Liz made the fire while Einar worked with numbed hands to pluck and prepare the grouse, everything still cold and uncoordinated, but success more or less his, and before long they were sitting together before the growing flames, Einar nearly as mesmerized as Will by them, and by the sight and smell of the roasting bird. The spot they had chosen after a somewhat hasty exploration of the tiny basin was proving to be a good one, nestled as it was up against the rise which concealed the place from the canyon and wider world, and nearly devoid of the blasting, scouring power of the wind which had been their lot since the arrival of the storm.
Einar, weary and cold as he had become after the long night and his two treks through the snow, might have fallen asleep while happily watching the grouse roast, had it not been for Will’s excited and almost-constant commentary on the event, and the urgent need to help Liz keep him from getting too close to the flames. Seemed the little one simply couldn’t resist the temptation of reaching for that bird, and even after stern correction by both parents, remained determined to try. Einar was still too cold and shaky to trust himself holding Will, but when he took up a position blockading the fire, body serving as a physical barrier against the child getting too close, Liz was glad, for she knew it meant he would be warming in a more timely manner than otherwise he might have allowed himself. Einar thawing and Will thoroughly captivated by the bird-roasting process, Liz took some time to put up the tarp to serve as heat-reflector and snow-barrier, her turn to do it, and she had the feeling they might be staying in that spot for some time, so best they have a bit of shelter.
Eating in earnest silence but with a tremendous appreciation for the hot meal, Einar and Liz all but finished the grouse, Will getting little nibbles here and there and very much enjoying the crispy, greasy piece of skin Liz gave him to gnaw upon, squealing with delight at its varied textures and delectable taste.
A bit steadier with some warm food in him and the wind blocked by surrounding terrain, Einar studied the place with a critical eye, inspecting the contours of surrounding timber and terrain for any advantage they might be expected to give either resident or invader, and finding the place to be good. Certainly a safe spot to pass a stormy day or two, and perhaps to settle or a longer period of time, as well. No need to decide just then. For the moment the storm was raging, snow and wind erasing all sign of their passage through the canyon, sweeping away the smoke from the little fire by which they warmed themselves, and everyone had a belly full of grouse. All things considered, a very good day. Not over yet, however, Einar remembering with a start that daylight had barely been creeping in when first he had left their old camp to go in search of a better place, day barely half spent, at most. Which left time to do more exploration before dark, and given energy by the infusion of protein, Einar found himself anxious to be up and moving. His mind, at least, was anxious, body slightly less so, as it informed him just as soon as he made an attempt at rising, limbs heavy and a weariness in him which would have lent itself far better to sleep than to exploration.
Well. Sleep could come later, and he rose, taking his leave of the fire and wandering first up one side of the steep slope that guarded their new shelter and then around the back, onto the slope of the mountain itself. No immediate sign of game animals, nothing out and stirring in the storm aside from a single scrawny mountain man, hair and beard already plastered white with blowing snow now that he was out of the deep shelter of the basin, and he stopped under a spruce, facing the wind as he shook snow from his hair and pulled up his hood. Cold. Wind seemed to be going right through him, chattering his teeth and knifing between his ribs despite the energy given him by the recent meal, but he did not much mind. Was used to it. Grouse. Let’s try and pay attention, here. You’re looking for more grouse. Almost always more when you find one, and even if we don’t need him today, would be nice to know if he’s available for the future. Too much snow to see droppings, though, and if the second bird was in the area, he wasn’t showing himself. Was probably all huddled down against the storm, like all the other sensible creatures. He laughed, gritted his teeth as a particularly forceful gust blew hard-edged snow crystals into his face, started off up the slope again.
Climbing and traversing until he’d gone all the way around the rim of the little basin Einar kept up his search for game, seeing, in a particularly sheltered spot beneath some timber, a half-drifted rabbit trail and a few trees that appeared to have been mangled by elk scraping velvet from their antlers, he decided to call it a day, return to camp and do more scouting when the storm had passed and creatures had once more begun moving about. Liz was glad of his decision, having stayed reluctantly behind to tend the fire and counting every minute that he was away, praying that he would not choose that day as a good one to go wandering and lose himself in the storm, again. Catching his breath after the constant blast and fury of the wind, Einar crouched silent beside the fire for a full minute before finally grinning up at Liz where she stood offering him a mug of warm broth from the pot of grouse bones she had been boiling down.
“Real unique place, this little dip in the ground where we’ve settled. Nothing else like it around here, just timbered slopes and a lot of deadfall. Didn’t see many tracks or anything, but figure we will after the storm. If we stay.”
“Do you want to stay?”
Einar shrugged. “Has its advantages, I guess. Real hard to travel through this stuff, as we found out yesterday and again this morning! So not too likely we’d ever be getting company of the two-legged variety, if we were to settle here for a while. Don’t know about water. Probably a seep or little spring of some sort up in the timber around here, but couldn’t really know that until we stumbled on it. Plenty of snow to melt for now, though.”
“It does feel pretty safe and secure here, compared to some of the places we’ve stayed lately. Maybe we could try it out. At least until the storm’s over, for sure…”
“Sure. I’ll go for that.”
“Great! Now will you please go for some of this broth, too, before you just sit there and freeze solid?”