Authors: Jean M. Auel
Tags: #Historical fiction
Zelandoni wondered how Ayla knew that she had the correct herb without smelling it, but when she brought it to
her nose, she knew it was right. The donier poured a little into her palm, looked it over carefully to see if it was just leaves, or leaves and flowers, and if there was anything else in it. It appeared to be pure yarrow leaf. She added a few pinches to the wooden bowl.
“Should I add another cooking stone?” Ayla asked, wondering if she wanted an infusion or a decoction—steeped or boiled.
“No,” the donier said. “I don’t want anything too strong. He only needs a mild infusion. He’s almost over the shock. Willamar is a strong man. He’s worried about Marthona now, and I want to give some to her. I need to be careful with her medicine.”
Ayla thought she must be giving Jondalar’s mother regular doses of some medicine that she was watching carefully. “Would you like me to make some tea for everyone?” she asked.
“I’m not sure. What kind?” the older healer asked.
“Just something mild that tastes good. Some mint, or chamomile. I even have some linden flowers to sweeten it.”
“Yes, why don’t you. Some chamomile with the linden flowers would be nice, gently calming,” Zelandoni said as she turned to go.
Ayla was smiling as she removed more pouches from her medicine bag. Healing magic, she knows it! I haven’t lived near anyone who knows medicines and healing magic since I left the Clan! It’s going to be wonderful to have someone to talk to about it.
Ayla had originally learned healing—at least herbal medicine and treatments, if not matters of the spirit world—from Iza, her Clan mother, who was recognized as a worthy descendant of the foremost line of medicine women. She had learned additional details from the other medicine women at the Clan Gathering to which she had gone with Brun’s clan. Later, at the Summer Meeting of the Mamutoi, she had spent a considerable amount of time with the mamutii.
She discovered that all Those Who Served The Mother were conversant with both medicines and spirits, but not
equally skilled. It often depended on an individual’s own interests. Some mamutii were particularly knowledgeable about medications, some were more interested in healing practices, some in people generally and why certain ones would recover from the same illness or injury and others would not. And some cared only about things of the spirit world and the mind, and were not much interested in healing at all.
Ayla wanted to know everything. She tried to absorb it all—ideas about the spirit world, knowledge and uses of counting words, memorizing legends and histories—but she was particularly and endlessly fascinated with anything related to healing: medicines, practices, treatments, and causes. She had experimented with different plants and herbs on herself the way Iza had taught her, using knowledge and care, and learned whatever she could from healers she had met on their Journey. She thought of herself as someone with knowledge, but who was still learning. She didn’t fully realize how much she knew or how highly skilled she was. But the one thing she had missed more than anything since leaving the Clan was having someone with whom to discuss it all, a colleague.
Folara helped her make the tea and showed her where things were. They both carried steaming cups out for everyone. Willamar was obviously in a better state of mind and asking Jondalar the details of Thonolan’s death. He had just begun to retell the circumstances of the cave lion attack when they all looked up at the tapping sound from the entrance.
“Come in,” Marthona called.
Joharran moved aside the drape and looked a little surprised to see everyone gathered together inside, including Zelandoni. “I came to see Willamar. I’d like to know how the trading went. I saw Tivonan and you drop a big pack, but with all the excitement and the feast tonight, I thought we should wait until tomorrow to have a meet … he was saying as he approached. Then he noticed that something seemed wrong. He looked from one to the other, and finally to Zelandoni.
“Jondalar was just telling us about the cave lion that … attacked Thonolan,” she said, and, seeing his horrified look, realized that he didn’t know about the death of his youngest brother. It wasn’t going to be easy on him, either. Thonolan had been well loved. “Sit down, Joharran. I think everyone should hear about it all together. Shared grief is easier to bear, and I doubt that Jondalar wants to repeat this too many times.”
Ayla caught Zelandoni’s eye, tilted her head toward the first calming drink that the woman had prepared, then toward the second tea that she had made. Zelandoni nodded at the second, then watched as Ayla silently poured a cup and unobtrusively handed it to Joharran. He took it without even noticing as he listened to Jondalar summarize the incidents leading up to Thonolan’s death. Zelandoni was becoming more intrigued by the young woman. She had something, perhaps something more than a little knowledge of herbs.
