Authors: Jean M. Auel
Tags: #Historical fiction
“Then why is she here?” the Fourteenth asked. Her wispy gray hair had pulled loose from the small bun on the back of her head, more on one side than the other, giving her a careless, disheveled appearance. If someone were kind, they would tactfully suggest that she fix her hair before she went out, but the First wouldn’t dream of it. The contentious Zelandoni would take anything she said as criticism.
“I asked her to come because I would like her to show you something that I think you will find very interesting.”
“Is it about those animals she controls?” asked another donier.
The First smiled. At least someone was willing to admit that Ayla had some unusual skills that might be worthy of the zelandonia. “No, Zelandoni of the South Holding of the Twenty-ninth Cave. That might be cause for another meeting, but this time, she has something else for you to see.” Though the South Holding Twenty-ninth was an assistant to the primary Zelandoni of the Twenty-ninth, it was only in terms of speaking for all of Three Rocks. He was a full-fledged Zelandoni in his own right, and the First knew him to be a good healer. He had the same right to speak out as any other donier.
Ayla noticed that the One Who Was First addressed the members of the zelandonia by their full tides, which were sometimes quite long, since they included the counting words of their Caves, but sounded very formal and important. Then it occurred to her that the only way to differentiate among them was by the counting words. They had given up their personal names and were all “Zelandoni.” They had, she realized, exchanged their names for counting words.
When she lived in her valley, she had scratched a mark on
a stick every day she was there. By the time Jondalar arrived, she had a bundle of sticks full of marks. When he used the counting words to tally the cut marks and was then able to tell her how long she had lived in her valley, it had seemed to her magic that was so powerful, it was almost frightening. When he taught them to her, she had sensed that counting words were very important and highly valued by the Zelandonii. Now she realized that, at least among Those Who Served The Mother, they were more important than names, and their use by the zelandonia gave them the essence of those powerful symbols.
The First beckoned to Jonokol. “First Acolyte of the Ninth Cave, will you use the sand I asked you to get and put out the fire? And First Acolyte of the Second Cave, will you put out all the lamps?”
Ayla recognized the two acolytes the First had called upon for assistance. They had guided her when she visited the deep cave with the animals painted on the walls at Fountain Rocks. She heard comments and questions of curiosity from the assembled group who knew the First was setting them up for something dramatic. Most of the older, experienced ones were preparing themselves to be critical. They knew and understood the techniques and impact of dramatic presentations and were determined not to be easily deluded by tricks or misdirection.
When all the fires had been put out, there was still enough light to see from the occasional beams of sunlight that filtered in here and there. The lodge was not completely dark. Ayla looked around and noticed light seeping in, particularly around the outline of the entrance, though it was closed, and around another less obvious access almost directly opposite it. Later, she thought, she might walk around the outside of the spacious zelandonia lodge to find out if she could see the second opening.
The First knew the demonstration would be much more impressive at night when the dark was total, but that didn’t matter with the ones who were here. They would understand the possibilities immediately. “Would anyone like to come
here and verify that the fire in this fireplace is completely out?” she said.
The Fourteenth quickly volunteered. She patted the sand carefully and dug her fingers in at a few warm spots, then stood up to announce, “The sand is dry, warm in a few places, but the fire is out and there are no hot coals.”
“Ayla, will you tell me what you need to start a fire?” the First said.
“I have most of it here,” she said, taking out the fire-starting kit that she had used so often on her Journey, “but tinder is necessary; almost anything that catches fire quickly will work, fireweed fuzz, or rotted wood from an old stump, if it’s dry and especially if it’s pitchy, for example. Then it’s good to have some small kindling close by, and of course some larger pieces of wood.”
There was a little buzz of noise, and the First picked up some words of irritation. They didn’t need a lesson in fire-making, they were saying. Everyone knew how to make a fire from the time they were small children. Good, she thought, feeling rather pleased. Let them grumble. They only think they know all there is to making fire.
“Will you make a fire for us, Ayla?” the Zelandoni leader said.
