Read The Shelters of Stone Online
Authors: Jean M. Auel
Tags: #Historical fiction
Ayla told how she had absentmindedly picked up a stone that was on the rocky beach of the valley where she lived, rather than the hammerstone she had been using to make a new tool to replace one that had broken. Since her fire had gone out, the hot spark and bit of smoke gave her the idea to try to relight her fire that way. To her surprise, it worked.
“And is it true there are some of those firestones around here?” the donier asked.
“Yes,” Jondalar answered, full of excitement. “We collected all that we could find from her valley, and hoped to find more on our Journey. We never did, but Ayla stopped to get a drink at that small stream in Wood Valley and found some there. Not many, but where there are some, there must be more.”
“That seems logical. I hope you are right,” Zelandoni said.
“They would be exceptional for trading,” Willamar said.
Zelandoni frowned slightly. She had been thinking more of the dramatic aspects for ceremonies, but that would require that they remain inaccessible to everyone except the zelandonia, and it was already too late for that. “You are probably right, Trade Master, but perhaps not right away,” she said. “I would rather the knowledge of these stones be kept secret, for the time being.”
“Why?” Ayla said.
“They could be useful for certain ceremonies,” Zelandoni said.
Suddenly Ayla remembered the time Talut held a meeting to present the idea of the Mamutoi adopting her. To the surprise of both Talut and Tulie, the brother-sister headman and headwoman of the Lion Camp, since they had both sponsored her, one man had objected. It was only when they had made an impromptu, but dramatic, demonstration of fire-making with a firestone, and had promised to give him one, that Frebec relented.
“I suppose they could,” she said.
“But when can I show my friends?” Folara implored. “Mother made me promise not to tell anyone yet, but I’ve been yearning to show them.”
“Your mother was wise,” Zelandoni said. “I promise you’ll have a chance to show them, but not yet. This is too important and needs to be presented properly. It really would be better if you wait. Will you?”
“Of course, if you want me to, Zelandoni,” Folara said.
“It seems like there have been more feasts and ceremonies and gathers in the few days since they came than in all of last winter,” Solaban said.
“Proleva asked me to help, and you know I won’t refuse her,” Ramara said, “any more than you’d refuse Joharran. Jaradal always plays with Robenan anyway, I don’t mind watching him.”
“We’ll be leaving for the Summer Meeting in a day or so, why can’t it wait until we get there?” her mate complained.
He had an array of objects spread out on the floor of their dwelling and was trying to decide what to take with him. He did not relish the job. It was the part of going to the Summer Meeting that he always put off until the last moment, and now that he’d finally gotten into it, he wanted to finish without children playing around and disturbing things.
“I think it has to do with their mating,” Ramara said.
She thought about her own Matrimonial and glanced at her dark-haired mate. His hair was probably the darkest of anyone of the Ninth Cave, and when she met him, she liked the contrast he made with her own pale blond coloring. Solaban’s hair was almost black, though his eyes were blue, and his skin was so pale that he often sunburned, especially early in the summer season. She also thought he was the most handsome of all the men of the Cave, even compared to Jondalar. She understood the appeal of the tall blond man with the extraordinary blue eyes, and when she was younger, like most women, she had been infatuated with him. But she learned what love was when she met Solaban. Jondalar didn’t seem quite so attractive since his return, perhaps because he gave all his attention to Ayla. Besides, she rather liked the woman.
“Why can’t they get mated just like everyone else?” Solaban said, obviously feeling grouchy.
“Well, they aren’t just like everyone else. Jondalar just returned from a Journey that was so long, no one expected him to come back, and Ayla isn’t even Zelandonii. But she really wants to be. At least that’s what I heard,” Ramara said.
“When she mates him, she’ll be the same as Zelandonii anyway,” Solaban said. “Why do they need to bother with an acceptance ceremony for her?”
“It’s not the same. She wouldn’t be Zelandonii. She’d be ‘Ayla of the Mamutoi, mated to Jondalar of the Zelandomi.’ Whenever she was introduced, everyone would know she was a foreigner,” she said.
“She just has to open her mouth and everyone knows it anyway,” he said. “Making her Zelandonii isn’t going to change that.”
“Yes, it will. She might talk like a stranger, but when people meet her, they would know that she isn’t a foreigner anymore,” Ramara said.
