Read The Shelters of Stone Online

Authors: Jean M. Auel

Tags: #Historical fiction

The Shelters of Stone (6 page)

“That didn’t matter. You didn’t love her. She couldn’t hurt you.”

Both women were looking at him, and though they bore no resemblance to each other, their expressions were so similar, they seemed to look alike. Suddenly Jondalar laughed. “Well, I’m glad to know the two loves of my life are going to be friends,” he said.

Zelandoni raised an eyebrow and gave him a stern look. “Whatever makes you think we are going to be friends?” she said, but she smiled to herself as she left.

Jondalar felt a strange set of mixed emotions as he watched Zelandoni leave, but he was pleased that the powerful woman appeared willing to accept Ayla. His sister had been friendly toward her, too, and his mother. All the women that he really cared about seemed ready to welcome her—at least for now, he thought. His mother had even told her she would do whatever she could to make Ayla feel at home.

The leather drape across the entrance moved and Jondalar felt a tingle of surprise when he saw his mother,
since he had just been thinking about her. Marthona entered, carrying the preserved stomach of some middle-size animal filli of a liquid that had seeped through the nearly waterproof container enough to stain it a deep purple. Jondalar’s face lit up with a grin.

“Mother, you brought out some of your wine!” he said. “Ayla, do you remember the drink that we had when we stayed with the Sharamudoi? The bilberry wine? Now you’ll get a chance to taste Marthona’s wine. She’s known for it. No matter what fruit most people use, their juice often turns sour, but mother has a way with it.” He smiled at her and added, “Maybe someday she’ll tell me her secret.”

Marthona smiled back at the tall man, but made no comment. From her expression, Ayla sensed that she did have a secret technique, and that she was good at keeping secrets, not only her own. She probably knew many. There were layers and hidden depths to the woman, for all that she was forthright and honest in what she said. And for all that she was friendly and welcoming, Ayla knew that Jondalar’s mother would reserve judgment before fully accepting her.

Suddenly Ayla was reminded of Iza, the woman of the Clan who had been like a mother to her. Iza also knew many secrets, yet, like the rest of the Clan, she didn’t lie. With a language of gestures, and nuances conveyed by postures and expressions, they couldn’t lie. It would be known immediately. But they could refrain from mentioning. Though it might be understood that something was held back, it was allowed, for the sake of privacy.

This was not the first time she had been reminded of the Clan recently, she realized. The Ninth Cave’s leader, Jondalar’s brother Joharran, had reminded her of Brun, her clan’s leader. Why did Jondalar’s kin remind her of the Clan? she wondered.

“You must be hungry,” Marthona said, including both of them in her glance.

Jondalar smiled. “Yes, I am hungry! We haven’t eaten since early this morning. I was in such a hurry to get here, and we were so close, I didn’t want to stop.”

“If you’ve brought all your things in, sit and rest while I prepare some food for you.” Marthona led them to a low table, indicated cushions for them to sit on, and poured some of the deep red liquid into cups for each of them. She looked around. “I don’t see your wolf-animal, Ayla. I know you brought him in. Does he also need food? What does he eat?”

“I usually feed him whatever we eat, but he also hunts for himself. I brought him in so he would know where his place is, but he came with me the first time I went back down to the valley where the horses are, and decided to stay. He comes and goes on his own, unless I want him,” Ayla said.

“How does he know when you want him?”

“She has a special whistle to call him,” Jondalar said. “We call the horses with whistles, too.” He picked up his cup, tasted, then smiled and sighed with appreciation. “Now I know I’m home.” He tasted again, then closed his eyes and savored. “What fruit is this made from, mother?”

“Mostly from those round berries that grow in clusters on long vines only on protected south-facing slopes,” Marthona explained for Ayla’s benefit. “There’s an area several miles southeast of here that I always check. Some years it doesn’t grow well at all, but we had a fairly warm winter a few years back, and the following autumn the clusters were huge, very fruity, sweet but not too sweet. I added a little elderberry, and some blackberry juice, but not much. This wine was a favorite. It’s a little stronger than usual. I don’t have much left.”

