Read The Shelters of Stone Online

Authors: Jean M. Auel

Tags: #Historical fiction

The Shelters of Stone (11 page)

“There’s not much to tell,” she said. “It was the ritual Creb always used when a person died and their spirit left this world. I was more concerned about the man who was living, but I wanted to do something to help the other one to find his way.”

“She took me to the place later,” Jondalar added, “and gave me some powdered red ochre to sprinkle over the rocks of his grave. When we left the valley for the last time, we went back to the canyon where Thonolan and I were attacked. I found a very special stone that came from the pile that buried him. I brought it with me. I hoped it might help you to find his spirit if it still wanders, so you could help him find his way. It’s in my pack, I’ll get it.”

Jondalar got up, went to his pack, and quickly returned with a simple leather pouch attached to a length of thong so that it could be worn around the neck, although it showed little sign of such usage. He opened it and shook two objects out of it into his palm. One was a small chunk of red ochre. The other appeared to be a small, sharp-edged piece of ordinary gray rock shaped somewhat like a flattened pyramid. But when he picked it up and showed the bottom unseen surface, there were gasps and looks of surprise. That facet was lined with a thin layer of milky blue opal, shimmering with fiery red highlights.

“I was standing there, thinking of Thonolan, and this rolled down the gravel slope and landed at my feet,” Jondalar explained. “Ayla said that I should put it in my amulet—this pouch—and take it home with me. I don’t know what it means, but it felt—it feels—as if Thonolan’s spirit is somehow connected with it.”

He handed the stone to Zelandoni. No one else felt inclined
to touch it, and Joharran actually shuddered, Ayla noticed. The woman studied it carefully, giving herself time to think and consider what to say.

“I think you are right, Jondalar,” she said. “This is connected with Thonolan’s spirit. I am not sure what it means, I need to study it more, and ask the Mother for guidance, but you were wise to bring it to me.” She was silent for a while, then added, “Thonolan’s spirit was adventuresome. Perhaps this world was too small for him. He may still be traveling in the next world, not because he’s lost, but because he may not be ready to find his place there, yet. How far east were you when his life on this world ended?”

“Beyond the inland sea at the end of the great river, the one that begins on the other side of the highland glacier.”

“The one they call the Great Mother River?”

“Yes.”

Zelandoni was silent again. Finally she spoke. “It may be, Jondalar, that Thonolan’s quest could only be satisfied in the next world, in the land of the spirits. Perhaps Doni felt it was time to call him, and let you return home. What Ayla did may have been enough, but I don’t quite understand what she did, or why she did it. I need to ask some questions.”

She looked at the tall, handsome man she had once loved, still loved in her own way, and the young woman sitting beside him who had managed to astonish her more than once in the short time since she arrived. “First, who is this ‘Grrrub’ you speak of, and why did you appeal to the spirit of a cave bear and not the Great Earth Mother?”

She could see where Zelandoni’s questions were leading, and because they were direct questions, she almost felt compelled to answer. She had learned what a lie was, and that some people could say a thing that wasn’t true, but she could not. The most she could do was refrain from mentioning, and that was particularly difficult when she was asked a direct question. Ayla looked down and stared at her hands. There were black smudges on them from making the fire.

She had been sure that eventually it would all come out, but she had hoped to spend some time with Jondalar’s people
first, to get to know some of them. Perhaps it was just as well. If she was going to have to leave, it would be better to do it before she grew to like them.

But what about Jondalar? She loved him. What if she had to leave without him? His child was inside her. Not just the child of his hearth, or even the child of his spirit. His child. It didn’t matter what anyone else believed, she was convinced, she knew it was his child, as much as hers. He had started it growing inside her when they shared Pleasures—the Gift of Pleasure given to Her children by the Great Earth Mother.

She had been afraid to look at him, avoiding it for fear of what she might see. Suddenly she looked up, directly at him. She had to know.

