Had the chopper crew focused their attention on the little smear of green that represented Einar and Liz’s steep little slope of grass, they might well have seen an arm or foot or an irregular bit of shadow where the pair had not been quite able to pull themselves entirely beneath the overhanging hulk of granite, but as the work of the day involved counting elk, and not mountain goats, they hardly gave the clearing a second glance. Passing not quite directly over them and showing no sign of lingering or doubling back, the chopper buzzed away towards the ridge summit, Einar letting out a great breath as its sound faded a bit and then stabilized over the ridge. Hadn’t been breathing at all during its approach, he now realized, and was beginning to need air pretty badly. Better not let yourself cough though, because there’s some chance those goats didn’t get run off by the chopper, and if they’re still there, we need to take one. Motioning for Liz to follow, he eased around between rocks, flattening himself on his belly as he crept up onto the one he had previously decided would offer him the best vantage of the spot where the goats had been grazing, inching forward with extreme care lest an accidental scuff of a boot or scrape of a hand give away their position to the goats, spook them and send them clattering away up the nearest outcropping, out of reach if not out of sight. The goats hadn’t gone anywhere, appeared not to have been particularly distressed by the low passage of the helicopter, even, far less disturbed than their human counterparts for sure, and it was with a mounting excitement that Einar caught Liz’s eye, nodded to her bow. She was nearly ready, and so was he. One of those goats, should they manage to take it, would be a real prize, and an unexpected one at that. Two would be even better, of course, though they would have to hang one and return for it later, and for a moment he considered creeping back down below the crest of the rock and suggesting Liz go for one of the nannies while he took the male, but the chance that one on them might miss or make a hit inadequate to bring their target down was too great; they needed that hide, and it seemed best to focus all their attention on a single animal.
Einar’s chosen goat was a young billy of three or four years, horns just slightly longer than its ears, and he knew its meat would be good and not yet tough, but it was the hide that had really caught his eye. Full and shining white in preparation for the arrival of the cold weather, the hide was a magnificent thing, its wool, he knew, warmer even than the thick, rich bear hides they had already taken that fall. For a moment, easing his way into position while trying not to look directly at the creatures so as not to spook them--deer, especially, he had observed over the years could “feel” when they were being stared at, and it tended to make them nervous and jumpy--he could picture himself wearing a coat of mountain goat fur as he walked his trapline that winter or stood the cold, lonely night watches above the cabin, warmer than he had any business being and blending perfectly with his snowy surroundings. A good thing, indeed, but one which would only happen if the next thirty seconds or so went without a hitch, and he was glad to see Liz rise in one motion with him from the rock, arrow pulled back, flying as he loosed his dart.
Both projectiles hit their approximate mark, Liz’s arrow penetrating further and doing more damage than the dart, puncturing both lungs and leaving the goat to begin lagging after a quick hundred yard sprint across the remainder of the clearing, and they watched from the rocks as it sat down in the timber, clearly having a difficult time. Not wanting to spook their quarry into running further than it already had and reasonably confident that the job had been done, Einar and Liz lay flat on the granite boulder and listened to the crashing and clattering as the other two goats--nannies, Einar was pretty sure--found some rocks amongst the timber and started up them, sounds fading into the distance. Their goat hadn’t moved, head hanging low as it sat beneath the meager cover of a scrawny spruce, struggling for breath, and Einar could not help a moment’s pity for the magnificent creature in its last minutes of life. Seemed it ought to have been spending them out amongst the rocks, peaks stretching sharp-toothed and snow-brushed to the horizon and its last act, as the end approached, being to take one or two more struggling steps up a near-vertical rise in the rock, slipping, toppling, tumbling, one with the boulders at the bottom, a fitting end. But not an end which would have lent itself well to their recovering the meat and hide, and Einar found himself immensely grateful, as he watched the creature take its last gurgling breaths, beard brushing the ground now, not long to go, that they had come upon the creatures in the wideness of the clearing-slope, where their quarry would be easily recoverable.
Several minutes, and the goat had shown no sign of movement. Studying it through the binoculars, Einar was reasonably certain it had ceased to breathe, lying slumped over with head on the ground and shoulders still somewhat in the air, and he eased down the backside of the rock, took his spear and began a cautious approach, keeping to the timber, as it certainly wouldn’t to do allow himself to be surprised by the helicopter while out in the open. He’d wanted Liz to stay behind lest the goat, in a final fit of energy, should manage to scramble back to its feet and make a move towards them but she had insisted on coming and, as it had been her arrow that had probably done the creature in, and not his dart, Einar couldn’t really see that he had grounds for refusing her, but he did keep her behind him, wanting to make sure the child was at least somewhat protected should the goat prove not to be quite as dead as it appeared. Goat was dead, though, white beard stained pink and frothy with its last breaths and as soon as Einar had made sure he moved aside so Liz could approach, and together they felt the incredibly warm, thick wool of the good sized goat, protected by long white hairs, clean and bright as so much of it had been freshly grown with the approach of the cold season, not having had time to pick up the dull reddish tint and the clumps of matted, tangled lichen and moss that characterized the creatures’ coats on towards shedding time in the late spring and summer. Liz, having never been so close to one of the creatures and having handled only the bits of shed wool Einar had collected and brought her that summer, was amazed.
“It’s so warm!” She whispered, as if still not wanting to frighten the goat. “Better than sheep wool I think, and with so much of it…this is better than an elk, for sure!”
“Yep, good shot. You’re quite a hunter, Lizzie.”
“Oh, your dart had a lot to do with bringing him down, it looks like. If it is a ‘him.’ Don’t think I would have been able to tell from a distance, but you seemed pretty sure this was a billy.”
“It is. See how the horns are close together where they come out of the head--and how wide they are? Well, on the females, they’re a lot narrower, and further apart. This is a young male, few years old, no more, which means the meat ought to be real tasty still.”
“I look forward to tasting it! But this coat is best of all. It’s got to be the warmest thing we own.”
Einar nodded, studying the surrounding timber for the best spot to hang and butcher the creature, wanting them to be safely hidden as they worked, and choosing a stand of spruces not far from where the goat had fallen. The trees, it appeared as he stood beneath them staring up at the sky, ought to sufficiently block the shining white fur of the goat from anything that might happen by in the air, give them some margin of safety as they prepared it for transport. They would not, unfortunately, be able to safely have a fire to cook up and enjoy bits of freshly roasted goat meat during breaks as they worked, not with the elk survey apparently still ongoing, but Einar did not really care. The day was sunny and beginning to grow warm enough to start drying their damp clothes, they had what he considered to be a reasonably safe spot in which to work, and best of all, they’d got their goat.