Ayla sniffed the aroma of fruit as she held the cup to her lips to taste. The liquid was tart and tangy, dry, not the sweet taste she had expected from the fruity smell. She sensed the alcoholic character she had first tasted in the birch beer made by Talut, the Lion Camp’s headman, but this was more like the fermented bilberry juice made by the Sharamudoi, except that that had been sweeter, as she recalled.

She hadn’t liked the harsh bite of alcohol when she first experienced it, but the rest of the Lion Camp seemed to enjoy the birch beer so much, and she wanted to fit in and be like them, so she made herself drink it. After a time, she got more
used to it, though she suspected that the reason people liked it was not as much for its taste as for the heady, if disorienting, feeling it caused. Too much usually made her feel giddy and too friendly, but some people became sad, or angry, or even violent.

This beverage had something more, however. Elusive complexities altered the simple character of the fruit juice in an extraordinary way. It was a drink she could learn to enjoy.

“This is very good,” Ayla said. “I not ever tasted anything … I never tasted anything quite like it,” she corrected herself, feeling slightly embarrassed. She was completely comfortable in Zelandonii; it was the first spoken language she had learned after living with the Clan. Jondalar had taught her while he was recovering from the wounds of the lion mauling. Though she did have difficulty with certain sounds—no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t get them quite right—she seldom made mistakes in phrasing like that anymore. She glanced at Jondalar and Marthona, but they hadn’t seemed to notice. She relaxed and looked around.

Though she had been in and out of Marthona’s dwelling several times, she had not really looked at it closely. She took the time to observe more carefully, and was surprised and delighted at every turn. The construction was interesting, similar but not the same as the dwellings inside the Losadunai cave, where they had stopped to visit before crossing the glacier on the high plateau.

The first two or three feet of the outside walls of each dwelling were constructed of limestone. Fairly large blocks were roughly trimmed and placed on either side of the entry, but stone tools were not suitable for finely shaping building stone easily or quickly. The rest of the low walls were made up of limestone as it was found, or roughly shaped with a hammerstone. Various pieces, generally close to the same size—perhaps two or three inches wide, not quite as deep, and three or four times longer than they were wide—but some larger and some smaller pieces—were ingeniously fitted together so that they interlocked into a tight compressive structure.

The roughly lozenge-shaped pieces were selected and
graded for size, then arranged side by side lengthwise so that the width of the walls was equivalent to the length of the stones. The thick walls were constructed in layers so that each stone was placed in the dip where the two stones under it came together. Occasionally smaller stones were used to fill in gaps, especially around the larger blocks near the entry.

As they were layered up they were corbeled inward slightly, cantilevered in such a way that each successive layer overhung the layer below by a little. Careful selection and placement were done so that any irregularities in the stone contributed to the runoff of moisture on the outside, whether it was rainwater blown in, accumulated condensation, or ice melt.

No mortar or mud was needed to plug holes or add support. The rough limestone offered purchase enough to prevent sliding or slipping, and the mass of stones was held by its own weight and could even take the thrust of a beam of juniper or pine inserted into the walls to support other building elements or shelving structures. The stones were so cunningly fitted together that no chink of light showed through, and no errant blasts of winter wind could find an opening. The effect was also quite attractive, with a pleasing texture, especially seen from outside.

Inside, the stone windbreak wall was all but hidden by a second wall made of panels of rawhide—untreated leather that dried stiff and hard—attached to wooden posts sunk into the dirt floor. The panels began at ground level but extended above the stone walls vertically to a height of eight or nine feet. Ayla recalled that the upper panels were lavishly decorated on the outside. Many of the panels were also painted with animals and enigmatic marks on the inside, but the colors seemed less bright because it was darker inside. Because Marthona’s structure was built against the slightly sloping back of the cliff, underneath the overhanging shelf, one wall of the dwelling was solid limestone.

Ayla looked up. There was no ceiling except the underside of the stone ledge some distance above. With the exception of occasional downdrafts, smoke from fires rose over the
wall panels and drifted out along the lofty stone, leaving the air essentially clear. The cliff overhang protected them from inclement weather, and with warm clothing the dwellings could be quite comfortable even when it was cold. They were fairly large, not like some of the cozy, easy to heat, fully enclosed, but often smoke-filled little living spaces she had seen.

