Hi, I wrote this story several years ago and posted it at The Auel Board.
As of lately, some cyber-friends told me about this site and suggested that I also posted it here.
I really hope you like it.
There is a map for this story but I've found it impossible for me to post a Link to it here.
A link to the map can be found in my Profile.
Broud's Clan: Hearth Listings
Broud (22) - Leader (Wooly Rhinoceros totem)
Oga (18) - Broud's mate
Brac (8) - Oga's first son
Grev (5) - Oga's second son
Vorn (14) - Aga's son, Broud´s second in command
Uba (9) - Medicine woman, Iza's daughter
Durc (4) - Uba's adoptive son, Ayla's son, Grev's milk brother (Gray Wolf totem)
Goov (21) - Mog-ur (Arouchs totem/Ursus totem)
Ovra (19) - Goov's mate, childless (Beaver totem)
Brun (34) - Former leader (Bison totem)
Ebra (32) - Brun's mate, Broud's mother
Grod (30) - Brun's second in command, son of the mate of Zoug (Brown Bear totem)
Uka (28) - Ebra's sister, Ovra's mother
Zoug (44) - Second in command to the leader before Brun, Grod's mother's mate
Droog (32) - Toolmaker, mated to Goov's mother before Aga
Aga (25) - Droog's second mate, Vorn and Ona's mother
Groob (7) - Aga's son born to Droog's hearth
Aba (36) - Aga's mother
Ika (21) - Crug's mate, Borg's mother
Igra (7) - Ika's daughter
Dorv (2) - Ika's son
Borg (10) - Ika's son (Boar totem)
Ona (10) - Aga's daughter (Owl totem)
Chapter One: Wandering
It was late in the afternoon, late in the season, late in his life. There was not a trace of snow yet but winter was almost about to begin and the freezing wind was blowing so hard that he could not see his way, although his eyesight had never been good to begin with. His lungs ached with every breath, he was tired, he was alone, and he was thirsty. Most of all, he was thirsty.
These were not familiar grounds either, the flat steppes were giving way to a hillside landscape and the grass was being replaced by thornbushes and small trees. The hard packed dirt floor was slowly being replaced by a more rocky terrain, it was more difficult to keep the pace, and he was thirsty.
Not having had a sip of water in two days, not having eaten in that time either, hunger was not so much a pain as thirst, but he kept going. He was angry, he snorted, coughed, and felt the taste of his own blood in the mouth, the smell of his own blood in the ground in front of him; he felt old, sick, and oddly enough, afraid. He was not used to be afraid, or to be tired, or to be thirsty.
The smell of water filled his nostrils, the sound of water running in the small creek by his side filled his ears, but he didn't dare to stop. He could not stop. He would not stop.
He knew they wouldn't let him... He wouldn't let him.
The light was fading, not that it mattered, but it seemed that they weren't going to eat today. Not yet but... maybe tonight, surely tomorrow. The big gray wolf looked at his pack running along with him, he knew he was the biggest wolf there was, the most powerful, the most cunning, the strongest and the wisest. That was why he was the leader of the pack. He picked up the pace, it was about time that he took the lead of the chase and rushed towards the old woolly rhinoceros they had been following for two days now. It would be dangerous but it had to be done. He knew he could not make the kill yet but he knew it could be done. He had done it only once when he was the lowest ranking hunter of the pack but he remembered perfectly how it was done. His prey could not be allowed to eat, to drink or to rest, and it looked like it was going to try. He howled and ran ahead closing the distance in no time, all of his hunters ran along growling and barking, threatening to bite their prey's hind legs and making it increase its speed. Watching always for his deadly horn, not forgetting the two of them left behind dead or dying when the chase began, the wolves let the old rhino run ahead. The leader stopped for a little water and several of his hunters did the same, but they were on their way in no time; the rest of the pack would not stop for water until he and the ones with him did catch up. He could almost taste his prey now and it felt good. He never thought of his pack, when hunting, as anything else as an extension of his own body. It was like having fifteen mouths, fifteen noses, thirty lungs and sixty legs with only one brain. His. Of course he never knew of numbers, not in that sense, but he was nonetheless proud of his pack. There was some sense of loss, he knew there should be a couple more of them, but he had dismissed the thought two days ago when they had stopped breathing. It was harsh but it was the way of nature. He must care for the living, and food was scarce. He wouldn't normally go after a rhino, but the pack needed meat, there were no other animals in sight and that one looked old enough to be worth a try. The hunt would be long, the meat would not be tender, but there was no other choice. Luckily this season's puppies, despite not being able to hunt yet, were old enough to run behind the pack.
He stopped. There were a few drops of blood in the ground and he smelled it. He knew what they meant, he remembered. They would be eating before sunrise.
The small band of hunters was climbing up the hill in the mild darkness of the dawn. There were four of them, they were tired and not used to hunt at night, and they were also not used to their current hunt leader and were upset. They were not used to go hunting to the hills, and they were not used to their spiritual guide to take charge in a hunt. They did not like change, they did not like things being unusual, and everything was being very unusual these days. Goov knew exactly what was happening, he could see the feelings of all the men, he had grown old and wise these last few weeks and he knew he was doing the right thing.
-Vorn! – Called Goov. The second-in-command turned around and gestured,
-Yes Goov! What does the Mog-ur have to say?
Goov would have smiled if he could, at the confusing familiarity and formality of Vorn using his name and his title in the same answer, but he did not know how. The only one that smiled in his clan was an odd deformed child who was still a mystery to him. Now was not the time for philosophic meditations anyway
- Mog-ur would say we are high enough to see as far away as we can travel in a hunt when the sun rises. The men should all rest now.
Vorn didn't answer and simply sat in the ground, all the men followed suit. Vorn was worried that he had sided last night with their Mog-ur against the wishes of his leader. It was true that Broud had not openly opposed the Mog-ur, Vorn wouldn't dare to disobey him if he had, but he knew Broud since childhood and he knew he did not like the Mog-ur telling them what to do to hunt. It was in fact a way of telling him that he was not a capable leader, something even Vorn was beginning to believe possible. Only Broud's fear for the Spirits and the spirit world had prevented him to tell Goov to mind his own business, but he had made it clear that he would not go. Vorn knew it was a clue to what he was expected to do, but the situation was desperate. The winter was almost here and they still had not found a cave that was acceptable to their totem spirits. The last one had been a wonderful spacious cave, but they could not claim it, the hunt could not have gone worse. Spirits! What did they want of them? And now Uba was pregnant again.
Goov stood up looking down at the steppes. There was not enough light to see anything yet, so he waited. It had been his idea to climb the hills at night to be able to see far away at sunrise in order to find animals to hunt. Too many times the hunters had gone into the plains, only to come back empty handed. They could not keep wasting their efforts blindly, they needed to be methodical, and he knew Broud was not capable of doing that. If only Brun gave them the benefit of his wisdom, but the former leader was making it a matter of pride, he wanted to be asked and Broud wouldn't ask. He had meditated long time, many times. He felt Brun was betraying his clan, but then realized it was not Brun's clan anymore, it was Broud´s clan now; but it was also his clan, Goov's clan, and he was responsible too. Somebody had to do something soon, and he was the only one who could. He closed his hand hard around his amulet and sent a silent prayer to his totem, Mog-ur's totem, he didn't ask anything but he knew it was more than just this hunt. Much more. He knew the Great Ursus would know.
The wind was blowing so hard that he could hear it like a scream calling him from far... far away. From the spirit world. The traveling tent shacked and trembled like if it was going to fly away at any moment now, and he could not sleep. The moonlight flashed now and then through cracks in the tent and he knew they were looking at him, they were coming for him, and they would take him with them to the spirit world. He sat up, his heart pounding, a knot in the pit of his stomach, breathing hard.
