For what seemed a very long time Einar waited as the moose stood with head raised, placidly chewing a mouthful of willows and seeming in no hurry to be moving along, no hurry to change position as he wanted it to do, needing a better shot. Though pressed down into the snow and nearly surrounded by it, stomach, arms, elbows already insensible where not covered with Liz’s bandages from the previous night, Einar was hardly aware of the cold, hands steadying as he waited, tremors stilled in anticipation of the shot, hoping, praying that his chance would come before the animal spooked and took off at a gangly-legged run through the willow thickets. Too much meat to give up that easily, too much potential security for his family; Einar knew he must take that moose, even if he had to wait all morning.
At long last and after many minutes of casual, unconcerned chewing and gazing, the great beast was ready for another bite, bowing head to the ground and cropping at that summer’s more tender shoots; Einar made his move—certain, swift, more instinct than deliberation—and it was stumbling, going to its knees, he quickly rolling to the side to avoid being trapped beneath the creature’s collapsing bulk.
Before the moose had even stopped twitching Liz came running, alarmed at the sound of the shot, ducking from one cluster of vegetation to the next and taking in the scene in a single glance, moose concealed from her sight by the clump of willow into which it had fallen. No ongoing danger spotted she began searching for Einar, not seeing him, trying to follow tracks but finding those indistinct and difficult on the hard surface of the snow, his weight having been so distributed in crawling that hardly a trace remained for her hasty glance to catch. Found his trail after several frantic moments of searching, saw, ran to Einar—looking angry and terrified all at once, and he figured she must have thought the place was being raided; should have found a way to warn her, but I couldn’t risk scaring away the moose—where he lay sprawled out on his back in the snow with the pistol in one hand, took him in her arms and, once assured he was still breathing, began inspecting him for injuries. Einar dodged, rolled over and pushed himself up to hands and knees, fixing Liz with a big grin as he shook snow from his hair and did his best to begin warming cold-numbed hands.
“Got you breakfast!”
Only then, following his gaze, did she see the great bulk of the fallen moose, eyes going wide and a quick smile replacing the worried lines around her mouth. “I would say so! When it comes to breakfast, you sure don’t mess around! This is months’ worth of breakfasts. I guess we don’t have to worry so much now about eating up the food Bud and Susan sent with us. How did you find the moose?”
“Moose found me. Woke me up this morning, right in camp. Right on top of us. Had to wait a little, follow it out here just to keep it from falling right on us in the sleeping bags. Was standing right on top of us. Kind of wish I’d had my spear. Now we’re going to have to wonder who may have heard that gunshot…”
“You would have been killed if you’d tried to take it with a spear! Look at those hooves! What do you think you are, a mammoth hunter?”
“Sure! Seen any mammoths?”
“No! And I’m glad you had the pistol. No one at all heard it, hopefully. Wouldn’t these canyon walls do a lot to mask the sound of the shot, even if anyone did happen to be around?”
Einar looked worried, studying the surrounding terrain and not immediately answering. “Yeah. Should. That, or magnify it, depending on where people might be. If they were up near the rim…”
“Chances are no one was around, and wouldn’t know where the sound came from, even if they were. You know how this sort of terrain distorts sounds.”
Einar nodded slowly, not looking entirely convinced, shrugged into the coat Liz was insistently pressing upon him—her own, sleeves way too short, but it was warm, and he shuddered violently at the contrast, adrenalin starting to fade and the cold of the morning really hitting him for the first time—and went over to inspect the fallen moose.
The creature was huge, first moose Einar had ever taken, their re-introduction into the area only in recent years having proven successful enough that they began to be a more common sight, and he crouched marveling for a minute over the volume of meat they had just obtained. Liz, though also somewhat in awe at the sight of so much food all in one place, had already moved on to practical considerations, portioning out in her mind the various parts of the moose, planning their uses. Meat could be frozen for the time being and slowly turned into jerky, hide turned, with time, into many pairs of sturdy boots, moccasins and other essentials which would see them not only through the remaining cold months but through the following winter, as well, and liver and other internal organs—she glanced at Einar, pale, cold and starting to sway a little where he knelt beside the great beast—well, she knew exactly what must be done with those.
“Hey. You’re really anemic, aren’t you? You’ve got to be. Seems it would be a very good idea if there was some way you could stop losing blood on such a regular basis, at least until your body’s a little better equipped to replace what you’re shedding. For now, how about having some of this fresh liver? It really ought to help bring up your iron. Let’s get this critter gutted and skinned, and I’ll cook some of it up for our breakfast.”
Einar looked up as if startled from a near-sleep, nodded slowly and got to his feet, heading for camp and the gear they would need to complete the job. The challenge now, he knew, was to get the creature butchered and the meat transported and stored somewhere a sufficient distance from where the shot had been fired that he would not have to be constantly looking over his shoulder wondering if someone had heard and was finally coming to investigate, and to do it in as timely a manner as they were able.