Read The Shelters of Stone Online

Authors: Jean M. Auel

Tags: #Historical fiction

The Shelters of Stone (134 page)

She shuddered at the memory, but because it was so painful she couldn’t forget it, and she had come to believe it was something about a man putting his organ inside the place where babies were born from that caused life to start inside a woman. Jondalar thought it was a strange idea when she told him, and tried to convince her it was the Mother who created life. She didn’t quite believe him, now she wondered. Ayla had grown up with the Clan, she was one of them, for all that she looked different. Though she had hated it when he did it, Broud was only exercising his rights. But how could a man of the Clan have forced Nezzie?

Her thoughts were interrupted by the commotion of another small hunting band arriving. As one man approached, he pulled back his hood, and both Ayla and Jondalar gaped with surprise. The man was brown! The color of his skin was a rich deep brown. He was nearly the color of Racer, which was rare enough for a horse. Neither of them had ever seen a person with brown skin before.

His hair was black, tight wiry curls that formed a woolly cap like the fur of a black mouflon. His eyes were black, too, and they sparkled with delight as he smiled, showing gleaming white teeth and a pink tongue in contrast to his dark skin. He knew the stir he created when strangers first saw him, and rather enjoyed it.

He was a perfectly ordinary man in other respects, medium height, hardly more than an inch or so taller than Ayla, and medium build. But a compact vitality, an economy of movement, and an easy self-confidence created an impression of someone who knew what he wanted and wouldn’t waste any time going after it. His eyes took on an added gleam when he saw Ayla.

Jondalar recognized the look as attraction. His brow furrowed into a frown, but neither the blond woman nor the brown-skinned man noticed. She was captivated by the novelty of the man’s unusual coloring, and stared with the unabashed wonder of a child. He was attracted as much by the aura of naïve innocence her response projected as by her beauty.

Suddenly Ayla realized she had been staring, and blushed crimson as she looked down at the ground. From Jondalar she had learned that it was perfectly proper for men and women to look directly at each other, but to the people of the Clan it was not only discourteous, it was offensive to stare, particularly for a woman. It was her upbringing, the customs of the Clan, reinforced again and again by Creb and Iza so she would be more acceptable, that caused her such embarrassment.

But her obvious distress only fired the interest of the dark man. He was often the object of unusual attention by women. The initial surprise of his appearance seemed to arouse curiosity about what other differences he might have. He sometimes wondered if every woman at the Summer Meetings had to find out for herself that he was, indeed, a man like every other man. Not that he objected, but Ayla’s reaction was as intriguing to him as his color was to her. He wasn’t used to seeing a strikingly beautiful adult woman blushing as modestly as a girl.

“Ranec, have you met our visitors?” Talut called out, coming toward them.

“Not yet, but I’m waiting … eagerly.”

At the tone in his voice Ayla looked up into deep black eyes full of desire—and subtle humor. They reached inside her and touched a spot only Jondalar had touched before. Her body responded with an unexpected tingle that brought a faint gasp to her lips, and widened her gray-blue eyes. The man leaned forward, preparing to take her hands, but before customary introductions could be made, the tall stranger stepped between them, and with a deep scowl on his face, thrust both hands forward.

“I am Jondalar of the Zelandonii,” he said. “The woman I am traveling with is Ayla.”

Something was bothering Jondalar, Ayla was sure, something about the dark man. She was used to reading meaning from posture and stance, and she had been watching Jondalar closely for cues upon which to base her own behavior. But the body language of people who depended on words was so much less purposeful than that of the Clan, who used gestures to communicate, that she didn’t trust her perceptions yet. These people seemed to be both easier and more difficult to read, as with this sudden shift in Jondalar’s attitude. She knew he was angry, but she didn’t know why.

The man took both of Jondalar’s hands, and shook them firmly. “I am Ranec, my friend, the best, if only, carver of the Lion Camp of the Mamutoi,” he said with a self-deprecating smile, then added, “When you travel with such a beautiful companion, you must expect her to attract attention.”

Now it was Jondalar’s turn to be embarrassed. Ranec’s friendliness and candor made him feel like an oaf, and, with a familiar pain, brought to mind his brother. Thonolan had had the same friendly self-confidence, and had always made the first moves when they encountered people on their Journey. It upset Jondalar when he did something foolish—it always had—and he didn’t like starting out a relationship with new people in the wrong way. He had displayed bad manners, at best.

But his instant anger had surprised him, and caught him off guard. The hot stab of jealousy was a new emotion to him, or at least one he hadn’t experienced in so long it was unexpected. He would have been quick to deny it, but the tall and handsome man, with an unconscious charisma, and a sensitive skill in the furs, was more accustomed to women being jealous over his attentions.

Why should it bother him that some man looked at Ayla? Jondalar thought. Ranec was right, as beautiful as she was, he should expect it. And she had the right to make her own choice. Just because he was the first man of her kind she had met didn’t mean he would be the only one she would ever find attractive. Ayla saw him smile at Ranec, but noticed that the tension across his shoulders had not eased.

“Ranec always speaks lightly of it, though he isn’t in the habit of denying any of his other skills,” Talut was saying as he led the way to the unusual cave which seemed to be made of earth growing out of the bank. “He and Wymez are alike in that way, if not many others. Wymez is as reluctant to admit to his skill as a maker of tools as the son of his hearth is to speak of his carving. Ranec is the best carver of all the Mamutoi.”

“You have a skilled toolmaker? A flint knapper?” Jondalar asked with pleased expectation, his hot flash of jealousy gone with the thought of meeting another person knowledgeable in his craft.