Ayla had fluffed up a small mound of fuzzy fireweed tops as tinder and had a piece of iron pyrite in her left hand and a flint striker in her right, but it wasn’t obvious. She struck the firestone, saw a good spark land in the fluff of fireweed, blew it into life, and added kindling. In less time than it took to explain it, she had a fire going.
There were some involuntary oohs and “How did she do that?” comments, then the Zelandoni of the Third Cave said, “Can you do it again?”
Ayla smiled at the Third. The older man had been so kind and supportive when she was trying to help Shevonar, she was pleased to see him. She moved over to another spot nearby and lit another fire beside the first one within the circle of stones that defined the fireplace, and then, without being asked, she lit a third.
“All right, how does she do that?” a man asked the First. Ayla had not met him before.
“Zelandoni of the Fifth Cave, since she is the one who discovered it, Ayla will explain her technique,” the First said.
Ayla realized this was the Zelandoni of the Cave that had already left for the Summer Meeting when they’d stopped at Old Valley. He was a younger, middle-aged man with brown hair and a round face, which characterized his body as well. There was a round softness about him, and the fleshiness of his face tended to make his eyes look small, but she sensed a shrewd cleverness to him. He could see there might be some benefit to her fire-making technique and wasn’t too proud to ask. Then she recalled that the acolyte with the missing front teeth that Jondalar didn’t like and Wolf had threatened was also from the Fifth Cave.
“First Acolyte of the Second, will you light the lamps again, and Ayla, would you demonstrate how you make fire to the zelandonia?” the large woman said, fighting to keep from gloating. She noticed that her acolyte, Jonokol, was grinning with delight. He loved to see his mentor outmaneuver the rest of the wise, canny, intelligent, strong-willed, and sometimes arrogant zelandonia.
“I use a firestone, like this, and strike it with a piece of flint.” She held out both her hands and showed the iron pyrite in one and the flint in the other.
“I’ve seen those kinds of stones,” Zelandoni of the Fourteenth said, pointing to the hand that held the iron pyrite.
“I hope you can remember where,” the First said. “We don’t know yet whether they are rare or plentiful.”
“Where did you find stones like that?” the Fifth asked Ayla.
“I found the first ones in a valley far to the east of here. Jondalar and I looked for more on our way here. They might not have been where we looked, but I didn’t find any until after we arrived here. A few days ago, I found a few near the Ninth Cave,” Ayla explained.
“And you will show us how they work?” said a tall blond woman.
“That’s what she came here to do, Zelandoni of the Second Cave,” the First said.
Ayla knew she had not met the One Who Served The Mother from the Second Cave, but there was a familiarity about her. Then she remembered Jondalar’s friend Kimeran, the age-mate with whom he shared a superficial resemblance because of their height and hair color. He was the leader of the Second Cave, and though the woman looked a little older, Ayla could definitely see the resemblance. With the brother as leader and the sister as spiritual leader, the arrangement was reminiscent of the brother-sister leadership customs of the Mamutoi—she smiled at the memory—except with them the leadership was shared and Mamut was their spiritual leader.
“I have only two firestones with me,” Ayla said, “but we have more at camp. If Jondalar is nearby, perhaps he can bring some so several people can try it at once.” The large woman nodded, and Ayla continued. “It’s not hard to do, but it takes a little practice to get the knack of it. First make sure you have some good tinder nearby. Then, if you strike them together right, you can draw a long-lived spark that you can blow into a flame.”
While Ayla demonstrated how to use the firestones to the crowd gathered around her, the One Who Was First sent Mikolan, the Second Acolyte of the Fourteenth Cave, to look for Jondalar. As the leader of the zelandonia watched, she noticed that no one held back. There were no more doubts or questions. This new technique for starting a fire was not a trick, it was a legitimate new way to make fire quickly, and they were all ager to learn, as she knew they would be. Fire was too important not to know everything they could about it.
