Early the next morning--earlier, even, than they’d been leaving to go on the trapline, for Einar wanted to be sure they were clear of large areas of exposed snow before the sun had time to soften it too much, rot it, make travel difficult and cause them to leave behind unmistakable trails in the snow--the three of them, led by Muninn, went in search of the elk. Far above them the raven soared at first, dipping, swooping, chortling and generally teasing them, knowing, Einar was quite sure, exactly what was expected of him but taking some perverse ravenly joy in delaying their progress. Finally he’d had enough, called the bird and glared at him as he made a final rollicking pass before perching on an outstretched arm.
“What’s the idea here, critter? You gonna show us that elk, or what? Wanting to keep it all for yourself, maybe? Couldn’t blame you too much for that, I guess. But surely you must realize you’ll never get to all of it before the other critters come in and do their own devouring. You’ll get more of it, in the end, if you go ahead and show us, let us protect whatever’s left.”
Liz wanted to laugh at him, reasoning with a raven as he was attempting to do, but apparently his logic must have had some effect on the creature, for presently he took wing, demeanor changed and an obvious purpose and direction in his flight. Through the timber Einar and Liz followed, Einar in the lead as he communicated now and then with Muninn, calling to him with rasps and chortles much like the raven’s own, keeping track of the bird, following him. Up through the timber they traveled, and by the time Einar realized that they were headed straight for the spring and dropoff, they had nearly arrived. Liz had been aware of the trend somewhat sooner, wishing the bird would take them in some other direction--away from the dropoff and that dead tree Einar had for so many days been wishing to visit; she knew, though he’d thought he was keeping the desire from her--but the bird showed no sign of deviating from his course. Until, that was, they had nearly reached the spot and the blackened, twisted form of the tree was in sight, at which the raven perched briefly on the topmost branch, launching himself with a rasping chorus and took off sharply to the right, down over the edge of the cliffs that dropped steep and in places nearly sheer to the basin below. Trouble. Einar stopped beneath a spruce, staring, shielding his eyes against the brightening sun and seeking the fallen elk, but seeing nothing. Muninn saw, circled, and then Einar saw, too, disturbed spot in a half-melted wind-drift up against a bank of low-growing subalpine firs where it appeared a number of creatures, both winged and four-legged, had been focusing a good deal of activity over the past days, and it was here, he knew, where they would find their elk. Or whatever was left of it. Might be little more than hair and hide at this point, polished bones and antlers.
“Looks like the doggone bird forgot we couldn’t fly,” Einar observed somewhat unnecessarily, kicking a bit of snow down over the nearest portion of the cliff while making sure to keep himself far from the abyss. Was different with Will on his back, daring feats which would have called and nearly compelled his action in the past appearing dangerous and unnecessary, and Liz saw it, and was glad.
“Yes, he took us right to the edge here, didn’t he? I guess we’re going to have to find a better way down, if we want to go see what he’s found…”
Einar squinted at the cliffs, the trees, slid Will around to the front and eased him into Liz’s parka. “This way looks alright. Want to wait here while I scout out the best way down?”
She did not want to wait, saw how he was swaying and stumbling and knew that if he went over that edge, it might be the last time she ever saw him alive. Which seemed quite an unnecessary risk over so small a matter as the possibility of the frozen and scavenged carcass of a winterkill elk, and she wanted to tell him so, but knew pointing out the risks would only be counterproductive. Best take another angle, and she joined him at the brink, critically studying the exposed descent before stepping back, shaking her head.
“It’s too open, don’t you think? Too much exposed snow. Even with it all crusty and hard from the melting and refreezing, we’re sure to leave some marks, maybe some really noticeable ones, if larger chunks of snow are brittle and break off, and fall…it would leave a mess that’d show up pretty plainly from up above, I would think.”
He hesitated at that, weighing her words, motivations, seeing right through her attempt at persuasion but seeing at the same time that she was right. Not something they ought to risk, not when there were other choices, and ignoring the raven’s outraged squallings, he led them into the timber to the side of the cliffs, zigzagging down through the steep but navigable terrain, seeking the basin.
Muninn was waiting for them when they emerged from the trees at the bottom of the slope, soaring lazily over his find as if awaiting permission to land and feast, wanting Einar to have a look at the thing first, and Einar, also, was anxious, not only to see what cold-preserved meat and hide might await their use, but the study through track-signs the comings and goings of the numerous predators and scavengers who had been traveling back and forth between carcass and timber, offering the possibility of yet another successful trapline location they might run for a few weeks before the advancing thaw rendered furs less and less useful. Stepping cautiously around the wind-sculpted bank which had been concealing the spot from sight since their reaching the basin, spear in hand and slightly raised lest he surprise some hungry and irate clawed creature at its meal and pistol at his side by way of backup, Einar’s excitement drained away in a hurry at the sight that met his wide-startled eyes on the other side of that snow bank.