Authors: Jean M. Auel
Tags: #Historical fiction
Jondalar smiled. “Yes, Ayla is fine. He loves her, he would never hurt her. That’s how wolves show affection. It took me a while to get used to it, too, and I’ve known Wolf as long as she has, ever since he was a fuzzy little cub.”
“That’s no cub! That’s a big wolf. That’s the biggest wolf I ever saw!” Joharran said. “He could tear her throat out!”
“Yes. He could tear her throat out. I’ve seen him tear a woman’s throat out … a woman who was trying to kill Ayla,” Jondalar said. “Wolf protects her.”
The Zelandomi who were watching breathed a collective sigh of relief when the wolf got down, and stood by her side again with his mouth open and his tongue hanging out the side, showing his teeth. Wolf had that look that Jondalar thought of as his wolf grin, as though he was pleased with himself.
“Does he do that all the time?” Folara asked. “To … anyone?”
“No,” Jondalar said. “Only to Ayla, and sometimes me, if he’s feeling particularly happy, and only if we allow it. He’s well behaved, he won’t harm anyone … unless Ayla is threatened.”
“What about children?” Folara asked. “Wolves often go after the weak and the young.”
At the mention of children, looks of concern appeared on the faces of the people standing nearby.
“Wolf loves chüdren,” Ayla quickly explained, “and he is very protective toward them, particularly very young or weak ones. He was raised with the children of the Lion Camp.”
“There was a very weak and sickly boy, who belonged to the Lion Hearth,” Jondalar contributed. “You should have
seen them play together. Wolf was always careful around him.”
“That’s a very unusual animal,” another man said. “It’s hard to believe a wolf could behave so … unwolflike.”
“You’re right, Solaban,” Jondalar said. “He does behave in ways that seem very unwolflike to people, but if we were wolves we wouldn’t think so. He was raised with people and Ayla says he thinks of people as his pack. He treats people as though they were wolves.”
“Does he hunt?” the man Jondalar had called Solaban wanted to know.
“Yes,” Ayla said. “Sometimes he hunts alone, for himself, and sometimes he helps us hunt.”
“How does he know what he should hunt and what he shouldn’t?” Folara asked. “Like those horses.”
Ayla smiled. “The horses are part of his pack, too. You notice they are not afraid of him. And he never hunts people. Otherwise, he can hunt any animal he wants, unless I tell him not to.”
“And if you say no, he doesn’t?” another man asked.
“That’s right, Rushemar,” Jondalar affirmed.
The man shook his head in wonder. It was hard to believe anyone could have such control over a powerful hunting animal.
“Well, Joharran,” Jondalar said. “Do you think it’s safe enough to bring Ayla and Wolf up?”
The man thought for a moment, then nodded. “However, if there is any trouble…”
“There won’t be, Joharran,” Jondalar stated, then turned to Ayla. “My mother has invited us to stay with her. Folara still lives with her, but she has her own room, and so does Marthona and Willamar. He’s gone on a trading mission now. She has offered her central living space to us. Of course, we could stay with Zelandoni at the visitors’ hearth, if you’d rather.”
“I would be pleased to stay with your mother, Jondalar,” Ayla said.
“Good! Mother also suggested that we wait with most
formal introductions until we get settled in. It isn’t as though I need to be introduced, and there’s no point in repeating everything to each one when we can do it all at once.”
“We’re already planning a welcoming feast for tonight,” Folara said. “And probably another one later, for all the nearby Caves.”
“Í appreciate your mother’s thoughtfulness, Jondalar. It would be easier to meet everyone at once, but you might introduce me to this young woman,” Ayla said.
“Of course, I was planning to,” Jondalar said. “Ayla, this is my sister, Folara, Blessed of Doni, of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii; Daughter of Marthona, former Leader of the Ninth Cave; born to the hearth of Willamar, Traveler and Trade Master; Sister of Joharran, Leader of the Ninth Cave; Sister of Jondalar…”
“She knows about you, Jondalar, and I’ve already heard her names and ties,” Folara said, impatient with the formalities, then held out both hands toward Ayla. “In the name of Doni, the Great Earth Mother, I welcome you, Ayla of the Mamutoi, Friend of horses and wolves.”