Durc looked around and saw nothing; it was too dark, only flashes of moonlight that pierced through the darkness of the tent. They were coming and no one would help him, no one could. Mama would chase them away with her sling, they would never dare to come close if she were there, but she was no more, she walked the spirit word now. Mog-ur! Mog-ur would chase the evil spirits away, but Mog-ur was out hunting. Why did he go hunting at night? You cannot hunt at night. Vorn! Vorn would protect him for he was the man of the hearth... but Vorn wasn't there either, he was out hunting too. Only Uba was with him at the hearth, but she could do nothing, she was only a woman, she was not Mog-ur, she was not a hunter... she was not Mama.
Then he heard him howl.
Uba woke up to the screaming child, grabbed him and hugged him tightly to her breast. Broud did not like the noisy son of her late sister and he would cuff her for his misbehavior, especially now that Vorn was not there. It wouldn't matter that she was a Medicine Woman of the highest status, born to Iza's line and mated to his second-in-command. She listened carefully and heard nothing but the wind. It was good that the wind was so loud, and that Broud had been so angry last night and stayed awake so late. Then she heard the wolves in the distance, and felt the terrified child shaking in her arms, almost out of control.
- Calm down Durc! - She gestured to the frightened child - You don't want to wake-up Broud, Do you?
- It is my totem Uba! He is coming for me! Don't you hear him? He is coming! He is just outside the tent, and He is coming for me!
Uba could barely see what the boy was saying, it was almost dawn but still too dark inside the tent, and Durc was trembling so hard that his gestures hardly made any sense at all.
- That is a wolf, Durc. That is not a spirit. And he is very far away. The Gray Wolf is your Totem, but it does not mean that a real living wolf will come for you. This woman knows nothing of spirits, but I know that much. You can ask Mog-ur when he comes back; he will explain it to you.
- The Cave Lion was Mama's Totem and he went for her when she was a little girl. And He marked her. Mama said that is how The Mog-ur knew which was her Totem and that He wanted her to be Clan. Uba, I don't want to be marked by my totem!
- That is not going to happen Durc. The wolves will not come near our camp. Brun is here, and also is Grod. Besides I am sure they will not want to come anywhere near to wake up Broud, Don't you think? He could send them to do women's tasks like bring water... or wood...
Durc smiled at the thought of Broud ordering the wolves around. He wouldn't want to make Broud angry, even if he were a wild wolf. He was more relaxed now and Uba hugged him back to sleep. But she would not fall asleep again, watching the strange looking child that she loved so much, resting with his eyes closed and a smile in his face inside her sleeping furs, she thought how much he remembered her of her much more strange sister. She was the only other one who smiled at a happy thought, she also was always talking too much, thinking too much, and had a restless imagination. She also used to have nightmares. She missed her so much...
Then she heard the wolves again... and shivered.
The wind had stopped, the sky was clear and the full moon was starting to come down; soon it would go under the horizon while the sun rose from the opposite direction. But while it happened, her pale light gave the hillsides an otherworldly look and bathed the prairies below with silvery shades of blue. The hunters strained to look into the moonlighted prairie when the blood chilling tones of the wolf song called their attention. There on a hill in the distance, in the opposite direction from where their clan was waiting, the black silhouette of a gray wolf could be seen against the clear night sky, howling farewell to the moon; Then a chorus of several wolf voices joined in, and the beautiful evocative wolf song repeated itself several times for a few minutes, very few but which seemed like hours to the listening men.
Suddenly the sun was rising, the moon and the wolves were nowhere to be seen and the vast immensity of the prairie showed herself to the men. Empty.
Goov refused to give in to the bad luck and kept searching with his hand shadowing his eyes. All four hunters looked around for game to hunt, far away into the steppe and close by the hillside too.
- Vorn, look! – Called Crug. He didn't like following the Mog-ur in a hunt, he didn't like things being out of the ordinary; he would rather address the young and inexperienced second-in-command.
Vorn strained to see what the young but experienced hunter was pointing at. Goov could see trough Crug's feelings like if he was transparent, and understood. Change did not came easy to Clan men and anything unusual resulted very stressful, but he felt above all that; his own status as Mog-ur would never be disputed and it did no harm at all to let Vorn play his pre-ordained role.
Crug's eyes were certainly better trained than Vorn's and Goov's. He was right; there was something at the foot of the hill they were on. Something big, not moving; something dead.
- It is a dead animal – said Goov – A big one. Probably killed by a predator, maybe the wolf pack we just heard.
Clan hunters did not like to steal prey from other predators, much less to scavenge the remains left behind by four legged hunters. So all four men went on looking for live animals to hunt but it was useless, there was none to be seen. Then they began to look at the dead animal at the foot of the hill with second thoughts.
- Maybe we should take a closer look – gestured Droog addressing no one in particular.
Goov looked thoughtfully at the big man who was in turn looking at the carcass downhill. He was the most experienced hunter of the four. He should by all rights be the highest ranked hunter instead of Vorn, but he was not. That seemed however not to bother Droog, Goov thought of him as a quiet and contented man. Since the earthquake that had destroyed their cave, the respected toolmaster had become very quiet indeed spending all of his free time at his hearth playing toolmakers with the son of his mate; he took his place behind the women and children during the march, and among the hunters during the hunts and the daily night ceremonies; but never participated in a conversation or volunteered a thought in a meeting. Not even last night when he had exposed his idea of going out to the hills in the middle of the night, had Droog given his opinion; he had just looked what everyone had to say without so much of a recognition gesture, and then at the end of the meeting, walked to his hearth, taken two spears and walked back to where the Mog-ur stood waiting. Afterwards he had marched with them like he always did but had said nothing at all until then.
Goov thought it strange to see no hyenas or other scavengers, maybe the kill has too recent, maybe there were no scavengers in the vicinity, surely enough the flying scavengers would come with the sun. Vorn looked at Goov who nodded imperceptibly, and started downhill followed by the Mog-ur, Crug and Droog walking in line at a fast pace. The footing was unsafe, some stones slipped and rolled downhill around them and Goov was thinking to tell Vorn to slow-down. He tried to reach the second-in-command with his hand, only to find there was no Vorn. It took a split-second for Goov to realize that Vorn had just disappeared in thin air and to try to stop in his tracks. It was a split-second too late.
Before his brain could grasp what was happening, Goov felt the soil disappear under his feet. Suddenly he was surrounded by darkness, rolling down through a steep path, down, down, deep inside the earth. He tried to concentrate, he should be able to, he was Mog-ur, but the strong smell of damp earth, the darkness, the stones raining on him and the suddenness of the fall didn't help. Then, while still tumbling and falling he had a vision; a huge gray wolf was looking directly at him with its yellow wolf eyes like a man waiting for an answer to an important question he just made, and while he tried to figure out what was the wolf asking for, from behind the wolf the most gigantic cave bear he had ever seen, begun to raise on its hind legs. Ursus looked at Goov in the eyes, or more likely through his eyes into his soul as if trying to find if he was worthy; Goov felt like floating in the air and then, to his shocked surprise, Ursus made a sharp single gesture.
Goov wanted to ask Vorn if he was hurt but it would be useless, they couldn't see each other. He was hurt but didn't know how bad, the sensation of floating in the air had been painfully real for he had free-fallen two, maybe three times his own height and landed heavily on his left side on a hard-packed dirt soil. His arm and his ribs ached, and the bunch of stones and small rocks that had accompanied his fall rained on him causing some additional minor injuries. Goov sat up and examined himself carefully, his left arm and ribs were much bruised but nothing seemed to be broken; he moved his head, legs and arms... all fine, and he couldn't feel any major bleed on himself either. Looking around, it did not seem so dark anymore; as his eyes began to get used to the darkness he could see the dark shadow that was Vorn, no more than two arm lengths from him. He moved towards the young man reaching with his hand.
