Muninn searched. He knew they were no longer in the mine, but neither, when he made several passes and sat for a time outside the big sliding glass doors in the living room at Bud and Susan’s, could he detect any sign of them at the house. The snow machines had frightened him when they came to the mines, and even when some instinct which told him to keep close to Einar had in some measure overcome the fright, he had lost them in the end. No way to keep up with the truck that had taken them away, and now the raven was at a loss. Splitting his time between house and mine he kept a lonely vigil, searching, in the evenings, the timbered land between, and sometimes flying all the way down to the spot where he had last seen Einar, down at the highway. The raven never did find anything which might lead him to his human charges, but it was through one of these daily vigils that he came to witness a most curious sight.
* * *
Einar woke before daylight the following morning and lay holding himself rigid against the cold as he watched the sky pale and begin going grey. East. Over there behind them was east, it appeared, for when he arched his neck and stared back through the gently swaying boughs of their shelter-tree, the silent, slow-creeping light seemed stronger. East. Well, it was something, knowing that. Even if he had no reference against which to measure the knowledge, no way to gain perspective on their new location. Needed to climb one of those ridges that he could begin to see in the strengthening light, soaring rocky and rugged above the area of meadow and timber where they were camped. That, or find the maps Kiesl had assured him were included in the drop bag that lay out there somewhere on the snow. Yes, that seemed a good plan. Find the maps, then climb a ridge and get oriented. He did not, under current circumstances, absolutely have to know their exact location, he supposed, but needed at least some solid idea of how near they might be to the things which might threaten to compromise their existence in this new place. He did not want to stumble unaware across some major hiking or skiing trail, for instance, and leave tracks that might make someone wonder. Not that he expected Kiesl to have dropped them to close to any such thing, but he had to know for himself; with daylight coming and danger of potential discovery increasing, the matter suddenly seemed urgent.
When Einar—wanting to scout their new home and possibly even find the bag before Liz woke; she would, after all, be wanting breakfast, and he had yet to see anything he might try snaring—tried to move it was to find himself dreadfully stiff, hurt of his injured leg returning in a wave which seemed to clench itself around his stomach and leave him fighting back the bile that rose in his throat. Well. Not such a good start, but things would get better. Would have to. Much of the stiffness would be a result of his tumble upon hitting the ground, and that, he could surely work out as he started doing a bit more moving. The leg was as yet an unknown quantity, aggravating, for sure, but hopefully not in the end too debilitating. Wouldn’t know for sure until he’d really tried to put some weight on it, and this he did not intend to do until he was well away from the camp.
Wriggling out of the bed and creeping out into the snow, Einar was glad of the ski suit with which Bud had provided him, a good deal more warmth and protection than he was used to having through the long, cold months of that past winter, and pretty handy when a fellow is having to drag himself through the snow, too. Out from under the tree and some distance from where Liz and Will lay cozy beneath their folds of parachute material he made a try at standing, succeeded, but only so with the help of a small dead aspen that stuck up out of the snow near him.
Not so good, Einar. Gonna take you a mighty long time to search the couple of square miles where that bag could have landed, if you’re having to crawl. And you’ll leave a real noticeable trail, too. Come on now, it’s just a little twist. Ought to be able to support your weight. Not that much weight to support in the first place, so that should help… Didn’t help, though, and after a few painful and disappointing tries, Einar resigned himself to the necessity of using some sort of prop, at least for the moment. The tiny aspen tree which had supported him in standing seemed a handy option, and rocking it back and forth he managed to free its tenuous grip on the ground. Turning the aspen pole upside-down so that the broken remnant of its single root might serve as a handle for beneath his arm should he need such, Einar set off, hobbling along the edge of the timber in search of the drop bag.
Dotted with the low-growing scrub oak he recognized as belonging to altitudes slightly richer in oxygen than that at which he and Liz had been dwelling for some time, the land met Einar with an array of opportunities for finding food and shelter, rabbit sign apparent beneath the oaks, the tracks of a small squirrel disappearing beneath a spruce where the animal had apparently been digging up cones from a hidden stash and once, catching his attention as it moved in the wind, a single turkey feather caught in a bit of rough orange lichen on the side of a rock. All hopeful signs, and seeing them, he found himself anxious to learn more of this new land, not only where, precisely, it might lie on the map, but what benefits and challenges it would offer them as they sought to make a new life.
The first of which challenges, it soon became clear to Einar, was to involve simple movement, itself, at least for him. Leg wasn’t getting any better, not losing any of its stiffness with use, as he had hoped, and before long he found himself reduced once more to crawling. Which meant he must keep carefully to the trees, not wanting to leave great, lumbering trails thorough the open snow, and between these two factors, the pace of his morning reconnaissance was dramatically slowed. No success, no sign of either the bag or his main chute, and he was not surprised, seeing as he was looking at the world from approximately the height and perspective of a lynx or bobcat. Surely you can do better than this. And he did, pushing aside the hurt as he rose, moved, settling into a hopping, shuffling gait which covered the distance far better than the crawl had done, and before the passage of an hour he had located the bag, studying it for some time from a distance before satisfying himself that no one had been near since its landing.
Thing was heavy, well-laden with whatever Kilgore and Kiesl had seen fit to pack, and Einar looped the lines around his waist, pulling, tugging and generally struggling to move the uncooperative bag through the crusty and rotting snow, but quite pleased at his success in having found it. Liz would have breakfast that morning, and he, hopefully, would soon know more about their location, and could begin making plans for their immediate future.