The Shelters of Stone (8 page)

“Thonolan was born to Willamar’s hearth,” Marthona said, “born of his spirit, too, I’m certain. He always wanted to keep moving, even when he was a baby. Is he still traveling?”

Ayla noticed again an indirectness to the questions Marthona asked, or sometimes didn’t ask but made clear nonetheless. Then she recalled that Jondalar had always been a little disconcerted by the directness and frank curiosity of the Mamutoi, and she had a sudden insight. The people who called themselves the Mammoth Hunters, the people who had adopted her and whose ways she had struggled so hard to learn, were not the same as Jondalar’s people. Although the Clan referred to all the people who looked like her as the
Others, the Zelandonii were not the Mamutoi and it was not only the language that was different. She would have to pay attention to differences in the way the Zelandonii did things, if she wanted to fit in here.

Jondalar took a. deep breath, realizing this was the time to tell his mother about his brother. He reached over and took both of his mother’s hands in his. “I’m sorry, mother. Thonolan travels in the next world now.”

Marthona’s clear, direct eyes, showed the depth of her sudden grief and sadness over the loss of her youngest son; her shoulders seemed to collapse from the heavy burden. She had suffered the loss of loved ones before, but she had never lost a child. It seemed harder to lose one that she had raised to adulthood, who still should have had the fullness of life before him. She closed her eyes, trying to master her emotions, then straightened her shoulders and looked at the son who had returned to her.

“Were you with him, Jondalar?”

“Yes,” he said, reliving the time, and feeling his grief afresh. “It was a cave lion … Thonolan followed it into a canyon.… I tried to stop him, but he wouldn’t listen.”

Jondalar was fighting for control, and Ayla remembered that night in her valley when his grief overwhelmed him while she held him and rocked him like a child. She didn’t even know his language then, but no language is needed to understand grief. She reached over and touched his arm, to let him know she was there for him without interfering in the moment between mother and son. It was not lost on Marthona that Ayla’s touch seemed to help. He took a breath.

“I have something for you, mother,” he said, getting up and going to his traveling pack. He took out a wrapped packet, then, thinking about it, took out another.

“Thonolan found a woman and fell in love. Her people called themselves Sharamudoi. They lived near the end of the Great Mother River, where the river was so big, you understand why she was named for the Great Mother. The Sharamudoi were really two people. The Shamudoi half lived on the land and hunted chamois in the mountains, and
the Ramudoi lived on the water and hunted giant sturgeon in the river. In the winter, the Ramudoi moved in with the Shamudoi, each family of one group had a family of the other they were tied to, mated in a way. They seemed to be two different people, but there were a lot of close connections between them that made them each a half of one people.” Jondalar found it difficult to explain the unique and complex culture.

“Thonolan was so much in love, he was willing to become one of them. He became part of the Shamudoi half, when he mated with Jetamio.”

“What a beautiful name,” Marthona said.

“She was beautiful. You would have loved her.”

“Was?”

“She died trying to give birth to a baby who would have been the son of his hearth. Thonolan couldn’t stand losing her. I think he wanted to follow her to the next world.”

“He was always so happy, so carefree”

“I know, but when Jetamio died, he changed. He wasn’t happy and carefree anymore, just reckless. He couldn’t stay with the Sharamudoi anymore. I tried to persuade him to go home with me, but he insisted on going east. I couldn’t let him go alone. The Ramudoi gave us one of their boats—they make exceptional boats—and we went downstream, but we lost everything in the great delta at the end of the Great Mother River, where it empties into Beran Sea. I got hurt, and Thonolan almost got sucked into quicksand, but a Camp of Mamutoi rescued us.”

“Is that where you met Ayla?”

Jondalar looked at Ayla, then back at his mother. “No,” he said, pausing for a moment, “after we left Willow Camp, Thonolan decided he wanted to go north and hunt mammoth with them during their Summer Meeting, but I don’t think he really cared. He just wanted to keep going.” Jondalar closed his eyes and breathed deep again.