Vorn was really scared; first the fall, then the pain and the darkness. He reached around him searching for his spear, found it grabbed it and stood up holding strongly to the comforting feel of his familiar weapon, all his body ached but he ignored it, as a man of the clan he was raised to ignore pain; seeing nothing in the dark, turned around and called. Goov's response told him where his fellow clan man was and Vorn turned to him, forcing his eyes, trying to see in the dark, he felt the pull in his spear.
He could see the outline of the young magician in front of him, for his eyes were adjusting to the darkness.
- Where are we Goov? - He signaled - Is this the spirit world?
Goov couldn't see clearly what Vorn was saying, but being a Holy Man involved the ability to read the emotions through the external actions and postures of the people. He knew without seeing that the young second-in-command was really scared. He needed him to calm down. Coming very close to the frightened hunter, Goov looked at him in the eyes and said,
- Well Vorn, it looks like you have found us a cave; Broud will be very pleased with you.
And while the young hunter began to calm down, and to dream anticipating the praise from his leader in front of all the clan, Goov went on bringing him back to earth.
- Now all we have to do is find the way out.
The two young men examined the surroundings; some light could be seen coming from above, probably the way they had came down, but something could also be seen to one side and slightly up. It was not exactly light, but more like some piece of rock wall... or floor... dimly illuminated. They walked carefully in that direction, Vorn leading, feeling the way with his spear, into a passage wide enough for two men to walk side by side but not much wider. The passage went up towards the illuminated part, which now they could see was a piece of rocky floor some twenty or thirty paces away, although only Mog-ur knew the counting words to measure the distance that way. They were climbing but it was a shallow climb, maybe one full man's height in the whole distance, and the roof could not be seen in the dark, so Goov kept his right hand raised high while his left rested on Vorn's shoulder. Nearing the end, the roof opened to a dense thornbush that covered and hid the entrance, and also blocked the sunlight.
The cave opened to a small terrace in the hillside and the narrow downward passage that led to it reminded them more of a den than a cave, but it had a smoke hole (their first and accidental way in) and therefore deserved a closer inspection to see if it was big enough for the whole clan.
- Droog! Crug! - Called Vorn.
The two hunters were some distance up-hill looking into the hole that had swallowed their second-in-command and their Mog-ur, not knowing what to do. Seeing Vorn, they raised their hands and climbed down at a fast pace.
- Cave! - Gestured Vorn visibly excited - Crug! Torches! - Ordered.
The lowest ranked hunter of the group hurried around finding the required materials and, with the help of Droog, soon had several torches ready and also a small fireplace built with dead branches and tinder. Vorn, who had with him the living coal wrapped in moss as was his duty as second-in-command, lighted the fire and then lighted the torches.
- Is it all right for us to go in? - Asked Vorn - Shouldn't we call Broud? Broud is the leader.
- We have already been in Vorn - said Goov - And I wouldn't like to have Broud come all the way here only to find the cave was not good. It would be best, though, if Droog and Crug didn't come in; so the spirits won't be disturbed. They won't mind if you went in since they showed the cave to you - It never hurt to stress Vorn's own importance – And, being Mog-ur, I must come in too.
- You are right Goov; the cave was shown to me first. Droog, Crug, watch the fire.
He didn't say that they might need to take a new coal from it. He thought it would be bad luck to name the possibility that the cave didn't meet their requirements.
The two men entered the cave for a second time that day. Vorn didn't know what to look for, but Goov was taking mental note of the cave. The entrance was narrow and went downwards into the hillside; that was not good for the cave would flood in a heavy rain. Halfway down the entrance passage he noted the rock walls to one side were wet, and a small thread of water run along that wall towards the cave, Goov tasted the water, it was good and fresh water year-round inside the cave was an advantage. At the end of the entrance passage a wide cave of roughly circular shape with a high domed ceiling opened to the eyes of the two men, the small spring of water kept to the side of the left wall and the floor of the cave which was leveled for most of the cave, dropped about the height of a man's knee just two paces before the border of the small water current; that should do for excess water in spring and early summer thought Goov adding that bit to the list of advantages. Halfway up the middle of the right wall, light came in through the smoke hole. The cave was big enough for a clan twice their size.
Vorn looked at Goov for a few moments, said nothing, and started to go back; but the magician added a restraint.
- Let's see where the water goes.
Vorn wasn't happy with the idea but didn't argue and both men followed the water that went into a narrow passage near the opposite of the entrance. The passage was more like a wide triangular crack in the wall that went all the way to the high roof. It was very short and opened to another circular cave almost as big as the first, only more than half of this one was occupied by a water pond that covered it from its centerline to the surrounding walls to the left like a half moon. The men walked around the walls to the right looking for more passages but there were none. On their way out Goov stepped on something soft and dry that crushed under his foot. He lowered his torch to see. It was old, dried, wolf spoor.
The memory of his vision during the fall came to him. He had no doubts now. Rising as high as he could, and using the solemn awe-inspiring manner of Mog-urs Goov spoke to Vorn.
- A Cave has been found. It is time to call Broud.
The Clan woke-up early. The women busied themselves tending to the fires, which had been banked for the night, going to the nearby creek for water and preparing the morning food that included rich broths made of dried meat and stored fat, cooked vegetables and herbal teas. Breakfast was an important meal when traveling because the clan spent lots of energy during the long march. If the men were not gone hunting, the women would be breaking camp immediately after eating, but that was not the case that day.
Uba looked around the camp trying to be inconspicuous, but as Medicine Woman she had developed the custom of constantly observe the members of her clan, ready to spot the tiniest indication that the stress of traveling and the exposure to the elements without the protection of a cave, were affecting the health of any of them. It felt strange to wake up without Vorn; she used to massage the stress out of his hard muscles every night and prepared a special tea for him every morning. As his mate, she knew firsthand how heavily the responsibility of being second-in-command weighed on him; specially being Broud's second-in-command. He was too young and inexperienced and he knew it, although he would rather die than show his misgivings. But he was a good mate and a considerate man, he even was nice to Durc in the privacy of the hearth, and Uba had slowly grown very fond of him. Durc was still sleeping but it was about time for Uba to wake him up; breakfast was almost ready
Broud was in a very bad mood. He was seated in front of his traveling tent eating alone, Brac and Grev had been fed very early and sent to help Ika to entertain Groob, and Oga was seated in the ground eating, but at the same time observing her mate ready to attend his every need. He didn't like being alone in a camp full of women, children and old men. Children and women were a nuisance, and old men disapproved almost everything he did; they wouldn't dare to say anything but their eyes made evident what they thought of him. It had been a mistake not going with the hunters; it had been a mistake letting them go at all. Who had ever heard of going hunting at night? Why did he not oppose Goov? He knew very well why; Goov had become a nuisance, but he feared Mog-ur. Having to wait at the camp put him in a very bad mood.
Brun was sharing breakfast and a fire with Grod, their mates were siblings and Grod had been his second-in-command when he was leader, now they were friends and spent most of their time together. Ebra and Uka also liked to be together, and even if each of them cared for her mate, sharing the chores made them less hard and the two siblings really enjoyed their time together. When Brun had stepped down from leadership, Ebra had felt the change in her status and had found in Uka the friend she needed; slowly both women had been regaining the closeness of their childhood.
Having finished eating, Brun stood up and Grod did likewise. Both men went to their traveling tents and took their weapons. A spear and his bola Brun, a spear and a sling Grod; then Brun went to where Broud was, followed by Grod.
