Read The Shelters of Stone Online

Authors: Jean M. Auel

Tags: #Historical fiction

The Shelters of Stone (126 page)

“Well, maybe we should give them something to be concerned about,” Jondalar said.

Joharran’s brow wrinkled in a way that was so much like his taller though younger brother’s, it made Ayla want to smile, but it usually showed at a time when smiling would be inappropriate. “Perhaps it would be wiser just to avoid them,” the dark-haired leader said.

“I don’t think so,” Ayla said, bowing her head and looking down. It was still difficult for her to disagree with a man in public, especially a leader. Though she knew it was perfectly acceptable among the Zelandonii—after all, some leaders were women, including, at one time, Joharran’s and Jondalar’s mother—such behavior from a woman would not have been tolerated in the Clan, the ones who raised her.

“Why not?” Joharran asked, his frown turning into a scowl.

“Those lions are resting too close to the home of the Third Cave,” Ayla said quietly. “There will always be lions around, but if they are comfortable here, they might think of it as a place to return when they want to rest, and would see any people who come near as prey, especially children or elders. They could be a danger to the people who live at Two Rivers Rock, and the other nearby Caves, including the Ninth.”

Joharran took a deep breath, then looked at his fair-haired brother. “Your mate is right, and you as well, Jondalar. Perhaps now is the time to let those lions know they are not welcome to settle down so close to our homes.”

“This would be a good time to use spear-throwers so we can hunt from a safer distance. Several hunters here have been practicing,” Jondalar said. It was for just this sort of thing that he had wanted to come home and show everyone the weapon he had developed. “We may not even have to kill one, just injure a couple to teach them to stay away.”

“Jondalar,” Ayla said, softly. Now she was getting ready to differ with him, or at least to make a point that he should consider. She looked down again, then raised her eyes and looked directly at him. She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind to him, but she wanted to be respectful. “It’s true that a spear-thrower is a very good weapon. With it, a spear can be thrown from a much greater distance than one thrown by hand, and that makes it safer. But safer is not safe. A wounded animal is unpredictable. And one with the strength and speed of a cave lion, hurt and wild with pain, could do anything. If you decide to use these weapons against those lions, they should not be used to injure, but to kill.”

“She’s right, Jondalar,” Joharran said.

Jondalar frowned at his brother, then grinned sheepishly. “Yes she is, but, as dangerous as they are, I always hate to kill a cave lion if I don’t have to. They are so beautiful, so lithe and graceful in the way they move. Cave lions don’t have much to be afraid of. Their strength gives them confidence.” He glanced at Ayla with a glint of pride and love. “I always thought Ayla’s Cave Lion totem was right for her.” Discomfited by showing his strong inner feelings for her, a hint of a flush colored his cheeks. “But I do think this is a time when spear-throwers could be very useful.”

Joharran noticed that most of the travelers had crowded closer. “How many are with us that can use one?” he asked his brother.

“Well, there’s you, and me, and Ayla, of course,” Jondalar said, looking at the group. “Rushemar has been practicing a lot and is getting pretty good. Solaban’s been busy making some ivory handles for tools for some of us and hasn’t been working at it as much, but he’s got the basics.”

“I’ve tried a spear-thrower a few times, Joharran. I don’t have one of my own, and I’m not very good at it,” Thefona said, “but I can throw a spear without one.”

“Thank you, Thefona, for reminding me,” Joharran said. “Nearly everyone can handle a spear without a spear-thrower, including women. We shouldn’t forget that.” Then he directed his comments to the group at large. “We need to let those lions know that this is not a good place for them. Whoever wants to go after them, using a spear by hand or with the thrower, come over here.”

Ayla started to loosen her baby’s carrying blanket. “Folara, would you watch Jonayla for me?” she said, approaching Jondalar’s younger sister, “unless you’d rather stay and hunt cave lions.”

“I’ve gone out on drives, but I never was very good with a spear, and I don’t seem to be much better with the thrower,” Folara said. “I’ll take Jonayla.” The infant was now thoroughly awake, and when the young woman held out her arms for the baby, she willingly went to her aunt.

