Read The Shelters of Stone Online
Authors: Jean M. Auel
Tags: #Historical fiction
“Do leaders of wolf packs really put lower-ranked wolves in their place?” Zelandoni said. “How do you know?”
“I learned to hunt meat-eaters before I learned to hunt meat,” Ayla said. “I’d spend whole days watching them. That may be why Wolf can live with people. Their ways are not so different from ours.”
“How amazing!” Zelandoni said. “And, I’m afraid you’re right. You created some bad feelings, but it wasn’t entirely your fault. At the burial, you were among the highest ranked of the Ninth Cave, which is where I thought you belonged; Marthona and I agreed. He wanted you in the place he thought you belonged, which was behind him. Traditionally, he was correct.
“At a burial, all the members of a Cave should go before anyone who is visiting. But you are not exactly a visitor. First you were with the zelandonia, because you are a healer, and they always go first. Then you were with Jondalar and his family, which is also where you belong, as everybody agreed today. But at the burial, he mentioned it to Marthona and caught her off guard. That’s why he thought he’d triumphed. Then, without even knowing it, you put him in his place. He thought he could get back at both of you through Marthona, but he seriously underestimated her.”
“There you are,” Jondalar said. “We were just talking about Laramar.”
“So were we,” Ayla said, but she doubted that their conversation had brought out the same insights. Partly because of her own doing, and partly because of circumstances she wasn’t aware of, she had created an enemy. Another one, she realized. She hadn’t wanted to cause bad feelings in any of Jondalar’s people, but in the short time she had been there, she had made two people angry at her. Marona hated her, too. She realized she hadn’t seen the woman for some time and wondered where she was.
he people of the Ninth Cave had been making preparations for their annual trek to the Summer Meeting of the Zelandonii since they returned from the last one, but as the time of their departure drew near, activities and anticipation became more intense. There were final decisions about what to take with them and what to leave behind, but it was the process of closing down their dwellings for the summer that always made them aware that they were leaving and would not be back until cold winds blew.
A few people would stay behind for one reason or another: temporary or more serious illness, to finish a project, to wait for someone. Others would return occasionally to their winter home, but most would be gone all summer. Some people would stay close to the place that had been chosen for the Summer Meeting, but many would travel to different places for diverse reasons throughout the warm season.
There would be hunting trips, harvesting treks, visits to relatives, sojourns to group meetings of other Zelandonii, and travels to neighboring peoples. Some young people would venture farther afield and go on Journeys. Jondalar’s return with new discoveries and inventions, a beautiful and exotic woman with rare talents, and exciting stories would encourage some of those who had been thinking about it to decide to go on a Journey of their own, and some mothers who knew
that his brother had died far away would be unhappy that Jondalar had returned and caused such excitement.
The evening before they planned to leave, the entire Ninth Cave was eager and restless. When Ayla thought about the Summer Meeting, where she and Jondalar would be mated, she could hardly believe it was really true. Sometimes she would wake up and be almost afraid to open her eyes for fear that it might be just a wonderful dream and she would find herself back in the small cave in her lonely valley. She thought often of Iza, wishing that somehow the woman she regarded as her mother could know that she would soon have a mate, and that she had finally found her people, at least the ones she chose to be her people.
Ayla had long ago accepted the fact that she would never know the people to whom she was born, or even who they were, and realized that it didn’t matter. When she was living with the Clan, she had wanted to be one of them, a woman of the Clan, which clan was not important. But when she finally understood that she was not Clan, and never would be, then the only distinction that mattered was that she was one of the Others, in her mind kin to all of the Others. She had been happy to be Mamutoi, the people who had adopted her, and she would have been content to be Sharamudoi, the people who had asked Jondalar and her to stay and live with them. She wanted to be Zelandonii only because they were Jondalar’s people, not because they were any better than, or even very different from, any of the Others.
During the long winter, when most people stayed close to the Ninth Cave, many of them spent time making gifts they would be giving to people when they saw them again at the next Summer Meeting. When she heard people talking about gifts, Ayla decided to make some, too. Though she’d had only a short time to work on them, she made small tokens that she planned to give to those people who had been especially kind to her, and who she knew would be giving gifts to her and Jondalar for their Matrimonial. She had a surprise for Jondalar, too. She had brought it with her all the way from the Summer Meeting of the Mamutoi. It was the one thing
she insisted on taking with her through all the adversities and hardships of their Journey.
Jondalar was planning a surprise of his own. He had discussed with Joharran the best place to establish a home for Ayla and himself within the abri of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii, and he wanted it to be ready for Ayla when they returned in the fall. To that end, he had been making arrangements. He talked with the fabricators of outside wall panels, and the people who were best at the construction of the lower stone walls, with those who were skilled at stone paving, and the ones who made interior room division panels, with the specialists in making all the components required to erect a dwelling.
Planning their future home involved some complicated trading and bargaining. First, Jondalar agreed to trade some good stone knives for fresh hides from several people, mostly from the recent megaceros and bison hunts. The blades of the knives would be knapped by him, but they would be hafted in finely made handles fabricated by Solaban, whose work Jondalar especially admired. In return for the handles, Jondalar had agreed to produce several burins—chisel-like flint carving tools—to the handle-maker’s specific requirements. Long talks between the two men that included drawings made with charcoal on birch bark had created an understanding of what was wanted.
Some of the skins Jondalar acquired would be used to make the rawhide panels Jondalar needed for his dwelling, and some would compensate Shevola, the panel-maker, for her time and effort. He also promised to make her a couple of special leather-cutting knives, some hide-scrapers, and some woodcutting tools.