- I will go hunting for small game - Said Brun without preamble as soon as Broud looked at him - If the leader does not object.
Broud didn't bother to answer; he couldn't stand the amusement in Brun's eyes but was too angry to think in a reason to object. Brun took Broud's non-committal grunt as an approval, turned his back to the leader and left. Without having said a word Grod turned and left after his friend. Broud's irritation grew at the blatant disrespect both men showed to him but did not know what to do, Brun had been meticulously polite. He stood up and gestured to no one in particular
- I will go hunting too!
Broud took his weapons turned around and saw his camp, full of women and children looking at him with fear, and realized he could not go leaving them unprotected.
- Zoug! - The old hunter didn't move and only turned his head to look at him - You protect the camp! I will go hunting!
Zoug made a grunt, which only meant that he had heard, and turned his head back to the soup he was drinking. At his age he could take his time eating and he had always disliked the young leader. The boy had never shown any respect for him and the old man considered he would never be half a good leader as Brun or the leader before Brun had been. How could he be so irresponsible as to leave his clan to the only protection of an almost blind old man? If it had been Brun who entrusted him with that responsibility, he would feel proud of the confidence the leader showed on him, but Zoug wouldn't see Broud in the same light.
Brun and Grod left the camp together. Broud left the opposite way.
Without making it evident Brun had missed nothing, and made a mental note to stay close around the camp. Years of worrying for the well being of his clan did not wash out easily, and he felt responsible for not having trained Broud properly.
Brun and Grod walked uphill from the camp, each one submerged in his own thoughts, after a short time of walking Brun gestured,
- Grod, did you hear the wolves?
- Yes Brun.
- Let's look carefully for tracks and any other sign of wolves being nearby. A hungry wolf could try to go after one of the children.
Grod only nodded.
- We should climb this hill to find out what we can see from the top. It is not far and we could look at the camp from there.
Grod said nothing but followed him up hill. Brun was used to his laconic friend; he could tell him more without a gesture than a whole bunch of arguing Mog-urs. The vegetation was mainly short trees and dense bushes. Neither the high grass of the steppes where they usually hunted, nor the big trees of the mountainside woods. The animals they could find there were the smaller ones; rabbits, hares, maybe a giant jerboa, or if they were lucky even a small deer. The predators they were to be wary of were also small; foxes, wolves, maybe a lynx, at worst a small leopard, but that was unlikely. The two men climbed with the stealthy movements of the experienced hunters, making no noises, trying not to announce their presence to their potential prey.
Suddenly Grod, who was almost side by side with Brun at that moment, crossed his spear in front of his friend touching him very slightly in the chest. Both men stopped and stayed completely motionless, Grod pointed with the spear to a dense bush ahead and both hunters strained to see or hear what had caught his attention. Soft shuffling and grunting noises came from the bush, and some branches trembled slightly. Then so suddenly that it almost surprised them a fat, nearly grown wild boar came off the bush and stared at the men. It was a young male, his lower canines not yet fully developed but none the less dangerous. Too far away for a spear, too big for a sling, too fat to let go without trying; Brun hurled his bola almost without thinking while Grod jumped towards the wild pig raising his spear. But the young animal was too fast.
As soon as the bola left Brun's hands and before Grod had started to move, the boar turned around and ran back the way he had come. An instant later the bola hit the dense vegetation just where the animal had been and disappeared into it. Running as fast as he could Grod jumped into the bush after his prey closely followed by Brun. Not paying attention to dry wiry branches lashing at his face Grod concentrated in a dark blur of movement just in front of him and with a powerful thrust sinked his spear into the wild boar right in the heart, killing it at once. Brun was beside him the next instant.
- You got it!
- No - said Grod - You did.
Brun looked at the dead wild pig; his bola was tightly wrapped in its hind legs.
Both men were breathing heavily, happy but extenuated. They were not so young anymore, but the excitement of the hunt made them feel as if they were. With a sharp knife Brun cut the throat of the boar so the blood did not cake inside, spoiling the meat; then with some leather tongs he always carried when hunting tied the animal's front legs together; Grod did the same with the hind legs and then using Grod's spear to hung their prey, both men lifted it on their shoulders and turned to go down back to the camp. They had just started to walk when Grod raised his free arm pointing to the horizon.
- Brun, look!
Far away, in the general direction of their camp looking from where they were, a man was coming. Running alone as fast as he could, heading to the camp.
- It is Crug and he is alone! Something serious must have happened.
Broud had left the camp walking down the mountain creek at which side they had set camp. He was very angry, everything was turning out wrong and he couldn't point out why. They had been traveling for weeks and had not found a suitable cave yet. What is worse, he had found two good ones but could not claim any of them because the first hunt after each finding had not been successful. The first had been Goov's fault; they hadn't found anything to hunt yet when Goov had said the time was over and ordered to turn back. What did Goov know about hunting? Despite being younger he had hunted more than twice times Goov had, he knew it was only a matter of time and a little more searching. But Mog-ur said the spirits would not allow more time. And he feared the anger of the spirits.
The second one had been Droog's fault, the deer had outrun the old man and two of the hunters had sprained their ankles trying to recover their prey. He knew Grod had been making comments laying the blame on him, saying that he had signaled too soon and that he had not taken into account the ground full of holes, but he couldn't do nothing because Grod had said it only to Brun in the privacy of his hearth and he was not supposed to be looking what they were talking. Damm gossiping old men!
And the wolves... He had heard them last night. This had to be some pack's territory; that could mean danger for the children. He knew he shouldn't have left the camp with only Zoug as protection, but he just could not stand being there doing nothing; maybe he should not go too far. Broud looked around for tracks or other signals of the wolf pack, maybe he could kill a wolf and give the pelt to Oga, but no signs of wolves were there to be seen, so Broud seated in a rock by the small river to rest, and saw the fish.
There is trout here! Thought Broud, he could see two big ones clearly and some shadows moving fast under the water. Taking his spear approached the river carefully and tried for a big fat trout just in front of him... missing it entirely. His anger rose again, he was about to pull back his spear when he noticed it was broken. Damm luck! He pulled it out anyway and the spear was just fine. Broud looked at it puzzled, trying to understand, and then remembered a conversation he had with another young man at the clan gathering. The man had told him how the Spirit Fish used to trick a hunter's eyes to hide the fish under the water, he had explained in great detail how to overcome the Spirit Fish. Broud had liked that conversation as he always had liked anything to do with hunting; he remembered that conversation very well now. Seating back in the rock Broud took his knife and started to carve notches near the tip of his spear, when he was satisfied with the results went to look for fish again remembering he had to aim higher than the fish was. After some unsuccessful attempts he managed to spear a nice fat one. He took it as a good omen and started back to the camp in a far better mood.
- Broud!... Broud!... Broud!... - It was Zoug and Crug's voices.
Crug? What was doing Crug back so soon and alone? They must have got into some big trouble. That would serve them for listening to their inexperienced Mog-ur instead of to their wise leader. Broud stepped into the camp with his spear up and to the front, so everyone could see the beautiful, delicious, big fish still on it.
- What is all that noise about? - Gestured Broud sternly, but enjoying himself - You look like little girls making so much noise!
- This hunter has something important to report to the leader - said Crug, ashamed of his own emotional display but hating Broud for embarrassing him in front of the women - The second-in-command has found a cave. Mog-ur sent for the leader to inspect it.
A cave! Broud refrained his first impulse to disdain the news. It was too late in the season and they needed to settle soon or they would not have time to store enough meat for the winter. They didn't have enough time already. At least it wasn't Goov who found it.