“We were hunting a deer,” he picked up the story again, “but we didn’t know the same deer was being stalked by a lioness. She pounced about the same time that we threw
spears. The spears landed first, but the lioness took the kill. Thonolan decided to go after it; he said it was his, not hers. I told him not to argue with a lioness, let her have it, but he insisted on following her back to her den. We waited a while, and when the lioness left, Thonolan decided to go into the canyon and take a piece of the meat. The lioness had a mate, and he wasn’t going to let go of that kill. The lion killed him, and mauled me pretty bad, too.”

Marthona frowned in concern. “You were mauled by a lion?”

“If it hadn’t been for Ayla, I’d be dead,” Jondalar said. “She saved my life. She got me away from that lion, and treated my wounds, too. She’s a healer.”

Marthona looked at Ayla, then back at Jondalar with surprise. “She got you away from a lion?”

“Whinney helped me, and I couldn’t have done it if it was just any lion,” Ayla tried to explain.

Jondalar understood his mother’s confusion. And he knew the explanation wasn’t going to make it any easier to believe. “You’ve seen how Wolf and the horses mind her.…”

“You’re not telling me …”

“You tell her, Ayla,” Jondalar said.

“The lion was one I found when he was a cub,” Ayla began. “He’d been trampled by deer and his mother had left him for dead. He almost was. I was the one who had chased those deer, trying to get one to fall into my pit-trap. I did get one, and on the way back to the valley, I found the cub and took him back, too. Whinney wasn’t too happy about it, the lion scent scared her, but I got both the deer and the lion cub back to my cave. I treated him, and he recovered, but he couldn’t take care of himself alone, so I had to be his mother. Whinney learned to take care of him, too.” Ayla smiled, remembering. “It was so funny to watch them together when he was little.”

Marthona looked at the young woman and gained a new understanding. “Is that how you do it?” she said. “The wolf. And the horses, too?”

Now it was Ayla’s turn to stare in surprise. No one had
ever made the connection so quickly before. She was so pleased that Marthona was able to understand, she beamed. “Yes! Of course! That’s what I’ve tried to tell everyone! If you find an animal very young, and feed him and raise him as though he were your own child, he becomes attached to you, and you to him. The lion that killed Thonolan, and mauled Jondalar, was the lion I raised. He was like a son to me.”

“But by then he was a full-grown lion, wasn’t he? Living with a mate? How could you get him away from Jondalar?” Marthona asked. She was incredulous.

“We hunted together. When he was little, I shared my kills with him, and when he got bigger, I made him share his with me. He always did what I asked. I was his mother. Lions are used to minding, their mothers,” Ayla said.

“I don’t understand it, either,” Jondalar said, seeing his mother’s expression. “That lion was the biggest lion I have ever seen, but Ayla stopped him in his tracks, just short of attacking me a second time. I saw her ride on his back, more than once. The whole Mamutoi Summer Meeting saw her ride that lion. I’ve seen it, and I still have trouble believing it.”

“I am only sorry that I wasn’t able to save Thonolan,” Ayla said. “I heard a man’s scream, but by the time I got there, Thonolan was already dead.”

Ayla’s words reminded Marthona of her grief, and they were all wrapped in their own feelings for a while, but Marthona wanted to know more, wanted to understand. “I’m glad to know he found someone to love,” she said.

Jondalar picked up the first package he had taken from his traveling pack. “On the day that Thonolan and Jetamio were mated, he told me you knew he would never return, but he made me promise him that someday I would. And he told me when I did to bring you something beautiful, the way Willamar always does. When Ayla and I stopped to visit the Sharamudoi on our way back, Roshario gave this to me for you—Roshario was the woman who raised Jetamio, after her mother died. She said it was Jetamio’s favorite,” Jondalar said, giving the package to his mother.

