Einar’s continued presence at the shelter secured for the time being, Liz hurried back inside to finish doing what she could to turn the previous night’s half-frozen stew into a good, filling breakfast, Einar remaining outside just long enough to run up the ridge as he had been his initial intent, needing to restore some circulation to stillness-numbed limbs. This task accomplished with some minor success he rejoined Liz in the shelter, partaking of a most welcome if somewhat slushy breakfast feast of moose stew. Will, allowed by Liz only small tastes of the stew when he seemed curious, was curious about something else, too.
Cozy in his woolen undergarments and the insulated suit provided him by Susan before their flight and jump he romped about the interior of the shelter, pausing in each of his rounds to stare at the flickering candle flame and then at the cold remains of the previous night’s fire, a quizzical look on his face. After being corrected several times by both Einar and Liz for too closely approaching the firepit while it was lit, he knew the boundaries, knew where he was supposed to stop, but could barely restrain himself from creeping closer in his quest for information. A pointed glance from Einar, who the child was watching nearly as closely as he was the cold firepit, stopped his forward progress, Will rocking back and forth on hands and knees as he stared into the ashes and sang a little song about “fi-fi-ur, fi-fi…UR?” voice going higher at the end as he all but demanded to know the fate of the flames whose movements he so loved to watch.
“Fire’s out, little guy,” Einar explained, scooping him up before he could venture too much further into the restricted area and get himself into trouble. “You don’t know about planes yet, but you will, and when those things are around, we can’t risk making smoke. Smoke. See? Like this…” and he took a sprig of spruce needles from the supply Liz had brought in for tea, held it above the candle flame until it began smoking. “That’s smoke. That’s what we don’t want, today. Smoke.”
“Yeah, smoke. That’s right. Real good for keeping the flies off of meat and for tanning buckskins, but not so good when you’ve got planes in the air. Don’t worry. You’ll learn all that as time goes by. And hopefully at some point…” Einar was quiet for a minute, eyes distant, suddenly appearing very weary, and when he continued his voice was low, a little rough. “At some point hopefully you won’t have to worry about it anymore, at all. Would really like that for you, Snorri. For you and your mother.”
“And for you,” Liz was quick to put in, not liking the sound of future planning that did not expressly involve all three of them. “For all of us.”
“Yeah. But if they had me, they wouldn’t keep looking. It would be over, and you guys…”
“Don’t even suggest that! Will has a right to know his father, to grow up with him. Would you deprive him of that?”
Einar shrugged, picked up his parka and finished stitching the tear in its sleeve, going at the work with a silent fury which both seemed to preclude further discussion and to indicate that the matter was weighing on Einar’s mind, and Liz let it drop. Did not like to hear him talk that way, thought it really did not sound like him at all. She wondered how long he had been entertaining such thoughts, and how seriously he had meant what might have been dismissed as a passing notion, a simple frustrated outburst, from anyone slightly less literal and precise than Einar tended to be. Well. She supposed it was only natural that certain things would come up as he really began to contemplate Will’s future as an individual, as a person, and these were conversations in which they would have to engage. At least he was thinking ahead. Always good to think ahead. Sometimes best not to go too far with it, though.
When Einar went out that evening—after a day of no more planes, but no fire, either—to check his snares, it was to find the empty. He did, though, see one set of tracks where a rabbit had passed just outside the little corridor in which he’d chosen to set that particular snare, a sign of life, at least, and a promise of more to come. The weather, too, held promise of change, extreme cold that had prevailed for the morning and maintained its grip through most of the afternoon at last lessening, waning ahead of a wind as soft and strange as it was persistent. Einar would have almost called it warm. Most days. That evening it only seemed to add to the ice in his bones, chattering teeth and leaving him to hunch his shoulders against what seemed to be a perceptible and alarmingly rapid stripping away of what little warmth remained precariously preserved in the core of his sinewy frame. Shivering but not caring too much, he headed for home, stopping several times to test the wind with his nose, scenting a change, a softening, even if his body could not yet feel it. Smells were carried on that wind, strange, live smells that promised some faraway but approaching change not only of immediate weather conditions, but of the season itself.
All of which was interesting, but of far less immediate concern than the fact that he’d failed to find game, and they were out of moose stew. Out of moose altogether, actually, and though they still had a fair quantity of the food sent along with them by Bud and Susan in the drop bag, both he and Liz had been hoping very much to be able to save the vast majority of those provisions, stashing them away against a time of need. Well, they had need. A need he was not meeting, and would not meet, so long as he stood there semi-dazed and staring beneath the little cluster of leafless aspens which were currently doing nothing to shield him from the warm-freezing tentacles of the wind. Visibly shaking himself in hope of shattering some of the creeping apathy which had begun wrapping itself unannounced and unwelcomed around both mind and body he set off, eyes darting from one cluster of vegetation to the next and ears sharp for any indication that potential game might be present.
When Einar’s sought-after indication came, it arrived in a burst of feathery energy that sent his heart into his throat and nearly left him to make a dive for the ground, so nearly did it resemble the sudden materialization of a hovering helicopter. Initial alarm passed and no aircraft in sight Einar grinned a bit sheepishly, biting his lip to avoid laughing aloud and further alarming the grouse he’d scared up out of a small knot of chokecherry scrub. The bird, true to the nature of its species, had not gone far, and saw gawking unconcernedly at him from a low fir branch not ten yards distant. Supper, if he’d ever seen it…