The crowd of people standing on the sunny stone porch quickly moved back when they saw the woman and the wolf start up the path along with Jondalar and the small group accompanying them. One or two took a step closer while others craned their necks around them. When they reached the stone ledge Ayla got her first view of the living space of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii. The sight surprised her.
Though she knew the word “Cave” in the name of Jondalar’s home did not refer to a place, but to the group of people who lived there, the formation she saw was not a cave, not as she had thought of one. A cave was, a dark chamber or series of them within a rock face or cliff or underground with an opening to the outside. The living space of these people was the area beneath a huge overhanging shelf jutting out of the limestone cliff, an abri, that provided protection from rain or snow, but was open to daylight.
The high cliffs of the region were once the floor beneath
the surface of an ancient sea. As the calcareous shells of crustaceans who lived in the sea were discarded, they built up on the floor and eventually became calcium carbonate—limestone. During certain periods of time, for a variety of reasons, some of the deposited shells created thick layers of limestone that were harder than others. When the earth shifted and exposed the sea floor to eventually become cliffs, the weathering processes of wind and water cut into the relatively softer stone more easily, gouging out deep spaces, and leaving ledges of the harder stone between.
Although the cliffs were also riddled with caves, which was common for limestone, these unusual shelflike formations created shelters of stone that made exceptionally good living sites and had been used as such for a great many thousands of years.
Jondalar led Ayla toward the older woman she had seen from the foot of the path. The woman was tall and dignified in her bearing as she waited patiently for them. Her hair, more gray than light brown, was pulled back from her face into one long braid, which was coiled at the back of her head. Her clear direct appraising eyes were also gray.
When they reached her, Jondalar began the formal introduction. “Ayla, this is Marthona, former Leader of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii; Daughter of Jemara; born to the hearth of Rabanar; mated to Willamar, Trade Master of the Ninth Cave; Mother of Joharran, Leader of the Ninth Cave; Mother of Folara, Blessed of Doni; Mother of…” He started to say “Thonolan,” hesitated, then quickly filled in, “Jondalar, Returned Traveler.” Then he turned to his mother.
“Marthona, this is Ayla of the Lion Camp of the Mamutoi, Daughter of the Mammoth Hearth, Chosen by the Spirit of the Cave Lion, Protected by the Spirit of the Cave Bear.”
Marthona held out her two hands. “In the name of Doni, the Great Earth Mother, I welcome you, Ayla of the Mamutoi.”
“In the name of Mut, Great Mother of All, I greet you,
Marthona of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandomi, and Mother of Jondalar,” Ayla said, as they joined hands.
Marthona heard Ayla’s words, wondered at her strange speech mannerism, noted how well she spoke in spite of it, and thought it was either a minor speech defect or the accent of a completely unfamiliar language from a very distant place. She smiled. “You have come a long way, Ayla, left all you knew and loved behind. If you had not, I don’t think I would have Jondalar back home. I am grateful to you for that. I hope you will soon feel at home here, and I will do all I can to help you.”
Ayla knew Jondalar’s mother was sincere. Her directness and honesty were genuine; she was glad to have her son back. Ayla was relieved and touched by Marthona’s welcome. “I have looked forward to meeting you since Jondalar first spoke of you … but I have been a little afraid, too,” she replied with a similar directness and honesty.
“I don’t blame you. I would have found it very difficult in your place. Come, let me show you where you can put your things. You must be tired and would like to rest before the welcoming celebration tonight,” Marthona said, starting to lead them toward the area under the overhang. Suddenly Wolf started whining, yelped a little “puppy bark,” and stretched his front paws out with his back end and tail up in a playful posture.
Jondalar was startled. “What is he doing?”
Ayla looked at Wolf, rather surprised as well. The animal repeated his gestures, and suddenly she smiled. “I think he’s trying to get Marthona’s attention,” she said. “He thinks she didn’t notice him, and I think he wants to be introduced.”
“And I want to meet him, too,” Marthona said.
“You don’t fear him!” Ayla said. “And he knows it!”
