Read The Shelters of Stone Online

Authors: Jean M. Auel

Tags: #Historical fiction

The Shelters of Stone (7 page)

The draped entrance was part of the wall of wood-framed hide panels opposite the stone wall, and on the side across from the sleeping spaces was a fourth room, where Marthona was preparing food. Along the entry wall near the cooking room, freestanding wooden shelves held artfully arranged baskets and bowls, beautifully decorated with carved, woven, or painted geometric designs and realistic depictions of animals. Larger containers were on the floor next to the wall, some with lids while others openly revealed their contents: vegetables, fruits, grains, dried meats.

There were four sides to the roughly rectangular dwelling, though the outside walls were not perfectly straight nor the spaces entirely symmetrical. They curved somewhat unevenly, tending to follow the contours of the space under the overhanging shelf, and made allowances for other dwellings.

“You’ve changed things around, mother,” Jondalar said. “It seems roomier than I remember.”

“It is roomier, Jondalar. There’s only three of us here now. Folara sleeps in there,” Marthona said, indicating the second sleeping space. “Willamar and I sleep in the other room.” She motioned toward the room against the stone wall.
“You and Ayla may use the main room. We can move the table closer to the wall to make room for a bed platform, if you like.”

To Ayla, the place seemed quite roomy. The dwelling was much larger than the individual living spaces of each hearth—each family—in the semisubterranean longhouse of the Lion Camp, although not as big as her small cave in the valley, where she had lived alone. But, unlike this living area, the Mamutoi lodge was not a natural formation; the people of the Lion Camp had made it themselves.

Her attention was drawn to the nearby partition that separated the cooking space from the main room. It bent in the middle, and she realized it was two translucent screens connected in an unusual way. The wooden poles that made up the inside of the frame and legs of both panels were inserted in circles of transversely cut hollow bison horn. The rings formed a kind of hinge near the bottom and top that allowed the double screen to fold back. She wondered if other screens were made the same way.

She looked into the cooking space, curious about the facilities. Marthona was kneeling on a mat beside a hearth circled with stones of similar size; the paving stones around it were swept clean. Behind the woman in a darker corner lit by a single stone lamp were more shelves that held cups, bowls, platters, and implements. She noticed dried herbs and vegetables hanging and then saw the end of a frame with crosspieces to which they were tied. On a work platform beside the hearth were bowls, baskets, and a large bone platter with pieces of fresh red meat cut into chunks.

Ayla wondered if she should offer to help, but she didn’t know where anything was kept, or what Marthona was making. It was less than helpful to get in someone’s way. Betterto wait, she thought.

She watched Marthona skewer the meat on four pointed sticks and place them over hot coals between two upright stones, notched to hold several skewers at once. Then, with a ladle carved out of an ibex horn, the woman scooped liquid out of a tightly woven basket into wooden bowls. With a pair
of springy tongs made of wood bent all the way around, she fished a couple of smooth stones out of the cooking basket and added another hot one from the fire, then brought the two bowls to Ayla and Jondalar.

Ayla noticed the round globes of small onions and some other root vegetables in the rich broth, and realized how hungry she was, but she waited and watched to see what Jondalar did. He took out his eating knife, a small, pointed, flint blade inserted into an ander handle, and speared a small root vegetable. He put it in his mouth and chewed a moment, then took a drink of the broth from the bowl. Ayla took out her eating knife and did the same.

The soup had a delicious and flavorful meaty broth, but there was no meat in it, only vegetables, an unusual combination of herbs, to her taste, and something else, but she didn’t know what. It surprised her because she could almost always distinguish the ingredients in food. The meat, browned over the fire on skewers, was soon brought to them. It also had an unusual and delicious flavor. She wanted to ask, but held her tongue.

“Aren’t you eating, mother? This is good,” Jondalar said, spearing another piece of vegetable.

“Folara and I ate earlier. I made a lot because I keep expecting Willamar. Now I’m glad I did,” she smiled. “I only had to heat the soup for you, and cook the aurochs meat. I had it soaking in wine.”

That was the taste, Ayla thought, as she took another sip of the red liquid. It was in the soup, too.

“When is Willamar coming back?” Jondalar asked. “I’m looking forward to seeing him.”

