Author's note: So technically we promised we wouldn't do this anymore, but we're far enough along in this story that we're pretty sure we can keep ahead of the posting, especially if we stick to our one post a day rule. So we're posting now, and we hope you'll like it!
Disclaimer: Jean's been doing this for, what, longer than we've been alive? So clearly, we're not her.
Part one: Zelandonii
Jondalar sat in Ayla's dwelling, watching as the daughter of his hearth – his daughter, if Ayla was right – bashed two rocks together. He winced, and reached down to stop her. She looked up at him, a frown on her little face, and he smiled. She looked just like her mother, all blond glory and gentle irresistibility. No man would be able to resist her when she was older, and Jondalar smiled. He did not want the daughter of his hearth to leave, but he was proud of her.
Still, she should know better than to abuse good flint that way.
"Not that way," he said gently.
She frowned again, but stopped bashing so randomly.
"I showed you how to do it right yesterday, remember?" he asked. He would show her again, of course, but he hoped she would remember. He held out hopes of her following him as a flint knapper: her early fixation with stones seemed a good sign.
She screwed her face up in concentration as she tried to think. He said nothing, waiting. Finally, she carefully set the piece of flint down and gripped the smaller rock tightly, angling it down so that it struck the flint sharply at an angle. A piece flew off and landed among the bedding. Jondalar winced and stood, moving over to find it. Finding a sharp piece of flint among the furs was not the best way to begin the evening.
"Like that?" she asked, beaming up at him as she displayed her now ragged piece of flint.
He nodded, pleased. "Exactly like that," he agreed. Her grin widened until it threatened to take over her entire face, and she repeated her earlier action. Once more, the hammerstone hit the flint at a sharp angle, but instead of sheering off a single piece, it exploded the rock, sending shards of it flying everywhere. Jonayla stared in disbelief at the pieces.
"What happened?" she asked, bewildered.
"You hit a seam," Jondalar explained, busily picking up all the shards he could find and wishing Jonayla would allow him to put her shoes on, for all that it was still mid-summer. He didn't like the idea of her walking bare-foot while there might still be stray shards.
"A seam. Even the best flint has seams. They're like cracks that run through the flint. If you're not careful, you can hit it and shatter the entire thing." He smiled ruefully, thinking back on all the blades or tools he had ruined because of that.
"Did I do bad, then?" she asked, lower lip quivering slightly.
Jondalar carefully put all the shards he had collected into a pile by the entrance of the dwelling and swept the little girl up into his arms, swinging her high above the ground before settling her on his shoulders. She shrieked in delight.
"No, you didn't do bad," he assured her. "You did very well. But why don't we take a break from flint knapping and see what Folara is doing."
Jonayla bounced in excitement at this. Folara was her favorite of Jondalar's family, and Jondalar suspected the feeling was returned. Folara loved the daughter of her brother's hearth, and never lost an opportunity to spoil her.
"If you keep bouncing you'll have to get down," he warned as he lifted the hide up to get out of the dwelling. "I'm fragile. You might break me."
Jonayla giggled at the thought of breaking the sturdy man of her hearth, but didn't bounce anymore, just in case.
They crossed the ninth cave until they reached Marthona's dwelling. In front of it, Jondalar reached up and slid Jonayla down from his shoulders. She sighed, but realized that he needed to duck just to get into the dwelling. If she stayed on his shoulders, she would end up hitting her head painfully on the roof of the cave, which would not be fun at all.
Folara sat cross legged on the floor, a loom in front of her. Her hands stilled as Jondalar and Jonayla entered the dwelling, and she smiled. She wisely moved the loom out of the way as Jonayla ran to her, laughing as Folara caught her. They rolled back, Folara having twisted so that they landed in the furs, not the hearth. She knew from experience how painful it was to hit her head on the sharp stones that marked it as Willamar's hearth.
Jondalar laughed. "Jonayla, you'll break Folara too. Let her breathe."
