Einar had not expected the night to be quiet, and indeed, it was not. Seemed every four-legged meat-eater in and around the canyon had, by dark, got a whiff of that moose and begun converging on the spot where they’d done the butchering. After stopping, at Liz’s insistence, to eat, change clothes and get warm for a while by the fire, Einar had returned that past evening to the remaining gut pile and set a number of snares, hoping to cut down on the local population of scavengers who he knew would be troubling them until the meat was all finally dried and stored somewhere safe. Kilgore had included the wire—as well as several pre-made snares—in the drop bag, and using stout, springy willows he rigged a couple of them to kill. Shortly after the first snarling, tumbling coyote fight of the night, Einar heard a yelp which told him one of the snares had been effective. This, unfortunately, did not in the least deter the remaining coyotes, who only seemed encouraged by the fact that they now had fewer mouths with which to share the bounty.
Finally tiring of the constant noise and not liking the fact that it might be masking other, more important things that he could need to hear Einar took a stout branch that had fallen from one of the spruces in which they had earlier been hanging the meat, stared into the darkness until his eyes had become as accustomed as they were capable of being, and waded into the yipping, snarling mass of furry bodies. Striking and swinging until he began making contact, he worked to disperse the hungry animals, his shouting added to the yip and wail of the canine melee until Liz, back at camp, could not help but think he must have fallen and been set upon by the beasts. Not a thing one might normally expect of coyotes—she, herself, had certainly never felt threatened in the least by the timid, fleeting creatures—but if he had fallen and they’d managed to sense somehow that he couldn’t easily rise and fend them off…well, coyotes were the ultimate opportunists.
Stowing Will securely in her hood, tucking her pistol into a coat pocket and taking a flaming stick from the fire she went after him, guided by the sound of man and beast engaged in their dispute over territory and food, stumbling over willows in her haste and seeing, when finally she reached the gut pile, Einar with eyes wild and his left side bloodied—whether from some fresh injury or simply from falling in the mess left from butchering the moose, it was not immediately obvious—with a coyote hanging from one arm as he did his best to fend off another that was going for his neck. Succeeding, he jammed his fingers into the eyes of the other, causing it to turn him loose of his arm and run yelping after the others, who were by then fleeing from Liz’s flaming torch. She’d never even had time to use the pistol.
Einar was on his feet when she reached him, breath rasping in his throat and hands braced on knees as he tried to steady himself, searching the dark ground for the stick, which he’d lost in the struggle—but he stood up straight and grinned when she put a hand on his arm, trying to see the extent of his injury.
“What were you thinking? Why didn’t you take the pistol? Are you ok?”
“I’m…hey, settle down now. They were just…just a bunch of scraggly old coyotes. No problem. Had it under control. Have the pistol right here,” and he showed her, “but didn’t want to risk a shot. The noise. I had ‘em on the run.”
“That’s now what it looked like to me! Come on, let’s get back to the fire. I know those critters aren’t likely to have gone far, not the way this place must smell to them. What about the two in the snares?”
“Took care of them. Better get them skinned out and hanging in trees, or we’ll lose the meat to their cousins, here.”
“Is the meat really worth keeping?”
“Sure. You’ve eaten coyote before, remember?”
“Well yes, when we were starving…”
“I am starving! Let me at them, and I’ll tear right in with my teeth!”
“Yes you are, but you don’t need to be, not with an entire moose hanging in the trees over there. Let’s take the furs, and leave the meat. Just this time. We’ve got all the meat we can handle.”
“You do have a point. Right. I’ll skin one, you do the other, and we can get out of here. Just didn’t like the idea of having that entire chorus going all night right next to camp. Keeps us from hearing anything else, and that can be real dangerous, out here.”
“So can barreling into the middle of a pack of hungry coyotes, rolling in moose gore and then lying there like a half-dead deer, just waiting to see what will happen!”
“I did not such thing!” He was laughing now, gutting the snared coyote and struggling a bit with the skinning, knife not nearly so sharp as it had been before all the work on the moose. They’d stopped frequently to sharpen them as they worked—it had been essential, if they’d wanted to get anywhere with the job—but the blades needed some more detailed attention, a job Einar resolved to do as soon as he had a few spare minutes in camp.
Liz did not see much humor in the situation, working silently over her coyote and finishing the task ahead of Einar, standing, stretching the hide and letting it hang down to the ground. Fur was not nearly as nice as it would have been in the fall or early winter, wouldn’t have been any good for selling and was not much to look at, even in the uncertain light of the by-then smoldering torch, but it was adequately warm to be of some good to them. Einar finished several minutes later, rising stiffly and following her back to camp.
If the coyotes returned that night it was singly and in silence, shadows stealing in to grab bits of food and streak off again into the darkness, and the sun was close to peeking over the canyon wall before either Einar or Liz stirred in their sleep.