Now that Liz had established beyond doubt that the presence in the clearing had indeed been Einar, himself, she began her search in earnest, again returning to the shelter to see if she might have missed some sign that he had visited there, but again finding nothing. Why had he returned, but failed to so much as approach the shelter to see if she was home? Silly question, probably, for surely he would have known the answer from quite some distance. Perhaps he had even spotted her tracks from that morning, when she had set out to run the trapline, and had followed, instead of heading into the shelter. Possible. But if so, where was he? Scouting the place to make certain absolutely no one had trespassed in his absence?
In any case, she hoped the goofy guy would very soon choose to show himself, knowing he would almost without doubt be in serious need of some food, warmth and rest after his journey. No sense making any further search for him. If he didn’t wish to be found for whatever reason, he would not be found, and her attempts might simply lengthen the time before he would choose, of his own accord, to walk out into the open and come home. All she could do was to wait, work on turning the day’s rabbits into a stew against the time when he would return. She wanted to make a fire, warm the place and prepare a feast of stew and stone-baked flat bread for Einar’s welcome home meal, but not knowing what he might have discovered in his wanderings and in what frame of mind such discoveries would have left him, it seemed wisest to wait on the fire.
Sun sinking low and the cold shadows of evening widening to fill the little basin, Einar sat and watched. Though his concern had at first been with the clearing, the shelter, with making sure no one had been there in his absence and laid a trap against his return, such things were now settled in his mind, and he watched only his back trail. Had set no definitive length of time for which he must maintain this watch, realized now that he ought to have done so, ought to go ahead and do so now, if he could, lest he end up staying the entire night perched on his wind-scoured section of high ridge.
Wanted to go to Liz without further delay, greet her, see his son, but knew once she got hold of him there would be no more quiet sitting and observing on the ridge that evening, and before he could settle in for the night, he must know that he had brought no one back with him. So, he waited. Cold up there, a sharp wind sweeping down from the peaks and singing lonely little songs in the firs, voice melding with their own until Einar could no longer tell them apart. Drifting. Near sleep. The realization startled him. Timing was all wrong. Could not sleep until the matter of his back trail was settled, and even then, must not do it here, crouched in the snow on a windy ridge-crest, within sight of home but without having availed himself of its shelter. Would be a silly way for everything to end. Silly, and quite inexcusable, and not too far off, if he didn’t get himself to his feet and break the inertia that had already begun securing him rather firmly in its grasp. Einar rose, stretched, grabbed for the nearest tree and hung on as he waited for the passing of the cramps that had seized both of his lower legs and feet, making it feel as though his toes were being bent up and back. They did not pass, and eventually he had to just move on, anyway. Difficult to walk like that, but not impossible. He’d done it before.
One last look over his shoulder, and Einar was ready to come down from the ridge. Had no reason to believe he’d been followed after his last contact with the biologists, no reason, in fact, to suspect that they had so much as seen him that time. He’d taken all reasonable precautions—save the one of entirely avoiding human contact in the first place, which he well knew he ought to have found a way to manage—and it was time to go home. Liz was looking for him. He could tell by the way she moved whenever she left the shelter, by her demeanor and the way she would stop every few steps and stare off into the timber, never directly at him, but sometimes too close for comfort. Clearly either she knew something was out there, or hoped it was, and in either case, he did not wish to keep her any longer in suspense. Could kind of use something to eat, too, now that he thought about it. If she had anything handy. If not, he’d have to be out on the trapline first thing in the morning, hoping for success.
Those last two hundred and fifty yards seemed a rather long distance to Einar, weary as he was now beginning to feel and with legs cooperating rather poorly, but he closed the distance, wanting somehow to let Liz know he was approaching, was a friend, and not to shoot, but never quite settling on what might be the most suitable means to accomplishing this. Mouth seemed rather too dry to get any words out, which was strange, as he’d been intending to drink water, was pretty sure he’d had some that day… Finally, nearing the shelter and seeing no sign of Liz outside, he settled on imitating one of the calls made so familiar to them by Muninn the raven, a harsh, rasping note which Liz surely would recognize.
Not only did Liz recognize the call of the raven, she responded in kind, hurrying from the shelter and staring for a brief moment in what appeared to Einar to be consternation—maybe she hoped it was really the raven, instead?—before her face lit up and she headed his direction.
Einar responded with a wild grin and tried to run to her but his legs would not carry him at anything beyond a slow stumble, so he did that instead, laughing as she caught him to prevent a fall, steered him inside. She wanted him to sit, rest, was asking about a fire but he had to tell her, let her know something about the situation.
“Biologists. Just…studying bats and that’s why all the…planes and the…”
“Ok, ok, slow down. You’ve got all night to tell me about it. Bat biologists, is it?”
“Yeah, real sure about that because I was in their tent and they almost found me but I got out the back and went…”
“Hey, hold on, you don’t have to get it all out in one long sentence, do you? Are they following you? Are they an immediate threat to us, here?”
“No threat. Not right now.”
“Good! The rest, we can talk about in a while. How about I get this fire going if they’re no immediate threat, and we’ll have some rabbit stew before we go on to anything else?”
Einar nodded wearily, sat down with his back to the wall and allowed Will—babbling and gesturing with great excitement at all the Urgent Matters about which he had to inform his father without any further delay—to crawl onto his lap.