Read The Shelters of Stone Online
Authors: Jean M. Auel
Tags: #Historical fiction
Ayla wished there was something she could do. She thought of getting her medicine bag and making a soothing and relaxing drink for him. But he didn’t know her, and she knew he was getting the best kind of care he could at this time: the attention and concern of people who loved him. She thought about how she would feel if she suddenly found out Dure was dead. It was one thing to know she would never see her son again, but she could still imagine him growing up, with Uba to love and take care of him.
“Thonolan did find a woman to love,” Marthona said, trying to comfort him. Seeing her man’s heartache and need had pulled her out of her own distress to help him. “Jondalar brought me something that belonged to her.” She picked up
the necklace to show him. He seemed to be staring into space, unaware of anything around him, dien he gave a shudder and closed his eyes. After a time, he turned to look at Marthona, seeming to remember that she had spoken to him, though he could not recall what she said. “This belonged to Thonolan’s mate,” she said, holding it out to him. “Jondalar said it represents her people. They lived near a big river … the Great Mother River.”
“He did get that far, then,” Willamar said, his voice hollow with anguish.
“Even farther,” Jondalar said. “We reached the end of the Great Mother River, went all the way to Beran Sea, and beyond. Thonolan wanted to go north from there and hunt mammoth with the Mamutoi.” Willamar looked up at him, his expression pained and puzzled, as though he wasn’t quite understanding what was said. “And I have something of his,” Jondalar said, trying to think of a way to help the man. He picked up the other wrapped package from the table. “Markeno gave it to me. Markeno was his cross-mate, part of his Ramudoi family.”
Jondalar opened the leather-wrapped package and showed Willamar and Marthona an implement made out of an ander of a red deer—a variety of elk—with the tines above the first fork detached. A hole about an inch and a half in diameter had been made in the wide space just below the first fork. The tool was Thonolan’s shaft straightener.
Thonolan’s craft had been the knowledge of how to apply stress to wood, usually heated with hot stones or steam. The tool was used to gain better control and leverage when exerting pressure to straighten bends or kinks out of the shafts so the spears he made would fly true. It was particularly useful near the end of a long branch where a hand grip was not possible. When the end was inserted through the hole, additional leverage was gained, making it possible to straighten the tips. Though it was called a straightener, the tool could be used to bend wood around, to make a snowshoe, or tongs, or any other object that required bent wood. They were different aspects of the same skill.
The sturdy, foot-long handle of the tool was carved with symbols and with the animals and plants of spring. The carvings represented many things, depending on the context; carvings and paintings were always much more complex than they seemed. All such depictions honored the Great Earth Mother, and in that sense the designs on Thonolan’s straightener were made so that She would allow the spirits of the animals to be drawn to the spears made with the tool. There was also a seasonal element represented that was part of an esoteric spiritual aspect. The beautifully made depictions were not simply representations, but, Jondalar knew, his brother had liked the carvings because they were beautiful.
Willamar seemed to focus on the pierced antler tool, then he reached for it. “This was Thonolan’s,” he said.
“Yes,” Marthona said. “Do you remember when Thonolan bent the wood to make the support for this table with that tool?” She touched the low, stone-slab platform in front of her.
“Thonolan was good at his craft,” Willamar said, his voice still strange, distant.
“Yes, he was,” Jondalar said. “I think part of the reason he felt so comfortable with the Sharamudoi was that they did things with wood that he never imagined could be done. They bent wood to make boats. They would shape and hollow out â log to make a canoe, a kind of boat, then bend the sides to widen it. They could make it bigger by adding strakes—long planks—along the sides, bending them to follow the shape of the boat, and fastening them together. The Ramudoi were very skilled at handling boats in the water, but both the Shamudoi and Ramudoi worked together to make them.
“I considered staying with them. They are wonderful people. When Ayla and I stopped to visit with them on the way back, they wanted both of us to stay. If I had, I think I would have chosen the Ramudoi half. And there was a youngster there that was really interested in learning flint-knapping.”
Jondalar knew he was babbling, but he was at a loss of
what to do or say, and was trying to fill the emptiness. He had never seen Willamar so shaken.