“Yes, and he is the best, too. The Lion Camp is well known. We have the best carver, the best toolmaker, and the oldest Mamut,” the headman declared.

“And a headman big enough to make everyone agree, whether they believe it or not,” Ranec said, with a wry grin.

Talut grinned back, knowing Ranec’s tendency to turn aside praise of his carving skill with a quip. It didn’t stop Talut from bragging, however. He was proud of his Camp, and didn’t hesitate to let everyone know.

Ayla watched the subtle interaction of the two men—the older one a massive giant with flaming red hair and pale blue eyes, the other dark and compact—and understood the deep bond of affection and loyalty they shared though they were as different as any two men could be. They were both Mammoth Hunters, both members of the Lion Camp of the Mamutoi.

They walked toward the archway Ayla had noticed earlier. It seemed to open into a hillock or perhaps a series of them, tucked into the slope that faced the large river. Ayla had seen people enter and leave. She knew it must be a cave or a dwelling of some kind, but one which seemed to be made entirely of dirt; hard-packed but with grass growing in patches out of it, particularly around the bottom and up the sides. It blended into the background so well that, except for the entrance, it was hard to distinguish the dwelling from its surroundings.

On closer inspection she noticed that the rounded top of the mound was the repository of several curious implements and objects. Then she saw a particular one just above the archway, and caught her breath.

It was the skull of a cave lion!

Read on for an excerpt from

The Plains of Passage

Book Four in the
Earth’s Children®

by Jean M. Auel

he woman caught a glimpse of movement through the dusty haze ahead and wondered if it was the wolf she had seen loping in front of them earlier.

She glanced at her companion with a worried frown, then looked for the wolf again, straining to see through the blowing dust.

“Jondalar! Look!” she said, pointing ahead.

Toward her left, the vague outlines of several conical tents could just be seen through the dry, gritty wind.

The wolf was stalking some two-legged creatures that had begun to materialize out of the dusty air, carrying spears aimed directly at them.

“I think we’ve reached the river, but I don’t think we’re the only ones who wanted to camp there, Ayla,” the man said, pulling on the lead rein to halt his horse.

The woman signaled her horse to a stop by tightening a thigh muscle, exerting a subtle pressure that was so reflexive she didn’t even think of it as controlling the animal.

Ayla heard a menacing growl from deep in the wolf’s throat and saw that his posture had shifted from a defensive stance to an aggressive one. He was ready to attack! She whistled, a sharp, distinctive sound that resembled a bird call, though not from a bird anyone had ever heard. The wolf gave up his stealthy pursuit and bounded toward the woman astride the horse.

“Wolf, stay close!” she said, signaling with her hand at the same time. The wolf trotted beside the dun yellow mare as the woman and man on horseback slowly approached the people standing between them and the tents.

A gusty, fitful wind, holding the fine loess soil in suspension, swirled around them, obscuring their view of the spear holders. Ayla lifted her leg over and slid down from the horse’s back. She knelt beside the wolf, put one arm over his back and the other across his chest, to calm him and hold him back if necessary. She could feel the snarl rumbling in his throat and the eager tautness of muscles ready to spring. She looked up at Jondalar. A light film of powdery dirt coated the shoulders and long flaxen hair of the tall man and turned the coat of his dark brown mount to the more common dun color of the sturdy breed. She and Whinney looked the same. Though it was still early in the summer, the strong winds off the massive glacier to the north were already desiccating the steppes in a wide band south of the ice.

She felt the wolf tense and strain against her arm, then saw someone new appear from behind the spear holders, dressed as Mamut might have dressed for an important ceremony, in a mask with aurochs’s horns and in clothes painted and decorated with enigmatic symbols.

The mamut shook a staff at them vigorously and shouted, “Go away, evil spirits! Leave this place!”

Ayla thought it was a woman’s voice shouting through the mask, but she wasn’t sure; the words had been spoken in Mamutoi, though. The mamut dashed toward them shaking the staff again, while Ayla held back the wolf. Then the costumed figure began chanting and dancing, shaking the staff and high-stepping toward them quickly, then back again, as though trying to scare them off or drive them away, and succeeding, at least, in frightening the horses.

She was surprised that Wolf was so ready to attack, wolves seldom threatened people. But, remembering behavior she had observed, she thought she understood. Ayla had often watched wolves when she was teaching herself to hunt, and she knew they were affectionate and loyal to their own pack. But they were quick to drive strangers away from their territory, and they had been known to kill other wolves to protect what they felt was theirs.

To the tiny wolf pup she had found and brought back to the Mamutoi earthlodge, the Lion Camp was his pack; other people would be like strange wolves to him. He had growled at unknown humans who had come to visit when he was barely half-grown. Now, in unfamiliar territory, perhaps the territory of another pack, it would be natural for him to feel defensive when he first became aware of strangers, especially hostile strangers with spears. Why had the people of this Camp drawn spears?

Ayla thought there was something familiar about the chant; then she realized what it was. The words were in the sacred archaic language that was understood only by the mamuti. Ayla didn’t understand all of it, Mamut had just begun to teach her the language before she left, but she did gather that the meaning of the loud chant was essentially the same as the words that had been shouted earlier, though cast in somewhat more cajoling terms. It was an exhortation to the strange wolf and horse-people spirits to go away and leave them alone, to go back to the spirit world where they belonged.

Speaking in Zelandonii so the people from the Camp wouldn’t understand, Ayla told Jondalar what the mamut was saying.

“They think we’re spirits? Of course!” he said. “I should have known. They’re afraid of us. That’s why they’re threatening us with spears. Ayla, we may have this problem every time we meet people along the way. We are used to the animals now, but most people have never thought of horses or wolves as anything but food or pelts,” he said.

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