Author's note: Wow, how long has it been since I posted here again? Months? Years? I can hardly remember... And I am so sorry for the delay. But hopefully there should be more on a regular basis from now on. I hope...
Disclaimer: all things Earth's Children belong to Jean M. Auel, who I am not...

Durc opened his eyes, looking up at the roof of the cave, a feeling of despair growing steadily in him. Ever since he had been visited by Ursus, he had tried to be good, had tried to treat Jondalar with more respect, or, at least, had tried not to come between his mother and the man of the Others. It was hard, but the memory of the giant cave bear looming over him still made him quaver in terror. But the cave bear had never told him that he had to be there for the mating. In fact, the cave bear had hardly mentioned him at all. It had just been about Jondalar and Ayla.

Briefly, he remembered the cave bear saying that Durc had to stop the son-who-could-be, but he dismissed the thought. The only thing he could do that would be any help at all would be to leave and make a life for himself. He knew he could survive on his own, though he did not want to, and he knew that his mother would be happier this way. She would have Jondalar, just as she so obviously wanted. He was nothing more than a nuisance anymore.

His decision made, he stood and, very, very quietly, crept out of the cave, turning back only once.

Once he was far enough away that he hoped the sleeping couple would not hear him, Durc whistled for his horse, and Zurc trotted into view. Durc thought briefly about taking him along, but finally, regretfully, decided against it. Taking Zurc would give Ayla a way to track the two of them, and Durc didn't want his mother finding him. Ayla would fuss and try to console him as though he were a child, which he wasn't, and he would allow himself to be led back to the cave and Jondalar because he didn't want to cause his mother pain. It was better to leave the young horse behind and hope that he understood.

"My friend," Durc said, addressing Zurc in the language that he and Ayla had developed years ago. Though both of them were fluent in signs, they also longed to hear spoken words. It hadn't been deliberate, but as their stay in the valley progressed, they had begun introducing more and more sounds into their vocabulary. By the time Jondalar arrived, the two of them were fluent in this made up language, as well as the formal language and their everyday language. Ayla could also talk like Jondalar now. Durc had been invited to learn with Ayla, but he had refused. It wasn't that he didn't want to learn, but that he didn't want to have anything to do with Jondalar.

"Zurc. I cannot take you with me, no matter how much I might wish to. Please understand, my friend, it's not that I don't love you, but you will be happier here. You have your mother and your hearth-brother. With me, you would be unhappy." Durc couldn't continue. The tears that had been gathering spilled over, and he buried his face in the horse's mane. Zurc allowed this to continue for a little while, then gently nickered. Durc looked up, and Zurc butted up against him. Durc laughed softly and wrapped his arms around his friend's head. Then, he disentangled himself and touched his amulet. It contained two items now. There was the piece of red ochre that every Clan-member had, and there was a feather that he'd found when they arrived at the valley. Ayla had many items in her amulet, and Durc hoped that someday he'd have that many. Or maybe he didn't. After all, Ayla's items had been found in the midst of trials and suffering. Durc thought that he'd rather have only a few items in his amulet than go through a lot of suffering.

He closed his eyes and, using the formal sign language said, "Spirit of the Gray Wolf, this man would ask you to watch over the horse Zurc and keep him from harm. This man knows that you eat horses, Gray Wolf, but this horse is this man's friend and this man would beg the Gray Wolf to ignore what is normal and take this male horse into your protection."

Durc opened his eyes, hugged Zurc once more, and slipped off into the night. His first thought had been to go to Baby's cave. He thought that the cave lion would accept him as part of his pride, and Durc had seen Baby groveling at Ayla's feet enough times to be able to replicate it for Baby's mate, and he headed that way first. But, as he thought about it more, Baby's cave would probably be one of the first places that Ayla would look for him. So, he changed directions, wondering what he would find.

Rydag wondered why he had allowed himself to be drawn into the berry picking expedition. It wasn't as though anyone cared how many berries he picked. Oh, Latie grinned in delight every time he brought her his small basket, but it was the kind of grin that you would give to a favorite doll or a baby, not another person. Nezzie too smiled at him every time he came, but she was his mother and expected to do that. None of the other women and girls even paid attention when he came to empty his little basket into their big ones.

He'd gone back to the bush that he'd been methodically striping, only to find that Rugie was already there. "Find your own bush Rydag," she told him. He wanted to tell her to find her own bush, but he couldn't. Instead, he glared at the girl and stalked off to find a bush far away from Rugie.