“I’ll help her,” Proleva said to Ayla. Joharran’s mate also had a baby girl in a carrying blanket, just a few days older than Jonayla, and an active boy who could count six years to watch out for as well. “I think we should take all the children away from here, perhaps back behind the jutting rock, or up to the Third Cave.”

“That’s a very good idea,” Joharran said, “Hunters stay here. The rest of you go back, but go slowly. No sudden moves. We want those cave lions to think we are just milling around, like a herd of aurochs. And when we pair off, each group keep together. They will probably go after anyone alone.”

Ayla turned back toward the four-legged hunters and saw many lion faces looking in their direction, very alert. She watched the animals move around, and began to see some distinguishing characteristics, helping her to count them. She watched a big female casually turn around—no, a male, she realized when she saw his male parts from the backside. She’d forgotten for a moment that the males here didn’t have manes. The male cave lions near her valley to the east, including one that she knew quite well, did have some hair around the head and neck, but it was sparse. This is a big pride, she thought, more than two handsful of counting words, possibly as many as three, including the young ones.

While she watched, the big lion took a few more steps into the field, then disappeared into the grass. It was surprising how well the tall thin stalks could hide animals that were so huge.

Though the bones and teeth of cave lions—felines that liked to den in caves, which preserved the bones they left behind—were the same shape as their descendants that would someday roam the distant lands of the continent far to the south, they were more than half again, some nearly twice as large. In winter they grew a thick winter fur that was so pale, it was almost white, practical concealment in snow for predators who hunted all year long. Their summer coat, though still pale, was more tawny, and some of the cats were still shedding, giving them a rather tattered, mottled look.

Ayla watched the group of mostly women and children break off from the hunters and head back to the cliff they had passed, along with a few young men and women with spears held in readiness whom Joharran had assigned to guard them. Then she noticed that the horses seemed particularly nervous, and thought she should try to calm them. She signaled Wolf to come with her as she walked toward the horses.

Whinney seemed glad to see both her and Wolf when they approached. The horse had no fear of the big canine predator. She had watched Wolf grow up from a tiny little ball of fuzzy fur, had helped to raise him. Ayla had a concern, though. She wanted the horses to go back behind the stone wall with the women and children. She could give Whinney many commands with words and signals, but she wasn’t sure how to tell the mare to go with the others and not follow her.

Racer whinnied when she neared; he seemed especially agitated. She greeted the brown stallion affectionately and patted and scratched the young gray filly; then she hugged the sturdy neck of the dun-yellow mare that had been her only friend during the first lonely years after she left the Clan.

Whinney leaned against the young woman with her head over Ayla’s shoulder in a familiar position of mutual support. She talked to the mare with a combination of Clan hand signs and words, and animal sounds that she imitated—the special language she had developed with Whinney when she was a foal, before Jondalar taught her to speak his language. Ayla told the mare to go with Folara and Proleva. Whether the horse understood, or just knew that it would be safer for her and her foal, Ayla was glad to see her retreat to the cliff with the other mothers when she pointed her in that direction.

But Racer was nervous and edgy, more so after the mare started walking away. Even grown, the young stallion was accustomed to following his dam, especially when Ayla and Jondalar were riding together, but this time he did not immediately go with her. He pranced and tossed his head and neighed. Jondalar heard him, looked over at the stallion and the woman, then joined them. The young horse nickered at the man as he approached. With two females in his small “herd,” Jondalar wondered if Racer’s protective stallion instincts were beginning to make themselves felt. The man talked to him, stroked and scratched his favorite places to settle him, then told him to go with Whinney and slapped him on the rump. It was enough to get him started in the right direction.

Ayla and Jondalar walked back to the hunters. Joharran and his two closest friends and advisers, Solaban and Rushemar, were standing together in the middle of the group that was left. It seemed much smaller now.

“We’ve been discussing the best way to hunt them,” Joharran said when the couple returned. “I’m not sure what strategy to use. Should we try to surround them? Or drive them in a certain direction? I will tell you, I know how to hunt for meat: deer, or bison or aurochs, even mammoth. I’ve killed a lion or two that were too close to a camp, with the help of other hunters, but lions are not animals I usually hunt, especially not a whole pride.”