There was a tapping at the entrance, but without waiting for an invitation, Zelandoni pushed the drape aside and came in. Folara followed her, and Ayla realized the young woman had slipped out and summoned the woman. She nodded approval to herself; it was the right thing to do. Jondalar’s sister was a wise young woman.
It had worried Folara to see Willamar so upset. She had no idea what to do except to get help. And Zelandoni was the donier: the giver of Doni’s Gifts, the one who acted äs the intermediary of the Great Earth Mother to Her children, the dispenser of assistance and medication, the one you went to for help.
Folara had told the powerful woman the essence of the problem; Zelandoni glanced around and took in the situation quickly. She turned and spoke quietly to the young woman, who immediately headed for the cooking area and started blowing on the coals in the fireplace to get them started again. But the fire was dead. Marthona had spread the embers to cook the meat evenly and hadn’t gotten back to rekindle and bank the fire to keep it alive.
Here was something Ayla could do to help. She left the scene of grief and quickly went to her pack near the entrance. She knew exactly where her tinder kit was, and as she snatched it and headed for the cooking area, she thought of Barzec, the Mamutoi man who made it for her after she had given each hearth of the Lion Camp a firestone.
“Let me help you make a fire,” she said.
Folara smiled. She knew how to make fire, but it was upsetting to see the man of her hearth so distressed, and she was pleased to have someone there with her. Willamar had always been so strong, so steady, so self-possessed.
“If you get some kindling, I’ll start it,” Ayla said.
“The fire-starting sticks are over here,” Folara said, turning toward the back shelf.
“That’s all right. I don’t need them,” Ayla said, opening her tinder kit. It had several compartments and small pouches.
She opened one and poured out crushed, dried horse dung, from another she pulled out fluffy fireweed fibers and arranged them on top of the dung, and from a third she poured out some shaved slivers of wood beside the first pile.
Folara watched. During the long Journey, Ayla obviously had learned to have fire-making materials easily at hand, but the younger woman looked puzzled when Ayla next took out a couple of stones. Leaning close to the tinder, the woman her brother had brought home with him struck the two stones together and blew at the tinder, and it burst into flame. It was uncanny!
“How did you do that?” Folara asked, completely astonished.
“I’ll show you later,” Ayla said. “Right now, let’s keep this fire going so we can get some water boiling for Zelandoni.”
Folara felt a rush of something like fear. “How did you know what I was going to do?”
Ayla glanced at her, then looked again. Folara’s face showed her consternation. With one brother’s return after a long absence, bringing tame animals and a unknown woman with him, then learning of the death of the other brother, and seeing Willamar’s unexpected and disturbing reaction, it had been átense, exciting, and anxious day. After the stranger appeared to create fire by magic and then seemed to know something that no one had told her, Folara began to wonder if all the speculation and gossip about Jondalar’s woman having supernatural powers could be true. Ayla could see she was overwrought and was fairly sure she knew why.
“I met Zelandoni. I know she’s your healer. That’s why you went to get her, isn’t it?” Ayla asked.
“Yes, she’s the donier,” the young woman said.
“Healers usually like to make a tea or a drink to help calm someone who is upset. I assumed that she asked you to boil water for her to make it with,” Ayla carefully explained.
Folara visibly relaxed; it was perfectly reasonable.
“And I promise I’ll show you how to make fire like that. Anyone can do it … with the right stones.”
“Yes, even you,” Ayla said, smiling.
The young woman smiled, too. She had been dying of curiosity about the woman and had so many questions she wanted to ask, but she hadn’t wanted to be impolite. Now she had even more questions, but the foreign woman did not feel so unapproachable. In fact, she seemed rather nice.
“Would you tell me about the horses, too?”
Ayla gave her big pleased grin. She suddenly realized that although Folara might be every inch a tall and beautiful young woman, she hadn’t been one for too long. She’d have to ask Jondalar how many years Folara counted, but Ayla suspected that she was still quite young, probably close in age to Latie, the daughter of Nezzie, who was the mate of the Mamutoi Lion Camp’s headman.
“Of course. I’ll even take you down to meet them,” she glanced toward the low table where everyone was gathered, “maybe tomorrow, after everything is calmed down. You can go down and look at them any time you want, but don’t get too close by yourself until the horses get to know you.”
