Moving carefully and as quietly as he was able, Einar continued working his way up towards the source of the raven's alarm, knife in hand as he went, knowing that when he closed with his foe, the distance would likely be quite short and the timber too dense to make much use of the atlatl. A bit more climbing, Muninn's calls seeming to grow more and more frantic as the distance closed between Einar and his adversary, and then he could hear it, a faint swish and crackle as the man--men? Almost certainly wouldn't send just one--worked his way down the draw, still hidden from sight by a screen of shoulder-high firs so dense the sunlight could barely pass through them...when it was sunny, which it was not, and Einar was cold but didn't feel it except in the untimely cramping of his legs as he fought to remain standing, searching, hoping to ambush his foes and dispatch them silently before they could send word that they had been spotted, radio for help, all but one, who he must keep alive at least long enough to extract from him all the information the man might have on where they’d taken Liz, what they intended to do with her and what their plan might be for bringing him in, and who knew? Perhaps he’d end up having to keep the man as a hostage, head down with him to town and negotiate for…no way, forget that. Would never work. You’d all end up dead, you and the fed and Liz and the baby, all of you, if you try anything that direct… Close. They were very close, and Einar stopped moving, took up a position perched somewhat precariously on the narrow trunk of a fallen aspen, waiting, hovering directly upslope from what looked to him like their most probable path and fighting hard to prevent himself toppling over and ending up lying on his face in said path, which despite his focus on the approaching enemy he felt himself rather close to doing, wished they’d hurry up and show themselves...
The enemy did not come. Liz did. She looked worried, hurried as she emerged from the trees and began casting about it search of him, and Einar observed her in silence for several seconds from his position of concealment, watching to make sure she wasn't being followed as he didn't want to give himself away and lose his advantage if she was, but she did not appear to be, not closely, at least, and it was with great relief that Liz regarded him the next moment as he eased down from his perch and joined her beside the cache. Throwing down her burden--appeared that whatever else might have gone wrong up there, she had indeed retrieved the elk hide--she ran to him, took him by the shoulders and looked him in the eye for a long moment before leading him over to the nearest pile of rocks where he sat down heavily, suddenly very dizzy and not understanding why, not liking it. Einar did not understand her behavior, either, kept glancing up the draw behind them and wanted very much to ask what had delayed her, how great a hurry they might need to be in as they took their leave of the area. Tried to get the words out but just ended up coughing instead, which hurt his ribs and felt as though it must be tearing something in there, and besides Liz wasn't listening, was wrapping his middle with a strip of cloth, tying it and insistently holding water from her container--his had been empty for hours--up to his mouth so that he couldn’t have spoken even had it not been for the coughing fit, and finally he drank just to get her to stop.
"What is it, what...what's the hurry here? They see you? Coming?"
"They...no! No one was up there. No one saw me. I just got tied up for a while and I'm awfully sorry, tell you about it soon but I was hurrying because of Muninn. He came to get me and it seemed pretty urgent the way he was carrying on, trying to lead me to you in a hurry, so I hurried."
"Oh no, nothing...I thought they might have found you up there, nothing wrong down here but I was trying to get this cairn done so I could leave the meat and come for you, and guess I...wasn't working quite as quickly as I should have been, but it was coming along. The cairn. Wanted to protect the meat while I was away. I was about to start up there when you showed up... Don’t know why Muninn was so anxious to get you down here. Way he was acting I thought he was trying to warn me about whoever was coming, but I’m sure glad he wasn’t, because he kept flying from you to me and swooping in on me in a way that would have surely given me away, had it been the enemy and not you who was coming… What happened? You run into some sort of trouble up there?"
Nothing wrong down here? Except for you being half frozen, terribly short on water and having worked yourself nearly to death moving these rocks, you mean? This raven was a smart bird, coming for me when he did. I thought he was talking to me the way he kept swooping back and forth between us, trying to tell me I needed to come quickly. He knows when a person’s getting in trouble and needs some help realizing it… "No trouble, really. I ran into terrain that wasn't quite as I'd remembered it, that's all. Going up the way I did left me a big open space of steep rock to cross--probably two or three hundred yards of it with nothing but some little mats of willow for concealment--before I reached the level where we'd stashed the hide, and with that chopper still buzzing around in the distance and men on the main ridge, I sure didn't want to commit to that much time out in the open. So I had to inch my way over through the steep timber until I found a spur where the little trees went a lot further up, and I could make my way along without being out in the open. It worked but took so much longer than I'd anticipated, because those little trees were so tangled and close-growing, and the whole spur was chopped up here and there with little draws and ten foot cliffs I had to either climb or go around, both on the way up and again after I'd got the hide and was heading down...I'm so sorry for using our entire afternoon this way!"
Einar didn't say anything, just pressed her to him and kissed the top of her head, scent of her hair sweet like willows in the sunshine. "You're quite a mountain woman, Lizzie. Real proud of you. Did exactly what you needed to do. And got the hide, too."
"Oh I had no intention of leaving the hide, not after making that climb! But I'm sorry I made you worry by being gone so long...and this cairn had to be a tremendous amount of work."
"Ah, you didn't make me worry, really. Managed that all by myself. Just glad we're back on the same chunk of rock again, now."
"Why, because you've 'kinda got used to' me, just like you said about the raven?"
Einar smiled, got that faraway look in his eyes that Liz had seen a number of times but could never quite interpret, looked away. "Yep. Guess that must be it. Something like." And she didn't mind his answer at all...