“Soon,” Marthona said. “He went on a trading mission, west, to the Great Waters, to get salt and whatever else he could trade for, but he knows when we plan to leave for the Summer Meeting. He’ll certainly be back before then, unless something delays him, but I expect him any time now.”

“Laduni of the Losadunai told me they trade with a Cave that digs salt from a mountain. They call it Salt Mountain,” Jondalar said.

“A mountain of salt? I never knew there was salt in mountains, Jondalar. I think you are going to have stories to tell for a long time, and no one will know what is Story-Telling and what is true,” Marthona said.

Jondalar grinned, but Ayla had the distinct feeling that his mother doubted what she had been told, without actually saying so.

“I didn’t see it myself, but I rather think this story is true,” he said. “They did have salt, and they live quite far from salt water. If they had to trade or travel a great distance for it, I don’t think they would have been so liberal with it.”

Jondalar’s grin grew wider, as though he’d thought of something funny. “Speaking of traveling great distances, I have a message for you, mother, from someone we met on our Journey, someone you know.”

“From Dalanar, or Jerika?” she asked.

“We have a message from them, too. They are coming to the Summer Meeting. Dalanar is going to try to persuade some young zelandoni to go back with them. The First Cave of the Lanzadonii is growing. I wouldn’t be surprised if they start a second Cave soon,” Jondalar said.

“I don’t think it will be difficult to find someone,” Marthona commented. “It would be quite an honor. Whoever goes would truly be First, the first and only Lanzadoni.”

“But, since they don’t have One Who Serves yet, Dalanar wants Joplaya and Echozar to be joined at the Zelandonii Matrimonial,” Jondalar continued.

A quick frown flickered across Marthona’s face. “Your close cousin is such a beautiful young woman, unusual, but beautiful. None of the young men can keep his eyes away from her when she comes to the Zelandonii Meetings. Why would she choose Echozar when she could have any man she wanted?”

“No, not any man,” Ayla said. Marthona looked at her and saw a glint of defensive heat. She flushed slightly, and looked away. “And she told me she’d never find anyone who would love her as much as Echozar.”

“You’re right, Ayla,” Marthona said, paused a moment,
then, looking directly at her, added, “There are some men she can’t have.” The older woman’s eyes glanced fleetingly at her son. “But she and Echozar do seem … mismatched. Joplaya is stunningly beautiful, and he is … not. But appearances don’t count for everything; sometimes they don’t count for much at all. And Echozar does seem to be a kind and caring man.”

Though she hadn’t really said it, Ayla knew Marthona had quickly understood the reason Joplaya had made the choice she did; Jondalar’s “close cousin,” the daughter of Dalanar’s mate, loved a man she could never have. No one else mattered, so she chose the one that she knew truly loved her. And Ayla understood that Marthona’s objection was minor, prompted by a personal sense of aesthetics, not some outraged sense of propriety, as she had feared. Jondalar’s mother loved beautiful things, and it seemed appropriate for a beautiful woman to join with a man who matched her, but she understood that beauty of character was more important.

Jondalar didn’t seem to notice the slight tension between the two women, he was too delighted with himself for remembering the words he was asked to pass on to his mother, from someone he had never heard her mention. “The message I have for you is not from the Lanzadonii. We stayed with some people on our Journey, stayed longer than we planned, though I hadn’t planned to stay at all … but that’s another story. When we left, their One Who Serves said, ‘When you see Marthona, tell her Bodoa sends her love.’ ”

Jondalar had hoped to get a reaction from his self-possessed and dignified mother by mentioning a name from her past that she had probably forgotten. He meant it as playful banter in their friendly game of words and implied meanings, saying without saying, but he didn’t expect the reaction he got.

Marthona’s eyes opened wide and her face blanched. “Bodoa! Oh, Great Mother! Bodoa?” She put her hand on her chest, and seemed to have trouble catching her breath.

“Mother! Are you all right?” Jondalar said, jumping up
and hovering over her. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to shock you like that. Should I get Zelandoni?”

“No, no, I’m fine,” Marthona said, taking a deep breath. “But I was surprised. I didn’t think I’d ever hear that name again. I didn’t even know she was still alive. Did you … come to know her well?”

“She said she was almost a co-mate with you and Joconan, but I thought she was probably overstating, perhaps not remembering accurately,” Jondalar said. “How come you never mentioned her?” Ayla gave him a quizzical look. She didn’t know he hadn’t quite believed the S’Armuna.

