward, and the rest of the entrails slithered out through the hole where the diaphragm had been with very little more help from his knife. They hit the sacking with a wet splat, and Dan heaved a sigh of relief. The air passing over his tongue tasted of blood and raw meat, and he grimaced ruefully. It tasted better when it was cooked.
He double checked that he hadn't left anything inside the carcass, and grinned when it proved clean, before wrapping everything up in the sacking for later sorting and disposal and tying that package shut. He didn't skin the deer at this point. There was, in his opinion, absolutely no point in removing nature's waterproof wrapping just to replace it with his own for easier transport. The sacking package went onto the pack saddle, and then he unfastened the rope holding the deer up the tree and lowered it to the ground. He tied it closed, then, with an effort, heaved it up and strapped it onto Smoke's pack for the trip back to his camp. He scrubbed the worst of the blood off his arms with another bit of rough sacking, retrieved his shirt and gathered up the reins. Smoke gave him a resigned look and swished her tail, but she plodded at his heels willingly enough as he set off home.
Once there, he sorted through the organs, tossing the heart and the kidneys, the liver and the lights, into a pot to cook, and burying the rest. He unloaded the deer from Smoke, and propped it up and open to dry off a little, then unsaddled his pony, gave her a quick brush down, and turned her loose to graze. Then he took himself down to the stream and began to clean himself up. He found a patch of soapwort and crushed a handful of leaves, dipping them in the water to create a soapy lather, then climbed his way out of his clothes, toed off his boots, splashed into the cold water and used the soapwort to scrub the blood from his hands, and his apron, and dirt from climbing in and out of the pit off the rest of him. He dried himself roughly, brushed the dirt from his shirt and leggings, and wrestled them on again over his damp, but clean skin. He shoved his feet back into his boots collected the sodden apron and carried it back. He would spread it over a bush to dry, he thought. There was a good bush for that quite close to his camp at the moment, he had used it the day he did his general laundry. And then, with that sorted, he would go back to the task in hand.
He wasn't finished, of course. He was never finished. But just for a moment, he stopped, and tipped his head up to the sun, and breathed in the smell of grass and herbs and horse, and damp self, so much more enjoyable than dead deer and spilled guts, and let that moment of pleasure carry him on into the rest of his trial.
"Signed words" Spoken words