Read The Shelters of Stone Online

Authors: Jean M. Auel

Tags: #Historical fiction

The Shelters of Stone (12 page)

Why does she or this Clan put so much importance on the Spirit of the Cave Lion? Or the Cave Bear? Zelandoni wondered. All the spirits are important, those of animals, even those of plants, or insects, everything, but it is the Great Mother who gave birth to them all. Who are these people? This Clan?

“You did say you lived alone in a valley, didn’t you? Where was this Clan that raised you, Ayla?” the donier asked.

“Yes, I’d like to know, too. Didn’t Jondalar introduce you as Ayla of the Mamutoi?” Joharran said.

“You said you didn’t know the Mother, but you greeted us with a welcome from ‘The Great Mother of All,’ which is one of the names we give Doni,” Folara added.

Ayla looked from one to the other, then at Jondalar, feeling a touch of panic. There was a hint of a grin on his face, as though he was rather enjoying the way Ayla’s truthful answers baffled everyone. He squeezed her hand again, but didn’t say anything. He was interested in how she would respond. She relaxed a bit.

“My clan lived at the south end of the land that extended far into Beran Sea. Iza told me just before she died that I should look for my own people. She said they lived north, on the mainland, but when I finally did look for them, I couldn’t find anyone. The summer was half over before I found the valley, and I was afraid that the cold season would come and I wouldn’t be prepared for it. The valley was a good place, protected from winds, a small river, lots of plants and animals, even a small cave. I decided to stay for the winter, and ended up staying for three years, with only Whinney and Baby for company. Maybe I was waiting for Jondalar,” she said, smiling at the man.

“I found him in late spring; it was near the end of summer before Jondalar was well enough to travel. We decided to make a small trek, explore the region. We made camp each night in a different place, going farther from the valley than I had gone before. Then we met Talut, the headman of the Lion Camp, and he invited us to visit. We stayed with them until the beginning of the next summer, and while I was there, they adopted me. They wanted Jondalar to stay, too, and become one of them, but even then, he was planning to return.”

“Well, I’m glad he did,” Marthona said.

“It seems you are very lucky, to have people so willing to adopt you,” Zelandoni said. She couldn’t help but wonder at the strange story Ayla was telling. She wasn’t alone in her
reservations. It all seemed rather farfetched, and she still had more questions than answers.

“At first, I’m sure it was Nezzie’s idea—she was Talut’s mate. I think she convinced him because I helped Rydag when he had a bad … problem. Rydag was weak in …” Ayla didn’t know the correct words and was frustrated. Jondalar had never taught them to her. He could have given her precise words for various kinds of flint, and specific words for the processes of shaping it into tools and weapons, but medicinal and healing terminology was not a part of his normal vocabulary. She turned to him and spoke to him in Mamutoi. “What is your word for foxglove? That plant I always collected for Rydag?”

He told her, but even before Ayla could repeat it and attempt to explain, Zelandoni was sure she understood what had happened. As soon as she heard Jondalar say the word, she knew not only the plant, but its uses. She had a good idea that the person Ayla was talking about had an internal weakness with the organ that pumped blood, the heart, that could be helped by the proper extraction of elements from foxglove. It also made her realize why someone would want to adopt a healer who was skilled enough to know how to use something as beneficial, though potentially dangerous, as that plant. And if that someone was in a position of authority, as a headman’s mate would be, she could understand how Ayla might be adopted so quickly. After listening to Ayla tell essentially what she had guessed, she made another assumption.

“This person, Rydag, was a child?” she asked, to confirm her final speculation.

“Yes,” Ayla replied, feeling a moment of sadness.

Zelandoni felt she understood about Ayla and the Mamutoi, but the Clan still left her perplexed. She decided to try a different approach. “I know you are very skilled in the healing ways, Ayla, but often those who become knowledgeable have a mark of some kind so people will recognize them. Like this one,” she said, touching a tattoo on her forehead above her left temple. “I see no mark on you.”

Ayla looked closely at the tattoo. It was a rectangle
divided into six smaller rectangles, almost squares, in two rows of three each, with four legs above that, if connected, would have made a third row of squares. The outline of the rectangles was dark, but three of àie squares were filled in with shades of red, and one with yellow.

