To be fair, Will, though raised on timbered mountainsides rife with cliffs and boulders and well aware of their dangers, had never before in his short crawling career encountered stairs. It was perhaps not unreasonable, then, that his first reaction to encountering such was to attempt their descent head first and with great enthusiasm, leading to a series of barely-controlled tumbles, Liz dashing after him and Einar hurrying up from the bottom of the stairs. Fall stopped and Will in his mother’s arms as she sat on the bottom step, it took both parents a moment to realize that despite a bloody scrape which ran the length of one cheek and a good-sized gash on the bridge of his nose, Will was laughing rather than crying. Einar checked him over and could find nothing seriously wrong. He told Liz so, and she, trusting his knowledge and the medical assessments he made of others far more than those he made of himself, was reassured somewhat as to little Will’s physical wholeness. His response to the entire incident, however, was another matter.
“Why isn’t he scared, Einar? Upset, at least. That was quite a tumble. You’d almost think he enjoyed it, to look at him.”
“Well, he’s still alive, moving…what’s not to enjoy?”
Liz just shook her head—a lot more like your father than I would have even guessed, aren’t you?—released her hold on the boy’s arm. Will started back up the stairs at a hands-and-knees gallop as soon as his mother loosened her hold on him, squealing with delight at the prospect, she could only guess, of making another flight. She caught him around the waist, scooped him up.
“Oh, no you don’t! Not yet. You may not need a break from the action, but your mother sure does! You still have some things to learn about stairs, don’t you?”
“Up!” Will shouted with such enthusiasm that Susan could not help burst out laughing. “Go up!”
Einar got to his feet. “I’ll take him.”
“I’d better not see the two of you come tumbling down together, you understand? This young man seems to have a sense of adventure similar to his father’s, but he’s too little to take up stair-tumbling as a hobby, just yet! Maybe he can wait until he’s three. Or eighteen.”
A silent grin from Einar as he pressed his elbow to his side to aid in breathing, took Will by the hand and started up the stairs.
No more than halfway up the pair stopped suddenly, Einar crouching on the stairs with Will behind him as the door burst open and a rather boisterous Kilgore burst in.
“You got to see this, Sue! Come on, come with me. You too, kids. Here, Asmundson, take my hat so the birds won’t recognize your ugly mug, throw a jacket over the little one, and come on. You’re not the first visitors I’ve had here, it won’t look strange even if they do see that there are folks around.”
Einar hesitated, not sure about going outside where he could potentially be spotted and hardly wanting to do so unarmed, if he was to go, but Bud was insistent, pulling him to his feet and all but shoving him out the door. Einar wanted to take the rifle, but had to settle for his knife.
“Quiet. Quiet now, don’t want to scare him off.”
Einar was quiet. And very alert. Danger in his eyes, and it did not escape Bud’s notice. “Who?”
Signaling for silence and leading them all around to an area just behind the carport shielded from the air by the spreading boughs of a ponderosa pine, Kilgore pointed up at a dead section of a similar massive tree not thirty yards from the house, over near the rocky gully which held the creek. “That’s who.”
The bald eagle was magnificent, huge, close enough that the yellow of his hooked beak and the piercing intensity of his eyes were clearly visible as he tilted his head this way and that, apparently scanning the creek for fishing opportunities. Will stared up with huge eyes, fascinated, heeding Kilgore’s call for quiet when he whispered, “Moon? Moon bird?”
“No, Will,” Liz whispered back, “that’s not Muninn. That’s an eagle. Bald Eagle. He’s a lot bigger than Muninn. He catches fish to eat. Look, he’s about to fly down and catch one!”
The eagle had, indeed, spread his massive wings and taken to the air, skimming the scrub oaks along the gulley’s edge before plunging out of sight, presumably about to obtain a meal of trout.
“There. Couldn’t have you guys miss a sight like that. Used to see them from time to time following the creek here in the wintertime, but seldom this time of year, and never so close to the house. Wasn’t he magnificent? You know, the largest gathering of eagles ever spotted in this state was at a lake just over twenty miles from here. One hundred and twenty of the critters. Can you believe that?”
Einar squinted up at the dead section in the ponderosa. “Don’t suppose they’d nest in that, do you?”
“They never have, not since I’ve been here. Don’t see any remnants of an old nest. But it’s the kind of place they like. The do nest down near that lake I mentioned. I’d take you folks to see it sometime, if you wanted. But not yet. Got to make sure things are kind of stable and steady here, make sure we’re not being watched at all.”
Eyes darting up at the sky, Einar took a step back under the tree. Not good, really, for them to be out there, not even with Will hidden and his own identity concealed by Bud’s wide-brimmed Stetson. Had to be more careful. He retreated to the more certain cover of the carport, Liz following with Will, who very much wanted to get down so that he could crawl under Bud’s pickup and thoroughly inspect the tires. Liz allowed it, knowing the boy—like his father—was used to a great deal more freedom of movement than would be allowed by being largely confined to the house. Fascinated with the strange, rubbery contraptions, Will gallop-crawled from one to the next, finally settling on one of the rear tires and devoting to it the full force of his rather sharply-focused attention. First exploring the chunky treads with his fingers and meticulously removing every lump of gravel he came across, he moved on to tasting the thing, wrinkling up his nose at the initial grittiness and then taking a tentative bite with his knobby gums, finding the texture very much to his liking and chomping away, leaving a trail of slimy drool to trace down the side of the tire like the paths of several large snails. Liz put an end to the child’s little experiment at that point, not considering truck tires to be the best teething accoutrements. Will protested at first, but only until Susan mentioned something about everyone coming inside for a snack, mention of food catching his ear and causing him to put aside, at least for the moment, his determination to taste all four of the tires and see which he liked best.
Einar stayed behind when the others went in, stayed outside, pacing back and forth beneath the sheltering roof of the carport. He was restless. Needed work.