After much sorting, discussing and rearranging, the three men finally got their gear distributed and loaded up, dousing the fire, hanging their food it a tree against marauding bears but leaving the tent in place as they took off up the slope above, opposite to the spot in which Einar had concealed himself. Watching for a good ten minutes to be certain they had no intention of doubling back or returning to camp for forgotten items he inched backwards out from beneath the ground-hugging boughs of his evergreen hide, dreadfully stiff and cold and having quite a time of getting to his feet, when he tried. Good thing circumstances didn’t call for you to take off out of here in a hurry Einar, ’cause you would have been in some major trouble, and probably made an awful lot of noise in the effort, too, crashing and tripping through the woods unable to bend your legs and arms until you got the blood moving… Well. It’s moving now, or starting to. Can tell by the way my hands are stinging. Sure would like to scurry down there and crouch over the coals of that fire for a few minutes…still warm despite having water thrown on them, I can see the heat rising…but that seems tremendously ill-advised just now. If that place isn’t being watched by a remote camera or two it ought to be, and your ugly, scrawny hide’s probably the thing they’d most like to see show up on that thing when they get back. Make their job a lot easier if you come to them, now wouldn’t it? But you’re not here to make their job easier. Got to… he tried to take a step, leg collapsing beneath him and dumping him rather unceremoniously to the ground, where he sat for a moment half in a daze, rubbing a sore knee and trying to beat some feeling back into his numbed limbs, flexing arms and rubbing the raised scars on his wrists--usually white, even after all those years, but purple in the morning cold--where the ties had cut him nearly to the bone in places, and he tried his best to shove the memories aside; had too much to do just then and couldn’t allow himself to go back down that road.
Got to keep an eye on them, shadow them today and see just what they’re up to, if you can do it without too much risk of getting yourself spotted, ya clumsy old oaf. Which means warming up just a bit more before tailing them. Ok, on your feet again, swing those arms around and do a little dance or something, anything to get you a bit more steady on your feet because the more time you let go by, here, the faster you’re gonna have to move to catch up to those guys. Bite or two of food would help an awful lot, but there’s no way I’m going down there and lower the bear bag to get at their rations. That’s probably exactly what they want, isn’t it? Bait for the most dangerous prey… Nope. Not going for it.
Muninn had remained behind in a spruce overlooking camp when the men left and after watching Einar for a time he took flight, pausing behind a tree near the fire pit before dropping something at Einar’s feet and landing heavily on his shoulder, rasping a greeting and twisting a bit of hair just above his ear.
“Hi there, you old vulture,” Einar spoke in a voice nearly as hollow and raspy as the raven’s, dry for lack of water and barely a whisper, not knowing just what sorts of sensors and recording devices might guard the premises of the camp. “Had yourself a fine breakfast down there, didn’t you? Think you were making them kinda suspicious though, being so forward about taking their food. Making them wonder how come you’re so used to human critters, and I think Kilgore knew, don’t you? Yep, believe he’s got it figured out.” The bird, apparently frustrated that Einar had overlooked his gift and knowing the man needed to eat, hopped down and settled at Einar’s feet, snatching up the bacon and returning to his shoulder, all but shoving it into his mouth as Einar spluttered and coughed and sought to shield himself with his hands.
“Hey now, what’re you up to? What’s this? Ha! You scoundrel, that’s the stuff you stashed while they weren’t looking, isn’t it? Yeah, I’ll take it, and thanks. Since it’s right out of their breakfast supply, I think we can be pretty sure it’s not poisoned. Pretty safe bet.” Every bit as good as it had smelled, the bacon gave Einar an instant boost in energy and warmth, and when the raven returned with two more slices--generous bird, he must think I’m part of his family, or something--he finished them gladly, making sure to give Muninn bits of each.
“Ok, time to get going now. They’ve already got a pretty good lead on us, and I don’t want to have to rush this thing too much, get careless trying to catch up to them. Don’t know who they are, what they are--except for Kilgore, of course--but got to assume they’re experienced trackers and woodsmen with a good sense of what they’re looking for and a good bit of experience in terrain like this…not necessarily a good assumption, considering some of the folks I’ve encountered up here during the course of this search, but it’s always a mistake to underestimate one’s enemies, don’t you think?”
The raven just tilted his head, blinked his still, black eyes at Einar and took off, circling the camp before soaring up and over the timbered slope onto which the men had disappeared. Einar followed, circling high up the slope so as to avoid joining the woods anywhere near where the men had and then paralleling the trail but not using it, keeping a sharp eye out for anything the team might have left behind while moving at a good pace in his attempt to bring them once more within range. Of his eyesight, at least. He’d thought about doing more than observing, of course, considered stalking them until the terrain was favorable, getting them firmly within atlatl range and eliminating the threat altogether, but the thought had been a fleeting one and none too wise, he was pretty sure, as it seemed unlikely the men would be doing much real damage while under Kilgore’s guidance, had, if anything, more to fear from him than Einar, judging by the past exploits of the man while working for, with or near various elements of the search. Unless… Einar shook his head, didn’t want to entertain the idea, but knew he had to. Unless he’s gone and turned on you and really does intend to lead these fellows up to the cabin at some point, keep them hidden and waiting in the woods while he approaches and draws you out, gets you talking and at ease while he leads you right into their trap, and then it’d all be over … But he didn’t believe it, told himself that if any such had been Kilgore’s intention, surely he would have made his move during breakfast, while he and the two men were all but sitting on his head as they ate. Surely the tracker had been aware of his presence at that point, or had at least suspected it. His actions said so, as--Einar was pretty sure--did his words.
There. He’d caught up to them, saw a flash of movement from down below and went to ground, peering out from beneath a fallen aspen and watching as one of the younger men attached something to a tree, running a strap around behind its trunk and using what sounded very much like Velcro to secure it at the front. Too far away to make out exactly what the device might be Einar wished very much for the binoculars, which he’d left back at the cabin with Liz when he’d set out to conceal the cache, squinting and dodging to get a better look through the timber. A camera, he supposed. Or something similar. They were certainly putting a good bit of effort into watching that particular area, and he wondered what had caused them to focus on it, specifically. Perhaps, he thought, it was as simple as the fact that a major creek ran along the bottom of the valley there, and the slope on which they were working represented an easy approach to that creek if one was coming from the high country above, providing a relatively gentle path between bands of cliffs that would otherwise turn the trek into a major effort. Which meant that they suspected him to be somewhere in the area, somewhere near enough that the creek represented a tempting destination for him, and though a good distance from the basin and cabin--he would never have actually considered that portion of the creek a sensible spot to visit, living where they did, though it was most decidedly drawing his attention at the moment, as he’d had nothing to drink since sometime the day before, and was growing terribly dry and thirsty--that was all just a bit too close for comfort. Something must have tipped them off, drawn them to the general area and he remembered hearing one of the younger men say something about suspicious sightings, smoke and other things being reported, and it worried him, though clearly they did not have a particularly accurate fix on the exact location of those sightings, if they had anything to do with him and Liz and the cabin. Watching the three of them through the timber, he knew it was his job to make sure it stayed that way.