Although it was a unique mark, several of the people she had seen had tattooed markings of one kind or another, including Marthona, Joharran, and Willamar. She didn’t know if the marks meant something in particular, but after Zelandoni had explained the meaning of hers, Ayla suspected they might.

“Mamut had a mark on his cheek,” Ayla said, touching the place on her cheek. “All the mamutii did. Some had other marks, too. I might have been given one, if I had stayed. Mamut started training me soon after he adopted me, but I was not fully trained before I left, so I was never marked.”

“But didn’t you say you were adopted by the woman who was the mate of the headman?”

“I thought Nezzie was going to adopt me, and she did, too, but at the ceremony, Mamut said Mammoth Hearth, not Lion Hearth. He adopted me instead.”

“This Mamut is One Who Serves The Mother?” Zelandoni asked, thinking, so she was training to be One Who Serves.

“Yes, like you. The Mammoth Hearth was his, and for Those Who Serve The Mother. Most people choose the Mammoth Hearth, or feel they have been chosen. Mamut said I was born to it.” She flushed a little and looked aside, feeling rather embarrassed to be talking about something that had been given, which she hadn’t earned. It made her think of Iza and how carefully the woman had tried to train her to be a good Clan woman.

“I think your Mamut was a wise man,” Zelandoni said. “But you said you learned your healing skills from a woman of the people who raised you, this Clan. Don’t they do anything to mark their healers, to give them status and recognition?”

“I was given a certain black stone, a special sign to keep in
my amulet when I was accepted as a medicine woman of the Clan,” Ayla said. “But they don’t make a mark like a tattoo for medicine woman, only for totem, when a boy becomes a man.”

“How do people recognize one when they need to call upon a healer for help?”

Ayla hadn’t thought about that before. She paused to consider it. “Medicine women don’t have to be marked. People know. A medicine woman has status in her own right. Her position is always recognized. Iza was the highest ranked woman in the clan, even higher than Bran’s mate.”

Zelandoni shook her head. Ayla obviously thought she had explained something, but the woman didn’t understand. “I’m sure that’s true, but how do people know?”

“By her position,” Ayla repeated, then tried to clarify. “By the position she takes when the clan goes somewhere, the place she stands when she eats, by the signs she uses when she … talks, by the signals that are made to her when she’s addressed.”

“Isn’t that all so awkward? This cumbersome use of positions and signs?” Zelandoni asked.

“Not for them. That’s the way people of the Clan talk. With signs. They don’t talk with words as we do,” Ayla said.

“But, why not?” Marthona wanted to know.

“They can’t. They can’t make all the sounds we do. They can make some, but not all. They talk with their hands and their bodies,” Ayla tried to explain.

Jondalar could see the bewilderment of his mother and kin growing, and Ayla getting more frustrated. He decided it was time to cut the confusion.

“Ayla was raised by flatheads, mother,” he said.

There was a stunned silence.

“Flatheads! Flatheads are animals!” Joharran said.

“No, they’re not,” Jondalar said.

“Of course they are,” Folara said. “They can’t talk!”

“They can talk, they just don’t talk the way you do,” Jondalar said. “I can even talk their language a little, but of course Ayla is much better. When she said I taught her to
speak, she meant it.” He glanced at Zelandoni; he’d noted her earlier expression. “She forgot how to speak whatever language she knew when she was a child, she could only speak the Clan way. The Clan are flatheads, flatheads call themselves the Clan.”

“How could they call themselves anything, if they talk with their hands?” Folara asked.

“They do have some words,” Ayla repeated, “they just can’t say everything. They don’t even hear all the sounds we make. They could understand, if they started young, but they’re not used to hearing them.” She thought about Rydag. He could understand everything that was said, even if he couldn’t say it.

“Well, I didn’t know they called themselves by any name,” Marthona said, then she thought of something else. “How did you and Ayla communicate, Jondalar?”

“We didn’t, at first,” he said. “In the beginning, of course, we didn’t need to. Ayla knew what to do. I was hurt and she took care of me.”

“Are you telling me, Jondalar, that she learned from flatheads how to heal that cave lion mauling?” Zelandoni said.

