Small chamber soon warmed by the heat of the small fire and smoke slipping reliably up along the ceiling and out through the entrance-crack, Liz prepared for them a simple soup with bits of meat and liver she’d brought from the moose butchering, its odor soon filling the place and rousing Einar from his untimely slumber. When she sat down to eat—Will now wanting his own bowl, and she gave it to him, carefully cooling the broth and mashing bits of liver for him to retrieve with curious fingers—Einar joined her beside the coals, but had little interest in doing more than smelling the soup. After watching Will ask for and receive most of the liver she had so carefully included in Einar’s soup—the huge, curious grey eyes would have been enough, she as sure, to communicate his desires to Einar, but after mastering the word “fire,” Will had quickly gone on to begin excitedly repeating “mook! Mook!” which seemed to be his word not only for milk, but for all food, and specifically for that which he wished to be eating at any given moment—she finally lost patience, dished Einar out another helping and scooped the child up out of his father’s reach.
“Will isn’t big enough to help me haul that moose up the draw, so you’d better eat and get some strength built up, don’t you think?”
“He’s talking! Just like that, he’s telling us things, asking for things…you ever wonder how that happens? How they actually learn? It’s amazing.”
“It is absolutely amazing. Every one of us has done it, but to see the process in action…no, I can’t explain it either! I’ll give him more liver and broth, don’t worry. I know every time we respond to the words he’s learning, it will encourage him to keep using more, but that doesn’t mean he gets to eat all of your soup!”
“Not real hungry, myself.”
“I know. But it was a long climb, and you’ve got to have something because in the morning we’re going to go scout for other caves, you said, and then at some point, we have to go after the moose, too!”
Einar nodded, trying his best with the soup and managing a few bites before the nausea set in and he had to take a break. Liz was watching.
“Fever’s bothering you, isn’t it?”
“Can I take another look at your arm? I thought we’d cleaned it up pretty well, but that coyote did get in a few good chomps before he let you go, didn’t he?”
“Guess so. It’ll be alright. Not feeling so hot anymore as it was earlier, but yeah, maybe could use some more salve.”
After hastily finishing her own supper, Liz unwrapped the spot where the coyote had torn into Einar’s arm, only to find that while it appeared to be healing reasonably well, one of the rope-wounds from his time alone in the canyon the other night was looking a good deal worse than the bites. Restraining herself from any commentary—later; now was not the time—Liz did her best to clean and treat the area, bandaging his arm with fresh gauze and wordlessly stoking the fire, washing the soup pot and setting some water to heat.
The antibiotics Bud had included in the drop bag medical kit she knew he would refuse—would have some story about wanting to save them for the future, for a time when someone might really need them—but true to the long-formed and unshakable habit of one who has lived in the woods and entirely off the land and her own resources, she had at their camp down in the canyon dug the roots of a few winter-purpled Oregon grapes she had found at the base of one of the boulders, stashing them in her pack for future use. These she now added to the near-boiling water, waiting for it to begin yellowing, adding some snow from outside to bring it down to drinking temperature, and handing Einar the bitter brew.
“Drink. It should help.”
Einar drained the pot, shuddering at the acridity of the liquid but managing to get it down, even having a few sips of broth when he was done, and though too soon for the powerful yellow berberine compounds in the preparation to have begun taking any effect, Einar did benefit from the simple hydrating effect of consuming so much liquid, and was able to sleep fairly peacefully for a time when at last he joined Liz in the sleeping bag.
Einar left the bed in the night, restless with the return of fever, prowling the cave for a time and then—not wanting to needlessly wear down the headlamp battery—when no one seemed to be waking and he could not himself endure the thought of trying once more for sleep, slipping out of the entrance to take a look at the canyon. Fog having moved out early in the night, Einar caught his breath at the scene which stretched away below him in moonlight-flooded relief, stark with a sort of wild beauty that brought a fierce joy to his heart as he sat beholding its vast sweep. Far below lay the creek with its willow-bog banks, a silver ribbon snaking into visibility here and there between the blacker bulk of the vegetation, and he knew that somewhere down there in the impenetrable shadow of the timber up against the canyon wall an entire moose hung waiting for them from the high, stout branches of half a dozen spruces, safe, fresh-frozen in the cold, a tremendous bounty, but one which they must work to secure. Had to get that meat up to the caves and concealed, sliced, smoked, some saved for leaner times, for the coming of storms…or of aircraft, and the search.
Windy out there, the cool breeze felt good on his fevered face, and still pondering the moose—ponderous creature, indeed, and he laughed silently at the thought of pondering so ponderous a beast—he shrugged out of his coat to better enjoy it, elbows on knees, arms outstretched and face lifted to the heaves so he could watch Orion the hunter slowly tread his starry course, night air flowing over him as he sat.
Dozing, drowsing, dreaming after a while—moose in the meadow, willows whispering at dawn, and he smiled, searching, seeing her there by the tarn, child on her hip as she hurried to meet him—time passed unnoticed for Einar and when next he became aware of his immediate surroundings the breeze was no longer cool and friendly but a clawing, icy thing that halted his breath and seized him in teeth of iron, shaking, savaging, paralyzing limbs and dulling will. So powerful was the effect of the cold that he might have gone on just as he was, staring at the frozen light of the stars until after a time his body’s struggle ceased altogether and he joined them, had it not been for another light near the canyon’s far rim, this one strange, too low for a star, and he knew it did not belong.