- Oga! - Shaking his spear while pointing it to the ground, Broud let the fish fall to the ground.
Oga run to his mate and Broud made a sharp gesture without even looking at her, implying she should know what to do. Understanding, Oga took the fish and went to the cooking hearth with it.
- Haven't Brun and Grod returned yet? I never thought it would do any good for two men so old to go wandering around. They had better stayed with the women like Zoug. Now I will have to wait for them before going to see the cave.
Right at that precise moment, Brun and Grod walked into the camp carrying the fat wild boar hanging from the spear.
- Were you asking for me Broud? - Said Brun locking eyes with the son of his mate - You must forgive two very old men for not being so fast walking even with so small a weight to carry. Did you happen to hunt something too?
- Don't be disrespectful to your leader old man! I could have you cursed for that!
Both men kept looking directly at each other's eyes, locked in a battle of willpower. But Brun was still too much for Broud. Trying to save face, without looking away Broud ordered Brun
- Stay at the Camp with the women and don't go anywhere! I am going with Crug to inspect the cave Vorn has found.
Brun gave the tinniest nod, only to let know he had heard, but kept looking at Broud's eyes.
- Crug, come! - Said Broud turning around. Brun looked at him going, he would have smiled if he knew how.
All the women were upset with mixed emotions. The not so veiled confrontation between the past and the current leader made them uneasy, but the prospect of a new cave exited them. Maybe the spirits were not so angry anymore. Maybe they would let them claim this one.
Brun and Grod left the boar to the women and went to rest, both sat together at Brun's fire and Ebra offered them fresh water before going to help the other women with the boar. Oga busied herself with Broud's fish.
The former leader observed the camp of small traveling tents arranged in a shape that resembled the mark of his totem in his right thigh. Each hunter had his own tent that used to sleep with his mate and children, Brun remembered that when he had been looking for a cave, The Mog-ur, his brother, had put a ban on men and women sleeping together so that men could concentrate their energies in the search and in the ceremonies that asked for help from the spirits. Their young Mog-ur had not done so this time; obviously Goov was not nearly as wise as The Mog-ur had been, but Brun suspected it had something to do with Broud not wanting to forgo relieving his needs with Oga every day. Broud was a leader who did not put his clan's interests before his, and Brun felt it was his fault for not having trained him well.
He looked at Durc playing hunters with Grev. The boy was at the end of his weaning year now, next spring he would have to begin training him. That should be Vorn's responsibility, the boy lived at Vorn's hearth, but he had promised the spirit of the boy's mother to look after her son and he intended to keep his promise. He doubted if he could do it right though. Grod grunted at his side.
- Fast! - He obviously had noticed who Brun had been looking at.
- Yes, he will be the fastest hunter one day.
Grod looked at Brun but said nothing; he only moved his head.
- I know - Said Brun - I will take care of Broud in due time. But I will need help; I don't think I can do it alone.
Grod grunted and looked down. He had never liked Ayla, he had never liked Durc, but he understood his old leader. He would help his friend, but only if he was asked.
- Gray wolf - Said Brun thoughtfully. Grod looked at him in the eyes.
- Grod! This is wolves' territory... The new cave... is in wolves' territory! Do you think this is a sign from the spirits?
The big gray wolf was watching from the top of a hill the strange looking animals that were wandering around the carcass of the rhino he had hunted last night. He remembered those animals from his youth, and the memories were not nice at all. Their smell was upsetting; it was a strange unpleasant smell mixed with that of several animals he knew, from small game to big predators, and the smell of death. And fire; there was always the frightening smell of fire around them. He remembered the pack's leader-before-him always avoided those two-legged foul-smelling animals, and the memories of hard flung stones were associated with theirs; but he was curious, and he was upset.
It had nothing to do with the rhino; they had killed it before midnight, and by dawn they were far away and there was no more than a few bones and the skin left, but he didn't like them being around the big cave. Fall was almost gone, it was time to move the pack to their winter hunting grounds, but he would be watching those strange animals; if they were not gone by spring, they would become either prey or competing predators.
Goov and the other two men were examining the remains of the rhino when Broud and Crug arrived. He was not sure about how to understand what had happened there and greeted Broud adding a slight nuance that conveyed the question; Broud was certainly not the best leader but when it came to hunting Goov respected his knowledge. If only he could have more control of his emotions...
Broud looked all of the men in the eyes and then examined the grounds
- Wolves - Said concentrating in the tracks – Big pack...
- About two hands of two men - Confirmed Goov
- No tracks of men - Said Vorn.
All the men looked puzzled at their Mog-ur. Without losing his concentration, Goov made a dismissive gesture implying a higher esoteric knowledge. Vorn shrugged, he had no interest on Mog-ur stuff.
- Strange - Said Droog - Wolves don't hunt rhinos.
Broud was getting impatient with all that talking. He thought it useless to waste time over a dead carcass with no usable meat on it.
- This is wasted time! Vorn! Crug said you had found a cave.
- Take the horn Broud...
- Take it yourself if you want Goov. Vorn! Show me the cave!
- The Wooly Rhinoceros is your totem, Broud. You take the horn and give it to Mog-ur!
Broud felt like if a spear made of ice pierced his chest. He really feared anything that had to do with spirits, but he recovered quickly, that was just Goov after all.
Goov could read the leader's changing emotions as clearly as if he was talking to him. He went on in a less imperative and more convincing tone.
- It is a good omen that our leader's totem is marking the location of the new cave. It will be good luck if you cut the horn yourself before going in.
Broud was more than mollified. Feeling that it was somehow his merit the finding of the new cave, he complied with Mog-ur's request. Taking his knife proceeded to cut off the big horn and gave it to Goov who in turn handed him very ceremoniously a burning torch. Then, with a torch in one hand and a spear ready in the other, followed his second-in-command. Goov followed both of them with a third torch suddenly noticing he had no spear. He didn't remember having found it inside the cave; maybe it was still there.
Broud found the cave acceptable and even hinted that it was better than their old cave. Goov found his spear stuck sideways near the low end of the smoke hole trough which they had came in; a large rock was being held by it, if it wasn't for the spear the rock would have probably killed him. He took it as a good sign, but he would meditate on the meaning of such a strong sign.
- Crug! - Called Broud coming out of the cave - Go back to the clan and tell them to move the camp here! A cave has been found. We go hunting tomorrow.
As soon as the clan had set up camp in front of the new cave, the women disposed of the remains of the dead rhino so that foul odors didn't disturb their camp. Everybody was in high spirits; the women prepared and cooked the boar Brun and Grod had hunted. Oga prepared Broud's trout according to an ancient recipe she found deep in her memories, stuffed with sweet flavored vegetables wrapped in leaves and cooked in hot stones, it was a special treat and everyone had a taste. Goov did not eat at all.
After dinner Broud called a meeting with all the men. It was pay time.
- Tomorrow we go hunting, - he began, – and his time I will lead the hunt – he added looking directly at Goov.
- That is a wise decision - Said Goov surprising him - There are too many signs and I will spend the night in meditation and consultation with the spirits, so I will not be well rested tomorrow. Also if I stay protecting the camp you will be able to take all the hunters, including Brun and Grod.
- If you are going to be too tired to hunt, - said Broud trying to belittle Goov somehow, - you won't be able to protect the camp by yourself either. I will have to leave another hunter to do that.
- Leave Borg, - answered Goov, - he is the least experienced hunter but he is young and strong enough to protect the camp by himself.
All the men nodded affirmatively with relief. Nobody wanted to be left out of the hunt. Even Borg was agreeing, he was too young indeed and the responsibility involved in the Cave Hunt scared him more than a little. Broud felt that the Mog-ur had tricked him somehow, but couldn't think in anything to object. All the men went back to their tents to rest for the next day's hunt; Goov went to the mouth of the cave to meditate alone.