“Oh, I won’t,” Folara said.
Recalling Latie’s fascination with the horses, Ayla smiled and asked, “Would you like to ride on Whinney’s back sometime?”
“Oh! Could I?” Folara asked, breathless, her eyes open wide. At that moment, Ayla could almost see Latie in Jondalar’s sister. She had developed such a passion for the horses that Ayla had wondered if she might try to get a baby horse of her own someday.
Ayla went back to her fire-making as Folara reached for the waterbag—the waterproof stomach of some large animal. “I need to get more water. This is almost empty,” the young woman said.
The coal was still glowing, barely alive. Ayla blew on it a little more, added shavings, then the small kindling that Folara had given her, and finally a few of the larger pieces of wood. She saw the cooking stones and put several into the fire to heat. When Folara returned, the waterbag was bulging and
seemed quite heavy, but the young woman was obviously used to lifting it and filled a deep wooden bowl with water, likely the one that Marthona used for making tea. Then she gave Ayla the wooden tongs with the slightly charred ends. When she felt they were hot enough, Ayla used the tongs to pick up a hot stone. It sizzled and sent up a cloud of steam when she dropped it in the water. She added a second, then fished out the first one and replaced it with a third, and then more.
Folara went to tell Zelandoni the water was nearly ready. Ayla knew she must have told her something else as well from the way the older woman’s head jerked up to look at her. Ayla watched the woman haul herself up from the low cushions, and thought of Creb, the Clan Mog-ur. He’d had a lame leg and it made it difficult for him to get up from low seats. His favorite place to relax had been a bent old tree with a low branch that was just the right height to sit on and get up from easily.
The woman came into the cooking room. “I understand the water is hot.” Ayla nodded toward the steaming bowl. “And did I hear Folara correctly? She said you were going to show her how to start a fire with stones. What kind of trick is that?”
“Yes. I have some firestones. Jondalar has some, too. The only trick is learning how to use them, and it’s not hard. I’ll be happy to show you any time you would like. We had planned to, anyway.” Zelandoni looked back toward Willamar. Ayla knew she was pulled two ways.
“Not now,” the woman said under her breath, shaking her head. She measured some dried herbs into the paini of her hand from a pouch tied to a belt around her ample waist, then dropped them into the steaming water. “I wish I had brought some yarrow,” she mumbled to herself.
“I have some, if you’d like,” Ayla said.
“What?” Zelandoni said. She was concentrating on what she was doing and hadn’t really paid attention.
“I said I have some yarrow, if you want it. You said you wished you had brought some.”
“Did I? I was thinking it, but why would you have yarrow?”
“I am a medicine woman … a healer. I always have some basic medicines with me. Yarrow is one. It’s good for stomachaches, it relaxes, and it helps wounds heal clean and fast,” she said.
Zelandoni’s jaw would have dropped open if she hadn’t caught it halfway down. “You’re a healer? The woman Jondalar brought home is a healer?” She almost laughed, then closed her eyes and shook her head. “I think we are going to have to have a long talk, Ayla.”
“I would be happy to talk to you anytime,” she said, “but do you want the yarrow?”
Zelandoni thought for a moment. She can’t be One Who Serves. If she was, she would never leave her people to follow some man to his home, even if she did choose to mate. But she may know a little about herbs. A lot of people learn something about them. If she has some yarrow, why not use it? It has a distinctive enough odor so I can tell if it’s right. “Yes. I think it would be helpful, if you have some handy.”
Ayla hurried to her traveling pack, reached into a side pocket, and took out her otterskin medicine bag. This is getting very worn, she thought as she carried it back. I’m going to have to replace it soon. When she got to the cooking room, Zelandoni looked with interest at the strange container. It appeared to be made of the entire animal. She had never seen one like it, but there was something about it that seemed authentic.
The younger woman lifted the otter head flap, loosened the drawstring tie around the neck, then looked inside and withdrew a small pouch. She knew what it contained from the shade of color of the leather, the fiber of the drawstring closure, and the number and arrangement of the knots on the dangling ends. She untied the knot that closed it—it was a kind of knot that was easy to loosen if you knew how—and handed the pouch to the woman.