Einar never did get his lily roots, but he did, at least, get adequate warning.
The men were not moving quietly, not, it seemed, even trying for stealth, and it was a good thing, or they likely would have walked right out on Einar as he crouched digging lily roots at the edge of the clearing. As it was, he heard the crashing and crunching of what he took at first to be a large, four-footed animal long before they neared the clearing, and was well-concealed beside the remains of a rotten spruce log by the time they stepped out amongst the newly-sprouted lilies. Same pair who had discovered him down near the creek. He knew them by their clothing, by the gear they carried, guessed they must have been behind him all the time, somewhere back there puzzling out his trail, to reach the place so soon after he had done so, himself. Now Einar knew why he had not been able to spot the men in the valley when he had every so often stopped to watch his backtrail. They had, by that time, already been too close. Had their apparent attempt to ascend the canyon wall been merely a ruse, then, designed to throw him off his guard and convince him that they had on intent to follow him? Was looking that way.
Close. Not fifteen yards from his position the men had stopped, stood together facing the rim and pointing at something through the aspens. Einar breathed a little sigh of relief. At least they weren’t pointing at him… He could not make out their words, snatched away as they were by a sudden gust of wind, but the way they kept looking at their instruments and turning one way and then the other seemed to indicate that they were searching for a signal, hoping to pick something up. From what? He squirmed around in his hiding place, desperately glancing over clothing, boots, pack, looking for the transmitter. Had a wild notion to ditch everything—clothes, footwear, pack, all of it—and stalk off as silently and quickly as possible into the woods so as to be far away whenever they got their bearings and located whatever bit of his possessions they had tagged that morning. Was looking like his only chance.
Backs to him, wind gusting again. That was good. Would cover any untoward movement he might make in accomplishing the task, prevent his being given away by a crackle of dry grass or leaf, an elbow showing briefly above the log which concealed him, would give him time to make his move.
Moving. Knife in hand and everything else left behind, Einar eased his way through the low vegetation, fresh spring-smell of sun-warmed soil rising around him and the newly sprouted vegetation gentle against his body—until he reached the rose brambles. Not so gentle, then, teeth gritted against the tearing and clawing but he had to keep going, had to reach the heavier timber farther from the opening of the meadow. Seemed his only hope, for surely soon his pursuers would sort out whatever trouble they were having with their instruments, and would find the things he had left behind. Timber in sight and body low to the ground, Einar covered those last few yards and rolled beneath yet another fallen log, this one with a bit of crusty snow remaining in its shadow. He did not care, barely noticed its cold bite on hips and elbows as cautiously he raised himself, looked back.
Locating his pursuers, Einar was puzzled at what he saw. Instead of working their way towards the spot where he’d left everything, they had turned in the opposite direction and were themselves nearly out of sight in the timber on the meadow’s far side. The sight baffled Einar. Was the move a trick, designed to flush him out? Probably. Perhaps they had somehow managed to get a look at the little pile of clothing and gear which held their tracking device, and realize that he was onto them, had already moved on. Seemed reasonable to think they might wait, under such circumstances, lie low and see if he would reveal himself. Well. He would not fall for that. Would out-wait them, force them to make the next move. He could do that, and did, not moving a muscle for the next twenty minutes other than to shiver now and then when all efforts at suppression failed.
Get hold of yourself. Breathe. Got to keep still. You can keep still, with enough effort. Trying, Einar succeeded, but the packed snow behind his log sure was cold on exposed skin, elbows yellow-white and bloodless when he checked, and he knew that while he could certainly out-wait his pursuers, he ought not necessarily try to do it right there in the snow.
Not far from the log which concealed him lay a jumble of firs, some of them ancient an fallen, others growing up from their midst, and it was to these Einar meant to travel, burrow down in the good, insulating layer of needles beneath and bide his time. Just had to get there without being seen. Inching forward so he could peer around the log rather than over it, he searched for his opponents. No sign. Move. He needed them to move. Scanned the immediate area, wider circles working out away from his position, but still no flash of motion or glint of metal in the crisp spring sunlight gave them away. Perhaps—near panic at the thought, he pressed himself into the ground, into the snow; must not run—they had already seen him and were working their way around behind, even then near to taking him. Still, silent, he listened, heard nothing. Then it came.
Only a single, momentary sighting, but it was all Einar needed, shifting his attention to the spot some two hundred yards distant and halfway up a low ridge of oak brush and leafless aspens. There they were, both me, unmistakable—and unmistakably walking away from the meadow. Waiting until they disappeared into a slight depression in the ground he crept stiffly out of his hiding place, scooped up his clothes and gear and ducked behind the cluster of firs which had been intended as his next place of concealment.
Einar shivered as he shrugged back into his shirt, parka, pulled pants into place and returned thorn-scraped feet to their socks, stepping into one boot and huddling for a brief moment on the ground before rising. Felt good to have his clothes back, strange and scratchy and warm against numbed skin, and he knew he’d really begin shivering in earnest before long, as he started warming. Strange, too, to have them back, with thoughts of tracking devices and miniaturized GPS units still so fresh in his mind. Maybe he was right in his first course of thinking and the men had backed off simply to put him at his ease so they could follow safely from a distance and move in when circumstances were more favorable. Like when he was too worn out to take another step. Or when the choppers came in with reinforcements… He shook his head, pulled on the other boot. Not likely, any of it.
Not likely enough to justify your leaving behind all your clothes and gear, anyway! Summer may be coming but it sure isn’t here yet, and you’d have one heck of a rough time making it through a freezing night without clothes or a fire, right now. Could do it if you had to, got to think that you could do it, but not today. Not without more cause than this. Just spooked yourself seeing how those guys came up on you like that at the meadow, after you’d thought they were still far below in the canyon. Would have spooked them too, no doubt, had they seen you! Just got to try and keep track now, not cross paths again. Seems very little chance at all that they would have had time during your brief encounter to secure a tracking device of any sort to your clothing or gear, even had they wanted to do it. You’re just feeling strange because there are some things you don’t remember from that time. Some missing moments. Definitely be best to avoid that sort of thing in the future, and if you want to avoid it, you know you’ve got to eat.
The lilies were off limits. Too risky to step out into the open and dig them, with those men still somewhere in the area. Too bad. The rose hips had given him a brief surge of energy, but already it was waning and he wished for more. More, perhaps, would come as he walked.