Early in the morning Broud called all his hunters, but when he was about to signal to go, Goov appeared in their midst. He was wearing old Mog-ur's bearskin ceremonial cloak, leaning heavily in his spear as he walked he addressed the leader.
- You will travel north for two days; you will take Oga Ebra Uka and Uba along. In the third day you will find mammoth, but you will not hunt until the fourth day. This is what the great Ursus says.
Broud paled; leaning in the spear as if it was a staff in his right hand, with the gaunt face of having spent the night sleepless, Goov had spoken using the modified one-hand gestures of the great magician he feared so much.
Goov stood there, motionless, watching the designated women prepare hastily to accompany the hunters; when Broud was ready to give the hunting party the signal to march, Goov signaled again to the leader
- Do as Ursus commands; when you find mammoth your totem will tell you what to do. Do not attempt to hunt before listening to your totem; the winter is coming.
Broud was too shocked to respond, despite his fear for the spirits, he had never thought of Goov as Mog-ur. It was more like something that Goov did, not something he was. But now it wasn't Goov standing there, it was Mog-ur. Taking hold of himself Broud signaled and the small party was on its way.
As soon as the hunters disappeared in the distance, Mog-ur turned around and began to walk towards the center of the camp. He looked tired and walked with great effort, his face was ash-gray; suddenly he stopped, turned his head as if looking around and dropped to the ground.
Ovra rushed to his mate followed by Aga and Aba.
- He is breathing - said the older woman - we must move him to his tent. It is too bad Uba is not here - her gesture meaning it couldn't be helped.
- He didn't eat anything yesterday all day - said Ovra - And he didn't have breakfast today either. I cooked all his meals but he first said he was too busy meditating, and then he wouldn't acknowledge me.
Ovra worried about her mate's health but also worried that the other women would think she didn't take well care of his mate's needs, that she was not a good clan woman. Her inability to produce children only made things worse, and Goov had changed a lot these last days; he almost had no time to notice her anymore.
Around noon that day Goov woke up feeling very hungry, ate what Ovra had prepared for him and went back to his furs to think. Since the moment he had decided to call Broud to see the cave, he had been feeling strange. It was as if someone else had taken control of his body and he was only allowed to observe without intervening. He remembered everything, he even remembered deciding what to do and what to say; he just didn't recognize himself. Was that how the spirits worked? Maybe he was just a tool in their hands. He wished Creb were alive to ask him; he missed his mentor now more than ever. He decided more and deeper meditation on the subject was required.
It was the third day. Six small figures, five of them armed with spears, moved slowly, stealthy between the bushes. At a gesture from their leader, all of them dropped to the ground while he spied carefully from behind a small tree the immense bulk of their intended prey, observing patiently, waiting for the right time to signal the attack. The hunters became impatient and one by one stood up again, one of them gestured to the leader.
- Give the signal. It is time now!
- I am the leader! I will say when it is time! - He answered, but his stance betrayed his lack of confidence.
- I have no spear - Complained the youngest of them all.
- Here - Said the tallest - Take these stones and scare off the rest of the pack.
- Ready! - Signaled the leader, annoyed with the lack of concentration of his two younger hunters - Now!
The five hunters jumped ahead screaming and wielding their small spears; the sixth ran around screaming and throwing stones in every direction. Soon the five spears disappeared into the big bush tree that played the part of a mammoth, but the children continued to run around the bush until they were all exhausted.
- I made the first wound! It is my kill! - Claimed Borg.
The mog-ur had asked the young hunter to keep the boys occupied and he had taken them out to play "Hunters". It was not so long ago that he had been one of them and still enjoyed playing just as one more of the children.
- I am the leader! - Said Brac - I give the credit of the kill to Durc, he made it first!
- This is not fair! - Said Groob – Durc is faster because he is deformed and has longer legs! Also we are doing it all wrong! We must make it run first and when it is tired then we kill it.
- But you cannot make a mammoth run - Said Grev – You must kill it as soon as you can.
- You know nothing of hunting! - Said Borg - You are only a nursing baby!
- But Brac knows more than you! - Said Grev - He is going to be the leader and Broud himself is training him. You must do as he says! - Grev was very proud of his big brother - And I am not a nursing baby!
- Enough! - Said Brac - Do you want to argue or do you want to play?
- I want my mother - Said Dorv, and started to go. All that running had made him hungry and all the arguing had made him bored.
Before more of his hunters deserted, Brac took charge of the situation.
- Now we will play hunting Bison! Durc will make the first run, then Grev, Groob and myself; Borg will be the last runner and he will make the kill.
- And when will I make the kill? - Asked Groob
- After bison we hunt deer and you make the kill - Said Brac - Now let's go find bison. Borg: You go searching with Groob!
The two children began to stalk an imaginary herd of massive bison while the other three crouched to the ground waiting. Brac turned to Durc who had said nothing and looked pensive.
- You don't worry Durc, you may be deformed but you will be the fastest runner of all the clans - Said the future leader putting his arm around the tall skinny boy.
Durc nodded but kept looking pensive.
Far away to the north, the six real hunters were observing their prey. They had reached a river with a narrow beach and high banks. A small herd of female mammoths, with a few young ones obviously born the last spring, were starting to climb to the low steppes through a narrow steep cut in the high bank.
Broud was very nervous. He had found the mammoths the third day, just as Mog-ur had said, and that meant the spirits wanted them to hunt the next day. It was a good Omen. But Broud still had no idea how to hunt the gigantic beasts there in the open; he looked at his men and knew they were optimistic, finding mammoth right where and when Mog-ur said they would was such good an Omen that nobody could miss noticing. Now he had the responsibility of the success or failure of the hunt, and everyone knew that; he also knew that they were not so confident in his ability to lead the hunt.
- "Your totem will tell you what to do." - had said the magician – "Do not attempt to hunt before listening to your totem"
What did that mean? Why Mog-urs never spoke clearly?
- "The winter is coming" - Had added Goov.
He did not need to be Mog-ur to understand that one. If this hunt failed, the survival of his clan through the winter without enough food stored would be in peril. Broud looked at his men again.
Brun nodded to Grod, who nodded back. This stupid child was no fit for leadership, but the clan was first and his life-long friend had asked.
- This remembers me of the last clan gathering - Said Grod looking
- Me too - Said Brun - When our dance of the mammoth hunt won.
Broud was annoyed. Gossiping old men! What had that hunt to do with this one? There were no canyons around here to trap a mammoth into one. He clutched his amulet in his right hand, asking his totem for help. How could his totem tell him anything? He did not understand anything about talking to spirits! Damm confuse speaking Mog-urs. Then it came to him. Goov has right again. He had to wait until tomorrow to hunt, but now he knew how to hunt a mammoth!
Brun saw the change in the mood of the son of his mate and nodded at Grod. Grod nodded back satisfied; Brun could be old, he thought, but he was still the best.
Broud called his hunters for a meeting.
- As Mog-ur said, my totem has shown me the way to hunt these mammoths. There is only one way for the mammoths to go from the steppes to the water; we will dig a pit trap in their path. - Said Broud - You all remember the hunt dance of Norg's clan at the last clan gathering, we will hunt mammoth the same way they did to hunt the rhino.
It was dangerous at best, but the hunters were highly motivated. Not that they trusted their leader, but they trusted the Cave Bear spirit who talked through their Mog-ur; more so now that things were happening just as predicted. After waiting for the mammoths to be gone far enough into the prairies, the men began the work of digging the pit. Although the women were usually the ones to dig the pits they used for cooking this time they were not allowed to participate, since hunting was a male-only activity.
