They did not have to wait long. Shortly after first light and before the sun came up Einar thought he could begin to hear a distant hum, faint, intermittent because of the terrain but then he was sure, pressing himself, and Liz and Will, up against the trunk of a dense, low‐branched fir so as to avoid detection until they could get a good look at whatever was skimming the treetops.
Roger—for it was indeed Roger, and he appeared to be alone—made one low pass of the meadow, banked, doubled back and set the little plane down neatly in its center, coming to rest safely but with little room to spare just before the trees, turning, positioned for takeoff before powering down. Unmoving, Einar watched as the pilot exited his plane, walked once around it, scanning the treetops and settled in, leaning, facing their hiding place, looking as if he expected to be there for a while. Not much else they could do, Einar realized, to assess the situation, and little purpose in further waiting; the point of decision had come. He turned to Liz, who met him with such a mix of hope, excitement and pleading in her eyes that even he, who normally found himself all but oblivious to such visual cues from other humans, could not miss or misinterpret her desires.
"You really want to do this..."
"I want to do it. Let's do it, Einar."
"What about the raven?" Muninn, who sat silent and solemn on Einar's shoulder, cocked his head and chortled softly at the mention of his name.
"Take him. He could make the flight, couldn't he, if we kept him still and quiet?"
Einar nodded, and Liz pulled off her stocking cap, handed it to him. "To put over his head and keep him still. So he doesn't panic. Do you need one, too?"
A slight hint of a crooked smile from Einar, though his eyes were very still when he looked at her, almost frighteningly distant. He shrugged, shivered, shook his head. "Been in plenty of planes. I'll make it."
He left the timber then, rifle at the ready, approaching Roger from his blind side, behind the plane, Liz and Will waiting in concealment until he gave them the signal.
"You're alone." He spoke not three feet from Roger's left shoulder, causing the pilot to crouch and whirl on his heels, simultaneously drawing a pistol whose presence Einar had suspected, but not been able to see, from the woods.
"Doggone it, man! Why you son of a slub‐skegged, glabrous‐pated, midden munching GOAT! Yeah. Alone. Hey, you almost got yourself shot right there. What were you thinking?"
Einar shrugged, leaned back against the plane. "Just testing your responses, that's all."
"Right. I'll thank you for it later, huh?"
"Right. Now, what happened to the others?"
"Two of 'em took Bud's truck and headed for Arizona by highway, last night. Wanted to get there ahead of us and check things out, make sure it was all as they had left it, and besides, this gives me more leeway with cargo."
Sounded ok to Einar, and he beckoned for Liz to join them. Roger watched her walk, tilting his head and critically examining her pack.
"This is not gonna be the ideal sort of weight distribution, especially for up here in the mountains. Better if one of you could ride up front with me, but that isn't a good idea, so we'll make it go. Need to put both packs up front, though, and anything else heavy that you've got with you."
The pilot hefted Liz's pack, then Einar's, estimating weights. "Good," he grunted, "good and heavy, help with balance. The lot of you together probably weigh...what? Twelve or thirteen for the little one, and maybe one‐seventy, one‐seventy‐five‐between the two of you?"
Einar gave a humorless chuckle, shook his head. "Not even. Knock off another twenty and you might be getting close."
"Yeah. Good. Helps a lot, today. Got to fix that real soon here ya crazy heap of animated bones, but not before this flight, ok? No eating before the flight."
"Now. I'm staying low so you folks'll have plenty of oxygen, but it's gonna be cold. You need to get anything else out of these packs before I load 'em, warm stuff for the flight?"
"Nah, I'll be...."
"Yes, we do." Liz was already digging in her pack, pulled out Will's blanket and another hat for herself, tried to get Einar into another layer but he was too busy walking around the plane, crouching, inspecting.
"Hey, that's my job," Roger snarled in mock outrage. "Get away from my plane."
Einar stood, stretched. "I didn't touch anything. Just looking for transponders."
"Transponders? Find any?"
"Speaking of transponders, your truck still out at the airport?"
"No, I took it to Bud and Susan's last night and left it. Kinda seemed like some funny business going on there yesterday at the airport with the service trucks and all, but nobody had tampered with it. Didn't seem like a good idea to leave it there indefinitely, especially after somebody supposedly heard reports on a police scanner about one of the airport trucks going missing yesterday...didn't want to arouse anyone's suspicion."
"Went missing, did it?"
"Well, they'll find it...eventually."
"I bet they will."
"So if you moved your truck, I guess you got the crates..."
"Look for yourself."
Einar looked. No crates. Relieved. Would have felt so trapped in one of those crates. So confined. Besides which they would have messed up the load even further made weight distribution more difficult. Which must have been why Roger finally decided against their use. The concept, though, had been a useful one. Concealment. Given the nature of the cargo, concealment of some sort was essential, and now they would be left to use the duffel bags which lay folded and ready.
Roger was ready to go, peering up at a few high streamers of cloud which had recently appeared from behind the horizon, and looking anxious. "We doing this?"
One last glance at Liz, at little Will, entirely enthralled by the plane and striving his hardest to reach up and touch a wing, and Einar nodded, took a step towards the plane and nearly fell when he stumbled over some not‐quite‐visible irregularity in the soil. Roger caught him, a firm hand on his wrist.
"You sure you're ok, man? You kinda feel like ice. Maybe you should eat before the flight."
"Huh? No, I'm fine. Let's get airborne, before your cargo changes its mind..."
Into the bags, then, they slithered with some difficulty in the close confines of the plane, Muninn secured somewhat unhappily in Liz's hat, Will going in with Liz and Einar taking the rifle with him, despite some degree of consternation from Roger, who really did not want holes in his aircraft should such be at all avoidable... They were ready to go, then, roughness of the meadow beneath Roger's tundra tires, a bump as they left the ground and then the smooth nothingness of rapid ascent as the powerful little plane climbed, banked, headed south.