Ramara looked at the tools, weapons, and clothing covering every flat surface. She knew her mate and understood the real reason for his irritability, and it had nothing to do with Ayla or Jondalar. She smiled to herself and said, “If it wasn’t raining out, I’d take the boys to Wood River Valley to watch the horses. All the children like to do that. They don’t usually get a chance to see animals up close.”
Solaban’s frown deepened. “That means they’ll have to stay here, I suppose.”
Ramara flashed a teasing grin. “No, I don’t think so. I thought I’d go to the other end of the shelter where everyone is cooking and getting things prepared, and help the women who are watching the children so their mothers can work. The boys can play with the others who are their age. When Proleva asked me to watch Jaradal, she meant she wanted me to be particularly aware of him. All the mothers do that. The watchers have to know who they are responsible for, especially when children get to be about Robenan’s age. They get more independent and sometimes try to go off on their own,” Ramara said, watching her mate’s frown ease. “But you should get done before the ceremony. I may have to bring the boys here afterward.”
Solaban looked around at the neatly organized assortment of his personal things, and the rows of ander, bone, and ivory trimmed to about the same size, then shook his head. He still didn’t know precisely what to take with him, but it was this way every year. “I will,” he said, “as soon as I get everything set out so I can see what I want to take to the Summer Meeting for myself, and what I want to take to trade.” Besides being one of Joharran’s close aides, Solaban was a maker of handles, especially knife handles.
“I think most everyone is here,” Proleva said, “and it’s stopped raining.”
Joharran nodded, went out from under the overhang that
had protected them from the cloudburst, and jumped up on the platform stone at the far end of the shelter. He looked at the people starting to gather around, then smiled at Ayla.
Ayla smiled back, but she was feeling nervous. She glanced up at Jondalar, who was looking at the crowd forming around the large raised stone.
“Weren’t we here not very long ago?” Joharran said with an ironic smile. “When I first introduced her to you, we didn’t know much about Ayla, except that she had traveled here with my brother Jondalar, and had an unusual way with animals. We have learned much more about Ayla of the Mamutoi in the short time that she’s been here.
“I think we all suspected that Jondalar planned to mate the woman he brought home with him, and we were right. They will join at the First Matrimonial of the Summer Meeting. Once they are mated, they will live with us at the Ninth Cave, and I for one welcome them.”
There were several comments of agreement from the assembly.
“But Ayla is not a Zelandonii. Whenever a Zelandonii mates someone who is not one of us, there are usually negotiations and other customs that need to be worked out between us and the other people. In Ayla’s case, however, the Mamutoi live so far away, we’d have to travel a year just to meet her people, and to be honest, I’m getting too old to make such a long Journey.”
Laughter and comments greeted his remark. “Getting long in the tooth, Joharran?” a young man called out.
“Wait until you’ve lived as many years as I have. Then you’ll know what old is,” a white-haired man said.
When things settled down, Joharran continued. “Once they are mated, most people will think of her as Ayla of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii, but Jondalar suggested that the Ninth Cave accept her as Zelandonii before the Matrimonial. In effect, he has asked that we adopt her. It would make the Matrimonial ceremonies easier and less confusing, and we wouldn’t have to get special dispensations
from everyone at the Summer Meeting if we do it before we go.”
“What does she want?” a woman asked.
Everyone turned to look at her. Ayla swallowed hard, and then, concentrating on saying the words as correctly as she could, she said, “More than anything in this world, I want to be a Zelandonii woman, and mated to Jondalar.”
Though she tried, she couldn’t prevent the unusual quality of the way she spoke, and no one who heard her could mistake her foreign origins; but the simple statement, spoken with such sincere conviction, won most people over.
“She did travel a long way to get here.” “She’ll be the same as Zelandonii anyway.”
“But what is her status?” Laramar asked.
“She will have the same status as Jondalar,” Marthona said. She had expected him to make trouble, and this time she was ready.
“Jondalar has a high position in the Ninth Cave because you are his mother, but we don’t know anything about her, except that she was raised by flatheads,” Laramar said loudly.
“She was also adopted by the highest-ranked Mamut, which is what they call a Zelandoni. She would have been adopted by the leader if the Mamut hadn’t spoken for her,” Marthona said.
“Why does there always seem to be one who objects?” Ayla said to Jondalar in Mamutoi. “Are we going to have to make fire with a firestone and then give him one to persuade him, like Frebec at the Lion Camp?”
