Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.
Liz drifted slowly down beneath her canopy as the plane disappeared behind a nearby ridge, wholly absorbed, at first, in remembering Einar’s hasty but thorough lessons in the back of the truck and later in the plane, watching the ground, positioning herself for the best landing and knowing Will was counting on her to come in gently and not make a mess of things. Will wasn’t crying. Seemed entirely undisturbed by plummeting and then floating through the cold, thin air, and Liz could not help but think, in one of the scattered snatches of thought that managed to organize themselves on her way down, that this seemed highly unusual for a five month old…
Snow down there, but it did not look particularly deep, good thing, she could only think, as surely deep snow would increase one’s chances of catching and breaking a leg upon landing, and she aimed for a narrow strip of meadow, for the center of the meadow, now that she was low enough to begin seeing the landscape in more detail.
Only then did she look over and see Einar plummeting for the ground, no chute, moving, she was sure, way too fast with limbs all tucked in against his body and already a good distance below her, and she shouted to him, tried to get his attention but doubted he could hear her.
By the time Einar managed to jar himself out of the euphoria of falling, focus his gaze for a moment on the horizon rather than the trees beneath his feet and realize that he might want to think about the irreversible consequences of his joyous plunge the ground was awfully close and was coming fast and hard, but he’d seen worse…maybe. No time to really think, and acting on instinct he cut away the main chute—way too late now, too low to use it—reserve slammed open...proper equipment existed to make a fairly safe landing from that altitude but he didn’t have it, they were using pretty standard stuff that day and he knew he couldn’t have been more than one, maybe one-fifty from the ground at that point, barely giving the reserve time to fully deploy before he hit.
Hard landing, real bad angle but he kept feet and knees together, elbows pressed against his sides and arms crossed hard on his chest, feet making first contact and then he rolled quickly and very intentionally to the side in an attempt to distribute the shock of landing, crusty snow collapsing beneath him and doing odd things to his course of motion as he tumbled a few times—perhaps not so intentional—and then was still, one leg having collapsed oddly beneath him at an angle which he knew could not be ideal. Didn’t feel anything in the moment, knew he would later, but for the time he was struggling simply to find his breath, which had been knocked from him by one of the numerous impacts he’d sustained, and halfway succeeding at this he scrambled instinctively to hands and knees, freeing himself from the reserve chute and quickly wadding it beneath some bushes for concealment.
By that time Liz was drifting down some fifty feet from him in a small meadow, smooth landing, controlled, great job, especially for her first time, and Einar grinned as he saw her rise immediately back to her feet after initially going to her knees in the rotten snow, Will safe and apparently happy strapped to her chest. He rose on hands and knees then, tried but failed to stand and—quickly accepting the situation; questions could come later—scrambled over to help free her from some bushes in which the lines had become tangled. She stopped him, grabbed his hands, which he only then realized were gloveless and bloody from the brush which had in the end stopped his tumble.
“Einar! What happened? It looked like you hit awfully hard. Are you Ok?”
“Had worse,” he croaked, still fighting for breath. “Come on, we’ve got to…” with which he promptly passed out, coming round a moment later with snow packed in nose and mouth and Liz doing his best to lift him, scrubbed his face free of the stuff and dismissed the bevy of further questions she seemed eager to ask him, quickly disentangling her chute from a clump of oak brush and tucking it under his arm before heading for the nearest trees, just wanting to be as far away as possible from the meadow and under some cover where he could get a better idea of the lay of the land and make sure no one had observed their arrival. Movement wasn’t too fast, legs seeming unwilling to support him, but the trees weren’t far. Liz seemed not to know what he wanted. Better tell her.
“Got to move everything in under the trees.”
“Ok. Sure, let’s do that. What about your parachute? Do you want it, too?”
“I’ll go get it. It’s under the trees, there. You hit those trees, didn’t you? That little patch of scrub oaks?”
“Sure looked like it! Was that intentional, the way you opened your chute so low? Is that how they did it in Rhodesia?”
“Ha! No. Not usually. No snow there to help break the impact…”
Liz went after Einar’s chute, shaking her head and not entirely certain what to make of the thing she had just witnessed, but Einar was still with them, more or less, and of that she was glad. In the oak brush she managed to find one of his gloves, slightly mangled but still serviceable, and she brought it along, not knowing when they might see the remainder of their supplies. They were out there somewhere, but she had not seen where they’d come to rest.
Kiesl had prepared a bag of gear which he’d had Einar drop before he and Liz exited the plane, and Einar, head resting on the trunk of a small ponderosa pine as he watched Liz approach and did his best to keep an eye on the clearing, knew they would have to find this, as well as his main chute which he had cut away, couldn’t them it out there for anyone who might be passing by in the air to see. But for the moment he was content simply to rest, to breathe and to watch little Will where he sat all red-cheeked and laughing in his mother’s arms, having apparently found a great deal more delight than fear in the entire experience.
Meadow looked clear, at least for the moment, and with dusk descending fast and the cold with it, Einar thought better of doing too much exploring that night. They’d just blunder around leaving a bunch of tracks if they tried to make too much distance in the dark, anyway. The present location seemed just about as good as any for a quick camp, then do more reconnaissance in the morning and decide on a course of action. Wasting no time, he began working to untangle the lines on Liz’s parachute, meaning to use it for shelter that night.
Liz sat feeding Will, who had finally got over a bit of the excitement of the jump and realized he was hungry. Einar, she saw, had started shivering pretty badly as he worked despite the ski suit with which Kilgore had provided him for the jump. She really didn’t like the way he looked, all pale and drawn, in spite of the lingering glow of the jump and a ready grin which she hadn’t seen from him in quite some time, and she hoped the chill was simply a function of his perilously low weight rather than a sign of some internal injury that was causing him to bleed and go into shock…
“You’re looking a little grey. Are you Ok?”
“Kinda hurt my leg, but it’ll be alright.”
“Hurt it how? Will you let me look?”
“Not until we’re all set up for the night. Let’s get your chute over us to use like a tent, and my little one can be blankets and bedding. Got to find Kiesl’s package and I’m sure there are some more warm things in there, but looks like that’ll have to wait for tomorrow. That little cargo chute was white, anyway, white bag he packed everything in, so it shouldn’t show up too bad, even if someone did come over. Almost dark. Don’t need to be wandering around tonight.”
“No, we’ll be fine for a night right where we are. Do you think we can have a fire?”
A moment’s thought from Einar, and, Liz thought, a bit of puzzlement crossing his face. “No, not tonight. Don’t even really know where we are!”
"We're home, Einar."
A smile. "That we are..."