Ayla answered instead. “I told you, Iza came from the most respected line of medicine women in the Clan. She taught me.”

“I find all this about intelligent flatheads very difficult to believe,” Zelandoni said.

“I don’t,” Willamar said.

Everybody turned to look at the Trade Master.

“I don’t think they are animals at all. I haven’t for a long time. I’ve seen too many in my travels.”

“Why haven’t you said something before?” Joharran asked.

“It never came up,” Willamar said. “No one ever asked and I never thought about it that much.”

“What changed your mind about them, Willamar?” Zelandoni asked. This brought out a new aspect. She was going to have to put some thought into this startling idea Jondalar and the foreign woman had presented.

“Let me think. The first time I began to doubt they were animals was many years ago,” Willamar began. “I was south and west of here, traveling alone. The weather had changed quickly, a sudden cold snap, and I was in a hurry to get home. I kept going until it was almost dark, and camped beside a small stream. I planned to cross in the morning. When I woke up, I discovered I had stopped right across from a party of flatheads. I was actually afraid of them—you know what you hear—so I watched them closely, to be prepared in case they decided to come after me.”

“What did they do?” Joharran asked.

“Nothing, except break camp just like anyone would,” Willamar said. “They knew I was there, of course, but I was alone, so I couldn’t give them much trouble, and they didn’t seem in a big hurry. They boiled some water and made something hot to drink, rolled up their tents—different from ours, lower to the ground and harder to see—but they packed them on their backs, and left at a fast jog.”

“Could you tell if any were women?” Ayla asked.

“It was pretty cold, they were all covered. They do wear clothes. You don’t notice it in summer because they don’t wear much, and you seldom see them in winter. We don’t tend to travel much then, or very far, and they probably don’t, either.”

“You’re right, they don’t like to go too far from home when it’s cold or snowy,” Ayla commented.

“Most had beards, I’m not sure if they all did,” Willamar said.

“Young men don’t have beards. Did you notice if any of them carried a basket on her back?”

“I don’t think so,” he said.

“Clan women don’t hunt, but if the men go on a long trek, women often go along to dry the meat and carry it back, so it was probably a short-range hunting party, just men,” Ayla said.

“Did you do that?” Folara asked. “Go along on long hunting trips?”

“Yes, I even went along once when they hunted a mammoth,” Ayla said, “but not to hunt.”

Jondalar noticed that everyone seemed more curious than closed-minded. Though he was sure many people would be more intolerant, at least his kin seemed interested in learning about flatheads … the Clan.

“Joharran,” Jondalar said, “I’m glad this came up now, because I was planning to talk to you anyway. There’s something you need to know. We met a Clan couple on our way here, just before we started over that plateau glacier to the east. They told us that several clans are planning to get together to talk about us, and the problems they’ve been having with us. They call us the Others.”

“I’m having trouble believing they can call us anything,” the man said, “much less have meetings to talk about us.”

“Well, believe it, because if you don’t, we could be in some trouble.”

Several voices spoke at once.

“What do you mean?” “What kind of trouble?”

“I know of one situation in the Losadunai region. A gang of young ruffians from several Caves started baiting flatheads—Clan men. I understand they started out several years ago by picking on just one, like running a rhino down? But Clan men are nothing to fool with. They’re smart and they’re strong. A couple of those young men found that out when one or two got caught, so they started picking on the women. Clan women don’t fight, usually, so it wasn’t as much fun, no challenge. To make it more interesting, they started forcing Clan women to … well, I wouldn’t call it Pleasures.”

“What?” Joharran said.

“You heard me right,” Jondalar affirmed.

“Great Mother!” Zelandoni blurted.

“That’s terrible!” Marthona said at the same time.

“How awful!” Folara cried, wrinkling her nose with disgust.

“Despicable!” Willamar spat.

“They think so, too,” Jondalar said. “They are not going to put up with it much longer, and once they realize they can
do something about it, they are not going to put up with much from us at all. Aren’t there rumors that these caves used to belong to them? What if they want them back?”

“Those are rumors, Jondalar. There’s nothing in the Histories or the Elder Legends to confirm it,” Zelandoni said. “Only bears are mentioned.”

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