Once back in their wet clothes, both Einar and Liz found themselves highly motivated to be on the move, stomping and stamping about camp as they gathered their belongings, Liz swinging her arms for warmth and Einar, prevented by the ribs from doing any more moving of his upper body than was absolutely necessary, simply standing there and shivering violently. Much as the involuntary movement hurt he would have stopped even that, had it been possible, but, fortunately for his core temperature and general continued existence, it was not. Finally they had everything picked up, wet hide and dry rolled and put into packs--hating to see Einar suffer in the cold, Liz had wanted him to wear the dry one about his shoulders as a cloak as they climbed, but he had refused, being, aside from a standard level of stubbornness that would have resisted the idea anyway, (it's good for me to freeze, helps prepare me for winter) concerned that the still wet and dripping timber might leave their one dry hide damp, should they not keep it tucked away and protected. A potential disaster for them, if circumstances should both keep them out for another night and prevent their having a fire.
Making one final circuit of the camp with the knowledge that it would, in their condition, be all too easy to leave something behind, Einar did his best to obscure the firepit, widely scattering the fir boughs that had served as their bed, lest someone happen along and realize that the place had been recently occupied. Work done and double-checked, they took their leave of the hasty camp, striking out on a zigzagging course up the timbered slope opposite it--and opposite the red ridge--both of them badly needing some hard climbing to get the blood flowing and begin drying away the wet, clinging misery of their still-soaked garments.
Einar hoped still to find an elk, meant to find one, and very much hoped they might do so that morning. Knew they'd have to be very careful if they did come on a herd or even a single animal, with Oscar Bennington and his crew in the area and possibly in the air again, too, presumably counting the critters. Would have to haul the animal in under the dark timber to butcher it, listen carefully for the approach of that chopper, but he was confident in their ability to safely do it, and to that end paused at the ridge's summit, seeking the sort of meadow that elk tended to congregate in and around at times. Couldn't see anything--almost literally--as he could not get his eyes to focus, supposed it might be due largely to the way his heart was pounding after that climb, dizziness almost taking his feet from under him as he struggled to get a useful amount of oxygen past the dreadful, squeezing barrier of his ribs. Doggone ribs, sure would like to be rid of that hassle, but it's not going to be happening quickly, may not happen at all, feels like, not if I keep on running around like this and climbing things and lifting others, which he knew was highly unlikely, they'd heal eventually, would have to...if he lived that long. Which you've got to do, because the baby's coming, and really, the ribs should be mostly healed by the time he gets here…
That cheerful bit of musing out of the way and seeing that Liz was beginning to look at him strangely, as if she wanted to ask him if he was doing alright but had thought better of it, Einar hauled himself up out of the pained crouch into which he had settled, took a serious look at the land that lay before them. Through the black closeness of the timber he could catch glimpses of the open slopes below them, spots, perhaps, where they might come across an elk. Liz put a hand on his shoulder, startling him. Guessed he hadn't managed to catch up on oxygen quite as thoroughly as he'd thought, for he had not even noticed her closing the distance between them, and it disturbed him some, but he was working too hard just to keep breathing to give the problem much notice.
"Einar, what about Muninn? He disappeared when the helicopter first came close, and I haven't seen any sign of him since..."
"Yeah, disappeared right after warning me not to step out in the open where I would have been seen by those fellas...would have been in a lot of trouble if he hadn't made a fuss of circling over their heads right when he did, and given me pause while I was still hidden behind the rocks. Been wondering about him too, but don't know where he's gone off to. Maybe he's through with us, decided we're not especially good company and gone back to his regular old raven life. Wouldn't blame him, the way we seem to have a habit lately of taking up on high ridges and waiting for hailstorms to come in."
"He likes you, is drawn to you for some reason. I think he'll be back."
"Ha! Can't imagine why. But could be. May see him again. That'd be alright with me. Had kinda got used to the critter."
"'Got used to the critter?' Is that how it is with me, too? You've 'got used to' me?"
Einar didn't really understand the question, sensed some meaning other than the obvious hidden there behind it and in order to avoid falling into whatever trap might lie hidden there simply narrowed his eyes at her, shrugged and went back to studying their route. "Figure we'd better swing wide through that little series of meadows and open slopes on the way down, here, on the chance we might surprise an elk or two. Don't want this trip to have been wasted effort..."
Liz nodded, eyes dark as she thought of what it had already cost him, their so-far failed hunting trip, doubted things would really even themselves out, even if they did end up finding and taking en elk, but if we hadn't managed to get stuck on that tree island together in the storm, who knows how long it might have been until we got around to having the conversation we had up there--never, maybe--and meanwhile he would have just gone on starving himself and not telling me why or letting me help him as the nights got colder and colder and he finally ended up wandering off into one of them and dying...don't know for sure that our conversation, by itself, is going to prevent that, because he's an awfully stubborn and determined man when he gets his mind set on something...which I think it is, or was, on this, even if he isn't willing to admit that, but at least now that we've talked about it, I have someplace to start from, have his "permission" to talk further about it...
"No, not wasted effort. We have the elk hide, once we retrieve it, and we may or may not find an elk, but we'll get something out of the trip, for sure."
"Yep. Couple of rabbits maybe, a grouse if we're real fortunate...though I'm still pretty set on that elk!"
"Well, let's go find her. I see trails down there in that first clearing on the left, and they sure look like they could be elk paths..."
Squinting down at the nearest smear of green, Einar could see nothing of the sort. "Your eyes may be a bit better than mine at the moment, it seems. I don't see any trails. Show me."
More than ready to be moving again herself and seeing that Einar, too, was growing badly chilled again now that he'd cooled down from the climb she quickly fished the binoculars out of her pack and handed them to him. "There. You can see it crossing the grassy area near its top, going across at an angle. See?"
"Yeah, I see." His voice had dropped to a whisper. "See something else, too. Way over on the far edge of the clearing, over by that big pile of whitish granite. Those rocks aren't all rocks. Have a look." Thinking Einar might have caught sight of an elk, and not merely sign of them down in the clearing Liz excitedly took the field glasses, quite surprised at the sight that met her there...