Skinning out the squirrel and hoping all the while his snares might procure another before suppertime--these alpine squirrels, even at the height of growth and good health, were not terribly large--Einar found himself daydreaming of the bacon and other things he’d seen in the coolers in the bat biologists’ camp…and then something perhaps a bit more obtainable, for his thoughts turned to that last grouse they’d had, roasted over the fire until crispy on the outside and steaming most deliciously when finally they had sliced it and eaten… While the grouse roasted (since he was dreaming, and suddenly rather keenly aware of being hungry) he would make up a batch of the lightest, fluffiest flaky-topped biscuits with the last of the flour sent them by Susan, find some stout willow sticks and twist the dough around them for rising and roasting over the fire, and as the biscuits baked to perfection he would make gravy from the grouse drippings, season it with wild garlic and add a little bear fat just for good measure. Grouse, gravy and biscuits. Sounded better than just about anything else he could imagine just then, and he realized with a start that he had halted his work and sat there with hands idle, all but drooling over the images he’d created in his head.
Silly creature, he chided himself, getting back to work. Ought to be very grateful indeed for the squirrel stew which would instead make up their supper, for even had they a grouse and the means to whip up a batch of biscuits, he knew he would have had to take care just how enthusiastically he allowed himself to participate in such a repast. Already since returning from his journey along the canyon rim he was beginning to experience a fair amount of swelling in his lower legs and feet, in what he knew was the first sign of a potentially dangerous trend. He knew a good bit of the difficulty was result of his body struggling to adjust to being given something close to an adequate amount of food again now that he was back at home and eating Liz’s cooking instead of living off the random scraps he’d allowed himself on his journey, the simple solution being to stop eating for a few days, give things time to settle down. Knew he couldn’t do that this time, though, mustn’t do it, lest he fail to start eating again at the end.
Spring was coming and he had big game to take for his family, a little boy to bring up in the ways of the woods and high, windswept ridges, and he knew from recent experience that these thing might not be physically possible for him, if he did not somehow manage to reverse the trend of increasingly complete starvation to which he had over the last months and years been subjecting himself. Most times, he had been able to very effectively put its negative effects aside, draw strength from the struggle itself and from the knowledge that he was persisting despite what were at times rather dire effects on his physical existence; he was not giving in, and that, at the very core of his being, was often the thing which mattered most. Sometimes, when the nights grew long and he began losing his place in the world, it seemed the only thing that mattered. The only one he could remember, fall back on, the thing that kept him in this world.
Now, though, he remembered the way things had been on the last days of his recent journey, he barely able to stay conscious at times—had deliberately refused to let his mind dwell on the incident in which the two men had stumbled across him down in the canyon, but it was always there, reminding him just how dire things had become, and what their consequences might have been, might still be—and his core muscles giving out to the degree that he found himself having a difficult time getting up into a sitting position again whenever he did lie down. Scary enough on their own, these effects--though he had always found such things a good deal more fascinating than frightening, at least when observing them in himself--but when viewed in the context of a search and pursuit which could at any time go active once again…this potential inability to move his body and rely on his muscles as needed took on some rather terrifying implications.
He had to persist, then, in eating, manage the difficulties—both mind and body—as well as he was able, and hope he had something left at the end of the process with which to carry on and build a life for his family. Really didn't know how that would go. Body he wasn't worried about, as it had always lived up to the demands he placed upon it, and usually exceeded them, but the other...well, seeing as the starving and deprivation were, themselves, his main tools for keeping his thoughts in line, and always had been, he was not entirely sure what to expect. Not that it mattered too much. Was only one direction in which he could go, considering his duties and obligations. Besides which, when had he ever shrunk from the prospect of an adventure? This, if he could just bring himself to look at it in such terms, had to be the ultimate adventure, really... Squirrel skinning finished, he took the animal to Liz, began scraping the hide. His son's first summer moccasin.
Liz had gone inside while Einar worked on the squirrel, freeing Will from her parka hood and searching for a place to stash their newly-collected supply of usnea lichen, a bounty which would surely be put to many uses as the spring went on. Lichen securely tucked up under some of the roof-logs where it would stay dry and out of reach of a curious little boy who would no doubt take the greatest delight in separating each little frond and scattering them across the shelter, Liz set about laying a fire, tinder bundle, kindling and a few slightly larger sticks, but once finished she left the arrangement as it was, not wanting to kindle flame until she'd seen what Einar thought of the idea. It had been some hours since they'd heard the last plane, no air activity, in fact, since that morning, but still she knew he might want to wait. Hopefully not too late in the evening though, for much as she liked squirrel sushi, a good hot stew sounded far more appealing.
Will, who had been watching her every move and knew exactly where she had deposited her supply of springy, chewy, fascinating lichen, had pulled himself up to a standing position against the wall, and was stretching, reaching, lifting on little foot as if certain he could climb the wall with enough effort, determined to retrieve the prize. So determined, in fact, so focused that he noticed not at all when his stance began growing less steady, and by the time he did discover the trouble, he was already lying face down on the floor, side of his nose skinned on one of the firepit rocks. Much to Liz's alarm the little one did not immediately cry, she fearing lest he had been knocked unconscious or otherwise seriously injured. Rushing to kneel beside him and calling for Einar, she saw that her alarm had been premature--or at least misplaced--for the child was indeed conscious, appearing unharmed save for a deep graze down the side of his little nose and cheek. Appearing more puzzled than disturbed, Will ignored Liz's ministrations to grab at his injured nose with hand, studying his tiny digits intensely when they came away red with blood. Einar had by then ducked inside, crouching breathlessly beside the pair, knife in hand as he glanced about the dim interior of the shelter for the cougar, wolverine or other similar creature which he supposed must be present for Liz to cry out in such alarm.
"What is it? What's wrong?"
"It's ok. It's Will. He was standing against the wall and fell on the rocks, and I thought he'd knocked himself out, injured his head or something, but it's just a scrape on his nose, looks like."
Einar stared, Will staring back and holding out a hand to show him the smear of blood. Einar picked him up, balancing him on one knee as he inspected the injury. "What's the deal, little guy? Couldn't wait a couple of years for those nettles we were talking about, huh? Oh, well. A lesson is a lesson. Now you know that gravity works, and rocks are hard. Think you'll remember it the next time, and maybe land better?"
Will made no answer, once more fascinated with the patterns made on his hand by the smear of blood. Liz sat down beside them, her voice belying some degree of consternation. "Do you think he's ok?"
"Sure, he's fine. It's just a scratch, really. We'll just clean it up with some berberine water to get the gunk out, and I don't think it will even need bandaging. See? Mostly quit bleeding, already."
"Right, but that's not what I meant. He isn't crying."
"Why should he be crying? It's just a little scrape."
"Because he's a baby, and he fell a long way--for him--and that had to hurt! Most babies would be crying. A lot."
Looking puzzled, Einar shrugged, began cleaning Will's face with a bit of dampened usnea lichen. "Guess maybe we're just a little different, Snorri and I. He'll be good as new in no time. Almost got him cleaned up. Looks like it's only an hour or so from dusk outside, an no planes recently, so what do you think about a little fire to heat water for the berberine, and for our stew?"
Liz, still troubled at what she had witnessed but thinking a fire sounded like a great idea, had her little tinder bundle lit before Einar finished speaking.