“What happened after the lion attacked him, Jondalar?” Joharran asked.
“He attacked me.”
“How did you get away?”
“That’s Ayla’s story to tell,” Jondalar said. All eyes suddenly turned to her.
The first time Jondalar had done that, told a story up to a point and then turned it over to her without warning, she had been very disconcerted. She was more used to it now, but these people were his kin, his family. She was going to have to talk about the death of one of their own, a man she never knew, who obviously had been very dear to them. She felt her nervousness in the pit of her stomach.
“I was riding on Whinney’s back,” she began. “Her belly was full with Racer, but she needed exercise, so I rode her a little every day. We usually went east, because it was easier, but I was tired of going the same way all the time, so for a change I thought I’d go west. We went to the far end of the valley where the cliff wall began to level out. We crossed the little river, and I almost changed my mind about going in that direction. Whinney was pulling the pole drag and it was a
steep slope, but she’s surefooted and climbed up without too much trouble.”
“What’s a pole drag?” Folara asked.
“It’s just two poles attached at one end to Whinney’s back, with the other ends dragging the ground, and a sturdy carrier between the poles behind her. That’s how Whinney helped me carry things back to my cave, like the animals I hunted,” Ayla said, trying to explain the travois she devised.
“Why didn’t you just get some people to help you?” Folara wanted to know.
“There were no people to help me. I lived alone in the valley,” Ayla said.
The assembled group looked at each other in surprise, but before someone else could ask another question, Zelandoni interjected, “I’m sure we could all ask many questions of Ayla, but we can do that later. Why don’t we let her finish telling us about Thonolan and Jondalar now.”
There were nods of agreement, as they all turned their attention back to the stranger.
“As we were going past a canyon, I heard the roar of a lion, and then a scream, the scream of a man in pain,” Ayla continued. They were hanging on her every word, and Folara couldn’t be quiet.
“What did you do?”
“I didn’t know what to do at first, but I had to go find out who had screamed. I had to try to help, if I could. Whinney took me to the canyon. I got down behind a rock and slowly tried to look in. Then I saw the lion, and heard him. It was Baby. I wasn’t afraid anymore and went in. I knew he wouldn’t hurt us,” she said.
This time it was Zelandoni who couldn’t keep still. “You recognized a lion’s roar? Went right into the canyon of a roaring lion?”
“It wasn’t just any lion. It was Baby. My lion. The one I raised,” Ayla said, trying to make an important distinction. She glanced at Jondalar, and he was grinning in spite of the seriousness of the events she was relating. He couldn’t help it.
“They already told me about this lion,” Marthona said.
“Apparently Ayla has a way with other animals, not just horses and wolves. Jondalar says he saw her ride the back of this lion, just like the horses. He claims others have seen it, too. Please continue, Ayla.”
Zelandoni thought she’d have to look into this connection with animals. She had seen the horses by The River, and knew Ayla had a wolf with her, but she’d been seeing to a sick child in one of the other dwellings when Marthona led them to her place. They weren’t in evidence at the moment, and she had put them out of her mind for the time being.
“When I got to the back end of the canyon,” Ayla continued, “I saw Baby up on a ledge with two men. I thought both of them were dead, but when I climbed up and looked, I realized only one was dead. The other was still alive, but without help, he wouldn’t be for very long. I managed to get Jondalar down off the ledge and tied him to the pole drag.”
“What about the lion?” Joharran asked. “Cave lions don’t usually let anything come between them and something they’ve killed.”
“No, they don’t, but this was Baby. I told him to go away.” Ayla saw his look of stunned disbelief. “Just like I used to when we hunted together. I don’t think he was hungry anyway, his lioness had just brought him a deer. And he didn’t hunt people. I raised him. I was his mother. People were his family … his pride. I think the only reason he attacked the two men was that they had encroached on his den, his territory.
