Einar, looking at the yellowing aspens as if noticing them for the first time--though indeed he had been watching the slow change for weeks, scrambling as quickly as he’d been able to get them ready--and recalling quite vividly the warnings Susan had given him that morning went about the remainder of the day in a storm of activity, nearly finishing the chimney before he ran out of the rocks Kilgore had hauled in, gathering more wood for the newly-completed shed and generally making himself useful to the extent that Liz, though rejoicing at his enthusiasm and glad to see him back, would have actually liked to slow him down a bit had it been possible, get him to give his battered ribs a break. She did not try to insist on any such thing, knew he almost certainly had a need to keep busy, after the events of that morning. Give himself some time to come to an understanding of whatever had transpired up there. Some more time. That was, she could only hope, the reason for his continued silence. The only reason.
Despite his enthusiasm, the physical toll of the morning was limiting Einar some, arms not working too well--a fact which had caused him to twice drop chimney-rocks while attempting to lift them into place, and he was glad Liz had not been in there to see it--and hands very nearly numb, still. Kilgore had definitely known what he was doing. Well. He’d recover, had done so before, and from injuries rather more extensive due to the duration of the sessions that had precipitated them, but he knew it might well take a few days. Or more. No matter. What he lacked in physical ability at the moment he was making up for in energy and eagerness, and he would make the day count. Had already made the day count.
Next order of business was to do some scouting and decide on the location of the first food cache he was going to build so they’d have a place to store some of their jerky, fat and other foodstuff without being required to suspend it from high tree branches every time they ventured away from camp for more than a few hours. The cache, as he and Liz had previously discussed, would consist of a small, secure structure balanced atop several long timbers to make it more difficult for critters to access its contents, and while it did not have to be right next to the cabin, he did want it to be conveniently nearby. The other caches would come later, the hidden ones, the ones that would hopefully ensure that they’d have something to eat if they were forced to leave their present location in a hurry, and without hope of being able to return. Had to get busy on those, too. They were especially important, with winter coming on. High country can be a pretty desolate place, indeed, once the heavy snows began blanketing everything. Which was a factor he’d have to take into consideration when placing the hidden emergency caches--wouldn’t do to have them buried beneath ten, fifteen feet of snow just when they found themselves most in need of the food, needing to grab it in a hurry as they fled for their lives through the winter woods…right. So got to make sure those are gonna be accessible in the winter, done this before, know what to do…and have to get that birthing-house set up, too. Birthing shelter, at least. Won’t be a house, won’t be as extensive as the cabin, no time for that and besides, I don’t want to be leaving that kind of sign down lower for someone to maybe discover, but a real snug, secure lean-to is reasonable. I’ll get it built, stock it with food and, once we have enough available, a fur robe or two, some firewood, and if the baby seems to be coming early we’ll get Liz down there like Susan said, down where there’s more oxygen, and…
Liz was looking at him strangely; he could feel her gaze on him, glanced in her direction. Guessed he’d been standing there too long without moving, had got her concerned. Well. He knew how to fix that! Started off into the timber to the side of the cabin clearing, up in the direction of the spring, but he didn’t go very far, wanting to keep the large cache near the house. Finding a spot where three tall spruces grew in reasonably close proximity to one another he thought it good, pointing the spot out to Liz. Would be a good spot. Once he had managed to communicate to Liz his intention for the three trees--took a while; she wished he’d just find his voice again and speak up, save them both a lot of time and effort--the two of them spent the remainder of the day gathering timbers to be used in the construction of the cache, marking them and--the work went slowly, Einar far from able to wield the axe in a normal fashion but too stubborn to let Liz take over and do the task instead--beginning the process of trimming them to the right lengths.
Both of them rather weary after the long day they ate an early supper, sharing a wonderfully thick stew of nettles and bear jerky of which Einar could hardly complete his portion before falling asleep. Bedtime, though wonderfully welcome, proved to be a bit of a challenge. Tired as he was, Einar couldn’t lie on his back because of the large raw patches left by Kilgore’s “experiment,” couldn’t have Liz pressed up against him on either side due to his ribs--she tried, wanting him to be warm, but could tell by the change in his breathing that it hurt him--so he spent a somewhat chilly hour or two half-sitting on the edge of the bear hide with the deer and ewe hides over him as Liz had insisted, dozing lightly a number of times until he began shivering, which aggravated his ribs and woke him again. Finally, too tired to care about much besides getting some real sleep, not even the threat of the dreams that he knew might come, would almost certainly come--he could feel them out there just waiting to drag him in, could sense their presence every time he closed his eyes--was enough to keep him sitting up, and he rolled into the bed and curled up beside Liz. Everything hurt; no way around it, but his weariness was by far the stronger force at the moment, and, warming, he slept. Let it come. He could meet it, and would.
