Happy Independence Day, everyone!
Though this is a day for celebration, we must never forget the sacrifice of those who have bought and maintained our freedom with their blood through the years, and we must each of us not only strive to live lives worthy of that sacrifice, but be ready and willing to put our own "lives, fortunes and sacred honor" on the line in the most literal way in order to maintain it.
“The helicopter,” Liz inquired, standing her ground and refusing to follow Einar until he’d answered her, “do you think it was here looking for us? It was awfully low.”
Turning wearily to face her, Einar took a few slow breaths before attempting to answer, and seeing him, Liz realized that what she had taken as a strange lack of reaction to the chopper’s presence might well be simple exhaustion rather than lack of interest. It appeared a great effort for him to speak, so much so that she was almost sorry to have asked, but she did need an answer. “Chopper was…sure it was here for us, but I don’t think they saw anything. I had the…fire burning real hot until just before they came, no smoke. Checked. Didn’t seem to be any haze of smoke up here or in the basin for them to spot. Might have been able to pick up on one of our trails to the…spring or something, but if any of it interested them, they sure didn’t show any sign. Hoping it’s…routine patrol of some sort, won’t be back. If they come back, we…” He shrugged, out of breath, but Liz knew what he’d been going to say, could guess, at least, at its approximate intent. We’ll have to get out of here in a hurry, because a return flight could mean they’ve found something that interested them, some sign of our presence, and she knew he was right about that, hoped very much that the aircraft would keep its distance.
Einar, knowing he had a limited supply of energy and hardly the breath to waste on matters that weren't of immediate concern, had already wandered farther into the woods in search of the aspen log that would hopefully provide them the means, once he'd had the opportunity to burn it out, to store their rendered bear fat. Looking, he rejected several possibilities--one just a bit too narrow in diameter to be worth their trouble, another slightly rotted along the bottom from contact with the wet ground--thinking to himself that in light of the recent chopper flight and the ongoing uncertainty of their lives there in the basin, perhaps they really would be better off storing as much of the fat as possible in more mobile containers, baskets, pouches, something they could transport if required. Not that they'd be able to carry too much if they were forced to flee the place on short notice, as it would probably happen, but if the stuff was stored in portable containers, caching it for later retrieval would at least be an option. They really needed to get more caches put out. Ought to have half or more of their food resources set aside in off-site caches so they would stand at least some chance of not starving if forced to abandon the cabin in the middle of winter. More baskets, then. The weaving of such devices, though more often done by Liz, was certainly a task of which he was capable, probably, he admitted with a wry shake of his head, a good bit more capable at the moment than he was of doing much of anything else. Like helping to haul back a log large enough to serve their purposes as a fat reservoir. Still, he would do his best, do his part, make sure the log was available should they discuss the matter and decide it best to put some portion of the fat into a larger container, as they had with that of the first bear. Would probably not have time, all things considered, to weave and coat enough baskets to hold all of it, even if they wanted to.
There. That one. The aspen was fallen but leaning and had been kept up out of contact with the dampness of the ground, and at some foot and a half in diameter, it appeared near perfect for their purposes. They needed only a chunk of it, a length of perhaps some three feet, and having brought the axe for just such a purpose, Einar freed it from his belt and started in on the tree. Liz, who had been searching some distance from him in a close-growing grove of aspens, hurried to Einar when she heard the axe begin to work away at the tree. Wanted to take it from him, spare him the obvious agony of the repeated twisting motion of his torso necessary with each bite of the axe but she hesitated to break his concentration, waiting until he paused, breathless, pressing his ribs in an attempt to keep everything in place if even for a short while, to step in and take her turn. He didn't seem to see her at first, clung blindly to the axe and did not want to relinquish it but she kept a firm grip,, and eventually he looked up, acknowledged her wordless offer with a grateful nod, and let her take the tool.
"You're more than halfway through. My turn." Liz made quick work of the remainder of the log, the two of them then going on to roll the heavy section back to the cabin, but Einar worried that they would leave too much of a trail that way, a three foot wide path of mashed-down and soon to be yellowed vegetation that would show quite clearly from above and stand out as anything but naturally occurring.
"No good this way. Need to...flip it end over end, I think. That, or carry it. Think I can carry it, if you help me lift it and..."
"No! That first idea sounded better. How about I help you flip it end over end, and we'll have it there in no time." Which they did, "no time" turning into something well over half an hour with all the precautions Einar insisted on taking, skirting around the more heavily vegetated areas in favor of those more densely timbered and boasting less undergrowth, but they got it there, leaning it up against the wall and sitting down in the shade to rest. There had, the entire time they worked, been no sign that the helicopter was intending to make a return, which both of them took as encouraging, though Einar with rather more caution than Liz. For all he knew they might have been spotted, some unquestionable sign of their presence noted by the crew or observed later in one of the photographs the great beast was no doubt taking as it passed over, and had thereafter kept things quiet in the skies over the basin to put them off their guard, leave them soft for the assault that would come that night, the next day, whenever the enemy was ready and had all their resources in place. The thought of it kept him on edge through the afternoon, pausing frequently to listen, to reach out into the distance for any sign, audible or not, that they were being watched, stalked, set up, frustrated that he could hardly seem to quiet the sounds of his own breath long enough to get a good listen.
Regardless of the actions of the helicopter--reappearance or not--Einar considered it far too great a risk to have a fire during the daylight hours, allowing for the possibility that a visible smoke plume or haze could mark their basin as a definite item of interest, and he knew that, should they actively be looking, fire was an even more dangerous proposal by night. Smoke could be minimized, the inevitable heat that escaped a chimney, less so. They'd just have to wait and see, make a judgment about a nighttime fire sometime after dark. In the meantime, he could do the preliminary work on the log, and did, flattening its bottom side and chipping away at the top, creating the depression that would later hold coals for burning it deeper. Einar worked silently, had nothing to say to Liz when she from time to time stepped into the cabin to check on him and keep him informed on her progress with the jerky project, and though she knew he was struggling with the pain of his ribs and with getting enough air to keep himself going, let alone carry on a meaningful conversation, she could not help but wonder if his silence might have some other significance, hoped he wasn’t growing too discouraged at the difficulty of his present existence but certainly didn’t intend to ask, did not even know how she might begin such a conversation with him. Nor did she have reason to expect it to be particularly beneficial to either of them. He’d get through it. The ribs would heal, if he’d let them. If only. She shook her head, once again stepped outside to slice and hang another batch of jerky for drying.
Though Einar was indeed finding himself a bit subdued that day by his ongoing struggle for breath, what Liz did not know was that a large part of his silence was due to the rather intense (considering his present circumstances) mental effort of taking inventory of their stores of food, fur and other resources to date, figuring how they ought to stretch through the winter, and at the end of the effort he rose with as much eagerness as his situation would allow, leaving his work to seek Liz and share with her the good news. Barring a major disaster of one sort or another--a forced departure from the cabin definitely qualifying--it was looking more and more like they ought to be well prepared for the coming winter months. They ought to make it.