Down in the canyon, no flickering point of orange appeared with the coming of darkness to tell Einar that the three visitors had settled in for the night, no glow of a lantern or headlamp, even, to illuminate the great cloth globe of the dome tent he’d spotted through the trees. Watching from his own nighttime refuge beneath a close cluster of stunted, wind-bent firs, Einar sat with chin on his knees and arms pressed close against his body for warmth, and wondered. Had the trio packed up and moved on? Did not seem likely, as the tent had still been standing when last it had been light enough for him to get a look, no one seeming in a hurry to do anything besides stand near the creek and attempt to catch fish. Unless that had all been a cover designed to get him off his guard so they could move under cover of darkness, scale the canyon walls and assail him in his sleep… Not looking too likely.
He shivered, drew bent knees closer to his chest in an attempt to conserve more heat and leaned forward until his ribs dug painfully into the bones of his upper legs, and he had to back off a bit. Half wished he’d brought something to eat. Would have made it a bit easier to get through the night. It was alright, though. He was used to the hunger, and the cold. Too used to them, Liz would say, for his own good, but he knew what to do with them, and was certain to find himself glad of this, before morning made its appearance.
Though the snow was fast disappearing, winter, he soon discovered, had not entirely released its grip on the high country, and with night winds sweeping sharp and increasingly bitter down from the peaks, he knew he needed some insulation to help him make it through the night. Had not been able to find anything dry to stuff between his shirt and jacket, when he’d searched earlier. Everything was damp with melting snow. Again he searched, feeling about in the darkness, dismayed to discover that his hands had gone too numb to be able to reliably differentiate between wet and dry. Paused and attempted to warm then under his arms, against his stomach, but to little avail. Didn’t seem to be a whole lot of warmth left in his body, and certainly none that near the surface, skin all icy as his body sought to conserve its remaining heat near the core, where it would hopefully prove enough to keep major organs functioning through the night. Well. No worries. He’d use damp insulation if he had to. Stuff would still trap some heat, be better than nothing at all, and he figured he’d better get busy with the project, too, before he really was left with nothing. No heat to trap.
Searching about beneath his cluster of trees and judging the resulting detritus more by the way it sounded than by feel—crunchy was good, soft and soggy less so—Einar managed to get a good bit of the stuff tucked in between his shirt and jacket, some in the legs of his pants, also, hoping by the added insulation to preserve a bit of mobility in his legs should he need to scramble up in the night and depart with little notice. Slightly warmer for the work he rested at the end of the process, again scanning the dark, yawning void of the canyon for any sign of life or light, but again seeing nothing.
As the dark hours progressed Einar thought he caught the occasional whiff of smoke rising from below when the wind let up and air could rise again from the canyon, but still saw no glow on either trees or rock faces, uninvited guests and their camp seemingly swallowed up by the darkness of the canyon, hidden in the void below. Too well hidden. He knew the effort required to conceal a camp, particularly if one is to have a fire, and these folks had clearly gone to that effort. Not the sort of thing that would cross the minds of your average backcountry adventurer, fisherman or birdwatcher. A concealed fire. Something he would have done, had done, on more than one occasion, he, and the people with whom he had so long ago trained and worked… Who were these people, then, these uninvited guests? Searchers who’d somehow got a tip about his presence in the area and had come for him? Hadn’t fit the visual profile, for sure, but he supposed that could have been part of their cover… If not searchers, then who? Kilgore and company, come to seek him out? Hoped not. Hoped no one, including the tracker, had any idea of his present location. Was their only hope of staying safe and undetected, really. He wanted to get in closer, observe the camp in the night and settle the question, but knew the risk involved in his attempting to descend the canyon wall by darkness, the sort of noise he might end up making should he dislodge a rock or two on his way down. Better to observe from above.
Rising, moving carefully there near the cliff-edge, Einar ducked out from beneath his shelter-tree and stood up straight, stretching, pounding numbed arms in an attempt to restore some circulation. Was used to spending long hours—days, even—in a well-concealed hide watching in patient stillness prey that had more often than not been human, gathering information, waiting until the moment was right, and this situation, he told himself, ought to be no different. But it was, largely due to the fact that Liz remained back at camp, unaware of the situation and surely wondering, by this time, where he had gone. Very much wished he had some way to let her know, but he did not. Further complicating the present situation was the simple reality that, unlike anytime he could remember in the past, lying on the ground for hours on end tended to bring consequences which he was increasingly doubting his ability to survive. The cold soaked in so quickly and thoroughly, and he, having never minded its presence and normally finding it a welcome companion, even, seldom recognizing that he was in trouble until it was nearly too late. Couldn’t be risking such things just then, with strangers nearby in the canyon and Liz not knowing where he had gone.
Finally warm enough to sit down again after a good ten minutes of pacing and swinging his arms Einar carefully approached the canyon rim instead of curling up beneath his tree, lowering himself flat on his belly at its brink and peering into the blackness below. Still no light down there, no fire-flicker, and only the sighing wind to be heard. Now that he’d managed to warm himself a bit, the improvised leaf-and-needle insulation seemed to be helping some, trapping the heat he’d generated and allowing him a longer period of stillness before more movement would be required.
Through the night Einar maintained this wearying routine, watching, resting, moving when he felt himself slipping too far into a hypothermic haze from which waking might be doubtful, and when at last the first paling of dawn began showing behind the straight-combed ranks of distant black spruces on the far horizon-ridge, he was ready to act on a plan whose details he’d spent the greater part of the night creating, refining, and reviewing. No more waiting, no more days spent hoping Liz wouldn’t choose to follow him, find him; he would move in close, determine the identity of these invaders, and from there, choose his course of action.