Crouching, moving cautiously and watching Einar for clues, it did not take Liz long to see the trio of sheep, balanced precariously along a narrow rim of rock nearly fifty yards above their position, its protrusion barely seeming wide enough to support their feet, yet the creatures moved with an effortless ease as, aware of the presence of the two humans and slightly concerned about it, they skipped up several yards higher on the near-vertical wall of rock. Too far, and Einar knew it. Might have been a reasonable shot had he possessed the full use of his arms, but he did not--doggone Kilgore and his way with ropes--nor were his ribs on the broken side feeling stable enough to allow for the good hard throw that would be needed to have a reasonable hope of taking one of the sheep at that distance. Liz, however, had no such limitation--and a good thing, too, ’cause if anybody ever tried to break her ribs or…or…well, I’d cave his head in so fast he wouldn’t know what had hit him--was not as practiced as himself in the use of the atlatl but did have her bow, a good selection of bone-tipped arrows, and he knew she practiced regularly with it, as the much-fragmented old punky spruce stump at the edge of the cabin clearing could attest. Glancing over at her, he saw that she already had an arrow in place, bowstring drawn back slightly, and he shook his head.
Wait. We’re too far away. Come with me. She went, followed him up into the timber beside the rock wall, the two of them moving slowly and as silently as possible as they worked their way up along the edge of the outcropping, hoping to be able to close the gap with the sheep just enough to make a good solid shot, without scaring the creatures off. Succeeded, found, when at last they lowered themselves to hands and knees and crept forward until they were looking across the steep narrow chute that separated them from the wall, that the sheep had ceased being semi-alarmed, ready to run, had returned to munching the hardy stubble-grass that grew in tufts and clumps wherever its roots could gain purchase in the rock. Liz got herself up onto her knees, moving with a slow, steady fluidity that very nearly matched the swaying of the firs that provided their concealment, had her eye on one of the sheep and again glanced at Einar, seeking his approval. He definitely approved.
Yes. Good. Take it. Last one down here, closest one, she’s at just the right angle, too, and considering where she’s standing, the fall should finish her off even if the shot doesn’t… Which it didn’t, not quite, not immediately, the wounded sheep--Liz had missed the lung by no more than an inch, but it would have been enough to leave her with a long trail to follow, under any other circumstance--taking several graceful leaps up higher on the wall, looking as though she might disappear into the adjoining couloir, which was indeed her goal. Didn’t make it, though, her judgment and ability thrown off just enough by the arrow to cause her to misplace a step, a fraction of an inch, that’s all it took, and she was falling, toppling, slamming into an outcropping and then into the rocky ground below, no longer moving. Liz was on her feet, scrambling back down the steep, fir needle-slick slope below them and frightening the two remaining sheep into leaping away up the wall, Einar following close behind her. When they reached the sheep, she was dead. A successful hunt, and Einar put an appreciative hand on Liz’s shoulder, freed the arrow, cleaned it and returned it to her. That was a good shot. Good strategy. Couple hundred pounds of sheep here--real healthy looking critter, must have had access to plenty of nice eating, this summer--hundred, hundred and ten pounds of meat maybe when we get it dressed out and all, and a real fine hide, too. Scratched up a little by the fall, but still a real fine hide. Now we got to get this critter down to the cabin before dark, so we’d better get to work! Which he did, angling the sheep’s hindquarters downhill to aid in cleaning and deftly opening up the cavity, Liz collecting heart, liver, lungs, kidneys and storing what she could in her pack, stashing the rest in Einar’s, while he prepared the creature for transport. With darkness coming on and a good distance to cover she assumed they would need to carry the sheep whole back down to the cabin, save themselves the time of skinning and quartering it until back home. Einar seemed to have other ideas, though, to be considering something else, for he was squinting up at the sky, measuring with his fingers the distance of the sun’s current position above the spruce-toothed ridge top that loomed close and dark and ready to swallow it up, contemplating.
Carry the sheep back to the cabin, or set up camp right where they were, enjoy a nice leisurely supper of liver and nettles, skin it out, sleep under the stars and start down again in the morning? Weary and sore as he found himself, entire body aching and complaining, breathing growing more difficult and the foot…forget the foot! Don’t even go there…the idea of calling it a day was looking awfully good to him, which was, in itself, nearly enough to convince him that they must go back down. Mustn’t give in to such desires, such weakness of the body and mind; the day he did it would be the day he died, or started to die. Of that he was quite certain. If they stayed, it needed to be because there was good cause, some clearly defined advantage to staying, and there was none. Not that he could think of. They would be, in fact, placing a good portion of the stored meat and fat back at the cabin at risk in remaining away for the unplanned night, as it had not all been properly secured before their departure. Would be just like a fall-hungry bear to show up and help himself to a good portion of it once again, and they simply couldn’t afford that, not with the aspen leaves turning and a bite in the air that definitely said, “snow, snow is coming and before too long…” He shivered. No. They would return to the cabin. Haul the ewe down there, hang her safely in a tree for the night to cool and deal with her in the morning. Hide would be a bit more difficult to remove when the animal cooled, but it would serve well to protect the meat on their descent, and so ought to be left, for the moment.
Einar was ready to go then, to beat the coming of dusk and hopefully reach the cabin by dark, or soon after, but Liz took his hand, held him back. “Wait. That was a long climb, and little Hildegard needs a snack. She needs some liver, and so do you.”
Which Einar could hardly dispute, knew the fuel would do them all a lot of good, speed their return trip and give them the energy they needed to lug the significant weight of that ewe over the steep and fairly rough terrain that separated them from their destination at the cabin, and he sat down, accepted the strip of liver that Liz had already cut for him. Didn’t want to eat too much of the stuff, as it ought be saved for Liz and the baby, who’s not gonna be a “Hildegard” after all, it’s looking like, because the little critter I saw last night…or this morning…or whenever that way, hunting the ground squirrel, was definitely a little boy. Took some of it though, ate it with an immense sense of gratitude--to the ewe, to Liz for making that shot and for Your making the critter available to us, here--because he hadn’t eaten since the breakfast soup and had expended a good bit of energy floating in that icy tarn and then on the climb, still didn’t seem to have much of a reserve to draw on and was--though doing his absolute best to keep Liz from realizing his trouble--beginning to find it a bit difficult to stay awake, on his feet. Knew from past experience that he wouldn’t likely see much change in that particular area until he had managed to put on a bit of weight, and figured he had better get started, as circumstances allowed. That, or further refine his ability to keep going on next to nothing--a good skill to have, but he figured realistically that he’d probably taken it about as far as it could reasonably go, this time around. There were limits. He took another bite of the liver.
Liz had her limits as well, was, despite making every effort at being patient with Einar and giving him as much time as he needed to sort things out after the events of the past several days, beginning to near those limits when it came to her frustration with Einar’s complete and total lack of words. Was half tempted to try the rabbit stick, seeing as the cold water that morning seemed not to have the desired effect. Well. Later, perhaps. Dusk was coming, and they had a sheep to haul down to the cabin.