Muninn did not care about the potential sensors that might be placed around that camp, guarding it, ready to alert its inhabitants to any attempted intrusion, nor did he place much value on stealth. He just wanted more of that bacon, and was determined to get it. Sailing down over Einar’s head and letting out a greeting as he passed--quiet, you fool bird, or you’re gonna get us both killed--he floated boldly into camp, hopping silently up to the fire and giving the man beside it a hard peck in the side of the leg. Startled, the man drew a pistol--never even leaving the low crouch in which he’d been tending the fire--and whirled about on the bird, a move that led to bits of suppressed laughter from his companions and a cold feeling in the pit of Einar’s stomach. Definitely not looking much like elk hunters… The man cursed, tucked the pistol back into his waistband and rose, swatting at the raven with a burnt-ended stick and scowling in the direction of his companions, muttering something that Einar could not begin to pick up from his distant spot of concealment. Seeing that the men were distracted, thoroughly absorbed in poking fun at their over-zealous cook and tossing bits of food to the raven, Einar recognized his opportunity and eased forward, still wary of the possibility that the camp was somehow guarded but needing very badly to close the distance just a bit, just enough that he might be able to make out some of what the men were saying, get a better idea of their purpose there in his mountains.
Stalking down through the timber, sometimes on hands and knees and occasionally moving at a careful crouch--wasn’t working too well, legs cramping badly after his time lying still on the cold ground, but he kept at it--Einar slowly drew nearer the camp, worming his way in beneath a ground-creeping mat of evergreen that skirted around its upslope edge, heart pounding too loudly in his ears to hear much of the conversation, even though definitely now near enough to do so. Lying flat on his stomach and taking big, deliberate breaths in an attempt to increase his oxygen and get his hearing back he used the time to make a visual survey of the camp, seeing that the cook and his companion were rather young-looking fellows, not quite at home in the woods from the way they carried themselves but certainly possessed of a certain degree of wariness and awareness that separated them from the typical untrained hiker, camper or once-per-year hunter one might encounter that time of year. The third occupant of the camp was older, moved a bit stiffly but with great confidence and Einar wished he might get a better look at the man’s face, which was obscured by a wide-brimmed boonie hat that he’d pulled down over his watch cap, until it nearly covered his eyes. Man wouldn’t cooperate though, wouldn’t turn towards him and then before Einar could do anything about it the man was a good bit closer than he would have wished, both of them were, the two who weren’t doing the cooking, approaching and taking seats on a log not at all far from him, backs to him but far too close for comfort. And still he hadn’t got a good look at the older man, as he’d been too busy pressing his face into the ground as they approached, trying to keep hidden.
Breakfast was still cooking and Muninn wouldn’t let the issue go, kept hopping closer, dodging the cook as he tried to secure himself an additional taste of breakfast. Einar couldn’t blame him; the stuff smelled awfully good, but he was concerned for the raven, worried that the men might tire of his intrusion and do him some harm. Which they did not appear particularly inclined to do, but the thing that came next worried Einar even more, left him pressing himself into the ground, digging his fingers down into the fragrant spruce-scented earth as if to disappear into it.
“Bold bird, isn’t it? Almost like it’s accustomed to robbing human camps, which seems a little odd, way up here…” The two younger men exchanged knowing glances, nodding, looking pleased with themselves as if they’d just made some great discovery, and Einar did not like it at all. Had his suspicions as to what they might mean and he wanted out, was ready to be up and away from the camp but there was a bit of a problem; he’d worked his way in too close, risked detection if he rose to go before the men moved from their log-seat, so he kept still, hoping very strongly Muninn wouldn’t notice him there, take a notion to hop over and say “hello.” Or bring him more bacon.
“Aw, you’d be surprised,” the older man chimed in, “just how fancy some of them elk camps can get up in here. Outfitters coming up a month ahead of time just to scout and set up and get things all ready for their clients, and they eat well, too. Cook up quite a feast most nights, so it doesn’t much surprise me that a could get used to that life, start hanging around camps. Smart fellow, I’d say.”
“Same ‘smart fellow’ who’s been getting into our remote camera sites and tearing them up, do you think?” It was the cook asking, back to the fire, sizzling bacon momentarily forgotten, Muninn edging closer, steeling himself to brave the flames and snatch a slice. “Because the damage we’ve been seeing sure doesn’t look to me like it could have been caused by any bird.”
“Must be the bears. Bears this time of year, they’ll eat practically anything, you know, getting ready for hibernation. Try to eat it, anyway. Why, I was on a job up north of here one fall, and down in the town there was this popcorn cart--more like a wagon, really--where they sold popcorn, snacks, hot cocoa and such on one of the street corners…well, one night a bear got into that thing when it was all closed up, tore open one of the panels where they stored the food and by all accounts that crazy critter ate the entire contents of a fifty pound sack of cocoa they had in there…guess they found him in the bushes not far away the next morning, real sick and sluggish and covered in brown powder--ha! Chocolate covered bear!--but with a smile on his furry face. So it don’t surprise me too much that we’ve had a bear crunching on some of our cameras and such. Bound to lose a few that way, and that’s why I just couldn’t let you boys come up here alone on this one, not with the hills all full of hibernation-crazed bears just lookin’ to take a bite out of someone. Not safe. It’s one of the least safe times of year up here, avalanche season excepted, of course, and that’s even without the possible presence of a certain human critter who shall for the moment remain nameless, but even if he is lurking around here somewhere, our biggest dangers come from the environment, really. From coming out here unprepared and expecting the place to conform to our needs and desires…it’s the biggest mistake a fella can make out here, you know? Failing to properly respect the mountains, falling into the mistaken notion that nature gives a darn, ’cause it doesn’t. Nope, we’re on our own out here, and better not forget it.”
Einar shook his head, shivered at the chill of the ground that was beginning to sink into his bones, the slightest hint of a twisted grin tugging at the corner of his mouth as he rested his forehead on the soil. Hibernation-crazed bears? Right… He recognized that booming voice, wondered how Bud Kilgore had managed to get himself assigned to this particular surveillance and scouting crew. And why…