Supper was taken with a heavy branch, accurately thrown and hitting its mark, Einar neither wanting to waste a bullet when other options existed or to risk the noise, should it turn out that the plane had indeed left men on the canyon rim. Hefting the bird in his hand—not nice and plump as it would have been in the late summer and fall; winter takes its toll on all creatures—he was pleased to see that it had been doing reasonably well despite the harsh conditions, solid and sound and a good meal for all of them. Hurrying ahead of darkness, he returned to the shelter, not liking the fact that his snares had not, as yet, produced, not liking the potential implications, but glad at least to be able to provide some fresh food for their supper.
Liz was no less than delighted at the appearance of the grouse. It had been a long time since they’d enjoyed such a meal, and variety was always welcome. Especially when it came in the form of a large, soon-to-be sizzling grouse. Before Einar had finished plucking the bird she had a fire going and a pot of snow melting in anticipation of the feast, and when he handed her the prepared grouse she was ready, but did not drop it immediately into the warming water.
“I guess we’d really better boil it, hadn’t we? Instead of roasting over the fire. I know it’s more efficient that way…”
“Thought you were intending to boil it, from the looks of that pot there.”
“Well, I was, but then I got to thinking how nice it would be to have some roast bird, you know, with the skin all sizzling and crispy…”
“Like a Thanksgiving turkey, huh?”
“Something like that! What do you think?”
Einar was very nearly too cold and weary to think at all, and this talk of food was making his empty stomach hurt and cramp, but Liz’s sincere outpouring of delight and excitement at their upcoming supper made him smile and do his best to remain part of the conversation. “Well, it’s true that you get the most nutrition out of a critter when you stew it, since nothing is lost that way and you end up with broth. But I don’t see what the harm would be in roasting a grouse, for once. We can always make broth with the carcass, afterwards.”
“Oh, good! Let’s do that! It’s going to be such a treat. I’ll just need to rig up some way to prop it over the fire, and…oh, no! Will!”
Glancing behind him Einar soon saw the trouble, little one having galloped over to the waiting grouse and promptly begun chewing on one of the wings. A rather comical sight, grouse wing sticking out of both ends of his mouth and a most sincere and awestruck look in his eyes as he chomped away, spit dribbling from his chin. Einar, being closer, snatched him up and freed—with no little difficulty, the boy having rather strong jaws—the hapless bird, handing it to Liz. “Why, you little wolverine! Thought you were going to get away with that, didn’t you? Thought you’d found quite a prize! A little young for devouring whole birds yet, don’t you think? Seeing as you don’t even have any teeth…”
“Oh, I meant to tell you!” Liz took the child, doing her best to clean his face and remove from it any trace of raw grouse. “He is getting his first tooth! Has been for about a week now. That’s why he’s drooling so much. I guess he thought it was time to try it out! Or just thought that grouse wing looked like something that would feel good on his gums. They chew on almost everything, at this stage.”
“Guess we’d better get him something to chew on. Maybe I can carve something out of aspen wood, polish it real good so he doesn’t risk getting any splinters. I’m guessing he’s too young to be eating a whole grouse!”
“Oh, yes. Way too soon for that. You don’t think he’ll get sick, do you? From chewing on that raw meat? I tried to clean his mouth and face, but couldn’t get all of it.”
“Nah, I doubt it. Little guy surely has a pretty strong immune system, living out here like he does and getting plenty of his mama’s milk. Besides, the bird was real fresh, and it’s not exactly warm in here. No time for anything dangerous to grow on it. Probably do him good.”
“I don’t know about that, but hopefully it won’t do any harm, at least. And this grouse is going to do us all a lot of good, as soon as we can get it cooked up! This whole place will be smelling like Thanksgiving dinner, before long!” With which Liz quit talking and got down to business, leaving Einar to keep an eye on Will while she skewered the grouse on a long aspen stick and propped it at an angle under a rock where the healthy bed of coals could begin cooking it.
The shelter was, indeed, soon filled with a most wonderful aroma as the bird began warming, crisping up just a bit on the outside, and as the flames died down a bit Liz moved it closer to the coals, keeping an almost-constant vigil and tuning the bird frequently to prevent overcooking or drying any part of it. Will watched the entire process with the same intensity and fascination with which he met most things in life, following Liz’s every movement while chewing insistently at a fold in Einar’s parka sleeve. Tiring of the constant assault and figuring that sleeve couldn’t be amongst the cleanest of things on which the little one to do his teething, Einar finally freed his sleeve and set the child aside.
“You stay right there and don’t move, Snorri. Understand? Have to get something from outside.”
Liz’s eyes looked big as she watched him go—what is it she thinks I’m headed out there to get, anyway?—but she said nothing. Searching in the snow, Einar wandered up the ridge in the dusky evening light, kicking at shapes beneath the snow until he unearthed an object which appeared likely to meet his purpose. Brushing and shaking as much snow as he could from the small, dense aspen burl, he headed for the narrow slit of light that was shining most welcomingly from beneath the shelter door, smelling roasting grouse before he was halfway back down.
He lingered for a few minutes outside the door, reluctant, somehow, to enter and spoil the delightful sense of anticipation that came with smelling such wonderfully enticing odors and knowing that he would soon find himself partaking of the feast. Finally though, hearing Liz moving about inside and knowing she might be having a difficult time both corralling the incredibly active Will and tending to the roasting bird, he chipped a last fragment of ice from the aspen burl, and went inside