4

J
ondalar smiled and nodded his head imperceptibly. Then he reached for her hand, gave it a little squeeze, and held it. Ayla could hardly believe it. It was all right! He understood and he was telling her it was all right. She could say whatever she wanted about the Clan. He would stay with her. He loved her. She smiled back, her big wonderful smile, full of love.

Jondalar, too, had seen where Zelandoni’s questions were leading, and much to his own surprise, he didn’t care. At one time he had been so concerned about what his family and his people would think of this woman, and what they might think of him for bringing her home with him, he almost gave her up, almost lost her. Now, it didn’t matter. As much as he cared about them, as glad as he was to see them, if his own family wouldn’t accept her along with him, then he’d leave. It was Ayla he loved. Together, they had much to offer. Several Caves had already asked them to stay and live with them, including Dalanar’s Lanzadonii. He was sure they could find a home—somewhere.

The donier knew something had passed between Ayla and Jondalar, some kind of approval or affirmation. It made her curious, but she had learned that observation and patience often satisfied her curiosity better than questions.

Ayla turned to look at Zelandoni to answer. “Creb was mog-ur of Bran’s clan, the one who knew the spirit world, but he was more than just mog-ur. He was like you, Zelandoni, he was First, The Mog-ur of the whole Clan. But to me, Creb was … man of my hearth, though I wasn’t born there, and the woman he lived with, Iza, was his sibling, not his mate. Creb never had mate.”

“Who or what is the Clan?” Zelandoni asked. She noticed that Ayla’s accent got thicker when she spoke of them.

“The Clan is … I was … adopted by the Clan. They are the ones who took me in when I was … alone. Creb and Iza took care of me, raised me. Iza was mother, only mother I remember. And she was medicine woman, healer. Iza was First, too, in a way. She was most respected of all medicine women, as her mother and her grandmother had been, all the way back in unbroken line to beginning of Clan.”

“Is that where you learned your healing skills?” Zelandoni asked, leaning forward on the cushions.

“Yes. Iza taught me, even though I wasn’t her true daughter, and didn’t have her memories like Uba did. Uba was my sister. Not a true sibling, but still my sister.”

“What happened to your real mother, your family, the people you were born to?” Zelandoni wanted to know. Everyone was curious, fascinated, but they let her ask the questions.

Ayla sat back and looked up, as though trying to und an answer. Then she looked at the large woman who was regarding her so intently. “I don’t know. I don’t remember. I was young, Iza guessed that I could count five years … although they didn’t have counting words like Zelandomi. The Clan named the years beginning as babies. The first was the birthing year, then the nursing year, the weaning year, and so on. I put it into counting words,” she tried to explain. Then she stopped. She couldn’t explain everything, tell her whole life with the Clan. It would be better to just answer the questions.

“You don’t remember anything about your own people?” Zelandoni pressed.

“I only know what Iza told me. An earthquake had destroyed their cave, and Brun’s clan was looking for a new one when she found me beside a river, unconscious. They had been without a home for some time, but Brun allowed her to take me with them. She said I must have been attacked by a cave lion because there were four claw marks on my leg, with the wide spacing of a cave lion, and they were … running, poisoned, corrupted,” Ayla tried to find the right words.

“Yes, I understand,” the donier said. “Festered, suppurant, perhaps to the stage of morbid corruption. Cat claws tend to do that.”

“I still have the scars. That’s how Creb knew the Cave Lion was my totem, even though it’s usually a man’s totem. I still dream sometimes of being in a small dark place and seeing a big cat claw coming,” Ayla said.

“That’s a powerful dream. Do you have any other dreams? About that rime in your life, I mean?”

“One that’s more frightening, but hard to explain. I never quite remember it. It’s more a feeling, a feeling of an earthquake.” The young woman shuddered. “I hate earthquakes!”

Zelandoni nodded knowingly. “Any others?”