By sunset the pit was finished, it was narrow and didn't span more than one-third the width of the passage but it was long enough and very deep. The hard packed almost frozen soil of the riverbank had not been easy to dig, but clan men had strength and will-force unknown to modern men. They covered the hole with dry grass from the steppes laid on a frame made of light driftwood from the river. They also mixed dry mammoth dung with the grass they put over the hole and dispersed more grass and dry dung around the pit trap, up and down the passage so that not even them could see the location of the trap. The dried dung mixed with the grass masked their smell and the smell of fresh exposed soil from the pit. When it came to hunting Broud knew his business, he had been trained by Brun after all and also had a natural skill that came from a long line of great hunters, he could have been the best hunter of the whole Clan were he not so irresponsible and impatient.
They went to rest early to their camp, downwind from the mammoths, and were up at first light. Vorn prepared the moss-wrapped live coal, put it into the hollow aurochs horn and asked Grod to check it. This was too important a hunt and he was too worried to care for status recognition at this point; nevertheless he made sure Broud was distracted on other matters and did not notice him approaching the former second-in-command. All the men carried two torches in their hands and two spears tucked between leather straps at their backs but Brun who carried one spear and his bola. Brun's predilection for his favorite weapon in a hunt where it was going to be useless was taken by the other hunters as a sign of his old age. Broud was about to say something but refrained. This was not time to start an argument with a stubborn old man, too old to be a real help anyway, but his anger slowly began to rise; sometimes Broud seemed to be fueled by anger.
The mammoths were moving slowly towards the river and the men began to take their places around them trying to stay downwind from the herd. I wasn't easy and the wind didn't help since it blew in the same general direction of the river. Coming to the entrance of the narrow passage that led down to the river, the big beasts began to show nervousness, they milled around but no one started down the path. The old matriarch that led the herd began to snort noisily and to scratch the earth with her tusks, far less impressive but far more useful, and dangerous, than that of a male of similar age. Other females got nervous too and began to do the same, sending large quantities of dust up in the air along with the dried grass and mammoth dung the hunters had so carefully spread around the day before.
- Wait Broud, wait... - thought Brun without actually making a gesture or saying a word. The trap was very well made and he knew the mammoths would eventually walk into it.
But Broud was beyond patience. In his mind he saw the entire herd turning slowly around back to the steppes, and the new cave which was their last hope to settle before winter lost like the one before it. Without as much as a glance to consult his men's opinion, he gave the signal to attack.
Vorn, following a pattern of behavior as ancient as their race, obeyed at once. Taking the coal from its container, he lit a small fire he already had prepared and then his two torches. All the men lit their torches and began to run in a big arc around the herd setting fire to the dry grass as they went; then turned towards the gigantic animals yelling and waving their torches. The peaceful vegetarians panicked at once; they feared no predator, not when grouped in a herd, but they were terrified of fire. However, the disturbing smell and strange appearance of the familiar path to the river was not an enticing way out either; the entire herd, led by the old matriarch, started to run upwind alongside the high banks, away from the trap.
Broud saw immediately what was happening; in a heartbeat the entire herd would be lost. Running as fast as he could, he made an almost suicidal dash into the middle of the fleeing giants, Vorn thought it was his duty as second-in-command and followed his leader, both men waving their torches trying to turn at least one animal around. It was useless; the herd was single-minded for that was the behavior that ensured their survival. Fortunately a young mammoth, a baby born that same spring, lacking the experience of years, faced with the fire in front of his nose, turned around trumpeting his panic. His mother, hearing him, doubted for an instant; it was enough. The four remaining hunters, recognizing the moment, ran between the young female and the herd. The young mother turned around and followed his son through the narrow passage down towards the river. Staying dangerously close to her sides and behind her, the clan hunters guided the panicked animal directly into their trap. With a broken foreleg, the big beast fell to the weapons and the intelligence of the otherwise weaker hunters.
Seeing his mother disappear in the ground, smelling the fire and the blood, the baby mammoth ran in circles and then tried to follow the way his herd had gone. Droog saw him and signaled Grod to let it go, they were too tired and the animal was too far away. Grod signaled to Brun
- Big pig!
Brun hurled his bola and threw. He knew immediately that the throw was off-target; the big stones landed to one side of the running animal and bounced in the ground. The next instant the baby mammoth fell to the ground, his forelegs entangled in the leather straps of Brun's weapon. Crug and Droog ran for it, the young animal was not hurt and in a couple heartbeats would be in its way. The bet paid off, the mammoth untangled his legs and stood up facing the two running men, turned around in an instant; an instant too late. Crug's spear went deep in his side causing him to fall again. Droog's spear ended his pain. Two of them!
- Where is Broud! Where is Vorn! - Brun's habit of checking for missing men right after a kill was hard to forget.
Turning around Brun saw the leader of the clan and his second-in-command, his heart almost stopped for a moment. After the tiniest moment he took charge of the situation.
- Crug! Go and get Uba!
Uba knelt beside her mate, her prodigious brain searching for the ancient knowledge stored in it. She had not been in love at their mating, but he had been a model mate and had slowly won her heart. Right now Uba wished Iza or at least Ayla were there to remind her what to do, but she was alone and her mate needed her.
She had found the two men lying on the ground, covered with blood and dust. First she checked her mate, then the leader of her clan, and then turned back to Vorn. Broud was unconscious, had several cuts and scratches, and a mild concussion in his head; but his heart worked just fine, his breathing was fine too and seemed to have no broken bones. Uba sent Crug for water to wake him up. Vorn on the other hand, had his left arm broken and badly cut, probably by a mammoth tusk, some big artery was broken in his arm and he was losing much blood. He had several other injuries, pretty much like Broud; and his ribs were badly bruised although not broken but his head was not harmed. However, he was not breathing well.
Crug arrived with the water and Uba signaled him to throw it at Broud to wake him up, she was too busy with Vorn. Crug didn't move at first, he was not used to a woman ordering him around, but then remembered Ayla doing the same when working on that man who got injured during the bear ceremony at the last clan gathering. Uba was Medicine Woman now and this was the Clan way; Crug threw the water at Broud's face and he woke-up slowly.
- Did we get one?
- We got a female and her son - said Droog
- Who made the kill?
- Droog - said Crug, with the water container still in his hands - and Brun.
- No, - said Brun - Crug made the second kill. I missed the throw
Broud was feeling elated, his whole body ached but he was trained to ignore it. A female and a young one! And Brun missing a throw!
- I certainly made a good plan! - he gestured his mind out - We'll have more than our women can carry!
- Don't you want to know how Vorn is? - asked Brun curtly
- Vorn? What is wrong with Vorn? - Broud looked around
- Woman! Tell me how my second-in-command is!
- This woman's mate has a broken arm - said Uba without looking directly at Broud - and has lost much blood. His left side is also much bruised and has other minor injuries, but this Medicine Woman has stopped the bleeding and with proper treatment and enough rest the hunter will recover. Now, if the leader will allow, this woman would ask for Oga to help setting the broken arm.
Broud grunted his approval and Crug went running to get Oga...