The dreams did not come, not for several hours, at least. In his sleep he was aware, from time to time, of the hurt in his shoulders and back, the hot burn of his ribs when trying to breathe too deeply, half-woke and knew how the hurt had come to be there, but never ended up back in that other place, unsure of the line between dream and reality, unsure that he’d ever be able to find his way out. Darkness. The moon had gone down an hour ago, and he was lying there staring out through crack at the top of the door, watching the stars blink and dance behind their curtain of gently swaying spruces, when he heard it. Heard them. Voices. Lay there silent for a minute listening, trying to ascertain whether he might simply be hearing the wind in the trees, but he was sure of it, crept out of the bed and eased open the door, keeping to the dark shadows beside the cabin--morning had come, daylight strengthening from grey to a pale yellow in the east, highlighting the carpet of yellow on the ground beneath the aspens, and he wondered that the leaves could have all turned and fallen in the course of a single night, temperatures dropping and frost appearing to silver the ground--as he searched the clearing for the source of the voices. Saw nothing at first, was, body feeling terribly heavy and eyes not wanting to stay open, about to crawl back to bed when a subtle hint of movement caught his eye over on the far side of the clearing, and he froze, dropped to the ground, pressing himself into the soil, watching.
Scanning the trees along the edge of the clearing he discovered after some time the source of the movement, a child whose age appeared to be somewhere between four and five clad in buckskins and wearing a hat of what might have been bobcat fur, or lynx, and observing, he realized why it had taken him so long to locate the spot from which the movement had originated. The child was moving incredibly slowly, stalking, body in a low crouch and each step so painstakingly deliberate that he hardly appeared to be in motion at all, except that after glancing away Einar realized the position or a leg or arm had changed by an inch or two. Studying the scene--kid’s quite the hunter; he’s doing great!--he found after a time the object of the child’s intense interest, though he could not do so by following the direction of the young man’s gaze, a fact which only increased his admiration for the skill being displayed, for he had seen many times that fixing the gaze on one’s quarry could alert it, send some mysterious message of alarm that would set the creature to looking about all nervous and alert, discovering its stalker. The boy’s quarry, it appeared, consisted of a large, plump ground squirrel who sat working to remove the tiny seeds from a pile of spruce scales atop a good-sized boulder that sat almost in the timber, directly opposite the cabin door. Reaching the rock at last, the child inspected it, casting what appeared to be a practiced eye over its contours before launching himself slowly but with a great sureness up its nearly vertical side, quarry temporarily out of his sight because of his proximity to the rock. Reaching the top at last--the ground squirrel had moved slightly, shifted position, and Einar wanted to call out to the child, tell him of the change, but kept quiet--the boy braced himself, balancing, reaching, hand swooping down and capturing the creature with an amazing speed and certainty; breakfast! Standing, letting his breath out in a great sigh, the little hunter crouched, sprung, landed on the soft carpet of spruce needles some five feet below the boulder’s top. Liz came, then, showed up from somewhere in the timber and hurried to the boy, a smile of congratulation on her face as she scooped him up, admiring his catch and setting out with him for the cabin. Was about to pass right by Einar where he lay but he stood up, called out to her and she turned, came to him, the two of them came to him…
Einar slept then, sprawled out on the ground beside the cabin where he had lain watching the child’s successful hunt, woke with the coming of the sun, hours after it had come in the dream, stiff and almost immobile with cold, but with a feeling of unspeakable peace, calm, a joy at the realization that the dream had been one of the first in which he, himself, had actually existed in the same space and time as the child, and Liz; they had seen him. He had been there with them! Einar’s elation lasted until he tried to move, at which point, battered muscles stiff with cold after his hours lying sprawled out on the ground in the night chill with the breeze whispering over him, he found himself all but immobile, barely able to suppress a groan as he rolled to his stomach, brought numbed, purple hands up under his chin to begin warming. Not the best choice of sleeping location, was it Einar? What were you thinking? Hadn’t been thinking at all, that he could recall, certainly didn’t remember making the decision to sleep out there, though he had to admit it did not sound entirely unlike him, and would have been rather disgruntled at the fact, had not the wonder of that dream remained with him, occupied most of his thoughts as he struggled to get his body functional once again, to get to his feet. Proved to be quite a challenge but he made it, moving slowly away from the cabin, not wanting risk waking Liz. Not until he’d managed to work some of the crimps out and move a bit more normally, at least, because the last thing he wanted was for her to worry, to question him about his night.
Up early anyway and badly in need of some warmth, Einar decided to make Liz breakfast right there over the outdoor fire pit, stepped into the trees in his search of firewood and stood marveling at the beauty of the place, found, right there on the edge of the clearing, the rock where the boy had been playing and traced with his fingers the little indentations that he’d seen the child use to assist him in his climb, and it was as if he had already been there, the dream a look back at things past, and indeed when he himself reached the boulder’s uneven summit, it was to find a small pile of spruce scales lying there precisely where the ground squirrel had left them. The wonder and strangeness of the moment was baffling to him, its blessing and promise beyond comprehension, and almost reverently he picked up several of the scales tucked them in his pocket and eased his way down from the boulder.