“No … yes, but only once, when Jondalar was still recovering, and was teaching me to speak.…”

Zelandoni thought that was a peculiar way to phrase it and glanced at Marthona to see if she had noted the odd expression.

“I understood some,” Ayla said. “I had learned many words, but I was having trouble putting all together, then I dreamed of my mother, my real mother. I saw her face, and she spoke to me. The learning was easier after that.”

“Ahhh … That’s a very important dream,” the One Who Served commented. “It’s always important when the Mother comes to you in your dreams, whatever form She takes, but particularly when She takes the form of your own mother speaking to you from the next world.”

Jondalar recalled a dream he had had of the Mother when they were still in Ayla’s valley. A very strange dream. I should tell Zelandoni about it sometime, he thought.

“So, if you dreamed of the Mother, why didn’t you appeal to her to help Thonolan find his way in the next world? I don’t understand why you called upon the spirit of a cave bear and not the Great Earth Mother.”

“I didn’t know about the Great Earth Mother until Jondalar told me, after I learned your language.”

“You didn’t know about Doni, about the Great Earth Mother?” Folara asked with amazement. None of the Zelandonii had ever heard of anyone who did not recognize the Great Mother in some name or form. They were all mystified.

“The Clan honors Ursus, the Great Cave Bear,” she said. “That’s why I called on Ursus to help guide the spirit of the dead man—I didn’t know his name then—even though he wasn’t Clan. I did ask the Spirit of the Cave Lion to help, too, since he was my totem.”

“Well, if you didn’t know Her, then you did what you could, under the circumstances. I’m sure it helped,” Zelandoni said, but she was more concerned than she showed. How could any of Her children not know the Mother?

“I have a totem, too,” Willamar said. “Mine is the Golden Eagle.” He sat up a little straighten “My mother told me that when I was an infant, an eagle picked me up and tried to carry me away, but she grabbed me and held on. I still show the scars. The zelandoni told her that the Golden Eagle spirit recognized me as one of his own kind. Not many people have personal totems, not among the Zelandonii, but if you have one, it is thought to be lucky.”

“Well, you were lucky enough to get away,” Joharran said.

“I guess I was lucky enough to get away from the cave lion that marked me,” Ayla said, “and so was Jondalar. I think his totem is the Cave Lion, too. What do you think, Zelandoni?”

Ayla had been telling Jondalar that the Cave Lion spirit had chosen him ever since she could talk to him, but he had always avoided any comment about it. It seemed that individual
totems weren’t as important to his people as they were to the Clan, but it was important to her. She didn’t want to take any chances.

The Clan believed that a man’s totem had to be stronger than a woman’s totem, for her to have children. That was why her strong male totem had upset Iza so. In spite of her powerful totem, Ayla did have a son, but there had been difficulties, beginning in pregnancy, during his birth and, many believed, afterward. They were sure he was unlucky—that his mother had no mate, no man to raise him properly, confirmed it. The difficulties and misfortune were blamed on the fact that she was a woman with a male totem. Now that she was pregnant again, she wanted no problems for this child that Jondalar had started, not for her or the baby. Though she had learned a great deal about the Mother, she had not forgotten Clan teachings, and if Jondalar’s totem was a Cave Lion like hers, then, she was sure, it would be strong enough for her to have a healthy baby, who would have a normal life.

Something in Ayla’s tone of voice caught Zelandoni’s attention. She looked closely at the young woman. She wants Jondalar to have a Cave Lion totem, the woman realized, it is very important to her, this totem. Totem spirits must have greater significance to these Clan people who raised her. It probably is true that the Cave Lion is his totem now, and it won’t hurt him if people think he’s lucky. He probably is to have gotten back at all!

“I believe you’re right, Ayla,” the donier said. “Jondalar can claim the Cave Lion as his totem, and claim the luck. He was very lucky you were there when he needed you.”

“I told you, Jondalar!” Ayla said, looking relieved.

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