Reluctantly, Jonayla climbed up, then stuck out a hand to pull Folara up too. Smiling, Folara took the hand and stood gracefully. "Did you get tired of watching her on your own?" she asked her brother with a grin.
Jondalar smiled back. "She was making a mess of our dwelling."
"So you brought her here instead?" Folara made a disgusted noise. "Men. Always the same. Why didn't you take her outside, then?"
"Because I wanted to see you!" Jonayla explained, with all the seriousness of a four year old child who knows they make the decisions. "Jondalar was teaching me to knap flint, like he does, and I made it explode, so he said that we should visit you, and I wanted to!"
Folara raised her eyebrows at her brother. "Made it explode?" she repeated. "What did she do to it?"
Jondalar shrugged. "Nothing much. Hit a seam, that's all. But there's flint all over the dwelling, and I'd feel better if she wasn't there, at least until I'm sure it's all cleaned out."
Folara nodded. That, at least, made sense. She looked at Jonayla, who was watching her with wide blue eyes. With a slight sigh – she would get no more weaving done today, that was for certain – she took the girl's hand. "It's beautiful outside," she said. "What do you say we go for a walk and you can tell me more about your exploding flint."
Jonayla's eyes lit up, and she practically towed Folara towards the door of the dwelling. Twisting her neck, Folara managed to catch her brother's eye as she left, and she had to grin at the expression of pure gratitude on his face.
She and the girl left the ninth cave and began to wander down to where the horses were grazing. Gray was old enough to be ridden now, but Jonayla was still small, so Ayla had been doing the primary training. Jonayla could sit on her horse, though, and she had recently learned to lead the mare around in circles. No one in the ninth cave could stop a smile at the sight of the tiny girl atop the much larger horse, walking round in circles as though it were the most impressive feat ever accomplished. And, for many observers, it was. Despite her constant litany, Ayla had never quite managed to convince people that her control of the animals was nothing more than hard work and dedication. Watching Jonayla, who was clearly flesh and blood, tame the horse had brought animal training down to another level, one that the people of the ninth cave could relate to far more easily.
Jonayla chattered eagerly as the two walked, recounting her adventures of the morning and explaining about seams at great length. Folara, who had grown up with Jondalar and thus knew far more than she wanted to about seams and faults and everything else having to do with flint, listened with half an ear, privately thinking that the little girl looked to be taking after Jondalar in more than just eye color.
Suddenly, Jonayla stopped short. Folara, wrapped up in her musings, almost didn't notice until a tug on her arm let her know that her charge had stopped moving. She blinked, refocusing on the present. Then, her eyes widened. Two strangers stood on the path, looking at the two Zelandonii with wide eyes.
Folara was the first to recover. She smiled at the two and said, "Greetings. I am Folara of the Zelandonii."
They did not answer, and she could see the confusion in their eyes. She studied them more closely, wondering where they came from. They did not understand Zelandoni, that was certain. And they did not look quite like the people she was used to, either. They must have come from far, far away, she thought, trying to remember if she knew any words in the languages Ayla had tried to teach her.
Groping in the back of her memory, she tried Mamutoi. "Greetings. I Folara of Zelandonii."
The confusion in their eyes did not alleviate, and Folara sighed. She did not know any other languages at all. She would have to do it the hard way. She touched herself on the chest, smiling again. "Folara."
The man still seemed confused, but the woman seemed to understand. She touched the man's shoulder, and he glanced at her. They did not speak, but clearly she communicated something to him, because, when he turned back towards Folara, his eyes had lost the blank incomprehension of moments later.
He tapped himself on the chest, copying her gesture. "Ord."
Folara frowned. "Orrrd?" she tried, doing her best to roll the 'r' sound as he did.
He nodded. "Fo-la-ra?" he answered. She noticed that he spoke each syllable separately, as though they were all their own word. She nodded back. He gestured at the woman. "Elda."