To the people who lived in that cold, ancient, periglacial region, fire was essential, it was the difference between life and death. They needed to know how to start it, how to keep it going, and how to move it from place to place. Though it could be intensely cold, the broad expanse of territory surrounding the massive sheets of glacial ice stretching far south
of polar regions was rich with life. The brutally frigid and dry winter conditions inhibited the growth of trees, but at the middle latitudes climate was still seasonal. It could even be hot during the summer, which fostered extensive grasslands that supported vast herds of a great variety of grazing and browsing animals. They, in turn, provided high-energy food to carnivorous and omnivorous animals.
All the species of animals that lived near the ice had adapted to the cold by growing dense, warm, furry coats—except for one. The bare-skinned, furless human animal was a tropical creature who could not live in the cold unassisted. Humans came later, drawn by the rich food supply, but only after they learned how to control fire. Using the fur of the animals they killed for food, they could survive for a while exposed to the elements, but to live, they needed fire, to keep them warm when they rested and slept, and to cook their food, both meat and vegetable, to make it more digestible. When materials to burn were available, they tended to take fire somewhat for granted, but they never forgot how indispensable it was, and when fuel was scarce, or the weather was wet or snowy, they knew how much they depended on fire.
After several people had used one of the two firestones to make a fire and passed it on to the next one waiting to try, Jondalar arrived with more of them. The First personally took the firestones from him at the entrance, counted them to herself, and brought them to Ayla. The training sessions went faster after that. Once all the Zelandonia had each made at least one fire, the acolytes were invited to learn the technique, the more confident doniers helping Ayla to teach their apprentices. It was the Zelandoni of the Fourteenth who brought up the question that everyone wanted to ask.
“What do you plan to do with all these firestones?” she asked.
“From the beginning, Jondalar talked about sharing them with his people,” Ayla began. “Willamar has also talked about using them for trade. It depends on how many we find. I don’t think it’s for me alone to say.”
Of course, we can all look for some, but do you think
there are enough so that each Cave at this Summer Meeting can have at least one?” the First Zelandoni asked. She had counted them and knew the answer.
“I don’t know how many Caves are at this Summer Meeting, but I think there may be enough,” Ayla said.
“If there’s only one for each Cave, I think it should be entrusted to the Zelandoni of that Cave,” the Fourteenth said.
“I agree, and I think we should keep this way of making fire with firestones to ourselves. If only we can make fire like that, imagine how awe-inspiring it would be. Think how a Cave will react to seeing instant fire created by a Zelandoni, especially if it’s really dark,” said Zelandoni of the Fifth Cave. His eyes were full of enthusiasm. “We would command much more authority, and it could be a very effective way to make ceremonies more meaningful.”
“You’re right, Zelandoni of the Fifth,” the Fourteenth said, adding her agreement. “That’s a good idea.”
“Or perhaps it should be entrusted to the Zelandoni and the leader jointly,” the Eleventh said, “to avoid any possible conflict. I know Kareja would not like it if she didn’t have some control over this new technique.”
Ayla smiled at the small slender man who she recalled had a powerful grip and confident manner. He was loyal to his Cave’s leader, which she thought was commendable.
“These firestones would be too useful to a Cave to be kept a secret,” the First said. “We are here to Serve The Mother. We give up our personal names to become one with our people. We must always think first of the best interests of our Caves. It might be exciting for us if we could keep this firestone to ourselves, but the benefit to the entire Zelandonii outweighs bur wishes. The stones of the earth are the bones of the Great Earth Mother. It is a Gift from Her, we cannot withhold it.”
The One Who Was First stopped and looked searchingly at each member of the zelandonia in attendance. She knew the firestones could never be kept secret, even if they hadn’t already been shared. There was some obvious disappointment and perhaps a little resistance from the doniers of some
of the Caves. She was sure the Fourteenth was getting ready to object.
“You can’t make them a secret,” Ayla said with a frown.
“Why not?” said the Fourteenth. “I think that should be a decision for the zelandonia.”
“I have already given some to Jondalar’s family,” Ayla said.
“That’s too bad,” the Fifth said, shaking his head, immediately acknowledging the uselessness of pursuing it, “but what’s done is done.”