Even Will got a tiny taste of the roast grouse that served as supper for the little family that evening, Einar slipping him a bit of the crunchy, crispy skin and watching in delight as the chomped and chewed and tried to figure out what to do with it. Not enough teeth to do any serious eating yet, and Einar refrained from giving him any more, settling in with Liz to enjoy his own portion of the perfectly-roasted bird. A comfortable silence settled over the shelter as they ate, sound of the wind in the spruces overhead punctuated by an occasional crackle from the fire and the light of its flames—low now, mostly down to coals—dancing in mesmerizing patterns on the white inner walls of parachute cloth. A good evening, and the sort of thing which made Einar stop and remember that life really was a fine thing, a very fine thing indeed, and all of them more than blessed to be living it.
Always just a little behind on their eating since making the climb out of the canyon and working to build the shelter, Einar and Liz kept working on the grouse until practically nothing remained, bones all stacked neatly in the cooking pot where they would form the basis of the next day’s soup. Though full, content and beginning to grow rather sleepy, Liz did stir herself after a while to scoop up half a pot full of fresh snow and set it near the coals to begin melting, knowing they might be without daytime fire again come morning, and wanting to get a head start on stewing the bones. A good deal more nutrition, she knew, could be extracted from those bones by slowly simmering them for many hours, and she hoped to be able to keep the process going through the night by covering the pot, heaping some ashes around it and making a ring of coals atop those, a concept similar to the one employed in Dutch oven cooking.
Will had fallen asleep across his father’s legs, Einar looking pretty drowsy himself as he leaned back against the shelter wall with his eyes half closed and one grouse wing bone still grasped in both hands, picked entirely clean of anything even remotely edible but apparently still too valuable to set down. Liz put a hand on his shoulder so as not to startle him, gently freed the wing and added it to the pot.
“How about we contribute that to tomorrow’s soup? Looks like you’ve got a lot of good out of it already…”
A weary grin from Einar as he stretched, repositioned legs that had gone quite numb with little Will’s sleeping weight and wiped still-greasy hands on the small towel they had been using for such purposes. “Sure, guess you can have it now. You certainly are a fine roaster of grouse, Liz. That had to be about the best I’ve ever tasted.”
“Oh, you were just hungry.”
“Not hungry now. So full I can hardly keep my eyes open.”
“Feels good, doesn’t it?”
“Sure, every now and then. Guess it might as well be bedtime though, wouldn’t you say?”
Liz thought that a fine idea, easing Will from Einar’s lap and into the sleeping bag for the night after changing his diaper. She then added more snow to the stew pot before joining Einar, who had hurried through his outdoor duties and was already half asleep with his back to the coals and their remaining glow.
Full of good, satisfying food and something approaching warm for the first time in quite a while with the energy it provided his under-nourished body, Einar ought to have slept well and soundly that night, but he did not. Kept waking to what he thought was the sound of a small plane close overhead, only to lie rigid and unmoving for long enough each time to realize that he must have imagined the aircraft’s presence. After the third such incident sleep proved elusive and he lay staring at the barely-glowing remains of the fire and going through the various possibilities in his mind, trying once more to puzzle out what could have been the purpose of the plane’s repeated visits to the area in past days.
Got no farther with such speculations than he had done previously, some sort of wildlife survey still remaining top on his list of possibilities—the ones, at least, which did not involve some sort of renewed search. Knew he had to consider those, as well. Really had to get over there and have a look for himself, see what sign the intruders had left on the expanse of open ground above the rim and, if people had remained, track, follow and find them so he could ascertain their purpose.
Einar knew there would be no rest for him until he had solved the riddle, but questioned himself as he lay there wide awake, wondering if this need actually had anything to do with the potential danger posed by the presence of others in their little piece of the high country, or if he might simply be seeking another challenge, as he seemed always to be doing. If that was the case, he knew he might do well to heed Liz’s pleading and give it a few more days, sit tight and see if any further cause was given for suspicion. Could well be that he’d just be putting them in more potential danger by going to scout about for the landing site. And—as Liz had been all too ready to point out of late—he might never make it back, should he undertake such a journey just then. Which wouldn’t have bothered him too much at all had he been alone, but with that little boy depending on him not only to help provide as he grew, but to teach him the ways of timber and mountain, it was a possibility which he knew he must not take as lightly as he might have preferred.
More time, then. Give it another day or two, as Liz had been suggesting, and see how things were going. Would not be an easy wait, but there were plenty of things with which to keep himself busy, managing the trapline, hauling firewood, making improvements to the shelter and searching for other sources of food. Domestic duties which might grate on the soul of a would-be wanderer, but so long as he kept himself busy enough, and tired enough—not a terribly difficult proposition, those days—the wait ought to be tolerable. Well. Time for sleep, then, some real, solid sleep so his body could make best use of the wonderfully nourishing meal with which he had that evening been so blessed, and if the dreams—or planes, or dreams of planes—wanted to come, let them come. The door was always nearby in such a small shelter as theirs, should it come to that.
With that Einar finally let go and allowed himself to drift off into an exhausted slumber, not knowing that the coming of morning would render his anticipated wait not only unnecessary, but entirely untenable.