Folara repeated the word, then introduced Jonayla. He had more trouble with that one, but finally managed to get it approximately right. Almost without thinking, Folara glanced down at the girl, just to make sure that it was acceptable. She did not want Jonayla throwing a tantrum just because she thought the stranger was making fun of her. Thankfully, Jonayla seemed fascinated by the strangers, not insulted at all.
Folara looked at the two strangers, biting her lip. She wanted them to come with her to the ninth cave, but she did not know how to communicate that to them. She was spared the need by Jonayla, who suddenly bounded forward and grabbed the man's hand. The look of shock on his face was priceless, but the girl did not even notice. She began to pull him towards the cave, much as she had pulled Folara out of it. Folara and Elda had no choice but to follow.
Jonayla led them straight to Marthona's dwelling. Once they had arrived, she disentangled herself from Ord and grinned, clearly inordinately proud of herself. Folara debated whether or not to scold her for rudeness, and then decided to let her get away with it. She had solved Folara's problem, after all.
Instead, she asked, "Will you find your mother and Jondalar? They know more languages than I do."
Jonayla nodded and grinned one last time at the strangers. Then, she turned and sped off, head held high and chest puffed out at the importance of her task. Folara chuckled, watching her go, then turned to the two visitors. She wondered what to say to them. She wanted to offer them some tea, wanted to ask them to sit down and make themselves comfortable, but she did not know the words to do so. Instead, she made do with gestures, pointing at the cushions and sitting down herself. Moments later, Elda followed her example, but Ord stayed standing. Folara expected Elda to explain her meaning to him as she had before, but the foreign woman did not. The silence grew between them all until it became almost overbearing. Just when she was about to start chattering inanely to fill the silence, the hide that formed the door to Marthona's dwelling lifted. All three people turned to look, Folara hoping that it was Ayla. She was good with strangers; Folara was not.
It was not Ayla, but it was almost as good. Folara grinned in delight as Zelandoni stepped into the dwelling.
"Jonayla told me that you had visitors," the woman explained as Folara rose and rapidly cleared off the clutter on Zelandoni's seat. "I thought I would stop by and meet them." She sat, examining the strangers with frank curiosity.
Folara sighed. "I can't speak with them," she confided. "They don't know either Zelandoni or Mamutoi, and I don't know any other languages."
"I didn't know you knew Mamutoi."
"I don't. I know how to greet someone, but that's all. It doesn't matter, though, since they don't understand even that."
Zelandoni examined them more closely, perhaps trying to guess where they were from from their features. Finally, she shook her head. "I don't know. Hopefully Ayla or Jondalar will be able to find a language they recognize."
Folara nodded. "I sent Jonayla to find them," she told the donier. "I thought you were them."
Zelandoni laughed. "I see." She glanced back at the couple, who had not said a word, then sighed. "I hope she finds them soon."
"So do I," Folara agreed. "I want to offer them tea, to make them feel like I'm welcoming them, but I don't know how to ask."
"You could make some and then offer it," Zelandoni suggested. "I know I, for one, would like some."
Folara jumped up, delighted to be useful. She moved towards the hearth and picked up her fire-making kit. Quickly, she made a small pile of tinder, then picked up the flint and her firestone. Quickly, she struck them together and the spark flew into the tinder, lighting in immediately. She could sense the strangers' eyes on her, and she could imagine their astonished faces. That meant that they probably weren't from any of the Peoples Ayla and Jondalar had met; despite the number of years that had passed, things like firestones were rarely forgotten.
Folara started heating water. It was almost boiling when the hide lifted again. She turned to see Jonayla, proudly towing Ayla and Jondalar behind her. Folara sagged in relief. Her brother and his mate would be able to figure out where the strangers were from!
She sat on her heels as she watched the four people examine each other. Ayla's reaction especially intrigued her. The woman seemed unwilling to look the strangers in the eye, choosing instead to glance up through her lashes at the strangers. Why was she acting like that? Folara knew quite well that Ayla was not shy, so what was wrong?
Suddenly, to everyone's shock, Ayla slid down to the ground and sat cross-legged, head bowed, and hands in her lap.