Determined not to be away from Liz for any longer than the task required--didn’t want her feeling as though she had to do too much in his absence, and though the situation appeared to have stabilized, he was not yet entirely convinced that the danger of early labor had passed--Einar pressed himself up the slope with as much speed as he could muster, pausing only once, to collect the whitish-orange lumps and half-solidified amber oozes of pitch from a wounded spruce. Filling the space between two small slabs of aspen bark he collected as much of the sticky stuff as he could remove from the tree in a relatively short space of time, lashing the bark slabs together and tying them to the outside of the cache basket for the remainder of the climb. The pitch would be coming back with him to the cabin, as they had completely exhausted their supply in waterproofing the cache baskets, and needed it there.
The raven caught up to Einar shortly before he topped out on the red ridge, which he had climbed with the intention of concealing the cache in the last stand of timber before the great red expanse opened wide and windswept above. Making a wide circuit of the area, rasping, scolding and swooping Muninn made a dive at Einar’s head, pulled out of it at the last moment and came to rest in a nearby tree, his weight bowing its slender top. Einar laughed, hands on his hips as he watched the creature’s antics, catching his breath, glad for an excuse to set down the basket and take a short break from his work. The climb hadn’t been easy for him, and though he’d kept up a good pace, the increased elevation was having a noticeable effect on his breathing, ribs feeling as though they were squeezing and constricting his chest, preventing him from taking in enough air. Big improvement over the past several weeks, but still a challenge.
“Hi there, ya big vulture,” he greeted the bird. “Come to watch me hide this basket, did you, so you’ll always know where to find it in case you’re out flying and get hungry for some sheep jerky or bear fat? Smart bird. Still don’t know how you find me when I’m out and about, but you always seem to do it. Maybe in this case, Liz told you. Is that it? Liz tell on me when you stopped by the cabin looking for some grub? Send you up here to watch me, report in if it’s looking like I’m gonna be late or if I forget to have my supper on time? Ha! Good thing you can’t talk…yet. I’d be in some real trouble then, wouldn’t I, you flying back there and reporting me all the time for one thing or another?”
Muninn--not able to speak, though perhaps, Einar was beginning to suspect, not entirely unable to reason--did not answer, instead floating down and landing somewhat awkwardly at Einar’s feet, strutting about for a time and depositing something small and colorful on the granite-pebbled ground. Einar crouched beside the item, turning it over with a stick, chest tightening and breaths coming a bit more quickly as he inspected four inches of twisted red, yellow and white-insulated wire connected to a fragment of dark green circuit board, chips, resistors and capacitors all woven in with a variety of components that Einar did not recognize, and he might have dismissed the item as a scrap of electronic debris, the partial innards of a discarded phone or some such that had caught the raven’s eye at some campsite or other, had it not been for a round, squatty metallic item placed near the edge of the board, silver and as big around as a 9mm shell but only about a quarter as high. In its center the device had what appeared to be a small window, and Einar had seen its like before, knew that it was an infrared sensor, designed to pick up on temperature changes and send electronic signals in response. Part of a heat sensing camera or something very similar, near as he could figure, and he turned to the raven who stood quietly nearby, waiting.
“You’re spooking me here, critter. Where’d you find this thing? Where’d you get it?”
The raven just tilted his head, hopped closer and tapped at Einar’s knee with his beak, letting out a series of quiet rasps.
“Ok, yeah, I know you can’t tell me, but you’re gonna have to show me here in a while. Can’t just let this one go, hope it’ll be alright. You get this from the same place as that camo cloth you brought in the other day, I wonder? Bet you did, and I bet you’re trying to tell me something, too. Warn me. Wish I knew where you found this thing. How far from the cabin….”
Still the raven made no answer, and Einar got back to his feet in a hurry, giving the bird’s gift one final inspection to assure himself that it contained nothing which could identify and broadcast his location if left intact--did not, but he resorted to some quick and somewhat imprecise work with a heavy chunk of granite, just to be doubly certain--before slipping it into his pocket, hoisting the cache basket back onto his shoulder and continuing up the slope at something very nearly approaching a run. While the cache’s placement had been the original purpose of his climb that day, its importance had increased tremendously with the discovery of the sensor. Partial sensor. Wondered if the raven was strong enough to break off the piece he’d brought with him, didn’t doubt it, but knew there was at least some chance the bird had found the device already ruined on the ground, seizing on the most colorful or easiest carried fragment and carrying it along as an item of interest, much as a magpie or jay might be drawn to a bit of foil found in the remains of a campfire. Einar wished he had a better idea of where the bird might have found the item, knew that with his powerful wings and urge to wander, he could have picked it up anywhere within a thirty or forty mile radius, in the time he’d been away that day.
Maybe you’re over-reacting, Einar. Ha! Wouldn’t be the first time, you know… This thing might be what’s left over from a years-old trail camera left at the edge of a meadow somewhere by elk hunters or guides, torn apart by a curious bear and left for the ravens to pick at…but it doesn’t look that way, does it? Looks way too new, no rust on the metal parts or fading of the circuit board material…hasn’t been sitting out in the weather for long, that’s for sure. Looks like… He paused in his internal dialog, tossing a triple-corded and braided length of nettle cordage up over a high spruce branch, jumping to get ahold of its end and pulling, hoisting the basket up into its hiding place. Looks like I’m going hunting tonight, like it or not. Hope the bird’ll be willing to lead me back to the spot where he’s been finding this stuff. Wouldn’t doubt that he will be, interested as he seems in returning to the place. Assuming he’s been getting these things from the same spot, in the first place… Guess I’ll just turn him loose, try my best to follow him and hope he gets the idea that he needs to stay close, circle back and wait for me once in a while since I don’t have wings. Wish I could stop back by the cabin before doing this, let Liz know what’s going on but I really need to resolve this, don’t want to worry her unnecessarily as I would if I stopped by there all in a hurry to say that hey, somebody’s out there putting cameras and sensors in the woods, and I’ve got to go hunt them down, get to the bottom of it…better to just get it done if I can, go back to her with an answer of one sort or another. Already told her it may be tomorrow before I get back, and as fast as I made this climb--not even close to sunset yet--hopefully I can get this job done by sometime early tomorrow, make it back to her. And I may still stop by the cabin on the way, if the path leads near there. Just have to see which way the bird takes me.