Authors: Jean M. Auel
Tags: #Historical fiction
When the wolf appeared, Ayla heard sounds of agitation and alarm from the ledge in front of the cave—if it could be called a cave. She’d never seen one quite like it. Wolf pressed against the side of her leg and moved somewhat in front of her, suspiciously defensive; she could feel the vibration of his barely audible growl. He was much more guarded around strangers now than he had been when they began their long Journey a year ago, but he had been little more than a puppy then, and he had become more protective of her after some perilous experiences.
As the man strode up the incline toward the apprehensive people, he showed no fear, but the woman was glad for the opportunity to wait behind and observe them before she had to meet them. She’d been expecting—dreading—this moment for more than a year, and first impressions were important … on both sides.
Though others held back, a young woman rushed toward him. Jondalar recognized his younger sister immediately, though the pretty girl had blossomed into a beautiful young woman during the five years of his absence.
“Jondalar! I knew it was you!” she said, flinging herself at him. “You finally came home!”
He gave her a big hug, then picked her up and swung her around in his enthusiasm. “Folara, I am so happy to see you!” When he put her down, he looked at her at arm’s length. “But you’ve grown. You were just a girl when I left, now you’re a beautiful woman … just as I always knew you’d be,” he said, with slightly more than a brotherly glint in his eye.
She smiled at him, looked into his unbelievably vivid blue eyes and was drawn by their magnetism. She felt herself flush, not from his compliment, although that’s what those standing nearby thought, but from the rush of attraction she felt for the man, brother or not, whom she had not seen for many years. She had heard stories of her handsome big brother with the unusual eyes, who could charm any woman,
but her memory was of a tall adoring playmate who was willing to go along with any game or activity she wanted to play. This was the first time as a young woman that she was exposed to the full effect of his unconscious charisma. Jondalar noticed her reaction and smiled warmly at her sweet confusion.
She glanced away toward the bottom of the path near the small river. “Who is that woman, Jondé?” she asked. “And where did the animals come from? Animals run away from people, why don’t those animals run away from her? Is she a Zelandoni? Has she Called them?” Then she frowned. “Where’s Thonolan?” She took a sharp intake of breath at the look of pain that tightened Jondalar’s brow.
“Thonolan travels the next world now, Folara,” he said, “and I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for that woman.”
“Oh, Jondé! What happened?”
“It’s a long story, and this is not the time to tell it,” he said, but he had to smile at the name she called him. It was her personal nickname for him. “I haven’t heard that name since I left. Now I know I’m home. How is everyone, Folara? Is mother all right? And Willamar?”
“They’re both fine. Mother gave us a scare a couple of years ago. But Zelandoni worked her special magic, and she seems fine now. Come and see for yourself,” she said, taking his hand and starting to lead him the rest of the way up the path.
Jondalar turned and waved at Ayla, trying to let her know that he would be back soon. He hated leaving her there alone with the animals, but he needed to see his mother, to see for himself that she was all right. That “scare” bothered him, and he needed to talk to people about the animals. They had both come to realize how strange and frightening it was to most people to see animals that did not run away from them.
People knew animals. All the people they had met on their Journey hunted them, and most honored or paid homage to them or their spirits in one way or another. Animals had been observed carefully for as long as anyone could remember. People knew the environments they favored and the
foods they liked, their migration patterns and seasonal movements, their birthing periods and rutting schedules. But no one had ever tried to touch a living breathing animal in a friendly way. No one had ever tried to tie a rope around the head of any animal and lead it around. No one had ever tried to tame an animal, or even imagined that one could be.
As pleased as these people were to see a kinsman return from a long Journey—especially one that few ever expected to see again—the tame animals were such an unknown phenomenon, their first reaction was fear. It was so strange, so inexplicable, so far beyond their experience or imagination, it could not be natural. It had to be unnatural, supernatural. The only thing that kept many of them from running and hiding, or attempting to kill the fearsome animals, was that Jondalar, whom they knew, had arrived with them, and he was striding up the path from Wood River with his sister looking perfectly normal under the bright light of the sun.