“Frebec turned out to be a good man; somehow I don’t think Laramar will,” Jondalar murmured back.
“That’s what she says. How do we know?” Laramar said, continuing his loud objections.
“Because my son was there, and he says the same thing,” Marthona replied. “The leader, Joharran, doesn’t doubt them.”
“Joharran is family. Of course Jondalar’s brother isn’t going to doubt her. She will be part of your family, and you all want her to have a high status,” Laramar said.
“I don’t know why you are objecting. Laramar,” a voice from another quarter spoke out. People turned and were surprised to see that it was Stelona. “If it wasn’t for Ayla, your mate’s youngest daughter would probably have starved to death. You didn’t tell us that Tremeda got sick and lost her milk, or that Lanoga was trying to keep her alive with mashed-up roots. Ayla did. I wonder if you even knew. Zelandonii don’t let Zelandonii starve. Several of us mothers are feeding the baby, and Lorala is already getting stronger. I would be more than willing to sponsor Ayla, if she needs one. She is a woman the Zelandonii would be proud to claim.”
Several other women spoke up, defending Ayla, all nursing mothers holding their infants. The story of Ayla and Tremeda’s baby had started to spread, but not everyone knew, or knew the entire story. Most people understood what kind of “sickness” Tremeda had, but in any case her milk was gone, and they were glad the baby was being fed.
“Do you have any more objections, Laramar?” Joharran said. The man shook his head and backed away. “Does anyone else have any objections to accepting Ayla into the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii?” There was a background murmur, but no one spoke up. He reached down and gave Ayla a hand to help her up onto the level stone, then they turned to face the people. “Since several people are willing to sponsor her, and there are no objections, let me introduce Ayla of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii, formerly a Member of the Lion Camp of the Mamutoi, Daughter of the Mammoth Hearth, Chosen by the Spirit of the Cave Lion, Protected by the Cave Bear, Friend of the horses, Whinney and Racer, and the four-legged hunter, Wolf.” He had spoken to Jondalar to make sure he got her names and ties right, and memorized them. “And soon to be mated to Jondalar,” he added. “Now, let’s go eat!”
They both got down from the Speaking Stone, and as they made their way toward the food, they were stopped by people introducing themselves again, commenting on Tremeda’s baby, and in general welcoming her.
But one person had no wish to welcome her. Laramar
was not a man who was easily embarrassed, but he had been thoroughly chastened and was not happy about it. Before Laramar left the group, he glared at Ayla with a look so full of anger, it left her chilled. He didn’t know Zelandoni had seen it, too. When they reached the place where the food was being served, they noticed that Laramar’s barma was being offered, but the one who was pouring it was his mate’s oldest son, Bologan.
As people were beginning to eat, it started raining again. They found places beneath the deep overhanging shelf to enjoy their food, some sitting on the ground, others on logs or blocks of stone that had been brought in at various times and left for future use. Zelandoni caught up with Ayla as she was walking toward Jondalar’s family.
“I’m afraid you have an enemy in Laramar,” she said.
“I’m sorry about that,” Ayla said. “I didn’t mean to cause problems for him.”
“You didn’t cause his problems. He was trying to cause you problems, or rather trying to humiliate Marthona and her family, and brought problems on himself instead. But now, I think he will blame you,” Zelandoni said.
“Why should he want to make trouble for Marthona?”
“Because he is the lowest-ranked member of the Ninth Cave and she and Joharran are the highest, and he managed to catch her in a slight mistake the other day. As you may already know, that is hard to do. I think it may have given him a temporary illusion of triumph, and he liked it so well, he thought he’d try it again,” the donier said.
Ayla’s frown deepened as Zelandoni explained. “It may not be just Marthona he wanted to get the better of,” Ayla said. “I think I made a mistake the other day, too.”
“What do you mean?”
“The day I went there to show Lanoga how to make food for the baby and give her a bath, and clean herself, Laramar came home. I’m sure he didn’t know the baby had no milk, he didn’t even know about Bologan’s injuries. It made me angry; I don’t like him. Wolf was with me, and I know when Laramar saw him, he got scared. He tried to cover up his fear,
and I found myself feeling like a wolf pack leader wanting to put a lower-ranked wolf in his place. I knew I shouldn’t have done it. It just gave him bad feelings toward me,” Ayla said.