With darkness quickly descending and all of their possessions—with the exception of Einar’s main chute and the cargo bag Kiesl had packed them—gathered together beneath the trees, Einar and Liz were anxious to get settled for the night while they still had a bit of light to aid them. The chosen spot was nothing particularly special, the spreading branches of what even in the encroaching dimness Einar could not help but recognize as a ponderosa pine providing shelter from the air should snow come, ground beneath largely free of snow. Seemed odd that there would be so little snow. Already he had determined that they were at an elevation somewhat lower than the one at their cabin in the basin; oak brush such as the stuff which had stopped his tumble simply didn’t grow up that high. It bothered him not knowing exactly where they were. Kisel had provided them with maps, had said he was doing so, at least, but those maps, along with everything else that had been sent along, were tucked securely away in the cargo bag that had landed who-knew-exactly-where… A job for morning. In the meantime, he would simply have to speculate.
While Liz busied about cutting branches for an improvised mattress Einar spread her parachute flat on the sheltered spot beneath the tree, cutting one line and using it to suspend the center of the canopy from a sweeping branch, creating a low tent which would keep out a certain amount of moisture should it fall, but more importantly would help retain some of the heat of breath and body which otherwise would have dissipated out into the night. This done, he similarly secured several points around the edges, tying these to rocks or sticks which he jammed into the ground, meaning to create something of a windbreak.
Movement was becoming more difficult for him as time passed, leg stiffening up and entire body beginning to feel the effects of his tumble. Wanting first to finish preparing a secure shelter for the night he had not yet in any detail assessed his injuries, knew the leg was likely to be hassle for a while and only hoped he hadn’t broken or otherwise seriously injured it. Prospects weren’t looking great, in that regard. Doggone thing wouldn’t support his weight. Well. No sense letting Liz worry too much about it, not yet, so he sat back down in a hurry, finishing his work from the ground.
Will had been sitting, while this work went on, atop the piled material of Einar’s reserve chute, happily rummaging about as he tried to trace the origin of one of the lines, determined to follow it to its conclusion and protesting loudly when Liz, returning with arms full of soft, sweetly-scented fir boughs, had to move him so she could make the bed. Wanting to quiet the child, Einar picked him up.
“What? You set on packing that thing for the next jump, is that what it is? Looked to me like you really enjoyed your first one, didn’t you?”
“He sure seemed to,” Liz took the little one, depositing him on the freshly-arranged mattress of fir. “Do you know that he didn’t even cry on the way down? Not one bit.”
“Maybe he was too startled to make a sound, all that air rushing past him!”
“No, I don’t think that was it. He seemed to like it. We got down and he was just laughing and grinning like you wouldn’t have believed. That doesn’t seem normal, does it? That he wouldn’t be afraid?”
Einar really did laugh then, breathing right past the hurt in his leg for the first time since landing and letting himself go at the hilarity of attempting to define what might be “normal,” in a situation like theirs… “Sure it’s normal! He’s an active little boy just out discovering the world. Sight of the ground rushing up at you at a hundred miles an hour is just way too fascinating to leave room for being afraid.”
“Is that what happened to you?”
“On the way down today. Something happened…”
“Nothing happened. Little bit of a rough landing, that’s all.”
Liz knew that wasn’t all, but saw no purpose in pressing him to answer, turned her attention instead to arranging the folds and billows of the reserve chute into something resembling a sleeping bag. The stuff was thin but, when layered, fairly warm, and she knew they should be alright for the night between the fir mattress, their ski suits and the folds of cloth.
“Let me see your leg now?”
“Too dark to see much.”
“If there’s a lot of swelling, you might risk frostbite tonight if we don’t get your boot off and take care of things. We’ve got a little light left. Here, let’s get it done.”
Einar nodded, began unlacing his boot. “Yeah. Lot of swelling. Just twisted something, I’m hoping.”
“Twisted something? Having watched you hit the ground, I would think that’s got to be quite the understatement! Ok, be still and let me have a better look.”
Einar was still, holding himself rigid against the hurt as Liz gently poked and probed at the puffy purple-black mess to which his right leg had been reduced, but after a while he tired of the time she was taking—and the effort required of him to keep from reacting in ways which might have been unfortunate—and he took the leg in his own hands, feeling for any break or deformity which might explain the swelling. Didn’t find anything, and finally had to start breathing again lest he risk passing out, inconclusive, he supposed, but if there was a break, it was causing no noticeable deformity. Nothing to set or splint, really. Maybe things would be better in the morning, once the swelling had been allowed a chance to go down. Had to hope so, as he needed to be on his feet and mobile in the morning to go out looking for their missing items. Liz suggested icing the area with some snow wrapped in a bit of parachute material and Einar figured it was worth a try, but she wouldn’t let him do it until he’d got all settled with them beneath the blanket—the plan, though she didn’t say so, being to prevent his deciding that abandoning the bed and spending the night sitting in the snow would be a far more efficient means of bringing down the swelling.
An hour later, leg throbbing a good deal less and everything quiet beneath the trees that sheltered them for the night, Einar lay staring up at the stars where they pierced hard and unblinking through the boughs of their ponderosa, Liz breathing quietly beside him and Will giggling softly in his sleep, dreaming, perhaps, of the delight of falling free through the air, and with that thought Einar joined them in slumber.