Jondalar cut the cord that tied the leather-wrapped package.
At first, Marthona thought the gift was the soft chamois skin itself, it was so beautiful, but when she opened it, she caught her breath at the sight of a beautiful necklace. It was made of chamois teeth, the perfect white canines of young animals, pierced through the root, graduated in size and symmetrically matched, each one separated by graduated segments of the backbones of small sturgeons, with a shimmering, iridescent mother-of-pearl pendant that resembled a boat hanging from the middle.

“It represents the people that Thonolan chose to join, the Sharamudoi, both sides of them. The chamois of the land for the Shamudoi, and the sturgeon of the river for the Ramudoi, and the shell boat for both of them. Roshario wanted you to have something that belonged to Thonolarís chosen woman,” Jondalar said.

Tears traced their way down Marthona’s face as she looked at the beautiful gift. “Jondalar, what made him think I knew he wasn’t coming back?” she asked.

“He said you told him ‘Good Journey’ when he left, not ‘Until you return,’ ” he said.

A new freshet of tears welled up and overflowed. “He was right. I didn’t think he’d be back. As much as I denied it to myself, I was sure when he left that I would never see him again. And when I learned that you had gone with him, I thought I had lost two sons. Jondalar, I wish Thonolan had come home with you, but I’m so happy that at least you are back,” she said, reaching for him.

Ayla couldn’t help shedding her own tears watching Jondalar and his mother embrace. She began to understand now why Jondalar couldn’t stay with the Sharamudoi when Tholie and Markeno had wanted them to. She knew how it felt to lose a son. She knew that she would never see her son again, but she wished she knew how he was, what happened to him, what kind of life he lived.

The drape at the entrance moved aside again. “Guess who’s home?” Folara cried, rushing in. She was followed more calmly by Willamar.

3

M
arthona hurried to greet the man who had just returned, and they embraced warmly.

“Well! I see that tall son of yours is back, Marthona! I never thought he would turn out to be a traveler. Maybe he should have become a trader instead of a knapper,” Willamar said, slipping out of his backpack. Then he gave Jondalar a hearty hug. “You haven’t shrunk any, I notice,” the older man said with a big grin, looking up at the full six-foot-six-inch height of the yellow-haired man.

Jondalar grinned back. It was the way the man had always greeted him, with jokes about his height. At well over six feet, Willamar, who had been as much the man of his hearth as Dalanar, was not exactly short himself, but Jondalar matched the size of the man to whom Marthona had been mated when he was born, before they severed the tie.

“Where’s your other son, Marthona?” Willamar asked, still grinning. Then he noticed her tearstained face and realized how distraught she was. When he saw her pain reflected in Jondalar, his grin faded.

“Thonolan travels the next world now,” Jondalar said. “I was just telling mother…” He saw the man blanch, then stagger as though struck a physical blow.

“But … but he can’t be in the next world,” Willamar said with shocked disbelief. “He’s too young. He hasn’t found a
woman to make a hearth with.” His voice rose in pitch with each statement. “He … he hasn’t come home yet.…” The last objection was almost a keening wail.

Willamar had always been fond of all of Marthona’s children, but when they mated, Joharran, thè child she had borne to Joconan’s hearth, was nearly ready for his donii-woman, almost a man; that relationship was one of friendship. And though he had quickly grown to love Jondalar, who was a toddler and still nursing, it was Thonolan, and Folara, who were the children of his hearth. He was convinced Thonolan was the son of his spirit, too, because the boy was like him in so many ways, but in particular because he liked to travel and always wanted to see new places. He knew that in her heart, Marthona had feared that she would never see him again, or Jondalar either when she learned that he had gone with his brother. But Willamar thought that was just a mother’s worry. Willamar had expected Thonolan to return, just as he himself always did.

The man seemed dazed, disoriented. Marthona poured a cup of liquid from the red flask, while Jondalar and Folara urged him to sit down on the cushions by the low table.

“Have some wine,” Marthona said, sitting beside him. He felt numb, unable to comprehend the tragedy. He picked up the cup and drank it down, without seeming to know that he did, then sat staring at the cup.

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