12 October, 2011

12 October 2011

Daylight. Barely, but it was enough, world gradually growing less black and the trees beginning to take on individual shapes again, standing out from the murky mass of the forest in bristle-topped rows and ranks around the spot where Einar had spent the night, and he stretched, rose, stood, took a few tentative, shuffling steps in an attempt to get the blood moving. Night had been rough, seeming to stretch on endlessly from the time when Muninn had awakened him--good thing that bird was here, or you might not be waking at all, this morning--in a series of repeated cycles, rise, stomp about and swing his arms to generate some heat, slump back down exhausted against a tree and rest until he was freezing again, deerhide around his shoulders and up over his head, resist the sometimes almost overwhelming urge to lie down and go to sleep, get up and start it all over again…but he’d got through it, and now could continue with his search. Hungry. He wanted to eat, but had long ago finished everything Liz had sent with him, body having needed fuel for its struggle with the cold and now he was out, would have to wait, hope to find something in his wanderings, a rabbit, perhaps, or even a handful of rosehips that might remain frost-sweetened and clinging to their brambly stem. If Muninn didn’t find them first. Speaking of the bird, Einar scanned the skyline, rubbing cold-cramped arms and searching for the familiar bulky shape amongst the treetops but not finding it, whistling softly, calling. Swooping down from some unseen location amongst the still-dark timber the raven rasped his morning greeting, landing on Einar’s shoulder and nearly toppling him over before he caught himself, leaning on his spear, steady.

“Well fella, where’re we headed this morning? Sure hope you’re not leading me on some wild goose chase, here. Unless of course we actually end up snagging a wild goose. Liz’d like a wild goose to roast… But for now, I just need to see where you’ve been getting all this stuff. Care to show me? Looks like we’re almost down to the valley already--good thing I guess, or I really would’ve frozen last night, instead of just repeatedly coming close--and I’m starting to wonder if this camp or whatever it is might be located across the valley and up the other side… Kinda hope not because that’s gonna be such a long walk, but at the same time, I’d like to think whoever it is has kept their distance from that basin of ours, and so far it’s looking like that may be the case. So what do you say? Time to get started for the day?”

The bird rasped softly, twisted a strand of Einar’s hair and hopped heavily onto his outstretched arm, Einar tossing him up into the air as had become the daily custom when the raven was ready to set off on his wanderings. “Take me there, fella.”

Though moving quickly as he was able in an attempt to get himself warm, Einar found it difficult that morning keeping up with the bird, Muninn pausing to wait for him here and there but clearly impatient, anxious to be off and going, and Einar wondered if he might have been raiding that camp--wherever it was--for more than cloth scraps and circuit board fragments. Perhaps it had become a source of breakfast. Didn’t sound half bad to Einar, and he increased his pace, zigzagging down through a close-growing mix of spruce and fir, beginning before long to hear the sound of running water down below a stand of still-yellow aspens, merely a whisper at first that nearly lost itself amongst the morning wind-sighs in the treetops, but soon grew in volume until it became unmistakable. He heard something else, too, the sound of human voices rising above the rustle of the water to reach him muffled, unclear but nonetheless unmistakable, food odors following the voices when the wind shifted; the raven had done his job. Good thing you didn’t give in and allow yourself a fire last night, Einar. One little downdraft and they could have been smelling your smoke, close as you were to this camp. Somewhat surprised you didn’t hear them last evening, hear something, but I guess the wind was blowing pretty consistently, would have scattered any noise they made. Well. Found the place, at least, and now guess I’d better work my way in close and have a look, try and get some idea of what they’re doing here. Probably just an elk camp, but I’ve got to…aw, hey! What’s that goofy bird got ahold of now? They’re gonna start taking shots at him if he doesn’t quit robbing the camp like this…

Muninn, diving over the dense screen of spruces that shielded Einar from the camp and moving as if he was indeed fully aware of the gravity of his misdeeds, came to rest on the ground, depositing what appeared to be a strip of bacon on the rock beside Einar and hopping back, tilting his head and watching as if waiting to see what he would do with the gift. Einar studied it, glared at the bird, smiled and shook his head. Bringing me breakfast now, are you? Hope you got some for yourself. Guess I’d better share, in case you haven’t yet. The stuff smelled wonderful to Einar after his long night out in the cold, so wonderful that his hands shook in anticipation as he snatched it up off the rock, still slightly warm but he stopped himself, a cold dread rising in the back of his throat at the possibility that the entire thing was a setup, his pursuers having poisoned the bacon, soaked it in bear tranquilizer or some such and tossed it to the raven deliberately, with the intent that he eat and be rendered incapable of escape. Which presupposed a knowledge of his presence on their part, but wasn’t that why they were there? To search for him, find, pursue and who was to say that they hadn’t been watching him as he huddled in his cold camp the night before, an array of sensors monitoring his approach to the camp and the raven--of whom they would have been aware, previously--playing conveniently into their plans… Yet the bird had carried the potentially contaminated meat in its beak and was, as of yet, certainly displaying no sign of distress, appeared to be behaving quite normally and surely if the bacon had been treated with something, it would affect Muninn at smaller concentrations, and sooner, than it would him… No way to know for sure, would all depend upon just what sort of substance they’d chosen to use and really, it was probably all irrelevant anyway because if they’d been able to develop such a plan they must have been watching him pretty closely in the first place, would have other plans should things not work out with the bacon. Which they were not to do, Muninn hopping up onto the rock and devouring the stuff before Einar could stop him, gone, every crumb of it, and Einar felt a twinge of regret mixed in there somewhere with the relief of no longer having to make a decision about whether or not to eat the potentially contaminated treasure...it sure had smelled good, the whole camp smelled good and gosh, was he hungry!

Quit it, Einar. Slow down here a minute and think about things. Now you know…or ought to know…there’s not much chance at all that they’re aware you’re in the area, or they would have moved in and taken you last night while you were huddled up practically immobile and not the least bit threatening under that spruce, and they didn’t, did they? If there’s even any “they” in the first place, here. Probably just an elk camp, still, and you’ve gone and let yourself get all frantic over a strip of bacon…ha! Now how about you go have a look at the camp down there before your goofy brain tries to run away with you again, and you end up doing something you regret. Like letting the bird eat up all the bacon. Bird ate all the bacon, doggone it, and now you don’t get any! And he wiped up the bits of solidifying grease from the cold granite where the prize had sat, sniffed at them but couldn’t quite bring himself to take a taste, something in the back of his mind still not entirely convinced that all was as it seemed. With his first glance at the camp, he was to become even less certain...

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