The forest was awakening, guided leisurely by the waning chirps of crickets, and by nocturnal creatures retiring to borrows and hollows for their all-day snoozes. The moon hid well below the serrated horizon of mountain tops, and the sun rose in its place.
Landon was already awake long before the sunlight punctured clouds and swaths of pine tree limbs. He listened intriguingly to song birds shrill about the forthcoming morning, and to the cawing of ravens in the far off distance eagerly searching for their next festering carcass.
He watched his crude campfire pit exhale a steady stream of smoke, its warmth all but expended however. But Landon didn’t need fire to keep him cozy, because tangled in his arms, and pressed tightly against his body was Elizabeth. Their bodies radiating enough heat to keep them comfortable this morning.
Carefully Landon detached himself from her, rolling onto his back, and then pushing to his feet. He let a yawn escape him during his ritual morning stretch. Elizabeth was stirring, too, but didn’t fully rouse until Landon instructed her to.
They apportioned the remaining water bottle over their breakfast of stale crackers and slightly melted chocolate bars. Elizabeth inwardly cursed about permitting such chocolate delicacy, but managed to convince herself it would bade her hunger for sometime.
Landon’s mood had lightened, but she still managed to snag indications that he wasn’t fully happy about the transpiring. She acknowledged and understood this, and decided that pressing him into conversation wouldn’t be helpful.
Elizabeth slipped on a jacket that Landon scavenged the previous night, and at his encouraging she mounted the horse. He led the small fellowship down a rugged mountain path, often instructing Elizabeth to shift her weight to and fro, providing the beast of burden an undemanding descent. By time they reached the bottom, she was less nervous about horseback riding, and the horse was far more at ease.
Landon guided the horse, weaving in and out of thick foliage, up lolling hills, down rocky slopes, and into valleys until ultimately they found and heeled a gentle mountain stream. By mid-afternoon they retired to a grassy flat at the base of a gentle waterfall that cascaded into an otherwise placid waterhole.
Their thirst was easily staved, but hunger soon became prevalent. After setting up a small campfire, Landon found a large stick, and he widdled a point at one end using his pocket knife. Once satisfied of his makeshift spear, he skipped effortlessly over slippery rocks until he was near the middle of the waterhole, perched neatly on a near-submerged boulder.
Gathering patience and nerve, Landon roosted above the water, waiting for movement below the surface. Elizabeth was nearly bored watching the unflinching hunter, but her interest peaked the instant Landon thrust his spear at the water. An impaled fish thrashed determinably at the tip, exhausting the remains of its life. Landon was awarded cheerful whoops and claps by his distressing damsel.
Landon had shown his talents as a cook, too, although he complained frequently about not having spices and lemons for garnish. Even though Elizabeth cared little for fish, she couldn’t help but heave a contented sigh after their meal.
Once again they found themselves in a tangle of arms as Elizabeth sat between Landon’s legs, resting her back against his chest. Save for the return of rousing nocturnal life, they enjoyed each others company in near silence. The remnants of Landon’s bad mood vanished with the sunlight, and Elizabeth felt this when he took her tiny hands into his great palms.
“I’m surprised,” whispered Elizabeth, her voice shattering the silence between them, “that you don’t actually have a wife.”
Landon spared a moment of thought before responding, “Never had luck with ladies, plus I could never settle down.”
“Oh?” answered Elizabeth, “What did you do before all of this?”
Landon smirked, but Elizabeth couldn’t see it, “I use to be a tour guide to people who wanted to travel into the heart of the Outback.”
She laughed at the irony of this, and clarified, “You use to take people on adventures.”
“Something like that. Well I guess you could say that.” Even Landon chuckled light-heartedly. “People paid big money for those travels. I took them to places the average person didn’t know existed. It’s not all tumbleweeds and dingoes, you know.”
“I really couldn’t imagine,” Elizabeth answered honestly. “Even this is all new to me.”
“Well, you seem to be doing very well out here.” He embraced her tightly, and rested his chin between the crook of her shoulder and neck. “Besides, I won’t let anything happen to you.”
The same raw determination he gave to his supposed wife at the plane wreckage returned in Landon’s voice. She shivered pleasurably at it, and she eased the remaining tension out of her sore muscles. He nosed at her neck, and kissed the skin there briefly. Landon somehow felt as comfortable with her now, as he did when he was meant to think of her as his wife.
And that suited Elizabeth fine.
“I guess if anything, this is worth half a million dollars.”
She was astonished. Never in her life could she, or anyone, see her worth in money signs. Let alone half a million dollars. But Landon did, or at least he said so.
Elizabeth gasped, and tears welled at her eyelids, but she repositioned herself, coming now to Landon’s front, and staring at him lovingly. They kissed for an especially long time, only ceasing to gasp for air.
“Maybe,” said Landon, interrupting himself to kiss her neck, “Maybe we need to show this Project of your what a real adventure is.”