“I watched. I didn’t see anything to fear,” she said, extending her hand toward the wolf. He sniffed her hand, licked it, and whined again.
“I think Wolf wants you to touch him; he does love attention from people he likes,” Ayla said.
“You do like that, don’t you?” the older woman said as she stroked him. “Wolf? Is that what you called him?”
“Yes. It’s just the Mamutoi word for ‘wolf.’ It seemed like the right name for him,” Ayla explained.
“But, I’ve never seen him take to anyone so fast,” Jondalar said, looking at his mother with awe.
“Nor have I,” Ayla said, watching Marthona with the wolf. “Maybe he’s just happy to meet someone who’s not afraid of him.”
As they walked into the shade of the overhanging stone, Ayla felt an immediate cooling of temperature. For a heartbeat, she shivered with a chill of fear, and glanced up at the huge shelf of stone jutting out of the cliff wall, wondering if it could collapse. But when her eyes grew accustomed to the dimmer light, she was astonished by more than the physical formation of Jondalar’s home. The space under the rock shelter was huge, much larger than she had imagined.
She had seen similar overhangs in the cliffs along this river on their way here, some obviously inhabited, though none seemed quite as sizable as this one. Everyone in the entire region knew of the immense rock shelter and the great number of people it housed. The Ninth Cave was the largest of all the communities that called themselves Zelandomi.
Clustered together at the eastern end of the protected space, along the back wall and freestanding in the middle, were individual structures, many quite large, made partly of stone and partly of wooden frames covered with hides. The hides were decorated with beautifully rendered pictures of animals and various abstract symbols painted in black and many vivid shades of red, yellow, and brown. The structures were arranged in a west-facing curve around an open space near the center of the area covered by the overhanging stone shelf, which was filled with a confusion of objects and people.
As Ayla looked more closely, what at first had struck her all at once as a mélange of rich clutter was resolving itself into areas dedicated to different tasks, often near to related tasks. It only seemed confusing initially because so many activities were going on.
She saw hides being cured in frames, and long shafts of spears, apparently in the process of being straightened, leaning
against a crosspiece supported by two posts. Baskets in different stages of completion were stacked in another place, and thongs were drying stretched between pairs of bone posts. Long skeins of cordage hung from pegs pounded into crossbeams above unfinished nets stretched across a frame, and loosely woven netting in bundles on the ground. Skins, some dyed various colors including many shades of red, were cut into pieces and nearby, partially assembled articles of clothing were hanging.
She recognized most of the crafts, but near the clothing was an activity that was entirely unfamiliar. A frame held many strands of thin cord vertically, with a design partially formed from the material woven horizontally across them. She wanted to go over and look closer, and promised herself she would, later. Pieces of wood, stone, bone, antler, and mammoth ivory were in other places, carved into implements—ladles, spoons, bowls, tongs, weapons—most of them with carved and sometimes painted decorations. There were also small sculptures and carvings that were not implements or tools. They seemed to be made for themselves or some purpose of which she wasn’t aware.
She saw vegetables and herbs hanging high from large frames with many crosspieces, and lower to the ground, meat drying on racks. Somewhat away from other activities was an area scattered with sharp stone chips; for people like Jondalar she thought, flint-knappers who made tools, knives, and spear points.
And everywhere she looked, she saw people. The community that lived under the spacious rock shelter was of a size to match the space. Ayla had grown up in a clan of less than thirty people; at the Clan Gathering, which occurred once every seven years, two hundred people came together for a short period, a huge assembly to her then. Though the Mamutoi Summer Meeting drew a much greater number, the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii, alone, comprised of over two hundred individuals living together at this one place, was larger than the entire Clan Gathering!
Ayla didn’t know how many people were standing
around watching them, but she was reminded of the time she had walked with Brun’s clan into that congregation of clans and felt all of them looking at her. They had tried to be unobtrusive, but the people who were staring as Marthona led Jondalar, Ayla, and a wolf to her living place weren’t even polite about it. They didn’t try to look down or glance away. She wondered if she would ever get used to living with so many people living close by all the time; she wondered if she wanted to.