“It was too painful, Jondalar. Bodoa was like a sister. I would have been happy to co-mate with her, but our Zelandoni talked against it. He said they had promised her uncle that she’d return after her training. You said she is One Who Serves? Perhaps it was for the best, but she was so angry when she left. I pleaded with her to wait for the season to change before trying to cross the glacier, but she wouldn’t listen. I’m happy to know she survived the crossing, and glad to know she sends her love. Do you think she really meant it?”

“Yes, I’m sure she did, mother. But she wouldn’t have had to go back to her home,” Jondalar said. “Her uncle had already left this world, and her mother as well. She did become S’Armuna, but “her anger caused her to misuse her calling. She helped an evil woman to become leader, though she didn’t know how evil Attaroa would become. S’Armuna is making up for it, now. I think she has found affirmation of her calling in helping her Cave overcome the bad years, though she may have to become their leader until someone can grow into it, like you did, mother. Bodoa was remarkable, she even discovered a way to turn mud into stone.”

“Mud into stone? Jondalar, you do sound like a traveling Story-Teller,” Marthona said. “How can I know what to believe if you are going to tell such incredible tales?”

“Believe me. I’m telling the truth,” Jondalar said with perfect seriousness and no subtle word games. “I have not become a traveling Story-Teller who goes from Cave to Cave embellishing legends and histories to make them exciting, but
I have made a long Journey and seen many things.” He glanced at Ayla. “If you had not seen it, would you have believed people could ride on the backs of horses or make friends with a wolf? I have more things to tell you that you will find hard to believe, and some things to show you that will make you doubt your own eyes.”

“All right, Jondalar. You have convinced me. I will not question you again … even if I do find what you say hard to believe,” she said, and then smiled, with a mischievous charm that Ayla had not seen before. For a moment, the woman looked years younger, and Ayla understood where Jondalar got his smile.

Marthona picked up her cup of wine and sipped it slowly, encouraging them to finish eating. When they were done, she took the bowls and skewers away, gave them a soft, damp, absorbent skin to wipe their personal eating knives before they put them away, and poured them more wine.

“You’ve been gone a long time, Jondalar,” she said to her son. Ayla had the feeling she was choosing her words carefully. “I understand you must have many stories to tell about your long Journey. You, too, Ayla,” she said, looking at the young woman. “It will take a long time to tell them all, I would think. I hope you do plan to stay … for some time.” She looked significantly at Jondalar. “You may stay here as long as you like, though it may feel crowded … after a while. Perhaps you will be wanting a place of your own … nearby … sometime.…”

Jondalar grinned. “Yes, mother, we will. Don’t worry, I’m not leaving again. This is home. I’m planning to stay, we both are, unless someone objects. Is that the story you want to hear? Ayla and I are not mated yet, but we will be. I already told Zelandoni—she was here just before you came in with the wine. I wanted to wait until we got home so we could be joined here and have her tie the knot, at the Matrimonial this summer. I’m tired of traveling,” he added with vehemence.

Marthona smiled her happiness. “It would be nice to see
a child born to your hearth, perhaps even of your spirit, Jondalar,” she said.

He looked at Ayla and smiled. “I feel the same way,” he said.

Marthona hoped he was implying what it seemed, but she didn’t want to ask. He should be the one to tell her. She just wished he wouldn’t try to be so evasive about as important a matter as the possibility of children born to her son’s hearth.

“You might be pleased to know,” Jondalar continued, “Thonolan left a child of. his spirit, if not his hearth, with at least one Cave, maybe more. A Losadunai woman named Filonia, one who found him pleasing, discovered she had been blessed soon after we stopped. She’s mated now and has two children. Laduna told me that when word got around that she was pregnant, every eligible Losadunai man found a reason to visit. She had her pick, but she named her first, a daughter, Thonolia. I saw the little girl. She looks a lot like Folara used to, when she was little.

“Too bad they live so far away, and across a glacier. That’s a long way to travel, although on the way back, it seemed close to home.” He paused thoughtfully. “I never did like traveling that much. I would never have traveled as far as I did, if it hadn’t been for Thonolan…” Suddenly he noticed his mother’s expression, and when he realized whom he had been talking about, his smile faded.

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