Folara had shown some courage rushing forward the way she had, but she was young and had the fearlessness of youth. And she was so pleased to see her brother, who had always been a special favorite, she couldn’t wait. Jondalar would never do anything to harm her and he didn’t fear the animals.
Ayla watched from the foot of the path while people surrounded him, welcoming him with smiles, hugs, kisses, pats, handshakes using both hands, and many words. She noticed a hugely fat woman, a brown-haired man whom Jondalar hugged, and an older woman that he greeted warmly and then kept his arm around. Probably his mother, she thought, and wondered what the woman would think of her.
These people were his family, his kin, his friends, people he had grown up with. She was a stranger, a disturbing stranger who brought animals and who knew what other threatening foreign ways and outrageous ideas. Would they accept her? What if they didn’t? She couldn’t go back, her people lived more than a year’s travel to the east. Jondalar had promised that he would leave with her if she wanted—or was forced—to go, but that was before he saw everyone, before he was greeted so warmly. How would he feel now?
She felt a nudge behind her and reached up to stroke Whinney’s sturdy neck, grateful that her friend had reminded her that she was not alone. When she lived in the valley, after she left the Clan, for a long time the horse had been her only companion. She hadn’t noticed the slack in Whinney’s rope as the horse moved closer to her, but she gave Racer a bit more lead. The mare and her offspring usually found friendship and comfort in each other, but when the mare came into season it had disturbed their usual pattern.
More people—how could there be so many?—were looking in her direction, and Jondalar was talking earnestly with the brown-haired man, then he waved at her, and smiled. When he started back down, he was followed by the young woman, the brown-haired man, and a few others. Ayla took a deep breath and waited.
As they approached, the wolf’s growl became louder. She reached down to keep him close to her. “It’s all right, Wolf. It’s just Jondalar’s kin,” she said. Her calming touch was a signal to him to stop growling, not to appear too threatening. The signal had been difficult to teach him, but worth the effort, especially now, she thought. She wished she knew of a touch that would calm her.
The group with Jondalar stopped a little distance back, trying not to show their trepidation, or to stare at the animals that openly stared at them and held their place even when strange people approached them. Jondalar stepped into the breach.
“I think we should start with formal introductions, Joharran,” he said, looking at the brown-haired man.
As Ayla dropped both halter, ropes in preparation for a formal introduction, which required contact with both hands, the horses stepped back, but the wolf stayed. She noticed the glint of fear in the man’s eye, although she doubted that this man was afraid of much, and glanced at Jondalar, wondering if he had a reason for wanting formal introductions immediately. She looked closely at the unfamiliar man and was suddenly reminded of Brun, the leader of the clan
that she grew up with. Powerful, proud, intelligent, competent, he had feared little—except the world of the spirits.
“Ayla, this is Joharran, Leader of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandomi, son of Marthona, former Leader of the Ninth Cave, born to the hearth of Joconan, former Leader of the Ninth Cave,” the tall blond man said with seriousness, then grinned, “not to mention Brother of Jondalar, Traveler to Distant Lands.”
There were a few quick smiles. His comment relieved the tension somewhat. Strictly, in a formal introduction, a person could give the entire list of their names and ties to validate their status—all their own designations, titles, and accomplishments, and all their kin and their relationships, along with their titles and accomplishments—and some did. But as a matter of practice, except in the most ceremonial of circumstances, just the primary ones were mentioned. It was not uncommon, however, for young people, especially brothers, to make jocular additions to the long and sometimes tedious recitation of one’s kinships, and Jondalar was reminding him of past years, before he was burdened with the responsibilities of leadership.
“Joharran, this is Ayla of the Mamutoi, Member of the Lion Camp, Daughter of the Mammoth Hearth, Chosen by the Spirit of the Cave Lion, and Protected by the Cave Bear.”
The brown-haired man crossed the distance between himself and the young woman, and held out both hands, palms up, in the understood gesture of welcome and open-handed friendship. He did not recognize any of her ties, and he wasn’t entirely sure which were most important.
“In the name of Doni, the Great Earth Mother, I welcome you, Ayla of the Mamutoi, Daughter of the Mammoth Hearth,” he said.