While the wood and leather walls offered protection from wind and rain that might blow in, they were designed more to define an area of personal space and provide some measure of privacy, at least from eyes if not ears. Some of the upper sections of the panels could be opened to admit light and neighborly conversations, if desired, but when the window panels were closed, it was considered courteous for visitors to use the entry and ask for admittance, not just call out from outside or walk in.

Ayla examined the floor more closely when her eye caught sight of stones fitted together. The limestone of the huge cliffs in the region could be broken and often sheared off naturally, along the lines of its crystal structure, into large rather flat fragments. The dirt floor inside the dwelling was paved with irregular sections of the flat stones, then covered with mats woven out of grasses and reeds, and rugs of soft fur.

Ayla turned her attention back to the conversation between Jondalar and his mother. Taking a sip of the wine, she noticed the cup in her hand. It was made of a hollow horn, bison, she thought, probably a section cut off not too far from the tip since it was rather narrow in diameter. She lifted it up to look underneath; the bottom was wood, shaped to fit the smaller, slightly lopsided, circular end, and wedged in tight. She saw scratch marks on the side, but when she looked more closely, she was surprised to find that it was a picture of a horse from side view, perfectly and delicately engraved.

She put the cup down, then inspected the low platform around which they were seated. It was a thin slab of limestone resting on a supporting bentwood frame with legs, all lashed together with thongs. The top was covered with a mat of some land of rather fine fiber, woven with intricate designs that suggested animals and various abstract lines and shapes,
in gradations of an earthy reddish color. Several pillows made of various materials were arranged around it. The leather ones were of a similar shade of red.

Two stone lamps rested on the stone table. One was beautifully carved and shaped into a shallow bowl with a decorated handle, the other was a rough equivalent with a depression that had been quickly pecked out of the center of a hunk of limestone. Both held melted tallow—animal fat that had been rendered in boiling water—and burning wicks. The roughly made lamp had two wicks, and the finished one, three. Each wick shed the same amount of light. Ayla had the feeling that the rougher one had been made recently for quick additional lighting in the dimly lit dwelling space at the back of the abri, and would see only temporary use.

The interior space, divided into four areas by movable partitions, was orderly and uncluttered, and lighted by several more stone lamps. The dividing screens, most colored or decorated in some way, also had wood frames, some with opaque panels, usually the stiff rawhide of uncured leather. But a few were translucent, probably made of some large animal’s intestines that had been cut open and dried flat, Ayla thought.

At the left end of the back stone wall, adjacent to an exterior panel, was an especially beautiful screen that appeared to be made of the shadow skin—the parchmentlike material that could be removed in large sections from the inner side of animal hides if it was left to dry without scraping. A horse and some enigmatic designs, which included lines, dots, and squares, had been drawn on it in black and shades of yellow and red. Ayla recalled that the Mamut of the Lion Camp had used a similar screen during ceremonies, although the animals and markings on his were painted only in black. His had come from the shadow skin of a white mammoth, and was his most sacred possession.

On the floor in front of the screen was a grayish fur that Ayla was sure came from the hide of a horse in thick winter coat. The glow of a small fire, which seemed to come from a niche in the wall behind it, lighted the horse screen, emphasizing its decorations.

Shelves, made of thinner segments of limestone than the paving and spaced at various intervals, lined the stone wall to the right of the screen and held an array of objects and implements. Vague shapes could be seen on the floor in a storage area below the lowest shelf, where the slope of the wall was deepest. Ayla recognized the functional use of many of the things, but some had been carved and colored with such skill, they were objects of beauty as well.

To the right of the shelves, a leather-paneled screen jutting out from the stone wall marked the corner of the room and the beginning of another room. The screens only suggested a division between the rooms, and through an opening Ayla could see a raised platform piled high with soft furs. Someone’s sleeping space, she thought. Another sleeping space was loosely denned by screens, dividing it from the room they occupied and from the first sleeping room.

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