He made similar arrangements with Zelandoni’s acolyte, the artist Jonokol, to paint the panels, which would incorporate Jonokol’s own ideas of design and composition using basic symbols and animals that all Zelandonii were generally expected to use, along with some that Jondalar wanted. Jonokol also wanted some special tools. He had some ideas for sculpturing limestone in high relief, but he lacked the
flint-knapping skill to convert the ideas he envisioned for a special kind of burin with a beaked nose into the tool he wanted. Burins and specialized flint tools were difficult to make in any case. It took a very experienced and skilled flintknapper to make them well.
Once the materials and various components were ready, it would take relatively little time to actually construct the dwelling. Jondalar had already persuaded several of his relatives and friends to make a trek back with him to the Ninth Cave from the Summer Meeting, along with the skilled workers—but without Ayla—to help him build it. He smiled to himself every time he imagined how pleased she would be when they returned in the fall to find she had a home of her own.
Though it took several long afternoons for Jondalar to baiter his skill at making flint tools with all the other people who could make the elements that would be needed for him to construct a place to live, the bargaining was often enjoyable. It usually started with pleasantries, then good-natured arguments that sometimes sounded like heated battles or insulting comments, but usually concluded in laughter over a cup of tea, or barma, or wine, or even a meal. Jondalar was careful to make sure Ayla was not present when he was bargaining for the dwelling, but that did not mean she wasn’t exposed to the practice.
The first time she heard people bargaining, she didn’t understand the nature of the loud, colorfully vilifying exchange. It was between Proleva and Salova, Rushemar’s mate, who was a maker of baskets. Ayla thought they were really angry, and she hurried to get Jondalar, hoping he could do something to stop it.
“You say Proleva and Salova are having a terrible disagreement? What are they saying?” Jondalar asked.
“Proleva said Salova’s baskets were ugly and poorly made, but it’s not true. Her baskets are beautiful, and Proleva must think so, too. I’ve seen several in her dwelling. Why would she say such a thing to her?” Ayla said. “Can’t you do something to stop them from fighting like that?”
Jondalar understood her genuine concern, but he was having trouble suppressing a smile. Finally he could not hold back any longer and laughed out loud. “Ayla, Ayla. They are not fighting, they are enjoying themselves. Proleva wants some of Salova’s baskets, and that’s the way it’s done. They will come to an agreement, and both will be happy. It’s called bargaining, and I can’t stop it. If I could, they would feel cheated of their fun. Why don’t you go back and watch them? You’ll see. Before long, they will be smiling, each thinking she has made a good trade.”
“Are you sure, Jondalar? They seem so angry,” Ayla said. She could hardly believe Proleva just wanted some of Salova’s baskets and that this was the way they went about it.
She went back and found a place to sit nearby to watch and listen. If this was the way things were done among Jondalar’s people, she wanted to be able to bargain, too. After a few moments, she noticed that several other people were watching the œnfrontation, smiling and nodding to each other. She soon realized the two women were not really angry, but she doubted that she would ever be able to say something was so dreadful if she really believed it was beautiful. She shook her head in wonderment. What a strange way to behave!
When the bargaining was concluded, she went to find Jondalar. “Why do people enjoy saying such terrible things when they don’t mean them? I’m not sure if I’ll ever learn to ‘bargain’ like that.”
“Ayla, both Projeva and Salova knew that each didn’t really mean what the other said. They were playing a game with each other. As long as both of them know it’s a game, there is no harm,” Jondalar said.
Ayla thought about it. There is more to it than it seems, she thought, but she couldn’t quite think what it was.
The night before they were to leave, after bundles had been packed, the tent checked and repaired, and traveling gear readied, everyone in Marthona’s home was so excited, no one wanted to go to bed. Proleva stopped by with Jaradal to
see if any help was needed. Marthona invited them to come in and sit for a while, and Ayla volunteered to make a nice tea. After a second tapping at the entrance, Folara admitted Joharran and Zelandoni. They had arrived together from different directions, both with offers and questions, but actually wanting to visit and talk. Ayla added more water and extra herbs to the tea.
“Did the traveling tent need repairs?” Proleva asked.
“Not many,” Marthona said. “Ayla helped Folara with it. They used Ayla’s new thread-puller.”
The traveling tents that would be set up each evening were large enough to accommodate several people, and Marthona’s family tent would be shared by all of them: Marthona, Willamar, and Folara; Joharran, Proleva, and Jaradal; and Jondalar and Ayla. Zelandoni would be traveling with them as well, Ayla was pleased to learn. She seemed like a member of the family, like an aunt without a mate. The tent would have one other occupant, the four-legged hunter Wolf, and the two horses would be nearby
“Did you have any trouble getting poles?” Joharran asked.
“I broke an axe cutting them down,” Willamar said.
“Could you resharpen it?” Joharran asked. Though tall straight trees had been cut for tent poles, they would still need wood for fires along the way and after they arrived at the site of the Summer Meeting, and axes to cut trees down, though unpolished stone axes had their own way of being used.
“It shattered. I couldn’t sharpen it, I couldn’t even get a blade out of it,” Willamar said.
“It was a bad piece of flint,” Jondalar said. “Full of small inclusions.”
“Jondalar made a new axe, and resharpened the others,” Willamar said. “It’s good to have him back.”
“Except now we’re going to have to watch out for stray chips of flint again,” Marthona said. Ayla noticed she was smiling and understood that she wasn’t really complaining. She was glad he was home, too. “He did clean up the flakes he
knocked off to sharpen the axes. Not like when he was a boy. I didn’t see a single sharp sliver of stone. Of course, I don’t see as well anymore.”