The sun was not out for long that morning, disappearing soon after showing its face behind a low wall of heavy grey, clouds descending and an icy fog creeping up through the canyon, willows standing silver-frosted and mysterious, visibility reduced to mere feet. Though shivering in its damp chill as he stood over the lifeless coals of the past evening’s fire Einar was happy to see the fog, for its closeness made him feel a bit safer, provided some of the cover that had been distinctly lacking out there away from the timber, where the dense mats of willow could conceal a moose standing not ten feet from a man, but would have done little to protect either from aerial detection.
Einar knew as soon as he moved that the day was to be a bit strange for him, neck stiff, body alternately hot and very cold and he not especially liking it, feverish times making his head swim and vision go a bit uncertain and the cold seeming alternately to sink its teeth so deeply into his bones that movement of any sort became a difficult and somewhat painful endeavor, but he did his best to ignore the difficulty and keep going with the day, breaking sticks of dry-dead willow and bringing the fire back to life.
The coyotes, driven to caution by his assault and Liz’s sudden appearance with the torch in the night, had been emboldened again by the fog, and he could hear them snarling and feeding at the gut pile as he crouched over the fire, adding sticks and basking in the delightfully sweet smell of willow smoke, a taste, he could not help but think, of paradise. Musings interrupted by Liz’s arrival at the fire Einar scrambled to his feet, determined not to let her see the strangeness that was stalking him that morning, greeting her with a weary but genuine grin.
“How do you like this aircraft shield that I’ve had installed? Pretty thorough, isn’t it?”
“Had it installed, did you? Did it come in a box, or a bag? Yep, I’d have to say it looks pretty thorough. I can barely see you, let alone the canyon walls!”
“Lets us have a fire without worrying, anyway. Want me to go get some more of that fresh liver from the creek, to add to the leftover stew for breakfast?”
“If the coyotes haven’t got it. And if you’ll promise not to let them get you, again, like last night!”
“They did nothing of the sort. And no, don’t expect they will have bothered the stuff we had weighted down under the water. I’ll go check. Can find my way by the sound of the creek.”
Einar gone to fetch breakfast Liz worked busily around the fire, Will babbling happily on her back as he played with a bit of moose skin and hair she had given him, staring in wide-eyed wonder at the way the firelight glowed through the fog and surprising Liz when he leaned out as far from her back as the parka hood would allow, reaching for the flames and exclaiming, “Fire! See fire!”
“Yes, I do see the fire! Look at that fire. Really shows up on a day like this, doesn’t it? Where did you learn to put words together like that, Will? That’s pretty good! Einar, did you hear?”
“Sure I did,” replied a disembodied voice from out of the fog. “About time he started putting words together. Hears you do it all the time.”
“I know, I know, but it’s the first time I ever heard him do it, on his own!”
“Bright little critter. Better watch out. Soon he’ll start asking all kinds of questions…”
“Right. And learning how to say ‘no.’ Then we’ll really be in trouble.”
Entirely unworried about any smoke they might be producing that morning Einar joined Liz and Will at the fire where they all sat for a time warming themselves and picking bits of liver from the stewpot with a pair of willow sticks Einar had sharpened for just that purpose, Will excitedly grabbing for the bits Liz offered him and eating them with great enjoyment. Einar was quiet, not eating much and looking a bit strange, Liz thought.
“What’s going on with you? You’re sweating. Are you ok this morning?”
Einar shook his head, scrubbed the back of his neck with a handful of snow and left some of it to melt in the hollows behind his collarbone, unzipping his coat, wanting to shrug out of the thing and sprawl flat on his back in the snow, refraining, knowing it would likely cause Liz some alarm. “Nothing wrong, just…” he shrugged, not really sure what he had been going to say. “Fire’s good and hot, that’s all.”
She did not think that was all, but let it go—until the next minute, when the fever subsided and he found himself suddenly chilled to the bone and shaking too hard to speak. Liz moved closer then, dried the melting snow from his shoulders and tucked her scarf around his neck. No hiding it, now.
“How’s your arm doing this morning, where the coyote bit you? Let me see it.”
“Ok. Think it’s…ok.”
“Let me see.”
The arm did not look too bad, wound a bit inflamed but nothing that ought, Liz thought, to be causing him the sort of trouble she was seeing; she knew though that combined with his exhaustion and continued lack of enough energy, it wouldn’t take much to really drag him down. By the time she had done inspecting the arm and applying some fresh antiseptic the cold spell had passed and his eyes were beginning once more to look glazed with fever, but Einar didn’t much notice, glad to be able to move freely once more and simply unzipping his coat and moving farther from the fire in an attempt to regulate his temperature. Taking advantage of the time between too cold to speak and too hot to make any sense, Einar hurried to make a proposal which he hoped would get the day going in the right direction.
“Think we’d better head up the draw pretty soon here and look for the caves, don’t you thing? Spent enough time down here where people might have heard the gunshot, and all these critters…well, they could draw attention, eventually.”
“Yes, it would be good to find a place where we can settle. But what about the meat?”
“Safe where we’ve got it, for now. Never meat a tree-climbing coyote! Figure we can move it, piece by piece, when we do find a cave we like…”
“It’ll be a long climb with some of those pieces as big as they are, but yes, I think we can do it. Maybe tomorrow. How would tomorrow be, for scouting?”
“Too late? Why?”
Silence for a minute, Einar’s eyes nearly closed while he gathered energy for his response. “Fog gives us good cover. Better if we can go today.”