It was the eighth day after the hunting party had left the camp. The women and the children were beginning to feel upset, the hunters had been away longer than they expected although they really didn't know what to expect. Ona had gone out of the camp, supposedly to look for edible roots and plants, but really just to cope with her uneasiness. Borg went along supposedly to protect her, but really because he just liked to look at her. Ona went around collecting leaves, exposing roots with her digging stick, and mostly glancing back now and then at her mate. Borg tried to look as if he was looking for game or looking for any predator posing danger to the working woman, but mostly he was enjoying the sight of his beautiful mate. They had been mated close to a year now, but were still discovering each other. Their society prevented a rich intimate personal relationship and they were still too young to have learned their respective roles. She had always liked him, and her worst fear since she became a woman was to be given to other man if he didn't become a man soon. He on the other hand was a quiet reserved young man who didn't like to talk too much, but had gone as far as to ask Brun for his manhood hunt when he was still too young for it. He wanted to be a man while Brun was still leader, fearing that Broud would want to reserve the most beautiful woman of the clan for the son of his mate. He also feared that his being so emotional about a woman became evident to the other men, for it was not considered a manly behavior. Their fears were obviously unfounded, but they were both too young to notice; they loved each other, which was very rare in their society, but they didn't know how to express it.
- Ona, wait!
She stood motionless looking at the ground while he approached. There was something odd in the surroundings that had called his attention. What he saw after examining the ground filled him with fear.
- Stay quiet - said Borg to his mate - wolf tracks... and wolf spoor... fresh...
They were quite a distance uphill from the camp, and they could see perfectly the camp and the steppes from there; the place was in fact a perfect lookout. Borg searched carefully around feeling very afraid, he didn't thought himself capable of facing a wolf pack alone; Ona felt strangely safe, nothing could happen to her while Borg was around. After a while, without moving from where she stood because his mate had ordered her to say quiet, Ona began to look around too, not with fear but with interest.
- Borg, there! - she called, pointing far away to the steppes below - Tusks! They are carrying tusks!
The young couple, suddenly aware of Ona's gross misconduct when talking to her mate without first asking permission, stared at each other. Borg didn't know what to do, he'd rather die than cuff or reprimand his mate, but Ona was quicker; dropping to the ground in front of the confused man, adopted the respectful posture of a woman requesting permission to talk. Borg tapped her shoulder.
- This unworthy woman was so excited that forgot the proper way to address a man - said Ona looking very unapologetic - I am glad no one was here to witness the shame my bad behavior must cause to my mate.
- Your excitation is understandable woman; - said Borg relieved - I will overlook it this time. Now we go back to the camp; do not run and walk in front where I can see you, there might be wolves around here.
- This woman is so lucky to be mated to such an understanding man and such a brave hunter; this woman has no fear of wolves when her mate is protecting her.
Ona began walking back to the camp followed by Borg who was thinking he was the lucky one. Still the wolves made him nervous and he kept looking all around while following his mate.
At the camp Borg went to inform Mog-ur who was apparently involved in a very serious conversation with old Zoug. Ona went to the women and started an animated conversation on the subject of the coming hunting party. All the children got also caught in the general excitation.
The hunters arrived to the camp late in the afternoon but well before dusk. The four women were very heavily loaded, even Ebra and Uka carried incredibly large loads despite their age; most incredibly, the men were heavily loaded too. Broud, Crug, Droog and Grod were carrying a baby mammoth hanging from its legs, which were tied together in pairs so the men could use their spears to carry it. Brun and Vorn also carried large parts of mammoth legs tied together in pairs and hanging from a spear that the men carried over one shoulder; just as if they were carrying a medium size animal, but the body was missing, leaving only the legs. The women, of course, were carrying most of the body.
When the hunting party began to unload, it became evident that Broud was very bruised, Vorn was very bruised too and had his right arm wrapped in deerskin along with some wooden sticks and tied to his side. It had not been an uneventful hunt but had been a successful one, and the cave was theirs. Everybody was very curious and excited about it, only Broud, Vorn and Goov had actually seen it, and the hole in the ground that supposedly was the entrance looked very unusual. The boys of the clan already referred to it as "the den".
Nobody talked about the hunt, Broud had forbidden it for he wanted to save the story for the hunt-reenactment at the cave ceremony, but everyone was curious about why the men were carrying the food. The women who accompanied the hunters gave the explanation while working with the other women and children in the preparation of the cooking pit for the feast.
After the successful hunt Broud didn't know how to carry all that meat back to the camp and called to a meeting to discuss it with the hunters. Although it was very unusual for Broud to ask for advice, the very fact that he did made the hunters aware of the importance of the meeting and everyone gave his opinions and suggestions. First it was decided that, save for the liver which was eaten raw by the hunters, all the innards would be discarded. Then it was decided that the men would carry the baby mammoth, in the same fashion that they used to bring bison to the old cave; it had been done before and was not against the customs. The women would carry all the meat they could, leaving everything else behind including traveling tents, tools, spare clothing and every utensil they had. The two remaining hunters would be in charge of the protection of the group, one of them taking rotary turns to carry the mammoth and Vorn being able to use a sling despite the objections of the Medicine Woman, which were summarily dismissed. When it became evident that too much meat was going to be lost, Vorn came with the idea of carrying the legs of the female in the same way that the baby mammoth was to be carried, saying that he could carry with his good shoulder. Brun objected saying that this would leave them unprotected against predators, but Vorn insisted and Broud decided that the remains they were leaning behind would attract the predators and the scavengers more than the group of men. Uba objected also, but Vorn said that the meat was more important and that if he damaged his injured arm she could heal it again at the cave. It was a great risk, but the men didn't want to leave more meat than strictly necessary and Broud felt this was an opportunity to contradict the old leader.
Wanting to put distance as much fast as possible to the hunting site, Broud ordered a fast march, traveling every day until it was too dark to see, and then a little more. In the mornings he started as soon as the sky began to announce the sun but even before it could actually be seen. He took a big chance but he was lucky this once. By the time they reached the camp they were completely exhausted; they all had bad cuts in their feet, sore ankles and knees, aching backs and bruised shoulders. But they made it. The low prevailing temperatures due to it being so late in the season also helped to keep the meat from rotting; for everyone it was a sign that the spirits were not angry anymore and that Ursus wanted them to keep this cave.
That night, Broud led the hunt dance and the leader's ability for theatrics, with the help of the special drinks prepared by Goov and Uba for the men and women respectively, made it even more awesome. The boys were the most interested and they could not take their eyes of the performance. When it came to the part when Broud and Vorn had turned the mammoths around, with great risk to their lives, they could almost see the giant beasts thundering by and feel the earth trembling.
Brac was the most interested, for he was going to be the next one to become a hunter; he couldn't help but to feel awed by Broud's fearlessness, but he couldn't help either noticing Brun's look throughout the whole performance. Why was the former leader not so pleased? The hunt had been a success, and Broud was the bravest of all hunters; Brun himself had helped herding the female into the trap and making the baby fall even if he missed the throw. Why was he then not happy? Was it because he had failed with the bola? He knew the old hunter too much to believe that, maybe he would find the way to make Brun tell him, maybe he would ask Brun to explain the whole hunt to him as a way of training. He needed to find out why Broud was so happy and Brun was so not.
Aga and Ika were very interested too. They already knew that their mates had made the kills and were not so happy that Broud had credited the kills to all of the hunters, but they remembered Brun had made the same. Still they were very proud of their mates, and Aga never failed to comment to anyone looking that it was her mate who wounded the giant adult female first. Ika also told Dorv many times how Crug had caught the other mammoth in the run, as if explaining the dance to the boy, but in a way that everybody could see her. Both women were very proud of their mates, and were showing off.
After the ceremony that made the cave their new home, the clan enjoyed the abundant and tender mammoth meat; then when they all had their fill the men retreated to have their private ceremony, the women put the children to sleep and then began their own dance. In the morning they would begin the enormous task of preparing and preserving all the meat and the hides, but no woman had a single thought about work that night. The whole clan celebrated their new home; this was to be their last night sleeping in the open, the next morning Broud and Mog-ur would decide the distribution of the hearths ant they would all move in.