Quiet in the canyon as Einar picked his way down through the willows, knife in hand and the walls soaring above him, seeming to hem him, making him feel trapped. Might well be trapped, if he didn’t work this just right. Might regardless, should reinforcements be on the way after whoever those men had contacted by radio. He must act quickly if he was to retrieve any portion of his gear ahead of those additional men. Wished his head was feeling a bit clearer, less bogged down in the remains of whatever unpleasantness had grabbed him upon waking, and his apparent inability to do make it so angered him some. The anger helped, brought a sharpening of senses and a quickening of his step, and he took full advantage of the moment, knowing it might not last.
Low through the willows and up into the timber near the place where he’d slept, no sign of the men but he knew they had to be out there, perhaps lying in ambush at some natural chokepoint in the canyon or—which seemed more likely, given their actions in first encountering him—continuing with the work that had originally brought them to the canyon floor, and not giving him too much mind. He could hope for this, but must take nothing for granted, especially after he’d seen them make radio contact. Well. At least there were no helicopters. Yet.
Right group of trees, plain to see now in the full daylight, and Einar slowed his pace, expecting the ambush but not seeing an obvious spot from which the men would be likely to make their move. He had chosen his sleeping spot well. If only he’d been awake when trouble had come. Before it had come. No one home, area clear, best as he could determine, and there was his pack exactly as he’d left it, moose haunch even appearing undisturbed save for his hacking and shaving of meat the previous evening, and when he probed carefully with a foot there was the pistol as well, hidden in the spruce needles beside his bed. A quick inspection told him they had never discovered it. A relief, and he took his leave of the place, slipping in to the timber and heading down the canyon.
After several minutes of careful travel he stopped, puzzled at his lack of contact with the two men and not entirely trusting the situation. Seemed he should have run across them by then, or they across him, and the fact that neither of these had to his knowledge happened left him suspicious, expecting an ambush. Perhaps they had been following him the entire time.
He stopped, crouching low behind a knot of wild rosebushes, and waited. Feet hurt. He wondered why, realizing only when he inspected his boots that they were soaked through with water from his escape that morning, when he’d run through the swampy willows. Boots were mostly frozen, and he knew if not for their good felt linings, his feet surely wouldn’t have been far behind. Might not be, anyhow, the way things were going. He needed to move, generate some speed to warm himself, but that was not an option just then. Had to find his pursuers, if indeed the men were pursuing, figure out their strategy and counter it. Not long to wait, on the first count. Heard them before they became visible, feet crunching through a remaining bank of snow seemingly without the slightest heed of the racket they were making, unaware, too, of the armed man watching them from behind the brambles. Their actions did not make a lot of sense to Einar. Just walking casually down along the creek—meant he’d unknowingly passed them in his own flight, which he found immensely unsettling—and stopping out in a little clearing not twenty yards from his own position.
Entirely oblivious to their precarious situation the two men carried on an animated conversation in the clearing, one pointing and gesturing at the canyon wall where it rose orange and vertical above the nearer phalanxes of yellow-green hued spring willows and the dark timber just above them. Apparently unsatisfied with verbal descriptions the man’s companion pulled out a map and spread it on the driest portion of a nearby granite boulder.
The men were near enough for Einar to pick up snatches of conversation, something about the limestone layer which extended some two hundred feet down from the canyon rim before giving way to granite, and how they needed to get up to there to explore a particularly interesting-looking cave entrance that had been spotted from up at the camp. Einar, struggling to catch all the details as the wind picked up, wondered if this cave might have been the one in which he and Liz had briefly taken refuge upon first dropping down into the canyon, driven by that storm and needing a wind-free place to pass the night. There had, as he remembered, been a fair amount of bat sign in the place, and this might have been observed from the other side.
The wind really came up then, snatching away the scientists’ words and nearly taking their map, too, before they got it folded away, Einar able to make out no more of the conversation. Neither could he very well leave, sparse timber not providing enough concealment should he leave the cover of the brambles, so he waited, crouching, huddling against gusts which seemed to tear straight down the canyon, funneled and intensified by its high, sheer walls.
Sun was up on the far canyon rim. Hours before it would reach the floor. Einar shivered, shifted his weight to allow the blood to return to his left foot and wished the men would move on, so he could do the same. Couldn’t feel the toes anymore. Wished he had something to eat. That would have helped. But he had nothing. Chewed experimentally at the shriveled remains of last year’s rose hip on one of the bushes behind which he had concealed himself. Had to stop with one, because the thing was so dry that it threatened to set him to coughing, which would have been a real problem, close as those men remained. Picked a handful and stashed them in his pocket for later.
Needed to move, and not just because he was freezing. Barely noticed that anymore, to tell the truth. Which he knew was not good, but it was the truth. Needed to move because every minute he spent pinned down there was more time for the enemy, or the rest of the bat biologists, or whoever on earth they had contacted with that radio, to make their way down into the canyon and cut him off from escape. He couldn’t go up. Couldn’t risk leaving a trail that would ultimately lead them closer to Liz, couldn’t climb the walls where he was because they were far too exposed, no good chutes full of timber and tumbled rock to conceal his exit. Best plan appeared to involve getting out ahead of these men, below them, and making for the lower reaches of the canyon. From there he could hope to find a route up and out which would offer more cover, hide out near the rim for a couple of days to make sure he hadn’t been followed, and carefully work his way back home. If only the men would move.