“But I didn’t want to leave the other man there. The lioness wouldn’t think people were family. There wasn’t room for him on the pole drag, and no time for a burial. I was afraid Jondalar would die, too, if I didn’t get him back to my cave. I noticed a steep scree slope at the back of the ledge, with a rock holding it back. I dragged the body there and used my spear—I used big thick Clan spears then—to pry the rock out of the way so the gravel would cover him. I hated to leave him like that, without even a message to the Spirit World. I’m not a mog-ur, but I used Creb’s ritual and asked the spirit of the
Great Cave Bear to help guide him to the Land of the Spirits. Then Whinney and I brought Jondalar home.”
There were so many questions Zelandoni wanted to ask. Who or what was a “grrrub,” which was what the name Creb sounded like to her. And why the spirit of a cave bear instead of the Great Earth Mother? She hadn’t understood half of what Ayla said, and found the other half hard to believe. “Well, it’s a good thing Jondalar wasn’t hurt as bad as you thought,” the older healer said.
Ayla shook her head. What did she mean? Jondalar was nearly dead. She still wasn’t sure how she saved him.
Jondalar could guess what Ayla was thinking from her expression. It was obvious Zelandoni had made some assumptions that needed to be corrected. He stood up. “I think you need to know how badly I was mauled,” he said, lifting his tunic and untying the waist thong of his summer leggings.
Although men seldom went entirely naked, even on the hottest days of summer, and neither did women, showing one’s bare body was not a concern. People often saw each other when they went swimming or took sweat baths. It wasn’t his exposed manhood that people stared at when Jondalar bared himself, it was the massive scarring on his upper thigh and groin.
The wounds had healed well; there was evidence that Ayla had actually sewn pieces of his skin together in places, Zelandoni noted. She had made seven individual stitches in his leg: four knots along the deepest wound and three more to hold torn muscles in place. No one had ever taught her, it was the only way she could think of to keep the gaping gashes closed.
Jondalar had given no hint that he had sustained such a serious injury. There was no limping or favoring of that leg, and except for the scars themselves, the muscle tissue underneath appeared fairly normal. There were other scars and marks on his body around his right shoulder and chest from the scratches and gashes made by the lion, and another apparently unrelated scar on his rib. It was evident that his long Journey had not left him unscathed.
They all understood now how severely Jondalar had been hurt, and why he had to be tended to immediately, but only Zelandoni had any idea how close to death he was. She flushed to think how seriously she had underrated Ayla’s ability as a healer and was embarrassed to think of her rather offhand remark.
“I am sorry, Ayla. I had no idea you were so skilled. I think the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii is fortunate that Jondalar has brought such a well-trained healer with him,” she said, noticing Jondalar’s smile as he covered himself again, and a small sigh of relief from Ayla.
Zelandoni was even more determined to learn more about this stranger. This animal association had to mean something, and someone that skilled as a healer had to be brought within the authority and influence of the zelandonia. A stranger like that could wreak havoc within the orderly life of her people without some control and supervision. But since it was Jondalar who brought her, she would have to take it slowly. There was much to learn about this woman first.
“It seems I have you to thank for the return of at least one of my sons, Ayla,” Marthona said. “I am happy to have him and grateful to you.”
“If only Thonolan could have returned, it would indeed be a joyful occasion. But Marthona knew when he left that he would not return,” Willamar said, then, looking at his hearth mate, “I didn’t want to believe you, but I should have known. He wanted to see everything, and go everyplace. That alone would have kept him traveling. Even as a small child his curiosity was too great.”
The comment reminded Jondalar of a deep concern he had long felt. Perhaps now was the appropriate time.
“Zelandoni, I need to ask you, is it possible for his spirit to find his own way to the spirit world?” Jondalar’s habitual worried frown matched Joharran’s. “After the woman he mated died, Thonolan wasn’t himself, and he did not go to the next world with the proper assistance. His bones are still under that pile of gravel on the eastern steppes, he had no
proper burial. What if his spirit is lost, wandering in the next world with no one to show him the way?”
The large woman frowned. It was a serious question, and one that had to be handled with delicacy, especially for the sake of Thonolan’s grieving family. “Didn’t you say something about some hurried ritual you performed, Ayla? Tell me about it.”