Ayla took both his hands. “In the name of Mut, Great Mother of All, I greet you, Joharran, Leader of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandomi,” then she smiled, “and Brother of the Traveler, Jondalar.”
Joharran noticed, first, that she spoke his language well, but with an unusual accent, then he became conscious of her
Strange clothing and her foreign look, but when she smiled, he smiled back. Partly because she had showed her understanding of Jondalar’s remark and let Joharran know that his brother was important to her, but mostly because he could not resist her smile.
Ayla was an attractive woman by anyone’s standards: she was tall, had a firm well-shaped body, long dark blond hair that tended to wave, clear blue-gray eyes, and fine features, though of a slightly different character from those of Zelandomi women. But when she smiled, it was as if the sun had cast a special beam on her that lit each feature from within. She seemed to glow with such stunning beauty, Joharran caught his breath. Jondalar had always said her smile was remarkable, and he grinned, seeing that his brother was not immune to it.
Then Joharran noticed the stallion prance nervously toward Jondalar, and he eyed the wolf. “Jondalar tells me we need to make some … ah … accommodation for these animals … somewhere nearby, I presume.” Not too near, he thought.
“The horses just need a field with grass, near water, but we need to tell people that they shouldn’t try to get close to them in the beginning unless Jondalar or I am with them. Whinney and Racer are nervous around people until they get used to them,” Ayla said.
“I don’t think that will be a problem,” Joharran said, catching the movement of Whinney’s tail, and eyeing her. “They can stay here, if this small valley is appropriate.”
“This will be fine,” Jondalar said. “Though we may move them upstream, out of the way a little.”
“Wolf is accustomed to sleeping near me,” Ayla continued. She noticed Joharran’s frown. “He’s become quite protective and might cause a commotion if he can’t be close by.”
She could see his resemblance to Jondalar, particularly in his forehead knotted with worry, and wanted to smile. But Joharran was seriously concerned. This was not a time for smiles, even if his expression gave her a feeling of warm familiarity.
Jondalar, too, had seen his brother’s worried frown. “I think this would be a good time to introduce Joharran to Wolf,” he said.
Joharran’s eyes flew open in near panic, but before he could object, she reached for his hand as she bent down beside the meat-eater. She put her arm around the large wolf’s neck to settle an incipient growl—even she could smell the man’s fear; she was sure Wolf could.
“Let him smell your hand first,” she said. “That’s Wolf’s formal introduction.” The wolf had learned from previous experience that it was important to Ayla for him to accept within his pack of humans the people she introduced to him in this way. He didn’t like the smell of fear, but sniffed the man to become familiar with him.
“Have you ever really felt the fur of a living wolf, Joharran?” she asked, looking up at him. “If you notice, it’s a little coarse,” she said, leading his hand to feel the animal’s rather shaggy neck fur. “He’s still shedding and itchy, and he loves to be scratched behind the ears,” she continued, showing him how.
Joharran felt the fur, but was more aware of the warmth, and suddenly realized this was a living wolf! And he didn’t seem to mind being touched.
Ayla observed that his hand was not as stiff, and that he actually attempted to rub the place she indicated. “Let him smell your hand again.”
When Joharran brought his hand around toward the wolf’s nose, he widened his eyes again, with surprise. “That
me.” he said, not sure if it was in preparation for something better—or worse. Then he saw Wolf lick Ayla’s face, and she seemed very pleased about it.
“Yes, you were good, Wolf,” she said, smiling, as she fondled him and roughed up his mane. Then she stood up and patted the front of her shoulders. The wolf jumped up, put his paws on the place she had indicated, and as she exposed her throat, he licked her neck, and then took her chin and jaw in his mouth with a rumbling growl, but great gentleness.
Jondalar noticed the gasps of astonishment from
Joharran and the others, and realized how frightening the familiar act of wolfish affection must seem to people who didn’t understand. His brother looked at him, his expression both fearful and amazed. “What’s he doing to her?”
“Are you sure that’s all right?” Folara asked at nearly the same time. She could no longer keep still. The other people were making indecisive nervous movements as well.