Frozen in the moment with the instinct of a wild creature long accustomed to avoiding detection, motionless beneath his mat of evergreen, Einar met the man’s eye. No doubt about it, binoculars lingering on his shadowy shelter before moving on, but even more certain than the directional probability was an unmistakable sense of contact on Einar’s part, something passing between the two distant figures before the man went on, scanning past him along the rim. Too casual, it was, to deliberate the unconcern with which his gaze moved on, actions further confirming to Einar that he had been seen, had been recognized, if not necessarily as himself—the man, after all, could be there for any of a dozen reasons which had nothing to do with hunting him—as an object of interest, and one which must not be made to feel suspicion, and to flee. Einar did not flee, greatly as his instincts were urging him to do so, did not so much as move an elbow or lower his head from the position in which they had sat been when he believed he’d been spotted. If the other man was going to adopt a casual, caution-allaying attitude, well, so could he. Neither would acknowledge having seen, or been seen by, the other.
A good fifteen minutes later, and Einar’s ribs hurt where they dug into the rock on one side, right hip and leg numb from prolonged contact with the unyielding limestone and his shivers becoming progressively more difficult to control. The sun was gone from his legs, dipping below the solid phalanx of black-limbed spruce on the low hill behind him, his body heat seeping away into the vast expanse of stone below, and he was growing very cold. Still, he must not move, for the man had not yet completed his study of the canyon rim and begun tracing his way back towards the spot where Einar lay concealed. He certainly was making a thorough job of the inspection, and once more Einar began growing heavy-eyed with waiting, only this time it was exhaustion and the cold which pushed him towards sleep, rather than the good, restful feeling that comes of having the sun on one’s back.
Well. You didn’t go to sleep then, and you’re certainly not doing it now. Way things feel though, you’d better think of fixing it so you can’t, just in case. Though assailed by the brief thought that perhaps a hot drink and a good meal would be by far the best way to ward off the sort of weariness that was stalking him so closely that afternoon, he soon consigned all such considerations to the realm of the unattainable, and positioned his previously-injured leg in such a way as to render sleep, even the beyond-weary, cold-induced kind, quite an impossibility.
Wide awake once more, Einar scanned the canyon floor, quickly spotting the three intruders. The first two remained beside the creek, for all appearances attempting to obtain fish for their supper, while the third…had changed position, and Einar could no longer find him! Searching somewhat frantically lest the man already be partway up the canyon wall somewhere on his way to the rim, and to reaching his own position, Einar at last locate the man, who appeared to have moved only because the shadows had shifted, and sunlight was now falling on the spot from which he had previously scrutinized the rim. Made sense. The sun would have interfered with his search. Speaking of which, the man’s glasses appeared to be once more trained directly upon him, Einar using every ounce of restraint available to prevent himself shimmying backwards and disappearing into the brush, out of sight. Must not move. Must not let the picture change, from down below. He kept still. Looked away. Didn’t want to let the man know he’d been seen, though by now he must assume as much.
It seemed a long time that the stranger’s eyes were on Einar before they continued their search of the rim, far too long, and when finally the man lowered his binoculars and joined the pair at the creek, Einar let his head rest on the ground in a brief moment of relief before stiffly pulling himself backwards away from the rim, fully concealed, finally, beneath his evergreen mat. Good to change position, to move, after so very long a time of stillness on the cold limestone, but movement did not come easily, legs cramping up and refusing, at first, to support him when he attempted to stand. Persisting, he got himself at last to his feet, glanced over towards the rim and was glad to discover that he could not see beyond the timber.
Now that he was entirely out of sight of the group in the canyon and well concealed, Einar was beginning to doubt the veracity of the rather firmly-held belief that he had, indeed, been spotted. Though the man had certainly appeared to focus on him, on his precise location, he knew from long experience how difficult it could be to catch sight of on object as small and well-camouflaged as he would have presented, flattened as he had been beneath the evergreen mat and entirely in shadow. Would have been nearly impossible, really, for the man to spot him, even had he been slowly and deliberately scanning the rim with the intention of discovering some hidden presence. Was probably just his weary mind playing tricks on him, this notion that he had been seen. Thus it was, afternoon shadows lengthening into evening and he finding it almost impossible to begin warming up after his time in contact with the limestone, that Einar nearly convinced himself to ignore his misgivings, turn his back on the canyon, and head for home.
Trying too hard. You know you’re trying too hard, here. Something isn’t right with this whole situation. Folks camping up here this time of year with snowmelt really under way and the ground all mucky and slushy, that real odd choice of campsites down on the boggy ground near the creek, and then this fellow with the glasses. You know what that was, not just what you saw, but what you felt. His eyes were on you. He made contact. You’d be a fool to ignore that.
Which left the question, now what? If he left now and returned home he would have to wonder if the man had allayed his curiosity by finding a way up out of the canyon and inspecting the rim in person, perhaps discovering the spot where he had lain and from there, possibly picking up and following his trail…but should he stay and watch until the little party broke camp and move on, there was a near certainty that Liz would at some point come out looking for him, putting her, and little Will, in danger should they find their way to the steep, rocky couloir through which he had descended and possibly even getting them spotted, should they reach the rim before he could intercept them. Einar shifted from one foot to the other, wrapped stiff arms around his middle and clamped his jaw to stop his teeth beginning to chatter. Wished the answer might be clearer.
One thing did seem clear, which was that he must not let these intruders out of his sight, at least until they’d broken camp and begun heading—hopefully—back down the canyon, again. Much as he might have liked to return home and tell Liz what was happening, prevent her needlessly wandering about in search of him, this seemed too great a risk. The task would take a long time, and the probability that he would knock loose additional rocks in navigating the couloir—twice—and alerting the trio to his presence, seemed awfully high. He would have to stay, to watch and wait, to hope that if she came, her path would cross his before she too nearly approached the rim, and danger, herself.
Evening settling in, last of the sunlight disappearing from the distant fir-tops, and a thin, sharp breeze was blowing, and he had nothing but the clothes on his back, and the few items he always carried on his belt, around his neck and in pockets. Had better start looking for some dry leaves or evergreen needles to stuff in between layers of clothing, to provide a bit of insulation. It was going to be a long night.