“Since Ayla knows lions,” Thefona said, “let’s ask her.”

Everyone turned to look at Ayla. Most of them had heard about the injured lion cub she had taken in and raised until he was full grown. When Jondalar told them the lion did what she told him the way the wolf did, they believed it.

“What do you think, Ayla?” Joharran asked.

“Do you see how the lions are watching us? It’s the same way we’re looking at them. They think of themselves as the hunters. It might surprise them to be prey for a change,” Ayla said, then paused. “I think we should stay together in a group and walk toward them, shouting and talking loudly perhaps, and see if they back off. But keep our spears ready, in case one or more come after us before we decide to go after them.”

“Just approach them head-on?” Rushemar asked, with a frown.

“It might work,” Solaban said. “And if we stay together, we can watch out for each other.”

“It seems like a good plan, Joharran,” Jondalar said.

“I suppose it’s as good as any, and I like the idea of staying together and watching out for each other,” the leader said.

“I’ll go first,” Jondalar said. He held up his spear, already on his spear-thrower ready to launch. “I can get a spear off fast with this.”

“I’m sure you can, but let’s wait until we get closer so we can all feel comfortable with our aim,” Joharran said.

“Of course,” Jondalar said, “and Ayla is going to be a backup for me in case something unexpected happens.”

“That’s good,” Joharran said. “We all need a partner, someone to be a backup for the ones who throw first, in case they miss and those lions come at us instead of running away. The partners can decide who will cast first, but it will cause less confusion if everyone waits for a signal before anyone throws.”

“What kind of signal?” Rushemar asked.

Joharran paused, then said, “Watch Jondalar. Wait until he throws. That can be our signal.”

“I’ll be your partner, Joharran,” Rushemar volunteered.

The leader nodded.

“I need a backup,” Morizan said. He was the son of Manvelar’s mate, Ayla recalled. “I’m not sure how good I am, but I have been working at it.”

“I can be your partner. I’ve been practicing with the spear-thrower.”

Ayla turned at the sound of the feminine voice and saw that it was Folara’s red-haired friend, Galeya, who had spoken.

Jondalar turned to look, too. That’s one way to get close to the son of a leader’s mate, he thought, and glanced at Ayla, wondering if she had caught the implication.

“I can partner with Thefona, if she would like,” Solaban said, “since I’ll be using a spear like her, not a spear-thrower.”

The young woman smiled at him, glad to have a more mature and experienced hunter close by.

“I’ve been practicing with a spear-thrower,” Palidar said. He was a friend of Tivonan, the apprentice of Willamar, the Trade Master.

“We can be partners, Palidar,” Tivonan said, “but I can only use a spear.”

“I haven’t really practiced much with that thrower either,” Palidar said.

Ayla smiled at the young men. As Willamar’s apprentice trader, Tivonan would no doubt become the Ninth Cave’s next Trade Master. His friend, Palidar, had come back with Tivonan when he went to visit his Cave on a short trading mission, and Palidar was the one who had found the place where Wolf had gotten into the terrible fight with the other wolves, and took her to it. She thought of him as a good friend.

“I haven’t done much with that thrower, but I can handle a spear.”

It’s Mejera, the acolyte of Zelandoni of the Third, Ayla said to herself, remembering that the young woman was with them the first time Ayla went into the Deep of Fountain Rocks to look for the life force of Jondalar’s younger brother when they tried to help his elan find its way to the spirit world.

“Everyone has already picked a partner, so I guess we’re left. Not only have I not practiced with the spear-thrower, I have hardly ever seen it used,” said Jalodan, Morizan’s cousin, the son of Manvelar’s sister, who was visiting the Third Cave. He was planning to travel with them to the Summer Meeting to meet up with his Cave.

That was it. The twelve men and women who were going to hunt a similar number of lions—animals with greater speed, strength, and ferocity that lived by hunting weaker prey. Ayla began having feelings of doubt and a shiver of fear gave her a chill. She rubbed her arms and felt an eruption of bumps. How could twelve frail humans even think of attacking a pride of lions? She caught sight of the other carnivore, the one she knew, and signaled the animal to stay with her, thinking, twelve people—and Wolf.

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