Working his way out carefully to the edge of the water-roughened limestone Einar kept low to the ground, creeping on his belly lest he risk skylining himself and perhaps being seen from below. Not much vegetation right there on the edge where the earth dropped away into the canyon some four hundred feet below—canyon was not as deep here at its head as out along the rim in other places—but he did find a small growth of matted fir shrubs, ground-hugging, wind, dwarfed, excellent home for pikas or chipmunks, but hardly shelter or concealment for a full-sized human. Well, good thing I’m kind of flat at the moment, kind of short on physical substance, because looks like I can worm my way in under these things and still get a view down over the wall, without leaving myself so exposed.
Slow going, Einar having to be very cautious not to knock loose limestone pebbles down over the edge, containing them with one arm and carefully sweeping them aside while using his other elbow to inch himself forward. There. Could get a look over the cliff, finally, world dropping away beneath him as he realized he had worked his way out onto a bit of an overhang, nothing but air beneath. The smoke was coming from down there, alright, though he saw no immediate and obvious point of origin, dispersed as it was by the boughs of numerous evergreens whose pointy green-black tops jutted up at him like braced lances. Watching, studying, something caught his eye, a little flash of movement some distance from what appeared to be the greatest concentration of smoke, something light-colored down there amongst the somber tones of the timber. The movement did not come again, but it gave Einar a starting point and from this he scanned outwards, looking for any further anomalies which might provide clues as to the nature of the person or people who were camped down on the canyon floor
Some ten minutes later, Einar had located the camp. Camouflaged tent tucked under the trees, well-concealed enough that it might have escaped his notice entirely, had it not been for the sleeping bag spread to air out in the sun on a boulder not far from the little camp. Pretty well camouflaged itself, it was a single patch of yellow cloth near the foot of the bag which betrayed to Einar its presence. Seeing the bag, recognizing its shape and once more scanning outwards Einar did make out the shape of the tent, seeing not the object itself but its shadow in the slanting spring light. So. He had identified the source of the smoke, but now what? Wished he’d brought the binoculars so he could have a better look, but that was not an option. Best stay right where he was, well concealed beneath his evergreen mat, and watch for a while. Perhaps even with his distant view, something would become obvious as time went on, some series of clues from which he might piece together the intentions of these intruders.
Stillness down below, sun falling in patches on Einar’s back where it found its way through the prickly fir mat, shining on his legs where they stuck out behind the vegetation, and in its warmth he began growing sleepy, muscles relaxing and the shivering which was almost always with him now slacking off and finally disappearing. No good. Mustn’t sleep. Wasn’t going to be able to manage a lot of watching if he was fast asleep under the tree-mats, and besides, should he wake and start moving about before he remembered exactly where he was, the results could be disastrous, a shower of little limestone pebbles raining down the canyon wall and alerting the camp to his presence—or worse. Might take the tumble, himself, and then there he would be, critically injured and at the mercy of whoever might be down there, having brought down a bunch of rocks with him and almost inevitably alerted them to his presence. He shuddered, momentarily clamped his eyes shut as if to banish the vision. Not the way he wanted things to end. These thoughts going a long way to banish the sleep that wanted to creep over him, Einar kept his field of view wide, eyes searching more for movement than for detail so he could cover a broader area, and after nearly half an hour of waiting, his patience was finally rewarded.
Attention drawn by a little flash of movement Einar focused his gaze on the creek where it emerged ice-edged and trickling from the timber, almost out of sight against the canyon wall down to his right. As he watched, two figures emerged from the trees, followed the creek for a time before stopping and appearing to crouch beside it. For quite some time they did not appear to move at all, Einar blinking heavily in the afternoon sun and again drifting dangerously close to sleep. Focus, Einar. No time for this nonsense. Shifting position slightly so that his hipbones came into contact with the limestone he hoped to be able to count on the discomfort to keep him awake. Doggone things were always bruised up anyway just from living and moving through the woods, all of his bones bruised and sore most of the time from being so near the surface, so what were a few more bruises, if they helped him stay awake? A worthwhile trade, for sure.
Still no movement from the pair beside the creek, strange, he thought, that they would crouch there for so long with no movement, and he tilted his head, squinted in an attempt to get a clearer picture and perhaps make some sense of what he was seeing. Ah. There. One of the figures, he was pretty sure, held a fishing rod, and in the next moment he was certain, for he saw the man (woman? Too far away to begin guessing on that one) rise from his crouch and make a motion as if to cast a line. Fishing, then. Not a very likely-seeming spot, what with the sluggishness of the icy creek, its waters not yet having begun to really wake for spring. In a few weeks it would, he knew, be a roaring torrent both there in the canyon and where it tumbled down the rough cut in the wall, making its way in a series of waterfalls and steep cascades down from the high lake above.
That lake, he expected, was probably stocked by fish in the summer by the Forest Service; he hadn’t ever ventured close enough to determine this for sure, but had caught glimpses of the body of water from a distance on his previous reconnaissance of the canyon rim. So, not entirely unreasonable that this pair should be fishing, but what had brought them to the canyon in the first place? Nothing too nefarious, surely, if they were willing to expose themselves thus along the creek bank. Probably just a couple of outdoorsmen exploring the early spring backcountry, and likely not a threat to himself or his family, so long as they took reasonable precautions with smoke and noise, for a few days. Not ready to leave yet, though. Wanted to watch for at least a few more minutes, see what might come up.
Cold now that he was no longer insulated from the ground by the branches which had been under him Einar soon found himself shivering again despite the patchy sunlight, fighting hard to hold himself still enough to get a good view of the canyon floor, wanted to edge backwards so that the sun might fall on him slightly more fully, but what he saw the next moment was enough to banish both this notion and any sleepiness that might have remained.
* * *
Down on the canyon floor a third joined the pair by the creek, camouflaged jacket unzipped in the warmth of the still air and binoculars around his neck, raising them, scanning the rim.