He finally found one that was far enough away from the women that none of the other girls would think to bother him. He began to strip the berries into his basket, pausing now and then to pop one into his mouth. Suddenly, he froze. Was that another hand? He peered into the bushes that surrounded him. There! Rydag stared at the figure that he could see crouched in the bushes. Rydag wanted to demand what the figure was doing but, of course, he couldn't. All he could do was stare in amazement.

Durc watched the other boy with a mixture of wariness and amazement. Would the boy call out and alert the Others to Durc's presence? Durc hoped not and, as the boy showed no sign of calling out, he thought he might be safe. But the boy himself! Durc had never seen anyone like this boy except himself. There were features that were Clan, and features that were Others, and Durc knew that this boy was considered incredibly ugly by his people. After all, Jondalar had looked at Durc with revulsion, so why should it be any different for this boy.

Alert for any sign of danger, Durc stood up slowly. Standing, he was just as tall as the other boy, something he hadn't expected. For some reason, Durc had expected to be much taller. Then, he chided himself. 'Of course he's as tall as you are,' he told himself firmly, visualizing the signs in his head. 'He's like you, isn't he?'

He was aware that the other boy was watching him carefully, and he moved his right arm in the traditional greeting sign. Recognition flared in the other boy's eyes, then died away. Durc thought that he might never have been taught the signs, but in a previous life, this boy had definitely learned the signs. He had the Memories, after all. But that didn't change the fact that in this life, the boy hadn't had his Memories triggered. Durc wondered how they would communicate. The boy wasn't making any sounds, and Durc didn't know any words in any case. But did the boy have strong enough Memories to be able to pick up what Durc could teach him?

It didn't really matter. Even if the boy could achieve no more than rudimentary communication, Durc would teach him. Durc hadn't realized until he met this boy how much he had longed for a human companion of his own age. Ayla was all very well, but she was an adult female, and not expected to be able to know what a man thought. Durc tried to remember how he'd learned to talk himself. 'Start with words that you can easily associate,' he thought. He scanned the ground, looking for something to begin with. Spotting a rock on the ground, Durc picked it up. He gave it to the boy, then made the sign for 'rock.'

Rydag had no idea why the strange boy had given him a rock, but he watched anyway. For some reason, he didn't want to run back to Nezzie and hide behind her like he did when he met most new people. Maybe it was that this boy didn't look at him with revulsion; that this boy was actually like him. Or maybe it was the gestures that the boy was making with his arms. Rydag felt that he should know what they meant, and as the boy kept repeating the same gesture, Rydag began to feel more and more stupid. The boy pointed at the rock that Rydag still held, then made that same gesture once again. Rydag frowned. Was the boy trying to say 'rock?' Rydag gave the rock back to the boy and tried to copy the sign. The boy grinned, then shook his head. He put down the rock and repeated the sign, more slowly this time. Rydag watched closely, then, seeing what he'd done wrong before, copied it again, this time allowing his wrist and arm to flow freely, mimicking the other boy. The other boy grinned hugely and nodded. Rydag felt inordinately pleased with himself. They were talking! It wasn't much, but it was a start, and Rydag felt that each new sign would be easier to learn. It was almost as though he already knew the signs, and that all the boy had to do was remind him.

The boy touched himself on the chest and said a word. Rydag's good humor deflated instantly. More words. He looked down at the ground, ashamed that he wouldn't be able to say this boy's words either. Was there anyone who didn't use words? The boy repeated the word and, despite himself, Rydag listened. What was is? Duc? He could say that! Hesitantly, he voiced the sound. The boy shook his head and repeated the sound. Rydag listened again. There was an 'r' in there! "Durc," he managed, rolling the r sound in an effort to make it understandable. The boy, Durc, grinned again and nodded. Rydag touched his own chest and said, "Rydag." He's never been quite able to say the name correctly, but with his new trick of rolling the r sounds, he said it much more clearly than he ever had before.

"Rydag," Durc repeated, rolling the r even more that Rydag had. Rydag grinned and nodded, pleased that it was his turn to be the teacher. But how would he ask Durc to teach him more signs? He searched the ground for something else that he could use. There! He picked up a branch and held it out to Durc. Durc made a sign, then took the branch so that Rydag could copy it. Rydag got it right on the first try, and the two boys exchanged yet another grin. They were already friends, and Rydag was having more fun than he could remember having in a very long time.